Misty clouds turn to rain as we make our way slowly into Skagway. I can’t complain as the weather has treated us kindly during our cruise through the Inland Passage toward Alaska. But, as the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon Railway train Larry, approaches the docks where our cruise liner awaits, I contemplate the privileges bestowed on those of us who do our “real” cruising on small sailing vessels.
This big ship cruise had come about because the two of us were sitting near the wood burning fire at our New Zealand island cottage, contemplating the few stones we’d left unturned during our voyages on Seraffyn and Taleisin. When I mentioned the fiords and glaciers of Alaska Larry stated, as he always had in the past, “that’s more of a motor boat trip.” But then he added, “so why don’t we get away from these short winter nights for a while and try something else we’ve never done before, go on a cruise!”
It’s been good. Attentive crew, friendly passengers, almost too much entertainment, too much food. But as I contrast this to my normal life afloat, the word that come to mind is, connection.
There is a sense of connection that makes offshore voyaging unique, a connection that is definitely missing on this Cruise Liner excursion. On board a small sailing vessel, you are part of your environment, directly connected to the weather. Each change of the wind or sea affects how your boat moves, how you move around on your boat, your mood, your plans for the next minute or hour or day. Each time you complete a successful passage, the work you put in, the hours of navigating, handling sails, caring for your crew and vessel create a sense of connection between place you left and the port or bay you are about to enter. And as you lower your anchor or attach your docklines, you actually feel the physical connection as it happens. When you walk into a shop, it isn’t just for a look around which may show you a bit of the local artwork, you have a direct connection as you search for parts or provisions you need and actually experience the way the local economy works. And, though you are in effect, a tourist during the day or week or more that you stay, you can and usually do form actual connections to the people you meet on shore. At first you may appear, as those from cruise liners do, to be a source of income. But no security team keeps you from inviting local folks from joining you in your floating home, and if you can truly relax into your cruising life, no tight schedule forces you to move. You can stay for a week, a month or more if you truly connect with someone or some place along your route. And then there is the special sense of connection among those who travel with you. We’ve met some interesting folks as we sat down to dinner with just a few of 2000 people sailing with us this week, a wheat farmer who amused and amazed us with tales of how big industry farming’s cast-off machinery is a gold mine to those like him who successfully farm smaller holdings of 800 acres or so (I think he loves tinkering with machinery even more than farming), a young woman who has just graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree as a tropical plant horticulturist and is trying to figure out how to find paying work she enjoys. But there is none of the common ground that is part and parcel of meeting up with others who have sailed their own boats across almost any body of water, none of the almost instant and often long term connection small boat sailors share.
I am glad we decided to take this voyage. The landscape is just as stunning as I’d expected. Watching as a pod of Orca’s taught their young to hunt by attaching a sea lion that was trying to shelter on the jet drive of the tour boat we rode in, is an experience I was glad to share with the 50 other people who were on the tour boat with me. And I have learned Larry was correct, with the strong currents, and steep fiords blocking or funnelling the wind, this would not have been a place we’d have enjoyed voyaging with our engine-free vessels. I am also glad to be reminded how privileged we’ve been. But just as important, I now have a clearer understanding of why I decided to start publishing other sailors books.
It’s this sense of connection. Yes, I have dozens, maybe hundreds of stories I hope to someday write about Taleisin’s Tales, and even some that never got told about our days on Seraffyn and the other vessels we’ve raced or delivered across oceans. But Larry’s health is keeping us from sailing far beyond the cove that fronts our cottage. Now, by working with others who are out there, exploring places we’ve been and places we wish we’d been, I have established a new sense of connection to my voyaging life. Over the past few months, as I received replies to emails from each of the authors of Voyaging with Kids, Michael who was cruising through the islands of Polynesia, Behan as she stopped among the islands of the Indian Ocean and Sara as she once again sold her home and possessions and set off with her family to search for “the next” boat in New Zealand, their notes about their latest passage, latest plans has kept me involved and connected to the people and the world of cruising under sail.
Larry and I wish you each, fair winds.
P.S. In October I will be coming to Annapolis for the SSCA Gam and the US. Sailboat Show to launch Voyaging with Kids. Along with some one hour seminars, I will be presenting a special 4 hour seminar called, Writing, Blogging, Video – how to make it pay. Tory Salvia of www.thesailingchannel.tv will join me for part of that time to discuss details of creating and marketing sailing videos. For more info or to make a reservation use this link