Updated: Mar 14, 2020
I've read and listen to a lot of people talk about "blue water" boats. I've travelled around the world. I've sailed in a lot of places. I have seen and been aboard many a sailboat that have circumnavigated or successfully sailed across big oceans. I sailed a San Juan 23 in Southeast Asia for more than 2 years between Cheju, Korea and Taiwan and crossed the Pacific twice. The boats swinging off the hook in the Marquesas or Phuket come in every size and type imaginable. So, the one thing I have learned is that any boat properly fitted, and maintained, with a competent crew who feels comfortable and safe aboard her is a "blue water" boat. Yes, some are faster, some are more comfortable at sea, and there are certainly desirable features. For example, I for one, would never want to cross the Pacific with a spade rudder...but many such boats do it successfully every year. The bottom line... virtually any boat well out-fitted will take a competent sailor across an ocean and provide years / decades of comfortable cruising.
I have owned S/V Discovery for about 17 years. At first I didn't think this would be the boat I would take offshore. Many would not consider her a "blue water" boat. She is a pilothouse sailboat. She has high freeboard. She is a sloop rather than the preferred cutter rig. She has a wide beam at 14 feet. She has an unusually small main sail for a 42 foot boat (12 foot boom). At first, I also mistakenly believed that I would need to buy a "blue water" boat before I head off on my next adventure in life. But, I've sailed her over 10,000 miles over the last 17 years. I've been down the coast to San Francisco, and around Vancouver Island twice. And despite her age and having updated many systems myself I discovered she also has many features that make her the perfect boat for me and the cruising lifestyle suited to me and my future adventures. Her deck is foam core...big plus as I don't have to worry about rotting balsa. She is absolutely cavernous below and feels much bigger than her overall length...very nice when sitting at anchor for a few weeks or more...she feels more like a home rather than a cramped cave. She has a separate sit down shower for hot showers under way on long crossings. Large tankage for fuel and water. I've rigged her for single-handing (or short-handed) sailing. Her long keel and skeg hung rudder allow her to track well. And, many other things I've upgraded or added that eventually helped me decide she is the boat that will take me on my next adventure in life.
Now with about 6 months before I head off, there were a few big ticket (costly) items that I've been putting off purchasing until now because frankly I didn't feel I needed them for most of the coastal cruising I was doing, but sometimes wish I had. I have done a lot of research and had a good understanding of exactly what I wanted when I walked into the Seattle Boat Show this week. So, here is a run-down of my critical items for prepping the boat for the offshore journey from Seattle to the South Pacific and beyond.
1. Liferaft - 6-person Winslow Super-Light Offshore Plus (Cost: $4,646)
OK...I probably should have gotten this a long time ago. But, I probably would have gotten a coastal model which would work, but is not ideal for offshore. (There is a reason they make different models.) There is only 2 reasons I would abandon my sailboat; 1) the deck is 3 feet below the surface of the water, and 2) the boat has an uncontrollable fire aboard. I compared many rafts, looked at reviews and tests, and narrowed my decision between the Viking and the Winslow. Both are reputable and highly ranked in Practical Sailor, and other tests. I did not want a canister model with hydrostatic release, I wanted a valise that I could hide below while at anchor. Also, I wanted a 6-person model. I will never sail with 6 people offshore, but even with 2 or 3 other people aboard if tragedy strikes and I have to abandon my boat at sea, I don't want to cram 3 or 4 people into a 4 person life raft. It's really a small space for 3-4 adults who are already stressed out, and possibly on the verge of panic. And the space inside that raft gets smaller by the hour. Have you ever put 3 adult men in a 4 man liferaft? I finally decided to spend the extra bucks on the Winslow. It is a very small and very light (60 pound) package. Light is good; I can pick this up with one hand. I also liked the option of the Urethane valise rather than the soft pack. This way I can still mount it on deck or aft rail in a cradle, but I don't have to worry about the hydrostatic release, and I can very easily store it below it when I leave the boat. Winslow pays shipping to and from it's facilities for it's 3 year maintenance, and they have service worldwide.
