40 years with no breakdowns – I’ll raise a coldie to that

Cruising (v.) Ongoing boat repairs and maintenance in distant and exotic places.

For most of us, this is the reality. Stuff breaks down. You can rely on that. Between the navigation gear, autopilot, refrigeration, toilet, engine and its ancilliary bits, there is always something either not working or getting ready to fail. We’ve come to accept this as normal, and this is wonderful. For mechanics, techs, sparkies, sailmakers and riggers in the cruising ports of the world, business is booming. Apart from the nuisance of waiting around for things to be fixed, and the cost of the repairs, it’s no big deal – unless you would rather be out doing what you had planned.


As someone who has spent weeks, probably months, waiting in marinas, blowing the cruising budget on marina fees, and wasting precious cruising time, I am not a fan of breakdowns. I do not cruise to support repair people in distant ports, or even the ones in my home port. I prefer my gear to be reliable. I was not impressed when my $1300 fridge needed a $500 repair, or when the toilet stole about a week of my time. To offset the cost of the fridge repair, I made the mistake rebuilding the toilet, instead of just replacing the thing. Saved a few dollars, but bad move for my equilibrium. Very inconvenient too, for a liveaboard, to have the convenience out of action.


These latest breakdowns reminded me of the years we cruised without the complications. Fridge and engine free, bucket and chuck it – no big deal and very little to fail. Now we can afford the mod cons like refrigeration, electronics, hot water, electric toilet and indeed an engine, we think we are more comfortable. But are we really? Most of this stuff only breaks down when you are using it, which for us is not usually in a marina with help readily to hand.


I recently read the biography of cruising gurus Lin and Larry Pardey (As Long as it’s Fun, McComick 2014). It’s an interesting story about a remarkable couple. Opinionated? Certainly. Justifiably so? I guess with over 200,000 miles on the log since the 1960s, they are entitled to hold firm opinions. If you haven’t heard of the Pardeys before, this couple’s mantra is to keep it simple. Their lifetime record of cruising the world’s oceans under sail includes doubling Cape Horn. Their boats are deliberately uncomplicated, and they have the skills to repair everything on board. Many folks disagree with the Pardeys’ self-imposed simplicity, but here’s what blew me away: in all those years and all those ocean miles, they have had only one breakdown at sea – when Larry fell against the self steering gear off Cape Horn.


How much time and money have they saved by not needing to wait for parts and repairs in foreign ports? How many years did they not have to work in order to buy all the gadgets the majority of cruisers feel are indispensable? How wonderful was the peace of mind from total reliability? For anyone who really wants to cruise, their example is worth considering. I don’t mean giving up the luxuries we now consider essential – I like my hot shower and cold drinks too – but let us not be dependent on these things. Let’s not be sucked into a consumer yachting mentality, where we just keep adding stuff to our boats without considering the cost, in time, dollars and angst, when it all inevitably breaks down.


Petrea McCarthy