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Old 04-16-2011, 05:38 AM   #1
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Hi all!

Reading the useful "Hitchhiker's guide to the ocean" on this very website, I discovered there would be a number of ships departing Gibraltar for the Caribbean from October to December every year.

My plan is to reach Europe around the end of November, and find such a ship accepting me as a crew. I have no sea experience at all for now, but I'm very determined, and not afraid of hardship!

Question #1: What would be you experienced folks' appraisal of my chances of actually finding this kind of ship over there? Are there hundreds of them really departing at that time of the year, or is it just the occasional lone (sea) wolf? Any specific recommendations as per increasing these chances?

Question #2: Given my overall plan is to reach the shores of Central/South America before the end of the year (I want to visit a friend in French Guyana for christmas), how easy would it be to find a boat from the Caribbean islands to the continent? Where should I look for such a boat?

Thanks in advance for any help!

D.
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Old 05-17-2011, 03:00 AM   #2
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Hi Dorea,

First off... I apologize for the delay in getting an answer to your question.

You are definitely on the right track. Assuming you seek a yacht to travel on (as opposed to a ship)...

Get yourself to Gibraltar around the end of October and head for the docks. Almost every vessel sailing from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean stop in Gibraltar and the marinas are all within walking distance.

The next best place to be is the Canary Islands at around the same time of year. The Canaries may be your best choice because some boats will only want to bring on extra crew for the Atlantic crossing and might put-off shopping for crew until this leg of the voyage. If it were me... I'd probably head for Grand Canary. But Tenefife has a lot of boats in the starting gates as well.

Your lack of experience is actually a benefit as most skippers prefer a greenhorn over a know-it-all sort pf person.

Travel light and pack only one duffel bag. DO NOT CARRY A RIGID SUITCASE as you will alocated a small bunk with minimal stowage space. Soft duffel ONLY.

It would be a good idea to have some cards / fliers printed showing contact info which you can access easily. A local phone number would be very helpful. A portrate may be helpful at being recognizable by skippers while you're out and about town. Be specific about exactly where wou want to go. But be flexible, too. French Guyena is a bit south of the beaten track... but you may get lucky. Some islands may have direct flights. Otherwise you may need to get to Puerto Rico to find a flight.

Don't be shy. I saw a woman in Tenerife who had first posted her fliers all over the marinas, grocery stores, popular restauraunts & pubs frequented by boat crews AND had one laminated and pinned to her backpack - she had several boats to choose from offering her passage and I saw her throughout the Caribbean the following season... working as paid crew on bigger & nicer yachts each time I spotted her!

Needless to say - you'll need a passport with at least a year remaining on it. Check and make sure of the Caribbean countries you can land upon without needing a visa in hand and obtain one in advance if need be. You'll also need enough money to live comfortably on both ends of the voyage and to get home should things turn sour.

Lastly - keep your options open and follow your instincts. Spend some time getting to know the captain and crew before being shown your bunk. I'm sure you have enough street sense to know there are weirdo's everywhere out there. You'll never meet a finer group of people in the marinas of the world... but if things don't "feel" right or you get bad vibes about the boat or crew - politely refuse.

Be flexible. Follow your instincts. And above all else - Have Fun!

Good luck!

Kirk
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Old 08-25-2011, 04:51 PM   #3
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Dear Kirk,

Sorry I wasn't warned you had posted this reply, I only saw it just now!

Thanks a lot for your kindness, and very detailed advice.

One more question, if you don't mind, even if the answer might be a bit of a subjective one...

Someone, on another website, just offered me to join their 7/10-people crew, aboard their cutter, for a Trans-Atlantic passage around the end of November.

I was overjoyed at first, having found my first real offer. However, my enthusiasm somewhat dwindled when they explained I would have to pay 20 Euros daily, not including daily division of food and gas costs, for what is planned to be a 3 to 4-weeks trip (Canaries - Cape Verde - Grenada). A quick calculation brought me to the conclusion it would be quite costly for me...

What is your opinion on this? Am I right to consider this expensive, especially if I am to work on this ship (and not just sunbathe)?

Also, it does seem to be the kind of offer which is precisely not accepted on this forum -- ie, an offer for which the boat owner should prepare all sorts of insurance issues, etc, right?

Fair winds and clear skies!

D.
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Old 08-25-2011, 09:47 PM   #4
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I sure hope your post is a legitimate question rather than just stirring the pot to get me on my hobby horse again. I started a thread on this back in 2007, and it got quite a lot of traffic.

Here's a link to the topic, reading the first page of 3 might be enough, but some of the rationalizations seem a bit comical to me upon rereading the entire thread. WHY WOULD ANYONE PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF WORKING ON SOMEBODY'S BOAT?
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Old 08-26-2011, 05:22 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dorearendil View Post

Someone, on another website, just offered me to join their 7/10-people crew, aboard their cutter, for a Trans-Atlantic passage around the end of November.

