|CrystalblueoceanSailing and Diving Around the World|
sailing and diving around the world
What I did, for the most part, is I volunteer crewed on yachts, to acquire documented sea time and experience. But this info should also be useful for those who just want to crew for fun, for the adventure, or just to get from one place to another. I've met many people, the latest being Alexis and Maria, who hitch rides on boats to get from country to country. Alexis & Maria, for example, caught a boat, just yesterday, heading to Brazil. Naturally, they'll help with the sailing of the vessel, cooking meals, and standing night watches. This post is my advice about how to be a successful volunteer crew member, based on my own crewing experience, in order to become an excellent Captain.
Before I started volunteer crewing, I had already acquired a few nautical certifications and I recommend that you do the same. For those of you who are unfamiliar with sailboats, as I was, the certifications will give you confidence, and some credibility. Many boat owners like to know that you know your way around a boat, and that you're not a complete novice. It's easier to train someone that at least has the basics down. However, every once in a while I do come across boat owners who are willing to train a totally green person that has the right attitude. I have ASA levels 101 through 105. Levels 101 and 104 were worth it. Any ASA certs after that were a waste of time, for me. What you want to be thinking about are the internationally recognized Yachtmaster certifications. I also did the STCW'95, also for the purposes of gaining confidence and credibility, but, of course, it is also important to know how to deal with on-board emergencies. Also, you usually need the STCW'95 before you can accept a paying job on a boat With the ASA stuff, and the STCW'95, I knew that boat owners/Captains would take me seriously as someone who wants to learn. I also went a step further and took the USCG, OUPV prep course, through Seaschool, in Tallahassee, Fl, and wrote and passed the exams. Taking a prep course is great because you walk into the exam with all of the info still fresh in your mind. The success with the USCG exams solidified my decision to go full-time with the crewing, with the goal of acquiring a Captaincy. Whatever it is you choose to do, to whatever extent, it's definitely helpful to have some sort of credentials, from the start.
So, now you've got a certification or two, and you're ready to look for a spot on a boat as crew. How do you find a boat to begin the learning experience? crewbay.com is the site that I've mostly used, although there are many others- latitude38, and cruisersforum, for example. When a boat-owner posts, looking for crew, in a location and at a time that is convenient to you, you simply respond to the post. Keep your post short. Tell them why you're interested and what you hope to get out of the experience. At cruisersforum, for example, you can leave an open response in the 'crew wanted' section, that everyone visiting the site can read, or you can 'pm' them, and send them a private message. Occasionally, the owner/Captain will leave an email in their initial post, so you're sometimes able to contact them directly. When they respond, they will ask you a bunch of questions about yourself, which you should respond to right away. Sometimes you may not get a response as quickly as you would like, but you have to remember that many of these people are under way. Also, good wifi can be hard to come by. In some places, there is no decent internet signal at all. You, of course, are free to ask questions of your own. Some of your questions might be- what is expected of me? Where will the boat be stopping? How many people on board? Is there a life raft and an EPIRB? Are there any pets on board? You should also make sure that you are going to be learning from the experience, so try, in your own way, to establish if you'll be free to ask questions when you're on the boat, and if the owner/Captain is willing to pass on knowledge and some training. After all, from your perspective, the reason why you're spending money to fly all over the world, to and from these boats, is to learn. If you're not learning, you're wasting your time, and money, aren't you?
Never step on anyone's boat, without asking permission or being invited. The tradition is, "permission to come aboard?" I always ask it before I step on board the vessel that I'm going to be crewing on. It immediately shows respect for the owner and his/her vessel.
Here is a link to a post which is the 'ideal' situation you look for. The Captain is extremely thorough in his description of just about every conceivable detail. I was immediately impressed, and interested. If I was looking for a boat at the time I saw the post, I would have responded immediately. I asked Chris if I could mention him on this site and he enthusiastically agreed. The post shows that Chris is sincere, methodical, thoughtful, prepared, thinking ahead, and, most importantly, thinking about his potential crew members. This is the kind of person that you want to crew with, in my opinion.
Your 'job' is simple, really. I call it a 'job' because that is how I approach each crew gig. I take the crew gigs seriously. However, on a volunteer crew gig there isn't a lot involved. First of all, you don't want to turn yourself into a slave. What I mean is this: There are some insensitive boat owners out there. For example, someone I know was volunteer crewing on a boat, and accidentally overheard one of the owner's phone conversations. He figured out that the owner was selling the boat. So, there they were, a bunch of volunteer crew, all week, every day, unknowingly helping this guy to restore his boat so he could sell it. He recalled thinking to himself that all of this work they were doing was way beyond the work expected of a volunteer crew member. There was so much work being done, that the owner really should have been paying the crew, or paying someone else. Instead, he used the various sailing websites to get a few volunteers on board to restore his boat for him, for free. As soon as the crew member caught on to what was going on, he left the boat, as did one of the other guys. The owner had no intention of going on a voyage. He just wanted the free work. Hey, nobody said life was fair, but this is a situation you definitely want to avoid, especially if it's costing you a couple of thousand dollars to get to and from the boat.
So, these are some of the things a volunteer crew member does:
Above all, maintain a safe environment, for you and everyone on board; keep the space assigned to you (cabin, head, etc) spotlessly clean, including making up the bunk every morning; wash all the dishes that you use, and the dishes when someone else does the cooking; help square the boat away when arriving at a marina (dock lines, shore power, wash the boat down with soap and fresh water, polish stainless steel, clean windows and isinglass, drop off trash in the designated spot, etc); help sail the vessel (working the winches, reefing, steering, etc.; check fluids (engine oil, trans. oil, coolant, etc) before starting the engine; stand night watches- this is extremely important. Everyone else is asleep, it's nighttime, and you're in the middle of the ocean, with other ships around you. Many ships travel at 25 to 30 knots. So, imagine a ship on the horizon, 3 or so miles away... you do the math. It will be on top of you pretty fast. It takes a ship that big about twenty minutes to come to a complete stop, when travelling at that speed. So, when I stand a night watch, that's exactly what I do, I watch. Everyone on board is relying on me to not make any mistakes. Falling asleep is the biggest mistake. No one is immune to falling asleep when tired, so make sure you wake someone up to relieve you if absolutely feel that you just can't keep your eyes open anymore. Better to have an annoyed crew mate who has to lose an hour of shuteye than to risk collision, or some other problem. I've done so many crew gigs now, and I've seen many styles of night watching- some people read (with a white light), some people go below and make popcorn, some people listen to blaring music through headphones, etc. I never feel comfortable on a boat where people do that, and it's hard for me to get any decent sleep if I feel another crew member isn't taking the night watches seriously enough. For night watches, you need to know your COLREGS. In fact, memorize them. You'll need to know them for the Yachtmaster exams, anyway. You have to be able to identify the size and the type of vessel it is, and the direction it's travelling, just by looking at its lights.
