Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Does size matter - take two (Five-year Review Post #2)

Ed Note: As we complete our fifth year of full-time cruising/living aboard, we've been taking stock of a lot of things and evaluating the life. We will be doing a series of posts about it called The Five Year Review. They will be tagged as such and can be found in a sidebar list on the right.

“Go small, go simple, go now,” always seemed a pleasant little bit of mythology to me. It conveyed an idea, a sentiment, suggesting a bit of wisdom wrapped in a nice little phrase that called to the inner wanderer in all of us. Then we bought Kintala. She was the biggest boat that we thought the two of us could handle and cost as much money we could find. She is small when compared to the houses most people live in, but at the large end of the average cruising boat. There is nothing "simple" about her.

Cutter rigged, with a narrow stern, small cockpit, and companionway immune to down flooding, she was well equipped for the blue water cruising that we thought we would be doing. Unfortunately, she was not the boat she was advertised to be and we spent a lot of effort and money in the two years we had her on the lake to overcome those issues. We got her (mostly) squared away before our jobs disappeared. With few options on the table for paying the mortgage and a boat we could live on sitting at the lake, our "go" decision was a bit forced but inevitable.

Once on our way, we discovered we were not the blue water wanderers that we thought we would be, making Kintala a bit of a mismatch for our lifestyle. She is more of a sailing boat than we need, her sailing prowess compromising her liveaboard comfort.  But then there was the storm on the Albermarle sound, the storms while sitting in Oriental, Charleston, and Foxtown, the night passage from the Abaco Islands south, then a couple of years later from the Abaco Islands west, two of our trips across the Gulf Stream, and hammering our way into Tampa Bay the last time around. In each and every case I would have given my eye teeth for a boat longer, heavier, with a more capable auto-pilot, an easier-to-handle sail plan, a helm better protected from the elements, and 100 more hp. Had Kintala been an any less capable boat, there is a fair chance we would not be out here still, writing a five year review.

We have watched many “go small, go simple, go now” boats depart. They often throw off dock lines that should have been thrown away. The hulls sometimes boast body putty repairs where there should be fiberglass. Bagged out and badly repaired sails get hoisted aloft on frayed running rigging while the standing rigging is spotted with rust and hasn’t been tuned since the day it went up. Once “out here” they swing to undersized anchors on questionable rode. The outcome of such cruising attempts is nearly inevitable. The boats end up clogging any anchorage that has adequate shore access, not having moved in months or years.

Sometimes the crew remains on board because there is no other way to keep any kind of a roof over their heads. They really are nearly homeless, often living in conditions that would not pass even a cursory review by any health official on the planet. It is easy to end up struggling to get by like this. An unexpected health issue can bankrupt nearly anyone in our society. (And, really, aren’t they all unexpected?) Companies fold and expected retirement funds disappear, even those that were supposed to be “safely invested”. Sometimes those funds are hijacked by judges to pay off investors. Sometimes they are invested in the same market as 401 plans, and subject to the same economic dramas. So far as I can tell no one has a clue what is going to happen to the Social Security income my generation was promised in return for the lifetime of taxes paid. In any case, it is very easy for a fixed income to become an inadequate or nonexistent income, and to do so with very little warning. If "going now" means "going with minimum resources" it can easily lead to "going broke".

Often the “small, simply, now” boats end up abandoned. Come a good blow they are the ones that drag, rampaging through the anchorage putting everyone at risk. Some end up as piles of wreckage on an expensive bit of waterfront property, the owners of which then (quite understandably) howl in protest to any politician willing to listen. For those looking from the outside in, the “cruising community” isn’t really a group of people living an alternate lifestyle and spending a lot of time “in the Islands.” We are drifters one step away from living under a bridge.

“Go small, go simple, go now” suggests that living on a boat and exploring the world’s oceans (or even just the ICW and Islands) is something easy and safe to do. It can be (relatively) easy and mostly safe, but it doesn’t come that way naturally. Even a small cruising boat is a big piece of intricate machinery working in a hostile environment. It will take a continuous infusion of pumps and parts, knowledge and effort, to keep things ship shape and in working order. There is a ton of stuff to learn about navigation and weather, planning and provisioning. "Small" and "simple" are simply not part of the equation. All of which means that, “going now” is a really horrible idea unless “now” comes at the end of a long session of preparation, thought, hard choices, and careful preparation. Too often, “Go simple, go small, go now” turns into going under equipped, under prepared, and careless. Those who are not part of our community notice, and they are not impressed. Truth to tell, we shouldn't be either.

