The Hitchhiker's Guide to....
the Atlantic and getting a 'ride' to the
If you are looking to be or for crew this
season then leave your details on THE
CANARY ISLAND SAILING FORUM. You can even upload
pictures of yourself, or links to any blogs you may have -
Skipper's Point of View...
to all those wanting to hitch a ride on my
After more than 24
Atlantic crossings (14 single handed), and 100,000 ocean
miles I have seen many things in these islands.
It can get a bit frantic at
times when the weather window is right and you're looking to
leave; you climb up the mast for a rig check only to
discover the fore-stay needs replacing - of course.
But just as you climb down and your feet hit the deck and
you start cursing your luck what should you hear?
...'Oi, mate, giz uz a ride to the Caribbean....' or
...'...are you going to the Caribbean?...'. Oh yeah,
that's just what I need! What I need right at this
moment in time is a helping (competent) pair of hands and
the local chandler/rigger to have what I want.
Needless to say this is not the right time to be asking any
boat Captain for a ride, unless you are that competent spare
pair of hands and the first words out of your mouth are
...'is there anything I can do to help?'
On one occasion a few years
back, minding my own business, enjoying a well earned nap,
in MY cockpit, on MY boat I was disturbed from MY slumber by
a sharp knock on the boat by a dreadlocked, facially
bejewelled grunt asking for a ride to the Caribbean.
Needless to say I was not impressed as he had approached my
boat water side in a canoe (there is a reason, other than
steering gear that I moor bow to)! Initially my
reaction was calm and pleasant, but when this person went on
to say .....'it's not fair there are too many of us wanting
lifts and not enough boats...' I did, I have to admit, tell
him to go away and never darken my door (cockpit) again, but
not without first giving a lecture on working for a living,
saving up and buying your own boat (gosh, what a novel
Was I being mean, or just
grumpy, or simply fed up with the constant requests to offer
a free ride to some one who I know nothing about? Sit
back and think. Imagine it's not a boat but a house,
your home, with all your treasured possessions, possibly a
beloved cat or dog - would you invite a stranger in?
During the 'season' in the
Canary Islands, especially places like Las Palmas every
conceivable type of 'crew' is jostling for a boat. The
walls and windows of virtually every shop and bar are
covered with adverts, some seem reasonable, others, well the
least said about them the better. One of the most
outrageous requests made to me was late in the season, a man
with no experience was asking to 'go to the Caribbean', not
in itself an outrageous request, until he mentioned... with
his wife, 2 year old son, and believe it or not 4 week old
baby! Did he find a boat? Who knows, but it
certainly wasn't with me.
So, what does a skipper like
me want/need in a new member of crew (in no particular
order)? .... It's not all bad news...!
Respect for both boat and myself
Ability to learn
Not much luggage
Sufficient funds for self repatriation
In date passport/visa
Experience (yes and no)
1. HONESTY: Please
remember that this is my home, everything I own is in or on
it, I need to know that I can trust you.
2. RESPECT: As is stated
above, this is my home, please treat it as such. Do
not leave dishes in the sink, etc... avail yourself of
house (boat) rules and do your best not to break them.
Some 'rules' may seem fairly arbitrary, like not leaving a
tube of sun cream on the cockpit seats - you may think I'm
being pedantic, but there are several good reasons for rules
like this: It could cause a trip hazard or it could leak -
grease and seats/deck do not make good friends. Or it
could just be that I don't like seeing tubes of sun cream
all over the place - remember it's MY BOAT. And
remember, I am SKIPPER, my word is law. I am more than
happy to listen to ideas, but at the end of the day I have a
legal and moral responsibility to crew and boat, what I say
3. FITNESS: Sailing
is not all sunshine, gins at the yacht club and lazy
days. It can be and is hard work, please keep in mind
that in reality, sailing is an adventure sport. The
2-3 week downwind passage from the Canary Islands to the
Caribbean can best be described as life in a tumble dryer
(if it rains then it's life in a washing machine). In
reality your body is always working, even when sitting or
lying down, couch potatoes need not apply!
4. CLEANLINESS: Not
just the ability to keep a boat 'ship shape', but also
yourself, personal hygiene is important.
5. ABILITY TO LEARN: Be
willing to learn. Humans on the whole love to impart
information, the relationship between skipper and crew is
symbiotic, both parties can learn from each other.
