Brace your selves. This is a long un.
Disclaimer: I'm prepared for your criticisms but I beg, be fair-minded and do not engage in ridicule, I will not abide it.
Alright, so there seems to be a great deal of interest, and I will try to respond to all of the comments posted above. First, I want to address the issue of familiarity. I did a shake down cruise
on the same boat to Durban with the skipper, and some issues came up, such as he didn't really know how to handle a code zero/screecher take-downs or rather, preferred to leave it up, in case we needed it later… But I will get to that.
I met the man through someone close to my family
who had done a delivery with him several years back. His perception of the skipper was as one who knows a lot about catamaran
sailing but can be difficult.
I'd like to make another disclaimer now: I have dealt with difficult people my whole career. It is a hazard of the job being a professional cook and executive chef
: our business attracts the rejects who can't function in society at large, much like some skippers (though not all, mind you).
I also knew someone who was familiar with him from sailing in Cape Town
. His opinion was much the same: difficult.
Another disclaimer: I broke my rules and have no one but myself to blame for the bad experience. Had I stuck to my rules, I wouldn't have been put in this situation.
So all this to say, that before Durban, I didn't know him at all, save by reputation: good cat sailor, but could be an a-hole. By the end of Durban I a knew him quite well. Reputation was verified. But, as I was stuck for a way home to Canada
, and I was broke because I had a subtenant not pay two months of rent. While every delivery I knew of was heading East and South, this was the only one I knew of going West and North. In fact, several people told me "good luck finding a delivery in June or July"
As for a general account of what made this man a nightmare:
First off, he didn't give a proper safety
brief, nor discuss what to do if we took on water
, had a fire, or crew over board. Yet he told the owner/builder, when asked a direct question, "Did you give a safety
brief?" that he had. He only had small scale charts
, using only the plotter (with a limited understanding of even how to use the auto-pilot functions), and his sea maps on his laptop
He never gave clear instructions, but did insist we wake him before doing anything, until he 'felt confident' in our abilities. Suffice it to say, it took several thousand miles to get a clear understanding of what the guy expected, as expectations changed daily. It seemed as if he wanted experts but not pay them, despite accepting us novices on as crew and a nominal first mate (who's opinion he ignored because he "didn't know anything").
He was passive aggressive. One night when I woke him, concerned about shark nets on our course, and a dropping wind
. He suggested that maybe I like waking him for no reason because they had removed the shark nets. How on earth should I know that when they are on the chart, he didn't discuss our course at all, and I'm supposed to be keeping the yacht safe? I see shark nets on the chart, I'm concerned.
He was a screamer. I understand raising voices over wind
, but this was screaming. Screaming when we didn't do something, screaming when we did do something. Screaming when we didn't understand him. Screaming when asked to repeat himself.
He was kinda lazy: sail changes were slow in coming despite the conditions quickly deteriorating, or half-done (left up, furled 'just in case'). I will mention two:
In the first episode, we were broad-reaching down the coast towards Durban, ahead of a massive cold front that nailed Cape Town
. We had long ago furled the screecher, and rolled out the genoa
(we made Durban in 6 days, never raising the main once). The other crew, a young man who had done several crossings with his parents on a boat built by the same builder
, told me of a few experiences he had with his dad on their cat where they left the screecher up and it partly unfurled about a third of the way down. In one of those situations, his dad was lifted up into the air and dropped right on top of his brother from about 4m in the air.
At the time, we had only 9 knots of AWS coming at us from the starboard quarter, and we were making a good 6 knots average with al the surfing in the swell. I was on watch. As I was first mate, I told the skipper that I thought we ought to take the screecher down given our expectation of some big winds later, relating the crew's story. His exact words, "It will be fine. We're going downwind."
Deferring to the voice of experience (400,000 nm), I left it at that. Not half an hour later, the sail was cracking and flogging wildly in the now 25 knots of AWS. He didn't turn us downwind to blanket the sail behind the genoa
; he didn't secure the foot with a safety line to help haul in the furling gear
; we had to use brute strength to haul the flailing sail down. My crewmate was yelled at for losing his grip on the sail as it bucked like a wild bull. We managed to get it down, but I nearly tore a muscle in my arm pulling with every ounce of strength, using every gram of my 90kg. I didn't say a word, save to try to defuse the situation.
