When talking about our boat, Cheeky Monkey, I’m not one to rattle off stats like amp hours, watts, horsepower or, really, anything technical regarding the equipment we’ve had installed. That stuff just doesn’t excite me. At all.
In fact, if you asked me right now for a tour of the boat and Ryan wasn’t around, I would most likely sit you down for a drink in the cockpit, show off how comfortable the space is, then I’d take you up to to our sun deck and show you the spectacular view. I might even make you another cocktail. And if you really wanted me to get technical, I’d show you how the espresso machine works and, possibly, the washer/dryer.
Any discussion that ventures beyond the general virtues of having an inverter (so I can make cappuccinos), a generator (so I can run the washing machine) and a high-tech spinnaker (so we can sail fast) will find me excusing myself from the room. “Go ahead and show yourself around…I’m just going to be over here, you know…zzzzzzz.”
So when a very excited couple motored their dinghy up to Cheeky Monkey one day and invited themselves on board for a tour, I cursed Ryan for not being there to save me from the mind-numbing boredom of showing an overexcited gear-head the engine room.
“Yep. That’s our diesel engine. Looks like every other diesel engine you’ve seen. Aaaand here’s the other engine. Yep, exactly the same.”
Normally I enjoy impromptu visits from random cruisers. We’ve met some extraordinary characters in anchorages all over the world, some of whom have become lifelong friends from the first encounter. Which is why I never turn down the chance to meet new people.
I also know that, at some point over sundowners, all conversations with fellow live-aboards will inevitably turn into a discussion about battery banks. Because life at anchor is all about batteries; they are the power source that keep everything running in our little floating homes. They’re what allow us to charge our laptops, power our electronic charts, make ice, refrigerate food and have I mentioned the espresso machine? There is also a multitude of methods for charging your batteries, which cruisers love to talk about. It’s like suburban homeowners getting together and comparing how often they have to mow their lawns and trim their hedges. Both are perfectly understandable, considering the demands of the lifestyle.
It’s just that the people I most enjoy talking to understand that conversations about battery banks come well after the introductory banter about where they’re from, how long they’ve been sailing, what they do for work, where they’ve sailed from, where they’re headed to and places they’d recommend visiting. You know, the kind of conversation that endears a new acquaintance to me before I have to forgive them for boring me with stats of their solar panel wattage and how we should consider getting one of those irritatingly noisy wind generators.
“Yoo hoo!” The two strangers cooed from their dinghy, causing me to look up from my laptop. “Hi! We just LOOOVE your boat! We’re thinking about buying one of these in a year or two.”
And before I could ask what their names were, I was handed a dinghy painter as the woman and her husband clambered onto the stern of Cheeky Monkey. “Do you mind if we come aboard for a little look?”
“Uh. Yeah, sure.” At a loss for anything else to say, I introduced Kristi, who was sitting in the cockpit working intensively on her laptop. She pulled her Beats headphones off her ears and looked at me quizzically as if to say “Are they staying long? Should I stop working?” I shrugged and said, “These guys are thinking about buying a Helia. I’m sorry, what are your names?”
“Jane and John.” Of course, those weren’t their names. But after spending an hour draining my brain of every mechanical detail short of a full wiring diagram for the boat, I completely forgot their real names.
“Right. Jane and John, this is Kristi.” I gestured towards the table. “Come on in, have a seat. Can I get you a drink?”
“Oh no, thank you. We won’t stay long. We really just wanted to have a look around, if you don’t mind. It’s such a beautiful boat.”
I looked at my watch to calculate how much time I thought would pass before someone made me open up the engine room and talk about alternators.
Forty-five minutes, it turned out. And there was no small talk or cocktails to ease me into it. Just forty-five minutes of the kind of rapid-fire questioning that made me feel like I was on the world’s dullest game show.
“Is this the owner’s version or the charter version?” – Owner’s version.
“What’s her cruising speed?” – 6.7 knots, on average.
“How big is your fuel tank?” – 500 liters.
“Your water tanks?” – 600 liters.
“How many watts of solar panels do you have?” – 900.
“Why did you get the flexible solar panels?” – They look nicer. And you can walk on them.
“But they cost more and they’re less efficient, I hear.” – They work for us.
“What’s this?” – The ice-maker. It doesn’t work.
“Don’t you have a freezer? Why do you need an ice-maker? – For parties, silly.
“You say it’s not working?” – Sore subject. I’d rather not talk about it.
“So you have a generator?” – Yes.
“Is it a Cummins or an Onan?” – It’s a Cummins/Onan.
“Really? I’ve never heard of that. Can I see it?” – Um, okay.
“Huh, look at that. A Cummins/Onan. Is that your watermaker?” – Yes.
“What’s the brand?” – Aqua-base.
“Never heard of it. Why didn’t you get a Spectra?” – I don’t know.
“How much water does it make?” – 60 liters an hour.
“Do you have problems with your mainsail? I’ve heard it’s tricky to pull down.” – Yeah, we added 3 cars to the mast. Problem solved.
“What brand?” – Z-Spar.
“That’s a very good brand.” – Yes, so I hear.
“Wow, a washing machine. Do you even use it?” – Yes. All the time.
“Do you like your davits?” – Not really. I wish they were higher off the water.
“Is it strong enough for that heavy dinghy?” – The dinghy’s not heavy. It’s aluminum.
“What make is it?” – AB.
“How long is it?’ – 10 feet.
“Is that a two-stroke outboard?” – Yes.
“How many horsepower?” – 25.
“25 HP! Do you need that much?” – Yes. We like to wakeboard. And go fast. Mostly just go fast.
“What kind of engines do you have?” – Volvo Penta.
“How many horsepower?” – 55.
“Wow, that’s a lot. Did you get the upgrade?” – I don’t know.
“I think the standard option is 40, so you must have gotten the upgrade.” – Okay. I don’t know.
“Can I see the engine room?”
