From Starlink to tradewind sails, first aid and cooking, Ali Wood reports on new and traditional gear for transatlantic sailors and how it performed during an ocean crossing

Sailing boat kit for an Atlantic crossing: tested by cruisers

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), and its sister event the ARC+, is the ultimate gear test – often to destruction – of everything from sails to self-steering, cookers, communications and electronics.

I first visited St Lucia in 2005, and have since covered the event five times.

A person raising a sail on a boat

Sailing boat gear, from sails to watermakers and self-steering systems will be tested during an ocean crossing. Credit: WCC/James Mitchell

While crews are inevitably exhausted when I meet them on the docks, so is their sailing boat kit.

Running sailing boat kit day and night for three weeks in Atlantic swells and squalls, often with tired and inexperienced operators, is a great way to test its limitations, not to mention the problem-solving nous of the crew

Sailing boat kit: Communications

While the ARC sails direct from Gran Canaria to St Lucia, the ARC+ has a stopover in Mindelo, Cape Verde, which for some boats is a fixing frenzy, and for others an opportunity to collect the replacement parts they ordered at sea.

Yes, that’s right, ‘at sea’. Online shopping definitely didn’t feature back in 2005 – when the cost of horrendously slow data was up to £3 a minute.

Thanks to high-speed internet Starlink, one boat on 2023’s ARC+ managed to order a new forestay and have someone fly it to Cape Verde in time for their arrival.

“Starlink was brilliant,” says Claire Wallace of Discovery 58, Aqualuna. “We didn’t have any drop in quality, it’s honestly better than our wifi at home.”

Two men making repairs to sailing boat kit

Claire and Malcolm Wallace ordered a new forestay at sea when their old one snapped and it was fitted in Cape Verde. Credit: Claire Wallace

Claire was sailing double-handed with her husband Malcolm when their second forestay snapped following a halyard wrap.

Immediately, they alerted ARC+ cruisers on the WhatsApp group, who stood by.

They then spoke to John Eustace, build manager at Discovery Yachts, who flew out with new rigging disguised in his luggage as a windsurfer!

Of the 96 boats taking part in last year’s ARC+ rally, 12% were fitted with Starlink, which uses low-orbiting satellites installed by Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX.

A man fitting a Starlink receiver to his boat

Will Collins and crew Dwight fit a Starlink receiver

The rally’s first Lebanese entrant, Toni Salame on board Oyster 575 Ahlam, used Starlink to receive weather data. His son, Nicholas, even held a video conference during the crossing.

“Starlink has been the key to keeping us connected. It’s given us a lot of comfort,” he says. “We communicated with the family onshore, we shared news of what’s happening in the world and managed personal, family and business situations.”

Toni bought his €280 monthly Starlink contract in Barcelona. It gives him 50GB of data per month on the ocean, and when he’s on land he can switch to unlimited data for €90 a month.

Distress calling

In the latest rally, 40% of participants had Iridium GO!, a portable hotspot device, which links to the high-orbiting Iridium satellite network.

This requires a prepaid SIM card or contract, allowing users to connect to up to five devices (laptop, tablet or mobile) using the required software, apps and logins.

Martin Whitfield, skipper of Rival 36 Topaz Rival, is one of the 38 skippers with an Iridium GO!, which he uses on his tablet.

“I only use it for GRIB files [highly compressed weather data] and emergency comms,” he says. “It’s so slow. I know other boats have got Starlink, but why on earth would I want to have emails in the middle of the ocean? No, I don’t want that.”

A downside is that Iridium GO! doesn’t come with a handset, unlike Iridium’s Certus 100 which is significantly faster, and offers a lot more data.

Over 25% of ARC participants opted for this.

Essentual sailing boat kit - an EPIRB strapped to the side of a boat

All ARC yachts carry an EPIRB

World Cruising Club director Paul Tetlow recommends that during transit skippers have the ability to send and receive emails at sea.

“It could be via SSB or satcom, which allows an instant message. It could be with Iridium Certus 100 or Inmarsat Fleet One,” he says.

