The World According to Capt. Ted – Thoughts on Cruising & the Perfect Boat

While sitting here on a mooring in Hope Town, Abacos and chatting with other cruisers we were reflecting on our decision to purchase Firecracker.  Here are some of our thoughts.

Let’s start by saying there is no perfect boat.  I know, you spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the internet.  You’ve found all the tricks to narrowing your search on YachtWorld.  You slink around boatyards asking boat owners about their perfect boats every spare moment you have.  Been there – done that.   Then one day voila, the perfect boat is found.  You couldn’t be happier, everything you could have hoped for.  Let’s go sailing, let’s go cruising, what the heck, let’s go around the world!  Maybe some Wednesday night yacht club around the buoy racing would be nice.

Our search for the “Perfect” boat led us to Annapolis where we found a Saga 43 designed by Robert Perry.  He designed her as a performance cruising boat and that she is. We have found Firecracker to be perfect for both our coastal and offshore cruising needs.  We have sailed her from Down East Maine to the Bahamas, all offshore except for short stints in the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway).  She has proven to be a fast, spirited yet safe boat. 

Wait, did I say we had the perfect boat?  Well yes for us it has been, for the most part.  Every boat is a compromise in some way.  Firecracker’s draft is 6’4”.  Cruising in the Bahamas would be easier with a shallow draft boat, but actually sailing that shallow draft boat would be less than exciting.  Shallow draft boats just don’t sail as well.  We have found that there a very few places we cannot go to in the Bahamas because of our draft though we may have to wait for high tide in some places. Getting into Hope Town is an example, but most boats need high tide as well here.  In areas where the water is just too thin, we simply anchor out and dinghy in.  (See my thoughts below concerning dinghies and outboards). While sailing in New England our deeper draft is an advantage as we seldom have a problem there in the naturally deeper waters.

Boat Equipment

When looking for the perfect boat I thought that the boat with the most goodies had to be a better buy.  After cruising Firecracker I’ve come to the conclusion that less may be better.  The more mechanical equipment you have the more maintenance and chance of mechanical failure you will certainly have.  The spares needed to maintain those systems and the man-hours needed whether yours or those of a boat yard will be more.  When in the tropics you need to be self sufficient since many times competent help is simply not available.

On Firecracker we have what we believe to be an ideal selection for the coastal and offshore cruising we do.  Your systems on board should reflect your cruising itinerary; if you are not circumnavigating the world you don’t need or want the equipment to do so.

On the subject of maintenance we have no wood components to maintain on deck since we have no wood toe or spray rails, handrails or anything else.  This is a major benefit to us.  We see folks sanding and varnishing while we are reading or enjoying a sundowner.  However I still do enjoy the smell of varnish, someone else’s is the best though.

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Our mooring neighbors trying to get some varnish on their absolutely beautiful Bristol Chanel Cutter before the rain starts.

Fuel and water supplies are another concern.  Having enough to make your planned passages is quite important.  When we purchased Firecracker the fuel tanks were reported to hold 75 gallons.  In reality, due to the placement of the fuel pick up tubes, only about 65 gallons were useable.  I designed two new tanks and had them built.  I then installed them giving us 90 gallons of usable diesel fuel. 

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New tanks, fuel lines and vent hose installed in 2012.

At 2000 RPM that would give us about a 600 nautical mile range without sailing.  With an additional 10 gallons carried on deck while cruising we have an additional 65 miles.  Our water tanks hold about 125 gallons and we carry an additional 20 gallons on deck while cruising.  We use about 4.5 to 5 gallons per day, giving us almost a month’s supply of water.  OK, would a water maker on board be a good investment, well we are thinking about that.  We need to consider the cost of equipment plus maintenance verses the burden of lugging water on board.

Boat Handling

One of the best features of a fin keel, balanced spade rudder designed boat is the way it handles.  We have talked to so many cruisers that tell us they cannot back their boats out of a slip easily.  They say they never know which way they will turn when backing up.  Not so with Firecracker. We have a little prop walk to port initially, then when water is flowing past the rudder steering in reverse is a piece of cake.  That word “perfect” just keeps coming to mind.  We had a fellow cruiser stop by today to ask about our boat.  He asked if we had a bow thruster and I told him that we didn’t.  This question took me by surprise since I had never considered having to need a bow thruster.  He said that he could not dock his boat without one. In my way of thinking this is just one more reason why I am happy with our Saga.

Anchors

Up until this Fall we had always anchored using a 44 lb. Bruce anchor.  It worked flawlessly in the US and throughout the Bahamas, in winds up to 40 knots in George Town.  Moving up into the Abacos where there is more grass on the bottom, the Bruce was sometimes difficult to set.  We researched buying a new anchor and settled on a 55 lb. Rocna.  This anchor is awesome.  We had to modify the anchor roller system at the bow to accommodate the Rocna which was a small price to pay for a truly great anchor.

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Sleeping at night knowing that we are secure is a wonderful feeling.  We moved the 44 lb. Bruce anchor to the port anchor roller as our secondary anchor.  In addition to the Rocna and Bruce anchors we carry a Fortress and an old fashion Fisherman anchor in case of storms.  Both the Fortress and Fisherman break down for easy storage.

