Being Crew

On a sailboat a lot of things happen that you actually do not want to experience. But they happen: The anchor slips in the middle of the night, you get into a storm or when entering the dock there is so much wind from the side that you miss the berth. There might be a power cut or the motor does not start in the crucial moment, a shroud breaks and so on and so forth. These are experiences you should better make under supervision of experts, before you are faced by the problem as the fully accountable skipper. And that does not only apply for such extreme situations as I was talking about before. You can read a lot and have theoretical knowledge explained to you but practical experience cannot be replaced. Because of that I recommend that you go sailing as a crew on a yacht.

Sailing schools, sailing clubs and private people offer crew spaces on their yachts. If you sail with a private skipper you often travel by “hand for bunk” or you share the costs of the boat’s charter. When you sail with a commercial provider you have to pay for the trip. On top of the actual costs of the trip you have to factor in the board-kitty into which all the crewmembers have to pay the same amount. It covers food, drinks, harbour costs, diesel and all running costs during the trip. It will be managed by one of the crewmembers. And you have often to organise the journey to the starting harbour on your own. The skipper is mostly catered by the board-kitty but he does not pay in.

As soon as the skipper gets money for his service he is a professional. Even on private or chartered yachts. He mostly has to prove his skills with special certifications like the RYA Yachtmaster or an US Coastguard captain’s license. Every country has their own regulations how a professional yacht has to be equipped and how often the security equipment and the boat itself has to be checked by the authorities. If a professional skipper does not care about these rules and you sail with him you might get in trouble with the insurance in case of an accident.

The best way to find a good provider is by word of mouth. Ask people in your (sailors-) circle or friends and acquaintances. Maybe somebody knows somebody who is looking for a crewmember for a charter trip, or somebody had good experiences with a certain provider or sailing club. You find a lot of choice on the Internet, but a decision is often hard to make. Evaluation portals might help.

You should be sceptical if you find an offer that is very cheap in comparison to others. Sailing costs money and someone is there to money. The maintenance of the yacht, the skipper, the berth, the winter storage, insurance, the safety equipment and the repairs have their price. And those who not try to get this back saved the money in one of these points. And that is often not the best outcome for the customer.

Following are some tips: See what impression the website makes on you. Check that the skipper and the yacht have the necessary certifications. Read the conditions carefully and do not sign a contract in a language that you do not understand. Get distrustful when somebody tries to avoid the rules for professional yachting with unusual crew contracts. On private sailing trips crew contracts are quite common but you should not sign them without examination or under pressure. For example just before leaving the harbour. Try to find out what requirement you yourself have to meet. Try to get information about the right gear and equipment for the area. Chose the part of the world where you want to sail by your own preferences and your knowledge as a sailor. The first trip does not have to go around Cape Horn and if you prefer it warm not to the Antarctic.


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What makes a perfect sailing trip is a matter of discussion, there are probably as many opinions as there are sailors. Some place priority on sailing, others are more interested in tourist destinations. Some want to sail a lot of miles and be at sea every night, others like to take a break with a swim in a nice bay. Some want to head to the bunk early in the evening, others want to party. Some like to sleep long in the morning, others get up early. Some listen to folk music, others like country music. Some like to eat vegetarian, others cannot survive without meat. Some save every penny to be able to afford the trip and want to cook on board, others worked so much that they had no time to spend their money and smash the board-kitty by having restaurants dinners. The only subject where all seem to be equal is the fondness for alcohol.

These different needs are not easy to reconcile. Therefore crew meetings are sometimes offered before the start of the trip. That might be good, as you meet the other crewmembers there and you think you have a better idea about them afterwards. But it can also be bad, because you meet the other crewmembers there and you think you have a better idea about them afterwards. Some might be put off and cancel the trip, others might be enthusiastic and are bitterly disappointed afterwards. You might be positively surprised but maybe also negatively. There are sailors who steadfastly refuse such meetings because they want to enjoy the trip without prejudgement. In the end it will happen as it always would anyway and most crews are welded together by the joint experiences.

But if you go to a meeting you can hear some more about the trip. You can inform yourself about the area and the sights – if you see some at all or if the plan is completely different anyway. When the yacht berths late at night there might be not much time and energy for visits after clearing the deck, having a wash and cooking.

At a meeting you see how much the skipper drinks, if he likes to use the board-kitty for it, if he is sociable and entertaining, if he controls the crew or if he bends down. You will realise if you can literally smell the crew and you get to know something about the plans, expectations and the previous knowledge of the others. And a lot of sailor’s yarns gets spun.

What else is it worth taking care of? For example the length of the trip. One week goes by very fast. You just get used to everything and suddenly it is over. But a week is just the timeframe where the limit of tolerance is not stretched too far. On trips that last two weeks this is more difficult and there conflicts are more likely. In my opinion ten days trips are ideal, but they are not offered very often. Is it possible to sail the distance comfortably in the estimated time, if start and the finish are in the same harbour? And the distance should not be too long when the ship is on a roundtrip and has to fetch the next crew at time in a certain harbour. It is always possible that you have to stay at the dock for a few days because it is too windy. And the wind does not always come from the best direction. Does the skipper proudly talk about his long last exhausting overnight trips? What does he think about seasickness? What is his plan for the first day of the trip? Does he want to sail overnight or does he want to sail a short distance to settle in?

Well, there are so many things you can think about. But you can tell the best stories afterwards about the things that went nearly wrong – even if some insist that adventure is the result of poor preparation and little planning. To be on the water is just a wonderful experience! Even people like me who are troubled by seasickness every time are drawn back. I hope to pass on my passion for sailing with this book and I wish you a lot of fun when reading the reports of my sailing trips. You find an explanation of most technical terms in the glossary at the end of the book. But for now enough has been said! So untie the lines and cast off →

 

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