Sailors love to talk.  Maybe it’s because they spend so much time alone.  Just find one and ask him about his boat, boat repairs, or sailing stories when you have an hour or three to spare.  The stuff below is a sampling of the hot air that you’re likely to hear from me if you’re ever inclined to ask.

Picking a Boat

Most people over-think the boat decision, and you really can hardly help it given the number of choices, how much has been written about it, how much it costs, and how relatively little cruising and boat-maintaining experience many first-time buyers have.  I say people over-think it because we’ve seen people happily cruising on every sort of boat imaginable from rust-bucket to super-yacht, so unless you really screw it up, the boat choice can’t keep you from enjoying the lifestyle and the places you visit.  The easiest ways to screw it up, by the way, seem to be building your own or buying such a project boat that after years you’re actually farther from leaving or to buy such an expensive boat that you have no money left to go sailing.

All boats are a compromise.  For multihulls, Dick Newick’s famous adage is “You can have two of three factors in a multihull – speed, comfort, and economy (low cost).  You cannot have all three.”  The right boat is all about finding the compromises that work for you (or winning a lottery or two).

In the end, we valued strong, heavy construction over speed.  Real stories of outrunning bad weather are pretty rare, especially among sailors who spend hurricane season outside the hurricane regions and most of their sailing time within the tropics and tradewinds, where frontal systems are rare.  On the other hand, everyone has some sort of big seas / rough weather story and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone say after crossing an ocean that they wish their boat wasn’t quite so strongly built.  Aside from that and obvious things like storage space, etc. knock yourself out.  You can read about this for days and days.

On Getting Gone

The most important piece of planning/preparation is to set a departure date.  There are always excuses, delays, repairs, another piece of gear to buy and install, a nicer, bigger boat to save for, something else to learn or research, etc.  Setting a date helps to prioritize.  For us, our pre-departure to-do list was ordered according to (1) safety-related items, (2) necessary to keep the boat moving, (3) necessary to live aboard, (4) luxuries and nice-to-haves.  We missed our “firm” departure date, but left before the end of the season and without ideal refrigeration, hot water, a watermaker, or radar.  We’d purchased an old boat that had much more important repairs and upgrades to worry about.

Cats vs. Monos

My opinion: a cat is better for a tradewind circumnavigation and cruising in general.  This seemed to be the opinion of most everyone we met out there, including the people on monohulls.

The exceptions/drawbacks are: (1) Cats are more expensive for a given length, (2) A cruising cat is probably not the best if you’re planning lots of upwind sailing, and (3) Maybe a monohull could be considered safer if you’re planning to spend time sailing in the high latitudes (e.g. Southern Ocean) with their massive waves, (4) There can be a little more maintenance due to the second engine, heavier rigging, additional bilges, etc.

Here’s a short summary of things we think are better about catamarans (in no particular order): (1) They’re more comfortable at anchor, where you spend much of your time.  We’ve never had to leave or avoid an anchorage because it was “rolly”, (2) They don’t sink when you put a hole in them (we’ve tested this one a couple of times).  This is due to the lack of ballast and the presence of multiple bulkheads which divide the hulls into separate compartments.  (3) They’re more comfortable at sea, especially downwind.  We’ve had many passages where a glass of water, or often a stemmed wineglass could have stayed on the table without falling off for the entire passage.  We leave all our dishes to dry on the cockpit table. This is a big deal to me because although I’ve gotten much more accustomed to the motion, I still don’t have the best stomach. (4) They’re safer because the number one cause of death offshore is man overboard and it’s much easier to stay on deck at sea on a cat. (5) The wide decks make it much simpler to fly spinnakers with short-handed crews. (6) A second engine makes close-quarters maneuvering easier and provides a backup in case one engine fails (we’ve benefitted from both). (7) You get a lot more space, although you are paying for it.

Lots of people think speed is a big catamaran advantage.  It really wasn’t for us, although Pura Vida is a fairly heavily-built boat.  While a racing cat will smoke a racing monohull, in the cruising world things aren’t so different between the two.  Both are heavily loaded when cruising, and the monohull is generally less impacted speed-wise by heavier loads.  For a displacement hull, boat speed is a function of waterline length, and for a given boat buying budget, you’ll get more waterline length (and often speed) from a monohull.  Also, cruising sailing is about getting from A to B without breaking anything, so there’s much less of an emphasis on speed.  There are always some really fast or really slow boats out there, but it seems like the majority of boats are clustered in or near the 5-6 knot range for most passages.

If you’re interested in reading more about cruising multihulls, including the comparison to monohulls, I would heartily recommend Chris White’s book The Cruising Multihull.