6. NOT MUCH LUGGAGE: Keep
your personal belongings to a minimum, no large or hard
cases, or oversized gorged backpacks spewing sleeping bags,
shoes, cups etc...
7. SUFFICIENT FUNDS FOR SELF
REPATRIATION: I am not your father, the local bank or
social security office. Sadly, as skipper of the boat
I have a legal responsibility for your ability to repatriate
yourself should things not go as planned - prove that you
have sufficient funds for a plane ticket home.
8. IN DATE PASSPORT/VISA:
Ensure that your passport has sufficient time left on it for
the duration of your planned journey, plus another 6 months
for good measure. If needing visas make sure they are
in date and appropriate for where you are likely to end up -
Customs/Immigration Officers sometimes do not have a sense
9. EXPERIENCE: If a
skipper/owner is needing someone with
experience/qualifications and you have none, well that's
just too bad. If you have experience then say, don't
exaggerate as you will soon be caught out! Sailing
like most things is a case of learning as you go
along. Read as much as possible, learn to tie a few
knots - you will soon learn 'the ropes'.
10. APPROPRIATE CLOTHING:
You will need a good waterproof, warm jacket (if possible
put a pair of gloves and a beanie hat in a pocket - not a
lot of use in the Caribbean, but you'll be glad of them for
the first week or so on the crossing). The Atlantic
can be cold and unforgiving, it is not the skippers
responsibility to clothe you. Take note of how other
members of crew/skipper dress, if they wander around naked,
then it's ok to do so, if they don't then you don't!
11. HEALTHY CREW: Are you
fit and healthy, do you need medication (if so ensure you
have the prescription in your name - don't end up in jail
for something like a handful of tramadol!)? Remember
that the skipper has the right to go through your gear and
to discard anything that he/she thinks might be considered
contraband. Be honest and tell the skipper of any
ailments you might have, especially if you know you get
seasick. There are many remedies for seasickness,
ensure you have them. Most people overcome their
seasickness, if you are not able to then ocean sailing might
not be for you - remember you will be more of a hindrance
than a help if you become ill at sea.
12. LANGUAGE SKILLS: I
don't need you to be able to speak 4 different languages,
just mine. If you can't understand what I am saying
then sorry, but you are of no use to me, there will be times
that I will need you to do something straight away, and not
after resorting to hand gestures and a dictionary.
So, those are the basics,
what else do I want or not want to see? A smile is
nice, but please, not all the time, if I want to see painted
on smiles I'll get on a flight. The ability to swim is
good, for myself I would never consider crew who couldn't
swim, other skippers may differ. Can you cook?
There is a difference between opening a can of beans in
harbor and the ability of being able to make great fresh
food in a rolly boat.
Always have your details to
hand, either printed or hand written, politely hand them
over, if you've made an impression, but that particular boat
is not taking on crew, you never know - his friends might
Some skippers expect crew to
contribute to provisioning etc... don't expect a free
ride. Remember that the boat you are trying to get on
has probably taken the owner years of hard work and saving,
offering to contribute will always go down well.
At the end of the day I want
crew who I can get along with, who are intelligent, funny,
can take the rough with the smooth and are always helpful
and honest - if I get that mix right then the rest, as the
saying goes 'will all be plain sailing'. If you are
'mile building' and have an RYA
logbook ask me to sign it, every mile counts.
MY RESPONSIBILITIES TO YOU AS CREW: When you
come on-board my boat I assume certain responsibilities for
you, the first being your health and safety. Remember
to ask if the boat you intend upon getting on is insured, if
in doubt ask to see the policy, however if you start having
doubts, maybe look for another boat, your subconscious is
trying to tell you something. I am not responsible for
your own stupidity or carelessness, for example: if your
jacket flies away it is not my responsibility to pay for it.
Good luck in your boat
hunting - don't give up just because the first boat you came
across was mine and I turned you away!
A CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR CREW
Not all boats are suitable for long ocean
passages. This is not to say that they are bad boats
in themselves - 'horses for courses'. The same can be
said for skippers. As would be crew you need to be
able to ascertain the 'fit for purpose' ability of both boat
and skipper, also any other crew. As the saying goes:
'If you throw a coke can in the sea in The Canary Islands -
it will end up somewhere in the Caribbean'.
