Nigel Calder
Nigel Calder

Nigel Calder needs almost no introduction to boaters. His books “Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual” and “Marine Diesel Engines” (among others) can be found on boats the world over and his knowledge in both fields is unparalleled.

I had a chance to sit down with the marine writer and all around systems and maintenance guru at the Seattle Boat Show on Thursday to cover a range of topics. From cruising plans to boating tips, our hourlong conversation seemed like it could have lasted all day. Here are few highlights:

Where have you been cruising the past few years?

My boat is in Cornwall right now, but we’ve spent three years cruising Scotland’s Hebrides, which is an amazing place to cruise, Ireland and England. We spent last summer in Ireland and the weather was absolutely atrocious — one gale after another.

What’s your next move?

I’d really like to get back to Cuba in the next year or so. We put our book out (“Cuba: A cruising guide”) 2o years ago and it needs an update. We made over 200 harbor charts of the country and they need to be explored again. Hurricanes have probably changed things a bit. I won’t focus as heavily on shoreside stuff, though. When you start doing that, it can be a bit of a treadmill. And people need to explore all that for themselves.

I’ve heard great things about cruising Cuba, how is it?

I love Cuba. The people are some of the friendliest I’ve met in all my years of cruising and the country is amazing.

You’re presenting seminars here at the show, what are some themes you hope boaters take away from them?

Yes, I’m doing a free seminar today (Thursday) and then I’m doing two paid, daylong classes at the Boat Show University on electrical systems (Friday) and diesel engines (Saturday).

What I’m really trying to do with these seminars is to encourage people who are overwhelmed and nervous about their boat’s systems to just work on them. We need to be self-sufficient while we’re out cruising, and if you can work on your own boat or at least troubleshoot what’s going on, you can potentially save yourself a lot of money.

During the actual seminars there is so much to learn and talk about all these systems that it’s hard for people to take it all in in one daylong session. But I see myself as kind of a motivational speaker in a way. If I can help people get the big picture and put some of the pieces together, then they can be successful working on their boats.

What’s one tip that you would give boaters in regards to electronics or engines?

Clean fuel. If you don’t have clean fuel going into your engine, you’re going to run into all sorts of problems. People have boats that sit and have junk in their tanks and then when they get offshore, all that stuff gets stirred up and clogs filters. It can also ruin your injectors.

If you give your diesel engine clean fuel and change the oil regularly it will run for thousands of hours.

This led to a conversation on how complicated boat systems are becoming and I asked, “Are all these onboard systems making it hard to teach people the basics?”

The problem is that people are trying to replicate the systems in their houses on boats, and it just doesn’t work like that. The focus seems to be on the technology of sailing and not on the lifestyle of it. I’m not against all this technology, and it’s wonderful when it works, but people need to be sailing for its own sake, because it’s fun to do, and not worrying about building in all this frustration. We need to make it more accessible to young people and focus on being on the water.

Sailing technology talk got us on the topic of sails I asked, “What do you think about all the new laminate sails on the market?”

I’ve had laminate sails on my boat for eight years and they set beautifully. I love them. They hold their shape better and I can easily point five degrees higher with them than with my old ones. The only thing is that they are a bit stiffer, which makes flaking the main a tougher project. In general, though, they’re great.

For the DIY-er, what’s one project a cruiser can tackle that is relatively easy and is a good upgrade for their boat?

Installing solar panels is probably the number one thing I would point to. Even for powerboaters, solar panels are extremely efficient and worth the investment. Turn the engine or generator off — putting power into your batteries using solar is hard to beat.

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