A little know-how goes a long way on vacation
They say cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. Maybe that’s why so many people prefer to charter. After a week of sailing you pack your bags and step off your charter boat without another care in the world, leaving the base manager and mechanics to deal with the aftermath. Charter boats work hard, though, upward of 300 days a year depending on the base location. No matter how well cared for, a boat is a boat, and when you charter, you had better be prepared to do a little MacGyvering.
A recent 10-day excursion in French Polynesia found us on a 7-year-old boat. She was a strong sailer, with crispy new sails, but she had been a workhorse. Every day I had to crawl into the port engine room and open and close the valves on the two freshwater tanks. It was the only way to clear the airlock so that the freshwater pump would stop running when not in use and not drain our already strained house batteries.
Every other day, I also had to crawl into the starboard engine room and fiddled with the watermaker to override the sensor, which deemed all water it made to be inadequate and tossed it overboard. One night I filled the lagoon with 100 gallons of perfectly good water, and the crew had no showers.
Another time, a boat in the Grenadines refused to start at a rather crucial moment, until I grabbed the winch handle and gave the starter a good whack. Voilà!—solenoid contact made! I used the same strategy with an electric windlass in Tonga. The charter skipper seemed perplexed when he saw me beating the windlass, but hey—it worked.
In Greece, one of the boats in a flotilla I was managing had a more severe windlass situation, so we made a washer from a tuna fish can lid to keep the motor running the rest of that week. My own boat also had an anchor that was missing a weld and would collapse on contact with the seafloor. A bit of macramé with string held it together for the next five days—just long enough. I also once had a jib car explode in a fantastic shower of ball bearings and a mainsheet block that just sadly disintegrated with bits of black plastic trailing down the deck. Luckily, both happened in light air and both were quickly managed with copious amounts of tape.
Breakdowns aside, charter boats will also have idiosyncrasies. Ours in Tahiti, for example, didn’t want to drop her mainsail—not a scrap of her heavy 800-plus-ft moved an inch after we released the halyard. Having experienced this before on other boats, I grabbed the boathook to pull the cars down, only to have the sunburnt head of the boathook snap off, bounce once on the deck and become lost to Poseidon.
After a few minutes of climbing into the sail bag to diagnose the situation, we found that the chafe point was actually under the deck. However, that still left us in a situation where we had at least three places where we couldn’t anchor and would need a boathook to catch a mooring. Rummaging through the rusty tools in the onboard toolbox, we settled on a hammer, some zip ties and, again, a lot of tape. The resulting “boathook” worked for the rest of the trip. I wonder what the base manager thought when he found it.
If you’re the captain on your next charter, bring a few essentials. I find the following to cover most odd jobs: zip ties, electrical tape (duct tape is too heavy to travel with), a multi-tool, a roll of 1/8in Dacron line, work gloves, headlamp and a telescoping magnet, because you just know you’ll drop stuff in the bilge. The tuna fish can is optional—you can probably pick one up locally.