In October 2015, I finished 7 months long sailing journey from Langkawi/Malaysia to Darwin/Australia. Yes, I hitchhiked the same boat for 7 months. The whole story is pretty long, so I cut it down to the most important points that would give you better idea of “how to…”.
You can hitchhike a boat in many ways, depending on how much time you have on your hands. In case you’re not pressured by time and you’re located far from the sea, sign up to numerous online networks that connect boat owners & representatives directly with crew from anywhere to anywhere in the world. My personal favorite is https://www.findacrew.net/ Check what’s offered and pick your Captain/boat wisely. It would surely help if you have any sailing experience or reference. I had none.
I looked for the Captain with lots of sailing experience (my Captain had over 40 years of experience) and preferably with boat that’s not put together with a duct tape. You don’t want your boat to be a brand new that Captain hasn’t tested in different weather&sea conditions or a very old boat that’s breaking every single day, so you spend more time fixing it than sailing. I made sure to find myself a good boat with someone who knows what he’s doing and knows his boat well.
Don’t get fooled by the blokes with the boats that are sporting their bodies more than anything else on the website. They will promise you the stars, tell you that you don’t have to pay anything (or do anything) while on the boat just to have you there. I’m not your mother, but I would advise you to be smart with your choices.
We all know that online profiles&promises can be very deceiving, so make sure to meet up with the Captain and take a look at the boat BEFORE the trip. I’ve even done a short test sailing around Langkawi with my Captain before we both made a final decision to sail together.
The biggest difference between hitchhiking overland and across the sea is that boat hitchhiking greatly depends on the weather/season. I stayed in Malaysia for 6 months while waiting for the hurricane season to be over and to finally start sailing toward Australia. Don’t expect to get a ride during hurricane season. Trust me, you don’t want it anyways.
If you’re pressured by time, the best way to hitchhike the boat is to go directly to the marinas and openly talk to people on the boats. By the flag and registration you can tell if the boat is local and just “sitting there” or international and probably on the move. (Even though that can be sometimes misleading, too.) Be aware that many marinas are closed for the outsiders and you won’t be able to walk freely near the boats.
Hang around cafés/ restaurants/shops right in front of the marina, because that’s where the yotties will hang around, too. Simply ask where they are heading and if they need a crew. You can also leave your “message/ad” on the bulletin boards in different marinas to increase your chances of finding the boat. Socialize with the people who work in marina as they could give you some helpful insights and advices.
Hitchhiking a boat is not a vacation with all 4 in the air and definitely not for the freeloaders. It’s a hard work. There were between 2 and 5 people on my boat (depending on part of the route) and we shared all the duties between us. Cooking, cleaning, washing, sailing, night-watching, provisioning, painting, repairing…you name it. Don’t be a lazy bastard while hitchhiking and ruin the reputation for all the good people that will try to hitchhike after you.
Boat is a way of transportation, but what many people don’t realize is that a boat is for many yotties their home. Treat it with a great respect; you’ve been let into someone’s home.
These are the questions I asked my Captain to answer BEFORE I made a decision to sail with him. Make sure you know each others expectations before you take this trip together to avoid any unpleasant surprises while you are in the middle of a deep blue.
What are your plans and time line?
What countries will be visited and what are the immigration requirements?
How long are the legs?
Describe the boat, make model, accommodation and equipment.
What will my accommodation be?
List the galley appliances.
List the safety gear.
List the electronics and navigational equipment.
Is the maintenance current?
Have you had any major break downs?
Any unresolved maintenance issues?
What is the cruising speed?
What is your experience?
Any training or licenses?
Drinking or drug use?
Past crew experiences? References?
Personal likes and dislikes.
Crew makeup, number, age, sex.
Describe a typical day at sea? On land? At anchor?
Operations and protocol
Costs to crew, detailed costs crew should expect and not expect. Procedure for paying them.
Food purchasing procedure.
Division of duties, cooking, cleaning.
Captain usually goes and holds passports; will I have access to my passport? Who handles visas?
Travel costs, protocol for leaving the boat, voluntarily, not voluntarily.
I know, I know…the list is very detailed, but guess what? I’m still alive and healthy after hitchhiking the boat with 3 total strangers for 7 months. Do your research and stay safe.
“Out at the sea, no one can hear you scream.” Think about it before you make your final decision. There were weeks of sailing where I didn’t see anything around me other than our boat, the sun and the sea. Make sure you trust the people you are hitchhiking with.
My costs while sailing were for the visas, entry fee for a rally and a cost of food which we equally split among the crew. Some Captains ask for the gas money, others ask to cover marina fees or even fixed daily fee for sailing on the boat. It’s between you and the Captain to agree on what’s fair and acceptable for both parties.
Be aware of the sea sickness and how bad it can affect you. There are some people who simply cannot take it and need to leave the boat. You won’t be much of a help while you’re sick, so make sure you do some work for the team after you recover, because they’ve been pulling your weight while you were completely useless.
Take a good care of your health if you’re sailing to very remote area. Some people are even having their appendix removed before sailing. There are also insurance packages that offer the evacuation plan from very remote areas.
It all looks like shits, giggles and fun, but sailing is not a joke. Even if you have lots of sailing experience, there are plenty of things that can get you killed. In 7 months of sailing I’ve met a sailor whose wife got hit by the boom and died, sailor who got hit by the whales, hit the reef and lost their boat, one fell from the mast, another one got a heart attack while on the mast, I’ve heard the stories of the people who got lost in the water during the night-watch, who lost the boat in the storm, got eaten by the salt water crocodile while cleaning the propeller, got hit by a tanker, got kidnapped, got struck by lightning, got shot, got robbed, etc….etc…you name it. Sailing is not a joke.
You’ll come across many other yotties while sailing, especially if your Captain decides to join the rally. Most of them will be old, married and sailing for many years. If you happen to be a young, single woman that’s hitchhiking on the boat with three older Australian men, you can only imagine the looks and the comments. It’s up to you how you’re going to react.
Most of the time I ignored it, sometimes I explained my hitchhiking rule to never have sex with people I hitchhike and sometimes I said the Captain was my husband and watched their jaw drop, because he was twice my age. You’ll be judged no matter what you say, so the best thing is not to think too much about it. As long as you know your truth and you’re proud of it, nothing else matters.
Another way to hitchhike the boat is via “boat delivery companies” who are searching for the crew to deliver the boats from point A to point B. Usually you get paid for it. I gave it a shot and contacted few of them, but their available route at that time was not matching my planned route.
With all the respect to the exceptions, this is what you can expect as a hitchhiker:
Sailing couples prefer to take hitchhiking couples or a single male on their boat, while single sailors prefer single females as a crew. I asked my Captain why he only takes women on board. His answer: “Men are too cocky and they think they know it all. Women are usually much cleaner and if I can choose I prefer to be in company of a woman.” Fair enough.
So after all, was it worth it? You bet it was. It was a journey that I don’t wish to repeat any time soon. Apart from getting to stunning places&people you can only see if traveling on the sea….our boat got struck by lightning, we tore the spinnaker, our main sail got ripped apart and had to make a new one in Philippines, we lost one crew member during the night-watch and he was really lucky that we managed to find him in a dark water, we had people climbing on the boat and stealing stuff, we saved Indonesian family whose boat sank, we got kicked out of the rally (long story) and invited back along with the apology :))) the Captain accidentally overdosed on painkillers and ended up in the emergency room….etc. It was really a journey to remember.
There are million little details that I’ve probably forgot to mention, so feel free to ask if you have any questions.
Take care of yourself and the best of luck!