Relaxing in the sun on Jost Van Dyke’s White Bay

Remember that although this is a vacation, and the captain enjoys sailing, it is still a lot of work to sail a boat. Look for opportunities to help. You’ll learn a lot about sailing and will be more likely to find yourself invited on the next voyage! Following are many of the tasks with which you can get involved.

Helping before you sail

Before you sail each day, the Captain will likely be busy checking the wind and wave forecasts and plotting the day’s courses. There are several things you can do at this time to make the boat ready to sail.

Checking engine and generator.

Each day before you sail, the Captain needs to check oil and transmission fluid levels. This may require getting your hands a little dirty, but is just like checking fluid levels on your car. Offering to check these is a great help.

Stowing gear.

Anything inside (or above) the boat that isn’t lashed down will crash onto the floor when the wind picks up and the sailboat heels (tips). You can help secure everything, starting with your own cabin and working out into the galley and public areas.  Everything must have a secure place and be stowed before sailing.

Close hatches.

Before you sail, you can help by closing all the hatches on the boat. Sea spray and occasional rain will quickly soak the boat’s interior while underway. Closing the hatches only takes a minute and will let the skipper focus on other things.

Secure the dinghy.

In the BVI, dinghies are typically towed on a line behind the sailboat, unless the boat has davits (hangers) that suspend the dinghy out of the water. The captain will show you how to tie the “painter” (the rope on the front of the dinghy) to the sailboat. When you enter or exit an anchorage, the dinghy must be pulled in very close behind the sailboat. If it isn’t, the painter may get pulled under the boat and caught in the propeller, which is really, really not a good thing. When you are out sailing, the dinghy should be let out further to keep it out of the boat’s wake. Offer to take responsibility for bringing the dinghy in close to the boat or letting it out as you enter and exit anchorages. The captain should show you how to do this safely so you don’t get tangled in the line or fall overboard.

With ample trade winds, easy sailing, and so many islands, it is customary in the BVI to tow the dinghy even while sailing

Helping while anchoring or mooring.

When you visit an island, you have the choice of dropping anchor, or tieing the boat to a mooring ball. The procedure for each is different, and your captain will need help. So offer, and follow the Capain’s instructions. Your Captain will take on a slightly more stressed personality when anchoring and mooring. It is not easy manuvering an unfamiliar boat in the wind in an unknown anchorage, so be patient if they get a little stressed, and listen carefully to instructions. There are times on a boat to question, discuss, and teach. This isn’t one of them. Things happen quickly and the captain needs your full attention and cooperation.

Helping out while sailing

The crew raises sails and prepares to make way

Jib sheets.

Of all the tasks available on a sailboat, taking a jib sheet is probably the most fun. The jib is the forward sail on a boat, and the “sheet” is the rope that goes from that sail back to the cockpit area. When the boat turns – or tacks – the jib has to be moved to the other side of the boat. This is accomplished by rapidly pulling in the sheets on a winch. The captain will explain the process to you, and with some practice you will get your tacks to be as efficient as you see in the movies.

Take the wheel.

Once you are out on the open water, ask for a turn at the wheel. The captain will explain what to watch for (it’s not as simple as driving a car). You will learn to read the wind and keep the boat and sails trimmed perfectly for maximum speed. And the captain may appreciate the break once in a while.

Man the Cannons.

(This section removed 1832 a.d.)

Helping in the anchorage

Trash dropoff or ice pickup

Atleast once a day you will need to empty trash and replenish the ice in your freezer. In some of the larger anchorages a small boat may pull up alongside selling ice or picking up trash for a few dollars. In other places, you will need to take the dinghy to shore, drop off your trash, and buy a bag or two of ice. Offer to do this while the Captain is busy with other tasks, it will help get the work out of the way more quickly so the crew can enjoy the new island.

Rinse the decks

After a good day of sailing, the boat’s decks and hatches will be covered with dried salt. Take a few minutes with a deck brush and pail to wash down the boat. Wet an area once with sea water and give it a quick scrubbing, then follow up with a splash of fresh water (IF you have enough.) If it rains, grab a deck brush and let Mother Nature do the rinsing for you.