Prior to starting the live-aboard life, we consulted many books, magazine articles and other cruisers to prepare the boat and ourselves. Our experience has supported or contradicted some of this information. The following is our current thoughts on what you need, what you should avoid and what would be nice.
Some of the items have a Canadian slant. For example, Canadian 800 numbers do not always work in the US and this is one of the things we mention.
Things that worked:
- Upgrade boat and cruise local waters to find glitches. No bargains to be had in the US. Best to get to know new equipment.
- Batteries – we have four 6v golf carts batteries and they are installed in the many boats. We have the golf carts on the house bank and a group 27 for start battery. This has been great.
- Charging batteries – we use solar, wind and a 100 amp alternator. It has worked for us! Solar – 100 to 150 watt array (we use Siemens). Wind – Air Marine is quite quiet and produces well. Energy out must = energy in or the beer is warm!
- Power – if you need 120v AC we suggest an inverter/charger combo ie Heart with integrated controller and alternator regulator plus battery monitor system, ie Link 2000R. Being able to constantly see what power is coming in or going out has been a big plus.
- Refrig – have installed 12v DC water cooled cold plate refrig. It works OK but the usual insulation in ice boxes is inadequate. Suggest upgrade.
- Communications – ham/SSB unit is indispensable. Boat-to-boat, weather info, contacts in Ontario, e-mail. If not in budget, would recommend at least a receiver. Strongly suggest getting ham license if time allows. E-mail – has been wonderful. We are cheap so Juno is the right price for us (free). Others work as well. Learn to use it before you leave. Phone cards – make sure you have both Bell and AT&T cards before you leave. Hard to get a calling card without an address. Arrange to be charged to credit card. In Bahamas, the Batelco card is the cheapest way to phone ($1.25 per min to Canada versus $2.70 per min operator assisted).
- Computer – again indispensable. For navigation (using the Captain program and digital charts), downloading weather-fax (connected to ham radio), e-mail (communications with home and friends has been incredible), word processing and games. We have a 133Mhz Pentium notebook that is more than adequate. A CDROM drive is a must for things like charts etc.
- Fuel – we added extra tankage so that when making passages we have 60 gallons in tankage and 12 on deck. A Baha filter is a MUST. Filter ALL fuel into the tank. We jerry can all fuel so that there is time to run it through the filter which removes dirt and water. We have seen many boats having fuel cleaned or tanks removed. Large primary fuel filter / water seperator is a must.
- Water – we only have 40 gals in tanks with 12 gals on deck. Not a problem in ICW or Florida. In Bahamas we must conserve. Be prepared to collect rain water. However to supplement our water resources, we must buy reverse osmosis (RO) water which is available in most communities. As well, cistern or brackish water is available to use for laundry and showers. A watermaker would be nice but they break down frequently and our total costs for water last year was $50! At $3000 US for a watermaker, the expense is hard to justify. Estimate $1+ per gal to make your own water. As well, they use a lot of energy and power systems must be upgraded.
- Waste – offshore we dump human waste directly overboard. Must have Y-valves to make system legal in US and they must be locked within US waters. A wire tie is an adequate lock according to our surveyor. Also be prepared to carry garbage for several weeks. Separate garbage – food scraps overboard, paper burnt on shore, pop and beer cans crushed, others washed and carried until suitable disposal site is found.
- Sun protection – biminis are important! Full enclosures can be useful in ICW but they are hot down south. Make bimini and awnings as wide as possible to provide maximum shade.
- Propane – readily available in the islands.
- Electronics – we only have speed and depth although speed doesn’t always work. The paddle wheel often jams with debris. The loran is never on and the GPS never off. The radar (24 mile Furuno) has been worth the cost to monitor ships that pass in night and also useful for navigation.
- Anchoring – go heavy. For our 40 foot, 20000 lb vessel, we use 35 lb CQR with 75 ft 3/8 chain and 200 ft 5/8 rode as main anchor. A 35 lb Bruce with 25 ft 3/8 chain and 200 9/16 rode is our second anchor. A large Danforth with chain and rode completes the ground tackle. Spend time choosing an anchorage site and setting the anchor and then you will sleep well. Develop a method of communicating during the anchoring process – yelling does’t work. Use hand signals or walkie-talkies. Buy “Skipper Bob’s Guide to Anchoring in the ICW” $15 US.
- Guides and charts – cruising without proper charts and guide books is dangerous. We use:
- Skipper Bob’s Guide to Anchoring in the ICW
- Maptech Chartkits (full sized)
- Explorer Chartbooks of Bahamas
- Steve Dodge’s Guide to the Abacos by Steve Pavlidis
- On and Off the Beaten Path by Steve Pavlidis
- The Exuma Guide
- The Waterway Guide (a regional annual publication)
A good Canadian source for these is The Nautical Mind or in the US, West Marine should have these also. Be sure to have paper versions of your electronic charts to fall back on.
- Money – pre-pay credit cards so that cash advances can be taken out without a fee. Cannot access bank accounts in the islands.
- Tupperware and zip lock bags – can’t have enough of either.
- Maximize storage aboard and provision heavily before crossing to islands. We cover floor with beer and pop cases. Socializing is a big part of cruising life and snacks are very expensive in the Bahamas.
- A cart – to carry laundry, gas cans, groceries etc. The inexpensive West Marine unit failed the first year and we up-graded to the $100 model. It is great and still working.
- Jugs – for water and fuel. May have to carry for several blocks. Make covers for all jugs or they will deteriorate in the sun in one year. They are carried on deck and secured to ensure they don’t wash overboard.
- Caframo fans – manufactured in Canada and the best on market for boats. Quiet and low power usage. Available in both 12v and 120 AC.
Things that don’t work:
- Diode blocks – we don’t have them, but many do. And they fail. Recommend using master switches to select battery banks for charging etc.
- Mail – don’t expect to get it. Difficult to arrange and will usually create delays while you wait for it to arrive. We have been lucky that our son Jeremy checks bills and pays them for us. Also e-mails us important info.
- 800 numbers – seldom work in Bahamas and may not work in US. If do telephone banking, get a non-toll-free number before you leave. They may accept collect calls – CIBC does.
- Taking care of business – not easy! Phones not great, faxes very expensive. Don’t leave loose ends.
- Foods – don’t expect diet to change much. Stock the boat according to usual habits. If the book says ” buy corned beef” but you hate it, don’t buy it! But do fill up with cans before you leave home – car is available and you know where to shop. US foods are no bargain now.
- Most metal parts – all corrode in salt air. Require constant cleaning and lubrication.
- Screens – standard screens will not keep no-seeums out of boat. They will make life miserable. Either use special no-seeum screen or a product called Screenproof available at Ace Hardware. Sprays on screens and lasts for weeks. Hint – if wind dies, put in screens!
- Clothing – take less! Bathing suits, shorts and tee’s. But it’s cold in the ICW – need mitts and toques sometimes.
Wish we had:
- Separate shower stall
- Boat with heavier carrying capabilities
- Swim platform
- Better self- steering unit (current CPT unit has periods of gross stupidity followed by times of independent inspiration plus stories of Autohelm steering units failing on other boats)
- Bigger hard bottom dinghy (buy biggest you can afford and carry and 10+ hp motor)