Small boat theory is based on boats but just as boats are vessels for the wider dreams of man, so the theory seems to have application elsewhere.
My central observation is that there is a common pattern to the ownership of boats. A person may get into boating with a modest purchase, a starter boat. This might originate in their youth or in their later years. This boat is bought on a budget and is just enough to contain the reality of what we hope to do with it.
The small boat has the advantage of being no more than we need. Not only is it cheap to purchase, it is easy to maintain, has less complicated bits added onto it and less to go wrong.
As long as the vices of nasty haven’t been combined with the joys of cheap, small suffices.
Fewer troubles generally occur at the smaller end of the scale because micro challenges get solved easily. Small is simple. Small is human sized.
Over time though the possibility of the boat and the size of the dreams that go alongside it can expand. A shower, warm water, more cooking space, a bigger bed, faster cruising speed, competion, ego expansion; any number of things might attract us to a bigger vision of what is possible.
An industry exists to sell us dreams and it is easy to succumb to. We dream of what we might have and what we might be able to do. In a progress that often takes place in a number of steps, the boat gets replaced with something bigger, more luxurious and more expensive to buy and maintain.
Before long the vessel is big enough and well appointed enough to contain all possibility. Then, over time, reality tends to fail to keep up with possibility. Holidays are booked elsewhere, expediency takes over and the dreams are not fulfilled. Because our busy lives are elsewhere, the vessel sits lonely in the water gathering weed and costing, because of its size, a small fortune.
At some point the boat’s size on the water thus gets questioned. We can’t go a particular place because the boat is too large or I can’t go today because I need additional crew to help. At the same time the overall cost gets analysed. Does this make sense any more we ask? We decide not and tell ourselves we can always charter a boat in the sun or go with our friends. The boat finally gets sold and our fun on the water stops.
In all this we don’t step back to look at what has happened. It is difficult to consider going back to small again.
Instead, in all this escalation of dreams it is a rare thought that in the first place says: why not stay with something that is yes, always a little bit constricting but nevertheless gives us fun?
Why not value the cheap, the simple and the easy to justify over the large and complicated? Is not the seamanship, that being on boats is all about, centred on being economic after all?
In that searching for economy we are also forced to be more self-reliant and creative rather than resorting to our pockets to sort out our problems.
Small Boat Theory is the challenge to resist the charms of the bigger and simply stick with the least we can, knowing that we’ll be happy thereby.
The image at the top of the page is my small boat “The Magic Mushroom” beached at the bottom of the tide on Osea Island in Essex.