Rooted in Minimalism

minimalist sculpture Tony Smith

As you know, Dear Reader, I have recently been looking at and talking about the concepts of minimalism.  While I can not currently claim membership in that club, it is the direction in which I’m moving, and it occurs to me that it is the direction from whence I came.  Yes, I was once a certifiable minimalist – long before it was popular, before there was a fancy nameplate to hang on one’s door to announce it to the world.  It was just the way it was.  No; I didn’t grow up in the Great Depression, it was something far stranger than that.

You see, it began in childhood.  We were an Air Force family and the government has never been any too generous with Non-Com pay rates.  My parent’s always saw that the 4 of us young’uns had what we needed, but frills were few.  Don’t get me wrong; we weren’t raised in a packing crate or anything, we were comfortable and happy.  The only time I ever felt even a little deprived was when a friend came to school wearing a pair of the latest tennis shoes – you know, the ones that make you run like the wind and allow you to leap over small buildings in a single bound, I’d feel a twinge of envy.  But it passed quickly.  My parents raised us with better values than that.  They taught us to find contentment in what we had.  More or less!  

The Plan Forms

As I became a young man, I became fascinated with the idea of traveling the world in a sailboat, earning my way as I went.  I read all of the books written by Lynn and Larry Pardey about their adventures as they cruised the world in their 24 foot Serrafyn.  Much of their writing was about handling rough weather in a small boat, navigation and cruising on a shoe string; being a “Self Sufficient Sailor” was a common thread through all of their books and the title of one of them.  These folks provided the blueprint for my plan.

I enjoyed a pair of books by Gordon and Nina Stuermer, Starbound and Deep Water Cruising.  I also added Blown Away and You Can’t Blow Home Again by Herb Payson to my library.  And of course Chapman’s Piloting and Seamanship is a reference book no serious sailor should be without.  It covers everything from tying knots to weather prediction to navigation.  Since I planned to build my boat by finishing out a hull and deck kit, I also devoured all of Ferenc Maté books beginning with From A Bare Hull.  It was his Best Boats To Build that helped me decide on the 28 foot Bristol Channel Cutter.

Earning a Living on the Go

While I was working on acquiring the skills needed to sail the world alone, I was also working on the skills I’d need to earn a living as I went.  I’d been writing since I was in Jr. High School, just journaling short stories at first, nothing worth showing anyone, but it was a beginning.  Creative Writing classes in High School helped.  Then as a free young adult I took jobs with first one publishing company then another.  Both exposed me to professional writing and opened doors to my first published magazine articles and my first book.  I also made valuable contacts with people who were willing to help me accomplish my life goal, including a typesetter who volunteered to type my hand written texts into manuscript form and get them to my publisher.  This was before laptop computers, my writing would be done in long-hand on notebook paper and mailed back to the ‘States’.

Phase One: A Real Boat

Victoria 18, sailboat, launching

Then I bought a sailboat.  Not the Cutter I wanted, I lived inland and needed a boat that could be used on the local lakes yet would handle like a bigger boat.  I did some research and chose the Victoria 18.  With a full keel, 550 pounds of lead ballast and a sloop rig, she would respond and handle on the lakes like a large boat would on the ocean.  I had already taught myself the basics of sailing using a Sunfish.  I traded the sunfish in on a Victoria, christened her Pegasus and set about learning to handle a real boat.

Pegasus came with a small outboard engine, but I loathed using it.  I didn’t even take it with me most of the time.  Instead, I learned to SAIL the boat.  I learned to tack my way up the narrow channel to the marina, learned to watch the water for wave patterns that indicated wind shifts, and to maximize whatever winds were available.  I went out sailing in all weather from near calm to 35 mile per hour winds that whipped the lake to huge, foam crested waves, spray stinging my face and the wind howling through the rigging.  Pegasus seemed to enjoy the rough weather sailing as much as I did.  And I learned a great deal about sailing single handed.

Welsh Corgie, sailboat  Brandy aboard Pegasus with meI did have a little Welsh Corgie named Brandy, who enjoyed sailing with me in fair weather.  I trained him to stand on the foredeck as I worked into the dock, foreline in his mouth.  On my command, Brandy would jump over to the dock, run around a cleat and jump back into the boats’ cockpit where I sat and give me the rope.  I’d then snug it up, stopping our forward motion and drawing the boat up to the dock gentle as a falling leaf.  This little maneuver tended to leave the spectators on the dock staring gape-jawed.  It was great… once we got it down pat.  There were a few scary and embarrassing moments along the way!

Learning to Live Small

sailboat, interior, cabin, accomodations
Typical Small Boat Interior

One would think that contemplating moving from a house with 1000 square feet of living space to a boat with less than 100 square feet would be intimidating.  In fact it was not.  I had spent many long weekends aboard Pegasus (which offered ¼ of the cabin space the Cutter would and I learned to cook and bathe and change clothes and sleep comfortably in a coffin-like tunnel that served as a berth.  The cutter would seem spacious compared to this.

I began ridding myself of unnecessary stuff, deciding what would be required and what was frivolous.  I selected a set of high quality woodworking hand tools that fit neatly into a pocketed oil-skin tool roll about the size of a large duffel.  With these and a knock-down work bench I practiced making furniture for friends and neighbors in my back yard.

Bristol Channel Cutter with classic rig under full sail
Bristol Channel Cutter with classic rig under full sail

lI was looking forward to the challenge ahead as I scrimped and saved every penny I could to buy the hull and deck kit that would become my future home.

The Dream Hits a Reef

When I was quite close to purchasing the Cutter and beginning the work of building my boat, life and love intervened and I began to rethink my plan.  The details don’t much matter now, but she had no intention of living in a cramped little boat.  So instead of trading Pegasus in on the Cutter, going off to sail the world and write about my adventures, I used the money to get married build a woodshop and write about building furniture.

Over the years I wandered far from the notion of living in a space the size of most people’s bathroom.  She who stole my heart was a material girl and we collected tons of stuff and spent quite a few years pursuing wealth and the imagined security it offered.  Then things changed again; divorce cost me everything I had.  Time to start over.

Time to get back on track.  My outlook over the past 16 years has been far less materialistic, and I’ve been much happier.  Marie and I found each other and she has been a perfect soul mate.  Now, as we look toward retirement I again seek to simplify life, to get back to basics and a life uncomplicated by volumes of possessions and debt.  We’re still not dedicated to minimalism and this is an on-going process, but the more we do, the better we like it.

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2 Comments

  1. Very nice to read. I grew up poor,had some better years later and now we barely have enough to eat. I can`t get work and my new husband,who is new to the country and won`t have citizenship for a few years,has not found a job either. We have 4 children,live totally minimalistic,have no car,renting a small place and trying to stay above water. We can`get a loan because we have no assets and no one to cosign. Wish we could have at least a small place of our own and grow some food. Israel is expensive and hard to survive and I can`t leave the country because I have 2 sons inscribed in military service and one is a soldier already. I wish I had a boat like yours and would be free from all the bills and free to move wherever I wanted. I have been following your blog for more than a year now and wanted to let you know,how much I like your articles. Thank you. Blessings to you and Marie from Israel

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment, Kurtengel. I am grateful for your kind words and heartbroken by the plight you find your self in. I was in similar circumstances once – I call them my Ramen Noodle Days – though my homeland was not being torn apart by war and I had no children. It’s hard even to imagine how hard that must be for you. Blessings to you as well.

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