Cruising Journals - Randy Repass
Equipment Selection Philosophy
Best Quality for Reliability
We have cruised Convergence from Santa Cruz, California across the South Pacific to New Zealand, Australia Tasmania, Darwin, through Indonesia to Phuket, Thailand across to the Maldives, up the Red Sea and to the Med where Convergence is now. Thanks to the efforts of the designer, Tom Wylie, and builder, Westerly Marine (no relation to West Marine), we have had little or no problems with the construction of the boat and rig. We have had more hassle than we expected with gear and systems.
Boat parts and service are readily available in a few of these places but not in most. The solution is well-designed systems using quality components installed properly. Even if we were planning on using our boat exclusively in the US, the hassle of servicing inoperable systems is not worth the few dollars saved by not doing the job right the first time. We want the gear and equipment aboard to keep working and are unwilling to sacrifice safety for value.
Most things worked!
Unreliable Solara solar panels, the water maker that had to be rebuilt 2 plus times in less than 250 hours, but has been very reliable since (we got one of the first ones made), the engine driven charging system took way too much upkeep until re-engineered, there were too many installation problems, mostly related to electrical and plumbing installation issues. Sometimes one blames product failure on the product when it is an installation problem.
Take the time to select high quality product and install the product properly without taking shortcuts. (Or don't install the product at all!) Do an extensive sea trial. If you don't you will just have to fix it later usually in less hospitable surroundings with help a long way away. Do it right the first time, it will save money and hassle later!
We chose the Spade 110lb. Steel anchor to hold us where we drop the hook. Testing at West Marine revealed that the Spade sets quickly like the Bruce anchor - which we used without fail on our 42 foot Lobsteryacht Explorer - but with more fluke area it holds more effectively. After 10 years of cruising 2 to 4 months a year the anchor when properly set (backed on) has never dragged in over 45 knots of wind. We have a lot of confidence with this anchor. When we needed to purchase a new anchor for our 42 ft Lobsteryacht we purchased a Rochna which we heard very good things about while cruising Convergence.
We initially chose a Maxwell 1200 horizontal hydraulic windlass on the basis of past experiences with Maxwells. We had run into complications with previous electric windlasses when salt water from the chain corroded the motor, inducing erratic performance. The hydraulic windlass is bathed in oil and not nearly as susceptible to damage from salt water. We upgraded to a Maxwell 2200 horizontal electric windlass after 2 years. The extra pulling power is essential in an emergency and the electric windlass pulls in chain much faster and is much more efficient than the hydraulic which was powered by an electric motor driven hydraulic pump that is also used for the bow thruster. If we were to do it again we would choose a vertical windlass as the chain wraps around the drum up to 180 degrees vs 90 degrees on a horizontal windlass. Both the 1200 and 2200 windlasses have been 100% reliable.
Grade 7 (very high test) galvanized chain
We wanted the security provided by chain and the convenience of chain/wildcat without paying a heavy weight penalty in the very bow. We chose 5/16" Grade 7 super high test hot dip galvanized chain one grade above standard, grade 5 high test chain. Some people say that they like the catenary effect of larger chain but when it is really blowing hard the chain is bar tight with virtually no "catenary droop". And we'd rather have the weight in the anchor. We are firm believers in having an oversized anchor. We sleep better!
We chose a hydraulic Max Power retracting thruster to help in those awkward tight windy/strong side current docking situations. The unit has been 100% reliable. We did have to replace a corroded control switch after 2 years but it has been good since then. We think the corrosion was due to an installation issue allowing water to leak in.
For hassle free cruising it is critical to have a "bullet proof" charging, storage and measurement system. We decided to go with a DC boat. Originally we chose to charge our large battery bank with the engine alternators and a large solar panel array. Unfortunately half of the panels of our unique solar array built with Solara flexible silicon panels failed after 2 years. When the 500 watt array was operating well and the sun was out all day long the system provided all of the power we used. But even in the South Pacific the sun is rarely out all day long and our array is frequently shadowed by the rig. Fortunately we provided room for a generator should we later decide we wanted one. We have removed the Solara panels at significant hassle, frustration and cost and added a very innovative Whispergen Stirling engine generator. This unit is very quiet and we like it very much. It even provides hot water. Unfortunately the Whispergen, originally designed for European apartments, was so innovative that although ours still works very well, the maker no longer produces them!
