Simply Indispensable: The Best Boat Equipment
After four years of full-time cruising, the Clarkes share the gear and equipment that have been worth their salt aboard Osprey. 'Hands-On Sailor' Seamanship from the January 2013 issue of Cruising World.
A single-sideband radio, Pactor modem, and SailMail: While some may pooh-pooh this gear as sunset technology, we wouldn’t go without it. It takes a bit of attitude adjustment to go from iPads and hot-and-cold running Internet to working with the SSB, but its value is its dependability, no matter where you are. In Panama’s Kuna Yala, for instance, our cruising would’ve been tethered to the sole island that had Internet (three hard lines run off a solar panel, at the equivalent of $3 per hour) had we not been able to remain in contact with friends and family and access our Gmail account via SailMail through the SSB. True, a new SSB will set you back at least $1,500 initially, with another grand or so for a Pactor modem. Once they’re installed, though, a $250 annual SailMail account gets you email, weather GRIBs, and weatherfaxes, and you’re immediately linked to the SSB community, an intangible but real benefit you can never enjoy with a satphone.
Harken sailhandling equipment: Osprey is completely Harken, with the exception of two snatch blocks and her original Australian-built Barlow winches. Even if her deck hardware hadn’t been in dubious shape when we bought her, we would’ve replaced it with race-ready Harken gear. It’s been our experience that no matter the boat, when it comes to sailhandling, speed and efficiency equals safety. And the easier it is to sail the boat, the more you’ll actually do just that: sail. Our adjustable genoa leads, mainsheet system, main-halyard system, and turning-block system have worked flawlessly in this harsh, difficult environment and have proven their worth time and time again by enabling us to quickly and easily adjust the sail plan according to conditions.
A four-stroke outboard: Ours is a four-stroke Yamaha 15. It’s been extremely dependable, easy to fix when necessary, and easy to find parts for, even in such places as Guatemala and Panama. Fuel-efficiency, though, is where it really shines. Many of our friends run 6-gallon tanks on their two-strokes, with mixed oil and gas. We run a 3-gallon tank with straight gas and fill up half as much as they do. When you’re relying on the dinghy to be your car, and gas costs the equivalent of $6 a gallon or more, this fuel savings adds up in a hurry. And it’s environmentally better in every way.
The biggest rigid-bottom inflatable dinghy we could manage: This was another recommendation from a well-seasoned cruising friend, and rarely a day goes by when we don’t thank him for it. Osprey doesn’t have davits, so we were limited by what would fit overturned on the foredeck while on passage (which we happen to believe is the safest way to carry a dinghy offshore). We have a 10-foot Caribe. Coupled with the Yamaha 15, it’s been a real workhorse for our family of four, letting us plane easily, even loaded with groceries or dive gear, and keeping us mostly dry in sometimes pretty snotty conditions. We can’t tell you how many friends we’ve watched get drenched and pounded trying to get groceries or do laundry because they went with the smallest or cheapest dinghy they could get away with. We also recommend covering the dinghy with a good set of canvas chaps. They reduce wear and tear and the brutal effects of the sun.
A Cape Horn Extreme watermaker from Spectra: This was also an expensive and complicated system to install on Osprey. But like the wind generators, it’s worked extremely well overall and made our lives, especially in remote places, much easier. We’ve had friends without watermakers who’ve had to limit their cruising because they were worried about the unavailability of safe water or the need to beg it constantly from people who could make their own. True, you can always hope for rain. But we’ve been in places where it hasn’t rained for four months. Our experience has been that the watermaker has broadened our cruising capability. The Cape Horn Extreme is mechanically the simplest of Spectra’s products (i.e., no circuit boards), and we recommend it because there’s less to break and go wrong. Spectra has proven to be an excellent company with which to work. When our Clark pump broke unexpectedly in the Bahamas last winter, a replacement pump arrived there within five days at ultimately no charge, except shipping.