If you have managed to be invited on-board a
boat, take a moment to look around; are there sufficient
hand holds, life jackets etc. Is there a life raft,
what is the general condition of the boat (and
skipper). Do not be alarmed by an un-tidy boat -
preparing for an ocean passage quite often requires a touch
of circular re-organization - emptying of cupboards and
lockers. What about other crew members, are you
compatitble, remember you are going to be spending quite a
few weeks with these guys - if you find someone's habits
annoying whilst safely tucked up in a marina, just imagine
them in a rolly boat, day after day after day.
Just to finish. Ocean sailing can be
and is a wonderful thing, and on the whole, the worst thing
that is going to happen to you on an Atlantic passage is
boredom, there are only so many times you can play 'I
The Crew's point of
and what I have to offer you.
By: S Bracknel: January 2018
OK, so it's your boat, you are the boss, so
who am I in the great scheme of things? In other
words, what do I bring to the table?
When I first started out on my travel/work
to pay for it odyssey I really didn't know what to expect,
what I didn't expect was to find hundreds just like me, all
vying for the same place. At times I became
despondent, wandering up and down docks being turned away,
mostly politely, but sometimes very rudely, it took me a
long time to get my head around why some people would just
be so mean and dismissive of me, until one boat owner took
pity on me and gave me some pointers (though he didn't want
any crew at the time, in my head he became my mentor) this
was his advice:
Always look smart, but casual, brush your
hair, clean your teeth and remove jewellery etc. Even
if you don't feel confident try your best to come across as
confident in yourself, not shy and nervous, though don't go
the other way and come across as brash and arrogant.
He explained that I was the 6th person that morning to knock
on his boat - he was thinking of putting a sign up saying
'Thanks, but no thanks!' Don't be yet another wannabee
knocking on a boat, stand out from the crowd. How do I
stand out from the crowd? His advice was to look at my
competition, the good the bad and the ugly!
That very afternoon I sat in a bar and did
exactly what he told me - I studied my competition.
Mostly young men, some times in twos, sometimes with a
girlfriend. Clothing, yes, he was right, looking smart
but casual was better than what all these guys were wearing
- it's not that I am a particularly smart dresser, but
overall my competition was scruffy and unkempt, a tick for
I began to see the competition's
camaraderie, a sort of brothers in arms, togetherness in the
face of adversity, the way they took over an area of the bar
with backpacks and all their stuff, whilst sharing a small
beer, loudly! Another tick for me, I'm drinking coffee
and not creating a nuisance. By this time I am
beginning to feel better about myself and my prospects of
getting on a boat.
Studying the 'competition' had become my new
hobby, one that would hopefully pay off, what else was it
about them that would put off my 'mentor'? It appeared
to me that they all needed each other, almost blended in
with each other, there was nothing individual about most of
them. I chuckled to myself, my 'mentor' was right,
they all wore a sort of uniform of tatty/dirty cargo
pants/shorts and T-shirt, bracelets and wrist bands and
dreadlocks of varying lengths?
It was a sort of competition voyeurism,
appraising what and who they were, where did they come from,
what did they have that I didn't? My mood went from
optimistic to glum - maybe my 'mentor' was wrong, and these
guys were getting it right. Should I go over and join
them, or should I just accept today things didn't go as I
planned and to start again tomorrow? I left, feeling
low and deflated - almost giving up.
But I didn't give up, the next day I went
back to the same bar and it was there where my master plan
was devised (with eternal thanks to my 'mentor')!
STEPS TO GETTING ON A BOAT
Look clean and tidy. Shorts and a
polo shirt/T-shirt - also easy to maintain.
If possible shake their hand.
They're not likely to dismiss you straight away if they
just shook your hand.
Concentrate on them. Ask about
their journey so far, look interested.
Offer to help. Look for people
struggling to do something and step in and help.
Be humble but confident. No slouching,
walk with pride.
Leave all belongings in hostel.
Leave all your belongings somewhere else.
Ask pertinent questions. Ask where
they are going, is there other crew.
Learn more about boats and
sailing. Read, read and read again, watch what
people are doing on boats.
