How we crossed the Atlantic by hitchhiking a boat part 3: tips and ideas

This post is supposed to answer some of the most common questions on how to hitchhike a boat but…wait a minute, how many times did you see a hitchhiker by the side of the road thinking “argh it is wrong, he will never get a ride from that spot” and in fact he is far gone and you are the one stuck for hours. Exactly! I do not believe there are right or wrong ways, it is a combination of pure luck, approach, patience and a little bit of technique. Nevertheless having spent many hours staring at the horizon in the middle of the Atlantic, we came up with some tips. Remember they are like an expiration date on the food etiquette: it is only a suggestion (hip hip hooray for the dumpsterdivers!)

Rule nr 1 – RESEARCH – where and when to be?

There are certain timings for crossing the oceans (due to the direction of the trade winds and the scary hurricane season). You need to get familiar with that and the location of the best marinas before you pack your backpack and go.

Local sailing is different. People usually go for one-day sails, without night navigation, not relying on the trade winds but rather the local weather. It could be easier to find such rides.

Internet is your friend, check the followings and maybe you will find a ride without even going out of your room…

2 – MOTIVATION- go out and talk to people!

Once you arrive to the harbor town and start to feel comfortable, you need to convince yourself that you are ready to approach sailors in the marinas. Once you believe in your project you are more than halfway through!

Your body language often speaks louder than your own voice. Put a smile on your face and think: I don’t loose anything trying, I can only win. It is easier said than done, we all have sometimes more social and sometimes – I do not feel like talking to anyone- days. 🙂

But honestly, seamen are friendly, happy to help you, so even if someone you talk to does not go your way, don’t finish the conversation straight away, he might know someone else that can give you a ride. And of course the more people you ask the more chances you get…

Not only that. The quality of the talk is important, it is like your business card, the first impression and judgment can be key here, so first go have a rest after tiring hitching and give yourself enough time to be ready and fresh.

We always hang the leaflets as well (in the marina office, showers, sailor’s bar) but honestly there is not so much feedback from them…so far. Don’t forget to mention your sailing experience if any (often more than your experience it is important to have the willingness to learn about sailing).

3- SAVOIR VIVRE

Behave well. You are seen. Sailors like chilling in the cockpit with their neighbors and talk. Once you show up there, you will be recognized as the one looking for a ride, so any culturally unaccepted behavior might work against your goal. Not only that, the appearance counts as well: leave your backpack stored somewhere, take a shower, have clean clothes and it will be a big plus.

4- DON’T TAKE JUST ANY RIDE – the most important rule actually

You can not jump from the sailing boat the same way you would from a car if the driver turns out to be dodgy. Choose your captain carefully. It is very important. You don’t want to spend weeks at sea with someone you wouldn’t take for a beer.

If someone is willing to take you, have a meeting to discuss everything. Ask questions. Many of them, about the sailing experiences, the boat, its safety, crew members, diet onboard, your responsibilities as a crew, costs. Good point- COSTS. Make sure your arrangement is clear before you leave, who pays who, for what, how much? Some sailors take you with no contribution, some hire you and you get paid, some wish to share food expenses, some also fuel and marina costs. Be clear about your financial situation so you don’t end up paying more than if you chartered your own boat.

We can be a good help for the sailors, they need us to help with night watches, cleaning, cooking or they just wish to have a company. Don’t be shy about your skills! They may be useful if you end up in the middle of the ocean with no wind for many days 🙂 (we know something about that, if you missed you can check here exactly how it went).

Pay attention if the boat is ready for big crossing. Is there auto pilot? Solar energy? Satellite phone or internet connection to check the weather forecast? They say it is better to have a good boat with a bad captain than a bad boat with a good captain…

Make sure you spend some time with a crew before departure, move in a day or two earlier, go sailing for a couple of hours, or days. It will help you understanding a general vibe and with what kind of people you are dealing.

Beware of the alcohol problem: you don’t want to end up in a storm, not knowing how to manage a boat with your captain totally wasted. Sadly it is a relatively common problem, especially among solo handlers. Not so long time ago we turned down a ride to Panama for that reason.

