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Sailing with Hippies (Hitching a Ride – Part II)

Molly anchored in the port of Las Palmas
Molly anchored in the port of Las Palmas

Some four or five years ago we were anchored in Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. Las Palmas is a popular stepping-stone for yotties who are heading for the other side of the Atlantic, and our boat was just one small item in a vast caravan which was getting ready to cross the wide blue desert. Also in town at this time were somewhere in the order of 100 hitch-hikers – itinerants who, for one reason or another, wanted a ride to the New World.
Every time we went ashore to shop or to socialise, we yotties would have to run the gamut of skittle-wielding back-packers, and hippies with djembes and guitars tucked under their arms. Ordinarily, these are the sort of people with whom the Mollymawks like to associate – we like jugglers, drummers, and musicians; we like people who have turned their backs on financial security, consumerism, and all the other trappings of the modern world and who are doing something interesting with their lives – but on this occasion we tended to try to shuffle past the youngsters with our eyes on the ground.
Why? Because on this occasion, in this environment, the folk gathered on the quay didn’t view us as people with an attractive lifestyle or a shared view-point; they viewed us rather as an unemployed labourer looks at the owner of a big pile of bricks sitting on an empty plot of land: “Gi’us a job, mister!”

The Caribbean - Hitchikers see it as a destination, but for liveabaords its merely another pleasant  campsite. The lifestyle is the destination.
The Caribbean – Hitch-hikers see it as a destination, but for liveabaords its merely another pleasant campsite. The lifestyle is the destination.

There were some amongst that little loose-knit fraternity who came close to being abusive when we told them, “No, thanks. We don’t want crew.”
“But you’ve got a great big boat…! You ought to be pleased to have the opportunity to share your good fortune. You capitalist bastards are all the same!” (Yes, this remark really was flung at me. Some half-blind half-wit actually mistook Yours Truly for a capitalist…!)
When I wrote my guidelines for wannabe ocean hitch-hikers these people were very much at the forefront of my mind, but if I thought that I could reach them I was kidding myself. People of this sort, who have already sunk to the depths of hurling out meaningless unfounded insults, are beyond salvation. However, the majority of the young backpackers were perfectly nice people. They just hadn’t got a clue what it was that they were asking the yotties to do. These folks deserve a little help with their aspiration.

Why would this young lady want to share her small space with a stranger?
Why would this young lady want to share her small space with a stranger?

As we pointed out to those hitch-hikers who cared to listen, Mollymawk is not a ferry, she’s a family home. “How many families do you know who would be happy to share their communal living space – the space where they cook, eat, sleep, and shower, and the space where they are accustomed to wander naked all day – with a total stranger? And not just for a weekend but for a whole month!”
Our living space is smaller than the two room cottages and “mud huts” of some of our African and South American friends; and, unlike them, we don’t have the freedom to wander off into the hills or the woods.
“When you hitch a ride aboard a sailing boat you’re committing yourself to living in absolute intimacy with your fellow sailors for the time it takes to get from one side of the pond to the other,” we told the hitch-hikers. “And your hosts are making the same commitment. How many people do you know who would gaily agree to give up their privacy, and share all that they own, with someone who just rocks up and demands it as if it were a right?”
Most of the hitch-hikers accepted these facts and wandered off to pursue other quarry. Those who had plenty of sailing experience proved to be in demand, and I believe that almost all of these able-seamen found positions, mostly amongst the ARC fleet. Some of the remaining would-be deck-hands gave up and bought airline tickets, but a few became familiar figures on the quayside; and some of these we invited to join us aboard our boat. Not that we were having second thoughts – “No chance!” – but, as I say, we actually do rather like jugglers, drummers, musicians… and, indeed, drop-outs of all sorts.
In fact, now I come to think of it, there are not many kinds of people that we don’t like.

The hitch-hikers who joined us aboard Mollymawk also had the opportunity to meet other members of the cruising community. One very helpful, hard-working, and enterprising Spaniard borrowed our dinghy in order to visit other boats in the anchorage. He found a single-hander who was willing to take on paying crew and got himself a ride largely through our recommendation. Four years later, he is still hanging out in South America and we recently ran into him again.
Two young Finnish girls who we invited for supper, and who we had considered to be a lost cause, were picked up by another single-hander who happened also to be sharing our meal.
As for the rest…
It was for the rest that I wrote my advice.

Well, now…

Over the course of the past four years we’ve had a lot of correspondence deriving from that first article about hitching a ride across the Atlantic. Most of the would-be ocean travellers who read it accept that it was written tongue in cheek; and most also recognise that, besides taking the piss, it also offers sound advice. One recent correspondent by the name of Elsa told me, I ended up on your website half a year ago and saved the article Catching a Ride Across the Atlantic to my collection of best articles of all time. … It makes me laugh, but at the same time you are delivering the message. This young lady is now moneyless-back-packing around South America.
Another letter which has just arrived in our mail-box says, I stumbled upon your article on nautical hitchhiking and, it’s brilliant! You have a fantastic voice. I laughed and cried and tried to translate for my husband, Nil. I wanted to drop you a line to let you know that happening across your site really made my day.