“Rather than specifying a product we say they need to have a level of service.”

Neil Smith, skipper of Moody 54 Blue Pearl uses a ‘red box’ with his Cobham SAILOR Fleet One satellite terminal, which retails at around £2,670.

Radio on board a boat

Emergency sat comms in a quick-to-reach place for a grab-bag

“We’ve got two sat phones – a handheld Iridium in a grab box and the fixed Fleet One at the nav table,” he says.

“Having MailASail’s Red Box helped us get used to it all, and their software makes weather data a lot cheaper by compressing everything.”

The Smith family pays $140 a month for 15 minutes of voice calls and enough data for weather and communicating with the ARC fleet and HQ while at sea.

“I’m not social media orientated, and as a family, we don’t use it a lot either, certainly not while sailing,” says Neil. “Plus, I don’t like Elon Musk. I’m not buying his Starlink!”

Weather apps

Weather data is freely available from many government sources such as the United States’ NOAA or Europe’s ECMWF.

This comes as GRIB files, which organisations such as PredictWind or Weather4D package into a subscription with a range of marine tools to make it simpler to use. Martin Whitfield is pleased with Weather 4D – an iPhone and iPad app that integrates weather forecasting, routing calculations and navigation using nautical charts from hydrographic offices of 17 countries.

“There’s a free, or very cheap version, then you pay £30 for premium weather, and you pay extra for raster charts,” he explains. “We have the whole of UKHO output, all of Portugal and all of the Caribbean for £70 a year. Each day I get the iPad out, I press ‘get’ and it connects to GO! automatically and downloads GRIB files. It’s the nearest there is to an all-in-one sailing app.”

Boats at the start of a yacht rally

One of the most popular weather subscription services used by ARC crews is PredictWind. Credit: WCC/James Mitchell

PredictWind remains a popular weather subscription service, with packages ranging from free to professional (US$499 a year), which is sold alongside Iridium, Starlink or other hardware devices and SIM cards.

The early arrivals in ARC+ 2022 reported a particularly squally passage. Brian Field, skipper of Fontaine Pajot Eventually, used PredictWind to prepare. Even though he’d done a leg of the Clipper Race with three of his four crewmates, it was a challenge.

“Every day you learn about the boat and how not to do things,” he says. “We learned a lot about squalls. They just ran over us for a day and a half, but we were prepared because of PredictWind. We only had a bit of jib up and could see them building on the horizon.”

The same year, Nicky and Nick Haggert from Poole had arrived in Grenada independently and reported that PredictWind was not as accurate as they’d hoped.

“The wind was stronger than forecast by PredictWind,” recalls Nicky. “I remember that just as we were debating whether to put a third reef in, we had 37 knots of wind. There was no moon, no stars, nothing. It was a challenge!”

Sailing boat kit: Radar

All ARC boats carry radar, helping them to see squalls and vessels through darkness, precipitation and poor visibility.

“I don’t know how anyone could sail without a radar,” said David Dias. “The radar shows a big spot and you know there’s going to be a big tower of rain and typically an increase of 50-100% wind speed. You use radar to monitor it. Let’s say you’re going west and the squall is in front of you and also going west; you’re OK because squalls run way faster than boats. But if it’s east and you’re moving west it’s going to catch you. You can’t outrun it, you have to change course.”

Jackstays fitting to a boat - essential sailing boat kit

Neil Smith fitted additional jackstays to the cockpit

Mark Thurlow did the ARC in 2018 on his Moody 49 Rum Truffle. He reported picking up squalls on radar from 24 miles away – giving them up to an hour to prepare (though sometimes, the squalls would be travelling as fast as 40 miles per hour!).

He also found his radar set useful for picking up fishing boats and Greek ferries that didn’t have AIS.

“As soon as you see the dot on the radar you’ll be looking at the plotter, but you can’t always see them,” he noted.

Sailing boat kit: AIS

Every boat doing the ARC+ 2023 had an AIS transceiver. One yacht – Infinity of Yar – was even spotted from 38,000ft as the crewmember’s brother-in-law, a British Airways pilot, flew overhead!

