December 7, 2014

The case for simplicity

I WAS LOOKING at a picture of Joshua Slocum’s famous Spray the other day and marveling at the simplicity of it all. My thoughts strayed to an article I once edited for a magazine. The author and his wife had sailed almost halfway around the world in a 42-foot ketch, and the purpose of the article was to tell other amateur sailors how they, too, could do it.
The bit that stopped me in my tracks was a sentence that said a laptop computer was “essential equipment” on the author’s boat (and most other voyaging boats) for communications, the Internet, and electronic charting.
Now, as one who advocates smallness and utter simplicity in cruising boats, I found that statement very disturbing. So a laptop is “essential” equipment, is it? Baloney. As far as I’m concerned, to cross an ocean you need a boat with a keel or a centerboard, a rudder, a pole from which to hang the sails, and a bucket to bail out the bilges. A little stove would be nice to make some hot coffee or a meal now and then, but you can eat cold canned food if you have to. I have.
Let me list a few essentials that the aforementioned author had on his boat, compared with what Captain Joshua Slocum had on his boat when he became the first man to sail singlehanded around the world.
Diesel engine (Slocum, no engine); radar (none); autopilot (none); wind vane (none); Dutchman sail-flaking system (none); watermaker (none); two alternators producing 150 amps (none); refrigerator (none); single-sideband radio (none); Pactor e-mail system (none); towed generator (none); battery monitor (none); 2,000-watt inverter (none); fuel polishing system (none); WiFi (none); laptop computer (none).
I myself am not a greatly experienced voyager, but I have twice crossed the Atlantic in boats of 33 feet and less that lacked the “essential” laptop computer, not to mention radar, autopilot, electronic charts, fridge, single-sideband radio, and a whole lot of other things from that author’s list. I didn’t even have an electric bilge pump.
The strange thing is, now that I know what’s essential, thanks to this experienced author, I suddenly feel deprived. It’s like not having taken advantage of hallucogenic drugs when I was still young enough to recover and save myself. It’s just too late for me to start on the essentials now. Besides, most of the boats I’ve owned had nowhere on board that would be dry enough for a laptop.
I am astonished that I managed to cross the Atlantic twice without all the goodies I really needed. To tell the truth, I’m really rather ashamed of myself. Such a bad example. My only consolation is that Captain Slocum was a bad example, too. And a few thousand others just like him.

Today’s Thought

Often ornateness goes with greatness;

Oftener felicity comes of simplicity.

— William Watson, Art Maxims


California’s wine growers have listened to pleas from senior boatowners who have to make several trips to the head every night.

Vintners in the Napa Valley area, ordinarily producing Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Grigio wines, have now developed a new hybrid grape with anti-diuretic properties that will eliminate the need to visit the head during sleeping hours.

It will be marketed as Pinot More.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack said...

John, call me old school but, I run with the k.i.s.s. theory, the Blondie Hasler theory of rescue and boxed wine. Why have three bottles when one box will do. Please continue being a bad example and where do I get that pinot more vino? Jack

biglilwave said...

When I sold one of my first sailboats, I was asked by a potential buyer why I only have a manual bilge pump. I explained that if you're taking on so much water that can't be pumped out with a manual bilge pump then you got other things to worry about and your electrical is probably already gone. He didn't like that answer and the fact that I didn't have a depth transducer or chartplotter. He walked away and I shouted, "...but I have paper charts!".
I eventually sold that boat to a like minded fellow and sweetened the deal with a 100ft line with a lead weight and knotted every 10'. He sailed away with a smile.

Edward said...

Just found and finished reading "Tinkerbelle". There you have whats needed!
Also just got your book "The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat" ....GREAT! Thank you for publishing!

Washington & Main said...

Nice reminder. I think the issue is balance and what can you fix? Somewhere I read a good rule: don't have rely on anything you can't fix. I have diesel I'm learning to work on, 12 v DC I'm learning, and the next step is to figure out how to fix the autopilot if it ever needs it. Simple? Balanced, anyway. Definitely paper charts but electric lights for reading. BTW, I'd love to find where I can buy a real lead for a lead line. I used to have one but it's long gone and I can't find a replacement.

John Vigor said...

Hi Washington:

For a lead line: Get a piece of aluminum tube. Melt some lead fishing weights in an aluminum container and pour into aluminum tube.
Otherwise do what I did. Find a nicely shaped stone on the beach and drill a hole through it.
John V.