Our Boating Manual

I am starting to put together all of the lessons we are learning in case they are of use to others.

There will be some useful information here for those going on a sailing holiday or those beginning a sailing adventure. For those already sailing you can probably give me some more tips.

The Loo Lesson
Using the loo on a boat.

Our sea toilets do not have an automatic flush. This means they have a hand pump. There are 2 settings, one is to pump everything out and the other is to let water in (Flush). It is seawater.

So it would be usual to pump out then let some water in and then pump out again then repeat … maybe several times.

Lets talk about the loo plumbing. Every thing that goes into the loo has to go through a one and a half inch diameter pipe (household toilets are considerably larger).Therefore anything that is put into a marine toilet has to have been eaten first. There is a bin for all other items. (such as paper, wet wipes, sanitary towels etc).

The loo flushes the contents into a holding tank which is then emptied whilst at sea. (not to be emptied in harbours, anchorages or anywhere near land). In Turkey they have pump out stations but we haven’t found these facilities elsewhere (Italy, Croatia and Greece).

We empty the holding tank when we go sailing. Paul re-plumbed the holding tanks so that when we open the valve the tank empties by gravity. (it used to have to be pumped out so we can still do this if needed). We also improved the pump out mechanism so that it will work when we go to Turkey.


  • The only items that go in the loo must have passed through your digestive system.
  • You have to pump, flush, pump, flush, pump, flush to empty the loo.
  • Remember to empty the tanks when out at sea!
Ship Shower & Sea Wash

Ship Shower

When we talk about a ship shower this is what we mean.

  • Turn on shower and wet your body.
  • Turn off shower
  • Soap yourself (use a soap sponge because that saves lots of soap)
  • Turn on shower and rinse yourself. 
  • Turn off shower
  • Dry yourself, (or go out on deck to dry yourself in the sunshine)

When we talk about a sea wash, this is what we mean.

Sea Wash

  • Strip off
  • Jump in the sea
  • Get out
  • Soap yourself
  • Jump back in the sea
  • Take your time and use as much water as you like
  • Climb out and dry in the sunshine.
Use of Water

Water on Board

We do not currently have a water maker on board.  This means that we have to carry all of the water onto the boat.  So it is a scarce resource and must be used sparingly. 

Although the kitchen tap is fitted with filters, we occasionally pick up water at the quay which is brackish. (A bit salty).   We think this is when the island fills it’s water supply from a big water tanker that visits a lot of the islands.   When this occurs … your coffee/tea tastes funny, so we use bottled water. This of course means more carrying of bottles when replenishing supplies.

So whenever you are out shopping you need to bring back bottled water if you can.  (We try to buy lots when we find a shop close to the waters edge.  We do have a trolley for larger shops but it is incredibly difficult to get it into some of the very small mini markets on the Greek islands.

  • When you have a shower …. Use a ship shower (instructions later)
  • When you wash your hands use sea water if possible.  Have a jug you can easily fill up each day.
  • When you wash your clothes … do so very sparingly.
  • Use sea water for cooking veggies

Hot water.

Our calorifier heats and hold 30L, surprisingly we can get 4 showers out of this if used sparingly. (see ship shower instructions)

Our water heats when we use the motor when we begin sailing or finish sailing we would usually use the engines for the last half hour to get us safely anchored or moored.   We have got a generator that heats the water but we very rarely use it.  During the winter we can be plugged into electric so we can have constant hot water, but from March to November … no electric!

Our water tank hold 250 litres and we have 2 15L cans for spare water.  We try to make a tank last 2 people 10 days, with visitors we find it might only last 2 days.  We can top up the tanks when we find a quay with taps and it usually costs about £5 a tank.  When we find a tap, you can go mad, showers, hair wash, clothes wash, boat wash then top up and go!

When we want to save our water supply we wash in the sea. It is very liberating!


  1.       If you can use sea water … then do
  2.       Buy bottled water whenever you go shopping
  3.       Use tank water very sparingly
  4.       Wash in the sea whenever you can … it is really good for your skin
Storage on the Boat
We are lucky enough to have a lot of storage space on our catamaran (compared to other boats). Unfortunately this means that it is easy to stock up with too many things.  We must always be thoughtful about our weight and the distribution of weight.

