Friday, 19 July 2013

Top gear retrospective

When we were preparing to leave, we piled in everything that we thought might be nice to have on an extended sea voyage. By the time we were done only a small space remained, just enough for crawling into our bunk. Slowly we refined what what we would take. Excepting tools, ideally, each item would ideally have more than one function, be used daily or ward off unpleasant situations. So what gear stood the test of time? Here is a short selection of our favourites:

1 Garden sprayer
We took our garden sprayer initially for cleaning the boat away from marinas and as extra water storage. Since then, it has turned out to be a highly effective dish washer and on-board shower facility at anchor. Filled with warm water from a solar shower (which despite its name provides more of a trickle than a satisfying shower), the sprayer gives good water pressure for either showering or cleaning dishes and saves water in both processes.

2 Trugs
Those flexible plastic buckets that come in various sizes and colours. You hardly see a cruising boat without them and with good reason. Trugs are the long-term cruisers' washing machine but are also useful for transporting things, gutting fish, bathing babies or chilling beer for a pontoon party.

3 Microfibre cloths and towels
Very absorbent and quick drying, microfibre cloths are ideally suited to the marine environment. We have one dedicated specs wiping microfibre cloth (a supermarket glass-cleaning cloth which has cut down enormously on the number of specs wipes consumed) as well as dish towels, body towels and deck-drying cloths made from synthetic microfibre material.

4 Roll-top dry bags
Even on a dry boat it's very difficult to avoid dank fabrics. This is where a selection of dry bags in a variety of colours and sizes comes in handy. Everything made from fabric goes into one: bed clothes, towels, clothes, shoes, even spare cloths and rags. No more musty smells and should you take a wave through an open hatch all the gear is protected.

5 Pressure cooker
We were already pressure cooker fans before we set off and have become even more so after using ours nearly every day. Other than a kettle, this might be the only pot you need to take. It's extremely versatile: not only does it make fantastic soups, stews and risottos, but you can also make bread and cake (steamed rather than baked) or prepare meat and two veg all at once, by layering them over the steamer insert. For boiling pasta or frying, just use the pot without pressurising. The beauty of the pressure cooker is that it saves fuel, water (only half a cup of water to steam a whole pot of potatoes, for example) and cooking time. Not only that, but everything is safely contained in a closed pot - even if it flies through the cabin, dinner is saved. It's worth investing in a good quality one. Just make sure it's the right size for your crew: 2.5L for one, 3.5L for two or three, 5L for four or more.

6 Thermos flasks - liquid, food and mugs
Another essential in the galley is the thermos flask. Hot drinks are vital under way, especially at night and in bad weather, but it can be disruptive for off-watch crew (and wasteful on fuel) to make individual mugs on demand. Much easier to prepare a flask in advance so that one's beverage of choice is available in plenty, even at times when it's too rough to make some more. We have three flasks on board, one for tea, one for coffee (not a good idea to make tea in a coffee flask!) and one for food. Tea is brewed directly in the flask, coffee transferred from the unbreakable stainless steel cafetiere. Food flasks can be used for food preparation as well; they make great porridge, for example. Add boiling water to a mix of oats, milk powder, sugar and raisins, stir well and leave for an hour, with an optional stir sometime in between - a hassle-free way to prepare porridge and much easier to clean up afterwards. We also picked some double-walled stainless steel cups with carabiner clip handles. The drinks stay hot a lot longer in them, but they are cool to the touch. After use, they can be clipped to the lifelines.

7 Umbrella
This was possibly the biggest surprise. We took the umbrella for its usual rain-sheltering function, but most of the time we have used it as a privacy screen over our companionway in marinas and to sail our dinghy downwind. Since we don't bother with an outboard this can really cut down on paddling effort.

8 Mosquito net
Even at anchor, mosquitoes or midges can be a problem; in the marina they can be unbearable. Nothing is worse than being woken up by that high-pitched whine at your ear hole, followed by a strong itch, or imagined itch. Our mosquito net can be draped over the companionway or, if it is warm and we want to have the forward hatch open, directly over the bunk, for trouble-free snoozing safe from all insect menace.

9 Solar lantern
Free energy is always welcome on board. A solar-powered lantern makes a handy back-up cabin light, torch or reading lamp and can even be pressed into service as a spare anchor light. Make sure you buy one that has the capacity to last the night.

10 E-book readers
Last but not least, the e-ink e-book reader is almost a miracle for book-loving small boat cruisers. Previously, we had space for maybe 20 books for leisure reading. Often, particularly when stormbound for several days, we ran dangerously low on reading material. When we swapped with other cruisers we often acquired books of dubious quality. Now, with an e-book reader each, we have hundreds of books on board and we can buy new ones almost wherever we are, unless we are too far offshore. As many cruisers now have e-book readers book swaps have become rarer, but non-copyrighted electronic material is also eminently swappable. We charge our readers through a 12V plug and the battery life is impressive - up to several weeks of pretty heavy use on a single charge. We've encountered a lot of resistance to the e-book concept among reading traditionalists, but this is without exception from those who haven't tried it and there are plenty of enthusiastic converts among former sceptics.


pj lawson said...

Thanks,you're bringing us down to earth (ashore) nice and gradually.
Would be very interested in a similar round-up on your sailing equipment and electronics etc.

Jim Brodie said...

Thanks PJ. We'll follow that up sometime soon. Still busy getting everything sorted on the return to land lubbering.