On night watches, stay in the cockpit. Hanging over the side of the boat, to urinate, for example, as harmless at that seems, can have fatal consequences. To put it into perspective, think of it this way- if you accidentally fall over the side, the boat, at 6 knots, will be moving away from you at 15 feet per second. That's a sobering thought. Even if you have the presence of mind to be able to scream, and scream loud enough, and someone does hear you while they're sleeping below, they still have to take the time to come out of their sleep, get up on deck, in the dark, and stop the boat. How many of your fellow crew even know how to do that? Then they have to turn around, and try to find you, in the dark. A Captain once told me- if you go into the water at night, even if someone hears you from below, chances are they'll never find you. If the engine is running when you go over, you're pretty much in the hands of fate. No one will hear you scream above noise of the engine. So, stay in the cockpit at night and, preferably, stay harnessed on to something. The only thing I can tell you is, if you do go over, stay calm. If you're smart, you'll have a life vest on and a whistle attached to it. If someone has heard you scream, you'll see the vessel in the dark when the lights start coming on. That's when you'll realize how far away from you the boat has moved in those precious seconds. Start blowing your whistle, calmly, so as not to hyperventilate. As the boat begins to move in your direction, calmly start swimming towards it, stopping every once in a while to blow your whistle. If you don't have a whistle, try to swim as close to the vessel as possible to increase the chances of someone hearing you calling out from the darkness. Don't leave the cockpit at night.
These are the things that, in my opinion, volunteer crew should not be expected to do (unless you choose to, or have agreed to do, prior to arriving at the boat). Having said that, you can shine the owner's shoes every night, if you choose to, but for those of you who find yourselves feeling uncomfortable about something you've been asked to do, here's a sort of 'guideline':
You don't have to...... go up the mast; scrub the bottom of the boat; clean up pet poop; constantly babysit children; run constant errands for owners (if it's a Bona Fide Captain, and he's training me, then, heck, I'd wash his socks for him. Just kidding, but you see my point. If a Captain is giving me the training I need to become a Captain, then there isn't much I wouldn't do for him); take the dog for walks; restore teak furniture; bring a filthy dinghy back to white again; de-grease the engine; etc, etc. You guys get the message. If you feel something doesn't make sense, or that you're being taken advantage of, then you're probably right. You're not there to be a personal servant. You're there to help get the vessel, and all on board, to the destination safely. Your very presence on board is your end of it. If they've got you on board, it usually means they can't sail long distances by themselves, that's why you're there. They need extra hands and eyes, mostly for the night watches. As volunteer crew, you are working for free in exchange for basic meals (while on board) and for as much training and knowledge as the owner/Captain can pass on to you. Naturally, any extras that you might need, and any on-shore expenses, are your own.
I know for a fact that many of you are going to be wondering what lines to set up, how many fenders to set up, on which side of the boat, etc. Some of you might get quite anxious about docking, especially if the helmsperson also gets nervous whenever anyone mentions the word 'docking.'
Ideally, this is one of the things you'd want to go over with the owner/Captain, before any docking occurs. A good Captain will go over it with the crew automatically. But, remember, lots of boat owners, even though they're being called 'Captain,' are only 'Captains' because they happen to own the boat. Many of those types of Captains are often not grounded in the basics of seamanship. So, if the owner/Captain, doesn't initiate a discussion about docking, then feel free to do it. He/she will feel good to know that they've got crew who are thinking.
So, docking...... here is what would usually happen- No matter where the boat is being docked, it's going to be moving forward, or in reverse, up to the dock, or into the slip, or moving sideways. You're either going to want to stop the vessel from moving forward, or back, and sometimes sideways, away from the dock. Sideways movement, away from the dock will be checked by the bow and stern lines. The Captain, in ample time, will tell the crew where to put the fenders, how the approach is going to made, and any other particulars, such as info about current, shallows, etc.
If the boat is approaching to the dock/slip in reverse, and let's say there are two crew, one will be standing at the beam, and one at the ready at the stern. The first line thrown is the forward spring line, thrown by the crew member standing amidships. Then the crew member at the stern throws the stern line. With those two lines, the dock staff can stop and secure the vessel. However, once the forward spring line is thrown, and caught, that crew member can quickly walk up to the bow and throw the bow line. Once the vessel feels the pressure of the forward spring, she'll swing stern to dock and bow to sea. The bow line will allow dock staff to keep the bow in tight with the dock, and also impede any reverse movement.
If the boat is going forward up to the dock/slip, one person will be standing at the beam, and one at the stern. As soon as the Captain give the signal to throw the lines, the person amidships throws the aft spring line, and the other person throws the stern line. As soon as the vessel feels the pressure on the the aft spring line, the stern will head out to sea and the bow will head toward the dock. With the spring line significantly slowing forward motion, the stern line will keep the stern in towards the dock and also impede any forward movement. Once the aft spring line is thrown, of course, that crew member can immediately proceed forward to throw the bow line. Keep in mind, though, that the vessel, in any close quarters situations, will barely be making headway, so the process of docking should normally be very simple and easy. In many cases, the Captain will insist that crew do nothing until he says to do it. Usually, however, in an ideal situation, the crew understands the docking process I just described, and simply goes about getting the job done, in a calm, methodical, efficient manner. Sometimes the dock will have its own lines and the staff will throw those to you. Then it's the same process, except you're cleating the lines to your boat, making sure the lines pass through the chocks. Also, in this 'ideal' scenario, you'll always give the spring line first, no matter what the dock staff tell you. It's not their boat, so do it the Captain's way.
