Crew

Transatlantic: Day 4

We are still moving slowly. The winds are light, but to the north is supposed to be bad storms, so we begin heading South East towards what should be better wind.

IMG-3320.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

The winds are supposed to be blowing us South, so we begin beating South East. The southern component of the route is not ideal, since we are trying to head North East, but at least we are moving East.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Looking further out, the 1020 line seems to be stationary! It is hanging out at the longitude of the BVI! We are a bit concerned because this is mid June, and hurricane season will be starting soon. Heading towards the Virgin Islands right before hurricane season is a risky move, but the winds are being weird and not following the normal routine, so this is what we do as we wait for the weather to improve.

Why are we doing this again? Why didn’t we wait in port for better weather?

We were asking ourselves this same question. Back in the Exumas, when we picked him up, we were waiting for better weather; then the weather started to improve so I gave him a ballpark estimate.

At that time (early June) I told him, that we are still waiting for the Azores High to form and mature. This usually happens in early May, but it hasn’t formed yet, so we are just waiting. Around June 6th, it looked like it would be formed and stable soon, as it had begun its development. I gave him a ball park schedule of: We leave Staniel Cay on June 8th, arrive in Florida on June 10th, and have two days to provision, leaving Florida on June 12th.

Well, we left Staniel Cay on June 8th, but we didn’t arrive in Florida until the afternoon of the 11th. WE WERE BEHIND SCHEDULE!! To appease him, we left on the 14th instead of waiting for the weather to actually be better.

So out here we drift, as we slowly make our way towards an imaginary line in the ocean that should have wind and carry us safely to our destination!

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. 

Reinforcing Roles on a Boat

We will never have crew again on our boat, but if you do choose to have crew on your yacht, it would behoove you to really grind in the roles and rules of the boat. 

A friend of mine recommended that you also have the crew members sign a "contract" which lists all the rules and roles. Out at sea, laws don't really matter when you are dealing with someone who has intense anger issues, but it might help somewhat. 

When a crew gets out of line and you tell them their place in the pecking order, having a piece of paper that they signed might help bring them back down off their high horse. Understanding the roles became an issue for us when our crewmember began thinking that this was "his boat" and that "he was in charge". 

He would frequently yell at us, call us lazy, and say hurtful things that would make Maddie cry. Then he would yell at me for plotting our course without "consulting him first". Weather information, route planning, and sail changes (in his opinion) all needed to be run by him for a final decision. 

Naturally, this is not the case and he was merely having delusions of grandeur. The order on the boat was made very clear to him:  

Herby is Captain and is in charge of making course decisions, looking at and interpreting the weather, and making sail plan decisions. If it had to do with where we were going, how we were getting there, and what sails were flying, Herby and only Herby was in charge.

Maddie is 1st mate (but her true title is Admiral) and she makes choices with me. She can give her opinion on where she wants to go and suggestions about weather and sails, but the final decision is ultimately made by the Captain. 

Un-named crewmember is last on the list. He follows orders, holds the course set by the captain, and is responsible for letting the captain know if a sailchange is needed while on watch. While off watch, he does the dishes and sleeps. He has no say or opinion with regards to sail choice, course, weather planning, or navigation. 

To give an example: say we are sailing from Point A to Point B, and along the way we see a pretty island. Maddie can say "Hey, that place looks cool, lets stop there for lunch!" I as Captain then have to look at the weather and see if we can stop there because of the weather. Next, I check the charts to see if we fit in there and can anchor safely. After all that is done, then I decide if we can pull in or not and stop for lunch. The crewmember, has no say in the matter. If they love islands or hate islands, their opinion has no weight on what occurs.

Now, I feel that we are also all people, so I am very lenient with this rule and will listen to their opinion and try to make them feel like they are part of the team, part of the boat!  

If the crewmember has an interest in learning how to do the functions of Captain, I will gladly take them under my wing and show them everything. They can watch as I look at the sky, check the barometer, take our noonsite, plot our course and check the charts. I am also very happy to teach them how to do all of these functions! I got my first ocean sail on board another boat as crew, and the captain was a wonderful teacher. He showed me everything and taught me how to carry out a lot of the tasks because he knew my next time out in the ocean was going to be on my own boat without any guidance. I would love to return the favor by educating someone new to cruising on how to safely sail across oceans and cruise in comfort. 

The problem is the line between crew and captain seems to have gotten blurred in the eyes of this one crewmember. All of a sudden, he felt that he was captain and making all the decisions. He began yelling at me one day when he saw a text to a shoreside weather person. I texted the shoreside person what our proposed route was and asked him to check for storms along that path. Our crewmember became irate and began yelling at me. 

