I realise that I never touched a subject that is very debated in all books about long-distance sailing: the shift system!
Also among the Rally crews, this was a popular subject…. before the departure!
In fact, everybody soon found his ideal solution and the subject was forgotten entirely.
The Husband-and-wife crews had little choice: one sleeps while the other is on watch, trimming the sails or the windvane from time to time.
The only question is the shift duration: we settled on 3 hours shifts, strictly enforced by night and more flexible by daytime. The one off-duty at eating-times (me!) had the job of preparing food, and at the time of the daily roll-calls we exchanged roles so that I could attend the radio (just for language problems).
While in the past we used 2-hour shifts, we opted for 3-hours because is was a better compromise between the sleep-resistance of the person on – a very boring – watch and the ability to have a meaningful rest, having to waste a good half-hour to undress, perhaps prepare a hot drink or something, and then dress again at the end of the period.
When the weather – or pilotage – conditions required the two of us on deck, we slept in the cockpit, fully dressed; hardly a good rest, at our not-so-green age, but often we had no choice.
The crews with more than two people had the possibility to play with all variants of the “2 hours at the helm, 2 hours on watch and 2 – or 4 – hours off duty” method, although there were exceptions, like crews where the lady of the boat was exempted from the night shifts or the skipper spent the whole night on watch, but these were special cases, due to personal preference.
Whatever the method adopted, two things were certain:
– there is ALWAYS somebody on watch, even in the middle of the oceans, and
– no, while on passage we do not anchor for the night! (you cannot imagine how often we have been asked this question!…)