bluewater rookie finds her sea legs
Becoming Part of the Crew
H ow do you gain cruising or open-ocean experience when you don’t have an oceangoing vessel? Do what I did. Search for a large vessel in need of crew.
It took many fruitless Internet searches, but I finally found my opportunity while browsing boats for sale on Craigslist.
The ad was placed by a liveaboard captain who spends winters in the Bahamas and summers in the Hamptons on a 38-foot sailing catamaran. She supports her lifestyle by offering charters and using the boat as a floating bed-and-breakfast in the Hamptons.
The captain needed to move the boat north, but with no full-paying charter customers, she needed crew to share watches on the journey. The Craigslist ad offered crew berths for $100 per day, not including food.
I’d been advised that crew shouldn’t have to pay for more than their food and travel to and from the boat. However, I had no bluewater experience and was considering spending at least twice as much for a liveaboard sailing school, so I was thrilled to find the same type of holiday at half the cost even though I wouldn’t get any certification.
My time on the boat was a profound learning experience. It’s one thing to read about having someone on watch 24 hours a day. It’s quite another to actually be on watch by yourself on the open ocean in the middle of the night and see a huge, fast metal ship approach at an unchanging relative bearing, to summon the captain, to hail the ship on the radio and spotlight the sail, to receive no response whatsoever, to watch the radar as the ship closes several miles in minutes, and to hold on as the captain turns a hard 180 degrees at the last second. I am now a sailor who will never cut corners on watches.
From the Bahamas to Florida and north with the Gulf Stream, I learned what happens when current, wind and heading work together and how it feels when they don’t. I learned the importance of monitoring the weather as a named storm loomed nearby, and that mackerel is a poor substitute for mahi mahi. Unfortunately, I also learned about combining a hangover with rough seas.
In the Intracoastal Waterway, I learned about narrow channels, navigation markers, electronic versus paper charts, depth finders, and suitable anchorages. I also discovered that waiting out storms on the hook and motoring at 5 knots can be boring.
If you’re accustomed to being the captain, crewing might be a challenge. For me, the difficulty came in having to do the housekeeping someone else’s way.
Overall, crewing was an incredibly rich experience. I met many different people and spent a week picking the brains of real cruisers. I experienced what it feels like to make an ocean passage and to live aboard a large boat. I’ve collected enough facts and sensations to make my cruising dreams tangible.
Though it didn’t provide the R and R, pampering, or tourist appeal you’d normally expect from a vacation, I’d jump at the chance to do it again.