While obviously useful for identifying (and sharing your identity with) manned vessels, abandoned vessels have also been known to leave their AIS switched on – but at least you can see them.

In 2021, the Pattisons – who were sailing with their children aged six and eight – sailed within half a mile of an abandoned catamaran they tracked on AIS.

“It was 33ft long and 20ft wide,” recalls mum Hermione. “When you’re barrelling along downwind at 11 knots you don’t want to hit something like that – it could be catastrophic!”

The Mobmat man overboard recovery system

The Mobmat man overboard recovery system

Astonishingly, it wasn’t the only vessel they encountered. They’d been made aware over the radio of a drifting Mini Transat yacht.

“That one shook us up a bit,” says dad, Douglas. “It wasn’t anywhere it should have been.”

They’d been given the boat’s position over the radio and worked out the drift pattern. Because it was expected to pass around 0300, Douglas called Hermione and crewmate Dave to join him on watch, but nothing happened.

The following evening at dinner, when they’d forgotten all about it, they were startled by the eerie sight of the dismasted 21ft racing boat drifting past.

Sailing boat kit: Radio

SSB, long-range high-frequency communication over radio waves, has always been a means of communication amongst a subset of ARC sailors.

Boats tune in daily to a preset frequency, introduce themselves alphabetically and list their position, wind speed, sea conditions and sail plan.

If there are any issues – such as a watermaker failure, for example – they’ll agree on a time to later discuss this with other boats.

Back in 2005, I interviewed ARC participants whose SSB net gathered for a mid-Atlantic swim, and whose children shared jokes during the 1500 children’s hour.

Many boats were helped by amateur radio enthusiast Herb Hilgenberg.

A sailor using SSB radio, an important part of sailing boat kit

SSB radio continues to be a popular choice of comms

Come rain or shine, hurricane or doldrum, the German-Canadian would update them at 2000 UTC daily on 12.359MHz upper sideband.

His weather information was spot-on, and at times superior to GRIB files. He kept the sailors away from headwinds and always in trade winds.

But woe betide the skipper who didn’t listen. “He’d get cross and refuse to talk to them again,” said Bill Gibson on Independent Freedom. ‘He’d take your position, size of boat etc, and would know the next day if you’d not followed his advice!”

In 2013, after 25 years of operation, Hilgenberg closed his forecasting service, receiving the Meritorious Public Service Award from the United States Coast Guard.

Continues below…

In the early ARCs, before YB trackers were used to keep track of the vessels, World Cruising Club’s former managing director, Andrew Bishop would climb a hill so he could communicate with the arriving fleet with an SSB radio set.

In Gran Canaria, a couple of days before the start of ARC+ 23, I caught up with Paul Tetlow just as the SSB seminar had finished.

How popular is SSB these days, I wondered? He told me that almost 30% of the fleet had SSB sets, and of these half had turned up to the seminar, interested in joining the net.

“A benefit of SSB is that it costs nothing,” he says. “Anyone with their set switched on can hear your communication. One person talks and many people listen. You don’t get that with a sat phone, where you have to call person to person. On SSB everyone shares knowledge.”

Paul attended a forum recently with ARC panellists. All said they could live without SSB but they’re glad they’d had it for the voyage… most people who had SSB also had Starlink and used the rally’s WhatsApp group to stay in touch too.

In terms of safety and social, they overlap.

Sailing boat kit: Autopilot

Autopilot failure is something I hear about often when interviewing ARC arrivals. Not only does loss of steering make for an exhausting passage, but in the worst-case scenario it can lead to an accidental gybe.

In 2018, I spoke to the crew of Garuda, whose steering cable failure and subsequent gybe contributed to a dismasting 600 miles offshore.

“We saw the port shroud snap… there was a ‘boom’ and the mast cracked in two parts,” recalled Alejandro Perez. “We watched as the mast and sails fell into the water.”