BOOM. There it was. 45 minutes of being jack-hammered with questions and, finally, they asked to see the engine room. Surely this is the end of the tour, I thought, as I glanced at my watch. I was secretly wishing for a small galley fire or some other mild emergency to pull me away from the interrogation.
Thankfully, John must have spied the flutter in my eyes as they involuntarily tried to roll themselves into the back of my head because, finally, he said, “I just have one more question and we’ll leave you alone.” I nodded and exhaled. “We saw your blue lights from our boat last night and we were wondering if they were a factory option or if you added them.”
“We added them,” I said.
“But why? What are they for?” said John, showing genuine confusion.
“Ryan wanted them,” I said. “He’s from Essex.” I knew full well that my answer didn’t make much sense. But I didn’t care to explain the “boy racer” DNA that all East Londoners are apparently born with.
“Wasn’t it expensive? Seems like a waste of money for something so unnecessary,” said John, who was on a roll now. “I’d rather spend the money on more solar panels. You can never have too many solar panels. Except I’d install fixed panels, not these flexible ones. I’ve seen some boats where they’ve built a platform off the back of the roof so they can fit more solar panels. It’s a good idea, I think.”
“Yeah, but it looks like shit.” I said. Apparently, I’d lost my patience. “And it’s not cheap. Plus it looks like shit.”
“Who cares what it looks like when you have all that solar power? Anyway, that’s what I would do.” John said.
Now, it was clear early on that Jane and John probably weren’t going to become my new best friends, but that comment about the blue lights was the nail in the coffin.
Since when is fun a waste of money? Nobody spends a crap-load of cash on a quickly depreciating boat because it is a “sensible investment.” IT’S A FREAKING BOAT.
But of course, I didn’t say any of that out loud. I simply shooed Jane and John towards their dinghy as politely as I could, all the while checking my watch and making comments about the time, as Kristi looked up from her computer and tried not to laugh.
“That was intense,” Kristi said after our visitors were gone. “I’m super impressed. I couldn’t have answered any of those questions.”
“I made half of it up.”
Which is true. I asked Ryan, when he got back, how much water our tank holds and how many watts of solar panels we have. Apparently, the answer is 750 liters and 760 watts. Not 600 liters and 900 watts. Also, yes, the 55 HP engines were an upgrade from the standard 40. What the hell do I know?
Which brings me to my point: boaters (who are not me) love to geek out on gear. And there is no greater opportunity to dive head first down a rabbit hole of technological research than beginning the process of buying a new boat. And even though researching gear is most riveting when it’s your own future gear, I could not seem to muster enough interest to be of any use in this department.
This is why Ryan did all the research and ordering for the technical equipment we installed on Cheeky Monkey. Because, when pressed to make a decision about things I know very little about, I generally just go with the method I use for shopping at Ikea: cross off the cheapest and most expensive options and go for something mid-range and attractive. I have realized, however, that this is not a suitable method for selecting items like autopilots, anchor chain or battery chargers. But it is a perfectly appropriate method for selecting things like espresso machines, kitchen utensils, decorative cushions and linens. Therefore I have tried my hardest to stick to the areas where my methods are applicable, leaving everything else (as in, the bulk of the hard work) to Ryan.
Unfortunately, it seems the information most enthusiastically demanded of me by readers and YouTube subscribers alike is what technical gear we selected to install on Cheeky Monkey and why. My inbox is full of polite and enthusiastically written emails asking if I could — pretty please — itemize our purchases for Cheeky Monkey and briefly comment on how we decided on the products we bought.
And because I know there is no way to briefly comment on such long-winded decisions, I have unintentionally ignored all those emails and promised myself that one day, when I have more time and greater patience, I will write those lovely readers back and give them a fully formed response worthy of their attention.
Except those emails are still sitting in my Inbox, unanswered. Because technical talk bores me to tears. And because time just keeps slipping through my fingers.
So I am hereby issuing an apology and disclaimer to those who are like me (as in, you would rather spend an hour in the dentist’s chair than spend that hour talking watts and amps and the gauge of cable required to properly install a chart plotter) because I’m about to do what I have desperately avoided doing for a very long time. I’m going to give you a semi-comprehensive run-down of the major stuff we installed on Cheeky Monkey.
I’m going to tell you all about the stuff we love, the stuff we regret and the stuff we would have done differently if we knew then what we know now, after nearly a year of owning our Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 catamaran. And because I have absolutely no ability to retain technical information, I will borrow Ryan’s expertise in this area. So, all thanks should be showered on him, not me.
It’s also worth noting that though this is a list of gear we ordered specifically for our Helia, most of the product research we did can be applied to any cruising boat, whether it be a monohull, a catamaran or a motorboat.
So to all you amazingly patient gear-heads out there, you’re welcome. This one’s for you. I hope it has been worth the wait.
To the rest of you, I’m sorry. I know this isn’t our thing. But the next time you have trouble sleeping, skip the Ambien and read this list instead. You’re welcome, also.
13 things we’re thrilled with (and would totally order again)
1. The boat
Cheeky Monkey in San Blas, Panama (Photo by Bruna Toledo de Arcangelo)
This is probably obvious, but it needs to be said: we LOVE our boat. There is no such thing as the perfect boat, of course, but there is the right boat for the journey you’re planning. And we definitely made the right choice of boat for us and this round-the-world trip.
The main things we love? The comfort and the performance. Even with crew on board, having upgraded from a 34-foot monohull, we feel positively spoiled for space. And contrary to common lore about catamarans, the Helia sails beautifully – she’s fast and light, especially going downwind, and she’s not that bad pointing upwind, either, though it’s not Cheeky Monkey‘s most comfortable point of sail. Yes, there is some slapping of waves under the hull when beating into rough weather, but it’s no more disturbing than what we’ve experienced on monohulls in stormy conditions. Also, we love the modern layout, the brightness and the incredibly spacious and comfortable cockpit, which is where we spend most of our time on board.
For us and this journey sailing around the world, the Helia is about as perfect as a boat can get.
