Whether you're getting ready to race to Bermuda or equipping your boat for a cruise to the Caribbean, the key ingredient to a successful passage is proper planning and preparation. "Hands-On Sailor" from our November 2010 issue.
The goal of offshore-passage preparation is to become as self-sufficient as possible. You'll need a life raft and other safety gear, of course, and you must keep potential problems from becoming real ones by fixing them before you leave. You'll likely need to be able to do repairs on the fly and, perhaps, even deal with a medical situation, too. Here's how to prepare and a list of what to bring along on any offshore passage.
Have your rig inspected by a knowledgeable rigger, not just by any boatyard employee. This is an area in which being frugal could become expensive in the long run. If your mast is down while the boat is on the hard, it's a perfect time for a complete rig and mast inspection. If the rig is up, pay the few bucks to have the rigger go aloft to complete a thorough inspection. Replace all cracked, broken, and worn rigging and fittings.
An aging rudder is often overlooked, but rudder failure can often be prevented by proper inspection by a qualified marine surveyor who's trained to detect water intrusion and the delamination of a rudder. If a rudder is suspect, a simple core sample can be taken to inspect the material inside the rudder, and the resulting hole can be easily filled in if the rudder is sound. Don't forget to check the integrity of the rudderstock and the bearings for wear.
Check the steering cables and sheaves for wear; lightly lubricate the cables if necessary. Ask your rigger to fabricate a duplicate steering cable for you to have as a spare. If your steering is hydraulic, bring spare hydraulic hoses and fluid.
Locate your emergency tiller and physically put it in place. Determine now, before you need it, if there are any obstacles to deploying the emergency tiller and what exactly is involved in making it functional. Giving the emergency tiller a sea trial is a useful experience; run through its operation with the crew as well.
Start by inspecting all hoses, including the raw-water intake hose, heat-exchange hoses, and the exhaust hose and muffler system. Be suspect of hoses that show apparent leaks, cracks, or soft spots or have dried out. Replace any questionable hoses, and carry the appropriate spares. Have your mechanic pull the exhaust elbow to check for salt calcification, which can damage it and cause leaks.
Check for engine oil and water leaks, and put a clean oil blanket under the engine so you'll be alerted to any future leaks by evidence on the blanket. Check the condition and tightness of all belts that drive your water pump, alternator, and refrigeration compressor. Carry a supply of belts; know how to change and tension them yourself.
If you're not already familiar with replacing the impeller in the raw-water pump, now's a good time to learn, before the need arises. If the impeller hasn't been replaced in the last two years, you may want to replace it anyway. Always carry spare impellers.
A lack of clean diesel can cause most healthy diesel engines to stop working when the boat's pitching and rolling in heavy seas offshore. The common cause of dirty diesel is the presence of water and oxygen in the fuel tank, which allows algae and bacteria to grow. This forms sludge that can clog the fuel filter and starve the engine of fuel. Take the time to make sure your diesel is free of water and that your tanks are free of sludge. Carry at least half a dozen spare fuel filters even if the tank was recently cleaned.
Rebuild the head
If you want to avoid the pleasure of rebuilding the head while traversing the Gulf Stream, be sure to take care of this very important chore before departure. Rebuild the head now, while the boat is on shore or at the dock. Buy two head-rebuilding kits, one to use now and one to keep as an onboard spare.