That is until Durban, when I was cussed out for having a bowline spill. Now, the sheet was brand new, slick and I hadn't put enough tension on the locking part of the knot
so as I pulled down on the line, it just slipped right out of the clew as we tried to refurl the screecher. Not really an excuse, I should have tied the knot
better, but I guess I'm used to old salty, rough lines, not smooth shiny ones that feel like satin.
I seriously thought about cutting my losses then, but I really wanted to think that things would get better. I spoke to a good friend who works in the sailing school
business who regularly signs people on to deliveries just like mine and she said that they are all the same, and advised me to go with my gut. My gut said, give it one more shot, be more assertive, and see what happens.
The Second: We got back to Cape Town, and this time, we had another screecher incident because he kept changing his plan, without looking into the conditions, which were changing. We expected a 180 degree shift from a North Easter to a South Wester, but we unsure when it was going to happen. He had originally planned, to drop the screecher when the wind got up to 16 knots AWS on the starboard beam. When that happened, he then said, wake me when it's 20. It got to twenty in about 10 minutes. Well, watch was changing, and the junior crew was coming on. Wind was dying to nothing now, which, judging by the GIANT ugly black cloud bearing down on us, suggested to me that it was going to get ugly. I recall
saying to the crew, "That cloud looks ugly." We went to the skipper, wake me when it shifts completely. We sat for maybe 5 minutes, the screecher collapsed, gybed itself, and wham! 25 knots on the nose, gusting 35. We had nearly ground to a halt in the light wind, barely having steerage. We managed to get the screecher furled after peeling trying to peel it off the back of the genoa. But there wasn't enough tension on the leach and the top of the sail didn't furl properly, catching the wind and flogging like mad. By now it was pouring, the sea was lumpy as hell, and the wind was screaming in our ears. We set up to take the sail down, I being the heaviest, had the main body in hand, ready to give it my all, as this is what the skipper told me to do with every drop, while the crew was trying to drag in the furling gear
. The skipper was on the halyard
I pulled, and I pulled. The crew also pulled and pulled. But it was impossible. Somehow, the furling gear, likely pulled in by the furling line and sheets
, got pulled overboard
, and into the water. The crew and I had been pulling down on the sail with no success because the amount of sail that had opened was significant enough to act like a kite. Again, a bucking bull comes to mind. The sheets
had got wrapped around him in all the flailing of the sail, and as it started to go over, he was dragged toward the edge of the trampoline. I let go of the sail and immediately tried to grab onto him, belt, coat, jeans, anything. I was the only one wearing a PFD
by the way. I got him untangled and we went back to the sail. By this time, the skipper had finally blown the halyard
, which let the wind out of the sail and I was agile to pull the sail down and in, bunching it up under me, my hands barely able to close and get a grip on the slippery sail cloth. My fingertips wouldn't touch together!
Why didn't I get off in Cape Town? I wasn't comfortable with the way things were going, but I wasn't being treated like a dog as much as I was on the way up. So, there was improvement on that front. But again, I broke my rule
: I was desperate. Nothing else was coming up, I was broke, and couldn't afford the $1100 to fly home. I was desperate for the experience. I blame myself for this as much as him, largely for my failure to speak up and to let it get to that point.
to Barbados was more prudently sailed. His navigation
is bang on. As this was his 6th or 7th crossing to Annapolis
, he had it done pat. We sailed pretty much between 290 and 310 true the entire way, and had decent wind and weather
, save for about 6 days of very light stuff. He told us his first trip up, he was fighting a counter-current the whole way before talking to a container ship who told him to move offshore
to catch the northerly current
We had decent weather
, only squalls to contend with now. It was for the first time clearly explained to us, nearing 600 miles to Barbados, how we should deal with the squalls: steer down wind to reduce the apparent wind, then come back up once they had passed. I wondered why it took so long to get this out of him. If I wanted to know anything, I'd have to coax it out, to talk about the angle we were sailing with the sails
we had up, the wind speeds, and our course. Hell, it took him 4000 miles to tell me how to put us back to the way point on the plotter (I have always hand-steered for my 2000 odd miles on my log book, and never used a sophisticated plotter and auto-pilot setup). We never reefed, and until we were close reaching, we had the screecher up for nearly 4 weeks, gybing occasionally. We caned along for the last couple days, at around 8 knots. It was great fun, and getting to dry land was starting to be a relief, especially since the skipper ran out of rum
(3x750ml) and wine (15L) about a week to go. He was starting to get antsy.
