The Blue View - Spare Thoughts on Spares


In an earlier blog, Marcie mentioned an English sailor we spent an evening with in New Zealand who no longer carried much in the way of spares. He was an experienced offshore sailor with a lot of miles under his keel, and his boat was quite shipshape, so I was interested in hearing his point of view. His thought was that it is now very easy to have parts shipped almost anywhere in the world, and it is no longer important to have all that money and space tied up with spare parts. Our friend argued that the cost of shipping a spare was offset by the savings realized by not having to purchase as many unused spares in the first place. And if we were in so much of a hurry that we couldn't wait the extra week or so that it took to locate a particular part and have it shipped, perhaps we should be doing something else. We had quite a lively discussion, and in the end, agreed to disagree.

Our philosophy is different. We carry a lot of spares. I think his argument is a little stronger if you don't get too far off the beaten track, but in many of the places we've visited, it would take months to get a part shipped in, if it was possible at all. Likewise, in some countries, it can take weeks to get a part through Customs.

Even if we did nothing but coastal sailing, however, I think we would still keep a large stock of spares aboard. I like knowing we can fix most anything that breaks and are pretty much self-sufficient for long periods of time. I don't like having to disrupt our cruising plans or skip some out of the way anchorage because we have to head to civilization to round up a part. And more than once, we would have missed a weather window if we were forced to wait for a part.

For example, not long after meeting the English sailor in New Zealand, we waited two weeks for a window that would allow us to sail up over the top of the North Island and down the west coast to Fiordland. We weren't out more than 18 hours when the alternator quit. Having the spare allowed me to make the fix under way. We made it to the protection of Fiordland just ahead of several gales that pummeled the North Island for weeks and enjoyed six fabulous weeks of cruising the west coast of the South Island. Had we been forced to put in while sourcing a repair or replacement of the alternator, we would have missed our weather window and quite likely wouldn't have had time to visit the South Island at all that season.


spares stored


On the other hand, we probably do carry a lot more spares than most. We have spares or repair parts for every essential system on-board, and for most systems that would be a major inconvenience to do without. There aren't that many essential systems aboard, actually, but there are a lot of systems that we like having and are truly a big time inconvenience doing without. Fridge, freezer, watermaker, navigation electronics, communication electronics, electric bilge pumps and beer brewing equipment all fall into this latter category.

Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between these two categories, by the way. If the engine won't start, that's usually a major inconvenience. We can usually sail to the next anchorage, although we may have to shut down the fridge and freezer to save power and curtail our communications to the bare minimum. If the engine dies on a calm day in the middle of a shipping lane or in some remote part of Fiordland or Patagonia, however, we would probably consider it an essential system. Likewise, the autopilot. On a passage of a day or two, it is a big inconvenience to do without it, but on a passage of a few weeks or longer, especially if the weather is bad, it is extremely fatiguing to spend two hours out of every four steering the boat.


more stored spares


We carry spares for a lot of non-essential, less important gear as well, and if I find a bargain on parts we use frequently, like filters, engine oil or anodes, I stock up (See my blog post on My Little Black Book). We probably have a year's worth of most of these consumables at any time.

The half ton of spares we carry probably lowered the waterline of Nine of Cups a half inch or so. Add to that the ton or so of tools I carry which are used to install the half ton of spares, and before long we are talking about some serious weight and a lot of dollars invested. This is, however, our preferred philosophy on spares, and is just as correct for us as the English sailor's philosophy is for him. We continue to agree to disagree.

Finding the right spare that has been stowed in some long forgotten cubby somewhere aboard is a whole other issue, however, and worthy of another blog. Stay tuned.