Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Equipment Evaluation

Cruising Equipment Notes about the equipment we carried and what we thought about it.


Sailed by Garth Wilcox and Wendy Hinman around the Pacific, approximately 34,000 miles.

Velella is a Tom Wylie designed 31 foot cutter rigged light displacement cruiser. Built in 1979 with a shallow canoe body and no IOR distortion she has a transom hung rudder on a skeg and a fin keel, tracks beautifully and surfs easily. Velella is cold molded, strong, light, and very seaworthy. Weighing 8000 pounds, she carries 45 gallons of water and 10 gallons of fuel. Space and weight carrying ability are very limited. Keep this in mind when reading these notes. Most of our equipment choices were limited by what came with the boat, space and our budget. Here is an overview of the equipment we carried and how it worked for us.


Ground tackle
The best insurance you can get.
Primary anchor: Spade A80 (16lb aluminum), 240’ 5/16” BBB chain, 100’ 5/8” nylon. Very good holding, never drags, sets easily, holds in all bottoms, coral, rock and weed, sand, mud. Have seen 50+ knot winds with strong currents. We use very short scope – usually 2 times depth + 30’. Maximum depth of water we have seen is 100’. We try to anchor in less than 50’ to allow free diving the anchor if stuck. We would have liked to have a pony bottle for emergency diving to retrieve anchor. Every time we used a trip line it fouled around a coral head which prevented lifting the anchor or the line got dangerously close to the prop. We always used a chain hook with a 15’ nylon line for a snubber to absorb shock loads. Keep the hook off the bottom. Our aluminum anchor had coral scars, paint blisters, cracking (replaced by manufacturer). We only had a single bow anchor roller, but would have liked another for emergencies.
Secondary anchors: Spade A80, 45lb plow, 22lb danforth, 2-300’ 5/8” nylon rodes with 30’ chain, and 150’ 3/8” nylon rode with 30’ chain. These were rarely used but would have liked at least one rigged and deployable in less than 30 seconds. If we had a bigger boat we would like to have had a roller for an easy to deploy stern anchor though we rarely would have used it.

Anchor Winch
1st winch: Simpson Lawrence Anchorman, manual with vertical capstan. This worked well for 5 years. Difficult to raise anchor in over 50’ although a ratcheting winch handle helped with this. The separate chain pipe was easy to block with clay. (Clay seals well, molds to any shape, and can be removed cleanly. In the tropics it is nice and soft but in Northwest it is hard as a rock. Use oil based clay not play dough. Flower arranging clay works can handle submersion more effectively.)

2nd winch: Lofrans Project 1000 with 1000W motor and vertical capstan. This wasn’t as powerful as the manual winch. Integral chain pipe leaks like crazy and is impossible to seal, even with lots of clay. Manual backup is available instantly but is too high friction for deep water. We used a switch on a cord rather than cutting holes in the deck. This was not available quickly in an emergency. Reverse mode was never hooked up but might be handy. (We only used power for raising the anchor and lowered it manually.)

Next time: Muir 1000/1200 has good manual function which is always available and separate chain pipe. Also good would be the Anchorman with a power winch handle.

Rub rails are designed to work directly against vertical pilings which we never docked against. Otherwise they are useless or vulnerable to damage. They catch on things when rolling or with tide. Fenders don’t work with them. For isolated protuberances or vertical pilings a pair of fenders with a fender board works much better.

We carried 3-10” “Big B” fenders. These take a lot of space but you want the biggest ones you can fit. Carry a pump and deflate them. In Japan, with lots of gnarly wharfs, we picked up 2-24” diameter Styrofoam floats on beaches to use as fenders. Round fenders rotate and transfer dirt to your topsides. Square would be better. Fenders can be cleaned with orange hand cleaner – GoJo Brand.

2-5/8” x 75’ nylon lines the same as our anchor rode to allow dual use. 12” cleats were minimal for this size line. 10” was definitely too small. You need to be able to tie 2 lines to each cleat when using spring lines.


All reefing is handled at the mast. Worked well for single handing. Stainless tack hooks broke and were replaced by Wichard hooks. Clew blocks on tracks are terrible because they pinch and chafe the sail and chafe the reef line. Spinlock clutches were very nice and we used them for our last 2 years. Reef in jib was vital several times but a hard job to put in.