On the other hand, a few hitch-hikers have taken the whole thing to heart – perhaps they were so upset by the first few paragraphs that they didn’t stay the course. (And I did warn the reader that staying power was needed!) Significantly, I feel, most of those readers who have taken offence have been people for whom English is clearly only a second language. I guess humour doesn’t cross the language divide too easily.

Well, I’m sorry if I’ve offended anybody, but having re-read the article I don’t see any reason to retract my words or to soften their impact. I wrote the article to help hitch-hikers to get a ride. I wrote it in order to explain how the yotties moored in Las Palmas are apt to regard bong-toting, be-dreadlocked, back-packers, and I also sought to explain what these potential skippers do look for in their prospective crew.

Adam hitched a ride with us, not to get from A to B but for the fun of the experience.
Adam hitched a ride with us, not to get from A to B but for the fun of the experience.

Just to set the record straight – because, despite my having done so (as it seems to me) in a couple of my comments, people are still not awake to the point – I, personally, do not have anything against back-packers or hippies. In fact, I used to be a back-packer; and I still am a “dirty hippy”.
But I, personally, am not in Las Palmas! So I, personally, am not available to take anybody across the Atlantic!
I didn’t write the article to explain what I, personally, might seek in a prospective crew member; I wrote it to explain what the average first-time-crosser might seek, and what the average owner of a nicely kept and very expensive production boat might seek. Because these people are the ones who are moored in Las Palmas in the autumn and they are the ones who might, conceivably – if you play your cards right – take you on as crew.

I’ve been sailing all my life, and I’ve been cruising for almost half of my time, so I know the scene pretty well and I know exactly why yotties sometimes take on crew. And I also know why they usually don’t. I know exactly what gets up people’s noses.
What is more – should you still doubt the truth or validity of my words – with just two exceptions, all of the comments and other correspondence received from our fellow yotties regarding this article have agreed wholeheartedly with the content. In fact, it seems to have touched a nerve!
Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail which arrived about a month ago:

Just read your advice to hitchhikers. Thanks, it cheered me up no end!! I am sat [here] with another skipper trying to arrange to get my boat back to Canada. … The other skipper … has to get back to Holland and has no crew. We have been trying to get suitable people. By the time you pay costs to get anyone competent to and from the boat, plus feed them, it’s cheaper and safer to get the boat shipped as deck cargo.
Would we take hitchhikers? Not a chance! Minimum 5,000 miles and good references, unless they are friends and have sailed with me! Even then I would want to do a weekend or two before a long trip.
I did once take a novice across the Atlantic. He was a model crew in every way, but I still would not do it again. I don’t want that sort of responsibility. …

So… If you are a hitch-hiker who wants to get a ride from Las Palmas to the Caribbean, I would suggest that you read that first article again and learn what’s what. (Just the second half if you still can’t stomach the first few punches.)

Gotta get along, because you can’t get off!

We’ve taken quite a few people sailing over the past few years. We even took one with us across the ocean from Cabo Verde to Brazil. Miki spoke very little English. She had seldom ventured beyond the borders of her native country, she had never sailed, and we had never met her before she flew out to join us in Sao Vicente.
We warned this young lady that if we didn’t get along we would simply refuse to let her sail with us, but she took the risk, invested in a plane ticket, and came to join a family of foreign strangers aboard a boat which she had never seen.

Theres no going back. Once youre out here, youre out here for the duration whether you like or not - and whether we like you or not.
There’s no going back. Once you’re out here, you’re out here for the duration whether you like it or not – and whether we like you or not.

We took a risk, too, of course.
We weren’t quite so daft as to set off across the pond without having given her a shakedown cruise – a very rough one, as it turned out – but if we had understood what misconceptions Miki carried in her mind then I think we might have given the matter second thoughts.  It was only after reading her account of the trip that I realised that the girl had been under the misapprehension that if she didn’t like things we would turn back. No way, Jose! Ocean currents and ocean winds don’t work like that!

Now I come to think of it, my first ocean passage was a nightmare. I was 18 and very immature both in terms of my outlook on life and my experience and abilities. Sure, I could sail – I’d been sailing since I was in a carrycot – but I’d never cooked. I hardly knew how to make tea, let alone boil an egg; and yet, shortly after we set off, the skipper announced that I was in charge of the galley…! He and the rest of the all-male crew were well-to-do solicitors, and they were accustomed to having wives and au-pairs to run around after them. I was evidently supposed to fill that niche. Well… all I can say is, it was not a happy ship.

One month, alone, with this bunch of weirdos - are you sure youre up to it?
One month, alone, with this bunch of weirdos – are you sure you’re up to it?

How would I have fared, I wonder, if I had embarked with a family of drop-outs…? At least the skipper of Mollymawk doesn’t bark orders and shout insults – not ever – and at least we don’t mind if the potatoes are over-cooked or too salty – (Heck! How was I to know that you can’t cook spuds in salt water?) – but I think that my 18-year-old, nicely-brought-up, and rather prudish self would probably have found the bathroom arrangements aboard Mollymawk rather inhibiting.

