Boat Hitchhiking Part 7: The Languages of Sailing

Boat Hitchhiking Part 7: The Languages of Sailing

Long distance sailors are a mixed bunch of nationalities but the following are particularly common:

French, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and British.

Without a doubt, there are more French sailors in the Canaries than any other nationality and they are particularly fond of going to the Cape Verdes and Senegal before crossing the Atlantic.

Germans, Norwegians, Swedes and Dutch usually have astounding fluency in English but French sailors may have considerably less if any at all.

It goes without saying that people onboard a boat must, to some extent, understand each other. As languages go, English is a useful one but if you speak any French, you will blossom in the sailing community.

When reading crew adverts in the Canaries, many boat-hikers are from European countries other than the UK and plenty have at least two or three languages. This makes them pretty inviting over those who only speak one, not just because they have more boats to choose from but also because they can offer to teach languages to skippers.

If you don’t speak any language except for English then French boats may be harder to find passage on, despite the fact there are more of them crossing than any other nationality.

Nevertheless, plenty of French sailors do speak reasonable English and plenty of English people suddenly remember much more French from school that they imagine when faced with a language barrier.

There are plenty of British boats crossing the Atlantic, but not as many as the other nationalities listed above with the exception of Dutch. If you only speak English, make it known that you are enthusiastic to learn their language, even if they speak English as a second language. Sharing languages in fun, practical and brings people together. There’s nothing funnier than hearing people mispronounce something so badly it means something rather rude.

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