2. Windvane Self-Steering - Hydrovane (with Offshore kit) (Cost: $6,124)
I wish I would have had windvane steering on my trip to San Francisco and on the outside of Vancouver Island. I do have a Garmin Reactor 40 hydraulic autopilot aboard, so for the majority of time in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea a self-steering windvane would have been impractical at best. Because S/V Discovery has hydraulic steering I was pretty limited in my choices. The most popular self-steering vane (the Monitor) is not recommended for use with hydraulic steering. So, I compared the Saye's Rig, the AutoHelm, and the Hydrovane. The Saye's rig was eliminated quickly because I did not like the idea of attaching something to my rudder. Additionally, the trim tab is way to small to act as an emergency rudder. I decided to go with the Hydrovane because a) it is lighter than the AutoHelm, b) I can remove the rudder and the airvane assembly when it is not needed, c) overall, it is a less complicated design, and d) it is a proven design (this year's Golden Globe) and customer service is incredible.
3. Storm Gear - Fiorentino Shark Drogue and Para-Anchor (Cost $2,289 + $1490 for Gale Sail)
I spoke with Zack Smith, inventor of the Shark drogue for a while at the show. I told him that my first instinct in a storm is to throw out a drogue. S/V Discovery has a narrow stern (77 inches) and running with the storm is a good tactic for some boats (not boats with wide sterns). I initially had my mind set on a series drogue, but in the end decided to go with the Shark because a) it is more compact than a series drogue, b) easy retrieval, and c) can be used for limited steering. (I like backup systems...and I like backups to backups.) After talking with Zack a bit, I also decided on the Para-anchor sea anchor and 400' rode. I've read horror stories about these, but in a worse case scenario it would be nice to be able to throw a sea anchor out, get the bow into the waves, and go below to get some possible relief from a raging storm. I also ordered an ATN Gale Sail online to round out my storm gear. Since my main is rather small, and very small with 2 reefs in it I don't think I will need s storm trysail. I may reconsider later.
4. Watermaker - Spectra VT-200 (Cost: $5,850)
Many boats go to sea without watermakers. But, even with almost 200 gallons of fresh water aboard, and a rain water catchment system I built, I personally think installing a watermaker is a prudent investment these days for any serious offshore cruising boat. Watermakers have come a long way in the past few years. Earlier models were mostly a nuisance and prone to breakdowns. It saves from having to haul water containers from land to the boat, it prevents water-born diseases found in some parts of the world, and just makes us more self-sufficient. The Spectra is the best 12 VDC watermaker available today...period. I bought this from Emerald Harbor Marine who will do the installation and setup, and even check after a 40 hour break in period.
5. Standing Rigging - Northwest Rigging (approx. Cost $10,00)
The last really big ticket item needed was new standing rigging. The standing rigging on S/V Discovery is probably as old as she is. I inspect the rigging yearly and it has held up remarkably well. But, I knew before crossing the Pacific I knew this would need to be replaced. So, I talked to the folks at Northwest Rigging and hopefully in March I can get the mast removed from the boat at Seaview Boatyard, and have new standing rigging made, and get things back together within 2 weeks or so. The nice thing about pulling the mast is that I can replace the old wiring, mount my radar dome on the mast now, install a horn at the top, and LED navigation lights. This is a cost that newer boats won't require, but for any boat over 7-10 years I would recommend new standing rigging.
There were a few more "nice to have" things I bought at the boat show, and some additional gear and systems (solar panels, etc.) that I ordered online that will enhance my cruising. I will write about those in a forthcoming posts. But, other than the rigging (unless you have an older boat), and assuming the boat is already fitted with electronics navigation equipment, and other safety items this should give potential cruisers some idea of costs for outfitting a boat for their offshore adventures.