Somewhere There Sails A Smaller Boat

Teresa Carey Publications, Words 28 Comments

I recently happened upon a sailing magazine while taking pause during a downpour and killing time in a boating store. The magazine’s focus was small sailboats and pocket cruisers. “Look at this,” I said to Ben, my partner and fellow pocket cruiser enthusiast, handing him a copy. We loved the magazine! Finally, a publication that spoke directly to our interests and to captains of vessels like ours–small enough to still know that Poseidon will test the heart as he will, and utilitarian enough to still require baths be taken overboard! These are the simple sacrifices in safety and comfort traded for closer quarter with Mother Nature.

I looked to their website for more information, clicking on their “About Us” link. Again, much of what I read there spoke to me directly. But one thing there struck me as somewhat brassy.

One of the editors writes his opinion by stating, “A 14-foot mini-cruiser is minimalist. A 19ft is comfortable, and anything much larger than a 25 borders on ostentatious.”

This comment was followed up by a claim of being a “minimalist at heart.”

Yet being a minimalist is always and only resident in the heart. There exists no true metric for how big, how much or how many–nor some golden mean alerting us to when we may have strayed from such a set of supposed ideals. The reasons for which people own and enjoy their boats are as diverse as the owners themselves. One cannot look upon your things or your life, and taking measurements determine whether you are a minimalist or showboater. It is the conscious exercise to hold less, to have less, to desire less–this is what leads to needing less.  One’s efforts to strip away the excess and thrive with the fundamentals, will differ from one individual to the next.

One can sleep in an open rowboat with a leaky tarp for protection, or make a bed out of an open canoe, or even build up a staunch mound of snow for shelter. I’ve been there–and enjoy those challenges.  I can understand the beauty and authenticity offered by that way of life. But, after my week-long, or month-long, or much longer adventure I’ve always returned to a home with a proper bed and a hot shower awaiting me. I didn’t need less to understand the beauty of less. And yet I continue to wonder what lies over the horizon of that so-called minimalist life.

Now I live aboard my 27ft sloop Daphne with sparingly few things. It’s not a house, but it is my home. It is not a car, but I travel a blue road. And there is no flush toilet or shower, fancy navigational electronics, television, etc. But regardless of Daphne’s size (she could be half her length for this comparison), I still don’t call myself a minimalist. Somewhere there drifts always a smaller boat, always a lighter way to pack it.

Throughout my personal process of downsizing and reduction, I have come to understand that minimalism is a continuous process of the mill grinding finer and finer.  I am still consciously attached to some guilty pleasures, but I have happily shed or stowed many. And so I continue to practice my brand of minimalism–an effort that is best described as a process.

Comments 28

  1. Todd N. Temple

    Compared to 99% of American’s you do lead a minimalist lifestyle.

    Life is mostly one compromise over another.

    It’s all relative of course, and the most important thing is living a life that is as true to yourself as possible.

  2. PJ

    Interesting post. We are downsizing from a house to a sailboat, and you have been an inspiration to us, as we comb through all the junk we have collected all these 27 years, tossing and selling our “belongings”. Everyone’s definition of minimalism is different. You may see us out there in a few years and think how ridiculous we are in a 44 footer, but we may be living just as simply as you. My wife gets claustrophobic in quarter berths, and v-berths, so this dictated a center cockpit boat.
    Our boat is pretty much stripped, with only the essentials, yet we still hear it from sailing “purists”, regarding our unnecessary size to sail around in. You do what makes you happy and comfortable, and you ignore what everyone else thinks. We are having fun getting to the live aboard lifestyle. Everyone thinks we are crazy, but most people do not understand, especially family.
    Keep on sailing and enjoying life, and keep on writing too 🙂
    Paul and Deb
    SV Kelly Nicole
    Sodus Bay NY

  3. Bill

    I’d be interested to know what publication it is you found. We too are in the process of downsizing to a sailboat, and I imagine we’ll end up on something in the 30′ range. Boat size is all relative I guess, depending on your age, means, comfort, etc. Though with a bigger boat it would be able to hang on to more of your “stuff”.

