What kind of skills should I have to become a crew on a cruising sailboat if I have a little experience sailing?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. The best sailors possess a broad range of skills to meet the demands of managing a sailboat in often-trying conditions. Before proceeding, I'm going to refer you to an article by John Kretschmer as a more specific answer (Offshore Crewing Basics). I think you'll enjoy reading that as John is a seasoned sailor who has made a specialty of indoctrinating new crew on long-distance passages.
Most inexperienced sailors should understand that there are three general areas in which you need to apply yourself in order to begin becoming a good offshore crew. First, vigilance, though not strictly a skill, is perhaps chief on the list of desirable qualities for a sailor. At sea, you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings and the subtle signals that the water and the weather send you. You also need to be attentive to what's going on aboard your boat. Are the creaks and groans you hear normal, or is something amiss with the equipment or the construction of the boat? Experience will answer that for you, but being perceptive can help you glean that experience.
Second, I'd say that being adaptable is critical for sailors. By its very nature, sailing is about accepting what comes your way in the form of weather, environmental conditions, and on-the-water experiences. If you can't adapt easily and work with what's thrown at you, you'll end up being miserable a lot of the time.
And third, I put a high premium on developing a healthy respect for the sea, or any body of water for that matter. When you put out on the water, you need to keep in mind that you're moving into a foreign medium, one on which most of us are unaccustomed to treading. If you were born and bred aboard a boat, you'd probably come by this respect almost instinctually, but since most of us haven't enjoyed that upbringing, we'd do well to go about things cautiously on the water.
Here's hoping that the information you glean from John Kretschmer's prescriptions, along with my more general ramblings, will help you better understand what you need to know to become a capable crew member.