How to Hitchhike a sailboat.
Catching a ride on a sailboat is one of the best ways to travel the world. No plane tickets to buy or fuel to burn. The rhythm of the sea experienced at a speed of Travel that is far more conducive to mankind then aeroplanes or automobiles.
Harness the energy of the wind and experience all the spaces between: the villages, cultures, and islands that don’t have access by road or airport. Cultures born of the sea. Coastlines without roads and a people who share a deep kinship with anyone who travels the open ocean.
But how to find a ride?
Most sailors follow yearly weather patterns which remain the same year in year out ad infinum. So to find a ride the most important thing is to be at the right place in the right time. Want to cross the Atlantic? Be in Gibraltar between October and December. Want to cross the pacific? Be in Panama City in April. (More comprehensive list at bottom of the page). Once you are in the right place, go to the marinas and talk to one of the old salts who has been drinking beer there for the last twenty years. He will know every boat, where it is going, when, and if they need crew.
Walk the docks with a smile and talk to people. Grab a kayak (ask first) and paddle around the boats in the anchorage at cocktail hour and ask if anyone is going where you want. You will probably find a ride or at least get a free glass of wine and some friendly conversation. Look for the free wifi spot in the area, this is where the sailors tend to congregate.
You can also make a small sign with your name, what languages you speak, and experience or mechanical ability. Also a bit about yourself, and that you do the dishes and are easy going. Which you should be if you want to sail the open ocean. Do that and it won’t take long if you are in the right season.
I had two friends in panama who found a ride for themselves, there two bikes and a live chicken, in less than a week of searching. (The chicken made the journey from Mexico to panama on the back of a bicycle and never laid an egg until they got to sea!!!)
Sailors hide from the hurricane seasons then return to those beautiful sailing grounds for a winter of cruising. Bring along enough money to feed yourself, and fly home, clothing to fit the voyage and foul weather gear. Make sure to spend time with the captain and boat before setting out. Ask around to others in the marina about the reputation of the vessel. Always discuss and if possible get in writing what is expected of you, what costs you will be sharing and what watches you will be required to do. Also what happens when you do reach an island. Some captains may expect you to stay with the boat at anchor while he or she goes and explores the magic place you just arrived in. This may not be what you are looking for . Costs usually range from shared food costs to ten or twenty dollars per day. Just make sure that everything is clear before setting sail and that the boat and captain are seaworthy. Your time and energy are valuable. Smile big and remember you don’t have to take the first vessel that offers.
400 offshore pleasure vessels cross the pacific every year. Most of them take a few crew to help with watch and give more sleep to the skipper. Many will welcome inexperienced crew if they are willing to listen and work. Some, including me, actually prefer teaching someone doesn’t know rather than trying to correct bad habits. If you don’t have any experience be proactive by learning to tie a bowline and getting some of the nautical terms in your head. As a final note, always say you are looking to crew a boat not hitchhike and don’t hesitate to change vessels if you don’t feel good, the great advantage of hitchhiking is that you are not tied to one ship. Try many and learn what you like and dislike about each boat and captain.
Fair winds. See you in the ocean.
Where to be when…
Gibraltar, Malta, Rhodes, Piraeus
October to December for crossing the Atlantic.
April to June to head into the Mediterranean.
October to January for crossing the Atlantic.
Antigua, Barbados, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico:
October and November to cruise the Caribbean
anytime for either direction, april to cross the pacific.
September to December for boats to Mexico.
January to March for boats to the South Pacific.
March to July for boats to Australia or anywhere in the South Pacific.
Miami, New York, southern England
September or October for boats to the Caribbean.