#55 – Cruising Friendships, Part One

Friends visiting by dinghy

There’s a camp song that goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” If there’s treasure to be found in cruising, most would agree it’s the friendships we make.

To someone still dockside, about to desert land-based friendships built over many years, the finding, making, and maintaining of worthwhile friendships while wandering the world’s oceans must seem a bewildering prospect.

Not only does it happen, but many of us might reverse the rhyme. In the cruising world, it’s the new friendships that have both the sparkle and durability of gold, while old ones risk tarnish.

But let’s be fair to old friends. Unless they’re sailors, or at least travelers, themselves, they won’t get it. Not right off. You’re putting on hold or giving up entirely the very stuff by which they define their lives, and that’s shocking to them.

Email updates and blog posts are ways to tune them in to your new lifestyle, and friends may even feel that they’re riding along! You can even look ahead to destinations and plan a rendezvous, perhaps based at a resort. Fun visits bring the experience alive so much better than pictures … though they’re likely to forever view cruising as extended vacation!

The thing about new cruising friends is that they do GET IT, and they GET IT instantly. Shared destinations, shared activities, shared projects, shared weather and, of course, shared adversity lay immediate foundations. You always have something to talk about, and you have it before you even exchange names or homeports!

You always have something to talk about

On land, you take time and warm up to relationships,” says Marcie of NINE OF CUPS. “When cruising we tend to evaluate people quickly. We either like them or we don’t after a first meeting. If you like them, you pursue the relationship, because you never know when one boat or the other will leave.

Mary of CAMRYKA calls it “meeting mode.” “Cruising women in particular are eager to make new friends, so it’s easy to encounter a total stranger and within minutes bypass all the normal game-playing and zoom right in. We watch for that ‘click’ – that something – that lets us know we like this person or we don’t. If we don’t, nothing lost. If we do, everything gained.

That said, not all encounters result in the same kind of friendships. Some are intense closeness for a single event and gone, seemingly with the wind, the next day when courses diverge. Oddly, others are like seeds that grow and bear fruit later.

Some people we met cruising we didn’t really get to know too well at the time,” says Jane of LIONHEART.Lots of reasons. Usually too many other people around. Now those people are visiting as they pass through our homeport (Mooloolaba, Australia), and we’re finding we have so much more in common and didn’t know it! Cruising friendships just keep giving.

The meeting opportunities

I asked the Admirals to get specific about some of the “meeting opportunities” that have worked best for them. They flooded me with terrific stories of friendships made: the how, the where, and the why.

Buddy boatsSometimes it’s chance happenstance, an opportune encounter to explore the same place at the same time, like the car and hotel overnight in Fiji we shared with Kathy and Dave of SUNFLOWER, before they sailed on.

Traveling the same route – like the ICW – or buddy boating (traveling in tandem) almost always builds a strong connection, whether it lasts for one leg only or stretches into months. Other times it’s as simple as flying the same flag in a foreign land or celebrating abroad a holiday like Thanksgiving or Super Bowl Sunday.

Adversity is another catalyst. Be it a serious emergency or merely a mechanical puzzler, cruisers stand ready to help cruisers. “It doesn’t matter if they know you or not,” attests Debbie of ILLUSIONS, “if you have a need, cruisers are there to help. I’ve regularly seen cruisers work hours on others’ boats, provide parts and advice, boat sit, provide transportation, or deliver parts. I once had a guy take a sail down off his boat and loan it to me when I destroyed mine and had engine failure. I had total strangers provide medical assistance in an emergency. Those people all became friends.

Everyone loves to share what they knowEveryone loves to share what they know, and everyone out there has something to learn, as when Dennis & Lisa of LADY GALADRIEL taught us about underwater hunting (and cribbage!) in the Sea of Cortez, or I coached Lynn of WIND PONY on her scuba diving, or Kathy Parsons set me on the path to learning Spanish.

