BROKER'S CORNER 427 - Coastal Ready

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Preparing for the first coastal cruise involves a bit more than weighing anchor and hoisting the main, GREG COCKLE from Sydney keelboat dealership Yoti says don’t leave shore without a few Plan B’s

BROKER'S CORNER 427 - Coastal Ready
BROKER'S CORNER 427 — Coastal Ready

There comes a time in every yacht owner’s life when the decision is made to sail out of the harbour and head up or down the coast on the first coastal cruise. Many owners choose to sail as part of a fleet from their yacht club, and in doing so benefit from the security of knowing there are others out there, should a problem arise. More importantly, they will usually benefit from the pre-cruise meetings and briefings that usually precede these sailaways, when they are made aware of the minimum safety requirements, radio skeds, source of weather forecasts and so on.

However, a lot of first timers choose to ‘go it alone’ and head out without the security of some form of organised cruise. This article looks at some of the things that all offshore cruisers should be aware of — particularly if it’s your first time venturing into the blue.

The amount of preparation you make for your first offshore passage will depend on the length of the voyage. Assuming a relative short first trip, say from Sydney to Port Stephens, we will address only those things that can go wrong that need to be fixed at sea. More major irritations like a broken toilet, a busted freshwater pump or a leaking hatch, while an inconvenience, can generally wait until you are back in port and fixed with the help of a nearby chandlery.

In planning a first offshore trip, it is probably the first time you will be relying entirely on the battery supply to keep all those whiz-bang instruments going, without the luxury of shorepower battery charging. Let’s assume you have an average 35- to 40-foot yacht with plotter, stereo, 12V refrigeration including a freezer, autopilot and maybe radar. All these things (plus lights, pressurised water, radios etc.) are being run typically through lead acid batteries with a combined capacity of about 300amp/h.

During the 18 or so hours you are sailing to Port Stephens you will probably go through about 180 to 200amp. Even though you thought you had full batteries before leaving, because of various inefficiencies, you may only have 250 to 270amp/h at your disposal. This means that when you reach your destination, unless you’ve been running the engine, the house battery supply will be nearly flat.

Even though the alternator that comes as standard with the engine is rated at 60amp, because it’s internally regulated it will put an average of about 15amp per hour back into your battery supply. The bad news with this scenario is you’ll need to run the engine for about 12 hours to bring the batteries back-up to scratch. If you’re planning a short layover, with the intention of heading off again, chances are you won’t run the engine long enough to fully charge the batteries and over time you may get to the point where they fail mid-passage.

All these shortcomings with batteries can easily be overcome through increased battery capacity, solar panels, LED lighting, high-output externally-regulated alternators and so on. But the important thing is to know what the batteries are doing so that you can more effectively manage them.

Just as a fuel gauge tells how much fuel is remaining, for a small amount of money a battery monitor informs how many amps are going out (switching on a light for instance); how many amps are coming in (starting the engine); and most importantly, how many amp hours remain in the house battery supply. If a battery has a 300amp/h flooded cell capacity and there is less than 150amp/h left, a charge must be introduced to the system or something turned off before you get to less than 50 per cent capacity.

Misunderstanding battery management is the greatest cause of heartache among inexperienced cruisers. Apart from the potential safety concerns that low battery power can result in, nothing does more to put a dent in the cruising dream when the first mate finds the electric toilet won’t flush because there’s not enough power.

Before moving off batteries, one final thing to check before heading out is the fluid level in flooded cell batteries. Make sure all the cells are covered with distilled water before leaving and that you have plenty onboard to top the batteries up along the way. Also important is a method of transferring the distilled water from the bottle into the individual cells without flooding everything else, usually in the dark, and usually when the boat is rocking about.

Now to the next often overlooked problem that can also wreck that first offshore passage — blocked fuel filters.

If you have until now been mainly sailing inshore waters, there’s a good possibility the fuel in the tank has been sitting fairly stable. However, when venturing offshore and where there can be considerably more movement of the boat, the fuel can slop around, releasing all sorts of residue that’s been hanging on the tank walls and ending up in the fuel filter. This can quickly block a filter and stop the engine — as Murphy’s law dictates just when entering port after a passage.

Always carry spare filters, and if you haven’t owned the boat since new, change the filter before going offshore for the first time to be on the safe side. A project for the future could be the installation of dual filters, with a manifold valve that can divert fuel from one filter to the other if the engine starts to lose power. You can then change the offending filter at your leisure.

Two other things to check before going offshore the first time is the integrity of the shaft seal and bilge pump. If you have a bellows shaft seal, make sure to secure a hose clamp around the shaft in front of the seal in case the grubscrews come loose. If that happens, the bellows decompress and can potentially sink the boat. If your boat has a stern gland that relies on a rubber hose to stop the ingress of water, make sure the hose clamps are secure before heading out.

Throw a bucket of water in the bilge and check that the manual bilge pump can empty it out. Now that everyone has electric bilge pumps these days, we often forget about the manual pump, which will dry out if not used occasionally — a dry bilge pump may not prime.

Finally, here’s a list of other spares that need to be packed away permanently on the boat before departure:
* Two saltwater pump impellers and a means for quickly pulling a broken impeller out of its housing. Jabsco make an impeller puller just for this purpose.
* A spare drive belt. Make sure the tool kit has the right spanners for loosening the nuts on the alternator bracket.
* If the 12V-DC system uses fuses instead of circuit breakers, have a supply of spare fuses rated correctly for their use.
* Have spare bulbs for navigation lights, chart table light, other interior lights and torches. Also spare batteries for the latter.
* Something to cut the rig loose from the boat if it goes over the side. This may be big wire cutters or a hacksaw with plenty of spare blades.
* A quantity of spare shackles of different sizes.
* A 5lt container of new engine oil.
* Some fast-setting epoxy that when kneaded, will mix the two elements together to make putty that can be used to temporally fix leaks in exhaust systems.
* A bottle of champagne to celebrate your successful first landfall.

Good preparation makes sound sense. The points covered in this article are in addition to ensuring you are carrying the necessary safety equipment, first aid and navigation charts. Getting your head around what’s required to make, and keep, a yacht seaworthy will almost certainly result in making that first offshore passage safely. In years to come, you’ll look back on it and remember it for the achievement it was.

* Greg Cockle has a background in marketing and advertising and has been sailing for most of his life. During the ’80s he and his wife spent four years cruising the Western Pacific, educating their daughter in the process. Most recently he was National Sales Manager for Catalina Yachts, and in 2006 took delivery of Volare, a Catalina 42 in Long Beach, California. He and his wife spent the next 18 months sailing it back to Sydney and now lifeaboard the yacht in Sydney. A part of the Yoti team, he brings to the dealership a strong cruising perspective (see

Photo: The Yoti team: founders John Cowpe (left) and Tim Vine (middle), with Greg Cockle.

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 427, May-June, 2012.


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