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Catching a Ride Across the Atlantic

A yotty lets off steam – and provides a few tips.

Crew available. Hi there! My name is Ninja. I’m 23 years old and I want to sail to the Caribbean.
I’ve already walked across Europe! I’m a vegetarian. Expert juggler.
No sailing experience yet, but I’m very enthusiastic.
Willing to work my passage.

So read the advert on the notice board in Las Palmas. It was one of about 30 similar ads – some nicely printed on an A4 page; some scrawled in biro on a scrap of paper – all of them put together by young men and women whose aim it was to hitch a free ride across the Atlantic.

All told, there were 90 wannabe deckhands hanging around the marina this winter, and fewer than half of them achieved their objective. Indeed, according to the rumour on the grapevine, only 20 would-be sailors found places with the ARC fleet and fewer than 20 got rides aboard other boats.
The remainder are probably feeling disgruntled; but what they ought to be doing is asking themselves, “Why (not) me?”

Hitch-Hikers, Please Read This

So – you’re 23 years old, or thereabouts, and you’re off to see the world. You’ve got your pack on your back; your juggling sticks are under your arm, and your wisdom weed is hidden in your shoe. That’s about all you’ll need, isn’t it? You won’t want much money: there’s no need to worry about hotel bills or the price of food, ‘cos you’ll be couch-surfing and you’ll be scrounging from the bins around the back of the supermarkets. And when you want to move on, you’ll stick out your thumb.

Fine. But what if it’s an ocean that lies between you and your next destination?
No problem. Boats cross oceans. And boats need crew.
Somewhere in the back of your mind there’s a wishy-washy picture of “crew” pacing the deck and doing… erm… nautical things… like… well, you know: working the ship, and all that!

Somehow you’ve managed to get hold of the idea that any-old-body – such as you, for instance – would be suitable as crew. So – you turn up in the marina thinking that you’re needed; thinking that you’ll stroll around for a while, and check out the boats, before you choose the one that’s right for you.
Some of you actually think that you’re going to get paid to sail across the ocean… (This pause represents the riotous laughter of any liveaboard yotties who happen to be reading this.)

Well, this article is for you, hitch-hikers; so, listen and attend. I’m going to tell you why you aren’t welcome aboard our boats. And then, if you stay the course, I’ll tell you how to improve your chances of becoming one of the lucky few in next year’s Transatlantic Lottery.

We Don’t Need You

The first thing that any would-be hitch-hiker needs to know is that WE DON’T NEED YOU.
No! We really don’t!
In this age of satellite navigation and radar warning systems absolutely nobody actually needs crew. Even a singlehander can get by on his own.
However, some folk do like to have extra watch-keepers aboard, and some are willing to take people in order to earn themselves a little bit of pocket money.

We Charge

Some of the hitch-hikers to whom we spoke this year were outraged when their prospective landlord-come-skippers asked them how much they were willing to pay.
“I’m offering to work my passage!” said one be-dreadlocked back-packer.
“How much sailing experience do you have?” I asked her.
“Well, I’ve crossed the channel a couple of times on the ferry, so I know I don’t get seasick.”
“If you don’t know how to sail, how are you going to work your passage?”
“Oh, I’m a quick learner.”
“Oh, so you want free transport, free lodgings, free food, and free sailing lessons too!”

When you come along, with your cocky smile, thinking that you’re God’s gift to the cruising world, it gets up our noses. If you want us to give you a lift you can at least ask nicely, and unless you are a very experienced sailor, with at least one previous Atlantic crossing to your credit, you can expect to have to pay.
Well, why shouldn’t you pay? When you check into a B and B you expect to pay, don’t you?

The usual rate for hitch-hikers is between €10 and €15 per day, but some people charge as much as €30. Indeed, some yachts – fully certified ones, with all the right paperwork – charge around €3,000 for a trans-Atlantic crossing. That works out at about €120 to €150 per day.
Lest you still haven’t understood the scene I should also point out that the people who take a ride on these yachts, and who pay that amount of money, don’t expect to sit back and file their nails all day; they pay €150 per day for the privilege of standing their watches, taking their turn as cook, and sharing all the other chores which are part and parcel of the cruising life. Most of them are already experienced sailors.

We Don’t Want You

Many hitch-hikers seem to look upon a yacht as if it were a means of transport. This is understandable, because a yacht is a means of transport. However, that is not the way that we yotties think of our boats. When we are using them to race around the cans or to make a little excursion at the weekend, then we think of them as a marvellous invention and a source of great pleasure; and when we live aboard them we think of them as Home Sweet Home.
Now, why the heck would anyone want to invite a complete stranger straight off the pavement and into his home?

Just try this little exercise: I want you to walk up to a house in a strange town, knock on the door, and then say to the bloke standing there on the mat, “Hi! This is a pretty house! I’m looking for somewhere to live. Could I spend the next three weeks in your living room?”

If he doesn’t call the police then you must be travelling around Africa or Asia – in which case you are rich, compared to your soon-to-be host, and you will be expected to pay for your accommodation.

Why Would We Want Your Company For Three Weeks Solid?

Actually, asking for a ride on somebody’s sailing boat is worse than asking to kip on their sofa because a boat is not like an ordinary home. When you kip on someone’s sofa they aren’t generally sleeping right there with you, on the other side of the room.

A yacht is not a tardis – alas – and unless the boat which you have hit upon is a mega-yacht, with en-suite cabins, space will be at a premium. A great many back-packers cannot seem to grasp this fact. When we tell them, “Sorry, we don’t have space for you,” they say, “But man! Your boat is so big!”
Our boat is 50 feet long. The beam, at the widest point, is 15 feet. If we filled the entire space with rows of seats, in the style of a ferry or a mini-bus, then we could probably accommodate 30 people. As it is, however, the space is occupied by the sort of furniture which is usual to a very basic house: by locker-seats containing our food, clothes, charts, tools, and other supplies; by a small table; by a compact kitchen (properly known as a galley); and by five beds – one for each member of our family.
One would-be passenger, when greeted by these facts, said, “Oh, that’s okay. I can crash in the cockpit.”
Anyone who cannot understand the idiocy of that suggestion may as well stop reading this, straight away.

Personal Space

There is not much privacy aboard the average yacht. I sometimes wonder what the hitch-hikers knocking on the side of our boat would say if they realised that the dwelling within the steel hull is the sort which the United Nations would probably condemn as unfit for human habitation. Would they still want to hitch a ride with us if they knew that the toilet resides in the corridor and is in full view of the main cabin?

Perhaps back-packers don’t need privacy. But we do. We don’t want to have to get dressed to use the loo. Actually, we don’t want to have to get dressed, full-stop. It’s hot and sunny out there, in the middle of the ocean, and we don’t generally wear clothes. But nor are we so uninhibited as to want to stand naked in front of a hitch-hiker.

Easy Going or Uptight?

Meal times are another potential source of friction. In this family we eat when I’m hungry. When I’m not hungry I don’t remember to cook. How would that go down with a hitch-hiker, I wonder?

Of course, when we’re at sea we take it in turns to cook. But then there’s the irritation of having someone else messing about in the galley, putting things away in the wrong places – or not putting them away at all…
A friend of ours took on three hitch-hikers and carried them off to Brazil. One got on his nerves; one was too lazy even to take her turn at the dishes. The third he fell in love with… but unfortunately she did not feel the same way about him. All in all, the account of their adventures reads like a comic tragedy.

When you are all living in each other’s pockets – or, to be more exact, when you are living in my pocket – little things, such as the way a person eats their breakfast, can become magnified out of all proportion.
We once met a young lad who had hitched a ride with a singlehander but who now found himself abandoned in the Cape Verdes. The skipper accused him of having taken a cushion out into the cockpit to make himself more comfortable.
The hitch-hiker was dumbfounded – “It was just a cushion! The guy is nuts!” – but we were able to see things from the old man’s point of view. Taking a soft, household cushion outside is a really silly thing to do. Sea air is damp and salty, and salty things never dry. Who wants the cushions from their sofa made salty and damp forever afterwards?
Besides – “It was just the last straw,” said the erstwhile skipper. “He’s a nice enough lad but he has no respect for me or for my property. He didn’t pump the loo properly; he left the galley in a mess; he helped himself to my favourite tea bags, so now I don’t have any left…”
It reminds me of a girl I used to know at college. She was the sort who would use up the last of your milk, on a Saturday evening after all the shops had closed, and then say, “For heaven’s sake! It was only milk! How can you be so incredibly mean?”

We Are Not Operating a Ferry Service

We’re heading for the Caribbean, and that’s where you want to go – but what happens if we change our minds? What happens if we decide go somewhere else?
The liveaboard life is governed by only two things: the seasons and our whims.
22 years ago, when we were even more broke than we are now, we almost gave a ride to a rather unpleasant German fellow who was offering to pay £15 per day. Fortunately (as it turned out) he found someone else who was willing to take him for only £10 per day.
Off we went then – just the two of us – with the Caribbean our avowed destination; but when we were two days out we decided to detour, and have a look at the Cape Verdes. And while we were there, in the islands, it seemed silly to miss the chance of visiting Senegal. And then Guinea Bissau caught our eye; it was not much further from the beaten track. Then, having gone so far south, we realised that we may as well cross to Brazil and sail up the Amazon…
We eventually arrived in the Caribbean several months after our departure from the Canaries, and here we bumped into the fellow who had given a lift to the German. “How did it go?” we asked him.
“Oh, I changed my mind. I went to Senegal instead. The hitch-hiker was a pain, so one day while he was ashore I just buggered off. I threw his stuff overboard.”

