S/V Hello World's Travel Log

what we learned about cruising

I've been meaning to write this post for about 9 months now. Some of our experiences have been dulled by time. However, after not quite a year being back in the real world, this is a pretty good list of what stuck.

A couple caveats here. One, we are not drawing on vast experience prior to leaving and we were only out for one year so any expertise we're implying by the slightly pretentious title of this post is merely self-inflating. Two, this is entirely based on our experiences. Your mileage may vary. We're not big fans of people telling us what to do with our boat, so please don't take this as a missive to tell you what to do with yours. Whilst out cruising yourself, you may come to learn that the crew of s/v Hello World had their heads clean up their ass.

  1. If you're going to sail in the tropics, do not underestimate the value of cold beer.
  2. Everything on a boat is in a constant state of decomposition. If it is not broken, it will be soon. If it says "Rule" or "Jabsco" on it, it's probably already broken - you just don't know it yet.
  3. Do not underestimate the value of a ridiculously sized anchor. It may not make any difference at all in terms of holding. I truly believe the recommended 55lb Rocna anchor would have held us just fine in all the conditions we faced. However, as a cruising friend of ours put it: "your anchor is a 73lb sleeping pill." Amen.
  4. Having two heads (toilets) is mostly a waste of space until your primary head breaks.
  5. When your primary head is broken, your second head will probably break within three days. (See item #2)
  6. Having a bucket as your third head will accelerate your desire to fix head number one.
  7. We anchored at 5:1 scope (for every foot of water depth, we let out five feet of chain) unless we absolutely could not. This boat is our house, our home, our future and our primary financial investment. We don't put it at risk lightly.
  8. If you haven't gone cruising before, you are probably reading everything you can get your hands on about it. You devour Lin and Larry Pardey books, blogs, forums until you're blue in the face. You argue the merits of anchors you've never actually used or set (why should I let knowledge get in the way of my opinions?). In all this information, you are creating predefined expectations about what your experience will be like. You're mentally preparing yourself on how to set a sea anchor, rig covers for when a rogue wave blows out your portholes, create a rudder from a cabin door, bend on a trysail in 50 knots. This is all good information and we did exactly the same thing. But try to keep this in mind, too. Many of your predefined expectations will not match reality. You spend 80% of your time and money preparing for ocean passages and come to realize you spend 90% of your time no more than 3 miles from land, day hopping between anchorages. You will spend more time battling your engine and plumbing than battling Neptune.
  9. We are bad at judging distances in an anchorage and how much room we have. Fortunately, our radar is very good at judging distances. We used it often to confirm that we could squeeze into a space. Or the guy that just anchored right in front of us is way too close.
  10. If someone does anchor too close, approach them with a smile. Most of the time, they are great people you will be happy to have met who just misjudged the available space. One day, you'll be on the other end of that dinghy ride.
  11. Having a cover from the sun in Mexico is invaluable. Keep a cover over your boat and over your head. I was never not wearing a hat of some sort. It's hot in a way that people from Seattle don't understand.
  12. The cruising community is probably the richest experience we took away with us. Forget the margarita's, dolphins in our bow wake and the brilliant sunset and stars. It's the people that we took with us when we got home.
  13. The only reliable navigation data we found for Mexico's Sea of Cortez was Heather and Shawn's Sea of Cortez Cruising Guide. The charts you'll buy in a store were last surveyed in the early 1900's (some as early as 1896) and the digital charts we bought were based on those surveys. According to our chartplotter, we were anchored on land as often as not and we sailed over many an island. Waypoints from their cruising guide were the only thing we gave any credibility to that came out of our chartplotter. The rest was our eyeballs and our depth sounder.
  14. We were told that the Sea of Cortez was "too cold and windy" to ever think about cruising there in the winter. Please tell everyone you know that this is TRUE. Then you will have all sorts of room in any anchorage you choose as you enjoy some of the most remote and amazing islands and topography.
  15. As a corollary to #14, always have a plan B anchorage with solid protection from the north. From January to March, we got a norther every 7 to 10 days that pinned us down for a couple days.
  16. Hand steering is fun now and again but self-steering is mandatory. Even just to step away from the helm to tend a sheet without rounding up or broaching. We are not well configured to have a wind vane so it's autopilot for us. And we like our autopilot almost as much as we like oxygen.
  17. We skipped fishing/crabbing/prawning in BC last time because we did not want to pony up for the fishing licenses. We won't be making that mistake next time.
  18. Set an anchor alarm that will wake you up. Friends of ours dragged anchor in a 35 knot blow and were woken up by the sound of their boat crashing on a reef. An hour later they had to drive the boat up on to the beach to keep it from sinking.
  19. Pay attention. We watched a 120ft yacht happily drive right over the top of a reef that we can't get our dinghy over at low tide. They returned our shouts and hollers with a smile and a wave.
  20. All sailors will happily throw their full force and weight behind opinions, rumour and innuendo disguised as unrefutable fact. Just because someone on the dock (or some guy with a blog) says you have to/absolutely cannot do something, doesn't make it truth. Run your boat how you need to run your boat.

