Hitch hiking across the Atlantic

Hitch hiking across the Atlantic

Despite the best laid plans, research and determination to make this a smooth trip, it didn’t quite work out according to plan and all I can say is… thank god for that!! The trip across the Atlantic ended up including 5 countries, two yachts, 2 quick plane trips and a multitude of great people that I wouldn’t have met had it all gone according to the original plans.

The research commenced back in March 2009, when I joined Crewseekers and findacrew in order to find yachts that would be sailing across the Atlantic in November… There were many boats, however my apparent lack of breasts, blond hair and female genes instantly disqualified me from about 95% of the yachts seeking masseuses, soul mates, platonic friendships, cooks, stewardesses, nannies and beer wenches… looking on the bright side, too much choice can be a bad thing and so I fairly quickly narrowed down my options to approximately 10 boats with whom I initiated dialogue, without going into too many details, I evaluated what I wanted to get out of this trip and tried as best as I could to match the boats needs for crew to my expectations.

And so it was that I ended up committing to crewing with  Max and Bronwyn, an Australian couple from Tasmania, retired and having bought their new Beneteau 46 some 18 months earlier in Europe they were now starting the long trip back to Tasmania from Europe.

The trip interested me for many reasons, firstly Bronwyn was a fair weather sailor which meant that Max and I would be essentially double handing across the Atlantic, a challenge I was looking forward to, secondly Max seemed to have a lot of experience and I was bound to learn a lot from him, thirdly the boat was new, yet tested over the previous 18 months which meant it was likely to be in optimum condition for a comfortable voyage of some 3800 NM and lastly the fact they were Australian and had 3 sons my age gave me a sort of comfort that it would be easy to slip into life aboard in close quarters for the 2 month trip.

And so it was on the 26th of October, I said a long goodbye to Luciana in London (she flew to Sao Paulo 2 days later) and I flew to Cadiz in Spain to Rendezvous with Ariel and her 2 owners.


Having arrived in the late afternoon, Max and Bronwyn instantly made me feel at home and it wasn’t long before we were getting to know each other over a couple of cold beers. Max briefly laid out his plans, We would leave Cadiz, sail to Morocco (about a 1.5 day sail) then wait in morocco for a good weather window and sail across to Arrecife in the Canaries (3-4 days sailing) and then proceed to weave our way through a number of the Canary islands again waiting for favourable weather and aim to set off from there to Martinique in the Caribbean towards the last week of November – expecting this last part of the journey to take approx 18-21 days.


All sounded good, we provisioned the boat with fresh supplies and essentials such as Rum, Whisky and a few bottles of the delicious and cheap Spanish red wine.


The trip to Morocco was a dream trip in terms of getting to know the boat and each other, light, yet consistent winds, plenty of traffic crossing the Gibraltar straights between Europe and Northern Africa which meant that we had to test out the Radar as well as working together at night to ensure we avoided a premature end of Ariel by colliding with a gazillion ton freighter and eventually navigate our way into the tight and shallow channel of Rabat, the capital of Morocco.


I had been in Morocco only 2 weeks earlier travelling by train and bus across the country with Luciana, so it was quite cool to re-enter this north African land by yacht. Bronwyn & Max encouraged me to to take off exploring on my own, which I gladly accepted and went off in search of more photo opportunities, a hand made backgammon set as well as a place to hire a board and go for a surf… over the next 4 days I managed to get 2 out of those 3 things done – the backgammon set wasn’t to be!


Two of my more memorable things from the few days here were meeting the Moroccan surf champion who advised me and lent me a board to go for wave on – great guy, friendly and a unique stand out amongst a crew of fairly aggressive and opportunistic people.


And the second was travelling to Casablanca for dinner at Rick’s cafe – something that max had been looking forward to for some time, a great evening, good food, great wine and many laughs had by all!


and so it was that we decided to make tracks – the weather was predicted to be solid, with 25-30 knots predicted from the North East. We figured it was a good thing as it would be a shakedown for the crew and boat alike and seeing it was from behind for us it shouldn’t be a drama.


The winds ended up being more like 40-45 knots, and we had ourselves a shakedown indeed – got to test out the No4 headsail which performed beautifully on it’s own with no main propelling us at a 7-8 knots down waves that were 6-7M and steep.


We did some hand steering as well as relying on the autohelm which also performed very well – at the end of the three days, we were all tired and glad to drop anchor at Arrecife, but also satisfied and impressed by the way Ariel handled the conditions. SEE SEPRATE BLOG FROM ONE OF THE NIGHTS.

