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Old 04-14-1999
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Sue & Larry is on a distinguished road
The Subculture of Cruising Sailors

Larry hasn't pierced his ear yet and so far I haven't felt an uncontrollable urge to run out and get a tattoo of a parrot on my shoulder. However, we do feel now that we're part of a very special subculture of cruising sailors.

When we first started out on the cruise we were a bit in awe of the cruising experience everyone else seemed to have. We weren't sure if we'd paid enough dues of salt water over the decks, or whatever currency it is that the old-salt cruisers use.

Port Clyde, MaineWe'd sail into an anchorage at the end of the day and then watch all the other cruising sailors visiting back and forth in their dinghys. "How do all these people know each other?", I exclaimed one night as we looked on in envy. Everyone except us seemed to be part of a sort of happy-hour get-together.

It wasn't long before we figured out that there was no test to pass in order to become a part of this roving club of sailors. Rather, it was a frame of mind that needed to be attained.

When you travel by sailboat your time perspective changes. It's almost humorous when you first discover after being out on the cruise for a week that you're actually only 4 hours away from home by car. We were seeing the world at about the pace of a horse-and-buggy carriage.

Everyone seems to have lots of time. We soon learned that it's simply not possible to find a cruising sailor who doesn't want to stop awhile and swap sailing stories. After a few weeks on the cruise, we found that by dinghying over to another boat and asking the owners about a certain piece of equipment they had, or exchanging information on the VHF when underway, we'd made new friends. And we had become part of that happy-hour crowd ourselves.

Peggy on PanaceaLarry and I discovered that we had become part of a whole different world of people out here. Basically, if you've made the decision to break away from the norm, you're qualified for membership to this subculture of cruising sailors. It's one of the most interesting, eclectic and supportive groups of people we've ever come across. You'll hear cruisers offer each other every imaginable kind of help, from the use of their car and dock space when they are not at their home bases, to even the help and support of their families on shore. Often this help is offered over the radio and the two cruisers have never even met in person.

Dinghy Docks, Key WestIn this cruising subculture the radio is your phone. The VHF and SSB radios are a lot like the old party-line phones. Everyone knows what everyone else is saying and doing but that's okay. It's all part of the fun. Through the VHF and SSB, cruisers have created their own support and social groups. No matter where you are you find there's a bunch of other boats out there with similar interests and goals. Everyone's willing to help each other. You can set up offshore passages in tandem with other boats or hear about potluck suppers organized shore-side. You'll even hear offers over the radio of free watercolor-painting lessons or haircuts.

The dinghy is your car and your lifeline to shore and other cruisers in the anchorage. Like the radio contact, it's a tool of the culture. The dinghy is also a component of our typical anchorage routine.

Where to tie up-or park-the dinghy is always a topic of interest among cruisers. Although some towns charge for the privilege of tying up your dinghy, this was the case in only a small percentage of the places we've come across. Many towns actually go out of their way to welcome you. Local residents bring welcome packages to your boat (see sidebar).

Shore-side visits for the cruising sailor are usually of very practical nature. There's always plenty to keep you busy. Typically, we're going to the grocery store, a Laundromat, the post office, a pay phone, or a marine chandlery for the never ending boat stuff to add or the gear we need to repair. Once we've done our chores, we're free to explore the town and get some much-needed exercise. We've discovered that libraries are one of our favorite places to go. There we read the latest magazines and use the computers to surf the net or check e-mail. At local marinas and dockside bars we take advantage of book-swaps and replenish our on-board reading material.

George plays the bones

Sometimes when returning to Safari--loaded with two bikes, groceries and a newly filled propane tank-we probably look like the Beverly Hillbillies on their first trip to California. But our trusty dinghy gets us around. Even if we could afford to be at marinas all the time, we wouldn't want to be. Life in the anchorage is rich and rewarding and much more interesting.

Now that you know a little about what we're doing as cruising sailors, the next time you're in a waterfront town see if you can spot one of us. We're the ones wearing the boat shoes that have seen better days, hats with saltwater stains, and we're probably carrying an old knapsack. (And if we're carrying a lot of groceries, you might consider giving us a lift back to the dock.) We're there for as long as we want to be-as long as that town holds our interest. We may be alone or possibly traveling with a group of other boats. Whatever we want, it's our decision and in this cruising culture, we have the luxury of time and the freedom to enjoy it.

Cruiser-Friendly Towns on the East Coast

In our travels we've discovered that certain towns value the cruising sailor and even go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Here is a list of towns and cities that put out the welcome mat and encourage a visit. (As we have not yet had the opportunity to stop in every waterfront town and are sure there were some great towns we missed, this list is by no means complete.)

Fernandina, Florida - Here are helpful friendly people in a wonderful old small town.

Beaufort, South Carolina - Beautiful, historic town, this is one of the nicest places to walk around on the coast. There is a courtesy car if you stay at the marina.

Charleston, South Carolina - This is a fascinating harbor of so many rivers all meeting together, incredible shore-side homes and vessels of every imaginable kind sharing the waters.

Georgetown, South Carolina - This very friendly town sees that a complete welcome package including a listing of all the town's services is brought out to your boat at anchor.

Beaufort, North Carolina - These guys really want you there. The town's maritime museum makes a truck available for a 2-hour period to any cruising sailor. It also has a wonderful nautical library.

Elizabeth City, North Carolina - The "Rose Buddies" welcome every woman to town with a fresh-cut rose and for every night that there are 5 boats or more new to the dock, they put on a wine-and-cheese party. To top this off, free dockage for your boat-not just your dinghy-is provided.

Hampton, Virginia - Ian, the dockmaster of the Hampton public piers, is one of the nicest, friendliest, most helpful guys you will find on the coast. He'll go out of his way to help you whether you're out in the anchorage or paying to stay at his docks.

Annapolis, Maryland - There is dinghy access at the end of every waterfront street in Annapolis, a great place to spend a few weeks and check out the back creeks.

Newport, Rhode Island - Here you'll feel the history of the America's Cup and enjoy some of the most spectacular mansions in the world-a very cruiser-friendly town.

All of Maine - Virtually every town has a free dinghy dock and many have temporary free tie-up for your boat, as well as free water-a wonderful place to cruise.



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