Yesterday, we got a wild ride out on the Long Island Sound. The weather forecast had predicted some stiff winds blowing at 20 knots but the sound was much angrier that day. The water seemed calm enough as we headed down wind out of the harbor then just as we went to jibe, the wind picked up. A strong gust threw the main sail across so hard it tore off of the mast. That was the end of our racing day, but we hoisted the genoa and continued on for a pleasure sail. Winds were blowing at 36 knots and even with only one sail, we were booking it at 6.5 knots. While the salty waves flew off our bow, some nice local craft brews were enjoyed without a worry. As much as I felt for our skipper and the damage incurred to his mainsail, this wasn’t my yacht. I was just the crew.
If you are trying to become financially independent, buying a large boat is probably one of the worst ideas. They are money pits and I would never recommend buying one. On the other hand, there is something alluring about sailing. Nothing can compare to being on a sleek vessel that is healed over and cruising through the waves all under the raw power of a strong wind: the satisfaction that you can travel for miles without burning an ounce of fuel, the lack of motor noise allowing you to really experience the howling wind and crashing waves. Through sailing, you can really learn to read the winds, currents, tides, and become one with the sea. While a 30 ft yacht is not in my inventory, it did not have to be – every skipper needs a crew.
A large sailboat cannot be manned by a single person efficiently, so more often than not, skippers are looking for crew. I met my skipper, Captain Arrrggghhh, through a sailing club at work. One venturing sailor who had sold his boat started the club to help bring together skippers with crew. He would find captains and match them up with crew of varying experience levels for trips where several boats would sail to a destination then raft up for a cookout. Most captains are more than happy to have newbies on board and teach them how to sail. In return, you simply become their swabbie. There is no democracy at sea, when the captain barks out an order, it is your job to do their bidding. It’s not so bad though – usually the orders involve fetching beers or tightening sails. In return, you get free passage and can enjoy sailing at its finest.
There are several ways to find a captain who is looking for crew. Local sailing clubhouses can be a good spot. Some have social memberships so you can enjoy the club and participate in parties and events where captains are always looking for crew. Another good place is through a sailing club at your work or school. I have even seen ads online in places like Craigslist or boating classifieds where captains are seeking crew. Often times, the skippers are looking to race on a regular weekly basis. In this case, they may be willing to bring on new crew so long as you can remain dedicated to helping them race through a season. As you gain more experience and meet more sailors, it becomes very easy to find sailing opportunities.
If you do manage to get on a boat, here are a few guidelines you should probably follow to be a good swabbie. First, it’s not your boat, but you should still respect it like it is. Wear boat friendly shoes with white or light colored soles. You do not want to be leaving black scuff marks from you shoes all over you skipper’s boat. Second, be reliable and punctual. Again, it’s not your boat so even if the schedule is not ideal, make it work if you want to go yachting for free. Third, the captain is in charge on the boat, especially when racing. Things can get tense – a good sailor obeys orders and doesn’t get sore about a stiff tongue lashing when they screw up. Lastly, bring some beer or snacks to share. Many skippers (and crew) love their rum and ale.
Sailing conditions can range anywhere from a 36-knot rager, to being stuck in a squall with sideways rain and gusts up to 50 knots, to having no wind and sitting idle. Regardless of the conditions, everyone is there to have fun so don’t be a downer and you will surely be invited back for more adventures!