In the early 1990s, my husband, Monty, and I took early retirement, stepped aboard our Gulfstar 39, Salsa, and didn’t come back to our home in Marblehead, Massachusetts, for five years. Our meanderings took us from Newfoundland to South America and nearly everywhere in between.
In 1998 we brought Salsa back to New England. Wonderful summers downeast ensued, but we missed the siren song of the new and unexpected. There were no Rastafarians catching our lines in Maine, no friendly dolphins to swim with, no castles in the air. Castles! That’s what we craved next. We could have flown to Spain or Germany or the UK, but Monty and I like visiting the damp edges of places. We’ve learned that’s how you get to know a place, by hauling a dinghy up on a beach and asking directions to the nearest tienda, hardware store, or castle.
We wanted to sail to Wales—for the castles and much more, as it is the country of Monty’s forebears. No, belay that idea. We wanted to sail in Wales, not to Wales. We wanted to see for ourselves—from the Menai Strait, not from a bus—Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (which translates as “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rushing whirlpool and the church of St. Tysylios of the red cave”). We wanted to know what the Lundy and Irish Sea Pilot meant when it talked of “yachts that can take the ground” or “training walls with perches.” No, flying to Wales wouldn’t do.
So we arranged a boat swap by putting an ad in the British sailing magazine Yachting Monthly, and found Jennifer and Rod, who offered up Jadocam, their 29-foot Van de Stadt Trintella. We flew the American flag from Jadocam’s port spreader and never saw another foreign cruiser, not even Scottish or Irish or English ones. Strangers gave us fish, fishermen offered moorings, we couldn’t pay for our own pints in the pubs, and we couldn’t get a good sea story in edgewise. And, yes, we saw castles: Aberystwyth, Caernarfon, Conwy, Criccieth, and others. At each spot we beached the dinghy and stormed the ramparts from the sea (see SAIL August 2000).
Hooked on swapping, Monty and I have done it twice more since then. In 2002, dreaming of exotic jungles, chilled cachaça, and samba on the beach, we discovered a boat exchange website (now defunct) and swapped with Gustau and Elena in southern Brazil. We sailed their 36-foot Fast sloop, Esplai II, beneath the soaring mountains of Serra do Mar and in and around the Ilha Grande archipelago (see SAIL May 2002). Then, in 2010, we arranged another swap with Drew and Carol in Scotland.
In each case, our swap partners came to the U.S. and sailed Salsa. Their experiences were as wonderful as ours.
We considered the risks. What if something broke? What would insurance cover? How could we be sure our swap partners were responsible? We had done several house swaps, both nationally and internationally, and learned that letters, phone calls, photos and e-mails can tell you a lot about strangers.
By the time we arranged our swaps, these strangers had become friends. We knew where they had sailed and in what conditions; we knew how they made their livings, what their hobbies were and whether they had a sense of humor. Our insurance company told us that since no money was changing hands, it was considered a boat loan—rather like letting your sister borrow your car—and no extra coverage would be required.
We also turned a boat-borrower’s eye on Salsa. Would anyone know where to look for the bilge pump light? What if they turned on the hot-water heater without being plugged in at a marina? We replaced a few incidentals, did a better job of labeling, and wrote out a long set of instructions.
We made sure that dry goods, cleaning products and linens were aboard, as well as our sea boots and foul-weather gear. We left books, charts, CDs and games in their places. And then, just to be sure, we arranged our swaps in such a way that we could personally show our partners the ropes, and vice versa.
Then we took the chance—just like we’d taken the chance to try a cup of chichi in the San Blas Islands at a coming-of-age party for a young Kuna girl; just like we’d eaten tepisquitli (jungle rat) in a Guatemalan riverside village; just like we’d sailed 6,000 miles from Newfoundland to Venezuela and back again. And aren’t we glad we did. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Boat Swap Websites
These sites are only databases with no guarantees. However, the type of people who list on them are probably just like you:
Boatswap.info is a Dutch site with listings for boats all over the world. A current sampling includes an Elan 36 in the Adriatic, an Ericson 28 in the San Juan Islands and a Vindo 40 in Sweden.
Seemysea.com is a French site with over 200 boats listed. I counted 22 possibilities in France alone.
Sosimpleholidayswaps.com is an Aussie site with some intriguing listings, including a catamaran in South Africa.