In this week’s guest post… Gringo Ben, a traveller, hitchhiker and a sailor all-in-one, reveals the best strategies for catching a boat ride across the Atlantic.
1. Time matters and depends on the weather on the ocean
Basically the time to get this sorted is from the end of October to the end of November. Generally boats cross the Atlantic as the hurricane season ends. Most cross during December, some in January. You might still find some stragglers crossing till perhaps March. If you are interested in hitching back you will find boats leaving April, May and perhaps June.
By the end of October/early November, many boats in Northern Europe will have shifted down to the Canaries to avoid having to cross the bay of Biscay in the winter months. Boats in southern Europe and the Med will follow on during November and December.
2. Where to start and pick your boat
Boats generally hang about in the Canaries a while, provisioning, doing last minutes stuff, socialising etc. Loads of backpackers try to find a boat here (or switch boats when they realise what they have let themselves in for), so there is a lot of competition. However, apparently most people do find a boat eventually.
Finding a boat before the Canaries may be better (after all, you have to get to the Canaries somehow). I don’t know were else may be a good place to start other than Gibraltar – maybe Morocco or somewhere in Portugal.
3. Using the internet may help but don’t rely on it entirely!
There are loads of websites you can try to find crew. I think crewbay.com is one of the best. You can also try: crewseekers.net or 7knots.com. There are also groups on couchsurfing which maybe good (Couchsailing & Boat hitchhiking). They have been good for me finding crew, might not be so good for finding a boat. Almost every connection you make online will fall through unless you are very lucky. It is hard and tedious work. It is essential to be really flexible as every sailors plans are written in sand below the high tide line.
4. Be on the ground to guarantee yourself a lift
Better than using the web is to be on the ground in the right place at the right time and ready to go.
People put up notes on notice boards in marinas, bars, chandlers etc. This can be very effective although I suspect the best way to find a boat is walking the dock ie. walking around marinas (or associated bars) and talking to people. In Cape Verde, my partner and I went around with a box of books and a sign saying book swap. This provided a very easy way to break the ice and start talking to people, often being invited onboard boards for a drink in the progress.
5. Be prepared to pay your share
Wealthy sailors may cover your expenses but most likely you will be expected to pay your share – you should certain be prepared and offer to do so. If you do have qualifications and experience then you can possibly find a paid position but then you probably wouldn’t need to be reading this. Paid delivery crew usually have their flights paid also.
6. What qualities are sailors looking for in hitchhikers
Qualifications and even experience are not really important. What people really need on a crossing is more people for the night watch shifts – that and good company. They want to be sure you are sane and without drama (or too much luggage). They may want assurance that you have means to get yourself home – either enough money in the bank or a flight booked (fake bank statements and fake e-tickets may be useful for immigration stuff throughout your travels).
Needless to say, just like hitch hiking, attractive women get places easiest. For a number of reasons, sailing couples may prefer other couples or guys as crew. Couples also do well as lots of boats have double berths so a couple represents two crew members at the ‘cost’ of one cabin.
7. Do your research
There are obvious safety concerns to consider when getting on a strangers boat (regardless of gender). I have heard several unpleasant stories so take care. If possible, do some research about the person offering you a place. Make sure you understand the motivations and expectations of the person taking you on. Good up front communication at the beginning may prevent a lot of unpleasantness later on.
8. Going to South America?
If you are trying to get to South America then do not take a boat going to the Caribbean, get one going to Brazil or Surinam. You might think it will be easy to get to South America once you are in the Eastern Caribbean but I have met many backpackers who have now learned that it is not!
9. Don’t forget about a book
One final tip… Take plenty to read. Expect the crossing to take roughly a month, not including time spent finding a boat.
10. Additional reading
- Yacht Mollymawk – Catching a Ride Across the Atlantic
- The Adventure Junkies – Boat hitchhiking – how to get a ride on a sailboat
- Hitchwiki – Hitchhiking a boat
written by: Gringo Ben
Ben set out from Europe in 2012 with the plan to hitch to Australia with his (then) partner. Previously a squatter, traveller and hitch-hiker, he is now a low budget cruising sailor living in the Caribbean on his own boat.