Over the past two years, quite a few strangers have sailed with me on Apsara, recruited mostly through the Internet (on websites like Crewbay or its French equivalents). While in most cases things went smoothly, I’ve learned a lot about what makes some crews better than others.
Here are a few hints if you are thinking of crewing, no matter if it’s for a day sail, or for hitch-hiking across an ocean.
Bring the right things:
- Warm waterproof clothing, including wellies or some kind of waterproof footwear (unless you’re in the Caribbean, in which case a swimsuit will do).
- A proper sailing outfit: jacket and trouser. Don’t skimp, the money you’ll regret is the money you didn’t spend.
- Check with the skipper if you need to bring your own life jacket / safety harness (in most cases, these will be on board already).
- Enough change of clothes to last the trip + one spare in case you get wet.
- Sunglasses, one or two pairs, with a head cord if possible.
- A waterproof head torch (for night watches)
- Your phone, with its charging cable (but leave the charger at home, most boats only have 12 volts system, but will have some USB charging plugs).
- A towel
- A few books
- A sleeping bag (it saves the skipper having to do laundry once you are gone, and they may appreciate this).
- Any medicine and toiletry items that you will need for the journey. Remember that the nearest shop may be several days away!
- Seasickness tablets (see below the section on seasickness)
- A treat for the captain 🙂
- Avoid suitcases, they are awkward to put away on a boat. Pack everything into a soft duffel bag rather than a hard sided suitcase. Once you’ve unpacked, soft waterproof bags are much easier to stow away.
Don’t bring the wrong things:
- Drugs of any kinds (this includes alcohol and tobacco).
Remember that in some countries the possession of any amount of non-prescription drug could have very serious consequences, not only for you but also for the skipper, if you’re found out. DON’T TAKE CHANCES!
- If you are on any kind of medication, talk to the skipper / boat owner to make sure they are OK with this.
- High heel shoes have no place on a sailing boat.
- Unless you are on a special diet (and this should be discussed in advance with the skipper), there’s no need to bring food or drinks.
- And if you’re bringing a cuddly toy make sure it’s not this animal with long ears, a close relative of the hare, who cannot even be named on a sailing boat.
Very few people are totally immune to seasickness, and if you’re a beginner, the motion of a small sailing boat in a heavy sea is probably like nothing you’ve experienced before. While a good skipper will try to minimise time spent out in heavy weather, even what may seem pretty benign to them may be quite daunting to you, and more importantly, to your stomach.
Seasickness can ruin, not only your enjoyment of the trip, but also other people’s (I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to change my sailing plans because of a seasick crew).
Unless you’re absolutely sure (from previous experience) that you won’t suffer from it, bring seasickness pills (there are homeopathic alternatives) and take them in good time (ask!)
I once had a crew who was sick the whole time on a passage from Spain to the Canaries (8 days), but with most people, seasickness settles down after two or three days.
Bring the right attitude
- Be positive and cheerful.
- Be honest. This is most important. If you’re scared, don’t put a brave face on it. Say so.
- Be flexible. At sea, plans change, even more so than on land, and staying in harbour is sometimes the wisest option. If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, don’t try to sail there.
- Be kind. Nobody’s perfect, not even the captain. Do your best to be helpful and useful.
I once had a crew on a fairly windy Biscay crossing who had no experience of cruising and quickly became a liability on deck when the weather turned rough. Luckily, he wasn’t suffering from seasickness (not even is 15 foot swell) and endeared himself to the rest of the crew by keeping the cabin and the galley clean and tidy, and by making comments like “oh, the ride was much smoother when you were at the helm“. I’d have him back anytime.
Ask the right questions
I’m often surprised at un-curious some prospective crew are. I don’t see it as a good sign.
If you’re going to live for a while, in cramped quarters and possibly through stressful situations with someone, you need to make sure you can trust them.
This includes not only the skippers and other crew’s nautical experience (is it sufficient for the planned voyage?), but also finding out what kind of person they are. Are they used to sailing with beginners? Are they likely to blow up and call you bird names every time you blunder? Or will they remain calm and considerate under pressure? What is their attitude towards alcohol and smoking (and is it compatible with yours)?, etc…
Ask about the boat as well. Is it properly equipped for the planned journey? Is the safety equipment up-to-date? Do you need to bring your own life jacket and harness? Will there be an AIS Man-Overboard Beacon for each crew? What communication equipment is on board and is it adequate for the planned journey? A bit of homework may help there.
Finally, ask about living arrangements (sleeping, cooking, cleaning), as well as about financial arrangements in advance, and make sure you’re happy with them.
- Know what to expect. The level of comfort and privacy on an offshore cruiser is rarely on a par with what you are used to at home: don’t expect hot (or even cold) showers every day, etc.
- Learn the ropes. Watching a few YouTube videos and doing a bit of reading won’t hurt. Get familiar with sailing terminology (points of sailing, parts of a boat, basic manoeuvres). Knots are easier to learn in the comfort of your bedroom than on the foredeck of a sailing boat.
You won’t lean everything that way, but it will help you get up to speed more quickly.