Choosing a Blue Water Yacht – Inventory

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Over the last few weeks, Grabau International has taken you through a variety of subjects which encompass choosing the right yacht for blue water adventures. This guide is not written to dictate what to choose, or to supply a comprehensive encyclopedia of every option and variable, but simply a basic explanation of the main options and some guidance on what to look out for. Finding a yacht will always be a battle of your head over your heart, so the purpose of this guide is to give your head some questions to ask in the hope that an amicable compromise can be made with your heart. Part 9 of this guide looks at inventory equipment.

Inventory

Once the type of yacht has been decided upon, it is time to work out what equipment needs to be added to ensure the yacht provides the level of comfort and self-sufficiency necessary for the intended cruising plan. To a certain extent this is often dictated by the size of the yacht and of course, the size of an owner’s wallet. It is perfectly possible to head off across an ocean armed with just a sextant, some bottled waters and a fishing line, but for most a greater level of comfort and security is desired. With enough space and funds, it is perfectly possible to fit out a yacht so the comfort of living is no different to that found on dry land, with climate controlled interior spaces, unlimited hot showers, sumptuous freshly-cooked cuisine, and constant internet/phone communications. As technology advances, efficiency of equipment has increased and both size and cost has shrunk. This has led to a trickle down that allows previously bulky and eye-wateringly expensive items such as watermakers and satellite communications equipment to become both affordable and practical on the smallest of blue water cruisers.

Generator

Essentially another diesel engine fitted to the yacht specifically charged with producing AC or DC power, charging battery banks and running services such as air-conditioning, microwave ovens and other power-hungry systems. It is possible to produce AC power via a DC generator and/or the battery bank and an inverter. A diesel generator is a fairly expensive piece of equipment so careful consideration should be given before installing one, but they can make the difference between ‘making do’ and having a comfortable life living aboard. As with any diesel engine, a generator will be most efficient when running under load, so the general rule of thumb is to specify the smallest generator capable of doing the job rather than the largest. In the same vein, running the main engine at idle and in neutral simply to charge batteries or make hot water via the calorifier is not very healthy for the engine and can lead to glazing of the cylinder bores, so if this is likely to be a common occurrence, a generator is a worthwhile investment.

Diesel DC generator Hylas 54

Fischer Panda 8kva DC generator fitted in the engine bay of a Hylas 54

Fuel Cell

An alternative to the diesel generator, a hydrogen fuel cell offers a compact and silent form of power generator. They have no moving parts and are fueled by either acid or methanol. They do not however offer the same output capabilities as diesel generators, so are best kept for charging batteries rather than running power-hungry AC equipment.

Hydromax-fuel-cell

Hydromax 150 12v fuel cell battery charger with a 300 Amp (in 24hrs) charge capacity

Gas

A vast majority of yachts will use LPG (propane or butane) for cooking purposes. The gas bottles should be stowed in vented and drained dedicated containers away from the interior of the yacht with a cut-off at the bottle and again at the cooker. Any yacht with a gas installation should also be fitted with a carbon monoxide gas/alarm system. Some larger yachts will dispense with the gas system completely and rely upon electricity for cooking via a generator. This is arguably much safer, but does necessitate starting up the generator each time the stove is needed (unless an inverter is used).

Gas installation

Commonly found gas installation with twin butane bottles

Watermaker

This is quite possibly one of the most useful inventory items for the modern-day blue water cruiser. Safe fuel is generally easy and cheap to buy in most parts of the world, but safe drinking water is often not. Transporting 200 bottles of mineral water from the shore to an anchored yacht via small dinghy is rarely much fun, so a watermaker is a great bonus. The downsides is that they do like to be used, so generally should either be in full commission and in regular use or ‘pickled’ and out of commission. Watermakers can be of modular construction which allows components to be placed around the engine bay or within the storage spaces of the yacht where this is suitable space and accessibility. DC-powered watermakers are now very common and whilst their water making capacity is much more modest than AC versions, they can run without a diesel generator. For a straight-forward trans-Atlantic crossing, a watermaker is nice to have, but not essential, as usually, enough bottled water can be stored to supplement the yacht’s fresh water tanks.

boat-watermaker-22061-5624247

Selmar Synthesi 220v AC generator

Wind generator

A great addition to blue water yacht, but not something that will be particularly useful crossing the Atlantic with the tradewinds, as the apparent wind speed drops away when the wind is behind you. For generating power at anchor these are hard to beat, but they can be quite noisy, and installations should always include a regulator for charging and a brake to stop them either when they are not needed and you fancy some peace and quiet, or when the wind builds over and above the safe operating limit.

