The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

The Beauty Of Simplicity


As we get older, Phyllis and I are getting simpler. No, I don’t mean in the head, or at least that’s not what this post is about. Rather in the way we evaluate the functionality, or lack thereof, of equipment and systems on Morgan’s Cloud.

Examples of Simplicity

Here are a few examples of decisions we have made that were driven by our desire for simplicity:

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Matt Marsh

John, I’m very glad to see an experienced, qualified mariner extolling the virtues of simple systems.

One important point, I think, is that when you’re beyond reach of help, you should never depend on anything you can’t fix yourself. This applies equally to your type of cruising (on the high seas) as to mine (in hidden, often uncharted rivers and lakes). Maybe complex systems are OK, if your regular crew includes an engineer and a mechanic. But don’t make your cruise depend on something that needs a technician flown in from overseas when it breaks.

One thing that a few of the profs really tried to drill into us as engineering undergrads was that complexity is generally detrimental to good design, and should be kept to a minimum. If there are two ways to do something, there had better be a damn good advantage to the more complex one. A case in point: One project I worked on involved a sophisticated lithium-ion-polymer battery pack. Li-poly batteries require a complex control system to stop them from shorting out, bursting, or catching fire, any of which they will gladly do if abused. The usual way of doing this was some simple analog circuits to generate reference signals, and some analog comparators to sound the alarm and kill the power if anything went out of tolerance. One year, an attempt was made to redesign the whole thing to be computer controlled… I don’t think that version ever worked properly, and it cost us an enormous amount of precious development and testing time.

No, the best way to do engineering is the conservative way. Go simple, go beefy, go for hefty safety factors above what you consider to be the unexpected worst case. Computerize things that are a pain to manage otherwise, not things that work perfectly without a microcontroller. And take the extra few hours, or few days, when drawing up ideas in the first place to make sure you have it right. Extra engineering effort at the drawing board costs only time. Failures in the field cost time, money and sometimes lives.


Really appreciate your informative blog. Simple and manual means that you are familiar with your systems and things are not happening in the background that you are not aware of.
Any particular reason you got rid of the chain hook on your snubber?


Andrew Troup

I use a variation on John’s method in the situation where it may be necessary to ‘cut and run’ in a hurry.

I always have a number of sacrificial webbing slings to hand: they’re great for saving shorelines from chafe. I just hitch them around a tree, a rusty ringbolt, a rock pinnacle, or whatever, then use a double sheetbend to attach the shore line to the loop. (If I have to tie to a dock stanchion or similar, one which is strong enough provided the sling doesn’t slide up it, I use a prusik hitch – similar in behaviour to a rolling hitch, but can be tied with an endless loop) Such slings are also a good idea if you are shorthanded and it’s blowing hard and you want to slip doubled shorelines : nothing to hang up on (just leave them behind for someone else.)

When I’m somewhere I have access to a heavy sewing machine I make up a bunch; otherwise there’s an amazing caving knot called a beer knot which is ideal for webbing slings.

The hitch I prefer when the chain may have to come in with a rush (eg if conditions deteriorate or the anchor drags and the lee shore is close to) is called a Kleimheisht: a prusik is nearly as good though (in terms of not slipping) but not quite as compact. It is lot easier to remember, which is a big point in favour – even in tiger country, this situation does not arise often….
In such situations I strap a sharp serrated knife in its scabbard to the pulpit by the bow fitting. It takes only a moment to slash the webbing close alongside the chain as it comes in. The Kleimeist hitch is compact enough not to jam at the gypsy or the navel pipe, and the remnants can be tidied up at leisure.

conversely, as John points out: if you have to veer more scope, simply release the current snubber at the bitter end, and fit another.


Webslings — We take the web through 720 degrees with a 10 cm overlap. We machine stitch 5 cm in from the edges. We then zigzag all the way round by hand between the stitch lines. We will sometimes “prusik” these through the base of a cleat to increase tie off options.

Beer Knots — a 5 cm by 90 cm cable tie is a good bodkin for threading the tube webbing. Go one size up on web to account for the overhand knot weakening the loop. When finishing off the knot, we put a stitch or two either side of the overhand loop.

Note: we have found webbing significantly less UV resistant than line (a surface to volume issue). We retire webbing when it’s seen two years of outdoor use.

