Choosing crew: How to avoid problems in your cockpit

Story from Mladen Sutej and an interview with him!

I am often asked:
– How do I choose people for the crew? What is the required sailing experience? How many miles did they travel and on what kind of boats? Is it crucial that they have sufficient funds for such trips? Or courage?

These people (about 2000 people I shared the boats with, the cabin with and took care of their safety) who sit in front of me, do not suspect what I’m thinking. I watch them walk through the door, shake hands and wonder who their parents are or whether they have siblings. I am wondering what schools did they finish, what do they do, what are their hobbies, what books do they read, do they know any foreign languages. It’s great if the situation allows you to offer such a guest a glass of water on a plate, or tea with honey, or coffee and maybe put some biscuits on the table. And a napkin. Things have to get a little complicated. It takes some time and seeing them in different situations to see how they react and how is their orientation in space.

I am personally most interested in their upbringing and education. What they got from their parents and what is immutable in their principles. Do they look the other person in the eyes and act honestly? They know how to hold a knife and fork in their hand and move their chair. And get elbow off the table.
The further conversation goes towards finding out what motivates them to engage in sailing for several weeks across the oceans. What is the intended purpose of socializing? Is it just a desire for a different pastime and the opportunity to talk afterwards about it, or is there something else, more peaceful and meaningful. Of course, there is also an unavoidable conversation about the past days at sea, society, as well as good and bad experiences.

There is also a question that I have never received a good answer to, but I always ask it: Do you have a problem with seasickness?

This affliction is indeed our greatest enemy. Contrary to the thinking of the majority, the height of the waves is not important or the high Beauforts or the sailing skills but simply the sensitivity that many are not aware of. Sickness, vicious and often deadly. On several occasions, when I wasn’t quite sure, I took people on trial sailing. Unfortunately, there are no conditions in Adriatic sea to see who is resistant to seasickness in 3-4 days (unlike sailing schools in Durban, South Africa) but at least we tried to provoke some situations. Such as cooking food with onion oil (roux) or offering stinky plum brandy. I always keep one bottle of this drink on board for medical purposes only. In my long-standing practice, I forcibly disembarked three people. Two in Rio de Janeiro and one in Zadar. I have also found that women are more resilient and better able to cope with the effects of seasickness than so-called stronger masculine gender.

To enjoy this noble and extremely useful sport for life and health, the qualities of the crew are very important. Some of them are inherited and some are acquired through education and upbringing. Those who are not decent, sociable, selfless and well-mannered should avoid the deck and cockpit of a boat. Those without the knowledge to pass on their good feelings and experiences to others are not true crew members. Physical strength is not a prerequisite. The head is used much more in sailing than the biceps. And by a simple system, the bigger the boat the ropes are thicker and one needs to think more before maneuvering. Physical strength is not even an important element in seasickness. In most situations, its consequences can only be reduced by mental attention and concentration.

Too often do I hear that misunderstandings of the crew are the result of a lot of people in a small space. That thesis is completely wrong. It is quite the opposite. The great benefit of sailing is that there are more people together. They are up close and in a fantastic environment of noise and light. Yes, but, they are quality people, with all kinds of knowledge and different professions. They are individuals you would not be lucky and honored to hang out with if the sailing was not your common hobby.

And finally, a little about sailing knowledge and experience. Of course, we are happy to have people on the crew who know how to wrap a rope around the winch and which fingers should be kept safe. We are especially pleased when the crew knows which positions and actions on the deck are dangerous and from where it is easiest to drop into the sea. These are mostly deadly situations. It’s great to see a crew member always returning the item to the same position. A lever, a flashlight, binoculars, a pen, a lighter. I particularly like people who collect food crumbs and clean after themselves. This is all very important.

Those who do not know anything about sailing can learn a lot in 5-6 days about sailing technique, steering, safety measures and maintaining order. The only thing I can’t change is their upbringing. So, I’m not even trying.

Names or nickname of sailor: Mladen Šutej

Boat Name: Hir 2, Hir 3, Hrvatska čigra, Vihor and about twenty others

Your Home Port: Adriatic Sea

How did you start sailing?
As a 4 year old child on family members’ sailing yachts. From the age of eight on the open small boats with Latin sails. Later on, the sailing yachts.
What type of sailing are you doing currently?
– periodically sailing with friends on the Adriatic Sea, mainly in winter months
– regattas (2-3 times a year)
– daily sailing in the Dubrovnik waters
– once to twice a year on the charter boats around the world

Can you list the countries and the oceans/seas you have crossed?
In my sailing career, I have crossed the Atlantic 6 times (once solo), twice the Pacific (once solo), once the Indian Ocean and three times the Labrador Sea. Then, twice, I was on Cape Horn Cape, once passed the Cape of Good Hope and traveled to all the continents of the world, including Antarctica. I visited many lonely islands such as Easter Island, Picairn (Bounty), Juan Fennandez (Robinson Crusoe), St. Helen (Napoleon), Falkland (Malvinas) …….Approximate sea miles: 220.000

What were the key reasons you have started sailing?
Family opportunities and probably genes.

What health problems push you to start or continue sailing?
None. I sail for pleasure.

What healing effects sailing has on you?
Relaxation and the complete change of the values that surround us.

Future sailing plans:
To continue similarly, 20-30 days a year living on a boat.

Scariest day for your health on the water:
Those were the days of sailing through the Arctic ice. As a commander, I had to constantly make decisions that I was not at all sure were correct. And I had to take care of five people and the boat.

Best sailing moment:
Precise astronautics in solo sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Favorite medical apps, websites and books:
Book: Naufrage volontaire, Dr. Alain Bombard

What advice or message would you want to pass on to anyone new to sailing or thinking about sailing?
It’s a great hobby and everyone should try it. With the assistance of the experienced sailor so there are no unpleasant experiences from the very beginning. Not everyone is capable of it but that shouldn’t be a problem. A friend of mine, an experienced rider, says: If everyone loved this sport, there would not be enough horses in the world. The same goes for sailing.

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of

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