First Experience Crewing

In our endeavors to become more experienced in a variety of situations, the wife and I have worked tirelessly to become as acquainted with our sailboat as possible.  When there are things to be repaired, we do the work ourselves, no matter how difficult.  When there is equipment to be installed, we install it ourselves.  One of the reasons why we liked the boat we bought, besides the new diesel she had, was that she was a bare-bones boat.  Not bastardized by upgrades and modifications over the years.  We could build her up as we wanted and learn along the way.  So when a marina friend of ours, Captain Voyle Coleman, asked us to crew on his 54 foot sailboat with him, we of course jumped at the chance.

We met Voyle a little over a year ago, and upon meeting him for the first time, we all became fast friends.  He was on the boat in the next slip, so we interacted with him on weekends and when we were at the marina. It was immediately obvious to us that Voyle, a retired Navy man, was an intelligent and experienced sailor.  He

had his Captain’s license and many stories about his adventures.  When he asked us to crew with him, we were both really excited about the opportunity.

Crewing on someone else’s sailboat is a lot different than sailing your own.   A crew member is expected to pitch in for anything needed from tending to the sails, manning the helm, cooking, cleaning, repairing, and whatever else the captain tells him to do.  If you are going to be offshore for days, there would be a watch schedule in place, and each crewman would be expected to stand watch for however many hours was necessary to fill in a 24 hour period.  It can be an exciting and interesting adventure if the crew members are a good mix.

Our adventure started (see video) on the Friday morning before Buccaneer Days on Catalina Island.  We met at the marina in Long Beach, California, and parked our car in the marina lot.  At the time we accepted the invitation to crew with captain Voyle, we did not realize that Buccaneer Days weekend was the weekend of our cruise, so that ended up being a bonus.  At the marina where the sailboat was berthed we met Voyle and met his friends Tim and Keith for the first time.  There is always a bit of apprehension when you are going to be out on a boat with people you have never met because if people are not a good match, you cannot just get off and leave.  You are hours, sometimes days, away from shore.  We knew Voyle to be a good man, so we trusted that his choice of friends and crew would be good.  Tim was a tall and sturdy man that was close to our age, and had a friendly demeanor and a boisterous laugh.  Keith was also close to our age, and was really friendly and seemed to be a decent man.  We all shook hands and loaded up our dock cart.  It took a few trips, but we all helped each other and managed to get everything loaded onto the deck of the boat.  That is where we met the First Mate, Molly, who seemed to be a nice and decent person.

Upon boarding captain Voyle showed us all where we would berth for the weekend and let us look around a bit.  The wife and I had the v-berth, Tim and Keith took the berths amidships, and the captain had the aft berth.  Although the v-berth was nice and comfortable, it was set up to be a crews’ quarters that sleeps five, so not a traditional v-berth.  But hey, we were there to learn to crew and not to live in the lap of luxury.  We did have a bit more privacy than Tim and

Keith, so there was nothing to complain about.  If the worst thing in my day were to get to sleep on a sailboat, then that is a pretty good day.  Anyway, captain Voyle asked that Keith and I jump off and cast off the bow and stern lines, so that we did. Captain Voyle cranked the four cylinder diesel, warmed her up for a minute, then we push her away from the dock and jumped aboard.

We had never sailed out of Long Beach harbor before.  In the past we had sailed through Hurricane Gulch to the Queen Mary and watched fireworks, and had trolled up and down, but this was the first time we actually sailed out from there.  It gave us a nice perspective of how the harbor was laid out.  While we were exiting the breakwater into the Pacific, we noticed a fire boat coming in and a helicopter slowly following her at a very low altitude.  As we approached to pass, we noticed that there was a line tethered between the two and a life basket being lowered.  It turned out that they were doing exercises that day.

As we made our way about a mile out, we raised the main.  Although there was little wind, any wind will help save fuel and wear on the engine.  We each traded watches of 30 minutes and had time to talk and get to know one another.  Any worry about how we would end up getting along quickly vanished, and we could tell that we were among people that were there for the same reasons we were – to relax, crew, and have a good time.  A little farther out we raised the jib and the boat started to heel ever so slightly in the breeze.  About half way, or 12 nautical miles out, we raised the mizzen and the staysail.  We were motor sailing at a bit over six knots and it was a beautiful day for it.  That is when someone mentioned that this weekend was Buccaneer Days weekend. The wife and I were surprised because we had forgotten all about Buccaneer Days.  It is basically a huge party that lasts all weekend in early October.  More on that later.

As we approached Catalina Island the details of the terrain started to appear.  Catalina Island is a beautiful getaway and has hiking trails, buffalo, restaurants, bars, beaches, and fun.  It seems like when you sail here, you start to lose track of time about half way, then by the time you drop anchor you look at your watch for the last time.  From then on, time does not seem so important.  A glance at where the sun is in the sky tells you how long is left in the day.

Just before entering the harbor, the captain decided to drop the sails.  There was a lot of traffic for the weekend, so he opted to motor to where we were to drop anchor.  The sailboat, a Skookum 54 foot cutter-rigged ketch, carried 300 foot of anchor and two substantial anchors, so there was not going to be any problem with dragging the anchor.  Besides, the Pacific was really calm for the weekend, and with the weight of the boat, we had a comfortable anchorage.  We tidied up the boat, had some snacks and drinks, lowered the skiff and headed to shore.

We took the skiff to shore and ended up hanging out at one of the bars (see video).  The price of admission was $20 each and drinks were $5-$10 each, but the atmosphere was wonderful.  We met

Captain Morgan there, too.  He makes his appearance every year from what we heard.  He and his wife were dressed as pirates, and were totally convincing.  They had it down, right down to the parrot on his shoulder.  We found out later that Voyle had been friends with Captain Morgan for years, and

Morgan’s sailboat is around the corner from ours.  We pass him when we leave the marina.

On the second day we awakened later than we normally do, but were up by nine.  Eggs and chorizo were for breakfast, and I had an apple.  The wife and I decided to do some fishing using a pole that the captain provided, so we went ashore on the kayak to buy some bait.  Although there were no fish to be caught, it is always a nice past time.  We all traded life stories and the benefits of natural healing, and actually talked Tim, who had bad knees, into starting on taking baking soda every day.  It helped us and even healed the wife’s torn meniscus so she would not have to have her knee operated on.  Fishing was bad, but life was good, and it ended up being a great day.  We cooked sausage and steaks on the grill and ate like kings.

On Buccaneer Days weekend people come with both them and their sailboats dressed as pirates.  During the day there are crowds, but it is a more relaxed atmosphere.  When the sun goes down things go crazy.  By 10:00 p.m. children have to leave and it becomes adults only.

As we found out, this is for a good reason.  There are wall to wall

young people.  There is almost no way to get through the crowds and the live bands are loud.  Lots of half-dressed men and women, so no place for kids.  We spent a lot of time there during the two days at the island, but opted to head back to the boat when it got late.  But before we did, we had tons of fun!


Tim seemed to have a way with the ladies.  He has the sort of personality that makes people want to laugh with him.

All and all was it a good time?  Absolutely!  Would we do it again?  In a heartbeat.  Crewing with the right captain and the right people is an enjoyable adventure.  We spent a total of about 2.5 days together and we all meshed well.  Buccaneer Days was a blast and everyone on the island was just there to have fun.

Now if we can just plan a Transpac before we leave for good…