Crew seek­ing pas­sage

Want a big sail­ing ad­ven­ture but not on your own boat? Yacht­mas­ter in­struc­tor Ca­rina Hum­ber­stone shares her ex­pe­ri­ence of crew­ing

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

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

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