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Caribbean Sailing: Expert Tips for Finding & Keeping Crew

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The opportunity to crew aboard a hot race boat in the Caribbean sounds like a dream come true. Yet, for the owners of these often podium-placing vessels, as well as just about everyone with a yacht raring to race, finding crew, keeping crew, and doing so for a whole season, can be a challenge. Sage tips from some of the best sailors in the Caribbean can make the process of crew-finding easier. Plus, these tips are instructive for those who’d like to put themselves forward as crew. 

“I am sure you have seen the rapid rise in popularity of either double-handed race boats or the strong selling point for boats that can be handled by a minimal crew. Clearly finding and keeping good and consistent crew is a massive problem, and the more crew a boat needs to race successfully the bigger the problem,” says Bernie Evan-Wong, who campaigns his Antigua-based Reichel-Pugh 37, TAZ, in over a half dozen regattas north and south in the Caribbean each winter and spring. 

Family & Friends

For many owners, the crew composition is a mix of family and friends. Said another way, potential crew should start by signing on for small local regattas to get their face and skills known.

“I race with friends, Nathan my son, Mike Hirst, Mark Stephenson, and Candice Nichols,” says the BVI’s Chris Haycraft, who for many years raced and won aboard his Tortola, BVI-based Sirena 38, Pipedream, and now campaigns his Corsair 31, Ting Too. 

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The crew mix has evolved over the years for Barbados’ Peter Lewis, who races several Caribbean regattas annually on his J/122, Whistler. “It was originally family and friends but has moved to younger more professional members as people have aged. Versatility and youth, as those characteristics are what we are generally short on. Young female crew are especially reliable and competent. Our core team is an older bunch of guys that can’t race all the regattas.”

Lewis adds that he will usually pick up one or two crew members from regatta websites to fill out the team. Most major Caribbean regattas have a button on their website where interested crew can list their names and sailing resumes. Also, the popular results website, www.yachtscoring.com, has a Crew Board button on each regatta listing. 

Credit Dean Barnes
Credit Dean Barnes

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth from fellow sailors is the way many owners, like St. Thomas, USVI’s Peter Corr, find crew. Corr, who for the past 4 to 5 years has raced his Summit 40, Blitz, which won Boat of the Year at the season’s conclusion at Antigua Race Week last year, first raced his 82-foot sailing yacht Aiyana. When he bought Blitz, David Sampson from Sydney, Australia, oversaw the work and later helped Corr find crew. 

“I also supplemented crew from very good racers at the St. Thomas Yacht Club,” says Corr. 

Experience, command of a position, the ability to help in other areas when things don’t go as planned, the availability to race over many or most of the regattas in each season for continuity, and whether everyone gets along and gels well as a team are top items Corr looks for in a crew.

“My advice is to assess each crew as you get them and then train them into their position. Always try to race with maneuvers and sail configurations within the crew’s capabilities otherwise it typically does end well,” says TAZ’s Evan-Wong. “One of the most important things about getting crew and keeping them is building a reputation for being a good skipper. So, treating your crew with respect, not shouting or abusing them, and keeping your cool in all situations is key.”

Once you get crew, you must keep them happy, feed them, and provide all the basic amenities, Evan-Wong adds. 

Owner Peter Corr on helm. Credit Dean Barnes
Owner Peter Corr on helm. Credit Dean Barnes

Pro’s & Con’s of Professionals

Some owners build their teams with amateur crew. Some of these folks are eager for the experience and pay their way, while in other situations the boat owner funds the crew’s travel, food, and other expenses. Others opt to recruit professional crew to the team. 

“There is a place for professionals. On some boats, it would be dangerous without them. It is their job to know how to make it work but also how to keep it safe and at that level, you must have hours/years of experience and that comes at a cost. Could we as a team learn more if we had professional help onboard? Yes, of course, but that is not what we go out there for. Yes, we want to learn. Yes, we want to do better. But the goalposts are big, and we enjoy how we do it,” says Ting Too’s Haycraft.

Paid crew can provide a more dedicated and consistent team, Whistler’s Lewis agrees. “The big drawback is that once you start paying for crew their salary is just the start of your expenses.”

Blitz’s Corr employs 4 to 5 professional sailors in his 10-crew team. 

“Professionals are key to boat preparation, to pushing the boat as hard as possible but not having significant breaks on equipment, and to having fun on and off the water. It is a large commitment and getting any paid crew for almost two months is not easy. Also, you need to book people in very early in the season. Usually, I have this done in the spring and summer for the next year’s races. It’s crucial that paid crew can remain with the boat throughout the regatta season. That’s the advantage. The disadvantage to the pros is cost,” says Corr. 

In the end, says Ting Too’s Haycraft, “As long as you have some experience, a crew willing to learn/listen, and you can get a boat around a course, managing your expectations is key and setting realistic goals. If you are there to have fun, then sail safe and have all the fun in the world. The world needs more fun!” 

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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