Right Sized Boating

Ben Eriksen Carey Words 9 Comments


VOYAGING ON A BOAT is a good metaphor for the voyage of life. Stowage space is minimal, requiring the distilling down of possessions to only the most important. Things that break easily, have no useful purpose, or have to be carefully handled are left behind. The same principle that applies to possessions also applies to relationships and activities. For activities this means clearing out the meaningless hustle and bustle, and living only with the most enriching endeavors. When applied to relationships, what remains are the closest mates—those whose friendship is resilient and whose love is able to withstand much wear.

When I moved aboard Daphne, my 27-foot Nor’Sea 27 sailboat, I saved a few nooks and crannies to carefully position trinkets of warmth and mementoes of home. Even the 19th-century explorer Ernest Shackleton, when he had to abandon his vessel and set out on foot across brutal Arctic ice, commanded his crew to schlep the ship’s guitar and Bible. For survival, he knew the crew needed joy and, most importantly, hope.

I was not crossing the Arctic on foot, so I didn’t need to decide if there was room for a cook pot or a pair of shoes— on my boat I could have both. But I did have to limit how many cook pots and how many pairs of shoes I could carry. To be exact, aboard Daphne, I had four pairs of shoes: running sneakers, sea boots, sandals, and winter casual shoes. I had only two pots: a saucepan and a spaghetti pot. I had six T-shirts, two pairs of jeans, nine books, four spare fuel filters, and one set of watercolors, along
with some other stuff.

In 2008, when I purchased Daphne at the time of the economic downturn, right-sized living was becoming a hot topic in the news and on the Internet. The concept had many names: voluntary simplicity, simple living, tiny homes, minimalism. How do you decide what is the right size? What is too big, too small?

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One popular blogger proposed the “100 Things Challenge,” a call to people to pare down their personal belongings to only 100 things. I couldn’t do that, nor did I want to try. Once I started counting I quickly reached the max. Are four pairs of shoes four things, or eight? Does a box of crayons count as 24 because it includes two dozen colors? I decided counting was not a worthwhile approach to defining the right size for my life.

Then there are physical measurements. Some in the tiny home movement argue that a home is only tiny if it is less than 400 square feet. While Daphne most certainly fit those parameters, my “home” expanded beyond the hull as well. My shower was at the local gym and my extra storage closet was the trunk of my car. Even on board Daphne , the walls of my home were as far away as the horizon on a sunny day. So the limits of 100 things, or 100 square feet didn’t apply in my case.

Still, like the economic law of diminishing returns, there is a maximum amount of belongings a person can own before any more would be a hindrance, not a benefit. This idea is repeated in the biological idea of carrying capacity for a species or ecosystem. Daphne had a carrying capacity. To pack her full beyond that limit became too much, and my stuff became more burdensome than it was worth. There is a practical aspect to this. Tightly packed lockers that can’t breathe encourage mildew and make retrieving things a chore. A few extra feet in length might help with additional storage, but the cost of maintenance in time and money wasn’t worth it. Daphne was neither so small that I felt limited or uncomfortable, nor so big that I couldn’t manage sailing and caring for her on my own. When I was cold, I had a sweater. When I was tired, a pillow. Lonely, a kitty. When it was dark, as it usually was under the canvas cover in the winter season, I had a flashlight.

Daphne was the right size for me— small enough to know that Poseidon would test the heart as he will, and utilitarian enough to require baths be taken overboard. Small boat, big adventures; small space, big life.


Somewhere there sails a smaller vessel
Reprinted with permission of MAINE BOATS, HOMES & HARBORS • DIGITAL edition @ www.maineboats.com

Comments 9

  1. Mike

    You have definitely struck a chord with the way I’ve felt so many times. With the ‘less is more’ approach, I truly believe one can more fully experience life without the distractions and hindrances that so often keep us focused on things that really don’t matter. If we focus instead on experiencing everything this world has to offer we likely can live a more satisfying and fulfilling life.


    1. Douglas French

      Yes, and the world has so much to offer! I agree, focusing on trying to experience and learn from as much as we can often means we have to be creatively altruistic in this process as opposed to being selfishly obsessive (to coin a Martin Luther King saying). Its just impossible to haul a lot around, either physically or mentally if we want to get the most out of where we are at. Its a continuing refining art that I think is so worth the effort.. Well put….

  2. Daniel

    The Nor’sea 27 is a nice sized boat for anything you would need. I love mine, Rhapsody.

    I really like the similarities to the tiny house communities too. Keep things simple and you can do anything. No need to be over burdened with “stuff” and you don’t have to have or spend a lot of money to be happy. I like my little boat and it’s everything I need.

  3. Martina

    Hi Teresa,
    We’ve been back on dry land for a few months, living with family in the UK while I await surgery. It’s been a serious culture shock. I had not realised how pared back and minimalist our lives had become until I had to move back to a more ‘conventional’ way of living. I’m counting the day until my family of four returns home to our 36 foot Westerly Conway Carina (51 days and counting!) and normal space and normal use of resources resume.

  4. Suzanne Stirling

    Couldn’t be more perfect timing then to read this today. Turning 50 in January, a bit of mid-life urgency is upon us. Having lived aboard a giant Ferro 40 footer with our daughter, (too big, too much money and ferro besides,) we sold her and built a house. Then found a Pacific SeaCraft 25 in a backyard and have sailed and cruised her for years. (For Sale) Finally, the perfect boat appeared last spring. A Baba 30 we are currently refitting, (well, stripping down really, then refitting) and planning to move aboard and head NORTH. B.C and beyond. Thanks for your wisdom, advice and inspiration.

    PS: Are you coming to the boat show in SF next spring?

    Suzanne and Scott Stirling

  5. Douglas French

    I love the idea of being able to trailer a boat from one spot to another. This certainly solves the expense of having to have two boats in two places and allows one to bring ones home with one if one wants to snowbird. The flexibility as well as the serious design and apparent capabilities of the Nor Sea 27 continue to get my attention. Also the price for someone starting out who wants to feel safe as well as challenged while they learn make it seem like a great choice. The price range seems doable as well. Not really ready to invest 80-100k or more at this point (wouldn’t know what I was buying anyway!).
    If you anyone has any other suggestions for a boat with similar capabilities and price range would like to hear about them.
    Also, Teresa you mentioned about living in your boat in the winter. I have been looking into being able to do this up in Northern Wisconsin and wonder what your experiences with this are. Can you do it dry docked in very cold weather? Was this frowned upon by the local powers that be? Is it somewhat unrealistic in really cold, long winters? Are year round slips an option in the frigid reaches of the north? Just curious.
    Thanks for all the information and blogs through the years. I have followed you for quite some time and though I am still not “there” yet, reading your blogs keeps me informed and keeps that dream and possibility alive. It seems like it might be getting closer…
    Thank You!

    1. Teresa Carey

      I lived on the boat in the winter at a dock. I built a cover the the boat, which covered everything with a wooden frame and canvass. The hardest part was staying warm, battling the condensation, and the darkness (my cover was a dark color.).


  6. Lenny

    I think that Lin and Larry Pardey summed it up very nicely many years ago in “Cruising in Seraffyn,” — Go Small, Go Simple, Go Now.

    It’s great advice but all too easy to set aside amidst the background noise of a consumer society where bigger and more sophisticated/advanced/complex is held out as the best — maybe the only — way to achieve our goals.

    After too many years, I’ve finally achieved the small and the simple, but I’m still working on the now.

    Lenny — in Rockland, Maine

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