The Skipper on a charter yacht
Article by Alex. Vournas
The skipper is the heart of every floating vessel on earth. His
word is (or should be) law to everybody on board. Yet, on a pleasant
sailing holiday with your friends it can be deemed as unpleasant,
and hard for the skipper, to order those friends to do something they
may not like to do, and may consider unnecessary or a "dirty
job". A crew member might think -"why me again, why not
Charlie this time", not realising he may be the best person for
the job, especially in difficult or tricky manoeuvres. It is not always
easy for skipper or crew member.
What about the situation where you have hired a professional skipper?
You have to admit that the situation where your employee (the skipper)
commands you to do something you may not like, is something which
does not occur in other forms of business or social life !! But please
bear in mind that you are paying this guy to do precisely this. If
he doesn't, then he is not doing his job properly and you must remember
that in extreme situations your life may depend on his decisions and
commands, and the way you react to them. There are three aspects regarding
the skipper and I will analyse them for you:
a. You are the Skipper
You must discuss your position with your family and friends IN ADVANCE,
preferably before you even book the holiday. Having chosen you as
skipper, they have to understand that your word is LAW on board. If
they can not accept this then do not accept the position. If you are
the only one with sailing experience you can always accept the position
of navigator, and let someone else be skipper, however if the crew
can not all accept your original conditions you would be well advised
not to make the trip, as the chances of failure are very high.
It has to be understood that the skipper's authority is not only confined
to emergency situations where you are about to hit rocks (they will
certainly accept commands then) but have to cover all the mundane
daily tasks involved in living on board.
For example, there are 6 men in the crew, it has been a long and exhausting
day and you have just enjoyed a magnificent dinner of fried fish,
which you have bought at the local market, washed down with a sufficiency
of good local white wine and are now sitting together to enjoy a coffee
and brandy. BUT there is a huge pile of dirty plates, pans - approaching
deck-high. Who is going to do the washing-up, when everyone is tired
and a volunteer does not appear? To leave them will smell the cabin
out - having eaten fish. But it has to be done and you have to ask,
or eventually command, someone to spend the next hour doing the unpleasant
job. If you don't, then what started out as a very pleasant evening
will end up with arguments as to who will do what, and when - and
it will all be your fault !
This example may be extreme but you would be surprised how many holidays
are spoiled because these seemingly trivial issues are not handled
properly. If the crew chose you as skipper they must accept your word
as law. Good leadership skills by you, making sure that the crew all
share the dirty jobs, as well as the rewarding ones, including yourself
in the various domestic tasks, will ensure a happy ship and a subsequently
b. You are the crew - and you have to choose the skipper
Again, an early decision is by far the best. If more than one crew
member has sailing experience choose the one with the additional leadership
skills rather, than the purely technical sailor. You should choose
someone you respect and whose orders you will follow without question.
Respect on someone's skills has nothing to do with age. How many children
these days know more about computers than their fathers?
During the trip you must follow the skipper's orders without question.
If the skipper appears to be picking on you and you seem to be getting
more than your share of a particular job - don't argue in front of
the rest of the crew, just do it - and then have a quiet word with
the skipper about your feelings quietly and in private later.
c. You hired a professional skipper for your holiday
If you have hired a professional skipper to accompany you on a bareboat charter, then the skipper is still responsible for the safety of the yacht and crew, and all technical aspects of sailing. As mentioned previously, if the skipper asks you to help, you have to do what he says. If the skipper decides that it is too rough to go sailing, you cannot force him because you would be asking him to risk the yacht and crew when he is responsible. (If the wind reaches scale 6 or 7 on the Beaufort scale, the port authorities will probably refuse him permission to leave port in any case). Now you may think this makes complete sense, but you might be surprised to learn how often clients insist the skipper takes them out because they don't believe the wind is too strong. (They forget that the wind inside the port or marina is no indication of the true wind strength away from the coast).
If any damage is caused to the yacht while under the skipper's command, he is answerable for the cost of repairs, not the charterer, unless it can be proved that the charterer 'insisted' or in some way forced the skipper to act against his better judgement. However, in most cases when you charter a bareboat sailing yacht with skipper, you will still be asked to pay a security deposit, though sometimes it will be a reduced amount. Why? Well, there are many damages that can be caused aboard a yacht, and they are not always due to the negligence of the skipper. For instance, you may break a water glass (which you probably won't be charged for) or something more serious, for example, you may take the tender to shore and then lose it because you didn't secure it properly. Or you may wear hobnail boots or stiletto shoes on deck (not adviseable!!)
When you hire a professional skipper as part of your team, you have to also treat him as part of the team. In most cases he will have his own cabin, and he will need his rest and privacy when not sailing, but the skipper remains in charge of the yacht 24/7, and that includes when the yacht is secured, at anchor or in port. Of course the skipper is free to leave the yacht as long as he is sure the yacht is safe, but if there is any reason for his concern, he will remain on board the yacht. For this reason it is important to respect that the skipper has an important job to do at all times. The skipper is not a servant and you cannot expect him to do other jobs for you.
The skipper should be provided with meals on board. He shouldn't be expected to purchase provisions or cook for himself. He is also not responsible for any domestic duties on board, although the rest of you are, unless you have hired extra help. If you have hired a cook/hostess also, then the skipper will eat from the same meals as the rest of you while on board. In the evenings when you dock, you will probably go ashore and eat at a taverna. Unlike with fully crewed charters, it is customary to invite the skipper and any additional crew to join you, but it is not mandatory. If you prefer to have your privacy, just make sure that there are adequate provisions on board for the skipper, or offer to pay for his meal if he eats ashore. But hopefully you will get on well with your skipper and enjoy his company enough to invite him to join you. Note also that the skipper probably knows the best places to eat and can often get good deals or free offers if he brings clients to a restaurant, so it probably won't cost you any more than if you ate by yourselves. You will also see more of the 'real' Greece like this.