Too Much Togetherness -
July 3, 2003
Some boaters are very sociable. They like going on cruises with other boaters they know, the more the merrier. We do this sometimes. It's often nice to experience different places with friends. In some more remote spots, being in the company of other cruisers is also a safety and security consideration. We don't feel the need to surround ourselves with a major armada, however; besides, we don't have that many friends. Also, the logistics involved in co-ordinating the movements of more than two or three boats can be challenging - sort of like attempting to bring order to cosmic chaos.
For some gregarious cruisers, travelling in tandem to the same destination is not enough. They want to anchor close together as well; apparently, a watery separation of even a few feet can be too much of a socializing impediment. This desire for anchoring proximity can lead to a phenomenon called "rafting". In rafting, one boat is brought into purposeful contact with one or more other boats. We admit to having some difficulty with this concept. When we anchor, we generally try to avoid touching our neighbours. There's also the matter of privacy. We don't consider ourselves to be overly prudish, but we really would rather not hear evidence of our friends' gastrointestinal difficulties or breathing disorders in the middle of the night.
There have been occasions when we have rafted up to other boats. In Vero Beach, Florida, for example, anchoring is prohibited by a city ordinance; the only low cost alternative for transient boats is the municipal marina's mooring field. Since the number of moorings is limited and Vero is popular among cruisers, we've often shared a mooring with one or two other boats (see our November 28, 2002 entry). This hasn't been a matter of choice; it's either raft up or move on. We've survived our Vero rafting experiences relatively unscathed. There was the time we were conjoined to a Corbin 39 sailboat with a peripatetic feline named Genny onboard. Genny was the size of a bear cub and liked to leap on to our deck at first light. It could have been worse. Our neighbours could have had a pair of itinerant St. Bernards or a flock of verbose parrots.
Last weekend we were in Solomons, Maryland, off the Patuxent River. There's a snug little anchorage on Back Creek next to the Calvert maritime museum. When we arrived there Sunday afternoon, the weekend sailors were emptying out, leaving plenty of anchoring space. On Monday, a trickle of new arrivals started taking up the vacant spots. In mid-afternoon, David looked out of the companionway and announced, "There's another boat parked directly in front of us, but she seems far enough away." A few minutes later he checked and added, "Now there's another boat rafted up to the first one." Within fifteen minutes, two more boats arrived and rafted up. David frowned and switched the VHF radio to the local weather station. It was dead calm at the moment, but the forecaster predicted evening thunderstorms. "Not good," David said.
On our way to shore to do some grocery shopping, we circled the raft in our dinghy. Three of the four boats were about the same size as "Little Gidding". Collectively, they were tethered to one anchor rode the size of our dinghy painter. There was a young woman in the cockpit of one of the outside boats. We pulled up alongside and introduced ourselves. Eileen said pleasantly, "We thought you might want to know that the weather report calls for the possibility of thunderstorms later tonight. We were anchored here last year during a thunderstorm and ended up the dragging. The soft mud doesn't hold that well and your raft has a lot of windage."
The woman smiled widely and said, "Gee, thanks! We've dragged as a raft before." She didn't volunteer to take any preventive measures.
Eileen noted a baby's car seat in the cockpit. "Do you have a little person onboard?" she inquired.
The woman beamed even more broadly. "Yes, we have a eight week old baby. It's his first cruise!" David, the curmudgeon, thanked his lucky stars they weren't rafted up next to us.
When we returned from the store, one of the boats had left the raft in front of us. Maybe its skipper shared David's view of loud infants. The boat hadn't gone far. It had joined another raft forming across from us. Between us and the second raft was a large sailboat on the only mooring in the anchorage. By nightfall, the raft was four boats deep.
Of course, by now the reader already knows what occurred at three o'clock the next morning. Lightning flashes and the scream of the wind powered generator woke us up. The wind had shifted. We were dead downwind from the four boat flotilla. Fortunately (for us), the big boat on the mooring intervened. We watched in fascination as the raft started to drag. Deck lights came on and partly clothed bodies swarmed the decks. Pandemonium reigned. By the time the boats had disentangled themselves, everyone in the anchorage was awake and anxiously watching where the orphans were going to re-anchor. A few unkind comments were exchanged.
Shortly after daylight, the remnants of the wayward raft left. The other raft dismantled itself soon after and followed. We hope they are all still friends. Sometimes there are limits to togetherness.