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This page contains a few small pearls of cruising wisdom, opinion and advice (arranged in alphabetical order) that we have collected over the years through trial and error, experience and from other cruisers.  We hope others find them useful.

Changing the Impeller:  The raw water pump on our Volvo main engine is right above the alternator, so we very much like to avoid spilling salt water all over the place when changing the impeller.  So, we keep the saltwater off the alternator and out of the engine room by first running the engine for 15 seconds or so with the top off the raw water strainer, which on our main engine, is located above the water line.   This breaks the siphon and allows the raw water pump to suck air, pumping all the raw water out of the engine (or at least out of the raw water pump chamber).  Then, when we pop the impeller face plate off to replace the impeller, the chamber is empty!  The salt water strainer in our Westerbeke generator is integral to the through-hull valve and thus below the water line, but with careful timing, we can use the same trick.  With the engine running, we unscrew the strainer access plate at the same moment we close the through hull, then shut the engine down 15-20 seconds later.  The result is the same: all the raw water gets pumped out until the raw pump is sucking air, leaving the impeller chamber dry.  Of course, be careful not to run the engine longer than the few seconds it takes to pump the water out or you could risk overheating.

Cleaning the Bottom:  In the tropics, we clean the bottom of the boat every 4-6 weeks.  At anchor, slime builds up fast, "hair" starts to grows at the waterline within a week or so of cleaning it and barnacles show up on the prop and anywhere else there isn't nice new bottom paint within a couple of weeks.  After a month at anchor, barnacles start to show up everywhere, even on the bottom paint.  If you wait too long, it becomes a jungle down there!  We use ablative paint, the best we could find in the states, and the barnacles still manage to stick to it (and take it with them when you scrape them off, leaving little bare spots without paint!).

We know people who don't scuba dive or snorkel and never clean their own bottoms.  Most places cruisers gather, you will find individuals - either locals or other cruisers - who will do bottom cleaning, generally for a lot less than in the states.  A 48' boat we know paid $8 in El Salvador for a bottom cleaning, but $0.75 to $1 a foot is more common.  We will occasionally pay someone to do this when we are in a marina or anchorage where the water quality is poor, but we generally like to dive and clean our own bottom.  We've seen over-aggressive bottom cleaners take off a whole coat of ablative bottom paint with a brillo pad or less scrupulous ones do only the water line.  When we clean our own bottom, we know what we are getting, we scrub only enough to remove the hard growth (but not the paint - we use a 4 inch wide piece of 1/8" Plexiglas to scrape off the barnacles, leaving the paint intact.  Others use plastic drywall knifes or similar, but we find these don't last very long)   We can also keep abreast of the bottom paint conditions ourselves as well as keep a close eye on our zincs and let them go right down to the end before we replace them instead of replacing them even if they don't need it just because the diver is there. 

We have cleaned the bottom just snorkeling, without using air tanks, but it takes longer and certain spots such as the prop and the bow thruster require vigorous, sustained scrubbing.  We prefer to use a "hooka" rig - a diving regulator with a 100ft hose, attached to a scuba tank we leave on deck.  This is a lot easier than suiting up in full scuba gear while still letting you stay down and work hard for long periods of time.  We also like to have this rig handy for emergencies, as its a quick way to get over the side with air to free a line or fishing net from your propeller!  Additionally, unlike battery or engine driven "hookas", a tank with a real scuba regulator and 100 ft hose lets you dive deep if necessary to retrieve dropped items or check the anchor.  We've found that filling scuba tanks is generally easy, even in remote areas.  Dive shops are everywhere and cruisers with dive compressors onboard are generally happy to trade a tank fill for a beer at the bar.

