Questions and Answers

If you have any questions regarding the cruising lifestyle, feel free to send them to us using the contact form. If we know the answer we will add it to our list, below.

e.g. From Simon:

We are in the process of selling up to live aboard full time. We are a young couple with two girls aged 10 and 8. We bought our 50′ Bruce Roberts cutter rigged ketch from some Americans.
My wife and I have already travelled from London to Cape Town in a Land Rover, so we know how to slum it on a budget. I can fix “most” things. The last trip I fixed both heads, an oil leak, the autopilot – and I still had fun !! However I know its different doing this kind of thing week in week out.
We have a 1001 questions that we’d love to ask. …

The admiral’s reply:

A 50 foot Bruce Roberts ketch sounds ideal. We used to have a 43.
And your adventures in a Land Rover make me envious. That’s a thing that I was planning to do – until I met the skipper, and got distracted. Yes, if you can drive across Africa you’ve got the right mentality to get along very nicely in the cruising world.
Fire away…


I’ve just bought a boat to go cruising. It has air-conditioning but it’s not working. Should I fix it, or just junk it and use the space for storage?
I would certainly get rid of it.
Most American yachts have air-con, but I’ve yet to see another yacht with this clutter.
I hate air-con for two reasons. Firstly, I’d rather adjust to the ambient temperature – I think it’s a lot healthier to do so – and secondly, air-con wastes fuel and, as a result, fills the atmosphere with CO2.
Incidentally, it is almost always much cooler aboard the boat than it is ashore – provided the boat is at anchor (with the hatches facing the wind) and not in a marina.
Will I use the water-maker, which is fitted to my boat, or shall I sell it? The boat holds 1000Ltrs in two tanks.
In the days when the kids were tiny, 1,000 litres of water could last us three months at a pinch. Washing up was done in salt water, and Nick even showered in salt. (This is a waste of time, in my opinion; it leaves you still feeling sticky.)
Now that we have five full-sized appetites, plus a thirsty dog, our 1,000 litres doesn’t go far. As a matter of fact, we’re planning to convert two of the fuel tanks to water (by inserting plastic bladders).
We have just bought a watermaker. It’s a 12V model and the only sort which can also be operated manually. I wouldn’t really want an engine driven watermaker – but that’s mostly because I detest engines (noise, environmental damage etc). If you have one, I would certainly keep it.
Watermaker = independence
You should also think about making a rain-catcher awning.
There are two heads. Shall I turn one into a workshop?
We were going to have two loos on Mollymawk, but we decided that we could manage with one – and we do manage. I suppose that, in well regulated circles, early morning is the peak time, but having grown up with this arrangement our kids have fitted their movements to other times of the day, thus relieving congestion…
We are just about to fit a long-drop, not so much because we need it but because it fits our image… and because it will save wear and tear on the pump.
Of course, in extremis one can always use the bucket and chuck-it system. In fact, some Turkish friends, with a very fancy yacht, have become so tired of unblocking the loo that they now only use buckets. (One bucket each, for some reason. Perhaps it’s a Muslim ruling….)Yes, a workshop would be much more useful than a second loo. We cannot understand how people without workshops get by.
Our ketch has roller furling units on main and mizzen as well as foresails. Should we change for more conventional hanked on main and mizzen?
Roller-furling genoas used to be very unreliable and cause all sorts of trouble, but now we all have them. I guess the same is becoming true of in-mast furling. Indeed, perhaps it has already become reliable.
If you have in-mast furling you won’t be able to change to slides without also changing the mast – so presumably you are talking about the kind that furls just aft of the mast. We don’t have any experience of this. I think I would be inclined to live with it for a while and see whether you like it.
If you are worried about it, buy a bag of sail slides, some big needles, and a spool of strong sail sewing thread. Then you can always change things yourself if you need to!
