When I looked at the trip we wanted to do, I knew that I wanted some equipment on board. Whilst the safety kit was easy to do and I’ll do a bit on this at some point, the big buys were for three key bits of kit providing me with
- Watermaker. Having done Atlantic and other blue water trips where I have come back from the supermarket laden down with water (min 2 l of water per head per day as safety margin. Make that for a crew of 15 for 25+ days, do the maths…) and knowing that we would be going to parts of the world where water is a lot more precious and difficult to get hold off than that handy marina or pier in European waters, I decided that I had to have a watermaker on board.
Right, easy. Now which kind…..? I have been on endless cruising web sites, talked with lots of other cruisers and there was a big split in opinion. There were those that were happy to run a genset up for power and those that preferred the simpler life of alternate energy and the restrictions that puts on you. My thoughts boiled down to the simple fact that if you use a generator, you are using fuel, again a finite resource when you are offshore and something I preferred not to do.
In the end, I went for the one using the about the least power, (with perhaps) the best company name and with a good reputation of being very quiet too – a Spectre 150. Luckily for me, the dealer had just had a cancelation for the 200T, the next size up giving me an increase to around 8 gal per hour, so having had a good natured chat with him, I got that instead for a lot less than I should. Even though they aren’t the cheapest make, with boat show special price (big discount and a good spares pack thrown in for free), I have myself, I feel, a good deal.
- HF Radio. I love comms. Bit sad to say but I enjoyed my time as an RSO (a long, long time ago) and I am relatively happy playing around with “wiggly amps”.
Today’s ships comms (and here I mean commercial craft) are predominately short range VHF for ship to ship and then big satellite dishes with uplink for huge amounts of information to pass between ship and HQ, be it by data or by satellite phone, for longer ranges.
This technology preference has quickly flowed down towards the civilian end of the market and in recent years the sales of HF or SSB radios for yachties has become, in the US at least, nearly non-existent. As an example, the company where I got my radio (a large but recommended chandlery) used to, 10 years ago, sell 1500 HF sets a year. These days they stock one make only and sold 8 last year. What’s the point when for the vast majority of your cruising time, you are within 40 miles of land?
Before I left for the US, I looked at satellite comms but decided against them for a few of reasons.
- The COST! It can be stupid money, firstly for the equipment and then for the data use. You buy the kit – a v basic phone will set you back around £1k – and then you pay for your data use thereafter which can quickly run into the hundreds of pounds per month if you are using it for email, weather and the rest. Fine if you are running a business but as an occasional user, I wasn’t sure the cost justified taking the tech on board.
- Satellite is good but you are limited. You can talk to anyone on landline, anywhere, pretty much whenever you want as long as you know their number. However, you are talking to one person only. It is at end of the day, a telephone call. A radio allows you to talk to anyone with a HF radio within the range of your set which can be thousands of miles, HF done properly. Unless you know that yachts sat phone number, they are just a passing sail…..
Lastly, I wondered as whether I really wanted to be at the beck and call of anyone, just as I was at home, with endless email, calls and the rest. I decided very easily that I did not.
Before I left for the US, I took myself off to translate some rusty Army knowledge into a civilian qualification and got myself properly licenced to use a long range radio. It was four days of pain with the normal pedantic comms instructor, but I got a formal, internationally recognised MCA qualification at the end of it.
Having trained on the UK/EURO spec ICOM M801 HF set, I have chosen to buy the M802, the US spec radio by the same makers. It is big, power hungry (more than a kW on full output but all HF sets are) but I know that with it I should be able to hit huge distances, pick up weather and using the published frequencies, I should be able to join in the liveaboard chatter wherever we end up cruising. Important for us but I’ve been told more important for the kids as they link up to other kids cruising.
- Power. Everything revolves around this. Just as on land, you have choices of power generation on board yachts. Alternative energy technologies have come on leaps and bounds as more and more resource goes in to their development, meaning that whilst wind remains the most popular alternate energy source (especially around the UK – there is a lot more wind than sun!), in the tropics yachts have access now to panels with both output and efficiency undreamed just a few years ago. Water power generators have also taken a big step forward recently and the long distance race fleets are now using them, again as size and drag are reduced paired with increased energy generation. However, great for when you are using; less so if you are going to spend the majority of your time parked up exploring!
Skylark came with a large genset, used by the previous owner to power the three aircon units, the microwave and believe it or not on a 40’ cat, a directional satellite TV antenna, channel box and TV. The last owner liked his comforts and in fairness, he used her between Florida and the Bahamas, a small sailing ground where he wanted her as a bit more of a gin palace than a sailing yacht.
First to go – the microwave. Those of you back in the UK will know I don’t like the things and have never had one in my kitchen. I have very occasionally seen their advantage (scrambled eggs and Haggis being the two good cheats – thank you, Donna…..) but they are power hungry and they heat rather than cook food. Also frees up a lot of space around the kitchen area.
Sat TV – really?? It wouldn’t work outside the US with the package that is on there so happily gone. Removes a bunch of weight from up the mast and gets rid of some crappy control boxes spread out around the main cabin.
Aircon – could get rid of it but it would be a beast to do. Interlinked water cooling pipes to all three units and electrical control mean that I am chickening out and leaving it be. Have to admit, it is a God send here in Fort Lauderdale on shore power. Now we have acclimatised it is set at 77. I dare say the cabin unit will be used every now and again on special occasions.
So. What’s left? The big power drawers are the fridge (9A when cooling) and the water maker (when it is on – 10A). Having talked through the power requirements with a couple of experts, the addition of solar was a no brainer. As we intend to spend nearly all of our time in the equatorial belt, sun light isn’t going to be a problem.
How about wind power? (E laughing at this point – no idea why…. juvenile humour, I suppose. She has a point – plenty of it in the Henderson Clan). Certainly in the Caribbean there is good argument for fitting a wind turbine with the Trade winds here and these days they are becoming very efficient, having the advantage of pushing out the power 24/7 with output down at 5knts wind. Trouble is I’ve never particularly liked them, disliking the noise and the inherent dangerousness of spinning 3’ blades a couple of feet above my head.
I also looked at mixed wind/water generators and then the new water generators now being fitted as a default to all the round the world boats. Also in the equation was a new fuel cell tech which I saw at the DVD show at Millbrook (absolutely wonderful but they weren’t keen to let me do a long term trial with their £16k bit of kit). Both technologies are lovely, providing massive amounts of power but a little out of my price bracket
In the end I decided to plump purely for solar and lift the size of panels from 140 to 280W. I’m not ruling out fitting a wind generator later but I’m going to see how we get on with solar first.
Here’s hoping for continuous sun!