Cleaning the Bow Thruster:  Our bow thruster is a pain to clean.  It's a long tube, particular to the long axis of the boat, located underwater in the bow.  It has metal rods protecting the ends of the tube and two propellers inside.  Stuff loves to grow in there and reaching in through the narrow openings between the barnacle encrusted rods with both hands to clean it out while holding your breath underwater isn't our favorite thing to do.  One thing we are dying to try the next time we are at anchor for an extended period is to close off the tube ends by inflating balloons with water using a small, hand held dingy bailer pump.  Before we inflate the second balloon, we would fill an old shampoo bottle with bleach and unscrew the top just before we close off the tube with the second balloon.   In this way, the water in the tube should be sealed off and sufficiently chlorinated to kill off the growth in the hard to reach areas!  We don't really know if this will work and it probably won't remove the barnacles even if it kills them, but it's sure worth a try!

Cloths Pins:  Use the wooden ones, not the plastic ones.  They actually last longer (the sun makes the plastic ones brittle and they break after only a few months in the sunshine) and they are better for the environment when they go overboard (and they will go overboard).  See our rant about plastic

Coconuts:  The water and white meat found inside a coconut are delicious.  They also act as a powerful laxative.  Enough said.

Dingy:  Bigger is better, as long as you can still stow it on your foredeck.  RIBs are better than soft bottoms.  They plane better, carry more, handle beaching better and you will find that you seldom fold your dingy away even if you can.  Aluminum RIBs are tougher and often lighter than fiberglass RIBs.  Being able to plane with all your crew onboard will let you see places you would not otherwise see.  We carry an Avon 10.3 RIB with a 15hp 2-stroke engine.  Even so, we can just barely plane with the four of us and a few pounds of gear onboard.  We can't plane if we have dive gear onboard or do too large a shopping.  In a few years, the kids will have grown such that we won't be able to plane even with just the four of us.  Our next dingy will be larger with either a 4-stroke 15hp or maybe even a 25hp engine if we can find one lightweight enough to store on our stern pulpit.  Having a rowing dingy or smaller outboard does not always save you money.  In Bahia del Sol, the nearest town with decent provisioning and an internet cafe was a 5 mile dingy ride away - a quick 15 minute ride at planning speed and about a gallon of gas round trip.  People with small outboards or rowing dinghies took buses (about an hour ride one way) or a $4 per person Panga.  Dingy water sports are also better with a larger, more powerful dingy.  A 9.9 hp engine will pull a kid on a surfboard, but a 15hp engine will get a sizable kid up on skis or a wakeboard or an adult (or two) up on a surfboard.  If you have a 25hp dingy, you will be very popular in the anchorage.

Dingy Wheels:  For cruising Mexico and Central America, you want big wheels on your dingy, the inflated kind with real tires that mount to the transom and fold up.  We had the hard plastic Pelican wheels on our dink, which worked fine in the Northwest on hard packed sand or rock, but are completely worthless on the predominantly loose sand or gravel beaches elsewhere in the world - they dig into the sand, creating more resistance when folded down then if they weren't there at all.  Most of the time, it's easier just to leave the wheels folded up and drag the dingy up the beach on it's own bottom.  The vessel Stargazer had the best wheels we ever saw - big, inflated tires on spring-loaded mounts which once released, would snap down and lock into place by themselves in the water or ashore if the transom was simply lifted.  Neat!  So, get big wheels.  They are worth every penny.

Dry Bags.  We love these and have lots on board, the kind favored by kayakers that roll up and snap, producing a completely water-proof seal.  We've dumped the dingy beach landing on occasion, so cameras and such always go into one when going ashore, not just for beach landing but when inland or hiking around (we once destroyed a camera with a leaky water bottle in the backpack before we started doing this!).  When beach landing the dingy looks untenable, we have actually put clean clothes in a dry bag and swam to shore through the surf!   We even have an extra-large one for the laptop computer, which we use religiously.  Pelican cases of various sizes, particularly for the laptop computer, work well also, but don't store aboard or in the backpack as well.  So, get a bunch, you will use them.

