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SWF Seeks Crew

Before leaving Baja for the South Pacific, the author was determined to find the ideal crew member or push back her departure date.
Somehow posting an advertisment stating "Single, white, 28-year-old female captain seeks crew for voyage through South Pacific" didn't seem like the best idea. No matter how clearly I described my ideal crew member, I just knew I would end up swimming in faxes and telephone calls from salty dogs lookin' for a little lady to sail with to Margaritaville. Placing a personal ad to find a Pacific passage partner sounded as promising as looking in a noisy bar for Mr. Right.

But there I was in La Paz, Mexico, in January of 1998, suddenly the sole owner of Hio Avae, the Santana 37 I had originally purchased with my best friend and co-captain Sarah Dashew. After devoting a year to preparing Hio for Pacific passages and enjoying a brief cruise into the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Sarah had left the boat to become a rock-and-roll star. I bought her share of the boat, and was fully determined to leave Mexico in mid-April to cross the Pacific to New Zealand—but first I needed crew.

There was no way was I going to place an ad. I also would not advertise the job opening on the La Paz cruiser's net. I felt strongly that any public announcement would have left me open to con artists and pathological liars. I didn't want potential candidates trying to impress me with fake personalities and fudged credentials.

Ultimately, my strategy evolved to a slower, more methodical method of taking my time. I figured I'd make friends first, and then if it felt right, I'd clarify the expectations, and ask a friend aboard.

Of course I did have an ideal crew in mind. She was a young woman, 20-something, experienced in coastal cruising and offshore passaging, adventuresome, bilingual, easygoing, confident, communicative, team-oriented, tidy, clean-living, and a good cook in rough seas. Having PADI dive certification wouldn't hurt her chances either. I was quite attached to the idea of continuing my voyage with another woman; I fancied the swath two women would cut into the male-and couple-dominated cruising scene.

As I prepared the boat for the crossing, curious fellow cruisers constantly asked about my plans. My standard reply was: "If the boat's ready, I'm ready, and I have crew by the middle of April, we'll go. If not, I'll wait another season."

Serious crossings demand that everyone on board clearly understand their responsibilities.

Time and maintenance projects went by and the fantasy crew-woman never appeared. Instead, I ended up considering a couple of close young cruising friends for the job. Wendy and Nathan were engaged, they owned their own boat, and had their own cruising dream. But when their engagement dissolved, I wound up with two excellent candidates for my voyage.

Wendy would have been my automatic first choice. She was female, tidy, confident, clean-living, and more communicative (rather, talkative) than anybody I had ever met. However, she was not prepared, after making such a huge change in her life, to join my dream. Actually, I was relieved when she took herself out of the running. She and I had become friends over two cruising seasons in La Paz, and I knew our personalities would clash if we crossed the Pacific together. If I had simply interviewed her, I wonder if I would I have discovered this?

Nathan, on the other hand, did not fit my ideal description, being male, monolingual, and messy. Fortunately, a mutual friend helped me to see how our differences could combine to create a great team: Nathan sails with his cajones, while I sail by the book; Nathan is good with his hands, while I am good with my head; Nathan is a get-stuff-done-guy and I am a process person.

When I invited Nathan to join me, I didn't expect him to be interested. He had been captain of his own boat, and had invested 10 years in his own cruising dream. Surprisingly, he accepted. Helping me get to the South Pacific was just the kind of mission he needed.

The ideal crew not only participate in steering, cooking, trimming sails, but they assist in the day-to-day maintenance of the vessel as well.

Another month, a trip to the States, ten trips to the supermarket, and one Aries windvane installation later, Nathan and I set sail. He had never sailed aboard Hio before we left La Paz for our jumping-off point, Cabo San Lucas. However, I knew Nathan, I trusted his skills, and knew he was capable. (It would be better practice to get any new crew comfortable with your boat under sail, in a variety of conditions, before making a long passage.)

We made a good cruising team. We inspired one another to experiment with sail combinations. We took turns cooking. He attacked boat projects that came up and we both navigated. I helped him process the breakup of his relationship, and he helped me understand the inner workings of my Westerbeke diesel engine.

Nathan left the boat a couple of months later, in Takaroa, Tuamotus, to return to his fishing job in Alaska. I applied my original strategy to fill the space he left empty.

"I watched  Nicki and Sandy work and live aboard somebody else's boat before inviting them to join mine. "

Among the itinerant crew in the South Pacific were two young surfing Canadians, Nicki and Sandy, who had crossed from Mexico aboard a large racer-cruiser. I met them when they joined Distant Beat, in Hiva Oa, Marquesas. Hio Avae and Distant Beat buddy-boated through the Marquesas Islands, and all crew members became close friends. Equally important, I had the opportunity to watch Nicki and Sandy work and live aboard somebody else's boat before inviting them to join my journey.

Nicki, with her feminine strength and unstoppable enthusiasm, made my "Chick Boat" dream come true from the Marquesas to Tonga. Sandy, the ever-handy superboy, joined me for the intimidating passage from Tonga to New Zealand. Both proved to be excellent, trustworthy crew, and will be lifelong friends.

Some say I've been exceptionally lucky with my crew. I say my strategy worked. Take time. Make friends. Set expectations. Invite them aboard. Then see what happens!

Eliminating the Unexpected

The secret to a happy ship, says the author, is ensuring that everyone understand's their own and others' on board responsibilities. She maps it out in great detail here. 

When I began my search for crew, several cruising friends urged me to draw up a statement of expectations, rules, and goals. Potential crew would read this, and, if they accepted the terms, they would sign the document. The document might not hold up in court, in the event of a major injury or loss, but it would communicate my expectations—of myself and others—to prospective crew and their families.

