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Fantasizing about life on a yacht? Welcome to vessel/crew 'dating' services that could make your dreams come true

Fantasizing about life on a yacht? Welcome to vessel/crew 'dating' services that could make your dreams come true
Yachts exhibited in the Monaco Yacht Show moored up at Port Hercules, Monaco on Sept. 28, 2016. (EPA)

Question: Can you give me any tips on how to find opportunities to sail from Southern California to Hawaii? A few years ago, I sailed from the Caribbean to Portugal on a small sailboat.  I was taken on as crew. There was just the captain, myself and one other crewman. How can I find a situation similar to this, leaving SoCal and ending in Hawaii?

Travis Toon

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Mount Vernon, Ind.

Answer: You've heard of EHarmony, which matches singles (or so they say) with other singles (ditto)? Welcome to what I'm calling Sea Harmony, a whole world that endeavors to match would-be crew with need-some-crew boats.

You'll find such sites as FindACrew (www.findacrew.net), whose website says it "matches and connects boat owners and representatives directly online with crew from anywhere to anywhere in the world";  CruisersForum.com, which offers, besides its matchmaking service, encyclopedic information about boats and the business of boats; and Crewbay.com, a site that was born so Ollie Wells, its founder, could share his love of sailing and help link those in need of jobs with those who have them.

Wells gave me a look inside this world, foreign to me but a kind of home to him. He knows this universe because he lived in it for a time.

There are a couple of kinds of match-ups that can happen, he said: A crew member might catch on, as he once did, to a gig on a vessel, paying a bit of money each day for the privilege of being on a boat that visits some cool places.

On the cusp of becoming a responsible adult, he parlayed sailing skills learned from his father into working parts of three summers on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

Instead of being paid for his work (which sometimes involved cooking, making the "punch" each night, a bit of vessel upkeep and the occasional watch) he was paid about 10 euros a day (about $11 U.S.) to be part of a life he remembers as "magical" and a "dream."

He recalled one night when he was "on the tiller" and "all of a sudden, these torpedoes were coming toward the boat." He realized they were dolphins aglow, thanks to bio-luminescence.

"I was gobsmacked," said Wells, who lives in Devon, England.

From that stint, he graduated to professional crewing, which wasn't quite as enchanting. He worked on super yachts in the south of France, he said, where he spent a lot of time "polishing the boat in the sun all day, which gets pretty boring."

These experiences led to the creation of Crewbay while Wells was still at university, where he was studying graphic design.

"Letting the wind push you from anchorage to anchorage leaves you with a sense of absolute freedom," he said in an email. Right now, Crewbay is a labor of love. The service is free, and there's little advertising.

"Knowing that I am replicating this experience for others is by far payment enough," he said. "We hope to continue our free service no matter how busy we get, so people can essentially hitchhike their way around the world."

His life now is more settled (wife, Anita; son, Axer; dog, Archie; plus a job as an IT engineer for a bank), but he draws satisfaction from helping others.

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One recent email from a Crewbay user said, "I am now on a 42-foot sailboat because of your site, and my life is way much better and I'm way happier now."

Another way to get your foot in the door may be offshore racing, said Andy Turpin, managing editor of Latitude 38, a Northern California sailing publication he described  as a "regional magazine that has outgrown its regionality."

It too offers avenues to catching on with a crew, but Turpin also suggests that more experienced sailors might be able to find work with racers in the Pacific Cup, from San Francisco to Oahu; the Trans Pacific Yacht Race, from Los Angeles to Oahu; or the Vic-Maui Yacht Race, from Victoria, Canada, to the 727-square-mile isle.

Turpin suggested attending prerace events and displaying an enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard. That may be your ticket.

As with any matchmaking, whether in person or online, and whether it's romantic love or the romance of the seas, always proceed with caution. You are your own best safeguard, and if something seems off, don't be afraid to back off.

And remember, you can get to Hawaii on a ship without signing on as crew. Several cruise lines sail from Southern California to the islands (usually stopping at a foreign port to satisfy maritime law). It is all very civil, if civil means that someone else does all the work, you get to direct your own activities and no one will ever ask you to polish the vessel.

You won't get tossed around in a storm — at least, not the way you would on a yacht that's dwarfed by today's behemoth cruise ships.

But there's little adventure on board those behemoths, which is OK unless you harbor a fantasy about running away to sea. And then, Crewbay and its ilk begin to promise a different take on travel that just might change the way you see the world.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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