What we learned from our first cruising boat

It’s been nearly a year since we sold Camille and we’re starting to think about our next boat. We’ve had a nice break but the sea is calling.

CAMILLE, 2001 Hunter 380.

When we were boat shopping before we bought Camille, we had some ideas on what we wanted out of a boat but did not have a specific make or model in mind. We looked at everything from 30 year old blue-water boats to brand new fin keels.

This time around we know exactly the make and model we want to purchase. We’re just waiting to for the right boat (i.e., previous owner) to come along.

Camille ended up being sort of a practice boat to determine what we really wanted out of a cruising boat. Turns out there are a few things we will not compromise on in the future. We’ve had some time to reflect and made a list of what we learned.


We bought Camille at rock-bottom price because the previous owner had fallen on some bad luck and had to short-sell. This allowed us to make extensive upgrades and still come out even when we sold Camille two years later (more about our cruising expenses here). She had been very well taken care of and we continued babying her. Her hull looked whiter and shinier than most near-new boats.

We didn’t affix anything permanently by making holes in the wood or made any “weird” modifications. All this added to the resale value.


We made sure to buy a boat under ten years of age. Older boats tend to need of TLC and repairs. They need new rigging, new sails, new electronics, new hoses, etc.

We sold Camille right when we were starting to think about needing to replace a few major systems. The next boat will need to be even younger so we can keep her longer and be more confident in her integrity.


For our first cruising boat, Camille, at 38 feet, was the perfect size; and in the future we have no plans of going any longer.


In the late 80’s, when I was in my teens, my parents and I sailed from Germany to California sans watermaker (more on that journey here). We used saltwater for nearly everything and I don’t like the feel of dried salt on my skin or what it does to expensive gear.

So when Mike and I bought Camille I knew I would not go anywhere without a watermaker. We added a 110V high-output watermaker to Camille (more on that here). It was great having tons of water but every third or fourth day we had to listen to a very loud water-pump for 3-4 hours to fill our tanks. We also had to run a portable gas generator to power the 110V pump.

Watermaker pumps and filters.

We don’t like having gasoline on board (we are even considering an electric motor for the next dinghy) and the smell from the exhaust of the generator is not very pleasant – not to mention dangerous. We will definitely have a watermaker on our next boat but it will have to be powered by either a diesel generator or the sun.


We kept the Ipad at the binnacle while underway

Shortly before leaving the US we bought an iPad with the Navionics navigation app. Since we also had two iPhones and a hand-held GPS we had lots of backups to our chart plotter.

I wrote extensively about using our iPad versus the chart-plotter here (on the Women & Cruising website)

We had to replace the GPS antenna on the chart-plotter twice. The original antenna was fading in and out when we bought the boat. The second antenna which we had bought from some guy off the dock failed a year later. Reading the forums this seems to be a known issue with older Raymarine GPS antennas (ours was seven years old). We contacted Raymarine and they simply told us to buy the new model which required an expensive converter. Glad we had the backup GPS units!

Camille came equipped with a radar which we were very glad to have when we encountered dense fog off the coast of Baja. A definite must have on our next boat.

We added a new VHF with AIS receiver which is just another layer in assuring we don’t get too close to other boats. Next time we would love an AIS transceiver but neither is a must have. The boats that broadcast an AIS signal are usually well lit. It’s the little boats without lights we have to worry about. And nothing replaces good old-fashioned watch keeping.

LED Lights

After trying many different brands of interior LED lights we finally went with Imtra LED lights for the cabin lights. Most LED lights give off a bluish/cold hue that makes me think of a cafeteria. The Imtra lights were the warmest color I could find and kept the cabin feeling cozy.

We also changed the navigation lights to LED. This was especially helpful for the anchor light. Many boats will use the cheap solar garden lights as anchor lights to save on electricity. This is not legal and makes them very hard to see.

A real anchor light (at the top of the mast, where it belongs) will light up the water for long distances and makes it easy to spot a boat. Coming into an anchorage late at night to find many boats badly lit can be very dangerous. Please, buy an LED anchor light!


This was something we always knew we wanted in a cruising boat and was very high on the must-have list.

CAMILLE’s swim step.

Camille’s swim-step was huge. Great for showering and rinsing off after spending time in the ocean. And since we did not have a separate shower stall we always had to shower outdoors. A shower stall had been high on my must-have list but I realize now that I would not want to introduce that much moisture (i.e., mold) into the cabin on a regular basis anyway.

The swim-step is also great in marinas. When the boat is backed into a slip it is easy to step on and off. Much safer than rickety steps to climb up the side. Maybe I’m just clumsy but I have fallen between the dock and the boat on a couple of boats — once nearly splitting my head open on a concrete dock.


Opening ports and hatches.

