Nearly 20 years ago (good grief!) I wrote a book titled Sensible Cruising: The Thoreau Approach
. That book is still in print and remains an eminently worthwhile read for those hoping to sail beyond the near horizon. Its central premise is that if you dream of going cruising, you almost certainly make an error if you postpone the pursuit of this dream while you earn the price of the “perfect” boat. Life is too fragile and the cruising dream more fragile still. Sensible Cruising
shows you how to go cruising sooner rather than later (or never!) by outfitting the boat you have now
, or by purchasing a suitable boat you can afford now
This turned out to be a life-changing concept for a lot of readers, and over the years I have been approached by scores of sailors who tell me that reading Sensible Cruising enabled them to achieve their cruising dreams. Unfortunately, for every Sensible Cruising reader who slaps his or her forehead and says “Duh,” to him/herself, there are likely two or five or 10 who write off this approach to cruising as simply minimalism. They intend the word as a pejorative.
Let’s talk about minimalism.
Here is the reality. Most of us have a limited number of dollars that we are either willing or able to spend on cruising—whether that cruise is for 12 months or 12 years.
The more of those dollars you spend on a boat, the fewer you have left to spend on the cruise.
It is as simple as that.
So I advocate trying to hold down the number of dollars you spend on the boat. If your primary objective is to own a cruising sailboat, then my philosophy might be minimalism. But if it is to go cruising, following my advice leaves you with more money in the bank, providing the wherewithal to maximize the cruising experience. Maximalism, if you will.
Exactly what does this mean?
For us it has meant frequently renting cars to explore mountains and rain forests and far away cities. It has meant renting comfortable hotel rooms in places like Santo Domingo and Viejo San Juan, allowing for the kind of leisurely, on-foot exploration that reveals the true personality of these old colonial towns. It has allowed the better anchorage a ferry or taxi ride away to be the harbor of choice for us. It has let us rent horses, rent motorbikes, take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime tour opportunities. It has allowed us to sample an astonishing variety of local dishes served up in restaurants of every imaginable description—dining out having long been a central tenet of our travel, whether by sailboat or 747. Speaking of flying, having more discretionary cruising dollars has also allowed one or both of us to fly back to “home” regularly, an essential for cruises lasting more than months.
The cruising community seems to divide itself into two groups, those that spend most of their time in the places they find the most interesting and/or the most beautiful and those that spend most of their time in places with the lowest cost of living. A too-tight budget tends to relegate you to this second group. There is nothing inherently wrong with 25-cent beer, and there are still many pleasures to be had in these poorer countries, but it is such a shame to short or by-pass altogether other cruising grounds—which you have probably crashed to windward to reach—just because the price of admission is somewhat higher. More boat doesn’t alter this scenario but more money in the cruising kitty can.
But maybe money is not an issue with you.
You have plenty.
Or you can get more.
So why not buy a boat with all the comforts of home?
Let’s define such a boat first. We are talking both big and complicated. These are two separate issues and require separate discussions. Let’s start with big. Since we are assuming that money is not an issue, we will overlook the greater cost of operation, of maintenance, of insurance, of everything. There are other negatives to an overly large boat that may not be all that obvious when you are admiring the apartment-sized accommodations at the boat show.
|"The bigger the boat, the more difficult it is to get underway. The mainsail of a 45-foot boat can weigh more than 100 pounds, which you have to hoist 50 feet in the air every time you go sailing."|
The bigger the boat, the more difficult it is to get underway. The mainsail of a 45-foot boat can weigh more than 100 pounds, which you have to hoist 50 feet in the air every time you go sailing. How high is the boom? Can you reach over the mainsail to furl or cover it? Appropriate ground tackle is so heavy that you will be entirely dependent upon machinery to lift it. As anchorages become more crowded, it becomes increasingly difficult to find ample swinging room for a big boat.
(This is a self-perpetuating problem since increasingly crowded anchorages are in part due to the proliferation of ever larger boats.)
The consequences of an error in handling or just bad luck increase exponentially with the size of your boat. In my “minimalist” boat, I can sail at a moment’s notice, weigh the anchor by hand, insinuate myself into even the most crowded anchorage without inflicting discomfort on the boats anchored nearby. When weighed against more interior volume, a boat that makes cruising easier and less stressful remains the better choice in my opinion.
Conventional armchair thinking seems to be that the “perfect” cruising boat is tricked out with all the latest gear and conveniences. I believe it was billionaire Armand Hammer that said “Half of every dollar I spend on advertising is a total waste. The problem is I don’t know which half.” Cruising gear is like that. Not more than half of it earns its keep, but you won’t know which half until you actually go cruising. So if you put everything aboard before you leave, you will have wasted half of your money and filled up space that could better be used in some other way. And the more complicated you make your boat, the more you will be working on it. This I can guarantee. Either that or you will be waiting for shoreside technicians to show up and relieve you of a big wad of cash.
The truth is, how complicated your boat should be depends on your temperament.
If chasing around in every port for the bits and pieces necessary to keep all the systems functional just seems like part of cruising to you, put anything aboard that catches your fancy.
But if you don’t want to work on your boat, or pay someone to work on it, or sit idle in a dirty commercial harbor waiting on parts to arrive, or subject yourself to the bureaucratic nightmare of the import formalities in most foreign countries, then take aboard only the gear you absolutely need. What you minimize are your problems. What you maximize is the time you have available to experience the best that cruising can provide. The money will still be in the bank, so if you later divine an honest need for something you did not take aboard, you can add it along the way.
I look at boat cost, size, and complication in terms of the effect of each on the cruising experience. More often than not, the relationship turns out to be inverse. Our boat is typically among the smallest in the harbor, but don’t feel sorry for us. This choice has enabled the richest of cruises.