Around the World By Thumb
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, a high-seas hitchhiker on a night watch reflects on the progress of a circumnavigation that began with the tying of a Turk's head knot. From our July 2011 issue.
The Indian Ocean has reminded me that a sea voyage is as much art as it is adventure. The white line we leave behind is a perfect expression of freedom and movement on a canvas thousands of miles wide.
In the evening, I once again take my place behind the helm. The canvas explodes all around me with the vivid golden colors of sunset before turning dark once again. Blue becomes black, and our white line is replaced by iridescent green from the microorganisms that light up in response to our passing. Despite the persistent squalls and huge waves, one can easily find peace out here; the middle of an ocean is a world in itself, far from our egocentric human civilization. This world doesn’t concern itself with our worries and fears. As sailors, we possess the unique ability to catch a glimpse of this expanse and see it blink back at us. Our stern waves exist for an insignificant moment in time on the ocean’s surface; life continues on here as though we’d never passed by.
Tonight, we continue onward across the ocean, and I again contemplate how the bright line trailing away from our transom represents the art of sailing. But the glimmer from a comb jelly in the dark water below reminds me that this canvas will long outlive the painter.
Clive Webber completed his 25,000-mile circumnavigation in Panama’s San Blas islands. During his 16-month journey, he hitched rides on at least 11 sailboats; they ranged in length from 34 to 58 feet. For more stories of his adventure as well as additional tips on how to hitch rides on sailboats crossing the world’s oceans, visit his website (www.stinkyfeetproject.org).
How to Find a Ride
Crewing websites: Scouring the web is a moderately effective way to find a ride. Note, however, that many skippers are looking for paying crew to finance their own way. Also, many male skippers are seeking female companionship.
Posting an ad: All yacht clubs, marinas, and chandleries have bulletin boards and will gladly put up your notice for free. I’ve never found a ride from posting an ad, but it costs so little time and effort that it would be silly not to cover this base.
Walking the dock: The usual method for finding a ride is to visit every single yacht in a harbor with a smile on your face. Don’t be shy about making conversation; people will open up to you and share the contact information of friends they’ve met in the area who may need crew.
Cruising the anchorage: My secret weapon! Borrow a dinghy and visit the boats in the anchorage. It can be time-consuming, but this savvy, face-to-face method is usually very effective. Boats in the anchorage are generally transient vessels, and very few of them get visited by other hitchhikers, thus increasing your chances of success.
Get broadcasted: Ask local sailors if there’s a VHF cruisers network that regularly broadcasts in the morning. Identify the network organizer and make the connection. This, too, is a hitchhiker-savvy way to make a connection, and it beats rowing the borrowed dinghy all over the anchorage.
Find the local hangout: After a long day of scouring the docks, set up shop at the cruisers bar for happy hour. Now the yachties will be approaching you!
The Right Stuff for the Complete Ocean Hitchhiker
• Alarm clock
• Anti-seasickness tablets
• Foul-weather gear and sailing gloves
• A light sleeping bag
• Snorkel gear
• A personal logbook in which to record mileage and hours at sea
• Music, etc: CDs with MP3s or iPod
• A mobile phone with international SIM-card capabilities
• Large-capacity USB flash drive
• 12-volt chargers for all electronics
• An LED headlamp
• Old novels for book exchanges
• Food magazines with many recipes
• A lifejacket and a harness/tether (although many boats provide these)
Location Is Everything
If you’re an aspiring hitchhiker on the high seas, you’ll learn very quickly that catching a ride is all about location.
Be in the right spot at the right time. To take advantage of the most favorable weather, most skippers follow well-trod routes around the world at particular times of the year. Before picking your hitchhiking route, become familiar with ocean routes, storm and cruising seasons, trade-wind patterns, and popular ports of call.
Finding your first ride is usually the toughest task. Because yacht owners actively seek crew when a long passage lies ahead, identify the ports that are popular jumping-off points before established long ocean passages.
If you’re a socialite, consider following yacht-race circuits; these usually occur in popular cruising grounds and offer the bonus of good nightlife. Spectator boats and race participants alike often take on an extra hand just for the fun of it.