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Isolate Afloat

Set your boat up for extended cruising now, and the next time the seagull hits the fan, you can quarantine at sea.

I’m writing this in the fifth week of self-isolation in Stamford, Connecticut. Every Wednesday I risk a visit to the supermarket, cloaked in protective gear that, at any other time, would have the manager calling the cops. And when I’m not wrapped up like Lawrence of Arabia, I surf Facebook and other social sites, finding out how others are weathering the pandemic. Some are -making me very jealous: While I’m staring at the drab scene outside my office window, they’re swinging at anchor under the Antillean sun, swimming, drinking wine and enjoying fresh-caught seafood delivered to their boats by local fishermen.

Further research reinforced the idea that not all pandemic refugees are enjoying their quarantines equally—a lot depends on where one is isolated. Some countries are very strict regarding boaters coming ashore, even for necessities; others are more lenient, as long as folks follow the rules and don’t stray from a stated mission—for example, buying groceries and then going straight back to the boat. Law -enforcement is on hand to ensure compliance. And, of course, all of this is made easier, or even possible, by having a boat geared to long-term living aboard where shore-side expeditions are less frequent. Don’t forget: We won’t always be in the middle of a pandemic. When things get back to normal, cruising in exotic places without having to make frequent resupply stops will have its advantages.

Cannonballs just feel different from a flybridge.

Cannonballs just feel different from a flybridge.

But at any rate, whether you’re living off the grid in some secluded domestic harbor or making an offshore passage to an island of your dreams, it sure beats skippering a La-Z-Boy across the living room while binge-watching Game of Thrones, even if the refrigeration is more reliable ashore. Boats are natural vehicles for self-isolation—and I don’t mean moving on board at a marina; if that’s your plan, stop reading here and check out the rest of this issue. Living on a boat in the slip, plugged in with cable TV and city water hookup, is pretty much like living in a house that moves around a little bit in the wind. I’m talking about casting off and being self-sufficient for a month or more, whether at anchor without shore-side support or making a bluewater passage to someplace nicer than your port of departure. Maybe you like the idea, too. If so, here are a few things to consider when planning your escape.

Bluewater Bound

First, you need the right boat. A true oceangoing vessel has the cruising range and seagoing ability for weeks-long bluewater passages and can carry the stores to keep the crew nourished until they get to the other side. But how about a month swinging at anchor in a cozy harbor without going ashore? No problemo. There are going to be no watches to stand, no paravanes to manhandle, no squalls and no head seas. It’s a boating lifestyle you might like to try. I know I would.

The boat that’s best for voyaging, or long-term, self-sufficient living aboard, isn’t the best choice for longshore cruising, unless you’re not in a hurry: In the 40- to 50-foot range (the size boats I’m talking about here), ocean crossing is done slowly—figure 6 or 7 knots. That’s too slow for most folks hopping from anchorage to anchorage. Moreover, it’s a good thing that you’re probably looking for a genuine bluewater boat to make your dreams come true: Many people buy boats to make a particular voyage. When they’re back home they want a bigger, faster boat for next time, or a different one for harbor-hopping, or they take up golf, so there are usually plenty of well-found, long-range cruising boats on the market.

While I was researching this story, I found several 40-something-foot Kadey-Krogens and Nordhavns in the brokerage listings; all are excellent boats for passagemaking. And there are others—DeFever comes to mind, or one of George Buehler’s Diesel Ducks. Have some fun looking. Sure, you can buy new if your finances permit, but you’ll have to wait for delivery and then do the shakedown yourself, troubleshoot the systems and spend more time than you’d like getting everything fine-tuned and working properly. At trip’s end, though, you could sell her and buy something faster for coastal cruising—or not. Maybe I’d just start planning another cruise.

Diesel Dilemmas

Most bluewater cruisers in this size range are of the single-screw type, with a small, long-lived diesel that has enough power to push the boat at an efficient displacement speed, with a little bit left over. Typically, voyaging powerboats cruise at a speed roughly equal, in knots, to the square root of the waterline length, plus maybe a little bit more. A Krogen 42, for example, has a LWL of about 39 feet, giving her a cruising speed of just over 6 knots; some skippers even throttle back a little more to maximize range.

Some boats also carry “get-home” power, an auxiliary engine and drivetrain that will limp the boat somewhere if the main engine craps out. Most boat buyers like the security of a spare engine, but many experts question the need. I think it’s more important to have a well-maintained main engine and the knowledge, skills and tools to troubleshoot and repair it; maybe you disagree. A get-home engine adds complications and is another piece of machinery to maintain. If you have one, you should run it periodically; a good time is when you shut down the main engine to change the oil while on a passage. That way it’ll be ready if you need it.

Kiss monotony goodbye: A life on the water is one of continuous adventure.

Kiss monotony goodbye: A life on the water is one of continuous adventure.

