5 Lessons in Outfitting a New Boat

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I’ve mentioned before, in a post called The 80% Rule, that buying a new boat is not at all like buying a new car, unless you expect your new car to be delivered with a missing stereo, a broken speedometer and a bumper that falls off as you pull out of the dealership.

The problem is there are so many parties involved in creating the finished product that is your brand-new boat that the quality varies between different components of your vessel, depending on the responsibility assumed by the manufacturer (in our case, Fountaine-Pajot), the broker, the post-factory outfitter and the various companies who provide warranties for the products you’ve selected.

And though you may think that all these parties are working together towards the common goal of providing you with a fully working boat outfitted with all the gadgets and gizmos your heart desires and your wallet can afford, the truth is there are differences in how each of these parties approaches that goal while also catering to their bottom line.

This list of lessons learned comes directly from our experience working with Fountaine-Pajot, our broker, our post-factory outfitter and the various companies who sold us products that we researched and chose for our Helia.

Of course, every new boat owner will have a different tale to tell about their buying experience. So keep in mind that the advice listed here is nowhere near comprehensive and should be taken as a pinch of salt in a mixed stew of experiences. Nevertheless, these are the true stories behind the lessons we’ve learned.

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This is a Helia in the process of being built

Lesson #1: If it can be installed by the factory, get it installed by the factory.

I can’t speak for all yacht manufacturers, but my hunch is that this rule applies to most, if not all boat brands. In our experience, Fountaine-Pajot ranks at the top of the accountability list for any and all products they install. After all, it is their name branded on the side of the boat; not the broker’s name or the outfitter installing your various gadgets.

And let me be the first to say that the overall quality of the work done by Fountaine-Pajot was top-notch. And, more importantly, when things went wrong (as they always do with a boat, whether it’s old or new), FP took care of the repairs, replacements and labor immediately, no matter where we were in the world. For example, we had an issue with a terrible creaking sound in the hull, which seemed to be coming from our port stern when underway. FP identified it as a problem they had seen where the window wasn’t bedded properly in the fiberglass, causing friction, so they immediately over-nighted a new window to Menorca and paid for it to be replaced and reinstalled properly. The service was prompt, thorough and we never touched the bill.

One thing we’ve learned is for big installations like the generator, water-maker and air-conditioners, there is so much crucial wiring involved that it is best to have these items installed by the factory while the hull is in the process of being built, not after the boat is a finished product.

Luckily for us, our generator, water-maker and air-conditioners were installed by Fountaine-Pajot. But the list of installations that ended up being commissioned by our post-factory outfitter was not discussed with us, and if we’d known then what we know now, we would have specified what the factory should install; in short, everything that the factory was offering to install. And we would have done our own research into who should install the items not installed by the factory.

Take the ice-maker, for example. As we ordered our boat from FP, through an FP dealer, it never occurred to us that it wouldn’t be installed by FP. But the job of installing our ice-maker was given to our post-factory outfitter. Which meant that when the ice-maker was delivered broken, installed broken and never worked, there was a lot of shrugging, scratching of heads and not responding to emails requesting a new ice-maker.

We thought about selling the ice-maker for scrap metal or turning it into a spare anchor, but really all we wanted was for our outfitter to take responsibility for a broken item they installed. But, as the post-factory outfitters are at the bottom of the list of parties that maintain accountability for their products, we still don’t have a working ice-maker.

 

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No amount of glaring at this ice-maker is going to bring it to life

If FP had installed an ice-maker that didn’t work, they would have immediately shipped us a new machine and paid for the installation. It would have been a no-hassle request and, most likely, we would have had a working ice-maker within a month.

In the end, after eight months of battling with the outfitters to take responsibility for a faulty product they installed, we eventually gave up and took a refund from our broker for the ice-maker. But I’d trade that cash in any day for a working ice-maker and all the lost hours spent sending emails that resulted in no change in the state of our ice-maker.

