The Joys of Choosing Crew

The Escher kids Paul (9), Henry (6), Betty (11), and Karen (6) forgo a trampoline in the back yard for a trampoline on an ocean-going catamaran. Photo by Lorraine Escher
The Escher kids Paul (9), Henry (6), Betty (11), and Karen (6) forgo a trampoline in the back yard for a trampoline on an ocean-going catamaran. Photo by Lorraine Escher

I live on a St Francis 50 catamaran, called Aphrodite, with my husband, Rick. We have four children, ranging in age from six to 11 years old. This past summer, our family anchored for hurricane season in Woburn Bay, Grenada. From Nimrod’s Rum Shop, we could take a bus into town. But, geographically, Woburn Bay placed us on the fringe edge of sociability.

In Grenada our friends from other bays would often ask, “What are your plans today? Do you have time to meet?” Or, “We’re planning a barbeque on Wednesday night at Hog Island beach. Are you interested?” And, we often had to decline. We remained anchored in Woburn Bay for almost three months. We swam off our transom, and occasionally ventured out to buy groceries.

Raising the mainsail with guests and extended family in Antigua (from left): Braden, Findlay and Jorja Armstrong, Paul and Henry Escher and Rick Armstrong. Photo by Lorraine Escher

What happened to our loftier aims as a cruising family? Why had we become such social hermits? This summer, my sense of motherhood guilt loomed large. And, I wondered dreadful, unspeakable things – like, will my kids recall playing Minecraft inside on a sunny day?

My husband and I spent our time in Grenada homeschooling, hovering over planning spreadsheets, and talking to and emailing other cruisers who have crossed the Pacific Ocean.

Our family is planning to transit the Panama Canal in early 2018. I am shocked that a Pacific crossing involves so much soul searching, preparation and research. We want to visit the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Pitcairn, Gambier Islands and French Polynesia. All told, the passage will take about 90 days.

Currently, our focus is on self-reliance and safety. To that end, we are hauling out our boat in Trinidad. We are unstepping the mast to examine the wires and rigging. We expect to receive some spares relating to critical systems, safety and weather. But, we know that it’s the human factors that can make or break our trip, including things like fatigue, morale, and health, to name a few.

Initially, I wanted to sail the Pacific without extra crew. But, there is no need to test our physical limits. This is a 5,500 nautical mile passage. Safety is something we have to take seriously.

The Escher family’s cruising home, Aphrodite, a St Francis 50 catamaran. Photo by Lorraine Escher

To help share watch-keeping duties, we are fortunate to have an experienced sailor-friend joining us. We spent hurricane season with him in 2016 in Luperon, Dominican Republic. He is a single hander, and a retired FedEx executive. Unlike Tom Hank’s character in the movie, Cast Away, we have every reason to believe that he will not cause us to end up talking to a volleyball on a deserted beach.

However, we’d like to add more people, preferably a crew couple. We have a queen-sized berth available and we’d like to maximize the number of people available to keep watch. With a couple joining us as crew, plus our friend, we would have five adults available for watch.

Rick and Lorraine Escher. Photo by Lorraine Escher

Interviewing crew has been tricky and, at times, comical. I consider one interview to be 20 minutes of my life that I cannot get back. I was talking to a newly-smitten couple. They happily finished each other’s sentences, and asked virtually no questions about safety or sailing. Instead they asked delicate questions regarding accommodations and heads. I should have just told them, “The walls are thin,” and that would have served the happy, dual purpose of answering their question and ending our discussion.

Anyway, the kicker for many people is that we are not offering payment. Instead, we are asking people to cover their costs. This seems to offend people who want to travel the world on a shoestring while sailing on a blue water boat.

Through online websites we have met some amazing people who we’d love to have on our boat, but we have also heard from some people that would not be suitable to join us. My favourite crew inquiry came from a man who said that he liked to work hard and enjoyed sunbathing. He listed his nationality as ‘Sol’ and asked not to handle diesel or chemicals. We had another man ask if we could pick him up in eastern Canada.

One young woman inquired on Facebook if we were swingers, since our crew posting sought crew-couples. Then an older man suggested that he could bunk with her if we were willing to take them as a couple. I like his spirited optimism.

We want amazing crew, and we want them to have a fantastic experience. I am excited beyond words to visit remote places, to meet new people, and to see interesting wildlife and scenery. We might have been social hermits in Grenada, but that’s about to change.