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The next 10 days or so were a mixture of fun & frustration. The canary islands had a lot to offer and would have been good to explore some more, however we had a number of other factors playing against us – planning for the crossing was looming, the conditions worsened which meant we were pinned in a commercial port for some 5 days at anchor and there were cracks appearing in the relationship between myself and Max & Bronwyn.


On the positive side I met up with Gord and Ginny again, a couple from Canada whom Luciana & I had run into in Fez some 4 weeks earlier. Gord  invited us to meet  a number of great people from various boats that they had met along the way. I ended up meeting Michaal and his Son Brian both from California and their crew – a cool dude from Indonesia! We all decided to hire a car and go in search of waves… unfortunately the big winds were still howling and we didn’t manage to get a wave in, but had fun nonetheless exploring Lanzarote island.


By the time we left Arrecife and sailed to Puerto Calero, our spirits had lifted – we had a great little sail and pulled in at 5:00pm, just in time to be invited for the annual Puerto Calero ‘ball’ with free drinks and food.


Bronwyn wasn’t up for it, however Max & I couldn’t contain our excitement, we quickly showered up, put on our best jeans and shirt and headed off in the direction of the party – The world Rally was due to start in 3 days time and many of the crew were participants about to set off on an organised circumnavigation of the world. Needless to say there were many interesting sailing conversations had over dinner, specifically with the three Austrian guys, all retired and having the time of their life on a beautiful Halberg Rassy as well as some great guys and girls from the Uk whom we hung out with till the early hours of the morning.

The next day, we set off again in the direction of Rubicon Marina, in the south of Lanzarote – a very modern, big Marina with a quaint seaside village nearby, a small beach called Playa Blanca and many seaside restaurants, bars and cafes.


Max & I managed to convince Bronwyn (who thought this place was the ass end of the world) to join us for dinner at a traditional Canarian restaurant.. despite her initial protests, she accepted and we all had a good night out, with fresh seafood, cold beer and good local wine!

Early the next day, we set sail or rather we motored down the eastside of Fuertaventura island, by 8:00pm we had snuck into a small port and tied up unnoticed for the night – early next day, we had breakfast and set off for the ‘big smoke’ – Gran Canaria island, or more specifically Las Palmas, the capital of said island… our objective was to do any last repairs and maintenance, stock up on fresh food have some fun and decide whether we would set sail before, with or after the 200 or so boats involved in the 2009 ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers).


In retrospect, I should have probably got off Ariel soon after we arrived in Las Palmas. It was approaching 1 month since I had gotten onboard and the mood was decisively uptight – here’s not the place or the time to discuss the finer points, but simply put things weren’t really working.

For a variety of reasons which are painfully evident in retrospect we collectively decided to continue, although I suspect we all knew it wasn’t going to be ‘smooth sailing’.

Las Palmas offered many highlights, with around 1000 Crew in town who were about to sail across the Atlantic, there was a sailing buzz a kin to Boxing day in Sydney at the CYCA hours before the start of the Sydney to Hobart, except that here it was going for a week with all crew living on their boats in the same marina – regular seminars, the chandleries were perpetually full, and evenings provided a great opportunity to have a beer and exchange ‘war stories’.


It was at one of these evenings that I again met some great guys – One of these guys was a kiwi who was crewing on a 3 week old Wally 80 that was in the invitational Race across the Atlantic – amongst other things he hinted at the fact that they were looking for crew, a fact that was confirmed 2 days later when I was standing with Max & Bronwyn and right in front of me, one of the crew off the Wally 80 announced that they needed an extra crew member – I almost choked and god only knows why I didn’t put my hand up right there and then… but alas I didn’t…


My loyalty was with Ariel and so it was that the day before the start of the ARC rally we set sail across the Atlantic – three of us, with the boat in good condition and most major things fixed and inspected, ready to go – the one thing that was left was to test the water maker that had been playing up since we first tested it some days earlier. Despite Max’s gallant efforts, it wasn’t to be and it turned out the watermaker wasn’t working – we had to make a decision, sail on or pull in to Puerto Mogan, where we knew there was a specialist that could look at it – I cast my vote almost immediately and opted to pull in… Bronwyn also wanted to have it looked at, and so it was, outvoted Max agreed to head into shore. The specialist came onboard and after 2 hours concluded that it was likely there was more than one issue with the watermaker and that it was unlikely to get resolved overnight and in fact would likely take up to a week…

I wasn’t happy, none of us were, however I had a number of factors cursing through my brain – firstly i committed to Luciana to get to Brazil for xmas, secondly I had had a golden opportunity on the Wally 80 that would have got me to the Caribbean in 2 weeks and not only got me to Brazil in time but also allowed me to spend a week or so exploring the Caribbean and the ARC PARTIES in St Lucia!! and thirdly I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t enjoying being on Ariel anymore.