Why should we take the risk?

More than anything, a boat in the middle of the Atlantic is different from a house because you can’t just step out of the door and go away.
A boat is a very tiny island. Think Big Brother. Or think of being cooped up in a prison cell with someone that you hate.
If it all goes terribly wrong, then you can’t run away. And nor can your skipper.

Several single-handers, when questioned on the idea of taking crew, said that they would never risk it. One was desperate for company but his fears held him back: “What’s to stop the guy from murdering me and then making off with my boat? When he gets to the other side he can just tell everybody that I fell over the side, can’t he?”
I laughed.
Later that evening I happened to meet up with a young couple who were hoping to catch a ride – for free, despite having no experience whatsoever – and having put them straight on this issue I then mentioned my friend.
“What’s he like?”
“He’s a miserable sod, but he’s competent; he’d get you there in one piece.”
“What’s his boat like? Is it a fancy one?”
“It’s ugly, but it’s seaworthy. Fancy? Well, it’s worth about £250,000 – or so he tells me.”
“Ha! So – if he’s a miserable bastard I could bump him off and nick the boat, and no one would care!”
The fact that the remark was made in jest did not stop the shiver from arcing up my spine.

Another singlehander of our acquaintance does take crew, but only in return for significant financial gain. He says that he never sleeps properly when he has strangers aboard. “Oh, I lock my cabin door – of course, I do; you have to – but I still worry.”
This particular boat is fully licensed and our friend usually charges €2,500 for the Atlantic crossing. “I only take hitch-hikers if I can’t find proper charter guests, and even then I make them pay a minimum of €500 per person. I won’t take them for less than €500 even if they seem to be nice people. It’s just not worth the risk. I like single-handing, so that’s not an issue; I am happy to sail alone.”

Legal Hassles

No vessel which does not have third-party insurance should ever take crew under any circumstances. This is because the law, throughout much of the world, does not understand the difference between a paid crew member or paying passenger, on the one hand, and someone who is just there for the ride. If someone gets hurt then, regardless of where the fault might lie, the law favours the guest over the captain of the boat.
An Australian friend once gave a lift to a young woman. They had been at sea for all of half an hour when, contrary to his orders, she decided to climb the mast. As she fell from the mast she bounced on the guard rail… and then she fell into the sea.
When the woman’s head did not break the surface, matey jumped overboard. (Well, what else could he have done?) As his boat sailed away – alone and unaided, in the direction of the rocks – he struck out for the shore. All the while, as he swam, he held the casualty with her mouth clear of the water. Eventually, they arrived at the beach, an ambulance took the injured girl to hospital, and our friend hurried away to salvage his boat.

If our Aussie friend had not dived in and saved her the young woman would certainly have died. Besides being knocked unconscious when she hit the rail she also punctured a lung. As a reward for the skipper’s bravery what do you think she did? Did she take him to dinner and pay for the repairs to his boat?
Nope. She sued him. And the amount which she was awarded, by the court, was greater than the value of his restored boat. He had to sell her.
‘Nuff said.
(This is the kind of person who makes me hope, with all my heart, that there really is a hell.)

By the way – this is not the only story that we have heard of a hitch-hiker suing the captain for an injury which he sustained aboard the boat. In another instance a liveaboard arriving in Portugal had his boat impounded after a crew member with a broken arm went to the police.

Are You Aware of the Risk That YOU Are Taking?

Given that the two parties have often only just met it’s not surprising that many skipper-hitchhiker alliances don’t work out too well. And being dropped off in a port which was not your own choice is the least of your worries.
One thoroughly nice-seeming man told me, “If my crew were to be injured – if he broke his leg falling down the forehatch, or whatever – then I would certainly throw him overboard. I would have to. I’m not insured, and I couldn’t risk a claim against me.”

And worse things than that happen at sea.

If you are a single girl in your early twenties, ask yourself why this 40-something singlehander wants you along for the ride.
Most singlehanders are men, and most of them would rather not be alone; most are looking for a girlfriend. That’s fine if it’s what you want – but if it’s not what you want DON’T GO!
There is no law and order out there on the high seas. There will be no one to turn to when he tells you that you owe him a ride for a ride.
You’ve probably been told about the two English girls who hitched a ride with two young Germans. When the boys tried to force themselves on the girls one of them grabbed a wine bottle and, acting in self-defence, smashed it over the skipper’s head. In all probability the only thing that makes this story noteworthy is the fact that the girls actually managed, accidentally, to kill one of their assailants. Otherwise the sorry tale would not have made it onto the front page of the world’s newspapers.

Young men might imagine that they are immune from this sort of problem or threat – but they are not. Nick tells the tale of an Italian yacht which arrived in Mauritius with two men lying dead in their own blood on the side deck. He had actually met the lads, some months earlier, while they were wandering the docks in South Africa looking for a ride.
The skipper of the vessel was still aboard but he was completely ga-ga. He couldn’t explain why he had shot his crew.

Death from gunshot wounds, bludgeoning, or other violent causes is not the only risk that the hitch-hiker takes when he signs on with a stranger. The Robertsons had a back-packer aboard when they hit a whale and sank.
Before you board, ask yourself – or ask someone else; someone more likely to know the answer – Is this boat seaworthy? Is this skipper competent?

‘Still want to go?

How to Improve Your Chances of Being One of the Chosen Few

1 – Get Some Sailing Experience

Generally speaking, the more sailing experience you have, the more likely you are to get a lift.
The people who found places amongst the ARC fleet were sailors. They were people who actually wanted to make an Atlantic crossing – as opposed to wanting a magic carpet ride to the next place on their world tour check-list.

The only exception would be in the case of a nervous single-hander who fears mutiny and murder and who, in consequence, is looking for someone who could not possibly manage the boat by him/herself.

2 – Look The Part

Cast your eyes over the yotties with whom you seek to travel.
How many of the men passing up and down the marina jetties have long hair tied back in a pony tail?
How many are wearing grubby T-shirts emblazoned with a cannabis leaf; and how many carry an enormous back-pack with a bong poking out of the top?
Not so many, hey?
(The chap wearing the grubby tie-dyed T- shirt is from Mollymawk; and we’re not looking for crew.)

The vast majority of yotties are neat, tidy, clean people. The ones with the nice big shiny boats are business men, many of whom own their companies. When not holidaying aboard their yachts they reside in suburbia – in large houses with well-kept lawns – or in picturesque 18th century cottages which have been tarted up and equipped with all mod-cons.
Would you presume to go knocking on the door of such a house asking for a fortnight’s accommodation? No; you wouldn’t; the idea would not even enter your head it’s so laughable.

This having been said, the one-year-sabbatical yotties are much more likely to be looking for crew than those of us who travel full-time. So – if you want to get a ride with them you should revise your dress code.
Go and take a shower, and buy yourself a new shirt.
Leave your back-pack and your djembe in your digs.
Remove any offensive jewellery (such as studs through the tongue or eyebrow) and don’t wear anything which hints at a marijuana addiction. Dope is a touchy subject amongst cruising folk. Did you know that the customs people are entitled to search any boat – foreign or local – at any time? If the search turns up any illegal substances they won’t be the only things to be confiscated. The skipper will be held responsible for the “cargo” and he may forfeit the whole boat.

The wannabe deckhands at Las Palmas tend to hang out as a pack. They gather on the beach or at the head of the jetties or in the Sailor’s bar. They flaunt their drop-out status.
Many of the yotties find this gang of hippies quite intimidating. Live like you wanna live, by all means, but be aware that being viewed as member of this set will significantly hinder your chances of hitching a ride.

3 – Word Your Ad Carefully

The advert that you place on the noticeboard is your CV. Some people place two separate ads, one designed to appeal to the Very Straight yotties – with their nice, expensive yachts – and one designed to appeal to fellow hippies.
Save yourself some effort. There is only one hippy-boat in the marina in Las Palmas. It has been there for several years. It isn’t going anywhere.

Prospective hosts are unlikely to be interested in the fact that you have just ridden a mono-cycle across the Sahara. Nor do they care whither you plan to wander when you reach the far side of the pond.
I recommend that you restrain yourself from advertising your skill at juggling, tai chi, or sculpting statues from metal or marble.
Mention of musical abilities is also a touchy subject. The ability to play the guitar is almost always seen in a very favourable light, but the words, “I like to sing” on your advert are a guaranteed no-no.

Don’t get me wrong; many yotties enjoy a good chin-wag with a xylophone player or with someone who has lived for a fortnight with the Tuareg, or swum the Straits – or what have you – but they don’t necessarily want to share their home with someone so wacky.
You can save this sort of exciting info for your first meeting (when you will greet your would-be skipper with a pleasant smile and the offer of any assistance which he might need in preparing the vessel).

Your ad should tell us your nationality, your age, and your sex. It should tell us what sailing experience you have, if any, and it should provide us with a phone number and an e-mail address.
A smiling photo is a definite asset. Resist the temptation to use the one of you riding a camel.