The final Hio Avae expectations document is perhaps overlong and under-formal, but it sets the right tone for the partnerships I want to have while cruising. It addresses both captain and crew responsibilities in the areas of: injury and illness; emergencies; general sailing and liveaboard practices; money; and work aboard. It exacts the crew's commitment, and addresses how we would welcome and care for guests.

You might consider coming up with a set of expectations of your own, to introduce your sailing paradigm to others who might come along for the ride. Here's my version:

My primary expectations are that while underway and at anchor aboard Hio Avae, we will have fun, communicate effectively, trust each other, and become a team of friends working toward the same goal of safe travel and incredible experiences.

Because neither Hio nor I are insured, and because sailing is an activity that puts our lives into one another's hands, I find it necessary to write out the following set of expectations, to be agreed upon by any crew and guests that come aboard. For safe, happy voyages, I expect:
     *   Crew will understand and accept the risks inherent in daysailing and ocean passaging, as well as in foreign travel, and will take necessary precautions.
     *   The captain will not be responsible for any illness or injury sustained by crew, except in case of gross negligence. Crew will have necessary innoculations and take reasonable precautions relative to her/his own well-being.
     *   The captain will provide crew with over-the-counter and emergency prescription medication to address injuries and illness, but the captain will not be responsible for any adverse effects, except in case of gross negligence. The injured party will cover all medical care expenses above and beyond what we can treat aboard.
     *   Captain and crew will document all major injuries and illnesses in the ship's log, with detailed narratives describing symptoms, treatments, and outcomes. Additional reports from other crewmembers may be requested.
     *   We will all act to take care of one another, keeping an eye on our diets and water intake, and will relieve one another from duties when necessary.
     *   Crew will be capable of responding to emergency situations, and will know the location and appropriate use of all safety/emergency gear. (Including flares, fire extinguishers, medical supplies, man-overboard rigs, VHF/Ham/SSB radios, EPIRB, Yachtsaver, personal flotation devices, etc.)
     *   Crew will observe a conservative, "worst case" sailing psychology, exercising healthy caution in all endeavors.
     *   Crew will plan trips taking weather and possible hazards into consideration.
     *   Crew will sail sober, and will not bring any illegal drugs aboard Hio.
     *   Crew will know and follow the "Rules of the Road" (Coast Guard Navigation Rules), and do whatever it takes to assess the possibility of collision and, most importantly, avoid collision.
     *   Crew will be vigilant about watches, making regular checks of the horizon for other vessels or obstructions.
     *   Crew will wear and attach harnesses when on deck on night watches, when on deck alone (day or night), and when going forward. 
     *   Crew will talk through any manuever that requires going forward while underway; when one crew member goes forward, another crew member should know his/her intentions, in order to provide support and watch for possible problems.
     *   Crew will keep Hio's interior tidy, both underway and at anchor, for safety as well as physical and psychic space. "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
     *   As voluntary team members in Hio's journeys, crew will be both independent and interdependent.
     *   Crew will contribute equal shares of money into a "boat kitty" to cover day-to-day expenses, including but not limited to: food, port/marina fees, diesel, oil, and other collective expenses. The "boat kitty" will not cover: alcohol, individual recreational activities, major boat-equipment, replacement, or maintenance expenses (the captain will cover boat expenses, except in cases where other crew have done damage through gross/wilful negligence).
     *   Crew will provide money or airline tickets required for bond in French Polynesia or any other port of call. Crew will give bond to the captain in good faith; the captain will return this bond upon departure from the country that requires it.
     *   Crew will be responsible for any and all of his/her own transportation to or from Hio.
     *   Each crew member will stand his/her share of night watches, except in cases of seasickness or other illness. During the day, we will share on-watch responsibilities; somebody will keep a regular horizon-scanning watch (10-15 minute intervals) at all times. During the day watches, each crew will take a turn on deck to check
for chafe and wear. If the engine is running, crew will keep an eye on oil pressure, temperature, and salt water discharge. We will regularly check the bilge and batteries.
     *   We will make hourly log entries, noting course, position, wind speed/direction, barometer reading, and comments.
     *   Crew will do a fair share of keeping the boat well maintained.
     *   We will hold a goal of three projects per day, a "project" being any work that keeps Hio healthy. We will divide labor appropriate to crew skills and inclinations.
     *   We will hold a goal to play more than we work.
     *   Crew will give advance notice of his/her intention to leave the boat, to allow the captain to find a replacement, or reach a port of call where replacements may be available. (Except, of course, in an emergency.)
     *   Crew will share in itinerary choices. We will determine destinations and our travelling pace collectively.
     *   We will take care of ourselves, each other, and Hio, with honest communication and a healthy sense of humor.
     *   Crew will share the pleasures of cruising with as many friends as possible. 
     *    We will welcome guests, given advance consideration and approval by all crew members.
     *   Our itinerary comes first: we will never go out of our way and risk ourselves and the boat to meet someone somewhere. All of our guests will have to come to us, or wait for us, as necessary.
     *   We will give all guests a thorough orientation to the boat to minimize risk of accident or injury. Guests will read, understand, and accept these "Expectations". We will record guest orientation and any incident in the ship's log.

Along with my crew, I sign and keep a copy of this. It's long, but the mechanics are simple.

Suggested Reading:

The Value of Leadership Offshore by John Rousmaniere

Offshore Crewing Basics by John Kretschmer

Unsung Heroes by Beth Leonard


Buying Guide: Watermakers

Kristin Sandvik is offline  
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