Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Newly Salted

Carol and Livia on Estrellita 5.10b have a number of web sites. They left the PNW around the same time I did, mid to late 2011, made their way down the coast to Mexico, crossed to the South Pacific and spent a season exploring that area.  They have a blog which describes their adventures, its good reading.  They also have two other web sites, which publish interviews.  One site publishes interviews with cruisers who have been cruising outside of their home country for more than two years, and a second site publishes interviews with cruisers not meeting that criteria - cruisers who are Newly Salted.  They invited me to publish an interview on Newly Salted.  The procedure is, I post here, they review my post and if they choose, they post it on Newly Salted.  Here goes...

Hi.  I'm Craig McPheeters.  I'm an early 50's single man who was raised on the prairies far away from the ocean.  I moved to Seattle from Toronto in 1996 and started enjoying the ocean in various ways.  After Sea Kayaking for a number of years, I started sailing in 2006 and still remember approaching a sailboat for the first time and being a little overwhelmed by all the lines, wires and apparent complexity that there was to figure out.  I figured it out, going through the Windworks sailing program pretty quickly.  I bought my Pacific Seacraft 37, Luckness, in 2009.  Luckness arrived without a lot of equipment and I started outfitting her for coastal cruising in the PNW.  In 2010 I started outfitting her for offshore cruising.  In early 2011 I retired from my job as a software developer which I had held for 20 years, sold my house and moved onboard.  On September 1st 2011 I left to go cruising, single handed.  I had a one year plan which I thought of as an initial trial.  I had a lot to test out in this year.  My plan was to sail a triangle: Seattle down the coast to Mexico, Mexico to Hawaii and finally Hawaii back to Seattle.  I thought that if all that went well, I would continue the cruising lifestyle with an open ended trip.  That brings my story up to date with where I am now, in Seattle, working on the odd boat project, waiting for summer to arrive so I can leave and head south again.

You can follow my adventure on my blog.  Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Luckness in Neah Bay after returning from Hawaii

Why did you decide to cruise?
I had reached a point in my life where I was asking myself the question: are you working to live or living to work?  I needed a change and this change seemed to be about as dramatic as I could imagine.  Cruising also seemed to be a sustainable new lifestyle, something that if I enjoyed it I could spent years and years doing.  I was attracted to the possibilities, the freedom each day could bring, the variety, the people I would meet along the way and the adventure of traveling around by sailboat.

Is there a place you visited you wish you could have stayed longer?
I was only out for 12 months, split pretty evenly between the west coast of the USA, Mexico and Hawaii.  If I could rearrange those 12 months I would spent more time in Mexico.  From my experience so far, Mexico is a cruisers paradise.  You are welcomed where you go, the country I saw (the Southern Baja Peninsula) was absolutely beautiful, its warm, sunny.  Hawaii was not nearly as cruiser friendly in comparison, although I met great people there and had some good times.

Tell me your favorite thing about your boat

There are so many things to like about this boat.  She sails well, moving in light air as well as gracefully handling heavy weather and larger seas.  She is very well built, does not creak or groan while moving   through larger seas and tracks well.  She's also a pretty boat, Crealock really nailed this design - she's pleasing to the eye.  I have no regrets about my choice.

Tell me your least favorite thing about your boat 

Having a canoe stern, I lose a lot of interior volume compared to wider stern boats, so storage can be a challenge.  (I feel a little conflicted saying that as I have friends on a Dana 24 who are getting by with much less storage, extremely well, so space may be something you can make do with what you have but you always wish for more.)  Also backing up in close quarters can be nerve wracking - I love going forward in this boat. Backwards, not so much.
What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?

I have a few favorites. AIS is fantastic. I have a VesperMarine AIS receiver which also has an anchor watch mode that I use while I'm at rest. Its the best anchor watch I've seen and having a very low power consumption dedicated AIS receiver has been fantastic. I'll be upgrading this before I leave this summer to a VespeMarine AIS transceiver as I want to transmit as well.  I have a small Katadyn water maker which was an easy install, does not occupy too much of my limited storage space and has been reliable.  I would run it every day to make water as it only creates 1.5 gallons/hour - but water makers are happiest being run frequently.  I have enough solar power to power the boat if the days are sunny, indefinitely (2x135watts.)  My chart plotter is a couple of generations old (Simrad NX45) but is very low power, drawing only 0.75amps with the backlight on full, meaning I can leave it on full time while moving.  My sails are fantastic, made by Carol Hasse and her merry crew.  I have an Iverson's dodger which is super strong with lots of very firm hand holds making moving into and out of the cockpit in heavy weather much safer than what I used to have.  I have a Rocna 20 anchor which I've been really happy with - it sets quickly, holds well and seems to reset quickly when necessary as well.  My Watch Commander timer is an essential piece of gear to enforce my sleep patterns on passages.

How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?

I experienced two gales, one off the Oregon coastline, which seems pretty standard when leaving the PNW heading south. The winds reached 38 knots with the seas maybe 15+ feet. I hove to for almost a day as the conditions south of where I was appeared to be worse from the weather information I was receiving. That wasn't pleasant, but the boat felt fine and I didn't worry - there were far worse gales that season other boats were caught in off that coast.  The second gale was as a Norther raced down the Sea of Cortez while I was trying to head up to La Paz from Cabo San Lucas. Sockdolager, Clover and I ended up anchored off of Muertes for around a week, through Christmas 2011. That was fine too - the anchor held without budging and if I had dragged anchor I would have been blown to sea (not onto a shore or another boat, which would have been nerve wracking.)  Aside from those two times, all the rest of my sailing had winds of less than 30 knots, I had some really nice sailing over those 12 months.  There were some strong winds in Hawaii between the islands or several times while at anchor, but not into the gale category while I was there.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

