As promised, we will now finally share the story of Wilfred, the fired crew member. Names have been changed and photos have been omitted to protect the dignity of the other party involved.
Here’s the thing about finding crew to sail on your boat with you – it’s just not as simple as it sounds. There are many different ways to go about this process. As newbies, we elected to use a website called Ocean Crew Link. It’s basically a combination of Linked In and Tinder for sailing. You post an ad with the details of your boat and your planned passage, and then indicate how many crew you’re looking for, what positions, and any other special details. We posted that we were looking for a captain and two other crew members. People looking to sail on boats will check out your ad, and click “interested” if they want to discuss it more. The advertiser (us) receives emails with links to the profiles of all of the people interested. If we swipe right (just kidding), I mean click interested, both parties receive an email with the others contact information. Then one of you can initiate contact to discuss the opportunity and try to figure out if you’re the right fit.
There are a couple challenges with this method. One, being newbies, we weren’t totally sure what good looks like for a captain and crew. We had some vague criteria from our insurance company and that’s about it. Two, just like anywhere else on the internet, it is easy to misrepresent yourself online (we were very clear about our limited experience and our expectations). Three, the website wasn’t as user friendly as you’d hope in terms of tracking your contacts, etc. Four, no one ever really talks about the fact that if you want a captain to help you sail your boat somewhere they expect to be paid in addition to having all their expenses covered – so even though we made it clear in our posting that our plan was strictly to cover expenses, we had a lot of conversations with potential captains with very high fees. (Not that they’re not worth it, it’s just not what we expected).
Anyways, back to your buddy Wilfred (he’s definitely not our buddy, so he must be yours). Wilfred contacted us interested in hearing more about our trip and upon reviewing his profile, we weren’t immediately sold. He had decades of sailing experience, but that comes with a price: age. Hear me out and don’t go crying “ageism” just yet. We loved his experience and over the phone, he seemed ready, willing, and able to sail. I mean, you don’t put yourself out there to sail the Atlantic if you’re not able, right?!? Several phone conversations were had and despite a bit of a language barrier (he’s Austrian and therefore is a native German speaker), we decided his wisdom and experience had to outweigh his age. Plus, he looked fit and able in his Ocean Crew Link profile photo.
We had our crew and captain lined up back in August, so now we get into our fancy time machine and jump to October in Les Sables d’Olonne. Bob and Megan sitting in the marina; bottle of wine and pre-dinner snacks on the deck waiting for sunset. Wilfred was scheduled to arrive around dinner time so we waited for him eagerly. Once he was aboard, we just had to wait for the work to be completed and our delivery captain from Lagoon to start heading south! (Check out that story here.)
We had been drying some laundry on the front lifelines and I went to pull it down and bring it in before dark so we’d be ready to go grab dinner as soon as our crew member arrived. As I was walking back from the bow, I heard a greeting shouted from the marina ramp above. I looked up and saw… Wilfred. And friends. It seemed he’d made a friend on the airplane (a guy coming home to Les Sables d’Olonne who had a lot of sailing experience). They’d enlisted his grandson to help with Wilfred’s luggage. After a brief chat and discussion of a possible get together, the new friends left and we helped Wilfred with his luggage and onto the boat.
From here, we’ll share both the Megan and Bob perspectives separately, since we weren’t always all together during his time on the boat
To be honest, my first impression when I saw him on the ramp was shock. He looked quite a bit older than his photo online. My inner monologue ran something like “Oh shit. Hmmmm… He’s going to sail with us? He seems pleasant I guess.” Ever the peace keeper and silver lining finder, as Bob would say. I really tried not let his age be a factor because he seemed like he knew his stuff. And then he tried to get onto the boat… Now we didn’t have anything special set up to board, we’d just pull the mooring lines in if needed and step over onto the back. We’re still reasonably young and healthy so we hadn’t put any thought to it. Wilfred looked like he was going to go into the water getting on or off the boat. We had a good time at dinner and that was that. Alright, so I definitely overreacted to his age / appearance and he’s had a long day of traveling and seemed to be expecting a different docking setup, so maybe getting on and off won’t be such a challenge tomorrow.
