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Swap your Crew

It all started midway through a cruise on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez when we were having dinner aboard Born Free and Chris of Starship announced: “Anne-Marie [his wife] and I have been talking and she agrees, we should do a partner swap.” An uncomfortable silence followed as I failed to respond.

Shelly: It all started midway through a cruise on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez when we were having dinner aboard Born Free and Chris of Starship announced: “Anne-Marie [his wife] and I have been talking and she agrees, we should do a partner swap.” An uncomfortable silence followed as I failed to respond. I really hadn’t pegged this couple as swingers. One glance at my partner, Drew, told me he was thinking the same thing. Together we managed to change the subject of the conversation. 

The following day while hiking with Anne-Marie, I decided to clear the air. As it turns out, Starship was looking to switch things up a bit, but not in a free-love sort of fashion. It was a crew swap they were proposing, not the carnal partner-swap I had feared. What a relief! So we agreed: Anne-Marie and I would sail Starship together while the guys sailed Born Free.

Anne-Marie: I was excited and nervous about captaining Starship without Chris, something I had never done. An hour into our journey we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. We had weighed anchor in Ensenada Grande, navigated out of the anchorage and were sailing merrily toward our destination of Isla San Francisco. When the wind dropped, I reluctantly started the engine, but I didn’t hear the familiar sound of saltwater gurgling from the exhaust so I quickly turned it off again. We proceeded to check the sea strainer, which was not blocked. After further investigation, we found something baffling: the through-hull to the strainer was shut. A radio call to Born Free revealed the culprit. “Oh…I did that, sorry,” Chris said.

When we first started the engine to raise the anchor, the water we saw being discharged must have been water that had remained in the lines. With no new saltwater entering the cooling system, we figured we must have burned up the impeller. Now all we needed to do was replace it, an unfamiliar task for both of us. It was probably one of the slowest but most celebrated impeller replacements of all time. We tried being angry with Chris, but we both knew we had learned a lot from his mistake. Our confidence had grown immensely during our “crew swap” sail.


• Find a boat and crew you feel comfortable with and would like to learn from

• When introducing the idea of a crew swap never use the words “partner swap” as it creates all kinds of confusion

• Discuss details such as start and end times, locations and who will be on which boat

• Swap for a short journey only–cruise-outs or day sails are ideal

• Before the exchange do a thorough pre-sail check to make sure all systems are operational (especially those tricky though-hulls!)

• Maintain radio contact with the other boat and establish a regular check-in routine

• Encourage the crew to perform tasks they normally leave to others

• End the exchange with a celebratory meal to swap stories and plan the next adventure.

Photos courtesy of Anne-Marie Fox 



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