Best of Show - iPads
Still the same as in the 6 month review - our iPads. We have two of the 3G iPad 2 models, both of them very old but still humming along (hear me knocking on wood.) We have the 3G model because it's the one with the standalone GPS in it. The wifi only models don't have standalone GPS, only assisted GPS so you can't use your charts once you get out of range of wifi. We still use Navionics and Garmin BlueChart for our navigation. We have them both because they do different things well. Navionics has a great auto-routing capability for planning purposes. It also does distance calculations better. Garmin has the Active Captain integrally downloaded so you see the hazard markers, bridge info, anchorages and marina markers even when you're offline. We use it constantly. We have the iPads in LifeProof Nüüd cases and use them in the cockpit with the Arkon Boat Helm Tablet Mount. We have two mounts, one on the binnacle and one under the dodger. We'll certainly have to upgrade the iPads at some point in the future but for now they're doing remarkably well considering that they're on almost all day. They are also our e-readers with the Kindle app, our music player to a bluetooth waterproof speaker, and we both use them to play games.
Best of Show...part 2 - Renogy Solar Panels
As with the 6 month review, two items tied for Best of Show. Other than the iPads, the solar panels are top dog. If you read the 6 month review you'll notice that the Honda Generator was in this place then. We hadn't installed the solar panels yet, and the Honda Generator saved the day. We installed 300 watts last summer and haven't looked back. With it, we installed a 1000 watt inverter to handle charging the laptops, shaver, etc that don't do 12v and we also use it to run the Magic Bullet for our protein shakes. While the Honda is still a valued resident of the boat, it's rarely used. With the stone cold reliability of the Honda, we know that when we need it, it will be there. The solar panels that we added were the Renogy 100 watt panels. We chose the rigid panels because they're a fraction of the cost. We built a frame to handle a quick-release mounting system and it proved its worth when we had to dismantle the boat in preparation for hurricane Joaquin last fall. The panels were easy to install, and the quality was excellent. Our 300 watts handle pretty much all of our electrical needs as long as we're in a mostly sunny location. Here in Florida our batteries are in float before noon, even with the inverter running. If we have a couple rainy, cloudy days then we have to either plug in or run the generator. If we had one more 8D battery then we would never have to do that. At the moment we have only one 8D house battery and one group 31 start battery. Adding a battery would be a pretty major production because it would involve modifying a built-in fiberglass battery box. Maybe next summer.
First Place - VHF Base Unit with DSC and AIS
In the 6 month review, First Place went to our Simultalk 24g headsets. They lasted for just a few months past that review and then croaked. The wiring from the headset to the base unit is a bit undersized and eventually wore out. In their defense, we used them a lot in harsh conditions. After they croaked we got used to not using them, developing various communication methods for docking and anchoring, but we always missed them. This summer I had them overhauled so when we leave in the fall they will be part of our equipment list once again, but for now we have a new First Place winner - our VHF Base Unit with DSC and AIS. Although we had the unit installed at the time of our 6 month review, we were very inexperienced in its use. In the past couple years we have come to appreciate and depend on the AIS capability, especially in light of the fact that we do not have radar. The VHF Base Unit is a Standard Horizon GX2150 that we bought at the boat show in 2013. In turns out that just shortly after we purchased that unit, Standard Horizon came out with a new version, the GX2200, that has onboard GPS and doesn't require an additional external GPS source. We may purchase one whenever our old GPSMap176 dies that we're currently using for that GPS input. The DSC is a highly underutilized function that allows you to directly contact another boat if you have their MMSI number. If more cruisers knew how to use this function it would greatly improve the usability of channel 16. For a pretty good article on using DSC, you can go here.
Lavac manual head. We installed our Lavac head way back in 2011, long before the 6 month equipment review. But it's only after cruising for three years that we've come to appreciate its value. It has several really huge benefits.
- The Lavac takes up less real estate in the head because the pump is placed behind the bulkhead or in a cupboard. This makes for a clean-looking install.
- It is a vacuum head so it has seals on the lid and on the toilet seat so when the lid is closed no odor escapes the head.