I was overjoyed at first, having found my first real offer. However, my enthusiasm somewhat dwindled when they explained I would have to pay 20 Euros daily, not including daily division of food and gas costs, for what is planned to be a 3 to 4-weeks trip (Canaries - Cape Verde - Grenada).
Your answer should be an unequivocal no, and you should not enter into any further discussions with that skipper.

Expect to pay something along the lines of 10 Euros or $USD10 per day (USD has dropped a bit recently so maybe a bit more) and that will cover your share of the food and gas. Expect to have to pay for your own alcohol on top of that. Alternatively you may find a boat where you're asked to pay for your share of whatever food is purchased at the big start of trip shopping expedition. Anything more and you're being asked to pay for a share of the boat which is fine if you're entering into a charter arrangement on a boat that's surveyed and licensed to do that, but not otherwise.
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Old 08-26-2011, 12:51 PM   #6
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In the strictest definition, if you pay anything you are a passenger and not crew.
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Old 08-26-2011, 01:14 PM   #7
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[QUOTE=CaptDinghy;1314363115]

In the strictest definition, if you pay anything you are a passenger and not crew. This was taught to me by a skipper who quoted international maritime law -really comes into play if/when an insurance claim or other legal action happens.

But in reality, I am willing to make a contribution for expenses if the trip is more pleasure than work. The one time I crewed, we were delivering a boat from the BVI to Newport RI (I got off in Bermuda). It was not unpleasant except we were in headwinds and motored the whole time with very little sail time. But it was not a pleasure trip by any means. Great experience, great skipper who was knowledgeable and willing to share the "how to" of it all. The boat paid for my transportation to (BVI) and from (Bermuda) as well as all expenses of food and at the bar. Admittedly I am not a heavy drinker and we did not party.
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Old 08-26-2011, 03:18 PM   #8
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Many thanks to everyone for your replies, this forum really rocks

(... in a good way, don't start feeling seasick)

I'm particularly glad to have read that great debate about the thin, and occasionally fuzzy line between "reasonable sharing of expenses" and "privilege to work your *ss off on a pretty boat"... Typically the vital kind of information I need before (hopefully!) starting my first yacht trip ever.(*) Thanks a lot, Jeanne!

(* apart from what's written in "Sailing for Dummies", which I'm trying to learn by heart before Day D )

Fair winds to all,

D.
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Old 03-30-2012, 05:53 AM   #9
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FOLLOW-UP: An account of my boat-hitchhiking trip across the Atlantic (December 2011-January 2012).


LEG 1 - Canary Islands - Cape Verde - Guadeloupe


Following the great advice offered right here, and elsewhere, I ended up taking a ferry from Spain (Huelva) to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, around Dec.5 2011.

I spent 3 days there, hanging around the 'mollo deportivo', hunting for a boat on which to crew. Great atmosphere. Dozens of other youngsters were there too for the same reasons, and we had lots of fun - playing music, singing, sleeping on the beach and going 'freegan'.

Each of us was a competitor to the others in our common but individual quest for a boat to cross the Atlantic, yet we all knew that some of us would simply be luckier, so we shared everything and helped each other out, including information. This 'mutual help' spirit made this time I spent there one of the best of my life.

Some guys I met over there had been looking for a boat for more than 3 weeks. I was lucky enough to find mine in 3 days' time - a beautiful 17m-long catamaran, very comfortable (4 people on board).

It took us 6 days to reach Cape Verde (Mindelo), then 18 days from there to Guadeloupe (technical problems + surprising lack of wind for a few days).

The captain left me free to decide on the financial contribution to the trip, depending on my budget. I decided to give 300 Euros for my food and drinks I had during that month spent on board.

(I would recommend getting to the Canaries earlier than I did. Most skippers schedule their trip in order to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve on land somewhere, which means fewer boats leave the Canaries for the Caribbean in December than in November -- our captain didn't care.

Also, I've heard from other successful boat-hitchhikers that Tenerife was an even better hunting ground - less 'competition')



LEG 2 - Martinique - Venezuela

My aim was to reach the South American continent. Therefore, I was told to go hunting around the marina of Le Marin (name of a village!), island of Martinique.

This quest wasn't nearly as enjoyable as in the Canaries, for I found myself pretty much alone, apart from a few other travellers far and in between. Not really the rowdy and joyous atmosphere I experienced the first time, just me all by myself endlessly walking around the piers in the tropical sun (and Martinique certainly isn't cheap).

Most boats were heading north (we were in end January): St-Martin, Antigua, etc. There were few going down south, and those that did (towards the Grenadines mostly) were chartered by companies in Martinique, and had no space or desire to carry a hitch-hiker on board. Not a single person was keen on sailing to Trinidad or Venezuela, and people shivered at the idea - 'pirates, pirates!'