In the morning, Wilfred and Bob made lists of boat things to buy and then we made a food provisioning list. For the most part, the list really wasn’t any different from the one in my head (since we were still stuck in France for another week or so, I hadn’t bothered to seriously start food provisioning). He had several special food requests I’d never heard of so he wanted to go to the store with me. I figured he should stay with Bob and do boat things since we were relying on him for his expertise but he was insistent. He indicated that he hurt his leg right before he left home so he had to walk slowly. I tend to be a fast walker so slowly was a bit of an understatement for me. By this time I’d already purchased my grocery cart (or chariot, as the French call it), and had bags inside so I planned to do the usual – fill the cart and not use a grocery store cart so I didn’t have to drag two around the store. Nope, Wilfred didn’t want to hear my explanation, he went for a cart, but since there weren’t any inside, he tried to bring one from outside and set off all the alarms and got yelled at in French! Never to be discouraged, he eventually found a cart inside and started filling it, you know, without talking to me at all (and I had the list…) I caught up with him a couple times to try to discuss the list, food preferences, and what we already had on board but he was too busy buying whatever he liked. After a while, he’d just leave the cart sitting and ask me where it was. Eventually I started dragging it along with me, with my own cart. The French were shocked and appalled at my two carts! Haha! I finally caught up to him again in the international food aisle where he proceeded to grab the fajita sauce. My mind is already blown by all the random things he’s buying so I try to curtail the shopping spree by asking what that’s for (I didn’t see any other Mexican food items in his cart…) He explained to me it’s bolognese for pasta. I said “nope, that’s fajita sauce”. After a couple of rounds of who’s on first, I finally convinced him that it wasn’t for spaghetti. He kept asking me where the spaghetti sauce was – I’m like “dude, I don’t know, go look”. Of course I didn’t say that, it was more like “I’m not sure, probably a couple aisles down”. And with that, he abandoned me to drag his cart and chase him around some more. Fast forward to us leaving and he decides he forgot onions, so he sends me back inside and he takes the chariot of groceries and is supposed to be heading home; his idea since he’s on injured reserve and I will undoubtedly catch up quickly. By the time I get to the checkout, I see he’s dragged the chariot of purchased goods back into the grocery exit to wait for me – he wants to go to the store next door to look for a computer power adapter which he forgot at home. Nothing else too eventful happens until we arrive back at the boat. As I’m unloading groceries, he gets out his purchases from the store – a cord for something random, a plug of some kind, and then he grabs a kitchen knife and tape. I am immediately terrified and ask what he’s doing. He couldn’t find the right adapter so he’s going to make one by cutting and reattaching these electrical wires… omfg! So right there at my galley table Wilfred does electrical surgery. I try to tell him maybe he shouldn’t and he should wait until we go to the bigger store with an electronics section on Monday – I’m sure they’ll have it. Nope, he built a house and did most of the wiring himself so it’s fine. I send up silent prayers that 1) he doesn’t electrocute himself, and 2) that he doesn’t somehow fry our boats electric system. Somehow he cobbles it together successfully and nothing goes wrong.
