Ten Ways to Make Cold Weather Cruising (more) Attainable and Enjoyable
After realizing our plans to begin a four-year circumnavigation were on hold due to the unpredictability of the current pandemic and associated restrictions, we decided to spend the winter taking advantage of the prevailing Southerly weather and sail north along the BC coast. The adventure has been an absolute eye-opener not only to the pleasures of winter sailing, but to the true hidden gems of the Pacific coast; especially those that lie north of Vancouver Island.
Winter cruising may not be an activity many people set out to do, but after our experience this winter, I encourage more people to explore the added opportunities that winter sailing has to offer. Plus, for those of us who love this lifestyle, why not find another reason to extend our time on the water?
Yes, cold weather cruising can be much more challenging, with gale- to storm-force winds regularly making landfall off the north Pacific. Yet with many safe anchorages to hide away in and wet-weather gear that helps you layer to keep the elements out while staying comfortably moving, the old idiom—as in so many instances—rings true: the greater the challenge the greater the reward.
Here is a list of the top 10 most valuable things I have learned about winter sailing so far.
1. Offsetting the lack of power generation with ways to cut down on power use is important. Turning off the fridge is a great way to save power and using unheated areas of the boat for keeping food items at fridge temperatures works well. We also use a small kerosene lantern for cabin light after dark. One way to put power back into the bank is tilting solar panels towards the sun—if there is any—to maximize capture. Something that migrated from our “wants” to “need” list after this winter is a good powerful alternator appropriately sized to our battery bank. This is so any time we have the motor on, even just in and out of anchorages, our alternator can put the maximum number of amps back into our bank.
2. Good gear!!!! Having good gear is one of the most important aspects of being prepared for cold weather cruising. Having quality foulie-gear meant we were able to stay out in the elements longer and it was enjoyable! Our Mustang Survival gear is windproof, waterproof, breathable, durable, designed for ease of mobility, and dries quickly; all essential qualities to have in foul-weather gear. And, if you are going to be equipped with the best gear head to ankles, make sure to have the right footwear for wet dinghy landings and hiking over varied terrain including very slippery rock and wood. I had to learn the hard way about my choice in gumboots and found myself getting frustrated when my footwear was the only thing holding me back.
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3. Good anchoring gear! Have an anchor appropriately sized for your boat and a good amount of rode. Anchorages further north can be quite deep, and when the winds pick up, it is best to have lots of extra scope if needed. Also, carry a few shorelines and slings in case you really want/need to tuck in.
4. Unless you have an expensive water maker, rainwater capture is ideal. Finding water, especially north of Vancouver Island during the winter months can be challenging. So, it’s a good thing it rains A LOT. Have a spare Jerrycan (blue) for water catchment or to fill up at a spring or swift moving creek (don’t collect from areas of standing water or where Giardia may be a risk). A tarp or catchment set up that can be directed straight into the main tank is ideal. To save fresh water supply, use salt water for dishes, and for cooking foods like pasta and rice, use half salt water and half fresh water.
5. Hang very wet clothes outside under an awning or cockpit cover (Bimini) to drip dry before bringing inside for the final dry. This will help to reduce added moisture and condensation inside the cabin of the boat.
6. Inset closed cell foam into hatches to minimize moisture exchange between internal and external temperature change. Another good suggestion, although we didn’t try it this year: bubble wrap or cling wrap over windows to improve R-value.
7. Keep the bilge dry. This is always a good practice, but even more-so during the winter as this will help keep the cabin dry. A dehumidifier is also highly recommended. We didn’t have one this winter but would definitely get one before going winter cruising again. Also wiping away extra moisture from the windows and hatches helps a bit.
8. Minimize unneeded items before setting out for winter cruising. The tighter things are packed, the more likely air flow will be minimized, meaning mold and mildew are able to set in. Air out storage areas as often as possible and use vinegar to wipe down any areas where moisture may be lurking. Use small fans for air movement in small spaces; we use a couple small cabin fans to help circulate air 24/7.
9. Have heating options on board. We decided that having some type of forced air diesel heater for the cabin would have been a welcomed addition as we have to take out our stove pipe and shut down our Refleks diesel stove while underway.
10. Smart cooking appliances are a smart move. Having a pressure cooker on board really helps to cut down on cooking time and reduces steam, thereby reducing condensation and moisture inside the boat, plus a huge pot of soup or chili pre-made and ready for a full day of sailing, is pretty hard to beat.