Joining as crew on SY Helena

In Crew on 01/09/2012 at 12:00

Please see the itinerary for details about the upcoming passages.

Joining us as crew

As you can see on the main crew page, we have had quite a few people on board from many different countries and on many different parts of the trip. All the people on this page have earned their place on board and will always be welcome again whenever they feel like it. Crewing on Helena can be extremely rewarding and will give you memories for a lifetime. However, it always takes some effort to let things work out properly on a ship.

Therefore it is important to understand how things work on board before applying for a position as crew on Helena, or on any other ship. All information below is based on all the crewing experience and is compiled together with many of the crew members who have spent time with us. Sadly, in very rare occations, something just does not work out on board. Therefore I hope that this information prevents these situations from occurring. Be aware that anthing stated below applies to almost every yacht in the world with only slight personal differences for any given ship or captain.

You and being on board

Flexibility

First of all there is a matter of flexibility. Since we are mostly underway and dependant on the weather, repairs and other unforseen circumstances, we cannot always be certain of our departure or arrival anywhere in the world. This is especially important when planning to come along at a specific date, further in the future. If you need to buy a ticket, make sure you can change it or that you are prepared to book an on-going flight to wherever we will be with the ship. (This usually means that you should not go for the lowest fare tickets since they may end up costing you a lot more money.)

Formalities

Before you come on board, we will require a copy of your passport, a list of emergency contacts, details about potential allergies, medical conditions or intolerances, travel insurance and any other relevant information. All this will be strictly confidential, but is necessary for all our safety on board. We will send you the ship manifest for the trips, so you can forward this to your family back home in case of an emergency. This manifest will also help you get through immigration without a return ticket.

Illegal substances

I also want to point out that if you use, or have ever used any recreational drugs, there cannot be any trace of it in your luggage, clothing or anything else that you bring on board. The laws in many countries are extreme and we all will get into serious trouble if there is any trace of anything illegal on board. I don’t care if you sometimes smoke or use something, that is your own business, but it just cannot come anywhere near the ship.

Behavior

When you come on board, you are a guest in our home. We live on our ship and therefore everything on board how we like it. It simply is our household just like you would have yours at home so it is important to respect this, especially after being on board for a longer period. Just keep in mind that you are a guest on board.

Normally I like to keep things quite informal on board. That means that you can do whatever you like as long as you’re here, besides the regular tasks for everyone on board, including myself (provisioning, repairs, cooking, cleaning, etc).

You have to realize (you may already know but I want to point it out anyway) that being on a ship means that we are living intimately together for the duration of your stay on board. In my experience anyone will get past the first 2 weeks, merely on politeness alone. After that however comes the phase that it either works out or it doesn’t. This is especially true with the constant fatigue of passage making in mind.

If it doesn’t work out, it has to be understood that no one can be blamed. If that is the case, I will do whatever I can to let you get off in a place where you can find your own way. On the other hand, if it does work out, you could just as well stick around a lot longer than you ever planned for.

Separating from the crewlist

If we do end up in a situation where our ways have to separate, you have to understand that being on a ship is both liberating and constraining when it comes to formalities. The nice thing is that you can pretty much go anywhere in the world as long as you are on the crew list of any ship. The downside is that if you have to leave the ship, formalities will have to take place first. A signoff of the crew list can sometimes be a complicated and a lengthy process. Usually you will require a ticket on an international flight or a place on another international ship to be able to get off the crew list. Without this, you may not be able to leave the ship and without going through the process, you may not be able to leave the country without significant legal problems. Respect this and it will all work out. In some countries, you will even be accompanied by an immigration officer on a domestic flight to make sure you leave the country.

Roommate versus captain

As a final point, since we are living intimately on board, we will have to be best friends along the way. It sounds silly, but it usually works that way and that can take an effort. For me that brings an extra dimension since I am responsible on board. This means that it is my job to keep the ship and everyone on board safe. I take this task very seriously and therefore I need to take on the role as instructor, boss and best friend at different times. This can be difficult and complicated since I cannot close the office door behind me and leave the job behind after working hours. Therefore it is of great importance that any crewmember will keep respecting the role of captain when that is necessary. I want to emphasize that this is the case on each and every yacht out there.

How it works on board

Arrival on board

On arrival I need to sign you onto the Crew list and keep your passport with the crew list in the safe. This is the case on any ship you would join. After the formalities you will be assisting in the preparations for the trip. This means that any repairs, cleaning, provisions and other relevant tasks will have to be finished before the planned departure. My aim is normally to be ready for departure 1 or 2 days in advance. We would also need several days for all safety briefings, passage planning and instructions on handling the ship while underway. A different side of the preparations is that I will need to assess your skills on board to determine what I can or cannot let you do while underway, or how I can get you better up to speed on operating the ship.

Decision making

Except for the overall planning (departure, destination and timescale) I like to keep the detailed planning democratic. That means that you have as much to say as I have about a preference for an anchorage or activities along the way. With the important note that safety issues or generic “underbelly” feelings are sufficient reason for me to overrule any democratic decision on board. (I have learned to trust that underbelly very very well!)

