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Team work and spreading the load

By Matt Sheahan

Team work and spreading the load

Launched in 2005, Archaeopteryx already knew her way around the world having completed the previous rally under the name, True Blue. Like many, her current owner had dreamed of doing the Oyster World Rally for some time and bought the boat specifically for the event.

Skipper Catherine Verdon had worked on several larger yachts, typically between 82 and 116 ft, for many years, but this was her first as captain. She joined the boat in January 2021.

Once they were able to, the owner and guests joined Archaeopteryx for a season in the Mediterranean.

While the demands of running the boat were clear from the start, Catherine highlights some of the key ingredients to working with the owner, guests and crew to ensure that everyone gets what they want out of the trip.

OVERVIEW

  • Catherine Verdon - Skipper
  • Oyster 66/12 Archaeopteryx
  • Two professional crew
  • Total crew typically five

“Our cruising started with a number of two-week trips with friends and family as we got to know the boat,” said Catherine. “We then had a short yard period in Palma for six weeks before heading over to Antigua for the start of the rally. It was quite a busy period, especially as it was my first position as captain as well. Getting to know a new owner, a new boat and a new position meant that the build-up was a bit of a whirlwind.

“Archaeopteryx is the smallest boat I’ve worked on and with just two of us as professional crew it quickly became clear that we would be wearing many more hats than we might have been used to aboard bigger boats.”

Aside from the technical demands of keeping systems up and running, Catherine was quick to realise the time pressures too and how this can affect the plans of the crew as a whole.

“While the rally schedule is all laid out and you know the dates and what lies ahead, it still feels very fast paced when you’re living it day by day. On the one hand this is good because you get to see a lot of places, but when something goes wrong and you have maintenance or breakdown issues, it puts additional pressure on a tight schedule. It was something I wasn’t really used to.

“When you’re doing shorter trips with guests aboard, you can usually get by until the guests leave and you can resolve the issue. But on a rally like this, I’m doing maintenance with the owner on board and any sort of breakdown directly impacts the owner's cruising schedule. This means that you find yourself having to say, I'm sorry, we're going to have to stop and fix this and we will have to catch up with the fleet later.

“I’ve been lucky in this respect in that the owner has been very understanding which has relieved some of the pressure.”

As Catherine continues, it’s clear that this harmony has been no accident. Working together as a team was part of their original objective.

“When we’re aboard we do everything together. From eating meals, to discussing the maintenance work to be done, we tackle it as a group. Everybody knows about the status of the boat, there's not a divide where the crew put on a shiny, happy face and the guests don't really know that something's wrong down below. All the information is shared and discussed, which makes us more of a combined group rather than just crew dealing with one thing and guests having a different experience.”

Archaeopteryx is the smallest boat I’ve worked on. With just two of us as professional crew, it quickly became clear that we would be wearing many more hats than we might have been used to aboard bigger boats.
Catherine Verdon - Skipper
Crew on board Oyster 66 Archaeopteryx

Planning is another key factor for Catherine.

“You have to accept early on that you can't do everything. You could spend three years just in French Polynesia, but we had just a few weeks, so working out what the cruising priorities are to make sure you see the major places and that you fully describe what the different options are is key. One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s good to know as much as you can about each place beforehand, because researching on the hoof is not always that easy.

“One approach to stop you getting continually frustrated with not being able to do everything all the time is to remind yourself that this rally is about going around the world and noting places that you would like to go back to. I’ve heard some crews talk of the rally as a reconnaissance trip of the world.”

When it comes to the role of professional crew and the balance that needs to be struck on board, Catherine has seen some boats’ approach gradually evolve as their trip has unfolded.

“There are a couple of owners that started out without professional crew and chose to handle the trip with just themselves as skipper and friends as crew. But along the way, as their views on what they wanted out of the rally developed, they hired professional help to ease the job list.

“This is especially the case when friends and family join for limited periods of time. Their expectations of what the trip might offer can sometimes differ from reality if the owner/skipper needs to carry out maintenance or repairs. So, I think there is a benefit in paying crew because it creates a clearer definition of what the expectations are.”

“On the other hand, some owners have taken the view that this trip is about learning how to run the boat in more detail. They like to get more involved in the maintenance so that at the end of the rally they are in a better position to understand their boats in detail themselves.

“For me, one of the big take-aways is knowing what you all want to achieve from the trip and accepting that whatever the age or size of your boat, there will be times when things go wrong and need to be sorted. Getting to know owners, for six months to a year before the event, really helps both sides understand how to work together to achieve this once you’re under way.”

Crew and owners relaxing on board Oyster 66 Archaeopteryx
Oyster 66 Archaeopteryx Sailing Sunset Fiji

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