The bathroom
The bathroom

Of course, there are worse things than finding yourself at sea with a boatload of lawyers or a bunch of weird hippies, or – looking at it from the point of view of the skipper – there are worse things than finding you’ve taken on someone who turns out not to like sailing.
Starting from the crew’s point of view, there’s the problem of finding yourself at sea with someone who suddenly decides that you are not, after all, his ideal shipmate. A friend of ours has this habit. His ideal shipmate is female and over fifty (he being in his seventies) but the women who answer his ads all turn out to be utterly useless. Some are simply lazy; some are domineering – they want to take over the running of the boat; and some simply can’t steer a compass course or cook a chicken. John’s skills and adventures rival those of Bill Tilman – in fact, his skills far exceed them – but so do his crewing difficulties. And after all, as I’ve said before, it is very difficult for a person to make space in his tiny hovel of a home for someone else. It’s hard to be tolerant when you’re used to having the hutch all to yourself! It’s hard to cope with someone who doesn’t understand the importance of washing the dishes in only half an inch of salt water, or of hanging her oilskin only on the appointed peg, or of leaving her shoes just so – exactly so, dammit!  – and not an inch further to the right.
When egos collide all hell breaks loose – the smallest careless word or the tiniest misdemeanour can spark off a full-scale war – and when an outsider arrives to plant himself in the living space customarily occupied by just one person, trouble is almost inevitable:
“I couldn’t stand him! He used to leave his muesli soaking on the galley worktop!” ranted a friend who took a hitch-hiker across the pond.

Are you sure you want to spend one month on this tiny island with a complete stranger?
Are you sure you want to spend one month on this tiny island with a complete stranger?

Some folks are more easy-going than others about this kind of thing, but as a rule I should say that people accustomed to living with company have fewer foibles. From the vantage point of the skipper, someone from a commune is ideal. Our first hitch-hiking crew was born and raised on a kibbutz, and he slotted into our lifestyle as easily as if he were made for it.
From the point of view of the would-be sailor, a family is ideal. A family living in a small spaces has had to learn to rub along together. Tolerance therefore becomes the norm, and one more ego, with its habit of leaving the toothpaste tube in the sink or stashing the deck-torch in the fruit bowl, is quite easily accommodated.
More to the point perhaps, 1 to 1 can seem like a fair contest, whereas 1 against 4 is plainly not going to work. Thus, one ego, faced with a disciplined crew who know the local laws, is more likely to behave itself (and put the toothpaste where it lives) than one ego facing what it sees as trivial, arbitrary rules issued by a despot.

Democracy ends at the HWL

Oh, while we’re on this subject – would-be crews please note: the skipper of a vessel is, by definition a despot; or at any rate, he’s an autocrat. Democracy ends when you step aboard a boat. The captain is legally entitled to act like Hitler in his own little realm, and any who attempt to over-rule or disobey his command are guilty of piracy. This is not just my opinion; it is international law.

Naturally, you don’t have to obey him if your life, or that of another person, is imperilled by the order. And, naturally, any skipper worth his salt is likely to be able to run the ship without resorting to threats or raising his voice – after all, it’s in everybody’s interests that the company be happy – but when all is said and done, if you find you’ve shipped with a martinet, that’s your look out; you still have to do as you’re told.
This law exists in part to protect the owner of the vessel – and indeed, if you’re travelling aboard somebody else’s boat common decency surely dictates that you do things his way.  More importantly, the law exists because the captain is legally responsible for the safety not only of the vessel but also of her crew. If the vessel comes to grief and somebody gets hurt or drowned then the captain will be investigated for manslaughter. So – hand in hand with authority comes responsibility.

The flip side of this coin says that any crew who act in contradiction of the skipper’s orders and who imperil the safety of the boat can also be tried. In one instance that I have heard of a yacht was wrecked when her hitch-hiking crew got panicky in a gale. The vessel was travelling along a lee shore and the skipper, very wisely, wanted to head for open water and ride out the gale; but the crew took command of the vessel and tried to get her into harbour. I forget how many of them died or whether the surviving mutineers ended up behind bars… but anyway, you get the picture.

Bear this in mind, Captain

Having legal responsibility for the health and safety of someone you hardly know is not a thing to be taken up lightly. I can think of nothing worse than finding yourself in the middle of the ocean with someone you simply cannot stand, or with someone who tries to take over the running of the boat, but there is one thing which is almost as bad, and that’s finding yourself at sea with someone who has suffered a major injury.
What are you going to do, skipper, when your backpacker crew falls down the forehatch?
As I mentioned before, one person with whom we discussed this scenario said that he would throw the guy overboard rather than face the danger of a large financial claim. “I simply couldn’t afford it,” he told us.
Well, I think that most of us would stop short of murdering someone just because he was an inconvenience – I should jolly well hope so, anyway! – and so the question remains: what would you do?

