FAQ Boat HitchHiking:
Frequently Asked Questions About Boat HitchHiking
Ready to sail out!
How did you do this? Why did you do this? How much did this cost? Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a plane? Were you very seasick? (Oh yes, I was!)
For all those that are planning to start there own Boat HitchHiking adventure, I am listing here some of the most frequently asked questions. I gathered them from close friends and family, but also from Facebook and outdoor groups.
In case you’re still in the preparatory and planning phase of your sailing adventure, this article on How To Get Started with boat HitchHiking might come handy. This in-depth ABC guide will provide you the most useful terms and tips about boat hitchhiking.
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Sailing Preparatory Phase
1. Why did you do this?
That’s a very good one.
Why do you spend 1 month going each day to the marina? To lock you up with 2-3 people you’ve never met in your life before on a very limited space?
Well, there were a few reasons.
- We were leaving Madrid and about to move to Luxembourg. As we had everything packed and no obligations, we thought to ourselves that it would be the perfect moment to do something crazy. When else can you travel without any time limit and without any return date?
- We both love the ocean.
- We both love challenges.
- We both wanted to try something that a “normal mind” would qualify as “impossible”.
2. Who was the original genius of the concept?
I don’t know who invented the concept of boat hitchhiking, but it is probably older than we all might think.
Since hundreds of years, merchant vessels or battleships took crew from the marina they were docking. They would either get paid a salary or work in exchange for food and accommodation.
The idea that you pay as a Boat HitchHiker just came when sailing became a leisure sport. As it’s relatively expensive and you don’t have to do work as hard as on a merchant vessel or a battleship, boat owners generally ask for a daily rate.
A major inspiration for me personally, was Suzanne from The Oceanpreneur. She crossed the Atlantic twice by boat hitchhiking and is now committed to make a positive impact on the preservation of the oceans.
I devoured her blog posts when we were still in Madrid and planning to leave everything behind. Actually she still is a very inspirational person to me as she continues living the lifestyle of boat hitchhiking and sailing.
3. How many boats did you negotiate in all so you can reach your final destination?
In total we sailed with 2 different boats.
We did the first leg from Tenerife to Sal, Cape Verde with a young French couple on a monohull vessel in the beginning of November 2016. We did the second leg from Mindelo, Cape Verde to Barbados with a French-Canadian couple and the captain’s godson on a catamaran.
I can’t give an exact number with how many boats we negotiated until we finally found “THE” boat.
Taking into account only the boats in the marinas of Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Sal and Mindelo, Cape Verde, we must have talked with about 40-60 different boats. If you add the people we reached out via the crew-finding webpages, it’s highly probable that we talked to almost 80 different boat owners.
Some might be more lucky and find a boat straight away. But you need to be aware that boat owners will be more reluctant to take you onboard if you’re travelling as a couple. They rather prefer to take 1 person instead of too. But also here the exception confirms the rule.
4. What best advice can you give to someone who wants to enjoy boat hitchhiking?
As mentioned in the ABC of Boat HitchHiking, for me the key of successful hitchhiking a boat is perseverance and patience.
It took us almost 1 month to find a boat in Tenerife and another month in Cape Verde to find a boat to cross the Atlantic to Barbados. That’s a very long time, where you’ll be tempted many times just to give up. Indeed it can easily become very frustrating to go down twice a day to the marina (during 1 month), talk to boat owners and let them know about your endeavors. Most will tell you that they’re not interested and you’ll need to find the motivation to keep on going.
Thus my first advice would be: Never give up! Every “No” brings you closer to a definite “YES!”.
During the time you are looking for a boat, your only goal in the day might be to find captains that might potentially take you on a cruise. But that would mean that you’ll miss about 80% of the fun of boat hitchhiking.
Actually you’ll meet so many interesting people along the road, there are so many hidden gems of the destination that you’re staying at, that it would be a pity to spend ALL your days in the marina focusing on how to get on a boat.
Enjoy the pleasures along the road: meeting new people and discovering new places.
Fun Fact: In both occasions, we found our boat when we actually decided to have some time off! We just left our CV’s in the marina and got called to join the captain on their journey. Life is what happens while you’re making plans!
5. How hard or easy is it to negotiate with people to allow you in their boats?
It was not hard to negotiate.