This depends on where I am and how long the trip is. As I am single handing, I was always on watch...however, I wasn't always awake. I was normally never close to shore (less than 30 miles) for more than a day. That is, on my hops down the coast to Mexico, if I was going any distance I would arrange to be farther offshore so I could sleep more easily at night.  My sleep schedule is to never sleep more than 20 minutes, and I have an alarm (a Watch Commander) which enforces this.  I kept to this sleep schedule for all of my passages, the longest of which was 21 days from Hawaii to Neah Bay.  I was able to put up with this schedule, although I was always very happy to arrive at anchor and be able to sleep soundly through a night.  If the trip I'm on is not too long (no more than roughly 30 hours) or close to potential traffic, I'll won't sleep at all - but obviously this only works for shorter trips.  If the trip was long enough, I would plan it in a way that I could sleep in 20 minute intervals somewhere along the way.

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."

...I buy too much. So far all my trips have started from a port which had lots of provisions available to me, and I would find myself loading up on goods to ridiculous amounts.  I would be going through 'what if...' scenarios constantly and find myself walking by a grocery store and stop in and load up, again and again.

What is your biggest lesson learned?

That a prairie boy can do this! You don't need to have been born on the water into a family which has sailing in its blood back for generations. That might help, but if you dedicate yourself to learning everything that is required, you too can go cruising. Buy lots of books, take lots of classes, listen to smart experienced people every chance you get, get out and gain your own experience. Its working for me, which is still a little surprising sometimes.

What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?

I just love the life of possibilities you have when cruising. You are constantly presented with choices which can alter your future in meaningful ways. The people I met during the year I was out were fantastic and one of the best things about my experience.  I also found cruising very satisfying - every now and then I would be out in some remote anchorage or on passage reflecting on where I was, how I had gotten there, being astounded at how beautiful the area was and how centered and present I felt.

Its not all "beautiful sunsets and cocktails in the cockpit" - this life can be a lot of work at times, from what I've seen of it so far.  But the rewards so far outweigh the other loses and costs.

I'm looking forward to starting my cruising adventure again this summer as I leave Seattle heading toward New Zealand via Mexico.


  1. Thanks for the great post. Can you comment a little about your experience hove to in the gale? Sail combinations? Any problems tacking or tweaks needed?

    I have a Crealock 34 and often heave to for lunch in up to 30 knots in protected water. Have not tried in the large waves. Curious how they impact the balance.

  2. Thanks Brian and Erika. We've all read stories of much larger seas and stronger winds, what I experienced was fairly mild I think.

    Off the Oregon coast while I was hove to, I had my staysail and a double reefed main up. This is a balanced combination, bringing the forces on the sail down and toward the mast. I kept that combination up even after I started moving in around 30 knots and until the winds started to die the following day. I needed to maneuver a number of times while I was hove to, either to come back into shore as I was far enough off the coast (around 150 miles) or to head off shore if I was getting too close (which I picked as being around 75 miles.) I found jibing to be much easier than tacking when changing direction. It was difficult to pick up enough speed in order to tack through the wind in the waves I was experiencing, especially single handed. Steering the boat, trimming the staysail as the bow started to swing through the wind to keep some speed on as I was greeted by the large waves was difficult. Jibing however went very easily. You need to keep the main firmly under control, but you can center the main easily enough, jibe, deal with the main and then deal with the staysail. That was much more relaxed and under control than tacking was. In calm seas and moderate wind I will sometimes "chicken jibe" where rather than jibing you tack around the opposite way until you end up pointed in the direction downwind you would have been by jibing - its sometimes easier. In strong wind and larger seas I would "chicken tack" when I prefer to jibe than tack to get pointed in the new direction. It takes a little while to get the balance of the sails right while hove to, but I ended up with something i was pretty happy with, forereaching slowly.

    Most of my sailing in large waves has either been on the beam (to Hawaii) or slightly forward or while sailing downwind. This boat is rock solid in those seas. Leaving Mexico I had a few days of sailing upwind in moderate wind (20 or so knots) and it isn't much fun - the boat handled it fine, I wasn't as happy. Going upwind in stronger winds and large seas isn't very much fun...but is it in any boat our size? Get the wind slightly forward of my beam or from there back and I'm pretty happy. While hove to the large waves were pretty dramatic. I would be sitting there hardly moving, standing in the cockpit looking toward weather and seeing what I thought of at the time as Monstrous waves coming toward me. I was looking up at their crests being a little daunted at first. But then the boat would just gently rise to meet the wave, the waves passes without a lot of fuss under the boat and life goes on to the next one. After a little while of watching that you can really start to relax. The sail balance wasn't really affected by the waves I think, although I don't have detailed notes of being hove to in protected waters to compare where the sails were exactly to compare them to the larger seas. It worked just fine in the larger seas I experienced. Of course at some point in time, if the seas start to really grow so they are crashing into you, being hove to probably isn't the best idea - I have a series drogue I haven't yet used (and hope never to use) as well as never having tried lying a hull yet. For the conditions I was in, heaving to was no problem. You don't get much done. I couldn't read or watch a video so I spent many hours simply standing up looking around saying to myself: Woah, that was a nice one! as the waves rolled under me, again and again.

    Your Crealock 34 will eat those conditions up. Its not much fun, but the boat will take care of you if you let it. You have to take care of yourselves which is the bigger challenge. Use your handholds, move around very carefully, treat the companionway with respect - two hands at all times, eat some food, drink some water, stay healthy.

    You have a great boat. Have fun out there!

  3. Criag,
    I would like to talk to you about your experience sailing to Hawaii. That's a goal I have. I'm staying on a boat at Shilshole during the week. I can be reached at jrfoleyiii@gmail.com.