And whilst I have no doubt that the first G&Ts we pour over ice from our future working ice-maker will taste all the better for having to wait; lets face it, eight months is a pretty long time to be drinking warm gin.

 

Lesson #2: Buy specialty products from an authorized dealer (or direct from the manufacturer).

Being the fast-walking, coffee-guzzling, appointment-juggling, I’ll-pay-more-if-it-saves-me-time kind of New Yorker that I am, I appreciate a one-stop-shop opportunity when I see one.

By the time we got to La Rochelle, France last summer, I had a growing list of overwhelming jobs on my plate, in addition to the fact that we’d taken on the colossal task of launching, outfitting and stocking Cheeky Monkey for her round-the-world voyage in just over a month. So when the outfitter our broker hired offered to order everything we’d scribbled on our growing list of necessities, we snapped up the chance to hand over the logistical burden.

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Schlepping and organizing is not my idea of fun

And maybe it’s possible that, somewhere out there, at the end of a rainbow, there is a pot of gold and a perfect outfitter who can act as your one-stop shop for every piece of boat equipment you need. In my dreams, this outfitter would save me all the miles spent driving around looking for dealers and the endless phone calls to customs offices to track down packages. In my dreams, everything would be magically delivered to my boat with valid warranties and legit registration papers.

As you might have guessed from the direction this thread is taking, however, that didn’t happen.

And this is where I bring up the sore subject of our autopilot.

(Note: If you ever run into me at the bar and want to see my blood pressure go from zero to sixty in under a second, just mention either the autopilot or the ice-maker. Or, better yet, just buy me a drink and don’t ask about the autopilot.)

I mean, how could we be on a new boat and not have a working autopilot, you ask?

That’s a very good question with a two-part answer:

We are somewhat to blame for our stubborn choice of brand because we decided to go for Garmin based purely on the hell we went through with a Raymarine autopilot on Hideaway, our old boat.

But in hindsight, that is kind of like deciding you could never date another Brit because your last British boyfriend cheated on you. Maybe it wasn’t British men? Maybe it was just that one autopilot?

You get what I mean…and what I mean is, all my research says Raymarine has one of the best cruising autopilots on the market right now, and we ignored all that info because of a bad experience we once had with Raymarine. It was like we’d torched all our ex’s photos and told our friends never to utter the name “Raymarine” in our presence.

But, the fact is, we chose a brand for a reason – albeit a bad one – and we had every right as owners to install whatever brand autopilot we wanted. It’s just unfortunate that we went with Garmin because the outfitter our broker hired to install our Garmin turned out NOT to be an authorized Garmin dealer. In other words, there was an authorized Garmin dealer in La Rochelle, but that wasn’t the company our broker hired – in short, he hired the same outfitter who burned us on the ice-maker. And I’m sure you can imagine how that story ended.

So take this as a cautionary tale and know what happens in this situation: if your broker hires a non-authorized dealer to install your electronics, then any warranty for the installation of that product is null and void. And if your broker fails to take responsibility for that mistake while your outfitter completely and utterly screws up the installation to the point where your autopilot will do nothing but drive like your drunken British ex towards a crash jibe (which is what happens when the wiring is all wrong and the compass is installed on top of the engine), then you are not only left with a mixed metaphor, but you’re stuck with a broken electronic system you paid tens of thousands of dollars for and a bill for repairs which the manufacturer will not cover. How’s that for an expensive lesson?

Which provides a nice segue to the next lesson about the marine industry in general…

 

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It’s so stressful telling this story that I am taking this moment to highlight a major success: buying this bean bag chair

Lesson #3: Expect to spend a lot of time babysitting marine workers…unless you’re okay with random holes being drilled all over your boat.

Remember how I said buying a new boat is nothing like buying a new car? Well, imagine if you brought your brand-new Mercedes into the shop because you wanted to upgrade your stereo to a state-of-the-art Bose system for the sole purpose of rocking out to high-quality tunes on your morning commute to work.