2. Battery charger upgrade + 2nd battery charger
Remember when I said all cruisers’ conversations eventually lead to discussing battery banks? Well, part of that discussion involves battery chargers and inverters and…zzzzzz.
Oh dear. So sorry. It looks like I fell asleep while typing. I think it’s probably best if I turn this bit over to Ryan to explain. Because when it comes to battery chargers, I just…zzzzzz.
“When I asked our broker what the options were for the largest inverter/charger available, he said Fountaine-Pajot could only install a 1000-watt combination inverter/charger with a 60-amp battery charger. Which is fine if you’re just a weekend sailor or a charter boat that lives in a marina. But, living full-time on anchor and sailing around the world, I didn’t want to have to run the generator or the engines all day to fully charge our batteries.
So I worked out what I wanted, which was a 3000-watt inverter with a 120-amp battery charger. But I couldn’t get that through FP, so I had to go with their standard option and then install my own inverter/charger later. Our post-factory outfitter found me the Victron inverter/charger I wanted — basically the biggest one I could buy — and then bought the FP-installed inverter/charger off me.
Later, I ended up buying a second 60-amp battery charger — ironically, the same one I’d sold. Why? Because our batteries will take up to 200 amps. So I figured why muck about with less?”
3. Permateak floor in cockpit
Fountaine-Pajot offers 3 options for the cockpit deck: plain non-slip fiberglass, teak wood and Permateak (fake teak).
The one option we ruled out was the fiberglass, as we felt it made the cockpit space too white and forever in need of scrubbing (I always opt for less scrubbing). Also, we liked how the wood floor felt underfoot, as well as the way it looked; it breaks up the overall whiteness of the boat and camouflages dirt and smudges (again, less scrubbing).
But this was definitely one of those things we might have ordered differently if we hadn’t gone to a few boat shows and talked to a few different owners about their choices. Without consulting anyone, I probably would have opted for the teak because I love wood (so long as it doesn’t require varnishing). But we met a Helia owner with a badly stained teak deck that he regretted ordering because it required so much maintenance. He said with kids and guests spilling everywhere, it wasn’t long before the teak looked terrible.
Then we saw a boat with Permateak laid in the cockpit, which we thought looked nice, and we spoke to the owner who said he’d bought his boat with a teak deck and then had it all ripped out because after just a year it looked so bad. He said the Permateak was an improvement because it was lower maintenance and it looked brand new after a year, despite the same amount of spills and traffic. There is a drawback to the Permateak, which is that the surface absorbs more heat than its real teak equivalent. But as the flooring is only laid in the cockpit, which is shaded from the sun, this has never been an issue for us.
After a year on board, I’m so happy with our Permateak deck that I’ve considered having the same material laid on the floors of our heads, since the white non-slip surface always looks dirty to me (and, as I mentioned, I hate scrubbing). But, really, I should have thought of that back when the boat was in France. Now that we’re on the move, it seems unlikely that I’ll get this done anytime soon.
4. Parasailor (spinnaker – 156 square meters)
The “Big Banana” in all its glory (Photo by Kristi Wilson)
This sail, made by a company called Istec (not offered by Fountaine-Pajot), is just plain amazing. Though it is expensive, it has become a crucial piece of kit on board Cheeky Monkey for crossing oceans with speed and comfort. Not to mention, it looks totally badass.
I wrote an entire blog post on our Parasailor when we first got it, but now that we’ve had a year’s experience using it, here are some statistics so you can judge whether this sail is of any use to you:
It’s a dead-downwind sail only: despite what salesmen have told us about the Parasailor being able to handle true wind angles ranging from 180 degrees to 60 degrees, we’ve only been able to use this sail between 160-180 degrees. Maybe it was a typo? Perhaps they forgot the ‘1’ in front of ’60’ degrees?
On a dead run, you can’t beat this sail for speed. Crossing the Atlantic, we were easily clocking 10-13 knots in 18-25 knots of apparent wind.
Our top boat speed was 17.9 knots with the Parasailor, surfing down a wave on the Atlantic.
It’s a great light wind sail, too. We get 4 knots of speed in 5 knots of apparent wind.
Incredibly stable, low-maintenance sail to operate: the super handy “snuffer” sock allows you to hoist and drop the sail single-handedly (though it’s even easier with two or more sets of hands), unlike other types of symmetrical spinnakers. The hole or the “wing” at the front lifts the sail up and keeps it filled, which means there is very little work required on the sheets to keep the Parasailor flying. We’ve had our Parasailor up for nearly a week and barely touched the sheets during that time.
5. Genniker (with bowsprit addition)
If I had to choose just one sail, this would be it
Fountaine-Pajot installs a bowsprit if you order the furling genniker (also called a screecher) from them, which is great because it means your warranty for the sail and the bowsprit is held with FP. We’ve had endless nightmares trying to get warranty work done on our non-FP orders, so it’s always a relief when something breaks and we find out it’s covered by FP.
Here’s how versatile this sail is:
It’s great in light winds (anywhere from 5-15 knots apparent) at a wind angle of 90-130 degrees with the mainsail up. Any more downwind than that and the mainsail blankets the genniker.
We’ve recently discovered a new trick with this sail, which allows us to sail with the wind at a 120-150 degree angle, a window we previously had no sail for. We detach the tack from the bowsprit and bring it over to the Parasailor block on the windward bow. And then we use a barber haul tied to our mid-ship cleat to pull the sheet downward. Note: we have no idea if we’re meant to even do this with the sail, as we’ve just invented this configuration. But as it is working for us, we’re going to keep at it until someone gives us a valid reason not to.
If I were to buy only one extra headsail to go cruising with, I would go with the genniker (screecher) because of its versatility. Of course, you can get by with just the jib as a headsail, but we use our genniker as much as (if not more than) our jib. So if you have the extra cash in your budget, this is the sail I would go with.
Now, if you’re looking to fully kit out your boat, and you can afford the $13,000 price tag, I would absolutely recommend buying a Parasailor. Especially if you’re planning to sail around the world with the trade winds. There is nothing more enjoyable than sailing fast downwind with a no-fuss spinnaker that requires little to no trimming. It’s an incredible ride.
