This is a great thread, and it's telling that so many different people have taken the time to write out their thoughts on it and give their input.
I've never had the experience of sailing off in search of the horizon in my own boat, and I may never get to, but in the meantime, I enjoy every minute I get to spend on the water in boats large and small, and I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to go along as crew on several offshore passages, and each of those trips is counted among my best memories.
Like most, I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of what I feel I would want/need for extended cruising. Things like refrigeration and pressurized water I'd consider pretty much essential; air conditioning and a generator are luxuries I'd like to have, but not so necessary that they'd keep me ashore if that were all that was standing in the way.
Cruising is definitely something that's a matter of personal preference, and it's been great to read about the different ways people have achieved their dreams.
To go ahead and cut down on my rambling, the main reason I wanted to chime in was to point out that EPIRBs aren't just for disabled boats or inexperienced sailors with broken down engines. It's a required piece of safety equipment as far as I'm concerned, and I think most here would agree. When I was 16, I was checking messages at my dad's office while he was out on an offshore delivery. I got a message from the Coast Guard that his vessel had activated its EPIRB, and to call the CG as soon as possible. I can tell you that is not something you ever want to hear. Turns out there had been a medical emergency with one of the crewmembers. She was unconscious and unresponsive, and was only getting worse. The Coast Guard airlifted her to shore and to medical care, and it saved her life. You just don't know what's going to happen out there, and being able to alert someone ashore of an emergency aboard can be the difference between life and death.
Anyway, for now, I'll have to make do with just the occasional opportunity to go to sea. My next boat is more likely to be something along the lines of a Hobie 16 to use for short thrill rides across the river. But who knows, someday...
Carolina Wind Yachting Center, Washington, NC
Charters * Brokerage * Pacific Seacraft * Zodiac
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Who is staring at the sea is already sailing a little.