Upgrade Your Multi to Improve Comfort and Performance

When pushed, even sailmakers will admit that, more than fancy new sails, a low-drag prop is the most effective way to improve a cruising boat’s performance.
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Think carefully when you're contemplating updating your electronics

Think carefully when you're contemplating updating your electronics

Upgrades that add comfort, performance and value to your older mullti

Low-drag propellers

When pushed, even sailmakers will admit that, more than fancy new sails, a low-drag prop is the most effective way to improve a cruising boat’s performance. Most catamarans are sold with fixed-pitch propellers as standard, and if you have not yet replaced yours with folding or feathering propellers, this is an upgrade that is well worthwhile. Some catamarans, especially heavily loaded cruising cats, can be particularly sticky in light air, which is where a low-drag propeller really comes into its own. 

Two things are important: low drag, of course, and also that the propellers do not rotate when you are sailing

Two things are important: low drag, of course, and also that the propellers do not rotate when you are sailing

Gori Propeller’s Lars Ostergaard, who supplies folding props to Lagoon, Seawind and other builders, says, “Two things are important: low drag, of course, and also that the propellers do not rotate when you are sailing,” which can cause wear to transmission components. A fixed propeller, if allowed to freewheel, will also cause turbulence over the rudder, which can often be felt in the steering. If it’s locked off, the extra drag will punish boatspeed even more. 

Yet another important consideration is close-quarters maneuvering. A well-designed folding propeller will almost eliminate propwalk and have plenty of bite in reverse, which is vital when you’re juggling the engines to get into or out of a crowded marina. Gori touts its overdrive function, which increases pitch for more speed at lower rpm with consequent fuel savings, as a useful feature for bluewater cruisers.

Feathering props, with their flat blades, are also effective in reverse, though they do not eliminate prop walk. They have slightly more drag than folding propellers and hence they’re usually not the first choice for high-performance boats, though many cruisers swear by them. Whether you choose a folding or feathering propeller, you can be assured of improved speeds under sail and quite possibly under power too. 

Cooler Refrigeration

Nothing gets old faster than a fridge that doesn’t work properly, and quite often the fridges in older boats do not work properly. Components age and wear out, insulation degrades, and it’s sad to have to relate that many reefer compartments were under-insulated and poorly designed to begin with. 

Sometimes fridge malaise can be cured relatively easily by replacing the compressor, holding plates or evaporator, but if the fridge compartment was poorly insulated to start with, this is throwing money away. In this case it might be better to rip out the old fridge and, if it was a top-loader, install one of the new breed of super-efficient front-loading or sliding-drawer fridges or fridge/freezers. These are self-contained, like a domestic fridge, are almost as easy to install and are relatively frugal power consumers.

“Drawer refrigerators have recently become very popular with sailors, as access to food supplies is easier and everything can be seen from above rather than kneeling or bending to get to items in the back,” says Isotherm’s Dave Lerbs. “Many old-timers believe that the drawer spills less cold air than a front or top opener, but it is actually the more efficient compressor systems in modern drawer fridges that make the difference.”

Catamaran builders almost exclusively install such units nowadays, mostly by Isotherm or Vitrifrigo, and they are ideal for the aftermarket. Most new models work on both 12 and 24 volts, and also on 100-240V AC power. 

Modern drawer fridges are easy to build in from new or as a retrofit

Modern drawer fridges are easy to build in from new or as a retrofit

LED Lighting

If you count the number of electric lights in an average modern 40-foot monohull, you’ll be in for a shock. Chances are you’ll still be counting when you hit 20. You can probably double that for a multihull of equivalent length. If they’re all halogen, they’ll add up to one hell of a power draw. You’ll want to cut that as much as possible.

Kinder Woodcock, lighting guru with Imtra Corp., says the easiest approach for owners of older cats is to replace often-used lights like reading lights and chart table lights with LED fixtures. “There are so many on the market that you’re quite likely to find something that fits in existing holes,” he says.

Courtesy lighting is another area where LEDs come into their own. The low power draw means you can leave them on all night if you want, and the latest trend is to install blue courtesy lights in the cockpit. “The blue wavelength carries a long way, and just a few very low wattage courtesy lights can really light up the cockpit or swim platform area,” says Woodcock.

“Indirect lighting, in the form of LED rope or tape lights, is another easy upgrade,” he says. “It can be cut to just about any length and stuck up with double-sided tape. You should also wire in a voltage stabilizer, though, because such lights don’t have the built-in overvoltage protection of engineered LED fixtures.”

Overhead lighting is a little more complicated. Surface-mounted lights are easiest to replace, but recessed lighting can be bothersome because the finned heat sinks on LEDs often require more depth than halogen fixtures and also need some airflow around them. 

What about taking the easy way out and just replacing the bulbs, rather than the fixtures? “LED bulbs are cost-effective and usually don’t require any modification to the fixture,” says Woodcock. “The compromises are generally in light output and distribution, color consistency, the fact they can’t be dimmed, and long-term performance. But they are a great choice for those on a budget or who do not live aboard.”

Replacing nav lights with LEDs would be first on many cruisers’ lists, but there are many other uses for LED lighting—a floodlight on your cockpit arch or radar mast, engine room and even locker lighting, and maybe even underwater lighting to attract fish.

New Electronics

Nothing says “yesterday’s boat” like outdated electronics. Here’s where you need to think hard and spend wisely, because a budget can quickly run out of control when you’re ticking all the boxes on your electronics wish list.

Most coastal sailors will want a chartplotter in the cockpit; bluewater sailors would
probably think it is more important to have a good view of the radar screen. Today’s multifunction displays have got you covered. Just about any major manufacturer will sell you a unit that will—given the appropriate electronic cartography and input from other instruments—display radar images, AIS targets, charts, tidal currents, battery status and innumerable other bits of information. It will probably control your hi-fi, and you’ll be able to talk to it via wi-fi.

Plentiful water is a boon on a cruising boat

Plentiful water is a boon on a cruising boat

“I think we’re at the point where it’s sensible to put most of your navigation eggs in one basket, which is to say one MFD system with its related radar, instruments and so on,” says SAIL’s electronics editor, Ben Ellison.

“Once broken in, these systems are more reliable than marine electronics used to be and the advantages of integration are substantial.

“None of the brands are bad, fortunately, but there’s likely one that’s most suited to your boating plans and budget. I’d avoid dock advice in favor of wide-ranging research—downloading manuals even—and trying stuff out as much as possible.”

A watermaker

If asked to choose two things that make a difference to life on a boat, many of us would opt for a good supply of cold beer and plentiful water for showers. A good fridge takes care of the former; the latter, alas, is not easily provided. If you’re cruising in an area without abundant rainfall to harvest, your options are to ration water consumption or install a watermaker. 

Think carefully. Watermakers are power-greedy and maintenance-hungry. On the other hand, the lure of an endless supply of fresh water is difficult to resist. From unrationed drinking, to being able to rinse salt out of clothes and bedding and wash it off the interior of your boat, to being able to cruise with less water in your tanks and therefore keep weight down, an abundance of water has a positive impact on the quality of cruising life. Imagine being able to leave the tap running while brushing your teeth without incurring the skipper’s wrath!

The downside, of course, is the energy required to convert saltwater to freshwater. This is not a big deal if you have a generator—if not, you’ll have to run one of your main engines while you’re making water. As the cynics say, you’ll be magically converting diesel to water; water that you will really appreciate. 

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