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 Oceangoing Yacht





Is an ocean-going yacht equipped differently from a coastal cruiser?

Usually, it is, even if obviously part of this equipment would be useful also sailing inshore, especially if you want to limit the frequency of stays in-port.

Quite obviously the reason why these equipment are usually missing from coastal cruisers is mainly cost, which is not trivial, but also bulk and weight, which may be a problem on smaller yachts.


Everybody has nautical charts, both traditional and electronic, and sailing directions or Pilot books covering the cruised areas: for most people this means a few dozen charts and a handful of Pilot books, and the storage room under the chart table is adequate to store the lot.

Just to give you an idea of the numbers we are talking about, on Shaula3 we had more than 150 charts covering the Med, from Gibraltar to Turkey, and the Atlantic shores of France and the Iberian peninsula; for the circumnavigation we had to acquire additional 130-odd charts, for a total expenditure in excess of 10.000 Euros.
Add to that about 20 Pilot Books (600 ) and almost a dozen electronic chart cartridges (over 2000 Euros).

Is it possible to spend less?     Electronic charts are a little less expensive now, but traditional paper charts and Pilot Books must be purchased: you may be able to buy them second-hand though, either from another yacht which is returning home or from some retailers who offer second-hand publications (you can find some on-line).

In some places around the world you may be able to buy photocopies of official charts: obviously it's illegal, and it's also dangerous as these charts are old ones and not printed to scale.


It's no accident if I mention anchors and their rode among the first items to be considered for a long-distance sailing yacht, for several reasons:

- ports are few and far away one from the other, therefore anchoring is often the only option, perhaps in difficult condition:
   - the anchor must hold in very different condition
   - more than one anchor may have to be deployed (fore-and-aft or bahamian-moor,...)
- the anchoring depths may be very high
- the bottom may be very demanding on anchor and chain strength (coral)
- the anchor and rode may have to be deliberately abandoned
- buying a new yacht-class anchor or chain around the world may be very difficult

This all translates in:

- an over-dimensioned primary anchor, with at least 60 m chain and 40 m rope (or all-chain)
- a spare primary anchor with chain and rope as above, stored under-deck but ready for deployment
- a spare anchor, preferably of a different type (Danforth, Fisherman, ...), with a short length of chain and 40-50 meters rope
- an over-dimensioned kedge, with a length of chain and 30-40 meters of rope

This is all expensive and very heavy, and maybe you will use it only once in the whole trip, but it's all needed!


Obviously, an electronic autopilot is very convenient even on a coastal-cruiser, especially on a short-crewed one when it can keep the boat's course steady while the helmsman is busy doing something else.
Hand-steering can be fun, but on long-distances it can also become tiring or boring, and I have no doubt that our autopilot is a better helmsman than me when motoring, especially at night.

On a long-distance sailing yacht a way to make the boat follow its course on its own is very useful: gone are the times when long-keeled boats had an inherent stability that allowed them to go straight with just the tiller lashed in position, nowadays some form of automatic tiller handling is necessary.

The Windpilot Pacific wind-vane installed on Shaula3                                                 the electric piston driving the tiller on Shaula4

There was a time when autopilots were very expensive and therefore only to be found on large and well-funded boats, but this is no longer the case: a simple self-contained unit for a tiller-steered boat may cost well under 1000 , a more sophisticated one with separate control unit, compass and actuator may cost between 1000 and 2000 , to reach 3-5000 for more professional models equipped with heavy-duty electrical or hydraulic actuators connected directly to the steering quadrant.    An advantage of these models, besides being generally more sturdy and suitable for continued use, is that they are permanently connected, therefore requiring just the push of a button to engage and disengage.

The simpler models instead require that the actuator be manually connected and disconnected, which is perfectly acceptable most of the times but may be problematic in an emergency.

While working in the cockpit, possibly not near the autopilot control unit, a remote control becomes very handy and allows to make quick course corrections without having to reach for the control unit; similarly this can be useful for a single hander while working out of the cockpit.

Although they have been invented several decades ago and for the greatest part have been replaced by their electronic counterparts, wind vanes, purely mechanical contraptions that use the force of the wind on a tilting vane to steer the boat by way of a more-or-less sophisticated mechanism, still have their place on long-distance sailing boats.    The reasons are twofold, the fact that being mechanical they are less prone to failure than their electronic brethren, and the fact that they do not consume any electricity.

