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What Works for Us Living on a Boat

I know, it’s a broad topic.

We live half the year on a 1994 Gemini 3400 Catamaran in the Sea of Cortez of Mexico with our two young girls ages three and five.  We base out of San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico and we like cruising the Baja down to La Paz.  We’ve made a lot of friends both on the water and on land.  After 4 seasons here in the Sea of Cortez, you run into a lot of familiar faces.

Here’s a few boat items that make life easier.

A WATERMAKER

We picked up a PUR 40e watermaker our third season.  Our boat carries a total of 50 gallons of water tankage.  With two kids we conservatively run through 25 gallons per week not including drinking water.  That means I need to port 30 gallons per week on average.  That’s about 240 pounds of water each week.  Cruising here in Mexico water can be hard to find.  Really in the entire Sea of Cortez there may only be 3 locations on the western Baja coast you can pull up to a dock and fill up your water tanks.  Many boats can hold 2-300 gallons of water. They can last months without refilling.  Our coastal cruiser is light and pretty fast, we just can’t afford the extra weight.

The PUR 40e burns 4amps per hour and can produce up to 1.3 gallons per hour.  The salinity and temperature drop the production somewhere between 1.1-1.2 gallons per hour realistically.  We have about 85 watts of solar on our boat.  We can run the watermaker, the VHF, and still charge the batteries (maybe only a trickle but it’s still charging).  The downside, it takes me about 4 hours to make 5 gallons of water.  I hate being trapped on the boat to make water, but for the size and power consumption the PUR 40e dramatically increases the time we can gunkhole away from “civilization”.

If I had a chance, I would upgrade to a higher production water maker.  I helped install a Village Marine unit that produced 5 gallons per hour and burned 16 amps per hour total.  Per day, the Village Marine uses the same power as the PUR 40e- just in a shorter time period.

LED LIGHTING

We replaced all our interior bulbs with LED bulbs.  Per lamp the amp draw went from 2 amps per hour down to .25 amps.  I bought a bunch of single bayonet LED bulbs at a RV show not realizing most marine lamps use a double bayonet.  They both push in and twist lock to the lamp but the marine has the positive and ground poles on the bottom while the RV bulbs use the housing (the twist and lock part) as the ground and a single contact as the positive.  The lamps being old, I modified the bases to handle the single contact LED bulbs.  Our total cost was around $13 per fixture.  Now if I turn on ALL my interior lights we burn less than 3 amps.

NOTE:  We added another lamp over the galley for cooking this year.  I found that Auto Zone here in Mexico sells the single contact LED bulbs in various colors for $10 per bulb.

We happened to have bought a LED tricolor/Anchor light for our last boat but never installed it before we sold the boat. I installed it on the mast last year. It burns less than 1 amp per hour and is very bright. It was pricey when we bought it years ago but I really like both the brightness at night and the low amp draw.

Now we don’t really worry about our batteries.  I have a total of 220 amp hours with 2- 12v deep cycle batteries.  That includes the starting battery.  The LED lighting and having a propane fridge mean I don’t need a lot of solar either.  We have three flexible panels and one rigid panel for a total of 85 watts.  It charges everything just fine.

DAVIT/SOLAR ARCH

I built a custom davit last year out of galvanized fence post.  I reasoned it would be a working prototype and we could have a stainless one made once we worked out any kinks.  I’ve repainted it this year and it’s still going strong for the $150 I spent on materials and paint.  We can raise the PORT-A-BOTE out of the water with the outboard attached.  It’s also very handy as a hand hold getting in and out of the boat from the stern steps.  We store the kayak and Windsurf board on top of the davits and a solar panel is mounted on the outer cross brace arm with the wiring built into the tube back to the battery.  The pilot house creates a wind break for the cockpit and davits, providing some protection for the toys stacked on the davits from high winds. It clears the side decks and foredeck from obstructions when sailing and line handling.

