Buying and owning a boat is a wonderful experience. Walk the docks at any boat show and it is thrilling to see the many diverse choices available today. Expertly staged, these shiny new cruising yachts offer luxury, technology, safety, and all the comforts of home. And it is delightful to dream. “Just think, Honey, we could go to Tahiti in this boat!”
I am a big fan of buying a new boat, especially as one gets older. Not only are all systems the latest and best from each manufacturer, but the boats get better, there are more propulsion options, and evolution in design and construction gets more savvy, efficient, and of higher quality. It is easy to be seduced by all the latest technology, and innovation that triumphs on many levels. Cockpits that expand while at anchor, interiors that are bright, contemporary, and low maintenance. Reduced onboard noise to levels never seen before. Yes, there is much to get excited about in today’s new boat market. Is the first no-compromise boat on the horizon!?!
Back at ground level, though, I continue to see lots of discussion on social media and in owner/cruising groups as people search for a boat to live on and go cruising that they can afford. Not much has changed in the years I’ve been around the cruising scene. The cycle of questions repeats itself with each new generation of would-be cruisers. They range from very basic and simple to complex (and most always from inexperienced people trying to figure it out). One can be overwhelmed when overthinking the whole process. And for too many couples, their quest results into having it bigger and more complicated than it needs to be.
So much has been written, and seminars developed, to assist in the selection process. I have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of questions from couples eager to get started, but often the search soon transforms into a kaleidoscope of “too much.” Too much boat, too much gear, too many systems to maintain…and too much to go wrong.
While there is nothing wrong with having it all, that is not the only way to go. There is a flipside, an opposite reality that balances out the playing field for many people.
Once one identifies what is essential for what a cruising boat must provide, the rest isn’t strictly required. Really. Might be good to have. Might make the wife happy. Might make you the star of your yacht club. Might even add a new degree of fun to the equation. But absolutely necessary? No. Steve Seaton is a big advocate of the 10% Rule. If you don’t use a piece of gear 90% of the time, take it off the boat. How often will you use that pasta or bread machine?
To get back to basics, many experienced brokers suggest you seek the smallest boat you can find that is big enough for your plans. That is perhaps the best advice of all.
So, I would like to share some examples of boats I have come across that fulfill their mission statement without overdoing it, while providing their owners the cruising adventure they seek. An experience without the bells and whistles which so often kill the dream before it even starts, because they make the boat unaffordable, too challenging, or not maintainable. It can be a real eye opener for new cruisers, who typically develop their ideas and must-haves from what they have read rather than what they experienced firsthand. You mean I really don’t need all of that? Really?
If one has the luxury to include trailering as an option, that can also expand one's cruising horizons. Trailering (or arranging for a transport service) is a fabulous prospect if you can do it. The coastal and inland waters of North America and beyond are within your reach, just a road trip away. For many that is the ultimate adventure. I have friends who cruised Alaska on their Downeast 36-footer for several months one summer and wintered in the Bahamas…in the same year! Their boat fit the size and dimension requirements of a truck transport company.
I motored past this vintage Westsail (above) as we headed south on the ICW. Wildly popular in the 1970s, these boats enabled hundreds to “Westsail the World.” And they are still out there, making dreams come true. So many older sailboats are still popular choices, such as the Valiant 40, Amel, Islander, Island Packet, and Beneteau lines. Boats such as this Westsail most likely have been repowered, but the basic boat and simple systems still work, can be rebuilt, and certainly maintained on a smaller budget. Look around any anchorage and you will find people happily cruising on boats that are 50 years old or more, a testament to early fiberglass construction and simple systems.
The owner of this MacGregor 26 sailboat (above) conversion stopped in Annapolis on its way up the Bay. Modified to do the Great Loop, its mast is gone, and the cockpit enclosed to add living space. Note the added stanchions and lifelines. Despite its odd appearance, I’m confident it finished the Loop just fine, and was probably more comfortable than one might expect, and extremely economical. I’ve seen many sailboats converted into motorsailers or trawler-like motorboats with full enclosures. Some look a bit funky, but if they serve their purpose, I’m all for it.
