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Transatlantic Delivery - Are You Prepared?

Mark Ted Street 140x210

The Med season has ended and it’s time to deliver your boat. These days in yachting that could be absolutely anywhere!

Owners are keener than ever to head off the beaten path and explore new cruising grounds while the standard seasonal deliveries such as the Med or USA to the Caribbean remain as popular as ever.

I’ve just got back from a 12th Transatlantic, delivering Med to Antigua (standard this time of year), while my mate Hamish is on a Uruguay to Antarctic leg.

Whether it’s a Trans Pacific (Panama to Sydney for example, long on distance, but warm with little traffic and some glamour sailing) or an English Channel crossing (short but highly changeable weather even in 24 hours - cold even in summer and more lights then Las Vegas) the point is, your preparation for delivery is based on different factors: the area you are sailing in, weather patterns, the type of vessel, the number and standard of crew.

In open ocean miles I’ve done a Trans Pacific crossing, (Palma, Mallorca to Sydney, Australia), a Malaysia to NZ (pirate-dodging through the Malacca straights to Singapore), and many New England to Caribbean crossings. I have also crossed from the Med to the Baltic and done a total of 12 Transatlantic’s on sailing yachts ranging from 49 to 175 feet.

The hardest crossing was the 49 footer. It always amazes me how some people learn how to make this a smooth operation, while others certainly do not. Experience only counts when you learn from it after all.

photo 2You’re the Captain and there is a long list of vital  things to think about -  fail to prepare…prepare to fail. You can’t pull in to the nearest port/safe anchorage when things get rough or when you need fuel/water/provisions/change of crew/medical assistance.

You are ultimately in charge of a very expensive piece of equipment on which even minor damage could equal the price of a Rolls Royce and, more importantly…and this cannot be stressed enough, the lives of the crew on board.

This is made more complicated by the fact that at the end of a busy season, it’s possible that not only are you dealing with weather windows and delivery preparation for open ocean, you may also have the pressure of an owner or charter trip on the other side with a very short turnaround.

This puts strain on your crew, so be conscious of managing that. There is no room to feel sorry for yourself, and you shouldn’t.

Assuming that you’ve done the obvious, ie, fire drills, man over board drill, abandon ship drill, all safety equipment from life jackets to life raft are in order, checked fire fighting gear and grab bags, and covered it all.

Jack lines have been lead, tri sail is bent on and ready to deploy easily, quickly. It’s all been tested and the crew is familiar with all aspects of the vessel's operation. The varnish is cap-wrapped and down below is stowed for sea. The boat can heal 30 degrees, and nothing is going to move.

photo 4Vertical surfaces are bubble-wrapped, you have flooring covered in plastic cut to shape or, even better, proper delivery floor covers. All likely engine room and deck department spares are sorted. Basically, let’s assume you have experienced department heads who are on top of it all.

Let’s start looking at what I’ve found to be the often over looked areas. You’ve delegated most of the above to department heads while passage planning, and closed your accounts with the marina, contractors etc. Take some time also to consider the following:

It doesn’t take long at sea for crew to start grinding each others' gears. Simmering issues from earlier in the season may now flare up, or be started by a delivery crew member (with many crew taking holidays during delivery this could be anything from a watch leader, chef, stew, engineer) leaving bottles of water on deck, or a tea cup in the sink.

Or by people relieving watch late (at night when you are cold wet and tired, you’ll want to kill to them for a mere five minutes) and noisy people who turn on lights and then take 15 minutes of banging around to get their gear off, waking the off-watch guy already short on sleep.

These things have all happened on almost every delivery I have ever done in any direction.

Such problems can easily be solved before they even start, with a little thought and consideration. 

photo 1Solutions! Have a clear set of standing orders that cover these seemingly innocuous complaints and add them to the bottom of the usual standing orders list.

Make sure the crew read the enitre list or, better still, go through them during your pre-departure briefing with the entire crew assembled so that it's still fresh in their minds when they are dropping dock lines, and stowing fenders. If not, they can turn what should be a great experience of open ocean sailing into a nightmare with a bunch of whinging sea fairies, and handbags by the time the first beer cans hit the bins dockside.

Have an area where crew can put their wet foul weather gear and boots, a wet locker or an area close to whichever hatch you’re using, normally the main salon entrance on most big sailing yachts, or the crew entrance if forward should be off limits at sea.

This does two things: it keeps the interior department happy - less wear and tear and cleaning up someone else’s salty drips - and minimizes the amount of disruption in the cabin when sharing with someone on a different watch. Where possible, also try and have people who do watch together sharing the same accommodation.

Point out to those that aren’t, that it’s not hard to leave the cabin light off and use the red function on your head lamp (I always have one…everyone should have a head torch with red function when on deck so you can see without destroying everyone else's night vision).

photo 6Water bottles should have names written on them, so leave a permanent marker on the fridge; take a bottle out, and write your name on it. It stops the whole “who left these bottle here in the cockpit”? Trust me, people stop doing it straight away.

Dishes, tea cups and anything else should be washed and put away, not left for someone else to do, ever! Be clear on this.

Showers get a chamois after use and the head is kept clean. It is important to point out that these rules are in place to encourage the respect of others and their space, which is hugely important in a confined space, and doubly so at sea for long periods.

Lastly, pay attention to who you bring on board, in the same way that you were careful about your permanent crew. Are their personalities compatible? Will they bring a high skill set and positive attitude to the boat? Do you trust them? You do not need people who second guess your judgement and cause problems amongst your crew where there were none before. And you do not need to conform your vessel to suit them; they must conform to your boat, and to your crew.

If they are switched on, they will abide by the rules and, if they are not, you must heed the permanent crew's complaints. Endeavour to re-employ those who were popular with crew and who, in your own estimation, did a good job. Some will do really well and with a smile!

Some will impress and lift crew spirits. I have a friend, a well known delivery chef called Libby, AKA ‘naughty auntie Libby. Her food is awesome, regardless of weather, and everybody looks forward to meal times, which is a great time for crew on different watches to catch up and have a chin wag to maintain crew morale.

photo 5On one occasion, we were delivering a 43m sloop together, approaching the Azores and banging to windward in 35 knots of breeze and enough seaway that the slamming was causing deck heads to fall down.

I went below, wet and a little tired (having been up rig to retrieve the staysail halyard as the splice to the head of the sail had blown up and it had disappeared 2/3rds the way back up a 56m rig), to see a full roast dinner being prepared in the galley.

The whole trimmings! Nothing short of what a pro chef would pull off on the stable surfaces of a villa. But this wasn’t stable, we were on our ear. “Jesus Christ Libby, what are you doing? ” I asked… shocked and stoked at the same time. Libby simply replied, “What? You know I always do roast on a Sunday".

The most important rule when you are off watch, is that the watch leader feels able to wake you up. Be amenable when you’re woken up as you don’t want to discourage them from doing so in the event that it really matters, to avoid a late or wrong decision being made on your behalf. After all, if anything goes wrong, it is your head that will roll...

Photos courtesy of Captain Ted Street.

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