Seamanship of the interpersonal variety

Nigel Studdart
Nigel Studdart
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Seamanship of the interpersonal variety, what makes a great trip is a great crew.

I now send this to all crew joining me, to open a conversation thought it might be useful, what do you tell your crew?
I thought I would try and clarify some questions I have had about what its like to be a crew member. Each yacht and captain are very different and having spent many years at sea both as a captain and manager of commercial yachts I have seen happy ships and unhappy ships...
So what makes a happy ship.
People need to want to be there. They need to have common goals and aspirations and be running to something of the same schedule or lack of.. Everyone needs to want to help and be part of a team ( Including the Captain). Unrealistic expectations are uncomfortable in a small space.
People need to be kind to themselves and to each other.
Nothing makes someone feel worse who is feeling seasick or not confident than to think they are letting other people down. The best cure other than sitting under a palm tree is, to learn, to feel useful and valued.
I have been very lucky over the years to have had some amazing crew who have become good friends. That doesn't mean we all agreed or got on well together all the time. I think if I were to codify what makes it work. Its give people a second, third and fourth chance. Look beneath a reaction to a reason and most of all start each day & watch as a new day without baggage.
In terms of schedule, I turn the engine off and sail on passage, I love to sail zephry's. I enjoy the challenge of bring ing a yacht to port in harmony with wind and waves not fighting them. That means schedule and destination are not a fixed agenda but a fluid harmony. My ship is very well maintained and shipshape to ensure that the harmony is with the ocean ( Mostly!) rather than with breakdowns. I don't sail hard. I avoid going to windward . If you are looking to race, fit into a fixed plan by motoring for endless miles you will find someone to do it with but do us both a favour and be honest with me and yourself.
Food makes a happy ship, cooking together makes for great experiences, whether its a laugh about what went wrong or a genuine shock as to what went right. I have never had a meal I couldn't eat. The galley and barbecue are set up so everyone can contribute to the enjoyment of preparing food and eating it.
Private space.
We all need a space to go do, whatever you need to do. ( I need to drink my first coffee in peace...)( Not easy on a sailboat or even a large yacht. It comes from two things, design and intent. In terms off design, Azura has two directors chairs on the after deck and a table. Great place for cocktails for two, an intimate dinner for two. or drinks for 6 or more or a book for one. She has a hammock that swings from the foredeck where you can reflect and loose some of lifes stress and challenges.
All that in addition to the salon and cockpit.( In both these areas its harder to be alone as other crewmates walk through) . Space is also created with respect by leaving someone who needs a minute or 30 alone, and by having the empathy to know when they want to chat. Space is an issue in port. At sea we live in the biggest space imaginable with both temporal and spatial separation of watches and cabins, truly the ocean is an amazing restoring place.
Happy crew know how to respect personal space and also when to offer companionship. We all bring baggage ( of two varieties). Personal, life baggage's best left at the dock so that you can fully live in the present moment developing new connections. Baggage of the clothes and shoes, devices kind has to live in your space. Its not much amongst a small sailboat so respect that. You will not endear yourselves to your shipmates if they trip over your stuff! So what do ou need and can you travel with hand baggage?, Yes is most cases. If your sail with me is in the tropics or heading that way, If you need devices bring them, but know they dont respect salt water and the Internet is a fickle thing in port and there are better ways of spend hours than trying to connect to it!. You will have access to sail mail to keep loved ones in touch at sea ( text only and not private as its over radio) Smart phones or IPADS seem to work better than computers for most people these days and charge from a USB). I would leave the laptop at home!
Shorts, tops ( Light cotton easy to dry on the rail), bikinis, swimsuits and one going ashore outfit. ( Jeans are a good standby for cold nights even if they are a swine to dry, nothing for me feels more comfortable although I suspect yoga pants may serve the same for others). Some water safe shoes, ( Light and designed for walking on sand, rocks). underwear or smalls. Don't forget we will be in port and shopping is easy.
So what do I wear? In Port ? Each year I print up some T shirts ( White for the sun and a few polo shirts), Some great shorts that are comfortable and dry easily. Two jumpers when one gets ratty I get another one. Some comfortable sneakers, trainers and some beach shoes, I keep a Jacket and pair of pants in case... ( I have Foul weather gear and never use it). I tend to pick up a shore going outfit if I am in a place for a while and then recycle it. At sea, depends on the crew and everyones sensibilities but in the tropics not a lot, ie a shirt and shorts. I can arrange boat T shirts for anyone joining if you wish let me know. Otherwise just white or light shirts some with long sleeves are a great option. I don't mind if your clothing optional but I would ask that you respect others wishes in this department and show empathy. One rider on this is that many islands are very conservative and what may be acceptable in Italy is not in the BVI. As we respect each other so we respect places we visit.
So as in all things respect and empathy is the key ingredient. If you respect each other aboard and have low expectations you will always be pleasantly surprised!
Happy sailing
Fair winds and Calm seas

