Priorities In Preparation—Part 2


In Part 1 I asked the question: “who contributed more to a safe and seamanlike voyage over three days recently, Phyllis who rebuilt the mast winches and went through our medical kit, or me who installed a new AIS transponder and nearly lost his mind doing it?”.

The Winner Is

Well, to me anyway, it’s an open and shut case: Phyllis by a nautical mile. We have sailed over 100,000 miles without an AIS transponder and without getting run down. Heck, we didn’t even have a chart plotter until two years ago.  On the other hand, I would not want to go for a day sail with a malfunctioning winch or an inadequate medical kit.

But I think there is a lot more here to think about than just this particular incident:

The List

You know how it goes. Throughout our last voyage, as usual, we kept a punch list in the log book of everything that we should fix or improve before the next cruise. We also keep a huge multi-tab spreadsheet of all the maintenance tasks that need doing regularly from mast truck to main engine. By the start of this winter’s maintenance period the resulting to-do list was truly formidable, as it always is.

To prevent ourselves from dissolving into tears each time we looked at it, we broke the list into two: must-do and nice-to-do. And then we prioritized each list.

The Reality

In all the years we have been doing this we have never, not even once, completed our to-do list before setting out on a voyage. Now maybe we are just lazy, or inept, or both, but I suspect that most voyagers are in the same boat (ouch) and that it is even worse for those of you who are trying to pack your voyages into an all too short vacation (holiday).

For us the reality goes like this:

  • We set a date to go.
  • We work feverishly to get everything on the list done.
  • We start moving things from the must-do to the nice-to-do list and then we stop looking at the latter.

Finally, the day comes, and we go. (I suspect that those who actually wait until their list is completed are the ones you see in harbours all over the world that never quite actually go.)

A Good Voyage or a Bad One

So I guess that, given that we never finish all the tasks on the list, what determines to a great extent whether our voyage will be a good one on a safe and well found boat, or not, is  how well we prioritize the list.

My Bad

So here’s the point. The AIS transponder should have been on the nice-to-do list, not the must-do, and I simply should not have been messing with it when there were still more important things to do…and there were.

Seductive Electronics

The thing about electronics is that they are just so damned seductive. They just appeal to the geek in many of us, me included. They’re cool. They’re fun to play with. They make us feel like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.


But electronics are also a huge time sink that can distract us from things that are much more important like:

  • Making sure we have a really efficient reefing system.
  • Keeping our main engine maintenance up to date.
  • Going up the mast to check everything over.
  • Checking the steering system carefully.

I could go on for at least another 20 items.


Lest you think me a total idiot, I did do an awful lot of this kind of thing—checking all the bolts on the engine and drive train—before getting involved in the AIS transponder

The other danger of electronics is how they suck us into a task: I figured that installing the AIS transponder would take me a day at the most. But as so often happens with electronics, particularly the new computerized devices that interconnect with a lot of other computerized devices, there were all kinds of complications.

About day two, when it had all gone pear shaped, I should have just boxed up the unit and put it on next winter’s list. But I didn’t. “Oh, I will just try this and it will work right…well, this should fix it” and on it went. I now have five days invested in the installation.

And that was a very stupid use of precious time and energy. Hopefully, because I have a great partner who was doing more important things while I messed with the AIS, my misuse of time won’t cause us problems.

Further Reading

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Ernie March 31, 2011, 11:47 am

    You guys are great…no matter what, you always seem to come through with the right thing to say at the right time.
    As Bette and I continue our charge to get our boat back into the water after a 4 year refit, all we have to do when the going gets challenging is to take a peak at your posts and poof…we realize the we aren’t the only ones and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Thanks once again for your insight and we look forward eagerly to following your travels this summer.

    S/V Iemanja

    • John April 2, 2011, 6:54 pm

      Hi Ernie,

      Thanks very much for the very kind comment, the kind that keeps us writing.

  • Sarah Harries March 31, 2011, 1:05 pm

    A very true, and relatable sentiment, even for those of us who aren’t cruisers, or voyagers. The number of gadgets in our living room, and the frequency of their updates have led to many a conversation on the relevance of such things. Is it really worth the clearer picture or the money saving downloads, when trying to get things set up to watch a movie takes longer than the movie itself? That said, there are those who get real enjoyment out of the work involved in such tasks. I can see though, that perhaps when preparing for such a voyage as yours, putting this enjoyment on the back burner in favour of necessity is probably a wise choice.

  • Rikki March 31, 2011, 4:07 pm

    And just think how bored you would be if there was nothing to do once underway…

  • Peter Holzinger April 2, 2011, 7:16 pm

    Checking the bolts on motor and drive train…another addition to MY list! Thx.

  • Ben April 3, 2011, 9:03 am

    It would be interesting to see some of those lists, I reckon I could learn a lot from them…

    I had an engine come off its mounts once…(or rather the bearers came off the beds). The companionway steps held it in place until I removed them (I should have stopped the engine first…). Then it leaped out at me and into the cabin…fortunately it was only a little 5 HP BMW, easily put back into its box and bolted up. It was kind of amusing at the time, in nice calm conditions, but it could have ended badly. I should have checked those bolts…

  • Don Mitchell September 30, 2014, 9:41 pm

    Dear John,
    I am struggling a bit with configuration of shore power for a world cruising boat and would appreciate your and your reader’s feedback. I see a lot of 120/220 volt systems advertised but what does this really mean as a practical matter? How do I ensure a good sign wave so equipment isn’t damaged? Do I need one shore power cable or two? What is your experience with appliances in a 220v environment? What inverter/environment do I need to think about in buying a real cruising boat? And of course the thousand things I haven’t thought of.



    • John October 1, 2014, 7:58 am

      Hi Don,

      Wow, big subject. More than I can handle in a comment. One suggestion though. It is well worth considering the installation of an isolation transformer. Not only will this solve any problems with stray current corrosion from the AC neutral, it will also make your system safer and allow you to change the taps to accept 110 or 220. There is one caveat. The transformer does not change the cycles, so most gear with an electric motor that was designed for 60 cycles will run hot and eventually fail on 50 cycles.

      One other point. If you are not totally comfortable with issues here, get a pro to do this for you and make sure it is done to ABYC code–this stuff can kill you!


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