ONCE YOU GET A RIDE

  1. Check customs in the country you arrive to (sometimes they require a plane ticket back home, so be ready to show an unpaid reservation even if you don’t intend to fly back).
  2. Sea sickness: happens to most, so check how to help yourself. Make sure you are not hungry, cold, thirsty, tired. Sleep as much as you can. Your body will thank you for that.
  3. Have no big deadlines, they will stress you out and keep in mind that nothing is going to be on time. 🙂
  4. Go and get provision together to satisfy everyone’s preferences. Think of your needs. If you are a big snacker, get some of your own food as well, you don’t want to munch too much of common food in the moments of stress 🙂 leave some goodies to celebrate arrival! And always get provision for at least an extra week than the total sailing time, just for emergencies.
  5. Make sure you have some waterproof gear or maybe there is a spare one on board and get familiar with all the security/emergency equipment on the boat.
  6. Load yourself with books, audio books (worked awesomely for my night watches), language courses, paper and pen, star gazing app, chess, backgammon, cards….
  7. It is a great time out at sea to THINK without distraction, internet, phone. Use it for your own personal growth and development 🙂
  8. Problems will arise but be ready to solve them…
  9. ENJOY!

 

 

No sharks, yet

How we crossed the Atlantic by hitchhiking a boat part 2: the ‘Milk Run’, yeah sure.

We left Gibraltar on 2nd of November. A couple of days earlier we moved into our new cabin and got to know the boat and the crew better. We agreed with the captain that we will share the first leg together (Gibraltar- Canary Islands) and if everything goes right and the crew gets along, we will cross the Atlantic all the way to the Caribbean. This route is known between the sailors as the “Milk Run”, as in theory at the right time of the year you are supposed to have consistent, trade winds behind you all the way across. Following sea they say…

The day of departure me -Ania- got a job as a freelance writer for physiotherapy articles, a new possibility arose, of traveling and working from wherever I end up!

Everyone was itchy to go as the crew spent the previous weeks getting ready for the big crossing, running last errands and fixing parts of the boat. Who are the other crew members?

David- the captain, sailing around the world for the second time. Now his boat , Nereid is on the last stretch home Australia. The most patient captain of them all, even if his damn crew looses his favorite and only bucket on board. Excellent bread-maker.

Vicki- ready to take a challenge in chess and backgammon anytime, day and night, great teacher, ready to hoist the spinnaker even if it means waking her up. Mrs. “Fantastic” it’s her second name.

Erica- passionate sailor who took one year off to sail from Europe to China, her second home, dealing perfectly with any tasks, no matter if seasick or not, best tea companion in the middle of the night, cheering up everyone with her great Roman irony and honesty.

In the early afternoon, we left the dock and started our sailing adventure. As the famous Gibraltar rock was getting smaller and smaller we noticed something in the distance, the water in the reflection of the sun was moving rapidly. The dolphins! Many of them, jumping one after the other in their stunning dance of freedom were escorting us in the direction of the open ocean. It is a beautiful moment, when you open the sails, switch off the engine and enjoy the omnipresent silence, when you realize that you are the only one out there and the vast amount of water with unknown creatures below its surface. That you are just a very tiny being in the hands of mother nature, and from now on it is Her that decides if you are going to get through the storms, squalls, mild-ponds, rainbows, beautiful sunsets, and sunrises.

We started our watches: 4 hours watch, 6 hours rest and suddenly everyone just spread around our 14 meters boat and followed their known routine. Routine that was yet to learn for us. At first, when our bodies were getting used to the boat motion we were sleeping a lot. Though the sea sickness was inevitable and it is very important to take care of yourselves in that moment: not to be cold, thirsty, hungry, have enough sleep.

