Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sweet spots and sailing

I'm taking a beginning sailing class, and that has me scheming about ways to continue sailing after the class is over, namely buying a sailboat. Last time I was at the library I stumbled across Jerry Cardwell's Sailing Big on a Small Sailboat, which is a real gem.

This blog isn't about sailing, so I'll skip to the part about living a deliberate life. Cardwell's thesis is that sailing is most enjoyable on sailboats that are just large enough to have an enclosed cabin, yet light and small enough to be towed by a regular passenger vehicle. He writes,
...many people who are tired of the complexity, equipment and maintenance costs, crew requirements, and limited sailing time on their big boats are downsizing in order to continue sailing, and to actually do more of it...For many of us, life is in great need of a heavy dose of the simplicity these smaller sailboats offer.
Caldwell argues that this size is the sweet spot: just large enough to have all the amenities of a large yacht, but small enough to keep things simple. Larger boats need a place to dock, a large piston engine, maneuvering thrusters, multiple sailors, trailering permits, specialized repair and launching facilities, and can cost more than a house. Trailerable sailboats cost about as much as an economy car and depreciate rapidly. The set-up and tear-down process is inherently quicker, making you more likely to actually sail.

This kind of analysis is key in any resource-intensive activity. It takes a certain minimum expenditure to to get fully running, to get to the "real deal." Spending more on top of that provides diminishing returns; the marginal reward of each additional dollar or hour is less and less.

In sailing, the sweet spot seems to be 22-24' trailerable sloops. In video games, you need a complete system and a large television, but don't need the latest technology. In carpentry you do need a large, stable workspace, but only need a few well-chosen tools. In cooking you need one great knife, a few good pots and pans, and a few other implements, but you don't need gadgets or gizmos. In amateur drag racing you need 300-400 horsepower to make driving a challenge, but beyond that parts costs escalate rapidly. And so on.

I don't think there's any point in pursuing an activity if you can't afford to get to the sweet spot, and it's rare that spending past the sweet spot is really worth it. I'll be reviewing my hobbies to verify that I'm in each one's sweet spot.

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