All the World's A Stage -
October 2, 2003
In his play "As You Like It", Shakespeare likened men and women to performers on a stage who act out different roles as they age - from "mewling, puking" infancy to second childhood "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". With apologies to the Bard, we'd like to suggest a cruiser chronology along the same lines. Instead of the seven ages of man, we offer the three ages of cruisers: sailboaters, trawler crawlers, and RV cruisers.
We came up with this analogy last weekend when we were literally surrounded by trawlers, dozens of them. We were attending the annual Trawler Fest in Solomons, Maryland. At the beginning of May, when the organizers of Trawler Fest invited Eileen to do a presentation at the event, we didn't know quite what to expect. Trawlers pass us all the time when we're coastal cruising, but once we leave mainland North America, we're mostly surrounded by sailboats. It's not that we don't like to socialize with folks on trawlers; it's just that there aren't too many of them down island. After three days of submersion in trawler world, we made the reassuring discovery that trawler people are like us ... only different.
Since our previous experiences with trawlers were mostly limited to rolling in their wakes, we were initially apprehensive about showing up in their midst in a wind propelled vessel. We had heard rumours of animosity between "rag baggers" and "stink pots". We could have hidden our sailboat in the far reaches of Back Creek, but that would have made it difficult to transport Eileen's sound equipment ashore; the organizers had offered us free dockage right next to the show. "Maybe we can disguise "Little Gidding" as a trawler," Eileen suggested hopefully. "That might be difficult with a fifty foot mast sticking up from the middle of the deck," David replied drily.
Swallowing our fears, we brought "Little Gidding" into the slip assigned to us. There wasn't another sailboat in sight. We were grateful when several people on the dock offered to help us with our lines. After we were secured, one of our new neighbours invited us over for a beer. "Trawler people seem okay," David observed cautiously.
That night we attended the first of three banquets. When we're with other cruisers, we're accustomed to potluck dinners comprising 37 different varieties of potato salad and perhaps a dozen bean dishes. The Trawler Fest fare was several steps higher on the culinary ladder. We struggled through mountains of barbecued ribs, slabs of roast beef, heaps of fried chicken, and bushels of steamed crabs. But David was most impressed by the beer trailer. It was every guy's ultimate dream: four self-serve spigots delivering unlimited streams of premium brew. Pouring himself a pint of Fordhams ale, he declared, "Yes, trawler people are definitely okay."
Conversing with others around the table, it still took us a while to feel totally at ease. We feared that our ruse might be discovered at any moment and they'd snatch our plates away and throw us out. Someone asked, "What kind of boat do you own?" Eileen gulped and mumbled, "She's a Bayfield 36."
"Hmm, I don't recognize that make," came the reply. "Does she have a single engine or twins?"
"Actually, she's a sailboat," Eileen whispered.
The other conversations abruptly halted. David involuntarily tightened the grip on his beer. Then the fellow next to Eileen smiled and patted her hand, "It's okay; I once owned a sailboat, too." Suddenly, everyone was confessing at once. We learned that many of our fellow attendees at Trawler Fest didn't own boats at all and were there to shop. Of those who already owned trawlers, several had moved up the ranks from sailboating. They weren't hostile at all; if anything they treated us with a trace of pity. We just hadn't seen the light yet. As one doctor from Baltimore put it, "One day you're going to get tired of pulling those strings and start looking for a trawler."
A journalist from Annapolis jokingly referred to herself as a "transvesselite". She and other converts cited the advantages for cruising liveaboards of trawlers over sailboats. Especially for an older couple, trawlers are easier to handle; they don't heel over going to windward and you don't have to wrestle with acres of canvas to get them moving. For a given length of boat, trawlers offer more living and storage space; probably half again the volume compared to a similar sized sailboat. And then there are all the inland cruising routes like the Great Loop that are ideal for trawlers, but troublesome for deep draft sailboats because of low bridges and shallow water.
But trawler crawling doesn't come cheap. The new boats we saw on display at Trawler Fest were selling at around double the price of sailboats the same size. And to make them move you have to buy lots of diesel for their thirsty engines; a trawler the size of "Little Gidding" typically comes with tanks that contain ten times the amount of fuel we carry. When a woman asked Eileen at the end of her seminar presentation when we were going to step up to a trawler, Eileen replied, "How many of my CDs are you going to buy?"
Until we win the lottery, we'll probably continue living in the first age of cruising. Our friends Jack and Joanne on "Interlude" are well into the second age of cruising and edging towards the third. We first met them four years ago in the Bahamas. At that time they were living aboard "Honiara", a C&C 42 sailboat. Jack had raced sailboats all his adult life and they had owned "Honiara" for 21 years. We were a bit surprised, therefore, when we encountered them two years later and they were living aboard "Interlude", a Gulfstar 43 Mk II trawler. Jack explained, "We found that for the cruising we're now doing - basically, the Intracoastal Waterway, Florida Keys, and the Bahamas - we end up motoring 95% of the time. It didn't make sense to continue cruising on "Honiara" when we weren't planning any more ocean passages."
We bumped into Jack & Joanne last week in Solomons. "Interlude" was anchored in Back Creek, right in front of the Trawler Fest show docks. A large "For Sale" banner was strung along the rail on the aft deck. "You're not giving up cruising are you?" David asked incredulously.
Jack laughed. "We're on our way to the Bahamas, but anyone can stop us if they make us the right offer. We thought we'd hang around here during Trawler Fest to see if there's any interest in a good used boat. We're not in a hurry to sell "Interlude", but eventually we'd like to buy a motorhome and go land cruising. But we won't give up boating. We plan to tow a smaller boat on a trailer and explore some of the inland lakes and rivers that aren't accessible from the ocean."
When we were leaving Solomons a couple of days later, we asked Jack and Joanne if they had had any nibbles. "The crowd here is too affluent," Jack said ruefully. "The buyer for this boat will be someone who appreciates all the cruising gear on board and is looking for a well maintained boat at a good price. That person will probably be an experienced cruiser who already owns a sailboat."
We started motoring down Back Creek on our way out of Solomons harbour. Our last words to Jack and Joanne were, "See you guys in the Bahamas!"