This page is about something nobody likes to talk about, but that needs to be said and explained.
A cooperative is usually defined as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common needs and aspirations. When it comes to boats, it does not necessarily mean jointly owned. A few boats are but for mid sized cruising yachts, for many reasons it is much more practical to have one person as the legal owner (Tom, in this case), who in effect lends a seaworthy boat to the co-op and only asks every participant in the co-op to keep it in good shape while the trip happens, to end up with a boat as seaworthy at the end as it was to start with. This obviously involves both labor and funds that everybody should contribute fairly one way or another.
So, every crew member sailing on board Karaka needs to contribute. Karaka needs funds, skills and labor to continue sailing. Since most new crew members are strangers we never met before, we cannot assume they will be able to contribute skills and labor, and so for the sake of simplicity, we require a financial contribution of 150 Euros a week per person, which doesn’t include the food. This financial contribution is used for the running of the ship exclusively, Tom and Emma, as owners and permanent crew, are not making any profit out of it. It covers all the costs associated with running Karaka, including port fees, marinas, fuel and such as well as upkeep. It doesn’t cover each crew member’s personal share of the food kitty nor does it cover each crew member visa costs and personal expenses such as booze, internet, insurances, etc. Those 150 euros are the basic contribution each participant in the co-op brings in. As a rule, every crew member is expected to be contributing that amount of money while staying on Karaka. Reduction of the contribution happens but is not granted, as we need to keep it fair and a certain amount of money is necessary to keep the boat sailing.
For the practical part, we usually manage the boats funds so that we do not need the current crew money right when they get on board. We usually settle the money every few months or as needed, with many crew sending us the money via bank transfer only after they have left the ship and we know how much it comes to. That said, depending on where we are sailing, we sometimes need cash in advance as in many remote locations we will not find ATM and so a small supply of cash is necessary.
For the food, we have a simple system using the phone app “Tricount” which consists of an accounting app in which we can enter what each crew member spends, and the app calculates who owes what to whom to make it even. So somebody could be paying for one load at the supermarket, the other for the fresh stuff at the market, and another buys a case of beer for a party, and the app tells us how to make it even. Simple and hassle free. It is the fairer and most practical way we found. Some people do eat more than others, but we don’t want to start considering things like that. The amount of money the food usually ends up costing per person varies between countries, but it rarely rises above 40 or 45 euros a week and is frequently under 150 euros a month.
Most of the people who write to us about getting a crew position are satisfied with the conditions regarding the costs and the weekly contribution. We rarely have to explain why we ask this money for, as people understand that costs are involved in running a boat and find it fair to pitch in. Those 150 euros a week is actually fairly cheap in today’s economy, for example, it is cheaper than backpacking and camping in most countries. It is also cheaper than most rents.
It is a good system but like all systems it is not perfect and we would gladly change it if we found a better one. Some very interesting people just do not have the funds, either because they come from countries where they can not gather such sums, or because their lifestyle choice is to not participate in the capitalist economy. Whatever the reason, some people can’t save up enough to cough up 150 euros a week for several months. Those people still can come, but they will have to find a way to make the money while on the boat. There are limitless ways to make money while traveling, any one could work on Karaka. We’re very open to it and will go out of our way to make it possible for crew to practice their trade on board. The ideal would be to have a way for a whole crew to earn some money jointly as we are traveling, making it sustainable for all on board. One thing we would be interested in would be to put together a bunch of artists, craftsmen and musicians so we could perform and sell our wares at every port and work our way like that. But that still seems a very difficult thing to do and a weekly contribution would still be needed… So for the time being, the majority of the crew comes with money in the bank while a few have ways to make some money while underway.
The idea is to share the costs of running the boat. Any crew member on board is there willingly, and for his or her own enjoyment. Everybody who comes on the boat do it because they want to benefit from being on the boat, learning to sail, explore incredible places, live in community with the rest of the crew, get to surf, dive, fish, kayak and such. It is only fair that everybody on board contributes to the running of the boat, not only with labor and watch keeping and kitchen chores, but financially as well. We’re not rich people taking friends along. This is a share boat, a co-op boat.
