How do you take a production yacht like Tranquilo – more suited for marina hopping in the Mediterranean with cocktails in the evening – and turn it into an ocean-going cruiser?
Crossing Oceans: The Production vs Bluewater Yacht Argument
There’s plenty of arguments in the sailing community about the capabilities of production yachts to cross oceans. Between those who own a long-keeled, sked ruddered yacht that takes half a day to tack versus those who own a short keeled, spade ruddered yacht that is skittish and gets knocked off course with every little wave. Their arguments are akin to those of skiers vs snowboarders, road vs mountain bikers, short board vs longboard surfers. The former will argue that production yachts aren’t built to take the day-in day-out pounding, their hulls are designed for volume and speed, more prone to slam into waves than having a sea-kindly motion through the waves that a proper bluewater yacht exhibits. The latter will argue that there are plenty of production yachts crossing oceans. The former will ask how are you going to heave-to in a storm with your matchstick rudder, the latter will respond we don’t have to, we have the speed to get around storms.
And a quick glance at the list of finishers in the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (the famous ARC) shows the validity of the latter’s arguments. The majority are production yachts from the likes of Beneteau, Bavaria, Dufour and Hanse, with a smattering of beauties from the likes of X-yachts and Swans. Of the true blue-water cruisers, you get only a handful of lovelies from the yards of Oyster, Discovery or Amel (by the way haven’t the guys on SV Delos done a wonderful job showing off the capabilities of an Amel… but I digress).
With that in mind, and with a limited budget that did not extend to an Oyster, Hallberg Rassy, Passport or a Discovery (or even an Island Packet), we chose a production yacht.
Choosing a Production Yacht to Cross Oceans
We spent two years evaluating each yacht on offer across various sizes ranging from 40’ to 55’ (yes we even looked at second-hand Hanse 545 and Dufour 525). We settled on the size – around 45’ – not too big that it would make short-handed sailing a chore and maintenance costly, yet large enough to handle inclement conditions, have plenty of storage space and enough berths to house family and friends who were looking to join us.
Model selection came down to the following in order of decreasing importance:
- Quality of construction
- Ease of sailing short-handed
As you may know from previous posts, our choice of the Hanse 455 met all these conditions to our satisfaction.
The 455 has:
- Class-leading stability (for a production yacht)
- Solid quality construction
- Strengthening across the hull (we’ve been sworn to secrecy about the specifics)
- Great performance, slippery in light winds, stable in high winds
- Plenty of storage space and large water tanks
- All lines leading to the helm, which makes short-handed sailing easier.
However even if these fundamentals are covered, a true bluewater capable production yacht needs considerably more equipment to ensure it is safe and comfortable as well as self reliant in terms of energy, water and spare parts.
Fitting out a Production Yacht for Bluewater Ocean Crossings
We are fitting out Tranquilo to meet these requirements with following additions:
- AIS (Automatic Identification System) Transmitter – indicates on our chart plotter all vessels equipped with AIS close to us, and shows Tranquilo to all such vessels on their plotters. Very useful for monitoring all vessels, especially ones on a head-on course. (The caveat is that not all vessels are equipped with AIS, although it is a requirement for all commercial vessels, nor do they always have it on).
- Radar Reflector – for instances where a ship doesn’t have their AIS receiver on, to ensure we provide as large an aspect on their radar as possible
- Sonar – should prove quite useful in far off reaches of the Pacific where charts are less reliable
- 75hp engine vs standard 50hp – the inclusion of turbo to the world’s most popular marine engine, the Penta D2-55, will deliver an additional 25hp which should be useful in dicey situations
- Bowthruster – we’re not keen on bowthrusters as they have been known to be troublesome (such as getting stuck in the down position when sailing). However the rather high freeboard (side of yacht) of Tranquilo will potentially make mooring difficult in tight marinas on windy days, so the bowthruster will prove useful
- Rocna 33 Anchor – the standard Delta is fine but not as capable across all types of sea floors as a Rocna anchor; the Rocna 25 is the recommended size for Tranquilo, so we specced it next size up for good measure (The good folks at Rocna were adamant that the 25 would suffice and was what the great adventurer Jimmy Cornell has on his 45’ yacht; further followup shows that in fact he has the 33). The Delta will serve as a spare and for times when we need to drop two anchors.
- 100 metres of chain rather than the standard 60 metres – we’ll be anchoring in islands where all moorings are in deep water – the likes of the Marquesas, so we’re going to need plenty of scope. And it’s comforting to know when a gale is forecast you are secured to the sea floor by all 100m of chain along with the Rocna 33. We once had a dinky Delta and all 60m of chain holding our bohemouth Beneteau 473 during a strong overnight blow in Sardinia. Let’s just say it was not a worrisome-free night. (Incidentally, the 473 is a lovely yacht, in our opinion the last proper bluewater-capable Beneteau under 50’)
- Grabrails on Sprayhood – the standard grabrails on the 455 coach roof are a tad short so we’ve asked our sprayhood manufacturer to add grabrails to the front of the sprayhood
- Jacklines – our commissioning team is adding padeyes to allow us to set up jacklines along each side of Tranquilo. This will allow crew to tether themselves to the jacklines when they need to go forward.
