Bluewater Gear interview


In the spring of 2015, Robin Urquhart and Fiona McGlynn left their home port of Vancouver aboard MonArk, their 1979 Dufour 35. After three months in a nearby boatyard, they shook the boat down circumnavigating Vancouver Island. Withstanding a hazardous sea condition off the coast of Oregon, Santa Ana winds and a close call with a tug and tow, they made their way to the Sea of Cortez.

Fiona is a writer, photographer, contributing editor and adventurer. Raised in North Vancouver, British Columbia, she began sailing dinghies at the age of 6 in Deep Cove. She continued to sail and race into her teens, going on month-long cruises with her family in the Caribbean. After a three-year stint as a management consultant in Toronto, she returned to her West Coast roots, bought a boat and lived aboard for two years with her partner, Robin Urquhart, near Granville Island, Vancouver.

Robin was born and raised in the Canadian North. His first memory of travel on water was by dogsled across a frozen lake. An avid hiker, climber and naturalist, Robin is constantly drawn to the outdoors and a life of adventure. After studying environmental science and engineering, he moved to Vancouver aboard MonArk with Fiona, with the idea to fix up the boat and sail around the world.

Fiona and Robin will continue cruising in the Sea of Cortez and the west coast of Mexico before heading across the Pacific in April 2017. They also manage a blog promoting sailing and the cruising lifestyle to other young sailors at

A selfie while underway.

Fiona McGlynn and Robin Urquhart

OV: What is your philosophy regarding voyaging gear? Do you like a systems-rich approach or do you prefer to keep your gear simple?

FM&RU: It’s a constant trade-off for us. Our preference is to keep the gear as simple as possible without crossing our risk threshold or being too uncomfortable. We are not the most basic boat in the sea; we have a water desalinator and solar panels, whereas we could be using candles and hauling water. We are young and don’t have as much experience as many others, the lack of which we attempt to overcome by using more technology. For example, we have a sextant but we don’t really know how to use it, or at least have next to no experience using it. To compensate, we use a GPS chartplotter and four redundant GPS systems, including a cellphone and iPad.

OV: What tools do you have on board? Are there any tools you’d consider vital? 

FM&RU: We have a lot of tools on board. The tools we use most often are (in order of usage): small multi-bit screwdrivers, socket set, Knipex wrenches, box wrench set, crescent wrench, cordless drill, OLFA knife (box cutter), angle grinder, electrical crimper/stripper, multimeter, titanium-coated drill bits, square-shaft screwdrivers, tap and die set, small wood saw, hole saw set, jigsaw, trim bar (small Wonder Bar), hacksaw, vise, filter wrench and valve spacers.

These have all proven vital to our ability to repair the boat ourselves and to add new systems. We do all our own boat work so the list is maybe a bit larger than others, but we’ve tried to keep it simple. We also have a litany of other tools on board that are useful but not vital.

OV: How do you decide what spares to carry? Has your mix of spares changed as you’ve voyaged?

FM&RU: Our list of spares includes: alternator, common tools, bilge pump (electric and manual), starter battery, electrical supplies, electrical regulator, engine filters, hose of various diameters, autopilot, engine coolant pump, impellers for various pumps, sails, running rigging and hardware, spare spectra forestay and depth sounder (old one). Some of the best things we brought with us were scrap pieces of marine plastic lumber and some dimensional wood lumber. They are easy to stow and we have found a million uses for both.

MonArk at anchor in Mexico.

Fiona McGlynn and Robin Urquhart

As we’ve made upgrades, we kept the older still-functioning parts as spares, including the wiring harnesses if applicable. So far the only spare we’ve really had to use was the alternator.

OV: Is it getting easier or more difficult to find skilled boatyard workers around the world?

FM&RU: We can’t speak much to this as we do almost all the work ourselves and we haven’t been doing this for very long.

OV: What kinds of repair work do you attempt yourself? 

FM&RU: Everything. We have replaced sections of our deck, taken out the keel bolts and replaced them, rebuilt the steering gear and rudder shaft, installed new electronic systems and rewired much of the boat, and done a complete servicing of the engine, including valve spacing. The only jobs we haven’t done ourselves were taking down the mast and replacing the standing rigging — though in the future, now we know what it entails, we would attempt this ourselves. The only thing I don’t think we’ll ever do is rebuild the engine cylinders.

OV: Do you use wind vane self-steering or do you rely on an electric autopilot?

FM&RU: We use both. For motoring, the windvane is useless and we switch to electric autopilot. We started with just the windvane but found hand steering for more than 24 hours with no wind to be very fatiguing. When the wind is blowing, we prefer the windvane because it saves power and is very reliable. We use an older-style Monitor.

OV: Do you have manual or electric cockpit winches? Why did you make that choice? 

FM&RU: Manual. We never even considered electric cockpit winches. We have a 35-foot boat, so the effort to raise and trim sails is manageable. We’re also relatively young and like the exercise that comes with manual winches, including the windlass. We also really like simplicity and robustness. There is far less that can go wrong with a manual winch.

Fiona at the helm using both a Raymarine chartplotter and an iPad to display chart info.

Fiona McGlynn and Robin Urquhart

OV: Is your boat equipped with a watermaker? What are your reasons for having one/not having one?

FM&RU: This was a big debate for us. We added a watermaker after six months of full-time cruising. The expense and added system maintenance were put-offs, but we found that we were often running out of water and spending an inordinate amount of time lugging jugs down dusty country roads. We felt like we would prefer the self-sufficiency that comes with a watermaker so we could stay away from civilization for longer periods of time. Also our onboard water storage cannot support more than two people for more than a couple of weeks, so for long crossings that meant we would have had to be doing the rain dance.

OV: Do you have mainsail furling system? If so, what type (in-mast or in-boom)? Any other important sail-handling gear?

FM&RU: We don’t have mainsail furling, but we like the idea. In our next boat, if we can afford it, we’d get in-boom furling. We have a furling headsail and purchased an oversized Harken MKIV, which has been great. Our previous furler kept unfurling at inopportune times. We also have a boom break, which has proved very useful, and a system for poling out the jib when sailing dead downwind.

OV: Do you rely exclusively on electronic charts or paper charts, or do you use both?

FM&RU: We rely exclusively on electronic charts. In our home waters, we also had paper charts but still relied heavily on electronic. For world cruising, we found the cost of paper charts to be prohibitive. Instead we have multiple devices and electronic chart sets. We are conscious of the fact that batteries die and water can quickly ruin a device. Our devices and charts are as follows: main chartplotter running Navionics, iPad running Navionics, two computers running OpenCPN, an Android phone running OpenCPN and a hand-held GPS in our ditchbag. We also carry a small printer and have thought of printing off charts for particularly sensitive areas where catastrophic electronic system failure would mean disaster.

By Ocean Navigator