UBNT BULLET WIFI EXTENDER

This year we bought a UBNT Bullet WIFI extender and a wireless router.  The options for internet in Mexico are a USB wireless device for $50 per month for 1gb og data or the local cafe with internet.  We decided to invest about $150 in the router, UBNT bullet, and an omni-directional antennae to pick up wireless signals on the boat.  The system in it self is working well after spending about 3 days working out the kinks.  There are to problems, in general, to picking up WIFI on your boat in Mexico.  The biggest problem, the bandwidth here in Mexico is pretty slow.  Forget about Skype, Youtube, downloads, or uploading pictures.  The second common issue-everyone is password protecting there WIFI networks.  You can overcome the password problem.  Find a net that comes in pretty strong that comes from a bar/restaurant/hotel/coffeeshop and then dink in,buy a beer,and get the password.  This year we have “collected” four or five WIFI passwords from different locations based on winds and anchorages.

While our hopes of Skyping family and uploading cute family photo’s form the comfort of our boat fell short, being able to connect and retrieve email almost daily has been a big plus for family stateside.

DINGHY/OUTBOARD

Your dink is your commuter car/SUV from your boat to land.  We have tried almost every type of dinghy before settling on a 10′ Port-A-Bote.  The flexible fold up boat is light, easy to store, great freeboard, and planes easily on the water.  Add to that it is virtually indestructible.  I regularly ground it on reefs to fish and it’s no worse for wear.  Did I mention my Port-A-Boat is about 20 years old?  Admittedly, it’s on it’s last legs.  The sun has eaten through the seats and transom and the salt has finally started to corrode the stainless steel staples they used to seal the centerline pieces together.  I can limp it along another year if I can’t find another newer one for sale on craigslist next year. I’ll cut plywood seats to replace the plastic seats and build a new transom out of plywood with aluminum angle.  The plastic hull is what makes the boat so great.

We upgraded to a 8hp 2 stroke Nissan outboard in a trade.  The 8hp is the largest recommended for the Port-A-Bote.  I like the power.  It makes anchoring on the other side of a bay bearable.  It makes exploring new coves practical, it makes fishing out of the dink rewarding and painless.  I got lucky and we picked up a 2nd carb and a rebuilt kit for the outboard with the trade.  That has made a HUGE difference.  The carbs are always getting gunked up.  Now if we have a problem, I swap carbs, then clean and rebuild the backup and stow it away.

WHAT’S NEXT?

We were gifted a used speargun this year.  I’ve taken it apart and cleaned it up and oiled everything but the rubber bands are rotten and need replacing.  I would like to become a better snorkeler and diver.  Here is the Sea it requires a full wet suit, hood, gloves, socks, weight belt, and good mask, snorkle, and fins.  The water is just too cold most of the winter to be comfortable.  That goes for the whole family. Either we need to head pretty far south (like Mazatlan or farther) for warmer water or suit up and dive in the cold mid sixty degree water closer to San Carlos.

A telescoping fish cleaning station would make cleaning fish much easier.  This year I have caught over 50 fish bottom fishing out of the dink.  None of them were whoppers but they were all white meat and tasty.  My stanchions are pretty low.  No where near tall enough to make standing and cleaning A LOT of fish comfortable.  If I clean and fillet 15 fish, it takes me the better part of an hour and a half.  I’m not fast, but I try REAL hard to get every bit of white meat off the fillet.

We like to sail.  Our boat is light and fast in light winds.  We want to add a sail pack to the boom.  It would take the ardour out of prepping for a quick day sail.  Removing the sail cover, un tying all the lines.  Dropping the main and flaking the sail, tying the sail, fitting the sail cover.  That’s the worst part of day sailing.  With the sail pack, I want to unzip the pack, attach the halyard, and raise the main. On the way in, drop the main into the sail pack, remove the halyard, and zip up the sail pack.  Done.

After that?  By then, it will be time to start refitting the boat.  New topsides, new outboard for the mother ship, new standing rigging, remodel the interior.  A boat owners work is never done.

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