Worked well. Easy to install and reuse. Rerigged boat once for $100-and replaced back stay in the Philippines with materials on board. (We carried an extra forestay, our longest stay, in case we needed a replacement.)

3/8” Vectran worked well. The rest were 5/16 spectra and a bit stretchy. We had a spare main and jib halyard which were not really needed. Mostly these were used to climb he mast. All halyards were terminated at the mast to allow single handed sail handling.

Running Backstays
We used line because wire chafes the sail. Spectra was too stretchy and used to howl in high winds. Polyester covered Technora was ideal.

We used them constantly. 2:1 tackle from mid boom led aft to cockpit on each side of boat. Used ¼” nylon with shock cord retractors to keep them off the deck to allow ducking under when walking forward on the deck.

Flag Halyards
Aladdin shroud cleats are a very good product. Parachute cord rots quickly with UV and often needs to be replaced.

Our favorite Knots:
Figure eight usual stopper knot
Oysterman’s stopper a larger stopper - jams
Bowline usual loop
Climber’s loop loop in a bight
Overhand eye loop for shock cord
Buntline hitch compact very secure hitch - jams
Rolling hitch can tie with line under tension, adjustable
Icicle hitch won’t slip on anything, changing sheets, jib wraps
Cow hitch better than clove hitch
Cleat hitch for cleats
Sheet bend different sized lines
Zeppelin bend best bend - strong, symmetrical
Truelove bend for shock cord - jams
Diamond knot for making spectra strops
Jarsling water bottle handles
Constrictor temporary lashing, wire bundles

Note: stoppers are for keeping the tail of a line from pulling through something, hitches are for securing a line to something, bends are for tying 2 lines together.


We carried a very roachy fully battened main that overlapped the backstay with 3 reefs and a fully battened non-overlapping jib. For heavy air we reefed the jib or set a storm stay sail on a removable inner forestay. We carried a storm trysail which we never used. We did sometimes rig the storm trysail in case we needed it, but found it was often in the way and a third reef in the main was adequate. For light air we had a 150% light weight genoa and an asymmetrical cruising chute with an ATN snuffer.

Jib battens
Full length battens maintained good sail shape and reduced twist while reaching. These made jibing with the pole more difficult resulting in cracked battens. We removed them when we wanted to keep the inner forestay rigged on longer passages.

Main battens
We had full length battens with BattCars. BattCars worked flawlessly. Flat battens split lengthwise due to twisting. Round battens broke. We finally found a heavy duty diamond shape and this shape worked the best. Main roach overlapped our backstay by up to 18”. UHMW sewn onto batten pockets helped the sail slip past the backstay easily in winds over 5 knots. Under 5 knots, tacking requires a special technique (tighten mainsheet, pop battens, then let out main sheet). UHMW patches lasted about 2 years in UV. We drilled holes in the UHMW where stitching was needed before sewing them on because otherwise pushing the needle through the material was too hard.

Boom angle
We cut the mainsail to raise up the aft end of boom to clear heads and prevent dragging the boom in water when rolling. This caused a lot of strain on the sail and slides as the boom drooped when furling, particularly if the outhaul or reef lines were tight. We ripped some of the grommets right out of the sail and pulled many rivets out of the mast track over time.

Leach line
We couldn’t safely reach the leach line at the clew in rough weather. A leach cord operated from the mast would be much better.


Spinnaker Pole
3” diameter with aluminum Forespar ends. These were durable but froze up constantly. Pole was too heavy to handle with one person, would like carbon. We rigged the pole as a temporary bow sprit to hold off mooring buoys.

Life lines
5/16” spectra core (Sampson Warpspeed) with covering. These were large and easy to grip with no metal fittings to corrode, just splices and lashings. The polyester cover protected the spectra from damage but after 6 years was damaged itself by UV and became prone to chafe. Bow netting was useful for keeping people and sails on deck. Parachute cord was too weak after UV damage and occasionally needed to be replaced. 4-5mm is the proper size. 24” lifeline height was too low. Would like as high as possible like 36”.

