The simplicity and comforts onboard a cruising boat

Since setting sail in October and having experienced both cold weather sailing in Europe and the warm climates of the Caribbean we came to really appreciate some of the things and equipment we have onboard. We’ve met many other cruisers along the way living on very different boats, with different equipment and all of them would probably give you a different answer to the following question:

What has been the most useful thing or equipment onboard?

No matter how big or well equipped your boat is or how much luxury items you have onboard, in the end all cruisers are living a similar adventure and get to enjoy the same beautiful places. It is all about the balance between the minimum requirements to be safe and to make you feel comfortable, your expectations of the trip and ultimately your budget limitations.

Some people, especially coming from an overwhelming city life, enjoy experiencing the minimalistic aspects of a simple cruising life. Others would like to keep most of the comforts they are used to. There is no right or wrong approach to cruising and both perspectives are perfectly ok. Do whatever floats your boat!

Early in our planning phase of the trip we talked through minimum equipment that we want to have onboard. Luckily Porky was already outfitted very much to our liking. Apart from safety equipment and spare parts, we do like to limit our belongings to whatever we use frequently, partially because we like living a more or less minimalistic lifestyle, partially because we simply don’t have a lot of room to fit all the stuff. Our idea of ideal equipment also keeps changing as we gain experience and learn from other cruisers. But overall we are very happy with what we have onboard and would like to share our insights with you.

Here is our top 10 of most useful equipment onboard Porky:

1) Flexible sail wardrobe
It might sound silly to even mention it but being a sailing boat, our sails give us propulsion and get us to all these wonderful destinations around the world. Having experienced everything from no wind at all to over 35 knots on our passages we always felt safe and prepared with our sailwardrobe. Porky’s tall rig allows us to still make good progress in light winds (which you actually mostly deal with as a cruiser). We even have a spinnaker stored away that we haven’t tried yet because full genoa and mainsail was usually enough to make good speed. Once the wind picks up we start reefing to not put too much strain on materials and to keep it comfortable. If we ever happen to hit stronger winds we have a smaller staysail and storm sail onboard. The key is to have a good sailwardrobe that enables you to adjust to light as well as strong winds and still get to your destination comfortably. Being flexible with you sail set-up and having different options is necessary if a sail rips or anything breaks. And as we all know, there is always something that breaks on a boat.

2) Renewable energy
Given our limited electric equipment we don’t need huge quantities of energy onboard Porky. Most generated power is consumed by the fridge, navigational systems, lights, and USB plugs to charge personal devices such as phones, kindles, headphones, etc. For us it is crucial to have a power set-up that is independent of us running the diesel engine (which is expensive in terms of fuel and apart from that not very environmentally friendly). When we bought the boat, solar panels and a wind generator were already installed to power our 12V battery system. It rarely happens that both sources don’t produce enough energy to top up the batteries when we have cloudy, windless days or nights. An inverter converting 12V to 220V allows us to plug in more powerful devices like our movie projector, vacuum cleaner, and laptops. So far this is all we need and we would only need to enhance our energy capacity if we ever get more electric equipment like a water maker or dive compressor, for example.

3) Self-steering windvane
Shortly before we sailed across Biscay in November 2020 a group of juvenile Orcas were reported to have attacked sailboats off the northern coast of Spain, specifically trying to bite or jam the rudders off. Knowing that our spade rudder wouldn’t hold the force of these large animals, we decided not to install and use our self-steering windvane, which would serve as a spare rudder in case we lose our main rudder. Unfortunately our old electric autopilot from the early 90s gave up on us during the first night when the remote got wet by waves splashing into the cockpit. We handsteered the next 2.5 days taking turns every 2 hours. When we set up our Hydrovane for the next passage, which is a simple, purely mechanical system at the stern steering our boat to a certain wind angle, we couldn’t believe why we did not use it before. Independent from electricity and being an excellent teacher for a balanced sail trim, our Hydrovane, called Tippin’ Tony, probably is the most reliable and tireless crew member onboard.

4) Toolbox and spare parts
In the first months of the refit and living onboard we slowly filled our toolbox with tools that we always used around the boat. Having the right tools and spare parts to fix things ourselves saved us plenty of time and money. Even though it’s usually the one part or tool that you don’t have at hand, you usually get help from nearby cruisers or find parts in local chandleries and hardware stores. If you plan to go to more remote places for longer periods of time you should definitely plan ahead and take enough spares and the necessary tools with you.