  • The heavier we are, the slower we travel.
  • We need to be light in the front, heaviest in the centre and moderate at the back
  • Our water & fuel tanks are smaller than most boats so we can carry more bottled water
  • Everything has to be stored so it wont move in a swell
  • Everything you have has to be useful … 2 or 3 uses is a bonus (I love multi-use items)

We arrived on the boat with quite a lot of things and have slowly been able to weed out what is not needed.  We now have a policy that if you buy something new you have to find something to throw away.

The great thing about living on a boat means that you don’t need a lot of things.

  • Clothes need to be rolled rather than folded as cupboards are very narrow.
  • We do have limited wardrobe space for guests
  • Cases may have to be stored in the sail locker outside (it is watertight)
  • If you are visiting us & bringing a suitcase we may ask you to bring us a couple of parcels. (We seem to always need something that is a lot cheaper in the UK than out here).
Plants on Board

Paul isn’t keen on me having plants on board. So the ones I sneak in are more likely to be excepted if they are 

1.  edible

2.  bug free

So I am allowed basil and mint and am working on geraniums as they are colourful and edible.  I have a little trug down in my office but over the summer most of my plants have ended up in the spare bathroom.  They like it down here as it seems to be cooler and with more moisture in the air.

I can see that plants will do much better over the winter than they do in the summer, although when we have a water maker I might not feel as guilty giving then our precious water.

So watch this space and see how my garden grows!

Pack horse

The thing about living on a boat is that everything has to be carried on board.  So we often have to have ‘pack horse’ trips.  So for drinking water, wine, food, etc etc we often have to dinghy into the village or town, walk to find a supermarket, buy whatever they have available and cart it all back to the boat.

You have to learn to buy when you see something.  So if you find a shop with dogfood, you buy it, if you find a shop with capers, you buy them, coffee of course and sparkling water because you will be surprised at how often there is none to be had.

Eggs, you need egg boxes because alot of shops don’t have them, wine, you cannot be choosy because there often is no choice, anything English like baked beans … you need a wheelbarrow of money for, we have seen them for as much as £4.50 a can.

We usually go shopping with a rucksack full of shopping bags but at least once a month we pull out Dolly the trolley who helps us with the heavy stuff.  If ever we find a shop close to the town quay we tend to get as much water as we can.  (I am so looking forward to having a water maker).


Boat Food

Paul is generally in charge of meals on the boat, he loves cooking, I cook because I need to eat.  He has agreed to share some of his recipes with you and now we have a dedicated boat food page.

Click through to have a peek


Dinghy called Mouse

Our dinghy is called Mouse.  So we have a cat and mouse.  This is our car.  She has to be lifted up out of the water every night so she doesn’t get a weedy bottom and she is more difficult to haul away by people that need boats more than we do.  (This doesn’t really happen in Greece much).

Mouse takes Lilly ashore every morning for a fish or a walk, or if she is really lucky both.  During the summer Lilly can only go ashore before 9am because it is just too hot after that.  We then obviously use her for shopping trips, water runs and occasionally working on the boat.  

Mouse is a Honwave 2.7m inflatable dinghy with a Mariner 5 horse engine.  We use about 18 litres of petrol a year to run to and from the shore.  This is between April and November when much of our time is at anchor rather than alongside a quay.

Setting The Spinnaker

Setting the spinnaker, commonly referred to as “flying the kite”!

Aboard TopCat we have a star-cut, asymmetrical spinnaker in a snuffer. A sail that can be flown from 80 degrees to 150 degrees off the wind.

So let’s start by explains the terminology… star-cut, is they way the sailmakers have cut the panels that makeup the shape of the sail. You can see from the photos a large yellow 3-pointed star in the middle of the sail… star-cut.

An asymmetrical spinnaker means it is not symmetrical i.e different shape on one side to the other. This means the sail is always flown from the same corner (tack) and we don’t have a spinnaker pole. Being a catamaran we are able to fly the spinnaker from a number of positions along the width of the front of the boat depending on the wind angle and side.