4 – Change Your Attitude

Yes, of course you want to get to the Caribbean. Every sane person wants to get out of Europe and spend the winter in the Caribbean! But most of them don’t come and pester us; most of them buy an airline ticket.
Stop thinking about you and your aims, for just a moment, and put yourself in the place of the fellow who owns the boat. Why would he want to take you? What can you do for him?

Perhaps he wants some company – but are you the right kind? Will you get along together?

Perhaps he wants someone to help with the watch-keeping and the general boat work – in which case, why not offer to lend a hand now. For free – of course!

What else can you offer? Are you a fantastic cook? Are you a carpenter? Can you teach him to play the guitar or to speak Portuguese? (These, and other relevant assets, are worth mentioning on your ad.)

Make it clear that you realise that you are asking for a favour.
Make it clear that you know that a yacht is a very private home. It is not a ferry, a hotel, or a youth hostel.
Recognise the fact that you will be getting under the fellow’s feet, and let him know that you aim to minimise your impact in his life.
Forget all about being a laid back dude. Instead, show respect for this person whose help you are seeking, and be the very model of Perfect Behaviour.

5 – Get Your Name onto an Online Crew List

Strange though it may seem, most folks crossing to the Caribbean have already realised long in advance that they will need crew…
Many people buy their boat for the specific purpose of making an Atlantic crossing. Their plans were probably laid years in advance. Decades in advance, in some cases.
Is it very likely that these people, who have invested so much time, effort, and money, will turn up in Gibraltar or the Canaries and suddenly say to themselves, “Oh, shit! I know what I’ve forgotten…! Crew!”

Those people who are not sailing with family or friends generally find their crew through an agency. Thus, getting your name onto a well-known crew list ought to be a priority.

Yacht delivery skippers also sometimes need crew – and since the boat that they are delivering is not their own pad, and the crossing is a job rather than a holiday, they tend to be less finicky about their companions. Better yet, these guys don’t charge a penny. They’ll even cover your board!
If you have sailing experience you could consider approaching a company. Otherwise, get your name onto one of the lists.

6 – Aboard a Private Yacht: Be Ready and Willing to Pay

Boats cost money, and they cost a lot of effort to maintain.
How much are you willing to pay for the privilege of being carried across an ocean under sail?
“We’re willing to pay for our board,” said one madam (clad in flowing skirt and hob-nailed boots, and waving a funny cigarette around) “but we resent people trying to make money out of us. €5 per day is more than enough.”
Needless to say, she didn’t find a place.

7 – Make Friends with Us

The very best way to get a ride on a yacht is to make friends with the owner; and, indeed, with the whole yachting community.
Just so long as you see the world as a Them And Us place – with “Them” as the rich, boat-owning bastards, and you as the peace-loving, totally cool and connected guys – you are unlikely to find a comfortable berth.

Yes, it all comes back to attitude.

A Classic Example of How To Do It

A couple of years ago we were approached by a young Spanish guy who wanted to hitch a ride to the other side of the pond. He was a diving instructor. He had very little experience of sailing, but he was very eager.
We told Ricard that we weren’t looking for crew, and he said, “No problem. But if you meet anyone else who needs crew, you tell him about me, please. Okay?”
They all ask that of us, of course; and then they disappear, and we forget all about them.
But Ricard didn’t disappear.

The following day Ricard came to visit us, bringing a bottle of red wine and some fruit. Then he offered to take us all diving, using the company’s launch, while the boss was away for the day.
At this time Caesar was still a newly qualified Advanced Open Water Diver. “So! Next thing is Divemaster,” said Ricard. “I gonna teach you.” And he did.
Within a few days, as you may imagine, we knew Ricard very well – and our friends knew him too. He had joined us for supper on several occasions and he came to our parties – always bringing with him copious quantities of good wine.

When Ricard wanted to borrow our dinghy to visit the other yachts in the anchorage he was very welcome to do so. Most would-be deckhands lack the initiative to tour the anchorage as well as the marina, and those who do venture out here generally do so only once. But Ricard was different. Every time he saw a new boat in the anchorage he would swim over to Mollymawk, borrow our dinghy, and go straight to the new arrival to offer his services.

After three weeks of trying and failing, Ricard met a Norwegian fellow who was single-handing aboard a catamaran.
Runer wasn’t looking for crew, but when Ricard offered to pay for the ride he showed a certain amount of interest.
When Ricard offered to help with his shopping he became even more interested. Buying chandlery and engine parts is none too easy if you don’t speak the local lingo, but with a native on hand it was a doddle.
Still, Runer had the single-hander’s usual worries: was this young man to be trusted?
“Come and meet my friends,” said Ricard.

As luck would have it we happened to be having a party that night, and so the Norwegian skipper was able to see that he was dealing with a well-liked member of the community. “Is he okay, d’you think?” he asked me.
“More than okay. Provided you don’t mind the fact that he’ll take over your boat and do everything for you!”

Then Ricard moved aboard the catamaran and took over the cooking.
Then he cleaned the bottom. (Most back-packers are not even aware that the bottom of a boat often needs cleaning, but Ricard had already lent a hand with ours.)

Then Ricard found two more back-packers who were willing to pay for the trip, thereby adding to the cruising fund.
Then he provisioned the boat.
Then he got water for the boat, using our jerries.
And then they set off – with the old man still in full command, but with Ricard at his right hand ready to help with absolutely anything that might want doing.

Much as I like Ricard I don’t think I would want him to sail with us. But then I wouldn’t want anyone to sail with us. Because I wouldn’t want anyone living in my space, getting under my feet.
Or at least, I thought I wouldn’t… until we met Adam.

Not So Much a Hitch-Hiker as an Honoured Guest

Adam is a back-packer and a hitch-hiker, but he’s different.
Or perhaps it’s just that we met him first as a person. He was simply another fellow to chat to on the quayside; not somebody wanting something from us.
Not a threat.
Not a pushy salesman selling something that we didn’t want to buy.
In fact – significantly – Adam never actually asked if he could come sailing with us.

Adam comes from Israel, and he has spent the past few months hitching across Europe. When he needs money he busks. When he wants a bed for the night he goes on-line and looks for a nearby “couch”. If he can’t find one, he kips on a park bench.

Adam came to the Canaries to help with the construction of the An-Tiki raft. Nobody asked him to come. He just rocked up and joined in, and so they fed and watered him and gave him a bed.

Enter the Mollymawks, at stage left.
We came, we saw, we liked the crew… and since Adam was a friend of the An-Tikis he was a friend of ours too – naturally. He came for supper with Anthony, and Robin, and the rest of the team. He played his guitar and we all sang along.

The conversation, on the following day, went something like this:
Robin: “I’ve got an idea. Adam, why don’t you sail with the Mollymawks to Patagonia.”
Adam: “It’s a good idea. What is Patagonia?”
Robin: “Or to the Cape Verdes. How would you like to sail with them to the Cape Verdes?”
Adam: “I’d like it very much. Where are the Cape Verdes? I’ve never heard of them.”
Me: “The Cape Verdes are great; you’ll like the Cape Verdes. And now that Xoë has jumped ship we have a spare bunk…”

So it was that Adam came to join us for the trip south from the Canaries.
He pays his own way; he cooks and washes up without even being asked to; and he is a very strict guitar teacher, who ensures that his young students – Roxanne and Caesar – practice every day.

Adam recently spent two hours under the boat – in a cold, rather rough sea – scraping barnacles off the bottom. He joins in with all aspects of our daily life – with everything from shopping, handling the boat, going to a gig, climbing a hill, or fetching water – and he copes incredibly well with the vicissitudes of living with a crazy family in a half-built, very untidy boat.
The fact that he was born and brought up on a kibbutz probably helps enormously.

Adam is not so much a hitch-hiker as a really good friend to the whole family.
Now that’s the way to do it! That’s the way to bum round the world!
Watch this space, and we’ll tell you how it goes – but I’m fairly sure that this particular hitch-hiker will have got fed up with us long before we tire of his company.

UPDATE:
See Adam’s excellent article about his experiences hitch-hiking aboard Mollymawk.

UPDATE 2:
We later took a second hitch-hiker, Miki – a friend of Adam’s – from the Cape Verdes to Brazil. Read Jill’s article, and Miki’s article.

50 Comments

  1. Love the article Jill.

    From our recent experience budget holiday charter guests are at least as much of a liability!

    One thing you seem to have overlooked though, if this is an article for publication, is that in most countries the skipper who brings crew/passengers into a country is responsible to the immigration authorities for their ultimate departure. So a boat may find that it will not be cleared to move on until the departing crew have left on another yacht or can show plane/ferry tickets out of the country. This, of course, could become costly for the skipper!

    After two months of combining charter guests with deeply unCaribbean weather (NE 6 & 7 for weeks) and an almost incurable dysintery I’m back in Grenada for the duration and Bev’s in Blighty for some r&r.

    Patagonia sounds fascinating, taking in the glaciers of Argentina on the way? Where are you now?

    love to all, Mike & Bev

  2. Wow ! What an amazing artile. We were laughing our a**es off. – Thank you Jill !
    I just finished reading your ‘Family outing in the Atlantic’ and wonder: Will you find the time to write another book ? For sure, the life of you and your family would have enough stories fo fill a few more (thousand) pages.
    Best wishes to the crew of the Mollymawk and have a safe trip – wherever you go !
    Muchos besos de LosLocos !!