… and so it was that I decided to get off and catch a taxi across the island back to Las Palmas as  a last ditch attempt to get a ride with the ARC boats that were due to set sail at midday the following day – I arrived tired, yet in high spirits and headed straight towards the 3 or 4 boats whom I had met over the previous week or so… The Wally 80 was my first port of call – they looked at me with a "where the f%^ck did you come from look" knowing i had sailed away earlier that day – I explained the situation, however they looked at me regretfully as their new crew stood there looking with a look of "sorry pal. should have been here yesterday!" i tried 2-3 more boats, then proceeded to go door knocking – by 11:00pm I was desperate, tired and in my heart knew that I wasn’t setting sail the next day… I called Max and Bronwyn as agreed as well as texting them but received no answer – I guess I was on my own. I checked into a hotel, had a much needed shower and fell into a blissful sleep.


The next day i was up at the crack of dawn and headed back to the marina for one last try… I put up mini posters with my details, went walking from wharf to wharf and generally gave it my best shot…. The ARC sailed off without me. Beaten but not defeated, i moved my stuff to a youth hostel right near the Marina and gave myself 3 days to find another boat – I made up better posters and spread them around the place, advertising my happy, experienced, easy going, reliable, fun, good at cooking, Australian self – hey there was some tough competition out there with no less than 15 others in a similar predicament to me and at least half of them had that distinct advantage again – they were female.

Within 2 days many boats had come in, and many of them were possibilities, but none were willing to commit and time was ticking… and so it was one night at 3:00 am mulling over what to do, that i recalled the there was a small rally of 34 boats that i had previously been in touch with that was due to sail from Cabo Verde on the west African coast to Brazil – right about now. I fired up my PC, jumped online and quickly looked up where Cabo Verde was in relation to my location – about 1-2 hours flight away from here – I checked out the organiser’s website which confirmed all 34 boats were safely at anchor in Mindelo (Sao Vicente Island) and would be there for the next week – they were due to leave Mindelo on the 30th and were expected to arrive in Brazil between the 15th and 20th of Dec – perfect!!


Next it was onto edreams.com to search for fights – apparently there was 1 flight a week from Las Palams to Praia in Cabo verde – it was the day after tomorrow and was reasonably priced.

The next day I awoke refreshed and excited, headed down to the Marina for one last look, spoke to a few more boats and at  midday decided to head to the airport to book my flight at the office of Cabo Verde airlines – their email was bouncing & website didn’t yet exist – I love it!

By 3:00pm the flight was requested and would take 24 hours to process, I had been to the Cabo Verde embassy and applied for a Visa and my spirits were high!


One last night in Las Palmas spent drinking with some new Irish and kiwi friends and I was on my way – at the last minute I found out that Cabo Verde was in the middle off a Dengue fever  epidemic – what the??!! was this a sign?? well if it was it was too late – I boarder the 1972 model plane, with broken air conditioning, cracked everything and possibly the worse airline food i have ever tasted, but none of it mattered – I was en-route again and excited by the prospect of the point of no return… something would work out!


I landed in Praia 45 minutes late and had 12 minutes to transfer to my connecting flight to Sao Vicente – love Africa – a quick urgent word to the ground hostess and I was ushered straight through and around the corner back onto the tarmac and straight onto the twin prop, even older and more haggard looking plane – unfortunately my luggage wasn’t so lucky…


I landed on the small island of Sao Vicente some 45 minutes later and patiently awaited for my bag – it didn’t arrive… slowly slowly everyone shuffled out and I went to report the missing bag, the girl behind the counter wasn’t surprised – happens every Wednesday! By the time it was all said and done I was the only person left at the airport, no bus, taxi or even information booth – luckily there were 3 policemen who were locking up the airport and offered to give me a ride – good guys!

I checked into the Residencial Beleza, ordered a cold beer and had  a shower – remembered about the dengue fever and proceeded to make sure there were no mosquitoes around – apparently it’s the day mosquitoes that are the carriers, not the night ones?!