On the negative side, wind vanes are expensive (at least 4-5000 ) and obviously are totally useless when motoring without any wind (although it would be possible to rig a small electronic autopilot to control the wind-vane, useful as an emergency device.

On Shaula3, we had both the electronic autopilot and the wind-vane, while now on Shaula4, in view of the less ambitious programs, we have only the electronic autopilot.

SSB RADIO / SATPHONE (5000/10000 )

Nowadays a good VHF set with a mast-head aerial can perform connections with stations as far away as 30-40 miles, and is perfectly adequate to communicate with other yachts or passing ships, as well as to receive broadcasted weather info.    Add a GSM phone, and you will have the capability of making phone calls and connecting to the Internet for e-mails, albeit only within few miles from shore.    Both services may have black spots (for example when moored in a steep-sided harbour) but in general the coverage is good, provided you stay near the coast.

The high-seas equivalent of the VHF+GSM couple is SSB radio + Satphone; the radio, besides allowing voice-communication with land-based stations and with faraway vessels (it's still very popular among long-distance sailors for this purpose) with the addition of a Pactor modem will allow e-mail and the reception of weather forecasts and GRIB files.    The sat-phone adds the ability to make phone calls and is also an alternative for low-speed e-mail.

Unfortunately, while a satphone with data kit will cost little more than 1000 Euros, a marine type-approved SSB radio will cost around 4-5000 , plus the installation cost which may be quite steep..

Is ti possible to spend less?    Well, a first possibility is to get only the satphone, maybe even a second-hand one, coupled with a low-cost SSB receiver to get weather forecasts and meteo-faxes: total cost, little more of 1000.

If you hold a HAM-radio licence, or can easily get one, then you may legally install a HAM-class transceiver, which may cost as little as 1000 ; communication with other yachts will be possible, and e-mail as well with dedicated services like Winlink (the HAM version of Sailmail).

Then, there are the illegal alternatives, such as installing a marine SSB radio of a model not type-approved for Europe (guess why they cost much less??...), or you can install a HAM radio and use it on marine frequencies.   Both approaches are popular, and both will spell trouble if you are caught, don't say I did not warn you!

WATERMAKER (4-8000 )

In fact, once you have tasted the comfort of producing your own water you will appreciate it also on a coastal cruise, as it will eliminate one of the reasons to enter into a port every few days.    And then, water is not always easy to get even in port, and of course you have to go alongside in the first place, something that may not be all that easy during high season, leaving you with the only option of ferrying 3-400 liter by jerrycans on the dinghy...

High-capacity tanks will somewhat reduce the frequency, but will not eliminate the problem.

Since quite a few years now, watermakers are available also in small sizes, from 4-8 to 30-50 liters/hour, which will be ok for a small yacht's needs!!

Obviously, there are some problems:

- the price of a watermaker will begin at about 4000 and rise quickly with output capacity
- the power consumption is high, requiring power-generating means to recharge
- watermakers are still delicate machines to be handled and maintained with care

Low-cost alternatives?     Besides a second-hand watermaker, if you can find one in good shape, the only thing that comes to mind is rainwater collection!     No kidding, before watermakers everybody was doing it then it went out of fashion, but a waterproof cloth with a pipe to feed water into the tanks is all that's needed, and rain in the tropics is plentyful!

TECHNICAL CLOTHING (1000 / person?)

I should not even mention this subject, after all an oilskin is needed also for coastal cruising, but perhaps in view of a long and challenging voyage you will be willing to spend for an ocean-class breathable oilskin plus all the warm layers to be worn under it, not to mention gloves, socks and caps.    It may be surprising, but night at sea can be very cold, even in the Med in summer.

Too bad that an oceangoing oilskin may cost in excess of 1000 , but you can spare something by settling for a "coastal" model or choosing second-tier brands.

LIFERAFT (1000-1500 )

In many countries a liferaft is mandatory, so no discussion there, but in others it is still a skipper's choice.   In our opinion, there's absolutely no doubt, it would be reckless going offshore without a good-quality, robust liferaft of the right size for the number of people aboard.   They do not come cheap, but are not overly expensive either, although the periodical maintenance check is rather expensive.

EPIRB (600 )

Same as for the liferaft, an EPIRB may play a fundamental role in alerting the authorities and pointing the rescue in the right direction towards you, it's an essential piece of kit!


Sprayhoods are popular in northern Europe since a long time, while biminis (a sort of permanently-rigged sun awning) were first seen in the Caribbean and are now popular also in the Med.    They will provide shelter from sun, spray and even rain, in port but also while underway.