This actually happened to us a few weeks ago. We had two guest crew sailing with us, and one of them had decided to make himself a cup of coffee. The weather was not rough, but it just so happened that as Tim stepped out of the galley and turned towards the companion ladder the boat gave a sudden lurch. It was the only wild lurch that she made during the whole of that passage… but one lurch was all it took to send our man flying.

A lively day in the South Atlantic, with the boat rolling wildly. Any new crew would have found it heavy going in the cabin.
A lively day in the South Atlantic, with the boat rolling wildly. Any new crew would have found it heavy going in the cabin.

You and I have grown accustomed to the motion of the boat in a seaway. Under normal circumstances we just sway with the boat – even our dog has learnt to sway with the boat – and in heavy weather we pass ourselves from one safe nook to another, using hand-holds of which we are scarcely aware. But a new crew hasn’t had time to learn this art. It’s one of the things that Miki mentioned in her article. “The boat is always moving,” she said, “and I don’t think they realise how weird it is.”
Well, the motion to which Miki refers was the barely perceptible swaying and swinging of a heavy boat moored in a calm anchorage. Barely perceptible to you and me, that is… We’ve had other visitors who even manage to feel seasick in these conditions.
On the morning when Tim took his tumble, Mollymawk was bounding along in a force four. The average wave was not even a metre high, but one cheeky little rogue wave meeting us on the beam was all it took to knock him off his balance.

Tim landed with his back up against the chart table. He was certain that he had broken a rib, and he was afraid that he might also have punctured a lung. A friend had recently landed in much the same sort of a way whilst paragliding, and he had suffered internal bleeding. Tim’s pain was such that he was even afraid that he might have done something similar.
It took two of the crew almost an hour to get him from the place where he had fallen, across the cabin to a settee berth four yards away. Any careless move might cause further damage. For all we knew, Tim may have broken his back.

And then…?

Fortunately we were not in mid-ocean; we were within a day’s sail of a safe harbour. And fortunately I had a hunch that nothing really serious was amiss. (I think it was the way the casualty was still scratching his mosquito bites, whereas it seemed to me that a man at death’s door would be beyond such things!)
Regardless of this intuition, we had to behave as if the matter were life threatening – because it really might be.

From R - L, The skipper, Rox, Tim (at the helm) and our Brazilian friend, Gean
From R – L, The skipper, Rox, Tim (at the helm) and our Brazilian friend, Gean

What would we have done if this had happened at sea?
Well, I still don’t know the answer. All I can say is, there is absolutely no way that Tim could have been air-lifted. His every movement was agony. Our strongest pain-killers appeared to have no effect, and so he sat, propped on cushions and wincing as the boat bounced along.
Eight hours after the event I managed to persuade him to lie down. The following morning it took all four of us an hour to sit him up again, using a floorboard behind his back as a lever.
In extremis, I suppose, had we been two weeks from a hospital, we would have had to improvise some kind of stretcher; and after our Pan call had been received – supposing that it ever was received – a ship would have detoured from its route in order to take the injured man aboard. They would have needed to launch a lifeboat to take him off; and even then, with the boats rolling to and fro, it would have been a difficult and perilous operation.

In the event, as I say, we were close to land, and so we duly went alongside. A doctor was called; an ambulance came. Happily, as it turned out, Tim “only” had a broken rib. But along with this assurance the medics handed us a bill for $250; and on top of that there was the cost of the marina berth.

The following morning it took all four of us an hour to sit him up again, using a floorboard behind his back as a lever.
The following morning it took all four of us an hour to sit him up again, using a floorboard behind his back as a lever.

It’s something to consider, isn’t it?
Fortunately for us, Tim is not a penniless back-packer. He’s a long-time friend, and he’s a man with a few savings and a lot of moral scruples. There was never any question about who was going to foot the bill. But what would have happened if it had been one of the penniless, hitch-hiking youngsters who had taken a tumble?
Everybody who sails with us pays their way. We struggle to meet our own ends, so we’re hardly likely to be able to cover anybody else’s. But what would have happened if Miki or Adam or Gean or Martin had needed hospital treatment…?
And what would have happened if we had been giving a ride to someone who turned out to be without scruples? Someone, like the girl mentioned in my previous article, who sued the owner of the boat for damages and who thereby caused him to have to sell it.

Contrary to what some of our readers seem to have understood, we LOVE taking people sailing, but the risks entailed in this undertaking are real, and they’re something to bear in mind.
Yotties need to bear them in mind, and hitch-hikers need to understand them and be aware of what they are asking us to do.

Beware - This lot are dangerous.
Beware – This lot are dangerous.

I’m pleased to be able to say that this story does have a happy ending. Like many of the folks who sail with us or who read our books, Tim became wildly infected with the cruising bug. So seriously infected, indeed, that he got carried away and accidentally bought himself a boat.
Ah, the perils of eBay…!
All the while that he lay there in agony Tim was thinking about that one enthusiastic click of the mouse which he had made the day before, while we were in harbour, and wondering whether he was now a father, so to speak. “I shouldn’t have done it,” he said ruefully. “I’ve been foolish.”
However, when he found that his bid had been successful he could think of nothing more than abandoning our ship and rushing home to be with his new best-beloved.
And that, of course, was just as it should be.

