Next! Transat#14 crew-finding musings

Mon 29 Jun 2020 20:24

Now that that latest transat (13th, ooer, phew) is safely out of the way, it’s time to consider the next one.  I suppose it’s like that with adventures requiring a fair bit of kit - you gotta plan ahead to get everything ready ages in advance. It may seem pretty nonchalant to “just set off on a transat” every 6 months but in fact  the main stuff needs sorting weeks or even months earlier, which means it’s ongoing.   

I was once chatting to a very experienced commercial skipper in Las Palmas (which is raffishly referred to as “LP”) who was leaving on a transat in a fortnight’s time with ten paying guests, but he needed to borrow an iron.  Yes, like an iron for ironing clothes.  Why did he need an iron?  To re-attach a bit of veneer that was coming of the side of a cupboard.  Sheesh!  But that’s the target style, see? With 2 weeks to go, the only thing he needed to fix was a bit of veneer.  I’m not sure if I’m ever quite THAT well-prepared but it’s a good target.  Mind you, it was Me loaning him the iron, so Ner.   

Here in Lanzarote, pro engineer and ace boatfixer Wes has got a list of Things To Fix on Mojo, and Wes even owns a very similar boat to Mojo - a Marquise, also a Fontaine-Pajot catamaran, the previous model to Mojo which is an F-P Eleuthera.  And even without having first-hand knowledge of these boats Wes would be fine anyway - he has to be speedy-minded to help with engineering and boatfixing for pro racing boats and much more.   There’s other stuff that I have to sort out though, like getting a better medical kit for example.  


But primarily, I have to sort crew.  Ordinarily, I find crew way in advance.  That way I know it’s sorted, and the crew themselves can prepare and pacify their friends and family.  I was lucky with ace crew on Transat13 who came at short notice whilst skirting partial lockdowns - but some of their family were still at the Frantic stage at the start of the trip.  They calmed down as we arrived of course.   

The downwind trip from the Canaries is a well-known gig for adventurous nomads, so there’s always some hitchhikers in Las Palmas.  They’re a mixed bag, some a bit stinky, many with no sailing experience at all. But there was Glynn who was ace and joined a previous boat in LP, as did Ollie.  

I use various websites to find crew in advance, although for this downwind transatlantic it’s simply a question of beating most of them away with a stick - lots of people want to do the Romantic Adventure thing and I could fill ten boats with volunteers, although many are dreamers who drift off when I make it apear a reall possibility.  Eeek! 

I try to find the more interesting types who’ll recognise that it’s supposed to be fun and will sling in some humour while discussing things on whatsapp or email.   Since potential crew *might* read this, I suppose I oughta give my thoughts on finding crew. 

Fluent English is key - we gotta understand each other.  If they get ill or if we need things doing fast then we can’t be arm-waving.  It doesn’t mean English must be their mother tongue, but they must be fluent.   If we can’t chat, I can’t show/tell too easily and it’s gonna be dull.  “I am Catamaran!” shouted one hopeful crew at me from the quayside in LP.  No, you NOT catamaran sir.   You have to be fluent - but how fluent is fluent?  An Argentinian crew on Mojo  laughed at a too-serious comment by another and said “Oh Sam you’re SO cheesy!” - that’s fluent. 


But on the other hand, fluency in some non-English languages is a definite bonus too.  For sailing around the world I’d say English, then French (French Polynesia, Reunion, Martinique etc)  and thirdly then Spanish (Columbia, Panama, Canaries) are the most useful, plus others if you direct your travels that way of course.    

Vegetarian/vegan. These mainly plant-based diets are fine if you live on land, but not so easy to maintain on a long ocean passage.  It’s based around lovely fresh food, but that lasts around a week on a boat.  Plus, there’ll be cooking some things for some crew, other stuff for others.   A pro chef with bigger kitchen could do it, but we’re limited.   Or - Okay, we all have to go vegetarian for a few weeks - that’s another alternative.  But I think there enough problems long-distance sailing without adding some more.  I say - No fussy eaters of any kind.  Yes, there was James who didn’t eat fish, but catching fish is a rare event on Mojo  - we can easily cross the Atlantic and not catch a fish - I’ve done that several times.  


Couples -   I’m know that lots of boats are crewed with couples, but with a Mojo transat I’m often taking a “scratch” crew that I might not even meet in person beforehand.  And even if I did, couples (or even “best pals”) have their own priorities - of all the people on the boat their partner is Most Important By Far.  But I need their skipper to be most important, and so do other crew.  Taking couples can include things like “We’ve agreed that she’ll do my cooking and I’ll do her watches” or “For goodness sake don’t call her Babs - she HATES it- it’s Barbara!”.   

Couples (and close friends) can mean we’re making allowances for a “team within a team” - it’s not fair on other crew, and overall a Bad Dynamic.  So I don’t take couples unless I know you in person (or at least one of you) beforehand.  So I took James on a trip, then another time his wife came too, and it was fine.  But generally, No Couples, no “microteams” - there's just ONE team on Mojo.  And there’s no eventually-tiresome mocking, no too-cruel jokes, no “sides” or “politics”.   

