Setting Priorities

When I get back to the States sometime around July I want to buy something like this —


Why? Primarily because they’re cheap to buy. This one has an asking price of $3,500 and if you look on Craigslist you’ll find a lot of these “trailer sailers”some with asking prices of $1,500 or less.

It’s easy to see that a boat like this sure doesn’t have much headroom inside. Many of the builders eased that a bit with the creation of “pop tops.”


These give close to 6-foot headroom in much of the cabin. Of course you’ve got all that open air space between the top and the cabin. Not real good when it’s raining or you’re somewhere where it’s buggy. But they do make canvas fixtures that enclose the cabin.



Several downsides to something with this. First, you can’t use it while underway. Second, can you imagine what a pain in the patootie it would be putting this thing on every day if you’re out cruising? And taking it down. And doing it when the wind’s blowing like stink. Or it’s raining. No thanks.

So I’d want to build a pilothouse that would cover where the pop top was in the first place and make it attractive.


That pic is of a Compac 23, but it wouldn’t be that hard to do with glass over foam. My friend, Stef, and I could do a good job of it.

BUT, one of my goals upon returning to the States and getting a boat is to go “adventuring.” The first thing I want to do is run up the ICW and go explore the St. John’s River and then return to Ft. Lauderdale for the first Thanksgiving dinner in seven years.

That means setting priorities. One thing I learned long ago as a professional yacht captain is that if you wait for everything to be “just right” you will never get off the dock. There are some things on your “to do” list that don’t have to be done before you leave. They can be done along the way. Building the pilothouse isn’t one of them, of course but it can wait since it’s not essential for making the trip, just for making it more comfortable.

Every boat comes with some extras that simply aren’t mentioned in the ads. Things like compasses, fenders (you lubbers call them “bumpers”) docking lines, life jackets, etc. Usually, but not always. I’ve given this a lot of thought about what is essential in order to make my first cruise.


The Coast Guard mandates that boats carry certain equipment when underway. Some things are required on ALL boats no matter what their size, but mine will be less than 26 feet so I’m just going to list what I’LL need to have…

Recreational boats must carry Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices, in good and serviceable condition, and of the appropriate size for the intended user. Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible, not stowed in bags, locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them. Throwable devices must be immediately available for use. There must be one Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, etc., PLUS one Type IV throwable device.

This is a Type II life jacket and is for “inshore” use and since I’ll only be cruising the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) this is all need. I’ll carry three so I’ll have some if I want to take a couple of people along for an afternoon.

Type II

A “throwable” device could be one of these.




Each vessel is required to have a “throwable” floating device: throw

I’ll probably get one of these for myself. It’s a “Coastal Automatic Inflatable Life Vest… cuz with a small boat like the one I’ll be on you never know when you might end up in the drink and this type is light and non-restricting.




This is kind of “iffy.” You’re supposed to have at least one B-1 type Coast Guard-approved hand portable fire extinguisher.


Where the “iffyness” comes in is that they’re not required on outboard boats less than 26 feet long and not carrying passengers for hire if the construction of such motorboats will not permit the entrapment of explosive or flammable gases or vapors, and if fuel tanks are not permanently installed. I’ll be a “sailboat” not a motorboat. I’ll be under 26 feet long and I won’t be carrying passengers for hire. Also my fuel tanks won’t be permanently installed. I WILL, though, be cooking on board with propane and one would be really stupid not to have a fire extinguisher. In fact, you should probably have one in the kitchen of your HOUSE. Flash fires from cooking oil or bacon fat are not unheard of.

All boats are required to carry visual distress signals approved for daytime and nighttime use. For pyrotechnic devices (hand-held or aerial red flares, floating or hand-held orange smoke, and launches for aerial red meteors or parachute flares) a minimum of three required, in any combination that totals 3 for daytime and 3 for night use. Three day/night devices will suffice. Devices must be in serviceable condition, dates not expired and stowed accessibly. Again, running in the ICW makes having these kind of a waste of money, but you HAVE TO HAVE them, soooo.

Every vessel less that 39.4 feet (12 meters) long must carry an efficient sound-producing device: a bell or a whistle. COLREGS (The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) have specific rules about sound signals that vessels are required make in foggy conditions. Horn signals if the boat is underway, and bells if anchored. A horn isn’t strictly required but is a “must have,” in my opinion, in order to signal bridges that need to be opened and to  signal other boat of your intentions when underway in passing situations.

Now, just because you have all that on board doesn’t mean you’re ready to leave the dock and go cruising…In addition to the stuff that’s required there are still the…


In no particular order of importance, you’ll need to have:

At least four lines to secure the boat to a dock. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of others in reserve since it’s not unknown to leave on on the dock from time to time. One should also carry about 100 feet of extra line, just in case.

