Does Having Crew Make Sailing Safer?

When we set out to cross the ocean, we felt the need to have a third crewmember. This concept came from a few sources: our parents, our friends, and random strangers.

Our parents wanted us to have a third person, preferably someone who has already crossed an ocean, on board for peace of mind. They knew we could sail the boat, and they knew we knew what we were doing, but they were worried that should one of us become ill or injured, the other person would then be single handing. They viewed a third crew as a backup to one of us so that we would never be sailing alone. 

Friends would always ask if we were having a crewmember for the "long stretch". They simply asked because sailing is a lot of work, and the thought of sailing continuously seems like an impossible amount of work! They thought that having a third crew would make life easier while cruising across the ocean. 

Lastly, every random person we met or came in contact with would ask if we were going to have crew on the voyage. This came from people in a grocery store, people in the comments section on YouTube, and people we met along the way. As soon as they learned we were planning to cross an ocean, they would quickly pipe up with "Are you going to have crew?" 

Hearing from so many people for so long that we needed crew made us start to believe that we needed a crew member for the passage!  

We picked up our first crew member in Florida. He was a one armed sailor who talked a big talk. He said his limp arm was not a hinderance, and we believed him! He was a recreational drug user, but said he was not addicted and he understood there would be no drugs, nor drug use, while on our boat. To top it off, he was an amazing cook!  Then we got out to the real world of sailing and it turns out that anything I asked him to do, he would respond with "I can't do that, my arm..." Then it turned out that he didn't even know how to sail! The final straw came when he stole our dinghy and went to shore on a drug run in a storm. So, was he really making us safer? 

As you can imagine, we got rid of him as quickly as we could, even paying for his flight back to Florida so that we would never have to deal with him again. Oddly enough, we thought that we still needed a crewmember to be "safe" so we began searching online through crew finding websites. 

We found a new crewmember. He has a skippers license for the Mediterranean, and he races sailboats, so he definitely knows how to sail! We chatted on Skype as a phone interview and all seemed to be going great. He even had two very strong arms! He flew to the Bahamas to meet us so that we could all sail to the Azores together with the safety of three people. 

Well, it turns out that people aren't always as advertised. His racing exploits were all done on Hobies, which may sound like an exotic boat class in Europe, but here in the states (where they are made) they are considered dinghies for kids to play and learn to sail in. He knows how to sail, that is for sure, but he has no comprehension of the forces involved! In high winds and full sail, he steered through a jibe, causing us to crash jibe! As he was on his way to this unfortunate event, I was telling him to correct the course as he was about to jibe and his response was "I know" with a very nonchalant attitude!  

He was also infatuated with speed, always wanting to squeak out any potential power available. If the winds were light, he was not satisfied with sitting around to read as we waited for the winds to return. He would yell at us (yes, actually yell) until we would put down our books and get out every sail in the locker to put up. The fact is, we have sailed Wisdom for thousands of miles and we know what she does with different sails in different winds. When there is no wind, there is no speed regardless of the sails we fly. To appease him (and to get him to stop yelling at us) we would go through all the sail changes from the working sails to the light air sails, expending a lot of energy and time in the sun to achieve no gain in speed. After a few days of this, he became tired and stopped insisting (by yelling at us) to change the sails. The problem was, we were all very tired and should a storm come up on us, we are now all very tired. 

On one of his early morning watches, the drifter (our light air headsail) was flying. He knew the takedown windspeed for this sail is 7 knots of true wind, yet he kept it up as the winds built. Suddenly it was 25 knots of wind and we were cruising along at 7.5 knots under only the drifter! I awoke to the sounds of gusting winds and rushing waves. When I asked him if he wanted to switch sails, he responded with "No, we are finally sailing quickly!" Lo and behold, the drifter ripped!

Lastly, one night while on my watch, we were full sail as the winds were light and I saw a strong squall approaching us. I went forward to lower the sails and setup the storm sailplan. He heard me working and came up onto the deck yelling at me with fury and rage! He was pissed off that I was changing the sails without "consulting him first". I told him that this is my boat and I am the captain, to which he responded "I will not bow to you!" 

Ha ha ha! Seriously, what is wrong with this guy in his head?! First, this is my boat. Second, I am the captain and he is crew. Third, when he came to the boat we went over the rules (which he agreed to) and one of the rules is that Maddie and I make the choices, he just follows orders.  Lastly, I am on watch and he is off watch; Go back to bed!

So, that argument took place while the squall continued to approach us and the sails weren't getting changed. While this may sound like a lot of complaining, this is only a sampling. Everyday he would do something dangerous (like never wear his life jacket, even alone on night watch, or wait until a squall hits to decide to reef) which made us feel very unsafe anytime he was at the helm!  In the end, we stopped in Bermuda to part our ways and get rid of him! 

Now, was it safer having him on board? We ripped our drifter, almost destroyed our mainsail when he was raising it without making sure all the sail ties were untied (it is amazing the noises sailcloth will make as a strong person puts all their might into a winch), reefed many times in the dark with high winds and a pitching deck, and trying to explain to him that crash jibes will break our gear and boat.

Once he was gone, Maddie and I were alone again, and we were able to sail Wisdom the way we like to: safely. We would reef early and with daylight, and we always wore our life jackets while on deck (and we would clip in too!) The biggest weight off our chest came from the lack of yelling that occurred on the boat once he left. His horrible attitude brought the morale WAY down, which made the experience of a lifetime a marathon of sorrows. If the winds were not blowing, he was pissed and made everyone else miserable. If the winds were blowing, he wasn't satisfied with our speed and became angry that we weren't going as fast as he imagined that we should be sailing. Without him, we simply set the sails and watched the sun setting over the horizon. We baked and ate delicious meals while we relaxed and read our books. 

After our experiences with two horrible crew members, we wonder: does having crew actually make you safer? 

Our thought is if you are a cruising couple who is able to sail your boat alone: No.  If you are a racing yacht who is obsessed with performance and speed: Yes. Cuising is a lifestyle, one where you are out there on a boat you are able to manage either alone or as a couple. Adding an extra person only means that you now have less space and use food & water more quickly!

Imagine picking up a stranger and bringing them into your house. Now imagine that you have to live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for weeks on end! That is what having a third crew member is like on a cruising yacht.