The hard part was getting up every morning and knowing that you’ll spend your day in the marina talking to boat owners. As many would let you immediately know that they’re not interested, you could easily be tempted to lose faith.
Thus the hardest part was keeping your head high and trusting that you’ll find your boat soon.
6. Are you travelling alone or by group?
I had (and still have) the best partner in crime ever: my fiancé! Originally from Malaga, Spain, he feels at home when he’s close to the sea. On top his jovial, sunny mood was definitely a big help when we were looking for boats that could give us a ride. I have to admit that sometimes the uncertainty negatively affected my mood, that’s also why I can’t imagine crossing an Atlantic ocean by boat hitchhiking with anyone else than with my partner.
We did the first leg from Tenerife to Sal, Cape Verde with a young French couple that had sailed out somewhat unpreparedly. It definitely was a very intense experience as they were nearly the same age as we were and had 1 year of sailing experience. We had a huge responsibility onboard and not the best weather conditions. I remember that we had waves that were higher as the level of our boat and that it was impossible to sleep in our cabin. Thus we had to alternate and have little naps in the common area (during 8 days!)
After arriving in Sal, I was even doubting if I would like to put myself through the rest of the Atlantic crossing.
Luckily the second leg compensated for everything. I still can’t believe how lucky we were to meet and sail with such generous and highly inspiring people. Even now, almost 1 year after the crossing, we are still in touch.
Am I allowed to list some of the best parts about the crew from our second boat?
- They were sailing with a cat!! 🙂
- The captain’s wife, from Canada, is a marketing professional, art & book lover, a fitness addict (she even did her exercices in the middle of the ocean!), best banana bread maker ever and tireless fighter for the acceptance of peanut butter and maple syrup onbard. Thus, all in all, a lady that you can look up too.
- The captain himself is a French gourmet, passionate painter, with an impressive career in IT. With the crossing of the Atlantic ocean, a dream of his childhood came true and he passed on his profound nautical knowledge and sailing passion to all of us.
- The captain’s godson, probably the most talented French comedian and comic illustrator ever.
- They were sailing with a catamaran, thus we could actually sleep in our cabin as the movement of the boat was rather comparable to the movement of a cradle.
- They had done most of their food supplies in Spain. That means enjoying jamón, turrón, lomo ibérico,… but also finest French cheeses in the middle of the ocean. After 1 month in Cape Verde, you appreciate such things a 1000 times more!
The Atlantic Crossing
1. How long did it take?
2. How long is the stretch from your starting point to your final destination?
The exact calendar of our Boat HitchHiking adventure 2016 – 2017 would be looking like this:
First Leg: Tenerife – La Gomera – Sal, Cape Verde
|12 October 2016||Flight to Tenerife|
|12 October 2016 –
1 November 2016
|Reaching out to boat owners in the marina of Santa Cruz de Tenerife|
|2 November 2016||From Tenerife – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria by ferry|
|3 November 2016||WE HAVE A BOAT! A young French couple send us an email that they need crew to sail from Tenerife to Sal, Cape Verde|
|3 November – 5 November 2016||Enjoying Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. With the ferry back to Tenerife|
|6 November 2016||Grocery shopping and sailing from Tenerife to La Gomera|
|7 November – 9 November 2016||Visiting La Gomera and sailing lessons|
|10 November 2016||Leaving La Gomera|
|15 November 2016||Arrival in Sal, Cape Verde during the night.|
Second Leg: Mindelo, Cape Verde – Bridgetown, Barbados
|16 – 22 November 2016||Enjoying Sal, Cape Verde|
|23 November 2016||Flight from Sal to Mindelo, São Vicente island|
|23 – 27 November 2016||Searching for boats in the marina of Mindelo in São Vicente. Hanging up our sailing CV|
|27 November 2016||Crossing from São Vicente to Santo Antão, Cape Verde’s green, pristine gem|
|27 November – 6 December 2016||Enjoying Santo Antao. With the ferry back to Sao Vicente.|
|7 December 2016||Returning to Mindelo, Sao Vicente island as we got contacted to work as crew on a boat sailing to Brazil. Total failure.|
|8 December – 15 December 2016||Helping onboard to get the vessel ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil.|
|16 December 2016||We’re forced to leave the boat as their motor had a gasoil leaking but the captain thought that we were too fussy and picky. They sailed out the same day that made us leave the boat.
