Downsizer’s Dream

It’s hard to resist the marketing to go bigger, but which boat will deliver more fun on the water?


As I enter retirement, my interests are changing. My obsession with serious mountaineering and technical rock climbing has relaxed to easy climbing at the local crag with the old crew and walks in the woods. I ride my bicycle more than I have since college; I like the movement. And I no longer have much interest in cruising far, or really any big adventure. I’ve been there, seen that, and proven all that I need to.

I find myself more interested in the motion and the feel, and less attracted to the scale and commitment required by big adventures. I’ve also learned that Baloo had it exactly right . . .  at least for an old guy like me:


“And don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you.”

Boat shows feed two-footitis. It’s their purpose. They nurture the human need to impress neighbors. They dole out shame if  your boat moves with the waves and isn’t as comfortable as a suite at the Hilton.

They fully understand the Walter Mitty in many of us and feed the dream of a world cruise will transport you away from the office grind. As a result, people are funneled into boats that really aren’t best for the kind of sailing they will actually do. And so as the crowds at the boat show gawk at every boat that is two or four feet longer than the one they have, I find myself fascinated by nimble, smaller craft.

Selling my PDQ 34 catamaran last year was like selling a family home full of memories. It had been a gathering spot. There is a also loss in prestige; somehow I was less successful as a man, a personal failure because my boat is little now, even though for me a boat was never about money. It was a tool for cruising. Possessions are a stupid way to measure yourself or life, really, but we are trained to accumulate them as proof we have moved upwards. Is moving down giving up? It shouldn’t be.

The older I get, I also hate seeing waste. It’s just so … wasteful. My cruising bug satisfied and my interests refocused on day sailing, the big cat was all wrong and I feel smart that I sold her before I became burned out and she declined from disuse.

I didn’t come to sailing because I wanted to go far. I came to sailing because I enjoyed the interaction of wind and waves, being close to the water, and being outdoors. Cruising is something that happened for 15 years, triggered by the joys of discovery I could share with my family and child. But I can’t say I ever loved a cruising boat. And so I’ve returned to my sailing roots, piloting something small and nimble that feels the wind. I love my F-24.

What is it like having a smaller boat again?

  • There is still maintenance, but the maintenance is easier to manage.
  • I can enjoy sailing in lighter winds and smaller waters. Tacking is fun again.
  • There is just as much to think about when sailing, and that’s good. It’s a performance boat, with lots of strings to pull, but she’s calm and safe if I reef early.
  • I no longer worry about resale value. I need to keep her safe, nimble, and reliable, but not polished unless I feel like it.
  • There’s no guilt if she sits for a few weeks, a month or even several. In actuality, I sail her more often, because it’s easier to jump aboard and go. I still sail in the winter—that’s what drysuits are for.
  • I can trailer to faraway places if I want to, but I don’t. She’ll live in a slip.

I’ve become the classic old guy, wearing a flat hat and tearing around windy roads in my Spitfire with the top down. She won’t fit the whole family, but she fits me, my wife, my daughter, and a picnic basket.

I like the new size of my life.

Drew Frye is the technical editor of Practical Sailor. He blogs at

Drew Frye
Drew Frye, Practical Sailor’s technical editor, has used his background in chemistry and engineering to help guide Practical Sailor toward some of the most important topics covered during the past 10 years. His in-depth reporting on everything from anchors to safety tethers to fuel additives have netted multiple awards from Boating Writers International. With more than three decades of experience as a refinery engineer and a sailor, he has a knack for discovering money-saving “home-brew” products or “hacks” that make boating affordable for almost anyone. He has conducted dozens of tests for Practical Sailor and published over 200 articles on sailing equipment. His rigorous testing has prompted the improvement and introduction of several marine products that might not exist without his input. His book “Rigging Modern Anchors” has won wide praise for introducing the use of modern materials and novel techniques to solve an array of anchoring challenges. 


  1. This is spot on! While I never was as active as the writer in sailing or mountaineering, in my late 60’s I revisited owning a boat cautiously. My choice ended up being a little known and perhaps orphaned class Martin 244. Billed as a racer/ cruiser it ultimately is a 24’ lightweight flexible daysailer and quite affordable. Also trailerable, and while that was my original plan, moorage is quite reasonable and 45 minutes from living room to hoisting the main and falling off the wind means I say yes to a day sail without hesitation.

  2. Thank you for summing up my feelings about downsizing. We have had several wonderful cruising boats, all in the 30′ size and really enjoyed them, but used them less each year. Now I have the smallest boat in the marina (17’Cornish Crabber) and enjoy it for all the reasons you mention. My neighbours, in their multi hundred thousand dollar power boats, also tell me that more people stop to look at my boat than any other on the marina, especially their’s! Any size sailing boat gives pleasure, but the great thing about sailing is that a wonderful daysail in a small seaworthy boat can be as memorable as any other type of sailing. I don’t trailer sail as I only live 4 minutes from the marina, so can be underway in less than 10 minutes from leaving home

  3. Drew,

    I sailed a lot as a young man, but life got in the way. I was thinking about getting a boat, but if I do, it’ll be a smaller, easier to manage boat for the reasons you stated.

    I’ve been a motorcyclist most of my adult life. I’ve had big, fast bikes, but I no longer do. In fact, I have a small bike: a Royal Enfield Meteor 350. I got it for the same reasons you got your F-24. In fact, as I read your thought process behind downsizing your boat, I felt like I was reading my OWN thoughts! Small and simple are beautiful, no matter what you’re doing… 🙂

  4. I’m 57 years old, one of my former careers was as an officer on everything from an ammunition ship for Desert Storm to Captain on a 58′ Bertram. I have always loved sailing but wasn’t willing to spare the time and money as I allowed my professional life get in the way. Now a financial advisor with still little extra time but thinking about working less I stumbled across a friend selling an old (1982) but well outfitted US22 for $2,500. She’s no racer but very forgiving. Living in SW Florida the wee hours are when it is cool enough to be comfortable. The vast majority of my sailing consists of arising at oh-God thirty, getting out there with sails up and engine off, propping up my feet with my coffee and a donut to watch the sunrise. I’m heading back to the dock about the time all the nuts are just coming out.

    Although I find myself looking at larger boats, in the end I keep coming back to the conclusion that I mostly need my small, old, worn sailboat that is easy to sail and low maintenance (I replaced all exterior teak with high density marine grade plastic and she was already scuffed up so who cares). I can bareboat charter a monohull somewhere interesting almost anywhere on the planet an awful lot of times before I get even close to the cost of buying and owning a larger boat that I would use less often. If I ever find myself at a point in my life that I am likely to spend months cruising, then I will reconsider. For now I’m not going anywhere anyhow so who cares how fast she is or how she looks. I just want to watch the sunrise and the dolphins when they swing by for a visit.

  5. There is more to downsizing than just day or weekend sailing. What if you want to live permanently on the boat? All the same adages apply, the bare necessities, as small as possible but no smaller and keep it simple.

    I worry about the sheer amount of kit, especially electronics, that the average yacht carries onboard and the complexity that people think is essential now. At best, every single thing that is not absolutely required is something to be maintained, repaired or replaced in the future. At worst, it may fail at the least convenient moment when you have previously relied upon it.

    Downsizing is about the bare necessities and emphasising basic seamanship above all else.