Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Crew on board

When we have crew for a crossing I generally send out odd emails on things to think about in preparation for the crossing. It is not meant to be a rigid list, more things to think about. The real preparation is when shipmates are on board and I show them where things are, how all the sailing stuff is rigged on passage, and the few rules we have. Things like no-one goes forward of the cockpit at night without a safety harness. Everyone, but everyone on board cooks. The cook doesn't wash up. The person coming off watch at night makes the new watch a cup of tea or coffee. When we arrive the skipper (me) is responsible for a slap-up meal with lots of alcohol.


A list for new crew


Finding your way around a boat


Watch keeping


Crew on board (1)



A list off the top of my head


1.   If you are taking any prescription drugs then make sure you have an adequate supply not just for the Atlantic crossing but for the Caribbean as well. Also find out the generic name of any drugs and if possible the alternative brand names.


2.   If you wear prescription glasses or contact lenses take a couple of spares along. If like me your eyesight in the middle years requires reading glasses take at least two pairs of those also and preferably three. I leave separate pairs of reading glasses in the places Iím going to need them: at the chart table, in the saloon, and a backup stowed securely in a locker.


3.   Iíd suggest taking multi-vitamins with you for the duration of the crossing, not that we donít eat well but its good to keep your vitamin intake up. We also have 1000gm Vitamin C on board just to keep the levels up. It didnít seem to do Linus Pauling any harm and although I doubt his claims for it combating every bodily evil under the sun, I have an affection for the author of the main chemistry text I used at university.


4.   Health insurance. Proper health insurance for the crossing costs a fair old bit. If you look on the internet there are good worldwide travel insurance deals going for 3 months away from home and if you enquire some of them include sailing. Given that if anything medical does go wrong in the middle of the Atlantic we need to be self sufficient until help comes along in the shape of a friendly ship responding to a PAN PAN call, then the issue of health insurance seems to be of little consequence. As far as I know the ship responding wonít ask for our insurance details before evacuating a casualty Ė at least not yet.


5.   We carry a very full medicine chest on board with all the usual bandages and potions and lotions as well as a good stock of antibiotics (the most commonly used item apart from plasters for cuts and grazes) and some other specialist things like a roll of plaster that sets hard when used for broken bones, a tooth repair kit, high strength pain-killers (not morphine!), etc.


6.   Get some polarised sun glasses for eye protection. These must be polarised not UV protecting, glare reducing blah blah blah blurb used to sell other types. I donít buy sun glasses that have a fashion label on them so I avoid the distress associated with standing on them/sitting on them/losing them which happens with monotonous regularity. Its even worse if someone else sits on your expensive fashion item mid-ocean.


7.   Bring some good books Ė something you have been meaning to read for a long time, or re-read, and something that is a bit challenging. That means no Agatha Christie, Jackie Collins, Dick Francis or Wilbur Smith.


8.   We have CDís on board and speakers in the cockpit, but that obviously disturbs the off-watch crew at night. Iím thinking of getting a MP3 player for the boat so give me a clue to the sort of music you like. We are pretty catholic in our tastes, everything from classical, modern jazz, a lot of world music from fado to modern African and other stuff as well so we can always stick stuff on from any CDís on the boat that you like. Iím thinking of some audio books maybe as well. Any suggestions?


9.   I know we are going to be in the Tropics, but you will still need full wet weather gear. It can be chilly, especially at night, getting down to the Canaries and there is always the possibility of some inclement weather on the way. On the Atlantic crossing some of the squalls can dump a lot of rain on you and in the wind the chill factor, apart from keeping dry, is significant.


10.   Donít give your loved (and unloved) ones any arrival dates that are tight. Add at least one week to the longest expected crossing time. So the time for the Canaries to the Cape Verdes should be about a week. Tell them two weeks. And likewise the crossing from the Cape Verdes to Antigua should be around 2Ĺ  weeks. Tell them 4 weeks. That way they wonít get anxious if we take longer than expected and will be delighted when you phone earlier than anticipated.



There will be more to follow.

RJH 2007




Crew on board (2)



Finding your way around a boat

 Crew on board need to be left to their own devices to get the feel of a boat. When new crew comes on board (which doesnít happen often) they will often be a bit hyper about wanting to know where everything is, how does that work, hmmm slab reefing eh? I always tell them to go below, unpack and stow, come and have a cuppa, and relax a bit. Rushing around on a boat is a recipe for forgetting nearly everything and likely the chance of an accident as they stumble around. Itís an act of seduction, getting to know my girl, and she doesnít like to be rushed.

Once settled I tell them to go and wander around deck on their own. Just get the feel of where things are and what itís like to wander around the deck. Too many accidents happen because someone hasnít got the feel for the deck, for what falls to hand and what doesnít, and where the winch handle, the reefing lines, the spinnaker pole, and the anchor winch are, how the jackstays run and where it is going to be difficult to go forward when clipped on, Ö where there is a secure spot to just sit on deck in calm weather. This all takes time and should not be rushed over. And itís a time to look at things without asking questions.

