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?
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.
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."|
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.
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.
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