Power Management

Boat electrical systems are primarily 12 volt batteries supplying power to the installed equipment on board.  The batteries as you can imagine need to be charged to continue to operate the systems we depend on.  Our main battery bank consists of six Lifeline 6 volt, 220 amp hour AGM batteries that when wired in series/parallel give us 660 amp hours at 12 volts. In addition we have a 12 volt Lifeline AGM battery for engine starting.  On board Firecracker we can charge the batteries in a number of ways.  When running the engine a 100 ampere alternator will do the job.  With sufficient wind, about 10 knots or more, our Air Breeze wind generator will help the charging process.  With 20 plus knots of wind the Air Breeze will supply all our electrical needs.  We also have two solar panels that are supplying a charge whenever sunlight is being absorbed by the panels.   In the event we have little wind or sunlight and we don’t feel like running the engine, we have a 2000 watt Honda generator that will charge the batteries and supply us with 120 volt electricity when needed.  Plugging into shore power when at a dock will of course keep the batteries charged.  When cruising we seldom connect to shore power as we pick up moorings or anchor most of the time.  This leaves us “off the grid” so we rely on wind and solar for the majority of our charging needs. 

Navigation

Knowing where you are is a big deal, a really big deal.  Years ago we relied on dead reckoning, celestial navigation, radio directional finders and loran.  Some people feel that paper charts have become outdated, we do not.  We carry paper charts for every area we cruise.  Today GPS navigation is so accurate you can pin point your location on the planet within 10 feet.  Just think about the accuracy of the GPS unit in your car, prompting you to turn at intersections, that blows my mind.  Well we have the same technology on board Firecracker.  This year we added a second chart plotter with its own antenna as a back up to our Raymarine E-Series chart plotter.  This new unit accepts the Explorer Chart info on the Bahamas giving us exceptionally accurate detailed navigation information. 

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Our new chart plotter on top and the Raymarine E-80 below.  The chart plotter soundings are in feet, not meters.

In the US we have buoys and markers to help guide us into channels and around obstructions, landmasses etc. Here in the Bahamas there are virtually no aids to navigation.  We use waypoints, set into our chart plotters, using Latitude and Longitude to find channels and avoid obstructions. Using the Explorer paper charts I have entered about 350 waypoints into the chart plotter. We can then build routes to follow between our destinations. 

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Here is a sample of the paper Explorer Chart for the Marsh Harbour – Hope Town area. The magenta circles you see are the waypoints, the straight magenta lines are safe routes between the waypoints.  No buoys or markers of any kind.  Even if there is one on the chart the marker is most likely missing of the light not operational.  The depths shown are in meters, not feet.

VPR (Visual Piloting Rules) are used here in the Bahamas.  Not so much rules, but visual piloting, the reading of the water color to determine depth, is quite important. Deep blue is deeper water, lighter green or blue indicates shallower water and if it looks a sand color, you guessed it, almost no water.  Learning to read water color is a skill you will appreciate if you ever lose your chart plotter or depth sounder. When we head north our new chart plotter will provide info as far north as Canada.  Having two dedicated marine chart plotters gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling.  In addition we also have radar that can be overlaid on our Raymarine chart plotter.  We also have two Garmin handheld GPS units with nautical charts that cover our cruising areas.  These units are good backups as they use AA alkaline batteries and do not depend on the boats battery power.  FYI, on Firecracker we carry lots and lots of spare batteries to be safe.

Sail Plan

The Saga 43 was designed with a Solent rig.  It is neither a cutter nor a sloop in the usual sense. The Solent rig has tandem roller furling units for the headsails. The rig is proportioned so that it does not require overlapping headsails for power when sailing close-hauled. On Firecracker we carry four sails on board.  A full battened main with two reef points (465 SF), a self tending jib on the inner head stay (456 SF), a 135% genoa on the forward head stay (737 SF), and an asymmetrical spinnaker (1698 SF).   

Most of our sailing is with the main and genoa as we try not to sail to windward (going where the wind is coming from).  Waiting a day or two can make a world of difference in having the wind abeam or behind us.  This is called reaching or running off the wind which is much more comfortable and much faster getting to that same destination that yesterday would have upwind.  When we do decide to sail upwind or close hauled we then use our smaller self-tending jib.  The boat was designed to sail upwind without the need of an overlapping jib/genoa and still have terrific performance.  When the wind picks up and Ginnie feels like we are heeling too much we simply take a reef in the mainsail.  All reefing is done from the cockpit and I am able, single handed, to take a reef in less than one minute.  Once reefed, the boat doesn’t heel as much and we typically lose no speed.

Having an electric self tailing winch on the port cabin top was a huge selling point for us.  We raise the main with this winch as well as sheeting in the mainsail and use it to raise the dinghy in the davit.  It could also be used to furl the headsails as well.

Dinghy and Outboard

Having started with an 8’ soft bottom inflatable with a 5 HP outboard we were thrilled to purchase a 9’6” AB hard bottom inflatable with a 15 HP two-stroke Yamaha outboard.  Our dinghy is our car when cruising.  It is our transportation from Firecracker to the rest of the world.  We visit friends, go for groceries, make a trip to the beach, visit that island that should have good shells, or go to that great restaurant in town.  It’s how we get around, so why go slow when we could be a mile or more from where we want to be.  The davit system with the electric winch is so easy to operate we never leave the dinghy in the water at night. 

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In this photo the dinghy is more of a pick-up truck than a car, 25 gallons of water, 10 of diesel and 5 of gasoline.

So if this post hasn’t turned your brain to mush and you are still awake go to the link below.  It is the builders, Bruckman Yachts, overview and design philosophy of our “Perfect” boat.

SAGA 43 Overview

Remember … SAIL FAST – LIVE SLOW