Find Crew the New-Fashioned Way

The Internet is a great place to find crew, provided you follow a few precautions. "At Sea" from our May 15, 2008, CW Reckonings

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To help transport Stormbird (above) to and from New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds, the author found reliable crew on an Internet forum.Rick Allender

It's a strange and modern world where, to find a crew, the most successful method is using the Internet. Spreading the word through friends and yacht club notices has proven unfruitful, but posting to an online sailing forum brought instant response and unexpected success.

My wife, Diane, and I are adventurous sailors. The problem is she doesn't enjoy bad weather and becomes bored on long passages. So from time to time I need a crew other than her to help get my boat, Stormbird, where we would like to go. This is what we did to spend time in New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds recently. Diane drove from our northern home in Auckland and I sailed south with Dawn, a "my life is beginning at 60" female crew.

Diane and I are both in our 50s and happily married, but if I wasn't married, Internet crewing would be a sure-fire way to meet a partner. Nearly all of the replies I had from my forum notice were from single women who were looking for crewing positions. They weren't looking for partners necessarily, but sailing doublehanded with a nearly total stranger makes for varied and interesting experiences.

Dawn's previous life had been difficult. Without a partner in tow, she discovered sailing...and my advertisement for crew. She couldn't resist a doublehanded, non-stop, 600-mile trip down the coast. The day after our email interview, Dawn drove up for a trial sail to see if we were compatible. Diane oversaw the proceedings to be sure I would be in good, reliable, and above all, trustworthy hands.

Choosing a suitable Internet crew requires careful consideration. On a doublehanded passage this is even more important, as there will be no one else to take up the slack. Much will be revealed about the other person's abilities and personality after a few days at sea, but a long way from shore is a difficult place to find out what you may not want to know. The primary question that must be answered at least in the skipper's mind is, "Could this person sail the boat home or out of danger if I couldn't?" Diane had a few questions also, but both times I have sailed with single women she has been confident in their ability to save the day, and me, too, if necessary.

The outward passage took us from Auckland via North Cape and the west coast of North Island and into the Marlborough Sounds at the top of South Island. The first night out a broken mainsheet block forced a visit to a chandler in the Bay of Islands. Departure from Opua in strong easterlies saw us hitting 11 knots and rounding North Cape by nightfall. Due to the curve of the western coast the route took us 80 miles offshore. We had to tack back in as the boat's insurance limit is 81 miles (150 kilometers). After three days of light southerly headwinds we arrived in the western Cook Strait in time for the next gale, which blew us into the shelter of Pelorus Sound. With a boat named Stormbird, gales don't usually present problems, and Dawn worked out just fine.

The Marlborough Sounds consist of a labyrinth of landlocked waterways. These fjord-like inlets provide some of the best cruising in New Zealand. Here, like anywhere in the world once away from the cities, the people are friendlier and more relaxed. Anchoring in the deep water can be difficult, but shelter is always nearby and the whole area is generally uncrowded. Queen Charlotte Sound has a recreational air about it with the main center, marinas, and ferry terminal situated at the headwater. Pelorus Sound is larger and more isolated, supporting fishing, mussel farming, and forestry. This agricultural area was for us more interesting, so it's where we spent the most time.

After several months we needed to get the boat back home again. We had arranged for a friend on a semester break to crew the return trip, but bad weather delayed us beyond his available time. This took me back to the Internet forum.

Francoise, a 26-year-old French women answered the notice. She had two spare weeks before starting a navigation course. She wasn't the chic Paris type but a buxom brunette from Brittany and she proved a reliable and trustworthy companion. The trip home was via the North Island's east coast. As we sailed from Wellington's Port Nicholson, a large anticyclone created conditions in the infamous Cook Strait remarkably similar to a duck pond, with none of the wind-funneling or confused and high seas the area is known for. The trip was difficult in that we used the motor more than the sails, but some exciting conditions had us washed by seas breaking in the cockpit at night on the approach to Cape Colville and the leg home to Auckland. Bad weather seems inevitable if there is a sleep deficit on board and darkness approaching, but at least Francoise was able to experience some good ol' New Zealand weather.

As for Internet crewing, it is an immediate, desperate, and random way of finding crew that always has unexpected results. Just like sailing.

To post your crew-wanted or crew-available notice, try you luck in the CW forums.

Questions for Skippers and Crew to Ask Before Departing:

What (and how long ago) is your previous sailing experience?
Are you taking any medication?
Do you have any allergies?
Are you a strong swimmer?
Are you expecting any payment?
Are you affected by seasickness?
Will trip reports and voyage forms be filed?
Who is the shore-based contact to monitor progress?
What form will a passage plan take?
Can you supply several references?
Will drugs or alcohol be carried on board?
Will firearms be carried?
Will wet gear be provided?
Will PFDs and tethers be provided?
What is the protocol for the wearing of PFDs and tethers?
Is there a grab bag on board? Can it be used for wallet, medications, spare glasses, etc.?
Where is the storage space for clothes and wet gear?
How comprehensive is the first aid kit?
What is the watchkeeping plan?
How skilled are you at recognizing vessel lights at night?
How will the work and duties on board be divided?
Is there any gear on board that the crew is not permitted to use?
What restrictions are there on the crew in terms of what they can't do on board?
Are men permitted to urinate over the side? (They shouldn't be.)
What knots can you tie?
What is your navigation skill level?
What food do you like or dislike?
How will the cooking arrangements work?
What stores are on board and are any restricted?
What is the state of the emergency equipment? Have the service periods expired?
Will there be time before departure to familiarize with safety equipment and storm tactics?
Will there be time before departure to familiarize with all the ship's gear and sails?
What measures will be taken to prevent falling overboard?
Will crew overboard retrieval be practiced before departure?
How old is the rigging wire?
Is the boat clean and tidy? What is the state of the bilge?
Have likely weather patterns been considered?
What are the weather parameters for a departure?
What is the motoring range of the boat and at what speed/RPM?
Discuss and plan for the big six--collision, fire, flooding, grounding, injury, and sickness.

Rick Allender lives and sails in the Land of the Long White Cloud--Aotearoa, New Zealand. He sails on Stormbird, a 1980s, wooden, 37-foot Jorgensen designed and built in the Marlborough Sounds.