And imagine you assumed – as you do – that the shop guys have read the installation instructions and know where a car stereo goes. But when you show up a week later to pick up your new car, excited to blast the new speakers in your kick-ass stereo, you find the stereo isn’t on the center console, where you expected it to be. Instead, there is a hole in the glove box where the mechanics have randomly shoved the stereo and glued it down with silicone. And you’re standing there with your head in your hands saying, “Why in the hell did you cut a hole in my glove box?!”

Meanwhile, the mechanics are shrugging their shoulders saying, “Well, you never said we couldn’t put the stereo in the glove box. I mean, if you want us to move it, we can…we’ll just tape over the hole and put some vinyl spray on it…no biggie. Or you can pay for a new glove box.”

Which is when your head starts fermenting like an overripe tomato from the blood pressure building up in your neck, and your broker calls an ambulance because he thinks either you’re having a heart attack or, judging from the crazed look in your eye, he might be the one who ends up in the hospital.

This is pretty much what happened to us every day for a month on our brand-new boat in La Rochelle. We would wake up in the morning with our blood pressure really low, thinking “Today, we will manage things better and we will preempt the stupid places people might cut holes in our hull.”

And every day, we discovered new ways to define “stupid.”

Because here’s the thing — we were physically on our boat, available for consultation every single day, and any time we turned our backs, we’d discover another hole being drilled where it didn’t belong, in a completely different spot from where an installation was meant to happen. If I had a dollar for every time I heard Ryan scream over the din of power tools, “What are you doing? That doesn’t go there!” we might have enough money to pay for a new autopilot.

And while you have very little ability to influence the work force at a boat factory like Fountaine-Pajot, you should be able to control any post-factory work that is being done on your boat once it’s left the factory. I know, I know, you have better things to do than to babysit – and these guys are paid professionals, right? So you should just be able to leave the boat and go run all the errands that are piling up on your plate and let them handle the jobs you’ve given them, right?

Wrong. You hope that the guys working on your boat are 100% professional and none of them are high school kids who just learned how to wire an autopilot by watching a YouTube video, ignoring all the instructions that essentially say “DON’T INSTALL THE COMPASS NEAR A BIG HUNK OF METAL…AND, YES, THE ENGINE IS A BIG HUNK OF METAL”  But our experience tells us that you can’t leave your boat when work is going on. And you can’t trust that the workers on your boat know what they’re doing 100% because you don’t know who is the expert and who’s on their first-ever boat job until you’ve spent some time watching them work.

Which leads me to the next lesson we learned long ago from being burned by the marine industry in different parts of the world…

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When Ryan was told the autopilot was working – such false hope in this photo

Lesson #4: Never pay for everything up front and always withhold your last installment until the job is done and you have what you paid for in hand.

We live in a world where we want to trust everyone to do the right thing. But the truth is, life gets in the way, other jobs come up, personal problems arise or, in the worst-case scenario, you’re dealing with an unscrupulous person or company. And when that happens, the only tool you have for negotiating with someone who is failing to finish the work you hired them to do, is money.

When we sailed out of La Rochelle in August 2015, we still owed the outfitter one final payment of $4,000, pending two items that still needed to be resolved – our broken ice-maker and the missing registration papers for our new AB dinghy and Yamaha outboard.

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We were like kids at Christmas when our new dinghy arrived

After weeks of pestering the outfitter for the official registration papers, he eventually responded that he didn’t have them and said, briefly, “You don’t need them.”

Which, of course, is ridiculous. What does he mean, we don’t need proof of ownership for a brand-new dinghy and motor we’ll be driving through harbors all over the world? If we ever bring our boat to the U.S., we will be required to register Bananas, our dinghy, with the DMV. And we can’t do this without official registration papers.

