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…
- hitchwiki (http://hitchwiki.org/en/Hitchhiking_a_boat)
- crew matching websites (crewbay.com and findacrew.net were the ones we found more reliable, but there are tons of others)
- forum and blog posts on the topic (one of the most interesting articles with a sailor point of view is surely the ‘famous’: http://www.yachtmollymawk.com/2011/03/hitch-hiking-across-the-atlantic/ )
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
- 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).
- 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.
- Have no big deadlines, they will stress you out and keep in mind that nothing is going to be on time. 🙂
- 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.
- 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.
- Load yourself with books, audio books (worked awesomely for my night watches), language courses, paper and pen, star gazing app, chess, backgammon, cards….
- It is a great time out at sea to THINK without distraction, internet, phone. Use it for your own personal growth and development 🙂
- Problems will arise but be ready to solve them…