  3. A FANTASTIC read & beautifully written. Bravo !

    This should be handed out to every School Leaver & to the ones who think life owes them a favour……..

    Félicitations.

    Bisous . xxxxxx

  4. Hi Jill,

    Great article!

    I hope everyone is well and you are enjoying cruising.

    I left one day after the ARC and took…. wait for it…. 30 days to get to St Martin. Slow but wonderful.

    As you mentioned in your article solo sailors don’t need crew.

    All great points you have made and I hope lots of folks read it carefully and don’t dismiss your advice.

    “Sea Life” is in Grenada for the Hurricane Season. She is very happy and so am I.

    Mark
    “Sea Life”

  5. This is such a perfect reality check .. and such a rare commodity in the world of media hype.. that I want to express my gratitude. I have been researching the world of sailboat cruising for weeks now. At 57 I am packing up my life and taking it on the road …or on the seas.. or both. Fortunate enough to have had 3 weeks apprenticeship experience on an 89′ schooner in Maine this fall I would very much like to continue this sort of adventure. I am smitten.. now what? I have given up the loose hold I had on security, but that doesn’t mean I have to be foolish. The conventional wisdom about how to live is mostly about how to live tepidly and avoid risk. I think that anyone who sails understands that there is a trade off if you seek adventure. Wisdom, often gained by bitter experience… and I’ve had plenty… advises one to gather information, assess the risks, choose a plan most likely of success… and to be willing to fail at first, but in such a way that you live to try again. One can be both prudent and bold. Right? Something like that. Once the artificial glow has been stripped off the rosy scenario of hitching on a sailboat there is still something there that attracts me. If I continue in this direction I will keep the sharp discriminating sword of your words by my side and they will be my guide. Most likely I will fly leave for Barcelona in about a month. From there, either work exchanges around S. France… or sailing.. or both. Gibraltar? Las Palmas? Still looking. Thank you. Peter Fischer Marshfield, Vermont

    1. Thanks for your comment, Peter. Yes, I think you’ve got the idea and the right attitude: avoid the tepid; take a risk; be prudent if needs be, but for heaven’s sake, go anyway!

      If you’re planning to try to hitch a ride from Las Palmas then you really need to be there in November or December. November is the crazy month, with 200 ARC competitors making the final preparations before their race and 50 or even 100 hitch-hikers pestering every passer-by for a place on board. Most of the ARCies have spent months, or even years, getting ready ready for the trip. As you can imagine, they’ve got every last detail sorted out, down to the exact number of cans of beer and baked beans that they will need. They’re not the people most likely to be looking for crew – it just isn’t the sort of thing that you forget to organise… and yet they take the brunt of the pier-head stalkers’ assault.

      After the ARC has set off (in the middle of November) things calm down. Most of the hitch-hikers give up and go and get themselves ‘plane tickets, and the coast is clear for the more determined wannabe sailors to make an impression.
      As I’ve said before, the key to the door is making friends and lending a hand.

      A True Story: Last year, a single-handing friend was approached by a couple who were looking for a passage to the Caribbean. Bryn told them he wasn’t interested and they accepted the fact but showed a lot of interest in his boat. Then they offered to lend a hand with his preparations.
      “We’ll be kicking around, doing nothing much, while we look for a ride, so if you’ve anything that wants doing…”
      “Oh, I can’t afford to have anyone work on my boat!” cried Bryn.
      “That’s okay. We’re not expecting to be paid. The thing is – if we just wander around the marina we won’t get anywhere, whereas if we hang out with you we start to look like part of the scene. We’ll meet other yotties, won’t we? And eventually we might meet someone who IS looking for crew!”
      Well, our friend gave them a can of primer and a couple of brushes and set them to work touching up the rust spots on the deck. That evening he fed them, chatted with them, got to know them… and found that he liked them.
      The next day he introduced them to a few other people, but no one took them on as crew. “We’ve decided to try our luck elsewhere,” the couple told him that evening, “but if you don’t mind we’ll leave you our phone number and details, and then if happen to meet anyone who needs crew…”
      “Sod that,” said Bryn, tearing up the note. “We’re mates now, aren’t we? You’re crossing with me!”

      I wish you well, Peter – you and the scores of others who will be in Las Palmas in a few weeks time, hoping for a ride – and I hope that you will remember that whereas cold-calling makes your “victim” feel uneasy and carries only a small chance of success, it is relatively easy to catch a lift with a friend.

      1. Hi Jill, i am one of those “head hanging low” left behinders. I am 21 and Have been trying everysingle day since i turned 18 to find a crossing to europe. I actaully got so desperate at one point i stowed away in the tonnage space of a cargo ship and wound up beeing trapped for 2 weeks until someone finally noticed my banging, it was the scariest experience of my life, and my hopes that they would just let me off were in vain. They kept me on board without letting me work for the entire voyage to france and after seeing my destination right infront of me forced me to stay on again for the voyage back this time as a helper for the crew which had taking a likeing to my guitar playing. in totally it was a major waste of time as far as my goal was concerned but an amazing experience i hope i never go through again. My search is on hold as i am in virginia now and dont know where to start exactly in this commonwealth. You seem very knowledgeable in this subject and i would be forever in you debt if you could happen to give me some advice on how i may be abe to complete my 3 years in the works dream. (It should be said i firmly believe in the free spirit aspect of life. ive never tied myself down since being on my own feet and have crossed the american states twice on only my guitar and thumbs. however the atlantic seems to elude me.) Best of wishes to you :)

        patrick

        1. Oh, Patrick! I think this is the funniest, saddest, BEST comment we’ve ever had!
          We’ve met quite a few stowaways and would-be stowaways in our time – mostly Africans who were trying to get to Europe – and they’ve all been really nice, really self-motivated people. If there are any American sailors reading this and looking for crew, drop us a line and we’ll give you Patrick’s address!

          Patrick, your best bet might be to try to find someone who is heading for Bermuda or the Azores. From there, if needs be, you would have to find another vessel to get you to the continent.
          Be aware that no sane yotty will take you on unless your papers are in order. If you hitch a ride and the European authorities won’t let you in then the captain of the vessel in which you arrived is legally obliged to pay for your repatriation.
          This also makes stowing away a risky game. We have heard of stowaways who were thrown overboard. And, of course, for every stowaway who is thrown overboard but who manages to swim ashore there are… who knows how many others who didn’t make it?

          Wishing you safe and well, my friend.

  6. This was a fantastic write-up. Thanks for the info for those of us completely unfamiliar with “yotties” and the like!

  7. Oh, hahahahahahahahhahahahah “mono-cycle across the Sahara”. still laughing!

  8. Thanks for such a clear and well-written post. You’ve captured the situation and my feelings quite well. I’ve posted a link on my FB page and blog and have had nothing but positive feedback.

    I bumped into this phenomena while passing through Cartagena, Colombia en route to Panama. There a large fleet of cruisers ferry backpackers between Cartagena and Colon with a stop in the San Blas. Going rate was $450. As you pointed out many backpackers thought it should be a free ride in exchangefor their efforts ‘crewing’ on the voyage. They really don’t understand that their being aboard is usually a liability rather than an asset.

    As a single-hander on a small boat (32-ft) I neither need nor desire company or ‘assistance.’

    On the other hand, I’ve met backpackers and couchsurfers who were crewing on friends’ boats who were just about perfect as paying crew. Some figure it out, others don’t.

    Thanks again,
    Bill
    s/v Galena, Pago Pago

  9. Really good article, and I wll post a link to this at a norwegian forum for Long distance sailors.

    Was crossing from Cape Verde to Brazil in a 29 feets boat. Me as a crew, and nearly twice as old as the skipper. First time we met eye-to-eye was aboard the boat. We had our tensions before leaving the quay, and “cleared” the air… Had 6 nice weeks aboard, and we were very happy to that we did not take any extra crew. We was making perfect aboard, even if I was a clumpsy first timer on such a voyage, and did all imaginable faults once, but never twice… ;-)

    I think it is important to see how the hitchhikers life has been earlier. It is very important to see after how he/she is sosializing with other people, are able to make initiative and be strict to “orders” from the captain, – the ability to respect the skipper anyhow.

