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Old 14-05-2024, 18:19   #1
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Considering simplicity on sailing boats

I always wonder.

More and more I started to admire simple boats. Boats without an array of antennas, without stern arches, without large dinks hanging off the stern, without complicated electrical switchboards.
Boats seem to need every bit of house conveniences. If a cruising boat has no watermaker it might not be considered a real cruising boat. An autopilot and radar are just ‘must haves’. All kinds of comms equipment is called for, including fastish internet. Every purchase of new batteries seem to be of a greater capacity. And safety? It seems we want to mitigate every single risk with multiple EPIRBs, personal PLBs etc.

This hanker for simplicity is driven by a few factors:
- A recent thread on CF about the need for pressured water
- Nearly every piece of equipment breaks down, or is soon superseded, think of navigation gear, radar, comms, batteries
- My own boat is very complicated with dozens of systems, 2 digit winches, 2 digit pumps, 2 digit electric components, 2 digit gadgets, 4 internal engine combustion engines on board, a few chargers
- Such complicated setup requires money to maintain, and when I stop earning that, there are less $$ available
- Such setup requires time to maintain, again time is valuable
- Such setup requires me to crawl into tight spaces, and my body is getting older at a steady rate

What I see around me on other boats that all kind of equipment is being added, I hardly ever see anyone taking a system and equipment away from a boat.

Advantages:
- Boat is slighter lighter, and will sail better
- Maintenance costs go down dramatically
- Time spent otherwise on repair/maintenance can now be used for sailing

Disadvantages:
- Less comfort
- Lower resale value

Yes, I see owners sell a large boat and change to a powerboat, or a smaller sailing boat. I don’t want a smaller sailing boat….. as yet ��
It would be near crazy to remove most of the systems from my boat. It would be better to start afresh with a new/custom boat, with minimal gear. Ie
- Simple sail handling (built for comfort, not as much speed). Dare I utter the words “free standing mast(s)” ?
- Simple mechanical engine
- Simple fixed prop
- Good rowing/sailing dinghy
- Minimal electrics (small battery)
- Minimal electronic navigation equipment
- Good tankage

Am I an outlier with these kind of thoughts?
Any others who like to make comments, for or against? Or with different perspectives?
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Old 14-05-2024, 18:36   #2
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Quote:
Originally Posted by HankOnthewater View Post
It would be better to start afresh with a new/custom boat, with minimal gear. Ie
- Simple sail handling (built for comfort, not as much speed). Dare I utter the words ďfree standing mast(s)Ē ?
- Simple mechanical engine
- Simple fixed prop
- Good rowing/sailing dinghy
- Minimal electrics (small battery)
- Minimal electronic navigation equipment
- Good tankage

Am I an outlier with these kind of thoughts?
Any others who like to make comments, for or against? Or with different perspectives?
You just described my current boat, minus the free standing mast bit.
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Old 14-05-2024, 19:32   #3
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

For the pure joy of sailing, I agree with you a 100%, would even go a step further and wish for a trailerable boat with a couple of bunks for camping so that we can enjoy some amazing waters of the US.

Horses for courses however, our plans for the next few years will likely take us on a different path, doesnít mean we wonít come back to the simplicity in the end.
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Old 14-05-2024, 22:00   #4
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Quote:
Originally Posted by HankOnthewater View Post
I always wonder.

More and more I started to admire simple boats. ......

- Simple mechanical engine
- Simple fixed prop
- Good rowing/sailing dinghy
- Minimal electrics (small battery)
- Minimal electronic navigation equipment
- Good tankage

Am I an outlier with these kind of thoughts?
Any others who like to make comments, for or against? Or with different perspectives?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions!

First boat (30') had single cylinder diesel with fixed prop, a magnetic compass, a sumlog, handed on headsails (3) and paper charts. I added a depth sounder, VHF and simple autopilot (GPS hadn't been invented). Cruised it for years without wanting more.

Last boat (31') a simple twin diesel with fixed prop, a magnetic compass, a sumlog (with depth), furling headsail, VHF, simple GPS, simple autopilot, paper charts. Never felt it needed more although advancing years meant I replaced the mechanical windlass with electric...