Then we do questions. Once the questions have been answered itís time for me to fill in any gaps. Which halyard is which. What the other lines, the topping lift, the outhaul, downhaul, cunningham line. What our usual procedure is for reefing the main. What hand signals we use. I hate people who shout instructions on boats and there is no need if everyone understands what is needed and what the hand signals mean. What our normal procedure is for rigging the spinnaker pole. What hatches are open in moderate weather and what hatches are kept permanently closed on passage. A lot of this stuff is explaining the particular eccentricities of the boat. What halyard leads tend to get caught on what. Where the tails of halyards and other lines go and in boisterous weather which of them can get caught up.

Then we do the usual safety stuff. The liferaft and how to launch it. Liferings. Danbuoy (actually we carry personal inflatable ones), harness points. How the spare jerrycans of water are tied on. I donít have too many rules on board and I donít require crew to wear a lifejacket and harness in the cockpit, even when itís blowing some. When on passage I only require crew to wear and harness and be clipped on when wind and sea have got up some and at night. This may come across as a bit sloppy in our health and safety conscious times, but being continually kitted up in a lifejacket-harness combo is just not necessary all the time and the majority of cruisers do not do it. It can also affect your feel for the boat, the roll and pitch of a hull underway, and sure footing and a feeling for the movement of a boat underway is in itself a precaution. You canít fight the movement of a boat and like a boxer you must roll with it.

And then there is all the other stuff. Starting the engine. Gear and throttle controls. Stopping the engine. Where the water and fuel fillers are and donít ever, ever confuse them. Where the secure places are to put a mug. What to hold onto when you get up from the cockpit seat and what not. How mooring lines are run. All the nice stuff about living on board a boat above decks.

And then we do all the complicated down below stuff.

More later. RJH 2007

Crew on board 3

Keeping Watch

We run a three hours on, three hours off watch system whether there is the two of us or more. Iíve tried four hours and thatís too long for one person to stay awake and happy. Two hours is too short for the person off-watch to get a decent kip. We run just one person on watch, although should there be problems, then the other person is roused out of bed. The watches only run at night from

2100 to 2400                            

2400 to 0300

0300 to 0600

0600 to 0900.

With just me and Lu on board I take the first and third watches only because we have sort of fallen into that routine. In the day we operate a loose cover so that if one of us feels a bit tired then off they go for a kip. It all works well because we are both fair about time off in the day.

With three crew we run the same watch system, but instead of that meagre three hours sleep, you get a wonderful six hours and every 3rd day one of us gets a miraculous nine hours off-watch should we need it. With the loose cover during the day we have only ever had one person who took more than his fair share of time off in the day. Neither of us mentioned it. From small beginnings a minor criticism can rumble about and become a major problem and you donít need that in the middle of the ocean. Besides me and Lu were both pretty happy getting at least six hours sleep a night.

On long passages (over a week) we try to take one other person along. Two more for a total of four is fine as long as everyone gets on OK although there is a higher chance of conflict the more people you have along. And it can happen.

Recently a friend was bringing a boat back for me with two other friends. All of them had life-long friendships. Before they left I thought I ought to at least mention the fact that while they were good friends who had known each other for a long time, they had never spent three weeks together cooped  up on a small boat without an escape route. ĎNo problemí, I was assured, Ďwe are all really good mates and we look after each other Ö no probs at allí. Still I persevered and again they all gave that look which said ĎÖdonít patronise us/we know what we are doingí. I figured I had tried and left it at that. Well they didnít kill each other or inflict horrible injuries on one another. None of them went bonkers and jumped over the side as happened in the recent 2006 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. But there were definite tensions on board and some muttering about offloading crew, never talking to one or other again, and mean-minded and mean-spirited behaviour. It happens and keeping crew happy on board can mean the difference between a memorable passage and one you never want to do again.

There are things that take on a quite disproportionate sense of importance on passage.

One is the goody bag on night watches where we keep a selection of biscuits, chocolate and other munchies. Iím not a chocolate person generally (except maybe for fine dark chocolate truffles made by some renowned Belgian chocolatier), but on passage Iím as rabid as anyone else for a Mars bar or a Twix. Once on my own and hove-to in a gale in the SE Mediterranean (on passage from Port Said to Turkey), I managed to consume a whole catering box of some Egyptian coconut flavoured chocolate bars that I would normally never touch.

The midday 24 hour run entry is another. Apart from the fact that you want to know what the run was, we also run a competition with an outstanding prize. At midday everyone submits there guestimate of the next 24 hour run which goes into the special competition book. Next midday whoever is closest gets (with three crew on board) 3 points, the next closest 2 points, and the last 1 point. With two or four crew then the points awarded are calculated proportionately. The competition is intense as the prize for the winner is a meal and wine in the restaurant of choice when we arrive. The two losers pay!

Other competitions run as well. Extra chocolate for the first person to spot a ship. Several rounds of drinks when we arrive for the first person to spot another yacht.

On most passages there will be an informal radio net, usually with an early evening roll-call, and this is a bit like a soap that you canít bear to miss a bit of. How are other yachts in the net doing. Is anyone in trouble? What does the weather hold for us. On one crossing Lu had a small informal net going where the jokes (and they were all girls) got riper and riper. I did mention that on that frequency they were broadcasting over thousands of miles and in all likelihood the number of listeners was increasing every evening.

 RJH More later


Create a Free Website