¼” spectra run inside nylon webbing resulted in no rolling under foot, no corrosion, and no stretching with moisture.

Stainless drums rust a little. Would have liked self-tailing.

Harken: Good, low friction. UV damaged balls after 10 years.
Schaefer: don’t get aluminum cheeked blocks. Stainless cheeks are OK but tend to bleed rust.
Ronstan: Cheaper, effective, and don’t corrode.
Nicro Fico: Snatch blocks are excellent.

Started out with Bomar cast hatches but we ripped one off the deck in a gibe and the other would never stop leaking even with new gaskets and standing on the hatch while dogging. We replaced these with Weaver (Maxwell) hatches from NZ and never had a problem although the dogs are flexy. Would add outer splash coamings around the hatches next time to prevent spray hitting gaskets directly.

Wind vane
Cape Horn Varuna model. Good in light air. Adequate in heavy air – a little underpowered. Most reliable piece of equipment on the boat. Replace fabric air paddle with Sunbrella for longer life.


Life sling
The bag lasts about 3 years and is very expensive. The new design is more compact and fits our boat better.

Inflatable life ring
Easy to throw. Inflates accidentally if gotten wet. Stowed in dodger pocket with heaving line.

We carried combination harnesses/inflatable life jackets. Auto inflated all of them in rough weather. CO2 cylinders are hard to get in many countries and can’t be flown in on an airplane. We switched to manual operation only. One SOSpender burst on inflation due to a corroded snap.

Radar Reflector
Davis 12” Echomaster mounted on backstay was seen by many ships. The symmetrical mounting to back stay allowed the reflector to spin in high winds. This caused the back stay to twist and untwist until it failed. The reflector is now tied off to prevent spinning.

Spot light
1,000,000 candle power very effective for scaring away ships.

A mouth powered horn met the regulations but sounded like a party favor. It was very fatiguing for long period use in fog.

ACR, the case cracked but was replaced at no charge. Batteries are very expensive.

Started with Avon Redcrest for first year. This was hard to row, hard to motor, and started to delaminate. It was very light and ideal for carrying over rocks and up beaches.

Built a Danny Green Chameleon 2 piece nesting dinghy in New Zealand. This rows, motors, and sails well. Built it too heavily and it is harder to carry long distances. Would consider leaving off sailing gear next time to save weight and work.

The lug rig sails well but next time would use a sprit rig with a boom like an Opti rig. This would allow better control downwind and in heavy air and is self flattening in a puff. Would have liked reef points for longer expeditions.

Oars were epoxy coated with glassed blades and painted for durability.

2 HP Yamaha pushed the dinghy just fine but was little used as the dinghy rowed so easily and distances were usually short. The impellor tends to melt in the heat and sticks to the casing causing ripped off blades.


Lexan windows lasted 3 years without covers. Fabric lasted 6 years with one restitch. Pockets sewn on inside were very useful for storing safety gear and other items. Eventually we built a foam and glass hard top over the original dodger frame for mounting solar panels and hand grabs. We still use the Sunbrella fabric and windows underneath for side panels. It needs gutters.

Next time we would build a complete hard dodger. Opening front window is nice for ventilation but leaks and zippers corrode.

Sailing Awning
A cruising essential. Running from dodger to backstay. Used all the time for rain and sun except in high winds in and out of port. Rolled up easily. Lasted 6 years with restitch.

Full Boat Awning
Kept the boat very cool. However it was hard to put up and take down quickly. This meant that we only used the awning for long term stays when there was no chance of the wind coming up, i.e. hardly ever. Covered the solar panels so limited power generation when used.


Hard to mount on tiller steered boat. Broke a bulkhead mounted Ritchey by leaning on it too hard and it was impossible to see with people sitting in front of it. We finally used the biggest possible (Suunto) bulkhead mounted in a console over the companionway. We also have a back up below decks. The best card for hand steering is the traditional one with cardinal points but these are hard to find.

3 Garmin 12 handheld GPS with power/data connection and backup dry cells. The small screen is hard to read in high glare conditions with old eyes. Color might be better.