A mate has everything that can be had on a 40+' sail boat and yes, it is nice to sail and cruise on but I kinda think it isn't that much better than a 'simple' boat. Sure, a fridge and pressured hot water and so on is 'nice' but we cruise for the joy of sailing and seeing new coastlines, bays and anchorages; the boat is just the means to get there. He has many systems that all need fixing sooner or later.

I guess paper charts have gone by the wayside so a 'simple' chart plotter is now necessary but I think the guiding principle should be only fit what you can fix (in a remote anchorage).
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Old 14-05-2024, 22:39   #5
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

I'm sure with you on all that. I hate having more stuff to maintain. All the conveniences and comfort items kinda make you feel more vulnerable and burdened when you're trying to go sailing to feel more free! There was a discussion a while back about some wooden boats and there was one I saw that was a Lugger, stoutly built, very simple, very little stuff on board... looked liked heaven to me.... but then again, if I owned her I'd probably start down that slippery slope again... hot showers, washer and dryer, the latest electronics... agh!
I really miss my old RDF and all the penciled in DR plots on my paper charts!
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Old 14-05-2024, 22:40   #6
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Two words: composting head.

I tend to agree. I am working on simplifying my systems too. But bear in mind a few things.
A modern sailing boat is already a fairly complex thing. You have sails, rigging, engine or outboard, cored decks, fiberglass, propane stove, radio, dissimilar metals, etc.

I understand though. Since buying my boat 18 months ago I removed the wheel and added a tiller. I tore out the marine head, tank, and all hoses and added a composting head. I disconnected all of the instruments. I do intend to add the depth finder back in. I removed the radar and added a raspberry pi AIS receiver. I am re-rigging and may go to hanks (although quite frankly a furler, while more complex than hanks, simplifies the overall system for headsail management and so the net result is greater simplicity).

You could in theory use one of those Asian butane stoves or alcohol instead of a propane stove. But people like propane stoves, and the other two options have downsides (alcohol is slow, butane stoves have safety issues).

An auto-tiller is not that complex to install and not that expensive. I don’t have one but I would like one just for motoring alone.

I am with you in that for me simpler is better. But I am beginning to see that simplicity on a boat is a matter of tradeoffs and compromises involving safety and maintenance. Except for getting rid of your marine head. There is no reason to have one nowadays. Going to compost is winner with no real downsides.
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Old 15-05-2024, 04:53   #7
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Simplicity is a relative term. My approach is to try and install systems and use tools that I have the skills to maintain and repair. Either that, or have systems that are highly reliable.

In the former category I lean to mechanical devices like winches, manual windlass, wind vane, tiller pilot. Head is a composter. Plumbing is partially manual (foot pump). Dinghy is rowable.

In the latter category are things like VHF radio, simple chart plotter, depth sounder, anemometer, compass. Even though I likely can't fix some of these things, they rarely break down.

All my electronics are independent of each other. Nothing is networked.

I do have radar, and a fridge; both of which are pretty reliable, but which I would struggle to repair if they go down. I do have a pressure water system on board (along with the foot pump). I carry spare pumps to address that potential problem, but pumps are pretty reliable.

If I had more skills, my benchmark for 'repairable and maintainable' would be different. This is why I say it's relative.
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Old 15-05-2024, 05:10   #8
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Quote:
In the former category I lean to mechanical devices like winches, manual windlass, wind vane, tiller pilot. Head is a composter. Plumbing is partially manual (foot pump). Dinghy is rowable.

In the latter category are things like VHF radio, simple chart plotter, depth sounder, anemometer, compass. Even though I likely can't fix some of these things, they rarely break down.

