'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

Outfitting Within your Means


You can’t have everything

The eternal and persistent question when outfitting a cruising boat is, always: “How Much is Enough?” Followed, of course, by the completely unanswerable question “How much will it cost?” I won’t try to answer the cost question, since it’s just too complicated, but I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the equipping side, since we’re nearing the end of that process now with Sionna.

So the question of the day is, what is the absolute minimum required equipment, facilities and supplies? What can’t you cruise without? And naturally, the true answer to that question is; “That Depends”.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “It’s Personal”. When you come right down to it, what one crew feels is absolutely-stripped-down simple may seem, to others, to be ridiculously over-prepared.

As I hope I’ve mentioned in other posts, Nicki and I are great and avid fans of Lin & Larry Pardey, the “first family” of long-term, minimalist cruisers. If you’re not familiar, check out their current site at L&L Pardey and consider reading their writings, too. Great stuff. In over a dozen books, DVD’s, and countless presentations and articles, (and over 150,000 miles of engine-less cruising under sail), the Pardeys have been tireless, vocal advocates for their cruising mantra (and indeed their 50-year lifestyle): “Go Simple, Go Small, Go Now”. It was their insistence on simplifying their boat, and their example of what is possible on a minimalist budget, that convinced me that maybe the cruising dream I’d been harboring wasn’t an impossibility, after all.

“Maybe”, I thought, “We really COULD go…”

It is upon such fragile foundations that alternative lifestyles are built!

Let me just say, upfront, that we are not well-to-do financially. Also that we are not “poor”, at least in the way that I define poor. We live closer to the federal poverty line sometimes than I might wish, but we eat well and have reliable shelter, and vehicles to get us to work – because we must work when not cruising. There’s a small disability income from my previous career which helps level the income flow a bit, but in our world there is no wide-screen TV (actually we haven’t had a TV in 10 years, and I can’t imagine a need for one), no owned real estate, and no big new cars (ours are both 9-year-old sub-compacts, and well over 150,000 miles). Nicki is a fitness instructor, I’m a carpenter – a rather seasonal field in Maine. The only “toys” we allow ourselves are good shoes to protect Nicki’s feet, decent quality tools for my work and – being avid cooks and foodies – good knives and a Kitchen-aid mixer on the counter.


New-to-us Force 10 range

So that sets the stage for our perception of “Required Equipment” on our cruising home. Cost is always a concern, and of course our cruising plans determine the type of equipment we’ll need in the near future. The cost-effectiveness of on-board equipment is carefully weighed, and then balanced against the absolute cost to determine if it’s even possible. Then, finally, comes the “gut-check”.

If you’re not familiar with the gut-check concept, let me explain. We might look at a piece of equipment – say, radar – and decide that it’s cost-effectiveness is high; ie for the money, it would fulfill an important function well. In terms of total coast, the $2000 or so could be managed, though we would have to eliminate something else from the “want” list to swing it.

But the gut-check is a feeling. It’s a look inside my soul that says “Do we really NEED this, or do I just WANT to need it?” I was a pilot once. I love radar and all the information it can give you, but on our boat do we actually need it – and its maintenance expenses -given the type of sailing we’ll be doing?

No, we don’t. And here’s where we come to one of the Pardey’s most important rules of inexpensive cruising:

If it’s not installed, you don’t have to pay to fix it when (not “if”!) it breaks. So, no radar.

Ok, but what about refrigeration? Sionna came with a huge icebox, over 8 cubic feet, but like every factory-built boat I’ve ever seen, it was under-insulated and inefficient. We plan to cruise in the semi-tropics for the next few years, and part of our “staying healthy is cheaper than getting healthy” mindset demands lots of minimally processed foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, real dairy products, etc. (Please don’t ask me where rum and wine come into that equation!)

Because that’s how we wish to live, the ability to keep some of our provisions cold has significant gut-value to us, enough to justify the cost and upkeep of a small refrigerated space. It passes all three tests, (cost-effectiveness, total cost and the gut-check), so it stays. And if it makes a few ice cubes, that’ll be bonus.