But eventually, on the 8th day of my quest, I chanced upon a pair of amazing German journeymen (traditional craftsmen) on their way to South America in their dreadfully warm traditional costumes; on that very day, they met with a crazy English skipper named Richard, whom they contacted through an old tatooed German captain with a rather murky past, and Richard told us we could sail with him to the Isla Margarita, Venezuela, departure in the evening. No financial contribution required.

We jumped on the occasion, naturally, but remained suspicious. Why was that guy so kind? What would we do if we encountered the pirates everyone told us about?

Richard finally told us he agreed to carry us on board (along with 3 other people!) precisely so we would look numerous and ready to defend the boat, were she to come under attack. According to him, all incidents reported in that area involved defenceless retired couples all alone on their boat...

To this day, I still doubt the lot of us - not exactly mercenary-looking - would've really inspired any kind of fear in the heart of a Venezuelian pirate... But thankfully, we didn't get the chance to test the power of our awe-inspiring presence.

So 3 days later, after a swift and delightable sailing on Richard's brand new catamaran, we reached the Isla Margarita, on the coast of Venezuela.


BOAT-HUNTING TIPS
  • COMMUNICATE with EVERYONE you meet around the marina: boat owners, bartenders, sails repairsmen (and other local professionals) as well as fellow boat-seekers. Roam the piers talking to every single soul, make friends, spin a social spiderweb which will enable you to be aware of the arrival of any new boat fitting your conditions.
  • BE AWARE OF THE IMAGE YOU PROJECT: few boat owners really live in a hippy, happy-go-lucky spirit. Lots of money involved in the equipment etc, so many will prefer to hire someone who looks 'reliable' in their view. Some of the owners I met over there told me, after we became friends, that I would have much better chances of finding a boat if I wore my 'respectable'-looking pants and shirt than if I just 'looked like the rest of that bunch of hippies' (in their own words! ). And indeed, seems like my shirt helped me find my boat.
  • DON'T GIVE UP: Plenty of patience and fatalism are required on that hunt. Many days can go by without a single opportunity - until suddenly, everything happens very fast. In Martinique, it was on the 8th day of my hunt that all of a sudden, I had a boat for Venezuela, ready to leave a couple hours after I first met the skipper.
  • DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE PIERS: In Martinique, for instance, hundreds of boats in this huge marina remained anchored away from the piers. It can be a great idea to borrow a dinghy and venture out towards those boats to speak to the owners.


Hope this can help anybody.
I'd be happy to chat through PM on these matters too.


Some more info can be found, with photos, on my blog: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (text is half in French, half in English).



Cheers,
Dorian
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Old 03-30-2012, 09:26 PM   #10
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Dorea, you're a delight!

Thank you for updating us on your sailing adventures. Sounds like you had a good time, even when on your own in Martinique.

Martinique is such a beautiful island, but yes, it's expensive, and everybody is so-o-o-o busy there!

Husband and I spent a whole lot of time in Venezuela, and I look back on those years fondly. How is it now, with Chavez's anti-American stance? Many (any?) US boats? As busy as it used to be? Still lots of Canadian tourists, or have they, too, abandoned the place?

And are you going to keep hitchhiking on boats? Not a bad way to spend a few years.

Fair winds,
Jeanne
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:20 PM   #11
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Venezuela felt like a country full of scared-out people. Everyone puts bars on their doors and windows, refuses to go out after dark and has a cartful of horror stories pertaining to robery, mugging, rape and murder -- even in the supposedly relaxed island of Margarita, where I spent most of my time. A large part of this fear is exagerated, as it generally is, but well, I guess there ain't no smoke without a fire...

Extremely few sailboats seemed to be going there, regardless of the nationality - again, fear of the pirates. The catamaran I found was the only one I saw or even heard of that dared to venture into those waters since several months.

As for tourism in general, Chavez is being openly xenophobic, and seeks do discourage any form of foreign tourist influx into the country (or so I was told by pretty much everyone). Margarita island, for instance, is now completely catering to national tourists, and international flights landing there have all been cancelled, or at least their numbers drastically reduced...

I will try to hitchhike my way on a couple other boats, yeah, to go back to Asia - but it will be a question of winds, tides, and time ;-)

Cheers
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Old 11-19-2013, 03:33 PM   #12
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This thread is AWESOME, some of the best boat-hitching advice on the web right now! So I'm going to try to resurrect it a bit as I'm typing this at the marina in Gibraltar. I have some small fliers ready which I intend to put up. But any concrete advice on Gibraltar itself? Where do the sailors hang out? How can I recognize sailors and captains? Any good places to camp?
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