Camille had 16 opening ports including three large hatches forward. We had one of those wind-scoops to funnel the breeze into the cabin but actually only used it a couple of times since it did not really make much of a difference. For windless nights we had four powerful cabin fans (more on those below).


We purchased an inexpensive WiFi booster to receive free WiFi signals from shore. We never felt the need for an expensive unit that is permanently affixed high-up in the mast. By simply sticking it out of the window in an anchorage we usually found an open signal. The same company now also makes an outdoor version, which we plan on purchasing in the future.

  • Lines led aft into cockpit
  • Huge galley that also had spaces to wedge into in big seas
  • Arch for traveler keeps the cockpit clear of lines
  • Electric winch (Mike likes to go aloft)
  • Vacuflush head (no stink!)
  • Solar panels
  • Lots of easily accessible storage

When we bought Camille we bought an almost barebones boat.

CAMILLE, when we bought her in San Diego.

We added solar, bimini, watermaker, dinghy, outboard, liferaft, anchors, anchor-chain, and tons of safety gear and spares. We spent over $20,000 not to mention nearly three months installing and upgrading.

Having everything new was a major bonus but the installs took a lot of our time that we could have spent cruising. We don’t have unlimited time to cruise since we still have to work, so we should enjoy every minute of our time off.


We usually stood our night-watches under the protection of the dodger, especially if it was a cold night, using the iPad to keep an eye on progress.

The problem with this location was that all the instruments were on the binnacle. If the auto-pilot stopped or the AIS alarmed or we had to keep a very close eye on the radar we had to sit behind the wheel – exposed to the elements.

We learned that a night-time watch keeper is happiest under the dodger and that it would be helpful to have some essential electronic displays visible from that protected position.

The next boat will need a more convenient location for the instrument panel or repeaters inside of the dodger or at the nav desk.


We had one VHF radio at the helm as well a couple of handhelds. Most popular cruising grounds have VHF “cruisers’ nets” in the mornings to exchange information and goods. The time of the net often coincided with breakfast preparations aboard Camille so we tried using one of the hand-held VHFs but could not pick up parts of the conversation. Unless we were right at the heart of the cruising grounds we had to use the high-powered VHF at the helm to listen in.

Having a second, high-powered VHF in the cabin would gave been a great addition. Not to mention having a backup radio that is not exposed to the elements.


Charging the battery with solar panels.

We added 300 watts of solar to Camille but there was no space for a second battery. Our one Group-4D battery was not enough to power everything we needed to run. The fridge was a power-hog in the hot Mexican sun. During the day we were making more electricity than we could store and at night the battery could not keep up with demand.


The autopilot on Camille was not adequate once she was fully loaded with cruising gear. It was rated for 24,000 pounds of displacement – Camille displaced about 16,000 pounds empty. Add water, diesel and gear and you reach the limit very quickly. In largish following seas or if it had to make a lot of corrections the autopilot drive stopped and had to be reset. We looked into buying the more powerful model but would have had to replace the chart-plotter at the same time resulting in many boat bucks (one boat buck = US$1,000.)

We had looked into adding a self-steering wind-vane to Camille but since we were not planning on any major ocean crossings the expense would have been prohibitive.


Camille was very noisy. In a rolly anchorage the creaking drove me nuts. I could not sleep. I ripped apart lockers looking for the source. I added little pieces of material between areas that were rubbing. It always came back. Under sail we could not simply enjoy the sound of the waves slapping the hull because the creaking drowned it out.

Under power the noise was even worse. With the engine located right under the stairs the engine droned on in the main cabin and in the aft cabin. The only place that was somewhat quiet was the V-berth which is more akin to riding a roller-coast when the seas kick up.


Camille had basic, thin foam cushions in her bunks. We should have just gone ahead and purchased a custom folding marine mattress. Instead we purchased the Froli sleep system and more foam – almost spending as much as for a real mattress. We had no moisture issues but were never really very comfortable.

Next time we’ll just get a real mattress right away.


I would like to be able to look out the windows while doing dishes or sitting in the saloon.

My biggest complaint about our boat was that I could not see out of the windows.

It felt like living in a hole. Mike is quite a bit taller than I am and was able to see out of the windows while standing up. The boat was very bright and airy thanks to large windows on deck but in the hot sun we usually had to keep all the windows and hatches covered.

I would like to be able to look out the windows while doing dishes or sitting in the saloon. It seems silly to travel thousands of (hard-earned) miles to stare at the walls when right outside is a breath-taking anchorage.


The 6-step companionway made the cabin feel very disconnected from the cockpit.

At anchor this was a mere inconvenience but at sea it was a pain having to go up and down the stairs carrying food or drinks – one item at a time. I longed for more of a “porch” where the cockpit is an extension of the cabin.