Now also many coastal cruisers have them equipped, but if you don't it's time to get them, and while you are there, think about a couple of dodgers besides the cockpit to provide additional shelter to the helmsman when sailing in bad weather.

HEATING (2-3000 )

Another device that may be found also on coastal cruisers expecially in northern waters but may be missing from your boat if it was originally equipped for warm climates like in the Med; if your voyage will take you out of the Tropics, it may be the time to think about it!

What we quote here is the cost for a basic diesel-burning hot-air system, but there are cheaper solutions such as gas, diesel or solid-fuel-burning stoves.   Be very careful with the exhaust piping, and avoid at all costs devices which are intended for use outside, like catalytic heaters.


Bring many, long and short: you may always need to bring a line to that 20-meter faraway bollard, or to replace in a hurry a chafed mooring.

It's essential to foresee a very long rope, preferably on a roller installed on the pushpit, which will come handy when anchoring with a line led to the shore.    There are on the market special-purpose rolls of a flat, high-resistance belt: they take up much less space, but are outrageously expensive.

If your plans include the Panama Canal, do not forget 4 120-foot-long lines, of a size appropriate for the boat: you may be able to rent them locally, though.

SPECIAL or SPARE SAILS (from zero to 10000 )

There are two main reasons to pay a visit to your trusted sailmaker:

- get yourself equipped with dedicated oceangoing sails (e.g. twin headsails) or storm sails
- carry a spare of the most-used sails (main and genoa)

A very effective gear for tradewind sailing is the twin-headsails (or the similar "twizzle-rig"); we did not have it, and our speed was about 1 knot slower than similar boats equipped with it.

Before leaving we thought we would have used the gennaker a lot, but it turned out to be seldom used: too much hard work for 2 people, and dangerous due to the frequent, unannounced showers with strong winds.

We left for the circumnavigation with the old main and genoa, keeping the new ones below-decks.   We thought we would have swapped them somewhere during the voyage, but we actually finished the trip with the old sails still on, although by then they were really worn-out.   Still, we recommend to carry a spare mainsail and foresail: if you damage them on-passage, your speed-penalty may be significant, and I don't want to even think about sailing close-hauled with no mainsail!   Remember also that sailmakers do not abound around the world, and even where there is one, they are usually very busy and may be not equipped to manufacture a full sail but only to perform repairs.

DROGUE (50-500 )

There are two kinds of floating anchors:

- drogues, which are meant to slow-down the boat: typically paid out from the stern when the boat is running in bad weather and heavy seas, to reduce the risk of a broach.   Maybe a similar device would have avoided our capsize in the Caribbean!
Considering the very modest cost (less than 100 ) I see no reason not to have one.
A special kind of drogue is the "series drogue" which comprises a large number (about 100) of small cones, distributed along a line of about 100 meters; it's far more expensive (about 500 unless you make it yourself) but according to many it's far more effective and much easier to deploy and recover.

- "parachute" anchors, much larger (2-3 meters and more) and much more expensive, they are meant as a means to stop the boat like if it was anchored; deployed from the bows with the boat hove-to, they help keeping the bow to the seas avoiding the backwards motion that might damage the rudder.   The idea is to use them when running with the wind is not an option and sailing upwind is either impossible or too demanding on the boat and crew.    By their nature, the stress on ropes and cleats is very high, so everything needs to be properly dimensioned.

In view of the high cost, bulk and complex deployment and heavy load on the boat's structure, I've always considered parachute anchors with some suspicion: I see them as possibly useful only in a very violent storm where there is no possibility to run with the wind, a kind of situation I'm trying to avoid in the first place.   If I was planning an ocean passage outside of the trade-winds, I would certainly consider buying one.


What, you still have money?    No worry, did you think to carry an assortment of spare parts?

The list of the potentially-useful spares is virtually endless, you would need a second boat in tow!    Besides the expenditure, another limitation is imposed by bulk and weight, so let's try and define some criteria:

- items notoriously subject to wear (ropes, impeller, engine belts and filters)
- parts which are critical for the boat's operation (alternator, starter motor, water pumps, wind generator's blades)
- safety- or navigation-critical items (GPS, VHF radio)
- dry cell batteries, fuses, electrical cable

On this page you will find the list of spares we had on Shaula3.


Webmaster: Gianfranco Balducci - email: gfbalduc@tin.it

Last Update: 07/09/2017

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