After I published my post about getting started sailing on tall-ships, my friend Jeremiah suggested that I write about how I got where I am now, aboard a boat halfway around the world. My first response was “But what got me here is networking, not a process you can really give instructions for,” but he thought this was exactly the kind of thing someone “starting out” should know. So…
Not all adventures require a purpose, but this one did. I have a Grandmother who lives in Hobart, Tasmania, and she wanted me to visit. Deciding to go wasn’t tough once the opportunity came up, and deciding to prolong my stay was easier. Why travel to the other side of the world and only stay for two weeks?
One of the great advantages to working on boats, besides the fresh salt air and gorgeous views, is the built-in flexibility in employment with regards to length, location and type. It seemed immediately obvious to me that if I wanted to stay for a few months, I should find a tall-ship to work on while I was in Tasmania. Even if I couldn’t get paid work, I’d be compensated with room and board. Fine by me.
I began researching tall-ships in Australia about a year ago, when I decided to take this trip. This was as simple as Googling “tall-ship Australia”, but keep in mind that many boats escape detection with these seemingly all-inclusive keywords. If you’re looking for a boat, especially if it’s in a specific place, don’t assume your first search will turn up every single one. In fact, the boat I ultimately joined didn’t appear on any of my searches. Some other good search terms include: sailing, cruising, sail-training, schooner, square-rigger, windjammer, traditional ship, wooden boat, traditional rig, sailing crew, deckhand, etc. As well, Tall Ships America and Sail Training International have vessel member lists/databases. Be sure to check these out too, but again, don’t assume that they cover everyone.
Of course having an up-to-date resume on hand is essential, and being an obsessive resume updater myself, I have a lot of tips on that which I’ll save for another article. Go ahead and just send your resume out with a cover letter to everyone you come across, even if they’re not advertising openings. It can’t hurt. I sent off my resume to the half-dozen tall-ships I came across online, and didn’t get any replies. No worries. Not surprisingly, Captains are often offline for days or weeks at a time. If you are persistent, you’ll find your ship.
A quick note about resumes: Don’t think that just because you’re applying to be a “sailor” that a well-written resume isn’t important. Many of these boats have an educational mission, and a professional resume tells your potential captain that you can communicate well, and understand the importance of presentation. (Believe it or not this might make you stand out as an applicant…)
What finally got me my position aboard Windeward Bound was, of course, networking. Once you decide upon your adventure, don’t ever pass up an opportunity to mention it to someone who has even the slightest potential of taking an interest. You never know where the connection will come from. Mine came from my Captain on the Bill of Rights, Stephen Taylor, who just happened to have a friend that does business in Tasmania, and loves tall-ships. I sent this man my resume, and honestly within two days he’d written me that he found me my boat, and had already contacted the Captain on my behalf. From there it was just a few emails back and forth between the Captain and I, and my position was settled.
Now that I’m in Tassie, I’m beginning to work towards my new goal of finding a boat to take me home to the States via the Pacific. This brings me to my final bit of advice for today. There are a million boats out there, and just because they’ve invited you to join, doesn’t mean you should. Different sailors have different standards for safety on the water. Find out what yours is, and don’t settle for a situation that makes you uncomfortable. When I’m looking for a boat to join, I’m evaluating the disposition and experience of the Captain and crew, the type of equipment on board, the state of the gear, and even how tidy their galley is. The smallest detail can tell you a lot about your potential crew-mates and future home. And for my first ocean crossing, I’m happy to wait until I find the right situation.