Story compliments of SeaSmith (A partner of Sail Due South)
I thought for this blog post I would write about one of my most challenging crew members. I was just 25 years old at the time and was the skipper of a catamaran contracted to sail from Cape Town to The Caribbean.
Ultimately I have only myself to blame for taking this person onboard, but maybe this story will inspire some of you young skippers to make sure you choose crew carefully!
It happens and It’s not pleasant. The skipper, for the most part, choose their own crew and it is an important responsibility. Spending long amounts of time at sea, in a small space, it's imperative that everyone onboard gets along. Even if you don't like the other person you have to at least show some respect. This isn't always the case as I so happened to find out, the hard way!
I had a first mate, Kevin, but was battling to find a crew member. With time running short I received an email, man if I could go back and not reply! Anyway, it was a Swedish woman; let’s call her T... for terrible. She explained that she had been sailing around the world, wanted to return home and was looking for passage to the Caribbean before finding a boat heading as close to Sweden as possible. Sounds good? I get her C.V and everything seems to add up. She could speak five languages and knew morse code. The only info I didn't get was her age, but I presumed she was around Forty, don't ask why, I just did. With presumption proving once again to be the mother of all @$*# ups, I bring her along. I was in for a scaring experience.
It all started off when I picked her up from a back packers in Cape Town. When I first saw her I thought she might be a beggar standing on the side of the road. Nevertheless, standing in front of me was my crew member, that I had to live with for 35 days at sea. Sixty five years old in the shade, five foot, two inches, balding with what looks like two magnifying glasses over her eyes. Comforting to know she may not be able to see the bow of a 43ft yacht, let alone a ship bearing down on us. Anyway I think to myself, don't judge by first impression, maybe she's great, maybe she's as cool as my gran.
After introductions I asked, 'T, do you have any bags?'
'No, but I have a few boxes,' she says.
‘A few boxes?’
A few can be a very deceptive number. In this case a few turned out to be nine. Nine big ass boxes!
All I can say is, 'Wow! Good to see you traveling light,'
Looking at me very matter of factly, she says, 'I always travel like this, it's much easier than a bag.'
What do you say to that? I mean seriously, I don’t think she could lift one by herself.
‘Ok....but you'd still need nine bags,’ was what I wanted to say.
Turns out I was right, she couldn't lift one by herself. After I lifted the nine boxes into my little city golf, somehow managing to cram and squash them in . We were on our way to the yacht.
She gave a lot of hassles in Cape Town. If I could go back id have dropped her there, but some circumstantial reasons and my lack of experience prevented me from doing so. A mistake never to be repeated!
Let me jump forward a little. The first incident of worth was 3 days out of Cape Town, I caught her stealing. Stealing bread and hiding it in her cabin. I took a seed loaf out the freezer a couple days into the trip. When I looked again there was a brown loaf out and the seed loaf was nowhere to be seen. Strange?. I asked Kevin, he didn't know. I asked T, she didn't know. After having a brown sandwich I noticed T was eating seed loaf.
Now I’m baffled, then it hits me, 'T are you hiding bread in your cabin to keep for yourself?'
She looks at me with a straight face and says, 'Yes! That’s my bread!'
I’m trying to see the logic, I mean, I brought and paid for the all the provisions for the yacht, for everyone to eat whenever they hungry. Three meals a day, and more. The bread is there to be eaten at will. I also have extra to bake seed loaf, lots of it too. I don't like being stolen from, not one bit, not even if what you stealing is there for you to use freely.
I took that one personally and threw her overboard to the sharks. Anyway, that was an experience I hope never to have again.
I’m joking, I’m joking. She's alive and probably pissing someone off as you read this.
It only got worse from there; everyday was fighting, for both Kevin and myself. In fact one night I had to step between Kevin and her, I thought he was going to hit her. I don't condone a man hitting a women, ever, but she could honestly push a monk far enough to give her a bitch slap!
The first shower she had was seventeen days into the trip … try not to gag! I tried to politely bring it up a few times but herself and her cabin really started smelling a lot funky. I mentioned a couple times that it was warm and I was going to stop the boat so everyone could take a shower in the sea. She said she would tell me when she needed a shower.
Eventually I had enough, day seventeen was shower day. I stopped the yacht in the middle of the ocean and was not taking no for an answer. We gave her privacy and let her have an ocean shower. When she was finished we started up the engine and headed on our way. I thought she was in her cabin getting changed, but instead, to my horror she was completely naked, lying on the trampoline spread eagle …we could see, well, more than is polite from anyone, let alone a 65 year old. And you just can’t ‘un-see’ that stuff!!
One night, towards the end of the trip, we hear this squeaking coming from above our cabins. Kevin come into my cabin and asks me to please ask T to stop jumping on the deck with her squeaky shoes - it's one in the morning! When I go upstairs, she's hopping on the spot with black sole shoes on. You never wear black soled shoes on a yacht, its common knowledge, it marks the decks, especially if you hopping on them, running on the spot and doing step climbs. On top of that we've done a lot of work whitening the decks. She claims she has to wear them for orthopedic reasons. It’s hard to argue with a medical condition. So I ask her to put down a few rags and step on those so as not to mark the decks, and to please not do it at one in the morning. I thought that was a pretty reasonable compromise but no such luck, she just blatantly refused.
To cut a very long story short, I eventually had enough. I was left with no choice but to confine her to her cabin. Coming out only to make and eat her meals. Her cabin door was to stay closed, keeping the funky smell contained. That smell only got worse with the final straw…
In the very beginning of the trip I told everyone not, under and circumstance to put toilet paper into the toilet. It blocks it, and that’s no fun! Throw it out the window straight into the sea, or use a brown bag and throw it overboard later, its bio-degradable and its where it would have ended up anyway. We have around four days to our destination, in the Grenadines.
She comes to me, 'Shane, my toilet tank light is on.'
This means the sewerage holding tank is full. Seventy-five liters full. Usually, you only use the holding tanks when you in a marina. I check everything is in order, and it is. The toilet must be blocked. I just wanted to cry, or better, I wanna keel-haul her! If you don’t know what that is, Google it.
We tried everything shy of opening the tank lid to clear the blockage. If we do that while sailing we’ll have T's shit all over the place! But I suppose, on the up side, it would have given me something to rub her nose in.
I had to ask, 'T, did you throw toilet paper into the toilet?'.
With a slight smirk on her face she says. 'Yes!'
So with only a couple days to spend on the island, I had to spend one of them sifting through this women’s shit! Believe me I tried to make her unblock it, but you got more chance of winning the lotto two weeks in a row, she was incapable. Eventually, Kevin and I had to get in the sea and stick wire up the exit hole, not hers, the boats sewerage exit. Finally that worked, releasing what looked something very close to toilet paper and seventy five liters of shit, into the ocean next to us! How's that for a cherry on the top.
Since then she is known as 'The shit flinging Swedish bitch'. No offence meant towards the Swedish, just T.
Nowadays I’m a lot more thorough when I choose crew, especially if I’m spending over a month at sea with them!