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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sailing the glossy magazines

I get a couple of those glossy sailing magazines in the mail. They were a fine gift and I enjoy reading them. It’s nice to check out some wonderful sailing destinations, even I’ll likely never sail to most of them. Being a pretty green sailor, there are sometimes useful bits of sailing information.

Two things really get my attention, new boat reviews and the advertisements -not that there’s all much difference between the two.

First the new boats: they are almost always totally out of my budget. That’s not a big surprise, many things are. I could not afford to maintain one even if it was given to me. These high end boats have a lot of specialized systems that would be an absolute nightmare to fix. As boats have gotten bigger, they’ve replaced crew with electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic systems -push button sailing at its finest. That’s all well and good, but everything fails. A rigorous maintenance and replacement schedule would lower the odds of failures happening at sea, but you’d better factor in the cost.

Then there’s all the gear, accessories, and equipment advertisements. Some of the items look useful, but the prices are crazy. One example of this was a set of Lexan glasses. That’s not a bad idea. Real glass on a boat could be hazard. Lexan is tough and looks good. The problem was the price. My daughter bought Lexan glasses to use in her hot tub. They looked exactly the same as the ones advertised in the sailing magazine. She got hers at a big box store for about 1/5 the cost.

It’s one thing for specialized sailing equipment to be pricey, but common items like footwear, hats, gloves, sunglasses and rain gear shouldn’t cost a fortune just because they have little sailing logos on them.

There’s no excuse for most of the sailing bits to be so expensive. I used to think that climbing gear was expensive, and it is. I cut them some slack because much of the gear’s function is to keep you from falling to your death. When similar sailing and climbing gear have a huge price difference, something is wrong. A harness designed to suspend you on Mt. Everest cost significantly less than a harness designed to work on a mast. How can that be justified?

I know there are plenty of people out there sailing on the cheap. Many do it my way, with a smaller boat that can be trailered, avoiding marina storage fees. There are lots of people who live full time on older boats, or even homemade boats. There are couples out there cruising on less than $500/month, and doing it safely.

Of course, you give up all of that fancy push button gear, but you gain systems that you can maintain and repair yourself. My rigging is so simple that I can tell at a glance if something is not quite right. Fixing those problems are usually pretty easy too. I wired the boat myself, so I know how to fix anything that goes wrong. There are plenty of systems I don’t have to worry about because my boat doesn’t even have them.

The problem with all those push button gizmos is that they all consume power. The motors, gas generators, wind generators, and solar panels are necessary to keep it all powered up. It’s complicated. On my tiny boat, the electrical system can be charged up from the outboard. Many times I go sailing and never even start the motor. Occasionally, I don’t even bother to put the motor on the sailboat. My power usage is so low that I can go days without charging the battery. I did get a small solar panel for charging, but not from a glossy magazine. Solar panels are meant to be outside in the weather anyway. All I do is make sure the connections are well sealed against the salt environment.

I’m not surprised there aren’t many magazines out there for those of us who sail on the cheap. Magazines make their money with advertisements, and we don’t buy anything.



  1. But don't'cha know ya just gots to have roller furling, digital radar, auto-pilot, water maker, underwater lights, an LCD flat screen hooked up to satellite tracking antenna, hydraulic winches and a bow thruster, for Pete's sake?!

    No joke, I once installed the navigation "suite" on a brand new 57 foot sport fisherman ($50,000 worth of electronics alone!!). It had hydraulic outriggers with cameras mounted on them. The enclosed, air conditioned flybridge had a leather 8 way power adjustable helm chair, a wet bar with refrigerator, and a nifty little dispenser that blew out shaved ice. Mind you, this is on the flybridge! Down below the gizmos and gadgets were even more elaborate...

  2. Know what you mean about cost of things in those yacht mags. I met a sailor of a nice motor yacht. He was a founder of tech company and retired, bought the boat and did a lot of cursing. He showed me his engine room, just two simple diesel engines that he could work on. I was surprised that he didn't 't have more fancy electronic gear being that he came from that area, but he said "I want something I can fix". He diehard a lap top with his charts downloaded though.
    Speaking of fancy, take a look at this yacht.

    The Bexar

  3. Craig: That's an awful lot of electronic toys.

    Rainman: The tech guy knew tech fails.

    That's one heck of a yacht! Not too many people have the option of taking a chopper to shore instead of a dinghy.

  4. Electronic charts will let ya down, nice to have but there just ain't no substitute for paper ones.
    Roller furling seems to jamb at the worst possible times ie heavy air.
    I'll take hanked on sails every time.
    Wind generator is a good thing, "Four Winds" brand being the most bang fer ur buck.
    Only reason to have a larger boat, is in order to carry more provisions.30 to 35 ft. is ideal. Any larger and either you're too rich or she wants to take the house with her.

  5. Spud: makes sense to me. 30 - 35 foot seems ideal. Big enough to live on, yet not too big to handle. I'm a big fan of paper charts.

    If a boat it too big, it doesn't feel like sailing. My wife and I went on sunset cruise once, and she couldn't remember if the sails ever went up or if we motored the whole way. They did go up, but it's like it wasn't really a big part of what was going on. Hard to explain properly.

  6. Forgot to mention that a narrow beam along with that length of boat is the best sailor also. The fat wide boats don't sail so well, in fact are very unstable.