Life cruising the high seas
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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I've spent some decent time on the boat now so I thought I'd start an entry which may take a couple of bites to complete, but one that should give you a decent insight into this form of travel - the pros and cons, the ups and downs and everything else in between. Because it is quite an experience and can be a great way to get you between A and B across seas all over the world. If you have the time it's certinly an option.
Let me start by saying it's about 4 pm now and we've had a magnificent day's sailing. Consistent 15 knot winds from the right angle propelling us at up to 8 knots (real fast for this tub), beautiful sunshine, smooth seas, currents going our way, interesting shoreline scenery and a pod of probably 40-50 pilot whales cruising by, doing their jumping and flipping stuff. Magic.
It's what you sign up for and it's what cruising sailors the world over might experience once or twice per year - it's the stuff that makes the effort all worthwhile. The problem is it's so infrequent.
Most people don't realise that there are thousands of small private yachts plying the world's waters right now in giant convoys crossing the cruising routes of the Pacific, Indian/Med and Atlantic sectors - just like the multitudes of winnebagos that travel the Americas, the campervans in Europe, or the hordes of caravans that traverse Australia. Like their caravan or trailer brethren, these global travellers are for the most part silver-tailed retirees, but with more than a healthy dose of adventure and above average technical knowledge to take on the extremes of ocean passage and the quotidian of extensive boat maintenance. Surprisingly, a fair percentage are families, usually with young children in tow, kids who swing from the masts or donut in the inflatable dingy with the confidence of other children their age riding a bike. A few are couples in their thirties or forties, obviously with enough cash to back them on such a large yacht purchase and subsequent funds for travel and upkeep. Sweet.
Of these, most aim to circumnavigate, and the average time to do this would over five years. One to ply west coast USA, another through the South Pacific, one to south east Asia to Turkey, the fourth through the Med and the final one to cross the Atlantic and do east coast US. Obviously this is indicative, it seems you could spend a many a year just doing the South Pacific if you have the funds and the inclination. Others ply familiar waters - for example, up the east coast of Australia to Thailand, then back again when the current is favourable.
And that is a major driver of these sea-going nomads - the wind and the currents that make getting to your next destination possible or not. It's real hard going against the flow and will add to time, cost and grey hairs if you try it. Taking on crew also helps many sailors, hired muscle (experienced or otherwise) to heft gear and help with chores - because there's a lot to do before, during and after a successful days sail. It's a lot of work to keep the boat shipshape, and when you put your life in the hands of Mother Nature and King Neptune, it's quite dangerous too.
So what are the upsides to this sailing life, from a Captain's or crew's perspective? Here's a bunch of uppers to get you thinking:
- good days as described above
- interesting and rewarding destinations
- great related activities like diving and snorkelling
- dolphins, pilot whales and other marine life occasionally about
- catching fish off the back of the boat
- listening to tunes and gazing at the millions of stars on night watch
- meeting cool fellow boaters
- camaraderie of good crew mates
- surprisingly good food on board (if the chef is organised - we've had sirloin steak, lobster, various bbq chicken, cakes, stir fry's)
- sea air and healthy feeling
As always there's downside as well, including:
- generator and engine noise
- cramped spaces
- relying on your captain to get you there safely. It is dangerous.
- things breaking down and lots of knowledge required to fix them
- long and boring watch shifts
- dodgy anchorages and anchoring in general
- cutting your hands on everything
- arguments and close quarters
- feeling motion sick or a just generally disoriented
- too many beers (?)
In general the good outweighs the bad and as long as you're willing to work a little it's a relaxing and cheap of getting to where you need to go in a roundabout way.
Every boat is different, and in a few weeks I'll probably get on another one and do Bali to Singapore or possibly beyond. That's part of the beauty of it - if you can get onto one and have enough fun to finish your stint and do it again, you can do it anywhere in the world based on that experience. Post a Crew Available (or reply to Crew Wanted) ad on a local sailing site and see what happens. It took me 2 weeks to get my ride and have been amazed at subsequent offers I've received. Post a comment on this entry if you want specific sites to refer to.
So next time take those four weeks annual leave from work and find out what rallies are happening in the area you're interested in. There may well be a bunch of options and ways to get on board, so bon voyage and don't remember to write!
- sailing - steering, knots, raising/lowering/trimming sails
- cleaning the boat and parts (filters etc)
- helping with oil/water/fuel changes
- daylight and night watches
- raising and lowering dinghy (shore launch/tender)
- helping raise and lower anchor
- hauling stuff onshore
This is a pretty extensive topic so can't go into detail. However, make sure any boat you board has:
- a life raft
- a GPS system with backup
- auto pilot
- life preservers and safety harnesses for everyone on board
- standard and high frequency radio (HF allows some HAM radio nerd on other side of planet to hear your mayday calls)
- an EPIRB
The Beer Drinker's Prayer
Which art in barrels,
Hallowed be thy drink,
Thy will be drunk, at home as it is in the tavern.
Give us this day our foamy head,
And forgive us our spillage,
As we forgive those who spill against us.
Lead us not into incarceration,
but deliver us from hangover.
For thine is the beer, the bitter and the lager.
For ever and ever.