- It only uses 3 pints of water to flush so that means we can use fresh water to flush it, avoiding the calcium buildup in our hoses that using salt water causes.
- You can plumb it to flush with gray water.
- We had the head for 4 years before we had to overhaul it and it took a whopping hour and a half from start to finish with very little odor.
Bell & Howell Waterproof Tac Light. The newest addition to our equipment list. This little beauty has 5 modes - bright, medium, low, strobe, and SOS. It has a zoom function that narrows or widens the beam. In the SOS mode it continually flashes an SOS signal. It's completely waterproof, freeze proof, and shock proof. It comes with a lanyard and uses 3 AAA batteries. We've been using it for a few weeks now and my only problem with it is I should have bought 3 of them.
Delorme InReach. After three years, the Delorme InReach has really proved its worth. We thought long and hard about whether we wanted a Spot or the Delorme InReach and decided on the InReach because of the 2-way texting capability. We don't have an SSB or a satellite phone so the InReach works well for us for contact when we're out of range of cell service. The messages are sent and received very quickly and we've never had coverage issues in any area we've traveled in. The service is reasonable, about $27 per month, and they now offer a weather forecast option for $1 per forecast. We have yet to use the weather forecast capability since we have the service suspended while we're working at the dock, but we look forward to using it while we're in the Abacos this winter and will update this post at that time
At-a-glance Logbook. After three years of cruising, this is still our go-to ship's log. The one we use is an 8.5x11 spiral bound At-a-glance brand professional appointments book. It has tabbed sections for each month and in each section it has a month at a glance, and daily columns divided hourly. At the back is a planning section divided by month which we use for our water, diesel, gasoline, propane filter changes and pumpout logs. We typically use the monthly calendar for the summary of non-maintenance stuff like who we had sundowners with, who we met, what we did socially. We use the daily log for travel records and boat maintenance records. We love this as a log book. It's so easy to keep and so easy to go back and find things so we tend to use it regularly.
LED strip lights. Everyone on a boat knows the advantage of replacing old-style incandescent light bulbs with LED drop-ins, and we have done that to all of our existing fixtures. We added some new ones though, some 2-foot long strip lights that fit under the galley cupboards, the nav station shelf, and go over the workbench. We got them from superbrightleds.com and they were dirt cheap and have lasted well. If you buy them, make sure you get the warm white. The cool white is very industrial looking and tires the eyes quickly. More recently, we added a bunch more of these. We put two long strips down the length of the settees to replace the old, ugly brass round fixtures. To say that they changed the feel of the salon would be an understatement. We're looking to add two more to the v-berth later this summer. This is a very cheap way to improve the interior of your boat.
Cabin fans. I have a love-hate relationship with cabin fans. For the marine industry you pretty much have a choice between Caframo and Hella. Kintala came with three Hella two-speed fans, two of which were making horrendous screeching noises when you turned them on, and the third worked intermittently. Both the Caframo and Hella were ridiculously priced so I replaced all three of ours with the cheapo Wal-mart 12v auto fans, just cutting the wire and wiring into our system. They were $11.99 and they worked for a year and a half. In looking for replacements that wouldn't break the bank, I happened on this one on Amazon. It had great reviews, so for the $22 price tag I decided to give it a try. I had to modify the mount by drilling four holes so I could screw it to the wall, but after a half hour I had the fan installed. If you buy one, be sure to disassemble the base so you know where the wires are located so you don't drill through them. It's quiet, extremely powerful, fully adjustable, two speed. I also like the fact that it has two heads so when I install the one in the v-berth I can aim one in my direction and one towards Tim. The one in the salon has one aiming toward the galley and one toward the dining table. I can't testify as to the durability of it since we just installed it, but stay posted because I like this very much so far.