    In any event your blog has been an inspiration for us to keep reducing our things and move forward with our life on the water.
    SV – TBD 😉

  4. Merry

    I often think how strange I must be for thinking I have too much room on my boat! My friends on land would think I’m crazy if I told them that! Well anyway, I totally agree with you Teresa–minimalism is an ongoing goal and way of thinking/desiring to need less, rather than some finite goal that you somehow arrive at. Good post!

  5. thomas armstrong

    I know which publication you refer to, and often post my blog entries on their website. I have also often written about truly minimalist cruising, it’s one of my labels. My definition coincides with the length limit of the Jester Challenge,30ft. But that of course is a somewhat arbitrary number. Minimalist, to me, is doing the most possible with limited means. Could be sailing around the world in a 12′ boat with full compliment of electronics, or living aboard a 29′ boat with minimal impact. Both scenarios work for me and fall into different sub groups, but I think the idea is basically doing more with less. All labels are by nature open to interpretation. Hannes Lindemann crossed the Atlantic in a kayak. Mini Transat racers cross in hi-tech, state of the art 21′ boats with full electronic kit, and I feel both are Minimalist. Witness the Jester Challenge, ( where most boats are under 30′, and the emphasis is on self sufficiency, more than winning. I guess I’m thinking out loud here but the idea of minimalist to me probably has resonance more with self sufficiency than size, and a certain spartan attitude toward sailing in general. I certainly admire sailors with enough seamanship to put to sea on ocean crossings or coastal jaunts without petroleum backup. For some further investigation of these philosophies, check out Jay Fitzgerald’s Seasteading and Roger Taylor @ The Simple Sailor

  6. Alice

    I agree that minimalism is a continuous process… two years ago we sold our house to move into a camper and go travelling. We spent ages going through our belongings and ‘downsizing’ but we still kept all of our ‘important’ things in storage. When we returned late last summer we moved back into a house and couldn’t wait to get our ‘important’ things out of storage. What a disappointment to realise that probably not even half of this stuff was really of any use to us! We are now on another downsize this summer – moving onto our first boat, and I suspect that the storage box will either be a lot smaller this time, or indeed not at all 😉

  7. rob

    Why do we ( the human race) always have to name and categorise everthing? shall I tell you? its so we that we can criticise it accurately :o)) I`m a “maximist” one who lives as he just can`t afford! “as their are no pockets in a shroud” work that out! Great post by the may :o))

  8. Fran

    after 37 years of marriage, 3 kids, 3 grandchildren, careers….my husband is finally really happy, as I have agreed to downsize..something he, and our youngest daughter, have been trying to accomplish in our home, for years……the funny side is now determing what is really important to both of us, or trying to convince the other why a certain item should not be tossed out. All those years of saving to pass down to my kids….I am learning was a waste….what I considered cherished items, they mostly look puzzled at…………but we are accomplishing a lot…but now that I am writing this, perhaps he, my husband, is getting ready to spring that much desired boat life on me!!! I see a challenge coming on…..sorry, I think I too just vented!

  9. laura

    I’m right there with Rob, why the need to categorize? We’ve sold two homes (a 5 bedroom/4 bath, and a 3 bedroom/2 bath) and I’m okay if our 35 foot catamaran with 2 full heads isn’t minimalist because it’s perfect for us! I bet if a certain someone could afford a bigger boat he/she wouldn’t be so quick to catagorize. I’m just saying!

  10. SailingSimplicity

    Rob! Very funny. I like your humor.

    Laura, I’m not sure I understand what you are saying. Who is categorizing? The statement that I quoted is by a person who enjoys sailing small boats regardless of what they can afford. At least thats what I gather from the context. Do you mean I am categorizing? Hmmm, I hope that my post made it clear that those were not my intentions at all. Just the opposite in fact. Thats why I wrote, “One cannot look upon your things or your life, and taking measurements determine whether you are a minimalist or showboater.” And you are absolutely right that your boat is perfect for you…no need to label it…just as my 27ft boat is perfect for me and I worry not what the editor of the magazine said about boats over 25ft.

