The Mother Of All Gams -
November 21, 2002
Eileen shares a laugh with cruising friends Christian Verlaque and Spencer Allen at the SSCA gam
Every November for the past five years, the city of Melbourne, FL, has been besieged by a horde of outsiders sporting foul weather gear, sandals, and questionable haircuts. The event that draws the motley crowd to this otherwise sedate town on the Indian River is the annual Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) gam. In traditional nautical parlance, "gam" refers to an exchange of greetings and information between ships at sea. Most of the sailors who descended upon Melbourne this past weekend arrived by car, but the idea was the same - to meet old friends, make new ones, and share boating knowledge and experience.
The SSCA was born 50 years ago in Coronado, CA, when eight liveaboards on four different boats decided to share their cruising adventures with like-minded folks. To this day, the primary focus of the organization is its monthly Commodores' Bulletin composed of letters from cruisers around the world. A typical Bulletin might include an update on transit fees in the Panama Canal, a report about new marina facilities in Turkey, and details on some seldom visited anchorages in the Solomon Islands. Each month, 5000 copies of the Bulletin are assembled by volunteers and mailed to members in far-flung ports.
With its growth over the years, the headquarters of the SSCA has moved to Fort Lauderdale and the association now employs a small core of permanent staff. Attendance at the annual gam (formerly held in Fort Lauderdale) has burgeoned to over a thousand. Cruising luminaries giving talks at this year's gam included author Liza Copeland, cruising guide writer Steve Pavlidis and boat systems guru Nigel Calder. Kathy Parsons, a good friend of ours and author of "Spanish for Cruisers", added a Latin flavour through her well attended language classes. Eileen gave a presentation about maintaining old relationships and making new ones while cruising. It was different from the rest because she sang most of it!
Some of the most popular events at the gam were panel discussions where rank and file members of the association could trade views on a range of topics. Eileen participated in a forum directed primarily at women who were new to the cruising life. High frequency radio addicts were treated to a full day of sessions on the inner mysteries of voice and digital communication. Their spouses didn't seem to miss them.
Whenever there's a critical mass of cruisers, two social structures invariably emerge: a potluck dinner and a flea market. It's a measure of the success and size of the SSCA gam that a potluck is now logistically impossible (at least not without possible life threatening consequences). Instead, we all sat down to a catered barbecue dinner Saturday night - all except Eileen, who had to stand and sing for her supper. Despite cold, wet weather Sunday morning, the annual flea market was a great success. Every imaginable piece of used nautical equipment was on offer. Some cruisers were filling up on new "treasures of the bilge" as quickly as they were getting rid of old ones. We'll see how much of the stuff reappears next year.
After three full days, we left Melbourne minus a bunch of Eileen's CDs and plus an oil pump, T shirt, three packages of nautical Christmas cards and some updated software for HF e-mail (yes, David was one of the geeks attending the radio sessions). But more important, we came away with a renewed sense of community. When we're surrounded by that many bad haircuts, sandals and foul weather gear, we feel right at home.
PS - you can find out more about the Seven Seas Cruising Association by visiting its web site at www.ssca.org.