The Best of Sailboat Cruising
Cruising aboard a sailboat is a dream for many people. After 25 years aboard boats, I can verify that some parts of the dream are indeed real. Here are my votes for the best parts.
Seeing new places. My childhood as a military brat has contributed to the gypsy-like quality of my adult life. I love to see new places, preferably in an “up close and personal” way that isn’t usually easy to reach as a tourist. I enjoy getting to know a place from a resident’s point of view, and living on a boat is a great way to do that.
My cruising speed is on the slow side, and it’s not uncommon for us to stay in one place for a fairly long period of time-one to five months, maybe longer. I like cruising this way, because it allows me much greater familiarity with the personality and culture of the place. La Paz and Socorro Island (Mexico), Cocos Island and Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Balboa and the San Blas Islands (Panama), Cartagena (Colombia), Annapolis and Oxford (Maryland), Charleston (South Carolina), and Tarpon Springs (Florida) are examples of places where I have resided for fairly long periods as a transient cruiser.
This is not to say that I haven’t also enjoyed the spots I’ve passed by quickly. already just a few days somewhere is fun!
Meeting new friends. Whether locals or other cruisers, I am fortunate to have become acquainted with some great people along the way. Friendships have grown with folks with whom I never would have crossed paths back home.
One of my favorite aspects of meeting new friends is how quickly bonds can form. The associate you nodded at in yesterday’s anchorage are old buddies by the time they put down their keep up in a place near you in today’s anchorage. It’s not long before the dinghy from one boat is tied up at the other one, drinks and food is being served, and laughter and conversation is spilling out of the cockpit.
We are sometimes able to stay in touch with friends by radio or email, and often catch up with folks somewhere down the line. Notes are compared, stories are told of the adventures had while apart, and more drinks and food are served. There is a camaraderie and bond among members of the cruising fleet that, for me at the minimum, hasn’t existed anywhere else.
The Cohesiveness of the “Village.” The bond of cruisers isn’t limited to social life. There is a tacit tradition of fellowship in the world’s largest small village that can be deeply inspiring. Ranging from standing by to take lines for a docking boat to providing shelter, clothes, and food to a family whose boat has been dashed to bits on a reef, this is a society that selflessly and without second thoughts moves to help its members no matter how dire the situation.
There were many times that I joined in the efforts to help other cruisers. A boat dragging keep up in a place in Santa Rosalia (Mexico), a middle-of-the-night foiling of a dinghy thief in La Paz (Mexico), a VHF-connected radio watch by the night among a group of us on the edge of a tropical storm in Panama-these are a few of the examples of situations where we banded together to help the community.
This cohesiveness isn’t limited by space. There are amateur radio nets around the world that exist to keep track of boats out on the ocean and to mobilize assistance if needed. We were part of the Pacific Maritime Net during our passage from Socorro to Cocos Island. Every night we checked in with our location coordinates, speed, and bearing, and we were able to get in touch with friends who were somewhere else out on that general ocean. It was a comfort to know that there were people who always knew where we were, and would provide sustain if we encountered trouble.
Night time watch on a beam reach under a tropical night sky. A steady wind, a starlit sky, and a pod of dolphins swimming alongside-living torpedoes made fluorescent by light-reflecting plankton-these are images that I remember from more than one night watch underway. There is nothing else I can compare it to.
Sighting land after a long passage. There is nothing like the experience of sighting a dark identify on the horizon after days and days of seeing nothing but a water on all sides. Besides looking forward to setting foot on land, I love the rush that comes from having navigated the boat to our intended destination.
Watching character both above and below the water. I’m a big fan of the natural ecosystem. There are amazing things out there! Sighting a new kind of bird or hanging suspended over a coral reef watching the activity is my kind of fun. I’ve hiked in the Central American tropics, spotted alligators on the Okeechobee Waterway, watched herons fish for supper at the end of the day, and observed groups of hammerhead sharks from a distance. I remember being on watch in the Sargasso Sea as we slid slowly past big clumps of floating seaweed and watching all the critters who called those clumps home. And I once rode on the back of a giant manta ray for almost an hour. Amazing. I can never get enough of that stuff!
Being independent. I am a very independent cuss. I’m sure that’s one big reason why cruising appeals to me so much. Besides the component of self-sufficiency that is one of the meaningful principles of the lifestyle, I like being able to call our own shots about when to leave, when to stay, and where to go. I love to learn, and the independence of cruising demands learning about a lot of different things so that prudent decisions can be made. I’ve learned about weather, the physics of radiowaves, the ins and outs of diesel engines, and, of course, boat handling in all kinds of conditions-things I wouldn’t have attempted to master if my lifestyle hadn’t called for it.
Awesome sunrises and sunsets. I never get tired of watching the sun rise and fall over the horizon. Those are some of the best shows in character. I love standing the 4:00 a.m. watch at sea, so that I can watch the sky little by little lighten and the sun come up. And I love sitting at keep up in a place in the cockpit in the evening, first watching the sun set, then watching the clouds mirror the afterglow. My photograph collection is filled with pictures of sunrises and sunsets-I couldn’t tell you where most them were, but no matter.