April 1, 2004, Newport, Rhode Island|
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West
Redundancy On Ithaka
By Bernadette Bernon
and I set off cruising, we got some excellent advice from a cruising friend
of ours, Alvah Simon. Over two decades, he and his wife Diana slowly circumnavigated,
and then sailed here and there on “expedition” voyages; for instance,
they took their 36-foot steel sloop, Roger Henry to the Arctic, and wintered
over there – a mammoth undertaking in a small sailboat. The resulting
high adventure, and life-and-death experience, became the basis of the thrilling
book “North To The Night,” which Alvah wrote upon their return.
When Douglas and
I told the Simons we were setting off cruising ourselves – albeit
on a far less ambitious voyage than their’s -- Alvah had one piece of
advice to pass along. He told us to set a goal, before we took off, to make
sure that every single system on Ithaka had a manual backup, so that WHEN something
happens to one system (notice he didn’t say “IF something happens”),
you’re not without resources and can easily switch to the other. This
has turned out to be invaluable advice, and it’s saved our bacon many
times over. Now that we’re home for a few months, we’re taking
out some broken systems, replacing them, and installing even more backups for
on Ithaka, we have a mammoth and typical cruiser’s spare-parts
inventory for every single system—lockers and resealable plastic containers
brimming with everything from selections of lights, fuses, belts, impellers,
cotter pins, odd sized “o” rings, shackles, glues and goops, to
large items such as a spare alternator, regulator, starter, windlass motor,
refrigerator compressor, injectors…
In Belize, Douglas replaced our old alternator with a new Balmar
unit that wed brought as a spare.
It’s a list that goes on ad nauseum, and over three years, we’ve
used an awful lot of these “extras.” But in addition to spares,
there are also conceptual redundancies that have been smart upgrades to the
boat. Here’s a list, to give you an idea of how we back up every one
of Ithaka’s systems, no matter how seemingly small, and why:
The fridge isnt a critical piece of gear on a boat, but it sure is nice to have it. We carry a spare compressor and a vacuum pump onboard
Rudder -- The
rudder is backed up by the rudder on the Monitor Self-Steering System.
VHF Antenna --
We have a spare antenna. Should the mast-top antenna be lost in a knock down,
antenna is mounted lower—on our aft-deck radar
pole—and its cable already is snaked behind the VHF radio where it could
be attached fairly easily.
On-Board Water – We have a pressurized fresh-water system in our head
sink, at the galley sink, and in the cockpit. At the bow we have pressurized
salt water to hose down the deck, anchor and rode. But we have foot pumps for
both salt and fresh water, so that if (when) the pressurized systems fail,
we can still take care of our needs. Often we don’t use the pressurized
water at all, preferring instead to use the foot pumps. They save water. (It’s
only this winter that we’ve added a watermaker.) We know lots of cruising
boats that purposely have no pressurized water systems to avoid a possible
total loss of water if a hose bursts.
Cruising boats are well served by having a simple water-catchment
system sewn into the awnings. You never know when youre watermaker might develop a problem, or something might foul your tanks.
Lifelines – We’re replacing our lifelines with new wire. At the
Safety At Sea Seminar in Annapolis, Maryland, at the Naval Academy, where we
just spent last weekend, we were again reminded by the experts at Chesapeake
Rigging that lifeline wire should be bare, not sheathed in plastic (to avoid
corrosion) and that it should be the size of your rigging – which is
far more substantial than most boats currently use. We’ll soon upgrade
to that size. To backup the lifelines, we also have lots of handholds all over
the boat. Also we installed stainless-steel hoops over the four dorades on
the deck – both to protect the dorades, and to provide handholds. We
had them made higher enough and rugged enough to serve as support as we work
the deck underway. To back up those “systems,” on the simplest
level, we always wear safety harnesses at night or in foul weather, so our
lifelines are our last defense against falling overboard.
Steering -- The
wheel steering is backed up by an emergency tiller that can be inserted directly
aft-mounted rudder head. In fact, we use a third,
smaller, aluminum tiller for our self-steering gear, so we’re well backed
up in that department.
