HItching from a ride on a sailboat across the Atlantic may seem like a wacky business only for famous and well-connected people. But Greta Thunberg has now pulled it off twice in three months – and her antics seem to inspire a growing, albeit nascent, movement in the sailing hitch.
Maritime hitchhiking was until now reserved for boaters looking for experience on different routes and ships.
But after Thunberg’s transatlantic adventures, the numbers exploded. Daniel Krause, a full-time “cruiser,” helps run the Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection Facebook group, which has grown significantly to nearly 21,000 members since Thunberg’s voyage. “In the last two weeks it has exploded,” he said.
People use the site to find crew members for their boat or to find a boat to hitchhike on. “It’s mutually beneficial,” Krause says. “You get a mostly free ride and the owner has someone who can do night shifts or who can help with mooring, anchoring and maneuvering the boat.” In most cases, hitchhikers only pay for transportation to and from the boat, any visas they might need, and help with the running costs of the boat, such as food.
However, Krause found that many newbies in the group had no previous sailing experience. “A lot of people don’t understand the movement of a boat on the ocean which can overwhelm people with seasickness and make them feel trapped because it’s a very small space and you could be there for days, even weeks – and once you’re outside it’s almost always too late to turn around, ”he says.
“Sailboats can only go with the weather and the wind. Hitchhikers must be aware that there are forces far greater than the will of the people on the boat; the weather may decide for you where you are going.
There are dozens of Facebook groups and sites offering similar services. SailingNetworks was established in 2004, initially under the Crew Reunited brand to help boat crews stay in touch after a trip. Now aspiring crew members are creating profiles on the site to find captains ready to hire them.
According to company director Jeremy Pocock, “younger people see the opportunities to explore while on a boat much more realistic than they might have in the past.” He advises anyone considering hitchhiking a boat to take a test drive first, then go for a drink with the captain and crew, to ensure compatibility with the vessel. – even and the other personalities on board.
Lawrence Herbert, a 22-year-old psychology graduate, is currently hitchhiking on boats around the world to gain his already extensive sailing experience. He has had frightening incidents over the years that he says newbies might not be prepared for. “I had a big sail stuck at the top of the mast with too much wind which was pretty terrifying. Someone must have climbed up the mast in bad weather and cut off the sail, which is about the worst.
He is currently en route to Southampton, where he has a place on a boat crossing the Atlantic to Saint Martin in the Caribbean, and has noticed a huge increase in the number of boat travelers this year. “I think the Greta Thunberg effect is huge. There are a lot of people in Gran Canaria [a popular hub for people seeking passage across the Atlantic], many who have no sailing experience, just trying to get on a boat. He says these people often trade in their cooking skills for a stint.
The request could indicate business potential for an environmentally friendly transatlantic shipping service, said Ross Porter, founding director of the ethical travel company. Green Travel.
“There is no paid, fossil fuel-free way to cross the Atlantic. Now there is all this exciting technology that can be harnessed and applied to a problem that we have in the world, which is moving people sustainably over long distances.
He is seeking funding to build a sustainable sailing ferry capable of carrying 200 passengers 480 nautical miles in 24 hours, which means it could transport people from Southampton to New York in about eight days. Porter ultimately envisions this as a fleet that could travel a vast network of routes across the globe – and become the future of travel.
A similar revolution is already underway in the shipping industry, which accounts for 2.5% of global carbon emissions, with companies developing strategies to transport goods on emission-free sailboats.
For Krause, the increased interest in sailboat travel is a logical consequence of the eco-friendly lifestyle trends that have grown in popularity in recent years. “People want to downgrade their consumption and travel in a sustainable way, and this is the perfect combination on a sailboat.”
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