6-step companionway.

Deck Color

The two-tone deck color highlighted the difference in heat reflection in the hot sun.

Camille’s deck was two-toned. The main walking-areas were painted light grey and everything else was white.

If I had not felt it for myself I would not believe the difference that made. I could not walk on the grey areas on hot, sunny days because they would burn my feet. The white areas felt merely warm. I can only imagine how much cooler the interior would have been with white decks.

Sunbrella covers for all hatches as well as mesh covers for large deck windows.

Cabin Fans

We purchased four 2-speed Caframo cabin fans. After one year of fairly light duty they became very noisy and were slinging black dust.

My parents, who are currently cruising Mexico, have been using these Hella fans on their boat for several years and they are quiet and low-maintenance.

Dinghy Davits

While we would not make any passages with a dinghy in the davits on a mono-hull, having davits at anchor would have been a great addition to Camille. Most nights we left the dinghy in the water and it would either rub against the hull or we would worry about it getting stolen. When the wind kicked up we had to pull it up on deck but not until we heaved the outboard on deck. This was always a huge production that could have been avoided with davits.


Marine Conservation is my passion

Marine Conservation is my passion and I have worked on ocean issues for decades learning a great deal along the way.

Sally-Christine and her family

Sally-Christine Rodgers with husband Randy Repass & their son, Kent-Harris.

The oceans are in crisis and we who love them need to step up and be vocal in support of sustainable seafood, reducing Co2 emissions, and limiting plastics, which have impacted the oceans so dramatically.

I also believe that women play an important role in not only educating their families, but in using their buying power and influence on others, including our government’s representatives. Buying local organic food, only eating sustainable seafood, choosing bio-degradable cleaning products, reducing waste, not drinking water from plastic bottles, informing your representative on ocean legislation and supporting marine conservation organizations are just some of the ways we can participate in the health of the oceans.

In preparing for cruising, we made a lot of decisions that we hope reduced our impact; We use Bottom shield bottom paint with less copper content when available. We are very conscious of our waste. I remove and recycle nearly all packaging materials from our larder before we leave. I then repackage foodstuffs in seal-a-meal bags, which make it much easier to store, see what you have, control portions, and the bags are re-sealable! (Not to mention everything lasts forever!)

We did not throw anything we could not eat overboard. This gets tricky on small boats, and careful planning is necessary, but it can be done. I saved all of my glass jars to give to island women who loved having them as storage containers. We also work hard to see where trash is disposed. Often in small communities, it is just dumped or burned. Recycling is not common.

Cleaning products are often toxic. Why use them? Vinegar and Baking Soda work very well in most instances. A couple of other examples include using Cream of Tartar and hot water for cleaning Aluminum. Hydrogen Peroxide can be used instead of Bleach. Apple cider vinegar and baby oil is a good polish for chrome and stainless. And there are many biodegradable cleaning products available. (Pure Oceans Products at West Marine for example.) I stock up as they are hard to find once you leave.

We also actively organized beach cleanups with other cruisers.

It is all about making choices. Frankly most cruisers use few resources, they are careful with water and power, and live simply. That is what most cruisers want really, to simplify our lives, get close to our spouses and children and to truly be ourselves in nature.

I would love to see Women and Cruising hold a forum on what cruising women have learned about cruising sustainably. I am certain there is much we can learn from each other, and in supporting each other we can have an impact on the health and protection of the oceans.

Sally-Christine’s thoughts on Marine Conservation

Excerpt from her book
Convergence – A Voyage Through French Polynesia”

When I was a child, the sea seemed vast and abundant. But today, the oceans of my childhood no longer exist. I am not a scientist, but I am an observer, and sailing long distances has given me an acute awareness of the negative impact that human behavior has had on our oceans. In my lifetime, I have witnessed startling changes in water temperature and the rapid decrease in the quantity and diversity of marine life. Pollution is ubiquitous, and critical habitats such as coral reefs are being adversely affected, in some cases beyond the point of recovery.


Agricultural runoff, mining, aquaculture (e.g. farmed salmon), unrestricted coastal development, and unregulated manufacturing practices are just some sources of pollution that threaten the health of the oceans and contaminate the food we eat from the sea.

Nutrient-rich fertilizers discharged in agricultural run-off are causing dead zones—low oxygen (hypoxic) areas in the ocean where life simply cannot survive—causing entire ecosystems to collapse. Mercury and other heavy metals from power plants, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, sewage, oil, and plastic are also ending up in our oceans. Even residue from the pharmaceuticals we ingest is found in the fish we eat. A United Nations Environment Program study estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. I have been thousands of miles away from land and have seen the floating debris.

More than a million seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die from ingesting photodegraded micro-plastics, which are now part of the food chain. A study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depth of the North Pacific ingest roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic per year. Do you know what happens to your discarded plastic waste?