We have two spare tillers. One is a large one that wed use to steer the boat over the long term if the hydraulic system were to fail. The other, a small aluminum stub tiller we use all the time connected to our wind-vane self-steering system.
Steering Systems -- We have both a Monitor wind vane AND a small Raytheon
autopilot, and the autopilot is backed up by a second autopilot.
The GPS – This is such an important piece of gear, and the handhelds
are so cheap these days, that we have three spares, in addition to our ship’s
GPS. One lives at the binnacle while we’re underway. One lives in a metal
(Farraday) box that will protect it in case we get struck by lightening. Another
lives in our ditch kit. Just in case all hell breaks loose, and we lose all
three GPSs, we also have a sextant, and we learned celestial navigation before
we set off cruising.
Depth Sounder -- The depth sounder, which is critical when you’re sailing
in reef-infested waters, is backed up by a second transducer in the hull. Last
year, sailing from Cartagena, Colombia, to the San Blas Islands off the north
coast of Panama, we were especially glad to have that second unit in place.
In the middle of the night, nearly 100 miles offshore Ithaka bounced off a
mammoth tree that was afloat out at sea. We sustained little damage except
that the tree smashed against the transducer we were using, and sent it into
a terminal state of “off soundings.” All we had to do was switch
to the second unit and carry on -- a great relief. In addition to the built-in
systems, we also have a have a lead line aboard, AND a nifty hand-held battery
operated depth sounder. The latter is a great bonus; these small, portable
units are terrific for taking with you in the dinghy, along with a GPS, to
scope out a safe passage between reefs.
Douglas in the lazarette, snaking wires for our new ICOM 802 Single Side Band radio.
Watermaker – We’re installing a new Spectra watermaker, now that
we’re home, which will change our lives onboard when we set out again
in June. But a watermaker should never be relied upon as your only source
of collecting water when you’re cruising, especially if you’re
cruising in Third World countries. Our back-up is a water-catching system
built into our bimini and awnings. Also, we keep our water tanks full all
the time, and we have spare water in jerry jugs on deck in case a tank gets
fouled. Having the Spectra should make for longer showers, more freshwater
rinses for salty gear and equipment, and less hauling about jerry jugs. To
conserve water, we bathe and rinse out the soap in the ocean, and use the
freshwater shower in the cockpit to rinse off the salt water. We use water
we’ve warmed in a solar-heating bag and then poured into a pump-up
three-gallon bug sprayer that Douglas fitted with a spray nozzle (a sink
sprayer). It works wonderfully and conserves water – although the truth
is we look forward this year to more leisurely showers, and purer drinking
water with the Spectra.
Our new Spectra watermaker will give us lots of pure fresh water
for drinking, and washing.
Fuel Filters – When you’re entering a shallow cut between roiling
reefs, and your clogged filter stalls the engine, this is not when you want
to spend 15 minutes searching for a spare, taking out the old, putting in the
new, bleeding the system and wondering if you’re about to hole your hull
on the reef. We installed a second in-line fuel filter to which we can switch
instantly, giving us precious time when we need it, and deferring the dirty
work until later on in better circumstances. We’ve needed to do this
two times already, and highly recommend it.
We installed in-line redundant fuel filters, which weve used several times in the past three years.
Sails Up – Whenever we’re
leaving a reefy anchorage under power, we always keep our mainsail up, just
in case the engine stalls. Also, keeping
the sail up through the reef usually helps our stability as we squeeze through
the often choppy cut.
Compass -- The
compass is backed up by a hand-held compass, AND a compass in our binoculars.
Our ships compass has several back-ups.
VHF -- The ship’s
VHF is backed up by two other hand-held VHFs, one of which lives in the ditch
Anchors -- We
have four different anchors on board. Each is oversized for our boat, and
Power -- For charging batteries, we have two alternators, a KISS
wind generator, and two solar panels.
Charts -- All
our electronic charts are backed up by paper charts, which we update with
our position at
every change of watch. Electronic charts are very
cool, and a wonderful tool, but our experience is that sometimes they present
your boat position quite a bit off where you actually are – no big deal
when you’re at sea, a much bigger deal if you’re trying to make
landfall amongst reefs. It’s always worth remembering that computers
always crash at the worst moment. That’s why we have paper charts.
