Crewing On A Sailboat: How Was It For You? Meet Rachel!

sailboat crew

Crewing on a sailboat is one of the best ways to learn how to sail. It’s how Adam and I got the experience we needed to pass our sailing qualifications and set off alone.

Last season Adam and I had a few guests on board, but it was mostly just the two of us. One of the things we said we missed was the company of others. You would meet other people and share a drink or dinner, but there were times when we only saw each other for weeks on end, and we thought it would add to the experience to be around others and share all our experiences.

Luckily we haven’t had to look far! In the first week of setting off we welcomed Ed and Rachel on board. Ed’s an old friend of Adam’s, but as we’ve barely been back home in the last few years we hadn’t had the privileged of meeting Rachel yet, so the poor girl had no idea what she in for! They stayed for just over two weeks and Rachel was kind enough to share her experiences for anyone that’s curious about crewing on a sailboat!

four people enjoying drinks on a beach after crewing on a sailboat
The upside of crewing on a sailboat

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi! My name is Rachel and I’m a drama teacher based in Leicester. Since Covid-19 hit life has literally come to a stand still at home. When the opportunity was presented to come out and participate as sailing crew on board a sailing boat the prospect was so thrilling I agreed instantly. Not knowing the captain and her partner was also a slightly scary, yet exciting aspect, and I loved the opportunity to meet new people and adopt a new way of life for 16 days.

What were your main worries about crewing on a sailboat before you came?

The thought of living in such close proximity with strangers was a slightly daunting prospect. My expectations were some what true, although we were treated to our own forward cabin, which was a pleasant surprise. The thought of disrupting the rest of the crew onboard was something I was conscious of, so spacial awareness and noise levels had to be thought about.

What were you most looking forward to?

I have travelled to many countries throughout my life but always travelled by air and land. I was excited about travelling by the sea, experiencing the freedom of the journey and absorbing the beautiful views all the Greek islands had to offer. I consider myself to be a social butterfly and love meeting new people, from all walks of life, so this was also something which appealed to me.

The sailboat crew relaxing on the island of serifos
Relaxing on Serifos

What was the biggest difference between sailboat life and your lives back home?

Having to use water sparingly. We needed to clean ourselves, kitchen utensils and surfaces using as little water as possible (as water was difficult to come by not having a water maker). This was extremely challenging to begin with but something which forced me to address my water consumption at home.

What was the scariest moment of crewing on a sailboat?

Whilst choreographing a contemporary routine of the beach, I had an accident which caused me to sprain my ankle in quite a severe way. Being based out at sea meant that resources and medical care weren’t immediately to hand, making aid more inconvenient. It made me realise help would be harder to get if it was something more serious.

Which aspect of living on a sailboat did you find hardest?  

Managing our water consumption and growing hairier by the day, due to the lack of shaving. Simple things such as washing your hands after using the toilet and washing out a coffee mug are things we typically take for granted and became a luxury since returning home.

Was there anything you wish you’d known before you came that could have prepared you better? ​

Strangely, I felt I had packed well and had everything I needed. The one thing I was particularly impressed with was remembering my water shoes. These are essential when taking the dingy to shore, setting a line to shore, snorkelling and perhaps wanting to climb rocks, etc.

What essential item are you glad you packed/wish you had packed? 

a bbq on the beach after sailing
Enjoying BBQs on the beach

As previously mentioned, the water shoes were a God send, but I’m also glad I packed the snorkel and mask. We did a lot of snorkelling from the boat and it would have been sad not to see all the underwater life in Greece.

Being a women on board when the ‘time of the month’ hits is no fun whilst your sailing, so taking extra supplies of sanitary care would be advised. After speaking to Emily, I’ve learnt that menstrual cups may provide a more eco-friendly way of life, so this is something I’ve begun to research more about since being back on home soil.

Did you learn anything from crewing on a sailboat?​

I feel I left the boat with a sound understanding of the basics for sailing. My terminology improved daily and I feel I would be now be confident hoisting the genoa (full, reef 1, reef 2), tacking and jibing, controlling the helm, setting anchor and generally determining the point of sail. But this was not the experience or elements that will predominantly stick with me.

Firstly, it’s the kindness, generosity and all-round humility of the skippers and sailors on the water. Everyone looks out for one another and the sailing community almost work like a second family, encouraging those who are new to the craft to succeed.

Secondly, it’s the team work involved; instantly breaking through the formal, acquaintance period and developing a close bond with the people onboard from the word ‘go’. I had never met Emily and Adam and they made me feel incredibly at home for the duration of my stay, inflicting humour into day-to-day activities, resulting in some efficient yet jovial sailing.  

Do you think you could live on a sailboat full time? 

​I truly loved my experience aboard Hot Chocolate and would have happily stayed for a few more months (6 at most), but I don’t feel I could commit to sailing full time. There are pressures and responsibilities constantly. I feel it would create extreme anxiety knowing that the boat could drag anchor when you visit shore, acknowledging that large rocks in 4-meter waters could damage the boat, appreciating that other boats around you may decide to anchor too close and swing into your boat and that the seas may be unpredictable and break things onboard throughout sails. The experiences we encountered were those you wish for in a life-time but I feel I would develop alopecia by the end of year one due to my stress levels!

Rock, stick and leaf….What rocked? What memory will stick with you? What will you happily ‘leaf’ behind?

We shared an evening on the beach for Emily’s birthday which was simply magical, so that is the memory that rocked for me.

When walking around Kimolos, we discovered a beautiful church opposite the loveliest cocktail bar, then continued to wonder around the quaint, cobbled streets of the small village, each corner revealing something new. We stumbled upon a village square where families were all socialising with food and drink, whilst the children used the twisty pathways as their playgrounds with no fear of strangers. There was something special and nostalgic about their way of life. The community was breath-taking and something I will treasure and strive to remind myself of when starting my own family – this will certainly stick.

Finally, to wake in the night and not have to alarm people with the pumping sounds of flushing my poop down the toilet – I’ll happily ‘leaf’ this behind!

Thank you Rachel! It was amazing to have you on board and there’ll always be a very small cabin ready and waiting if you want to return. Hopefully that’s given you a little insight into life on board for a guest, and some of the ways you have to adjust when living at sea. If you’re curious about crewing on a sailboat and want to learn more then check out websites like Crewbay and Find A Crew for more information.

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