Captain Woody Cruising Adventure

Monday, March 6, 2006

Crew - #72

There are chapters in every cruising manual about finding and caring for crew. In my own small sailing career I have had some experience with being crew as well as finding crew. I have been the lone crewmember on a boat and I have been on boats with many crew. I have learned valuable lessons on how to coexist with my fellow crewmembers on extended passages. As skipper, I have employed crew, had volunteer crew and even had crew pay to be aboard (the holy grail of crew scenarios). Over the years I have learned a couple things.

For most sailors their primary crew member is their better half. Even though it was always our dream to sail off into the sunset, it may not have always been theirs. For many a wanna-be cruiser the thing that is keeping them from getting out there is not money or time or even lack of a boat but simply how to get the one they love to want to also make their home the sea. Sometimes the partner of the wanna-be cruiser simply doesn't know how to sail or isn't "into" sailing. That fact doesn't have to be a cruise stopper. Introduce them to cruising.

Here's where it gets tricky for some and is where many an irreversible mistake has been made. Don't introduce your loved one to sailing by taking them, their first time, into a storm or out in a boat that hasn't been sailed in years. Either way they are going to come out of the experience with a bad impression, dashing your hopes of an amiable life together at sea. It seams like obvious advice, but I hear time and again some guy explaining to me that his wife won't go cruising because their first sail together was a nearly fatal rough water episode with lots of gear failure. Bad call ... or did the guy plan the whole thing? Just kidding.

Take her out on the bay in no wind or super light conditions on a boat that you have recently put many hours on. If this turns out to be horribly boring for you, consider entertaining yourself with the vision of you and the human you most care about cruising tanned and blissful 'tween tropical paradises. Your first sail together should leave your companion with the impression that sailing can be a simple, safe, friendly experience.

There will likely be a time, whether sailing with family or singlehanding that you will require extra crew or simply want the diversion of a new perspective. Extra crew means shorter or more spread out watches. In some cases crew can provide help with expenses. The first time I crossed the Pacific, I had only landed the crew position because they needed a fourth crewmember for insurance purposes. Boats need crew for all kinds of reasons.

Finding compatible crew is important. When hiring crew as a professional skipper, I didn’t care what your qualifications were. I preferred crew with less experience because within the skulls of virgin sailors lie less bad habits and corrupt knowledge that needs to be dredged out. No, there were only two things that were important to me: how you would get along with others onboard and whether or not you were prone to seasickness (what you looked like in a bikini would often bear some weight). When you are seasick, you are not only not helping but other crew resources must be spent in looking after you.

My crew screening process on Low Key was simple but effective. Because all of my potential crew was gleaned from the reader list of a certain seedy sailing rag, I knew that my crew would have that all important at-sea attribute, a sense of humor. Also, as a contributor to said rag, I didn’t run the risk of having crew that could claim that they didn’t know exactly what they were getting into. We were already like-minded.

I was only able to charge because of my undeserved status as a cruising icon amongst my seven fans. But I met boats that charged people and were able to eek out a meager living. They mostly hung around the touristy areas and posted flyers at hostels and charged per day, cruising the same area over and over.

With potential crew that I had not yet met or that did not come recommended by someone I knew, I wouldn’t commit to having them aboard for more than ten days. Well there was that one time I agreed to an ocean crossing but she and I had emailed back and forth for months before the trip and she talked a pretty good game. I took a risk. It didn‘t start out so well. She was very seasick for the first week. I would have put her ashore but she was very tough about her condition. I could see that she badly wanted to complete her first crossing.

I have been known to take “unstable” acquaintances on select deliveries but those were predictably crazy individuals. There are some people that are only ever truly focused, only ever at peace, when dropped in the middle of chaos. A livid sea can provide this kind of environment. These types are particularly valuable on rougher voyages. I find that day to day living, on the other hand, can be especially tedious when encumbered with this quality.

Something else to remember when getting to know your crew is to be very upfront with them. Your crew needs to know what to expect. Will they be paid or be paying? How long is the voyage likely to be? What kind of conditions could you encounter? What is expected of them in terms of watches and other duties? What is available to them for food? I always showed my new crew what I ate each day and encouraged them to go shopping if the fare didn't seam appealing to them.

I carried with me a crew contract that clearly stated the "No Drug" policy. It made it clear that crew could be put ashore for any reason. That being said, part of being a good skipper (and following the tenants of international law) requires that you not put someone ashore in a place where they might not fare well or are otherwise not expected by the hosting country. Low Key's crew contract went on to mention that sailing could be dangerous. It finished up with a release of liability ... for me.

There are many things to keep in mind when choosing crew. Only a few are listed here. Choosing the right crew for your cruise can go a long way in determining not only how much fun everyone has on the voyage but also how safe it is. Choose carefully.

Next time we'll cover what to do with crew once you get them and how to keep them happy.

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