When looking at sailing essentials today's modern mariner appears, on the surface, to be better equipped
than the small legion of yesteryear's voyagers. Of course, neither Christopher
Columbus, Joshua Slocum nor I had access to a GPS when we were plying the seven
seas - a sextant pretty much told us where we were.
While a GPS, Sat/Nav, radar, loran, VHF radio, ham radio, radio receiver, and solar panels are probably nice to have, there are two pieces of equipment that I discovered in my extensive wanderings that are indispensable.
You could undoubtedly do without these two items and survive just fine, but having them makes all the difference in the world, literally. What are these sailing essentials?
I'm talking about an outboard motor and an autopilot!
Now, before you get all condescending and roll your eyes around your
head in disgust or disbelief, just wait a moment. Even if you are a
"purist," and I've known many, you'll find that an outboard and an
autopilot can tremendously enhance the quality of your trip.
I myself scoffed when my husband Tom and I were advised to purchase an outboard motor before we left on our first journey to Alaska.
distinctly thinking, "What the heck? What kind of a cruising boat has an
outboard? That's what oars are for, for Pete sake!"
One thousand miles later I eagerly bought my first outboard admitting it as a sailing essential.
For the previous three months, one of us (usually my husband) fought currents and wind trying to row our inflatable from ship to shore or hither and yon while the other of us (guess who) tried "trolling under oar power" to catch fish. (You've surely rowed an inflatable enough to know how much fun that is.)
Most importantly, not having an outboard limited the range of exploring we could do. We couldn't run up an estuary or inlet in the inflatable because it was too far to row. We had to take the big boat, if even possible, or forgo the pleasure of poking about and exploring.
Many people object to the mess of gasoline on board, and they have a point, for gas can be a smelly hassle. Lifting the outboard off and on the skiff takes balance and teamwork, or a good pulley system, or both.
But the freedom the outboard offers to explore, fish, crab, shrimp, and just get to shore easier, makes the small inconveniences worthwhile. An outboard can open new worlds to you.
As for the autopilot...I know many sailboaters think an autopilot doesn't belong on a sailboat. Only wind vanes belong on sailboats, right?
Wind vanes break. The torque on these vanes is tremendous, and no matter the vane, I guarantee you it will spend part of its time in sick bay. Wind vanes cannot be used when you have to motor, and horror of horror, one may just have to motor, particularly in the Inside Passage.
My husband and I made our first trip to
Alaska hand steering almost all the way there...and back. My first purchase
when we returned after two years of exploring S.E. Alaska, was an autopilot.
Yes.... I believe a sailing essential.
Months later, when our sturdy wind vane broke in the middle of the Pacific Ocean due to unrelenting trade winds and mountainous swells, I unpacked the little autopilot and shook my head as I looked at the pitifully small gadget and then at the enormous swells. "This'll never handle it, Tom," I wailed. "We're gonna have to steer all the way back!"
The autopilot performed like a champ. It was the best crew member imaginable! The little contraption steered us several thousand miles and didn't even eat us out of house and home.
An outboard and an autopilot. Don't leave home without them.
Becky Coffield is the author of the humorous, nonfiction travel/adventure, Life Was A Cabaret: A Tale of Two Fools, A Boat, and A Big-Ass Ocean, the account of her and her husband's 6 years and 25,000 miles aboard their Cal 2-34.
She also authored Northern Escape, an award winning suspense novel set in the stormy archipelago of S.E. Alaska. Both books are available on Amazon.com
Ezine Articles by Becky Coffield