Getting that first sailing opportunity

In response to the question "How do I get that first opportunity to crew on a sailboat?" I posted in one of the forums where I participate:

Aim high, start low...

Consider six absolute facts:

1. A Captain is much more likely to give you an opportunity that is low risk for the Captain/boat then high risk. Getting your first opportunities in "beer can*" racing is going to be very easy compared to even a single overnight voyage.
2. There are Captains who love to win, there are Captains who love to teach. Find out who the second group is by asking around.
3. There are "horses for courses" and there are "courses for horses." In Milwaukee, WI where I last raced there were three race clubs. Races were held on Wednesday night, Friday night, and Saturday. Wednesday night was "beer can", Saturday was super serious, and Friday night was "training wheels." On Friday nights lodging a protest resulted in automatic disqualification. There was an "open boat" tradition. If someone showed up and wanted to crew a boat would extend an invitation. It was considered in the worst of taste to leave anyone on the dock. Find that club.
4. If you are like me with great respect for rules and authority you might find (as I did) private yacht clubs imposing with their "members only" signs. I was concerned that if I walked through the gate they would call the police and throw me out. It was only after a  friend told me that "riffraff" and "crew" were very different things (although most of the time I look like riffraff!) that I got the courage to walk into private yacht clubs and tell the reception people I was looking to crew. There is usually a bulletin board where you can post your availability. In addition, get the phone number of the race committee chairperson. Call them and tell them you are looking to crew.
5. Nothing, and I mean nothing is out of bounds when "dock walking**" before a race. I have seen sandwich boards; costumes; people carrying a case of beer all accompanied with a sign "I want a ride" or "I want to crew." Be creative, get noticed, get talked about. Carry a life jacket and sailing gloves. Be ready to jump on the boat - don't say "I have to go back to my car for my equipment."
6. DO NOT BE INVISIBLE! Participate socially. If the boat goes out for drinks after the race go with them. If they adjourn to the club bar you will be invited to go - make sure you do. The Captain usually pays for his/her crews' drinks - offer to pay for you own. Walk around to the tables with the other boats' Captains and crews. Introduce yourself as the "new guy/girl looking to crew." Ask the Captain who took you out if you can come back the following week.  Print up some business size cards with you name, phone number, email, and "Looking to Crew" or "Rail Meat.***" Pass them out ruthlessly.

You will get that first ride - and the second, and so on. Your experience and reputation is much more important at this stage than any courses or certifications you may have earned.

Fair winds and following seas :)

* [B]"Beer Can Racing"[/B] A term of art for low key having fun rather than winner take all sailboat racing. So named  because after the race it is traditional to all adjourn to the local pub for beer and lies. Its about the camaraderie, not the competition.

** [B]Dock Walking[/B] The process of walking up and down the docks a couple of hours before a race asking "do you need crew?" If at first you don't succeed keep going back week after week. Sooner or later someone will say yes.

*** [B]Rail Meat[/B] Inexperienced crew whose primary contribution is to sit on the windward rail to keep the boat from heeling.

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