The one other thing I learned while out cruising is that I want to go back. Soon. There's a thousand things that are wonderful about real life (hot showers, flush toilets, money, being able to afford nice restaurants, grocery shopping that doesn't take 8 hours) but none of it holds a candle to being out there on a boat with my wife.

fridge box design

(Boat nerd post. You've been warned...)

Since we're employed and functioning members of polite society, we only have weekends to really get anything done on this fridge project. And since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, we keep scheduling our weekends with things that are more fun than building a fridge (like drinking wine and hanging with friends we haven't seen in ages). We should be done with this project sometime around Christmas. 2012.

I have been working on the design of the fridge box (click here for the plans I drew up for the fridge box). I don't really like fridge interiors that follow the curve of the hull. Ours was like that and it was *impossible* to have any sort of organization to the food as it all eventually ends up in a big pile. It felt like I was rumaging through a dumpster looking for something good to eat. So on the side of the fridge box next to the hull, we'll step the box down giving us a useful shelf. The lowest area of the fridge box, we are calling the "beer can well". It will be the depth of a can of beer, allowing us to pack the bottom of the fridge with cans. This guarantees we will always have something cold to drink, makes a flat space to load the rest of the food in the fridge onto and provides a sort of alcoholic holding plate to store negative BTU's between compressor cycles.

We also want to make sure that at the closest point to the hull, the box is at least six inches away. This should give us a good buffer of insulation so when the hull heats up from the sun, the compressor shouldn't have to work quite so hard. Most of the hull above the waterline will have between 8 and 10 inches of insulation protecting the fridge box.

At the floor of the box, I am going to put in epoxy-coated 1"x1" firring strips and then an epoxy coated piece of 1/2" marine ply. This will keep the insulation off the floor of the box in case any water does penetrate. There is a stanchion on deck that if it leaked, would leak into the fridge box. I'll probably provide a tiny drain hole into the bilge so water can't build up. All of the insulation will be encapsulated in overlapping sheets of builders plastic.

For insulation in the bottom of the box, I'll use 1" extruded polystyrene foam boards (XPS). Their R factor is a little lower at R5 but they are more resistant to water entry than other foams. Since I'm replacing a huge fridge box, I'll end up with around 13 inches of insulation at the bottom of the box so I'm not really concerned about R value for this insulation. I'm going to use XPS for the insulation against the hull since that's another area that's more likely to have water intrusion.

For insulation on the inboard walls, I'll only have about 4" of insulation to work with. I'm going to use polyisocyanurate there since it has a higher R value (R6.5). The downside to polyiso is that isn't as moisture resistant as polystyrene. However, it is lined on either side with aluminum foil. Once I cut the pieces, I'll epoxy coat the ends. Along with encapsulating it in 6mil builders plastic, that should keep the moisture out.

The existing fridge lids are just 2" of wood, held open by collapsible springs of death. When you have your head stuck way down in the box and accidentally touch one of the springs that hold the lids open, they come crashing down like Vlade Divac in the paint and 8lbs of solid wood lands squarely on the back of your head. Ask me how I know. We'll be replacing these evil contraptions with gas springs. I'm also going to add at least an inch of insulation to the bottom of the lids to give it a little better R factor.

In the end, we will have reduced our 11 cu.ft. fridge/freezer down to a well insulated 4 cu.ft. of fridge space and 0.6 cu.ft. of freezer space.

We got a rare sunny day that lit the hull enough to figure out where the waterline was. We marked it for posterity.

Our fridge box mockup including our highly specialized measuring equipment.