Tip of the Month

Now we no longer own Magic Dragon we are able to be a little more contentious. 

Much of the advice we got before we bought turned out to be either misleading or just plain wrong! So here we get a chance to mention some of these issues and myths. We will add a new one every few weeks:


According to all the books and magazines it is very important to have fiddles on the main table in the salon. This is to stop your plates sliding off the table when you are having meals while at sea.

The fiddles on Magic Dragon's table were removable, and we ended up taking them off permenantly. We never tried to eat off a normal plate on a normal table while at sea. Bowls were much better, and we tended to eat in the cockpit. Struggling to sit up at table to eat as if you were on land while the yacht was rolling and bucking just caused indigestion and queasiness. An experience aboard another yacht ably demonstrated that even if a fiddle stops the plate from sliding off the table, the food can still slide off the plate onto your lap. Not worth the agravation!

Fiddles are necessary on any shelf or galley work surface, but they just get in the way of normal use of a salon table.







The short spring trick


Any technique that relieves the stress when coming to a dock is a good thing. This is especially true when the boat is large, or handled by a small crew. We discovered the short spring trick early on, and have found it to be very effective. It works best when coming to an alongside dock such as the typical fuel dock or floating finger pier, but can be adapted to suit most situations.


The cardinal rule is to avoid any "helpful" dock hand from taking and pulling in a bow line tight. Most of these people have never handled a large yacht and have no appreciation of the havoc that this action can cause. The simplest way to avoid this happening is to keep the bow line out of their reach! When we approach a dock we have a short spring line attached to a cleat near to the widest point of the yacht. This is where there is a gate in the lifelines. The bow and stern lines are attached to their cleats, brought back or forward to the lifelines near to this point, and hitched for easy access. Since Magic Dragon has a fairly high freeboard we mount a short boarding ladder to the toerail if we are approaching a low pontoon.


One person is on the helm/engine control, and remains here. The other (the linesman) is by the gate, calling out distances away from the dock. Ideally the yacht is brought to a stop alongside, so that the linesman can just step off with the short midships spring. He or she immediately ties this spring line to the nearest cleat on the dock, taking up as much slack as possible without actually using any strength to pull in the yacht. The shorter this line is kept, the better everything works. Now the boat is not going anywhere; by putting the engine into forward gear the bow may be brought in towards the dock; by putting it into reverse, the bow goes out and the stern comes in. It is a simple matter to unhitch the bow line from the rail and walk  to a suitable dockside cleat or bollard, then do the same with the stern line. There is no hurry because the helmsman can keep control of the yacht's position by motoring against the short spring in either direction.


Once the yacht is safely tied bow and stern, the short spring can be removed and normal fore and aft spring lines rigged at leisure.



If you are heading for the tropics, think cool!

Dark hulls and teak decks look superb, especially at boat shows and up market marinas. It all goes down well with the yachting set at Cowes or Newport. But most of those people never take their craft south of the Tropic of Cancer, or are willing to spend large amounts of time or money on repolishing every few weeks, or running air conditioning all the time when at anchor down there.


Teak decks and dark paintwork absorb the heat of the sun, and transfer it to the inside of the boat - very nice if the weather is cool, not so good in tropical conditions. Whenever we meet someone in the Caribbean who seems surprised that we do not like teak decks, we give them a demonstration. We ask them to stand barefoot on our teak sun deck. After a few moments they cannot stand the heat. We then suggest they step onto our white decks, which are delightfully cool in contrast. We never have to explain further. 


If you are buying or preparing a yacht for warm climates look for any way to keep the heat outside the boat. If you have a deck saloon style of coachroof , have sunshades made to cover windows. Set up any cooking facilities to avoid increasing the temperature down below, by fitting microwave ovens, rail mounted barbeques, electric toaster-ovens. Use awnings to keep heat off the decks - and crew.


