Jan 062012

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…

041_Australia Day 2011 Flotilla & Darling FireworksNot 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.

Tall ship (1/20)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 The Leeuwin sailing ship, from the Endeavourresume 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 toEnterprize 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.

Endeavour & Sydney

Dec 212011

One of the thoughts I had when creating this blog was to make it a resource for people who are captivated by the idea of an adventuring lifestyle on the sea, and want to know how to make it happen. I did not grow up on the water, and until I was 20 had never myself experienced what has now become the predominant force in my life: the thrill of being driven through a frothy chop, sails tight against a steady breeze, with the sun happily bearing witness to this greatest of partnerships between man and nature.

And yet, HERE I AM, preparing to embark on another boat-based journey, once again following this passion to a new part of the globe. I’m not saying that this life is easy, comfortable or lucrative (although parts of the industry certainly are). It is, however, doable…if you truly want it.

I’m going to start a section called “Methodology” to address this topic. Please email me at stephanie@shesails.net or just comment on this post if you have any specific questions along these lines. Otherwise, I will answer questions that I’ve been asked in the past. Starting with…

This could be you! Photo by Matt Millar

Can I get a job on a boat without experience?

The answer, as you might expect, is absolutely yes! I got my start on Traditional Tall-Ships, and for people without any experience on the water at all, I think that this is a great place to get your start. It’s definitely not for everybody, but as a launch pad, it has a lot of advantages. Since it’s where I have almost all of my experience, I’m going to start here.

The goods: Tall ships are a great place to learn, and are a relatively easy industry in which to find work. Many are operated by non-profits that specialize in education, and thus are perfectly suited to train newbies. Plus, they often can’t pay very much, so they’re always looking for enthusiastic new recruits! Camaraderie is the name of the game on these traditional boats, not only because of the serious teamwork required to make them go, but because of the hardships you’ll certainly have to endure together. So if you’re looking for a “professional” community to welcome you with open arms, this is it.

The questionables: The pay, as mentioned, is often pretty low, although room and board is almost always covered. The culture, to some, can seem quite base (best not to be easily offended by swears or bodily functions), and, ironically, also stuck-up (try to tell a tall-ship sailor the right way to do anything!). The most important caveat that I would give anyone getting their start on tall-ships is: Don’t think that being able to crew a tall-ship means that you know how to sail. To really understand sailing, you’ll eventually have to find your way to a small boat, and sail it yourself.

The connections: Here are some websites that have become a standard part of my seasonal tall-ship job-search. My best advice at this point is to explore, inquire and check back often!

Tall Ships America Billet Bank: This is the best resource I’ve found for hunting jobs on tall-ships. When you’re in the heat of the search, check this daily!

Maine Windjammer Association: This website contains links to 13 of the almost 20 schooners (and one ketch!) that operate in mid-coast Maine June-September. Apply in January. Spring outfit usually starts in April. The Maine coast is one of the most beautiful and interesting places to sail in the world.

Sail Training International: I’ve never actually followed up on a lead from this one, but they do seem to have an active billet bank. Most of the postings are for Captains or mates, but on occasion there will be openings for volunteers with less experience. Mostly it’s just fun to imagine sailing off to exotic places…

So, that’s all I have for now. Other sailors: any thoughts to add?