Simon Currin
Simon Currin
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Thank you very much. We have seen many boats with unhappy crew and last summer we were lucky enough to welcome aboard a refugee from another vessel.

When we take crew with us we are always keen to ensure that their timeframe matches the boat’s schedule and vice versa. It must be hugely frustrating to abandon a great cruise or sail into adverse conditions to rendezvous with someone else’s flights. Relaxed and synchronised schedules are a high priority for us.

edited by simoncurrin on 2/26/2019
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Hi Nigel,
You have a great deal of useful thoughts and the attitudes you espouse, and the attitudes evident in your writing, will go a long way towards good passage making in good company. I will try to focus on the more pragmatic side of this important subject.
First, there are two kinds of visitors who spend time on Alchemy: there are guests (not expected to work the boat, although they may) and there are crew (expect them to work the boat). I only give the full briefing to crew where the plan is to accomplish a passage taking at least a couple of nights: anything less Ginger and I will be up and will be working the boat, although any guest is welcome to work the boat: just it is not necessary and they will not be doing it on their own.
Until our recent Atlantic crossing in the higher latitudes, over the decades we have never had crew and I realize much of the writing I did was never organized: so the following is being cobbled together from past notes and memory.
Perhaps I am overly a worrier, but I consider crew or guests a huge responsibility: Ginger and I have opted for this life and have come to terms with the downside. We have worked our way to our present state of preparedness over decades. Visitors always come with a huge range of experience and the ability to, completely inadvertently, make choices that can ruin one’s day: throw Kleenex into the toilet, lean against the autopilot controls etc. etc. Bottom line is always a worry of visitors getting hurt and how easily that can occur so I do all reasonable to ensure injury is unlikely.
1. Said to everyone.
a. It is not to be expected, (and, in fact, it is fortunately a rare occurrence) but it may happen that I or Ginger gives an order. When we do so (it will be clear), we are to be immediately and completely obeyed: the time for asking why or complaining about our tone is to come later.
i. This is especially important for children, especially active children. I speak to each child individually in front of their parents and get them to agree to my stipulation. It has never happened, but if I feel that if a child is too curious and impulsive to be sensible, they must be tethered to a parent.
b. Talk about sea-sickness
c. Determine if they are swimmers and whether they are experienced boaters
2. For crew (I do not feel that experience on the water is necessary for good crew: if they are willing to learn, responsible and can follow instructions, they can stand watch and be a help with other activities)
a. I send to all crew:
i. Alchemy’s “Safety Manual” well ahead of the passage
1. It lists all safety equipment, their location, and emergency procedures
a. Emergency procedures include: fire, flooding, POB, Emergency comm including phone numbers etc.. abandon ship procedures, pyrotechnics use, alarms list, medical supplies, drogue and sea anchor use and, finally, the abandon ship “grab” bag
b. The above will be gone over in detail on the boat before departure
2. It gives instructions for emergency comm: SSB, Satphone, VHF
3. The manual is designed to remind owners of above and to enable crew to handle things on their own if necessary
ii. A description of the passage, likely length, wx, etc.
iii. A description of “duties”: likely watch schedule, galley duty, etc.
iv. What to bring (layers for ex) and what not to bring (hard-sided suitcase for ex.)
1. With particular attention to foul wx gear and life-vests and tether
b. I pretty much insist that the crew come ahead of departure for familiarization
c. I make clear that any plans about landfall and their getting to land transport home has to be fluid.
d. They get a thorough tour of Alchemy covering especially safety habits practiced and the gear that might come into play
i. They are encouraged to poke around on their own and ask questions
e. Generally, crew on watch are to wake the skipper when seeing other vessels or there is need for reefing or increasing sail or motoring
3. For day-sailors or coastal cruisers
a. Determine their level of activity (knowledgeable boaters or not)
i. Stay in cockpit or wander the deck at will
ii. Want to learn and do or guests to be pampered (either is fine)
I know I have left things out, but I will continue to work on this. It might be a nice addition to our “best practices” collection: something like “preparing crew and guests”.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Daria Blackwell
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Great topic. Alex and I rarely sail with other people because we just don't allow schedules to get in the way of safety. That said, some of our most fun times have been when we had crew with us. I've been known to do the "stewardess routine" when newbies come aboard. I stress that the number one rule of sailing is "Stay on the boat" and I go through all the safety precautions and important equipment instructions (head included). Most other things we can deal with. Knowing how to sail is not nearly as important as being good company. Our boat is a bit more spacious than many, and still it's a small space. Compatibility is the priority. We love sharing the knowledge and freedom that sailing confers. Thanks for starting this thread.
edited by DariaBlackwell on 3/2/2019