The Anchor

While cruising you spend lots of nights at anchor, often with reefs, rocks, or other boats in your lee while sitting out a blow.  My conclusion after researching the controversial topic of anchors before leaving was that the Rocna / Bugel / Manson Supreme style of anchor was truly the latest and greatest in general-purpose anchoring technology.  We purchased a 25 kg Rocna anchor and weren’t disappointed.  It failed to set exactly once – in heavy seaweed off Key Largo (this gives lots of anchors problems), so we just moved to a sandy patch where it held without budging through a 30+ knot blow.  It drug a noticeable distance exactly once – in a bottom at Huahine that was noted in the cruising guide for having poor holding in large chunks of coral and that we didn’t leave even though strong winds were predicted.  We’ve used it in 50+ knots, spun round and round on it, kept numerous nights of uneventful anchor watch, and have never detected it dragging enough to care about.  It doesn’t require any special anchoring or setting techniques.  We generally don’t “back down” on it.  We just use the sensible technique of letting out enough chain for the anchor to be at or near the bottom and then wait for the boat to start moving backwards with wind or current before letting out the rest of the chain, and voila.  It sets itself and doesn’t move.  Our experiences with the Rocna pretty much mirrored those of Dave on Maxing Out.  It’s hard to imagine an anchor could do much better.

We also use 3-strand nylon anchoring bridle, like most all catamarans.  Between the anchor and the bridle we have up to 200’ of 5/16” high-test chain.  Most cruisers use all-chain rode because it resists chafing on coral and the added weight is a major benefit to anchoring in general.  We’ve often snorkeled on the anchor in what we thought were decent blows (30+ knots with heavy chop or waves in the anchorage) and found that even in the gusts there was still chain laying on the bottom.  There are a couple of side notes about chain worth mentioning as well.  We bought our chain at an incredibly low price on-line and found that the galvanizing was nearly worthless.  The chain was heavily rusted in only six months or so, but we were able to get it re-galvanized in New Zealand for a good price and it has held up very nicely since then.  Also, high-test chain is nice because it lets you carry less weight for the same amount of holding strength, but it only seems to be available in the US.

Lin Pardey’s Tips on Avoiding Marina Fees

We heard Lin Pardey talk at a boat show before leaving and she said something that stuck with us.  It was that if you want to save money by anchoring out instead of being in the marina, you need 3 things: an anchor setup that you trust, a good dinghy to shuttle back and forth, and a good way to shower/bathe on board.  Without those three, you’ll be more likely to end up in marinas.

Lin Pardey Says Buy a Case or Three

Although she was generally concerned with tips to save money, you can often save by spending while sailing.  In short, some things (types of food, alcohol, etc.) are cheap in some places and expensive in others.  Some things are easy to get in some places and near impossible to find in others.  Although it can be difficult to know in advance which are which, if you do figure it out and find a good deal, sample a can or bottle or package and if you like it buy a case or two.  You have lots of storage space on the boat and it usually won’t be long before you wish you’d bought more.

The Bug Sprayer

If you have a watermaker, move along.  If you don’t, get a bug sprayer from Home Depot.  It was one of our most-used pieces of gear, as it allows you to have pressure fresh water for rinsing dishes, taking showers, rinsing dive gear, etc. because it’s incredibly frugal with water but still gets the job done.  We used a 2-gallon Gilmour Spray-Doc.  It’s well-built and unlike most plastic things you buy, it’s actually designed to be taken apart and cleaned, etc. so that with only moderate mechanical aptitude you can keep it working for years, even in the hostile at-sea environment.


If you make a realistic power budget, you’ll quickly see that it’s dominated by refrigeration (with an electric autopilot taking a close second when you’re offshore).  The cost of refrigeration quickly spirals because it leads to the need for a larger battery bank, thicker wires, and more powerful charging equipment of all sorts (alternators, generators, solar panels, wind generators, etc.).  That said, it’s a really nice luxury, and a necessity for some.  In our case, we ended up adding insulation to our existing large 12V factory-built side-opening fridge so that the top was a temperature-regulated freezer and the bottom was a refrigerator that was cooled by the cold air leaking down from the freezer.  With two 130W solar panels and two 400W wind generators we almost always had plenty of power for the fridge/freeze at anchor, but often needed to turn it off on passage to avoid having to run the engine to charge the batteries.  People who spent time on a first-rate freezer installation reported much better results in terms of efficiency and consequently ended up with more cold stuff with less hassle.  Their units were generally all custom/DIY and their formula was: 12V Danfoss compressor, top-loading access to reduce air escaping when you open it, a through-hull style heat exchange with sea water instead of a fan/radiator, and vacuum-bag insulation or lots of conventional insulation.  The first three items are choices.  Doing a good job with the insulation is the more challenging and time-consuming part.

