Some things whilst you travel just tend to reveal themselves to you naturally, and even though at the time you dont realise it, they have a huge impact on your future travel path and adventures. This revelation came in the form of an outgoing, friendly, crazy South African girl I had met in Hong Kong, Adeena. I was stuck in Hong Kong for a month waiting for my Russian visa to be processed in the embassy and the brief encounter i had with her in our busy hostel is what has landed me in these remote islands today.
We started the usual travel talk that everyone goes through, "where are you from?", "where have you been?", "where are you going?", but Adeena was different. Rather than the typical 2 week vacation seeing the sights and following the Lonely Planet book religiously she was travelling on a whim, much like myself and due to a morbid fear of flying, she was visiting places the long and hard way, overland or more impressively via water.
Up until then the ocean had just been a huge gap on a map with nothing in it. I had never given those huge vast blue spaces any thought. I have hitch hiked acrossed continents, I have endured long days cycling between islands in Japan, I have nursed my sore bottom after days and days riding horse back in the Mongolian mountains, travelled on packed trains in China, Kazakhstan, India, taken long bus rides that took days, hiked to villages in Nepal and Myanmar, hitch hiked by tractors and convertibles in Turkey, but hitch hiking by boat- this was a new and exciting endeavour I had to try for myself. So this whole new world suddenly opened up to me and suddenly the map was full of more possibilities.
I started researching more and more ways to travel this way. It just seemed too good to be true to travel in a way where your home, kitchen and form of transport were all in one. The idea of not having to continuously hoist my heavy backpack on and off trudging it onto the london tube during peak hour, cramming it onto my lap in the back of a small hitch hiking ride or using it as a make shift matress when waiting long hours for trains or buses my was just heavenly itself, especially after just having finished crossing from Hong Kong to England overland, the idea of a little rest and a "holiday from my holiday" seemed great.
So here are some tips and ways to try it out for yourself...
Some of the ways you can and hitch hike by boat:
>there are plenty of great internet sources out there now helping crew find boats and boats find crew. You just have to create a profile for some and start asking around, its as easy as that. Many of the listings, in my experience, require crew last minute so it always helps to be very flexible and available at any time.
Such websites are... www.findacrew.net/ http://www.crewbay.com/find-boats/Sailing+Boat www.floatplan.com/crew.htm
>The old school way is to head to as many marinas, yacht clubs, boating stores, ports etc and just write up little signs saying that you are willing to crew, where your prefered destination is and a little about any experience you may have. Or another great way is to grab a drink at the yacht club bar or wander up and down the docks constantly asking. This way of hitching requires persistence, keep visiting and asking everyday for at least a week. Even though it can be hard and isnt as easy as organising things from the comfort of you lounge room at home, it gives you the opportunity to meet the crew face to face, to see their boat and to see if the boat suites you. This method can take a long time and I have only met a few people on my travels who were successful in finding a crew this way.
Things to consider before joining the boat:
>Do you like sailing? It's best to try sailing before you do any long passages to see whether you get sea sick or to see whether you even like it! Theres nothing worse then finding out that answer when youare on a 27 day passage across the ocean.
>You will be stuck on board the boat possibly for long passages where you will be the only people you have contact with for days, so its a good idea to have a lot of good contact with the Captain and crew before joining. Skype is a great way to do this, and make sure that you will feel comfortable.
>find out what your role onboard the boat will be before joining. There are many different crew positions and its good to know what to expect. Some positions may be just watch keeping, others might be maintenance or cleaning and cooking. Some positions you'll be paid, others you have food and accommodation provided for you, and others you have to contribute to the boat's expenses.
>familiarise yourself with the intended route the boat will be going. Even though routes can be very dependent on the winds and are always subject to change, not all areas are made for comfortable sailing. Check the usual weather conditions and the wind directions and make sure that the sailing conditions wont be too difficult for your level of experience. Its always a good idea to outline these concerns with the Captain as he should have good knowledge of the areas.
>Ask what safety equipment they have onboard. An epirb, life raft, life jackets, flares and other equipment is necessary and even though you hope never to use these items, is always better safe than sorry.
To be honest, most of my friends and family did the worrying for me. I didn't really think too much about the risks involved as I was too eager for the experience. Many were worried that I was the only girl on the boat, and that being in a confined space where you cannot escape could lead to risky situations that are not easy to escape from. But after having gone through two passages and two different Captains and crews, even though I was very fortunate for each boat, I realise it is very important to do a little research before hand.
If you love to travel, love the ocean, love sustainable ways of travelling and love to be involved in a tight community of like minded people then I couldn't recommend a better way of travelling! This experience has by far been the highlight of my travels so far and I know that with experience it can always get better. If there is any thought in your mind of trying to crew a boat and travel waters that are otherwise unaccesible to tourists- do it!