  10. Hi all at the Mollymawk,

    First of all I wish to congratulate you for a wonderfully well designed and maintained website, and for your pleasant and incisive prose above.
    I am writing to share my thoughts on your article, and to bring input to this subject from a bit of a ”different” point of view. Indeed, just last year I sailed from Europe to South America on a 50 feet sloop, via Madeira, Canaries and Capo Verde, at the time as a very inexperienced, very young, dreadlock-bearing (shame-on-me) landman. I found the skipper on findacrew.net, and from Gibraltar to Surinam sailed every leg of the 3 month trip with him and a varying contingent of in total 6 other boat-hikers.
    I am not in fact the typical boat-hiker, I didn’t start out from the Canaries, I didn’t hang out for months in a harbor stalking people coming out of dinghies, I do not smoke pot, despite what my hairstyle may suggest, and I don’t boast any fantastic feats related to mono-cyles or the likes. (oh and I’m a poor poor juggler!)
    And moreover, I believe that long before the end of this trip, I had become much more than a cumbersome passenger taking up space, and was indeed a valuable member of the crew, and that the captain would have said so himself if asked. That is after I had been told the things that I needed telling, and had made the mistakes I was bound to make and needed to make in order to learn, of course!
    It wasn’t an easy trip by any measure ; broken wind-pilot, broken auto-pilot, broken mainstay, broken wind-generator, leaky hull, broken boom (of all things!), you name it it all gave out at some point, usually when we needed it most. But we were able to fix most of it, out at see, with minimal equipment and material, and please believe me when I say that I’m not trying to boast by writing that I played more of a role in the ”fixing” part of the tail that the captain did. The fact of the matter is simply that he is not a very handy guy. He was a salesman before he sold his house and car to buy a yacht to sail around the world, and I’ve spent all of me albeit short life on a farm, fixing things as they break with whatever is at hand.
    The point of the matter is that all people have skills, and that yotties know all too well that you can never know enough about how to fix anything. We had been sailing for a while with an irreversibly damaged wind-pilot and nothing but the electronic auto-pilot between us and the helm, when that piece of electronic junk (I know, electronic auto-pilots are junk…) gave up on us too. I now know that Kris is taking online classes in electronics and has bought a small collection of transistors, resistors and capacitors because he was dumbstruck that I was able to fix the damned machine by taking the exterior lighting bulb-defect warning mechanism apart and using it’s pieces. I guess the auto-pilot is a luxury, but that story could have gone just about the same for the VHF or the GPS.
    But setting aside that part, the most remarkable thing about our trip, in my perspective, is how very oh very very different the captain and me were, and how we still found common ground and managed to sail a rather battered sailing boat over the ocean safely. One of the only things Kris and I have in common to start is mathematics. I have a math degree, and he used to teach math in high school before starting his own business and becoming a salesman. Aside from that, on almost every other subject that came up, we would tend to disagree violently in a matter of seconds. Some arguments weren’t easy to get out of but we always found a way, and THAT, if anything is the point of my words today : it’s that if all parties involved have the will to, anybody can get along with just about anybody else. It takes energy, it takes commitment, it takes a strong ability to control one’s ego, desires and impulses. But it’s worth the challenge. Learning how to live with somebody totally different from you is the most eye opening experience you can imagine. It allows you to put things into perspective, and to think in a way you may never have come to think in.
    I truly hope that a great many yotties will take on a great many boat-hikers in the future, and like it did with my experience, that those trips will spawn the desire in sailors to learn new trades and think in a different manner and in young eager minded people to set out at see again.
    I also wish to thank you for so clearly expressing the point of view of a sailor and live-abord on this matter, as my own captain was rather silent about this matter and never did share his impressions about us being aboard.You have given me great insight into how his mind was probably working while we were with him, and that has allowed me to better understand a number of his reactions and words.

    Finally I wish you happy sailing, safe seas and good winds.
    I will keep my eyes open in the harbors for the Mollymawk, who knows we may get to talk about this in person one day, around a good bottle of wine maybe!
    Kind regards to you all,
    Mark.

    1. Many thanks for your excellent contribution, Mark.

      This article has now been on line for over a year but is still getting 50 hits per day. Besides the comments which appear after the article we have also received quite a lot of correspondence from yotties agreeing whole heartedly with the sentiment, and we get even more mail from backpackers asking for more advice about crossing an ocean.

      Bearing in mind this continuing interest, I think it’s time I set one thing straight: we don’t have anything against backpackers, as a breed.
      Indeed, I used to be a backpacker and there’s every chance that I might be again someday. (After all, a boat will only take you to the edges of a continent; if you want to see what lies within then you have to find another way to travel.)
      We don’t have a problem with hitch-hikers. So far as we are concerned, hitch-hikers, and backpacker in general, are just travellers who don’t have the good fortune to own a boat or who don’t want the hassle of being responsible for something which needs constant care and maintenance.
      Nor do we have anything against dreadlocks, juggling, drummers, or even mono-cyclists. Indeed, we have several dreadlocked friends, we admire anyone who can be bothered to learn the art of juggling, and we, ourselves, own no fewer than five drums…! (Our last hitch-hiker was able to practise the djemebe every day during our crossing.)
      We don’t have anything against hippies. As a rule, we get on far better with hippies than with business men. Their thinking is much more akin to ours.
      What we do have a problem with is the kind of person – whether he be a juggling dreadlocked djembe player or a clean-shaven accountant in a pin-stripe suit – who imagines that they have some kind of a right to take passage aboard our boat; the kind of person who thinks that we ought to be grateful for his/her presence.

      Mark, it sounds as if your skipper struck a fantastic bargain when he took you aboard. The list of breakages is pretty much par for the course – something always breaks when you head offshore – and the ability to fix things for ourselves is a vital ability in the cruising world. Plenty of people have abandoned ship simply because they couldn’t cope with repairs which others consider to be trivial, and one wonders how your skipper would have coped on his own. Clearly, you are one hitch-hiker who really did work his passage!

      Your description of your relationship with the captain speaks volumes:
      “If all parties involved have the will to, anybody can get along with just about anybody else. It takes energy, it takes commitment, it takes a strong ability to control one’s ego, desires and impulses. But it’s worth the challenge. Learning how to live with somebody totally different from you is the most eye opening experience you can imagine. It allows you to put things into perspective, and to think in a way you may never have come to think in.”

      Unfortunately, not every hitch-hiker is so mature in his thinking; and nor is every skipper.
      I think that your words echo the sentiment of the closing paragraphs of the article: success, as an ocean-going hitch-hiker, all comes down to having the right attitude.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed your trip and learnt so much.

      Looking forward to bumping into you someday and sharing that bottle of wine,
      Jill

  11. It’s 1.30pm in Islington, north London. I’m listening to the World at One. I’ve spent the last two hours amazed and entertained by your escapades.

    The stuff on phonics was right on the money – particularly as all 6 year-olds now have to sit a phonics test covering 40 words, half of which will be meaningless constructions.

    The stuff on wannabe yotties – that’s yours truly – had me in stitches.

    But I want to know what’s happened to your kids, post A levels.

    A minor grumble, of a fan who is probably locked into what you would classify as a “sequential, logical” time line. There was no easy chronological reference. I wasn’t sure whether you’d done some things before or after others.

    See you. I’ll be looking out for your books.

  12. Hullo Michael,

    You’re right: it’s high time we wrote a new home-schooling article, giving the results of the past two years of “research”.
    As for the chronological time frame… No, we’re not very good at that, I’m afraid…!

    Thanks for dropping us a line,
    Jill

  13. HI Jill and everybody,

    Thank you for the great article! it was very helpful.
    I have a question though-what if somebody doesnt have the money to travel the world-he cant do that???
    even that person might have the courage and all the will and faith to manage to travel and see the world without a penny? I understood you-you dont need crew ,dont need backpackers-but how do you know that?maybe they have something to tell,share or teach you-and I dont mean a new skill or profession-I mean something bigger and lot more important.
    But you wont find out if you close your mind or will see the non-paying once as a no need!
    I m coming from a not rich family-also not from a famous rich country-and all I wanted since I was little,is to travel and see the world. And Im doing it for many years now-of course with working-saving up-then travelling-but this way I m loosing lot of time and I might miss lot of great things by always planning and buying everyting.
    I want to see that this world really does belong to everybody not only to rich people!!!that everybody can travel -everybody who wants to-even without money-cause yes-I will offer my hand-even people might wont need it-but thats all I can offer right now. Exactly how you mentioned-both parties are taking the risk-always both-so its up to the both of them to decide. And I know that if anybody asks me for help-I always try to help!its not all about money!its about helping somebody.
    And belief is the most important thing!

    Veronika

    1. Hullo Veronika,

      Thanks for your comment. I can see that you are very, very eager to travel, so I will try to answer your questions. But before we begin you must understand one thing: I will answer honestly, and without concern for whether I am giving offence. This is the only way that I can help you to achieve your goal. If the answer is annoying, just swallow it down anyway and know that it is intended for your benefit!

      You ask, what if a person wants to travel the world with no money?
      
A: If a person wants something badly enough she will go ahead and begin to do it. If she just sits at home and says, “I don’t have enough money” then she will never fulfil her dreams.

      If a person has no money then she should hitch a ride to the coast and then wait for another ride to take her across the sea. This is certainly much better than saving up the cost of a flight and adding to the warming of the planet. However, before our traveller sets off she should take a good look at the reality of what she is trying to do.

      If a person is to succeed in her objective of travelling the world with no money then she will need buckets of determination and lorry-loads of patience. Nice manners, a willingness to work, and a sincere smile will also be of tremendous value.

      

How do I know that I don’t need a non-paying crew member to teach me “something big and important”?

      A: What makes you think that you know something big and important that I haven’t already spotted, many, many years ago, when I was your age?
      
Sure, we can all learn from each other. Every person that we meet is a lesson. But the trouble with many young people is that they think they know it all. Worse, they think that they are the only ones who know it all! They believe that they alone have spotted the fact that money can’t buy happiness, that greed is destroying the planet, and that nuclear power is very soon going to kill us all. They act as if they alone are the only ones who have noticed that the only hope for humankind is in sharing the world’s resources, treating everyone else as our equals, loving our enemies, and so forth.

      

It is true that there are people who have been living on the planet for 50 years and more who still haven’t spotted these things – (indeed, they are a major part of the problem…) – but do you seriously imagine that people who have deliberately built themselves a life outside “the system” have failed to understand the thing which is driving the world?