One week of hard work onbard for nothing.
In February 2017 that they ran aground in Brazil and had to give up the boat. As said, karma’s a bitch.
|17 December 2016||We’re about to give up and return to Europe. We decide to send an email to a Franco-Canadian couple we met in Tenerife.
They’re still in Sal, but they are looking for crew to cross the Atlantic ocean. We are more than excited and looking forward to receiving them in Mindelo.
|24 December 2016||Christmas in the marina of Mindelo, Cape Verde with the Franco-Canadian couple and their friends|
|31 December 2016||New Year’s Eve in the marina of Mindelo, Cape Verde with the Franco-Canadian couple and friends. Lobster and paella for dinner.|
|5 January 2017||Leaving Mindelo, Cape Verde|
|23 January 2017||Arrival in Bridgetown, Barbados|
3. Were you afraid?
Of course, but only a bit! 🙂
First I was afraid that we wouldn’t find a boat to make our dream of an Atlantic crossing come true.
Considering the crossing itself, I felt really safe during the second leg from Mindelo, Cape Verde to Bridgetown, Barbados. The captain had a lot of experience and the catamaran was the most spacious and safe boat ever.
I didn’t feel safe during the first leg from Tenerife to Sal, Cape Verde though. First, the boat was really small (~ 11 m), we had rough weather with very high waves and we sailed with a captain that didn’t have a lot of experience. Thus it was also quite challenging on an interpersonal level.
But at some point, you just tell yourself that everything’s gonna be alright and that in fact, there’re hardly any boats sinking during an Atlantic crossing.
4. Sailing is costly. How much did this cost?
I can assure you that boat hitchhiking is less expensive than you might think. It’s definitely more expensive for the boat owner than for you as a boat hitchhiker. And on top, the boat owner will give up parts of his privacy spherein order to give you a ride. This is something you should always bear in mind.
Okay, I guess you don’t want the blablabla but the real money talk, right?
Here it goes:
- We left Madrid with 6000€ that we saved up during less than 1 year. This budget was foreseen to be used equally by my partner and I. The plan was to travel as long as we have money. There was no flight bought in advance neither a return date. Nor did we have plans to make money or work during our trip.
- A lot of money went to accommodation while we were looking for boats in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Sal (Cape Verde) and Mindelo (Cape Verde)
- We enjoyed the trip to the fullest! That means we didn’t skimp on excursions, adventure activities, epic parties in Tenerife, car rentals in the Caribbean. Now and then, we gave ourselves a little treat like a lobster dinner in Mindelo or a pre-carnival party in Trinidad and Tobago. We could have saved much more and thus have traveled longer, but we made wonderful memories and had unique experiences that can’t be measured in £ or $ or €.
- The actual sailing part was rather “cheap” in comparison with our expenses on land.
- Sailing from Tenerife to Sal, Cape Verde: ~ 300€ for 2 people incl. food, accommodation and docking.
- Mindelo, Cape Verde – Barbados: ~ 500€ for 2 people incl. food, accommodation and docking. The best sailing experience that we could have ever imagined. They even had a cat on board!!! 🙂
5. Where you very seasick?
Oh yes, I was definitely very seasick in the beginning.
But it only lasted one day only each time. But during that one day, I felt like the most miserable person ever. I couldn’t eat and everything was turning around.
We always took medicine the first days when we were onboard. Then we stopped gradually as our bodies usually adapted really quick to new environments. I guess my body knew that it’s not going to get off that boat in only a few hours.
In order to prevent seasickness, rest as much as you can and eat, even when you’re not hungry. Seasickness comes easier when you’re tired and hungry.
6. Have you encountered pirates and how did you negotiate with them?
…probably the biggest fear of my family! 🙂
It’s very unlikely that you’ll meet pirates during your Atlantic crossing, as pirates usually navigate close to the coast. On top, the areas where pirates can be found are very well documented so that you can avoid them as much as possible.
Nevertheless, we heard a few scary stories from sailors that had to deal with pirates for example near Venezuela or Senegal. The only time we had to deal with crime was in Mindelo, where a few boats got robbed because they were mooring outside the marina.
7. How do immigration and customs work when you’re sailing?
We both have European passports, thus we could stay on Canary Islands for a longer time free from care.
