A New Generation of Cruisers -
November 20, 2003
We spent last weekend in Melbourne, Florida, attending the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) annual party, or "gam". The three day event held at the Eau Gallie civic centre had a packed schedule: seminars on everything from eliminating head odours to interpreting weather charts; a formal awards banquet and an informal barbecue; a nautical flea market; and lots of socializing. Around 9000 cruisers world wide belong to the SSCA and about 1000 of them showed up for the Melbourne gam (see www.ssca.org for more information about the SSCA and its scheduled events). We saw a lot of familiar faces, but we also met many new members. Surveying the crowd that was milling around between seminar sessions, one of the more recent members asked David, "Are these folks typical of the organization?"
David gave him a puzzled look. "What do you mean?"
"Well, they seem like an older bunch", said the thirty-something observer.
David was about to protest, but when he glanced around the hall he realized the fellow was right; the place was filled with old people. Not that everyone was hobbling around on walkers. Most of the attendees were in good physical shape, but the majority was definitely past the half-century mark. David adjusted his ball cap to cover the white patch over his temple.
When we started living aboard almost a decade ago, we were on the younger end of the cruising age continuum, Eileen in her mid-30s and David just past 40. The cruising ranks are filled with early retirees. Many of the long-time friends we met at the gam fit this category. We first encountered Harvey and Gerbrig on "Soulstice II" in Annapolis in 1994 shortly after Harvey had sold his auto parts business in Ontario. We met Conrad and Kathy on "Copasetic" in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1996. Conrad is a retired fire-fighter from Rhode Island; he and Kathy had already been cruising for several years before we crossed paths with them. Jim and Helen on "Gaia" went cruising after Jim retired from his job with the Canadian federal government. We met them in the Bay Islands of Honduras in 1997. All of us are still cruising and walking around without the aid of respirators. At the SSCA party we complimented each other on our youthful looks, but we don't think we were fooling anyone. Time doesn't stand still.
The cruising community hasn't always been dominated by senior citizens. The SSCA was established in 1952 when six liveaboard couples in southern California decided to form a "disorganization" to share information and camaraderie. Three of those founding couples had young children aboard. Dee Carstarphen, now 77 years old and living on Chesapeake Bay, was living aboard a 34 foot ketch with her husband Jack Slasor and four year old son Steve when they helped establish the association. Ginny-Lea Duba-Filiatrault, one of the early volunteer home base co-ordinators, was eighteen when she joined the association. Recently she reminisced, "I lived aboard 'Windsong', my 50 foot wooden Alden ketch, for some 10 years and managed to raise a baby as well as type the monthly SSCA Bulletins on board during that time."
What's happened to all the young faces? Don't worry, they're still out there. We suspect there are probably at least as many young people living aboard and cruising full time today as there were fifty years ago; it's just that they're outnumbered by the baby boom generation that is now retiring in droves. Older folks with indexed pensions and elevated personal comfort expectations can afford the new labour saving devices and onboard conveniences now flooding the marine market. But there are still plenty of cruisers who have chosen not to wait until they're eligible for old age security before casting off the docklines. Their boats might be smaller or older or less well equipped than the mainstream cruising fleet, but they're out there doing it. In many cases, they still have jobs, although often not in the conventional work force.
MaggiLu and Curtis Tucker are examples of today's young cruisers following in the footsteps of the likes of Dee and Ginny-Lea. Both former teachers, they've lived aboard their 35 foot catamaran "Fellowship" for the past five years. When we first met them at last year's SSCA gam they had two daughters in tow: Sunny and Alegria, then 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 years old respectively. The family has grown since. At this year's gam, we were introduced to eight month old Faith.
The Tuckers have blurred the lines between family and work. MaggiLu and Curtis write an online magazine www.KidsAboard.com which is aimed at liveaboard families. It's a great forum for cruising families to connect with each other. There are articles by kids from all over the world. Parents have their own corner to share information and advice. There are links to resources like home schooling.
For the past year, the Tuckers have also run boat building workshops for children, which is what they were doing in Melbourne last weekend. On Friday and Saturday they had a bunch of kids - toddlers to teenagers - constructing and painting two ten foot scows in the civic centre parking lot. David kept on being lured away from the cruising seminars held inside the hall to check on progress in the parking lot. The kids were learning at least as much as the adults and probably having more fun. Painting was particularly popular (with at least some of the paint ending up on the boats). Curtis explained that they manage to work math, history, and science into the boat building exercise. "But what is really being built is community, character and esteem, while getting the kids to put down their joysticks, remote controls and computer keyboards, and learn and work together as a team."
On Sunday, with much fanfare, the boats were launched across the street from the civic centre. The kids spent the rest of the day learning to sail what they had just built. They're tomorrow's cruisers. Thanks in part to MaggiLu and Curtis, the cruising community is being rejuvenated.