Earlier at the store, Wilfred had insisted on us purchasing steaks and some mushrooms and other items. He planned to make us dinner – perfect, sounds wonderful. Since our pallet hasn’t arrived yet, we only have one small pot and one small pan that we’ve purchased to tide us over until it arrives (more details on the pallet here). He takes the cooking oil to the pan and puts in…not one swirl in the pan, not two, but at least an inch of oil in this shallow pan… my anxiety is back on high alert. He dumps in the steaks and they start to fry… as the heat continues to climb, the grease stars to splatter a bit. We don’t have a lid for the pan or a (WHAT IS THAT THING CALLED) so I start to panic a bit. The kitchen is filling with a visible grease vapor cloud so I close our cabin door to keep it out. Bob is outside on the phone so I peek out often hoping to get his attention. I worry I’m overreacting a bit until the splatter kicks into high gear and is now covering everything within a foot radius, including fresh fruit. He is not doing anything or moving anything and the galley kitchen is a one-man space. I suggest turning the heat down citing the splatter. He replies something to the effect of, the pan is too small and it’s just something we have to deal with. I go back to the door to see if I can get Bob’s attention telepathically. I do not want to lose my shit on someone’s grandpa… I slam my wine and wait. I can’t take it anymore and word my suggestion more strongly to turn down the heat, and he ignores me. I edge my way into the kitchen area and brave the hot grease splatter – all over me (ugh!) and turn the heat down to almost nothing. Bob finally returns from outside and I very quietly tell him that I am losing it and it’s his turn to deal with this disaster. Dinner was a mess – it was basically greasy meat with some greasy rice mushroom flop. Unfortunately the damage was already done and my brand new kitchen on our brand new boat was destroyed. One of the handles for the stove is melted and we’re certain it was from this incident. By the way, it took me WEEKS of repeated cleaning to get all the grease off my kitchen surfaces.
The next morning, Sunday, we wake up dreading leaving our cabin and deal with this catastrophe. Since the weather is cold and rainy, we’re basically trapped in the boat with him. I realize that we have to leave our cabin for food eventually, so we venture forth knowing we need to take turns babysitting our buddy. At this point, I’m hopeful that it’s just been too intense being stuck in the boat and that things will get easier soon. We have decided, however, that Wilfred no longer has cooking privileges. A few days later, I get up and am enjoying coffee on the deck when I see a large dark spot on the teak underneath the outside table. Upon investigation, I realize that there’s literally food all over the floor. On my hands and knees, I scrape and peel up hardening bits of onions and cheese… Ahhhhhh!!!!! As I’m cleaning, and wondering how in the hell there’s food all over the teak, I recall that I am directly under the spot where Wilfred sat for dinner last night (we’d had some French ready-made deli pizzas, hence the sautéed onions and cheese). I solicited Bob’s assistance and he diligently tries to clean the mess. As Wilfred appears, and we tell him what’s happened, he does his famous multiple shoulder shrugs and says something like “these things happen”. The pain and frustration of kitchen grease splatter incident is still fresh and this just compounds my impatience. I trek off to the store alone to blow off some steam. Later on, Wilfred suggests that we get a carpet or something to put under his spot at the table; so apparently this happens ALL THE TIME. Not once does he attempt to assist in cleanup, or simply admit his fault and apologize. Ugh, talk about no manners.
As you can read above regarding hire crew, it isn’t easy, but again, I thought Walter would be a huge help. What I was looking for was someone who had a lot of experience not only sailing but also owning a boat. Someone who could help me figure out what we need on the boat to make life safe and easy. The first morning, over coffee, we began making a list of things we needed. Essentially, Wilfred took a local chandlery (marine store) catalogue and began circling things we need. From there, we chatted about other tools and odd and ends that are needed on the boat. A lot of the items were already on my too buy list. Having been stuck there for a while I had already made several trips to chandleries to browse and figure out some must haves. Unfortunately, other items that Wilfred wanted were starting to make me wonder if his years of boat ownership were akin to the old and rundown boats often found in marinas. His idea for boat ownership was vastly different than mine. My mindset is, ‘Do it right the first time and not worry about it for a long time’. His idea is ‘Let’s by this thingy and figure out how to attach it…. no need to hire a professional.’. You can imagine how that went. In the end, what he recommended was essentially what was already on the list sans a couple other items, that actually did turn out to be useful.
The first morning wasn’t terrible but I quickly ran out of patience as he paged through a book trying to spend my money. The afternoon took a drastic downward spiral when we started visiting stores. At this point, we were still waiting for a local vendor to get the water maker and solar installed. I understood and agreed with the new timelines, Wilfred had a different idea. When we went to one of the store to get a quote on adding a 220V shore power system, Wilfred insisted we discuss the solar and water maker timelines and as he said “Push them!”. I believe in giving people an opportunity to come through on their promises first, Wilfred doesn’t. Having enough of this, we return to the boat. I’m still on Wilfred watch. Crap.