Of course, a large part of cruiser DNA is to not care much about what other people think. Cruising is an individual thing and the cruising community an extremely small demographic. For whatever reason, we have deliberately chosen a life that flies in the face of convention; eschewing the “cookie cutter" one size WILL fit all authoritarian dictates that we must buy a house and stuff it with consumer goods in order to be happy and productive. We live close to nature, letting the ocean and the sky set the rules we need to live by to be happy and productive. We tend to look out for each other because we know the ocean and the sky will not bother. 

But we would not be doing ourselves any harm if we presented the aura of thoughtful people deliberately choosing a challenging lifestyle that requires preparation and care. One that is focused on individual responsibility, sustainability, and living lightly but well on a planet that is covered mostly by water and is the only home the human family has ever known.

No one would ever say, “Go small, go simple, go now” to someone planning to climb a mountain. No one would give such advice to anyone planning a flight around the world, or intending to take on any major life change that entails definable and unavoidable risks. Why do we offer it as a bit of wisdom for those planning to take themselves and people that they love out to live on and explore the ocean?


RedDog said...

I follow your great writings. Very interesting.

I must say that I admire you guys' stamina for this way of retirement life.

Happy sailing from a land lubber! Where is Captain Morgan?

John Aubrey said...

The Pardeys coined the phrase “Go Small, Go Simple, Go Now”. They didn’t say “Start a YouTube channel, establish a Patreon account, buy a basket case sailboat, and watch the money roll in”. They also didn’t say “Go Cheap, Go Unprepared, Go Now”. Their boats were well found, relatively small, simple (no engine!) and well-prepared for crossing oceans. The millennials buying a $1,000 sailboat and planning to explore exotic cultures around the globe are delusional and downright unprepared. For anything. Their life experience consists of graduating from a liberal arts college that Daddy paid for, and amassing a following on Facebook and YouTube. Cat videos are awesome, but sailing around the world videos will certainly bring in more ad revenue…and so, they go. Then the 24/7 “news” cycle kicks in, helps document their tragedy, and even more money rolls in. The same could be said for a retired couple taking off without adequate preparation. Surely if you’ve lived long enough to retire, you’ve come to realize the power of the sea. By that time you’ve got to have figured out that there’s no free lunch and great rewards require great risks. Maybe not…

“Go Small” makes a lot of sense. Boat costs increase EXPONENTIALLY with length. It’s not a linear function. Increased hull length means increased beam and depth as well, which means increased wetted area and drag. Gotta have more sail area to overcome the drag, so you’ve got bigger sails, a taller mast, and a bigger chunk of lead to counter the mast and sails. You wouldn’t want the mast to topple over, so the standing rigging gets bigger and longer. Adjusting those bigger sails? You need running rigging of increased diameter (and length) and larger winches. Keeping her attached to the bottom? That means a larger anchor and thicker and longer rode. Not to mention the added frequently recurring expense of anti-fouling paint to cover the larger surface area of the hull.

Same for “Go Simple”. The Pardeys once commented that “…when we get to port we have nothing to worry about fixing.” Can’t say the same for the typical cruiser who needs to worry about fixing their TV, router, potable water pumps, chartplotter, MFDs, water maker, wind turbine, autopilot, and electric winch. Same goes for the ill-prepared cruiser wannabe. If they slip the lines with half their systems not working and the other half only marginally so, is it any surprise when they encounter hardship?

The Pardeys and their “Go Small, Go Simple, Go Now” approach are still relevant. As is the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared!”. Ooops…Boy Scouts no longer exist…Boys are politically incorrect.

Phil Gow said...

John, I think the expense of the boat increases with the cube of the length (L*W*H) e.g. 2*L => 2*2*2=8, 3*L => 3*3*3=27 , not exponentially (10²=100, 10³=1000). Either way, itś a lot faster than liner. And Hey,kid, get off my lawn!

TJ said...

