Julie and Andy Pag wanted crew to share the watches sailing their Lagoon 410 Cushla Na Mara from the Med to the Caribbean. But how do they find the right people?

A man at the helm of the yacht
Finding crew you can trust on long passages isn’t easy, so it pays to take time and care in doing so. Credit: Tor Johnston

Crossing an ocean is a big undertaking, and doing so for the first time with just two people on board makes it even more so which is why many consider finding crew.

My wife Julie and I had been planning to take our catamaran Cushla Na Mara, a Lagoon 410, across the Atlantic for the first time.

After some arduous overnight passages through the Med, we concluded that the Atlantic experience would be less stressful and tiring with people to share the watch cycle.

This is a very different proposition to finding crew for coastal cruising in the UK, however, as it is harder to find friends or family who are ready to drop their plans for long enough to make the crossing, and once you’ve set off, you’re stuck with your crew for the next few weeks.

A catamaran sailing with a red, blue and white sail

Get the right crew, and it can really enhance long passage-making. Credit: James Mitchell

We heard plenty of horror stories.

‘We picked up a couple of novice hitchhikers to help with the Atlantic crossing, and well, the genoa is shredded now.’

‘We didn’t ask for any money, not even food expenses, and in the end she didn’t even buy us a beer.’

‘They were both seasick the whole way, so instead of having the extra help, we had the extra work of looking after them.’

The majority of the stories we heard from couples in the Caribbean who picked up crew for their Atlantic crossings make us realise how lucky we are.

We were lucky, not because we chanced upon great crew, but because we were forewarned how important the process of selecting good crew is.

After a year preparing the boat to have a safe and comfortable passage across the Atlantic, it would have been so frustrating to have the experience marred by interpersonal tensions.

People sitting on a boat laughing

Julie and Andy (right) enjoyed getting to know Noora and Stephen on the crossing. Credit: Andy Pagg

We decided to recruit three sets of crews for our crossing, a pair of people for each leg: Gibraltar-Canaries, Canaries-Cape Verde, and Cape Verde-Barbados.

The idea was that when we got to each destination we’d have the boat to ourselves, and we’d only be committed to living in a confined space with other people for a week or two, rather than a couple of months.

There were no shortages of candidates. The first leg to the Canaries is a popular 600-mile qualifying passage for the Yachtmaster ticket, with cheap flights at both ends.

And everyone wants to be able to say they crossed the Atlantic so there’s demand for that third leg too.

We were lucky to find the right people for the middle leg, who just happened to have time off which coincided with our sailing dates.

I posted an advert on Crewbay and a few Facebook groups. We had a strict set of prerequisites: double vaccinated for Covid, non-smokers, omnivores – to make catering easier, experience of passages and overnight watchkeeping, your own lifejacket and tether.

A catamaran anchored in blue waters

A Lagoon 410 like Andy’s is a popular choice for trade wind sailing and the shallow waters of the Bahamas. Credit: Lagoon

Beyond that the most important trait was enthusiasm. People have romantic notions about crossing the Atlantic, but the reality also includes tired 0300 shifts staring at instruments while weightlifting your heavy eyelids.

Alone in the dark, you need that excitement for the goal to keep you motivated.

Despite my advert explicitly stating the prerequisites, I had to thin about half the responses to eliminate the no-experience-but-fast-learner types.

I’d personally feel less anxious with no crew than inexperienced crew on an ocean passage.

We arranged a video call with the remaining dozen candidates, in which we laid out all the conditions we could think of: you’re onboard to do a share of the watches, which includes cooking and washing up.

Food kitty is €15/day including diesel and dinghy fuel, for however long you are on the boat.

When we get to the destination you help wash the boat down and you have two to three days to find your own accommodation or flight home.

And we pitched some of the benefits too: you get your own cabin aboard a fast stable 41ft catamaran, and we have a watermaker so you can have two freshwater showers each week.

Finding crew: Under scrutiny

We purposefully didn’t tell them much about ourselves or the boat on the call, and the final test was to see what questions they asked about our experience, and the boat’s preparation.

Failure to enquire about these crucial concerns indicated the naivety we were looking to avoid.

I was conscious that some of the candidates had more qualifications than me, and might feel the urge to take over decision making, and I discussed this on the first call, explaining what I expected of them and explicitly checking they were comfortable sailing under a less qualified skipper.

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