      If you want to get a ride across the ocean then it is important that you understand this, because when you come along flaunting that “I’ve-got-something-to-teach-you” attitude you simply alienate yourself from the people who you are hoping to join. The people who have been cruising for ten or twenty years are insulted to think that you imagine them to be so dumb; and the people who are only out here for a short spin around the ocean are intimidated by your approach.
      
Remember – I am telling you this for your own good. By all means hang onto the self-righteous attitude if it makes you feel cosy; but if you want to catch a ride then keep it hidden.



      Of course, if you’re a nirmanakaya I take this all back, and you can come and join us any time you like.

      

Next item: You say that you have been saving and travelling for many years now, but that you are afraid that you are losing time and might miss out.

      A: I understand this sentiment very well, and the best thing I can suggest is that you try to stop fretting. Try not to think about the future, or about what you might be doing, and focus on what you are doing. Otherwise, you really will miss out.
      
The Buddhist masters tell us that dreaming of the future is like fishing in a dry ditch. The only moment that we can live in is this one; this very one, right now. But if we spend our days wishing to be doing something else we are not living in the moment; truly, we are not living at all! Whole months and years can be wasted like this. Whole lives, even.

      Concerning wealth.
      
A: You certainly do NOT need to be rich to travel. And if you want to travel with people like us you need to stop thinking of us as rich.
It is true that there are a number of rich people sailing around the world these days, but there are also a lot of us who do not fall into that category. Like you, we have to work.
      
First we had to build our boat. That took three years of very intensive labour – not one single day in those three years was “wasted” on relaxation; we worked from dawn till dusk, and often far beyond dusk, for more than a thousand days – and since then, we have spent another 12 years continuing to build the boat, in a much more relaxed fashion, as we travel.
      
The boat is still not finished, and we spend much of our day working on her – either building new things or doing maintenance.
      
And, of course, we also have to earn our living at the same time.

      

Again, when you come along and speak to us as if we were “rich parasites” (to quote one back-packer who we encountered in Las Palmas) you merely reduce your chances of making friends and being offered hospitality.



      Some boats are, indeed, very, very expensive. And some are very cheap.
In the anchorage where we are now moored there is a small boat which cost her owner only £2,500. It carried him safely across the Atlantic.
      
If you want to improve your chances of getting a ride, then you would do well to learn to recognise the difference between the expensive boats and the shoe-string boats; just so that you know what kind of people you’re talking to.



      I don’t know where you are living – (I see that your address is German) – but anybody living in the Western world can earn enough to buy a small, old boat. Last year we met a couple who had bought a 37ft boat, costing 16,000 Euros, in just one year. He worked in a shop, and she cleaned toilets. To save money they lived in a car at the side of the road, and – of course – they did not waste money on beer or other luxuries.


      The best place to buy a boat at the moment is the United States. Anchored alongside us, as I write, is a very pretty, perfectly ocean-worthy, 33ft yacht which cost her owner only 10,000 USD (8,000 EUR).

      So, you see, it is possible for almost any Westerner to get a boat and go cruising; but many people do not want the responsibility. They prefer to let other people have the worry of navigating, and the expense of looking after the boat.

      That’s fine. We are all different, with different skills and different strengths and weaknesses, but a person who does not want to “waste” years of their life building or buying a boat should not go around criticising people; not if she wants to ask a favour of those people.

      “And I know that if anybody asks me for help, I always try to help! It’s not all about money! It’s about helping somebody.”

      This is a good attitude, except for one thing: as I have tried to explain, most yotties DO NOT NEED ANY HELP.
      
But we do often need money.
      
If someone is kind enough to make space for you in his small home, and is willing to accept the problems of having a stranger with him in the middle of the ocean, then don’t you think that you should at least be willing to pay your own expenses?

      This article was not written to insult back-packers; it was written to help you.
      
I have outlined your problem, and then I have explained how you can, nevertheless, get a ride on a yacht.
If you have still not understood, then I suggest you read it through again – because most of the yotties who have read it agree with my sentiments.



      The bottom line is this: – if you want to get a ride on a yacht then you need to change your attitude. You need to understand that hitching a ride on a boat is not like couch surfing. You need to understand that you are asking a huge favour of the strangers who live on that tiny little island where you seek to be marooned for a month, and you need to behave in ways which will minimise the negative aspects of your intrusion into their cramped living space.

More than anything you need to drop your divisive “us and them” attitude, and you need to make friends with your prospective hosts. You need to get to know the people who live on the boat that you have targeted and discern whether you will fit into their lives – and you need to do this both for their sake and for yours.
      
Picture yourself sharing a one-roomed space capsule with these people for 30 days and nights.

      Are they likely to be good companions? If not, then the boat will be like a prison cell and the passage a sentence.

      

I wish that you may fulfil your dreams; but above all I wish that you find happiness, too, in working towards that goal.

      I hope we run into you someday.

      Jill

  14. Man that is good!
    Thanks for giving me the wakeup call!

  15. I can get Transatlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2. 7 day trip from USA to England for under 1000 US dollars with on board credit. all you can eat 24hrs a day, Movies, ballroom dancing, night clubs till the wee hours. why would I pay 150 Euros a day to work? Queen Mary 2. the worlds most luxurious, largest ocean liner, the Queen and so many movie stars have been on it. I recommend this cruise ship to anyone that can afford it. Oh and they hire too, but they hire by contract.

    1. Caesar  (Mollymawk crew) 

      LOL. It takes all sorts…

  16. …actually preparing ourselves to cross the atlantic in 2012 as crew and looking for a boat where we can help&learn,
    we DIE laughing about this exaggerated but so true post!

    chris&dania

  17. wow this is just so interesting

  18. Amazing. I mean the website and its wealth of information, the family, the lifestyle. Thoroughly inspiring.
    Keep it all up & sailing, by all means.

    An admirer.

  19. I understand the frustration with bottom feeding, hitch hiking, leeches. However, I am lookin for a boat to crew for my first trans Atlantic, as I am 24 years old and I race a 44′ Kaufman on the Great Lakes. I don’t want to be paid, nor compensated, I’m very capable of wiping my own ass. However, finding these experienced skippers, is not easy. I WILL crew a trans-Atlantic. I don’t care what the start and finish is, I’ll get on a boat.

  20. Jill–

    Thank you. This was a great read and I laughed so hard I hurt. I just bought my 4th sailboat, Voyage Maxim 380, last month and will one day cruise the oceans. Although when I do, I won’t be looking for crew and this has a lot of in sight. Especially the part about the captain being responsible for a tag-a-longs departing ways when the voyage is over. Good point and something I never thought of. You were right in everything you said in the article and in your respones to replys.

    Thank you again and maybe I’ll see you in the Caribbean one day!

    Ryan Vahle
    Pensacola, FL USA
    “Painkiller”

  21. the article was very enlightening. i was thinking of crossing Atlantic (USA to wherever in Europe) in a boat and then catch a plane to Bangladesh – where i come from. the only problem is that i don’t have the time to do something Adam or Ricard. i am trying to find a skipper whose purpose of the trip is going to be crossing Atlantic for whatever reason, not really looking for a cruising trip. form what i understand from reading this article, there is no hope for me :’(

    1. Hullo Irfan,
      You might find someone who is sailing straight from America or the Caribbean to Europe, but it will still take time. To cross from the Antilles or the Bahamas to the Azores takes the average cruising yacht about one month. To get from the Azores to Europe, add another five or six days or a week.
      Good luck!

  22. Unlike other commenters, I find your article way out of line and extremely patronizing. Also, you seem to not know the IRPCS (ColRegs), Rule 6, since you keep on arguing that single-handed sailing is so much easier and basically respect such sailors.
    We have a long history in Denmark of taking criminal or drug dependent youngsters that have been given-up by the social workers onboard sailing ships (not a small 50 feet piece of plastic) to re-socialize them. Such (sentenced) stays are typically from 3-6 months on long ocean trips. The success rate is very close to 100%, meaning that these youngsters during their stay learn to live a normal life in close contact with other very different people all the time.

    I have also sailed for a shorter time on a containership as part of my education and seen how a small group of very different people kind of find a common rhythm and way of behaviour where each accepts and respects the others differences in thinking and liking. What is essential for this to work, no matter if you’re on a containership or on a 30 feet yacht is the ship master’s professional skills and most of all his ability to make different people work as a team. We would probably call him a good coach today, but even today on merchant ships you always refer to a (good) ship master as “the old man”.

    Your article clearly shows that you are basically a very poor shipmaster since you obviously haven’t understood any part of the above. Pity on you.

    BR
    Peter Ingham, Nav. Arch.
    Yachtmaster of 1st degree, Instructor

    1. Hullo Peter,

      Thanks for your comment. In all the years that we have been writing this website this is the first negative comment that we have ever received… so I guess this is a milestone of some kind!
      With all due respect, you seem to have missed the point of the article; and – dare I say it? – you seem to have mislaid your sense of humour. Humour is a vital skill for any “old man”, as I’m sure you know!