When I asked him about Barbados, he said he'd never been there (0_o) He had the electronic charts
but by his own admission they weren't up to date. But he seemed to know a lot about out destination
at Port St. Charles. Evidently a new marina was built. He expected nice berths, electricity, showers, laundry
, and amenities. When we got there, it was private, and the only transient berths were occupied by large motor
yachts, and local charter
The next day, after we anchored in sand (a huge inconvenience to the skipper because he had to pick our way between the coral), when he decided to motor
back down to Bridgetown near the yacht clubs, I tried to do a little research
to find out where they were and contact information. He told me to forget that and clean the galley
. Later when we got to Carlisle Bay, and anchored, the crew and I went on recon to find the club or information. Skipper told us where the club was. After our recon, we found out where the club was actually located, and it wasn't where the skipper said. in fact it was opposite ends of the beach to his presumed location. The guy was under-prepared, over confident, and knew enough to be dangerous. He kept called the Barbados flag the Grenadine's flag. But he never made mistakes
. Maybe this is quibbling, but I think it's symptomatic of complacence and over-confidence. I would never dream of taking a boat that didn't belong to me into a port I was unfamiliar with, knowing only bare bones details about anchorages
. And yes, I've delivered one yacht in my young sailing career, from Langebaan to Simon's Town, around the Cape of Good Hope.
His concern for the marine environment
was also rather appalling. He wanted me to throw the tetra pack milk boxes over board, despite them being largely aluminum
and plastic. He also told me that because he had to pay to have the plastic from the meat packaging destroyed once he reached the States, he would cut it into small pieces and throw it overboard
because, "it breaks up into small pieces and disappears". When I explained it didn't and mentioned the great big garbage patch in the Pacific, he said got onto a big conspiracy theory that it's just scientists making themselves money
and look 'big', then started to debunk 'global warming' as a hoax because one study said it wasn't real. When he changed the oil
in the engines, while at anchor
in Barbados, he directed the crew to pour some of the oily water overboard.
He was also a bit malicious. He'd backhandedly call me fat and stupid. He treated the junior crew like a dog, yelling at him for making simple errors from lack of experience. This man never educated us and when we didn't do something right, he would bark at us. He'd chastise my english
as incomprehensible, despite having the thickest French accent I've ever heard, despite living in an english
country for 30 years. I could barely understand him. I had to repeat myself in various ways to get him to understand me. When we didn't understand that he wanted us to pull the green furling line, and not the green sheet, both referred to interchangeably as the green rope
, we would get shouted at. Context became very imported to avoid shouting. Once, the crew was told to "pull the blue rope
. No the blue rope in the boat. No the other blue rope." What he was in fact asking the crew to do was to pull the white with blue fleck line we had been using to raise the stern of the tender
out of the water at night, not the solid blue line that raised and lowered the tender
on the davits
. But of course, the crew was an 'idiot'.
The crew was ready to pack it in after the skipper chastised him for not asking where something was when he didn't know. When in actually fact, the crew told the skipper twice he didn't know where the 'trip switch' for the windlass
was, after the breaker blew trying to raise anchor
. He and I were pretty close, having done our STCW training together in Cape Town. We worked well together, and it was by chance we ended up on the same delivery. He is an invariably positive, and glass half-full kind of guy. He was fed up. If he could afford the ticket, he told me, he was leaving. Later he changed his mind, once he had calmed down. But then the skipper and I had a disagreement about respect.
We had rocked up at the Boat Yard. I needed to talk to my family
and had to get back to the boat for my headphones. We were all seated at the same table and had been talking about it. The skipper watched us get up, and walk all the way to the dinghy
. When I realized I had forgotten the kill cord, i went back. It was sitting on the table, the skipper looked at me with a big ****-eating grin, arms crossed, teetering a little in his seat. This is where I brought up the fact that I nicer person would have mentioned something and not let us charge off. He said that it was a matter of opinion. I disagreed an grabbed the cord and went back to the yacht.