To increase the feasibility factor, I added 2” of foam insulation to all inside surfaces of the cooler, reducing it’s volume to about 4.5 cubic feet, and installed an Isotherm self-pumping refrigeration system, which uses the water surrounding the boat to dissipate the heat removed from the fridge. Simple, few moving parts, easily installed, and replacement parts (should they be needed) easily available and installed by the user. Then I added a 100 watt solar panel to cover most of the power requirements of the fridge. Voila!


100 watt solar, expandable later

The next two years on Sionna will be mostly inshore or near-shore, as we travel down the Atlantic ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), cross Florida via the Okeechobee canal, and explore the Keys and Gulf Coast., then the Bahamas the next year. We won’t be crossing oceans (yet), and we won’t be months away from basic services and parts.

Still, we may do some night sailing off the coast during the trip (Atlantic ocean and Gulf of Mexico), and from the Bahamas there may be an overnight to farther Caribbean destinations at some point. Friends, there’s a lot of traffic out there in places.


Si-Tex SAS-300 AIS

Our first overnight passage last summer, from Maine to Cape Cod, turned into a marathon 30 hours of motoring in confused seas, fog and zero wind, crossing the shipping channels for both Portland, Maine and Boston, Mass. Were we nervous? Well yeah, we were. No way to see shipping beyond about 500 yards, and no way to hear them with the engine running. We had the VHF radio to announce our position, but that was it, and it felt pretty naked. It sure would have been nice to know if any of those big ones were out there.

So we’ve installed a dedicated AIS transponder (Automatic Identification System), which overlays it’s information on a GPS chart plotter display in the cockpit. For the price of most plain AIS systems, we got a small (5” x 9” screen) combined AIS/chart plotter with current electronic charts all the way to the Bahamas. Cost effective, affordable, and it’s giving me a warm, fuzzy feeling before we even get it in the water! Sometimes technology really does feel like a wonderful thing. We still won’t have a TV aboard, though.

One other thought about the cost of cruising. I’ll end with a list of all the things we’ll have aboard that we had to add, but keep in mind that ALL installation and routine maintenance labor is provided by Nicki and me. If we’d had to hire someone to do all this, at commercial going rates, we’d never leave. Really. I figure that would have added about $22,000 worth of labor to the process, and would have instantly made this whole cruising dream impossible for us.  The choice is pretty clear: Deep pockets, or DIY.


Manual Windlass, saved from the project boat.

Ok, here’s the wrap-up. To take Sionna from a very comfortable weekend and short cruise sailboat to an extended-cruising home for two, we added/modified the following:

  • Drifter light-air sail
  • Storm jib & storm try-sail
  • Additional anchors – we now carry four anchors of 3 different types (2 CQR plows of 35# and 25#; one 35# fisherman, one 22# Danforth style)
  • Additional anchor rodes – we have three complete chain/nylon combination rodes and spares for another.
  • Manual Anchor windlass (salvaged from our project boat)
  • 10 docklines, two over 30′ long.
  • A dinghy we can stow on deck for passages.
  • 3 horse dinghy motor.
  • AIS/chart plotter, plus paper chart backup. (Si-Tex SAS-300)
  • Second GPS. (Lowrance Elite4m)
  • Second chart plotter on Android tablet..
  • Hand-held VHF radio (In addition to existing fixed VHF).
  • Refrigeration (and additional insulation) (Isotherm 2055sp)
  • Stereo system (USB, MP3, CD, AM/FM).
  • All LED lighting.
  • 100w solar panel with controller, expandable to 340watts. (Windy Nation)
  • Propane, with control/safety system and 22# (4.8 gal) propane capacity.
  • Gimballed stove – two-burner with oven/broiler.  (Force 10)
  • Small propane gas grill.
  • Re-plumbed the entire fresh-water system, and rebuilt the port 75 gallon water tank so it won’t leak.
  • Added spares for rigging, engine, filters, belts, etc.
  • Added tools for boat maintenance/repairs and basic carpentry, in case I get a chance to work along the way.