We tied up on a bulkhead along with this custom cruiser on New York’s Erie Canal. Built on a Downeast hull, the design was obviously focused on maximizing accommodations. The owners said they trucked the boat up from Florida, which allows them great flexibility. It worked well for them. I recall her name was Shoe Box.
And then there is Dave Pike and his Walker Bay, Journey. I’ve mentioned him in a couple of previous articles. When it comes to embracing simplicity, Dave wins first prize.
A retired engineer from Michigan, Dave and his wife, Ann, lived for a time in the Pacific Northwest, where I met them on their Krogen 42, Spirit Quest, which they bought from much-revered broker Dean Mosier. They cruised the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, but eventually felt the tug to return to friends and family in Michigan.
A friend got him interested in the Great Loop. Dave had been thinking he needed a new adventure, some alone time. He didn't want to worry about height or draft restrictions, and as he would be by himself, he didn't feel the need for a big boat that might be hard to handle. So, he bought the largest boat in the Walker Bay line (at the time), a Generation 450. It is rated for up to eight people, has five watertight compartments, and came with a 60hp Honda outboard. The boat is large enough to sleep in, on the rare occasion he might not find lodging.
Note the custom enclosure and frame built for the trip, and the two jerry cans mounted on the stainless arch.
He added a Garmin chartplotter, VHF radio, AIS, and the electronics connect to the Honda via a NEMA 2000 network, so he has all engine information readily available.
A key element of Dave's grand adventure involved his obsession with pickleball. He is member of the USA Pickleball Association and planned to stop and play pickleball as he made his way around the Loop. He located courts online and local members agreed to meet and play with him. (This added a lot of social interaction that would otherwise be missing on a long, solo cruise. Some small towns even made a big deal of his passing through, hosting him with group parties and pickleball tournaments. It kept him active and physically fit.)
While his daily run usually ended at a marina, he was prepared to rough it if conditions warranted. He carried a couple of cans of soup and stew, and his cooler was kept full of ice and water. (He once got stranded by a bridge unable to open due to high water, so he ordered a pizza that was delivered to his boat.)
Dave told me that many marinas did not charge him to tie up his 14'9" boat, or perhaps just five dollars. Strangers bought him meals to hear his story, and he found most cruisers willing to help if he needed anything. When he stopped at Deltaville, Virginia, he stayed at Zimmerman Marine’s facility. When he returned from the showers in the morning, he found one of the ZMI folks had left coffee and a Danish for him on his boat. He was often surprised with such kindness.
Dave Pike recommends doing this trip on a simple agenda with no schedule. He added that technology made this trip possible. He frequently used Uber to get to motels and stores. And if he needed to deal with an impending storm, it was easy to have Journey pulled out of the water.
His Honda was trouble free, and he made sure it stayed that way by getting all maintenance done on schedule. With this 60hp engine and a fully loaded boat (combined weight around 1,200lbs), he said his sweet spot was 18 knots, burning 1.8gph. But that was tiring so he generally traveled at trawler speeds.
With his well-equipped Walker Bay, and his camping gear with tent, toilet, and stove, Dave had all he needed to camp/cruise his way around the Great Loop.
And finally, in terms of keeping things simple, there is this couple from Southern California, Howard and Jane Brubaker. I found them interesting, down to earth people with a love of history. I’ve shared parts of their story over the years, as they were such a remarkable couple. Their trawler was a wood Grand Banks 36, with a single 135hp Ford Lehman diesel, which they owned for 24 years before their adventure. When Howard retired, they set out to explore the world, and explore they did.
They set out from San Diego, heading north to Alaska. They enjoyed this adventure so much they retraced their steps back down to California with plans to continue south.
Stormy Petrel covered more sea miles than most anyone else except those who circumnavigate. It was the perfect choice for them, and plenty big enough.
