July 31, 2003
I've got seashells, I've got souvenirs
Living aboard a boat full time and cruising to distant places may seem pretty exotic to a lot of dirt dwelling folks. Hell, it seemed pretty exotic to us for the first few years we were out. But after a while the novelty wears off. When you get right down to it, a boat is just another form of shelter. Ours is smaller than any apartment you're likely to encounter and it moves around more than a house (sometimes when you wish it wouldn't), but the essential components - kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom - are the same (albeit miniaturized and labelled differently). And those palm studded, white sand fringed islands, well, they tend to all look the same after a while. Call us jaded, but that's just the way it is after nine years of leading this alternative lifestyle.
We still like living aboard and we still enjoy exploring new places and revisiting old haunts. However, as Eileen's song suggests, after we've sorted out our seashell collection and thumbed through a pile of photos, it's the less tangible aspects of cruising that keep us going. Talk to most long term cruisers and they will agree that it's the sense of camaraderie and mutual support within the cruising community that means the most to them. Anyone with the cash for an airline ticket and hotel room can visit a tropical island. Friends are harder to come by and, in the end, much more valuable.
Last week's entry ("Boston Marathon") described our mad rush to get to New England from the Chesapeake in time for a scheduled event. For a while there it looked like we weren't going to get out of the boatyard in time (at least not with a functioning engine). We started working on Plan B - leave the boat behind and drive to Boston and back. We sent an e-mail to our friends Steve and Jane on "Sea Fan", whom we first met on Christmas day 2000 in St. John in the US Virgins. Last fall, we bumped into them again in Annapolis and they mentioned that they had a place just north of town on the Magothy River. "We have a dock with electricity and water that you're welcome to use anytime you're in the area," they offered. When we e-mailed them last week explaining our situation, we received a prompt response with detailed instructions on how to navigate to their dock.
Then we e-mailed our friend Bill Seifert who lives near Bristol, Rhode Island. Bill has worked in just about every aspect of the yacht industry, written several articles and a book about his experiences, and now manages a stable of luxury sailboats for wealthy clients. He was one of Eileen's earliest fans after she produced her first recording in 1997, and has remained an avid supporter ever since. We last saw Bill three years ago in Melbourne, Florida, at a Seven Seas Cruising Association gathering. Now, out of the blue, we asked him if he knew of any place we could stay within a couple of hours' drive of Boston. The reply was immediate: "I'd be honoured if you'd stay at my home."
The next day, the engine was fixed (sort of) and we e-mailed Steve, Jane, and Bill thanking them for their generous offers and explaining we wouldn't have to impose on them after all. Four days later we dropped the hook in Dutch Harbor, just outside Jamestown, Rhode Island. We had made it to New England with the boat, but we still had to get up to Boston for Eileen's performance. After a good night's sleep, we walked the short distance from the dinghy dock to the Jamestown public library to check our e-mail. Among the incoming messages was a note from our old friend Jamie. We crossed wakes with Jamie and his wife Linda and son Harry (then, six years old) on "Picaro" in 1997 in the San Blas islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. We had last seen them in the Bay Islands of Honduras and, through intermittent Christmas cards, had the vague notion they were now living somewhere on the eastern seaboard. Jamie's e-mail said he had heard through the grapevine that we were heading to New England for the summer. He insisted we look them up if we happened to be near where they lived ... in Jamestown, Rhode Island!
We walked across the street to a public telephone and dialled the number Jamie had provided. Fifteen minutes later, Jamie picked us up in his car, drove us to his house, showed us where the showers, laundry and computers were, and gave us the keys to his pickup truck. Linda and Harry were up at their summer camp, but we had the run of the house for as long as we were in port. When we told Jamie we were renting a car to drive up to Boston, he said, "No you're not! Come back here on Thursday and swap the truck for my car - it's much better on the freeway."
There was a big crowd at the yacht club in Boston last Thursday evening. Before Eileen was scheduled to perform, we heard a very distinctive and familiar laugh. There was Terry from "Glass Slipper" picking his way towards us, beaming happily, arms outstretched. The last place we'd seen Terry was in Trinidad. We had been commiserating together in a boatyard; he was replacing the teak deck on "Glass Slipper" and we were scraping and painting "Little Gidding's" bottom. A lot had happened in the two years since then; Terry had lost his partner to cancer and "Glass Slipper" was now tied up in front of his apartment in Marion. "I'd sure like to join you guys down south again," he said wistfully.
Just as we were catching up with Terry, two other familiar faces emerged from the throng. Kit and John from "Kittiwake" had heard about the event and, although they weren't members of the Pelagic Sailing Club, had called up the organizer Trina and arranged to attend. Over the past half dozen years, we've shared many anchorages with them in Florida and the Bahamas. Kit is truly "a sailor's daughter" who has been on the water all of her life. She lays claim to being the oldest woman living aboard full time - a claim that's hard to believe for all of her youthful enthusiasm and energy. Her husband John is a former Olympic sailor who, in their Pearson 35, routinely beats all the younger sailors at the George Town cruisers' regattas. Later after the performance, Kit promised us, "We'll see you back in the Bahamas this winter. We're good for at least one more year!"
This past weekend, Bill Seifert phoned. He had just returned from Bermuda on a delivery and had missed the Thursday concert. On his recommendation, his friend Betty had driven up for the show. We invited Bill and Betty to join us for dinner on "Little Gidding". When David picked them up at the dinghy dock Monday evening, our inflatable almost sank under the weight of the tote bag Bill was carrying. "Hope you like swordfish," Bill said. There was enough fish to feed a navy, even a navy full of prodigious eaters like David. As the steaks sizzled on the grill, Bill produced a bottle of Gosling's Black Seal rum and a bottle of Barritts ginger beer. "My Bermuda souvenirs," Bill explained, as he gave instructions for mixing a round of "dark and stormies". We ate and talked well into the night, Bill reproaching us for not planning to cruise his home waters longer.
We could go on and on about all the people we've met on the water over the years. When non-cruisers ask us, "Don't you miss your friends when you're out cruising?" we answer, "We go cruising to be with our friends."