Microfiber cloths. After three years, I'm still buying one of the really large packs of these at Costco about once a year. They are fantastic! We use some for the shop, for cleaning stainless, for cleaning floors, for waxing the boat. Some I keep clean for galley and head use. It's good if you can get two colors so you can color code them and not cross the head ones with the galley ones. They hand wash easily, don't stain much, and dry fast. They absorb so much more water than standard towels that I quit using dish towels in the galley altogether and have been using these to dry dishes. They get the dishes completely dry. We start with the new ones to dry dishes, then as they get worn or stained they move to the shop. Eventually they get used for polishing stainless or wiping up spilled oil and have to be thrown away, but they last much longer than any other towel and save many rolls of paper towels.
Battery-Powered Handheld Shower Head. I was hesitant to buy this because of some of the reviews, but I have to tell you it's one of the best purchases I've made. We used to heat our hot water heater every day with the generator, but the high setting of the generator needed to do that was extremely noisy and it took a half hour. We also didn't like the fact that it took over a gallon of water to get the hot water to the head (which is over 30 feet away), and since we only used a gallon for a shower it seemed like an incredible waste. With this shower head, we heat the tea kettle on the stove, mix it with cold in a bucket, and shower away. This has the additional benefit of showing you when you've used enough water. When the bucket is empty, the shower is over. The shower head has a rechargable battery and it charges quickly. It has good pressure, enough to rinse even my long, thick hair.
Non-electric stove top drip coffee maker. The one we have is very, very old. It was in my dad's original camping equipment so it's probably nearing 70 years of age. They don't make the one we have any more but you can find them on e-Bay. There is also a similar one on Amazon, although the reviews seem sketchy. I know a lot of people use electric coffee pots, but we try to stay away from high-drain electrical appliances. My only exception to that rule is my Magic Bullet.
Magic Bullet. I stood in Costco for the longest time trying to determine whether I would really ever use this thing. In the end, I bought it because it came highly recommended by a fellow blogger. I'm so unbelievably glad I did because we use it nearly every day. We drink protein shakes quite a bit on the boat and the Magic Bullet makes a great one. I also use it to grind things like oatmeal into oat flour and to chop up chicken for chicken salad (or ham). It works well on our 1000 watt inverter. The set I bought came with an assortment of mugs and storage cups and an assortment of lids as well. Worth every penny I spent.
Water Saver One Touch Tap Faucet Valve. We have a problem with water getting on the counter around our faucets in the galley and draining either into my pot and pan cubbie or on the floor, depending on which way we are leaning. I've discovered that the main reason for this is the water draining off my hands when I reach for the faucet handle to rinse. To remedy this situation I've tried a bunch of faucet-based water saver valves but have given up on all of them...until now. This one is so low-profile you can't even tell it's there. It works easily, allowing you to set the water temp and then with just a click on the button it turns off. You're never reaching outside the sink so the water outside on the counter is greatly reduced. It also saves a lot of water since it's so easy to click on and off in between each dish. One word of caution - don't forget to turn the water off at the handles when you're done. If it were to happen to fail or to get bumped it could empty your water tanks.
Luci Lights. Many cruisers have discovered the joys of Luci lights, but we were late to the game. I bought four of them earlier in the season and I doubt we'll ever have another type of cockpit light. They are charged by solar and last at least all night on one charge. If I hang the four of them up in the cockpit at the same time it's almost too bright. You can read comfortably on two of them. They are inflatable and water resistant so you can tote them into the water if you're having a floating party. You can also use them down below if you want to conserve battery power. The version we bought has a button that lets you see the current charge status. They are a little pricey but I got over that in a hurry when I saw how well they worked.
Drill Sharpener. As you may have noticed (I hear you laughing), we do a lot of projects on the boat. At some point in the last 3 years, and I don't remember exactly when, we invested in a drill sharpener. We do a lot of drilling in stainless tubing, some of which requires sharpening two or thee times in the course of one hole. We used it a ton when building the rigid bimini frame and the solar panel installation. When we looked at the cost of replacing worn out drill bits, it was worth the money and, in retrospect, it has already paid its price since we bought it.
Binoculars. We have a very nice set of Bushnell 10X50 that were gifted to us. It doesn't much matter what brand you have but they must we able to stand the motion of the boat and still focus, and be easily adjusted to your vision, as well as shock protected for the inevitable drop they will take. We use them constantly. We use them for marker spotting, for bridge openings, for wildlife spotting, for anchorage locating, for looking at boat names. They have a permanent place in the cockpit.