The next day I went down to Mindelo, a great little town that promotes itself as the cultural centre of Cabo Verde. The vibe was a mix of things i had experience in other places around the world… Very musical, fishing oriented, with the colonial feel of similar Portuguese influenced countries like Angola and I imagine Mozambique, yet also with a  certain laid back attitude that resembled the pacific islands – this was going to be great fun no matter what!!!!


I found the Marina to be almost full, with the 34 boats in the Iles de soleil rally matched almost 1 for 1 with boats from around the world sailing their own courses heading to either Brazil or the Caribbean. I had a quick scan and quickly headed back to my hotel, started up my laptop and proceeded to design a new poster as well as small flyers that i could hand out to prospective skippers.


Mercado de Peixe – Fish markets


The next 2 days were mainly spent introducing myself in English, French and  even Portuguese to skippers who sadly saw absolutely no use for me beyond a curious interest as to what I was doing here so far from Australia with no ship!!


There were a couple of skippers that showed some interest, but it was hardly a match made in heaven and regardless of where they were heading it was still a minimum 2000 Nautical miles (3,600 kms) that we had to travel together at a likely speed of no more than 10-15kms per hour!!


Slightly depressed, yet buoyed by the atmosphere, the live music, fresh fish and cold beer, I took myself down to the local bar and enjoyed Cabo Verde with locals and tourists alike – it never ceases to surprise me in places like this around the world how friendly the local crew can be… instantly interested in your plight and eager to help I had 3 or 4 guys promoting my services…


Every evening and even the occasional afternoon when I wondered into the local sailors bar, they would welcome me with open arms "oi Australiano… we have some news – Austrian guy looking for crew, Trimaran going to Brazil… so many options, yet again nothing confirmed! Damn…


and so it was for the next few evenings, having a couple of beers. listening to some great live music, meeting people – on my last night in Cabo Verde, (not realizing it was going to be my last night) I was feeling sorry for myself, having spent the afternoon reading a great book, I decided to stay in and continue reading… at 9:30pm or so, I finished the book and pushed along by an empy pit in my stomach I headed down to the bar to get a bite to eat and have a beer…


It was there that I met Lasse and Anders – two 29 year old Danish guys who, along with a third friend, had a dream 4 years ago to sail across the Atlantic before they were 30 – they had bought Dania, a 42 foot custom built steel cruiser some 3 years earlier and were 1/3 of the way on their 12 month long adventure.


Unfortunately Dennis, their 3rd crew member had broken his leg quite badly some 3 weeks earlier in a kite boarding accident. We’d barely had one beer each when we mutually realized that we could help each other out… by 11:00pm we’d decided to head home to our respective shelters in order to sleep on what was a very last minute decision – they were leaving at 3:00pm the next day…. Some things in life just feel right and this was one of them!!


By 2:00pm the next day, a Saturday no less, I had checked out of my hotel, had convinced the customs guy to make a special visit to the office in order to stamp me out of the country, had bought some extra water and supplies for the boat and was happily settling into my new home for the next 2-3 weeks.


The guys warned me that they had no shower onboard, ate mostly baked beans and lived a fairly simple existence… most of it was a joke, because apart form the fact that we don’t have a shower onboard and a very limited supply of fresh water, all else turned out to be as good as it could possibly get – and even the saltwater deck shower concept has turned out to be a great experience!


We shared many mutual interests, none less than fishing – and with approximately 30 hours to go our tally stands as follows:

Mahi Mahi (Dorado)

15 x Mahi Mahi (Dorado)



2 x Wahoo


3 x Large Tuna




1 x Marlin (over 2 metres long caught by yours trully!!)


and countless flying fish that just jump on deck.



Unwrapping half way party gifts! only 1100 Nautical miles to go!

Another great sunset as we head west!

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We’ve been spending the days and nights talking, reading, listening to music, swapping stories, thinking about life and counting our blessings as we have unanimously agreed  that it’s been by far the best imaginable ocean crossing we have ever done.


The wind has blown consistently as predicted – ranging from 15 to 30 knots, always from the ENE and allowing us to sail virtually dead downwind and directly to our target, so much so that our shortest possible route was 2103 Nautical miles and we’ll sail 2200 or so in total which represents a very efficient track indeed!


The food has been second to none. Anders specialises in baking all sorts of breads, we’ve had fresh rye bread, wholemeal, sunflower seed as well as a few others.


