Lessons from a Croatian Charter
I had the wonderful opportunity to charter a Moorings 4600 catamaran in Croatia for two week in late May, and in fact I am writing this Safety Moment from the catamaran as I sit in the lovely Palmizana marina on the island of Klement. I have some observations based on the last ten days or so that I think are worth sharing.
Even on professionally maintained boats (and our boat was immaculate and in good order), stuff breaks over the course of a one week, 140NM cruise. We’ve had problems with starting one of the engines while entering the charter base, a twisted halyard that threatened to keep us from raising the main fully, a complete failure of the boat’s autopilot, which also affected the operation of the GPS chartplotter, winches with self-tailing arms in every conceivable orientation, shower sump pumps that wouldn’t pump, 110V hair dryers that threatened to ignite one of the berths when we connected to shore power (not the fault of the vessel; operator error!), and so forth. Other than the autopilot, no one failure has had a lasting impact on our enjoyment of one of the great cruising areas of the world.
Our ability to deal with these minor-setbacks successfully can be attributed to one or more of the following:
- Having complete documentation from the boat builder and the equipment manufacturers. The Moorings equips its vessels with extensive information filed in expandable file folders that are extremely organized. We have been forced to search through most of it.
- Having a means to access either online information sources like manufacturers’ websites, or by calling the Moorings base, or by calling the customer service line of the equipment manufacturers. Our boat has Wifi that has been in constant use for both pleasure and diagnostic use, and we’d prioritize it on any cruise, since cruising has been called “the art of fixing your boat in beautiful places around the world...”
- The complexity of our boat is staggering. There are at least 22 12v pumps, most of which have filters, all of which have at least one switch and sometimes an additional float switch. There are five heads, three diesel engines, three air conditioners, 37 circuit breakers, and about 20 through hull seacocks. If our boat started flooding, there would be scores of places to look for the source of water, including the captain’s cabin forward that is akin to climbing down into a manhole to diagnose the neighborhood’s water woes.
- The skills required to keep this floating condo operating are diverse. A cruising skipper needs to simultaneously be an electrician, a plumber, an electronics expert, a fiberglass applicator, a navigator, the IT guy, a rigger, and a diesel mechanic. The late John Bonds used to say “Fred from the boatyard doesn’t go to sea with you”, although most of us would welcome Fred if only to reduce the burden that we feel amid all this complexity.
Which brings me to a final thought. While visiting Evans Starzinger and Beth Leonard aboard their aluminum sloop Hawk about 15 years ago, I asked why they didn’t have refrigeration, which seemed like an obvious thing to have on a 47’ boat. “If you don’t have it, it can’t break” was Evan’s response.
While we appreciate all of the creature comforts on our 46’ catamaran, all 30,000 pounds of our lead-less liveaboard, it makes me wonder if we could cut the complexity by half without dramatically reducing our standard of living? Would two heads be so much less desirable than five? How many through hulls could be eliminated? It’s a question that every naval architect deals with when designing these endless compromises called cruising sailboats. After the last two weeks, I’d err on the side of simplicity so that I could enjoy my time on the water a little more.