John, I never met the Pardeys though I have read some of their books. I am sure they had the best of intentions with their admonition, but, looking around many of the anchorages we visit, I wonder what their take on it would be today? It is true that boat costs go up quickly with size, but I disagree that means "go small" is automatically good, and I don't think a 40 boat is exponentially more expensive to operate than a 35 foot boat.

Small means the rough ride and instability of a short LWL and light weight. It means little room for storage. It means few amenities, and what is living poor other than living with few amenities? If cruising meant some kind of extreme asceticism i.e. "I live without running water, without electricity, can't cook beyond boiling water, dumping my waste without care, cut off from friends and family, and miserable unless the weather is moderate;" then very few people in their right mind (or who had any experience with living poor) would chose it. In fact, no one I know in the cruising community would be out here if that was the case. (I will admit that a lot of us live without AC, so long as we ride to a mooring ball or anchor and have some hope of a breeze. I can't say I boast about that though, or am always happy to have the sweat running down the crack of my butt while crawling into the berth.)

I don't know where you sail, but a boat whose TV isn't working and whose internet is down are not the main problems with the barely floating (and almost universally small) hulks, occupied and un-occupied, that I run across.

Electronic charts and plotters? The ones who go without them are the ones who end up on the ground all the time. To go without them (IMHO) it to go unprepared and poorly equipped. Electronic chars means electricity of some kind, solar, wind, generator. Sure, an electric winch is not necessary, so long as the ground tackle is stout, oversized for the boat, and the crew physically able to get it up off the bottom. Otherwise that is the boat to worry about when the wind howls through an anchorage at O-So-Dark-Thirty in the wee hours of the morning.

Go without a motor? Sure. Deb and I do it all the time. We sail off the anchor, sail all day, sail back on. (Mostly when we are in the islands.) Go without a motor on the boat? In today's crowded anchorages, narrow channels, and busy waterways? Eventually you are going to become someone's problem. I just hope it isn't me.

I don't know many millennials. The ones I do meet on boats are success stories, not failures. And virtually all of the ones I know, sailors or not, are at least a match for most of the baby boomers I know. We (the baby boomers) are the generation who pretty much screwed up the world, handed it over to the millennials, then complain that they are not eternally grateful for our enlightened stewardship. I suspect we just have to live with knowing that the history they write is not going to have much good to say about us. Irritating, I know. But it isn't like we didn't earn it.

Anyway, I will stand by the argument that, while it is not impossible to go small, go simple, go now - and still go safe - it is damed hard. Most people can't pull it off.

August 2, 2018 at 12:22 PM

John Aubrey said...

Phil, you are spot on. A boat is indeed a volume, and costs most closely approximate the cube function. I don’t think that most people realize how much more they are paying for a winch on a boat that’s “only” 4 feet longer than what they have. Glad to report that I just yelled at some kids that were on my lawn! ;-)

John Aubrey said...

When you talk about living poor on a boat, you’re talking about people who are ill-prepared for any type of living, whether it be at sea or on land. The spectrum of humans includes people who live on the street and under highway overpasses (some by choice), urban jungles, suburbia, McMansions and true mansions. If some of the people living in cardboard boxes on the street decide to live on a boat, the boat is small, and they are unsuccessful at it, it doesn’t mean that the small boat was the crux of the problem.
Folks have circumnavigated in boats a small fraction of the size of Kintala. Seakindliness for the the Pardeys was probably pretty important, and built into their choice of boat, but how important is it for the cruiser who spends less than 1% of their time making passages where seakindliness counts?
Electronic charts and plotters are overrated. Take note of the high-visibility wrecks and casualties by experienced, “professional” racing crews with dedicated navigators. A paper chart for your cruising area or passage transit forces more attention to detail. Do I have a $50 eBay hand-held GPS onboard for backup? Absolutely. If I can’t afford 2 AA batteries per year, I have no business sailing to distant shores.
I agree that we baby boomers have ruined things. Not by screwing up the world, but by coddling the millenials and over-protecting them from every possible hardship. Not happy to have “helicopter parenting” attached to our generation, but it’s an apt description.
The bottom line is that we weren’t born with fins and gills. If you’re going to take on Poseidon, you had better be prepared. If you’re not Bill Gates, smaller is better for your boat.

Phil Gow said...