Fussy, religious, “taking themselves too seriously” types.  Religion is a form of fussiness about what other can and cannot say for fear of offending the beliefs of another - and we can’t easily have that on board.   They’ll be offended at the wrong jokes, others accidentally saying the wrong word or even er, deliberately saying the wrong word.  Catholics and Jews often seem to be bombproof about their religions, and can laugh or leave it at the dock.  But some - do they think praying is actually helping?  

The same goes for people who can’t “take a joke” at their own expense - we should be free to laugh at the silliness of national or regional stereotypes.  If you’re from Liverpool, I’m going to say something about checking the hubcabs afterwards, and a proud Scouser crew slings in a similar comment themselves first.   A Dutch crew lead a moment of silence when the last cheese was finished haha.  This time there’s someone who’s read the blog and suggested that since I have a pirate sail they will make contact on my Aye phone!  That’s more like it.  

Experience.  Some crew are super-proud of their massive sailing expertise and list all the races and charter jobs they’ve had.  Ooh!  But sailing long ocean passages isn’t like inshore sailing with frantic changes of sails and direction all the time, setting off, anchoring and all that.  And nobody gets paid, either - so those who normally get paid aren't "doing me a favour by not asking to be paid" - that's not really the right attitude at all - it's shame that some spoil their sailing by turning professional.  Forget racing skills too - with the right wind on an ocean trip we might put up a sail and hardly touch it for several days.  

What’s more important (on a cruising non-racing boat anyway) is finding flexible types who are always ready for change, and have shown their adaptability in career or hobbies - that they like that factor.   Although on the other hand, they ALSO have to be fine about just wafting with only the stars for company.  


And suppose the watermaker breaks, or the autopilot?  Can they “hack it”? - have they hitch-hiked, camped, done skiing or motorbiking or long-distance travel adventures - all activities where the unexpected might happen or WILL happen - and you just gotta deal with it?   Younger people or young at heart nomad types are often (but not always) better at adapting.  

Sailing expertise might often teach that 10knots is crazy, ridiculous, even dangerous, perhaps - so “experience” isn’t always “good experience”.often   I’ve taken several people who had their own smaller boats and (initially, anyway) wouldn’t go near the foredeck without harness, lifejacket and clipping on even in flat seas.  For some if not many, their “experience” can teach them to be beyond “careful” - they become frightened in advance, and being in a general state of worry isn’t a positive vibe - they’re always ready to declare an emergency and jump into a liferaft, when in fact these are much later options, absolute last resorts.  Of course, a bit of Fear is important - we can’t have people freeclimbing the mast all the time.   

Experience is valuable in one vital way - do you get seasick?  Some people are sensitive to even the slightest rocking motion - others can sleep through earthquakes.  You’ll only know this if you have been sailed over some proper waves.  A catamaran is quite flat but it’s still (sometimes) like driving a truck over a very ploughed field, and then over few walls, too.  It’s not the waves that get you - it’s the holes in between the waves.     

Sailing holidaymakers.  Some people have a proper job, and sometimes that puts a restriction on the time they can spend on a trip.  If possible, I avoid these because it puts pressure on Getting There and Making The Flight.  

New trip, new crew!   I knew one guy who always sailed transatlantic with the same bunch of people.  Well, okay, but how about some New people? Another thing - it’s going to be a bit dull if I have crew who are same sorta thing as I am - retired from work, male, engineery, middle class and done a few transats.   Again - how about some New and Different people?   People on their first transat have infectious enthusiasm and excitement.  Younger people can tear all over the place doing this and that -  whoosh -  easy peasy!  It’s handy having that energy around.  Likewise people for whom cooking is a delight not a chore - quite rare but worth finding.  Medical experts could be useful, or a diesel engineer/motor mechanic.  Female crew tend to be a civilising influence, too.  The all-male crew of another carib catmaran looked on sullenly as we overtook at 12knots and the girls on Mojo waved Cooee!  They’re not waving back Matthew?  Hm yes, we were racing while you were sunbathing, and now they’re losing and grumpy - an all-male crew can be like that.      

For me, willingness and intelligence are  infinitely more useful than professional, many years cruising or sail-racing expertise on these trips.  Experience means you simply know what I’m doing - Willingness means you’ll offer to help, and Intelligence means you’ll “get it” quickly AND you might find a better way quite soon!    Or okay then, you make a coffee instead, whatever.   

Finally - I’m taking Non-Paying crew - so how does that work?   They can’t “book a ticket” or pay a deposit - we all share just the food costs, right?  Right.  For me, if we both agree, then a crew is “in” when they book a flight to the boat, or a ferry whatever.  But even then, their plans can change.  One guy a few years back just couldn’t make his ferry to meet the boat and was reluctant to book a flight as well.  He called and told me so, apologised etc. Oh well, I said, it can’t be helped.  I’m still going, don’t worry, you haven’t wrecked things - it would be better with that extra person but it’s not a show-stopper.   He rang off… but called back a few hours later and said that since I’d been so reasonable about him not taking a flight - that he’d get a flight anyway!  Was this a test, I asked?  Not intentionally, he said, but that’s how it worked out.  Haha.