Embarking on the cruising life presents many great rewards but also a multitude of uncertainties. On top of the many lifestyle adjustments you’re forced to make regarding living space, clothing, environment, etc., you’re presented with perhaps the most difficult adjustment of all - leaving behind a lifetime of old friends and family. These family members and inner circle of friends are the folks you’ve always enjoyed seeing on a regular basis and have been the ones you can count on if you are ever in need of help. Once you’re off in the boat, hundreds of miles away from home, how do you replace this valuable entity?
For Sue and me, this nagging worry fortunately lasted only a couple of weeks after leaving to go cruising. The making of new friends in the cruising community has not only been easier than we thought it would be, but it has surpassed our expectations both in numbers and in quality.
Don’t get me wrong. You don’t get to meet every cruiser out there, and there are certainly times when you can spend weeks or even months all alone, depending on how and where you are traveling. But if you wish to meet other cruisers and wish to make and keep new friendships, the opportunities are endless and remarkably easy.
Many of our good cruising friends have been made by the simple sharing of an anchorage one night with a strange boat, and then months later, recognizing the same boat in another anchorage. This usually prompts a call on the radio, or a dinghy visit over to introduce yourself. This is always an icebreaker in getting better acquainted. It still amazes us the varying routes two boats can take to reach the same destination.
Sometimes friendships have been cemented through discovering others who are planning to travel the same route as you. Having another boat or two to “buddy boat” with when making passages can provide additional peace of mind. It may also provide the confidence to head out of the harbor in winds or conditions that you’ve been reluctant to try before. Sue and I have stayed very close friends with a couple who decided jointly with us to face the thickest foggy conditions Maine could throw at us, and successfully made our way to the next port. On another occasion, we became good friends with a couple from a chance meeting. We met briefly at a dinghy dock in Bermuda and learned that they were departing for Nova Scotia one day after us. This prompted us to set up a twice daily SSB radio schedule. For five days we shared boat positions, weather and current information, and even tidbits regarding crew morale along with dinner menus. It was only after we’d both been in Nova Scotia a few weeks that we actually met face to face again, but by this time we were already close friends as we’d looked out for one another on the high seas.
Another catalyst for budding friendships amongst cruisers is discovering a common interest above and beyond sailing. For instance, we tend to be drawn to people who are real “do-it-yourselfers”. You know, people who enjoy a conversation about what kind of filler to use in a certain epoxy resin mixture for each application, or the pros and cons of spray painting versus rolling and tipping. We’ve seen cruisers bond over the love of art and cooking. A cruising gal from South Africa, and another from North Carolina, joined efforts to put together a beautiful calendar that combined their considerable painting skills and tasty recipes. They then sold it to gift shops along the way.
Having animals or children aboard can always present a common thread for cruisers. Our two cats running about on deck have been the reason many a dinghy has stopped to chat with us. We’ve even joked that we’ll rent the cats out for half days so that people can get their “pet fixes” in. Cruising families with children onboard tend to stick together so that the kids can play and they can all help each other with home schooling.
Even in times of adversity, the end result can be a new friendship. nce while anchored in Key West, FL, I was up top in the middle of the night during a 30 knot blow just making sure our anchor was holding. It was then I spotted another boat dragging through the anchorage. Not having the engine on our dinghy, I sounded an air horn to wake up the parties onboard the dragging boat and those that were about to be hit. Another cruiser not affected by the impending situation quickly jumped into his dinghy and I called him over to pick me up. The two of us worked for a couple of hours sorting out the mess resulting from what turned out to be an unmanned 46-foot boat dragging anchor that collided messily with two other boats. By 4:30 am we were all back aboard Serengeti, drinking coffee, enjoying an early, but well earned, hot breakfast that Sue cooked for us and swapping cruising stories.
We’ve seen a few instances where cruising friendships have turned sour. Even the best of friends can tire of one another if getting together every night for Happy Hour or dinner is expected by one of the boats. Buddy boating during passages or island hopping is usually welcome, but it’s important to remember to give each other a balance of friendship and privacy at anchor.
Our favorite cruising friends are the ones that are independent and capable of making their own decision about where to go next. Sometimes that corresponds with our plans, and other times we split up for awhile, only to meet again down the road somewhere. The Single Side Band radio really facilitates this kind of friendship because it allows you to keep track of and speak with your friends daily if you so choose. We’ve found that the parting with cruising buddies just makes the next meeting, whether by chance or planned, that much better.
In order to keep track of all the new cruising friends we meet along the way, and vice versa, almost all cruisers carry “boat cards”. Boat cards are exchanged just like business cards in the working world. They usually contain information like your boat name, your names, e-mail addresses, etc. We keep all the cards we collect in plastic sleeves that go in a binder. The nice thing about this system is that when we recognize a familiar boat in an anchorage, we can run below, confirm the names of the people onboard and then look like heroes when we pass by and call out. “Hey Bob, Mary - great to see you again.”
Regardless of whether you’re in a marina, an anchorage, a boatyard, or out on the high seas, hooking up with other cruisers just becomes a natural way of life. Age, past profession, and even nationality are rarely factors. You’re all sharing the same dreams and there’s a natural desire to compare experiences and to learn from one another. The cruising life rewards you with new friends to laugh with, to cry with, to play with, and to share with. It’s one of the wonderful aspects that make cruising so special.
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