So the good news is that that Never for Ever has been booked for charter pretty steadily this season. The bad news is that if I want to go cruising again in 2017 it will have to wait until October. But what the hell, how cold could it be… ;-)
And, since Leslie is back at work (although ironically it looks like she will be in Minnesota at a conference when I head out), I had to do some recruiting for crew. After some pleading, couple of old friends volunteered. These are guys I have known since high school, but the last time we travelled together was a highjinx-filled attempt to drive to Vancouver for a weekend from southern Alberta. And one of them is the guy who ostensibly taught me to sail, albeit in Lasers and on a lake. The other, as far as I know, isn’t much of a water person.
This will be the first time I have headed out on a cruise with a) someone other than Leslie and b) an all n00b crew, and that has me thinking a bit about what cruising my own boat with new crew entails. My conclusions? Well, for one thing, I have to up my game. I can no longer rely on having a familiar and trusted partner to consult and double-check my decisions. Leslie and I have learned to sail together and, although I technically have more qualifications (at least on paper), she has been there throughout the process, learning at her own pace. The result is our cruising status quo has always been more of a partnership than the traditional hierarchical captain/crew arrangement.
With new crew the balance of responsibility shifts completely onto my shoulders. Back when we did a lot of rock climbing, we once hired climbing guides to take us up the apron on the Squamish Chief and I asked my guide (from the most excellent Squamish Rock Guides) how he could trust us as unknowns to belay him up the mountain. His reply was that he essentially had to be confident that he could climb it solo. Looking ahead, I think that this is going to be true for me as well. Sure it will be nice to have help, but I am going to have to be able to do all the main operations by myself and then really work on my communication skills so I can transmit expectations and be confident that we are all safe. And that starts with a little review of what to expect when you are expecting (to cruise). We have previously done up a Boat Briefing Checklist for passengers, so that takes care of the basics. And the point of this post is to serve as a review of any other factors that I need to consider.
So what are the minimum skills I expect from crewmember? And which ones will I actually need? A lot of my reading has stressed the difference between passengers and crew. I’ve had passengers before and expected them to do very little other than avoid clogging the head. But I have always had crew and I am not sure I am up to sailing solo in any but the most benign conditions. And October in the Salish Sea always has the possibility of some “interesting” weather.
So I started the specific skills I might take for granted. Thinking about it — and going back through my Competent Crew workbook — I concluded there were only a few really important ones that I either need to teach or ensure are done correctly.
And number one skill will be knot tying and line handling. Because if I want to complete the trip with things like fenders, tenders and fingers intact, I am going to have to have faith in how lines are handled and made fast. For me the three main knots are the clove hitch (fenders and tying up to bull rails), the round turn with two half hitches (fenders and general securing of things like the dinghy) and a cleat hitch (self-evidently for attaching things to cleats). In the case of any stressful dockings or moorings, I might not have time to double check everyone’s knots so it would be good to be confident that nothing gets loose right when it shouldn’t.
Flaking and storing lines is also important although I can always find time to do that myself later. I do think it is important to communicate the difference between coiling and properly flaking. When were climbing, a properly stored line often was literally a matter of life and death, but most people tend to be pretty casual about handling “rope.”
In the end, it’s not the actual sailing I worry about because I have been conscientious enough to take the time to learn to do most things solo (although now that I think of it, I haven’t practiced reefing by myself). It’s docking, anchoring and basic seamanship that have always up to now been two person operations.
Ah docking. Is it a skill or a procedure? Leslie and I have a great system and although we can switch up the roles (and often do when it’s straight forward), when conditions are challenging as with a strong current or wind, I man the helm and she takes care of securing us to the dock. With new crew, lines and fenders can be set well in advance so that’s not an issue and we can talk through the steps and let everyone know what to expect before approaching a dock. And I don’t anticipate going into a strange marina, so I should know the general layout of anywhere we are likely to stop. But will my new crew know what to do once we are alongside?
One issue/skill set which we should probably practice before we leave the dock will be dealing with bull rails. Here in the PNW, marinas generally have rails running the length of the docks for boats to tie up to rather than cleats. Most often these consist of a 4×4 rail that is supported 4 inches off the dock every 8 feet or so. When tying up you generally wrap your line around the rail and tie off with a clove hitch. It’s easy to do with practice, but can look a wee bit gordian if you don’t understand what the lines are doing.
If you are called on by the skipper to secure a line quickly (indicted on our boat by the instruction to “take a wrap”), the thing to do is wrap the dock line over the top of the rail, tuck it under the gap and over the top again. That gives you enough friction to stop the boat if necessary but is still easy enough to slacken or cast off again if necessary.
Competent Crew? Competent Captain?
But there’s the rub, how do I ensure my new line handlers know when things are necessary? Some of my most hilarious hijinks on a dock have been when someone secured a line and I lost control of my own boat. Shudder.
Good communication should take care of that but that’s on me. I have been informed that I have a bad habit of mumbling and assuming people can read my mind. In a high-stress docking situation that habit just might be a bit of an issue.
So we will go over the various procedures of docking and undocking, anchoring and weighing anchor, and general boat handling before hand. Doing it out loud should also reinforce it for me and remind me that I can’t assume anything, which I think is the biggest danger I am going to face. Thankfully I’m not proud and have been known to radio ahead and let the marina know just how incompetent we are so we can have plenty of theoretically competent people on dock to help out. If we take things slow and easy and avoid those rare docking situations where “gusto” is called for we (I) should do ok.
Anchoring is another thing I have never attempted solo although I know its theoretically possible. I intend to review the steps, maybe even write down the math and make sure we review each time we approach an anchorage. They say that the most dangerous time in learning any skill is when you have achieved unconscious competency…that’s when you get complacent.
Hopefully there will be wind. It would be nice to get in a couple of good sails and nothing gets people working together like beating into the wind, tacking back and forth. Plenty of repetitive actions and a little excitement to get the adrenaline flowing. I am looking forward to some good times.
Competent Crew 101
Things to review either before we leave the dock or before actually attempting:
- Basic safety orientation (see Briefing Checklist)
- The running rigging
- The sails (roller furling jib and mainsail)
- Knots & line handling
- Line handling dockside
- Points of sail
- Gybing & the boom
- Windlass operation
- MOB 2.0
- VHF & distress signals
- Dinghy & outboard
- Basic chart reading and buoyage
- Tides and tidal rapids
- Basic terminology (port & starboard, etc.)
- Using the engine