Buying a twin-screw boat solves the dilemma of get-home power, but there aren’t many in this size range, so you’ll have to look hard. If you want to buy new and can wait for a while, check out Nordhavn’s twin-screw N41. The builder predicts a range of over 4,000 miles at 7 knots from twin Beta Marine-marinized Kubota 75-hp mechanically injected turbo diesels—but for longshore cruising, you can throttle up to 9 knots and still get 1,000 miles from 900 gallons of fuel. Top speed should be 9.5 knots. The Kubotas are often used to spin generators, where they can run for 20,000 hours, according to Nordhavn, so the engines should take you anywhere you want to go, several times, before needing major work. At presstime, the first N41 was reported to be launching soon.

Spick & Spam

For your isolation vessel, choose a boat with big water tanks and/or a watermaker, or budget to add one. At passagemaking speed, it takes a long time to get across the ocean, and you will get thirsty. Food isn’t much of a problem—there’s ample stowage room for cans of Spam, Dinty Moore beef stew, beans and corned beef hash—but water can run short if the crew is wasteful and the tanks are small.

The aforementioned Krogen 42 carries 360 gallons, plenty for a month-long passage, unless everyone wants to shower every day; you can even wash clothes once in a while. But not all cruisers are so -liberally endowed, so a watermaker is needed to keep the tanks topped-up. A watermaker also comes in handy when anchoring long-term in a Caribbean harbor, where they’ll charge you for fresh water. Yeah, you have to maintain the watermaker, but I think it’s a worthwhile addition. I’d choose a 12-volt model so I wouldn’t need to run the generator when desalinating. (Run it even less by adding solar-cell recharging.)

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Dealing with trash when voyaging is a pain, so plan ahead to minimize the amount you generate. Use common sense when throwing anything overboard, even far from land. The plastic you jettison today will still be floating around when the dinosaurs return, so don’t do it. Stow plastic aboard and dispose of it when you reach port; even better, drink water from the ship’s tanks, using a washable glass. Leave the bottled water ashore.

Leave the paper towels behind, too. During the pandemic hoarding, I’ve started using dishtowels for clean-up, like my grandmother did, and like I did myself when I was sailing. Cloth towels work fine, just wash them out, and after a very short time you won’t miss the roll of Bounty over the sink. Used paper towels pile up really fast in the trash, and unless you use them to fire the barbecue, you’ll soon have crumpled rolls of them stuffed into trash bags stowed on the afterdeck.

There’s no way to avoid creating trash when cruising, so reduce the volume somewhat by leaving as much as you can onshore. Transfer cereal, rice, pasta and other dry stores into sealable plastic containers; discard the cardboard boxes. (Also, a good precaution when restocking in tropical harbors: Cockroaches often reside in cardboard boxes.) Stow your flour in watertight plastic containers, too.

Flour? Passagemaking for weeks on end is boring if you’ve planned it correctly, and sitting at anchor unable to go ashore can be even worse. Before long, you’ll be looking for something to do. Why not try baking bread? It’s time-consuming but useful, your crew will love you for it and the aroma wafting from your galley will make other self-isolators drool with envy. Fresh-baked bread goes great with Spam, too.

The Juice

On passage, the engine’s running all the time, so there’s plenty of 12-volt juice on tap. At anchor, generate as much electricity as possible without burning fuel: Solar cells will recharge the batteries in silence, at least in the sunny climes we’re dreaming about for self-isolation. Upgrade an older 12-volt system with new batteries; consider springing for lithiums, and don’t spare the amps. -Lithium batteries provide more usable juice between recharges than AGMs and can be recharged faster, too. The more appliances you have that operate on DC, the less you need to run the generator, which both saves fuel for the main engine and keeps the genset hum from gradually driving you crazy at anchor. A 12-volt refrigerator will keep your food cold; a propane stove will cook meals for weeks, maybe months, on a couple bottles of LPG and, if you ask me, propane is easier to cook on than electric. Many 120-volt appliances can run off an inverter. If you need air conditioning, well, you’re stuck with running the genset; otherwise, try living without it.

Inevitable Issue

Sooner or later you’ll have to empty the holding tank—make it later by upgrading to freshwater-flush toilets. Most new boats -already have them, but an older, used boat may not. The upgrade is worth the cost. Freshwater-flush toilets fill the holding tank slower and don’t generate as many noxious odors as old-fashioned saltwater flush models. Okay, they use a bit of fresh water, but not much, and with the watermaker it isn’t an issue. At sea, you can flip the Y-valves and discharge waste overboard or pump the holding tank when it’s full, same with gray water from sinks and showers.

Nearer shore, of course, things get more complicated: In the U.S., virtually all cruising areas are no-discharge; in other countries the laws vary. In any case, it’s environmentally irresponsible to pump waste overboard near shore, whether it’s legal or not. So, you’ll have to either find a pumpout station—with luck, there’s one right next to the diesel pump at the fuel dock—or up anchor, head offshore and dump waste in the open sea. (No, pumping the tank after dark isn’t a third choice.)

Set up your passagemaker correctly, and the trip will be a lot more fun, whether you’re crossing an ocean or self-isolating at anchor. Look for me—I’ll be the guy dressed like Lawrence of Arabia, eating Dinty Moore out of the can.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.