Recruiting the Crew

My friend and colleague, Bruce Washburn, painted this watercolor as thanks for having 'taken him along' via Facebook posts.  Knowing that many friends were following the trip on Facebook became a great source of support as the trip progressed.  Thank you all! 
All of my notable achievements as a parent revolve around expeditions to wild places. A ski cabin in the Gross Vente mountains, the canyons of Zion National Park and Canyonlands, the Escalante Wilderness, the Grand Canyon: anywhere challenging enough to keep casual hikers off the trails.  My children learned of their father's passions and fondness for Scotch around campfires, on desert trails, and in twisty slot canyons. These trips were shared with other close friends as well. Decades later, phrases and punchlines from those early trips elicit cascades of smiles and memories among the participants.

As I planned this latest venture into the wild,  I hoped that some of those same people would sign on for a part of my voyage, though I fully expected to do significant chunks of the trip solo. I invited both my sons (Mathias and Brendan), as well as Wes, Pete, and Sam, each of whom I have known for 30 years or so, and each of whom had participated in memorable past excursions.  Unlike these other trips, however, only one person could participate at a time.  Ripple is a compact boat, small in volume even for her size (26 feet on deck). Two is tight, and three unimaginable.

I sent out my call for crew in the early weeks of the year, and after many discussions, a schedule emerged.  To my astonishment,  everyone subscribed!  In fact, as things worked out, I was not alone for a single day of the trip.  At planning time, I had a tinge of regret for this.  I've mostly sailed Ripple alone, and I feel pretty confident about single-handing her.  There is a special pleasure in being alone on your vessel, without need to consult or plan for anyone's whims or needs but your own. Looking back after the fact, there are occasions too-numerous-for-fingers that I am grateful not to have had to manage alone.

Scheduling crew on a long voyage is complicated.  Everyone has lives, of course, and rendezvous points can be remote and expensive to reach. The uncertainties of weather and travel on a 4.5 knot boat add additional layers of difficulty: missing a mark means not only loss of opportunity, but lost expenditures for airfare, gear, and time.  The weight of responsibility for managing all this impressed upon me the seriousness of what I was doing... and how fragile a schedule can be. Another of my brother's nautical aphorisms: nothing so dangerous as a sailor with a plane ticket.  He's wrong, though... a skipper with 5 crew with plane tickets is worse.

All these folks had agreed to venture forth in waters unknown to me, in a small boat unknown to them, and mostly without prior sailing experience.  Providing coherent guidance about what to bring and what to expect became an important part of my planning, and towards this end, two documents emerged:

I'm not sure how helpful they were for my crew, but writing them certainly helped me to organize my own gear and to think about the array of basic knowledge that my compatriots should have in order to travel comfortably and safely aboard Ripple.  

In retrospect, there are only a few things I might change.  One area that needs special attention is the role of checklists.  I started out with none, and it became evident that several were appropriate (and they evolved over the trip). I have my eldest son to thank for this.  Mathias was a helicopter pilot in the Marines, and is by nature methodical and process-oriented.  We encountered a number of circumstances early in the trip that would have gone more smoothly had there been shared checklists (laminated, that live with the log book) to keep us focused. This is particularly true when there are crew aboard new to the boat... new to sailing, for all that!  I am loathe to admit that, even after the trip, I don't have my checklists refined and laminated, but this deficiency I hope to remedy before next season rolls around.

When I blithely issued invitations, I had little sense of how distinct each segment of the trip would be, nor did I think in any strategic sense about the order of battle.  These things turned out to be crucial, as I hope will be evident as this narrative unfolds.  Suffice it for now to say that I had five trips to look forward to, not one.


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