Silas Crosby at 12 months

My name is Meredith Lewis and I am from Vancouver Island, Canada. I started sailing as a little kid when two of my Uncles built a 36 foot Brent Swain steel boat, the Silas Crosby. I spent most of my summers with one family or the other cruising up and down the BC coast. In 2003 I joined Steve at the end of his family's year long cruise to Mexico/Hawaii for the Hawaii-Victoria leg. I was sixteen and it was a great introduction to offshore sailing. In September 2010 Steve and I left Vancouver Island aboard the Silas Crosby bound for Chile. After stops in Mexico, Galapagos and Easter Island we arrived In Chile in April. The upcoming southern summer will be spent cruising in Patagonia. My website is

Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat   
For lots of reasons, cost among them, we try to anchor whenever possible. In the nine months between Vancouver Island and Chile we spent less than two weeks tied up to a dock (the police dock in San Diego was the notable exception). One of the other major reasons is that we way prefer places where there are no docks - the more remote the better. In order to make this kind of lifestyle interesting/bearable, however, we have made sure that exploration off the boat is easy, possible and fun. We have two fourteen foot kayaks on board and gear for paddling in any kind of weather. Paddling allows us to explore places hard or impossible to get to by sailboat and allows us to get some of the exercise seriously lacking in a liveaboard lifestyle. It also allows us to be completely independent - if we had to coordinate dinghy rides constantly I'm not sure how long we would last. I know that Steve was worried at first about having the boats on deck in rough weather, but after three offshore passages the conclusion is that things seem fine.  

Describe a "typical day" on passage 
on your boat
While on passage we both spend lots of time reading. We both have Kindles and lots of digital books. Steve spends lots of time chatting on the radio (I chat when we set up scheds with boats we know - nets, not so much). I am learning to knit (although I spend more time thinking about knitting than actually knitting). Also, hours and hours are spent just sitting on deck and looking around. There is an amazing freedom to the singularity of the project of passage making; unlike most of life, which can be complicated and confusing, the project of sailing from point A to point B has a marvelous simplicity.  

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore? 
From chats with other passage-making cruisers, I think that our passage routine is a little bit unusual. In the interest of being able to sleep for longer, we choose to stand six hour watches. We break the night into two - Steve stays up to talk on the radio for the evening and early night and wakes me up in the wee wee hours. I stay up until sun rise and then go back to sleep until noon. We are very relaxed about the schedule and things obviously change based on weather conditions. When on watch we do mostly all of the sail changes etc. alone. We have found that few things actually require two people and can usually wait until daylight/watch change. 

Tell me your favorite thing about your boat   
To be clear, it's not my boat. However, after my time aboard, I know it pretty well. It's hard, because I think my favourite thing about the boat might also be the thing that most commonly frustrates me. The boat is homemade and was built with function, not fashion, in mind. To this end, it works incredibly well - every system has been thought through and most are in their third or fourth reincarnations. Steve knows the boat inside out and is always looking for ways to improve things. However, it is not a luxury yacht - the center cockpit is small and very secure but not very comfortable. It is perfect for one or two people to sit in while sailing but gets really crowded when we try to socialise. The same goes for the main cabin. However, I wouldn't change this for the world - it speaks, I think, to one of the most important things to think about when considering a boat for cruising: what kind of cruising exactly are you going to be doing? The Silas Crosby is decidedly NOT a tropical destination, social drinks for all kind of boat. However, with the diesel heater, secure cabin and cockpit and pilot house/dodger combo it is perfect for the high latitude sailing that it mostly does.  

