Don’t Let the Dynamics Mimic Dynamite

When you plan the next trip, take time to find compatible crew. "Charter Briefing" for our August 6, 2009 CW Reckonings

August 5, 2009

lembo belize 368

Elaine Lembo

Aboard, something was unraveling, and it wasn’t the headsail roller furling.
If you’ve read “On One Boat, Three Stories Unfold,” the feature in the August 2009 issue of Cruising World, you might know where I’m headed here.

But if you haven’t quite gotten to the stories by Herb McCormick, Angus Phillips, and yours truly about our time together on a bareboat charter in Belize, and you’re sifting through potential destinations for that perfect time aboard, let me take a moment to clue you in to the importance of crew dynamics on that once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

Make no mistake: The boat can break, the locals might be grumpy, and your pale skin may fry in the sun, but if you’ve got a different agenda than those other people in the cockpit, it might irrevocably alter the memories you carry around about that charter for the rest of your life.


I’m as guilty as anyone for not thinking this matter through before it’s too late; usually, I err by giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. Given my years chartering, cruising, and delivering boats with all manner of friendly sailing strangers in all types of conditions, I just assume everyone will cooperate and be on their best behavior. Usually, that’s the case, and in the matter of our trip to Belize, good humor prevailed.

Nonetheless, a few less-than-stellar experiences have taught me well, and here are points to consider when making plans for a sailboat charter with crew you don’t know well, and even crew you do.

Before You Go, Consider:


Read: Study everything the charter company sends you when they send it. Pay attention to the company-imposed deadlines.

Crew dynamics: Consider the compatibility, attitudes, experiences, expectations, preferences, personalities, and schedules of potential crew before you ask them to join you on the charter. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, though people think it can. Listen to your gut.

Bad apples: If someone needs an attitude adjustment, give it to them. Usually this task is reserved for the captain.


Music or no music? Ask potential crewmates what they like to listen to-classical or jazz? rock or reggae?-or if they like to listen at all.

Courtesies: While some love the foredeck for star watching, others, particularly those in forward cabins, may be ready for sleep.

Activity collisions: A boatload of watercolorists and game fishermen may not have the same priorities as diehard sailors, kayakers, snorkelers, and divers.


Responsibility: Who signed the contract? Whose credit card is on file with the company? That’s the responsible party when kayaks and all other boat toys and gadgets go missing.

Division of labor: Determine early on who’s the admiral, who’s the captain, who’s the tour director, and who’s the swab. A clearly defined rotation of duties is the best way to go.


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