It’s 2011 and 12-year-old Henry Hallatt arrives for his first OnBoard lesson at Horning SC, Norfolk. Although not a stranger to the water, it’s a new experience to start in an Optimist during the club’s Thursday sessions.

Fast forward to December 2019, and Henry's in Palma, Mallorca starting work on one of the world’s most iconic yachts, the 'J Class' Endeavour, a 40m yacht built by Camper and Nicholson for the 1934 America’s Cup Challenge. This is how it happened.

What drew you to sailing?

As a kid I was never an excellent sailor but I always loved being on the water. After working as a watersports instructor in America for a couple of months after finishing my A Levels, I started looking into bigger sailing trips. The idea of exploring by water really appealed to me and I had the time to do this between between college and university.

How did you find out about those opportunities?

I looked online at crewing websites, such as Crew Seekers and Ocean Crew Link, for a boat that would take me on as unpaid junior crew. I didn’t mind where I went and made myself available to anyone. As I was 17 lots of people wouldn’t take me on, but when I was 18 got more interest.  

At the same time, I contacted Oyster Yachts in Wroxham, with whom I had done work experience whilst in high school. I explained I was looking for an adventure and might be interested in getting into the yachting industry. I said if they knew of anyone anywhere in the world who might want an extra pair of hands, I was ready to fly out right away. 

Two days later I got an email from a Swiss captain who was about to cross the Atlantic on his newly-built 60ft yacht. Just two days after that first email in November 2016  I was flying to Gran Canaria to take part in my first ocean passage!

What was your first experience of sea sailing?

This ended up being a comfortable, relatively easy passage over 3,000 nautical miles and 22 days. It was quite a leap as everyone on board spoke German and I didn’t even know if I would be seasick! By the time I got to Las Palmas in the Caribbean, I'd fallen in love with ocean sailing.

If the trip had ended there I'd have been in a good position to find another boat. I had a lot more sea miles, could stand my own watch, had a reference form the Captain and didn't get seasick. But the owner said I could stay for as long as I wanted. His plan was to sail through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific as part of a Round the World Rally.

Due to unfortunate health problems, he didn't feel comfortable going through to the Pacific. But, desperate to continue west, I sent an email to the rest of the fleet, along with the Captain’s recommendation, asking if anyone needed crew. 

What happened next?

In March 2017, after doing some cruising in the Caribbean, I got an email from one of Rally boats. They had a crew member leave and were on their way to the Galapagos Islands. They wanted me to meet them there ready for the long passage to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

This was a big step up because I'd be paid and the contract was until we got to New Zealand. On this boat I sailed through some of the most special places in the world; setting off on a 21-day passage to the Marquesas two days after getting on the boat, then going on to the Tuamotus, Tahiti and the Society Islands, Fiji, Tonga before finishing in New Zealand.

By the time I got to Fiji, the university, which I forgot to inform about my trip, sent a very confused email asking where I was. I just replied, "I'm sailing around the world, I don't think I'll make it to class!"

Once I'd reached New Zealand I had gone too far to stop, I wanted to go all the way around. I found another Rally boat, which was leaving in four months, and paid for me to fly home for Christmas. I joined that boat in another paid position in April 2018.

We went from New Zealand to Vanuatu, Australia, Indonesia, Christmas Island, Cocos Keeling, Mauritius, Reunion, South Africa for Christmas and New Year, St Helena, Ascension Island, French Guyana, finishing up the Caribbean. I extended my contract to deliver the boat to New York in May 2019. 

What experiences have you had whilst sailing?

I learnt to dive, swam with sharks, manta rays, humpback whales and whale sharks. I climbed an active volcano, went to some of the world's most remote places, made lifelong friends and got paid for the privilege.

I did this whole two-and-a-half year trip without any qualifications. All I did was make myself available, be flexible, take every opportunity that presented itself and sent some emails. The most important attributes to living and working on a boat are being able to get on with people in a small space, keeping a level head in a stressful situation and always be willing.

What’s next for you?

When I came home in June 2019, I got myself the relevant standard qualifications (STCW 95, ENG1, Yachtmaster Offshore). I then signed up for all the crew agencies I could find and told myself I would wait for the perfect job. It took quite a few months, but then I accepted an offer to work on Endeavour in Palma. I believe with circumnavigator and a J Class on my CV, I will have my pick of jobs in the future. I want to become 1st Mate / Skipper of a 40+metre world cruising sail yacht.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I wholeheartedly believe there's nothing special about me and anyone who makes themselves available could do the same thing. It was without a doubt the best decision I've ever made. Just because it doesn't happen right away, doesn't mean it won’t happen.