How to find a boat for hitchhiking across the Atlantic Ocean

by Jakob Horvat, January 12th 2017, Las Palmas / Gran Canaria
„Sex. It’s not what this is about, but it grabbed your attention.“ When competing with dozens of others for a place on a boat for hitchhiking across the Atlantic Ocean, we better have a catchy opener on our announcement to stand out. It worked out, after three days the people in the port knew us. Some even recognized us by our picture on the blackboard. That we finally found a boat was not due to a cocky headline though. Patience, persistence and a lot of footwork were our keys to success.

It smells like barbecue

Colorful salads, chicken skewers with curry and plenty of side dishes make the buffet table the center of attention. Sailors from Canada, Mexico, Australia, the United States, England and Austria stand around it, drink beer and wine and eat from the finger food. Christian and Karin, two sailors from Austria we met the day before, invited us to this New Years Eve barbecue in the small side port of Puerto Deportivo, Las Palmas. The wind is on our side these days. The usually so reliable trade winds are supposed to blow from north-east in this season, that’s what you want in your sails when going across the Atlantic. Now the winds are coming from south-east. „Climate change“, they say. That proves the patience of many sailors as they are waiting for the winds to change again before they start their voyage. And it gives us a time window of around ten days to find a boat.


We had fun this evening

Although all the six catamarans of the twenty people who joined the barbecue are full and not searching for crew, we had great talks and a good time. Our strategy is not to rush it. We try to connect with as many sailors as possible without asking them directly for a ride. If they ask us what we are up to, we tell them. Those who have their boat here know each other and talk about mutual interests. If one searches for crew we want to make sure that our impression was good enough to be remembered. When we click with a person, we hand out our CV’s and ask them to keep an eye open. Being recommended by one sailor to another at the right moment is what we aim for.

Martin in front of a blackboard in the port of Las Palmas. Dozens of hitchhikers are searching for boats, many of them are well experienced sailors.

Homeschooling and Christoph Columbus

The port of Las Palmas is a hotspot for adventurers these days. Many sold their properties, their cars, everything they owned. And invested their money in a good boat to make their dream come true and sail around the world. Not only rich people, by the way. Those with kids are homeschooling them, such as Kylie from Australia. „Which subject are you working on right now?“, I ask. „Christoph Columbus“, she says. That’s a good topic to learn at sea. Two hours of classes every day on a boat in the sunshine. How many kids dream about that, I wonder? And yet how much more can they learn for their lives here than in school? Never have I ever been in the urgent need of calculating the area of a circle. But calculating the food supplies for four people and three weeks on a boat, that’s rather practical maths. „Our children can learn life skills here that many others don’t“, Kylie says. That’s pretty much what all homeschooling sailors here agree on. When Lilly, Kylie’s nine year old daughter stops by, I ask her how she likes school. „Mom is not doing really well“, she jokes. „What can you tell me about Christoph Columbus?“, I ask her, „was he a good guy or a bad guy?“ „Both“, she says. I’m impressed.

Puerto Deportivo in Las Palmas has space for around 1200 boats. Many of their owners are waiting for the trade winds to change to north-east.


Finding a boat for hitchhiking across the Atlantic is a matter of time – and luck

Some find it within two days, some are still searching after two months. Day by day we went to the port, climbed fences that (should) prevent intruders like us from getting to the boats. OK, we were breaking the rules. But we had Gin and Tonic in our daybags, and there’s little things a chilled drink offered in the right moment can’t fix. Rather fascinating how quickly it can turn skeptical faces into friendly ones. We chatted up between ten and twenty sailors a day – that’s more or less one hundred people we talked to in seven days. Some conversations were short and pragmatic, others were long and joyful. And some brought up inspiring stories that touched me. Let me share one with you.


Everything is possible!

„My friends asked me if I am crazy“, Andreas tells us how people reacted on his decision to quit his job. At that time he already got our fullest attention. Born in Madrid the 42-year-old lived in California and Switzerland and returned to Spain to work as an environmental engineer in a big spanish company. „An incredibly well paid job“, he completes. „Cars and motorbikes, a penthouse in Madrid downtown, amazing partys, all you can ask for!“ But one day Andreas woke up and questioned it all. So he quit his job that – according to his friends – „many people would like to have“. Andreas and his wife Sophie sold their stuff, found renters for their house, bought a catamaran and started sailing around the world with their two children. Their daughter has special needs, she is sitting in a wheelchair. „She is eleven years old but needs to be taken care of like a one-year-old. Sometimes we are having troubles lifting her out of the boat“, Andreas tells with a relaxed but serious voice. His story reminds me of so many people I talked to while traveling. „I would so love to do what you do“, many of them said. „So what keeps you from doing it?“, I usually ask. „The children, you know. Once they are grown up, I’ll do it“, is a common answer.

Andreas’ daughter is sitting in a wheelchair. That doesn’t keep him from living life to the fullest together with his family.

That day I felt so grateful, even though we haven’t found a boat. Andreas’ was already full with a crew from England – his family awaits him in the Caribbean. But I’ve realized that this whole search is more than finding a ride. It’s a chance to get in touch with people who seriously know about life. And to hear uplifting quotes like the one from Andreas:

„Sticking to a goal when you feel it is motivation. Sticking to a goal when you don’t feel it is patience.“

Follow the journey of and connect with Andreas and his family on

Patience and motivation are keywords

Not every day was like the one we met Andreas. There had been evenings where we returned from the port demotivated and tired. There is probably no way to avoid that. One day we had been very close, but another hitchhiker was there before us. Another day we were first but the boat wanted crew with great sailing experience, which we don’t have. My mission is to hitchhike to America and I want to reach that goal. I can feel the desire that comes with following this dream. That makes it easy to forget what this is all about. It sometimes even keeps me from enjoying the journey itself. And with all the lessons I’ve learned in the past four weeks I can state more than ever: traveling is not about the destination, not about getting somewhere. Neither is life in general. And music is not about the end of the piece. It’s about the piece itself. „And for heaven’s sake“, I remind myself, „don’t forget to dance while the music is being played!“

Lost my travel buddy, found a boat

Two weeks after we arrived in Las Palmas Martin decided to take a plane back home to Norway. His work with politics became more serious recently. I was impressed big time how he managed to organize an election campaign for the green party in his region while he was traveling with me. The time for his journey is limited, he only got a few weeks left and his girlfriend was waiting for traveling South America together with him. That’s two freaking good reasons to go home and take a flight to America instead of spending weeks on sailing across the Atlantic. When Martin told me about his decision, we sat down in the sunshine in the port and cheered with a Gin Tonic on this amazing journey of two months we’ve been on together. We had not even finished our drinks when my telephone rang and Christian and Karin – who invited us for the barbecue on New Years Eve – said: „We have a boat for you!“ They recommended us to an austrian captain who sails across the big ocean on February 2nd. This proves first and foremost one thing to me: When we let go of our goals and expectations, when we stop forcing and even caring about it, we give way for the unexpected to happen.

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