      So far as singlehanders are concerned – I’m not encouraging anybody to do anything. In fact, I’m not addressing sailors, whether single or otherwise; I’m merely explaining why singlehanders, as a rule, do not perceive a need to share their small abode with Tom, Dick, or Harry.
      Yes, we all know the rules. Nowadays, most singlehanders use an AIS and although this does not meet the letter of the law it does, certainly, improve their safety. And when all is said and done, it is their safety (ie, the singlehander’s safety) which is at stake here. Find me an instance of a singlehander cruising in an average cruising yacht who has done any harm to anyone else by being asleep and not on watch. I have never heard of one. When all is said and done, if a man or woman wants to go to sea alone and risk his/her own life, what business is it of anyone else?

      I do not think that your average hitchhiker would be very pleased to find himself compared to a criminal. Hitchhikers tend to be intelligent, well-educated people from reasonably well-to-do families, and although they express a healthy contempt for capitalist society their anarchic tendencies do not generally extend to getting themselves in trouble with the law. Nor would they enjoy, or perform well aboard, the kind of well-disciplined ship that you seem to have in mind. This goes for us too: we don’t “manage” Mollymawk and we don’t have a “shipmaster”; we just get on with our lives.

      The challenges and camaraderie inherent in sailing a vessel have long been recognised as character-building and young lads have often gone to see in quest of their manhood. There are many organisations throughout the world which seek to use the environment of a sailing yacht as an opportunity to reform the minds of delinquent young people. Whether they are successful or not I can’t say. In my experience a person cannot cross an ocean and remain unchanged – and the change is almost certain to be positive. On the other hand, an acquaintance who used to skipper a vessel such as the one you describe, full of juvenile delinquents, assured me that the whole thing is a big joke and a scam. He reckoned that order, aboard his yacht, was only maintained by the threat of violence, and he saw no change of heart or mind amongst the majority of his young crew. Of course, it may be that he was one of those “poor shipmasters” to whom you refer.

      The point you overlook is that we yotties are not sociologists – and we don’t want to be. The captain, mate, and crew of Mollymawk are just a family, and we are out here to enjoy ourselves. As you say yourself, you don’t take these anti-social youths sailing aboard “a small 50 feet piece of plastic” (or even a piece of steel, as in our case) so there is really no comparison with our situation.
      As I have explained in the article, our home is not set up to receive lodgers, and if we don’t want to share our small private space with a complete stranger, why should we? And why should you – or any hitchhiker – object? And why pity us, Peter? I must confess that your pity – kindly meant as it surely was – had us all falling about laughing; this is also the first time that we have ever been pitied!

      As I say, I think that your main problem is that you have completely misunderstood the article. Perhaps if you care to explore the website a little further and get to know us a bit better then the penny might drop.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Jill

  23. Thank you for this Jill.
    I have much to learn as far as skills go, but this post goes beyond, to show a much more intimate side, yet blunt side of becoming crew on a boat, and how the skipper’s mind works. Insights like this are what I seek while backpacking currently. If my brother and I ever do come across you and the Mollymawk, I will surely take the pleasure of introducing myself and thanking you in person.

    Safe voyages on the horizon.

    -a

  24. This is such a great article.

    And I really understand the frustration with this “type” of young wayfarers. Traveling for 3 years in Central America, I’ve met many. Everything from the rainbow crowd, to drifting junkies, to kids who just don’t really get what their doing.

    I travel myself without the use of money, hitch hiking, and living in my tent with my swede mate, and my 4 legged companion. Though… We are not so much the juggling, acrobatic, tarot card readers performing in streets with crystals. More like, long term camping and surviving type, spending months in the bush, sand, snow, with no more than the tent, and a blanket.
    Finding a water source, by instinct, purifying it by using the materials around you, that’s how half of the day is spent, and boy, this lifestyle makes you appreciate everything! Work work work work. Work to stay healthy, work to stay clean, work just to fill your body with what it needs. And it feels so good.
    Maybe just a “tad” more extreme than the average hitching hippie? I don’t know. But there is something very different that separates me and the other travelers in which you have described in this article.

    I just don’t understand how you can really lead your life in this manner, and still be fond of not taking responsibilities, not working or having disregard for someone who is helping you by taking you in, ESPECIALLY on their own private vessel!
    I don’t know 2 shits about sailing or yacht life, but these stories of young travelers acting like this!?
    It just doesn’t make sense to me.
    But your stories were great, it just boggles me the amount of disrespect of some of the people you said that your fellow yottie friends had taken on. Like the girl who climbed the mast and fell, what the hell is that!?

    We are looking ourselves to be crossing the North Atlantic this spring by boat. And I hope we are not amongst others looking to cross that fit these descriptions in which you have written in your article.

    Well, those are my thoughts for the day. Haha.

    Well good luck.
    Godspeed.
    And I hope you are having an excellent adventure!

    -Rae.

    1. Hullo Rae,

      What a fantastic lifestyle you describe! You are quite right – you are nothing like the people that I have written about!
      We have met many hitch-hikers, and some of them have been thoroughly nice, sensible people (willing to pay their way, happy to help with the work, etc), but we have never met anyone who is travelling as you do, “long term camping and surviving”. Essentially it sounds as if you are doing more or less what we do but without the support and security (and hassle) of a boat. I take my hat off to you!

      I very much hope that you manage to get yourselves a ride across the Atlantic this Spring. You sound like the sort of people that we would love to have aboard – but we aren’t in that neck of the woods any more, so can’t help you.
      You might try contacting one of the yacht delivery companies and volunteering as crew.

      I hope you enjoy the trip, but I must just give you one small word of warning: crossing oceans is quite addictive. One cruising friend spent five or ten years backpacking before he made his first passage aboard a sailing boat. Thereafter he couldn’t see the sense in walking and hitching and living rough. As he says, “I suddenly realised that rather than carrying my home around I could have a home which would carry me!”
      He spent the next five years building a boat, and he’s spent the past 40 cruising – and in just the manner that you describe, with no money except what he can make along the way; catching his food from the sea or gathering it wild.

      So… let us know how you get on!

      All the best,
      Jill

    2. Ahoi Jill,

      I would be very interested in asking, sharing and exchanging some experiences with Rae Stout and his/her? swedish mate, as I’ve also been travelling for the last couple of years with the most basic equipment and no money — I have a lot of questions for them and a lot of interest in their “long term camping and surviving” lifestyle :-)

      You’ve got my email address and probably have Rae’s too, so if I could please ask you the favour of sending him/her my address so he/she could contact me (or the other way round, I don’t really care) ^^

      Thanks a lot and safe travels,
      –Javi from Spain

  25. Jill, this is fantastic.
    I came upon your site whilst googling tips on how to find a boat to take my boyfriend and I across either the atlantic or the pacific in about a year’s time from the Dominican Republic. I sure found tips, but boy did you make me laugh. So much so I read all the comments.

    My parents used to deliver boats before I was born (I’m 29). As I’m sure you’re aware, sailing and deliveries were a bit different at the time. The population on our planet wasn’t so astronomical and the expendable income even less so. Traveling was a luxury or a lifestyle for the very adventurous. They would hop from port to port of course, but finding crew at the time pretty much did entail scanning the docks. My dad has a few very funny stories, one involving him almost killing one of his crew members after the dud slept on his watch in no-wind situations and let the boat roll 8 hours in the wrong direction. Everyone stepped foot on land alive and well. ‘well’ being a relative term.

    Unfortunately fate has so far denied me of any real sailing experience, although I essentially grew up on sail boats, I’ve only been on one for sleeps and not for sailing. I have some experience on optimists, I understand the basics of how wind works, and I’m well aware of space and fresh water restrictions, but in all reality, I’m clueless.

    The kind of attitude you speak of isn’t solely a sailing-community issue. As far as I’m concerned it’s the kind of attitude that is ruining all of traveling. I wish it were as difficult to travel to a different country as it is to crew on a sailboat, maybe that would keep cultures safer from destructive tourism.

    Regardless, I’d like to re-connect with my sailing roots, and my boyfriend and I are trying to fly as little as possible on our trip, so we’d love to crew. If we can’t we’ll suck it up and fly, but it would be a shame. We’re lucky enough to be in the caribbean now, where we’ll be living for the next year in preparation of our trip, and we’ll be spending time in Luperon trying to make contacts to head off in any direction really. My parents have a boat moored there, but they’ve built a house and are much more comfortable living in the house than on the boat of course. Still your post has inspired me. Their boat must be lonely and in need of a little TLC, I’m going to suggest I go live on if periodically and take on a good part of the cleaning and other duties while making friends with the neighbours. We’d love for them to take us out for a few practice runs too, but the DR is complicated when in comes to entries and exists. Still I’ll be persistent.

    Thanks for your strick honesty it’s really appreciated. I’ve added your site to my feedly and I can’t wait to get to know you and your crew more. Who knows maybe one day we’ll run into each other.

    All the best.

    Jade

    P.s. for anyone interested, we’re planning on documenting our travels on our blog, http://wetravelandblog.com/

  26. Great article! Loved reading it and even though I myself have never been dock walking as yet asking a hitch hike. It certainly gave me a good idea. I have forwarded this link on my Linkedin and Facebook page for others to read too.

