The case for the simple life

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Recently we had two couples, all avid cruising sailors, to our home for dinner. The conversation predictably focused on our respective boats and where we had cruised during the summer. By early evening, I was struck by the dissimilar experiences our friends had had.

One couple owns an older 46-foot catamaran. Besides the obvious two hulls, it seems to have at least two of everything: two engines, electronics at the helm and electronics at the nav station, two refrigeration boxes - each with its separate compressor - two heads, and lots of other systems that have been installed through the years to make life on board more comfortable and "home-like." In the case of this couple, some of these indulgences are understandable, considering that they're living aboard while they build a new house.

Sam Devlin designed this 33-foot lobster boat without an inverter, 110-volt shore power or electric hot water heater

My other friends own a 32-foot monohull of similar vintage. It's a rather simple, older production boat that has been well-maintained. There's no generator, freezer, inverter, television or air conditioning. A simple 12-volt refrigeration system keeps their beer cold, and a couple of 12-volt fans keep their bodies cool during the hot Chesapeake Bay summers.

My friend with the smaller, simpler boat brought a stack of photos to show where they had sailed during the summer - picturesque harbors, happy guests in the cockpit, beautiful sunsets. My other buddy ran through a verbal list of boat projects he had been working on all summer, including unexpected repairs that not only altered his vacation plans but put a dent in his cruising budget.

A time to rethink things

Eventually, the whole process of keeping a complex boat running and properly maintained can become too much of a burden, even for those who can afford it. I overheard a well-heeled fellow talking to a broker who was about to list his gorgeous, 58-foot, twin-engine, gold-plated yacht.

"You know I'm just tired of always having to pay someone to keep all this stuff working. We're not having fun anymore. I need to take a break from boating."