How can you navigate the world without owning or buying a boat? Hitchhiking aboard sailboats, of course!
Would you like an unlimited adventure, see hard to reach places, snorkel reefs in faraway places, enjoy different cultures and learn new skills on a tight budget? In some rare cases they even get paid for it! How?
Easy! Let me answer some of the immediate questions that circulate in your brain!
Q. Do you need navigation experience?
TO. No … all you need is the right attitude, being easy to get along, and the willingness to learn and do your part.
Q. How much is it likely to cost?
TO. A donation for food, sometimes fuel, but remember that the wind is free … you would have to pay anyway and it is very cheap compared to the cost of a plane ticket and accommodation at the destinations!
Q. Where can you find a yacht that needs a crew?
TO. Marinas bulletin boards, yacht clubs, online, on bulletin boards at backpacker hostels and go to marinas and talk to the sailors there.
Did it catch your attention? Want to learn more!
My three experiences:
1. I needed the crew to accompany me across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia, so I posted a notice at a Yacht Club in the Bay of Islands. A young backpacker from Israel answered; Orit had no sailing experience and was hitchhiking around the world … it was a huge bonus on the trip. Orit’s attitude and willingness to learn, participate in taking the helm, and making watches made her a much appreciated member of the crew and she prepared some brilliant meals.
2. In Australia, when sailing up the east coast to the Whitsunday Islands, I posted a notice in a couple of backpacker hostels and before long I had a couple from England to accompany me. They had no experience.
3. Sailing to the Pacific Islands on someone else’s yacht, there were five of us, one of them a young hitchhiker who had applied online, traveled from Auckland to Tonga and then jumped from the boat to another yacht to continue her trip around the world . His only experience was a trip on one of the Tall Ships where he learned some basic skills.
This is how easy it is! The main thing you will need is time and the right attitude!
How to become a desirable crewmate:
Go to your local yacht club or yacht club and find out when the midweek races or any other ‘fun’ races are underway and be there early … I guarantee there will be several yacht owners happy to hire additional crew.
If you have time, go out a few weeks in a row and let it be known that you want to man a sailboat … even coastal. Like those who hitchhike from one city or island to another. Many skippers make deliveries for the owners, you could take one of these delivery sailboats … and some pay or provide meals.
Learn all you can about being on board a sailboat … the skipper will have you do basic boat ‘things’ … hoist a sail or winch by pulling on some sheets … And that brings me to something else …
Learn the terminology … because it’s a whole new language … you can learn some of this online so you’re not a complete fool when the skipper asks you to pull the main sheet or fit the traveler!
Do you have any usable skills to make yourself more desirable? Are you a good cook or can you at least prepare a large meal? Do you have any other unique skills such as a hairdresser or masseuse, a dive instructor, or anything else that puts you above the rest? Maybe speak another language or learn fun card games? Do you like fishing and can you catch some food?
Keep in mind that most of the time you will not be sitting down drinking cold beverages. Everyone on board helps with daily sailing tasks. Keeping the boat clean and in good repair, cooking, sailing and even taking the helm / steering wheel and steering the boat through an autopilot most of the time.
One of the most important things is the list clock, keeping your eyes open for boats or anything else you need to avoid, as well as changes in the weather. This is something the crew does 24 hours a day.
Respect that a yacht can be someone’s home, treat it that way, keep your ‘stuff’ neat, space is at a premium, watch out for the head tag (bathroom), nothing worse than unlocking a marine bathroom.
The most important thing when hitchhiking aboard sailboats:
It should be easy to get along with you!
When I crossed the Tasman Sea with Orit, an inexperienced backpacker, I also had a guy on board with a lot of racing experience. He was an absolute pain, a true know-it-all who did nothing and we couldn’t wait to get rid of him on Lord Howe Island, off the coast of Australia.
By this time Orit had learned to steer the ship, he was very good with GPS after all, he was 24 years old and he is just another computer and he could plot a course on the chart. He had acquired many new skills.
Experiences teach you a lot in life … don’t they?
The other situation I encountered was on the trip I mentioned earlier to the Pacific Islands with 5 of us on board. The young hitchhiker paid for her trip in a different way, we paid just for our daily food at that time $ 20A per day and helped with all the navigation tasks.
She slept with the 50 year old skipper and the very loud ‘bonking’ kept us awake at night and was a restraint with the rest of us pulling our weight on sailing and boat maintenance. She was dizzy half the trip and rarely did the dishes or any other chores.
The harmony of the crew is above everything else on board, especially on the smaller ships. There aren’t many places to hide on a small yacht when people aren’t getting along.
My experiences weren’t “that bad”, but I have heard of some horrible situations where the Captain and the crew … to put it mildly, they didn’t get along! As a captain, you had to be careful who you came on board as a crew, so keep that in mind when introducing yourself to the crew.
The sailboat and the captain:
It can be easy to get sucked into the thrill of the ride and find a vehicle, but take a step back! Meet the Captain and spend some time talking to him.
How much experience have you had?
Are they just sailing off the coast or on the high seas?
Is it easy to talk to the Captain and is it “transparent”?
How long have you had the boat?
How do you manage night shift rotations?
What are the captains’ expectations of you?
If you are a young girl and the Captains a man … consider whether you would trust him only miles out to sea … better to travel in numbers!
What season do you sail, for example, not hurricane / cyclone season?
You will be spending a lot of time together, weeks, maybe months, so make sure you are comfortable! Avoid the idiots and those who tend to be Captain Bligh!
And … be sure to see the ship!
Does it seem worthy of the sea according to what you did at the yacht club?
Ask another skipper if it is a boat worthy of the sea!
Does it look well equipped? Ask for safety and navigation equipment!
Best of all, go on a Shakedown cruise … Are you comfortable?
This is all from the hitchhiker side of the fence, but the Captain must be comfortable with you. Present yourself neat and clean and be polite. Give the skipper reasons why you would be an asset on board and offer to help prepare the boat for the trip at no cost, of course … and do it! This is a good way in conjunction with a shakedown cruise to see how he copes before losing sight of the land.
Put yourself in the captains’ shoes … it’s their ship … why would I want to choose you to cross the ocean as a crew? What can you do for him / her?
Happy with the captain and the sailboat … now what?
You are not a sailing superstar, but you are willing to fit in with the captain and the rest of the crew! You are happy to learn and do navigation tasks and cover the night watch! Promote your other skills to differentiate yourself!
Yes, sailing is not just sitting down with a cold drink … there are sailing tasks to do, but there is also plenty of time to relax and have fun. Bring some music and books to read. A musical instrument if you play one to sing a little!
There will be times when you will feel at one with the environment. The constant rush of water as the ship passes through the sea, the sound of the waves and the blue of the sky during the day and the canopy of stars at night is incredible. Catch your dinner from the stern of the ship and have a feast that night.
One morning in Minerva Reef 3 days sailing from the island of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean we exchanged beer for lobsters with some native fishermen. We had champagne and lobster for breakfast and then went snorkelling in the coral.
Sailing to a new port or island after hours of trying to glimpse land is very exciting. Exploring and mingling with different cultures, you discover that they accept you in a different way than you would if you were a regular tourist.
And if this is where your yacht stops, many ports are like a truck stop for backpackers hitchhiking at sea aboard sailboats … you can swap boats and sail to new destinations.
It is an incredible way to travel full of adventures! You will access places you never could otherwise and have an experience that will stay with you for life! The good news is that you don’t even need a large amount of money or own a yacht or have sailing experience … so what are you waiting for?