What Works

There are lots of things that work exceptionally well for cruisers and a lot of things that are a waste of money.  We’ll start with Stuff That Works Great:

Spotless Stainless

Brush on, wait, wash off.  I’ve heard this story before.  I was skeptical but Robin was persistent and she was very correct.  This stuff works and lasts!  We’ve tried every product on the market and nothing works so well and so easily.  The reason?  Its chemistry is superior.  Most products have some combination of strong acids that oxidize and remove the rust.  What they don’t do is remove the tiny deposits of elemental iron that remain because they aren’t removed by strong acids so they rust soon after. Even the best quality 316 contains some elemental iron molecules that usually migrate to the surface.  That’s why stainless “rusts”.  It’s not generally a structural issue but it sure looks nasty.  I’m a chemical engineer not a chemist but their explanation of the chemistry makes a LOT of sense and explains what we observe with all other stainless cleaners.  This product was Robin’s “Find of the Year” last year!  www.spotlessstainless.com.

Nextgen 5.5 KW genset

The only genset with this capacity less than 250 lb we know of.  Bullet-proof Kubota 2 cylinder engine and unique belt drive that is a superb design.  We’ve got 1600 2000 hours with only oil and filter changes.  The few times we had a question their tech support was superb.  When this unit does eventually wear out we’ll buy another just like it but that could be a while.  We know of several with over 6000 hours!

Spectra Water Maker

What can we say?  It’s made over 25,000 gal of the best water you could ask for.  Water makers take a little maintenance but they are so worth it!  Many people think the reason to do this is water cost.  It’s not!  In the long run it is cost effective but it is soooo nice to make water every day no matter where we are and not worry about quality.  If you have problems Spectra has the best technical support around!  We love this product and the company.

Edgestar Icemaker

This is one of the best little $150 adders we’ve made.  It’s about the size of a small bread maker and makes a tray every 7 minutes.  Just pour in a gallon of water.  Trays are dumped automatically into a bin  When it’s full we empty into large ziplock bags and put them in the freezer.  During summer we run it a couple of hours twice a week.  If we ever run out it more than keeps up after the first tray or two.  We haven’t bought ice in 3 years.  When it comes to ice the problem isn’t really cost.  It’s availability and storing a lot takes up valuable freezer space.  We keep a couple of one gallon zip lock bags on top of the freezer and just run the water maker when we get low.  It draws 100 watts so it works fine on the inverter!

Explorer Charts

Great charts of the Bahama’s with way points and routes through the shallow banks that never let you down plus there’s almost a cruising guide worth of information about things to do, fuel and supply locations plus a lot of other valuable information.

Icom M 802 SSB

There’s a lot of controversy amongst boaters about the real value of an SSB aboard.  But amongst experienced cruisers it’s almost unanimous that and SSB is still essential equipment.  We are in that group and our Icom M802 has been fantastic.  I’m not a ham enthusiast just a radio user and I’ve found this one relatively easy to install/use.  We communicate clearly with our Chris Parker weather service every day while underway.

Chris Parker Weather

Chris Parker provides weather forecasts regionally for free on SSB Mon-Sat on SSB.  Subscribers get custom forecasts for passages that are well worth paying for.  For less than $200 per year you can get as many custom forecasts as you desire and he take into consideration your boat’s capabilities.  In addition to winds he will forecast sea state and currents.  I have good friends that are many year experienced cruisers and they all say when it comes to weather for departure “if Chris Parker says go, then go, if not, then don’t go”.  That’s the rule we use.  Chris also now gives custom forecasts via sat phone which are more expensive but for those that don’t have an SSB it is another way to get a forecast. 

Battery Monitor

We use a totalizer that came with our solar panels.  Many others use a Link 2000.  I don’t thing it matters too much which one you use just make sure it has a ground shunt ammeter and can adjust for the type and capacity of battery.  Once out cruising you’ll learn very soon the old adage that “batteries are 50% discharged at 12.2 volts” is totally useless.  That measurement is only valid after 4 hours of zero battery drain.  Under any load the numbers are much different.  The monitor adds up the total amp hours consumed and displays them constantly.  It also compensates for this thing called Peukert’s law that basically says the higher rate at which you discharge the more current you have to add to charge back up.  It takes some getting used to but voltage in the low 11 volts is totally acceptable during periods of high draw and the only real way to tell how much capacity you’ve used is to check your totalizer.

LED Lights

LED lights have finally come of age.  They work extremely well.  The new super bright are a huge step forward as are most of the Dr. LED conversion bulbs.  We’ve got one in our anchor light and also use a Hella LED area light over our dinghy davits to provide a huge amount of light when we load or unload at night.  That said we’ve been very disappointed with one very popular and very expensive brand.  You can find the details on the “What Doesn’t Work” page.

Another LED that we’re thrilled with is the VisionX Solstice Solo 2” square LED light.  It’s a 10 watt unit and way brighter than our 20 watt halogen deck light.  We added one to use as our deck light when the standard halogen fixture started to fail.  This one is in a super sturdy ceramic fixture with high quality SS hardware.  It was pretty easy to mount right below the old housing and wire into our old combined steaming/deck light fixture.  Google for the best price you can find or click here to get one where we found them.

Lock & Lock Containers

Thanks to Lock & Lock we have crisp crackers, cookies and all kinds of other food.  Robin discovered these and has tried other brands.  The other’s don’t work near as well.  You can get them at JC Penney and kitchen stores.

