I'm gradually outfitting my boat for the eventual cruise and agree with the 'going small and simple' approach. I like the idea of having a handheld GPS, or two, or three, or four, as a system independent of the ship's power. I'll be adding this to my list of purchases for the boat.
One of the things I'll be installing this year on my boat is a wind-vane, a fleming 301 global minor, which I got for a very good deal. I don't see windvanes around much and I'm not sure if most of the boats in my area don't cruise far or if everyone is using electric autopilots instead. I use the electric autopilot now and then but I wouldn't want to trust it to keep up with my boat's yawing on a bad sea or use all that electricity. I've also sailed a fair amount with sheet to tiller arrangements, which work to varying degrees, but I think of this as more of a back-up plan if my windvane breaks.
I like having my systems as simple and as manual as possible, with back-ups and spares. My boat is rigged with an inner forestay and running back-stays to add extra sail arrangements and mast support if needed. New oversized rigging. I have a GPS unit and a chartplotter, depthsounder, VHF (with DSC interfaced with both GPS units) and lighting (interior, deck level nav., masthead nav., spreader work light, steaming) for my electrical draws, which I think is fairly modest. One 60W solar panel and four 6v batteries keep up with all this fine. I also have manual charts and all the tools and use them. Manual lavac head. Alcohol stove. Lots of anchoring gear. No refridgerator. No internal engine; I have a small 6hp outboard (two tanks, two fuel lines) for docking and getting home without any wind. It seems like a lot of people spend A LOT of time and money on their engines and maintenence. Jordan drogue. Life raft. And lots of other stuff.
Most importantly, I get out there and sail as much as the short Maine season will allow. I love to read and plan but I'm a 'hands-on' kinda guy and getting out on the water in my boat is the best way to apply what I've learned and improve my skills.
Congratulations of your most recent passage, Vega, and thanks for letting me know that my modest boat and approach to outfitting isn't unseaworthy or dated.
Couple of points. While a handheld GPS may well be free of the boats electrical system be aware that the damn things chew up batteries like nobodies business. We have an extension lead to a cigarette lighter socket for ours and it's something I'd recommend. Ours is an old Garmin 72 and maybe the newer models are more efficient in power use but we do seem to go through an awful lot of batteries unless we plug it in. We do have an installed unit as well but rarely use it while coastal. It's a handy thing to have at chart table and easier to read than a handheld.
Windvanes do seem to be the most logical self steering gear. While we don't have one on Raven I'd definitely install one if we going off cruising in her. Autopilots are good when you have little or no wind and/or under power but the noise is a nuisance no doubt as is the power consumption. We are lucky in that Raven will steer herself quite happily with just an octupus strap on the wheel provided of course the sail trim is just right. I'm told , but have no experience in the matter, that windvanes are problematic on a centre cockpit vessel, but I believe this is to do with the mess of lines having to come over the aft cabin and access to the gear itself.
Raven does have an inboard diesel and I'd not change that for quids. Utterly reliable, cheap to run and quite frankly maintenance costs are not a big issue. One thing I like about the smaller boat is the smaller engine and our Bukh 24hp is about as big as you can go and still hand start easily.
I don't understand anyone having an alcohol stove. Both my keelboats had them when purchased and I do not regret one iota dispensing with the damn things. Give me gas anyday. Our system is simple but effective. We have a pressure gauge on the gas line which is an instant indicator of a leak and no solonoid. Ok so that means climbing out to turn off the gas when you finish cooking but for me that's no big deal.
One question I have however and this is for anyone with an under 35'er. Where do you stow your dinghy ? On our PB (28') we had a glass thing that was lashed to the foredeck where it was an absolute pain in the butt. Unfortunately she didn't have any storage compartments large enough for an inflatable so when we eventually acquired one it had to either live again lashed to the foredeck or it moved between the foward cabin and the aft quarterberth. It annoyed the hell out of me and having a cockpit locker on Raven (34') that is big enough for an infatable is an absolute boon.