Raymarine ST40 Bidata: Not accurate and always fouled up. Need easy access to transducer to keep clean. Possibly sonic type would work better. Not reliable enough for dead reckoning. Nice to have it when it worked, but overall it was not worth the trouble.

Raymarine ST40 Bidata: Mostly OK, sometimes fouled up. Very important to have for unknown depths. The lead line is more reliable and we sometimes needed it but it limits your speed with only a crew of 2.

Clock and Barometer
Weems and Plath Orion. This is expensive garbage. The case corrodes, the chimes don’t stop chiming, and the barometer isn’t accurate. It’s good to have a clock set to UTC near radio. A digital barometer would be more useful.


Navigation lights
LED anchor light draws 0.1 Amp; LED Tricolor light draws 0.24 Amp. Deep Creek Designs (1st star) Mk 3 are very reliable and service is good. Low power consumption is essential. Would have liked a strobe, illegal here, these are commonly used for small boats in Asia. Note that the incandescent tricolor bulbs break easily when slatting. Aqua Signal cases can crack over time with UV exposure.

Also used LED flashlights, dive lights, and headlights, and they were excellent, using few batteries.

Spreader light bulbs were always burned out but were too bright anyway. They are blinding and prevent looking up. It is never really that dark at sea. There was always enough ambient light to work on deck.

Fluorescent Lights
The thin lights we used are expensive and low quality but are effective in reducing power use.


All ablative paint sucks. We tried:
International CSC ultra hull covered with soft growth in 5 months
Alcraft No 5 (NZ) no growth for 1 year but extremely soft, bare patches from touching while swimming.
Petit Ultima covered with acorn barnacles in 6 months
Seajet Platinum (Japan) covered with acorn barnacles in 2 months. Later covered with gooseneck barnacles in 1 month.
Hard scrubable paint is probably better. Many cruisers like Petit Trinidad. Others manage to find TBT paint.

Varnish: Bristol finish is quite good. Lasts 3 years in the tropics. You can put on 6 coats in a day. Can be used in marginally dry conditions as long as you have an hour of dry weather. It is difficult to get a really smooth finish due quick drying but it looks WAY better than Cetol.

Polyurethanes: Single part paints last about 1 year. 2 part paints are very tough and scratch resistant. Most marine paints can’t be buffed. Use car paint which is designed to be repaired. Note that polyurethane and many epoxy primers are not waterproof. At anchor the lower topsides are always wet unlike at a dock. Therefore move the waterline up and use underwater primers on topsides.

Awlgrip medium grit was not aggressive enough. Coarse grit is much better.

Bedding compounds
Polysulfide: 3M 101 has poor adhesion and often hardens in tube.
Polyurethane: 3M 5200 can be permanent and isn’t UV resistant.
Lifeseal: very good but leaves silicone residue on paint.
Dolphinite: worked very well for us.

Through Hulls
Plastic through hulls and valves had no problems although the ½” size was too small and got plugged with barnacles and coral worms. At sea on a very long passage (49 days) we had to take the hoses off and to ream out the through hulls to get any water flow to engine or head.

Water tanks
Stainless: very good
Aluminum: Pitting problems
We filled tanks through the cleanout port. These were easy to clean, and we wiped out empty tanks periodically before refilling. Deck fills can leak salt water into tanks. Vents will leak sooner or later and should be led into the sink if possible.
45 gallons lasted us about 3 weeks, though we used often used saltwater for dishes and bathing (up to a final rinse). We carried extra jugs for longer endurance. We used the jugs often for carrying and filling water.


Car stereos don’t last long with heat and moisture. For international use one needs: AM tuning steps of 9 and 10 hertz, FM tuning for both odd and even frequencies. Japan uses an extended frequency range. Should play MP3 CDs and have an auxiliary input for the IPOD or a computer for stereo movie sound. Use low magnetic speakers to avoid interference with compasses.

We didn’t carry cassettes. CD’s corrode when damp. We converted everything to MP3’s and stored on hard drives. Multiple back ups are key.

DVD’s play on computer. Would like auxiliary speakers and a bigger screen. Sometimes we heard of people who encountered problems with regions on when renting or buying DVDs in foreign countries. There is a way to deal with this but we never had a problem.

