Friends of yours have decided to take you up on your offer to go sailing. "Great! See you Saturday at 2:00," they say. Now you've done it. Now you actually have to go through with it. But don't worry, sharing your boat with friends, family, or other kinds of guests can actually have its own substantial rewards. Read on and I'll explain.
Making arrangements to share a sail with friends or relatives can leave you kicking up your heels with anticipation or sighing and worrying how on earth you're going to manage them. If the intended visitors have been on a boat before, you've cleared the worst hurdle; and non-boaters who are willing and able to enjoy the day with you are always most welcome. The real challenge is entertaining folks like frail Uncle Harry who is enthusiastic, but limited in mobility; or your mother-in-law who detests the sun, the wind, and anything that will muss her hair and makeup. By taking the time to understand and educate your prospective guests and prepare yourself and your boat for their visit, even the most demanding folks will end up having a good time—that's good for you, good for them, and good for the sport.
Twisting a few old axioms, keep in mind that prevention is the mother of success. Once you understand with whom and what you are dealing, you'll be able to decide what is needed to make their stay on board as enjoyable as possible. What are their ages, physical conditions, and personality types? What are their expectations? Do they want to catch fish, learn to sail, go fast, get a suntan, go snorkeling or swimming, lay on a beach, spend time with you; or do they just want to brag that they've been out on your boat?
To ensure that the experience will meet your guests' expectations, interview them beforehand in a tactful, friendly manner. Make suggestions, answer their questions, and try not to scare them off with sea tales. You should also be alert to any comments they make indicating that they plan to do the unexpected, like bring along their dog, kids, or a date, since this will definitely impact your trip and your planning.
One of the first questions you need to ask is have these people ever been seasick? Have they had trouble riding in a plane or the back seat of a car? If so, recommend that they bring along a remedy that has worked for them in those situations. And just to be safe you should always keep aboard your own supply of over-the-counter motion sickness medications, acupressure bands, ginger, and aromatic oils. Of course it's wise not to wait until a guest is aboard to ask this question, since the power of suggestion can take over.
You'll also want to inquire about food preferences and allergies so you won't make the mistake of serving ham sandwiches to a vegetarian or cream cheese dip to a lactose intolerant person without having alternatives available. Most folks will offer to contribute food or drink. Be honest about what you really need and alert them to your boat's limitations. If extra coolers will be cumbersome, say so, or you'll be bashing your shins on them throughout the trip. I once had a guest arrive with a large glass platter loaded with a luscious taco dip that couldn't be stowed where it wouldn't spill over or break. Warn against packaging foods that must be chilled in large containers that no way, no how, will fit in your icebox.
Another thing to remember is that not everyone knows what's appropriate on a sailboat. Cowboy boots and spiky pumps have no business on a boat, but your guests might not know this. Ask that they wear non-marking rubber-soled shoes or sneakers and comfortable, casual clothes. Advise they pack a light jacket or sweater, long pants, sunglasses, and sunscreen. It's surprising how many people arrive without hat in hand, so keep spare caps aboard; as well as spare foul wear gear to loan out in wet weather. Discuss your itinerary, so they'll know to bring along a swim suit or a fresh outfit for the evening. Should they ask, "When do we dress up?" say, "Never!"
If a guest inquires on arrival, "Where is my stateroom?" you've failed to communicate. When an invite involves an overnight stay, explain it as "camping;" so when you assign a visitor a sleeping bag in the cockpit or expect two folks to squeeze into a single berth, they will accept it without grumbling. Any person that offers to bring his or her own bedding or towels is a godsend.
Guests who are elderly or have any sort of handicap may present a problem if you fail to consider how they might deal with ladders and stairs, toerails, etc. Boarding such folks needn't be an issue or an embarrassment for them if you've thought it through beforehand. This may mean pulling up to a floating dock and borrowing a set of stairs, or creating a ramp. Some may be agile enough to board from a marina launch that pulls up almost level to the cockpit or boarding area; but don't even attempt to juggle them about in a dinghy.
|"Designate a life preserver for each person on board and have him or her try it on, adjust the straps, and either wear it or at least keep it handy."|
Once your visitors arrive, just smile. You should make them feel welcome and comfortable. Offer cold drinks and show them around the boat. Assure them that you have enough safety equipment to save a sinking ship without scaring them into thinking it might happen on this cruise. Designate a life preserver to each person aboard and have him or her try it on, adjust the straps, and either wear it or keep it handy. Unless your boat is a very stable multihull, issue cautions that your guests should secure any loose items and take care not to leave open cups of liquid or glass bottles lying about. With children, safety is paramount. Establish your ground rules right away. Mine include having kids wear a PFD at all times, along with no running or fooling around, and no leaving the cockpit area without an adult.
If you hope to avoid the nasty task of unclogging the head after your guests' visit, clearly explain its use—without instilling any undue fear. Most guests who are squeamish about using an onboard commode will refuse liquids and thereby risk dehydration. At the very least they'll be uncomfortable, and nobody wants that as a result of your invitation. So have that visitor perform a practice flush, and be clear about the maximum amount of toilet paper to be used. With women, be explicit: absolutely no sanitary products are to be flushed. A small plastic trash bag placed in the head may discourage sneak flushers.
The easiest folks to have aboard are those who want to participate. Savvy owners will play into that by assigning minor tasks, like having their guests tweak the jibsheet or assist with docking. If you do this, be sure to heap on the praise with each new accomplishment by your guests. Remember, you may be training future crew.
Once you're underway, if the cockpit is crowded, it may be safest to forgo tacking, or even raising the sails, unless you can find a spot to safely anchor those guests who are not participating. For first-timers and fragile folks, make your first outing short and retain whatever flexibility you can regarding your schedule. If some aspect of the trip isn't agreeing with one of your guests (say the weather isn't cooperative), be prepared to high-tail it back to shore.
Ultimately you'll want to keep your guests interested and involved in the cruise. Show them on the chart where you are and where you plan to go. Offer binoculars and point out landmarks of note. Explain how the sails work, and if you're on a straight run for a while, hand over the helm for a bit. Be sure to take a photo of their smiling faces as they envision themselves in command. If you've got children aboard that are too young to be interested in their surroundings, keep them amused with quiet games, books, and soft toys.
For experienced sailors, it's not always easy to share our boats with others, but by planning ahead and doing whatever it takes to make the visit pleasant, we are giving friends and loved ones a gift worth all the salt in the ocean.