Now a big thing to understand is where the money goes. Firstly, it never goes to our pockets. This is non profit, all the money the crew contributes is boat money. We prefer to keep it non-commercial and not to consider the crew members as clients, not making a profit out of them. It is a personal choice, we could easily make a profit and run the boat this way. We don’t, because we think life is nicer that way. We don’t need to make a lot of money, our lives is very good as it is. We think as well that turning the crew into clients would spoil the whole feel of the experience. It just wouldn’t be the same. One of the important things we feel is that in doing this we are doing something non commercial. We are not buying and selling some good time. We are living all together on a sailboat. Unfortunately it costs money. And we are not in a position to be doing charity.
We make our own money on the side, you can ask us how if you want. We got some deals and stuff going on and Emma also got a fair amount saved up from her previous corporate life. We use every opportunity we can find to make some personal money. Our personal money, we use for our share of food, for buying computers, clothing or booze, for travel insurances or things like that. We live very frugally and don’t spend very much so that we don’t need to earn very much. Mostly we spend our personal money in upgrading the boat, eating fancy french foods and drinking good booze.
So, this boat money, the money from the crew, goes to the “expenses”. A vague and confusing term that one : “expenses”. What does it mean? Many people will have different definitions, but we’re talking about our boat so our definition is the valid one around here. The expenses are all the costs, without exception, that it takes to run the boat on the long term. That means of course fuel bills, filters changes, port fees and other running costs such as replacing lost or broken gear, but also long term maintenance costs such as paint, annual haul out, the occasional safety gear service, new sails or engine parts or new line or new dinghy, etc etc.
Let consider an hypothetical situation. We start from port A with a perfect boat. We supply this perfect boat, fuel tanks are full, safety equipment is up to date, everything is in working order. 4 new crew members join. We leave and cross an ocean, enjoy some islands, and a few months after leaving A we arrive at B and the whole crew leaves. The boat is not in the shape it was at A. Things got broken, a sail has ripped, the paint got scratched, the bilges started rusting, an oar fell overboard, there is a few months less on the safety equipment lifespan, and overall the whole of the boat is a bit worn out. The crew for this trip should share the costs of putting the boat back in shape so that the next crew, the ones from B to C, will also have a safe and seaworthy ship to sail on. The costs the crew from A to B have to share to do this is obviously more than just fuel bills and port fees. We find that 150 euros a week per crew is the minimum we can ask to keep the boat in shape in the long term, safe and seaworthy for every new crew to use. Even with that amount, we’re struggling to make ends meet and have to be very thrifty and inventive. Karaka is not a shiny boat, not on this kind of funds.
Let’s also consider another situation. There is no wind and we are motoring. After we arrive, everybody shares the fuel bill to refill the tank. It is fair, obvious, understood by all. Imagine that on the same trip a sail ripped and was destroyed. Should the current crew replace it, sharing the cost of it equally like for the fuel? Should the skipper pay for it? Or would it be more fair for all the crew who is going to use that sail over the years to pay for a little part of it? That is why we think the weekly contribution makes sense. By their nature of being long term hidden expenses, it is not practical to share the costs on a “on the spot” direct sharing basis like we do for the food. Even on a owner-less boat run as a co-op by a bunch of hard core anarchists, we would recommend this weekly contribution system. It is the most viable way we have found to gather enough funds to run a boat fairly on the long term. The money is not necessarily spent immediately, but kept in a fund that will be used when the need arises.
But now and then somebody raises the issue, and start asking us why we ask so much or contest the fairness of it. Here is our answers, skip them if you don’t have any problem with the contribution.