We’ve taken turns cooking lunches and dinners and have had the following array of meals:


– Mahi Mahi fillets on Rye with tomatoes & fresh aioli


– Panfied Mahi mahi

– Spaghetti Mahi-nara

– Baked Dorado in olive oil and onions served with mashed potatoes


– Wahoo Sushi and Sashimi

– Battered Wahoo with roasted garlic potatoes

– Mahi Mahi marinated in lemon juice and tossed in a fresh salad

– Wahoo marinated in lemon juice and soy, served raw

– Chicken curry

– Meatball curry


– Tuna Sashimi and seared tuna Sushi

– Tuna salad

– 2 minute noodles for the occasional snack

– and breakfasts of muesli, fresh fruit and yoghurt!


Dania, our home on the high seas is amazingly well equipped, and the guys have done a lot of research and preparation for their 12 month odyssey. It’s been an absolute pleasure to sail and live onboard.  A special mention needs to go out to Aries, our wind vane self steering – I had never actually used one of these before but had read and heard many stories – it’s worked flawlessly for us, from steering dead on track for hours on end in all sorts of winds through to holding us in position as we Heaved to in order to make it easier to pull a fish in – a definite 4th crew member and one that we couldn’t have done without!


We’ve also been using a Pactor modem, over HF radio for brief email communications. I had used one of these previously with limited success – however it seems the further you are in the ocean the better it works… so much so, that I managed to communicate regularly with my ground crew, namely Luciana and my sister Agatha, who have been awesome in organising flight for me from Trinidad to Sao Paulo, via Miami… thanks grrrrls!! Couldn’t have done it without you!


It also meant that I head through the grapevine, that my great old Mate Foz got engaged to Anna…Congratulations guys!!! …what a great piece of news and I couldn’t think of  a better place to hear it – we had a small rum and coke in your honour the other night!! 😉


And so as i write this we have 218 Nautical miles to go before we arrive in Tabago. Looking forward to a shower, a good night’s sleep (we take turns onboard watching the boat round the clock, 3 hours on, 6 hours off) and of course one or two Caribbean rums!!!


It will be sad saying goodbye to the guys, we’ve become great friends over the past 2 weeks and I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to share my first Atlantic crossing with! Good luck with the rest of your journey.


For me, I’ll catch a ferry from Tabago to Trinidad, spend a night in a hotel somewhere and then jump on an early morning flight on the 20th and should be in Sao Paulo by that evening in time for the next adventure – meeting Luciana’s friends and family, a Brazilian xmas and New Years and whatever lies beyond in 2010!!


Wishing you all (all 1 of you that has gotten this far????) a Merry Xmas and a happy and rewarding 2010!!!





Dania Safely at anchor in Pirate’s Bay, northern Tobago


Heading ashore after 2,200 Nautical miles at sea


Terra firma – in the land of rum nonetheless!


Picture tells a thousand words – or in this case three!


Certainly is the land of colours!



Sunset fishing with the locals



Anders getting into another form of fishing!




Barbeque of freshly caught fish on the beach! ah…mon, is THA life!

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. filip

    yeah! that’s the best read on the internet i have had all year. a true adventure 🙂 Godspeed Gavin

  2. Samantha

    Awesome expereince Gav – and thanks for sharing it – and I got all the way through 🙂
    Have a great Christmas!

  3. Dors Strudwick

    Hi Gav

    Congrats on making it across in 1 piece. Have just sat here for the past 15 minutes completely engrossed in your epic adventures. I’m so completely jealous of your experiences! It looks amazing! enjoy your well earned break in Brazil with your beautiful girl Luciana….see you in Sydney sometime,

    Dors, Phil & Maiya x

  4. Kez

    Gav…..what an ADVENTURE! Pat and I have just been sitting here enthralled – I want to have an adventure now, too!
    Congrats on the crossing, take care of yourself, have an AMAZING time in Brazil and…………..MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

    Much love,

  5. Matty C

    Sitting here with a great big grin on my face, sounds like an awesome trip, well done mate.
    Good luck in Brazil with “whatever that brings”.

    Say Hi to Luciana from the Carter clan.

    merry xmas
    Matt, Mel, Grace and Tom

  6. Karen & Craig

    Hey Gav,

    What an awesome experience! Great read and we’re completely jealous!! Have a fabulous Chrissy and New Year and look forward to hearing more stories!

    Craig, Karen, Lopez & Zahli

  7. Pete

    Ah Gav,

    You never cease to amaze!
    What a fantastic voyage!

    This is a very belated message I know but Frano & I are wine tasting our way through California at the moment and have been thinking of you guys and how things are going.
    Send our love to Luciana and hope 2010 is as good as 2009!

    Pete & Frano

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