6. Extra blocks for sails
It boggles the mind how many additional blocks (pulleys) we’ve ended up adding to Cheeky Monkey. The Parasailor required ten additional blocks, the genniker needed seven additional blocks and we also added a block to each reefing line on the mainsail to help them run better. So, in total, we’ve added twenty blocks to the boat since we bought her.
And, crazily, we use them all.
7. Additional winch
For some reason, with the genniker headsail and bowsprit installation, Fountaine-Pajot includes a Lewmar 45 winch on the port stern for the port sheet, but they don’t include an additional winch on the starboard side.
If we didn’t install another winch, we would have had to use one of the winches at the helm for the starboard genniker and Parasailor sheet, which is strange because that would make the angle of the sheet to the winch drastically different from that on the port side. Also, it would mean the sheet cuts across the walkway along the starboard hull, preventing anyone from leaving the helm to go forward while on a port tack.
So instead of settling for that option, we ordered an additional Lewmar 45 winch to be installed on the starboard stern, parallel with the port winch.
These winches are essential for manning the genniker sheets and also the Parasailor sheets and guys. I couldn’t imagine being as happy with our set-up if we were running all our starboard headsail sheets to the helm, so this post-factory addition is something I’m now grateful for.
8. Barbecue upgrade
My prized Sovereign BBQ alongside our custom outboard hoist
Remember how I said my method of shopping is to go for the mid-range option (not too cheap, not too pricey) that looks the most attractive? Well, that applies to pretty much everything but cooking appliances.
What can I say? I like to have nice things to cook with.
And it’s not because I’m a fabulous chef or I take an extraordinary interest in the culinary arts. It’s just that food and cooking has a become a much larger part of my life on a boat than it ever was on land. Living in New York City, I could count on one hand the number of times I cooked at home in a year. Living on a boat, we cook all our meals. And my favorite meal? MEAT. As in, grilled steak, grilled chicken, grilled ribs, grilled fish…you name it, I’ll grill it.
Which brings me to my favorite accessory on the boat besides our espresso machine. It is our state-of-the-art Sovereign barbecue propane grill, which is manufactured in Australia, a country of people who know a thing or two about barbecues. And one of its best features is that it’s plumbed into our main propane line, so all I have to do is flick a switch and my barbecue is alight and ready to go.
I’m sure the standard Fountaine-Pajot grill option would have been fine if I never knew what life was like as a discerning connoisseur of barbecue grills. But, now that we’ve experienced cooking with the Sovereign, I don’t think my life on board would be complete without this incredible piece of culinary engineering.
When we lived on our old Catalina 34, the most time-consuming of our regular housekeeping tasks was collecting water from shore and doing laundry (as in, bagging up two weeks’ worth of clothes, schlepping it all to shore, tracking down a laundromat, if it existed, and then sitting around for a few hours waiting for the machines to finish before schlepping everything back to the boat).
So when I found out we could have a washing machine on board Cheeky Monkey, I was doing cartwheels for joy.
The trick, however, is finding the right machine to fit the space provided. We selected an LG combo washer/dryer unit which fits perfectly into the space across from our linen closet in the owner’s cabin head. Granted, we rarely use the dryer function since our clothes dry so quickly in the sun. But the washer has a 30-minute speed wash function that uses an amazingly minimal amount of water, which is great because, as you know, water is precious on a boat.
To give you an idea of how much I love having a washing machine, if you told me I had to give up either my Sovereign barbecue or my washing machine, I’d throw that barbecue overboard without hesitation. But the dryer function? I could probably live without using 3 hours of electricity to turn my pile of wet clothes into a pile of hot, damp clothes.
10. Custom-designed outboard engine hoist and mount
When we sailed Cheeky Monkey out of La Rochelle, France for a 1400-mile shakedown cruise, we didn’t want our outboard engine bouncing up and down with the dinghy hanging off our davits, especially with the way our davits sit so low to the water. But the mounting plate we ordered for our outboard was on backorder and the whole of France was going on vacation for a month.
So instead of waiting around for a month for our mounting plate, we used a halyard to lift our very heavy 25 HP engine into the cockpit and laid the outboard down on its side, wrapping it in a heavy mat and tying it down for our trip. This was a makeshift solution and not a long-term plan for passages, but we weren’t sure yet what the ideal set-up would be for transferring our outboard from the dinghy to the mounting plate.
Once we got to Menorca, we hired Pedro’s Boat Centre to do the work we couldn’t get done in France, which included installing a mounting plate on our stern rails for the outboard. Ryan also decided he didn’t like using the halyard to hoist the engine, so he collaborated with a metal worker to design a reinforced pulley hoist on the stern so we could lift our outboard off our dinghy using the electric winch on the stern.
To get the hoist to work with the outboard, we also hired a canvas guy to design and sew a cover for the outboard which had a sturdy strap for lifting. And all of this work went smoothly because Pedro and his guys were incredibly good at what they do.
The fact is, if you can find the right expertise, you can design almost anything you want for your boat. You can do what Ryan did and sketch out on paper what you want, then find a guy to build it for you in a way that’s structurally sound.
But if you don’t trust the guys working on your boat, leave the complicated stuff until later when you can find the right people.
11. Generator / air conditioners
For reasons we could not control, we have the largest generator known to man or boat. It’s a Cummins/Onan 8.5 kilowatt generator, which was installed by Fountaine-Pajot as part of the standard package that comes with the boat when you order air conditioning.
From what I can tell, if we had not ordered AC, we could have gone with a much smaller generator, which would also have weighed a lot less. At the time, we hemmed and hawed about whether to get the AC, since we hated the idea of having such a big generator weighing down the foredeck. But then we also knew we would be sailing to a lot of hot countries and the idea of ducking out of the scorching sun and stepping inside the air-conditioned cabins sounded like a luxury we could get used to.