    Mother, Good luck! Its going to take you another 37 years!!!


  11. laura

    Oh no!!! I’m sorry! I certainly never meant you! I was referring to the article by the person who said any boat over 25 feet was ostentatious. It’s just that in my many years of experience people who put down others are sometimes just resentful, that’s all. I hope to never post a comment on a blog that would offend the author and I’m sorry if I came across that way. I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long time and I truly admire you! Let me tell you I could never do what you’re doing by myself.

  12. Rick Patton

    Teresa, You have shown again that you are a real woman, complicated, intriguing, interesting and full of life. I’m not sure I fully understand, trying to be a minimalist because when your sailing you and your boat has needs and most of those needs represent your safety and survival and I would have to say comfort which you would not want to sacrifice. That’s why you probably spent extra money on good foul weather gear, just an example, not a minimalist thing to do. Must be tough having all of us out here commenting on everything you write.

    Fran, I’m an only child and when my parents got older they wanted to give me a lot of there stuff.. but I had stuff of my own. My Mom had a hard time understanding why I wouldn’t want some of that stuff and I explained to her that what I liked most was the great times we spent together. The best stuff was how I saw them treat each other and everyone else they came in contact with. That was the best stuff I took from them. Or they gave me.

  13. SailingSimplicity

    I could certainly do without a lot of the stuff that I choose to hang on to. I’m not trying to reach any particular measure of minimalism. I’m only trying to be happy within my means and ethics. Which means that no matter how rich or poor I may be I hope to continue to live modestly, not greedy and not support my happiness or fulfillment with things.

    That being said, you are absolutely right. I do have nice foul weather gear…but they weren’t expensive. I worked as a sailor for a while and they were a benefit of the job. But I have other nice things. Some are safety related, some are just nice things that I like to have.

    However, I don’t think minimalism equates with money spent on things. If possible, I would buy quality equipment, long lasting, and the tools to maintain it before I would buy cheap stuff that needs to be frequently replaced. For me it makes more sense to think of it as ethical consumerism.

    Thank you for your comment. Its great!

  14. Rick Patton

    Teresa, I’ve always told my boys, That if you have gas for the car and food in the house, you have what it takes to make a great picnic.

  15. Nate Bayreuther

    Hi, Teresa,

    I’ve followed your blog for some time, although this is my first time posting. Thanks for sharing all your experiences.

    I’m not sure if you have picked up the latest edition of the magazine you mention, but your letter to the editor is featured, and the editor responds. I thought I’d post it here so you could see his reply. He writes:

    “Don’t take my statement about ostentation in the “About Us” section of our Web site too literally; I occasionally resort to hyperbole to emphasize a point – in this case that boats not easily trailerable are usually outside the purview of [our magazine].

    “That said, I would not question your credentials as a true minimalist. I lived for years in a little more than 200 square feet, and you’ve got that beat.”

    Thought you might like to see that. Thanks again for all your interesting posts.

    Nate Bayreuther

  16. Post


    Thanks for sharing. I didn’t think they would publish it. So, he said not to take the statement to literally? Perhaps he is right. But I’m not sure how his statement says at all what he apparently intended to say. “Ostentatious” isn’t the best word choice considering that it means:

    “characterized by or given to pretentious or conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others: an ostentatious dresser.”

    Ah well. No big deal.

    I didn’t include the magazine title in this post because I wanted to respect its privacy, even though what he wrote can be easily found on the their website. But since they published my letter, then the cat is out of the bag. It can all be found at “Small Craft Advisor.”


  17. NS

    I preparation for our big move, we have moved to a cheaper apartment, got rid of the cell phone, land line, one car, and TV altogether.
    Everything I own and ‘need’ will fit into a car, everything she ‘needs’ will fit into a van.
    You are right about the milling process. Two years ago I got rid of an apartment full of stuff. With the last move we got rid of another apartment’s full. This time we have ‘give away’ furniture and everything we buy now we think of in terms of ‘can we keep this when we move aboard’ & ‘how will it fair against salt air’?.
    We spend less money, have less stuff, and enjoy what we do have just that much more. iPhone …? What’s that?

