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Pick your crew with care

Location-location-location and boat-boat-boat may sell a bareboat cruise to potential crewmembers, but expedition organizers also must take into account the human dynamics that can make or break a week of sailing in paradise.

Location-location-location and boat-boat-boat may sell a bareboat cruise to potential crewmembers, but expedition organizers also must take into account the human dynamics that can make or break a week of sailing in paradise.

Crew assessments should be brutally realistic, starting with A, B and C lists of names. Commitments must be assured with an airline reservation, advance funds to cover initial costs, and an agreement that all projected costs will be split equally. And someone has to be responsible for ordering provisions. (Not me, though.)

As a disclaimer, I should state that I am hardly in a position to judge crew selections, although if I were one of the organizers I might be consulted as a courtesy. I cannot cook and, in fact, hate galley work, but fetching cold beverages (read: beer) is not above and beyond a call of duty. (Someone will always say yes to, “Hey, anyone want something while I’m down here?” So I usually wait for someone else to go below.)

Also, I know nothing about engines or electronics, and my diminishing muscle power makes any big-boat gorilla work a feeble joke. In addition, I am a wheel hog under sail but will happily turn over the helm the moment the engine is started. Other than that, I like to think my company is fairly acceptable. I do, however, smoke cigars — but when a complaint is registered I will retreat to the foredeck to blow smoke.

Bareboaters are put in a curious position in which irritating habits and personality quirks are magnified when a half-dozen or so folks camp out for a week in a yacht with far less volume than an efficiency apartment. It takes only one sourpuss to spread a disrupting, contagious plague that can wreak social havoc on board. In addition, living accommodations at sea are often in a state of motion. Monohulls rolling and bouncing can jerk you off balance and toss you about from one hard surface to another. Returning home with bumps and bruises is sometimes part of the experience.

So don’t confuse bareboating with a rental cottage by the sea, and don’t worry about the weather or the yacht. There is little you can do about either. What you see is what you get.

On a bareboat cruise earlier this year from Sunsail’s Tortola base in the British Virgin Islands, we accepted a novice boater who accidentally dismantled his cabin door soon after he stepped aboard our Beneteau 473. He wasn’t used to dealing with a door hanging on drop hinges, which he thought was “stuck.” It could be easily removed, and that’s what he managed to do, although he didn’t understand how he did it. Departing the dock, he and others were asked to fend off, but no one told him what that meant. So he pushed hard off a piling when he should have fended off lightly.

This fellow also is a heavy smoker who consistently flipped his butts into the wind, thus littering the cockpit sole. He consumed a lot of scotch, too, and when he did the dirty jokes poured out in a thick Carolina drawl along with amusing impromptu rhyming rap reviews of the day’s activities.

Another crewmember insisted on wearing the same loud Hawaiian shirt day after day, and greeting each person every morning with, “Another day in paradise.” If you’re going to wear the same outfit day after day, make it an all-white ensemble. And please be quiet in the morning.

Here are some random thoughts to keep in mind when booking a bareboat charter.

• Cabin assignments can be tricky. (I like the forward cabin because of better ventilation.) Some may volunteer to bunk in the cockpit, which isn’t as bad as it sounds with a Bimini overhead.

• A temperamental cook — especially after preparing dinner for a crowd, and serving it, and doing the dishes — must be bombarded with compliments and multiple wine toasts for the effort. Otherwise, there may be a snit, followed by a silent, sulking trip to the foredeck. Even worse, the offended one may refuse to cook and wash or serve the ungrateful ones again.

• Two or more head compartments are great because some people are more fastidious than others. Lysol spray and a roll of paper towels should be placed in each sink to get the message across about using them frequently. And each crewmember should be given private, one-on-one instructions on pumping the head and what not to put into it.

• There should be a precruise agreement about sailing for the pure sake of sailing, even if it means a lot of tacking and going “sideways” and getting nowhere fast. One can tolerate this up to a point before the engine should be started in order to make landfall somewhere before dark.

• Dinghying ashore to party at beach bars must be done in a group, with the kill toggle for the outboard held by a designated skipper. Otherwise, it could be an endless search for the inflatable. During our BVI cruise the guy in the Hawaiian shirt had too much to drink one night and demanded the dinghy. The skipper said no, and a little hissy followed. The next morning, this hungover crewmember (still wearing that same awful shirt) didn’t make his daily morning observation about another day in paradise.

• Snoring. I may be guilty of this, but my snoring doesn’t bother me unless it’s such a loud outburst it jolts me awake. But if this human rumbling is objectionable, bring along ear plugs that will positively drown out the cacophony. Sound travels inside a boat.

• There should be no rush to get anywhere and no schedule to keep. Take a vote. Mornings can be quite enjoyable just hanging around the boat and going nowhere. Also, short naps are rejuvenating.

• Fishing and sailing don’t mix because if the angler hooks something while under sail you must round up into the wind to stop the boat so he or she can bring in the grand trophy and pose for photographs.

• When the skipper gives an order or makes a polite request for something operational to be done, it must be carried out immediately, not later or when the crew gets around to it.

• Water must be used conservatively. It isn’t free in the islands. The shower must not be kept running. Two women on a long-ago Chesapeake Bay cruise I organized shampooed their hair twice a day and exhausted the water supply in 48 hours. “Hey, who turned off the water?” said one with a head full of shampoo.

• There is always a hero-for-a-day on a cruise — someone who comes through in a pinch. The BVI guy in the Hawaiian shirt was applauded when he worked on the outboard and got it started, though the honor was rescinded when he couldn’t keep it running.

Another episode involving this fellow, an avid angler, occurred when he laid out all of his tackle in the cockpit, forming a tangle of rods, lines and boxes of lures. He had wanted to buy live bait to keep in our beer cooler, but that was rejected. He caught no trophy fish but did manage to find a 3-foot-long rubber shark floating around, and immediately hoisted it up to the spreaders, as if to signal a catch-and-release game fish. We all laughed at that.

On the last day, trolling under power while heading back to the marina, he managed to land a big prize, our 47-foot sailboat, when his line wrapped around the keel. He strolled around the deck, pulling and tugging with a worried, puzzled look on his face until the skipper finally said, “We’re approaching the marina. Please cut the line. This could go on forever.”

This time he promptly obeyed the order. The next morning — going-home day — he was back to normal. “Our last day in paradise,” he noted all around as he unloaded his pile of gear from the boat. He was still wearing that dreadful shirt.

The big test was: Would this crew assemble together again on land as friends in a happy reunion? You bet. Our skipper has invited us to visit him in Oak Island, N.C., and take us out fishing in his Grady-White. It may sound peculiar, but I hope the guy in the Hawaiian shirt makes an appearance … in that Hawaiian shirt.