Much of my offshore sailing experience has been short-handed, that is, sailing solo or with one other crew member. My other boat, Cepheus, is a smaller racing style boat and it would get cramped with more than 3 crew onboard. Ingwe, in contrast, on these long passages, would be difficult to manage with 2, impossible with 1, and better with at least 3 or 4 crew.

One of my sailing buddies – Mike – says that sailing solo can be easier because there is no need to discuss options with the crew. There is no one else’s schedule to consider, for eating and napping. One of the challenges that I have faced during Atlantic Crossing Adventure is how to manage a crew to get the most out of their individual skills as well as the combination of their skills to be an efficient, effective unit.

Phil at the helm of Ingwe

Over the course of the passage from Florida to the Azores and beyond I believe I have grown as a skipper. I’ve worked on communicating sailing maneuvers in advance and clarifying what I expect of each crew member. I’ve also put more focus on informing the crew of the daily plans, rather than including them all in the decision making process. Perhaps some of this comes from gaining confidence in my decisions but is also a result of seeing problems arise when I wasn’t decisive. At that point crew may perceive this as a weakness and start second guessing my decisions.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times to listen to input, but on a boat a thousand miles from land, there has to be one decisive person in control. We knew when we left Horta that the current forecast wasn’t ideal to head to Porto. For the first couple of the days of the passage it would be fine and actually glorious conditions. But later it would deteriorate considerably, if the forecast held.

Throughout that first night I had little sleep as I was restless. I knew that we needed to stop, but wanted an opportunity to get closer to our destination (which was a 6 day sail away) as well as for updated weather models to be downloaded. There was always the chance that the forecast would improve. At 8am the next morning, armed with new weather information, the passage wasn’t going to be any safer so I decided to head in a southeast direction to the island of São Miguel where we sought refuge on the southern side, to let the wind die down.

These calls are never easy, but safety has to be our priority and this is one of the many safety guardrails we put in place as I take my One More Step to live a fuller life. And the decision had to be mine to make, as leader of this organization and crew.

Today I realized that being skipper is a lot like being a scientist. One looks out into the future with imperfect information, makes a hypothesis that sets into place the plan of action. But this is only a temporary direction. With new information the hypothesis might be disproved and a new hypothesis be developed. It is critical not to let crew think that changing one’s mind is a sign of indecision or lack of confidence. Far from it. Instead a plan based on better data is made but modified as necessary. Every 12 hours I am downloading new weather information. I am comparing that forecast to actual conditions. We have our plan that was developed 2 days ago, but we update with the latest information and make necessary adjustments. So far the conditions that the weather files have forecasted have been correct. Our hypothesis has not been disproved – YET. If the need arises, I bear the responsibility to get this vessel and her crew safely to our next destination and will make the appropriate decisions to do so.

According to our sailing experiment we will take a relatively straight line from our current position to Porto with a forecast arrival in 4 days on Saturday. We have been waiting for a shift in the wind, which just occurred, that is now allowing us to sail towards our destination. Two hours till our next weather file. We will see if the hypothesis is intact this evening.

2 thoughts on “Challenges of being a Captain

  1. You are doing a great job, Phil. I am sure the crew appreciates how considered you are. Being driven by other factors than what you have in front of you (like having to be somewhere at a certain time, for example) is what always gets people in trouble. That, and hubris. March on. wish I was in Portugal right about now. I love it as much as Italy. Enjoy the much deserved wine, which as you know is plentiful and delicious.

    1. A Reply from Phil: 337 nautical miles to go, feeling thirsty already. Thanks for your support.

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