by Paul Kamen April 2007
Dying to race in the Pacific Cup, but don't have a boat? Ma'alahi! (no problem!) Every race boat needs a full crew, and a quick scan of the Kaneohe yacht club bar during finish week will prove that owners are in the minority.
The only problem is that this is a race that everyone wants to do, but not everyone has the boat, the time
or the money run their own campaign. Owners have the edge in this buyers' market, and they can afford to be extremely picky when choosing crew. This is very different from local weekend racing, where anyone who walks down the dock with seaboots and a PFD is welcome as rail meat if not foredeck fodder -- if it doesn't work out, they are off the boat in a few hours. But for Pac Cup, the owners have the luxury of racing with the people they already know, like, and trust.
If you know someone who is likely to enter their boat in Pac Cup, you know what you have to do: Start sailing and racing with them now. Be on time for every race. Bring the best snacks you can afford. Help them sand the bottom during their haul-out. Always stay 'till the last sail is folded and the last hatch board is in place. And if you drop a winch handle overboard, replace it with a more expensive model even if the owner insists that you don't have to.
That's just basic good crew etiquette. The real Pac Cup challenge is finding a spot on a good boat run by people you don't already know. After ten Pacific Cups on OPBs (Other Peoples' Boats), here are some basics to keep in mind:
1) Start early. Planning for this project usually begins a year in advance, so make it known that you want in and that you can contribute to preparing the boat, that you are available to race locally and can participate in the practice sails. Put your name on the Pac Cup website, place and ad in Latitute, and don't miss a Safety at Sea seminar or any other Pac Cup function.
2) Keep the dates open right up to the last minute. The first window for signing on as crew is about six months to a year or more before the start, when the teams are forming. Then as T-minus three months passes, the crew is set on nearly all boats, and very few new spots come open. But in the final weeks, things change. Crew have sudden meltdowns at work, their backs go out, they have new family commitments, and if you don't mind circling the fleet like a vulture during the final days before the race, odds of finding a spot that some unlucky sailor had to vacate become fair to excellent. (Hey, someone has to eat the carrion....)
It doesn't happen every year, but it's not unusual for the word to go out during the Bon Voyage Party that a berth is suddenly available. In the '96 race, one boat even picked up a new crew right from the St. Francis guest dock, within an hour of their start.
But to take advantage of these last-minute openings, you have to keep your schedule clear right up through the night before the last start. This is the hard part - everyone makes other plans for the last two weeks in July. And that's exactly why those last-minute crew spots can be hard to fill, and why, if you are in the right place at the right time and still available, you're on. And there's a fringe benefit: you will have missed all the work parties getting the boat ready for the race! (On the other hand, if you follow these instructions, you will have already done far more than your share by assisting the race organizers.)
3) Volunteer. The people who put on the Pacific Cup do as much work as the people preparing their boats to race, and they always need more hands. A lot of the tasks involve organizational logistics: Producing the race guide, making arrangements for the meetings, seminars and parties, inspecting boats, finding sponsors, dealing with shipping and insurance companies. You almost certainly have a skill that they need, and after months of working closely with the race organizers they will be in a position to give you a personal recommendation when a late crew spot comes open on a good boat.
Remember, crew for Pacific Cup should be selected based on the answer to this question: "Would I spend two weeks locked in a bathroom with this person?" So the personality and character reference is all-important. The people who can give these references when they make a difference are the same people who need your help putting on all the pre-race events.
4) Join the Pacific Cup Yacht Club and help work the booth at the boat show. Not only is this a great way to get into the boat show for free, but all the owners planning to do the race will stop by. If any of them are looking for crew you'll be the first to know.
5) Acquire some specialized skills. A ham radio license is a relatively easy one, for example. A medical background (cardiology in particular) seems to be in high demand. Cooking can be a ticket for a ride on a big boat, but you'll have to be good -- or get some very good advice -- to learn the shortcuts that will let you feed a big crew and still have enough time left over to enjoy the sailing. Ability to repair sails or diesel engines or electrical systems looks good on the resume. If you have the skills to build the emergency rudder or install the SSB you can make yourself more valuable to the team.
6) Buy into a charter. Some boats ask for a substantial buy-in to defray most or all of the cost. But be careful: When crew are chosen based on ability to pay instead of character, skill and experience -- and when many thousands of dollars have been spent to be cold, wet, tired and scared while using up a year's worth of vacation time -- a happy ship is unlikely. Not that it isn't worth doing anyway. Maybe the trick is to never think about what the same amount of money could have bought at a luxury resort...
7) Do a return delivery to get some sea time. If you have never made a long ocean crossing, there is an opportunity to do this at very low cost. Anyone caught near Waikiki or Hawaii yacht clubs towards the end of July in any odd-numbered year will be asked to join a delivery crew bringing a Transpac boat back to California. Experienced delivery crew get paid for this, but as a beginner you can usually expect a free boat ride but no air fare. The trip might involve a lot of heavy upwind sailing and/or motoring, but it's still a crossing and still adds chapters to your sailing experience. "Diesel costs less than sails" read the big sign in Merlin's cabin one year.
8) Bring something they need. This can be a certified raft that meets the requirements, a Single Sideband Radio, an emergency rudder or even a few spinnakers that are approximately the right size.
9) Be available for the return delivery. This might add another three or four weeks to the time commitment, but it makes you far more desirable as crew. Having done the return trip once before is a big plus here.
10) Don't be too particular. A ride on a "bad" boat is far better than no ride at all. And you have to start somewhere. Let me take that back: There is no such thing as a "bad" ride in the Pacific Cup.