Dinghy Lights

The best solution w’ve found is to mount a good marine quality 12v mast light on the transom of your dink or directly to the engine cover.  Use the kind that are mounted on a pole.  Brands we like include Perko and Attwood.  Be sure to seal bolt holes.  We prefer the removable type so the light can be stowed away from people that like it too much at dinghy docks.  Make sure to use the contact cover and squirt a little Corrosion Block on it periodically.  Power the 12v light from your dinghy engine’s alternator.  Almost all engines have a small alternator even if it’s not hooked up. Usually the wires hang down under the fly wheel somewhere with connectors that aren’t hooked to anything. The power is unregulated and AC not DC so you need this little regulator/rectifier to convert it to 12v DC.  Use a universal 12v regulator/rectifier like the one made by WPS (part number 123090A)They are $20-$40 and readily available from snowmobile suppliers of all places. Several engine manufacturers sell the regulator/rectifier under their brand name for around $100.  Google to find your best price or click here to buy the one we found.  Install the regulator/rectifier and carefully route the wire out of your engine cover to the light.  Any time your engine is running you have a bright very visible light, no batteries to mess with.

Another option we’ve seen more and more of is a solar powered garden light or solar powered step light attached to the top of the engine.  These aren’t always the brightest and the step light has no post so it’s got visibility issues.  But both are way better than nothing.

Anchoring System

There are lot’s of different opinions on this so here’s ours.  We have an all galvanized chain system with a 1500 watt electric windlass and a Delta anchor.  Our back-up is an identical anchor with 40’ of chain and 200’ of 3 strand nylon.  We’ve anchored in everything from sand to rock to mud with this system and only drug one time at Pumpkin Key in a grassy sand bottom.  Naturally it was the middle of the night and during a thunderstorm.  Not bad considering we’ve anchored out 9 months per year for two and a half years.  We set an anchor alarm every night.  This is an old Garmin GPS 76 battery operated hand-held GPS.  We hang it under the hatch in our cabin and it wakes Robin up then she wakes me up.  The GPS eats two AA batteries every night so we have 6 nimh rechargables in a charger that we rotate every night.   We use 5-7X scope as measured to the anchor roller.  Many forget to add the extra using water depth and end up with a short scope.  We also carry a Danforth anchor and set it where we are forced to anchor in poor conditions as an extra anchor or where we need to keep the stern from swinging out in narrow anchorages.

Internet in the Bahamas and Caribbean

Internet is coming to cruisers but a little slower and more expensive than your cable modem back home.  There are a number of ways to do it but by far the most common is wifi so I’ll concentrate on that option first.  Wifi is available in many of the popular cruising grounds and like the pattern we saw in the US many of the free sites are disappearing and being replaced by commercial services.  They usually take Paypal or a Visa card but in more remote and less advanced areas you have to purchase a ticked with a user ID and password at a local vendor.  Used to be you had to lug a laptop into town to a local tiki bar and ask the bartender how to get on.  Often it’s still free at the bar.  But now you can use a $200 wifi amplifier that includes a 1000 mw 12v amplifier which allows you connect to the bar a mile or two away at the boat.  The system we use is made by Bitstorm and is called a Bad Boy (www.bitstorm.com).  Another brand is The Island PC.  Both used very similar hardware and have a great reputation in the cruising community.  These devices let you mount a 9” antenna/wifi radio on your arch and have an eithernet cable that connects to your laptop or router.  Then you use your browser to configure the radio.  It sounds more complicated than it is and we know a lot of people on boats that use these systems.  Most are not computer nerds and they have no problems getting these devices to work.  When you come into an area you look at a screen that displays all the potential connections.  Many have a lock indicating you need a password and there are often a few called “linksys” or “Joe’s Bar” that you can connect to for free at reasonable speeds.  In the Abaco’s there’s a service called Out Island Internet that offers commercial internet for $15/day, $35/Wk, or $195/3 Mo.  They have a competitor called Bahama WiMax with similar prices.  They have coverage at all the popular anchorages so after you anchor and pour a drink you just pop up the Wifi list on your Bad Boy or equivalent and enjoy near DSL connections.  You can watch others dingy past on their way into town with their laptops as you catch up on email and the news from your salon.  You’ll have a couple of rums before they get their email.  Similar services exist in the Nassau area and through the Exumas.  Here in George Town it’s a little slower and there are two commercial players, Harbor Wifi and Gaviota Bay Wifi.  They are about 1/2 DSL speed and only $15/week.  Gaviota Bay sells passwords good for 85 minutes for $3.

There are a few other ways to get internet and I’ll add more info on them later but for now the way to go is a wifi amplifier and if you want to make it real easy an wireless router for the boat so laptops don’t need wires running all over the place.  While you’re at it get a cheap wireless printer.  We got a $39 Lexmark from Walmart.com.  Works great.  Do all this before you leave since it’s almost impossible to find this stuff over here.

Hope this is helpful and makes your cruising more fun.

Splendide 2100 Washer/Dryer

We had heard mixed reviews of this product and almost decided not to get one.  Thank goodness we didn’t do that!  It runs in wash mode on our 2500 watt inverter or genset with no trouble at all.  It isn’t as large as most home washers but will wash a complete set of queen sized sheets.  The dryer is a little slowish and we usually just hang the wash out.  When we do run the dryer it needs to have the genset running.  In washer mode we use about 6 gallons of water per load.  This is a product we highly recommend if you have room and a water maker or large water tank.  We’ve also heard they have superb support.

Magma Catalina Grill

We frill a lot!  And our Magma makes it possible.  It’s the large rectangular one not the round one and it work fine in 20 kt wind.  The temp gage really helps and the second level is good for holding the rare steak while the  well-done steak cooks a little longer.   We do everything from steaks and lobster to pizza.  If this one ever wears out we’ll buy another just like it.

© Christon Blair 2012