The crew limped to port with a jury rig. One of the items they wish they’d had on board was a hacksaw and a good quality battery grinder.

During the same rally, double-handers Suzanne and Joachim Nordqvist on Mo Chara gybed when their autopilot on their Oyster 40 went unexpectedly into standby.

Though they got it working again, they couldn’t trust it afterwards. “We’ve never spent so little time together!” said Suzanne after one of them was permanently helming; it was the opposite of what they’d hoped for.

The Wallaces, on board Aqualuna in 2023 had a very positive experience with their Raymarine autopilot, which they nicknamed Ernie, “because he drives like the fastest milkman in the west,” adds Claire.

The autopilot performed well in all but the biggest seas. With all controls led back to the cockpit, their Discovery 58 was designed for double-handing.

“We’re very happy being two-handed,” says Claire, despite the mishap with the forestay. “We’re seriously lazy sailors. We do very little, and sit around on our backsides! Once you’ve set the boat up, everything is made easy because of the autopilot.”

A car lifejacket

This small lifejacket belongs to Zesar the cat and has an OLAS tag for a COB (cat overboard) situation

Sailing boat kit: Self-steering windvane

A self-steering windvane, which steers to a wind angle, is a power-free alternative to an autohelm.

Maltese sailor Borg Manduca is sailing around the world with his partner on their Dufour 530 B emZ.

He explains that the Hydrovane self-steering windvane is a fantastic piece of kit for two reasons.

“It provides two backups,” he says, “a mechanical backup for the autopilot as it uses no electricity, and a full backup for the rudder.”

Borg removed the rudder from his Hydrovane while sailing from Gibraltar to the Canaries for the start of ARC+ 23, as he feared damage by orcas.

It was lucky he did as fellow rally entrant Valent suffered an orca encounter around the same time, resulting in a two-month layover in Gibraltar for repairs to their Hydrovane.

The crew of Evangeline, a Moody 46 taking part in ARC+ 22, switched to their Hydrovane when their autopilot failed a week into the leg from Cape Verde to Grenada.

“I was cooking steak and chips as a treat. We were all so excited,” said Ian McDonald-Webb. “I got the plates out then the autopilot failed and we turned 90°. The dinner went all over the floor!”

Fortunately, they escaped a gybe but had to switch to manual steering while they downloaded the Hydrovane manual.

“The Hydrovane’s not great if you want to go fast,” said Ian. “It does a meandering, snaking course. It works, but sometimes it gets overwhelmed if it gets too much pressure. You can’t leave it, you can’t go and get some sleep. We had long spells where it worked beautifully but it couldn’t cope with swell and wind, and sometimes it would turn 180°, so we preferred to hand-steer.”

Neil Smith reported similar findings in the ARC+ 23.

“We bought the Hydrovane because we didn’t want to use the autopilot,” he says. “We started with it but it wouldn’t keep us on course. It meandered 20° to 30° off the rhumbline and when you’re goosewinging you need to be more precise than that. We switched to the Raymarine SD6000 autopilot and it was brilliant.”

Safety at night

Many skippers begin with a rule not to fly low wind sails at night, when visibility is restricted and extra hands are required to get them down.

However, several of the skippers I spoke to who planned to do this in 2023 found conditions on the Cape Verde to Grenada leg so favourable they left them up for days at a time.

In 2022 Jon Walmsley sailed a Fountaine Pajot catamaran Ciel Blue with two downwind options: a Parasail or twin furling jibs.

A child benjind some safety netting on board a boat - part of sailing boat kit

Netting helps keep youngsters safely on board. Credit: Arthur Daniel

“Due to the stronger winds and the frequent squalls towards the end of the passage, we did a lot of sailing with the latter, especially at night,” he told me. “As a consequence, we were unable to match our prize-winning performance of Leg 1, but we still finished in a respectable 14 days for the 2,200-mile crossing.”

Sail changes – along with checking for wear and tear – occupy more time at sea than people expect.

Twelve-year-old Ben on X55 Verbena, told me: “I expected to get really bored but I didn’t because there was a lot to do. We were always changing the sails, we’d put them up, pull them down, and a bunch of lines broke.

