Prodigal Daughter -
July 1, 2004
Is it a blessing or a curse
Quinn, A Sailor's Daughter)
This past winter the number of foreign boats hanging around in George Town, cruiser Mecca in the Bahamas, was down compared to previous years. Michael Minns, the owner of cruiser friendly Exuma Markets, figured there were perhaps ten to fifteen percent fewer boats at anchor in Elizabeth Harbour than in 2003. Some cruisers were quick to blame the decline on a hike in cruising fees -- starting last summer, the cost of a Bahamas annual cruising permit for a foreign yacht over 35 feet long went from $100 to $300. But a closer look at the weekly boat counts that Michael has compiled every cruising season since 1985 revealed another story. The number of boats visiting George Town actually peaked in the winter of 1999 - 2000 and has been on a slow downhill slide ever since. It's hard to pin that on a fee increase that's only a year old.
Our friend Lee Kristofs on the Morgan Classic 41 sailboat "Windstar 4" had another explanation for the drop in numbers. For the past decade, she and her husband Charlie have spent their winters anchored in the secluded Red Shanks anchorage south of George Town. Lee told us, "Only a couple of the eighteen or so regulars who used to share the anchorage with us every year are still out cruising. Most of the ones who have quit are getting too old; to some extent they've been replaced by younger cruisers." Lee went on to say that with increasing age comes declining health and -- more significantly, in her view -- additional family responsibilities. "There comes a time when you want to spend more time with your grandchildren and ageing parents."
Many boaters wait until they're past mid-life before they cut the ties and head out for distant horizons. At that point, if they've been fortunate, they've achieved a happy convergence of financial independence and relief from child rearing duties. But their freedom might be short-lived. Ironically, just when their responsibilities to their now-grown children have ended, grand kids are about to arrive and THEIR parents are needing more support. The ties remain. The test now is between the pull of the sea and the pull of "blood and hearth and home", as the above quote from Eileen's song suggests.
When we started full time cruising ten years ago, Eileen's parents Doris and Jack were active and in good health. They came down to visit us in Trinidad in December 1995 and stayed on the boat. Jack wasn't as spry as he once was. His biggest challenge was moving between boat and dinghy or dock, but with some assistance and minor modifications everything worked out fine. Two years later, Jack and Doris met us in Guatemala. Unfortunately, Jack's health and mobility had declined to the extent that he couldn't comfortably stay overnight on the boat. He and Doris slept in a small hotel on the Rio Dulce and we anchored out front. We went on some day trips together on "Little Gidding" and rented a car for a week of inland sightseeing. That was the last time they came down to visit us. Jack can no longer travel, even if staying on land. We now make an annual trip home to see Eileen's parents.
As we mentioned in last week's entry ("Summerizing"), our visits home in the past have never lasted more than a month or two. This year we plan to be away from our boat for over four months; we'll be spending a good part of that time in Ottawa with Jack and Doris. On the drive up from Florida, where we left "Little Gidding" parked on the hard, Eileen mused, "This will be the longest period I've spent with my parents since I left home to go to university."
David, the ever-diplomatic son-in-law, suggested, "It could be an interesting experience."
Today is Canada Day, the holiday marking Canada's birth as a nation 137 years ago. Sunday is July 4th, Independence Day for our neighbours to the south. Despite living in Canada for all her adult life, Doris has retained her American citizenship. This weekend, as usual, there'll be a Canadian AND American flag on display in front of their home in Ottawa. Tomorrow, Doris flies to Georgia for a couple of weeks to attend a family reunion. In her absence, we're looking forward to caring for Jack in the house in which Eileen grew up. The prodigal daughter returns.