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Similar to many people who blog on a regular basis, I imagine, I have an entire list of topics that I intend to write about “some day.” While a few of those posts can be put together in very little time, with little effort, I know that others will take considerable energy to complete. This post falls a bit more into the latter category.

For some time I’ve been meaning to write about the subject of simple vs. complex boats, and how this ties into the go small, go simple, go now philosophy that separates many actual cruisers from their perpetually dock-bound cousins. Why post about it now? I was inspired by two articles, this piece on Cruising World that I read yesterday, and this one on Attainable Adventure Cruising that I read a couple of weeks ago.

When we left Canada in 2010, we didn’t have a lot of experience sailing on different boats. In the last 5+ years though, we have had the good fortune of meeting, visiting with, traveling with, and getting to know numerous cruisers. We have been invited onboard their boats for dinner and cocktails, and have gone sailing with some of them too. Remembering that, for our first 3 years cruising, we were cruising on a beautiful, but relatively small and simple boat, I will admit to frequently during this time being envious of some of our friends’ more spacious and tricked-out vessels. Even now, after having lived on much larger boats, we still feel mild pangs of jealousy at times. A good example of this is our friends’ Antares catamaran, Two Fish. If ever there was a cruising boat that was fully tricked out, it is that one. Jason and Gail have spared no expense outfitting their boat for their Pacific journey (now underway), and it was exciting and educational to travel on it. On the other hand, if that had been the only boat that we’d ever been cruising on, we may have come to believe that all of that technology and gear was 100% necessary, and if so, it would have set the bar impossibly high for us. Unless we win the lottery, and we’ve stopped purchasing lottery tickets (what we used to refer to as Antares tickets), we will never own a boat that well-equipped. But maybe that’s not a bad thing?

I mentioned that our first cruising boat, ZTC, was relatively simple. Countless times, when we were on shore enjoying ourselves, our friends on boats with more complicated systems were stuck making repairs. Repairs to systems that were often non-essential! The other day I had a chat with one of our internet friends who is presently residing in Patagonia. He shared his belief that we waste a lot of time messing around with stuff that we don’t really need, stuff that should be in a house, not a boat. It’s hard not to agree. As an example of this, I just read a post where a boat owner was looking for advice on how to fix his dishwasher. Now, you’ll never hear me bad-talk a dishwasher, because I hate doing the dishes more than almost any other thing (I hate doing plumbing repairs even more), but I think most people would agree that a dishwasher is a pretty non-essential system on a cruising boat.

So, the question is then, what is essential? A watermaker? Refridgeration? Radar? That is the great debate, isn’t it? While some of this will depend on the geographical area that you’re cruising in, at least a portion of it will depend on the level of convenience that you require. Everyone enjoys touring the shiny new yachts at the boat show, the ones outfitted with all of the latest conveniences, but I think it’s even more important for would-be cruisers to get onboard some smaller, well-traveled, older yachts, ones that are actually on the water cruising. Additionally, as we prepare our boat for our future travels, I think it’s important for us to do that too as it helps to keep us grounded (mentally, that is, not the boat ).


  1. I’m always so conflicted on this subject. Gadgets are cool but on the other hand I look at beautifully built wooden boats like the Pardey’s Taleisin and think to myself, what an incredible boat; so well made, so simple. For centuries sailboats have plied the waters of the world without refrigeration, chart plotters, stereos, water makers, laundry machines, autopilots, etc. etc. It would be so much easier without all that crap that breaks down at the most inopportune time.

    And with the next breath I’m researching 12v water makers! 😉

  2. Excellent topic. We did the boat show tours, we were enamored with all the boats and was convinced that we had to have all the bells and whistles.

    Long ago, as I think most people do, we fell into the “Keeping up with the Jones’s” life, it’s human nature to buy into all the “must have” advertising that is pushed upon us through media outlets. Ed Robinson’s book, Leap of Faith was an eye opener for us. I like to believe we would be much more financially secure and would have been able to make our dreams come true much sooner had we remembered that we started out with little 36 years ago and lived very well with less headaches or problems.

    After spending considerable time last year downsizing and simplifying, it quickly became apparent that less is more for us. Our lifestyle hasn’t suffered, and only slightly inconvenienced at times. Sure, there have been a few large pots or pans that would have been nice when cooking, but we found simple solutions and made do with what we now have available.

    Bigger, faster, shinier and newer is not necessary. Simplicity, dependability, manageability and “make it happen now versus later” top my list of priorities. Later never comes for some people.

  3. I think part of the equation is age and sailing experience. Some examples: Wicked Salty, a couple of kids just out of school, buying a boat and sailing from Boston to Bahamas and back They learned by going simple the first time what they really need for more voyaging and they are now working hard and looking for a different boat. Whereas Jason and Gail on Two Fish had more sailing experience and the money to get what they believed they needed. Some fall in love with simplicity and are perfectly happy like Cruising Lealea, even after 20 years of sailing on the same little Vega.

    I guess my point is we are all different, but simple is always a good place to start.

    • A key word you used several times in your comment is “need.” While I agree that this is a personal thing, and I wrote as much in my post, THAT is the debatable word. Too many people are sold a false bill of goods, by people who either have no actual experience themselves, or who stand to make money from selling things.

  4. Bravo. Let an old geezer reminisce. One of the best years of my life was the first year we bought our first boat. An Alberg 35. In 1977, we sailed from Maine to the Bahamas and back. We had a compass, a VHF and a depth sounder. Two car batteries for juice. An icebox, no refrigeration. Our big luxury was pressure water, a small hot water tank and a shower in our tiny head. We were young and couldn’t have been happier. A couple years later we sailed to Bermuda and back for our honeymoon. With a sextant and a radio direction finder. We loved that boat and kept her for 20 years. We bought a slightly bigger boat when we decided we needed more space as our two boys got bigger. The point is, you don’t need all the gizmos to cruise and experience all the stuff the folks on their tricked out boats do. And you will spend way less time fixing stuff. Everything breaks, even on brand new boats.

  5. At a certain point, complexity will overwhelm you – financially or from maintenance standpoint. OTOH, I have a friend who is a commercial ferry captain and he says that what you can do with an Ipad now, would cost $40k in electronics back in the 90’s, Also solar power is making significant advances. I read that Tesla battery packs are becoming available on ebay for as little as $1200. I think that maybe generators are going the way of thos 90’s electronics. So, maybe some things are or will be getting easier. One thing that never seems to get easier – marina prices.

  6. I never realized how irresponsible we have been until I started reading the sailing forums. What I learned was it was irresponsible and almost impossible to go cruising without radar, AIS, chartplotter and an autopilot all interphased. I found out I didn’t need to look at where I was gong, it’s more responsible to look at a bunch of screens, or if set up correctly the boat would take care of itself, except for docking but I’m sure someone is working on that. I also found out it was irresponsible to not have an AIS working full time while anchored, I mean how else are people going to avoid a collision with an anchored boat? I would like to say my post was meant to be humorous, but some people actually feel this way. As simple as possible is what we enjoy, but if you like all the bells and whistles, more power to you.

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