Crewmember: "How can you have a course plotted?!" 

Me: "I have to have a course plotted, we are crossing an ocean." 

Crewmember: "You didn't consult me on this course! All decisions about this boat need to be run by me for approval!" 

To this I laughed, which only set him off even further. I thought he was delirious or just joking around, but it turns out he was very serious about this matter. 

Me: "I am the captain, I don't have to ask you about anything. I make the choices and you carry them out. I go over the weather and course with you as a courtesy because I think it's nice to let you know what we are doing and where we are going, but you are not involved in the decision making process." 

Crewmember: "You are not in charge, you are not in command of this boat." 

At this moment, I realized that he was not joking and I had to put him in his place, which led to more arguing until I told him to go back to his bunk and start the day over again without yelling. 

At this point, when he was having delusions of being a captain on his own boat, and a written & signed contract would have been helpful to remind him of his place in this boat.

Crew and Personal Effects

When you have crew join you for a period of time, they will surely bring their personal effects with them. Inevitably they will forget something when they leave the boat and return home or onto their next adventure. 

What do you do with their personal belongings that they left on your boat? Do you use them? Do you throw them away? Are you responsible for the items? What if you see them again? 

In short, anything that is left on the boat when they leave is now yours to deal with. You can choose to send it to them, use it, discard it, or sell it; the choice is yours. 

If you see them again, you are not obligated to give them their items back, nor are you obligated to give them cash value for their item.

Hustlers (people who try to squeeze money out of other people) will be the only people who will cause you trouble in this situation. If they leave something and you are never planning on seeing them again, why should you carry their stuff around indefinitely in the hopes that you might, by chance, meet again? 

When they see you in an anchorage, they will approach you and ask you for their belongings. When you tell them that you don't have it anymore, they will begin to make a scene and try to make you feel very uncomfortable. Then they will offer you a solution to your discomfort that will make everything "seem okay": Money. 

The hustler will offer you to pay them for their personal items that they left on your boat that you discarded. You don't have their items anymore, so you can't give them back, but you need your money to cruise longer and pay for things on and around the boat. The hustler doesn't care about you, they merely want your money because this is how they operate. 

To quell the situation, all you need to do is recite the following: 

"You abandoned the item. I salvaged the item. When you departed, our relationship ended and I owe you nothing."

If the hustler tries to talk to another member on the boat and guilts them into agreeing on a price or the payment of money, they will bring up that discussion now.  

"But your wife said that you guys would give me money for it." 

This is when you get to play the Captain Card! 

"I am the captain, my word is the word of the boat. I didn't make any arrangements so no arrangements have been made." 

At this point, they will become angry, irate, and even rude! There is no good in continuing the conversation as they won't stop until they get what they want and you aren't going to give them what they want.  This is when you say:

"We're done here. There is nothing more to discuss." 

They won't like this fact, but this is how the system works and they can't fight it. If they won't leave, you can always call the police to have them dealt with, but usually they will leave at this point. 

Nighttime Sailplan for Innexperienced Crew

When you have new crew on board, you are never certain about their abilities and judgement. Some will talk a big talk to make you think that they know what they are doing, but these kinds are all talk; and totally clueless at the helm. 

IMG_2265.JPG

There is a huge difference between "knowing how to make a sailboat move" and "knowing how to sail". When you have new crew who can move a sailboat and will talk it up a whole bunch, you will want to try them out and see what they really know before putting them in charge of a watch cycle on their own. 

Some of the issues that will come up during nighttime watches is the need to reef, and the ability to hold a course. Sure, when you are inland, you can sail all you want until the weather turns and just drop the sails at that point. In the ocean, it is not that simple and storms can produce much more powerful waves out at sea. 

High winds and tall waves will make it harder to put in a reef, especially in the dark on a moonless night. To avoid this problem it is prudent to reef down at sunset so that if something comes up unexpectedly, you are already reefed and ready for it. 

Reefing is great because it makes the mainsail smaller, but it still involves the boom. If you have inattentive crew at the helm, they might not notice that they have veered from course and about to jibe until the boom comes crashing over. Repeated powerful jibes can damage and destroy your traveler as well as damage the metal of your spars. It is best not to do this! 

To avoid this problem, at night, we simply fly the trysail. It is small, our smallest sail and sail of choice for powerful storms; so we couldn't possibly reef down any further. It also negates the use of the boom. This means that if your new crew, or tired crew is not paying attention, a jibe is merely the flopping of a tiny sail with little load on it to the other side. No loud crashing or stress on your gear involved.