All my electronics are independent of each other. Nothing is networked.
^^This^^ Except, I don't even have any wind instruments or a radar. Each person will have their own level of what they consider "essential," but I think those of us who have been sailing for a long time and began back when most of this stuff wasn't even available have simpler needs. It's the same with homes on land. My mind boggles when I visit contemporary homes and see all the technology that they lard them with today. But, I think those growing up in these homes and looking for their own homes have a different baseline than I do. I keep thinking there will be a revival of the go small, go simple, go now movement in cruising, but maybe it never went away. Look beyond the YouTubers, the magazines, and the online forums and you start to notice small, simple boats in harbors all over the place. Sure, the numbers aren't big, but they are out there. I often anchor near these folks and chat with them. They're the ones often rowing ashore, not watching TV, not running generators, not down below in air-conditioned cabins. They often raise sail at anchor and sail out of the channel, and you'll find them ghosting along on light-air days. They often have manual windlasses, or no windlass. They don't have stern arches covered with antennas and solar panels. Their decks are clear of junk like electric bikes, though you might see a kayak or a surfboard. Look around, the simple boats are out there doing it.
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Old 15-05-2024, 05:25   #9
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

I am with this completely in my own way. I have modern electronics on my boat (raymarine chartplotter, radar, ais, autopilot, fridge, hot water) and these are things I use all the time. They directly enhance my experience, although I've sailed without all of them too.

No solar arch! No lithium array! I don't have them because they are expensive to setup and I don't like the way that they look and don't need that much power anyway. I can run the aux to bring my 2 lead acid house batteries back up when needed. We cook on butane, two tanks in the stern tank locker last forever. I've removed the davits from my boat also because I didn't like the way they look and didn't find them that useful. We removed the permanent cockpit table so we had more room to sail. We removed a chest/chair in the salon so we have more room to move around. I ditched an enormously heavy lift raft in exchange for a lighter one that we could actually deploy from the lazerette. We maintain the head because it is simpler than d*cking around trying to install something else and it works fine. I got rid of the gas outboard because it was a pain in the neck, we have an electric motor for our dingy now which is quiet and reliable and doesn't need a pull starter.

I'd take more stuff off if there were more things that I don't need but for now I'm good. I'm definitely not adding anything! I see these boats around that look like floating garage sales...not for me. Too much stuff to keep track of.
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Old 15-05-2024, 05:50   #10
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

I don't necessarily strive for simplicity on my boat, but as Mike mentioned, I tend to stick to systems I understand and know how to maintain, repair, etc. Just about every complex system on the boat is one I either installed myself or at least have a good working knowledge of.

I don't necessarily think of things as simple vs complex, but as whether something provides enough benefit to justify its complexity. I have a fairly big electrical system on board, but as an example, I wouldn't consider fancy digital switching of equipment to be justified complexity. Flipping an old school light switch is just fine.

For justified complexity, I think of things like the network / internet setup on board. Because we're still at the working stage of our lives, having reliable internet on board isn't just a convenience, it allows us to work from the boat. Which means we get to spend a bit more time using the boat and traveling than we otherwise would if travel time always had to mean being on vacation from work.

Another justified complexity is the electric windlass. It's not unreliable or hard to maintain, I understand the electrical system that makes it work, etc. The appropriately sized ground tackle for this boat isn't really suitable for hand hauling and a manual windlass is impractically slow in my opinion (and would waste fuel by taking longer to get the anchor up, as I won't pull it without the engines running).
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Old 15-05-2024, 06:11   #11
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Quote:
I don't necessarily strive for simplicity on my boat, but as Mike mentioned, I tend to stick to systems I understand and know how to maintain, repair, etc. Just about every complex system on the boat is one I either installed myself or at least have a good working knowledge of.
Sure, but the more systems you have onboard the more time, money, and effort you will spend maintaining and repairing systems. So, even if you understand the system and can repair it yourself there is always the extra cost and time involved. Of course I think many cruisers enjoy the complexity and challenge of installing and maintaining stuff (look at the topics on this forum), so maybe that's a bonus for them. The hard part is drawing the line where you want your level of complexity to be. One criteria I use is if the potential new system impacts other systems in a manner that might bring down more essential systems that would prevent me from proceeding. That's one reason I don't want anything networked. That's one reason I have a manual windlass and an anchor setup that I routinely pull up by hand, just to know I can do it and for the exercise. That's one reason I don't want a boat with electric winches or a mainsail so big I can't just haul it up with muscle power. That's one reason I look for ways to conserve energy before I look to ways to increase energy creation and storage.
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Old 15-05-2024, 06:57   #12
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