A back and forth ensued with the outfitter for months over this issue, frustrating us to no end, so that by the time we got to Menorca, we decided to visit the Yamaha dealer in Mahon to ask what paperwork they provide to customers when they buy a new dinghy or outboard. The Yamaha dealer graciously showed us the official registration papers, so we sent copies to the outfitter, demanding we get the same for our dinghy and outboard.

This is where the story takes a strange turn. After weeks of saying he didn’t have our registration papers, eventually we received email attachments of scanned documents that looked similar to the registration copies we’d sent them as an example. So we said, “Great! Send us the originals.”

To which the outfitter refused. He would only offer us his newly “found” scans, but not the originals, even though we were clear that we wouldn’t be able to register the dinghy with a scan of the document and that we now had serious concerns about how these “copies” suddenly materialized.

So again, Ryan wrote back insisting we get the correct, original paperwork. To which the outfitter replied he would do nothing more until we paid him the last $4,000 we owed for outstanding work.

As far as we could work out, the fact that the reason kept changing for why these registration papers couldn’t be produced could only mean one of two things:

1) Our outfitter accidentally scribbled his Swiss bank account numbers on the back of our registration papers, and so he worried if he handed over our papers, we’d steal his entire fortune.

Or…

2) The real registration papers never existed.

As per Lesson #2, if we’d gone to an AB or Yamaha dealer for our outboard and dinghy, we would have found ourselves in this situation.

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Seriously, this is our dream dinghy – 25 HP!

In the end, the $4,000 we withheld was the only reason, after eight months, that we got our registration papers in hand. But even the $4,000 wasn’t motivation enough for the outfitter to do the right thing on his own. It took our broker’s involvement to track down the paperwork from AB and Yamaha and, once that was done, we transferred the money we owed. But not a second sooner.

What we didn’t get to withhold, however, was compensation for the lost hours spent badgering our broker and outfitter for eight months to deal with this unreasonable problem.

We also weren’t compensated for the stress of spending our life’s savings on a boat only to get an email like this from our outfitter:

“As you know I am a fighter, I promises you that I shall release nothing…I guess that you didn’t know that I work since many years with the D.O.D. (Division des Operations Douanières). They are very efficient all around the world, so don’t be surprise if, one day, you will have your boat under seizure by the local Customs.”

Yep. That’s the stuff of regrets. When you spend your hard-earned money on a dream and you find yourself being threatened.

 

Lesson #5: Reach out to other boat owners and get reviews on the outfitters who will be doing your post-factory work.

Ryan talked to a number of Helia owners (a big thank-you to Amy and David of Out Chasing Stars) to gain insight into the process of buying a new boat and working with a broker. It helped immensely in areas we knew to look out for, but obviously it didn’t prevent us from making all the mistakes I’ve named in the previous lessons. But the more insight, the better — it will give you a leg up in negotiating with your broker and avoiding some of the mistakes we’ve made in the process of buying our boat.

The truth is we love our boat and wouldn’t trade it for any other boat on the market. But the strife we went through to get the boat we love could have been avoided.

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We may not need an ice-maker, but what I definitely don’t need is this hole

With the myriad forums available on Facebook, Reddit and boating-specific sites like CruisersForum.com, all it takes is one question posted online during your coffee break and a twenty-minute pause before dozens of messages will pour in, answering your questions about the quality of marine work in ports all over the world. And with the overflowing number of sailing blogs on the internet, you’re bound to find a blogger sailing on just the boat you want to buy.

Most likely, your broker won’t be forthcoming about bad customer reviews of your outfitter because he doesn’t want you to have any doubts about buying your new boat from him/her. But you can do your research and contact customers directly for their stories before you make your decision about who should do the work you need on your boat. At the end of the day, it is your hard-earned money, your time and your dream that’s on the line.

We’ve learned the hard way that the realization of a dream can be smooth or torturous, depending on who you work with.

I feel like there’s a public service announcement in all this: Don’t be a Cheeky Monkey. Have your ice and registration papers, too.

sailing-blog-cheeky-monkey-lessons-outfitting-new-boatIf only we knew then what we know now

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone!