What do you think of davits?
Davits are ideal, in that you can hoik the boat up easily and have it out of the water but not cluttering up the deck. However, if you are in a big sea you will find that the waves can get under the boat and throw it around, or they can jump aboard and fill the boat, damaging it or even causing the davits or the tackle to break.
You might also find that the windage on the boat upsets your sailing performance.
I have noticed that many people cruising in the Med do have davits, whereas ocean passage makers tend not to. I imagine that you are aware that towing the dinghy is not a viable alternative. (They always fill up – and they slow you down terribly).
Nick hates davits, but I think that if I had a boat with davits already fitted I would try them for a while to see how we got along together.
Note that you will find it difficult (if not actually impossible) to use a wind vane if you are carrying your dinghy in davits.
What windvane type do we need for a long keeled, canoe-stern yacht with hydraulic wheel steering?
We would always recommend using the kind of wind-vane which works an auxilliary rudder – and if you have hydraulic steering I think this may be your only option. When you have a wind vane with its own rudder the main rudder is lashed amidships (or close to amidships) and so the type of main steering is not of any relevance.
An auxilliary rudder also serves as a spare main rudder, in an emergency. Our system is a piece of home-made bodgery. Similar ones are in production, for example from Autohelm and Hydrovane. They are not cheap…
Note that you won’t be able to use a windvane if you are keeping your dinghy in davits.
Should we carry spare sails, or a sewing machine?
Spare sails = extra weight (always a problem on a cruising yacht) + use of valuable stowage space (ditto).
It is almost always possible to get a sail made and delivered at very short notice.
Mind you, if your sails are already looking a bit ropey, new ones would be a great idea… if you can afford them!Most domestic sewing machines are not strong enough to sew through heavy-weight terylene sail cloth. And even if your machine is tough enough, you’ll find that you usually can’t get to the damaged area; you can’t fit all that bulk of cloth under the arm of the machine. To mend a sail with a machine you generally have to dismantle it, panel by panel. Thus, you’ll find that you do most of your sail repairs by hand.
Do we need to buy a wind generator, or should I stick with the solar panels and the diesel generator?
Wind generator + solar panels . And bury the engine driven machine 🙂
Solar panels are fine when there is plenty of sun… and wind generators are fine when there is plenty of wind…. so you really need both.
Solar panels are less efficient in the hot sun, and hugely less efficient if you don’t keep them pointing straight at the sun. Also, bear in mind that if a shadow falls across part of the panel – just the shadow of a shroud, for instance – it disables a whole area of the panel, not just the area in shadow.I would recommend either an Aerogen or an Airex. We were talked into upgrading from the former to the latter (by my power-hungry son) but the Airex does not produce very much more except in strong winds, and it is said to be less reliable. (Time will tell…)The Airex is also far noisier – which reminds me: mount your wind genny high up on the mizzen, (the higher you go, the less noise and the more wind) but don’t put it on the very top of the mast. If you do, you won’t be able to use a halyard to get it up and down (to mend).The farming Airex is way cheaper than the yotty one and is (said to be) identical except that it hasn’t been painted. You can guess which one we have.Biggest power consumer aboard a yacht is a fridge. We don’t have one. I’ve never had one so don’t miss it.
Washing machines also use a lot of power. We don’t have one. I’ve never had one and I miss it like mad.Our biggest consumption is power to run the computers, of which we have three, and the associated printer, scanner etc. My son is the main culprit…

Strip lights use a surprising amount. If you don’t want to be forever telling people to turn it off, switch to LEDs. Especially, be sure to have an LED anchor light. Caesar is our expert here.