Snuffer! A long tube around the spinnaker made from rip-stop nylon (same stuff they make the spinnaker from) with a plastic …. mouth ( explained better in the pictures) which, when slid up or down the Sail, snuffs it like a candle snuffer or allows it to fly. (Hope you’re following all this as there is a short test at the end! : )

Now down to the business of setting the spinnaker …

Our spinnaker lives in a bag (to protect it from UV) on the trampoline so it’s ready to fly in a matter of minutes. So, unzip the bag and pull out the sheet (the rope that controls a sail) and run the sheet down the length of the boat and through a pulley block on the aft end. Connect the halyard (the rope that pulls a sail up and down) and between Mary and I we do what we term as a quick hoist … this requires open sea with no other boats in the immediate vicinity and autopilot on … me at the base of the mast hauling on the halyard and Mary tailing the halyard on the winch by the helm. Once the spinnaker is in position, Mary locks-off the halyard by means of the deck clutch and puts the sheet (you remember what one of those is) onto the winch. I then un-snuff the spinnaker and off we go! Off like a robbers dog!

Favourite Boating Apps
Anchoring, the black art!

Anchoring, the black art!

So let’s start by talking anchors…. there are many different shapes and sizes of anchor to suit all boats. We bought the boat with a CQR anchor which we soon learnt was not ideal. Now, the CQR is one of the oldest designs still on the market and it has its place, just not on the front our boat thank you very much!

We had so many problems trying to get this type of anchor to set we admitted defeat and bought a Rocna anchor. Having researched anchors we came to the conclusion that the Rocna would be the best for our type and size of boat but also the best for the seabed conditions we would encounter in the med.

I connected the new Rocna to our 10mm galvanised chain via a stainless steel swivel… there, I’ve opened another can of worms… I know all the arguments about the swivel being the weak link and dissimilar metals but for my money I’ll have one as they save a lot of problems with the chain bunching around the windlass gypsy.

I have set the swivel in a different way than most setups I have seen. From the anchor, I have a captive shackle with 30cm of 10mm galvanised chain, then the Kong swivel which is connected to the rest of the rode (chain). The reason for this is, this type of setup takes out the side loading on the swivel, when the tide, or in our case, wind changes direction, this is when the highest side load is applied and could break the swivel as side loading is its weakest point.

So, that’s dealt with the engineering bit, let’s move on to anchoring application…..

Anchoring successfully is not a black art and with a little forward planning can be a slick and quick affair.

1. Firstly choose your spot…. not right next to the other boats as wind and tide has a habit of changing just when you don’t want it to and not across anybody else’s anchor chain… favourite occupation of charter boat captains… please don’t get me started on this subject as my nervous twitch will come back!

2. Have at least some idea of what the type of seabed is.

3. Wind direction! Back to sailing school basics here… use the wind as your brakes, so anchor up into wind. This simple act seams to continue to elude some sailers.

4. In the ideal world the boat should be stationary when the anchor is deployed, having said that due to weather conditions you may wish to start deployment whilst still motoring forwards.

5. Deploy around 4 times the amount of chain to water depth i.e. 10m depth deploy 40m chain. Again, this is a guide and a number of factors will influence your decision.

So, those are the basics for anchoring any boat, so now let’s talk specifics…. Top Cat…. being a catamaran we have two engines (well, most of the time… see blog 42) so manoeuvring is easy so most of the time we adopt the traditional method of anchoring as described above…. yes, up into wind, deploy the anchor when stationary and the apply both engines in reverse to dig the anchor in.

This is all fine and dandy when you have two working engines! When your down to one engine on a catamaran the darn thing wants to go in circles unless you’re doing over 4 knots when she starts to behave herself. This makes the traditional way of anchoring almost impossible as she won’t go backwards under 4 knots and just goes around in a circle much to the amusement and bemusement of the on lookers (yes, there are always on lookers when things go wrong… never when you get it spectacularly right).

So, what to do? Well, being a catamaran that goes in almost a straight line over 4 knots we have adopted the inverse approach to anchoring. We steam down wind at something over 4 knots to start and as we now have the wind up our chuffer, pushing us along as well. We start to deploy the anchor getting the timing just right to get the anchor to hit bottom where we want it ( I have to add that the boat speed is now down to about 1.5 knots). With Mary frantically deploying anchor chain as fast as she can go and me trying to keep the little beast in a straight line, we come to an abrupt halt which digs the anchor in nicely and the wind flips the boat around, so now we are facing into wind where we should be… phew!

(Don’t try this a home folks, especially in a monohull as the chain will do some damage to your topsides! In Top Cat the chain is between the two hull so no problem there). So now you’re anchored it’s time to set an anchor alarm on your phone (see our app picks), pour the wine and make it look like you do this manoeuvre all the time whilst wiping the sweat from your brow.



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