The Bibles of Cruising

There are a couple books that no cruising boat should be without.  Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes and Nigel Calder’s Boat Owner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual have been on virtually every English-speaking circumnavigating boat we’ve met and both are on most boats that speak or read English as a second language.  The former is indispensable for route planning and the latter for troubleshooting and fixing all the things that will break when you don’t have access to Google.

Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum, first published in 1899, is the first-hand story of the first solo circumnavigator. Slocum was the world’s first real cruiser.  More than a hundred years later, it’s still a classic due to Slocum’s humor, wit, and taste for adventure.

The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, by Scott and Wendy Bannerot came highly recommended from several people and we’d agree that it’s unbeatable how-to info on all sorts of fishing from a cruising boat.

Passport to World Band Radio is nice to have on-board if you have an SSB.  It’s like the TV Guide of world short wave radio, helping you find interesting programming to listen to during those long days at sea.

To sail in the Pacific is to follow in the footsteps of Captain Cook.  His accomplishments at sea are almost unbelievable, and it’s difficult to go anywhere in the Pacific without finding a place named by or for him.  Consequently, most Pacific cruisers have read something about him.  There are lots of books about Cook and his adventures, but one of my favorites is the relatively recent Blue Latitudes, by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz.  It combines a well-researched version of Cook’s story with modern, colorful travelogues to key places Cook visited, which meant many places we’ve visited as well.  It’s informative, fascinating, and funny.

Some sort of tropical fish ID book with color pictures is really nice to have both for the purpose of identifying beautiful fish and also for querying locals about which fish are good/safe to eat.

This list could go on and on.  A few good sailing stories are good for whetting the appetite, and everybody has a favorite sailing author or two.  Here are a few of my favorites: Two on a Big Ocean, Hal Roth; The Longest Race, Hal Roth; Typee, Herman Melville; The Circumnavigators, Derek Wilson.

Wind Generators and Solar Panels

First start by creating a daily DC (12V) power budget.  Nigel Calder’s book has an example to get you started or there are plenty of resources online.  If based on your budget you’re planning to use a generator or engine alternator to do all of your battery charging, then wind generators and solar panels could be considered optional, but most long-distance boats have both.  The reason is that although wind generators can generate a lot of power in a blow, they’re typically not very efficient at low wind speeds, which are common, and they’re not very effective when you’re sailing downwind, which is very common during a tradewind circumnavigation.  The weaknesses of solar panels are that they don’t do much when it’s cloudy or when they’re in the shadow from a sail, they don’t do anything at night, and their output is typically much less than it could be because boat installations (including ours) typically don’t allow them to rotate so that they can stay perpendicular to the sun.  We have both and between them we virtually never had to run the engine just to charge batteries, although we did turn the fridge off on long passages to save power for our electric autopilot.

Light Wind Sails

Not everybody mentions this, but the trades can be very light at times, and for long periods of time.  Light, downwind sails really are critical.  We had a large, symmetric spinnaker and a smaller, slightly heavier asymmetric spinnaker.  This was a good combination for us.  Others have had good luck with dual genoas and whisker poles.

The Autopilot

There are still some people sailing without an autopilot, but they’re few and far between.  Most cruisers would put the autopilot just behind the GPS and depth sounder in terms of critical gear.  You can find lots to read on this topic.  Obviously electric autopilots use a fair amount of power and can require expertise and hard-to-get parts to repair, so windvane-type systems have some real benefits.  We sailed around using a Raymarine autopilot with a Liner Type 2 Long drive unit.  Electric autopilots earned a pretty bad reputation for reliability in the early days, but with only a basic servicing in Cairns, ours has steered well over 95% of the time with no failures or hiccups.  These days electric autopilots are much more reliable.  We chose a drive unit one size larger that the manufacturer recommended to reduce the overall strain on the unit as a function of its rating.


Everyone knows that it’s not the best idea to go sailing without paper charts, and most people prefer sailing with the convenience of electronic charts, of which there are many varieties.  This leaves you needing to buy two often very expensive versions of the same chart that was originally generated with taxpayer funds.  Here are the things I didn’t know about charts when I started sailing.  (1) There is a relatively recent, pirated version of charts for the entire world that virtually any long-distance cruiser can give you a copy of.  These charts work with a pirated chart program that you’ll get at the same time, or you can use them with the free chart program OpenCPN. (2) The US used to make charts for essentially the entire world.  You can buy nice 2/3-sized black and white printings of these charts for around $7 each.  (3) Not only can you copy charts from other cruisers nearly the world over, there are often marine stores in key ports throughout the world that have a nice inventory of chart copies that they sell for about $5 each.  There are legal responsibilities associated with what type of charts you have on board that you should be familiar with, but it’s always nice to have a backup.  If you’re just sailing in the US, the full electronic US-waters chart catalog is now available for download for free.