So there’s our list of upgrades. What would you do? Would your list of “must-haves” be significantly different? Have we forgotten anything?

Author: s/v sionna

Living the dream in 32'. We left Maine on August 18th, 2016, and have gradually worked our way south until we felt warm enough. After spending the summer in Maine, working to replenish the cruising kitty, and rehabilitating an old house. we’re headed back on the boat, bringing Sionna back home to northern waters. Follow our blog here!

9 thoughts on “Outfitting Within your Means

  1. It sounds like you have put alot of thought into your prep. I think anything else will present it’s need as you spend time living the dream. I’m a few years behind you, but I hope to see you out there. My home port will be Boothbay Harbor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love it. Just found your blog and your refit/money philosophy is so very close to ours. So, it must be good! I too put a lot of thought into handing ground tackle and ended up going for an electric windlass and an all chain rode. I also think dinghy handling is pretty important; to that end I installed a radar arch (not feasible with your sail plan) to act as lift davits and as a place to park my solar. I am sure your system for lifting the dink on deck is a good one and davits are ridiculously expensive… but it might be nice to have a quick way to lift the dink. We are in similar stage of our journey, deep in the refit, isotherm SP refrigerator, and working in cold weather. We are pushing off from Milwaukee in early June, 2016, planning on getting to Florida late November.


    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like our timing is very similar – what is your planned route? I hope we share an anchorage along the way this fall! As for dinghy handling, I think that is the one big item we have NOT yet settled to our satisfaction. We hoist it – with great difficulty – onto the foredeck, where it is awkward, in the way and subject to damage should we take water over the bow – NOT ACCEPTABLE! We’ll be towing it for the ICW, but on passages… Well, we’ll figure a way – and write about it when we finally do!


  3. I like the philosophy about not installing systems because then you don’t have to fix them when they break. We have an electric water pump (came with the boat), which I really wish was manual because I just know that it’s going to break at an inopportune time. We’re mulling over the whole AIS thing. So many things on our wish list, but so many things that we can probably live without.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have both – the prior owner installed pressure water, but plumbed in the hand pump as well. When (not if!) the pressure pump goes, we switch two easy-to-reach valves and have access to all our fresh water from the galley hand pump. Best of both worlds, I think.
      As for AIS, well we really wanted a decent chartplotter, so the combined unit made sense – particularly since we DON’T have radar to look for other traffic.


  4. I know what you mean about the ‘gut check’, and I agree that sometimes it can be confusing in terms of ‘want’ or ‘need’. Just now we are re-doing the aft cabin like you did on your boat, so we can sleep together. we will need a new mattress and I can pay someone to make it, which is what I WANT to do, or I can pocket that money and do it myself, which is what I NEED to do. Seems like our entire life is built on sweat equity. Looking forward to seeing you guys cast off. And I would love to see photos of your interesting and unusual boat. Hope there are some on your blog.


    • There are some, though I’ve not done a proper photo tour. And can’t right now, as she’s a construction zone! Still a lot to do, and I just added to more things to my list…


  5. Best of luck with your plans! So glad you contacted us, and hopefully we’ll meet up someday. Like you two, we often live around the poverty level and definitely aren’t rich! We probably won’t have radar or a watermaker, but maybe AIS and definitely a windlass (hopefully electric).

    You mentioned that you’ll be filling the cruising kitty by working on a cruise ship? Would love to hear more about that!


    • Not a cruise ship, no. We’ll be working – back in Maine – BETWEEN cruising. Commuter Cruising, if you will. Although we’re actually thinking about trying to fit some of our working into cruising if the need arrises. Nicki’s a fitness instructor, and I’m a carpenter/mechanic, both of which are reasonably portable occupations!


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