24 VDC 1000 Amp Hour Gel House Bank
We are using a 24V 1000 AH house bank with a separate 12 V battery system for some electronics and a few miscellaneous items not available in 24 v. We chose 24 V due to the distances and currents involved. Cable size for 24 V system is half the size required for a 12 v system and 24 V electrical gear is readily available for all except some VHF and SSB gear. For these reasons 24 V or higher voltage for house systems is common for most boats over 40 to 50 ft. and it has served us very well.
We chose gel batteries because they don't produce flammable hydrogen when being charged and do not require maintenance. In addition, if left fully discharged for some reason they can be fully recharged without losing capacity.
Battery Charging From the Engine
We fitted two Balmar 94-24-135-MHD 140 amp alternators (backed off to 100 amps) to charge batteries. The alternators use a Balmar smart regulators (MC624h). We immediately upgraded to two 225 amp alternators detuned to 100 Amps each as we were concerned about reliability. The original brackets were undersized. We had the alternator mounting brackets for the 225 amp alternators replaced with much stronger ones designed and built in New Zealand where the Kiwis know how to build strong brackets. We found that it was not uncommon for cruising boats to have undersized alternator brackets. Make sure your boat has "overbuilt" alternator brackets. You will get much better belt wear, less belt dust and a reliable charging system (as long as the rest of the system is well designed!). We are able to put 200 amps into the house bank, which enables us to recharge quickly. But the 225 amp alternators are just too bulky, too heavy, and too big for us to handle and really too big for our Yanmar 100 hp engine. We should have stayed with the 140 amp units. Dealing with the under designed engine charging system, mostly caused by the undersized brackets, which caused excess belt dust and wear, has been one of the biggest hassles we have had. Since the brackets were upgraded and vee belts replaced with flat belts and proper size pulleys we have had very few problems.
Part of the trouble with our electrical system the first two years was with the Balmar MC-624 smart regulator. This regulator has a microchip and user programming mode that allows one to program three charge voltages, charge times, maximum charge current and a few other parameters. This gives the unit lots of flexibility for use with various types of batteries and different size battery banks and alternators from small to large and if all worked as advertised would be a great unit. We have a 1000 amp hour 24 v house battery bank, pretty large. We initially had no generator and had to rely on two 225 amp alternators (each detuned to 100 amps) to charge the bank. The programming of the first units we installed was to put it mildly arcane/difficult/unreliable. In addition some of the settings would not store or stay in the unit's memory. Of course the units come with factory default settings. If one never tried to program the unit, one would never know there was a problem. After a number of frank communications with Balmar and subsequent improvements to the regulators the current units are easier but still not simple to program and do reliably store the programs. The current models are the best smart regulators I am aware of. We have replaced 2 regulators in 5 years but reliability of the current units seems to be very good.
After 10 years we replaced our Trace Sine Wave Inverter (4000 watts, of course we never use that much power) with a Magnum true sine wave inverter. The new unit is much smaller and lighter and so far works very well. The Magnum inverter runs our washer/dryer, built in vacuum cleaner (which we love), computers, sound system and miscellaneous other items aboard. When there is no load it goes into search mode using little power.
For the electronics requiring 12 V, we have a 12V battery located near the navigation station and well above the waterline so electronics will operate if the 24V bank fails. We have an all solid state (5 pounds, no heavy transformers) Analytic Systems 24 to 12 VDC charger (BCD300-32-12) for this battery. This unit is very efficient and has worked very well.
Charging from 110 VAC shore power for the 24V house batteries is provided by the Magnum inverter. We also had an all-solid state (12 pound) Analytic Systems charger (BCA1000-110-24) for the house bank that operates at 230V AC, 50 Hz for charging from NZ/Aussie/European shore power. This charger can also provide 24V charging from 220 VAC 60 HZ or 120 VAC 60 Hz - making it is a great backup charger. The Analytic Systems charger has been excellent but it was destroyed in Turkey due to a problem with shore power. We replaced it with a 10 year later designed Mastervolt 70 amp charger that runs off 110v 60 Hz or 230v 50 Hz power. We have had it for two years and it works very well. It is a great backup charger for the Magnum 110 v inverter/charger.
Blue Sea switch panels provide voltage and current metering for both 24V DC and 12V DC house systems. We also installed a Link 20 dual Amp Hour meters to monitor 12 and 24v battery charge. An amp hour meter is a must for a cruising boat in our opinion.
The Inverter is monitored and controlled from a remote inverter panel mounted with the other electrical panels. This has worked very well.