There’s an equal inclination to combine resources toward a shared outcome: like filling tanks to enable a group dive, merging copious watermaker output and a washing machine for a joint laundry day, or ransacking lockers to flesh out a spontaneous dinner party.

And all that never-ending talk about pumps, filters, batteries and refrigeration by the men? It also brings their women together to talk about provisioning options, destination recommendations, radio nets, and fish recipes.

Even weeks stuck in a marina or boat yard become special because of the social aspect,” points out Lorraine of TWIST OF FATE.

Chatting over lifelinesOpportunities abound, from as coincidental an encounter as being docked side-by-side and chatting over lifelines to sharing laundry rooms. (“I’ve encountered women in a marina laundry and before the spin cycle learned all about their hopes, fears and dreams and likes, skills and relationships,” says Mary of CAMRYKA.)

A shared excursion into town by bus, taxi or rental car can be very bonding whether for provisioning, hunting for parts, or sightseeing. And marinas, boatyards and those special cruiser nodes (like the Bahamas’ Georgetown, Trinidad or Fiji’s Musket Cove) create spaces for yachtie gatherings like cocktail parties, game nights, swap meets, and potlucks.

Yachtie gathering

Still, it’s hard to beat friendships launched in a shared anchorage.

Making friends at the anchorage

In an anchorage,” says Kathy of HALE KAI, “it’s perfectly appropriate to dinghy up to a boat to introduce yourself, ask questions about the area or offer info to new arrivals. Perhaps you have fish to share, books to swap, or hot news from the radio to impart. There’s no end to simple rationales for stopping by.

When someone does dinghy by, “Invite them aboard for tea or coffee in the cockpit,” says Sylvie of ALBATROS, remembering how she and Kathy first met in Trinidad’s Scotland Bay. “It’s an easy, low-cost no-strings-attached way to give friendship a start.

Sundowners, of course, are the most traditional of cruiser gatherings, usually between two or three boats. (In different areas you’ll find different protocols for whether the host provides the drinks and hors d’oeuvres or whether it’s BYO. Feel your way!) Be prepared to make an evening of it as intense connections can spontaneously combust!

Dinghy drift

For larger groups, dinghy raft-ups make great impromptu sundowner platforms. In the Caribbean, we used to host “noodle parties,” allowing us to invite everybody in an anchorage to BYOB and bob behind the boat on flotation aids of choice – a great way to cool down for the evening.

But it doesn’t take a crowd. For making lasting friendships, one-on-one is often best.

For making lasting friendships, one-on-one is often best  (Debbie Leisure and Kathy Parsons)

My favorite tale comes from Jane. “One lovely couple we met in the remote Lau Group had a brew kit on board but little water. With our watermaker we had tons to spare. So we had a brewing day! A team keg and a wonderful friendship flourished. We spent two weeks exploring together whilst our beer baby brewed. Frankly, the more crowded an anchorage was, the more we stayed to ourselves or hung out with people we already knew.

Next month, we’ll examine how cruisers keep track of so many roving friends……

Photos: Thanks to Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai

Contributing Admirals:  Mary Heckrotte, Camryka; Marcie Lynn, Nine of Cups; Jane Kilburn, Lionheart; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Lorraine Bramble, Twist of Fate; Sylvie Branton, Albatros

This article was published in the February 2011 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

Related articles on this website
  • Cruising Friendships, Part Two – Keeping Track! (Admiral’s Angle column #56): Strategies and incentives for keeping connected with cruising friends when way diverge.
  • The Knack of Befriending Locals (Admiral’s Angle column #57):
    What’s behind the knack of forging successful bonds with local peoples in the places we visit.
  • Guests Aboard (Admiral’s Angle column #40): Some counsel about managing visits and visitors to enhance their experience and maintain crew sanity.
  • Staying in Touch (Admiral’s Angle column #14): Out of sight of land no longer means out of touch: the ways and means cruisers stay in touch with each other and back home.

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