The crazy thing we couldn’t understand was why FP insisted on installing six air conditioners (two in each hull and two in the saloon). If we had a choice, we would have gone with one air conditioner in each cabin and one in the saloon (four in total), but we didn’t get a choice in the matter. It was either all six air conditioners, or no air conditioning at all. And if we wanted the air conditioning, we had to get the bigger generator.
So even though we think six air conditioners and an 8.5 kilowatt generator are a bit overkill, the fact is we like our air conditioning, so any complaints you hear on the subject will be made from inside a climate-controlled cabin while sipping a cocktail.
12. Ground tackle
When we outfitted our Catalina 34 to go cruising, we replaced our Danforth anchor, which served us well in the sand and mud-bottom harbors around New York, with a Rocna 20 (44 lbs.) which essentially changed our life at anchor. Though the Danforth was fine in the Northeast of the U.S., it gave us a few sleepless nights from dragging as we sailed further south towards Florida and the Caribbean. Our Rocna, however, never moved. Not even once. We slept like babies.
After that experience, the Rocna 40 (88 lbs.) was the obvious choice to go with for Cheeky Monkey. But we also got a 66 lb. Mantus anchor for a back-up because, while it has the shape and effectiveness of the Rocna, it packs up small once it’s disassembled. We’ve laid ours in our anchor locker and it fits there perfectly in case we need to throw out a stern anchor or if something should happen to our Rocna.
But as we learned with our first Rocna purchase, the real investment isn’t in the anchor; it’s in the chain, which costs about 3 times more than the anchor itself, if you’re springing for 100 meters. And that’s just for your standard 12 mm stock, which is what Fountaine-Pajot recommend, since the gypsy on the windlass is designed for 12 mm chain.
After weighing up the options, however, Ryan was concerned about weighing down the bow of Cheeky Monkey and negatively affecting its performance, especially since the foredeck was already burdened by the weight of a massive generator. The fact was 100 meters of 12 mm chain would add 900 lbs. to an already heavy forward load, which sounded like an awful lot.
But as with everything else we looked at buying, Ryan wouldn’t rest until he’d explored all the options in the universe. Which is how, in his research, he came across a different kind of chain — something called high-tension chain. Personally, I never would have found such a thing because I would have just assumed that standard chain is what everyone got. “Sure, 900 pounds sounds awfully heavy, but if that’s what it weighs, then that’s what it weighs.” That’s why I wasn’t in charge of buying the chain.
Ryan, on the other hand, said to himself, “What if someone somewhere invented a stronger, more lightweight chain… [*Googling furiously*] Oh, look at that! They have!”
And that’s how we ended up buying 100 meters of 10 mm G70 high-tension chain, which only weighs 510 lbs but has the strength of the standard 12 mm chain. The only problem was that we had to change out the gypsy on our windlass at an additional expense. Also, the G70 chain is pricier than standard chain (like everything new in technology). But as we’d sheared off nearly 400 pounds of weight from our foredeck, Ryan was happy. And I knew no different, so I was happy anyway.
13. Blue lights
Cheeky Monkey showing off in Port Vell, Barcelona
Last, but definitely not least on this list of loves, is our infamous custom blue lighting package.
When Ryan explained to our post-factory outfitter, Pierre, that he wanted to have blue “party lights” illuminating the deck as well as blue lights under the hull, Pierre looked at me with confusion. “But why?”
“It’s difficult to explain,” I said. “Have you ever seen the TV show ‘Pimp My Ride’?”
Pierre furrowed his brow. “I don’t understand, but whatever you want, we can do it.”
And so we had blue party lights installed on the deck of Cheeky Monkey, which actually come in handy at night when we’re sailing in fickle wind and we want to illuminate the sails without losing our night vision. The underwater lights, however, have no other function than to make people say “ooh” and “ahh”.
When you’re standing on the back of our boat shouting, “Ooh! Look at that shark!” you’ll understand.
2 things we regret
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, then you know why this damned ice-maker is #1 on my list of regrets.
But, if you’re new to the Saga of Dashed Dreams, aka The Little Ice-Maker That Couldn’t, then let me give you the 10-second summary.
Once upon a time, there was a Vitrigo 12-volt ice-maker that promised to make Ryan’s cruising dreams come true…
The problem was that Fountaine-Pajot didn’t offer an ice-maker for the Helia. So our broker added “ice-maker” to our list of post-factory installations and assured us he’d installed similar machines on a great number of other boats. Great! Ryan did a little dance and imagined himself hosting parties and making cocktails with an endless supply of ice.
Then one day, the ice-maker arrived. And, as it was being installed, Ryan sat patiently nearby, waiting to try out his new toy. Except it didn’t work. The ice-maker would get cold, but it refused to make ice.
This prompted some probing around inside the machine, which dug up a piece of broken plastic, causing the installers to stand around the ice-maker for a while, scratching their heads and smoking cigarettes. No one could identify whether the broken plastic part was the reason why the ice-maker wouldn’t work and so, instead of replacing the machine, our outfitter spent the next few months ordering random parts to be mailed without instructions to various ports where we were docked. Meanwhile, we ran around hiring refrigeration experts to look at our ice-maker and install the parts we were sent.
Fast forward 8 months: The ice-maker still doesn’t work. Eventually, we are told Vitrigo stopped making our model of ice-maker in the 8 months that passed and therefore a replacement cannot be ordered. Our broker offers us a refund, which we take in lieu of having him order another brand of ice-maker which we would no doubt spend another year chasing after him for.
After all this hassle, it has occurred to me if we’d just gone for the standard beer fridge option offered by FP, instead of the non-standard ice-maker in the cockpit, we wouldn’t be telling this sad story over and over again. But we just couldn’t see the point of a tiny little fridge that would essentially save us from having to take two extra steps into the galley to get a beer out of the main fridge.
But who am I to criticize? We basically opted for a machine that would save us from having to fill up our own ice trays from a faucet. And, as a slap in the face, it won’t even do that.