Our Blue Sea panels have rocker type (as opposed to "lever" type) circuit breakers which make accidental tripping of breakers (with your knee for example) very difficult. The switches are laid out so that the most frequently used are the easiest to find. All circuit labels are back lit for ease of identification. These panels and switches have been very satisfactory.
All wiring is high quality tinned from Ancor. We also used high quality Blue Sea electrical components wherever possible. After all, hunting down open circuits while at sea is difficult, frustrating and potentially dangerous.
We added an Orca Green approved masthead LED/Anchor/Strobe light in 2006. This is an excellent product. Low power and reliable. The early generation Perko 700 series LED running lights attached to the railing failed due to salt water intrusion. They were replaced and work very well. Of course LED lighting uses much less power than incandescent lights and never burn out so there's no need to carry spare bulbs. And if they are designed well they are more durable than incandescent or halogen running lights.
We used early generation Dome lights with both red and white LED's to provide lighting while under way and at anchor. The LED's use much less power that Halogen or Xenon bulbs and LED's never burn out or get corroded bulb sockets. These early generation LED Dome lights (discontinued by West Marine) provided inadequate lighting and were not reliable so they were replaced with later designed LED dome lights. We also installed Imtra halogen down lights in the pilot house salon on dimmers. They have been very satisfactory but I would like to replace them with LED down lights to reduce power consumption.
We used Taylor cold cathode fluorescents in the pantry and engine room. These produce lots of light, use little power and the bulbs last a long time. These have work well and have been reliable. I would use LED's on a new boat.
Dimmers for interior xenon or halogen lights
Dimming can create mood lighting and save power at the same time. We used Imtra's dimmer because we liked using the knob for dimming. These work well.
ELECTRONICS - Communications
We installed an M802 SSB so that we would be able to communicate with other cruisers and nets on SSB marine channels and Ham frequencies and via email using Sailmail or a commercial email service. The M802 is the best combination Ham/marine SSB radio we have seen. We used Sailmail extensively our first year out. Since then we have used an Iridium Sat phone and UUPLUS for email. We changed because we do quite a bit of email and Sat/UUPLUS is more efficient time wise. Of course that service it is not free but it is reasonably priced.
We selected the new West Marine VHF600 submersible for the Navigation station and the WHAM wireless remote handset for the cockpit station. The Wham mike was not reliable. Because the ICOM 504 fit better we installed it and Commandmic III. Both work very well.
Iridium Satellite Phone with UUPlus Email provider:
Provides very reliable email service that is efficient too. Can receive and send "normal" email load in 1 to 2 min per day, and at any time of day. One buys the phone and email modem, and subscribes to Iridium for sat time (in the range of $1.50 per minute) and subscribe to UUPlus as your Email provider using compression software to minimize air time. Of course Iridium works very well as a phone too. We try to minimize the phone time as it is easy to spend lots of money talking. This is the best worldwide email solution for offshore cruisers we have found. As we use the system for business as well as personal use our monthly bill runs a few hundred dollars a month. When in the Med we use local cell phone service and for an internet connection we buy a 4G "hot spot" in each country we spend much time in. The combination is less hassle, faster and less expensive than Iridium. When we are back at sea we will reactivate the Iridium sat phone.
Navigation/GPS/Radar - Pilothouse
We have used PC-based chart plotting, primarily Nobletec, for several years in Pacific Northwest waters between the San Juan Islands and SE Alaska and like it very much. For long distance cruising we think PC-based plotting is more practical than dedicated plotters using vector charts. We have a dedicated PC at the navigation station running Rose Point's Coastal Navigator for chart plotting and email. We have a Ray Marine's E Series Chart plotter, which is networked with RayStar 125 GPS receiver, ST 290 speed, wind and depth instruments, SmartPilot autopilot. The reliability of the Ray Marine product has been less than satisfactory. That being said the tech support has been excellent and we understand that the reliability of the new product, which is a couple of generations newer that our gear, is very good.
Cockpit Steering station
We were keen on creating a readable display for electronic charting and radar in the cockpit without cramping the helm. The solution was to mount Ray Marine's M1500 15 inch LCD weatherproof display on the top of the Edson steering pedestal. After 10 years the M1500 failed. We now use an iPad mounted where the display was as a cockpit display. The only other instrument we had mounted at the pedestal was an Interphase Probe forward-looking depth sounder. We replaced the Interphase with a Lowrance Elite 5 Fishfinder which reads to over 3000 ft. Raymarine ST290 wind and boat speed instruments fit nicely on the back of the mizzenmast and are visible from anywhere in the cockpit.
