Alvah Simon - Small Is Beautiful

22:24, Feb 03 2013
Annie Hill
Annie Hill

As the international fleet of cruising boats becomes ever grander and more sophisticated, there is a small but resistant counter-trend afoot or, more precisely, afloat.

Call it the 'Small Is Beautiful' school of thought. The adherents to this are seeking a simple, affordable, yet fulfilling life-style. Their vessels are smaller for, by nature, these people are not grand entertainers and need only to house themselves - themselves most often being a single-hander, couple, or small family.

By design the vessels are not hot performers, as the core purpose is to smell the roses along the way, not blat past at planning speeds. The equipment and onboard systems are not the cutting edge of modern technology, so you won't find the boat bristling with antennae above or dominated with retractable flat-screen entertainment stations below. A GPS, a VHF radio, and, at a stretch, a laptop with a modem allows them to navigate the vessel safely, keep abreast with weather and news (most often by the old fashioned short-wave radio) and perhaps communicate with the outside world - on occasion.

These are the core tenants that sailor, author, and adventurer AnnieHill has been preaching and living for many years. In her first book Voyaging On A Small Income, published in 1992 and now considered a cult classic, Annie told her audience "Go simple; go now."

Through careful planning and a little bit of old fashion discipline, she did just that, and on asurprisingly small income.

Annie says: "Work is the curse of the cruising classes. Money is hard to earn but easy to spend. It is a simple and clear cut choice - freedom or consumption."

It really comes down to the question if one is willing to pare their lifestyle down to the point that they forego the simple pleasures and conveniences such as a $4 coffee in the local café or store-bought bread. For Annie these sacrifices were, and still are, a small price to pay.

"Think about it." she urges. "You get to live a wonderful lifestyle, surrounded by beauty, meet fascinating people, and your time is your own. What's the downside?"

Through years of careful study and cautious investment, she has taken the concept of frugality beyond the realm of economics and into that of philosophy.

As to how she got her nautical start, she says: "Simple, I met a man with a boat."  That was Pete Hill, in England, in 1973, and together on his28-foot junk-rigged Wharram catamaran they crossed the Atlantic and back.They decided it was too small to live on so moved on to a six-meter ex-racing yacht.

Annie Hill
Annie's Raven 26 Fantail which she recently converted to a junk rigger.

After living aboard for three years they decided that this was not the "right boat" for them. When they saw a Jay Benford 34ft plywood boat design they agreed it fit the bill - easy and affordable to build, and once fitted as a junk-rig schooner, congruent with their core themes of simplicity.

Via the Arctic, Antarctic, the Caribbean and Africa, over the ensuing years they put 110,000 miles under Badger's keel. Pete's dream of another ambitious boatbuilding project proved too much for the relationship, and they separated in South Africa.

Annie ran into an old acquaintance, Trevor Robertson on his 35ft steel Iron Bark, a Nick Skeates designed Wylo II, rigged as a gaff-cutter. For the next seven years she and Trevor continued to explore the thornier edges of the world, including a winter-over in a remote bay in Greenland.

Their sailing accomplishments were awarded in 2010 with the Cruising Club ofAmerica's Blue Water Medal. Through all these years and 165,000 miles of cruising, Annie has remained consistent in her approach to life in general, and sailing specifically. She believes we all need to make a smaller footprint on the planet, learn to live more simply, affordably (in the grander sense of the word) and consciously. She has spread this message through a monthly column with Yachting Monthly in England, articles in Cruising World in America, and is presently working on her next book, The Voyaging Vegetarian.

Regarding her Kiwi connection she says: "When Trevor and I first sailed into the Bay of Islands, I felt like I was coming home. And, as it turnsout, I chose my parents correctly. My mother was a Kiwi, and a girl can't have too many passports." Annie is now living alone in New Zealand onboard her Fantail, an Owen Woolley designed Raven 26 - Mach II.  

She has converted it to a junk rig, and as you may have guessed, Fantail is a tight, simple, but rather efficient little cruiser. (See the December issue of Boating New Zealand).

If you would like to meet Annie Hill, there is no point looking for herin any of the chic boutiques or fancy waterfront restaurants. Keep an eye out for a funny looking little sail on the horizon or try some of those lovely, lonely anchorages in the North Island.

For more information on Annie Hill go to her website

NOTE: Don't miss Annie Hill's latest adventure - her solo voyage from Motueka to Whangaroa - in the February issue of Boating - On sale now.


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