It was tough on me and at the same time teaching. I did not take the best care of myself, staring at the horizon and waiting for the seasickness to let go. Could not really expect anyone to babysit me, everyone was dealing with his own issues. It is also very intimate in a way, to expose yourself so miserable to people that you barely know, that you have just met, and share this quality time hanging over the life wire, shoulder to shoulder, to check what’s up overboard 🙂

I guess this is what most of the travelers call “coming out of your comfort zone”. I was laughing thinking of all the adverts we hanged around the marinas saying: we can cook delicious meals, take care of your kids, clean. Nah, at first it was an abstraction, the only thing you want to do is to be out there in the cockpit, breathing fresh air and not dealing with anything that has to do with down below (preparing meals, using a toilet). There is a lot that can be written about the seasickness, our captain use to say that you need to go through it and try not to hold it with pills, special acupuncture bracelets and other inventions. It will pass.

Anyway, 2-3 days of misery and then you forget, get used to, it stops bothering you and you start really enjoying it. You start the real sailing.

I had so much time to think about my family, my friends, some events in my life, it was beautiful to be there without the phone and internet. Just papers to write, books to read and 4 other beings to share your emotions with. Beings that for almost 6 weeks become your family, all from the different background, with different social conventions, eating habits, customs, ways of communicating and solving problems. We did well together.

I think during this first stretch, we were playing the ‘observers game’, trying to see how others behave, what routine to follow, how to sail the boat and so on.

It took us 7 days to do the first part, get to Las Palmas, Canary Islands. It was quite cold, we had a strong wind at first and a couple of windless days too. I was very happy to rest and take a lesson from this first cruising. Now when I look back at it I think it was the most difficult part, physically speaking, to deal with your body weakness and acknowledge its limits.

We had a 3 days break, met tons of other boat hitchhikers and even some friendly faces that we knew from Gibraltar. No one could believe our luck of having already the ‘long ride’, and so we didn’t.

In a couple of weeks, we are going to be in the Caribbean!

We stocked up with water, provision, fuel and left for the longest leg, Canary Islands- St. Martin, Carribeans.

The weather did not treat us well. I was not sure myself if I prefer calm days or strong gusts of wind. Before heading straight west we were firstly heading south towards Cape Verde to catch so-called trade winds that would take us all the way across the Atlantic. It is a pleasant sailing with the wind from behind and following sea. We did not intend to go all the way to Cape Verde, but our usage of fuel and water made the captain changed his mind. It was a good, safe decision even though David had a deadline, a doctor’s visit in Australia.

We did not expect to see a part of West Africa during our cruising. Cape Verde is a great place, one would say, exotic comparing to Europe. First tropical fruits, dark skinned beautiful women, fish market on the streets, simple life. We both wished we could stay longer than 24 hours but maybe next time, who knows.

So the last stretch, 2200 nautical miles from Capo Verde to Saint Martin, Caribbean we planned to do in two weeks, if not a big hole of no winds for 7 days.

We started well, but we knew the weather forecast. Starting from my birthday (fantastic experience of swimming in the ocean for the first time) we got stuck, with flapping sails and less than 0,5 knots of speed…for seven days. There were no more physical limits, now it was time to stay strong mentally, not to get frustrated and demonstrate it on others. On one hand, we were not in the rush anywhere, but on the other, in the back of your head you know that all your food, water, and fuel resources are running out and you don’t do any of the expected progress. The best way to deal with that was to find something to do and so Erica came up with different workshops and plans for the day. We did morning yoga, aqua aerobic, funny talks (my life without shampoo of Anto was a hit), rosary and others.

We ate well, baked bread, pizza, made pancakes, plan our diet well enough so we could have the last piece of chocolate when we saw the land after a total of 6 weeks of sailing.

We had just right amount of food for meals but run out of snacks, so to raise the general mood I decided one day to bake a dessert: Christmas cake ! It was an experiment, I had never before baked without a recipe in front of my eyes but there was not much to loose. I took few African eggs from Cape Verde (they stayed 3 weeks in the heat, but the test of putting an egg in the water to see if it is rotten worked out well ), flour expired 3 years ago that I found in the pantry, cheap oil that we used to oil the toilet pump with, milk, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla essence and …VOILA. It was as good as it could be taking all the circumstances and quality of the products! Everyone was happy!

There was enough time to fly the spinnaker more than once. If you are wandering what it is, that’s a beautiful sail that can trick even experienced sailors (yes, yes we too got it twisted, wet, lost a shackle until we got it right).