Although some fisheries are successfully managed, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are taking a catastrophic toll on world fisheries. Industrial fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, destroy critical habitats by dragging chains and nets over the sea floor, essentially wiping out entire ecosystems.

It is estimated that industrial fishing fleets discard 27 million tons of non-targeted fish and other sea life every year. In some fisheries, up to ten pounds of life is discarded for every pound of seafood that makes it to market. This intolerable waste is known as by-catch. Undersized fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, and sharks are just some of the species being discarded, dead or dying, with each haul. Seabirds are also affected. According to Carl Safina of Blue Ocean Institute, an estimated hundred thousand albatross are killed annually by longliners alone.

Over 90 percent of the seafood brought to market in the U.S. is imported. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council report, nearly every foreign fish product sold in the U.S. has been caught in a way that violates U.S. federal marine mammal protection laws. It is worth thinking about where your seafood comes from and supporting sustainable American fisheries.

Ocean Acidification

There is no longer any doubt that climate change is playing a role in our rapidly changing world. It has been scientifically documented that increases in temperature from natural weather fluctuations exacerbated by industrialized increase of CO2 emissions are leading to potentially catastrophic depletion of marine life.

CO2 is absorbed in the ocean as a natural process, but increased levels of CO2 reduce calcium carbonate; the sea becomes acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, the reduction in calcium carbonate prevents creatures like shellfish—oysters, mussels, crab, and shrimp—from forming shells. In fact, existing shells start to dissolve. Coral reefs, home to the greatest biodiversity of ocean life, die. The smallest ocean animals at the base of the ocean food web, including zooplankton, cannot survive in these acidic conditions. And if zooplankton cannot survive, sea life further up the food chain—fish, mammals, and seabirds—will also perish. No food, no life! One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. The implications are obvious.

What Can One Person Do?

Humanity as a whole may be responsible for the degradation of our oceans, but I believe that we are all capable as individuals of responding to this crisis. How? Each one of us can make lifestyle choices that reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our own contribution to pollution, and educate our children.

Here are some thoughts on ways to begin:

 Vote With Your Dollars

• Stop buying water in plastic bottles.
• Don’t use plastic bags.
• Don’t use Styrofoam or polystyrene products.
• Eat only sustainable seafood and support sustainable fisheries.
• Eliminate toxic chemicals from your homes; encourage your workplace to do the same.
• Avoid non-organic fertilizers and pesticides.
• Buy local, organic produce and products.
• Review your transportation options.

Finally, and very significantly, we can all get involved, becoming educated—and passionate—advocates for our oceans, the life-support system of our planet.

Be aware of your own carbon emissions and share your knowledge with others.

Contact and support marine conservation efforts locally and nationally. Following is just a partial list of organizations that I respect.

  •  Blue Ocean Institute
    Led by Dr. Carl Safina, the institute works to create a more knowledgeable constituency for conservation.
  • Ocean Champions
    A 501(c)(4) with an attached political action committee (PAC), this is the first-ever political advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the ocean and its wildlife. Ocean Champions is focused on building support for ocean conservation in the U.S. Congress.
  • Oceana
    This is the largest conservation organization focused solely on the oceans. It uses scientists, economists, lawyers, and advocates to achieve tangible results.
  • Ocean Conservancy
    “Informed by science, our work guides policy and engages people in protecting the ocean and its wildlife for future generations.”
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
    The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program helps sustain wild, diverse, and healthy ocean ecosystems by encouraging consumers and businesses to purchase seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment.

About Sally-Christine Rodgers

Sally-Christine Rodgers

Sally-Christine Rodgers grew up as one of a “water tribe;” has lived near the water and worked in the marine industry all of her life.

Her passion for the oceans and her desire to raise awareness of their plight led Rodgers to support conservation efforts across the country and around the world. Rodgers and her husband jointly endowed a Duke University Professorship in Conservation Technology and a Platinum Leeds building dedicated to Marine Conservation Education at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC.

She has raced in the Vic Maui and Pacific Cup Races to Hawaii, and sailed with her husband and son across the South Pacific, South East Asia and in many parts of Europe.

When not on the water, Rodgers has her hands in the earth, tending vineyards, keeping bees, and raising longhorns on the California coast.

Convergence: A Voyage Through French Polynesia
by Sally-Christine Rodgers

Convergence cover

Convergence: A Voyage through French Polynesia is a personal story of one woman’s adventure – her lifelong passion for the ocean, and her struggle to face her fears as she learns to surrender to nature.

Along the way, she comes to realize that passages are not just about getting from one place to another. Journeys like this one go to the heart of who you are when you start out and who you have become when you get to the other end.

Available for purchase at West Marine and westmarine.com