2. Extra sleeping quarters (forepeak cabin & mattress)
Our friends’ daughter, Ellia, loved her forepeak cabin (Photo by Genevieve Stolz)
Fountaine-Pajot offers an option to convert the port forepeak storage space into a small cabin with a fitted mattress, a porthole and a reading light. And we went for this option because we thought it would be a great space for a couple and their kids, since the forepeak cabin is just ahead of the forward port cabin. Plus, when I looked at the cozy little cabin in the forepeak, I imagined if I were a kid on a boat, that would be my favorite place to sleep.
The reality, however, is that we use that forepeak primarily for storage. We stow the genniker there when we take it down and we store extra supplies in that space when we’re provisioning for ocean crossings.
But because we opted for the cabin, we got stuck with a terribly leaky porthole, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise and which has caused us no end to problems with seawater pouring in through the seals when we’re underway. We now store the mattress in a body bag we ordered online (who knew you could order body bags online?) for the sole purpose of keeping the mattress dry from the water that constantly drips in through our porthole.
It’s only with hindsight that we could know that the forepeak cabin would rarely get used for sleeping quarters because, in all practicality, there are more comfortable spaces to sleep on the boat if all the cabins are occupied. The saloon settee is one such spot, as is any one of the cushions in the cockpit or up on the sun deck, when the weather is warm.
We also could have opted to have a dinner table in the saloon (instead of the coffee table we ordered) which converts into a double bed, but we had to ask ourselves just how many overnight guests we would even want to cram onto Cheeky Monkey at any one time.
On the Shoreseeker Challenge across the Mediterranean Sea, we discovered that we could fit fifteen crew on board for four days in an emergency, but that was far from ideal. We think the maximum number of crew we can fit comfortably on Cheeky Monkey for long passages is six. We could fit more than that for a weekend or two, but for long-term sailing, we probably wouldn’t.
Basically, if we were to redo our order for the boat, we would have just kept the forepeak space for storage and not added a leaky porthole to our list of boat problems.
2 things we would’ve done differently (if we knew then what we know now)
The only Cheeky Monkey saga that has rivaled the frustrations of our ice-maker is the trouble we’ve had with our autopilot.
To make a long story short, we bought a Garmin autopilot for Cheeky Monkey because we’d had a bad run with our Raymarine on our old Catalina 34. What we didn’t know was that Raymarine had come a long way since then, blowing Garmin out of the water with their new 9-axis gyroscopic compass thingy…I’m not really sure what it’s called or how it works; I just know it’s amazingly accurate.
But never mind the technicalities. And let’s skip over the story of the faulty Garmin installation, the multiple repairs, and the final realization that the Garmin, even when correctly installed, steers like it’s drunk, and get to the point: we now have two autopilots on board Cheeky Monkey. Because after all the trouble we had with our Garmin, we decided to install a Raymarine as our primary autopilot and relegate our Garmin to the back-up in the event that we lose our autopilot; something we have a great deal of experience with. I have clocked just as many miles hand-steering as I have with a working auto-pilot, so I knew the risk was real.
And thank goodness we installed a second autopilot because we have yet to cross an ocean with both of our autopilots in tact. On the Atlantic crossing, the “no drive detected” errors on our Raymarine increased in frequency to the point where we had to steer the rest of the way using our Garmin. And, case in point, while I was literally writing this post in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, our Raymarine suddenly decided it only wanted to steer to starboard, causing us to jibe in the middle of the night. So we’ve shut down our Raymarine and turned on our Garmin which, for all its faults and our complaints, has never actually broken on us. In fact, it’s only ever saved us when our Raymarine has ceased to function, so perhaps I should say nicer things about it.
There’s an accidental lesson in all of this: never cross an ocean without a spare autopilot, unless you’re prepared to hand-steer the whole way across. We never had a spare autopilot on board Hideaway, but then we never sailed for longer than three days without stopping, so hand-steering in a bind was never that big a deal.
But if we only had one autopilot on board Cheeky Monkey right now, which was the original plan, I’d be hand-steering for six days while trying to type at the same time. Which sounds awfully tedious.
I guess now I should say we were lucky our Garmin was so crap to start with because if we’d only ever known a working autopilot, we never would have thought to install a second one.
2. Aqua-base 12-volt water-maker
Back when we had to schlep all our water back and forth from shore in leaky five-gallon jugs, we would protect each drop as if it were a gold nugget. I got good at washing a sink full of dishes with two cups of water and I could go a week without showering.
But now that we can make our own water, and we have crew who have never known a life without free flowing faucets, we get through about 150-250 liters of water a day. But the upside of that is we smell a lot nicer.
To replace all the water we use, we have to run our water-maker for about three to four hours a day because we only have the capacity to produce up to 60 liters an hour. Which was a bit of an oversight, really, because it turns out we didn’t get the biggest water-maker available.
While our water-maker only produces 60 liters an hour, Aqua-base makes the same unit but with two membranes, which produces 50% more water in the same amount of time, therefore taking 35% less time to do it.
So, why didn’t we get the bigger water-maker? I really have no idea. It’s possible that we got so caught up in trying to decide if we should get a DC or AC-powered unit that we forgot to ask whether it was even possible to get more than 60 liters an hour out of a water-maker. I know there was an overwhelming amount of research involved in outfitting our boat, so it’s not surprising that some information slipped through the cracks.
But the good news is that we made the right decision with a DC-powered (12-volt) water-maker because it means we can make water anytime we want and not just when we’re running our generator. We probably couldn’t have known this before we got out on the water and started actually using the systems we installed, but it turns out we don’t run our generator nearly as often as we run our water-maker. We might turn our generator on for about an hour and a half each day, but we run our water-maker for at least three hours a day when we’re cruising full time.
In hindsight, we should have asked ourselves if there was any reason why we wouldn’t want to make 100 liters an hour rather than just 60. The answer would have been “no.”