Wind generator

LE-300 wind generator from Leading Edge Turbines fitted to a Beneteau Oceanis 50

Solar

As with the wind generator, solar panels are a great addition to a blue water inventory and can provide useful amounts of power generation when correctly installed and correctly specified. It is possible to run a DC watermaker solely through a combination of solar and wind generation, so for those looking to step away from ‘fossil fuel’ cruising, combining the 2 is a very smart idea. The trickle-down effect of solar technology into yachting is now providing some very useful developments including solar panels integrated into the sails of a yacht. The fact that solar panels do not necessarily require direct sunlight to create a charge means that in time, it may be a common to find solar-charging mainsails fitted to cruising yachts.

Solar panels

Solar panels fitted to a transom-mounted gantry

Towing generator

Traditionally, these involve trailing a watertight alternator 1-3m beneath the surface to generate an electrical current. The limitations used to be the requirement for open waters and a decent breeze to prevent the associated drag from slowing the yacht on her passage. More recently, designs have come onto the market which resemble a fixed saildrive leg which can be lowered from the transom which create far less drag and generate some very impressive charging rates.

Aquair 100 towing generator

Aquair 100 towing generator

Self-steering gear

Another great solution for those looking to step away from ‘fossil fuel’ cruising. Autopilots consume battery power, especially when their sensitivity is turned right up as is required for sailing deep downwind. A self-steering system will allow the yacht to sail to a wind-angle (but not a compass angle or to a GPS waypoint) without any powered assistance. There are 2 main versions in circulation. The Aries system which attaches to the steering system of the yacht, and the Hydrovane system which steers via a separate transom-hung rudder. Either work well, but the Hydrovane does have the added advantage of doubling as an emergency rudder in case of the loss or failure of the main steering system.

Hydrovane self-steering gear

Hydrovane self-steering gear fitted off-centre to a Wauquiez 40PS

Radar

Very little needs to be said on this subject that doesn’t fall under common sense, but in the middle of the Atlantic the radar is not just on the lookout for ships, but perhaps more importantly, may help to pick out nasty squalls, allowing you to either sail around them or shorten sail ahead of them.

Raymarine digital radar

Raymarine HD Digital Radar system with closed-array Radome scanner

AIS

An absolutely fantastic invention, which is just as useful mid-ocean as it is for coastal and inshore sailing.  The ability to spot a light on the horizon and then use the AIS system to identify what it is, where it is going, and whether there is any collision risk is invaluable. With a transceiver, a signal is also sent out to ensure that your yacht is not just a ‘blip’ on a radar screen, but solid and identifiable target on a ship’s navigation screen. Both parties can hail each other via the VHF and arrange appropriate course changes.

AIS display Dover Straits

An AIS display of shipping traffic in the Dover Straits

Chart plotter

Often integrated with other systems to overlay information such as radar, AIS targets, currents and even weather information. A great way to keep track and plot a course, but should only ever be used in conjunction with a paper chart by way of backup.

VHF with DSC

This is a very high frequency radio which is the standard form of communication on a ‘to the horizon’ range level. The addition of digital selective calling (DSC) allows a slightly longer range of transmission (up to 25% over analogue) and the ability to include precise recorded information such as MMSI number (maritime mobile service identity) as well as location coordinates in the event of an emergency via the GMDSS (Global maritime distress & safety system). No yacht should really leave port without both of these systems.

SSB

This stands for single sideband modulation radio system. The range of SSB is up to several thousand miles and calls between yachts are free. In most parts of the world communication can be made with the Coastguard up to several hundred miles off-shore.  Global weather can be received via fax and data and you can send and receive email.  SSB radios require a special licence for use, but are extremely popular amongst liveaboard sailors cruising the Caribbean, Pacific and Mediterranean. For a trans-Atlantic crossing alone, they are perhaps a luxury rather than a necessity but you should take advice on this.

P1000049

Chart Plotter, DSC VHF and SSB radio fitted to the chart table area of a Hylas 54

Satellite Communications

These systems are becoming increasingly more affordable to buy and to run. They are an excellent way to communicate with loved-ones at home or for use in an emergency. A satellite communications system can also be used to send and receive emails or access the internet. For many, a choice is made between SSB and Sat Phone, but there are merits to having both. SSB allows for a transmission to an open forum and the potential for free email, whereas a Sat Phone allows a direct line of communication with a single party and faster transmission of data. The Iridium system is by far the most common and offers reliable coverage throughout the Atlantic circuit route.

Satellite Communications

KVH FleetBroadband 150kbps satellite communications systems

Refrigeration

Unless you plan to live off freeze-dried rations or tinned goods, good refrigeration is absolutely vital for any long-distance passage. Most yachts will benefit a basic top-opening icebox with a cold plate and a 12v or 24vDC compressor. More advanced options include engine-driven refrigeration compressors, 220vAC compressors (via generator) or the fitting of a keel cooler where the water flowing against the outside of the hull is used to cool and condense the refrigerant. Ultimately, you can never have enough fridge, cold box or freezer capacity, but without the power generation to keep it all running, it is useless. Sensible usage can save a huge amount of energy, and this means opening a freezer maybe once a day to transfer food to a fridge which is opened perhaps 2  or 3 times a day, to transfer food to a cold box which can be opened as and when required.  The beauty about installing additional refrigeration capacity is that it can generally be placed anywhere in the yacht and not necessarily in the galley area (beneath saloon seats is a very common place for a top opening fridge or freezer).