Once at the boat, I figure now is a good time to test Wilfred and his physical ability. Both Megan and I had doubts as we saw Wilfred shuffle his feet on and off the boat. I had been wanting to fix the the dinghy and how it hung on the davits. I ask Wilfred to assist. At first I ask him to lower the dinghy and climb in to adjust the attachment points. He could barely get in and out…. not to mention his idea of fixing the dinghy was not ideal. I finally decide to switch places, me in the dinghy adjusting lines and him on the boat. I ask him to let out the line to effectively drop the frame the dinghy is on. At this point, I’m sitting in the dinghy, attaching to the lifting frame. Instead of letting the line out, he instead wraps the line around a winch and hits the button. The dinghy frame and dinghy, with me in it begin to rise up. I yell for him to stop, “Wilfred STOP!”. I continue to move (lucky he’s using the low speed option versus high speed). I ask him what he’s doing and he replies, “I thought this was a reversing electric winch…. is it not?”. Uh…. no. In fact I don’t think anyone makes a reversing electric winch for boats. It just wouldn’t make sense. I begin to seriously doubt Wilfred’s ability. Again.
The next day is basically useless… we walk all over town trying to provision for the boat, but at the slow speed Wilfred walks, I’m better off running around without him. I spend the afternoon provisioning by myself.
During coffee the next day, Wilfred asks if we should go push the vendor for solar and water maker again. I say “No, they are scheduled to be here tomorrow, there’s no sense in pushing them.”. He insists that unless we push them, they won’t arrive. I instruct him that we will not go visit them and let them do their job as planned. That afternoon Wilfred disappears. I’m working on the dinghy and all of the sudden he appears. He begins to tell me he went to the vendor and great news, they’re arriving the next day. Well no shit… that was the planned date all along. I lose my shit as I instructed him not to go there and push them. At this point, I’m done. I can’t handle it, my mind is made up.He’s going to be off the boat within days.
It’s now Wednesday, and Wilfred has been on the boat with us for five nights. We are terrified to leave him alone on the boat, for fear that he’ll tinker with things in irreversible ways or harass the workers during their projects. We have mass amounts of laundry to do, so I stalk off to the marina laundromat. Since we’re both burned out on Wilfred-duty, Bob comes with to help me carry the laundry bags. Then he heads off to the store to get a plunger since Wilfred managed to block his toilet (which shouldn’t even be possible because they’re macerating toilets!). Since it’s near lunch, Bob grabs some food and a soda and comes back to the laundromat so we can eat and talk. We both know what’s coming, but it’s unpleasant business. Neither of us could imagine spending two or three more months with Wilfred – always checking up on him. Bob had serious concerns about his constant day napping – could we rely on him to stay awake on watches and keep us safe? If we hit rough seas, is he fit enough to help us? We need experienced crew, which he is, but they need to be fit enough to be actively assisting. And so far, Wilfred wasn’t able to do any of that. But how do you fire a crew member? Megan’s never had to do anything like that, but fortunately, being a business owner, Bob has experience with difficult conversations.
It took several hours of discussion and debate between Bob and Wilfred to negotiate his departure. It got quite heated at times, and eventually Megan went to sit on deck to try to get away from the stress. We ensured he had suitable arrangements to make his way back to Austria in a timely manner. Once Wilfred finally agreed to leave, we assisted in packing his things and helped him carry everything to the nearby hotel. At first, it felt quite cold to ask him to leave the boat immediately and stay in the hotel, but Bob was right that it was better for everyone to cut ties and separate right away. Ultimately, we felt bad crushing his dream to cross the Atlantic, but it wasn’t a good situation for any of us and much better to figure that out now, then on a passage where we’re all stuck on a boat for days or weeks at a time. When we woke up the next morning, alone on the boat again, and began the search for a replacement crew member, the world felt right again.