#33 – How We Choose Where We Cruise – Part 2

Last month we surveyed the basic principles that guide how cruisers, especially new cruisers, make decisions about where they are going to cruise. Those principals were interests of the crew, activities they want to pursue, personal style, needs from civilization (or not!), recommendations, security, and, of course, the patterns of climate, season, wind direction and current flow.

But interestingly, what really struck me about the reports my Admirals sent me, is to what degree planning is counterbalanced by whim. Cruisers tend to start out with a plan to go to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe or around the world, but very often plans get radically changed or even abandoned. In fact, a plan is very rarely ONE plan. Ask almost any experienced cruiser where they’re headed, and you will find they have an alphabet soup of plans, “Well, plan A is to do this, BUT Plan B is that and Plan C might be this other.”

“Being an indecisive person,” says Kathy of Hale Kai, whose primary cruising ground is the Caribbean, “I love the cruising lifestyle because we have such flexibility in our decisions about where to be, and I love the Caribbean because we can so easily bounce from English, to French to Spanish cultures. We often don’t plan our season all that far out, and our itinerary is not always logical. We might sail to Venezuela to rendezvous with friends, then back north to Martinique to buy wine, or pop over to Fajardo to get boat supplies from West Marine. What plans we do have are always ‘carved in jell-o.’”

A more extreme example of cruiser spontaneity is the itinerary of Katherine and Craig of Sangaris, writing me from Siracusa, Sicily. After the initial draw of climate and good sailing in the Caribbean, Katherine and Craig pushed through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, where they first went south to Ecuador where a daughter in the Peace Corps gave them an inside track on inland exploration. Then they went north to Mexico where they had an offer to care-take a friend’s house while studying Spanish. Later, while sitting at a dock in San Carlos, Katherine read an article about Europe, and like that, she asked Craig if he wanted to do a trans-Atlantic crossing. He said “sure,” and they started planning their next journey from that day forward! They spent two years traveling the British Isles exploring their own English, Scottish and Irish roots, and now they are cruising the Med, where their course has been crafted by interest in historical and cultural sights but also by economics. “The Med is an expensive place to cruise,” Katherine says, “but, as a destination, Siracusa has proved ‘molto bene,’ because it’s been our cheapest winter storage yet in Europe, with a very well-protected harbor/anchorage for our before and after storage prep, and an interesting place with Greek and Roman ruins, bustling piazzas and an international group of 12+ cruisers to keep us happily distracted!” Along with good food, that pretty much exemplifies typical cruiser criteria!

When cruisers aren’t couples, they often shift their itineraries to accommodate interests of the crew they’ve recruited. Rachel of Ventana was accommodating crew when she changed her own plans of heading east across the Atlantic when she took on Norwegian Elizabeth who wasn’t interested in backtracking to Europe. Sufficiently interested in the Pacific, Rachel simply changed directions, and the two women have dived their way across. Although Rachel has the final say in planning, when the two women disagree on smaller-scale decisions about when and where to go, they have been known to determine their course “based on the outcome of a backgammon game.”

Even cruisers who do have carefully thought-out long term cruising plans temper them with flexibility. “Randy and I are both planners,” says Sheri of Procyon, from Tasmania “We like to know where we are going tomorrow, next week, next month, next hurricane season and even the next few years. We like warm weather so try to stay ahead of cold seasons, and we fly home at least once a year, so need to know we’ll be in a safe place to leave the boat. Planning well ahead allows us to make high season reservations for marinas, flights and even special events like the Christmas concert and New Year’s Eve cruise we did this year in Sydney. However, we usually have multiple plans on the table at any given time, and having plans doesn’t mean we don’t change them. For example, we’ve enjoyed Australia so much; we think we’ll add another year here!”

Although cruisers love the variety and flexibility of the cruising lifestyle, they often contradict that by falling in love with a place and never leaving, or by leaving and then coming back over and over. Mary and Carl of Camryka chose the Rio Dulce in Guatemala as their first major destination because circumnavigators they’d met said it was their all-time favorite place and they’d read a magazine article describing all its remote wonders. “We wanted to see it before it spoiled. We stayed a year, and when we left, we left reluctantly, convinced we had seen the best first but feeling we really should see what else was out there.” They went back to the US for a bigger boat, spent several years in the Caribbean between Trinidad and Curacao, before the draw of Central America kept “pulling, pulling, pulling” them back.

There was one other random factor that cropped up in almost every report to a degree I really hadn’t quite anticipated. But I should have, because it has been a major factor in our own cruise. Betsy of Salsa summed it up best. “We often go where we go because of friends, cruising friends. Maybe they’ve told us about a secret, beautiful cove with a path through a Tarzan-ish jungle to a secret pristine beach.  Perhaps it’s an inland trip, like the trek on the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu that several friends told us about or the Venezuelan eye clinic another recommended where I had my eyes lasered at a fraction of the cost of doing it in the U.S. But more often, it’s that we take off to meet cruising friends at some sweet place – Glover’s Reef in Belize, or The Basin up the New Meadows River in Maine, or between the Pitons in St. Lucia or …..”

Contributing Admirals: Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Katherine Briggs, Sangaris; Sheri Schneider, Procyon; Jane Kilburn, Lionheart; Mary Heckrotte, Camryka; Yvonne Katchor, Australia 31; Rachel Emery, Ventana; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Mary Verlaque, I Wanda; Susan Richter, Wooden Shoe; Terri Watson & Kimi Harrison, Delphinus; Betsy Morris, Salsa; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Karyn Ennor, Magic Carpet.

This article was published in the April 2009 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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