Yacht refrigeration

Top and front opening fridge and freezers with keel-cooled DC compressors fitted to a Hylas 54

Washing Machine

Perhaps a little extravagant for a 30 foot yacht, but at 50 feet and above, many yachts are designed for the fitting of a 220vAC washing machine. Wearing clothing caked in salt is not much fun, and launderettes are not always easily or safely accessible in some parts of the world, so a washing machine can allow a yachtsman to live comfortably provided of course they have a generator and fuel to power it. A washer dryer or a separate dryer takes this one step further and removes the problem of washing the salt out of clothing, only to end up with salty clothes again from drying them on the guardrail.

Ventilation & Heating

‘Keep sailing south until the butter melts and then hang a right’. This is a relatively simple set of sailing instructions for crossing the Atlantic, but these are words that highlight the fact that it can get quite warm. Good ventilation through the yacht is absolutely essential for comfort. Air-conditioning (powered by a generator) is great, but not essential at sea or if living at the end of an anchor. The careful placing of DC-powered fans through the interior and opening of hatches and port (obviously, care and common sense should be taken at sea in this respect!) will allow air to circulate through the yacht and keep the crew cool on even the stickiest of Caribbean nights. The problems arise when a yacht is largely marina based and there is no airflow aboard, in which case air-conditioning is well worth considering. At the other end of the spectrum and arguably far more common in Northern European yachts is heating systems which are usually diesel-fired systems which produce circulating hot-air or hot-water.

DSCN0026

Cruisair reverse-cycle air-conditioning system with heat pump

Safety Equipment

For those planning to embark upon a sailing adventure, there will almost certainly be a regimented list of safety essentials, so there is little point in going into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that a blue water yacht should have such safety items as a correctly-rated liferaft (sized for the number of crew aboard), EPIRB, Personal locator beacons, flare pack, horseshoe buoy with light & drogue, danbuoy and/or man-overboard recovery device, handy-billy, jackstays, full compliment of self-inflating lifejackets and harnesses, rigging cutters, emergency steering gear, radar reflector (passive as well as active), first aid kit, and fire extinguishers. Having said this, all of these items are totally useless without common sense and proper crew training. It is absolutely essential that all those aboard during an ocean passage are trained in emergency procedures and the location and usage of the safety equipment.

Safety Equipment

A selection of safety equipment essential for any yacht

Emergency steering

A large percentage of serious incidents relating to yachts crossing the Atlantic are related to two areas – collision with submerged objects, and failure of steering gear. In many instances the two are linked. Sailing a yacht for weeks on end on a fixed downwind point of sail in a rolling Atlantic swell will give the steering gear a serious workout. Steering cables can break, and in extreme circumstances, rudder stocks can fail. Conventional emergency steering gear is unlikely to help in the case of the later, but nonetheless the ability to connect directly to the stock in the event of cable failure is vital. It should also be noted that many autopilots connect directly to the stock, so this can buy time whilst running repairs are made. In extreme circumstances of stock failure, provided the hull remains watertight, jury rigging a rudder using such items as spinnaker poles and/or interior doors is the only option, unless a Hydrovane self-steering system has been fitted.

Tender & Outboard

Perhaps one of the most important inventory items for any sailor looking to embark upon extended cruising. If the yacht is home, the tender is the car. In many cruising grounds, marinas are few and far between, so a good tender is essential for making those essential runs to shore. The tender can also be used for laying kedge anchors and assisting the manoeuvring of the yacht in confined spaces. Tenders can be inflatable or rigid (usually aluminium) and with either an inflatable or a rigid bottom. The outboard engine can either be 2-stroke or 4-stroke. A 2-stroke engine is lighter than a 4-stroke, but struggles to meet the stringent fuel, noise and pollution standards of the present day.

Yacht tender

Launching the tender from the tender garage of an Amel yacht

Fishing Gear

The ability to catch fish on passage is a great way to vary diet at sea and to provide fresh and healthy produce thousands of miles from the nearest supermarket. Extreme care must however be taken when catching fish close to coral reefs as there is a risk of Ciguatera which is a severe illness caused by eating reef fish whose flesh is contaminated with a toxin found on coral, algae and seaweed.

Spares

Not a dedicated inventory item as such, but no inventory should be complete without a comprehensive array of spares and tools kept aboard the yacht. If anything can fail, it surely will, and usually mid-ocean in a heavy sea. Water pumps, impellers, heads spares, rigging spares, autopilot spares, electrical spares etc etc, the list goes on. Some of the most important spares should be kept in duplicate or triplicate, especially if they are difficult to source away from a home port. It is also very important that the spares are stowed safely, easily accessible and well catalogued so the correct spare part can be found quickly and efficiently.

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