Snubbers — We include a rubber energy absorber. Nylon is elastic, but it should be kept to loads less than 1/5 of breaking strength and repeated cyclic loads (even below at that level) can cause inter-yarn heating and weakening that is externally undetectable. This is aggravated by rollers and cleats. We’ve had this happen. It is also better for the rubber unit to not require strength robbing knots in the nylon line.

NOTE: While not as simple,sentinels riding the chain can be a better choice than nylon snubbing lines. They absorb shock energy by weight lifting rather than line stretching. And remember the idea is to reduce shock at both ends of the rode. The mechanics of the chain catenary are such that a sentinel set at 1/2 to 3/4 of the water depth can be very effective at eliminating shock. Ours used (stolen) a poly anchor roller to eliminate chain chafe. They will not as effectively reduce chain noise from the roller, however.

Chain to line hitching — We use a rolling hitch. We find it useful to leave about a foot of running end beyond the hitch. This way if it really binds, there’s enough line beyond the hitch for a good grip for breaking the hitch back from jammed.

Peter Holzinger


Can you explain what you mean when you say “schedule regular equalisations”? I am embarrassed to say I don’t know when that is needed. I have a Tartan 37 with 460 AMP hr capacity wet cell batteries with a Link 2000… Thanks for this awesome web site!

vince bossley

John, Very timely and pertinent as always. With the proliferation of more and more sophisticated electronics being an example, one wonders if at some point in the future we will be able to put to sea at all!! Instead, explore the world in virtual mode from the comfort of our cabins berthed in a luxury marina somewhere?! Sounds extreme I know, but we do appear to be gradually moving down that path, (e.g. your earlier posting ‘Anatomy of an Accident’).

One of my examples of simplicity was to install a basic Power Survivor reverse osmosis watermaker ($550). It pumped out 5ltrs. of pure drinking water every hour. Instead of hooking it up to my water tanks and it being subsequently diluted, with the possible attendant associated problems, I ran the tubes directly into 25ltr. water jugs (three lined up and strapped in under the watermaker in the head/shower cubicle).

With the water towed generator pumping in 9-11amps/hr, I could run the watermaker pretty much whenever I wanted to whilst the generator was in the water. (Today, one would possibly replace the towed generator with a dual wind/water generator.)

Water in the tanks was used for washing up, boiling the jug and washing vegetable, etc. For showers we used a canvas bucket, sea water and salt water soap, followed by a hose down from the shower head in the cockpit – delicious! Nothing more refreshing on a fine tropical evening.

Any surplus water was emptied from the jugs into the main tanks through the deck filler fittings with the result that we arrived at most ports with full water tanks without once ever having to refill. Simple, simple, simple. Results: Pure drinking water at all times and full main tanks most of the time. There is a bit of manual work involved with lugging those full 25ltr. jugs up on deck in a seaway and filling through a funnel without spilling toooo much. But hey, when you are cruising, time is not a problem, it is a challenge and also good exercise.


An observation on diesel engines of the sort you describe.

Waaaay back when I was a practicing engineer, I supervised the design and testing of diesel-powered, rough-terrain material handling equipment (low rev, huge torque).

We found it necessary to retrofit the engines with deeper sumps and better oil pressure pumps to keep them properly oiled when off level. We also found them susceptible to cooling system airlocks when off level, but this just required a hose reconfiguration. On some engines, off-level was as few as seven degrees.

Obviously this is an engine by engine issue, but most items are designed with a particular use in mind and some repurposing-gotchas can be insidious.


Indeed. I knew you were on top of the matter, it was just a bit of life learning. The Perkins engines have a fascinating pre-marine history which contributed to unusual design layout (e.g., oil filter on the back). I had one for years and only the bolt-ons ever failed me, but we had a master slave relationship, and I was not the master.

Nick Kats

Some great stuff here.
Another aspect of simplicity is versatility. Like Vince’s water towed generator & how used.
My battery setup is another example.
2 “banks”, consisting of one and 2 batteries (total 3).
A wind generator & a small Siemens solar panel charges either bank. Switching from one bank to the other is by moving alligator clips from 1 set of battery terminals to the other.
The diesel engine recharges the single battery that is devoted to starting the engine.
All 3 batteries are the same, and are hybrid. Because thay are compatible I can jump from one bank to the other for whatever reason, eg, using the engine or wind generator to charge all 3 at once.