Now, that was an 'ideal' scenario. Much of the time, on many boats, there is usually at least one person who knows what to do, and dock staff who'll ask for the lines to be thrown, and the task simply ends up getting done. Many boats I've crewed on used only bow and stern lines. With dock staff that know what they're doing, those two lines can often suffice. In any case, whether the Captain is a pro-active kind of person or not, always look to him/her, or the person at the helm, if you can, for direction. Here is one reason why. When I first started crewing, I was on a large motor yacht, in Fort Lauderdale. The Captain eased us up to the fuel dock and the lone attendant tied us off. When the tanks were close to full, I noticed that the attendant was standing closer to the bow, so I took a position near the stern, still on the boat. I didn't notice, though, when the Captain came out and paid the attendant. I positioned myself to get a clear view of the bow, and any activity that might be going on near the bow. Just as I did that, I noticed that the attendant had shaken off the bow line and was in the process of untying the spring line. So, naturally, I assumed the Captain had paid and had told the attendant to untie us. So, I shook off the stern line, coiled it up neatly and stowed it away. I then proceeded towards the bow, to be within earshot of the Captain, in case he needed me to do something. I looked up at the flybridge, where this particular Captain preferred to pilot the vessel from, and there was noone there. No big deal, how many times have I seen a Captain walk away from the helm for just a quick moment, even while in the process of leaving a dock. As I said, in close quarters, the vessel is barely making headway, anyway. So we were underway, but not making way, slowing drifting along the length of the fuel dock, and it looked to me like the Captain was going to allow the current to move us off the dock. I looked up at the flybridge again, and still no Captain. Hmm, he must be in the pilothouse. Of course, the sunlight was reflecting off of the windshield and I couldn't see inside the pilothouse through the glare, so I just assumed the Captain was in there. I pushed us a little further away from a piling, as we continued to drift down the dock.
Just as I began to get a feeling that something wasn't right, I heard the Captain call out, "Jason, what the hell is going on?! To make an already long story, short, I made the mistake of assuming that the Captain told the attendant to untie us, and that is why I had let go of the stern line. The Captain, however, had gone down to the engine room, after paying the attendant for the fuel, and hadn't told the attendant to untie us. So, while we were drifting along the dock, the Captain and the owner of the vessel were immersed in the cacophony of the engine room, and had no clue what was going on above. I think you guys can figure out the moral of the story. I felt like a complete idiot, of course, and was extremely embarrassed, even though the fault wasn't mine directly, really. I don't know, maybe it was. In any case, I learned a valuable lesson....don't do anything unless the Captain, or the helmsperson, gives you the green light. In other words, the Captain/helmsman needs to know what is going on at all times. No damage was done, thankfully. I just felt like I really blew it. I deeply respected that Captain and I wanted him to bring me on for future crew gigs. Fortunately he recognized that it was a mistake easily made, by a beginner, and has since invited me to crew with him.
Finally, sometimes there won't be anyone on the dock to assist you with docking. No problem. The Captain, obviously, in that situation, will be maneuvering much more carefully. If you're on a sailboat, as you approach the dock, you'll have your line in your hand, you'll step over the lifelines, at a spot that allows you to hold on to something for safety, and stand with the backs of your legs against the lifeline. When you're close enough to the dock, you'll 'step' off the vessel, not jump, and then proceed to secure your line. If you're on a motor yacht, same thing. You won't have lifelines, and it may not be as easy as it is on a sailboat, but you'll still need to find the safest way to step off the vessel, and then proceed to tie off you line. Of course, if you're on a mega-yacht, the Captain simply wouldn't go to a dock that was absent of docking staff.
What to have in your sea bag
Get yourself soft, dufflebag-style luggage. Once your gear has been stowed away, the bag/s can be folded up and tucked out of the way. In the way of clothing, I bring six, collared shirts and that's what I wear most of the time. Even when I'm working on the boat, it's comfortable wearing a collared shirt. More importantly, you'll usually be expected to be there, in the customs office, when clearing in and out of the different countries you visit. The officials appreciate, and often expect you to be dressed 'properly,' showing respect for the country and the positions the various people hold. Remember, you get what you give. If wearing 'proper' clothing means you'll be dealt with more efficiently, and more politely, then why not do it? I bring three pairs of long black pants, chinos I believe they are called. If you are wandering about onshore, especially in the evening, you'll find, in many countries, the local men wear long pants and the women wear dresses. It's delightful to see, especially since so many people in N America wear track suits all the time. When in Rome...... Also, black pants and a collared shirt are perfect for showing up for a dinner that you might be invited to. I've been invited for dinner more times than I can count so I've always been prepared to show up looking half-way decent. I bring a couple of casual crew neck tops. I bring a pair of pajama bottoms that I wear with a t-shirt for sleeping. Don't sleep in your regular clothes. I bring a couple of pairs of socks, and a billion pairs of underwear. You may have to go for long periods of time with no access to a laundromat and there might not be enough water on board for regular showers, so you may have to go the way of baby-wipes. However, it makes all the difference if you can put on fresh undergarments. I bring three pairs of dark-colored, cargo-style shorts. The abundance of pockets comes in handy. I always ask the owners/Captain about towels and blankets and, on all of my past crew gigs, they've always provided them. However, you may have to provide your own at some point. If you do have to bring your own towels, don't bring the thick, thirsty kind because it will take forever to dry them. For footwear, I have a pair of quality leather sandals, and a pair of white-soled deck shoes. I always buy Sperry deck shoes because they're very well made. I have a toiletry kit, in which I have the usual tooth brush, deodorant, nail clippers, nose-hair scissors, etc.