When last we heard from him, Tim was merrily making cream cheese in his new galley while his house-proud daughters scrubbed their new teak deck.
Be warned, hitch-hikers! If you ship with the likes of us you could end up in the same boat – or rather, in one of your own.

If you haven’t read our previous articles about hitch-hiking across the ocean, check out the following:

16 Comments

  1. Always looking forward to read your articles.Happy Sailing
    Danie from Cape Town South Africa (remember – we met in Simonstown when you were still working on Mollymawk?)

    1. Hullo Danie!
      Yes, of course we remember you! I hope you’re still sailing.
      Look out for our friends, Pete and Carly Hill. They’ll be heading your way in a few week’s time abaord their bright green junk-rigged catamaran.
      All the best to everybody at the False Bay Yacht Club,
      Jill

  2. Hi Jill,
    I’ve just read your article about hitch-hickers and read this update.
    I didn’t found myself in your description of the deadlocker backpacker but I totally see who are those people. I’ve met them. I hate them. They don’t understand anything of the world we’re living in and are the most intolerant people I’ve met.
    Anyway, this is a very good hint on what yotties expect from hitchhikers and, as I was considering it, I take all your advices and reconsider it.
    I think I will try to do more sailing in the Mediterranean sea before trying to cross the Atlantic. I don’t want to be a pain in the ass for the captain, i wouldn’t like this if I’d be him.
    Thank you very much for your article, hope it will help people like me (and help dreadlockers to get a hair cut!) 😉

    Chris

    1. Oh, we don’t really have anything against dreadlocks. In fact, several of our friends wear them. Maybe I’d better stop using that cliche!

  3. Thank you for your excellent blog. This two-part article is really funny and articles like this are refreshingly honest and so much more useful to independent travellers than articles which tell them every new experience they have will be amazing and that it’s ok to downplay and disregard the perspective and needs of the people they meet on their travels.

    In the response section of your first article, you made a comment about yotties preferring females because they could work as nannies. As a career nanny with experience in tutoring/home-schooling primary-aged kids (and a strong wanderlust), I found this interesting.

    Is it common for yotties to have small children on board, and could a land-lubber (that is, somebody like me) safely take care of them (that is, given the inherent dangers on board a ship)? Is a little respite tutoring something that families would even want and consider helpful?

    I had a question but it’s layered and I wasn’t sure how to word it succinctly . That’s why I wrote the following wall of text. I’ll leave it as a post script of sorts, since feedback from both you and your readers would be appreciated , but it’s bl**dy long. Please don’t feel obligated to read or respond if you don’t feel like it.

    ===========================================
    P.S My chief concern: Kids who cycle through teachers often develop trust issues or educational weaknesses, and maybe it wouldn’t do them a great deal of good if somebody (like me) came for a few weeks, developed a friendship with them and helped them make progress with their schoolwork and then (literally and figuratively) jumped ship at the first opportunity. Similarly, cycling through babysitters can give small children attachment and abandonment issues and – if the children were frequently cared for by improperly vetted babysitters – involves implicit support of a potentially dangerous practice. I don’t mean to be preachy or self-righteous, and I’m not passing judgement on other people’s methods of raising children. It’s just that, as somebody who has earned most of her adult income from working with children, I have a moral responsibility to only take on positions which are good for the children. Otherwise, it would just be using other people for my own ends.

    That said, if you were only caring for the kids a few hours a day and if the parents were actively engaged in their children’s education or upbringing – and this seems like it would be the norm in this subculture- having somebody on board for a few weeks to tutor them in their weak spots or give parents a little bit of respite might actually do the children some good. And similarly, since parents probably already spend a lot of time with their children, a skilled nanny or child carer with lots of training in child development might actually do some good for a family both in terms of fostering the child’s development, and giving parents a break and a chance to talk about any issues they’re having.

    In the Australian outback, we have programs set up in which a carer will drive to remote stations in a van loaded with toys and spend a fortnight playing with the station kids (and checking on their development, since it can be difficult for remote and isolated families to access allied health services). These sorts of programs seem to do parents and children a lot of good, and the exposure to adults outside their family seems really healthy for their social development. Yottie kids seem similar to outback kids, insofar as they spend a lot of time with their parents and other adults, tend to be (so far as I can tell) confident, articulate and laid-back (and most likely, awesome XD) , and spend a lot of time acquiring skills and experiences unique to their subculture.

    What do you think about all this ? How many hours a week does a hitch-hiker (paying board) typically work? How much of this time would be taking care of the ship and how much doing odd jobs? Is worrying about the things I wrote about in my last paragraphs patently ridiculous because (outside of ship duties) you only usually work two or three hours a day , anyhow?

