Via Find a Crew, sailors of all skill levels and boat captains and owners have been getting in contact and bringing to fruition their dreams in common of exploring the world by sea and savouring its sights. But look before you leap. The more questions you ask potential shipmates, the better.
But just as in the 'real world', potential shipboard mates meeting via the net should take care and put in adequate preparation to finding their ideal yacht or suitable crew.
Find a Crew’s Kylie Gretener explains: 'In some cases, people are too polite to enquire beyond the basics like destination, experience and time away. Or they don’t think to ask some of the more personal questions, when it comes to preferences and finances, insurance, customs and other very pertinent issues.'
In the case of insurance, crew and captain/owner need to make sure both parties are covered. 'It’s important to ask about immigration requirements of the ports you will be travelling to.
Who’s going to take care of passports and visas, do you have experience with that?'
Then there’s what Kylie refers to as 'the real life stuff', as well. 'It may sound trivial or impertinent to bring it up before you’ve even met, but personal likes and dislikes, whether there’s up to date safety equipment, galley appliances, timelines, who else is onboard – all those things affect life on board a yacht. It’s not just about whether you have your own bunk and your dietary requirements . . . but saying that, they too are important to discuss from the beginning among all your expectations and queries.'
Of course, revealing your personal details online is generally ill-advised. Find a Crew has gone to great lengths to ensure its clients all over the world stick to principals that will protect and preserve their identity. In fact, an entire section is devoted to personal safety and the precautions to take during any transaction of information online.
'Meeting new people online is not a lot different to meeting them in a pub, through a friend or by answering a newspaper ad,' says Kylie. 'To help your instincts though, we stress it’s imperative to ask lots of questions! The more you know from the start, the less surprises there will be.'
One vital key to communication is 'leaving a paper trail', advises Kylie. 'If you contact people directly via email to ask questions and build your relationship, make sure you save all the emails so that you can refer to them in case of any confusion later on.'
And ask a lot of questions.
On FindaCrew.net there are many sample questions crew and owners can use to facilitate the process.
'While every single situation is unique, the groundwork is crucial to a great experience,' says Kylie. 'We always hear that from both parties. ‘Thankfully, we spent a long time nutting out the details before we sailed, and that contributed to a great trip’.'
Kylie recommends people interested in travelling the world, either as crew or those boat owners seeking crew, 'take the time to think about what you’re after before you register your profile on Find a Crew'.
'It can be very distressing and inconvenient if things don't fit your expectations. Many of these situations can be avoided just by asking more questions from the beginning.' Questions such as:
• What safety equipment does the boat have, and what is in need of repair?
• What condition is the boat in?
• Who does the maintenance on the boat?
• What communication tools are onboard (email, sat phone etc)?
• Who is responsible for any expenses related to the boat, mooring etc?
• Who owns the boat?
• Are there any crew from a previous trip that I can talk to?
Insurance / Visas / Passports
• Is the boat or crew insured, and who is responsible for this?
• Do you have the correct visas for the areas you will travel to?
• Is your passport valid for longer than the time you will be away?
And other questions
• Have they had crew/ found a boat through FAC or a similar site before?
• Can they provide personal and / or professional references?
• Can you swim?
• Are you familiar / comfortable with first aid procedures?
• Do you get seasick?
• What is Plan B if things don't work out?
Kylie compiles the myriad of testimonials from satisfied and generally ecstatic Find a Crew clients in a dedicated feedback section on the site.
One effusive sailor, Judy Cruickshank, says her objective was 'to learn a whole heap more about sailing and see places you could only get to via a boat'.
'As a woman travelling on her own, I've had to be particularly careful when choosing boats to crew on. I had a particularly bad experience with an owner I found on a different site, so when I decided to try a different site, I had a reasonably long list in mind of what wouldn't work for me.'
Judy registered with Find a Crew which she asserts 'delivered a very different experience'.
'It was much, much better, although I found it necessary to be a premium member to get the result I was looking for. As a free member I found I wasn't getting responses from boats. Once I paid the subscription, things changed right away. A classic case of you get what you pay for.'
From one year of travelling, Judy says she has learned a lot about what suits her and how to find her preferences in the various boats on the site.
My previous sailing experience had been on sailing catamarans here in Australia where I live, so I was specifically looking for that type of boat. In the daily match notifications the boat type was clearly noted so it was easy to pick the type I was looking for.
'The amount of information provided on each listing was sufficient to make some sort of judgement call about the boat prior to making contact. I think this is why I was happy with the results. My personal preference was to specifically look for my own cabin and 3 or 4 people on board.
'The calibre of owners, or skippers and quality of boat, are generally high with Find a Crew. The boats are well set up for ocean crossings and budgets are adequate to do the travel efficiently with the boats being well equipped and provisioned.
'I've had a fantastic year as result of following my own little set of rules, so much so, I'm actively looking and in contact with owners to do it all over again in 2012.'
American, Alicia Baker has had mixed experiences, one of which was unpleasant enough for her to buy a ticket to leave early. 'And as you can imagine, it’s not the cheapest airfare when you are somewhere remote, only accessible by boat!'
She strongly recommends the importance of doing your research before taking off into the blue with strangers.
'It can be compared to online dating,' she explains. 'Reveal just the facts first, ask plenty of questions, get offline as soon as possible, use Skype, phone, face to face if possible and rely on your gut instinct. Know who you’re talking to too. Your questions will depend on who you’re talking to – Captain, chartering company, the owner.'
Alicia says she is a dyed-in-the-wool traveller. 'I hope to be doing this for the rest of my life,' says the IT specialist whose work in the construction industry means she has a portable job that only requires internet access.
'I want to see all the sights of the world, so many places you can see only is this way. I think travel by boat attracts the same type of people – wanderers, who love meeting people and share a similar philosophy.'
She was inspired to use Find a Crew after years of sailing. 'As a kid I was sporty with it, then I tried crewing on a trimaran in California once a week, and I liked it. I did some day coastal cruising, then a race, stayed out overnight, then a couple of days, a week, a month then a year. So I decided to get further afield and I Googled and came up with FindACrew. It has been great – even the ups and downs, you learn something. It’s a lifestyle choice.'
Alicia has tried both sailing and power and says 'there are nice things about both'. Her adventures have taken her all over the planet, the US, South Pacific to Australia, the Red Sea and Middle East.
One trip, to the Amazon with a group of Dutchmen involved making their own sail boat from the local trees. 'It took them two and a half years, and people from all over the world were involved in the birth of the vessel. Sailing on it felt like we really earned it.'
Next on the agenda, says Alicia is 'time in Perth for the ISAF pre-Olympics, then I fly to Sydney for NYE on the Harbour, then I will be coming back to Perth to meet up with a friend who has been crewing for five years.'
More at www.findacrew.net