5) Fresh water supply
Most people we met have been surprised that we do not have a water maker which filters sea water into portable water. Porky has been fitted with three large fresh water tanks of a total of 520L. That’s usually enough for a 1-2 months for us three before we need to find a dock to refill our tanks. To save water we try to use seawater for as much as we can like cooking, washing dishes, and washing ourselves.
Additionally, we found it very useful to have a good water filter onboard. Drinking water has not the same quality in different countries and even if the water coming out of the hose is clean, our metal tanks still give the water a metallic taste. We installed a simple water filter under our sink for one of the faucets. Water out of the other faucets is boiled before we use it.

6) Fridge and Stove
We found that food became one of the most important topics as we usually cook everything onboard to save money, except for the occasional meal out after a long passage. Having a spacious fridge and a well-working gas stove and oven allowed us to store and prepare a variety of foods for longer time periods at anchor and at sea. Most people will argue that a freezer will give you even more advantages, which can be true depending on what you want to store and for how long you plan to store it. Other people have circumnavigated the world without having a fridge at all and proved that you get used to buying, storing and preparing food as your set-up allows. Our fridge allows us to have cold drinks, store diary products and fresh produce that has already been refrigerated in stores, and cool leftovers to be eaten the next day or two. Even though the fridge is our most energy consuming equipment, we wouldn’t go without it. Having a well-working stove and oven simply allows us to change up our meal plan with trying different recipes and ways of cooking and make cooking overall more enjoyable.

7) Diesel engine
Deep in our hearts we are true sailors and it always annoys and bothers us to start the noisy old diesel engine. Even though we could get anywhere by sails, closed quarter boat handling or emergency situations are easier handled under engine. That’s why we have a true love/hate relatationship with our Perkins. We take good care of him so he will hopefully serve us many more years while we try to not use him unnecessarily when we could actually sail. We have to admit that the engine has helped us to get into tricky anchorages, tiny marina berths, through windless days on the Atlantic ocean and has saved our batteries from being sucked empty. Some of us (especially Max) also find pleasure in maintaining and better understanding the mechanics behind the engine, so Perkins does get some love in return for his faithful service.

8) Dodger and Bimini
On a sailboat you are exposed to whatever nature throws at you including weather, seastate and wind. When at sea our dodger has given us shelter from intense sunlight, heavy rain showers and massive waves splashing over the coachroof making the companionway the best spot for watches when conditions are uncomfortable. When anchored or in a marina we also put the bimini up which protects the cockpit from direct sunlight and light rain. Although we do love to look like proper beach bums, none of us wants to come home with unhealthy, wrinkled, sunspotted skin or, even worse, skin cancer when we get older. Just recently we added a new sun shade, which we tie off between the dodger and bimini to have full sun cover also in the mornings. The mesh material lets all the breeze through while blocking most sunlight making it very pleasant to sit outside.

9) Leisure equipment
Once you start cruising you will be amazed how much time you have at hand. We keep finding different ways to use our free time, especially with picking up new hobbies. Hobbies usually require some sort of equipment, some more than others, and we started accumulating various “toys” that bring us joy, help us exercise, and allow us to enjoy our hobbies. Kitesurfing and dive gear, for example, take up a lot of space on the boat but with a little bit of Daniel’s organizational skills all gear is neatly stored away without hoarding.

10) Functioning toilet
Well, you might laugh at this point but a well-functioning toilet is for some reasons really important to us. Living in an apartment or house you take it for granted that whatever you excrete is automatically sucked out of your sight at the push of a button. Some cruisers do have the comfort of an electric toilet, however, all livabords live with the same fear of having to fix and clean a broken toilet. And boat toilets tend to break easily. The smell, the mess and disgusting sight is nothing anybody wants to experience, especially at sea. Our toilet works by manually hand-pumping saltwater to flush the bowl and pipes. Our golden rule is that whenever the toilet breaks the last person using it has to fix it. Knock on wood…so far everything has been working perfectly fine. And when the nightmare does come upon us and we cannot solve the problem immediately there is always the infamous bucket-and-chug-it technique.

We hope that some of the tips and tricks are useful to you or give you ideas. Please keep in mind that these are our very subjective perspectives and might not work or be the same for everyone.

But isn’t that the beauty of embarking on such an adventure: to find your own way and pace of doing things?

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