I am always happy to answer questions about our buying experience. We are incredibly happy boat owners, even after all the teething problems we’ve had with the post-factory work and we’re very open to helping people have a better buying experience than we had.

You may have seen an earlier version of this post — sorry about that! I had to pull the post for some edits, which took some time as I didn’t want to say anything inaccurate. So I apologize if you’re reading this again.

I also want to say thank-you for reading and returning to this blog time and again to wonder when in the hell I’m planning to get my blog updated to current – soon! I’ve been working hard in my sunny office here in Panama, tapping away on my computer in an effort to get you more stories.

 

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5 Lessons Learned from Managing a Crew

5 lessons in managing a crew sailing blog

When Cheeky Monkey reached the Canary Islands after five days at sea, it was clear the crew needed a stiff drink and some space.

This was our “shakedown,” our test run for the Atlantic crossing with our full crew of six: Meg and Kristi, our friends from the ’13-14 Clipper Round the World Race, Morgan, a French solo sailor we met sailing in the Bahamas, and Xavier, a close friend of Morgan’s who briefly sailed with him in the Caribbean. Our crew didn’t all know each other, as Ryan and I were the only common denominators, but we were excited for them all to get to know each other during our passage to the Canary Islands.

When we hit the fuel dock in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on Kristi’s 29th birthday, we popped open a bottle of champagne not just to celebrate, but to let off some of the steam that had been building over the last five days at sea. For better or for worse, alcohol tends to act as a release valve for pressurized circumstances on a boat; it lubricates the tongue so that all the blocked-up grievances of the last few days and weeks come gushing out, filling the awkward spaces between crew. Which is exactly what happened on our first night out in Las Palmas.

If I ever thought introducing friends from different parts of my life was tricky on land, inviting virtual strangers to live together on a boat for a month as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean had the dramatic weight of launching a reality TV show.

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In the Canary Islands: Ryan, Xavier, Tasha, Meg, Kristi (holding camera), Morgan

I watched as the drinking progressed and crew started to let loose some of the complaints they had about how the last five days at sea went, making it clear we would need to amend some of the rules and schedules Ryan and I had established at the start of this trip.

In our former lives, before we sold everything in 2015, Ryan and I were the bosses of a series of successful schools that we built from a seed of $800 and grew into a multi-million-dollar enterprise that succeeded in large part because of the talented people we’d hired and motivated to turn our educational and entrepreneurial visions into a reality.

And now it suddenly dawned on me that running a boat is very similar to running a company – in essence, someone needs to act as the head to establish the vision, the direction and the short-term goals that lead to the fruition of the big picture, the dream. In the case of a company, that dream might be to expand its operations across the country. Or, in sailing, it might be to cross an ocean, win a race, or circumnavigate the world.

But what if you found yourself in charge of a group of close friends? How do you manage people who aren’t your employees? How do you act as the head of a vision without acting as a “boss” to your friends? These were questions we asked ourselves when we finally got to the Canary Islands because, clearly, there were a few things we screwed up on that passage from Morocco.

It took some experimentation and a little hindsight to work out our successes and our mistakes managing a crew of friends for the first time, but here’s a little insight into what we learned on that first passage…

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Top-of-mast view of Cheeky Monkey in the Canary Islands

1. Crew happiness hinges on crew expectations…

…And it’s your job as Captain to manage those expectations. If you tell your crew they’ll have a private cabin to themselves and you stick them with a roommate when they arrive, they’ll be upset no matter how luxurious the room is you give them. If you tell your crew they may have to sleep in the cockpit and, when they turn up, they have a queen-sized bed to snuggle up in, they’ll naturally be thrilled.

That’s how expectations work – if you are transparent about the cons, people are often pleasantly surprised by the pros.

