Resources & Expertise

Articles

Small but Mighty: The Case for the Day Sailor Lifestyle

In our noble quests for once-in-a-lifetime sailing adventures, we sometimes forget that the grandest of them are often the simplest and often found right in our backyard. Quantum writer Bethany Whitley tells her story of the unsuspecting day-sailer that found its way into her life and why she now swears by the day sailor lifestyle.

The best boat I ever owned I bought for $500 at a charity boat auction, mostly for the really nice aluminum trailer it was resting on. The 19-foot O’Day Mariner 2+2 was a bit of an eyesore. The sails were dirty, the wood was begging for some love, and the chipping bottom paint was exposing layers like an onion. To top it off, its hull was a dazzling shade of guacamole. Not the delicious, freshly made guacamole, but more like a bowl of guacamole that has been sitting in the fridge a day or two past its prime. 

Standing in line with our auction number to pay, I thought to myself that at least the money goes to a good cause. Meanwhile, my husband was going on and on about all the great things he could do with the shiny new trailer once we figured out a way to dispose of the sad, old fiberglass shell on top of it. Never in our wildest dreams did we think that we would fall in love with Wholly Guacamole and all the places she, and her trailer, would take us. 

After owning and sailing our small but mighty vessel for several years, we were converted to the day sailor lifestyle. We preached its virtues to all our “big boat” friends with cult-like enthusiasm. We were absolutely sure that we had uncovered the secret that smaller boats are better in many ways! Here is a breakdown of how the day-sailer outshines its larger rivals and can be a great option for many sailors. 

MONEY 

The single biggest obstacle to getting out and enjoying the sailing lifestyle is the cost of the boat and of maintaining all the systems and equipment necessary to sail it safely. Each foot you add to the boat exponentially increases the cost of sails, auxiliary power, spare parts, etc. Now multiply that by secondary costs such as insurance, haul-out fees, and slip rentals, and your relaxing hobby has become a stressful financial burden that can keep you from fully enjoying the sailing experience. 

With a small, portable sailboat, you simply don’t have many of the financial stressors to begin with. Keeping the boat on a trailer eliminates slip fees. You are your own haul-out crew. The thought of insuring the boat doesn’t even cross your mind when the deductible is often more money than the boat is worth. With the excessive overhead out of your way, you will save thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars, annually by owning a simpler, smaller, and mobile boat. 

No matter how careful and competent you are with your boat, something will eventually break and it will need repair. Boatyards often charge for exterior work based on the length of the boat or by the hour, which is a direct reflection of the size and complexity of the vessel. If you are more of a do-it-yourselfer, you’re still talking significantly more time and more material costs with every foot and beam your boat increases. Used spare parts also become less available, and the tendency to need more of them increases with boats that are more than 25-feet long. Both money and associated stress are greatly reduced with every foot you loose from the length of the vessel, increasing your ability to enjoy the relaxing hobby you set out to master. 

So the next time you’re at the yacht club and your buddy with the 50-foot foreign luxury yacht scratches its hull on the dock or has to call a diesel mechanic, reach deep into your pocket filled with cash, give him a pat on the back, and buy him a Dark and Stormy. He needs it a lot more than you do! 

TIME 

For many of us, time is our most valued commodity. So why devote more time to the things that don’t give us pleasure when a simpler answer–a day-sailer–is right in front of us?

Unless you are living on your yacht or taking it out four or more times a week (Good for you, you salty pirate!), a day-sailer makes it much easier to get out and enjoy time sailing and less time burdened with projects and maintenance. On a simple day-sailer, there are no hydraulic systems to fix, no instruments that need calibration, no electric winches to test, and the generator doesn’t need an oil change. Sure, it will take an hour to get the day-sailer’s rig and sails up and launched–and another hour to put it away. But that time pales in comparison to the time it takes to ensure that your yacht, and its multitude of systems, is in proper working order.

Beyond the time it takes to keep a sizable yacht maintained, there is also the time it takes to get somewhere. I helped a friend deliver a 60-foot ketch from northern Michigan to southern Florida. We took our time and stopped to visit friends and family along the way. I remember thinking to myself as we neared our destination several months after we departed that I could have driven the distance, pulling Wholly Guacamole, in less than 24 hours. 

OPPORTUNITY

With a small, trailer-able boat, you are no longer confined to the body of water you call your home port. You don’t need weeks of vacation to get from one place to another. You can literally sail in Lake Michigan one day and Lake Winnipesauke the next, giving you more opportunities for exploration. A small boat with a reasonable trailer can be pulled by just about any four-wheel-drive car at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour! Can you imagine your boat traveling at those breakneck speeds? 

Wholly Guacamole was especially good at creating opportunities for us because of her cozy cabin and swing keel. We could take her further than some day-sailers because her cabin gave us a moderately comfortable place for two people to sleep and keep our clothes and bedding dry in case of inclement weather. Because of the cabin, we made a habit of taking her camping all over the Great Lakes and sailing in beautiful and remote areas where we were often the only boat on the water. 

The greatest thing about our boat, however, was the swinging keel. The ability to lift it up into the hull let us sail in shallow water and pull up on sandy beaches to go exploring. With no galley onboard, we could choose a secluded spot on a beautiful sugar-sand beach and cook our dinner over a flickering campfire. Walking down stretches of beach, laying in the sun, and exploring the land around us was always a great treat after reaching our destination. 

The places and the opportunities this mighty vessel gave us truly convinced me that bigger isn’t always better. I had been sailing the Great Lakes for the better part of a decade before acquiring my day-sailer, but I had never felt so connected to the landscape and so in tune with nature as I did on the tiny boat that took me anywhere. 

BACK TO BASICS

Owning my boat helped me become a better, more intuitive sea woman. Leaving behind all of the fancy gadgets we’d become accustomed to on larger boats was a wonderful sensation. Feeling how the boat maneuvered was much easier with a small sailboat, and it helped advance my skills in predicting wind shifts, balancing the boat, and gaining more control and confidence. 

It makes sense to learn how to sail in a simple boat such as an Opti, Sunfish, or Butterfly. If you can master the fundamentals and understand the elements in these small, sensitive boats, then cruising or racing in larger boats becomes significantly easier. Applying the same principles and mechanics on a larger scale is all that’s needed once the essentials have been engrained in your brain. 

I used to get a kick out of people’s reaction when we would bring our day-sailer into a marina or boat launch under full sail. People would watch us, sure that we were fools who had no idea what we were doing. They would break out their phones and get ready to record a You Tube fail video that was sure to go viral. I never could tell if the look on their faces was surprise at our skill or disappointment that we ruined their chances at Internet fame, but, as they sat there and watched us shift our weight and let out the sail to reduce our speed, executing a perfect full-sail landing to a dock, I realized again just how awesome and simply fun a day-sailer is. 

The Discussion