Not So Lonely
September 8, 2005
We were in Portland, Maine, last weekend so that Eileen could perform at a "down east cruise" organized by the people who make Mirage trawlers. David noted that the food at the potluck dinner before Eileen's concert was a cut above the usual cruiser fare; he gave top marks to the chicken cordon bleu, seafood chowder, and cherry cheesecake. "Maybe trawlers have better equipped galleys than sailboats," he mused between trips to the serving table. But other than perhaps having higher culinary standards, the folks at the trawler rally were pretty typical of the people we meet cruising. There was lots of talk about the weather, boat maintenance projects, and the wonders of nature (many were excited about a large pod of whales they had encountered on the way). And, like the majority of the cruisers we know, they were all middle-aged couples.
After the event, we went to spend the night in nearby Falmouth at our friend Michael's place. Michael is also a cruiser, so we continued talking about the weather, boat maintenance projects, and the wonders of nature (Michael had several stories about giant fish he had caught that we pretended to believe). But, unlike the majority of the cruisers we know, Michael cruises by himself.
While singlehanding cruisers are relatively few in number, they are an important part of the cruising community. We've described in previous entries some of the solo sailors we know. In fact, our October 28, 2004 story "Going It Alone" about singlehander Barbara Molin generated an unusually large number of responses from readers -- all male. It seems that quite a few people fear Barbara might be lonely and would be willing to volunteer to keep her company (for those who might be interested, the last we heard from Barbara was that she was enjoying the cruising life in Spain).
Until recently, we too were of the impression that singlehanders were solo by circumstances, not by choice. Take, for example, our friend Derek, formerly on the 34 foot sloop "Unity". His claim to fame is that he's won the turtle award for finishing last the most times in the cruising regatta in George Town, Bahamas. He used to personify why anxious parents warn their innocent daughters not to hang around sailor bars. You could always count on there being a female crew member onboard "Unity", but never the same one. Then Derek met Esther.
Esther didn't know anything about sailing when they first got together, but she learned fast. She is also very outgoing and can rival Derek in the charm department. Two years ago, she joined Derek in George Town for the regatta and helped him win the turtle award yet again. The next thing we heard from Derek was that he was buying a bigger boat, big enough for two people to live aboard full time. We weren't totally surprised when we got an e-mail from Derek and Esther this spring announcing their wedding on the beach in George Town. If Derek could succumb to matrimony, we figured no singlehander was immune.
Now we're not so sure. Just about the time we heard of Derek and Esther's nuptials, we met Dave Manzer in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Dave sailed into the harbour by himself on his 27 foot Westerly Pembroke cutter "Coriolis III". He's originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia; he later moved to Alberta where he owned a wilderness horseback vacation business and an artist blacksmith shop. Summers he operated the horse business and winters he did custom forge work for high-end residential developments. When his heavy work schedule began to compromise his health, he started going for extended sails in the maritime provinces where he kept "Coriolis III". Last year, Dave decided it was time to head for the tropics. He sold the horse business, mothballed the blacksmith shop, and pointed the bow south.
We dropped in on Dave after hearing him introduce himself on the morning cruisers radio net. Being awash in connubial bliss ourselves, we naturally assumed Dave wouldn't know what to do with himself in his sorry solo state. He soon set us straight. He explained that singlehanding on a small, modestly equipped boat -- he doesn't have a fridge, watermaker, SSB radio or roller-furling -- keeps him busy, sometimes too busy. He said, "Coming down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway by myself was one of the more challenging things I've ever done with my boat. You don't have a bit of room; you can never leave the tiller. If you need to pee you have to drop the hook somewhere."
While Dave enjoys reading and playing the guitar, he doesn't need a lot of other distractions to keep him occupied. "What I like most about cruising is just sailing -- I mean actually sailing without any motors running. It's the closest thing in this world to a free ride ... The big draw is seeing new places and different cultures, but I tend not to stay very long in any one place because I get the itch to sail pretty quick."
Ironically, Dave feels that being single is the best way to ensure he always has lots to do. "People often ask me if I don't get lonely living alone. I tell them when you're sailing you've got enough to do ... But when you get to port, I've found people approach you because they realize you're by yourself. They'll talk to you and you'll meet people, lots of interesting people. If I have someone with me on the boat -- which occasionally happens, friends come along -- I always notice when they leave that I really didn't meet anybody else. Sailing alone is not boring and it's not lonely."
This brings us back to our friend Michael in Maine. We first met him in a do-it-yourself boat yard in the Chesapeake three years ago. He was doing a bottom job on his Shannon 38 "Madeline". He was by himself at the time, but he told us he had a partner up in Maine who would join him after he had fixed up the boat. Eileen still suffers nightmares related to the bottom job we did on "Little Gidding" several years ago. She said, "Smart woman."
As it turned out, Michael's partner was smart enough to determine that long distance cruising and maintaining close family ties weren't compatible for her. That winter in the islands she ended up flying home a few times for extended periods. The next year, Michael returned to the Bahamas on his own. He sailed back to Maine last summer, sold "Madeline", bought a trailer, and set out across the country with his dog Max to try his hand at land cruising.
This past weekend, Michael told us he had met a lot of interesting people on the road, but concluded he wasn't really suited to the RV world. After returning home a couple of months ago, he bought an older Sabre 34 sailboat. "It was such a great deal I couldn't pass it up", he explained. We recall that's what he told us a year ago when he bought the trailer.
David and Michael went for an afternoon sail together on Casco Bay. It was sunny, there was a lively breeze, and they pretty well had the bay to themselves except for a few thousand lobster pots. Michael said, "I figure I'll spend the winter fixing up the boat and working part time to build up the cruising kitty. Next year I'll join you guys down south."
"Will you be on your own?" David asked.
Michael smiled. "We'll see."
David & Eileen