Having a good crew dynamic, especially when cruising long-term, is essential to boat life. The right mix of people, personalities, and designated responsibilities can make living and traveling on a boat a very enjoyable experience. On the other hand, without the right balance, life aboard can become pretty intolerable and you’ll find yourself counting down the days until you, or someone else, gets off the boat. I say this because as a newlywed couple Romain and I are still finding our own balance on Talaria. Some weeks we’re in smooth, calm waters where everything goes just right. We reach our destination without any problems, drop the hook, and settle in for a peaceful night at anchor. Those moments are the best. Other times, it’s war. Sleep deprivation, exhaustion, stress from one thing or another, leads us down an explosive path where our delicate balance disintegrates completely.
Things can get even trickier when you add crew, visitors, friends or family. The more personalities you throw into a tight, confined, and constantly moving space, the more important it is to get the balance right. We’ve met tons of cruising couples and crew, and they all seem to share the same ups and downs. Changing crew members after a few months, for various reasons, is not uncommon. If you can’t change your crew, then time away from the boat can also be a welcome break for everyone.
After cruising for nearly eight months, I’ve realized there are ways to make it easier to maintain a happy, balanced crew. First, you have to know what you and your crew want to get out of the experience. Is it to travel and discover new places? Is it to challenge yourself and push your comfort limits as a sailor? Or is it to go on vacation and spend your days drinking rum punch on the beach? If everyone is on the same page, wanting to achieve the same experience, then you’ll have no problem maintaining a happy crew. But most likely, you’ll find yourself with a mix of goals and you’ll have to find a way to meet those expectations, knowing that not everyone will be satisfied with their experience all of the time. For us, Romain is in this for the travel and I’m in it for the sailing, so we try to balance our needs but it’s not always as easy as it sounds.
Second, you have to share responsibilities. It’s never a pleasant ride if one person feels they are doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Divide the jobs and make each person own specific tasks, or make sure to rotate who’s in charge of what. Since we’re only two, Romain and I do our best to take turns with boat and land responsibilities. If one of us is working on land, the other will prep the boat, check the engine, refill the water, and so on.
Third, everyone has their stress points. Know them. Each crew member will bring their own strengths and weaknesses, so the sooner you figure out what makes people tick the easier it will be to handle tough situations. For me, I get stressed the most about weather, especially when we have a long and potentially difficult crossing to do. Since Romain is more comfortable in uncomfortable conditions, I’m in charge of weather and decide when we leave. For Romain, he gets stressed when we have many to-do items and no plan in sight. So we try to take time to plan out projects and passages, and reserve off days for relaxing and fun.
We’re still learning every day in the attempt to keep our happy balance. A positive morale is crucial for this. It’s incredible how contagious negativity can become so you have to work hard to keep up the positive frame of mind. Sometimes the process can feel like the Caribbean dance: two steps forward, one step back.
At least we’re moving forward. Cheers to that!