How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?
We faced our worst weather in the last couple of weeks before arriving in Chile (at about 40 degrees south). Steve generally thinks that I am overly nonchalant about these situations but it's because I have total faith in the boat and the work and thought Steve has put into it over the years. From our few heavy weather moments, I have learned that it's rarely a mistake to have less sail and if the thought "perhaps we should chuck out that drogue" comes up, it's probably time for the drogue. We put out the jordan series drogue twice coming into Chile and it was really cool to see how well it worked. Another thing that we discuss a lot on board is how hyped offshore heavy weather gets - to be sure, it can be really challenging and definitely dangerous. However, if the boat is prepared and all of the sail combos/heavy weather gear has been thought through and nothing breaks, the boat will be able to handle it. It's all of the hard bits (ie. navigating near land) that is the really challenging part of sailing. 

What is your most common sail combination on passage?   
Our sail combos while offshore are almost totally dictated by the ability of the windvane to steer. Therefore, while sometimes we may be able to squeeze another half knot or knot out of the conditions, if the windvane is overpowered and can't steer, we're happy to reduce sail and go a bit slower in order to not hand steer. Therefore, we almost always have at least one reef in the main and more sail up forward. We are almost constantly reefing - both the roller furler head sail and the main (it has three reefing lines). Some squally watches I think I have reefed/unreefed ten times.  Another sail combo that we use to exhaustion whenever the wind is even remotely behind us is wing on wing with the headsail poled out. The whisker pole is unbelievable important, as far as we are concerned, and we are generally surprised by how few people have them/know how to use them. The boat seems to calm right down and great naps/book reads can be had. 

What do you miss about living on land?    
Life on board lacks almost all of the convenience of life on land. Everything requires effort and thought - grocery shopping almost always takes an entire day and requires lots of walking with a heavy pack and laundry either costs or takes a long time. I don't miss the convenience, but sometimes I miss the independence of living normally. Not many other twenty five year olds choose to live on a small sailboat with their uncle for a couple of years.  I definitely miss being part of a fixed community (remember running into people you know on the street? I don't) but that said the cruising community goes a long way to make up for that.  I also miss regular, land based exercise. When at anchor, it requires serious motivation to paddle ashore and go for a run. Things were awesome in Mexico when I could just jump overboard and swim for an hour. 

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
Generally, I like the cruising community for the fact that everyone has opted for a life less normal. However, I was surprised and a bit disappointed by how hard so many people seem to try to make their cruising lives more closely resemble the lives they lived on land. It's hard to explain, but a few hours at the La Paz morning coffee hour will more than explain my point; so many people seem to spend so much time trying to make their lives on board easier rather than more interesting. Hours are spent trying to fix broken, superfluous systems rather than choosing the simple option and actually getting out to all the amazing anchorages a day's sail away. 

I was also surprised/disappointed by how few cruisers are seriously into sailing. It might sound funny, but it's overwhelmingly true. We are by no means purists - we have an engine and it lets us get places that would be seriously hard/impossible to get to by sail alone. However, sailing  is always the background project. We will wait days for wind to avoid motoring and are always pumped by perfect downwind conditions (does it get any better?). 

I kind of knew this before hand, but apart from a few notable exceptions, there are relatively few young people out there sailing. Obviously, it's an expensive project and not many can get the funds together to make it happen on their own. Without a doubt, if I see a boat with anyone under thirty five on board I'm bound to be knocking on the hull before too long.

All of this said, what an amazing community - friends are made fast and everyone has interesting stories to share.  

What do you think is a common cruising myth?
I think that it's important to acknowledge that cruising is pretty just like normal life; it's not always fun. We have met lots of people that seem to be waiting for the real fun to start - always looking into the future to the next destination for the moment when they will be stretched out on deck in a bikini with a margarita in hand watching the sunset. This is possible, don't get me wrong. However, with such fixed ideas of what success or fun looks like, it is too easy to be disappointed. Those who seem to be having the best time are up for anything and recount with relish the rainy, cold, windy moments just as readily as the sunny, margarita bikini moments.

What do you find most exciting about your cruising life?
Every landfall after being offshore is absolutely exciting (even if I pretend to be really nonchalant). There is something about gliding into a new harbour and dropping the anchor thousands of miles away from the last place it was dropped that is seriously cool.
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 by  and tagged   |