Shall I fit a bow thruster, or will I get better at manoeuvring the boat?
Bow thrusters are for people who can’t handle their boats – said she, who always lets the skipper or the boy do the under-engine manouevering.
Seriously though, you can manage without it. A bow thruster will add weight in the bow of the boat – just where you don’t want it – and it will steal a chunk of buoyancy from that same place – just where you want as much buoyancy as you can get.
A bow thruster will also mess up your sailing performance.
If you decide to have one fitted, be sure to gen up on the business before the experts move in. Most bow thrusters are just slapped into a tube which fits across the bow but, as I understand it, the tube should really be faired so that it meets the hull with a well-rounded curve; a broad semi-circular junction rather than a tight angle.
All long and semi-long keeled yachts are difficult to manoeuvre under engine, particularly astern. You just have to play around and learn the little idiosyncrasies of your particular “pig”. And when you see the Beneteaus and their clones slipping in and out of tight corners and spinnng on a sixpence, remind yourself that you wouldn’t want to be caught out in a gale in one of those things.
What’s the biggest waste of time/money you regularly see?
I couldn’t think how to answer this one, but when I asked Nick he promptly said, “Fuel” – and he’s right.
It used to be that everybody sailed everywhere as a matter of course, but nowadays one even sees people motoring down wind! We’ve met people who motored all the way from Cape Town to St Helena simply because they couldn’t be bothered to wait for the wind! People call us eccentric (or worse) because we sometimes take a whole day to cover a distance that they can motor in not much more than an hour – but we go sailing to go sailing; not to get from A to B, and certainly not to motor.
We are not out and out purists. We do have an engine – a very big, powerful one (which was found on the seabed… but that’s another story). We use it for getting in and out of marinas and other tight corners, for testing the anchor (even if we have set the anchor undersail), and in the event of an emergency. Our engine has saved the ship on more than one occasion, and we would not want to be without it – but nor would we ever want to have to pay the bills entailed in using it every day. In the course of eight years our engine has done somehwere around 80 hours, and we have not topped up the tanks since the day we set off on our maiden voyage.A second major unnecessary expense is slipping and antifouling every year. We have just slipped Molly for the first time in eight years and, having cleaned off a great deal of growth, have painted on some very expensive stuff called Coppercoat. Coppercoat is said to be good for ten years or even longer. We’ll let you know how it goes…Another big money waster is paying other people to work on the boat, and, in particular, on the engine. It always amazes us to see sensible-looking people walk happily into the arms of a stranger and give him carte blanche to disembowel their machine – and all because he is wearing a grubby boiler suit. (If he is wearing a clean boiler suit, be even more wary.)
Nick is a mechanic, so we don’t have this problem. It sounds as if you are also adept at fixing things. If ever you do find yourself with something that you can’t fix, don’t trust a Spanish boatyard, or any other foreign boatyard, to do the job, unless you can get an independent recommendation from someone who has had work done there.
The stories I could tell……! We’ve even known people to buy a new engine – via the kind-hearted folks at the boatyard (who made about 50% on the deal) – when the problem was something that Nick could have fixed in an afternoon.
Is there anything that people ought to buy but don’t, because they perceive it as being too expensive?
A decent set of anchors.
You really cannot have too many anchors. It isn’t just that you might lose one; different anchors are suited to different bottoms and different situations. And in some situations you might need two, or even three anchors.Our worst ever storm at anchor was in Gibraltar. 80 k, as recorded at the adjacent runway. We had out three anchors, and were motoring under full power to keep the bows pointing into the wind and sea. Rock wall 50 yards astern of us. Only one other boat stayed put. (One sent up flares; one called up a tug; the others got out and went into the marina before the going got really bad.)Anchors are the cruising yachtsman’s insurance policy. Three is a minimum.
What do you think of the Danforth anchor?
Danforths are really only useful as a stern anchor (eg. for Mediterranean mooring, where you often find yourself coming into the quay bows first and have to throw out a hook to hold the stern.) Danforths hold very well in sand, mud etc, but if the wind veers and the boat suddenly swings through a big angle, they are apt to bend. Hence, they are not much use as a main bower.
On an ocean passage do you remove the anchor from the bow or leave it there?
We have a 50kg Bruce at the bow, on the roller, on 50 metres of half inch chain. Yes, we leave it there while we are at sea. (We lash it.)
I know of a guy who lost his boat on the rocks a few miles from the harbour entrance because he had just stowed the anchor below decks… but that isn’t really why we leave it there. It doesn’t cause any problems, so why not leave it there?