    To be honest, the whole idea of hitchhiking makes little economic sense (since a career nanny in Australia makes $23-$27 an hour, my au pairing days are (thankfully) well behind me, and I’d never go overseas without enough money to afford to buy return tickets) and the main reason I want to do it at all is so I can learn how a ship works, have an adventure and see what life on the high seas is like. My main motivation for seeking out a small vessel run by a family would be that, even if I sucked at everything else, I’d have a useful skill, and because it would most likely be a lot more fun, and because kids are really easy to build rapport with. You could probably also convince them to spend an entire morning pretending to be batman or a pirate or a cat or whoever, although I’d anticipate this is the sort of behavior which would make crew members aged over 15 to throw you overboard.

    ======================================

    P.P.S Thanks again for your awesome blog. You have a beautiful family and it must be amazing to travel the world together.

    1. Hullo Meepie,

      I’ve just realised that I neglected to post my reply to your comment. I wrote one, but before I got round to doing anything with it we went to sea; and then it just got forgotten. Sorry about that!
      Here it is, just one month late… :

      No, it isn’t particularly common for families to go cruising. In fact, I would say that it’s slightly less common than it was 20 years ago. This is despite the fact that there are more people cruising, overall. I think there are three main reasons: Firstly, people are far more worried about their children’s education nowadays, fearing the long term consequences of not having put them through the mill. Secondly, the lifestyle is perceived as being more expensive and people think that they don’t have the money to sell up and sail with their kids in tow. Finally, it seems that people are becoming paranoid about saftety… (I could write a lot more about that; and maybe I will, someday.)
      The first two worries are concerned with long term situations belonging to a distant future – and bearing in mind that we can’t even tell what’s going to happen tomorrow, and don’t even know whether we’ll still be alive next week, worrying about what’ll happen when your 5 year old is 18 is obviously insane. People, these days are obsessed with security – are crippled by their obsession with safety and security – but as I say, that’s another subject.

      All this having been said, it seems to me that there is a higher percentage of families making the North Atlantic round trip than there are families living aboard long-term. So, it would seem that people are willing to take their kids out of school for a year; and during that year they will generally be very keen to see that their kids keep up, academically. (Isn’t that appalling! Under tens having to keep up!!! No wonder the population of the Western world is so stressed out and screwed up…)

      Could a land-lubber safely take care of kids on a boat, you ask? Yes. You wouldn’t be in charge of their safety. You’d be their tutor and playmate – and you’d probably get lumbered with some of the cooking and washing-up, too.
      You would want to be very clear, at the outset, about just what was expected of you. I know of one situation, on a round the world trip, where everything was working out really well and everybody was very happy; but I also know of another situation where the mother of the kids found the crew/nanny to be “worse than useless” (her words). Knowing this woman well, I suspect that she asked a hell of a lot of the girl.

      As regards attachment issues – I wonder if this is not already an inherent problem in the West? We see babies as young as 3 months spending the whole day, five days a week, with carers. And when the carer moves to a new job, and…. Ouch! I know a man, now in his 70s, who still feels the hurt from having been torn away from the woman who cared for him from birth to age 5 but who was then sacked because she was “too close to the children”. Whether his life-long inability to form a lasting relationship with a woman is derived from this – who can say?

      However, so far as cruising families are concerned, the exact opposite is true. Whereas kids raised in the usual Western way only see Daddy and Mummy at either end of the day, our kids are constantly in our company. This is definitely a very positive thing. I wonder if, having little or no experience of boats, you might not have misconstrued the situation. I think that perhaps you imagine yourself aboard a relatively large vessel, with separate cabins for crew and family; perhaps you even imagine a little schoolroom with desks. A more appropriate image would be small touring caravan. Picture yourself seated at the table (which is the only table in the boat) with your scholars. Their mother is three steps away, cooking lunch. Their father is in and out of the cabin, keeping watch and simultaneously trying to fix the loo. (As the only land-lubber, you’re the chief suspect for having put a san-pad down the loo and blocked it.)
      As you can see, in this scenario, opportunities for feeling abandoned by ones parents are nil. I’m sure that the children will form an attachment to you – and that is one of the only two problems with this lifestyle. Because we’re always moving on, and because the community is mobile and we’re constantly flowing past each other, it’s hard for our children to form lasting friendships.
      (The other problem? We don’t have the space to grow our own veg or keep a cow.)

      Is this mobility and its consequence bad for our children? I don’t know. It used to upset me when my first child was very small. At two, he latched onto people – any people – and wanted them to be part of out life forever. But by three he’d outgrown that desire to take root and had come to terms with the idea of our nuclear family drifting along through a sea of other people.
      In my experience, little girls are more inclined to attach than boys; and they will cry when the time comes to move on. But does this mean that they would have been better off never meeting and loving this other person? Surely not!
      Life is full of meeting and parting. This is an inevitability, just as every birth promises death. I think that, provided that Mummy and Daddy remain constant, a child can learn to accept these meetings and partings. Indeed, now I come to think of it, I wonder if this learning is not a very important part of growing up? I suspect that a child who has come to terms with partings will be much more able to cope with the pain of a relationship break-up.

      Yes, I agree with your parallel with the Australian outback.

