Leaving the Boat

While I have greatly enjoyed (well, most of the time anyway) living on Moonshadow for the majority of the last ten years, there are times when one needs to get off for various reasons and become an earthling.

I’ve been off the yacht for times ranging from a few days to a number of months for reasons varying from travel, haul outs or major repair/refits. I generally head back to the States every year or two to visit family and friends. On many occasions I’ve left to do some inland travel or even fly to another continent. From Mexico, we flew to Chile and Argentina to spend the holidays with family and friends. After the grounding in the Tuamotus, I returned to the US from Tahiti for a few months to sort out insurance and explore repair options. On the odd occasion, we just want to get away, for a just few days, from the unfinished boat projects staring us loudly in the face. Most of the time, the time frames are relatively short and don’t require much in the way of babysitting.

At one time or another, I’ve probably used all the options for leaving the boat longer term and in almost all cases successfully.

While in Mexico, I felt that it was much safer to leave the boat in a regular marina, plugged into shore power, with someone close by or on board to keep an eye on things. Of course in Mexico it was easy to coax a yachtie friend with a free airline ticket to come down to Puerto Vallarta or someplace similar, to hang out on Moonshadow for a few weeks, feed the cat and sip cervezas or margaritas while we were off touring. For a few hundred bucks, the peace of mind was, as they say “priceless.”

In New Zealand, on numerous occasions I’ve been quite happy to leave the yacht in the marina under the watchful eyes of my live aboard neighbors and the harbormaster. I’ve done this a number of times and never had any dramas. Someone usually even gave her a wash the day before we came home so we didn’t have to wade through birdie poo.

While in Sydney we were fortunate enough to have a great harbormaster to keep an eye on things, as well as some cruising friends (Tom and Pam from Imagine) who flew into Sydney from Brisbane for a visit while we headed to the States. In exchange for boat and cat sitting, they had free accommodation on Moonshadow and the use of our car. It worked very well for us, as the boat was as tidy (maybe even tidier) than when we left, and our car was waiting for us at the Sydney airport when we touched down.

Now it all hasn’t been rosy. When I left Moonshadow on the hard at a Tahitian boat yard, she was burgled. I suspect that someone from the yard who had access to the key had gone aboard and left a hatch open during the day, then returned under cover of night to pillage the valuables from the boat. We lost the outboard motor, TV/VCR, binoculars, camera gear and all the electronics excepting the sailing instruments and weather fax. It’s obvious that this thug was too friggin’ stupid to use a screwdriver!

I think that common sense applies to what you do when you leave a vessel unattended, but here are a few things to consider:

1. As you commission your yacht for cruising, always keep in mind what you will do when you leave the boat unattended. Consider how long you can leave batteries, fridge, etc between engine/genset runs. A short “umbilical cord” can seriously hamper some of the flexibility and freedoms that we enjoy about the cruising lifestyle.
2. Stow as many of your valuables as possible below decks, in secure lockers or off the boat.
3. Lock up hatches, port lights, companionway, lazarette, forepeak and deck lockers.
4. Lock up the dinghy and outboard or put them below decks, if possible.
5. Shut down all non-essential electrical systems.
6. Empty the fridge and freezer if you decide to shut them down, unless you plan to grow your own penicillin. Leave the doors OPEN
7. Close all the sea cocks if the yacht is left in the water.
8. Run fresh water and/or vinegar into the heads to prevent odors, or anti-freeze if you are leaving the boat in a below f-f-f-freezing situation.
9. If possible, leave interior lockers open to prevent mold, or use a dehumidifier in humid climates. The water you get makes good battery water.
10. Shut off LPG at the bottle.
11. If you leave the boat in a hurricane hole, strip all sails and double up on the mooring lines. Be sure you have adequate chafe protection on all lines.
12. Check to make sure that all your bilge pumps and switches are working correctly. Leave your automatic bilge pumps ON.
13. Pull your shades closed if you have them to keep the interior cooler and prevent anyone from seeing what goodies are inside.
14. Put a black plastic garbage bag over your prop to prevent encrustation.
15. Set the alarm if you’ve got one.

While I hardly ever get tired of white sand beaches, calm anchorages, palm trees swaying in the trade winds, etc., sometimes a change of pace in the form of some inland travel is interesting and exciting, if not necessary. I’ve had too many great “side trips” to mention, but some of the most memorable have been busing to the inland of Mexico (Mexico City and the “Silver City” of Taxco), jetting to Chile and Argentina, and driving throughout New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, Australia, not to mention a road trip to Middle Earth, also known as the South Island of New Zealand.

I guess my rule of thumb is that if I’m going to leave Moonshadow for more than a week, I would want to have her in a marina with someone boat sitting, unless it is a first world country where I am comfortable with the marina’s security. I don’t think that I would leave her on the hook for more than a day or two unless there was someone on board or close by to look after her. In the third world, I would definitely want someone closely watching her. That said, I’ve had good luck with some of the locals in La Paz Mexico or other cruisers who, for little or nothing are happy to keep an eye on her for us. In some of the dodgiest places like Colon, Panama or Puntarenas, Costa Rica, I would NEVER for one minute leave the boat unattended our out of sight.

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