Offshore on delivery of a nice Lagoon 440 catamaran which I will shortly publish a review of, I thought it would be apropos to re-read Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World” while on watch – not to mention the book is available free via the Gutenberg project through iBooks. Sitting at the inside helm station with GPS, radar, heat, and more while reading Slocum’s story, I could not help but feel ashamed at the luxury I was in compared to the limited equipment Slocum had. The situation exhibits how spoiled we have become in this far flung sailing world. In one chapter Slocum writes about lashing the helm and then having severe nausea from bad plums and white cheese for days on end. He crawls out to adjust the block and pulley systems which manage his sail plan while navigating via dead reckoning and celestial sights in uncharted territory all the while passing out in between hallucinations of the pilot of the Pinto steering the Spray. Can you imagine?
Despite our sorry state, it is hard enough to stay safe from Poseidon’s punishment even with the equipment we have today. I have compiled a list of the eleven most important pieces of equipment on an extended voyage in order of importance. The failure of any these will jeopardize your safety.
- Steering – Even Slocum had steering, the only commonality on this list.
- Engine propulsion – Having a way to get off a lee shore or navigate channels is critical to staying alive long enough for help to come or finding your way into port.
- EPIRB – Or any other equivalent emergency beacon. Consider this your 911 call of last resort.
- Charts – Unless you are in known waters, accurate charts allow you to avoid shoal water and stay sane in dangerous situations.
- GPS – Knowing precisely where you are without extensive book keeping and calculations goes hand in hand with having charts.
- Autopilot – Spray’s greatest attribute Slocum continually espoused was her ability to track on course with a lashed helm.
- Refrigeration – Feeding the crew well is important to keeping strength and sanity.
- Radar – In fog or at night, radar is a life savor and allows you to keep going without constant fear of being run over by a large ship.
- VHF – Being able to communicate a pan-pan or mayday call when in range of shore improves your chances of rescue.
- Inside helm – Staying dry and protected at the helm even without a throttle is so incredibly helpful hence the popularity of trawlers and deck saloons.
- Heat – Air conditioning is overrated, but heat is comforting in the high latitudes.
Listed above are my eleven most important pieces of equipment that I would not leave port without in descending order of importance. There is no point in going on a journey without most of the equipment above except to be falsely brave and probably make a fool of yourself. Times have changed, and you can admire the hardiness of Joshua Slocum from the comfort and safety of your yacht. Please feel free to comment below with items you would not cruise without (AIS?) or any changes to the order I have have listed the equipment above.