How to Choose a Cruising Crew

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The crew

The crew (from left) Jim, Jess, Jeff and Jules pre-departure in Ensenada

My partner, Jeff, and I needed crew for a two- to three-week sail down the Mexican coast of Baja California on our new-to-us Antares 44i catamaran, El Gato, so we put an ad in one of our local sailing publications. We received some promising letters of introduction, but thanks to social media, I was able to delve a little deeper.

For example, Bettina was a bikini-clad European bombshell whose motto was, “No clothes? No problem.” Delete. Dolph, a chain-smoking ex-military sergeant, “suggested” that he serve as co-captain. Alexa and Damien were allergic to dogs, could we just not bring them? Nope, nope, nopety-nope.

Six weeks before our departure date, we received a response from a couple that seemed a comfortable fit. We spoke at length to Jim and Jess and met them on El Gato the following week. Since this was our first experience having strangers as crew, Jeff and I wrote down what we felt was acceptable, and what was not.

1. Commitment: One flight, train, bus and taxi ride later, Jim and Jess arrived at the marina. This showed dedication, right? Pretty quickly after meeting and sharing a few beers, it was obvious that we would work and play well together on the voyage. They spent three nights aboard El Gato, during which we took the boat out for a bit of sailing. On departure, they left behind some items they would need for the trip south. Done Deal.

2. Fun: This ranked high on the list. We wanted 1+1=3. Not ones to miss an opportunity to dress up for Halloween, they were happy to throw on costumes with us, despite the fact that we were alone, at sea, on an overnight passage. Another time, declaring a ‘80s Day, we outfitted for the part and listened only to ‘80s music. Entertaining oneself and others aboard is serious business, and we have the videos to prove it.

3. Boating Skills: Beyond the level of sailing experience, watch duties and comfort offshore, it is important to have crew that is capable of meeting a variety of demands. We would be making frequent surf landings in order to take our dogs ashore. Anyone planning to get off the boat should plan on getting wet and be able to jump back into the dinghy in waist-deep water. We had plenty of laughs, but nothing more serious than a few bruises and sacrificed sunglasses.

4. Galley Duty: It should be clear upfront who is expected to prepare meals. As the captain, Jeff had clearly stated that he wanted no galley duty given his already heavy workload. Fortunately, Jim enjoyed cooking for others and was a damn fine chef at that; he and Jess put together some scrumptious meals. Since I am the cook on El Gato when it’s just Jeff and me sailing, I was happy to give them all the galley time they wanted.

5. Expectations and Responsibilities: Working well together is of utmost importance when sharing close quarters for weeks. Be prepared to discuss the top three or four reasons you are are considering taking on crew. We assessed our strengths and weaknesses, comfort levels for different duties and figured out our shifts and responsibilities accordingly.

6. Politics: Since our travel dates coincided with a heated presidential election, Jeff and I were straightforward with our crew from the initial telephone conversation. We would not spend this momentous occasion with opposing forces. As soon as we broached the topic, they both let out a sigh of relief. Again, we were on the same page. Potential crisis averted.

7. Financial responsibilities: In our case, this was a fairly low priority as we planned to travel regardless, but for some, it may rank in the top three. Our crew was responsible for their transportation to and from El Gato. Jeff and I paid for fuel and dockage, but appreciated a few meals getting picked up, thank you. Provisioning costs were shared unless top-shelf liquor was involved: you’re on your own there.

8. Flexibility: While manipulating one’s body into a pretzel is important while performing some tasks, I am referring more to the dreaded“S” word—schedules. As any sailor knows, they are made to be altered. Crew must be flexible regarding timing and locations. I recommend not booking the return flight until well into the passage. We were lucky and left on time, and even got ahead of our intended schedule. So instead of leaving in Cabo as planned, our crew delighted us with their company for another week, eventually saying their farewells in Mazatlan.

9. Reality: Let your crew know what they’re in for. Long periods of motoring through no wind and dropping anchor just before sundown doesn’t leave much time for lazy beach lounges. The remote and rugged Baja coast doesn’t offer casinos and five-star restaurants. Plan accordingly and no one is disappointed. We travel with two long-haired dogs that run our lives. Anyone spending time aboard El Gato should not only like dogs but be prepared to share living space with them.

10. Legalities: We had considered a Limited Liability Waiver, but decided against it in this particular case. After some online research, it appeared the document may not stand up in court, especially if cruising in a foreign country. We also felt it had the potential to start a relationship off on the wrong note. At the same time, sailing offshore is serious stuff, so discussing safety and expectations up front should ensure you are on the same page.

Together for more than two weeks, we cooked, sang, danced and shared stories and philosophical beliefs with these former strangers. I know that we will be forever friends. Jim and Jess are on the top of our list for future crew needs, or maybe we’ll just join up again, somewhere, sometime, in the not-too-distant future. 

After cruising the East Coast and Bahamas for three years, Jules and Jeff purchased their dream boat on the West Coast. They are currently cruising the Pacific coast of Mexico.

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June 2017



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