When we finally crossed Thailand border, we knew that the next step of our trip was going to be much harder: we soon had to find a boat to continue our hitchhiking adventure, a sailboat on which we could learn how to sail; while crossing the oceans to reach other continents… With zero experience and a bit of nerve, we finally got on board to hitchhike a sailboat for the first time!
“Hitchhike a sailboat” first step: find a boat!
Was it luck? A good preparation? A bit of both? Anyway, the day after our arrival on Phuket island (Thailand), we got a message from Crewbay forum: Grant, an Australian captain, offered to call us to get to know each other, and discuss his plans about sailing and live-aboard conditions on his sailboat, Trident. We put our resume displaying project in Phuket’s big marina on hold: we needed to be prepared for Grant’s call, list all our questions, make a good impression. When Grant finally called us, we were ready – but a little nervous, anyway. On the other end of the phone, we discovered a friendly man who immediately put us at ease. We ended up asking him all our questions about his sailboat, his use of the sails and engine, his plans, and above all to make him understood that, despite our lack of sailing experience, it was out of the question for us to consider this crossing as an all-expenses-paid holiday. Grant offered us to think about it during the night: on his side, he had in mind that his crew should participate in the expenses of gasoline and marina’s fees… The nervousness caught up with us: and if he was going to give up? What if he finally finds other crew members, ready to contribute to the costs? What if we had lost a day in our search? A glimmer of hope: Grant wanted to embark a trustworthy couple on board, and liked our profile: he too quit his job to travel – not across land, but across open seas! We’ll soon know the next day when waking up his answer appeared on our phone screens: “Guys… Let’s do it!”. With Julien, we jumped for joy: a page is being turned, another has just been written!
First days on a sailboat
It didn’t take us long to travel to Langkawi Island, in the north of Malaysia, to find Grant and Trident – a superb 49-foot (about 15m) sailboat with 3 cabins, 2 shower cubicles, a fully equipped kitchen and a large common area. Very quickly, we took our marks on board and a third crew member from Russia, Nadya, joined us. The day before departure, we met on board to celebrate the start of this new adventure and Julien’s birthday with dignity. What had to happen, happened: the next day, the departure had to be postponed to the early afternoon, due to a late collective wake-up call… and last minute checks. But before starting the engine, Grant called us inside for a briefing on safety aboard and a life jackets fitting session. This scene was a reminiscent of when stewardesses give safety instructions on a plane, gracefully pointing out exit points…. The only emergency exit is located at the rear of the boat. If the cabin floods, don’t look for the slides, just run away with a life raft. If only we’d known then, what was waiting for us a few hours later…
Anchor up, Grant at the helm, we found ourselves busy hauling up the buoys and stowing the mooring ropes. That’s it, we were off! As the sailboat slowly made its way through the warm waters of the Andaman Sea, we sat on the deck and enjoyed our first moments on the water with a fresh wind caressing our faces and funny fish (that we called the Mickael Jackson fishes) dancing on the water surface. On Grant’s instructions, we set the front sail: in case of a storm, and as we will be sailing at night, it is better not to take the mainsail out – more complicated to reef. The captain was right: while Nadiya and I were preparing dinner, the sea began to get rough and the boat began to… swing. In an instant we found ourselves at the other end of the cabin, without understanding what had just happened. Like an airplane entering a turbulent area, our sailboat had just entered a very rough sea! Stewards attitude, life jackets. Don’t think about the worst, continue. With Nadiya’s help, I took over the dinner preparation, cooking with one hand, holding on with the other. First positive observation: I don’t get seasick. Second positive observation: despite this mess, the dinner was a success! As the plates got empty and the sun disappeared, we organized ourselves for the night. Nadiya will stay with the captain in the cockpit for the first half. With Julien, we decided to go to bed. Julien wasn’t feeling great, and I was getting tired… But it was pretty difficult to find sleep in these conditions: our bed in v-shape was in the afterward cabin, which turns out to be the least stable part of the ship… At 1.30 AM, I woke up to take my watch: the sea was still rough, and the captain was asleep in the cockpit. This was the moment I was so afraid of – you know, the famous moment when you find yourself alone, as a child, facing elements and the dark night that becomes one with the sea… But when I looked into the distance, it was not the long-awaited nothingness, but dozens of lights reflected on the water, witnesses to the many fishing boats and other cargo ships wandering the seas. This show intoxicates me, and I forgot about the waves, the wind, the bumps. Standing alone behind the helm, I took pleasure in leading the crew and myself to calmer waters.…
It will take us 5 days of sailing to reach the Puteri Harbour, located opposite Singapore. 5 days of non-stop sailing, alternating between night watches and quieter days. 5 days where we learned the basics of sailing, how to operate with an autopilot and a chart plotter. 5 days of sharing, moments of joy, wonder, morning swims in the sea (shortened because of jellyfish stings…), naps, laughter – especially when cargo crews insult each other on on the radio channel 16 reserved for emergencies. During my third night watch, Grant confides to me that he was impressed by our ability to adapt on board, our ease, and asks me if I had ever sailed before: no, never. Mom, yes… She’d be so happy and proud to know that I now have the sea fever!
How to hitchhike a boat?
* Post written according to our personal experience *