When you’re sailing out, the captain is in charge of you. I heard that in some cases, he/she is even allowed to withhold your passport until you reach your destination. This should prevent mutiny during the crossing.
When you finally found a boat to sail out, before you depart, check the regulations of countries you plan to visit.
When you arrive at a new port, the captain goes with your passports to the immigration office in the same day you arrive. Theoretically you’re not allowed to leave the boat until, he’s done the clearance.
While in some countries visa requirements are fairly clear, in others the situation concerning yachts is confusing. Foreign nationals arriving on a yacht can be treated basically in three different ways by the immigration authorities. It always depends on the country you’re visiting.
- They are treated the same as ordinary tourists arriving by other means of transport, in which case the usual visa requirements apply.
- Special visa requirements are applied to those arriving by boat, which means that in some countries visitors arriving by boat are treated differently to those visiting the country as ordinary tourists. This may mean that some countries which are happy to grant visas on arrival to tourists arriving by air, will insist that anyone arriving on a yacht must have obtained their visa in advance. This is often because tourists arriving by plane must have an onward ticket to be given a visa, while arriving by boat is not always regarded as a guarantee of one’s ability to depart by the same means.
- Sailors are sometimes given special treatment by being allowed to enter a country without a visa, which is required from tourists arriving by other means of transport. Sometimes visas are granted on arrival and occasionally are dispensed with altogether. However, in these cases such special concessions are usually given only for a limited time and may be restricted to the duration of the yacht’s stay in port or while cruising certain areas. It may be necessary to obtain an ordinary visa to travel to other parts of the country or to leave the country by other means.
For countries where a visa is required, this should be obtained in advance, although one should make sure that the visa will still be valid when one arrives in the respective country as some countries stipulate that the entry must take place within three months of the visa being issued.
In our case, in Cape Verde and Barbados, clearance went really quick and we were allowed to stay longer in both countries as we had arrived by boat. Ordinary travelers arriving by plane, could only stay for a shorter time.
But again, all this depends on the country that you’re planning to visit.
1. What most important takeaway did you get from your sailing adventure?
We definitely learned a lot during the crossing itself and “boat searching” experience.
Of course we learned a lot about sailing and the nautical world, which is fascinating. But I think, we learned even more about ourselves and our perspective on life than anything else.
Indeed, I realized, a lot of our behavior or reactions during the process of looking for a boat or while being on the boat, reflect our attitude towards lifeand how we were living so far.
This might sound very abstract, but concretely speaking this would narrow down to:
- Enjoy the present moment, don’t let the “final goal” dominate all your thoughts and behavior.
- The most remember worthy souvenirs are those that happen unplannedand spontaneously.
- Leave space and time that these “unplanned things” can actually happen. Don’t focus solely on the ultimate goal.
- Everything will work out as long as you give your best and have good intentions.
- Be always ready to reach out to people.
- Develop a genuine interest for people, their background and their story.
- Be always ready to learn.
- Karma is definitely a bitch!! (In the Boat HitchHiking ABC, I tell you the story behind this lesson learned. ;))
2. Are you open to having another adventure like this?
If you would have asked me right after arriving in Barbados, after seeing nothing but salty water during 18 days, I would probably have said a clear “No !”.
But only a few weeks after spending some time in the Caribbean, we started missing life onboard. At the end, we, the crew, and the captain’s family had become family. We had shared so many memorable experiences and we were really missing them.
Now that we’re back in Luxembourg, I am missing the nomadic lifestyle more than ever. But after being 5 months on the road/boat non-stop, we also needed some time to come down and think about what’s next.
But yes, I am definitely open to another adventure like this.
And there’s still a Pacific ocean to be crossed… 😉
3. Which countries did you visit?
We didn’t really care to which country we would cross, thus as we were proposed to sail to Cape Verde, we just went all in. A lot of sailors went directly from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia, Martinique or even Brazil.
From Cape Verde, we sailed to Barbados as it’s the first island of the Caribbean archipelago when coming from Cape Verde.
Barbados is super, super expensive and was draining our budget. That’s why we decided to get the cheapest flight to wherever and ended up in Trinidad and Tobago, which is one of the most fascinating countries I’ve visited so far due to its Hindi culture and natural, pristine setting.