The last couple of days before arrival we all got into – when on land I can not wait to eat this; drink that; go for a run – kind of talk. I did not believe that I am going to be emotional when we see the land for the first time, but it came with such a beautiful sunrise that it really got me, deep inside I could not believe, that we all went through that adventure, that the vast ocean is behind us and what we see ahead is the incredibly green Caribbean Sea, full of colorful fish, big turtles, albatross up in the sky and iguanas chilling on the sun. We put down the sails, anchored outside the bridge of Saint Martin lagoon, opened five bottles of beers and raised a big toast upon the safe arrival…

Beautiful La Linea

How we crossed the Atlantic by hitchhiking a boat part 1: why’s and how’s.

Where did this “boat hitchhiking” idea come from?

I -Ania- grew up on the coast of the Baltic Sea and so the water has been the main element in my life. Listening to the seagulls and waves breaking along the shore is a big part of what I recall from my early years and even though I like to explore, I love hiking mountains, being in the forest and in different environments, the sea in me has been always calling. When I was 13 I got my sailing license on the dingy and sailed a little bit with my family. After that, the next 13 years of my life were mostly dedicated to volleyball, physiotherapy and travels. When hitchhiking, Anto and I were often bringing up the idea of hitching sailing boats from island to island but never really put our words into action. Before we even met I managed to go on a private motorboat from Tallin to Helsinki just by asking in the marina for a ride.

We have friends that inspired us with their sea and ocean stories. Thank you: Kiko, Bastien, Seb and Mete, Stefan.

In July we gave ourselves a try, thanks to Bastien and his boat, Penne Louet, we embarked on the cruising adventure on the French coast and sailed from Marseille to Sete. We had a great time and lots of stories to share. As strange as it sounds hitchhiking is not anymore as challenging as it used to be, you eventually get to your destination while on the boat, there is a limited space you share with people, a completely new environment and just an idea of being able to go halfway through the world only thanks to the wind, isn’t that stunning?

The dream of trying to hitch a boat across the Atlantic was more and more present and in October this year we found ourselves in Gibraltar asking sailors if they need two pairs of extra hands in exchange for a ride… together with a bunch of 10-15 other boat hitchhikers!

Why Gibraltar, why October, why Atlantic? We found all the answers online, by deepening the topic and exploring travel blogs, reading hitchwiki.org and talking to people that know.

A common route westward at this season is Gibraltar (as a last international marina in the Mediterranean)- Canary Islands – Caribbean. We wanted to give it a shot.

We do not have expertise in that. We have been very lucky, being in the right place at the right moment and approaching right people that invited us to share they way to the Carribean.

It took us little over a week to find a ride, struggling with tiredness after hitching through whole Spain, bad weather and a general mood and motivation swing.

Gibraltar has treated us well (apart from this one monkey on the famous rock that chased Antonio or more specifically, a baguette sticking out of his backpack..I know… we’re dummy tourists). We couchsurfed with the professional surfer John, who become the best video games partner of Antonio, and Mark, a host that made as feel like home thousands of kilometres from home, living in a place that reminded us of the dear nomad base we used to live in some years ago ( www.nomadbase.info ).

(Thank you Stefan for some of these pics above and for your great blog! https://www.facebook.com/cyclingkraut/ )

Feeling the flow of a new adventure coming I decided to donate my hair to a foundation that supports cancer women and prepares wigs for them. In solidarity with all of those who need to find an incredible strength to fight with nasty cancer. If you wanna do the same, this is the website:
http://www.raknroll.pl/

We found good people with whom for the next month or so, we are going to share a 14 m boat called “Nereid” (after the mythological sea nymphs) crossing the Atlantic ocean, face new challenges, fears, check our flexibility, resistance to sea sickness and limited space but also enjoy the freedom of here and now, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, starry nights, dolphins and everything else I can not imagine right now!

Ahoj!

 

P.S. As you noticed WE ARE BACK…with our -new- old blog, a slight change in the formula, more pics (hopefully videos) and fewer words. Few future changes and maybe less delay….