Fuel Jerry Jugs:  Even if you have huge tanks, carry a few jerry jugs.  There are many places (most places outside the states actually) where the only way to get fuel is to take a taxi to a gas station.  Even when there is a fuel dock, it may have a rough concrete wall or be too shallow or it may simply be easier to dingy your fuel back and forth then move your boat.  We carry five squat, plastic, 5-gallon vent-less diesel jerry jugs (vented jugs can leak and the ones with the new California nozzles are silly and spill when you use them) in the lazzerette.  We also carry a 5-gallon gasoline jerry jug for extra dinghy fuel.  When full they add to our fuel capacity, but more importantly, they give us enough carrying capacity to top off our tanks with a minimum of taxi rides.

Lightning:  There is a lot of evaporation and convection in the tropics, which create a lot of big, ugly, scary thunderclouds with lightning and thunder that come and sit on your boat for hours at a time.  It can be a pretty helpless feeling, particularly when you have a 75 foot lightning rod called a mast and tens of thousands of dollars worth of delicate electronic equipment onboard.  What's more, boats can actually sink if lightning gets inside the boat and blasts its way out through the hull.  If you are going to cruise the tropics, you need a strategy to reduce the chances of being hit and reducing the potential damage if you do get struck.

There are as many theories about what steps to take and how to avoid getting hit by lightning as there are boats on the ocean. A complete discussion of the topic would be beyond the scope of this web site (there are entire books on the subject) and much about the topic is to this day mostly conjecture and opinion, but without going into a huge about of detail, here's our own opinion and theory on the subject.

First, keep lightning out of the boat!  Our mast is deck stepped, not keel stepped, so we have a good head start when it comes to keeping lighting out of the interior if we do get struck.  If we had a keel stepped mast, then we would be more inclined to ground our mast to the water directly and permanently or alternatively, by temporarily hanging jumper cables or chain connected to a chain plate over the side and into the water during storms, thereby providing a direct path to the water which avoids the interior.  But, our theory is that while grounding the mast probably reduces the potential for damage if you do get stuck, it may actually increase the chances of actually being struck as ions can now flow easily between the water and the mast tip, perhaps more easily building up a potential charge to which lighting may discharge.  We also don't want to be up on deck in the pouring rain hanging chain into the water at 2am during an electrical storm!  So, we don't ground our mast to the water.  It's completely anecdotal and circumstantial we know, but of the boats we know that have been struck, most were grounded.  In fact, one resident couple we know lived on the hook for years in El Salvador without getting hit and then got stuck twice only *after* they started hanging chain into the water off one of their chain plates!

We also don't have (and don't want) one of those "charge dissipater" things on the masthead that look like a metal dandelion seed.  We think they are gimmicks at best and at worse, may even increase the chances of being hit by providing a better electrical "connection" to the air from the mast.  Of the boats we know that have been hit, most had these things installed.  We have even heard that some insurance companies require them!   We think that is crazy.  Maybe if you have a keel-stepped mast and are providing a permanent, grounded electrical path to the water, it might make sense if you install it as a grounded lightning rod at the highest point on the mast, above the antennas (which no-one actually does in practice as the mounting rod they come with is way too short) but they don't make sense in our opinion for non-grounded, deck-stepped masts.

Electronics onboard can get damaged even if powered off and completely disconnected.  Even if you don't get hit directly, the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP - yes, the same thing from the Matrix movies, the same thing that atomic bombs cause) caused by lightning, even a near miss, can still take out thousands of dollars of stuff.  The tremendous currents in a lightning bolt create huge electromagnetic fields which can in turn induce high "pulse" currents in nearby conductors (like the electrical traces and components in circuit boards) which can overload and fry fragile electronic components even in completely disconnected electronics.  It's good to turn stuff off during a storm (we have several "defcon" levels in response to an impending storm, the first includes turning off everything - if we are at anchor that is - including the refrigerator and freezer).  It's better to physically disconnect everything you can (we disconnect our radar and other displays, turn off the connections to the house battery bank, etc but draw the line at other built-in stuff like the autopilot and instruments).  But it's best to put everything you can into a Faraday Cage like the oven or Microwave. The magnetic fields induced inside a conductive box or other container like the oven cancel each other out.  In theory, EMP can't reach inside a Faraday cage.  A spare GPS, a hand-held VHF radio, our digital cameras and flash cards and as many other small electrical devices as we can fit all go into the microwave when thunderclouds are approaching.  Our laptop computers go into the oven (we just have to remember to take them out again before baking scones in the morning!).  On the same principle, we've even gone so far as to wrap larger electrical items like our PC display monitor in aluminum foil on occasion, though admittedly, that may be getting a bit extreme.

