About seven years ago i heard the first time about hitchhiking boats. What a hillarious idea. Finally you aren´t dependend anymore on planes to get to the American continent. Since then i wanted to try this. And finally i did it.
I write this article, cause i did alot of research in the internet before starting this trip. In my opinion, there are not too many sources for information. Well there are, but most of them contain the same stuff. After all i have to say, that hitchhiking boats is not what i expected, after all my research. I would like to take another position in this post. The truth might be in the middle for sure, but i would like to share this. The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle.
I won´t provide any guide about how to hitchhike on boats, cause there are already too many hitchers in the harbours and you can find the informations somewhere else.
My Route and my boats
I started in Gibraltar and had a first lift to Teneriffa, where i found a boat for the transatlantic. Classic. I came out in the northern Caribbean. It took me three weeks during christmas 2014 to find my next boat to St. Vincent, from where i took my last passage to Trinitad. All in all 4 boats took me. Two times i was crew for a boat transfer. Once i was with a very young crew in my age and once with an old captain. In total i did 4000 nautic miles (appr. 7000km) on sea. Travel time 2,5 months.
Hitchhiking boats seems to be very popular. During my time in Spain i saw around 10 other hitchhikers and i heard that in Las Palmas 25+ where looking for boats. For sure it was high season and everyone wanted to go with the ARC. Las Palmas was very crowded, which made it difficult to find boats. I heard from alot of people that gave up and i even met one french hitchhiker, that took a plane from Tenerife back to France, cause i found a boat there. Which means that he is flying to France, doing a 8-12 days sailing turn back to Canaries to do the transatlantic in the end. I think this speaks for itself to describe the overall situation.
My observation about hitchhiking boats:
The sailor itself…
is in majority white, priviliged, male and a bit older. Beside that imagine the occean like a crowded city which is populated with all kind of different people. Freaks, some families, really less female captains, couples, young communities, single-hand sailor and of course alot of priviliged, old, white men.
The POWM – Problem
In my research i found one very special article in Google, which is pretty far up, when you look for „hitchhiking boats“. Its written by a woman, which is going with her family crew over the occean and describes how to gt a lift with her. I was a bit upset by the arrogant and snobbish writing style. – And Jill, if you read this, i would never take a lift with you, cause u obviously expect advanced brown-nosing and this seems not very sympathic to me. – But beside the fact that the author is a woman, the article represents a general problem within the sailing community. There is a certain culture in our little occean village, which i link to the POWM – Majority. On the on side arrogance and snobbish people but also, lets be fair, on the other side alot of people that are very enthusiastic in fullfilling the existing stereotypes. An interdependency that makes me sick.
In general the POWM – Culture is primarily sexistic, which means: Men on deck, you make the „hard“ work which needs some strength and women can clean, cook or provide captains life with a cup of coffee. I personally like cooking which doesn´t give me any advantages regarding to masculinity inside the POWM – Culture. I also had some female sailors with me, that became sad and upset during the trip, cause they weren´t allowed to help on deck with the sails and haven´t been taken serious by the captain at all. A general problem.
On the other side it is much more easier to find a boat as a woman. Not fair, but fact. I don´t want to talk about the reason. But (additionally) there are also lonesome sailors outside, which are looking for a partner.
Also be aware, that there is a strong hierachie on board. It´s totally clear, that this has to be like it is, cause the captain has all the responsibility for the decisions and on the occean is often no time to discuss certain moves. If you don´t react fast enough it can have a very bad ending. But this hierarchie gets also utilized from time to time, especially if your captain is a douchebag. The problem on a boat, compared to a car, is, that you cannot get out. In general the crew is expected to follow, maybe also to lick arses and act like POWM think is right. I for myself got really pissed by that and i am sick of all this habitus (and i wasn´t alone with that).
It should be said, that definitely not all sailors are like that. I just try to describe the big majority in our occean village. But lets also talk about the other side, the hitchhikers.
Sailing with boats is not really hitchhiking
To find a boat and hire as a crew is not comparable with hitchhiking for me. It is not ike you stop a vehicle, jump on it and it takes you a part on their way. You cannot take your seat on a boat and have a lift. Youre not a hitchhiker in this moment. You are a crew.
Crew means work and especially on a big turn like the transatlantic is the general boat hitchhiking guidance between naiv and overbearing in my eyes. Most of us have the attitude: I don´t have any experience, but i can cook or clean, help with the nightwatches, am eager to learn (classic) and can play guitar. But honestly: Nobody cares if you can play guitar, are a good companion or if you can clean the boat during sailing, when you have no experience at all. If you get seasick, you won´t be able to cook, your eagerness to learn won´t help you at all cause you won´t be any help and you won´t be able to get under deck during this time. Therefor, i have to admit, that the article above is somehow right in his message.
Of course, most of the boats are fully automatized. Autopilot, AIS, wind vane and other technical gimmiks. But (also my opinion) this has no bearing with sailing if you let yourself get shipped overseas by those technical monsters. Anyways it shouldn´t be so bad under this circumstances to hitchhike boats, even if you have no clue about sailing. Of course. But how does reality in the marinas look too often?
I saw people flying to the canaries to do directly the transatlantic without ANY sailing experience. I mean, somehow i can understand if half of the marina is sick of us, if everyday people with this attitude appear on their boat and expect a lift on a 3500-4000km passage. And for free, of course. Cause you have no money. To be honest, i am opportunist and this is pissing me of, because of this it is getting more complicated for me, to find boats. Cause the atmosphere gets somehow dirty. Of course this is working for some people. But the whole hitchhiking boats thing seems to me meanwhile like the little beautiful village that occured in the Lonely Planet as insider and since then it is flooded by naiv and stupid touristsmasses, which destroy everything and leave their trash behind.
And for what?
To go +-20 days on a boring atlantic crossing. Beside water and crew there is nothing of interest on board. If the atmosphere on the boat changes for bad, its not fun at all. I had fun boats and not fun boats. Of course it can also be a big party, but if it goes bad it is like i said: No deboarding possible. You have to deal with it. Hierarchie will lead the action and the POWM will show its obsessions at one time. There are definitely much more exciting passages, than this stupid transatlantic. Don´t know why all hitchhikers wanna do that, but Lonely Planet….