      So far as your next paragraph is concerned, I’d be surprised if you can find anyone who wants to sit down and work out how many hours you’ll be working.
      It’s normal, while the boat is at sea, for there to be a rota concerning the watch-keeping. On that basis, you might say that, with four crew, we’re each working 24 hours per week. However, this doesn’t take into account the chores. Since our kids are now as capable as their parents of baking bread and cooking curry, we also put the chores of making meals and washing up on our rota. I really couldn’t tell you how much time is spent on these things, it varies so much. And I’ve no idea whether you’d be expected to take your turn at the dishes AND amuse the kids.
      Yotties with school-age kids usually seem to want them to spend from 9 to 12 doing lessons; but this obviously varies from family to family. (For example, we never really did formal lessons; and we definitely never had School Time, or any kind of routine.)
      In the case of the woman I’ve mentioned above, she probably felt that the nanny ought to be full time playmate for her daughters (then aged 3 and 5), and she probably wanted the girl to take a watch and wash-up, too… So, it would have been down to the nanny to write her own rulebook: eg. “Okay, kids! We do lessons together all morning; then I’m on watch for 3 hours; then you can have me again for an hour before I make supper; and then YOUR MOTHER will read you a bedtime story.”
      As I say, you would need to discuss this kind of thing in advance to make sure everybody’s expectations were the same.

      Amusing very small children on a tiny island adrift in the ocean can be challenging. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, small people are programmed to want to join in with whatever is going on. If the activity isn’t child-friendly, or if you’re in a rush, then problems can arise; so you need to have a repertoire of activities which will engross them but which don’t require your input. Top of the list, in this respect, is reading; so, the sooner a cruising kid learns to read, the better!
      Your suggestion of getting the kids to play pirates brings back happy memories! In fact, I have photos of my older two perched on the boom waving their cutlasses. They were 6 and 7, at that time, and we’d just spent the past week reading Treasure Island aloud, as a family. I was Long-John-Silver, and when I read his famous lines – “Ar! Jim, lad! I’ve taken a likin’ to thee!” – the kids squealed with terrified laughter and ran to hide behind their father.
      Last year I started reading the same story to some other boaty kids, aged 9 and 10, and they were so scared that I had to stop! So… you do have to be a bit careful, I suppose…

      I hope you manage to catch a ride, and I hope you all enjoy the adventure.
      Jill

  4. Wonderful article , god i wish i had your same skill with language

    just wondering what you’d think of me, life long nomad, boy scout, lots of hitching experience and some sailing experience from youth

    jamie

    1. Not sure how I missed this comment, Jamie…
      Just in case you’re still following the plot, as it were, I think a life-long nomad sounds like just the sort of person who’d stand a good chance of getting a ride. Just remember that the No.1 rule is to make friends first. Those who arrive on the quayside and open the conversation with the words, “Could you take me to xxxxx?” are far less likely to succeed than those who start out by saying, “What a beautiful boat! Where have you come from? What a wonderful lifestyle! I’d love to hear all about it.”

  5. Hello! I wanted to comment and thank you for this article and it’s Part I. I had some really ignorant, half-baked idea about sailing a crossing until I read that, and I’m really glad for the experience – for example I didn’t even consider that while I would be terrified of the yottie being a knife-wielding psychomaniac, and they would have the same fears about me. After reading, I decided to find alternative transport, in part because of the risk of injury, and in part because I snore like a jammed up chainsaw, I have a certain blindness to mess (odd socks, pencils, keys – they all just drift away) and no useful skills whatsoever. Thank you for helping me find a better perspective and preventing the possible outcome of me dying/being left stranded in a foreign port. Have a great day! 😀

  6. Istanbulite in distress

    Hello. I am a burnt-out 38 y.o. who is seriously considering taking a midlife gap year for next year before I turn 40 and going on the long anticipated backpacking world tour (or a long term trip, travelling wherever possible with my financial means & energy). Believe me, I am searching every route in every direction with minimal-and/or cheap-air travel. Ferries, trains, border crossings, low cost airlines, visas, security situations…you name it. As Caribbean area is a place I have wanted to go since I was a small child, I am doing research on Caribbean routes too. There I have stumbled upon your fun and informative articles. When I was young my dad had a boat from time to time. He was even in boat making business for a time, and his boat during my childhood days was the one he made himself. Therefore I understand your points too, being familiar with boat life, being on your side of the table. Despite having a boat-loving dad I have very little sea experience. Just was not that interested then. Of course our adventures were mere day trips off Istanbul coast in the Sea of Marmara (I am from Turkey, in case it wasn’t understood from this) so this Atlantic crossing is a whole different level. And as I would make it to Spain only by late February the earliest (I am thinking about sparing this whole year for saving money and departuring from Istanbul on January next year), I will be missing the boat departure season in November anyway. So I am ditching the idea and considering going from Amsterdam to Suriname by air (or something in that line). There starts my question (sorry about the long preface). Despite the islands are close to each other, ferry travel is scarce. In fact the only international ferry service in Lesser Antilles is some French company doing routes between St Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique. People are stuck with air and even that is not too frequent. I mean, Bahamas almost has no air connection anywhere except for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Prices aren’t really cheap either for the distances concerned either. I researched Caribbean Air, LIAT and Winair ticket prices for reference, and they were expensive as heck. Do you think it’s possible to hitchhike boats at the Caribbean islands for just a one-way route between two islands, or a period of island hopping? For just about 2-3 days per journey I guess. If it’s possible, what should be the criteria skippers are taking? This is more on the trip management itself. I know it’s too early for this, but I am trying to get as much info as possible. I might select a different route when the day comes, or even go eastbound the other way (old Hippie Trail from Istanbul to Delhi….then beyond), but I’ll much appreciate any feedback. Wish a wonderful life with your family. Take care.