I also bring my own headlight (with spare batteries), for night watches, and I have a hand-held vhf radio. The radio is handy for staying connected to the boat when you're onshore. I have a cell phone, which can do just about everything a laptop can do, an Ipad, and a laptop. The laptop is what I use to maintain this blog. Everyone on board will have their share of electronic devices, and the charging cables that come with them, so label all of your cables with your name. I also have a 'dry bag' for carrying all of my electronic devices, when dinghying ashore. If the bag goes in the drink, everything inside stays bone dry.
A word about electronic devices.... remember, you're on a boat, and that is very different, when it comes to energy use, from home. I've been on boats where the only power source, for the most part, was solar and wind generator. It's true, listening to music doesn't draw a lot of power, but if everyone is doing it, and watching videos, to boot, then it adds up. So try not to use too much energy. For example, don't fall asleep with a DVD playing. You're just wasting energy.
I didn't really know how to appropriately title this section, but you'll understand what I'm talking about. I'm talking about what you do and say while in the company of the owners/Captain, or anyone else on board. The saying, "be yourself," doesn't always work on a boat. You have to adapt to the people and the situation on the vessel. I've been on boats where the owners were angels, who took lots of time to train me and pass on knowledge, plus paid me some money, even though the arrangement was on a volunteer basis. There are also people who are heavy drinkers, emotionally disturbed, miserable, violent, chimney smokers, inconsiderate, vulgar, pedantic, etc, etc. I didn't necessarily have a problem with any of that. After all, I'm only there for a short period of time, and, if I'm learning the things I need to learn, then it's easy to overlook a lot of the unpleasantness that could exist on a boat. I'm simply making the point that you, as the crew member, have to adapt to what is going on.
First of all, never take any emotional baggage with you. Leave your problems at home and focus on the task at hand, which is to do a great job as crew, and learning to operate the vessel. Believe me, the people on board have their own problems to deal with, which you may occasionally get caught in the middle of. Volunteer crewing means that your meals will be provided. Which means, at some point, they'll probably ask you what you would like them to add to the shopping list. I drink water. I took a protein powder with me, and sometimes I'd add that to the water. Sometimes I would add a squeeze of lemon. So that took care of beverages. Then I would tell them that I would be happy to eat whatever they eat. That way, I wasn't changing anything they did, or the way they cooked. In other words, always try to avoid having the owners alter things for you. Be as uncomplicated as possible. Besides, the food isn't the focus, anyway. They usually knew that I'm a Chef, so they would occasionally ask me to cook something special for them, and they would purchase the ingredients that I needed. Eggs Benedict, for example, is something that lots of people love, but don't know how to prepare the Hollandaise Sauce. But, I would never ask them to buy specific things for me. If they ate cereal in the morning, that's what I ate. If they ate boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner every night, then I would, too. If you're lactose intolerant, then go ahead and tell them. No point in making yourself ill. Then you'll be no good to yourself or them. If you're a vegetarian, then just eat more of the veg they prepare, as opposed to asking them to prepare special meals just for you. Chances are they like vegetables too, and will probably love to eat vegetable lasagna, and other tasty veg dishes that can be prepared as main courses. Perhaps they would let you do some of the cooking. If you choose to not drink water all the time, like I do, then stick to whatever it is they mainly drink. However, if the owner has a favorite drink, then drink something else. In other words, if the owner loves peach ice tea, and that's all he drinks, don't drink all of his peach ice tea. That happened on one boat I was on. It sounds kind of silly, I'm sure, but the male owner drank this peach iced tea all day long, that was his drink, on his boat. One of the other crew guys decided he liked peach iced tea, too, and drank it all. The owner went to reach into the box, to grab one of the little, single-serving packages of peach iced tea powder, and the box was empty. He was annoyed as hell, and it created a bad atmosphere.
The issue of smoking cigarettes is important. Some boat owners are smokers and are ok with you smoking, but I've never seen a boat owner smoke below decks. So don't smoke below decks. Don't know why anyone would, anyway. Many boat owners don't smoke, but in consideration for you, they'll allow you to smoke on deck. Just make sure you smoke down-wind of them. Some boat owners will allow you to smoke only during night watches, because they appreciate the fact that smoking helps to pass the time. Many boat owners will say no smoking anywhere on the boat. That means no smoking anywhere on the boat! Period! Don't try to sneak a smoke in the hopes that they won't smell it. A smoker can be detected a mile away. You get caught breaking a rule like that, you can kiss the great sailing and learning opportunity goodbye. Frankly, don't ever break any boat rule. Smoke in the pub, not on the boat. Then there is the boat owner who can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke at all. Even if you scrub your whole body with disinfectant and chew juicy fruit all day long, the smell on your clothing will bother them, and the smell from your clothing will permeate your cabin and then pass on throughout the vessel. So, make sure you understand the rules and make sure you can live with the rules. Never, ever, break a rule that has been established by the boat owner.
Don't change anything on the boat. Put everything back in it's place. If the bowls go in a certain cupboard, then put them there. Don't put them somewhere else because you think they work better there. That can be intrusive to many boat owners, and to some, even a hostile act. Remember, the boat may be a temporary classroom to you, but to them, it's their home. You wouldn't want anyone going into your bedroom, or apartment, and start changing things around.
Don't plan on drinking alcohol on board. Even if the owners offer you something, keep it professional and try avoid drinking with them, if you can. If you do take the offer of a beer or glass of wine, nurse it for the evening, don't guzzle it back, like you might do in a pub. Even if the owner is putting them back like a madman, don't do the same. It's easy to get into the habit of accepting free alcohol, and it easily begins to blur the lines between 'crew' and 'friends.' Yes, you're friends, in a sense, but you're crew first. Many boat owners, for many different reasons, a lot of valid ones, drink a lot in the tropics. Many of them don't realize how much they drink. Many don't realize they're alcoholics. Many alcoholics love drinking partners. Don't be intoxicated, at any time. Don't smoke weed, at any time, while crewing, period. Of course, I realize that every boat is different. I've been on boats, for example, where they smoked weed like it was going out of style. I've been on boats where it was a 'free lifestyle' atmosphere. As crew, you need to keep a clear head.
