It’s Good to Be Little
Choosing to go small was a very conscious decision. For boating to be sustainable for me and my circumstances, I bought the smallest boat that would fulfill my needs. The more popular attitude seems to buy the biggest boat one can afford and to maintain land-based lifestyles.
Many new boat owners are unprepared for the costs of keeping a boat maintained. The bigger the boat, the higher that is. I often see the inability of people to keep up. They spend their time and money on maintenance and moorage, rarely using the boat. There is also the person who lives aboard but doesn’t keep it in seaworthy enough condition to leave the dock. All of this was unappealing to me.
So, I went small. I do make choices and accept conditions that many would find unacceptable for themselves. Sacrifice can be relative. The payoff of sailing more and living within my means is worthwhile. My carbon footprint is smaller than the average American and far smaller than the average boater.
Fast Forward to the Coronavirus Pandemic
I was living at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend for the winter of 2019/20. The liveaboard moorage there was transient, and you are required to leave on May 1st to make room for the tourist season. When the pandemic fully arrived in March, and the lockdown ensued, options and communications became uncertain.
I was fortunate enough to be working and very happy I wasn’t living in Seattle. However, the idea of not having dockside moorage with steady access to water and electricity during a pandemic was a source of anxiety. While I was able to live anchored off the waterfront, this seemed especially unappealing. I have spent many weeks at anchor during various expeditions with Sampaguita and relished it. But somehow, it wasn’t exciting to me at all while working full time and dealing with the chaos of a worldwide health crisis.
I had several non-boating friends tell me I must be lucky to have a boat in these times. I always responded with, “Well, it has its plusses and minuses.” In reality, “escaping” wasn’t an option. Job abandonment didn’t seem wise, and I felt good about my workplace’s preparation and protocols. And escape to where? No communities wanted outsiders showing up off their shore. You will always be considered a vector. You will put pressure on their resources, and I was a bit worried about security too. No, I wanted to make my stand in Port Townsend, I just wanted a secure place to moor.
I can guess what you might be thinking. With a bigger boat, living at anchor is easier. I could have larger water tanks, a water maker, solar panels, wind generators, refrigeration, a hot water tank, pressurized faucets, a dinghy with an outboard, and more. Except this wouldn’t have been in line with my pre-pandemic reasoning. Plus, while I had a job, there were no guarantees with that. Financial times were bound to be difficult for many for quite some time to come. I was happy with my choice to keep my overhead low.
And now comes the punch line. In January, I paid $100 to sign up for the permanent slip waiting list at Boat Haven Marina. The smallest slips were 25 feet, and since that accommodates a Flicka, that was my choice. At the time, the list was five names long, but for whatever reason, people often pass. I was told, “It may not take long for your turn to come.” In contrast, I know people with boats over 30 feet who’ve been waiting two years or more for a slip. For larger ones, it could be three, four, or five years, or longer.
Sure enough, in February, I got a call for a slip. But can you believe I didn’t realize I had a message from the Port until about five days later, and by then, they had moved to the next person? Ugh. That was when the pandemic was still just an epidemic. But by April, I was losing sleep on where I was going to go on May 1st. Then, I got “the” call again! I did not miss it this time, and I did not hesitate. “Yes, that slip sounds great, and thank you very much.”
So, on May 1st, within four months of adding my name to the waiting list, I moved into my new permanent slip. The virtue of being small has paid off again. “It’s good to be little.” “I am thankful to be little.”
Living aboard a small boat
Has challenges you may note
The galley is small
A head with no wall
But low fees to stay afloat
I like your reasoning with the small boat option. I’m considering a Hunter Horizon 21ft myself as I really don’t have a lot of money, but I have a lot of time to learn to sail. Would you say that a small boat is more limited in the conditions you can sail in? I live in Brighton on the English Channel and whilst it’s not the ocean exactly, it’s not a sheltered estuary either. I’m worried that the 21ft yacht might be a bit hectic in sea conditions that a longer craft would slice through with no drama. Having said that, I’m a newbie, used to sailing a laser dinghy, so what do I know?
