Crew seeking passage
Want a big sailing adventure but not on your own boat? Yachtmaster instructor Carina Humberstone shares her experience of crewing
Joining a boat for a transatlantic can be an adventure in itself
How do you find the right boat to crew on and the right owners to crew with? Boat owners are often looking for people to help sail their boats, sometimes for ocean crossings but also on holidays and races.
Having retired in June my husband and I were planning our first big adventure in the following year. We were looking for a boat to cross the Atlantic on, preferably with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, (ARC), because of the security offered with the strict safety requirements placed on each boat and the support provided.
There are ways to find boats, but the dream of sailing into the sunset with your new-found best friends can be notoriously difficult to achieve – particularly if you’re hoping to do it on the cheap. And apparently it can be just as difficult sailing with lifelong friends and family.
I had an Atlantic crossing under my belt already and a lot of sailing experience including working as an instructor up to Yachtmaster level, so I hoped that with this experience we’d get a trip without having to shell out too much cash.
We signed up to three crewing websites in December, to search for suitable boats and owners and maybe confirm our trip for the following November.
We met and sailed with our first owners in early spring. They seemed nice enough; a little more sociable than us, with slightly dubious sailing skills, but on the whole we thought that we could sail harmoniously and safely across the Atlantic with them. However, after a second meeting they decided that maybe we were not the right crew for them.
We were disappointed not to have our Atlantic trip confirmed and a little apprehensive as to whether we’d actually find the ‘right’ boat for the trip but we had set our minds on doing the crossing and decided to keep looking.
By now it was late summer and we’d wasted too much time waiting to hear back from the first owners, but we found another option and flew out to Europe to see the next boat and meet the owner. After spending some time with them we thought we would all manage together on the crossing. Unfortunately the boat was not ready for the trip. Despite the owner’s assertions that it would be, it was pretty clear to us it wouldn’t, so after two weeks we reluctantly left this project and returned
home. This was doubly unfortunate as, apart from our travel to and from the boat, everything would have been paid for. However, a certain amount of freedom is lost when everything is being paid for.
We then found one last boat about to participate in the ARC that looked good. The couple sounded fine on the phone and needed experienced crew. Perfect?
We flew back out to Mediterranean again, with just two days to decide if this was the boat, and people, for us. It seemed that it was. As we first stepped aboard we were met with a cheery welcome. The boat was being cleaned and prepared for its first leg of the journey to the Caribbean. We had a relaxed sail down through the Mediterranean, stopping to visit various ports along the way, before arriving in Gibraltar and uniting with the last two crew for the Atlantic crossing.
So we’d started our search for a boat in December, by March we had met our first couple, in August we were on our second
‘On our first trial trip the owners ran the boat aground twice and the atmosphere on the boat was one of mild panic throughout’
owner and in September we were in last chance saloon. We took this third boat with only 48 hours to go before we’d lose both our deposit for the ARC and for our flights home from St Lucia.
How did it go?
Although we look back on the trip with some happy memories, mainly due to our increased confidence in dealing with and managing different personalities, our Atlantic crossing was not a wholly enjoyable experience.
We had talked about leaving the boat before the crossing – and perhaps we should have done – but by then we’d invested a sizeable amount of money already and we wanted to cross the Atlantic so we stuck with it.
However, we did learn some valuable life lessons and realised there are several things we can think about next time to help find the right boat (see top tips panel, far right).
Once in St Lucia we heard of crews that wouldn't even say goodbye to the owners when they jumped off the boat as soon as the lines were tied to the pontoons. Others had fallen out with close friends and family members and vowed not to sail with each other again.
On a more positive note many crews had a fabulous time and made new lifelong friends. Interestingly many of the happy crews seemed to be those that had opted for a commercial-type trip where the costs were advertised beforehand, there was a professional skipper and in some cases also a stewardess or steward. The crew were acting more like guests but were still expected to stand their watch and get involved in other tasks where and when they felt comfortable.
A trip like this may end up being no more expensive than joining as crew on a non-commercial boat. Plus you have the added benefit of not being obliged to stay on board, nor chip in with maintenance tasks, when in port.
Most importantly, once you have decided to sail on a commercial-type boat and booked your place, your crossing is confirmed and, what’s more, the skipper is most likely to do their very best to look after you throughout.
Lovely people to meet
We met lots and lots of lovely owners and skippers while on our journey to the start of the ARC in Gran Canaria and also once we’d arrived in St Lucia. Some of them have talked about the possibility of us crewing for them in the future, and this is the ideal way to find a boat, to meet other sailors and have the opportunity to really get to know them before becoming crew on their boat.
Whatever route into crewing you choose, if you follow the steps described and avoid the pitfalls you’ll be well on the way to having a satisfying journey and an excellent adventure. Happy sailing!
‘A certain amount of freedom is lost when everything is being paid for’
The crew of an ARC boat (not the author’s) cool off mid-Atlantic
Crew might be expected to share the costs of provisioning
ARC boats set sail for St Lucia