Jonathan's Sailing Logbook, 88 Proof

by Jonathan Cline -

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About Pick-up Crewing On Sailboats

California Coast, 2014

Recently I've been sharing stories about my experiences crewing on other skippers' boats, which includes often hopping aboard a new sailboat at short notice after having only brief conversations with an unknown skipper. A voyage itself is full of unknowns, and when crewing with others, even if the other crew or the skipper are already close friends, funny surprises occur.

On one leg of a voyage as crew, 30 miles off the coast of Mexico, watching the sunrise come up into the cool ocean air, I sneezed. Then I sneezed again. Then I sneezed again: a fit of sneezing out of nowhere. Later in the afternoon, during casual conversation with the skipper, I learned that the comforter I was using was "his cat's favorite place to sleep," although he claimed, "I washed it twice before bringing it aboard."

A similar surprise happened on a competitive race, two miles off the coast. I was hiked out with the rest of the crew, with a girl sitting forward of me to windward. We were racing to the windward mark, perhaps a 20 minute leg. After a minute on the tack, I sneezed. I thought that was a bit odd. A bit later I sneezed again. I made a comment to the girl about this being funny, sneezing from the ocean air. After a brief laugh about this, she mentioned that the hoodie she was wearing was a favorite of her cat's. That is when I noticed the cat hair on her clothing blowing towards me in the wind.

None of these boats had pets aboard at the time, or had mentioned anything about pets, of course. You really never know with people or boats what you're getting into until something finally comes up. This is especially true if the situation is stressful. Replace the word "pet" with something of more significance, like "alcoholism" or "prescription anti-depressants" or "finances" and there's a real drama that might unfold.

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Ready to crew on this skipper's sailboat? Then throw off the lines, step aboard, take the wheel and point us out to sea.

For my recent crewing trip up the California coast I hadn't given much treatment to the shared cost aspect. I assumed I would split costs when aboard as crew, as I did on previous trips, and pay my own travel costs. In the discussion beforehand, I asked the skipper (a USCG licensed charter captain) how he wanted to handle costs and he said we would split the costs of fuel, food, and moorage. I was fine with the arrangement. I didn't bring up my own travel costs. So that is how the trip proceeded. He had an interesting way of handling finances though. When it came time to pay, for example when the harbor patrol came around to collect slip fees, he would get his wallet and only pay half, then say, "There's my half, we are splitting costs of the trip, so hold on while my crew mate gets his half" and then wait for me to pony up. This was a bit awkward because I never had my wallet handy as I never carry it around while sailing, so I had to run back for it, although otherwise it worked out. The skipper thus easily side-stepped the touchy burden of directly requesting money from the crew mate. Same with groceries, same with fuel, same with restaurants: total all the fuel or food, then tell the cashier, "We're splitting costs, can you take two cards?"

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Golden Gate bridge

Sailing into port, while looking over the stern at the sunset after sailing under San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge.

In sharing my sea fairing tales, some sailing friends have commented, "He paid you for your travel, right?" No, why? "You helped him with the delivery, so he should have paid all the costs, maybe even paid your food costs, too. You stood watch, so you earned it." Perhaps. Voyaging against the wind will always add more expensive fuel costs, which I knew in advance. I'm OK with how it worked out, and the captain had compliments for me especially at the end of the trip, so he was OK with how it worked out too. He bought me lunch at one port for example, so it wasn't completely business. For the cost of a couple hundred bucks, I traveled up the coast, went on a ten day adventure to a coastline I had not yet visited, and traveled back. There are no set rules about splitting costs on a voyage, perhaps few conventions either. Next time I will ask up front if the skipper is willing to pay for my travel costs to and from the boat, or willing to split those as well. For those into frugal voyaging, spending a couple hundred bucks for a trip lasting a week and a half might seem excessive, as it should. For the normal land lubber, who pays the same captain $800 for a single day trip around and inside the San Francisco Bay, or $1,000 for a one-way cruise to the islands which does not include the cost of the commercial ferry ride back, my ten day adventure must seem like the deal of a lifetime.

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