Now this is where it gets dark. Literally. I don't remember much of the actually argument because after that he just defended into personal attacks, saying I was stupid, didn't know anything, was useless. That kind of thing. When I get properly angry, I tend to black out a bit. It has taken me a lifetime to control my temper. I have not been so angry since I was 16. Fuming, tears in my eyes, I was ready to knock his block off.
I won't bore you with what details I remember, despite being told to calm down by the management, or I'd be asked to leave. The skipper challenged me to a fight twice after I asked what he was going to do about my thinking he was dangerous, irresponsible, rude, and petty. He hit me in the back of the head
with his flip flops to get me to react. I had no intention of spending the night in a Bajan police station, so I didn't take the 62-year old up on his offer. I weigh 90-plus kg and while I may bear a little in the way of extra fat on the surface, I'm pretty damn strong, have been in more than a few fist fights in my day, and can hold my own in a grapple, having wrestled in high school
. I walked away, and blew off some steam outside. I decided to then and there leave and told my crewmate I'd pay for what he couldn't afford of his ticket to the States. He couldn't let me do that, so sadly I left him behind.
I'm not sure how much you more experienced types will agree with my position that he was dangerous. Maybe you agree with his calls. Maybe not. I certainly did learn that sometimes, I am overly cautious and agree ultimately with the concept
that sometimes you have to wait and see. But that depends on the latter: seeing. With the two major episodes that might have ended badly, I saw what was happening and made an informed suggestion based on the experiences of others on board. He chose otherwise, and I respected the decision. I may only have a few thousand miles of sailing experience, but I grew up on the ocean, my father being a commercial
fisherman. Things go great right up until they don't. Or in other words, **** goes pear shaped fast at sea. He ignored my experience, didn't discuss options until much much much later in the trip, nor did he even teach us anything, despite going on and on at how he used to teach people how to do his job so he could get promoted, and not have to do that particular work anymore. In the end, I think I did my best to support his decisions.
As for the owner/skipper versus delivery skipper dichotomy, I think that were it an owner/skipper situation I would have been out of there a lot sooner, on the skipper's insistence because early on, in Durban, I asserted my desire to be treated as more of a person who needed teaching than as person who claimed expertise and was shown to be incompetent. If I were more seasoned, I wouldn't have even been there. NB: I've only got a couple thousand mile (pre delivery), only taken up to RYA coastal skipper/offshore theory, and done up to Sail Canada's Advanced cruising courses. It was supposed to be a learning
experience. It was, but not for sailing.
As for the sanctity of the Skipper at sea, it can be seen two ways: 1) skipper is god and is thus inviolable. 2) The skipper is the most experienced person and deserves respect, and support, but is human and at the end of the day, we depend on each other.
I work under the second view. As a professional chef
, and I mean Chef in the literal sense of 'leader' not just a cook, the kitchen is often compared to the navy
or military where the C.O. is god and disagree with him at your peril. But that is a dying view. Yes, the chef/skipper must be respected for his vast experience that got him or her to their position, and earned the trust of the owner (if not the owner themselves), but more and more the chef who derides and berates, the chef that denigrates, and failed to teach his staff is finding it very hard to keep good people. And I also believe that if an order is given, it must be followed, unless it puts someone directly in harm's way or is illegal. I was asked to do things like this, as was the other crew. Disclaimer: sailing has a built-in danger
aspect, as so when I say, "put someone in harm's way" I am taking that into consideration. Putting someone on the foredeck, with a confused sea, pelting rain, strong (though not dangerous winds), to take down a sail that has gone buck-wild with no PFD
or tether is kind of dangerous in my view.
That said, at sea, crew are dependent upon the quick action and decisiveness of their captain and he must be obeyed quickly and exactly. This I do not argue with anyone ever. I must tell you that not ONCE, never did I speak out against the skipper or his choices to do things a certain way. I tried to do exactly as he directed, despite any misgivings, and despite communication problems (heavy French accent, speech-impediment from slight deafness). It is never the time to debate orders when they must be carried out. If I was going to say anything, I waited until we were onshore to voice my opinion, but only when I felt things had come to a head
. Correction, I did call him out for being a martyr for not saying something when I gave him a piece of fish
he thought was "****". He got very annoyed I gave him a tail piece of dorado, which I thought he preferred, only to be told I gave him a "**** piece of fish". I told him he ought to be able to say what he likes and doesn't like to eat, and if he isn't prepared to that's his problem (I was the cook for the trip, voluntarily, so that I could be sure I was getting some vegetables in my meals), and in the kitchen, the cook is king ;-) right?