And finally - forget about the heavy waterproof clothing so loved by the serious sailors of the northern seas. In 47,000 miles we have neither needed nor carried sea boots,  ocean  grade water proof suits or much of the heavy weight sailing gear that costs so much at boat shows. You might make use of it on the way down to the Canaries or Bermuda, but after that it just takes up locker space.

Previous Tips

Don't forget about life at anchor!

It does not make sense to completely optimise your yacht for heavy weather conditions at the expense of comfort when not on the move. Consider our 27,000 miles covered during a circumnavigation.

Days at sea with winds consistently over 40 knots  (force 9)             4           (1%)

Days not sailing at all during the 2 years (730 days)                          477       (65%)         

Nights at anchor or at a dock                                                           572       (79%)

We could easily have spent less nights at sea, but we tend to go overnight rather than do several day sails in a row. We could also have avoided the worst of the winds, but they were not bad enough for us to seek shelter.  

Of course, the yacht should have facilities that enable you to cope with extreme conditions, but it makes little sense to disregard what would be appropriate for 99% of the time


A water maker makes all the difference!

A water maker (desalinator) takes up the same amount of space as 12-20 gallons of fresh water. It will easily make more than that every day.

For our circumnavigation we used 2, a small 12 volt unit which made 3 gallons/hour whenever we were motoring or wanted a top up, plus a full size 25 gph version which could be used whenever the generator was running.


This equipment vastly improves the lifestyle. Dock water round the world is often tainted and undrinkable. During one stage of our trip we went 4 months without ever seeing rain. Carrying jerry jugs to and from a village tap is backbreaking work, even if the local inhabitants are willing to allow it. The oft suggested advice to shower, wash up and cook in sea water may suit some, but resultant medical bills can overtake the cost of the  water maker and fuel.

Taken in isolation, the initial cost seems high - you will spend UKú3000-6000  for a complete setup. The running cost will be lower than expected, because you will run the equipment alongside refrigeration/battery charging etc. In our case we were committed to running our generator for at least 2 hours a day for other reasons, and we could make up to 50 gallons of drinking water in that time

There can be many less obvious benefits. We were able to turn a 120 gallon water tank into a reserve fuel tank, considerably extending our range, and allowing us to be more selective about where we refueled. Not only could we shower ourselves properly, but we could wash clothes and dive equipment regularly as well, extending their life and avoiding high costs ashore. Our water tanks and plumbing remained clean, and we could spare fresh water for washing salt and sand off the deck, reducing damage.

Unless you intend to spend most of your time in marinas and ports, a water maker is an essential item for any serious cruising yacht.


Get a decent dinghy! it is your car, your safety net, your tug, your entertainment.



If you come from a marina based environment, your attitude to a dinghy will be very different. It may be important that it can be rolled up and put in the luggage area of your car, probably together with a small outboard motor. It is unlikely to be used on a daily basis, and probably only in very sheltered waters over comparatively short distances. Lightweight, compact, easy to carry and stow are the keywords, even if you keep your yacht on a mooring.

When cruising, things are very different, especially in the Caribbean or Pacific. Your tender will be called upon to transport provisions, and sometimes fuel containers for distances up to several miles, often in fairly open waters. It performs the same functions as your car would if you lived out of town on land. In addition there are safety implications in places where there are few towing or rescue services, and your normal language hinders obtaining help quickly - we know of a 45 ft yacht traveling in Indonesia that lost its propeller in an area of calm winds, and was able to reach an anchorage several miles away being towed by its dinghy and 15hp outboard. We have bodily hauled yachts sideways that were pinned on to a fuel dock in Djibouti by using our Avon RIB and 25hp Yamaha.

And finally, if you are cruising for enjoyment, why not have a tender which emulates a sportscar  or SUV rather than the lowest power economy heap you can buy! Davits, outboard hoists and deck cradles make storing when under way quite easy. When you factor in the additional cost to your budget for the yacht and equipment there are few places where you will get so much value for the extra investment as in getting a good dinghy.