Print out particulars - with a
photo. A photo with your details will help them
Keep phone handy/check emails. If
you can't be bothered to pick up the phone - enough
Once I had worked out my master plan all I
had to do was to put it into action, and hey presto, I
should get 'a boat'. Sometimes things are easier said
Off I went with a spring in my step reciting
my ten point plan in my head, making the decision to start
with big boats and chance my luck (besides they look
nice!). This is where my great master plan first came
unstuck - 'What qualifications or experience did I have?',
'How many Atlantic crossings have you done before?' etc
etc. What? People do this more than once - and
this was the first I had heard about qualifications, I
realized that I hadn't adhered to my own plan: #9. Learn
more and read more. That night I looked up sailing
qualifications, I realized there was more to this sailing
than first meets the eye. The RYA
(Royal Yachting Association) was where one boat
Captain (who at least had the decency to talk to me not just
ignore me) had advised me to start, it's a bit of a shock to
the system when you finally understand that you don't know a
bowline from a reef knot, and that you are far from even
being 'competent crew'. My lap top burned brightly all
night whilst I read and read and read, by 2am I had mastered
the bowline and the reef knot and was reading all about
splicing (something I had never heard of before), all with
the help of this great website (animated
knots). I also learned a lot about other
qualifications, the type needed if you want to work on a
Super Yacht, something that I wasn't interested in, I only
wanted a lift, but here's
a bit of info for those interested. Whilst doing
all this research I also came across many websites and
forums for crew, with some great advice - crewseekers and find a crew was a
great place for information, but I was already in the
marina, just waiting for that one opportunity
OK, so there's a difference between big
Super Yachts and cruising yachts, most cruising yachts wont
ask if you have an RYA Offshore Yacht Master Certificate (I
learned that even deck hands were expected to have achieved
this on the Super Yachts!), but they do have other criteria,
which you can read about in 'The Yacht
Skipper's point of view'.
I had got carried away with myself with the
Super Yachts etc, and being brought down to earth with a
bump was actually what I needed. Next on my list was
to approach the smaller cruising yachts, who were after all
going in the direction that I wanted to go in. This time I
started with mid sized boats (42-50ft), some of whom had
many Atlantic passages under their belts they all had all
the help (crew) that they needed, I was beginning to feel
downcast again. The smaller yachts were what I needed
to concentrate on, and was where I learned that the first
words you say are probably what will eventually get you 'a
boat' (or not).
Again repeating my 10 step mantra I set off
towards the pontoons where smaller yachts were, at least
this time I was armed with a bit more knowledge of what an
ocean crossing is like, could tie a few knots and at least
knew what splicing was... where there's a
The third boat became 'my boat', not only
was I invited on-board, but I spent 2 months of my life with
people who became family to me. What did I have to
offer in return, I was young, fit, able to learn, pulled my
weight and didn't complain when the going got rough - I
believe, and was told that I was a great addition to their
boat, which by the way was (and still is though has new
owners now) a Moody 376, it (she) was comfortable, safe and
a pleasure to learn to sail in, thank you Don and Sarah.
I have to say that I wasn't really
appreciative of what was involved in an ocean passage, the
planning, the provisioning, the 3am watches (why me?).
However I quickly learned to love the vastness of the ocean,
the solitude and above all the knowledge that I did finally
manage to find 'a boat', occasionally my mind would wander
back to my first days in the marina, checking out my
competition and wondering if any of them managed to find a
boat as well. I don't think I was initially ready for
the constant movement of the boat, but after a couple of
days I sort of got used to it, after all it wasn't as if I
could just get off and jump on a bus! As for
seasickness, it didn't bother me, but I have spoken to many
others like me who did became quite ill.
Our first port of call was Barbados, this
was not on my original travel plan, but I tended to go where
the boat went, and I wouldn't have missed Barbados for the
world. After 24 days at sea, anchoring in Carlisle Bay
was just magical. In total I visited 4 islands
(Barbados, Grenada, Carriacou and Bequia) with Don and Sarah
before leaving for the states and the land based part of my
So, would I do it all again, yes and no,
that part of my life is over now - maybe one day I might
think about taking some RYA exams,
and even buy my own boat - who knows, you may very well end
up knocking on my boat's transom and I become your 'mentor'.
I wish all of you looking to hitch a ride
anywhere in the world on a boat all the best, and my best
advice is all in my 10 step plan....
If you are looking to or for crew this
season then leave your details on THE
CANARY ISLAND SAILING FORUM. You can even upload
pictures of yourself, or links to any blogs you may have -
AND USEFUL INFORMATION
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