“The spinnaker pole came off the attachment a few times. Every day something would happen that we’d have to fix.”

MOB recovery

ARC participants are not allowed to set sail without an extensive array of safety equipment that has been signed off by World Cruising Club staff.

Sometimes this is a bugbear when I interview sailors; they now have to buy a piece of sailing boat kit they’ve sailed hundreds of miles without ever having needed; probably as many miles as they did as a child without a seat-belt.

WCC’s safety regulations are well worth reading for any skipper planning a passage.

They specify, among other things, that participants carry a lifebuoy, danbuoy or MOB recovery module incorporating these, as well as either a lifebuoy with a drogue, light and whistle and method of recovery OR a recovery sling and throwing/ heaving line.

A family of people in the cockpit of their boat

The Smith family on Blue Pearl. Credit: WCC/James Mitchell

Helen Smith told me she found it helpful to talk through every emergency scenario – from getting down sails in a squall to first aid and the man overboard drill.

Together with her husband, Neil, she attended an RYA offshore safety course to prepare for the transatlantic.

They equipped their Moody 54 Blue Pearl with a Mobmat which is a weighted cradle that can be lowered into the water to retrieve the casualty.

Helen pointed out that a benefit of this system is it doesn’t roll the injured person. In the area they call the ‘safety corner’ they also had a halyard rigged for this purpose.

On the rail was a throwing line, horseshoe buoy, danbuoy and a Waveline rescue harness which you throw at the casualty before circling them in the boat to be sure they receive it.

The Waveline rescue harness

The Waveline rescue harness

“It’s all very well having this equipment but preventing a man overboard in the first place is the priority,” said Neil.

Helen was surprised to see other sailors remove their lifejackets after they’d left the startline in Gran Canaria.

For the Smith family, lifejackets and tethers were a must at all times. Neil even fitted additional jackstays in the cockpit, and when swapping from port to starboard the family used a second tether to ensure they were permanently clipped on.

Sailors with dogs and children often add netting to their boats. The few dogs (and one cat) I’ve met also have their own lifejackets and sometimes an OLAS tag to alert the ship if they go overboard.

Sailing boat kit: Emergency gear

I was interested to see the dive equipment on board Blue Pearl, belonging to outdoor adventure graduate, Chloe Smith.

Chloe is the boat’s designated diver and mast climber (she also has her hard hat).

Chloe’s brother Henry, a nurse, showed me an impressive first aid cupboard, stocked with varying strength painkillers, bandages, Superglue (for cuts), Steri-Strips, painkillers and sea sickness tablets (he recommends Scopaderm patches).

A man standing next to his first aid kit

The extensive first aid kit on Blue Pearl

Mum Helen is also a retired nurse, and has already dealt with her husband Neil’s emergencies at sea, including a severed thumb tendon and paint scraper in his foot!

Fortunately, no medical assistance was required on the voyage, although Henry did have to remove spines from a fellow participant’s foot after he trod on a sea urchin in Mindelo.

Consultant paediatrician Michelle Cruwys sailing on Maalu 4 explained why a top-class first aid kit was important to her and partner Nick.

“We’re in our 60s and I want to be able to manage most things. Burns, sprains and back injuries are typical boat injuries – related to falling around the boat. I think anything else is unlikely.”

Sailing boat kit: Cooking innovations

Will Collins is head chef aboard Oyster 55 Valent. When I met him in Gran Canaria he was busy compiling recipes for the voyage, including one from fellow participant Guillemette on board Saltair.

“The simplest banana pancakes ever – beat an egg and mashed banana together and fry in butter. Delicious!”

Will showed me his boat cooker – a Remoska one-pot oven, where the heating element is the lid. “It’s a hob and oven in one,” he said. “It only draws 650W and I can cook sausages and casseroles – lots of things.”