2 other modifications we ordered (which we love)
1. Instruments moved for better visibility
We wanted our instruments in view of the cockpit, not hidden behind the helm
Fountaine-Pajot offers a few different electronics packages for the Helia, but the problem for us was we couldn’t control where our instruments would be installed and we didn’t like the spot where they wanted to install them. Strangely, the instruments get installed behind the helm about parallel with your knees if you’re sitting down, which means you can only see the instruments if you are sat directly behind the wheel, looking down, with your legs apart…so long as you’re not wearing a skirt.
To us, this was not ideal because the luxury of having an autopilot is that we don’t always have to be sitting behind the wheel. We wanted to be able to see our boat speed, wind speed, wind angle, depth, etc., from the cockpit and the helm, not just when reclining at the helm and squinting to read the numbers near my knees.
So we declined to order our electronics through FP and instead had our instruments installed by our post-factory outfitter in a much more ideal spot (for us). Now, as we’re walking around the boat, going about our daily business, we can look up and see the boat speed and whether the wind has shifted from anywhere in the cockpit.
2. Additional electrical outlets
When buying an older boat, I expect to find systems in desperate need of an upgrade, like energy-sucking halogen lights and a gross shortage of electrical outlets. But when buying a brand new boat, I fully expect the manufacturers to take into account the needs of the average blogging, YouTube creating, virtually connected New Yorker and provide the appropriate number of electrical outlets.
Or maybe I’m underestimating where on the spectrum I fall when it comes to how many electronic devices the average person has in 2016.
In my mind, if you’re under the age of 60, you own and regularly use, at minimum, a cell phone, a music-playing device (like an iPod), a computer and some kind of tablet (like an iPad) or Kindle, or both. And that’s not including the other rechargeable devices most people own at least one of, like cameras, electronic watches (like an Apple Watch or Fitbit), electric toothbrushes, portable shavers, wireless headphones and portable speakers.
If that’s right, then Fountaine-Pajot has grossly underestimated how many AC and DC outlets a modern human needs to survive in this world.
Which is why we took the liberty of installing five additional AC outlets — one at the nav station, two in the galley, one in our medicine cabinet and one in our “media cupboard,” where we store all our camera equipment and batteries. I mean, the fact that there are no electrical outlets in any of the heads seems like an oversight, at the very least.
We also added two more DC outlets — one at the helm (with a waterproof cover) and one inside our nav station desk, where we plug in things like our hand-held VHF radio.
And you know what? It’s still not enough. We’d like to add a waterproof AC outlet in our cockpit because, after living on the boat for a year, it turns out the cockpit has become our favorite work space at anchor. Yet there’s nowhere to plug in, so it means we have to keep going inside to charge our laptops. First world problems, I know. But they’re problems nonetheless.
Onboard communications: 3 recommended devices
If you’re still awake and reading, I am immensely impressed with your stamina. Because I fell asleep at least 7 times while writing this. No, seriously. This post is so long it has taken me a week to write. So, there’s no doubt you deserve a bonus for sticking it out until the end.
Which is why I’m going to let you in on the secret to our onboard data and communications — you know, how we download weather while we’re at sea, how we access the Internet while in port and, basically, how we remain in touch with the outside world as we’re sailing across oceans.
Okay, so it’s not exactly a secret, but it is one of the most common questions we get about the boat — how do we communicate, post on social media and get weather updates when we’re sailing?
And I have the answers to those questions. In fact, I’d like to offer you a rare piece of insight into the wide and confusing world of communications options for boaters, based on months of our own research, which came about after we were given a quote for a comprehensive WiFi and onboard data system that would cost us $20,000.
TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS! I mean, what?! Okay, look. We may be the kind of folks who don’t mind spending a little extra cash for fun accessories like blue lighting and an ice-maker. But we don’t just go throwing money overboard for the sheer hell of it. So unless that $20,000 included 10 years of unlimited data, I was always going to seek out an alternative option for getting online while sailing around the world.
Because here’s the thing: I know sailing is all about disconnecting, becoming one with nature and removing yourself from the pressing obligations of mainstream society. But let me just be honest: I am a writer with an online blog, a YouTube Channel, a dozen social media pages, a few different web sites and the occasional magazine deadline. In order to do what I love, I require quite a bit more time on the internet than the average person. And yet my access to the Internet is painfully minimal because I am constantly either at sea or trekking around a remote island, waving my iPhone around like a lunatic, trying to get a signal.
So here are the solutions we have settled on after extensive research, and after we worked out that the $20,000 proposed communications system was essentially just a bunch of cheap solutions installed simultaneously and then labeled as a “custom package” with a ridiculously high price tag. So we skipped the “expert” middle man and just bought and installed each component separately for a mere $2,500. I mean, seriously, with that kind of savings, we could buy and install an ice-maker in every cabin on the boat!
But let’s not get carried away. Here’s how we built a $20,000 system for a mere $2,500:
1. Badboy WiFi extender
On our last boat we had a Rogue Wave WiFi booster that served us pretty well for connecting to WiFi signals on land from the boat.
And the Badboy does essentially the same thing as the Rogue Wave, but we find it easier to use. It is connected to an antenna that runs up our mast, so we can connect to WiFi from a greater distance. The way it works is you log into Badboy’s IP address www.badboy.xtreme from any device and then you scan the list of available WiFi signals, which are either unlocked WiFi connections or connections for which you know the password, like nearby bars and restaurants you’ve visited. If the signal is strong, you can do work from the boat without having to sit in a bar spending money on food and drink to use their WiFi.
When this works, and the Internet is reasonable (after all, it’s never fast), you don’t have to worry about all the other solutions on this list because you’ve got unfettered free access to the Internet. Congratulations!
Note: This only works within about a one-mile range from land.
2. Pepwave Router
When the Badboy shows no available WiFi options, we move on to the next solution for accessing data, which is to use our router with a mobile data SIM card. We have the T-Mobile International Plan, which gives us unlimited 2G data anywhere in the world (almost — it didn’t work in Morocco), so we can pop our SIM card into the router and get slow but reasonable Internet data from local mobile phone towers.
Or, if you can track down a local pay-as-you-go SIM card, that’s even better because usually the Internet is faster and pretty affordable. We’ve found the going rate for data is $10/GB in most countries around the world.