It´s an interesting question. We don´t live on our boat and probably never will; we seem to be setting up to spend 1-2 nights per week aboard. Our 30´ Nonsuch is much bigger inside, and in the cockpit, than our prior Cal 3-30´. A lot more volume! Iḿ focusing mainly on the basics (keel, bottom, through-hulls, tabbing, propulsion, septic plumbing, mast, boom, sail, canvas - next are electricals, freshwater plumbing, polishing). Our old boat had no electricals to speak of, no plumbing beyond the head and tank, but we had taken care of bottom, propulsion, structure, sails, standing rigging. Because of the larger internal volume and the existence of functional systems, we are more comfortable and have slept aboard Lily Pad more in a month than aboard Sea Shmallis in 8 years! A little bigger and a bit better founded has made all the difference!

s/v Sionna said...

And yet... And yet...
I hear you, I really do, but I’m thinking there’s a line there you may be overlooking. The GSGSGN (“Go Simple Go Small Go Now”) mantra was never intended to espouse stupidity, junk boats, or bad planning, and it’s authors - Lin & Larry Pardey - were none of those things, as far as I can tell.
But it’s certainly true that many, many boats are purchased by wanna-be adventurers who have absolutely no idea what they’re getting into, on vessels that should be in the scrape heap, not the water.
Is that the fault of the (admittedly somewhat simplistic) advice of the GSGSGN proponents? I propose not. As you know, Nicki and I bought an older (53 years), sound, relatively small (at 32’ Sionna is now considered a small cruising boat!) vessel, equipped her very simply (but comfortably) by modern standards, and have put some 4000 miles under the keel and 14 months aboard. Absent the advice to “GSGSGN”, we would never have gone at all, or worse, we would have spent all our resources on buying and equipping a larger, more “acceptable” boat, and then run out of money in the first months.
Of course we didn’t count on eye surgeries and a career itch coming into the picture, so here we are, not sailing our Small, Simple boat for a bit while we figure things out.
Ain’t life strange?

John Aubrey said...

Phil, I think you may take the prize for owning the 2 most different 30’ boats in existence! ;-)
I would never call a 30’ boat small, but it appears that you’ve embraced the “Go Small, Go Simple, Go Now” mantra - eliminating shrouds and stays makes your Nonsuch simpler and more affordable to maintain. One could argue safer and more reliable, as there are fewer things to fail that could be a catastrophe for a sailor.
The comparison of the Cal and Nonsuch just shows how many variables are at play when a boat is designed, and how many trades or compromises are made. For me, one of the most fascinating parts of being around boats is trying to discover what the designer/naval architect was thinking or trying to accomplish with the boat.

Phil Gow said...

John, they are certainly fairly different!, but as Iḿ not really GOING anywhere, I guess I would say itś ¨Stay Small, Stay Simple, Stay Now!(SSSSSN) in my case¨ The lack of shrouds and roller furling and a jib does simplify, though I spent as much money rebuilding the mast/ mast step/ mast joint for the Nonsuch as I did to redo the standing rigging on the Cal. Because of the size (25+ feet) and placement (High) of the Nonsuch boom any failures would be tricky to fix underway, but thatś probably always the case. Both boats are pretty sturdy, and move surprisingly fast in a 15-20 knot breeze (7 knots for the Cal 3-30, 8 for the Nonsuch). It is a lot of fun to try to discern designer intent, success and misses. The roominess and stability of the Nonsuch is a delight; managing its ~100 foot mainsheet takes a little mindfulness, as does avoiding accidental jibes! The Cal was a great boat to have on a budget, for the most part, and outsailed a lot of newer, fancier, longer and shinier plastic!

TJ said...

All good points, my friends, what a great discussion. It sounds like we all agree that "going responsibly" is the bottom line. In reality, except for the Bill Gates types, we have all "gone small" when living on a boat, particularly when compared to the average American home. We have all "gone simple" when compared to those same average Americans homes. There are different opinions of auto pilots, radar, and electric winches, maybe on washing machines, ice makers, and big screen (relatively speaking) TVs, but those are really debates about "small" or "smaller". And going now? Only if it does not mean going unprepared.

"Unprepared" would seem to be the crux of the problem of so many trashed out and abandoned boats. I still think the GSGSGN mantra should be downplayed if not abandoned. Going on a boat already means going small and going simple, unless you have so much money it doesn't matter what you do. In which case you have probably never heard of GSGSGN and could not care less.