The Hitchhiker's Guide to....

the Atlantic and getting a 'ride' to the Caribbean.

map of the caribbean sailing the atlantic


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 - it's FREE!

The Yacht Skipper's Point of View...

to all those wanting to hitch a ride on my boat...

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 idea!). 


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?

hitch hikers guide to the atlantic sailing the

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...!

  1. Honesty

  2. Respect for both boat and myself

  3. Fitness

  4. Cleanliness

  5. Ability to learn

  6. Not much luggage

  7. Sufficient funds for self repatriation

  8. In date passport/visa

  9. Experience (yes and no)

  10. Appropriate clothing

  11. Healthy crew

  12. Language skills

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 goes.

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 of humour.

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 be.

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! 


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 Spy'. 

The Crew's point of view...

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! 

The competition

the competition sailing the atlantic how to
          hitchhike on a boat

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 me!

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')!

10 steps to getting on a boat
            sailing the atlantic


  1. Look clean and tidy.  Shorts and a polo shirt/T-shirt - also easy to maintain.

  2. If possible shake their hand.  They're not likely to dismiss you straight away if they just shook your hand.

  3. Concentrate on them.  Ask about their journey so far, look interested.

  4. Offer to help.  Look for people struggling to do something and step in and help.

  5. Be humble but confident. No slouching, walk with pride.

  6. Leave all belongings in hostel.  Leave all your belongings somewhere else.

  7. Ask pertinent questions.  Ask where they are going, is there other crew.

  8. Learn more about boats and sailing.  Read, read and read again, watch what people are doing on boats.

  9. Print out particulars - with a photo.  A photo with your details will help them remember you.

  10. Keep phone handy/check emails.  If you can't be bothered to pick up the phone - enough said.

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 than done.

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 will...  

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 travel odyssey.

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 - it's free!


how to get a crewing position on a boat going across the atlantic.  crew, atlantic, las palmas, gran canaria. how to get a crewing position on a boat in the arc atlantic rally for cruisers. ocean hithhiking for sailors and crew.