Now, in my other post about this, I said I would insist upon a few things: regular checks etc, that was done daily, checking that shackles were still moused, kept an eye on chafe, rigging
slack, and that sort of thing. I'd mention it to the skipper, or take care of tightening lose lock nuts or shackle bolts. As for almanacs, I made the terrible assumption that as skipper he'd have them. He did not. But he did use some software
that uses the sailing instruction data such as currents, winds, likelihood of a storm, and it routes you based on the time of year. I think it was called Visual Passage
Planner. So, it was pretty good from that point of view.
Someone mentioned the final destination
, vis a vis Barbados and another of you asked, more or less, why we stopped there, given it wasn't even on the original sailing plan. The ORIGINAL plan was to sail to Annapolis
and St Martin
. As a Canadian, I found myself in the curious position of needing a visa pre-arrival into Brazil
, and my skipper was kind of strange about it. "Maybe we'll stop, maybe we won't." It would cost me about $80 to get, take a week to be approved, and I'd have to spend at least one morning at the consulate in Cape Town. Thing is, the skipper never really gave me much time. As soon as I finished my STCW course, we were leaving for Durban, then when we got back to Durban, we had three days to provision and prep the boat. He was chomping at the bit to catch a weather window. So, we didn't. As for St. Martin, my original crew mate backed out last minute, also someone I knew from sailing in SA. So the replacement was a guy I knew from my STCW, strangely, the brother of the crew we had for the Durban-bound leg of the trip. He came in last minute and had an appropriate US visa for entry, but couldn't get the St-Martin Visa. Long story short: I needed a Brazil visa and couldn't get one, and he needed a St-Martin visa and couldn't get one. So we decided to sail for Barbados, but it wasn't clear until we were about 3 or 4 days at sea. We, the crew and I were under the impression we were just going to rock up in Fortaleza! !!!!!
As for advice for people:
1) Stick to your set of rules, no matter what. Compromise is the name of the game
at sea with everything from boat design to sail configuration, but NOT with safety.
2) Go with your gut. It never ever lies.
3) Listen to the warnings of others. Think about it this way, if you are always calling everyone around them stupid, or an *******, maybe the problem is you. I had consistent advice from others to be careful with this guy.
4) Speak up. As a team of three, or in fact any number at sea, your safety depends on each other. If you don't agree, speak up, and get them to explain, ahead of time why they are doing it a certain way. If you have experience with a particular situation, mention it. Of course, the caveat to that is, be prepared, and think about it early. Shouting at your skipper for nearly killing you when you're still in solving an issue is not productive. Wait until everyone is safe and the task complete, and be as rational as possible. Shouting escalates things quickly.
Now, I am sure he'd have a lot to say about me: problem with authority for one, since I stood up for myself when he was putting me down, or just being racist, or not wanting to get food
poisoning from his keeping the open mayo in the fridge that was only on for a couple hours a day, the jar of mayo he scooped from with the same spoon he used to eat his custard with the night before. Things like that. And, my apprehension to do the obvious when he told me to trim the genoa when it was luffing because he had us so wound up about doing something wrong. But NOT ONCE did he discuss these things with me so that I could be better, or explain why you can get food
poisoning from cross-contaminated mayonnaise jars, or why I was so wound up or dislike racism. And every one of my chef's from my career of 21 years in the restaurant business, before I myself became a chef (read: leader, not just cook; head of the kitchen), managing some of the most successful restaurants in my city, will tell you that I defer to authority, and accept the experience of others where it is applicable.
So if you made it this far, congratulations. I have hopefully written a clear account of my experience, bored relatively few of you, and not sounded like I was writing an apology piece for disgruntled crew. I made several mistakes
of my own making, and accept responsibility for the outcome. But I don't want to come across as a whiner or complainer, I just think that there are standards for a reason. Just because something worked fine the first 8 times, doesn't necessarily mean that the 9th time will be exactly the same. The exact same preparation and concern must be taken into account no matter how often you've crossed the ocean. That one time you didn't bring the EPIRB
is probably the one time your going to need it. So bring on the commentary.