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.
Waterproof the windlass
If your boat is equipped with an on-deck anchor windlass, consider completely covering the windlass to prevent water intrusion through the hawsepipe when seas wash over the foredeck. An effective way to do this is to completely cover the windlass with a plastic trash bag sealed with duct tape. Only apply the duct tape to the trash bag itself, so you don't end up with any adhesive residue on the windlass. This guards against water intrusion into the boat and protects the windlass motor from water damage.
Remember that Murphy's Law-anything that can go wrong will go wrong, usually at the worst possible time-applies especially in an offshore environment, and nothing can better help to minimize the problems Murphy can cause than a well-stocked spares locker. The list of spares I carry includes six Racor fuel filters; three secondary fuel filters for the engine; five quarts of oil and an oil filter; three impellers for the raw-water pump; a complete raw-water pump, or at least a rebuild kit; a spare pump for the freshwater cooling system and a rebuild kit; 10 fan belts; a starter solenoid; two fuel lift pumps; two thermostats; one fuel injector; and a quart of transmission oil. Pick up a roll of gasket paper and gasket cement in the event you need to fabricate a gasket for a pump.
You should also stop by your local diesel-repair shop and order a complete set of copper washers for both the fuel injectors and the return lines. You may never have a need for them, but extras are good insurance because these little washers can easily get dropped into the abyss of the bilge if you have to remove an injector.
If your boat has a traditional stuffing box in which you adjust the water-lubrication drip for the prop shaft, bring along spare flax in the event that you need to repack the stuffing box. If your stuffing box is of the "dripless" type, bring along a spare bellows and hose barb for the water feed to the prop shaft.
If a companionway hatchboard gets washed away, it's good to have a second set of hatchboards because these can't be duplicated easily at sea. The second set of hatchboards doesn't need to be fancy. Simply have a local glass shop fabricate a duplicate out of Lexan.
A diverse selection of tools is critical. Make sure to have at least a set of standard and metric wrenches and sockets, adjustable wrenches, a good assortment of screwdrivers, channel locks (as water-pump pliers), Vise-Grip locking pliers, side cutters, a plumbing snake, a wire brush, a drill and drill bits, a hacksaw, a hammer, bolt cutters for cutting rigging away during a dismasting, and a small inspection mirror.
Nuts and bolts
Get a plastic box similar to a fishing tackle box with multiple compartments, build an inventory of your most frequently used fasteners, and label the box identifying the contents of each compartment. The fasteners may consist of No. 6, No. 8, and No. 10 panhead self-tapping screws, flathead self-tapping screws, and machine screws with washers and nuts. Do the same thing with plumbing connections and store them in plastic boxes.
Products already in your supply locker may include such lubrication products as Sailkote or WD-40. Along with your supply of engine and transmission oil, be sure to include a pint of hydraulic fluid for your hydraulic adjustable backstay. Other products I like to carry are such bedding compounds as 3M's 4200 and 5200, a silicone bedding compound, and a West System G-Flex epoxy/resin emergency-repair kit.
All offshore passages require a particular level of safety equipment, including an appropriately sized life raft, an EPIRB with an up-to-date registration and battery, an SSB radio and/or a sat phone for emergency communications as well as so you can download current weather forecasts. Before slipping the lines from home base, assign responsibility for deploying the life raft, the abandon-ship ditch bag, making the Mayday call, and grabbing the medical kit.
Prepare a ditch bag that's easily accessible if the boat is sinking. Some of the usual contents of a ditch bag include a battery-operated handheld VHF radio and GPS, which should be stored with extra batteries in individual waterproof bags, SOLAS flares (see "Rescue Me," page 72), whistles, an air horn, a handheld compass, toilet paper (in a resealable plastic bag), fishing hooks and line, motion-sickness medication, spare eyeglasses, a signal mirror, a strobe light, chemical light sticks, food rations, a bucket, spare water bottles, lip balm, sunscreen, duct tape, and an electrolyte-replacement drink such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. If a crewmember is on a prescription medication that he or she can't be without, put a supply in the ditch bag. When you put things in the ditch bag, they're for the exclusive use of the ditch bag only-don't remove anything during your passage.
Once the decision has been made to leave the big boat to get into the little boat, the rule should be that there's no going back to the big boat. After all, you left it for a reason, and that reason hasn't changed.