You want the real secret we used to find ships to travel around the world with? How we were able to find a ride in Tahiti before we even pulled into port? Well, here it is:
Find a fleet. Travel with it. Make friends.
Wait, find a fleet? What the heck does that mean? Are we joining the Spanish Armada here or going for a vacation?
A ‘fleet’ is a term we use to describe a group of recreational ships that travel together from one general destination to another.
Usually, they follow predictable weather patterns every year. This is because sailors are obsessed with finding the best “weather windows” for their sailing, which is a good thing because it makes for the best ride. For example, ships sail from the western side of North America to Mexico from late October – December. Another fleet leaves Mexico & Panama to sail for Tahiti every year in the March/April timeframe. These arrival and departure windows are predictable from year to year.
In order for you to understand why the ships go where they do when they do would require a lot more text than we can include in this article. Suffice to say that our planet has generally predictable weather patterns and recreational sailing vessels often travel using those patterns to their advantage. All you need to understand is that most boats travel to the same places at about the same times.
You can find a lot of these events, along with links to their websites, on our races & rallies page.
Why does this matter to you when all you want to do is hop on a boat and see the world? Well, when you can find a group of 30 ships gathered in one port at the same time all getting ready to sail to the South Pacific, then your chances of finding a ride to Bora Bora just got a lot better, right?
So how do you find these ‘fleets’? It’s actually quite easy. You see, sailors have already figured out that they all like to go to the same places at the same times and many have just decided to make a floating party out of the whole affair. As you will quickly discover while sailing around the world, sailors love to get together and have a good time. These floating parties / travelling groups come in two varieties: Rallies and Races.
Races are competitive Some more than others. As you will see on our blog, we have taken part in a few “races” that were at best the loosest definition of the term. Boats mostly went in the same direction, there was a finish line, but everyone forgot to bring the winners list to the after party. Other races are very serious and captains spend a lot of time and money tricking out their performance boats to win the cup. They can be very high stress but if you’re the competitive type, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better fit to get your fix than a serious racing ship! If you are going to get involved in a distance race, know how serious both the race and your prospective captain are about it.
Some examples of multi day races you might be able to get in on are the Newport to Bermuda Race and the Catalina Island race out of San Diego. All of these races have ships involved that are looking for people who have a few days to a few weeks to spare to round out their crew in order to travel to an exotic location by boat.
Rallies are more relaxed and are usually put together so people can sail to a location at the same time, have fun and have the assurance that other people are there if they need help. The pace is more relaxed and the priority is on everyone travelling together. A great example of a sailing rally is the trip we took with our first ride, the Baja Ha-Ha. In 2009 over 180 ships left San Diego on October 26th and sailed down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There we barbecues on the beaches, anchoring out in some inaccessible bays in Baja Mexico, a stop in a little Mexican fishing village that gets REALLY excited about 100 ships descending on their little town to buy tacos and just generally people taking their time to really enjoy themselves and the journey.
Volunteer crew are needed for some of the ships because overnight transits are made during rallies and no one wants to stay up all night and be too tired to party the next day. I’m serious, that’s really the reason. Also, some ships have the philosophy of “the more the merrier” and just love to give people a chance to sail.
For our first boat in the baja haha, we got lucky as alternates off an internet crewlist that we mentioned in our previous article. The captain’s first crew couldn’t make the trip to Cabo so we got called and a few days later we were off to San Diego to begin the trip of a lifetime, and he even covered the food for the rally!
When we got to our boat we also found out something remarkable: the rally organizers actually help crew find boats! The rally sponsors have an online crew database we mentioned last article but they also sponsor an annual captain / crew meet and greet in San Francisco, and in San Diego at the before-the-rally party, they let crew looking for a ride make an announcement to the whole fleet! There were people walking around with signs on their chests saying “experienced sailor looking for a ride to Cabo.” While we personally wouldn’t recommend putting all your hopes and dreams of travel on a single sign at a single party, people did it and some of them did find rides. Heck, if it didn’t work they could just hop a bus to Cabo and meet people at the after party, where the sponsors allowed crew to announce where they were looking to go again!
So how do you find this stuff out? Where do you find out when & where your local cruising rallies and races happen? Again, it goes back to being involved in the local sailing community. This stuff isn’t kept secret, in fact the organizers actively advertise it! Your local yacht clubs know all about this stuff. Also, local sailing publications promote it. That local sailing school where you took a class and the local racing team we told you to join for the cost of a pack of sodas? One of them knows what’s coming up in the sailing world. Or, you could just check out the list of races and rallies we keep in the “how to crew” section of our blog.
Now that you know how to find a fleet, our next article will show you how to travel with it for free.
(we originally wrote this article for our friends over at www.DIWYY.com and we wanted to include it here as well.)
Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out atwww.CoastGuardCouple.com!