Dry Bags. We bought an Attwood dry bag before we left and it has held up well, especially for the price, but if I was going to do it again I would get one of the backpack ones. I don't think the brand matters much. They all seem to do the same thing. Everything in a dinghy gets wet so you need some sort of protection for computers, wallets, phones, etc. It's good to have several in different sizes. Ours ended up getting used as our ditch bag, but we've since acquired a dedicated ditch bag so it will free up the Attwood one for other purposes.
Collapsible tub. We have two of these. One of them resides full time in the galley. We put dirty dishes into it and carry it to the cockpit to rinse them with salt water, then back to the galley to wash them. We have another one in the head which we use for washing clothes in. The great thing about this tub is that it collapses into about 2” and fits behind the head door. They have held up extremely well and I expect would outlast the life of the boat.
Collapsible galley stuff. They make a bunch of it and I will be buying tons more. I have a set of collapsible silicone funnels, half of which are in the galley and the rest in the tool bin. They collapse to about 3/4” thick and you can cut the ends if you need a bigger hole on one. They don't rust and they store easy. I also have a collapsible colander that's rectangle and has sliding arms on it that allow me to rest it across my sink. Great for washing and draining vegetables and fruit, although hard to clean if you use it to drain pasta. For that purpose I usually use a plastic hand held strainer. I also have a collapsible silicone drip coffee maker that is wonderfully useful. Tim drinks regular and I drink decaf so it's much more efficient for us. Washes easily, stores compactly, and doesn't rust.
Silicone bakeware. I only have one piece so far, a 12-cup muffin tin but I love it so much that I'll be buying more. The muffin tin in particular is a wise use of silicone because you can fold it into the sink to wash it and fold it into the small dish drainer to dry. Although you can fold it to store, I rarely make more than 6 muffins at a time so I just cut mine into two pieces which enables me to stack them. I was leery of these in the beginning, but they brown just as well as steel, don't stick as much, and wash easily.
½ Gallon Teakettle. I gave my teakettle to my daughter and bought a smaller, ½ gallon variety that would fit on the boat better. Teakettles are great on a boat because they heat the water without steaming into the boat. Humidity and condensation being the problem that they are on a boat, it's important to try to keep as much steam out of the boat as possible. This is why so many people use pressure cookers on board, although I haven't gotten there yet. As mentioned above, we also use the teakettle to heat water for our tub baths.
White men's tube socks. Yes, tube socks. They are the best for protecting wine and liquor bottles in cabinets. Just slip one over each bottle and stack them in a cupboard. They also work for any glass jars you might have in the pantry or real glass glasses that you might have brought on board.
Large Ziplocs and Space Bags. We have an assortment of Ziplocs on board. I know they're not politically correct, and you have to be very careful to dispose of them properly, but they are imminently useful on a sailboat. We do also wash and reuse them until they can't be reused any longer. We have the vacuum ones to keep linens and pillows and winter clothes and shoes in. We also keep our automatic pfds in one when at anchor for long periods. We use the gallon size for keeping extra flour in and books, and bread and cookies...the quart ones we use for transporting our wallets and phones back and forth to shore and for laundry quarters and...well you get the idea. We have lots of Ziplocs on board.
Rolly Cart. We started out in 2013 with a luggage cart that we brought from the house. It was useful, but with hauling 6 gallon containers of water and fuel and lots of groceries, it soon became apparent that we needed something much sturdier. We replaced it with the Magna Cart Personal 150-lb Folding Hand Truck. It rolls well on much bigger wheels than our old one, has held up well, and folds almost completely flat so it stores easier. Five stars on this one.
Keen sandals. We love the waterproof models of the Keens. They are comfortable and don't mold and have good grips for the deck as well as hard toes. We have a shoes on deck rule on this boat because, while it might not seem like a big injury, a broken toe reduces our sailing crew to 1, and there are many things on this boat on which to break a toe. We're finding that we go through a pair about once a year. I also have a pair of the Keen Bali slide sandal, but they push my foot sideways funny so I'll be looking to purchase these next time.
