Phil and Pat cruise aboard Eventide, a Custom 50 foot unpainted aluminum motor vessel hailing from Kingston, WA, USA. Phil has cruised since 1969, over 80,000 miles under power and under sail including Alaska to La Paz Mexico, Maine to Florida, Windward Islands from Virgins to Grenada, Venezuela, Panama, Galapagos, Marquesas, Societies, and Hawaii. He can be reached by email (email@example.com).
How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
I acquired experience very gradually, sailing San Francisco Bay, the Delta, and then short trips up and down the coast to Drakes Bay and Monterey. Then I took a three month trip from San Francisco to Mexico to be sure that this was for us. It was, and so I moved aboard and over the next 40 years, did more and more.
When I talk to people who have never been offshore and they say they are going to circumnavigate, I tend to think that they never will. Crossing oceans is very, very different than any inland or coastal cruising from port to port. There are just too many stories of people who have set off from the West Coast to Hawaii, get there, and sell their boat vowing never to go to sea again. It is a financial and personal tragedy.
What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
Dealing with officialdom in all the foreign ports – clearing was almost always a hassle, and I did not find it fun. I guess this is partly an attitude problem, but I understand that it has not gotten any better.
What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
That it is a good idea to leave the boat somewhere for a few months each year if you are planning to be gone for a very long time. I didn’t do this, and after 4 years out of the country, we were pretty well burned out when I got back to Seattle. Today there are more places that you can safely leave your boat and go do something else for a couple of months. If I had done that, I feel sure that I would have been good for another 4 years.
With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
What a good question. I think that the major thing I have learned after almost 50 years of cruising is that there is no perfect boat. And the less experience you have, the more sure you are that only certain boats and rigging details will do. Actually lots of very different boats will do.
Probably the other thing that I think I knew from the beginning is that “bigger is not better”, especially as applied to sailboats. And that a crew of one is not enough for crossing oceans (I believe in a constant watch and am of the controversial opinion that single handing is by definition unseamanlike) – a crew of two is perfect – and any more than two is too many. Conflicts at sea become exaggerated, and I do not remember any boat that that I met that cruised for years at a time with more than two with the possible exception of a couple with kids. If there is any doubt about this point, there won’t be if you hung around a port like Saint Thomas and talked to crews of more than two after an ocean passage. It is like a real life soap opera.
So you want a boat comfortably handled by two – which, again controversially, means no bigger than around 42 feet. Smaller is ok, mine was a 35 foot cutter, but the amount of food, clothes, spare parts, and so on is the same for any size boat – you get too small and storage becomes a major issue.
Also, as a “Lin and Larry Pardey” fan, the simpler the better. The mantra should be “stuff breaks, and if you do not have it aboard, it won’t break.”
And I have to say that I hate bowsprits – not only are they a weak point in the rigging, but working on them in serious conditions is not for the faint hearted. I am among the faint hearted. So I like an all inboard rig – preferably a cutter for offshore.
What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
This is an easy question – it all breaks! In the tropics, I think that critical parts just dissolve. But a list of the most common gear failures most seem to have starts with autopilots, refrigerators, and watermakers. We cleverly solved part of this problem by not having refrigerators or watermakers. Tanks, after all, seldom break. However, had four autopilots (three spares) plus a Aires Windvane. After four years in the tropics, all four failed on the way to Hawaii from Tahiti. Only the windvane was left.
Autopilots, I think, come under the heading of essential equipment. So buy the best, and buy two of them. Keep one in a box for spares. You will need them.
Which spares do you wish you had more of? Less of?
I carried a huge amount of spares. This adds weight, cost, and takes space. I never had a major failure that I could not fix. I would not carry less – and if I had room and thought of more, I would carry them too. We even had a EMT quality medical kit – which we ended up needing by the way. Maybe I would just tow a spare identical boat and have all the spare parts.
Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?
For me, at first it was sailing first and travel a far second. There is nothing like a good day at sea with the wind abaft the beam, reasonable wind speed and mild seas. And no land in sight or expected for weeks. Of course, it is far from always like that. At this stage of my life, where we cruise from Seattle to Alaska in a powerboat, there is no sailing. But I think I would rate our underway time as 30% of the experience, and the travel and meeting people 70%. There is no more beautiful place in the world, I think, to cruise than the Pacific Northwest.
What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
I guess that depends on how you define "cruising" - If you mean serious offshore cruising, power or sail, then I cannot think of any one general characteristic of the people who cross oceans that I do not like. Of course, this group comprises all kinds of people, ages, boats, etc. It is inevitable that some of these people may have less than appealing personalities individually, but, as a "culture", as a group of people focused and driven, and even fanatic enough to do something as difficult as crossing oceans, I find all of them fascinating. If you cross an ocean on a small boat, there has to be a lot to admire in the crew.
Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?
Yes, I think I would say that Maine, although rated very high, was still underrated – except for all the lobster Pot buoys. They are a nightmare! I thought the weather, scenery, ports, people, accents, and culture along the coast were unbeatable!
What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
I cannot think of one – and if I do, I will let you know. In the meantime, I have to go change the oil on Eventide.