Get up with a smile and a "good morning" greeting every day. Make your bed everyday. Keep the head you use, clean. In fact, buy some 'Lysol Disinfectant Wipes' and take them to the boat with you. However, when it comes to any kind of cleaning, or boat maintenance, always ask about what is acceptable to use. They may very well prefer that you only use the products they have on board. For example, there are many 'green' products on the market, and many boat owners can be extremely environmentally conscious. But, if the Lysol Disinfectant Wipes are acceptable to them, they are very handy to keep the head looking and smelling clean and fresh.
Hang your clothes up or put them in the spaces that have been assigned to you. You can be a slob at home, but be sure you're not while crewing. Again, you get what you give, or, in this case, you get what you show. Most boat owners that I've seen keep their vessels immaculately clean, especially if there is a female on board. You might lose respect, with those kinds of people, if you're a slob. Besides, if you don't have a person's respect, is that person really going to want to go out for you, and train you, and pass on their valuable knowledge and experience? I heard a story, recently, in fact, of a couple that found a diver that had gotten separated from the dive group, and had been floating for a day or so. They heard his cry for help, dropped the sails, and motored over to him. Once they hauled him on board, they realized, of course, that he had been forced to defecate in his wetsuit, so he was pretty dirty and he smelled really bad. All this poor, exhausted diver wanted to do was go below and rest, but they wouldn't let him because of the the fact that his body was soiled.
If not on a night-watch schedule, get up in the morning, when the others are up. Be up when you say you're going to be up, for starters, because they'll expect you to be included when they're making plans for the day. If everybody else is up at 8am, make sure you're up, too. If they are quiet in morning, then you be quiet, too. If they don't cuss and use foul language, then you shouldn't either. It's not rocket science, guys. DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO YOU, WITHOUT PERMISSION. Sorry for the yelling, but this is extremely important. Many of you have brothers, sisters, roommates, and perhaps you're used to borrowing each other's belongings without asking. Don't do it on the vessels you crew on. Even if there is a pair of binoculars sitting in the cockpit, always ask first. The owner, invariably, will say, "hey, use them whenever you want." If you're crewing on a yacht, you're going to have use binoculars at some point, anyway. It's just polite, and proper, to ask first. When you do use them, like anything else on board, treat them with care.
Hopefully I don't need to mention this to most of you, but I'll say it anyway. You're, sometimes, going to be away from your wives, or sweethearts, for long periods of time, and your natural inclinations may kick in. On most of these vessels, there are people in abbreviated clothing- bathing suits, revealing bikinis, favorite nighties with holes in them, etc.- but..... don't even think about it. For example, just because the husband is in a drunken sleep in the next cabin, and his wife starts telling you how unhappy she is because she is only on the boat to make her husband happy, doesn't give you an excuse to 'do' the owner's wife. Becoming intimate with the others on board, while crewing, usually (some people would say always) leads to trouble. Remember, at the end of the voyage, you need to have your sea forms filled out and signed by the owner/Captain. A letter of recommendation doesn't hurt, either. However, if you make that kind of mistake, say, with the owner's teenage daughter, even if she's the one that initiated it, and he finds out (and they usually do), then you can probably kiss your letter of recommendation goodbye. The owners trust that you won't behave like that. In fact, you might even be asked to leave the vessel immediately. Heck, a black eye or two might be meted out as well. Maybe worse. I know someone that had that happen to him.
Let's face it, the boat you're crewing on is probably in the tropics. You wake up every morning to crystal clear waters, in tranquil bays, and you see all of the colorful tropical fish swimming around the boat. All of the other boaters seem happy, and they always wave as they pass by. This can sometimes mask what is really going on. When on land, living in a city, you've got lots of ways to ease your stress- call a friend, talk to your parents, go for a drive, go see a movie, go for a run, etc. On land, if you aren't happy with your relationship, you and your partner can simply take a break from each other. All of those things are not as easily done by people who live in the small spaces on a boat.
You may come across an owner/Captain that has a pretty strong ego. No matter what anyone tells you, ego only gets in the way, it never helps. So, for starters, if you have one, make sure you leave it at home. It's a real challenge to deal with someone that has a pretty big ego, believe me. However, there's a difference between being a solid, confident man/woman, and having an ego. Ultimately, whatever the case may be, your job is to follow the orders the Captain/owner gives you. The boat owners are often the alpha type, the kind of personality that doesn't want anyone else telling them what to do or offering them advice. Heck, let's face it people, in many cases, yacht owners have put everything they've got into their yachts, and have left the safety and security of home on land, to head out into the unknown. That is usually based on supreme confidence and guts, that only a handful of people have. Sometimes it's based on anger. I knew one boat owner that cut off all his children from his wealth, bought a yacht, and headed towards the sunshine, determined to spend every dime he had. Whatever the individual character might be, however, the common denominator is that they've 'taken control' of their own lives and 'destiny,' and that is something to be admired. You may also come across a few boaters who have specifically 'cut themselves off from the world,' and it's "lies," and "corrupt politicians", who are "destroying the world." Some of these types, in my experience, are discontented with, and even hostile towards the very place you've just flown in from. However, by the end of the voyage, you want it to have been a positive experience, and you want to walk away feeling like a bigger and better version of yourself. So, use your head, and always remember you're in someone else's home, and that you have to adapt.