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Nigel Studdart
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Thanks Dick, Daria and Simon,

I agree with all your comments. Dick in terms of experience, so often I am asked what experience do I need for an ocean passage? and always it is not the question that matters, It is attitude that counts and compatibility as Daria put it. We always give someone an opportunity to sail coastal before making any sort of crossing where you can't get off. I am sure many of the crew who join me think I am blasé about how much experience they have.., I am not. It is just not the greatest consideration. Everything else is easy to train and as always it is easier to learn the first time than unlearn a bad habit.

Safety is always a key issue but again a lot of that is around attitude. I will never forget a professional crew member on a large yacht I ran jumping to grab a runaway line from a primary to stop it from whipping off a winch. ( It was 130ft Sloop). I managed to stop him before he got a hand on the line. A great guy he wasn't thinking. If he had gripped that line less than second later he would at the very least have lost the skin on his hand. Another professional crew on a motor yacht I found sitting on a rail outside the engine room on a clam South Pacific passage, Sitting on the rail...albeit a wide varnished rail with legs dangling over an ocean a 1000 miles from anywhere. Nowhere in any of my safety briefings would I have countenanced that anyone would do that. So how do we get people to "think " safety. It is a personal thing, an attitude. Process will help but good safety practice is like good seamanship learnt from example and over time. I find the best way to do this is through conversations on watch and try always to do the watch with new crew even if it means a double duty. Its also important that they feel comfortable to ask what they think may be a stupid question.

Admitting your own errors and mistakes sets up this atmosphere.

It would make sense to cobble together and learn from everyones experience on how to be a good crew member aboard and what to expect. The focus in most literature is around steering and plotting a course along with watch keeping. ( Thats the easy bit!)

This would fit in well with the OCC scholarship scheme for young sailors wanting to make ocean passages and also be of great use to inform skippers. When I managed super yachts and hired captains I was always very careful not only to explain what the owner expected of his captain but also what the crew expected. It is a key ingredient in a happy ship.

So here's to a good crew handbook that deals with the interpersonal elements, Stewardship as well as the Seamanship.

Best regards to all


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