Engine Key – Here’s
a simple one. We tied an engine key to a closed hook in the lazarette, so
that if the boat should suffer a knockdown, and the
engine key should fall out of the ignition, we can immediately locate the spare
from the helm. Last year we heard about a couple who sustained a knockdown
in heavy winds off Panama. The husband was washed overboard, the key was lost,
and when the wife ran down below to locate the spare, she lost sight of her
husband, who was never found.
Emergency Gear -- Before we left home, we purchased a Gale Rider Storm Drogue with 350 feet
and a 406 GPIRB. We’ve never used either one,
and hope we never have to, but we’re glad we’ve got them.
Never used, but great for peace of mind: a 406 GPIRB.
Sails – In addition to our mainsail, and 125-percent roller-furling
genoa, we have a staysail, which we fly when we know we’re going to do
a lot of windward work. We had a spinnaker, but we used it so seldom that we
took it off the boat. We’re reconsidering putting it back on before we
set out in June, but the jury us still out on that. Before we left home four
years ago, we’d read enough horror stories about the danger of lying
a hull in heavy weather, that we wanted to make sure that, despite conditions,
Ithaka could always keep some sail up, no matter how bad it gets. A bareheaded
boat can more easily suffer a knockdown in heavy wind and seas. So in addition
to our normal sail inventory, we purchased a storm jib, and a storm trysail,
and installed on the mast a separate track for it – good insurance. We
have three reef points installed on the mainsail, and we highly recommend this
to everyone who sets offshore. The Western Caribbean has powerful winds, especially
in January and February, and we’ve used that third reef point several
Communications -- We have an Inmarsat C unit, which connects to our laptop. In addition,
we use the
SSB, connected to our laptop, so we can download email
through the SailMail system – a great way to get email. We also have
an Iridium satellite phone. Both our ICOM 802 SSB and our Inmarsat C can, with
the press of two buttons, transmit a Mayday call, complete with latitude and
The single-sideband radio is more than a communication tool, its a safety tool.
Bilge Pump --
We installed a much larger electric bilge pump, with a high-water alarm,
and a bilge-pump
monitor that counts the cycles it’s turned on.
We also have two large-capacity manual bilge pumps, and plenty of buckets.
Computer and Single-Sideband
Radio – We need both to download our weather
information every single day. The marine environment is tough on computers,
so we have two laptops onboard. In case those electronics fail for some reason,
we also have a recording barometer.
Douglas downloads weather data from the SSB.
Radar Reflector – We have one mounted on the mast. Still, when we call
bridge to bridge at sea, operators of some ships – if they answer AT
ALL -- sometimes tell us that they don’t see us on their radar. So we
always try to contact ships as we approach each other, and we always steer
well clear of them. The responsibility for vigilance amongst commercial shipping
is always ours.
The Boat -- All these preparations are great, but the biggest piece of redundant
safety gear is the boat itself. Ithaka is extremely strongly built to take
a real beating out there. Of course, if something did happen to her, we have
We have a 6-person liferaft mounted on deck.
So you get the
point. Think through every piece of gear, ask yourself what you’d do
if it stopped working, because it will stop working, no matter how new it
is or how much
you paid for it. Gear that has to live at sea takes
an awful beating from the elements, corrosion, salt and sun, and will break
at the least opportune time.
This past weekend,
Douglas and I spent some time in Annapolis, Maryland, attending the annual
Safety At Sea Seminar put on by the Naval Academy. We’d
been honored when they invited us to talk to the audience about the preparations
we made to Ithaka to try to make the boat as safe as possible. During our slide
presentation, we were sure to pass along Alvah’s advice about system
redundancy. The audience was filled with cruisers who were preparing themselves
and their boats for voyages this summer and beyond, and it was a thrill for
us to be there and help in their preparations.
Spring is upon
us. Everywhere, people are working on their boats and getting ready to splash.
for those planning to head offshore and beyond,
it’s useful to go through your own redundancy list, and plan accordingly.