Note: You can buy and use any normal router — it doesn’t have to be a Pepwave. This option also only works near land within range of a mobile phone tower.
3. Iridium Go! Satellite Phone
I can’t wait for the day when satellite data connections are so fast and affordable that we can stream Netflix via space while in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That day has not yet come, but it is pretty amazing how accessible and affordable satellite technology has become in the last few years, so there’s hope yet.
When we bought our first satellite phone — the Iridium Xtreme, the best device Iridium offered at the time — we paid a lot of money both for the phone (about $3,000) and the data ($650 for 500 minutes which, annoyingly, had to be used in a 12-month period or they would expire). And then Ryan learned the hard way that the Iridium Xtreme wasn’t waterproof when he sunk his boat on a mad adventure sailing an ngalawa (local fishing boat) up the coast of Tanzania.
Ryan survived, as you may have guessed, but it meant we were down a satellite phone. So, when we bought Cheeky Monkey, we decided it was time to update our research and find out how much technology had improved since our last SatPhone purchase. And luckily for us, Iridium had just released a new and more affordable satellite “hotspot” called the Go!, which allows users to connect to Iridium satellites via an app on their smartphone or iPad.
So what can I do with my Iridium Go! at sea? I can’t stream Netflix, or even browse a website. But I can use my iPhone to download weather gribs and open them in our Weather 4D app (there are many weather apps you can choose from), I can send and receive emails and (small) photos, I can tweet, I can make phone calls at the rate of $1/minute anywhere in the world and I can transmit an SOS in an emergency. Plus, the best part about this little device is it only costs about $800, which is a big drop from $3,000, and unlike the inflexible data packages of the Iridium Xtreme, the Go! offers an unlimited data package for $135/month, which can be cancelled at any time.
I do have one rather specific piece of advice regarding cancelling the unlimited plans, however. When you buy the Iridium Go!, you should request as many SIM cards for the Go! as the company is happy to send you. The reason for this is that, yes, you can cancel your plan at any time without penalty, but to reinstate the same SIM card costs a silly amount of money (I can’t remember the exact amount), whereas if you throw the SIM away and activate a new one, it only costs $25 to activate a new card. With this method, you can activate your monthly plan just for the months when you are planning to be at sea, but cancel the plan for the months when you plan to stick close to land and have access to WiFi.
It’s because of these 3 devices — the Badboy, the Pepwave router and the Iridium Go! — that I manage to stay connected to the virtual world as well as anyone who lives at sea could possible hope to. And, thankfully, we didn’t have to spend $20,000 to acquire this system.
Plus, now you know how to build your own “custom” communications system on the cheap. See, aren’t you glad you kept reading?
Though this rather extensive list covers most of the big stuff we ordered for Cheeky Monkey, it is by no means comprehensive. Beyond what you’ve read here, months of research went into products we didn’t end up buying, we made a million and one little tweaks that are too small to mention and we spent countless hours overseeing workmen to keep them from drilling holes in the wrong places, which they were wont to do.
In short, we found the process of outfitting our boat to be exhausting, incredibly time-consuming and almost as stressful as the full-time jobs we left in our wake. Which I have since learned could have been avoided, had we done more research on brokers before we started. But we liked our broker — he was a nice guy and we liked talking to him — so we assumed he had sold enough boats to know the pros and cons of the options offered by Fountaine-Pajot and that he could make recommendations based on our cruising plans, past customer reviews and his own research into the options he was selling.
But it turns out we made a few too many assumptions. What our broker didn’t know and couldn’t help us with was what ate up all of our time and energy as we pored over the purchases made by other FP owners who were kind enough to share with us what they’d learned.
Therein lies the problem: the broker you decide to work with can make or break your buying experience. And yet it can be difficult to know the good brokers from the bad brokers before you start working with them.
My advice? Get a recommendation from someone you trust or someone who has bought a similar boat to the one you’re looking to buy. Who did they use? What was their experience? Get some opinions before signing over your hard-earned cash and your dreams.
Also, I would go with experience. The high-volume yacht brokers out there often get a lot of business because they’re good at what they do. Plus, the advantage of going with a broker who sells dozens of the same boat make, year after year, is that he knows his stuff. All those questions we had about the pros and cons of DC and AC water-makers, the type of battery charger we needed and the type of anchor chain to buy? A good broker would know the answers because he’s already researched it for a dozen other customers and gotten feedback on whether or not they made the right choice.
That’s the key — a good broker doesn’t just place your order and then walk away with his commission, leaving you to fend for yourself. He saves you time and, hopefully, a lot of headaches by giving you well-researched recommendations, being responsive to your needs and handling your warranty issues when they come up.
Consider this: there is an overwhelming amount of stuff that you can’t even begin to ask your broker because you don’t know all the things you don’t know. All you know is the stuff you’ve thought to ask questions about, which may only be a fraction of the issues you actually need to address in order to get the complete boat of your dreams. It’s like that thing Donald Rumsfeld said about Iraq in 2002: “There are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
A good broker doesn’t just deal with the known unknowns, the questions you have thought to ask about what you need to know. A good broker can enlighten you on the “unknown unknowns,” the crucial stuff you may not have even considered because, like most buyers, you don’t know everything about the boat you’re buying or the lifestyle you’re about to plunge yourself into. A good broker has sold dozens of the same boat with dozens of different configurations designed for long-term cruising, weekend sailing, chartering, etc., and has taken into consideration what your plans are with the boat and anticipated what you might need to make it happen. A good broker pays attention to details and will tell you why you might want to opt for the 100 liter/hour water-maker over the 60 liter/hour water-maker if you’re planning to sail around the world. And you want that broker.
As you can tell, Ryan and I have learned a thing or two in the process of buying and outfitting our boat, which is why I didn’t want to waste all that hard-earned knowledge by keeping it locked inside my head.
My hope is that this list helps someone out there find the answers they’re looking for as they pore over marine catalogs trying to figure out how best to spend their money.