A man using a Remoska cooker on a boat, part of sailing boat kit

Will Collins shows us the Remoska cooker. Credit: WCC/James Mitchell

He also has the two-pot Mr D’s thermal cooker. Once you’ve brought food to the boil, the heat is trapped inside the pot and the food continues cooking for up to seven hours without an external heat source.

You can put meat in the larger pot and then when it’s simmering, add the rice or pasta to the top pot and leave for three or four hours, and it’s cooked.

From low power to no power, Nicky Haggert showed me her Go Sun solar oven in 2021 which she used for every meal bar one on passage from Cape Verde to Brazil.

Nicky used it to bake bread, carrot cake and gingerbread, as well as vegetarian main meals, which she cooked in the morning and either ate cold around 1500 or reheated later.

A solar oven on board a boat, part of sailing boat kit

This solar oven was a real hit

“To cook dried beans, I’d put water in, heat it up in the sun, then turn it away from the sun so it could slow cook. I love it. I’d recommend it!”

Stephanie Stevens found her induction hob to be a ‘lifesaver’ when it came to preparing meals for her baby and two-year-old.

She also loved the Vorwerk Thermomix. “I’d be feeding Roux and making paella at the same time, you can just chuck the ingredients in and leave it,” she said.

Sailing boat kit: Food storage

Food lasts a lot longer in an airtight environment, and I’ve seen some great gadgets on ARC boats, including Will Collins’s simple 18-egg container and Alfie Moore’s FoodSaver vacuum sealer which heat-seals food.

Alfie, skipper of Fontaine Pajot Coco, took part in the ARC+ in 2021. He also swears by the vacuum Tupperwares, which he used for storing biscuits and nuts. The seal was so strong you had to press a button to release the lid.

Alfie, Will and Nicky kindly let me film them explaining their galley innovations.

Sailing boat kit: Watermakers

Two thirds of last year’s ARC+ participants carried watermakers with capacity varying between 30lt and 200lt per hour, but typically around 100lt.

The most popular brand was Dessalator followed by Schenker. Three boats carried portable emergency watermakers by Katadyn and Quenchsea with a capacity of 5lt.

Watermakers are a big draw on power, with skippers in ARC 2019 citing consumption of around 20A to 40A.

RiRi carried a desalinator that made 60lt an hour and allowed the crew to shower every other day.

I even met one skipper, John Hardy on Jack Rowland Smith, who made his own watermaker. “It’s a prototype. It’s a quarter the size of the competition and makes 120lt an hour. I might put it on the market, but I’m supposed to be retired!” he said.

While traditional watermakers use a lot of power, new models such as those by Spectra and Schenker consume 4W per litre of water using a 12/24V DC power supply, making it possible to run the system on solar, wind or batteries.

Sailing boat kit: Batteries

In last year’s ARC+, 56% of boats had Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) engine batteries, 28% lead acid batteries and 16% gel.

For the house battery, however, which needs to charge quickly and store large amounts of power, lithium-ion was the choice for 52% of entrants, followed by AGM (29%), lead acid (12%) and gel (6%). Capacity ranged from 75W (lead acid) to 2,230W (Li-ion).

lithium-ion batteries on a boat

Will Collins was delighted with how little space his lithium-ion batteries used

The Collins family on board Valent switched to lithium-ion batteries in 2023. They swapped five 130Ah lead acid batteries for three 280Ah lithium-ion ones, and were delighted with the increase in power and the space saving on board.

“Lithium is all useable energy, though we did run them flat in Guernsey when we had no shore power,” said Will. “The only slight issue we’ve had is the imbalance between what the battery says on its monitor and what the Victron battery monitor is saying. That’s just about learning the setup, though.”

Will and family moved onto their boat in 2022, intending to take part in the ARC+ that year.

However, major structural issues forced them to delay a year, during which time they lived aboard in the UK and became well practised at managing power.

Sailing boat kit: Power

Just under half of the participants of ARC+ 23 had generators. For example, the Smith family used their 36hp Kohlar 11 KBA generator for three hours a day, consuming around 3lt of diesel per hour.

The AC electricity allowed them to have hot water while keeping the watermaker and air conditioning running, as well as a microwave and extraction fan.