A few of our crew, having only experienced sailing in the Clipper Race on board 70-foot ocean racing yachts with no comforts to speak of, were thrilled to find themselves on board Cheeky Monkey with queen-sized beds, en suite heads and an espresso machine. They were used to long, 4 to 6-week passages while crammed into a smelly boat full of 20 crew whose personal hygiene depended solely on the regular use of baby wipes.

Being a solo sailor, however, makes it tougher to adjust to a boat full of people. It’s nothing like having an entire boat to yourself, enjoying long watches in solitude and setting your own schedules. Coming on board Cheeky Monkey to find watch schedules were drawn randomly out of a hat and that we banned alcohol consumption during passages was a surprise to some of the crew — this was not the carefree cruise with friends they were expecting. And though Ryan and I like our drink, we have always done dry passages because we don’t feel comfortable drinking at sea in unknown territories, so we never considered this rule would cause issues on board.

So what did we learn from our mistake? We need to be explicit about what the crew can expect in terms of accommodation, jobs and rules on board Cheeky Monkey before they get anywhere near the boat. If our crew have time to mentally prepare for what to expect on board, they’re more likely to be happy with their circumstances when they arrive.

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The girls on Cheeky Monkey are happiest when there’s good WiFi 🙂

2. The skipper is the boss of the boat…

…Which is harder to establish on a boat full of friends rather than paid crew.

On Cheeky Monkey, the boss is Ryan and that’s because it’s our boat, our responsibility and, between me and Ryan, Ryan has the most experience as skipper. Ultimately, everyone should feel responsible for the safety of the boat, the crew and its equipment, but no one feels the weight of responsibility as heavily as the person who owns the boat.

When we set strict parameters for when to reef or drop a sail, it’s because Ryan and I know how much it costs if we damage the sails, the boat or any of our equipment. The Parasailor, for instance, is a $13,000.00 spinnaker. To rip the spinnaker because we didn’t drop it early enough would be a mistake that would tear a hole in our pockets alone, not the pockets of the crew on board.

Even if crew feel they have more than enough sailing experience to do maneuvers on their own, Ryan often insists that he be woken up for any change in direction, sails, etc. It may seem excessive or unnecessary, or even a bit too bossy for our sailing friends on board, but ultimately we are the ones who are responsible for the boat, the equipment and the safety of the crew.

So, in this case, being bossy is an unfortunate necessity.

 5 lessons in managing a crew sailingRyan has the tough job of being a manager to his friends

3. Being too relaxed causes stress.

That sounds like a contradiction, but when it comes to rules and schedules on board a boat, it’s true. When we set out from the Canary Islands, everyone drew their watch schedules out of a hat. If you got the crappy 2 am – 4 am watch, that was life. Drawing out of a hat was the only fair way to distribute the good and bad watches.

When we established the meal schedule on board, however, we weren’t strict at all about who did what and when. We stated that everyone was on their own for breakfast, but lunch would be served between 12 – 1 pm and dinner would be served between 6 – 7 pm. And the rule for clean-up was if you made a meal, you didn’t have to clean up from the meal. And we figured people would just rotate the responsibility of cooking lunch and dinner as they felt appropriate.

It seemed like an easy enough thing to do with six people on board — to share out the cooking — leaving plenty of time for me to read, write and sunbathe.

But what actually happened was that meal times had a kind of halo of stress hovering over them, as I never knew for sure whether I was off the hook or on the hook to cook a meal on any given day. So, as lunch or dinner would approach, I would find myself unable to focus on whatever I was doing because I’d be preoccupied with a kind of internal monologue. “Who’s cooking today? Is it my turn? No, wait, I cooked lunch yesterday, so it’s someone else’s turn. But it’s noon…has anyone decided what to cook? If I made lunch now, then I’m definitely off the hook for dinner. Should I just make lunch now?”

And then, after an hour of having this mental conversation with myself, usually Meg or Kristi would step up to the plate and save us all from having to think about making a meal. Which would make me feel guilty because it seemed like Meg and Kristi were cooking the majority of the meals.