One of the objection we encounter is that a set fee is ridiculous because as the number of crew varies, so should the fee, otherwise it is not truly share cost. The way it actually works is that we’re already asking for the minimum possible, so that when there is less people on board, well, we suck it up. We get less and there is less to invest in boat maintenance. Hopefully it is compensated by a future bigger crew, otherwise, it comes out of our pockets. But on the average, the boat need a certain amount of money and after years of experimenting, and always being flexible to allow for current economies and conditions, we settled on 150 euros a week per person as the most fair and practical amount.
Some people object that there are boats on which the owner pays for everything. That is true, but from my experience it is either because they are lonely and want company, usually young and female company that can cook and clean and looks decent in a bikini… Or else they actually need the crew, simply because they are not fit or knowledgeable enough to sail on their own. They’ll take crew for the hard bits like ocean crossings, and then ditch them as soon as the cruising gets good and easy. In any cases, they will pay for the crew expenses only if the crew fit within a certain profile, out of need, be it based on boob’s size or on actual experience and skill or plain man power. Their is nothing egalitarian about this, and the crew is at he orders and mercy of the skipper, who decides everything and can kick somebody out with no notice. There are exceptions of course, and they are extremely rare.
Professional crew is something else altogether, the average inexperienced person won’t find a paid job on a yacht. Even fully qualified sailors have a hard time finding interesting jobs that don’t require them to spend hours polishing brass, clean toilets and be at the mercy of the owners. A job is a job, and while working in the boating industry can be interesting and remunerative, don’t mistake it with cruising. You are not supposed to have fun on the job, you are supposed to work hard.
Another objection we get is that it is possible to do it way cheaper. It usually comes from people with some sailing experience who compare the sailing they have done before and what it cost them with what amount of money they estimate we’re getting every week. They tell us we’re full of shit and that they know better, that there is no need for so much money to be sailing around. That is correct in some situation, but for what we do with Karaka, that is just not the case. What can we say? It is a bit like somebody used to travel around with a bicycle telling the bus driver that the bus fare is a rip-off because it doesn’t cost that much to get around. What can the bus driver say? What he will say is probably a resounding “Fuck off, if you don’t like it, don’t stand in the way, let others come in!”. We’re nicer than that, we took the trouble to write this whole thing down to explain. The thing is, you can’t compare different things. A bus costs more to operate than a bicycle. Sailing for a couple of months around your home waters on a derelict 25ft boat with no other crew than your dog is potentially going to be cheaper than sailing on Karaka. It is a great thing to do but it is obviously not the same thing as what we do. The key terms here are “53ft steel ketch”, “6 or 7 crew”,”offshore”, “tropics”, and “long term”. Ponder upon the implications of those before making hasty assumptions on how much it costs to run a boat like Karaka.
And of course if you know how to do what we do for less money, we’d like to hear about it, because we’ve been at it for more than fifteen years now and believe me we don’t like to spend more than we have to. We think we have earned some credit and that our experience has some value in the matter. We’re salvage master, pukuk officers (https://alutiiqmuseum.org/word-of-the-week-archive/559-salvage), we never overlook a promising dumpster, we rarely throw anything away, we fix everything ourselves, we’re very good at getting great deals… So if we say we can’t do it cheaper, you better believe us. This is already really really cheap traveling.
But, but but, you say. I don’t know you, how can I take your word for it? How to make sure it is fair? How can you tell if a skipper is overcharging his crew or not? It happens you know… There is no way to answer those questions. There is no expense control by the government; we’re not depending from any government. The captain has total control over it. So it is a matter of common sense, feeling and trust. That is why we’re writing all this, so you, who might be a potential crew member on Karaka, realize that we’re frank, honest and that we’re actually offering you a good deal.
Now if after reading this rant you still think that the deal is not fair, then, like a bus driver, we simply cannot let you come on the boat and be part of the co-op. On Karaka we share, and the contribution is 150 euros a week and it is really fair. If you don’t think so, fine with us, others will be more than happy for the opportunity to join.
And if anybody out there think we’re cool and want to offer us a beer, you can Support Us with a donation.