Monday, October 26, 2009


It’s amazing how many young people want to get abused in the name of adventure. We posted this ad on a local backpackers website, and instantly we were flooded with responses. Travelers wrote us long letters, attached their resumes, brought us excellent bottles of wine. “Wow!” they wrote. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime!” “It’s always been my dream to live on a sailboat!” “How soon can I come on board?”

I know how they feel, because I used to be that young person. Specifically, I was twenty-four when I started prowling the docks in Fort Lauderdale, two years’ worth of savings in my bank account, hoping desperately that someone would ask me to crew on his yacht. During my searches, I met a French boy named Jean-Christian. “Eet ees so easy for a girl to find eh boat,” he moaned, with typical Gallic melancholy. “For a boy, not so easy.”

It was easy all right, especially if you wore a short skirt and a pretty smile. But there were other challenges for a girl looking to catch a ride at sea. Fresh out of a lifetime of private schools, I was clueless about the way things worked on the water. When an eight-fingered captain named Bob asked me to join him on a weekend trip to the Bahamas, I had to ask around for advice.

“He says he wants to show me how to sail,” I asked my hosts at the crew house. “Do you think he wants something else?”

Harry looked up from the television, where he was watching Animal Planet, a can of beer balanced on his gut. He looked startled, then burst out laughing. “COURSE he does,” he guffawed. “Cap’n Bob wants to get LAID.” Then he schooled me, as gently as he could, about “gas, grass or ass—no one rides for free.”

For the most part, he was right. There was the Captain who inquired, in an interview, what size bra I wore, and then there was the really creepy one—Captain Joe, who kept telling me how important it was for a captain and cook team to act like husband and wife. “It makes the guests feel right at home,” he explained, snapping pictures of me for his charter brochure. Later, while dusting behind the bar, I found a small pile of photographs. It was a stack of heads—my head—carefully torn from the prints and tucked behind the bottles, like a rat might hide a stash of rotten food. I cleared off that boat without even saying goodbye.

There are exceptions, of course. We’re not asking our crew to put out free sex, or pay for our gas, or supply us with drugs. We really are just looking for help. It’s a lot of work to go to sea, and with a toddler on board, it’s too much for the two of us to handle alone.

And that, I fear is where we may shatter some youthful illusions. When I was twenty-four, going to sea represented freedom, a red-blooded life in nature’s pulse, a long way from heavy books and dried-up, intellectual theorizing. Pushed by the wind, buoyed by the sea, illuminated by moon and sun, we were utterly independent of the world and its cynics.

Then I bought Sereia. And now that I’ve owned her for six years, I know that ideal is both true and illusory. We touch that sense of freedom at times, beam reaching on a moonlit sea, phosphorescence in the water, a magic carpet ride of stardust in our wake.

The rest of the time, it’s a hell of a lot of work.

Sailboats are powered by the wind, it’s true. But they also need tons of stainless steel, fiberglass, teak, epoxy, solvents, electronics, and thousands of square feet of sail. They need a crew, all of whom must be fed, clothed, cleaned and entertained. And in order to learn the skills that are necessary to pilot a sailboat effectively, the crew must delve into mountains of heavy books, then spend hours on the docks with other sailors, trading dried-up, intellectual theorizing.

Tim has joined us for this next leg, from Whangarei to Auckland. He’s laid back, he works hard, and he’s eager to learn. He’s also twenty-four years old.

I hope we don’t teach him too much, too fast. And I hope there’s lots of phosphorescence, lighting our way down the coast.

There's magic at sea, even when you're anchored in town. Here's some genuine Kiwi dolphins, cruising past Sereia.


  1. Ahh the delusions of bad it lasts so long.

    Crewing is one thing; no matter how much you see you are still not part of the game. Owning a boat, being the Skipper and responcible for any problems, puts you right in the thick of it. Suddenly being the ship stuck on the expensive part of the board makes you wish for either the "go to jail" or the "hitch a ride on the reading rail road" cards.

    Keep it between the anchors.

  2. I hope he's able to be helpful for you guys! I know we suckered many people into helping us and we were just weekend cruising during toddlerhood. Can't wait to hear how it all pans out. Fair winds and phosphorescence to you.

  3. lucky stiff will have a ball!

  4. So.....what is your bra size?

  5. Yeah... that ball busting leg from Whangarei all the way down to Auckland, one of the tougher passages in the world.

  6. Reminds me so much of myself... I was always prowling docks looking for a boat! We've been thinking about crew for our Pacific crossing next spring and wondering how to delicately find the right match... at least we won't be asking for bra size. **YIKIES**

  7. looks like we might be leaving tonga this weekend heading your direction!

  8. I love the pic of Silas all sacked out VERTICALLY, clutching the netting and reaching for a potato. Based upon this photo you would think you dramatically overworked and underfed your crew. But I know better; your new guy will spend the passage lounging on deck, blowing bubbles for Silas and feasting on moules marinieres. Have a good trip you guys! Kisses to Silas from Ronin (warning: she gives godawful kisses--leads with the forehead...)