A Voyager's Guide to Spare Parts
Still Seeing Stars
After years of tracking celestial bodies as they slid between the clouds like ducks in a shooting gallery, I finally and reluctantly laid down my trusted sextant and installed a Garmin 75 GPS. If anything, it proved too reliable, as it didn't miss a beat for a decade. In fact, in the high Arctic, the extreme dip made the compass card unreadable, the magnetic north pole was actually south of us, and in any event, the magnetic field was too weak to turn the compass. With the slightest forward speed, the GPS gave us a course, our only directional point of reference, for with the sun circling the horizon, there was no easily discerned east or west.
But when the screen came up blank one day, I felt a form of vertigo, as if I were falling off the edge of the world. Thankfully, we'd continued to plot our positions regularly, so at least we had a recent fix from which to initiate a dead reckoning course and proceed.
Upon landfall in the civilized world, I replaced the GPS-75 with Garmin's workhorse model GPS-128. Albeit slowly, I eventually learn my lessons, and I now back that up with a portable Garmin 76 that's wrapped in a foil Faraday cage to protect it from lightning and stowed in the waterproof overboard barrel. Antiquated as it sounds, I also keep my trusty sextant, a current almanac, and sight reduction tables on board.
Good sense aside, a VHF radio is now a legal requirement in many countries. I keep one charged handheld VHF in the cockpit to back up the 25-watt main VHF, and I keep a third in the ditch kit to back up the second. Coupled with the handheld GPS, these devices become an emergency system that in turn provides redundancy for our EPIRB, in that one can determine and broadcast their exact position hourly from a life raft.
Then There's a Bucket
There's nothing more basic to a boat's safety than the bilge pump. I'm an advocate of electric pumps, as big and as many as possible. I have a Rule 3700 GPH wired directly to the battery with a float switch; in an emergency, it will act like an extra crewmember. But it's useful only until the water reaches the level of the lowest electric terminal. Beneath the companionway on Roger Henry is a double-action Plastimo manual pump, and in the spares locker there's a complete rebuild kit. Two hand pumps lie in the bow, and we keep three stout buckets in the cockpit, just in case all else fails. Still, I have plans to add a Y-valve to my Lavac head pump, converting it into yet another manual bilge pump.
By their very number, cabin lights generally back themselves up-until their shared power source fails. We keep a brass kerosene hurricane lamp hanging in the central cabin as a long-term backup.
Still, when an unforgiving wave smashes its way below, all hell and everything else breaks loose. In that terrifying, topsy-turvy darkness, you need a light to find a light, and it's no time to be fumbling through drawers in search of one. We keep several waterproof flashlights on board, and I checked that they were secured in their accessible and designated brackets spaced around the boat. Even these flashlights don't share the same power source. I laid out the battery-powered flashlights, a solar-powered light, and even a magnet-and-coil shake light.
When the barometer drops precipitously, I'll tape a chemical lightstick to the center post of the cabin. No matter the chaos below, this can be easily found, then activated by simply hitting it hard. With no connections, no filaments, and no switches, it won't fail. It provides eight hours of sufficient light to begin the work of medical attention, pumping, and damage assessment.
I have radar because while in the dark or fog, GPS and C-Map may tell you exactly where you are, but they fail to mention that billion-ton iceberg grinding down on you. Sharp ears, exposed skin sensitive to wind and temperature changes, a good lookout, and a high-candlepower spotlight become good backups for when the magnetron inevitably conks out.
I have a bad back and a good wife. Both flare up occasionally. " I will not go sailing with you again until you install an electric windlass," Diana insisted. You have to know when you're beat. A Maxwell 1200-watt vertical windlass now glistens on our foredeck. Retrieving the heavy anchor is as simple as stepping on the deck switch. But I still view the thing with a deep mistrust, and I've already worked out the fairleads and the systems of purchase for when it inevitably betrays me.
We don't own a watermaker. Diana would finish that sentence with the word "yet," as she loves fresh water. Should we buy one, I'd still keep the tanks full. And I'd keep our jerricans, collection tarps, and funnels, for they're basic and reliable lifesaving equipment. And no matter how intrusive, those manual water pumps stay right were they are.
I'm vaguely embarrassed to admit that there's a brand-new wire running from my electrical panel to an insulated box in the bow. At the end of that wire, little electrons pleasantly agitate a small compressor, which chills cans of beverages that, in turn, pleasantly agitate me. In the spirit of deep redundancy, should one of those cans be inadvertently drained, I have a backup, and of course backups for my backups. The serious point is that while we might enjoy this chilly convenience, we don't rely upon it. For offshore cruising, our main food supplies are canned or dehydrated, or they're long lasting in their natural state, such as cabbages, eggs, jerky, beans, and rice. And I made provisions to bypass the solenoid so we can cook without electrical power.
The correct time is critical to precise navigation. If I have electricity, I can get it accurately from numerous sources: by radio on WWV, via my GPS, or from my battery-powered ship's clock. After a flooding, however, I'd be scrambling for a time fix if it were not for the continuously updated waterproof dive watches we carry.
For gathering weather information via voice or weatherfaxes via the laptop, a high-quality shortwave receiver with a beat frequency oscillator acts as a backup for the SSB. Our laptop itself is duplicated by its antiquated but still-running predecessor, and it's powered by a 110-volt inverter, a backup 220-volt inverter, or the separate 12- to 19-volt step-up converter I added.