We are concerned about reliability so we chose two complete systems: Raymarine SmartPilot Corepack 30 with electric motor driven linear drive pilot. The two systems are connected in parallel just in case. Since Convergence is at the upper end of boat size recommended for electric linear drive units in 2008 we replaced one of the electric drive units with a higher power hydraulic drive unit. The Raymarine pilot steers our performance passagemaker well under all conditions including 40 knot winds and heavy swell. Raymarine has been very responsive regarding installation issues./p>
The Bose 321 system plays CDs, and DVDs when connected to a video screen. The system needs a separate amplifier to drive a second set of cockpit speakers. This system has two speakers and an "acoustimas" woofer and sounds fantastic!
Unbreakable Beverageware and Tableware
We use the glasses (14 oz tumbler) and 8 oz goblets every day. They are great.
They really do keep produce fresh longer and we recommend them.
Reliable refrigeration is a necessity for preserving perishable foods and chilling beverages. It is also consumes more power than any other on board appliance or instrument, so having an efficient and reliable system is critical.
After extensive research we chose Technautics Cool Blue holding plate systems for two simple reasons: reliability and efficiency. Cool Blue operates with a multiple speed compressor, fan and oversized condensing coil. This very efficient air-cooled system eliminates the expense, complexity and power consumption associated with water-cooled systems.
We installed two separate systems, one in the refrigerator and one for the freezer box. That provides backup which we have never needed. If we were doing it over again we would use Isotherm units.
We have successfully used a Force 10 range on the company's Santa Cruz 40 and on our Duffy 42 Lobster Yacht. We chose a new updated Force 10 4 burner gimbaled range with broiler. We like it.
We chose a double sink with the largest bowl Scandvik offers on one side and a small bowl as the other sink.
We have two Shurflo filters in series. One for sediment, cloudy water, chlorine, taste, Cryptosporidium/Cyst and lead/Giardia/Arsenic . The other is for bacteria and chemicals.
Pressure Fresh Water and Salt water washdown
We replaced the two Shurflo dual head/accumulator pump systems due to reliability issues.. We replaced then with Shurflo Extreme series pumps which take less space and have been very reliable.
We wanted an efficient and reliable watermaker. We chose an early production HRO Seafari Escape which makes 17 GPH. The unit is efficient but initially was not reliable. We have had to have it rebuilt two times in 4 years with a total of less than 250 hours. Since the rebuilds several years ago the unit has been very reliable and we are very satisfied with it.
Bilge pumps/damage control
We have several bilge compartments. So in place of a single separate damage control pump that requires extra plumbing to access all compartments and regular testing, we installed several 4000 GPH Rule pumps. We also installed Two Marelon through-hulls with ball valves in bulkheads between adjacent bilge compartments. This system gives us redundancy in case of a pump failure. We haven´t had any damage control situations yet!
Reliable Bilge pump switches, Pump Alarm and pump counters
We replaced all of the "Smart bilge pump Switches by Aqualarm". Two of them overheated and self destroyed. We replaced them with Johnson Electro-Magnetic float switches.
We have very successfully used a Jabsco Quiet-Flush (really are not very quite) electric head for 8 years aboard Explorer, so we made sure to use one aboard Convergence. We also chose to test a Sealand Vacuflush on the additional head. These heads are most like household toilets and use very little flushing water, saving capacity in the holding tank. The vacuum generator/pump made a loud noise and we had problems getting the head to seal well. We replaced the Vacuflush with another Jabsco Quiet-Flush. Then a few years later we replaced the Quiet Flush heads with Techma/Thetford EasyFit toilets. We have had problems with them. Toilets are a frequent topic of conversation among cruisers!
To maximize holding capacity and minimize clutter, we made the holding tanks integral to the hull. Each tank holds about 37 gallons and can be emptied through the deck to a pump out station or overboard. The work very well. We recommend West Marine Headzyme or Nitrator or Odorlos Head treatment to control odors.
We really dislike the smell that emanates from head intake and exhaust hoses after they have been in use for a few years. We plumbed both heads with PVC rigid pipe. It took a little longer but will save time when the smell starts and it is time to replace the hoses.