- Boom brake – as most of our sailing will be downwind, the boom brake should help us alleviate any catastrophic damage to the boom from an accidental gybe
- Self-tacking headsail – initially we weren’t too keen on a self-tacking headsail, however testing yachts with well designed self-tackers showed us how effective they can be. The self-tacking headsail will make single-handed sailing a breeze; one compromise is we won’t be able to heave to (stop fast by tacking across the wind)
- Asymmetric spinnaker with furler – will be useful for downwind sailing, especially in the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, commonly known as the doldrums); the furler will simplify handling the asymmetric when short handed. We’ll reinforce the bow spit with a bob stay to handle the loads of the asymmetric and furler.
- Third reef in mainsail – one more reef high up the mainsail will allow us to reef in the sail to a small triangle when winds get blustery
- Electric winches – we weren’t convinced we needed electric winches however doing some solo sailing showed the value of having them.
- Additional 3 system batteries on top of the standard systems and engine batteries, for a total of 4 systems batteries with 640 Ah and one engine battery; this will give us approximately two to three days of battery power before we need to recharge (potentially a week if we limit our consumption to just the essentials).
- Battery monitoring system for more precise battery management
- Second alternator to double electricity generation via the engine and for redundancy
- Hydrogenerator – the cruising version of the ones used by the Volvo Ocean Race yachts, produces a significant amount of power from 5 knots and up, more than enough to keep the batteries charged even with all systems running.
- Worth mentioning we decided not to install solar panels. The hydrogenator and second alternator should suffice, and the most obvious option for mounting – the bimini – we prefer to have folded back when sailing (yes appreciate that’s not exactly sunsmart). We’re also foregoing a wind generator – as we’ll be sailing downwind for a significant portion of our trip the low apparent wind over the wind generator will produce minimal energy.
- Satellite phone for downloading Grib files – small data packets containing local wind forecasts
- Expert route-planning software – to provide guidance for routing us around inclement weather fronts
This one has been rather contentious, as many have said we are loco to not have a watermaker. However we are sailing through the tropics during rainy seasons so capturing water off the bimini and sails should top up the tanks within an hour of a good solid squall. One of the very helpful local Musto staff mentioned that while they had a watermaker on board their yacht while crossing the Pacific, on account of it already being installed when they bought it, they would not bother with one if they bought another yacht. If Robin Knox-Johnson didn’t have one on Swahali, why do we need one?
- Salt-water pump – installed in the galley, for washing dishes and hand washing to avoid using precious fresh water
- Solar shower (basically a small black bag that heats up in the sun, with showerhead attached) – will allow us to allocate water to the crew for showers
- Rain catcher – we’ll be sailing across the Pacific during the rainy season, where one hour of heavy rain will top up our tanks
Equipment we’re leaving out:
- Generator – we’ve designed Tranquilo to be energy efficient and the watergenerator and twin alternators should suffice to keep our batteries topped up; more importantly we prefer to rely on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Also one engine – the yacht motor – is more than enough work to keep maintained, no intention to double the effort.
- Solar panels – while we may still install solar if we find we have a deficit in energy generation, for the moment we will leave them out; the best place to install solar panels is on the bimini to avoid the sails and boom shading over them, however we prefer to have the bimini folded back when sailing to enjoy the sun and have unrestricted view of the sails
- Airconditioning – incredibly energy intensive, would require a generator; as we’re sailing nearly every day the wind blowing through Tranquilo should keep it cool and the fans will also help
- Microwave oven – many boats come with one, we’ve never owned one and they’re a horrendous drain on the batteries
- Dishwasher or washing machine – other extravagances we won’t need.
- Television – we’re here to sail, not to watch TV!
- Nespresso machine – We’ll opt for a simple old percolator for ocean crossings. When we’re in port, coffee is social, to be savoured in a busy street full of interesting people.
Note this is a list of just the equipment that’s being installed on Tranquilo. There is another, longer, list of equipment that we will bring with us to ensure we are safe and fully fitted out for bluewater sailing in the far reaches of the oceans, equipment such as SOLAS-rated liferaft, ocean-rated lifejackers, EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), and personal AIS. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of equipment we will have to ensure safe passages. We’re also bringing the surfboards, inflatable SUP, inflatable kayak, and more!
If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below. Just no arguments about long-keeled bluewater yachts vs short-keeled production yachts please!