Never crew on a vessel that has pets, unless you really, really, really love the particular pet they have on board. Having said that, let's talk about dogs. I love dogs, true, but I mostly used to caring for my own dog. I agreed to join a vessel, back in the day, that had two dogs on board. I was so excited about getting experience in waters I hadn't sailed before so I didn't think it through enough. I showed up and was greeted by the very friendly boat owners and we hit it off to a great start. But then we got in their car, to drive to the marina where the boat was berthed, and I found myself literally sitting on a carpet of dog hair. The hair was an inch thick on the seats. Now, I'm not, in any way, saying that people who have dog hairs on car seats are dirty. Not at all. I have a dog, and dog hairs are simply a part of being a dog owner. How can you possibly avoid them, besides buying a poodle? Not everyone likes poodles, almost everyone likes Labs. Also, when living in the confines of a small boat, the dog hairs can really build up fast. So, the car started off down the highway and then they rolled the windows down. That was when the fun started. I found myself in the middle of a dog-hair tornado, I kid you not. I tried slowing my breathing rate down, so I wouldn't inhale any dog hairs. Once we got to the boat, the dogs seemed harmless enough- two labs, one young, one old. Off we went in the boat, sailing to our destination. The boat was going to be making many stops along the way. I was told the dogs need to go ashore twice a day, to do their business and stretch their legs. If the owners were unable to get them ashore, the dogs did their business in the dinghy.
So, the first time we stopped, and the dogs taken ashore, I watched. The lady got down into the dinghy, and the man struggled with each dog, maneuvering each one down to her. I felt sort of negligent, standing watching this older gentleman trying to do something that I could do very easily. But, it's his dog, right? Off they went in the dinghy, and I stayed on board. I was below decks when they got back, squaring my cabin away, so I didn't see much of how the reverse process worked. But, towels had to be fetched so the dogs could be dried off. Didn't think much of it. Next day, same thing. This time, I couldn't very well stand there and let the older man go through that again, without offering to help, so I easily got the younger lab in the dingy. But when I turned to the older one, she just flopped down and laid there. The younger one at least knew what was going on and assisted me by putting his front paws up on the combing, so I could easily pick him up. But the older one made me pick her up, dead weight, and haul her into the dingy. I went ashore with them this time. Well, the whole time on shore, I had to chase the younger one around, trying to stop him from trying to eat every single freaking thing he came across-garbage, rotting fish bones,rocks, etc. Then it was time to head back to the boat, but now, you've got two wet dogs, because they've been in the water. Ever smell a dirty dog? Well, a wet, dirty dog is worse. So, I picked them up and put them in the dinghy, and picked them up again, once back at the boat, and hoisted them on deck. Now I'm covered in dog hair, and sand, and other stuff, and I smell like a wet dog. Of course, you take all of the hairs and smells back to your cabin. There isn't enough water in the tanks to shower every time you come back from shore, so now I've basically become a wet, dirty dog. The owners noticed how easily I picked the dogs up, and they kindly, and enthusiastically mentioned how the dogs 'really loved me' now. So.... I became the official dog-lifter. They were two of the sweetest dogs I've ever met, but I couldn't get away from them. When I got back home I found dog hairs throughout my sea bag. The experience wasn't as bad as it sounds, because I'm extremely adaptable, and I was so happy to be there with the owners, and I Iearned a ton of new stuff. However, I know there are lots of people out there who would become hysterical in that situation. Hence, the warning :) Don't get on board with pets unless you really, really love them.
That's perhaps the worst case scenario. On another crew gig, the owners had a little Schipperke. I understand now why so many people refer to it as the perfect boat dog. They usually weigh about 15 pounds, soaking wet, and look like miniature wolves. I absolutely loved this dog. The only difficulty I had was when I was trying to get sleep, to be rested for a night watch, and he would bark incessantly the whole time. This dog loved drinking out of your cup, no matter what it was. He especially loved coffee. Now, normally, when you walk into a room and you catch the dog red-handed, drinking your coffee, most dogs would take off. Wouldn't they? Not this little guy! You'd go, "hey you, whatcha doin'?!!" He'd just start slurping faster. The closer you got to him, the faster he slurped. Even as you're taking the cup away from him, he's following the cup, still slurping away. What clinched it for me, when I knew that little guy was something really special, was the day he did something that shocked everyone. We had just anchored, somewhere in Costa Rican waters. I got the boat squared away, put on my wetsuit, and dove off the flybridge. For those of you that may not know, the flybridge is the second level on a motor yacht, where there is a second piloting station, and usually an area where you can eat, lounge, and entertain guests. The flybridge, on this vessel, was about 15 to 18 feet above the water. So, I dove off, got back on the vessel, and dove off a second time. As I surfaced, and began swimming to the stern swim platform, I saw a flash in my peripheral, and heard a splash, coming from the other side of the vessel. Hmmm, I thought to myself, the little guy must have jumped off from the stern cockpit. As I swam around to the back of the boat, he came paddling towards me. I got him back on board again, and into the cockpit. The female owner of the boat was sitting there with her mother, who was visiting for a couple of weeks, and I said to her, "wow, he jumped off the cockpit, how cool!" That's when I noticed her eyes were as wide as saucers, and she exclaimed, "no, he jumped off the flybridge!!" Now, we're talking about a dog that is normally afraid to jump off the the swim platform, which is only inches above the water. This same, timid dog, just jumped from a height of 15 to 18 feet! That was the coolest thing I've ever seen a dog of his size do. He figured, if Jason can do it, so can I. Needless to say, I was asked to not dive off the flybridge anymore, because they were afraid the dog would become accustomed to it, and decide to jump off whenever he felt like it. They were worried that we'd get up one morning and the dog would be gone.
Never, ever, ever, say anything negative about the owner's pet/s, or show annoyance towards the pet. For many people, showing dislike for his/her pet is like showing a dislike for their children. These pets, to many boat owners, ARE their children. If the boat owner knows you don't like the dog, or cat, or whatever, it will be hard to repair the hurt feelings.
