How to go sailing on a backpacker budget

You are probably dreaming of the hot Carribean sun, or great adventure on the African coast, exotic food, colorful fizzy drinks and funky underwater life. That’s going to cost a lot: there is a mass of travel hacks to get onto a discounted cruise but for a backpacker budget even that cheap is not really an option.

This is where crew seeking websites come in. We need to set it clear from the start that working as a crew on a yacht does not mean you will only be sipping mojitos under the sun and playing guitar under the moon… It’s not yohoho and a bottle of rum either – most of private boats actually have dry policy while at sea – because WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE DRUNKEN SAILOR? Crewing on a boat ain’t your typical holiday, even if you are invited aboard by Captain Jack Sparrow. Crewing on a boat will teach you a lot, and leave time for relaxation, introspection and outdoor contemplation. How to tie a bowline and a dozen of other knots? How to make a proper dinner in the middle of the sea out of supply leftovers? How to moor the boat in shallow waters? How to navigate in a dinghy among the rocks and hundreds of anchored yachts in the marina?

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Enticing picture

Crewing on a boat will allow you to learn some seafaring skills from scratch, meet new people and have a great vacation. Just imagine the blue sea, starry sky – and zero mosquitos. But why would boat owners look for an amateur crew and allow inexperienced strangers into their floating home anyway?

First of all, unless you are crossing the ocean or heading to the North Pole, sailing nowadays is no rocket science. The bigger the crew, the more fun it is, and the more evenly you can distribute hours of watch-keeping. Other than watch-keeping, there is always some general maintenance stuff to do: cooking dinners and tidying up the boat to name just a few. Your duties should always be discussed with the captain in advance: long-term dedicated crew members who want to log more nautical miles usually get a chance to do hardcore work, such as scrubbing off barnacles and cleaning the hull, but short-term teammates who are just getting their sea legs straight usually perform minor duties and enjoy the ride.

Watchkeeping is extremely difficult and tough, especially with a sunset like this before your eyes.
Watchkeeping is extremely difficult and tough, especially with a sunset like this before your eyes.

There are also other things your help might be required for: some yacht owners navigate around the world with their families and require private tutors for their children, or translators and interpreters for specific regions of the world. If you play a musical instrument, this gives you extra points on coolness scale. Everybody loves a sea shanty when the boat is rocking in the open sea (not really, everybody just pukes).

Or this red blob is sinking into the sea with a pssshhhh
Or this red blob sinking into the sea with a pssshhhh

When I was crewing on a hippie MV in Thailand, the trip lasted just about 11 days, but it gave me a chance to explore parts of the country that no one ever goes to – just because they are too hard to reach. Similan islands are located in the middle of Andaman sea, as if some magical force just sprinkled them between Sri Lanka and Thailand, and only dive centers organize live aboard tours to the islands for those who want to dive and snorkel around turtles, barracudas and creepy eels. There is a small resort on one of the islands, and several short hiking routes, walkable in less than an hour. But the lagoons, where colours range from deep amethyst purple to sky blue, have spoiled me for any other beach forever.

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There are many questionable and potentially negative aspects of boat crewing – and we should be honest about it. First of all, you must realize that joining a boat crew will leave you stranded in the middle of the sea with a person or a group of people, and you will be spending all your time together. On an average MV or SV there is enough place to sleep but not too much to have your complete privacy. It is like Startrek, but no one will beam you out. The underwater life is as close to aliens as you can get though.

Like these little freaks
Like these little freaks
Or these little freaks
Or these little freaks
Or this scary thing
Or this scary thing
Or your freaky friends
Or your freaky friends

So, how much does it usually cost? Do I have to sell my kidney to go on a fantastic cruising trip? Normally, depending on the length and difficulty of the passage, and geographical specifics, captains charge between $10 and $25 per day towards food and drinks on board. All other expenses (yacht club and marina charges, maintenance, etc.) is normally paid by the captain. Some boat owners do not charge anything at all, but expect more dedicated work from you. Sometimes, if you have enough experience, you can even get paid for sailing or delivering a boat from one place to another, but that’s in the long run.

Every crew seeking website and every captain will recommend you first get on a short trip, up to one week at sea, to check if you are prone to sea sickness and douchebaggery. When the trial sailing is done, you may carry on as far as crossing the Atlantic or navigating the Pacific.

Now for the practical part, the useful links are:

http://www.findacrew.net Is the major source for crew seekers, skilled crew members and first-timers. The registration is free, and with your basic account you can ’Send a wave’ to crew seekers. If they are interested, they will send their off-site contacts back to you.

http://www.floatplan.com Crewseeking classifieds, requires registration.

http://www.7knots.com Crewseeking classifieds, mostly for unpaid crew, no registration required.

http://www.worldcruising.com/forum/topics.aspx?ForumID=1 Requires registration.

http://www.crewseekers.net Free browsing. To contact yacht owners, registration needed. Also can follow their feed on twitter to get latest crew seeking ads.

http://www.crewbay.com/find-crew Free website to browse and access sailing opportunities.

http://www.sailingnetworks.com/boats/needed Advertises both charter and crewing opportunities, free access.

In the marina
In the marina

They are a weird bunch, the sailing folk, and for them the safety of their vessel and the well-being of the crew is a major concern. Safety instructions is probably the first thing you will hear upon getting aboard. For a while, sailing life for you may be just a pleasant working holiday, but perhaps you’ll get a taste of it and decide to turn it into a full-time job.

Safe sailing. Ahoy!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. psychanaut says:

    Happy islands of Oceania: best travel book ever, Paul Theroux kayaking all over South Pacific in 1990 going to really far flung wacky places. A girl I know has made part of a living out of this crew sharing thing–she went back and forth from here to Hawaii a few times and stayed there a few years–the last time though she ended up with a drunk inept captain and had to radio fit help because she was concerned for her life–she was helicoptered out to the nearest Hawaiian island.

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