Holding tank vent
Many boats utilize fuel tank vents with monel screens. But sooner or later, the holding tank gets over filled and effluent is forced out the vent line. The screen becomes completely clogged, rendering the vent line useless, clogging the holding tank and diminishing capacity. A solution is to remove the screen in the tank vent line. A far better solution is to simply use a 1" Marelon through-hull fitting as your vent fitting to allow for easy passage of effluent should the tank become over filled. It does happen.
While we have met some interesting people in Laundromats, they are not convenient, operational, or fun all of the time. Plus lugging all that laundry is a hassle. So we installed a Splendide washer/dryer. The washer works very well. The final spin cycle leaves the clothes completely rung out. The condensing (non vented) dryer drys works poorly and uses too much fresh water. Once we discovered this we stopped using the dryer. We hang the clothes outside or on wet days, in the engine room. We have replaced the condensing washer dryer with a vented Splendide washer dryer and while the dryer does take a while to dry things, it works well. Because at the end of the wash cycle there is a spin cycle which does a great job getting most of the wetness out of clothes. So if we don't want to use power for the dryer we just hang up the laundry to dry before the dry cycle.
Built in Vacuum System
A Eureka vacuum system installed in the pantry under the cockpit with one outlet forward, one aft and a 15 ft hose makes cleaning up hassle free! We love it! It's still working well after 10 plus years.
FOUL WEATHER GEAR
Equator Foul Weather Gear by West Marine:
West Marine by Avon 3.4 RIB Inflatable:
New England Ropes Floating Dinghy Tow Rope:
When operating in sunny, warm climates, a very good ventilation system is required for comfort and fighting mildew. Even in cold climates, good ventilation is a must. The system needs to operate day and night, when raining or in heavy seas.
Hatches and Cowl Vents
10 Lewmar Ocean series hatches ventilate the living areas. These will provide lots of light below and ventilation in good weather. We also installed 2 stainless 5" cowl vents with mushroom vents and dorade boxes. The 5" vents provide 56% more throughput than a 4" vent and almost three times more than a 3" Cowl vent! We also installed Ocean Air shade/screens.
Oceanaire flush mounted combo units were installed for their attractive appearance and function. These worked very well.
We chose New Found Metals Ports because of the quality and the ease of use. They do not require a lot of turning to engage or disengage. These are excellent Ports.
Hella Turbo fans installed at the foot of each bunk. Several years ago we replaced all of the Hella fans with Caframo Bora high volume quiet fans. We love them.
ENGINE - Electronic Engine Controls
Teleflex Morse KE-4 controls are mounted at the navigation station and in the cockpit. Electronic controls are much smoother and easier to install than mechanical engine controls. Teleflex Morse offers an optional mechanical backup system, which we installed at the cockpit steering station. Works well.
Batten Car System
A fully battened sail, even one that is not fully battened, can be difficult to raise or lower when pressure is placed on the bolt rope or the sail slides. We met a cruiser who fell overboard at night when he went forward to pull the main he was reefing all the way down. (Miraculously he was rescued.) Using ball bearing cars on a track solves this "getting the sail down easily" problem. With the Harken Batt Car system the sail will drop fast, limited only by the rate at which the halyard is released. We put a similar system on the company sailboat Promotion a few years ago and it made raising, lowering and reefing the main much easier. Excellent, recommended for all sailboats, especially ones with full length battans.
Thanks to the simplicity of the rig, there isn't much hardware to handle! Harken carbo blocks are used throughout, while halyards, sheets, reefing lines are all run back to the cockpit to minimize trips forward. 4 Spinlock XTS Power clutches are used on each side of the cockpit to control lines for the two primary winches. All of this gear has worked very well.
On a boat this size, one would expect 8 to 10 winches. We have 5. Since we have received positive feedback on both Harken and Anderson Winches, we installed two of each. We prefer the Anderson ribbed drum winches as they grip the line very well and because the drum is otherwise smooth, do not chafe the line. Harken now makes a ribbed drum winch which, since it is from Harken, is probably very good.
Only the best, all New England Ropes of course! We are using a combination of low-tech color-coded, all-polyester Staset for main and mizzen sheets and for reefing lines. For halyards we are using very low-stretch white T-900, which has a polyester cover and a Technora/Spectra core. Endura 12 is used for topping lifts and choker tackle. I would not use uncovered high tech line on a cruising boat. We had sun damage on our uncovered line that resulted in breakage. Hi-tech line with polyester cover is available and what we use now.