#40 – Guests Aboard

Grandbaby visiting! If you have family and friends, and you have a boat, and you take that boat somewhere interesting, sooner or later someone will want to visit. You may invite them, or they may invite themselves, but either way, having guests aboard requires forethought and adjustments in routine to ensure that what should be a fun time stays fun.

Having been a charter captain, I have well-considered ideas about how to make visits go smoothly. It turns out most of the Admirals have similar guidelines. It’s no surprise, because, fundamentally, it is all about being a good hostess.

The first issue that begs answering is where to put guests? If you were thinking guests when you bought your boat, you selected one with a guest cabin. If you were really thinking GUESTS, perhaps you picked a retired charterboat with multiple cabins or a multi-hull, that ultimate in party platforms. Whatever you chose, odds are the “spare room” has transmogrified into a “garage”, packed with stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Depending on how bad a packrat you’ve been, you either have to throw stuff away, move it up on deck, or find somewhere ashore to stash it temporarily. Having guests is good motivation for spring cleaning.

If your space is too finite for guests, their needs too particular, or your own need for privacy too sacrosanct, position the boat near a resort and do your visiting ashore or on daysails.

But even a small boat with no guest quarters can work if you plan strategically. Lisa and Dennis of Lady Galadriel, a very small Crealock 37, often have guests who stay for up to a week. Kids and singles get the salon, but for couples they give up their cabin since the only head is there. “We warn everyone upfront about the outdoor shower, shared head, space and resource issues, and limits on luggage. Managing expectations and communication are important factors for success.”

This is KEY. And though it may seem obvious, I have met people, charter crews included, who resist belaboring anything resembling rules or structure to people bound for vacation. This is unfair to your guests. How can they avoid blunders, if they don’t know any better?

Just as I did for my charters, most Admirals send prospective guests a pre-visit letter that goes over important points they’ll need to know and anticipates their likely concerns:

  • What to expect in their onboard accommodations. What they need (and don’t need) to pack for clothes, footwear and equipment for the season, destinations and activities that you plan. Remind them to bring books, batteries, cameras, (seasickness) meds, sunscreen and hats, and to use collapsible luggage.
  • What passports and visas are required. If you’re asking them to bring stuff for you (more later), they may need receipts and a letter from you for customs.
  • How much money to bring, whether to exchange money before coming or at the airport, or, if relying on ATMs, to alert their credit card companies before departure to where they’ll be.
  • Whether to take advantage of duty-free liquor upon arrival. (It can be a huge savings.)
  • Your contact info, including marina phone numbers; how they’ll get to the boat; plus what to do should there be delays or mix-ups… theirs or yours.

From them you will want to know:

  • Flight information.
  • Food and beverage likes and dislikes.
  • Whether they want to be active or laid back.
  • What they want to do.

Make no promises! About ANYTHING! Not about itinerary, not about activities, not even about being there when they arrive! As cruisers we are always constrained by weather, and your guests must understand that you cannot put yourself in jeopardy, particularly to make a rendezvous arranged months before. For this reason, many cruisers subscribe to the rule “You can pick a place or a time, but not both,” and discourage visitors from buying tickets until the boat is at or near the pickup point.

Besides, there is much to be said for having guests visit at places you’ve had time to get to know. “It’s much less stressful for us,” says Robin, of the catamaran Endangered Species, “and we feel we give them a better overall experience that way.”

Which places those are will depend on mutual interests, but, regardless, try to choose a starting place that facilitates cleaning, laundry and provisioning for you. Many Admirals do basic provisioning before guests arrive but let guests experience the final shop. It’s fun, and it anchors them in the realities of the area. Another consideration is having land alternatives available for entertaining guests should weather work against you after their arrival. When Sheri’s parents visited Procyon recently in Australia, they weren’t able to leave the harbor the whole two weeks!

And speaking of duration, you know what they say about “fish and guests….” Most Admirals have personal limits on how long guests stay, although the length tends to vary according to how far the guests have to travel, the size of the boat, and what recent experiences the hosts have had!

Interestingly, the recurring formula for best managing visits turns out to be to treat guests – even family – like a charter! Start with an orientation to the boat, what we used to call “Boring Lecture 101.” This is when you go over toilet operation (number of pumps/no paper!), water conservation, where to hang towels, keeping sand out of the boat and wet bums off interior cushions, how sound carries over water (and within the hull!), the one-hand-for-you-and-one-for-boat rule, the risk of sunburn and boat butt (change out of those wet swimsuits!) etc. Do the same for your daily sailing and at-anchor routines, including snorkeling from the boat. Do it even for experienced sailors, because your procedures may be different from theirs.

Most visitors are happy to go with your flow. You can, like Katherine of Sangaris does, provide them with a drawer full of maps and guides to help them feel involved with the planning or even to plan excursions on their own. You don’t have to do everything together.

Some will want to help with daily duties and projects, but often it’s quicker and less disruptive to do it yourselves. After all, it’s the stuff you do daily anyway: the meal prep, dishes, clean-up, and, of course, maintenance, navigation, and watch-keeping responsibilities. “We encourage participation in all the fun stuff,” says Lisa, “but we do all the work.”

If guests get stir-crazy, a kayak is a good alternative if you are reluctant to entrust them with the dinghy. A bit of independence may be all they need…and you’ll appreciate the break.

The financial side of having guests visit can be an awkward issue. Although you may treat them like charter guests, in the end they aren’t. (FYI: in many countries “chartering” without a license is illegal.) Options are to let guests contribute on that final shopping trip or take you out for shoreside meals, but beware of having unspoken expectations of financial compensation. It can act like poison!

One great favor visitors can do is pony-expressing needed items from home. The Internet enables ordering almost anything to be shipped directly to your guests, ensuring you get the right thing and reducing the imposition of the steady stream of what Katherine calls OMT (one-more-thing) emails. Remind guests to remove all unnecessary packaging.

Sharing our cruising lives with family Most cruisers look forward to having guests. We like giving them a taste of the lifestyle we enjoy, countering their preconceptions that we’re roughing it, and enabling an affordable break from work or winter. It’s also a very satisfying way to maintain connections back home. “I love having visitors,” says Robin. “On board, you get great one-on-one time with them — so much more than when we visit them. On board you get them all to yourself.”

Contributing Admirals: Lisa Schofield, Lady Galadriel; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Katherine Briggs, Sangaris; Robin Willstein, Endangered Species; Maribel Penichet, Paper Moon; Sheri Schneider, Procyon; Jane Kilburn, Lionheart; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai

This article was published in the November 2009 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

2 comments to #40 – Guests Aboard

  • Thanks for providing a thorough, helpful look at hosting while cruising. I’d add that, if there’s any way guests can build in a day or two decompressing by vacationing on their own before they join you, it decreases the friction between the slow pace of cruising and recent arrivals from a high-speed life. That way they can buy tickets early to a general destination and take local transportation to wherever you finally end up, an important consideration when meeting up in the cruising grounds of Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.

  • Dan

    We have a list of Rules (rules isnt realy a good way to describe it, more like a FAQ list) that we email when we are talking about them coming to see us. So the guest can make plans about their visit. There needs to be an understanding of what to expect, and the main thing is “Keep in mind that Mother Ocean is not a charter boat or weekend toy, it is our only home so please respect it as such.”

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