Laptops, Email, Internet Access, etc.

Of course you’re going to bring a laptop, but here are a few computer/internet tips.  Because so much of our life is now on the internet (communication with friends, banking, destination research, etc.) most cruisers now consider access to the internet more important than access to a hot shower.  Luckily you can find internet access almost everywhere now, and WiFi hotspots just for boats are common, although high speed and unlimited bandwidth are rare.  Service in most countries charges based on the amount of data sent.

Strongly consider bringing a backup laptop.  The marine environment can be hard on them and you’re often in a place where it’s difficult to find a reasonably priced replacement.  Often laptops are integral for communication and are a backup or primary navigation/chart system as well, so it’s worth having a second one.

Consider making at least one of the laptops a netbook like the Acer Aspire One.  They’re cheap, can go 6-8 hours on a battery charge, and don’t take much juice to fully charge.  Make sure you get the larger battery option instead of the standard, smaller battery.

Use a program like Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook to access your email account using POP and SMTP and set it up to fetch headers only.  If this sounds like Greek to you, ask someone for help as this will save you a ton of time, money, and frustration.  Back in the US, you can use webmail (e.g., by using a browser like Internet Explorer to go to, but in many parts of the world, the internet is so slow and expensive that this either takes forever and costs a fortune or worse, your email page just won’t ever load.  The solution is to use a special email program on your computer to access your email.  First you have it fetch headers, which means that it only downloads key information about each new email you have: Sender, Subject, Size, Date, etc.  Based on this list, you can pick which messages you actually want to download to your computer.  This saves an incredible amount of time and bandwidth, allows you to skip large forwarded messages, etc.  You can now check your email in a minute or two of internet time instead of sitting there for an hour or two waiting for pages to load and typing responses.  You can also type up new emails or responses on your computer and then connect just to send them, which only takes a minute or two as well.  You can configure the program so that all of your received emails are still in your webmail, although you won’t have a copy of the emails you sent using the program stored online (although you could BCC yourself so that you have a copy online as well).

Backup your personal data to a portable USB hard drive that you keep in a waterproof container with some shock protection (wrap a towel around it, etc.).  Shock and water both kill hard drives, online backup services aren’t an option, and you probably really want a backup copy of all those charts, pictures, documents, etc. that are on your laptop should it die.

Bring a WiFi antenna.  We used what’s called an omni-directional antenna (looks like a pole) that was about 2.5’ long.  If you set it up for mounting outside, you’ll get stronger, faster Wifi connectivity on your boat, may pick up internet for free, and in most places you’ll save the hassle of going ashore to use the internet.  If you’re not up for making this a DIY project, you can buy a package pre-configured for this job that is designed for outdoor use.

If you’re going to be someplace for a while (even a month can be long enough), you may want to consider buying a USB modem that provides internet access using 3G cell phone networks.  They’re often cheaper than using hotspots, are more reliable, don’t require a contract, and give you a lot of flexibility (they work almost anywhere a cell phone does).  You can recoup some of the cost by reselling to another cruiser when you leave.

If you really want to pull your hair out to save a few bucks, try setting up Windows Internet Connection Sharing so that multiple people on the boat can share the same internet connection at the same time.  We’ve used this quite a bit so that Lauren and I can both be on at the same time, but it can be a real headache to setup and my experience has been that once you finally get it working, success will be short lived.  It will often have to be setup again the next day because it’s mysteriously stopped working.

Internet at Sea

The reasons for having internet access at sea are pretty obvious: receiving weather forecasts, contacting someone in case of an emergency, keeping friends and loved ones updated on your whereabouts and status, and staying in touch with other cruisers who often have useful information to share.  Theoretically you can do most of this stuff with just an SSB radio, but it’s more complicated and less reliable, especially for weather information and staying in touch with folks back home.  For most budgets, your two options are basically an Iridium satellite phone and/or a Pactor modem for the SSB radio.  You can research costs online, but neither is cheap.  We used a sat phone, and knew plenty of people who used a Pactor modem or both.  Because of our two-year plan, the sat phone option looked to be cheaper for us and it gave us the added ability to make phone calls, which came in handy when we had rigging problems offshore or wanted to wish a loved one Happy Birthday.