Authority

While we are on board, I am the captain and I expect that anything I tell you to do in relation to the sailing and behaviour on board will be heard and understood. Don’t worry, it’s normally very relaxed, but any instructions on what to do in certain situations have to be followed. Change of watch at 0300 means 0300 and not 0330 because it forces everyone into a certain rhythm. Instructions to wake me up when the wind shifts and a squall can be seen on the radar, doesn’t mean you can wait until you’re more certain or the sails are torn to pieces. It also does not mean that you have to stand on your head when I tell you to (unless it will definitely prevent the ship from sinking of course which could make sense after we had a drink to celebrate an arrival). Basically it is all common sense, but I am known to take safety very serious on board so there are no middle ways when it comes to safety.

Most importantly, while you are on the crew list, the ship comes first. No matter what your personal plans may be, if something needs to happen, it has to happen first. I am sure that this should be obvious with any ship, but I feel it needs to be said.

Cooking

Every day on every passage we eat proper meals. we have found that eating well works very good on the morale and helps keeping a proper routine in the day. As a matter of fact, the worse the weather, the better the food we eat. Everybody may cook and since we normally have different nationalities on board, we usually try to make several traditional dishes from our home countries. Whoever does not cook, will be responsible for the dishes.

Watches

While passage making, we normally run formal watches of 3 or 4 hours, depending on the size of the crew. Each day your watch will be shifting back so that everyone gets to run all watches. The watches start at 2100 and end at 0900. After 0900, informal watches will be applied, unless there is any kind of unusually strenuous situation with the result of unusual fatigue on board. We also fill out the Log at 0900 and at the end of each shift. During daytime we are less strict about the log, but we do keep midday positions with an engineroom check and tank measurement.

If anyone is unsure of anything during a watch, I expect to be woken up, regardless of how tired I may be.

Communication

We send a daily position report to Pangolin and in addition to that we will also send out a daily update to inform our immediate family of our whereabouts, our progress and what’s happening on board. We do NOT include anything in the daily update with regard to problems, damages or serious bad weather we may be dealing with. The intent of these messages is to make sure that the home front is not worried about any of us.

For sending these emails from the middle of the ocean we will be using the “Sailmail” system. This is meant as one-way communication. We use this email system to get all necessary weather information through SSB radio or satellite phone. To get an e-mail with this weather information through SSB, we need to spend about half an hour to get it in. Any e-mail sent to this e-mail system will block these weather forecasts. This means that we won’t know if there is any bad weather coming our way which is a very big safety concern.

There is normally no accepted method to reach this ship while we are in the open ocean. Not even when people are dying, a hurricane is coming our way or the world is going to be swallowed by a massive intergalactic tuna. We cannot do anything about any situation that arises back home and we will definitely know more about our weather situation than anyone at home.

Jobs

Every ship in the world has maintenance and damages along the way. These damages can be minor or major. Either way, they need to be addressed. To work on these issues, we all need to be working together, regardless of the fatigue on board. In order to make life as easy as possible, we maintain a very detailed documentation of everyting on board. This is all available on board and varies from digital electrical drawings to large binders with manuals.

Weather

We use GRIBfiles to have a good view of the weather situation. I normally get GRIBfiles that cover a very large area to have a good understanding of what is going on in the entire ocean. This way we should never be surprised by bad weather. Every day we run through the weather information together so we all know what is happening.

Information flow

As a final note, I do not keep secrets on board and I don’t like shielding any crew from any bad news I may have. If I am concerned about something, I will share it and I do want everyone to be aware of any potential threat or any concern that effects life on board. This means that if I feel that a cyclone is coming our way, we will all be discussing the situation so that each and everyone will be comfortable with our strategy.

Safety on board

Emergency contacts

When you arrive on board, I will need your emergency contact information which will be kept with the crew list. This information will be easily accessible for anyone on board.

Medical issues

I will need to know about any medical situation you may be dealing with, no matter how irrelevant. This will remain confidential and I will assume that you will be telling the truth. I do not ask for evidence from a doctor, unless there are specific circumstances.

We have an extensive medical supply on board which is based on the international regulations for ocean going vessels.

Safety equipment

We have VHF/DSC radio, SSB radio, EPIRB, MOB system, life jackets etc on board. All this equipment is always ready to be used. There are lifelines all over the deck and there are plenty of safety lines on board for use with the lifejackets which all have an integrated harness. Proper use of all systems will be part of the normal safety briefings.

Safety procedures

We have safety procedures printed out and laminated on board for VHF Radio emergency procedures, Abandon ship, EPIRBDive Accident Management, including Worldwide Search and Rescue contact information. These are all easily accessible and you should know how to use them properly.