What engine spares do you carry, and what are your favourite tools, besides the obvious ones?
Nick’s list of spares:
Fuel and oil filters
Oil – enough for an engine oil change
Gearbox oil (ditto)
Various hoses, of various sizes, together with copper washers and jubilee clips / hose clamps
Raw water pump impeller and kit seals. (“This often gives trouble.”)
Head gasket set (“The head gasket is about the only engine part that can’t be made up or bodged.”)
Gasket paper
Morse cables. (“At least one – the longest one.”)
Stern gland packingHe also recommends a litter-picker, a mirror on a stick, and a magnet on a string or on a stick.
Nick’s tool kit also includes a stethoscope, so that he can listen to the engine, component by component, and detect the source of any strange noises. (Yes… I must do a cartoon someday…) If you want to make one up, the stethoscope has a spike on the diaphragm.
What do you think of hard tenders?
We carry two inflatables and a hard dinghy. This is not prescription. You don’t need three dinghies. But it’s a good idea to have two.
We don’t have space for a RIB, and since we prefer to row, rather than motor, we wouldn’t have a use for one anyway.Essentially – inflatables are a pain, because they don’t row very well, and they get holed far too easily – BUT – they are relatively easy to stow, and relatively easy to launch from the deck, they won’t capsize (except in breaking waves), and they don’t do any damage to the mothership.We seldom use our hard dinghy, partly because we can’t be bothered to launch it but also because it will insist on cuddling up to Molly and bashing the paintwork.We prefer Avon rubber dinghies, partly because they row best (being fitted with proper rowlocks) and partly because they are made from Hypalon, which is easier to mend than PVC. (Actually, Avon have been taken over by Zodiac, so I’m not sure if this is still the case…)As I say, you really ought to have two dinghies, partly because dinghies do sometimes get pinched, but mostly because the kids will need one. For cruising kids, the dinghy is the equivalent of a bike.
If I had three grand to throw away I would buy a folding K2 Stowaway, a boat which is said to sail as well as a Mirror. Rox would love it. And so would I…There is quite a bit about dinghies in Kids in the Cockpit. I sneaked it into the section on boats for children.
With children of 8 and 10, is netting on the guardrails any use or a liability?
Before we had kids we despised guard rail nets. Then along came Caesar, and the net was essential. Over the course of time we have come to depend so heavily on the net that now, with the youngest child aged 11, we still want to keep it. It saves all sorts of stuff from going overboard.
Nets are only a liability when they become rotten.For more information about nets, and about safety at sea in general, you could take a look at my book.
What are the little things that your children cherish?
Tricky. They’ve all gone to bed – but I don’t need to ask Caesar; I already know: he cherishes his computer and an internet connection – which is a thing that we don’t always have.
Xoxo used to cherish her dog, but now she cherishes a ton of books and the shelves on which to stow them. She would not be happy if she did not have her own cabin with her own desk.
Rox cherishes two pet slugs and an incubating caterpillar – and the space to store not only these but half a dozen other “vivariums” – homes to a succession of frogs, lizards, praying mantises etc – and even more space in which to store her museum (birds’ nests, bones, snake skins etc, etc.)
Essentially, I think that having their own private space is the most important thing so far as teenagers are concerned.
Don’t your kids get bored?
In a word, no. I don’t think that my kids have ever been bored on board, except when we have been obliged to spend one long period couped up in a marina. When they were babies I used to have to entertain them while we were at sea – and that was hard work – but ever since they could toddle they have been able to find their own amusements.
This has probably been our most frequently asked question over the years (along with “What do you do about their schooling?”) and for this reason it is considered in great depth in Kids in the Cockpit.
What is the thing you like least about the cruising life?
Doing the washing.
How do we work out what it will cost?
How long is a piece of string? Your expenses will depend on your lifestyle. If you plan to cruise the Med you will probably find yourself having to use marinas, and this can cost 100 Euros per night. In fact, it can cost more. Fuel is also expensive. If you choose to anchor instead, and to go with the wind, then your boating expenses will be reduced to the cost of maintaining the vessel in working order.
After that, it just becomes a case of, will you eat bread or cake? Will you dine out? Will you want to hire cars and go sightseeing? Will you spend large sums in internet cafes – and will your kids want a full set of diving gear / a windsurfer / new dresses etc, etc.
If you could choose to have just one thing – a gadget or a piece of equipment – which would add the most to your cruising life, what would it be?
A washing machine. And the water to run it.
We plan a year in the Med, to start with, then an Atlantic crossing if the lifestyle suits. What do you think of the plan?
The Med is far from being an ideal cruising ground. True, you can hop from port to port and never need spend a night at sea – if this is what you want – but there are drawbacks. Briefly:

  1. There are very few anchorages.
  2. The weather in the winter can be quite nasty, with a fairly high incidence of gales. The Romans banned their ships from putting to sea between October and March, and for good reason. (Yes, you can still hop from port to port – but people don’t tend to; they tend to hole up.) You will certainly want a heater if you are going to winter in the Med.
  3. The wind tends to be either very weak or rather more than you wanted. Obviously, you can get some very good days – but a comparison with the Caribbean is odious. In the Caribbean, in the winter, you can depend on the Trades to blow.
  4. Mediterranean gales can be much more dangerous than Atlantic gales. If you get a gale while you are on the ocean it ought to be no big deal in a well-found boat; you just ride it out. But when a gale catches you out in the Med there is always a lee shore nearby, in one direction or the other. Moreover, gales in the Med put up very nasty, short, very steep seas.
  5. There are very few families cruising in the Med.

On the plus side :

  1. Plenty of interesting and educational culture (not only in Greece and Italy)
  2. Easy access to the UK, with cheap flights. This makes it an ideal venue for those with elderly parents or with kids at university.

If I were spending one year cruising I would do the Atlantic circuit instead of visiting the Med – but this is just a personal preference.

We are hoping to get off the beaten track a bit by cruising to Papua New Guinea. Can you recommend a book that deals with children’s health as a GP visit is probably out of the question!
We do have a few of medical handbooks. Thus far, I am pleased to say, they have not seen much use.

  • The Ship’s Captain’s Medical Handbook (HMSO publication).
    This tells you how to bandage people and diagnose appendicitis, and how to deal with drunken seamen, etc.
  • Your Offshore Doctor by Dr Michael H Beilan.
    This one is a bit superficial, in my view.
  • Where There is No Doctor, by David Werner
    Not intended for yotties – in fact, it was written for semi-literate third-world villagers – but this is my favourite. It is very down to earth, and besides showing you how to bandage a wound and deal with eye infections, etc, etc, it has all the tropical diseases.
  • Advanced First Aid Afloat by Peter Eastman.
    This one is also brilliant – it even tells you how to take somebody’s leg off…! . Our version is ancient, but I’ve just checked on Amazon and I see that it now has a section regarding children.

If you’re going to buy anything from Amazon, please go to the site via the following links to Amazon UK or Amazon US. That way we make a few pennies at no cost to you.

The only problems we ever had when the kids were small were impetigo and diarrhoea.
The latter needs careful management, with lots of rehydration fluid of one sort or another. (Breast is best!)
To treat impetigo before it get out of hand you need a special cream, which you can get from a chemist or pharmacy.

We don’t have a fridge and have had little success preserving, especially fish. Do you have a method that works?
We don’t have a fridge either. We preserve fish by salting it or by making a ceviche. The second only keeps for a few days, but salted fish will keep for weeks.
Cut the fish into fairly thin slices; line a dish or box with a thick bed of sea salt; place the fish in the box in layers with a thick layer of sea salt between each layer, and press down on them.
This will cause liquid to come out of the fish.We generally leave the fish in this brine for several days. In fact, you can just leave it like that for weeks. Alternatively, you can take it out and hang it up in the rigging to dry. But chooose a day in harbour, because a damp sail will just make it go mouldy.If you don’t preserve the fish properly then, in theory, you can get botulism – so I’m attaching a total disclaimer to this advice: you do it at your own risk!
(As a matter of interst – and to put the thing in perspective – you can also get botulism from a multitude of other sources, including honey, garlic preserved in oil, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and home-bottled meat or vegetables. Cooking at high temperatures destroys the toxin.)

For more information, try Fish Processing by Intermediate Technology Publications.

If you have any questions which aren’t answered above, feel free to send them in.