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Sure, but the more systems you have onboard the more time, money, and effort you will spend maintaining and repairing systems. So, even if you understand the system and can repair it yourself there is always the extra cost and time involved. Of course I think many cruisers enjoy the complexity and challenge of installing and maintaining stuff (look at the topics on this forum), so maybe that's a bonus for them. The hard part is drawing the line where you want your level of complexity to be.
Very true, although I've generally managed to keep our systems pretty low maintenance so I'm not spending much time fiddling with them. It also helps that we're not cruising full time and we're up north, so the boat gets an automatic few months of downtime every year where I can't use the boat but can do maintenance as needed.
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Old 15-05-2024, 07:47   #13
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Iím all for simple, but Iím pretty happy I didnít have to manually steer a straight line for 16 hours few weeks ago en route from Holland to Chicago on a windless day.
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Old 15-05-2024, 09:25   #14
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

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For the pure joy of sailing... would even go a step further and wish for a trailerable boat with a couple of bunks for camping so that we can enjoy some amazing waters of the US.
This (trailerable microcruiser) has been our current setup for 16 years now, and for pure sailing enjoyment at the least cost, it's hard to beat. But this is CF, and I can see that our setup is not suitable for the cruising that most members here are contemplating (or doing).

We do get out often with friends on larger boats, including one Caribbean charter, but it seems unlikely that we ourselves will make the step to owning a larger boat, at this point in our life.
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Old 15-05-2024, 09:53   #15
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Re: Considering simplicity on sailing boats

Quote:
Originally Posted by HankOnthewater View Post
I always wonder.

More and more I started to admire simple boats. Boats without an array of antennas, without stern arches, without large dinks hanging off the stern, without complicated electrical switchboards.
Boats seem to need every bit of house conveniences. If a cruising boat has no watermaker it might not be considered a real cruising boat. An autopilot and radar are just ‘must haves’. All kinds of comms equipment is called for, including fastish internet. Every purchase of new batteries seem to be of a greater capacity. And safety? It seems we want to mitigate every single risk with multiple EPIRBs, personal PLBs etc.

This hanker for simplicity is driven by a few factors:
- A recent thread on CF about the need for pressured water
- Nearly every piece of equipment breaks down, or is soon superseded, think of navigation gear, radar, comms, batteries
- My own boat is very complicated with dozens of systems, 2 digit winches, 2 digit pumps, 2 digit electric components, 2 digit gadgets, 4 internal engine combustion engines on board, a few chargers
- Such complicated setup requires money to maintain, and when I stop earning that, there are less $$ available
- Such setup requires time to maintain, again time is valuable
- Such setup requires me to crawl into tight spaces, and my body is getting older at a steady rate

What I see around me on other boats that all kind of equipment is being added, I hardly ever see anyone taking a system and equipment away from a boat.

Advantages:
- Boat is slighter lighter, and will sail better
- Maintenance costs go down dramatically
- Time spent otherwise on repair/maintenance can now be used for sailing

Disadvantages:
- Less comfort
- Lower resale value

Yes, I see owners sell a large boat and change to a powerboat, or a smaller sailing boat. I don’t want a smaller sailing boat….. as yet ��
It would be near crazy to remove most of the systems from my boat. It would be better to start afresh with a new/custom boat, with minimal gear. Ie
- Simple sail handling (built for comfort, not as much speed). Dare I utter the words “free standing mast(s)” ?
- Simple mechanical engine
- Simple fixed prop
- Good rowing/sailing dinghy
- Minimal electrics (small battery)
- Minimal electronic navigation equipment
- Good tankage

Am I an outlier with these kind of thoughts?
Any others who like to make comments, for or against? Or with different perspectives?
I hear you. It's one reason all my cruising boats were old school with engine battery charging. But I was not in the super simple camp. Just didn't want all that crap hanging off the boat. Today I would probably have some solar on a bimini top as well as the big alternator, but no tall structure. Everything is a compromise on a boat.
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