Want to work your way across the Atlantic? Here’s how to make sure you’re on the right boat to the Caribbean
Suzanne Van Der Veeken is the author of Ocean Nomad: The Complete Atlantic Sailing Crew Guide, which she launched at the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in 2017.
Having boat-hitched extensively herself, including three Atlantic crossings, Suzanne found that many were interested in boat hitching but weren’t sure of how to go about it. Here are her top tips on hitching a ride:
1. Be clear on ‘Why?’
Do you want to gain sailing experience, go from A to B, or simply relax at anchor in pretty bays? Search accordingly.
2. Be confident or start small
Be confident you’re ready for an ocean passage. If you’re not sure, start with a trip near shore or a short voyage to figure out if a longer ocean passage is for you.
3. Get your bearings
Learn about the passage, seasons, distance, destinations, weather, costs, and tasks involved. This will help you find a ride at the right time and place.
4. Be flexible in terms of time, place and money
Boats deal with seasons, routes, weather, breakages, and all sorts of variables. By thinking about scenarios in advance makes it easy to change course without disruption.
5. Get to know the crew (and trust your instincts)
Research the boat, skipper, and crew carefully. The people you share the adventure with either make or break the experience. Realise that anyone can buy a boat without experience or license.
Exchange loads of messages, ask questions, and talk to each other on the phone, preferably with video. Meet up, fix things together and go for a test sail. Don’t let your eagerness override your instinct and judgment. Be 100% sure.
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6. Always talk to the skipper
When assessing the options and trying to figure out if a boat is a good match, talk to the skipper – not just the owner, another crewmember, relative, manager or passenger. The skipper is the onboard decision-maker.
7. Be clear on intentions, expectations, agreements
Know what the skipper is expecting from you. What are you expecting from the skipper and the trip? It makes it easier for you to prepare, anticipate, and avoid misunderstandings. Talk about budget and agree in advance about which costs are shared.
8. Pack light
You don’t need much at sea, and stowage space is generally going to be quite limited. As a general rule, if you can live without it, leave it at home. If you have committed to a boat, ask what’s already on board, so you don’t have to bring it. Less is more!
9. Provision carefully
Skippers usually have their hands full preparing the boat, so it’s likely that, as crew, you’ll need to be part of the team provisioning for an Atlantic crossing. A well-fed crew is a happy crew, so properly organise, plan and execute provisions for the boat. Your health and happiness for the next few weeks depend on it.
10. Don’t book a return ticket
Chances are you’ll be hooked and will want to keep going. And trips like this hardly ever go as planned. Avoid stressing the skipper because you have a plane to catch.