Etiquette On Shore
You're off the boat, walking around the marina and then on to the nearby village or city... not only do you represent the boat you're crewing on, but you represent your home country. People are watching you, whether you realize it or not. They know you're new, that you're visiting, that you've come in on a boat, and any unbecoming behavior is noted and you are then treated accordingly. You get what you give. Smile and acknowledge the people around you, always. The homeless people in that country you're visiting, are also human beings. To many people, in the countries you'll be visiting, even though you're crew, you represent wealth, and some of the other unpleasant things that, unfortunately, are associated with wealth, like snobbery. I'm not saying you've got to stop and have a conversation with a drunken person that is propped up against a storefront, but acknowledge his/her presence. Avoid showing any sort of behavior that can be misunderstood as contempt. In many of the countries that you'll be visiting, Trinidad, for example, you'll see local people walk into a cafe, or shop, and give a general greeting to all there, like, "good afternoon." You'll it almost always when someone gets into a public taxi or bus, too. I really like it. So I do the same thing, when I'm in their country. It's kind of neat, actually, because I take these new behaviors back to N America, and find myself, for example, going into a shop and automatically smiling and saying, "good morning, good morning,' to all there, as I approach the counter. Now I look forward to seeing the reaction. A lot of the time, at least some of the people will respond with the same greeting, often followed by a nervous giggle. But, sometimes they look at me like I've got three heads. I can see them thinking, "hmm. He said good morning to everyone. What his angle then?" When you're ashore, don't dress like a slob. Also, don't swear in public. In Mexico, for example, from Ensenada to Chiapas, I've never heard a Mexican person swear in public. If you behave like an ignorant person, it affects the rest of us, because a lot of people judge a whole society, or ethnicity, based on what they see one person doing. It's just the way a lot of people are.
Take study material with you. In my case, I had all of my favorite poetry with me, books on celestial nav, COLREGS, meteorology, and, of course, I had my laptop, so I could do research when there was wifi around.
Keep a journal. Even if it's just a few lines a day, try to write something down. I've decided to finally create and maintain a blog. You might want to do the same. I've found, as well, that if you have a daily 'study' period, you can establish a routine, indicating that 'study time' is necessary for you, and the particularly sensitive boat owners won't be offended when you disappear into your cabin. Establishing alone time is important, because it also gives you a reason to excuse yourself to allow private time for you, and the owners.
On long passages, the dynamics can be a lot different. It's easy to get into a a consistent routine while island hopping, but the night watches dictate a lot of what goes on during a longer passage. In my experience, what usually happens is everybody spends the first day or two sleeping, when not on watch, and everyone fends for themselves in terms of meals. Usually, however, someone cooks up a big batch of something (pasta, chili, etc), and everyone helps themselves. By the second day, or so, everyone on board has become accustomed to the new sleeping pattern and everyone begins to meet for a bit at a certain time, usually in the afternoon. However, if you need to sleep during your down times then do so. Being able to stay alert during your night watches is more important than socializing, if it comes down to that. Just make sure that your cleaning and cooking duties are seen to. In other words, when it's your time to cook, no matter how tired you are, make sure you cook something. The other crew members aren't usually that concerned about getting gourmet meals, they just want something nutritious and reasonably tasty, to fuel their bodies.
I've stood more night watches than I can count, and I've seen many different people react differently to them. Some people, like me, prefer to pass on the relevant info to the person relieving them, have a liitle chit-chat, to make sure the person taking the watch is awake, and then hit the sack. I've seen many people who don't need a lot of sleep, so they sit with the person that has relieved them, for an hour or more. Even if you're the type of person that likes to stay up with the person who has relieved you, try to avoid it. Get all the sleep you can get. What I like to do, and I think should be normal practice, is make tea, or coffee, or a mocha, whatever the person relieving you drinks, for that person. I'll usually offer to heat up some food for them too. Some people prefer to make their own, so I at least like to put the kettle on for them. In any case, I always give them time to do what they need to do, before I go to my cabin.
As you progress through the learning curve of volunteer crewing, you'll sometimes find that you're not learning much, or the things that you need to learn. As I mentioned earlier, it is important that you try to convey to the Captain/owner that you're doing these volunteer crew gigs to learn. You should probably even mention a couple of things that you'd like to learn while crewing for him/her, before you even join the team. This way the Captain knows what you want to focus on and can then make time for you. However, there are some Captain/owners who don't have the time to teach and, frankly, some of them don't know how to teach. Most of them have tons of the valuable info that you want, but they may not know how to articulate their knowledge. So, telling them up front of your desire to learn will give them the option to tell you that there won't be much time for teaching, thereby giving you the opportunity, if you choose, to go with another boat. Some boat owners don't talk at all. I'm not kidding. They'll sit there, the entire voyage and barely say two words. Some will even appear to be annoyed when you ask a simple question, or simply try make small talk. I know, because it happened to me. The only time the boat owner really even slightly happy, was when the beers were popped open. He seemed to be in a constant battle with himself. In situations like that, the only choice you have it to learn whatever you can, on your own, by watching.
In any case, you will most likely reach the point where you realize that handling dock lines and standing night watches isn't helping you progress anymore. You want to become a Captain, and you definitely have exams to write, so you need to find Captains who understand that, who will give you more of 'the big picture.' What I mean by this is you need to find the Captains that will let you dock the boat, help in passage planning, etc. Many Captains understand celestial navigation, for example, so, if you don't understand, and you would like to, ask them if they wouldn't mind sitting with you sometime and explaining it to you. One of the Yachtamaster prerequisites is that you must Captain a vessel, for so many days, so many miles in duration, so many miles from shore, etc. You need to find a Captain/owner that would be happy to let you do that. The Captain will sit back and allow you to be 'Captain' for a few days, and will correct you when you could, or should, be doing any given thing a different/better way. This kind of Captain is worth his/her weight in gold. Remember, too, that most Captains were where you are now, at some point in their lives. They, too, were looking for someone to 'give them a chance' to learn, through hands-on experience. Even a Captain that simply thinks out loud is incredibly valuable. As they're talking, all that info is being stored in your brain, and going into your journal.
But.... let's say that the last couple of crew gigs you did were disappointing, because you didn't learn very much. You're looking through a crewing site and find what looks to be an amazing opportunity to learn and sail in a part of the world you've never been to. But then you notice that they are asking for a financial contribution. Most boat owners set up this arrangement simply because they don't want to have to pay for your food, so they ask that you pay part of the grocery bill. Simple enough. Yet, others, do it to make a profit. Don't know much about those people, but hey, it's a 'free country,' as they say, and if boat owners can find people to pay large sums of money, all the power to them.
