On the Road

Sailing for Travelers

By Joe Brana

Travelers of old sailed the darkened seas. You can still do so today.

I still remember the day I got onto my first sailboat. It was a few years ago, making a small passage through the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. We packed our short list of essential items (hat and suncream) and headed down to the docks and hopped on board.

Shortly after we left the docks, our skipper Glenn raised the sails and turned the engine off. The yacht was still somehow crashing along as I listened to the bow wave splash off the sides of the hull. Being an engineer by trade, I found the mechanics of the yacht amazing and questioned how this couple ton vessel could plow through the water with only the power of an invisible energy, wind. I didn’t know it at the time but that day was the beginning of a new life for me.

Shortly after this event I found myself sailing around Sydney Harbour on numerous different yachts for free with little experience. I spent my day down at the marinas in the city looking to get on anything that had sails. I spoke with owners whenever I had a chance and asked them a few questions about their yachts to show that I was keen. Show a strong interest in the yachting industry and with a little charm and wit owners will take you out for a sail. I was absorbing the terminology and at the same time trying to make sense of this new world. It was all new to me but as I learned more and more each day it got easier and easier to be sailing around the harbour.

I started to meet a few people that were doing this hobby as a livelihood. Signed up as crew available for races, the list of things you can do to get into sailing is endless. But in the end, one thing to realize is that normally only one person owns a yacht and they need your help to take it out.

Here I am a few years later living in Sydney and working for a few major sailing companies in the Sydney area. A few jobs that I took were sail training, offshore deliveries, corporate charters, whale watching, snorkeling trips, etc. It doesn’t matter, the mechanics of sailing remain the same whether you are looking for whales or perfect waves to surf. Once you learn how to properly sail a vessel you can go to any country in the world and only a few small things will change. It’s a highly portable skill and not dependent on nationalities or cultures because it’s fundamentals come from physics.

A few things you need to realize before plunging into this industry is it’s a lifestyle and NOT a high paying job. I have never heard anyone begin a sentence with “I made a few million dollars last year sailing….” It will cover your bills and maybe a few extras. I work with a skipper that has sailed over 75,000 nautical miles (1 1/2 times around the world) and he drives a bicycle to marina in the morning but takes out 2 million dollar yachts around the harbour and gets paid for it.

I would eliminate any doubts you might have before getting into a sailing job. In addition sailing is extremely weather dependent and you must have patience. Somedays you might show up to work and its blowing 40 knots and you just turn around and go home with no pay. Other days you might fly to another part of the world to find out the boat you were going to deliver to some other part of the world just sunk. It’s an industry that changes from hour to hour and you have to be ready to accept that and move on.

On the positive side you are disconnected from the hassles of land. Traffic is minimal to say the least. I spoke with a skipper that crossed the Indian Ocean over 12 days and didn’t see a single bird! , boat, or plane. Also you are traveling across a part of our planet that is primitive and it’s massive with water being 70% of our planet. The Pacific Ocean alone is larger in area then all the land on the planet combined.

So if your dream is to float around our enormous, remote, picturesque oceans then my advice to you is head down to your nearest marine and start asking questions. Many marinas often have whiteboards with owners looking for crew. And in the beginning it’s not important what size sailboat you get on just that you get on something. The more time you spend on the water the more experienced you will be regardless of what water and vessel you spend time on.

Joe Brana

Where is he now? Some say the South Pacific, some say Mexico. No one knows for sure.