    Good job

    1. Great minds think alike ;)

  27. Hello Mrs Schinas

    Great article, went right to my favourite section; this is the ideal hitchhikers guide to the ocean xD

    I confess to have never considered seriously the possibility of having a hard time hitching a ride across the antlantic; Im a final year medical student who can actually sail; i know of course that im not “needed”, and someone would be doing me a huge favor by accepting me at all in their sea-home, but if someone can hitch that one would be me, right? Or am I wrong, loosing extra points for presumption and arrogance? xD

    By the way, thank you very much for this article, its very funny and helpful

    My sincere Regards
    Elston

    1. Hullo Elston,

      A final year medical student who knows how to sail…! They’ll be queueing up to get their hands on you!
      No, you don’t come across as presumptuous or arrogant. You’ve understood that you’re asking for a favour.
      The only person more likely than to succeed than you would be a female medically qualified sailor… (Girls are always more welcome than guys, not only with the single-handing blokes but also with families looking for a nanny…)

      Fancy a trip to Antarctica? :-)

      1. I most certainly do !

  28. This is an excellent article! My company Global Yacht Racing offers crew spaces to race in the ARC and I am often infuriated by the wannabes who contact me to join a crew (lead by a professional, paid, commercially endorsed skipper) on our yacht (extremely competitive race yacht that is coded, insured, maintained to high standard) and then are completely outraged at the price of the crew fee! We are offering a racing experience on a previous ARC winning yacht and we don’t need inexperienced, hangers on who seem to have decided that WE should pay THEM to come with us! We already pay a first mate and a skipper for whom this is a job. Dont they realise that you need commercial qualifications and lots of experience to get paid to sail and race. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this story with excellent turn of phrase and brilliant anecdotes.

  29. Hi Jill and all in the Mollymawk!
    Thanks a lot for this article, it is an insight on the skipper’s mind set as well as inspiring.

    I’ve been traveling for over two years and evolved into a traveller who’s looking to see the world in all its possibilities… I started thinking of the idea of hitching a ride in a boat after starting traveling and sharing experiences with other travellers; and I got my chance thanks to Breton’s hospitality. We crossed from the Aber Wrach on a three week trip on a 30ft wooden boat…. And we were a 19 mates in 3 similar boat in total.

    Now I want to go back to Argentina for my grandm’s birthday and sailing is the way I want to go! My idea is to go to Senegal or Cape Vert, and looking in the marinas or the moorings. Looking for ideas and tips I came across this article and I want to say THANK YOU. Great info and very useful.

    I lived in Ushuaia, and if you need a friendly contact there I have great friends and family that would be happy to help if needed.

    Happy adventures and good winds to you!
    Martin

  30. Great info on crewing! Thanks for posting it!

  31. Loved the article! I’m heading off next week helping to deliver a brand new catamaran to the Caribbean via Madeira.
    Before I retired last year I decided that I wanted to do more sailing and hopefully at as little cost as possible now I would be on a pension. So to make myself more useful I did my Day Skipper theory and practical, I already had done competent crew. So far the plan is working. This summer I have been lucky enough to do three yacht deliveries as well as some other sailing and racing – I found all of these opportunities through Sailing Networks.
    Hoping for fair winds!

  32. Hi Jill,

    Extreemly eye opening and just what I needed to read before setting off on a mission to cross the Atlantic this year.

    I have heard of boats leaving from Essaouira in Morocco to Latin America… Do you know if this is a familiar route by which private yachts may go?

    It sounds like Los Palmas has more than enough hitchhikers already.

    Many thanks,

    Rose

  33. Sorry, Rose. I overlooked your question.
    It’s not impossible that you would find somebody crossing from Morocco to South America or the Caribbean, but you will certainly meet far fewer yachts in Essaouira than you would in the Canaries. Then again, there’s be fewer hitch-hikers too!
    And I guess that if you didn’t find a ride you could always hop on a ferry to the Canaries; so you’d be doubling your options.

  34. Even though I don`t look like a dirty hippie you made me feel one of those lame hh-ers! However I love the post; it`s tough but so true. I`m going to hitch my first boat soon: will keep in mind ur tips that seem to me pretty useful! Thnx. k

  35. Thanks for commenting, Karina.

    We don’t actually have anything against hitch-hikers and back-packers per se – in fact I admire anybody who has the gumption to just get out here and travel, without visible means of support. As for hippies – peace, love, saving the environment, and living a simple non-acquisitive lifestyle are all excellent things.
    The only folks we can’t get along with are the ones who haven’t thought it out; the ones who think the world (and the rest of us) owe them a living. Provided you’ve understood the true situation and are hitching with an attitude of respect and gratitude then you stand a good chance of finding someone who will take you on.
    wish you well.

  36. Thanks for the wonderful article! I just got back from my one week winter escape in Las Palmas where I had some rather freestyle back-packer holidays (opposite to my serious and decent lifestyle in Latvia) so during my stays in a hostal I met many young people looking for a boat to cross the Atlantic. Certainly many actually match up with the descriptions of backpackers you have mentioned in you article, although I am quite critic about the stereotypes, just too many people meet them :) But the point is that I got extremely inspired about this opportunity (and met people who have done it once/twice and this year is doing it again) and by reading your post and seeing this reality-driven opinion I just need to think it over better and really prepare well so I have skills to offer and get through the competitive environment in Las Palmas :) Certainly, a first aid certificate would be an asset, advanced cooking skills, have to polish up my nanny experience CV and languages.

    Thanks again and good luck with you future travels!

  37. I was googling for articles about “the stories that nobody will tell about hitchhiking on a sailing boat” or “Ocean crossing goes wrong” to give, my little tips about the ATLANTIC CROSSING for “first¬experience¬sailing¬hitchhikers” … I found your blog, so well made and I decided that THIS was the right place where to leave my message.

    Your effort is great… thanks Jill

    People travel, since our existence, to full up our innate instinct of discovering… thanks to couch surfing to give the opportunity to a new generation of people, to travel, escape from their country, to begin a new life, or just enjoy a new culture.
    I have been all of them… and I met all of them. My wife and I, met thanks to CS, we host almost 20 couchsurfers at year, and our existence couldnt be more exciting and rich, also thanks to them. I’m a sailor too, that started years ago, like that, like the most horrible hitchhiker you can meet at the dock, a dreamer, really focused, without plans. At the present day we are not tourists anymore, we hitchhike and couchsurf, not just because we are stingy people but because, outside there, there is people that need to remember what does it mean “give, for free”…and host people is all about “to give!”. I met people, more than the one you all can imagine, that was just waiting for an opportunity, like that. But to have the chance to meet that people, you need a gift, and for sure you have to be open to that kind of experience.

    If you love the sea and the traditions, be a dock¬walker!
    there is no more beautiful tradition of the one of the dock walking, in the past centuries and today too, going randomly at the port, looking for a place on board, or just a daily work. I come from a country with very ancient seaman traditions, and for us, look for a boat at the port is like grab the bus for the next village.

    Nobody tell the bad stories:
    because isn’t a good advertising for the sailing market; because the victims of that stories die or if they survive, they prefer forget the shame or disappear from the stage. If they are solo¬sailor…let’s check in the basement of the jail of a third world country, you will find some. And they are “solo” in all the meanings, abandoned and not anymore so proud, to be solo… At the present time, I live in high¬density¬pirates area, Paria gulf, and I read about pirates once a week. If you want to be informed on all type of stories you have to live the life at the port and at the fisherman village, not in internet.

    Some legends:
    Tell me, Which kind of advertising the ARC can do to their own business, telling about boats that never reach the other sides of the Atlantic? Or crew member abandoned in some hospital in Cabo Verde after met the boom of a, upsi, unskilled skipper.
    Who tell the story of a skipper lost at sea and an adrift boat with unexperienced people on it? or boats sunk because the wales, or boats that reach the destination with a missing crew member on the crew list… Have you ever heard about the “legend” of the hitchhiker that got seasick for 20 days, with high fever and dehydrated, that once the boat reaches the Guadalupa coastline, he jumped over board for the desperation, trying to reach it swimming. The body has never been found.

    My message is:
    To all the unexperienced hitchhikers… enjoy the world at the most, but remember that be an hitchhiker is just a part of to be an adventurer. Be an adventurer is an hard work. So, be strong and get lost in the beauty of the world… and when you will find a stingy boat owner that will refuse your request, because the sole of your shoes isn’t white, and the teak of the deck will get dirty… there is another one, just waiting for your help, with a cold beer in his hand. please…forget to be paied, how a 50 feet boat owner can effort a regular contract for a deckhand?!

    Conclusion:
    people is easily accustomed to their own loneliness, especially sailors… they WANT to be alone, like an old, gray sad person lost in is own life, I can perfectly understand them, because as am I, but don’t worry, one day they will be so gray and weak that they will need your help, perfectly unknown rasta¬random¬stingy person, just to stand in the cockpit, and you, you will save his life when a wave will drag his body over the safety rail. And the only alternative that they will have, when alone, would be get drunk waiting for the “beep”. Waiting for that noise of their radar alarm that never get them up, when that big cargo ship crossed their route in Gibraltar.

    note: all the funny stories of this article are simply true…included the last of the cargo ship.
    Fabio, a proud misfortunes¬seeker.

    never forget to check this website when you sail and travel
    http://www.noonsite.com/
    Wear your lifejacket in the ocean, also at daylight, doesnt make you silly, just keep your rate of safety “higher”.
    And if your boat as no “life raft” or not properly secured, run, run fast, your skipper is a potential killer.

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