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.
An AIS transponder: We began our trip carrying only an automatic identification system receiver, feeling that we didn’t really need a transponder; they were also a lot more expensive then. But two years ago, we installed a transponder, and it’s proven its worth repeatedly, particularly in areas with a lot of shipping but not always a lot of decipherable English spoken from the bridge deck. Imagine being among five ships offshore in the dark with CPAs of less than a mile and a half converging; one of the ships is the largest cruise liner in the world. That ship ended up calling us because they could see us easily via the transponder. Many times we’ve asked ships if they had us on radar and they said no, but they did see our AIS signature. We’re a small boat on a big ocean. Any device that makes us more visible and helps remove the guesswork in busy situations is a no-brainer.
Aries windvane self-steering: This system hung on Osprey’s transom for two years before we used it on a 1,200-mile passage across the Caribbean. Now we use it whenever we can. In the right conditions, it becomes our primary offshore steering, quietly and efficiently tracking us along and costing us not a single amp. And it’s a backup for the electric autopilot if that system fails or we have some battery problem that prevents us from using it. We’d discourage people from ditching an installed wind-steering system to make room for, say, dinghy davits. We know one couple who, as a wise precaution, reinstalled their windvane before sailing from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico. Two days out, they lost their electric autopilot. Had they not reinstalled their windvane self-steering system, they’d have been hand steering for days.
A Reverso fuel-polishing system: Most people associate fuel-polishing systems with large motoryachts, but they make eminent sense for cruising sailboats that travel long distances to remote places. Osprey carries approximately 195 gallons of diesel in two tanks. That’s a lot of fuel that more often than not just sits there—we are, after all, a sailboat—having ample time and opportunity to grow stuff. Also, some of the places we’ve purchased fuel have been dubious at best. In one memorable establishment, a fellow poured diesel from a 55-gallon drum into a 5-gallon bucket through a T-shirt filter while it was raining. The fuel polisher is independent of the fuel lines for the engine. It draws from the very bottom of the tank and returns to the very top. Running it about once a month, three to four hours per tank, keeps the fuel clear and free of water and growth. The proof’s been in the pudding: Several times we’ve set out to replace the Racor fuel filters but have simply reinstalled them because they’re so clean. As an added bonus, when one tank is getting low, we can use the system to move fuel to the opposite tank and keep the boat in trim. And more than once we’ve been able to help fellow cruisers polish their contaminated fuel. It wasn’t a particularly easy or cheap system to install, but it draws little power when it’s working, and it’s been worth its weight in diesel.
We also boosted Reverso’s income by purchasing its oil-changing system. This fairly simple device has a hose connected to the bottom of the oil pan. A reversible pump sucks the oil from the pan and through a hose into a container of your choice. After wiping the discharge hose off, you can use it as the suction hose and install the new oil right back into the engine. It takes about 10 minutes to change 6 quarts of oil in Osprey’s engine, and other than the unavoidable mess of changing the filter, the whole process is clean, quick, and easy. Anything that makes such a vital but potentially sloppy bit of routine maintenance easier is worth it, and this system keeps everything nasty contained and out of the bilge.
A Honda EU20i portable suitcase generator: One of the first items we bought was this tough, compact unit. It’s proven invaluable when we’ve had periods of windless, cloudy days and our solar panels and wind generators aren’t putting out much. The Honda is far more efficient at recharging the batteries than the boat’s main engine and alternator (and this also saves wear and tear on the main engine, since running it “unloaded” is tough on a diesel). On eco-throttle, which is its conservation mode, the unit will run for almost eight hours on a single fill-up of less than a gallon of gas. We also use it for projects that involve a lot of electricity, like drilling, grinding, and sanding, rather than drawing off the boat’s batteries and inverter.
The Clarke family is currently aboard Osprey in Annapolis, Maryland.