Evan Selbiger

I just wanted to say thank you for your great comments about the Spade anchor. I wanted to let everyone know that the Spade anchor is available in the USA. We will be at the 2011 Miami Boat Show Feb. 17-21. So come on by and see us.

Francois DULIEGE

I cannot agree more about KISS (keep it simple stupid) when it comes to boat equipment.
When we had our one off 43 ft wood epoxy sail boat Tara build in 2005, I made a firm deal with myself to stick to this rule, regardless of the marketing of the equipment manufacturers.
When looking at battery charger, and 12 V to 230 V inverter, I studied Victron and Mastervolt, both companies with a good reputation. I finally choose Mastervolt, and acquired a MassCombi system that does both battery charger and 12 V to 230 V inverter in one box. This product does the job very well.
The main selling point in favor of the Combi (beside small gain in space) was that if I were connected to a harbor 230 V AC plug with low intensity, and had to use an equipment on board that needs more power than the harbor plug could deliver, the system would automatically draw current from the batteries to provide the amps that the 230 V source cannot provide. Nice, but of limited use to us, as we don’t use microwave or these types of stuff on board…
BUT I discovered the price to of this feature 3 years later, as we started preparing Tara to cruise in countries were the standard current is 115 V and may also be 60 Hz instead of 50 Hz. The Combi only takes 230 V and 50 Hz. So Mastervolt proposed to install a 115 V to 230 V converter in front of the Combi with a bipolar switch. But the problem is that 115 V to 220 V converters don’t change the frequency of the current. If you go to the US, you will connect to 110 V and 60 Hz. The converter will produce 230 V and 60 Hz. The problem is that the electronic of the MassCombi doesn’t like 60 Hz, and that many failures are reported to be caused by this.
If you look at the specifications of a simple Mastervolt battery charger, the input can range from 110 V to 230 V and from 50 Hz to 60 Hz. So the solution for us is to install a battery charger that would load our batteries in case we would be in a 120 v country. In this situation, the MassCombi would still be used, but only as an inverter to produce 220V from the batteries.
I looked at the Victron product specifications and called the guys. The Victron product range is similar to the Mastervolt (Chargers, Converters, and “dual” equipments): some dual equipments have a 45/65 Hz input range, but these ones have only a 187/265 V range.
Without being able to explain the technicalities of this limitation, it looks like it is part of the technologies used to provide both inverter and charger in one box.
So to cut a long story short, and unless technology evolves, it is better to buy a battery charger (that can take from 115 V to 230 V and 50 Hz to 60 Hz) and a separate inverter to get AC current on board. It will also be cheaper to fix/change, should one equipment fail.
François DULIEGE, SV Tara
I also fitted the Mastervolt Alpha pro battery booster after 2 years, and it really improves the battery charge, despite setting the voltage at a cautious value (to avoid any risk of overheating batteries).

SV Moonshine

This Victron product:

3600 Watt Auto 115/230 V
This model will automatically switch to 115 V or 230 V supply, depending on input voltage.
Supply 88 V – 130 V: switches to 115 V supply
Supply 185 – 250 V: switches to 230 V supply
The supply can be either 50 or 60 Hz.

Is what we used to adapt a Euro boat to accept US 250V/50A shorepower without rewiring the boat. Has worked flawlessly for 3 years now.


This is a great article that highlights some of the decisions I need to make in preparation for casting off on an extended trip this summer. My challenge is balancing cost with usability. The sailboat (SY Baluba) will be used for a 3-year circumnavigation now, but afterwards she will go back to being a weekend warrior as well as seeing plenty of usage in holidays, here in Northern Europe.

A new Spectra Ventura costs a solid chunk of change in Europe. When I spent 2,5 years sailing from Norway to Australia 7 years ago, I managed fine without a watermaker, but it was a bit of a hassle to always be careful with water usage and never take a fresh water shower (while onboard).

Now I’m planning to sail all the way around, with forays both to the Arctic and Antarctic, so I’m wondering if the watermaker will be a necessary expenditure or if it will be something I’ll get used to being without again? Can I justify spending the money for a unit I’ll need and use a lot for the next three years, knowing that there won’t be much (if any) use for it when I get back to Norway?

What are your thoughts?


Hi John,

Thank you so much. I will eagerly await your post.