    1. I don’t see why you shouldn’t get a ride between the islands. There are far fewer people trying to do that – so there’d be a lot less competition – and there’s a non-stop procession of boats coming and going (except in the hurricane season). Moreover, you’re not asking to take up residence in your host’s living room for a month. As you point out, the islands are mostly just a couple of days apart, so there’d hardly be time to get on each other’s nerves!

      Since you’re Turkish you might like to get in touch with our friend, Osman Atasoy. He was the second Turk to sail round the world in his own yacht, and the first to go round Cape Horn and visit Antarctica. He might possibly have some tips for you. (I’ve lost contact with him, so you’ll have to google for his current website / address.)

      1. Istanbulite in distress

        Hi again. Sorry for late reply. The company is a mess, too busy all the time. The main reason for my situation I might say.

        I know who Osman Atasoy is. He was sort of a celebrity when he finished his world tour. I really admire what he has done. His boat Uzaklar is still showcased in the Naval Museum of Istanbul. I researched a bit and found out that he has an official Facebook page. I can maybe send a PM over there. His schedule in the Caribbean was a bit different though, he sailed to Panama, got through the canal to the Pacific, whereas I’m thinking of going northbound. nonetheless I certainly think he knows.

        If you wanna contact yourself too here are his website and Facebook page:

        http://www.osmanatasoy.org/
        https://www.facebook.com/Osman-Atasoy-Resmi-Sayfas%C4%B1-218557684826319/

        The contact ling is on the far right of the overhead menu, but Facebook page would be easier I think.

        Thanks and regards.

        1. Thanks for that. It will be good to get in touch with Osman again and see what he’s up to know.
          I heard a little rumour which said that Sibyl wants a house….. :-O

  7. Hey, I loved your articles; both this one and the original advice for aspiring stowaways.

    I’m just starting to think about how to sail across the Atlantic. Your articles put me much more in the mindset of how the boat owners and long term residents would think about bringing people on board.

    Thanks!

  8. Hi Jill,

    After lots of blogs explaining boat hitchhiking from the Hitchhiker’s point of view, it was really puzzling to read your articles. Aren’t we the chosen ones for those captains lacking some crew members?
    I have to say it changed my way of thinking about this trip, and probably gave me some lesson of humility… And also made me laugh a lot! 🙂
    I hope everything is not as negative as you said in the first article, otherwise we don’t have any chance to succeed.

    With my best friend, we quit our jobs in France to look for some adventure probably but also to see the world and get inspiration to change the way things are when we come back (or on our way maybe). Of course the trip has to be as little impacting on the environment as possible, therefore we avoid planes, and we rather do camping, hitchhike, walk,…

    In a nutshell, we are beginners at sailing but trying to acquire some sailing experience in nearby harbors, and would like to cross the Atlantic to Caribbean (as it is the most common route) in January 2017. After spending sometime talking with sailors and reading blogs, I arrive to the thought that people who accept hitchhikers on their boat may very often know other captains who do the same, maybe not a community but sort of a network…? Am I wrong?
    I finally dare to ask : would you recommand to contact some captains in particular, that may do this crossing in January (maybe for Atlantic Odyssey II)?

    Thanks for all articles and all answers to comment, everything was so instructive!

    1. Hullo Florence,
      Sorry for the LOOOOONG delay in getting back to you…

      I’m glad that the article made you laugh. It seems to go down well with English-speaking readers, whereas those for whom English is only their second language don’t always get the fact that it’s a tongue in cheek rant. I’m glad that you also found it useful, because – rant aside – that was its primary purpose.

      Hitching a ride as a duo will be much harder than finding individual places – but you never know; you might get lucky.
      The cruising community is very loose and unstructured. No, I’m not aware of a network of people who take hitchikers – although it’s certainly a fact that if you’ve managed to get a ride on one boat you will then find it much, much easier to transfer to another. Many hitchikers have told me this. Once someone has trusted you to live with them in their boat, then you are within the community and others are much more likley to take you on.

      I suspect that the network that you are thinking of might be a loose affiliation of casual charterers, who take crew in return for ‘expenses’.

      We are currently in South America, but if I happen to hear of anyone who wants crew for a crossing I will give them your address.
      Most people cross in late November or early December, but January is actually a better time to cross – usually – so some do wait until then.

      Wishing you success,
      Jill

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