Leaving San Diego, they went south to Mexico, going from Cabo San Lucas down the major stops of Puerta Vallarta, Manzanillo, and Acapulco before crossing over to Central America and the Panama Canal. They cruised the San Blas Islands, spent a couple of years in Columbia at Cartagena, before heading up to Cancun. Then it was across the Gulf of Mexico to the Dry Tortugas and Key West.
As they explored the U.S. East Coast, I first met them north of Annapolis. After cruising Chesapeake Bay, they continued to Maine, taking their time as thrilled Californians seeing the East Coast for the first time. They could not get enough of our country, its history, and culture. They completed the Great Loop also at an unhurried pace.
In all they visited 38 states and numerous countries. And their Grand Banks had plenty of room, simple systems, and was every bit as rewarding as any big trawler with every option.
Howard and Jane spent two years planning this trip, and focused mostly on communications, safety, and the boat’s seaworthiness. They had the wood boat surveyed. Howard installed a SSB radio, and the boat had GPS, depthsounder, VHF radio, and radar. He avoided elaborate and expensive electronics that came with functions they did not need. Sometimes, simpler is better...and cheaper.
Considering they spent so much time in Central and South America, they did not take firearms, but had a flare gun, small canisters of pepper spray, and, as Howard put it, an overwhelming desire to avoid trouble. While they rarely traveled with other boats, they usually anchored in company of other cruisers. It was a form of buddy boating.
They had a Dometic top-loading freezer and a Norcold refrigerator that worked well even in the heat and humidity of Central and South America. A house bank of 800Ah batteries gives them plenty of electrical power, and a 2000-watt inverter. They also had a small generator with a 100Ah alternator.
The Grand Banks carried 100 gallons of water, which they learned to live with, as they did not want the complexity of a watermaker. The couple took on local water all along their travels and simply added a bit of chlorine for safety. They never had any issues. (Howard laughed when he said he knew when he added too much chlorine to their drinking water because it turned Tang white.)
Their Ford Lehman never gave them trouble, and they never got bad fuel. But he was careful to inspect the fuel going into their 500-gallon supply before filling the tanks, checking a fuel sample in a white bucket.
Stormy Petrel had no bow thruster, and they never felt they needed it. They knew how to handle the boat with a single screw and large rudder, as does every commercial fisherman. No need for get home power, either. Or air conditioning.
They did not carry a liferaft. In all their travels, they were rarely more than a few miles offshore, so they felt their dinghy was a suitable rescue craft. On their run from San Diego to Panama, for example, they were only more than three miles offshore twice, crossing the Sea of Cortez and crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec. They stayed within 10 miles of land and kept the 10-foot dinghy ready to launch at a moment’s notice.
The Brubakers went on to hit every U.S. state reachable by boat, complete the Great Loop, and see much of Canada. And, along the way, they discovered there is only one absolute in cruising. Do NOT have a schedule. Allow plenty of time to make sure weather conditions are right for you. Don’t rush into anything. Travel at your own pace, on your own timetable. Don’t ever get trapped into a schedule, and don’t plan your cruising around other people and their schedules.
As far as all these cruisers are concerned, keep it simple. You will be much happier.
Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles by Bill Parlatore:
- Do You Keep A Log Book While Cruising?
- The Bucket: A True Story
- Essential Supplies For Extended Cruising
- The Exhausting Need To Keep Up With New Technology
- Have A Backup Plan!
- Northern Marine Exhaust Systems Are Better
- Cruising Boats Come Of Age
- Taking On The Great Loop
- Tips For Preparing For The Great Loop
- Changing Rituals
- Did Wisdom Come To The Ancient Mariner?
- Going World Cruising? Not So Fast
- What Engines Are In Your Boat?
- Letting Go But Still In Control
- Learning To Handle A New Boat
- Improving The User Experience
- A Paradigm Shift In Cruising
- Consider Buddy Boating
- A Matter Of Staying Safe While Boating
- Should I Carry A Gun While Cruising?
- A Boater's 3-to-5 Year Plan
- Boat Tools: A 4-Part Series
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising - Bahamas
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising - Alaska
- The Evolution Of The Trawler Yacht