This month, MAHI is participating in a Cruising “Raft-Up,” or blog hop, hosted by the CruisingMomBlog.com and Kid4sail. A Raft-Up is where a variety of Cruising Blogs write about the same topic. This month’s topic is “The Shake Down After Transitioning Aboard.”
Many sail cruisers buy their boat with dreams of sailing off into the sunset immediately after purchase. Many do, then run into various system or part failures in a foreign country, where obtaining replacement parts can be most challenging, as well as expensive.
Things Will Break- This is Typical
It doesn’t matter if you buy a brand new sailboat or a used cruising one, the reality is that you will need to spend time to shake the boat down and work out all the various mechanical kinks. Expect things to break, then you won’t be discouraged when they do. Sometimes this happens at inconvenient times.
Early in our first year of cruising, we enjoyed our first overnight sail between the Berry Islands and Eleuthera in the Bahamas. As daylight approached, our delight in the joys of night sailing turned very stressful when we discovered that our bilge pump failed, plus we had a freshwater leak in an inaccessible location draining our water tanks. Not a good combination.
On Mahi, we are fortunate that Joe has had a lifetime curiosity of all things mechanical and has acquired skill around rebuilding and fixing things. He began with taking his dad’s spare lawnmower apart to make himself a mini bike and then later graduated to cars.
This fascination led to his obtaining Mechanical Engineering and Material Science degrees at UC Berkeley. Our family like to joke and call him the “King of Auto, Boat and Home Repair.” Joe loves to fix things. That is a good thing if you own a boat.
However, in our first year of cruising, Joe was overwhelmed many times by the complexity of our new boat systems, and dealing with the various items that failed during the shake down phase. It took time to understand the boat and gain the confidence needed to repair and fix whatever broke.
If a college educated Mechanical Engineer can feel overwhelmed by moving aboard and figuring out all the boat systems, imagine how a non-mechanical minded person would feel? Here is our advice to help you survive that first year of cruising.
Advice- Shake Down and Get to Know Your Boat
It is important to take your boat out and actually use her. This is how you discover what breaks. When you use your boat, you become more familiar with the systems. During the act of repairing what breaks, you then begin to build a relationship with your boat. It does take time to do this.
Once you move aboard and start using your new vessel, it is really important to shake the boat down before heading offshore and away from available help. Since there is no Tow Boat US to help you way offshore, you really do need to be self reliant.
Example of what Failed in Our First Season.
Mahi is a very nice Taswell 43, but taking the boat out revealed items missed on surveys. This is very typical, we have learned. Here is the list of what failed during our first cruising season:
Genoa tore on first use
A/C control board failed
Fuel fill hose permeated
Alternator belt broke
Alternator wire replaced
Refrigerator and freezer issues
Refrigerator compressor failed
Inverter/charger fuse blew
Shop rag discovered in fuel tank
Bilge pump failure
Cold water plumbing leak
Both Heads and Hoses, vents and vent loops replaced
Rebuild Stern Shower
Salon ceiling leak
The above list gives you an idea of the type of things that broke during our first year aboard. It is important to ask yourself if you have the skills to repair these items or jobs- or the funds to hire someone else to do the work? It also underscores the need for spare parts when heading out to live your dream.
Advice: Take Repair Classes
Probably, the best advice we can give new cruisers are to be self reliant or work towards this goal. This doesn’t happen overnight.
Joe went to a diesel repair class in Southern California since he was more experienced working on small gasoline and auto engines.
I traveled to Port Townsend, WA to take Carol Hasse’s Sail Repair course. I also spent time learning skills from our rigger, who taught me how to rebed chainplates, and basic rigging inspection and replacement.
Taking one class won’t make you an expert, but it will give you basic skills and equipment to have on hand the first time you tackle an intimidating project.
Have Adequate Spares on Board!
You can never have too many spare parts aboard. Murphy’s Law will most likely prevail that the one spare part you do not have aboard is the one you need.
Back to our first overnight sail issue when the bilge pump failed, combined with a cold water leak draining 180 gallons. I took the helm while Joe went into action, systematically figuring out both immediate and long term solutions to the problem.
He shut off the water pump and used backup bilge pumps to take care of the water in the bilge. Then later after we anchored, he tore apart the bilge pump and repaired the seal which failed. Of course, this was the one spare we did not have, but a friend did, so we borrowed one.
The water leak in a inaccessible location? Joe rebuilt our cold water system to a more accessible location using parts on board.
Post Shakedown Cruising
You will be happy to know we survived our shakedown year and only had one or two minor failures during the next three years of cruising. Joe became very familiar with our boat and can easily diagnose most issues very quickly.
We also decided what upgrades we wanted to make to improve living aboard life. If you are in your shakedown phase of cruising, don’t lose heart- it will get better!
SV Mahi started cruising in 2015 and are still happily cruising- despite hemorrhaging money that first year. We are on our way to Rio Dulce, Guatemala this season.