Everywhere we go there are other sailors. Very rarely are we on our own. These are our people, the cruising community. Who are they?
In general cruisers are people that have been able to carve out a chunk of time away from the responsibilities of land and have made the effort to figure out how to live on their sailboat. They are all into sailing, and just by having made it this far into the Caribbean, have proven that both they and their boat are at least adequate for the task.
Most are couples and in many cases the men were the driving force behind the decision to take off. Perhaps they had been sailing forever, it was their dream, and many of the women have come around to either loving it, or tolerating it. There is always some talk of the men doing the long passages, and the women flying down to meet them there. The guys get together and talk about solar panels and power loads. The women cooking, and books they’ve been reading. Many guys call their partner, “The Admiral”, i.e. if you ask them on the VHF about plans for the day they say they will check with The Admiral, and let you know.
Some are in their 50’s, most in their 60’s, with a very few on either side of that. They are quite varied in their pasts, and their plans. Some have been on the water for years and are ready to head home. These are more jaded, with less of the the enthusiastic glow, and a little slower to jump into the conversations about how many amps your battery bank holds. There are newbies, quite wide eyed and open. There are a few single handers out there, almost always men. They are an interesting lot, with crusty beards, a slightly crazed look and an endless need to talk. So far everybody we have met has been white.
People take to the lifestyle in different ways. Some have become quite sedentary and rarely leave their boat. Others embrace exploring land whenever possible and go on long hikes. At times people rent cars, hire taxi’s, or ride busses. Many of these choices seem to be determined by how much money is available, but also by peoples levels of comfort. One woman told Elia that she would never consider riding on the local buses. We, on the other hand, choose that whenever possible, as much for the local experience as for the transportation.
There is lots of alcohol involved. The standard greeting is delivered by dinghy in the afternoon, come on over for drinks around 5:30. Painkillers, sundowners, black and tans, rum punches. Island drinks. As would be expected the conversations get sloppier and more animated as the evening progresses. From my non drinking perspective it all gets a little old and tiresome.
There are dogs, cats, even a bird on board. We’ve heard tell of a monkey but haven’t seen it. The dog owners tend to be slaves to their pets. They modify their plans around which countries can take them easily, which beaches are safe. In most countries they need to have a vet sign off that it is healthy. Fears of going ashore and having their dog attacked by local dogs, or possibly shot, because they haven’t checked in are real. The cats curl up safely in a cubby below, except for the rare marina stop when they saunter down the docks.
One of the joys in this lifestyle is the ability to move on whenever you want to, or stay as long as things are good. Everybody is moving, transient. You get used to lots of goodbyes, then often unexpected friends turn up in another anchorage. We are all on a similar groove, with a limited number of places that cruisers tend to stop. Many people will be seen again, but you never know who or where.
The boats vary like the people. One of the big differences is the amount of money spent to pull off this dream. There are many that cost well over a million dollars new. They tend to be shiny, larger, newer, with more gadgets. The people on them, come from backgrounds that generated large sums of money. Investment banker, sold their business, sold their house in Nantucket. Women wearing nice jewelry, white polo shirts, gleaming teeth with a real estate smile. The Oyster, Hylas, Outbound, Halsberg Ralsey. Truly beautiful blue water boats.
There are the catamarans either bought as high level sailing machines, or bought from the charter industry, that needed some TLC (read MONEY) to get them in cruising shape. Much more room than a monohull, don’t roll in the anchorage, great for entertaining, and gives a feeling like a condo on the water with sliding glass doors and a large back deck. and lots of space for guests. Fast, but expensive to own with 2 engines, and much more cost to haul out and to dock.
Many smaller solid monohulls made to cruise around the world. These tend to be funkier, older, the people a little crustier and willing to have more of a camping experience. As the people on the less expensive boats tend to tell each other, when talking about the larger, shinier ones, “We all have the same view”.
And what are our plans? As I write this we are in Les Saintes, just south of Guadaloupe. Our turn around point was last week in Dominica. We are headed back. But back means 2 and a half months of slowly working our way to the left coast of Florida where we will leave her for the summer and a good portion of the fall. Back to Colorado to make a garden, to invite a cat into our lives, to hang out with Ethan while he gets back into high school in America. (Check out his blog on tumblr at Under_Brazilian_Skies if you get a chance)
And our future on Orion? Still to be determined. I kind of like mustached Mike’s version. 4 months on the boat, 8 months on land. Or then again does it make more sense to do 6 weeks on, with a big space between. Right now going around the world and living on her full time doesn’t look like the plan. But then, who really knows. We would love to go to Europe, sail around Britain, up to Norway, the canals of France, the Med. There is the western side of the Caribbean with Belize, and down to Panama. Cuba is opening up to sailors. And then a whole world in the Pacific. So many places to see, and nice to feel like we have the illusion of unlimited time. Our plans remain flexible.