Your boat also needs to have running lights to comply with COLREGS if you get caught out after dark. You also need to have an all-around white light to show if you’re anchored. As far as the anchor light is concerned I’m really thinking of getting two or three of these…


When I first ran across them somewhere in my net surfing I thought they’d be great as anchor lights and for interior lights as well. A couple I know who recently settled in nearby Boquete did some extensive cruising that encompassed the Pacific coast, a passage through the Panama Canal and Caribbean cruising said they has some of these and they loved them.

A VHF radio, either a base station or a hand held is essential. You need them to contact bridges you need to have opened. You need them to contact the Coast Guard in case of an emergency. You need them to hear local marine weather notices. You need them to talk to other boats.

An anchor. TWO actually. One as the principle anchor and a smaller, lighter one as a “lunch hook” for temporary anchoring or in cases where currents turn with the tide. What you do in that case is to drop and set your main anchor, let out double the scope you need at that spot and then drop and set the second anchor. When you’ve done that you pull yourself back to where you’d have been after dropping off the first anchor and secure both. Now, as the current changes direction you’ll ride to the second anchor rather than swinging in a big circle possibly dislodging the single answer and be dragged to some place you don’t want to be.

You’d also use two anchors close in to shore. As you approach the shore you drop one of the anchors and let out rode until your bow touches the beach. Step off into the shallow water, take your bow anchor and embed it deeply some distance up from the high water mark. Now, pull back on the stern anchor line until your sitting comfortably and secure both anchors.

Use PLENTY of chain between your anchor and rope rode. ALL CHAIN rode is best, but you’re not going to be able to carry enough of it around on a 23 foot boat! Curiously my Kaiser 26 had 200 feet of chain rode. The simple weight of it was often enough to keep the boat in position. I vividly remember anchoring off of Ranguana Caye on the outer reef in Belize. I was in six feet of water and let out 60 feet of chain. Whenever possible I dove down to make sure the anchor was well dug in to the bottom. As I swam along in the crystal-clear water I noticed that the chain was lying in an “S” shape about 2/3rds of the way to the anchor. The anchor wasn’t well dug in. It was a rather large Danforth and the flukes were only half way dug into the sand. Problem was they wouldn’t go in any further since it was simply a thin layer of sand over coral.

In the middle of the night a strong squall ripped through the area. There was lightning and heavy rain. The wind was piping at who knows how fast, but the rigging was moaning a low tune. I got up, went on deck towards the bow trying to ignore the rain pelting my skin like evil little imps taking chunks in nasty bites. I let out probably another 50 feet or so, secured it and went back below to my bunk. In the morning I went over the side and swam along the length of the chain. As strong as the wind had been it hadn’t moved the boat enough to straighten out the chain and the “S” was still there, so the strain never reached the anchor itself.

For me, I’ll probably limit the amount of chain I use to no more than 15 feet before connecting it to rope rode. Chain’s heavy, and it’s really going to be rough for me with my COPD to haul that chain and a 25 pound anchor off the bottom and onto the boat. It has to be done FAST because I’ll be by myself almost all the time and once the anchor breaks free from the bottom I’ll be adrift and need to get to the engine and tiller ASAP!

I was lucky on Nancy Dawson since the boat was equipped with a windlass to haul the anchor.Mine was a Simpson-Lawrence but looked a lot like this.


It was mounted on the bow just aft of the bowsprit. You put a winch handle in the hole on the top and cranked away. It was fairly easy though there were a few times when the wind was blowing and I had to haul the weight of the boat against the force of the wind. (A little aside: I see many sailboat boat ads that say the boat is equipped with “wenches.” not “winches.” If they really WERE equipped with wenches I bet they’d sell in no time.)

A motor. On boats like this it’s generally an outboard. A 9.9 hp is generally the maximum and I’ve seen a lot of ads for these trailer sailers that have a 5 hp outboard with them. I’m sure that would push the boat along quite well since they’re rather light not lugging around a huge heavy lead-filled keel.  My Nancy Dawson had one of those keels and she was also built like a tank. She had an 8 hp Suzuki outboard that did double duty as power for the mother ship and for the Avon dinghy, and it did quite well. I’d hope for a 9.9 simply because I believe I’d get better mileage since the engine wouldn’t be pushing so much weight you could run it at a lower throttle setting and save gas.

