If you’ve ever dreamed of running down the trade winds to the South Seas islands, anchoring in idyllic tropical lagoons, and snorkeling on coral reefs for weeks or months on end, you might have written off the notion if you’re not independently wealthy or related to someone who is. But the truth is, you don’t have to have money or even have a boat to sail to the islands or even around the world.
The world’s oceans are being crossed every day by small sailing yachts, crewed by couples or families who are retired or might be taking a year’s sabbatical to see the world. These people have boats, but what they don’t always have is enough crew to handle the sails and stand the round-the-clock watches necessary for safe navigation.
A frequent problem encountered by boat owners out cruising the world is a lack of willing and able family members or friends to assist them in making long passages. Many people start out sailing only to find out they don’t like it, or they get seasick and can’t handle it. Marriages sometimes end over this issue and friendships break up. The crew sometimes abandons ship and takes the short way home by airplane. The boat owner may find himself in a faraway port with no one to help him sail to the next destination or return home.
Another situation that generates a lot of need for a willing crew is the wealthy boat owner who pays a professional boat delivery captain to sail his yacht to some desirable cruising destination. This way the owner gets to enjoy fine sailing in the islands but does not have to endure the rigors of an ocean passage or the time commitment it entails. The paid captain is often willing to take on eager crew members who don’t want money but are willing to work for a free ride.
To crew on a yacht you should familiarize yourself with at least some basic boating terminology so you can talk some of the esoteric nautical lingo sailors love. If you can get some experience daysailing close to home you can increase you value to the captain by being somewhat knowledgeable about how to sail. Read books on seamanship and familiarize yourself with world geography so you come across as knowledgeable and you will increase your chances of finding a berth on a sea-going yacht.
The best places to look for crewing positions on a cruising boat are of course, coastal cities with busy small-craft harbors. Certain coastal ports are better than others, however, because of their strategic location as a â€śjumping-offâ€ť point for popular sailing destinations. If you want to go to the Bahamas or Caribbean, for instance, look for a boat in Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, Florida. If Tahiti is you goal, try canvassing the docks in San Diego, where many sailors set off for the South Pacific.
Foreign ports are also excellent places to look and can often produce more choices of boats. Panama, because of the Panama Canal, is a crossroads for world cruising sailors, many of whom will need extra crew. Islands in the Caribbean like Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands are also good. Many sailors who have crossed the Atlantic from Europe lose their crew in the Caribbean.
Familiarize yourself with weather patterns that affect voyaging sailboats and you will know what time of year sailors will be departing from specific ports or setting out for the destination of your dreams. Sailing magazines, particularly those devoted to cruising are good sources of this information. Various sailing websites also offer online articles about routes, weather, and destinations.
Know what you are getting into before signing on for a long voyage. Take some shorter cruises first if possible to make sure you can handle the motion of ocean sailing and try to spend some time with your captain and other shipmates before setting out for weeks at sea with people you might discover you do not like at all.
A little sailing knowledge, a willing attitude, and a sense of adventure will enable almost anyone desiring to do so to see the world from the deck of a sailboat. Chances are you can spend as long as you like sailing the world’s oceans with little or no money. Though crewing positions usually don’t pay anything in terms of wages, food and drink are provided, you don’t have to worry about the cost of boat ownership, and you will gain priceless experiences and have adventures to tell your grandchildren about.