They also carried 450W of solar panels and an Eclectic Energy 400 wind generator with an output of 400W.

Conserving and generating power remains a priority for all skippers on the ARC, with boat crews varying in their needs, from some who powered washing machines, TVs and freezers to those – such as Gitana – who got by in 2019 without a generator.

Gitana had two domestic batteries with a combined capacity of 240Ah, charged by a wind generator and solar panel, but power was still an issue.

The crew would have liked more. “The deeper into the trip, the more we used the autopilot,” says skipper James Fiske. “The AIS drew 3.5A and the fridge started working harder because it was hot. We had to run the engine earlier each time to charge the batteries. It went from one hour a day to four.”

Sailing boat kit: Wind, sun and hydro power

In ARC+ 23 only 12% of boats carried wind generators and 19% hydrogenerators, although most carried solar panels with an output of anything between 3.1kW and 75kW.

Solar panels are labelled according to how many watts they provide under standard test conditions.

For example, a 100W panel, with seven hours of direct sunshine will theoretically provide 700W of power.

Sailing boat kit: solar panels on the side of a boat

Solar power is a good way to top up batteries. Credit: WCC/James Mitchell

Of course, in the real world this varies depending on shade and weather. Borg Manduca on B EmZ had a Fischer Panda 10000i generator and 1.9kW of solar panels.

“They’re flexible, so not as efficient, but given the right conditions when the sun was out we were getting about 1.4kW which is very good,” he said.

Borg was more cautious at night about power use, but also carried a Watt & Sea hydrogenerator, which was attached to the self-steering windvane.

Wind turbines on a boat, part of sailing boat kit

A small number of boats have wind turbines

“When we were sailing between 6 to 8 knots it generated maybe 10-12A, but above this, it doubled,” said Borg. The sailing conditions were good. Our average speed was between 7 and 9 knots.”

Sadly the bolts sheered off the unit. The hydrogenerator fell into the sea, damaging the hull, and Borg nearly went in after it trying to grab it!

With the help of crewmate Sergio he managed to retrieve it, but was no longer able to use it.

Sailing boat kit: Refrigeration

A keel cooling system is a power-saving alternative to a freezer.

Will Collins explains how this works. “Basically, it’s a block near the keel with lots of fine capillaries. The coolant gets forced through that and back up so there’s no water going through it or air pumps. It’s a closed-circuit cooling system, similar to a car radiator. It now uses one-fifth of the energy of normal refrigeration. We’ve gone from 10A to 2A.”

Will had the boat lifted and drilled – all the original water compressors and pumps had to be removed – at a cost of £2,000 to install.

It’s a default system on new Oysters now and is much more efficient and quieter.


With biodiesel, fuel degrades far more quickly these days.

Spare engine filters are a must in addition to regularly removing water from the fuel.

However, Will has gone a step further and installed a fuel scrubber, or ‘polisher’ which filters fuel from a large tank to a day tank before it enters the engine.

The two-stage process starts with filtration and free water separation and then uses a coalescer to remove emulsified water.

Don’t throw anything out

“You don’t buy spares, you build them,” one skipper told me, “nuts, bolts, shackles, split pins – keep the lot!”

The temptation before crossing the Atlantic is to have a good sort through, chuck out and clean, but the advice skippers tell me over and over, is don’t throw anything out.

I’ve seen old halyards used to repair new ones, and even to tow a dismasted vessel.

A yacht at the start of the ARC

Never throw anything out; you never know when you might need it when making an Atlantic crossing. Credit: WCC/James Mitchell

I’ve seen a boat limp in with a spinnaker pole jury-rigged as a mast, and an old forestay and ratchet used to support a buckled stay.

That bit of marina piping could be handy for curbing noisy sheets, or that old sail for patching your new one.

Things go wrong in the Atlantic, and you never know when you’ll need a spare part.

Old kit – no matter how knackered – has its place on your boat… and if anyone tells you otherwise, say you read it here in Practical Boat Owner!

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