As a last word to this already overly long winded topic, we pay particular attention to the masthead antennas and wiring that goes up the mast, since that is a path for lightning to potentially enter the boat's interior.  Without exception, all of the boats we know that have been hit were struck at their highest point - their masthead VHF radio antenna.   We have quick-disconnect fittings on the coax and other cables going up the mast at the mast partners that we disconnect at the first sign of lightning.  Hopefully, this reduces the chances of frying our radios and of lightning finding a way inside the boat in the first place!

Microwave:  We have one, we use it a lot, we love it.  Some cruisers find they only use theirs for storage after a while, but after a year, we still use ours all the time.  We like it because its fast, it doesn't use up precious propane and it puts less heat into the boat than using the oven or a burner on the stove.  We have kids onboard and lots of electrical generating capacity, so that also may make a difference in the attractiveness of this option for us.  I guess the bottom line here is that if you cook with a microwave at home and have the power aboard, its a good option to consider.

Refrigeration:  Refrigeration systems which work perfectly in more temperate climates will show their weaknesses in the tropics.  At best, they will use more power (our power consumption is a little less then double in 85 degree water what it was in Seattle in 50 degree water).  At worse, hidden problems will manifest themselves or they will stop working all together.  Do everything you can before you leave to get your system in top notch shape.  Adding insulation for example, will save you amps and reduce the time your compressor needs to run.  Our best advice is to know your system and carry everything you need to diagnose problems and fix them yourself.  Yes, you can find refrigeration technicians in paradise, but having a freezer or fridge full of provisions go bad in the meantime is no fun.  The systems on our boat (we have both a freezer and a fridge) are simple 24 volt 'Danfoss' style compressors with keel coolers (the coolant circulates through radiators attached to the outside of the hull and thus takes advantage of water's better thermal conductivity to more efficiently dump waste heat) made by Fridgaboat.  We love them as they are simple, efficient, quiet, have no fans, don't require running the engine (unlike many holding plate systems) and most importantly, unlike systems with fan-cooled radiators, they get the heat out of the boat, which is critical in the tropics for both keeping the people onboard comfortable and for removing heat from the compressor compartment so the compressors don't overheat.  We carry refrigeration gauges and plenty of refrigerant (don't forget the valves to tap both metric and standard cans, with and without Schrader valves) and we know how to use them and more importantly, we know how our system behaves i.e. what pressures it likes to run at, how to tell by the different cold plate noises whether there is moisture in the line, etc. The one thing we currently don't have onboard but will carry next time is a vacuum pump.  We have twice needed to have a refrigeration technician come aboard with a vacuum pump to evacuate one of our systems to remove moisture from the lines.

Waxing:  Heat and ultraviolet light does a real number on fiberglass.  Nothing short of physical damage will age your boat faster in the tropics than not protecting your fiberglass.  We waxed the boat four times over the course or our year-long trip to Central America and that was not excessive.  We use Collinite Fleetwax number 885 paste wax in cans.  Absolutely the best fiberglass wax on the planet.  Use their fiberglass cleaner as a preparation step for the best results.  In several places, El Salvador in particular, the fiberglass got really dirty from all the soot in the rain from farmers burning their fields.  Collinite's fiberglass cleaner was the only way we found to remove the grime without scratching the glass or jelcoat.