SSB radio grounding

You can read about this for days, and none of the “experts” seem to agree.  With a degree in electrical engineering, I thought I’d have a leg up on most people, but my specialty wasn’t RF (which even EE’s often refer to as black magic), so I googled for hours and hours and was still confused.  Finally I found an article by some old codger who’d been doing ham radio stuff for years and actually did an experiment with a sailboat in the water and found that a good connection to one bronze through-hull was as good as anything else that the experts tell you has to be done.  His data wasn’t the end-all for the argument, but it was the only real data I found, it made theoretical sense, and I had a nice, unused bronze through-hull right by my antenna tuner.  I tried it and we consistently get reports that our signal is excellent compared to other boats with professional installations.  Our antenna is homemade as well.  Because of skin effects, the grounding “wire” does need to be a strip of copper.  You can pay a fortune for flimsy copper tape, but I found that I could buy much wider (6+”) and sturdier copper for next to nothing at a local scrap metal business.  Just run the wide copper to the through hull, trim it down to an inch or so wide, wrap it around the through-hull fitting, hose-clamp it down tight, and you’re done.

Cell Phones

Low-volume cell phone use is much cheaper and easier in the rest of the world.  You’ll often find people with cell phones who don’t have electricity from a utility company.  In South Africa, for instance, you can get a used phone for $20 or so and a SIM card for as little as $0.13.  Just add pre-paid airtime and you’re good to go.  If you don’t leave the US with an unlocked GSM phone, you can get one easily and cheaply from one of the cell phone shops that are everywhere.  The same unlocked GSM phone will work pretty much everywhere, and you can usually get a SIM card and some air time for $10-20 in most countries.  The ability to make and receive local calls and texts is pretty nice and you don’t have to worry about signing a contract.

Seasickness Remedies

I always laugh when I hear people who are naturally less susceptible to seasickness carry on about how it’s all in your head and put their good fortune down to some sort of mental tenacity.  Most people eventually find themselves in conditions that make them feel ill at some point.  One interesting thing we discovered about seasickness medication is that every country seems to have a different over-the-counter medication that is most common, and in many cases you can only get it in that country.  Most people swore by something, but good luck finding it in the country you’re in at the time.  My favorite was available in the UK (given to us by another cruiser), but not in the US (perhaps because hallucinations were a potential side effect).  In the end, we almost never used seasickness pills.  Just try what you can get your hands on and buy more of what seems to work for you.

There are a few things that we found useful.  Spend the night before a passage at anchor if possible.  It helps you get used to the motion.  Being hungry and starting to get seasick often feel the same at sea, so even though it seems counter-intuitive, you can often fend off seasickness by eating something.  Have snacks handy.  Try to pre-make some food for the first 2-3 meals at sea, or at least have some meals that are easy to prepare.  Working in the galley can be pretty rough before you have your sea legs.  I find it’s often much easier to avoid getting sick than to recover from being sick.  If someone is starting to feel sick, it’s best to have them lay down or otherwise take it easy until they’re feeling better or the weather improves (assuming someone else is feeling better).  Once you’ve thrown up the entire contents of your stomach and are having trouble keeping food down, regaining your strength can take a while.  It’s better to cover for someone for a while in the beginning of a passage than to lose to them to seasickness for a longer period of time.

If you do start puking, life is pretty much as bad as it gets.  Seasickness is awful enough to merit a whole blog.  The good news is that virtually everyone gets over it in 1-3 days, and in most cases the weather improves in that amount of time anyway.  Keep hydrated and try to eat crackers or something simple, even if it’s only down for a while.  I also found Phenergen, an hospital anti-nausea drug, to be pretty effective at this point.  It does tend to put you to sleep for a few hours, which I liked, but may be bad for a single-hander or couple.

The Sailor’s Gucci

Don’t look silly by having a wallet that costs more than what’s inside it and isn’t waterproof to boot.  Join sailors the world over and invest a penny or two in the sailor’s Gucci.

DSC_0460_thumb[2] The sailor’s Gucci

Emergency Medical/Evacuation Insurance

We found that for common medical needs (stitches, stomach parasites, fevers, damaged eardrums, medication, etc.) local health care in the places we visited is more than adequate in terms of quality and is typically so cheap that the cost and hassle of an all-inclusive health care policy would be a waste.  World-wide emergency and evacuation insurance for accidents and serious injuries is another story, however.  We found this type of insurance for around $400/year per person and although it was a real hassle to deal with the insurance company, they did cover Lauren’s accident in Christmas Island, including our flights to the mainland and hotels in Perth.  DAN, the Diver’s Assistance Network, also provides good evacuation coverage at a low cost.  For us, this type of insurance was worth the cost, especially considering that evacuation costs from some of the remote places we visited can be astronomical.