I’ve discovered two ways of sailing around distant seas without chartering or long passages to get there. Boat exchanges were described in my previous articles “Living Danishly” and “The Case For Boat Swapping”. Katherine and I recently tried the new experience of crewing on a stranger’s boat.
After browsing through the website Crewseekers.net, I found an intriguing request: crew needed to help deliver a 40 foot sloop from New Guinea to Indonesia. After contacting the skipper via email, I learned that he expected a US$100 pp daily contribution for expenses and admitted that airfare would be pricey. Moving on, I found another listing posted by a retired couple seeking help to deliver their yacht from Antigua to Nassau, about 1,000 miles northwest as the crow flies. A fraction of the cost for shared expenses. Estimated time: five weeks.
After trading a few messages with the skipper, we booked our flights. The first hurdle…could we get through Customs without a return ticket? The web has lots of posts about crews being refused boarding by airlines, or hassles with Immigration upon arrival. One solution was buying a refundable fare back from Antigua (we already had one from Nassau). Instead, the skipper sent us his letter of introduction on a fancy letterhead and informed Immigration of our arrival. Turned out both did the trick and we were waived through.
Their yacht was an Amel 54, kept in immaculate condition. They have been living aboard for several years, cruising through the Caribbean, so had perfected procedures for everything. The French-built ketch is renowned as the Rolls Royce of cruising boats, with all-electric mod-cons: water maker; three fridges; Starlink; winches; alarm systems; roller furling; even an induction stove and a BBQ. Acres of solar, a genset, and a massive lithium battery bank that feeds the boat’s appetite for power. Amels, not surprisingly, have a reputation for high maintenance. Every couple of days, something required tweaking (definition of cruising: “fixing things in exotic places”).
We island-hopped north with two uneventful overnight passages under jib and mizzen. Weather was a perfect 28 degrees in both air and sea, with 10-15 knot breezes. Most days were spent on anchor or a mooring buoy, swimming off the stern, cleaning the boat, or wandering about the shoreline. (Starlink was a godsend, but only available when stationary.) The harbours are packed with charter catamarans and luxury yachts. Several small ports also cater to massive cruise ships. All make it an expensive place to eat, drink, and live. It is difficult to understand how locals get by.
Three weeks into our voyage, an emergency forced the owners to return to their home port, and we sadly flew back to Vancouver from the Virgin Islands. Lessons learned? Be flexible and expect the unexpected. If you wish to sail and hang out in boater bars, choose the Eastern Caribbean. For both sailing and a taste of other cultures, I’d go farther west.
P.S. If you’re interested in crewing, there’s a good article in the November 2023 issue of 48 North.