Icom 45. The remote mike feature was great for us allowing the watch stander to contact a ship while actively sailing the boat and we could hear it in the cockpit while motoring. DSC controls are hard to operate on a simple VHF with limited buttons. We never used this feature.

Used old ham set, ICOM 735, modified for all frequencies. This worked well and was cheap but a marine SSB might be more corrosion resistant. You need a very good ground. For email get a line isolator and lots of ferrites. We carried a Sangean ATS909 battery powered short wave radio as a backup but it wasn’t as sensitive.

We carried 2 for backup. Computer should have a serial port for GPS and PACOR connections (this is changing), at least 2 USB 2.0 ports, a CD burner, and have low power consumption. We used Lind car charges for more power efficiency and no inverter noise. All data was stored on multiple duplicated USB powered hard drives which are more reliable, more convenient, less power hungry, much smaller, don’t need an inverter, but are twice the price of AC powered ones. We had 3 AC powered drives fail probably due to heat. We had 300 GB of space times 2 which was all full of music, digital pictures, and cruising data. All computer gear was stored in Pelican cases. WiFi is very useful in some ports. Get a long range Omni antenna. Skype has a lot of potential if your relatives will buy into it. Software that requires a phone call to activate, like Microsoft XP, can’t be reinstalled in remote locations. There is lots of good, free software available. We would like a printer/scanner and a DVD burner as there were occasions when we would have used them.


Carried a good selection of hand tools adequate to re-build the boat. Battery powered tools are never charged when needed. If a large inverter is available consider some power tools. Would have liked a vise, a breast drill, and a small portable drill press. You can usually find a vise to use somewhere ashore.

Foot pumps
Whale double action foot pumps perform very well for salt and fresh water but are very hard to fix. At sea it is sometimes difficult to stand on one foot while pumping. An additional hand pump would be nice.

Bilge Pump
Henderson Mk 5 like our head pump for redundancy. Not much capacity but never had a problem with this. We rigged a 3 way valve to take suction from the bilge or the sink when heeled on port tack.

We had a Groco head which required semiyearly rebuilds with very expensive kits. We eventually replaced it with a Lavac which never required any service. We would install a pressure release on the intake line in order to minimize the amount of water left in the bowl. The Lavac is also smellier than the Groco was. We rarely found facilities for pumping a holding tank out in any other country. First we bypassed ours and then eventually we removed it to use the space for other things. We actually mailed it home and reinstalled it when we got home.

Adler Barber cold machine. This worked until we shut it off due to its large power requirements in the tropics. Eventually the evaporator corroded and all the refrigerant leaked out, preventing it from working again. The air cooled model isn’t suited for the tropics as we used 50-60 AH per day.

Our Force 10 propane heater was never used on the cruise however the weather cap leaked and the controls corroded away. We mounted the weather cap in a screwed deck plate so we could seal it up when not in use. Ours was mounted above the counter which limited its effectiveness for heating the entire boat in cold weather.

2-10lb aluminum tanks were adequate but we wanted more capacity. We used one tank every 6 weeks which included extensive baking. In 50% of countries we visited we could fill our tanks ourselves from rented tanks using a pigtail. Most rented tanks are 20lb making this size tank more convenient. The American POL fitting works everywhere (except America of course). You can always buy the correct fitting locally and make an adaptor with your pig tail.

Universal 3-20 18 HP diesel. Basically reliable but we had problems with auxiliary systems:
Long running fuel problem caused by a plugged up Racor filter housing. Racor 120 filters are very expensive and not available in many countries. CAV is half the price and easier to find.
Overheating caused by heat exchanger problems. Once the heat exchanger was partially plugged by broken off zincs. Another time the heat exchanger was overwhelmed by hot air and water and was eventually replaced by a larger one.
PSS shaft seal worked well but traps air bubbles in rough weather and needs a vent even on low speed vessels.

We didn’t use the engine much averaging about 20 gallons of fuel per year. Our 10 gallon fuel tank precluded long range powering. I probably spent as much time working on the engine as running it. The boat would get very hot when running the engine in the tropics and would take 18 hours to cool off after use. We carried minimal spares: impellors, belts, filters, and oil. We considered the sails to be the backup, or visa-versa.