Almost every one of the boats advertised has sailing gear. Mast, sails, rigging, etc. That’s nice, but I don’t intend on using it. What I’d want to do is scrap the tall mast and rigging and replace it with a free-standing mast that would carry a lug sail like this…


I’d go for something even smaller than that rig. Ninety nine point nine percent of my cruising is going to be in very constricted waters like the ICW and a sail would only be used with the wind abeam, from astern, or on the quarter, and then just to be able to ease up on the outboard’s throttle. I’m done beating into the wind. If I have to go to windward ever again it will be under dead dinosaur power only. AND what I would do for a sail, at least initially, would be a polytarp contraption like this…


Hey, don’t laugh and don’t forget, I’m doing this on the cheap!

So why scrap the original mast? First, because most of my future cruising is going to be on the ICW I want to open as few bridges as possible, and there are a TON of bridges you have to have open for you when your air draft is 30 feet or higher. I’m thinking of a mast around 20 to 25 feet high in a tabernacle that I can raise and lower in a couple of minutes by myself. Also, being in a tabernacle I could lower it and support on a boom gallows so I could cover it with a boom tent to enlarge my sheltered living space while at anchor or docked.

A nice to have feature, but not an “essential” would be a Bimini cover in the cockpit.

I’m kind of on the fence as to whether a dinghy is an essential or a nice to have. Dinghies are the pickup trucks of cruising boats. They ferry people to shore when the boat is anchored and haul supplies to the anchored boat from shore. They’re also good for visiting other boats in the anchorage and for exploring little creeks where the big boat can’t go. But since I’m going to have a boat that has such shallow draft that I can simply step ashore in ankle deep water, and if I DO have to anchor out it will only be for a night or two at best so why would I need a dinghy.

But if I have a dinghy it WON’T be an inflatable, unless it’s part of the package when I buy the main boat. Inflatables have several bad features. For one, they’re targets for thieves. The damned things are prone to leak air and deflate, and there are a lot of little vandals who like to stick the tubes with something sharp just for fun. Because the primary boat is going to be so small my ideal dinghy would be something like this…


I’d also consider making a Puddle Duck Racer that could be “nested” like the dinghy above. The PDR can be rowed, handle a small outboard or sailed. There are even plans for a modular PDR…I’ve loved the concept of this boat from the first moment I laid eyes on it.

I like the idea of building it with foam and glassing it over. Lightweight, and if made modular it would fit neatly on the foredeck without disrupting the trim too much.

One thing to consider about a dinghy is to make it unique. Make it stand out from the crowd either by design or by painting it some atrocious color so that only an idiot would steal it because it would instantly be recognized as being stolen.

A rain water collection system I would consider an essential so you wouldn’t have to depend on going ashore to a marina to fill water jugs. There are umpteen million ways this could be done, of course so I won’t get into trying to list them, but this is how I did it on Nancy Dawson when I was on my nine-month cruise.

I used some of that epoxy stick I mentioned earlier and built about a two-inch high dam between the cabin and the toe rail astern of the water tank fill, leaving about a four-inch gap so water could flow through unhindered to the scuppers. When it would start to rain I’d let it go for five minutes or so to rinse off the cabin top and the decks. Then I’d plug the gap with a dish towel and open the water tank fill. In a good hard downpour I could fill that 35-gallon tank in about five minutes. During the whole cruise I probably didn’t go ashore for water more than three or four times.

Compass? Most boats will come with one screwed into a bulkhead, but even if there isn’t one on the boat do you think it’s vital when you’re cruising in waters like this…


 If you can’t figure out which way north and south are, here, you shouldn’t be out in a boat in the first place. Which reminds me of a story. (LOTS of things remind me of a story.) Back in ’68, shortly after my ex wife an I moved to Fort Lauderdale I was driving a cab while looking for another job. One afternoon I was sitting outside one of the hotels on the beach waiting for a fare when a car pulled up beside me and asked how to get to such and such a place. I said, “Go north for about…”

“Which way is north?” the tourist interrupted.

Jesus fucking Christ nailed to a stick. Have you ever seen a fucking map of the United States in your entire life? We’re sitting right on the edge of the whole damned continent. Another hundred feet or so and we’d be in the damned Atlantic Ocean and you have to ask which way north is?

Anyway, I consider a pair of binoculars to be an essential item. You need it to pick out crucial buoys and day markers when you approach inlets with a profusion of markers.

That’s about all I can think of off the top of my head right now so I’ll stop. Things that I think are nice to have but non-essential gear will be dealt with later.


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One response to “Setting Priorities

  1. Frances

    The top three pictures look very much like one of my boats, a Catalina 25. I don’t yet have the pop top cover for it, but I do have one for my Catalina 22 and love it. It added so much more perception of roominess, and, of course I could stand up. My C25 is trailerable and it has a wing keel with a draft of 2’10”, great for the St.Johns River in C Florida (Silver Glen is very shallow) and the Bahamas.

    What’s the headroom with the pop top up?