  18. David D.

    I really enjoy reading your blogs Teresa, and have admired the BCC since they started showing up in the waters of English Bay in Vancouver. I was surprised at their speed and awed by their drop dead gorgeous good looks.

    I often think about what people accumulate materially during their lives. When we lived aboard our C&C 32 in the 80s, we had no running or hot water (whale foot pumps only), and very few possessions. It was perhaps the happiest times of our lives. When we moved ashore after several years, we were very conscious of what we began to accumulate.

    Our live aboard neighbors, a much older couple who tried to move into an apartment after 8 or more years on their Fisher 30 ketch, gave up after several months of too much unused cupboard space, and moved back aboard their beautiful compact home.

    We sometimes discuss selling our mobile home and moving back on the water, but it unfortunately isn’t practical. I need my workshop for extra income, and I walk to work across the street. My wife is almost 70 and she knows the dampness would really get to her arthritis. We have to just enjoy the memories of our younger sailing adventures. While our friends were buying houses, we made the choice to buy a sailboat while we were young enough to really enjoy it. No regrets at all, though their houses are worth three quarters of a million dollars, we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

  19. David D.

    Sorry about the BCC comments Teresa? Getting blog sites mixed up. please delete that part if you can. I love the Norsea 27 almost as much as the BCC. I should have more coffee before I make early Saturday morning comments 🙂

  20. Tim M

    Sometimes the best things in life are free should be replaced by simple. Sometimes by ridding ourselves of the uneccesary we suddenly find in ourselves the inner peace that was there a long time ago, but which was lost in a world that requires the stress , rush and anxiety to move forward.

    Started reading some of your stuff , I like what you stand for and I think what your doing is awesome, for most of us its not easy to give up the trappings and just live , you make it look absolutely easy.

    All I can say is jealousy is ………. and you go girl

  21. Jassen Bowman

    I realize this is a couple years old, but very awesome post. Have been reading much of your site the past few days, thoroughly enjoy your viewpoint!

    After my divorce 6 years ago, I thought that shoving my half of our suburban home into a 10′ x 10′ was “minimalist”. Two years later, a 5′ x 5′ storage unit and a full size van were my home, and I thought I was “minimalist. And on it went.

    Now, my entire life…everything I own…fits into a single backpacking *day pack*, small enough to be a carry on. And honestly, I still have too much crap I don’t need.

    As I walk the marinas the past few days, meeting with boat sellers and brokers, I am presented with so many different opinions of “minimalist”, and I have to stop myself from saying, “No, I can show you how to live with even less.” Some say a 25 footer is the absolute minimum for a liveaboard, others say 38 feet. I see a 15 foot West Wight Potter and think, “Wow, that’s roomy.”

    To each their own, I say. Everybody must find their own path. It makes me happy to see people like you, Teresa, that have found theirs. Congratulations!


  22. Angela

    I think that the real definition of living wealthy is actually living comfortably, and if your lifestyle is minimalistic, you have more resources you can draw on to live even more comfortably. As a society we generally waste a lot, but it’s great to go back to basics, and get a closer sense of what we really need. I think it brings us back into reality a little.

  23. andyK

    Minimalism’s definition I believe is always defined by the definer. When most fantasize about a huge mansion, latest model Italian sports car and gold trimmed customized carrot juicer, I personally fantasize about selling every possession I own and living simple life – without the anchors and ties to debt and material. I have bought a 19 foot COM PAC that I am working on. She is a beaut – I will plan to live-a-board her until either my sanity is frayed by the obvious, or until I can afford an upgrade. I relish the challenge of a small cabin, limited mobility and a tiny home. I hate what society defines as the “American Dream” – A stupid house, a new car (and new car payment), debt to our teeth-line. This is no life. YOUNG PEOPLE! Do not succumb to the made up falsehood of pointless careerism! LIVE YOUR DREAMS! I am in my mid-forties and was brain-washed. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE! Live your dreams and do what makes you happy! I SO respect Teresa and Ben for following their passion(s). Fair Winds Mates!

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