I’d be grateful for your opinion. I have a bunch more newb questions too:-)
All the best
Thanks for reaching out and I’m glad you had some interest in the blog. I am not familiar with the Hunter Horizon 21, but I looked it up. That boat is a lightweight boat with a high ballast/displacement ratio. It’s a whole different animal than a Flicka. Compare these specs:
It likely will have some limits in the conditions it can sail in, but since your new too, so will you. I have not sailed on the English Channel, but my understanding it has significant tidal currents and this is something that will affect when you can sail as much as the wind. The Pacific Northwest does too. When there is a stiff wind against a strong tidal current, short, choppy seas will kick up. While a stiff boat (high ballast/displacement ratio) might handle the wind fine, the short, light aspect won’t likely slice through heavy chop well. Because it’s short it might be more affected by the troughs and crests, and because it’s light, it will lose momentum trying to get through the waves. It might be, as you say, hectic in those circumstances.
It’s big advantages are it can be trailered, seems affordable and might be a good starter boat. Depending on your situation the trailering aspect could save you money and give you cruising options away from Brighton. Since you are new, I would encourage not over investing and get a feel for having the bigger boat. You may break things as you learn and they won’t hurt so much to repair. As with any boat, choose your weather. I’ll bet you will have plenty of opportunities on the Channel where conditions will be easy and even frustratingly calm. The tides will always be a consideration.
Ask around locally and get multiple opinions on boats of that size and type, and how they perform in the area.
I am attempting to have an unbiased and honest look at the advantages and disadvantages of the sizes with the page. Finances are such a main influence in my own choice. Sail within your means or you won’t. Thanks. I hope this helps.
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Thanks for your very full answer. I appreciate you giving me the time. The Horizon 21 is, as you say, a lightweight trailer sailor. Less than half the displacement of yours in fact. I can picture it being tossed about a good deal by the waves and perhaps being quite demanding to keep on course. Having said that, my local marina has a cheap deal for boats under 21″3′ (6.5 metres) and so if its a case of go cheap, go soon. I might just confine myself to light wind days and early mornings while I build my skills.
Thanks, and all the best from England.
Just started following. I am also a small sailboat, limited budget sailor. Last year I got a Georgian 23. Small boat with big features. Solid boat, 6’2″ headroom, pumpout head, wheel steering and inboard diesel. Great little sailboat. Apparently theres been a few sailed down coast and across to bahamas and back from Canada.
Thanks for stopping by. I had to look up the Georgian 23. That looks like a stout little boat. I hope she serves you well.
Hi Josh I only just found your blog and am very impressed with your writing and thoughts.
I live in Australia and seem to do circles with living on a small yacht or cycle touring.
This year as you know was the year from hell , I was touring on the bike after selling my little yacht (was a mistake) I was having a ball heading south to Tasmania which is where I go each summer to get out of the heat.
It soon started getting cold and time to think of heading to warmer climates , but this time I had to think about the dangers of this Covid stuff, being on the older side of life I never envisaged what was to unfold.
Tasmania is a little island south of Australia I knew if the world blew up this was the place to be (the Amish have moved here from the US) but it snows in summer so the winter would be hell and I was travelling light not set up for the cold.
I headed north and your words in your post really hit home I was a stranger in every town and from what was a citizen of Australia came down to we don’t want you here, trying to cut this short life was hell and I rode 1500km heading for the coast I couldn’t believe all the yachts that where cheap had all been bought so instead of the market coming down like I thought I now had little to pick .
I found one just moved back on board , what a relief I have a home it’s small like yours though no head room
It has built in ballast and a centre board , I normally buy a long keel yacht I have pushed it hard and she stands up to her sails so am starting to feel confident she can go to sea, if Captain Voss can sail a Indian canoe around the world I should have a chance. I have always loved the Flicka there was a young man sailed one from New Zealand to Australia its on YouTube any way I just needed to say hi please don’t put this in comments but I couldn’t find your email stay safe