Now that we are officially back on land and have sold our sailboat, we’ve had some time to reflect on our trip. We also thought it might be helpful to pass on some of the lessons we learned along the way to others who have similar aspirations or to those who just want to compare notes. I divided the information into five categories that include buying and selling a boat, equipment and maintenance, safety, provisioning and finally home schooling.
Buying and selling the boat: While there has already been volumes written about purchasing and selling a boat, what was unique about our experience was that we never expected to purchase the boat we eventually bought. To make a long story short, I had been searching for a more blue water boat. Unfortunately, many of the boats of that caliber in our price range needed too much work and we would have never left the dock. Our Hunter 37 which is considered a coastal cruiser was found by a friend in Florida who was convinced that this was the boat for us. Our Hunter really hadn’t been sailed very much by the pervious owner, which isn’t exactly a good thing, but it had spent most of its life on a fresh water lake, which is. Consequently, even though the rigging was old, it was still in good condition.
When we considered what we were going to do with the boat, we concluded that we weren’t really going to be crossing a big ocean anyway so why not buy the coastal cruiser? It was ten years newer than anything else I had looked at, it was beamy for spaciousness below deck, and it even had an aft cabin, something that would be a real advantage to a family of four!
Of all the items that can need work on a boat, I was mostly concerned with the following four: sails, engine, rigging, and delamination in the deck or hull. While our boat wasn’t perfect, it was in extremely good shape for its age. Any problems that were found in the survey were reasons to further negotiate the price. She was a diamond in the rough for sure, but we were able to negotiate the price a little lower because of it. That being said, I ended up having to do more to the boat than I expected to get it ready for our trip, but it’s my understanding that is almost always the case!
Along the way we continued making improvements to the boat, straightening out the running rigging, fixing all the wiring, adding LED and replacing the faucets, many of the improvements weren’t expensive but the result was a boat that showed well. The biggest project was sanding and refinishing the floors which took time but made the boat look 10 years younger.
When we moved onto the boat, several thru hulls were leaking. Replacing the sea cocks, hoses and installing a new prop and shaft as well as bottom paint were the biggest expenses in part because it required 2 haul outs.
In the end, we had a boat that was in much better condition than when we started. At the end of our trip, when we made it back to Florida, we advertised the boat on Craigslist and on sailboatlisting.com. We priced the boat just slightly less than similar boats on the market and felt confident that ours looked better and was better equipped than any of the other boats on-line. Finally we took an entire day cleaning out a room at a time and took the best pictures we could, using a wide-angle lens. We sold the boat to the first couple that came to look at her which was fortuitous but it is important to add, I think, that we were able to pass on a good deal on the boat to the new owners because of what we saved when we bought a boat that needed a little work.
Equipment and Maintenance: It’s safe to say that every piece of equipment on a boat has a certain life expectancy. Usually the surveyor on a boat will inspect the sails and rigging for signs of fatigue but my experience on Truansea taught me to pay close attention to all of the hoses and engine components too. During our trip, I replaced both water pumps and the lift pump. I replaced the heater hoses that ran to the hot water heater because they had nearly chaffed completely through. The exhaust hose was nearly rotted through, and I replaced the raw water hose to the head because of excessive cracking. Boat U.S. states that any hose over ten years old should be suspect. Finally when replacing your hoses, always double clamp beneath the waterline using high quality hose clamps.
Don’t forget to inspect the mixing elbow on the exhaust system as well. It is constantly exposed to high temperatures and saltwater, a recipe for corrosion!
When it came to maintenance of the engine, I opened and inspected the heat exchanger before we left the dock. I replaced the raw water impeller, belts and fuel filters. The fuel tank was polished to remove any sediment that might get stirred up in high seas. In retrospect, some of the fuel in the Bahamas was dirty and it would have been nice to have a baja filter for fueling. Because my fuel filter was rather small, I changed the primary filter every 100 hours along with the oil. In place of a Baha filter, I sacrificed an old t-shirt to filter the fuel going into the tank.
Unless I had already just replaced the pumps on a marine engine, I would now keep spares on the boat if I was going to venture very far offshore.
Safety: By far the most useful safety item we had on the boat besides our life jackets was our satellite phone. When our water pump failed in the middle of our crossing back to the states our sat phone was our only link in contacting Boat US and notifying the Coast Guard of our position. Of course, we had an EPIRB as well, but the main advantage of the sat phone is the ability for two-way communication.
We always kept a ditch bag handy. In it were flares for nighttime, smoke flares for daytime, signal mirror, a flashlight with laser pointer & SOS signal. We packed a handheld VHF with our sat phone and a hand-held GPS loaded with blue water charts. Finally, we threw in a few easy open cans of food and a couple quarts of water.
Had we been making longer crossings on going further south, we would have invested in a lifeboat. As it was, our dinghy was our life raft. We kept a horseshoe buoy and a lifesling on the stern rail. Christine and I wore coastal inflatable life jackets and bought used harnesses and tethers at Sailorman in Fort Lauderdale. Buying used equipment at Sailorman saved us hundreds on the outfitting of our boat. The only other item I would have added to our safety list would have been strobe lights that clip on to your life jacket. I would also recommend orange life jackets for kids as they are far easier to see from a distance.
Provisioning: This was really my wife’s department, and she did a good job of stocking the boat until the waterline disappeared! Her posts already touched on the subject of provisioning so I’ll be brief. Only to say that how you provision will be a function of your ability to refrigerate. It takes a fair amount of power to keep food cold or frozen on a boat hence all of the solar panels and wind generators on cruising boats. Since we didn’t start our trip with solar or wind power we ate a good deal of TVP (textured vegetable protein) on our trip and it’s actually not too bad as a meat substitute. Christine even added it to a white sauce when she made biscuits and gravy. We bought along non-refrigerated meats like pepperoni for pizza night and summer sausage kept fine without refrigeration.
Finally if you’re headed to the Bahamas, bring plenty of paper towels and toilet paper. They sell toilet paper by the single roll and the stuff isn’t cheap!
Home Schooling: Our strategy for homeschooling was following a couple of 4th and 5th grade curriculum workbooks. In addition to the workbooks, we taught whatever was at hand when the opportunity presented itself. We learned about Columbus in the Bahamas, Ponce de Leon in Florida and Blackbeard in Beaufort, NC. We made timelines using the dates of significant events that had occurred along our route in the past such as the Civil War, etc. Where we could, we watched historical reenactments and spoke with biologists in the field.
Seeing turtles, dolphins and sharks in the wild reinforced their understanding of animals in their natural habitat.
In this way, we covered our bases using the workbooks which provided a wealth of learning without using a ton of boat space. But the real learning was in the doing. Charting led to discussions of latitude and longitude. Of course nothing teaches weather like watching a waterspout. Our boat was a floating laboratory with new lessons everyday.
My opinion about schooling kids on a boat remains the same as it was before we started our adventure. Schools would gladly teach all their students exactly as we did this last year if they could. I have no doubt the rewards of an education afloat will be long-lasting.