THE SKIPPER’S PERSPECTIVE
Finding good crew, says Hugh Johnson candidly, is “a total crapshoot.” Johnson is a lifelong sailor who has sailed across the Atlantic himself as crew. He now owns an Oyster 625, which he has sailed in the Med, and across the Atlantic and Pacific to New Zealand.
To help on the crossings, he and his wife have taken on ten different crew, mainly found through the Ocean Crew Link website. Of those, he says: “Four were great.”
The other six he wouldn’t let back on board. He recalls two who couldn’t cook (including a 40-something who only knew how to cook rice and one woman who spent the whole time sunbathing), a Frenchman who “contributed nothing but ate and drank as much as possible”. There was a Scandinavian guy, and his girlfriend “[She was] a secret drinker, who hid whisky bottles in their cabin. The rows late at night coming out of that cabin were horrendous.”
A couple who sailed with them and looked after the boat while ashore also turned sour. “They blew up the battery bank and that cost us NZ$27,000. The deck is completely ruined because he scrubbed the teak with the grain and we’ve had to repolish the galley where he blistered it.”
The four individuals who worked out well are still very good friends, and include one woman who joined in the Marquesas at the last minute who turned out to be “superb”.
“It doesn’t matter what qualifications you see in potential crew, you really have no idea who you are dealing with until you get them aboard, and even then you need time to watch them in practice. On the other hand you can get so lucky and find people who become lifelong friends,” he says.
One of the best crew came with a strong recommendation from another very experienced skipper, and Johnson would in future consider Oyster Yachts’s paid crew finding and vetting service. “The finder’s fee is equivalent to one week’s salary. But with hindsight, when we consider the value of damage, that is something I’d think about.”
Among the worst aspects are people who don’t respect your treasured boat. “When you build a boat, you invest a lot of love in it, and it hurts when things get damaged,” he says.
Johnson’s advice? “Sometimes you get lucky, but expect it to fail. Don’t get cut up too badly when you put a lot of effort in and they are ungrateful. You have to be pretty thickskinned. And if someone goes sour on you, take the first opportunity to put them off.”
be tough and gritty but you don’t need to be aggressive. Be honest.”
She adds this important point about alcohol on board: “A good boat is a dry boat when underway. If nobody’s had a drink, you know who they are and have consistent behaviour. If people are predictable you only have the weather and the sea to worry about.”
Then there are lesser irritations that may chafe. “Don’t sweat the little stuff,” says Slater. “This is a skill you can develop. The more people you meet, the more you do it. I would put tolerance in huge capitals. If you have no tolerance of people maybe crewing is not for you.
“But if it’s really gnarly, you have to voice it. I shared a cabin with a guy who didn’t believe in deodorant and never washed his clothes or used the shower!”
Martin Booth says you need to be aware of anything that smacks of unfairness. “It can be things that get to you after two weeks at sea. If, say, you’re the one always doing the washing up or making lunch, it will begin to grind. They are not the things that ultimately will end it, but they will contribute to a crew not getting on. No owner or crewmember wants a situation where someone is not wanted on board. Sometimes times are going to be hard, maybe there’s bad weather, and you all need to pull together.”
COUNTING THE COSTS
The biggest bonus of crewing on someone’s boat is the cost, even though this can vary wildly. During their round the world trip, Tina Crabtree joined Dan and Em Bower on their 51ft charter yacht Skyelark of London (the authors of our Bluewater Sailing Techniques series at yachtingworld.com). Even paying a crew fee on a commercial charter yacht represents a considerable saving compared to taking your own boat. “Being a paying crewmember is a great way to cross oceans and cruise islands. Anyone familiar with the cost of marine hardware knows it’s a bargain,” she says.
“Owning and maintaining your own yacht is costly, however frugal you are,” adds owner-turned-crew Tait. “Crewing for other people removes this from your budget as you are generally only required to pay your portion of food, visas, sometimes mooring fees, etc.”
Tait says almost all skippers expect to pay the costs of running their boat but on a rally there might be per person crew fees (around £2,000 for a full circumnavigation) and other costs are commonly split, usually food, but sometimes also gas, fuel and sometimes even mooring fees.
“Sometimes skippers will pay for everything including meals out, but that’s not the norm. Most require your contribution,” says Tait.
“Every owner is in a different financial situation. Some may need [a contribution] to make it happen. Some may want to create a line. Either way, there isn’t a right or wrong,” says Martin Booth. “It makes no difference so long as it’s clarified at the outset.”
Additional costs depend on how you want to live ashore. Tait says he spent just €250 a month while sailing in the Med, but €1,000-1,500 a month
‘Being a paying crew member is a great way to cross oceans and cruise islands’
during his round the world trip. “It was cheap at sea but in French Polynesia you might want to go diving or stay in a hotel. This is a once in a lifetime trip. My reasoning was I may never get the chance to visit most of those places again. Experiences are what count in life.”
Martin Booth estimates that he and Helen spent around £20,000 as a couple sailing around the world, adding: “It is an absolute bargain. You couldn’t go on holiday to all the countries we visited for a tenth of that. But remember, you are on duty and on call 24/7.”
Sailing around the world is by no means a vacation in the conventional sense. Whether skipper or crew, longdistance sailing is almost a job.
“Don’t approach it as a holiday. You are getting to see amazing things but it is a stage of life you are undertaking,” says Helen Doody. “You can’t be partying and not doing the jobs.”
Martin and Helen have now returned to work. “I think,” he says, “you learn from this how to cope with having a jobs list that never ends. In work you can be used to ticking things off and getting things completed, but on a boat you always have something on.”