Personally, when crewing, I find myself eating in restaurants, a lot, especially in countries where the exchange rate is in our favor. I spend a lot of time in restaurants and cafes, anyway, in order to maintain this website. So, I spend a lot of time off the boat on the days when I need to update my website. When spending a lot of time in a cafe, time flies, and your stomach starts to rumble and you end up ordering something to eat, even if it's something simple. In my mind, if you're using the business's wifi and facilities, it's 'proper' to at least purchase some of their food or drinks.
If you happen to end up on a boat where you're able to buy your own food, here is a handy list of some of the things that work:
Eggs- can be prepared, easily, in a variety of ways. You can even hard-boil them and leave them in the fridge. A boiled egg, with a slice of bread, is a meal for me.
Miso paste- tasty, healthy, and easy to prepare. Put some paste in a bowl, add boiling water.
Nori- the seaweed sheets used for sushi. Cut them up in strips with scissors and add them to your miso soup or eat them as healthy snacks.
Tofu- the hard stuff is better for miso soup. Tofu lasts a long time, if stored properly, in the fridge.
Water- any bottled water usually works for me.
Peanut butter- simple, and fills the stomach.
Pasta- easy to make.
Jarred pasta sauce- open the jar, or can, heat, and pour on top of cooked pasta.
Cup noodles- just add boiling water and let sit.
Sesame oil and soy sauce- instead of adding the package of powdered flavoring that comes with cup noodles (usually full of msg), add dash of sesame oil and soy sauce.
Nuts- whichever ones you like, are usually healthy and nutritious.
Individually packed muffins- nice breakfast, with a cup of tea.
Tea- I usually end up buying a box of Lipton's, with the individually packaged tea bags.
Small cartons of milk- for your tea, if you like to have milk with it.
..... there are more things that I can add to the list, which I will do when they come to mind :)
Almost 100% of my crewing experiences have been positive. Yacht owners can be very different people, often extremely different. But we're all different, anyway, aren't we? One of the things that makes boat owners 'different' is that they have a huge investment, that just happens to float, that needs to be maintained carefully and constantly. If you show care and respect, from the start, that's just about 80% guaranteed success for your crew gig. If you've got an ego, or can't take instruction, you're going to have trouble. You might as well not bother. If you can't tolerate the idiosyncrasies of other people and cultures, forget it. What are you going to do when you find that someone on the boat doesn't wear deodorant, or makes yummy noises when he/she eats, or bosses his wife around all day long, or snores, says negative things all the time, or doesn't say more than a few words the entire day, etc? If you're the kind of person that has to 'tell it like is,' that usually just means you're an ignorant person that never learned how to behave in polite society. At least, that is my judgement of every 'tell-it-like-it-is person' I've ever met. Yes, it's important to politely articulate the things that make you uncomfortable, or that may be extremely intrusive or offensive, but, no, it's NOT important for everyone on board to 'know how you feel' about every little thing. What is important is to try to keep the positive energy flowing. Talking about the cool things you've done, or the good crewing experiences you've had, are good ways of doing that. Keep conversation away from politics and religion. Never compare- "well, in myyyyyyyy country, we......" Most of the people I've crewed for, and with, were kind, thoughtful, 'normal' people. What are you going to do when you end up with the 'oddball' that has spent years at sea, living in his own head? The kind of person that doesn't know how to communicate very well anymore, and expects you to read his/her mind? There is a lot of extremely valuable stuff to learn from a person like that, too. So, either you adapt, and learn, or miss out.
When you're on the boat, do what you say you're going to do. Treat the boat, and everything on/in it, as if you were sitting in your Grandmother's parlor. In most of the boat's I've crewed on, for example, there was beautifully finished, highly polished wood, all over the interior, and often on deck, too. The wood finish is a point of pride with most yacht owners, and I understand why, because I have personally spent a lot of time varnishing. Varnishing is time consuming and it must be done with care. One careless scratch changes everything. That scratch will be blindingly obvious to the owner, every time he/she walks into the room.
Don't be the boat's slave. Approach the crew gig with ease, and get into a smooth routine. Don't jump to do every little thing. It's easy to do that, because there is a natural tendency to want to show your enthusiasm and appreciation for being chosen for the crew spot. These crew gigs are life-changing events, no one knows that better than me, so take your time move into a smooth routine. The deck-washing, stainless-steel-polishing, taking out the trash, kind-of-stuff, is your 'job.' However, if you've got a yacht owner, or Captain, that specifically takes the time to acknowledge that he/she understands what you're doing and that learning is your primary focus, and gives you knowledge and training, then you can do whatever you want for them. Depends on how serious you are about acquiring a Captaincy of your own, I suppose. But that's what the association is- they need something from you, and you need something from them. Give them 100% and they usually give the same back.
For yacht owners that came through for me, these are some of the things I've done for them: Lots and lots of varnishing (quality work, too); took the dog/ for daily walks; ran endless errands; entertained their guests; re-finished teak decks; restored teak furniture; went up the mast (many times); scrubbed the bottom; sanded and re-painted the bottom while on the hard; serviced winches; restored dinghies; marked depths on anchor chains; de-greased engines; cleaned bilges; translated; etc., etc. The list is a pretty long one, I just can't remember a lot of it, because I'm not keeping track. But I've been pretty lucky with finding great people to crew for/with. When the owner/Captain comes through for me, I just do the stuff that needs to be done, without thinking about it.
You represent the vessel you are crewing on, and your home country, in every country you visit. You are the 'product' that you are refining, and the very product that you hope to sell to the world, when you're ready. In the meantime, the goal is to go from vessel to vessel, advancing with the letters of recommendation, given by the owners/Captains of the previous vessels. If you want the very best of what these Captains know, be an outstanding person :)