‘Safety on deck

Safety on deck during passage making is easy and very simple and goes as follows:

  • After sunset, nobody leaves the cockpit without a lifejacket and safety line, and only when there is someone else in the cockpit keeping a lookout;
  • When anything needs to be done all the way on the foredeck or the stern deck at night, all hands must be on deck;
  • When alone in the cockpit between dusk and dawn, even outside the watch regime, a life jacket is mandatory, including a MOB sensor;
  • When alone in the cockpit during daylight, a MOB sensor will suffice;
  • Wearing a life jacket on deck during daylight is dependent on the sea state and weather, although always encouraged.

Drinking

There is a very strict no-alcohol policy on board during any passage.

Costs

Wages

I do not pay any wages for anything related to having crew on board.

Transportation

I do not pay for any of the costs that you need to make to get to us. If you leave before the end of the passages, the flight costs are yours. If you like to join us, you will have to pay for your own transportation and the costs involved are your own risk. I simply cannot afford to pay for you.

Living costs

All living costs will be shared. In reality this is all the food and drinks that you need on the way and it will all be shared. I do not intend to keep track of how many cans of coke someone takes, so basically we do provisioning based on all our cooking ideas and regular consumption rates of drinks. We share these costs among each other, preferrably while we are doing all the provisioning. The only requirement is that we only buy top quality food and the reason for this is simple. Top quality lasts longer, is safer to eat and of course, tastes better.

Any provisioning that is left at the end of the trip stays with the ship. There is already a good supply on board that you would be using and not be paying for either. This way there is the most transparency in the costs of living. To my experience the provisioning for about 2 months would end up somewhere around 1000-1200 USD per person. However, this can turn out to be a lot less or more depending on the local prices where we stock up.

If you are to leave the ship before the end of the trip, you will get no refund for the provisioning. What it comes down to is that whatever is being bought for the passage is meant for everyone and it is impossible to determine the exact value of what you have invested in the supplies compared to what was already on board. In addition to that, whatever was bought, was done so with your presence in mind.

Fuel/maintenance

All the ship’s costs like fuel and maintenance are mine. Please be careful with all the gear on board, but if something breaks during normal use, it will always be my responsibility. The exception being that if anyone intentionally damages or destroys anything on board, the person in question will be held liable.

Formalities

Clearance costs for the ship are mine, but personal formalities like visas, bonds or other costs will be your own.

Marinas

All marina costs are mine as long as I see the need for a marina. If you want to be in a marina and I prefer to stay at anchor, the marina fees will have to be paid by you or based on a shared cost. This will have to be discussed if and when this occurs.

State of Helena

Something about the ship itself. I have done 3 large overhauls so far. One in The Netherlands before my departure in 2009, one in St Maarten before getting onto the Pacific in 2010 and one in 2011 in Australia. I keep improving the ship and she is as good as new. She is a bit of a luxury cruiser with air conditionings, washing machine, 12V, 24V and 230V power systems (we use european power plugs, round with 2 pins), a genset and (really!) a Playstation (which I don’t use)… I’ve just put in a brand new engine and I’ve rebuilt the engine room.

During passages we normally are independent of engine and genset due to solar panels, wind generator and a shaft generator. There is an air compressor on board with 8 dive tanks and dive gear in all sizes. Needless to say, I am a diver. If you want to do some diving along the way on any of our stops, you don’t really need to bring your own gear, unless you are very attached to it.

What to bring

Luggage

Pack light! Depending on the cruising areas you may need a sweater for the night watches, but for most tropical cruising you won’t get cold. Do not bring your own life jacket either, it’s a big hassle at the airports with the gas cylinder and such. We carry 10 life jackets on board, so that is more than enough. If you have very good wet-weather gear, bring it along since there is always a chance for serious weather along the way. Although I have to say that I have not used my wet weather gear once in the past 4 years while sailing since I left Amsterdam… We carry lots of wet weather gear on board and in all sizes as well.

There is no need for sleeping bags, pillows or any of that stuff. Also do not bring any towels. We have plenty of all those things on board. I have short wetsuits in all sizes on board and basic masks, snorkels and fins. Although if you have your personal snorkel set that works very well for you, you can bring it along. We also carry dive gear in all sizes, so again, no need to bring your own.

Since we are on a ship, there is always a need for spare parts. This is very often cheaper to buy in the US or Europe. We may ask you to buy something for the ship. We will be reimbursing you, although you should take care that your luggage doesn’t exceed the maximum weight for the airline, otherwise the advantage will be lost of course.

Since we are always in different countries in different parts of the world, specific provisioning is sometimes hard to find or crazily expensive. Therefore it can often be a good idea to bring food or specific ingredients along in your luggage.

Paperwork

Make sure your passport will be valid for at least half a year for EVERY port along the way. Make sure your passport does not expire until 7 months after the planned arrival in the last port.

Check out the visa requirements for each country which is near our projected course and make sure you have your visas arranged before you come on board. Check with us before you arrange the visas though, since some countries have easier regulations when it comes to crew visas.

Sign up as crew

If you are interested in crewing on Helena, just send us an email or fill out the following form. If we feel that we may have a place for you on board, we will want to be in touch with you through Skype (with video) so we can get to know each other.

Make sure you have read everything on this page before applying. Remember to include sufficient personal information with some details on your sailing experience.

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