Banners snapping in a fresh breeze. Jamaican rhythms echoing across the water, laughter ringing from the booth across from mine where a comedian is spinning plates through the air, several thousand contented sailors filling the docks around me – Its boat show time in Annapolis. I’d come to present some seminars, launch the book I just published (Voyaging with Kids) and catch up with sailing friends who assemble here most years. Two things make this particular boat show a focal point; the timing and the location. Mid-October, the snowbirds are sailing south away from winter. Sailboats, powerboats, those headed off for their very first foray into the cruising life, others who have followed the seasons a dozen times before. Halfway down the US east coast, just off the inter-coastal waterway, a handsome historical town surrounded by good anchorages, a wide array of boatyards, and with places to secure dinghies at the end of each street, Annapolis is a sailor friendly town. It’s also a perfect place to do final preparations for any voyage. And, with all the historical buildings right next to the bay, it’s a great place to be a waterborne tourist.
Over the fifty years since the show began, other events have grown up to take advantage of this yearly migration: gams (gatherings of like-minded sailors), rendezvous, and nautical swap-meets. This year there was even a gathering of yacht club commodores and representatives from around the world. The place literally buzzes with activities. Every marina berth and hotel is booked months in advance. The plethora of events, the need to move show boats from their home ports and prepare them to be on display creates literally hundreds of temporary jobs which attract budget minded sailors looking to top up their cruising kitty. So I am not surprised to be greeted by sailors I’ve met in dozens of other countries plus editors, writers, boat builders I’ve worked with through the years.
I arrived in Annapolis a week early to take part in the Seven Seas Cruising Association Gam. Though the threat of a hurricane, and the strong winds preceding it had kept many crews from getting their boats to the anchorages near the gam, there was an enthusiastic turn out. The majority was first time cruisers or would be cruisers who had come to learn from the array of speakers. As I listened to some of these speakers, then later chatted with many of the attendees, I began to realize how much easier it was for us to set off cruising 50 years ago, and how much more our preparations inspired confidence rather than fear.
Our gear choices were amazingly simple, with maybe five percent of the choices available now. Sail fabrics, two choices, Dacron or nylon. Line choices, the same; three strand Dacron, three strand nylon. Electronics for average yachtsmen meant possibly electric running lights and depth sounder, a radio receiver. Loran (the only electronic navigation system available at the time), Ham radio – their cost put them beyond the reach of most potential cruisers.
There were almost no organized learn-to-cruise-or safety-at-sea programs, no boat show seminars and very few vendors using these seminars as a way of promoting their own services. That meant the majority of potential voyagers either took courses through a local community college as I did, or worked with another experienced sailor to learn coastal navigation, then celestial navigation and finally weather interpretation. The only way to test these skills was to get out on the water and practice. Each success built confidence, a sense of self-reliance. In contrast, I listened to a weather seminar during which the presenter, who openly admitted he wished to expand his weather routing business, spent half his allotted time giving some excellent information about weather systems, then spent the other half listing why it was unsafe for people to head offshore without hiring him. Instead of helping the attendees feel more confident, it appeared his goal was to inspire discomfort. The same could be said of another speaker, who had his own electronics equipment servicing and installation business. He warned of the dangers of setting sail without a satellite phone and interconnected computer/email system.
Yes, it can be harder to get off cruising today. But then, as I chatted with dozens of enthusiastic couples and single-handers who had made the break and were headed south on the first leg of what some hoped would be a long term voyage I began to realize, most of people who are smart enough to acquire a cruising boat can differentiate between advertising and information, between necessity and convenience, need and desire. The most common thread that ran through these conversations was summed up by one of my new Annapolis friends, “I tried to get out sailing as much as I could before I made purchasing decisions. And I decided to par back my want list. I figure I can add things after I’ve been cruising for a while, if I still want them. Those two strategies got me out a year earlier than I expected.”
Fair winds to all and Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends
Lin and Larry
P.S. A wonderful and unexpected event took place at the SSCA Gam just before I stood up to give the evening presentation. I knew Beth Leonard, a wonderful friend with whom Larry and I have shared many anchorages, had been asked to introduce me. But instead of a simple introduction, she gave the following speech (reprinted here at Beth’s insistence.)
“When Evans set out to convince me to go cruising with him back in 1990, he introduced me to offshore sailing through the pantheon of early sailor-writers who led the way to distant shores aboard small boats for all of us, whether we know it or not. The Hiscocks, Smeetons, Roths. Tania Abei, Dodge Morgan. Robin Lee Graham. The Pardeys.
Of those, I related most to the Hiscocks and the Pardeys. They did not just complete one voyage but made it a way of life. They were couples who’s cruising strengthened and deepened their partnership. Their adventures were humbling – sailing around the world! – but not utterly unimaginable –like getting shipwrecked or pitchpoled near Cape Horn! They did it with sextants and without engines.
Evans owes Lin because, more than anyone else, Lin convinced me to go. She did it in three ways. She spoke to me as a woman and first mate. Her words wound a spell around me that answered the why, but then she told me how in straightforward, simple language. She directly addressed my fears. Her statistics on how often they had been in heavy weather put things in perspective, and her descriptions of handling it made me believe I could handle it, too. She was honest about her relationship with Larry and the times when it wasn’t perfect, while demonstrating the infinite rewards of a partnership forged in shared adventure.
And I owe Larry, because Evans aspired to the level of seamanship that Larry demonstrated every day at sea, and the level of skill he invested into every frame and plank of the two boats he built. Evans took three lessons from Larry. Design it strong and then build it stronger. The sea will find any weaknesses, so make sure there aren’t any to find. Keep it simple – and if you choose not to keep it simple, then make sure you can do without whatever it is when it fails. Imagine and prepare for the worst, because good seamanship means never having to say you’re sorry.
Lin and Larry’s message, “Go simple, go small, go now,” may seem outmoded when most cruising sailors have been convinced that they need a 50-foot boat, a watermaker, and broadband before heading offshore. But that message keeps the door open for those whose dreams would otherwise seem to be forever out of reach, and it reminds the rest of us that no matter what boat we’re on as we cruise, we’re still cruising.
The Seven Seas Award signifies the highest international recognition of a cruising sailor whose experiences on the sea demonstrate a deep commitment to good seamanship and an understanding of his ship and environment. I can think of no two people who better meet this description than Lin and Larry. This honor has only been extended 19 times in the 62 years of SSCA’s existence. The Pardeys belong with the Hiscocks, the Smeetons, and the Roths, all previous award winners.
Congratulations, Lin and Larry. And thank you for all of the voyages the two of you have launched, including mine.” – Beth Leonard
As you can imagine, I was quite overwhelmed and a bit sad that Larry could not be with me to enjoy this moment. It took me more than a few minutes to dry my tears and get over the emotional high before I could start my talk. Fortunately Beth stepped in and entertained folks with some good stories while I recovered my composure.