People, the Bonus of Cruising, it was one of the first stories I ever wrote. In it I described the ease with which cruisers seem to make new, amazingly intimate friendships among the people they meet – both cruisers and shore folks – just because they have decided to set off into the unknown, and how those friendships will add to their life long after they sail away towards another destination. I was reminded of this story as I drove right across the United States to launch Taleisin’s Tales. It was almost as if I was reliving my cruising years as, at each stop, I shared time with people from various episodes of 45 years of voyaging.
I was with Jill Hetherington, a sailing friend from Kawau Island which is my home base in New Zealand. Together we were traveling in Brownie Lite the sturdy Toyota truck/camper Larry and I have kept in Californian as our U.S. summer cottage. First scheduled stop, Port Townsend, Washington to take part in the 40th Annual Wooden Boat Festival. Our host Kaci Cronkite. Kaci is definitely among those we met only because of cruising. Back in 1978 Larry and I had just sailed across the North Pacific on little Seraffyn and were exploring the Gulf Islands near Victoria, BC when we kept getting messages from people living in Port Townsend, a place we’d never heard of. It took a few weeks before curiosity got the better of us and we found a phone. “We want you to be part of our second Wooden Boat festival and symposium,” we were informed. It turned out to be the highlight of our summer (and several summers over the next four decades), amazing boats, interesting craftsmen sharing their skills. Kaci, who had sailed around the world herself, became one of the coordinators of the festival and of course we became friends. And over the past few years I enjoyed encouraging her as she wrote a book, Finding Pax, about being seduced into buying and restoring a very special wooden boat. So our current reunion was full of book talk along with cruising and sailing chatter.
On to Flathead Lake, Montana. We first met Bill and Mary Eisenlohr soon after we sailed into Newport Beach after our first circumnavigation We were looking for an affordable place to build another boat. Friends heard we were considering building Taleisin in the desert hills and insisted there was another crazy boatbuilder and sailor out there. The friendship was not only great fun, but helpful for all of us since Bill and Mary were only 20 miles away from our hill top boatyard and we often loaned each other tools. Now living in a lakeside home in Montana, Mary and Bill’s life is still centered around boats – sailboats, classic speed boats.
I’d heard of the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior for years. Now I had a chance to sail through them courtesy of more cruising friends, Karen Larsen and Jerry Powlas. Though we didn’t meet out cruising, we wouldn’t have met if we hadn’t gone. Karen and Jerry contacted us when they decided someone had to create a magazine for what they call, “The Rest of Us.” They asked for advice as they began publishing Good Old Boat Magazine. A friendship blossomed and now they invited us to get out sailing from the small marina where they keep their boat. What a wonderful reception we had from the friendly crowd that gather there.
Peter Legnos – we met him in Cartagena Columbia when he was just 19 We’d been cruising for just two years and loving it. Peter had sailed south on a big schooner but was looking for another way home. Larry invited him for dinner which turned in to a six-week long sailing adventure. Peter was a strapping young man, almost six feet tall but, yes, all three of us had a great time together on 24 foot long Seraffyn. Peter returned home to become a successful boatbuilder/designer. Now his home near Mystic Connecticut feels like a second home to me.
In Baltimore it was two wonderful days with Lillian Jarman (now Jarman-Reisch). We met when she was first mate on a charter ketch out of Rhodes, Greece. Through the years we’ve managed to keep in touch by phone, by email and by exchanging visits when we are anywhere close to each other (this included one mad-cap meeting in Paris when Larry and I happened to be wintering with Taleisin in the far west of England.)
The list could go on for another page or two but, you get the idea. And the most amazing thing about the friendships we made as we cruised, they seem to survive long separations far more easily than those made any other way. Many of our cruising friends have confirmed that, each time cruising friends reconnect, it seems as if the conversation picks up right where it left off, almost as if there has been no time lapse at all.
I’ve pondered why cruising friendships develop so easily, why such deep connections seem to form. For many years I felt the answer was simple, we have so much in common with those we meet along the way, it’s easy to connect and communicate. But now I have been living on shore for a while I think it is also because of need, but even more about time. When you are cruising you are no longer surrounded by family, workmates and all the other friendly familiar faces which filled your shore-side days so you need to connect with new people. But the more important factor behind the longevity of cruising friendships is you truly have time for friendships. The less scheduled, more relaxed, pace of cruising lets you spend whole days, even two or three whole days getting to know a new friend, without the interference of cellphone interruptions, dental appointments or work emergencies. And, you can change your departure date or even destination to spend more time together or even cruise in company for a while to savor the new people in your life.
It is definitely a bonus of cruising; the friendships you develop. And my trans-US jaunt once again proved just how long lasting and rewarding those friendships can be.
Very best wishes to my American friends who are celebrating Thanksgiving this month, for my Canadian friends who celebrated Thanksgiving last month.