Parchment paper. I use this all the time in the galley. I never carry less than 2 rolls of it. I use it on my cookie sheet which allows me to have only one sheet and to change out the batches of cookies easily by sliding the paper off to the cooling rack and then sliding the next one on. Also keeps the cookies from burning on the bottom. I also use it to make pizza on. I get the dough ready on the paper and then slide the paper onto my pizza stone.
Seal-tite locking storage containers. I bought these rectangle storage containers from Aldi on one of their weekly specials. They come in three nesting sizes with 4 locking tabs on the lid and happen to fit my pantry perfectly. They are completely waterproof and I have never had bugs in anything stored in one. I keep all my pasta, sugar, pancake mix, etc. in these. Sadly I don't see them offered anywhere else although I hear the Lock-n-lock work about the same.
Recipes. We live in a digital world, used to grabbing our smartphones to look up the latest Cooking Illustrated or Food Network recipe for something. But, on a boat, you often just don't have connectivity and paper copies of your favorites are essential and a comprehensive general cookbook is a good idea. My friend Carolyn Shearlock's Boat Galley Cookbook is a great resource for your shelf. When you have internet connection, then please also visit my sister site, Cruising Comforts.
Beer Tubes and/or Beer Box. I designed and constructed these a year ago and love them still. I detailed the design and construction on Cruising Comforts so you can go over there for specifics. Their purpose is to make it easier for the beer drinkers in the cruising family to access their beer which would normally reside on the bottom of piles and piles of other stuff. I noted in the post that there are a few design changes I would make, but as a whole they are indispensible for all cruising boats with a top-loading fridge.
Black Flag Window Fly Traps. These are 2.75" x 8" sticky papers that trap all kinds of flying and crawling insects. They work great on fruit flies and no-seeums. They have a narrow self-adhesive strip on the back that attaches the sticky paper to your port or anywhere else you want.
For a list of galley-specific tools that have worked for me, see the Cruising Comforts post Top Ten Galley Tools. Some of them have been listed here, but a few were not so it's worth reading the post.
Things we used then, but have not made the cut:
Cast Iron Grill Pan. We don't have a barbeque grill on the back of our boat. Anyone who has seen our boat in person understands why. The stern is too narrow and is already cluttered up with the bimini mounts, the outboard engine mount for the dinghy outboard, and the wind vane. As a result we bought a cast iron grilling skillet with the ridges in the bottom and the ridged press. You preheat it on the stove and when it's good and hot you add your oiled meat. For some meats like bacon, you preheat the press lid with the bottom, and then put the meat between the two. It does, in fact, cook meat just as well as a BBQ, but the cleanup became too much of a chore. I have since learned to make the perfect cheeseburger without the grill pan, so it's getting given away before we leave the dock this fall.
Command strips. Before we left I bought a huge assortment of Command strip hooks, accessories, and replacement strips. We used them to hang pictures, used their cellphone holder, and hooks in the head. While we still do use them, especially on the hooks in the head, we found that using them on teak is not a good idea. They leave a stain once you remove them that has to be sanded out. The cellphone holders were pretty useful, but they cracked easily if you bumped them so we ended up making a teak one.
O2Cool Battery Operated Fan. Disclaimer: the fan we owned is no longer produced so maybe they got it figured out. The fan was a battery operated 10" fan that sat vertically and used a bunch of D-cell batteries. Can't remember exactly how many but I think it was 6 of them or maybe 8. You could also run it on an AC adapter. The fan worked passably - it was quiet, but it didn't move a whole bunch of air. The batteries didn't last very long and they were horribly expensive. The AC adapter wire was way undersized so if you ran the fan for more than a few minutes on the adapter the wire would get warm. It scared me on the boat so it got tossed.
For a complete list of the items we bought early on and discarded even before the 6 month equipment review, see that review.
The danger in doing a post like this is that inevitably I remember something major that escaped my attention when I was writing the post. So I may from time to time update the post if I happen to think of something. Have something you particularly like on your boat? Leave it in the comments.