The Martec folding prop was good for sailing and adequate for motoring including in reverse.

Engine controls
Morse 2-lever. Constantly froze up. Steel parts rusted badly. Caught lines and clothing. Next time would prefer one that works with a winch handle.

Engine gauges
We sealed the engine panel behind a Plexiglas panel. We moved the key and buttons to just inside the companionway where they are more protected. This made it more complicated to single hand while motoring, though we did that rarely.


50 Amp Prestolite wasn’t used much for battery charging. When we did use it, it charged so slowly that we had to put a modern regulator on it to get it work. The Ample Power Next Step Regulator worked well.

Solar Panels
2-50W BP panels with a Flexcharge 25 regulator provided plenty of power in the tropics even on cloudy days. Outside the tropics, we needed sunshine to generate enough power from these solar panels alone. The dodger top mounting saw plenty of sun even while sailing.

Towing generator
Hamilton Ferris 10Amp. Made about 1 Amp per knot if over 3 knots. Over 8 knots spinner leaps out of waves and tangles line. Recovery requires heaving to or the funnel method which didn’t work as well. Electrical noise interferes with SSB. Sharks try to eat spinner. Prevents fishing. Eventually it died due to corrosion.

Wind Generator
Rutland 910, old version of a 913. Produces 1 amp in 10 knots of wind. Useful for low load boats (no fridge). This is very quiet for a wind generator but we still found it too noisy. Tended to increase our stress level in higher winds. Ours suffered from bad bearings and old UV damaged blades so we eventually got rid of it. Most anchorages are well protected from the wind. In sunny situations, solar is a better choice and at sea a trolling generator works better. Best for stormy overcast places like New Zealand.

Exterior power plugs
Perco plugs were garbage. Amphenol worked great as they were plastic and watertight with o-rings. We wired the 4 pole plugs for 3 functions.

House bank: 1 4D at 180 AH. These spent their lives chronically undercharged because of our reliance on non engine charging.
Gel - was old when we bought the boat and was replaced within a year.
AGM - never seemed to hold a charge. We nursed it along for 4 years until we hit significant cloud cover.
Wet – A cheap battery to get us across the north Pacific is still working fine.

Starting bank: 1 Optima charged through a Shotkey diode. 8 years and no problems.

We would probably get lead acid golf cart batteries next time for the house bank since they are more durable.

Shore Power
20 Amp Statpower. Works great but hardly used. We probably had 5 opportunities to use shore power in 7 years. 10 Amps would be enough for our battery capacity. Note that the big, heavy, hard to stow 30 amp marine cables are way more than most people need and are hard to stow. Our 20 amp battery charger if running at full load would draw only 2 Amps at 120V. We use a 15 Amp extension cord with various adaptors. We carried several 3 prong sockets for making foreign adaptors. A dual voltage battery charger would be wonderful.

Voltage Spikes
We had 2 devastating voltage spikes when charging with the alternator. The first was caused when the cables came loose from the battery switch. The second came when I leaned on the new battery switch and rotated it about an eighth of an inch. This occasion caused 100% of the electronics to go up in smoke even those that were not on at the time. Some ideas to prevent this: Put the battery switch in a less vulnerable location with a cover, wire a small battery in parallel with the house bank which can’t be shut off, wire a zener diode across the leads of all electronics including LED’s.

Battery Monitor
Link 10. This is nice to have. Though a digital volt meter is all that is really needed, the Link 10 gave us a better grasp of the state of the batteries by monitoring amp hours in and out, especially useful considering that we were perpetually charging with our solar panels.

Cigarette lighter plugs
Found on most 12V devices. Many are very poor quality and I carry extra Marinco plugs to replace these.


We carried the flat canvas style hose on a reel for compact stowage. We rarely used it, but it was quite handy in some ports. It kinks easily and must be carefully laid out during use and while reeling it in to stowage reel. It is the only kind of hose we had space to carry.

PVA sponges soak up more water, don’t dribble, and last forever. Normal cellulose sponges fall apart if left damp.

Wants for next time
Radar, bicycles, sewing machine, weather cloths, chart table, folding cart, beer brewing supplies, hatch board storage location, clear hatch for storm boards.