So it wasn’t the cooking that was cutting into my guilt-free alone-time, it was the process of thinking about cooking that was interfering with all the things I’d rather be doing. Not to mention, it didn’t seem like the meal rotation wasn’t being shared out fairly and equally.

We fixed that problem in the last few days of the passage by simply assigning lunch and dinner duties to crew according to a schedule and implementing the rule that whoever was assigned to cook the next meal would do the washing up for the meal before it. It was simple, it worked, and it stopped the pointless conversations in my head for hours each day about whether I should or shouldn’t get up and make a meal for everyone.

My free time returned to its blissful, guilt-free state because I knew exactly when I was on the hook.

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As you can see, it’s a big job to feed 6 people on board Cheeky Monkey

4. Even experienced crew need training.

The first few days of our passage with crew, we pulled Ryan out of the watch rotation and had him be a “roamer.” The idea was that he should be woken up any time there was a question about whether wind speeds were picking up, whether we should reef or change a sail or whether we should be worried about a boat on the horizon.

It also meant Ryan could wake up periodically to check on crew at the helm during night watch to make sure they were following safety procedures (like having a personal AIS clipped onto them) and not falling asleep on their watch. This was as much to instill confidence in the skipper that the crew could handle their responsibilities as it was to make sure the crew got to learn all the maneuvers on board, like sail changes, reefing, tacking, jibing, etc.

Having the skipper be well-rested so he can spend ample time training crew is a crucial process that we go through with any new crew on board and it’s worked well for us so far. As in, we haven’t sunk the boat or lost any crew overboard as of yet. Success!

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The Parasailor is an amazing sail, but it’s not cheap — it requires TLC and crew training

5. Put as many procedures / rules in writing as possible.

There are things we’ve gotten used to on board Cheeky Monkey that we don’t even think about and, therefore, we find it hard to remember what to tell new crew members when they come on board for the first time.

We have a written “departure checklist” in the front cover of our logbook so anyone on board can run through the list and make sure we’ve done all the engine checks and various items needed before we leave port.

We’ve also now written out our safety protocols, in addition to talking our crew through them, and posted them in the galley so crew can refresh their memory on where the EPIRB and fire extinguishers are located and what to do in the event of a man overboard.

One item we consult daily is the reefing chart for our sails, which came with our boat. Having absorbed all the disaster stories about catamarans being dismasted in high winds, I take our reefing chart very seriously and talk it through with the crew so they know how important it is to reef early. Having a written list of apparent wind thresholds just makes it easy to know when to reef without having to think about it too much.

sailing blog 5 lessons in managing a crew

The happy crew of Cheeky Monkey

All in all, our crew shakedown from Morocco to the Canary Islands went well. Despite a few arguments and tears in the bar when we arrived, everyone on board seemed to get along well and understand what their roles on board were.

Our French crew got over the alcohol ban and we allowed them to bring several bottles of Pastis on board for the Atlantic Crossing, and we stocked up on wine and rum, so long as the crew promised not to drink while on watch. Meal responsibilities were mapped out on a rigid schedule so everyone knew when to cook and when to clean, and we decided new watch schedules would be drawn out of a hat every week so that no one got stuck with a bad watch for too long.

The fact is, managing a crew of friends can be tricky because you want to please everyone and yet, as skipper and owner of the boat, your primary responsibility is to keep the boat and the crew safe.

Coming up with the boat rules can be a democratic process, but the final decisions should be based on what the skipper is comfortable allowing based on his/her experiences.

Those decisions may be disliked by paid crew but, ultimately, paid crew do what they’re told. When those decisions are disliked by friends on board, it can make things uncomfortable and more difficult to justify, as disagreements can have an emotional impact among friends.

There’s no easy solution to dealing with disputes on board a boat full of friends but, regardless, the skipper reserves the right to do whatever he/she feels is right. After all, it is his/her boat.

But I can say one thing I’ve learned in all this is, wherever possible, don’t try to take away a Frenchman’s Pastis.Save

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