Cruising relationships are different

Sailboats lined up on jackstands in a shipyard

Familiar names come into focus on the hulls of sailboats as Jamie and I walk along the gravelly hardstand rows. It’s like seeing old friends after the space of time and distance; variations in the gap bring recollections for some in a heartbeat, others in just a few beats more. Remarkably, among the 70-odd cruising boats here at Cabrales Boatyard are vessels that not only span our 11 years cruising, but which we encountered in almost every region of our circumnavigation.

Near Totem, Kenta Anae’s blue hull reminds me of hot days in 2009 their boys spent belly down on the docks in La Cruz alongside our kids. The staccato of towheads teased schools of mullet and dangled bait for crabs clinging to the pontoon while their mother Allison and I lost ourselves in one conversation or another: about finding the nearest lavanderia, teaching our little ones how to read, or planning ahead to race their home in Banderas Bay.

four children lying on a dock with their stuffed animals, looking into the water
Towheads and teddy bears; Mexico, 2009

Passing Zephyr’s shrink-wrapped hull reminds me when Bill and Jamie wore batik headdresses that would make Carmen Miranda proud in a marina near Singapore; I can hear Bill’s inimitable radio voice in my head. Empyrean is down the row, one of our early coaching clients – five of them in this yard! – who looked out for our teens during a trip Jamie and I made for boat shows last spring.

three men in batik headdresses at a party
Bill, Jamie, and Izam’s team creative sarong use competition entry; Puteri Harbour, 2014

Wharram cat Pakia Tea’s distinctive form stands out at the west end of the lot, immediately identifiable despite the six years since a single shared week at a dock in Malaysia. The boy who was a baby then is now tearing around the yard on a bicycle; Sonja and Tom’s open-arm greeting an example of how little intervening time can matter in the cruising community. I can’t imagine this happening with brief encounters on land, where in most places even our long-term neighbors remained largely strangers.

long dock lined with sailboats, a small girl at the far end of the dock
Distinctive Wharram bows, distinctive blonde haired child; Malaysia, 2013

Cruiser relationships: clearly different, but how, and why? The artificial barriers which exist on shore are thinner veils on the water. Despite the pride we take in our independence, cruisers rely on each other in more everyday ways than land-based neighbors. We share information about the weather forecast and nearby anchorages, what day of the week the produce market is held, and the quality of the fishing.

Another factor differentiating cruiser relationships: our safety may rely on interdependence. Assistance on land is often just a phone call away. We crave the remote, but remote means the aid, tools, spare parts, etc. could be miles or days away. Mutual assistance in times of need is a natural part of the unwritten code; rendering aid without question the solidarity among seafarers.

sailboat at sunset
SV Liquid in Playas del Coco; Costa Rica, 2018

The steel ketch Liquid is propped on jackstands nearby; the day after we met them in Costa Rica last year, they sold us diesel out of their supply (we were unable to purchase locally without checking back into the country, a detail missed in clearance). Mutual aid afloat isn’t just cruiser-to-cruiser, either. Anchored off an uninhabited Baja island a few weeks ago, a family awkwardly paddled one of the ubiquitous Mexican pangas up to Totem as the sun sank below the Sierra de la Giganta. A split fuel hose made their outboard unworkable, and paddling eight miles to town was no option. “I hope you have more hose,” a land-based friend skeptically commented on learning we’d disconnected the one in our dinghy to share. But it was more important to get a family home than worry whether $15 of fuel hose would find a way back to us (which it did, the very next day, as we expected).

Approximate view when the panga finally got underway Mexico, 2019

Jamie and I continued our evening boatyard stroll, enjoying the memories as they rolled in: faces flooding back of pinnacles snorkeled together with this boat, a beach we combed with that one, a passage in company with another. The cruising lifestyle is conducive to these relationships, but the real reason they’re different is because we have relearned how to share our time and ourselves.

Group of adults hanging out in a small swimming pool
We might also be a particularly social lot! Mexico, 2019

 

5 Responses

  1. They are different somehow… more lasting maybe because new faces are refreshingly welcome after a spell of the same faces. We still have close cruising friends we sailed in company with in Scandinavia 40 yrs. ago. Maybe, at bottom, cruising has always been about new faces and cruising simply the vehicle… admittedly a complicated vehicle, but it works like a charm. Cheers!

  2. Behan, Another thought provoking and interesting article and I agree with all of the points you made. It is great that you have such fond memories of the travels with your family. As I am reading this we are enroute from Preveza to Montenegro, a new country for us. Please keep up your inspirational writing and maybe update us on how the Copper Coat worked out for you. Best, James and Joann SV Sueno

  3. So well stated, Behan. There is such a feeling of excitement when you see another boat you met in a different port or anchorage. We found that no one asked or cared about what you did for a living, or your social status, etc. We were all out there together and ready and willing to assist one another anyway anytime. Now some of our closest friends are actually cruising friends living in other countries. Our five year cruising experience created special bonds with these couples and families. While we all have different histories, we shared that amazing experience. Fair winds.

  4. WOW 70 boats in the yard there! When we were there only 3 boats were there. We know 2 of the 3 boats you wrote about and yes these are families we will never forget. We also have Copper Coat on our Hull still doing a great job 3 years after. I think Cabrelles is the best yard we’ve ever been to. All the best.

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