Having cruised intermittently since the mid ’70s, we were not particularly naive about what to expect. We knew we were up to most of the challenges of cruising as we imagined it. Sailing and all that goes with it had provided a welcome constant over years of professional vagaries. Contextually, we knew cruising and cruisers were not Utopian by any means. But the lifestyle offered us a comfortable escape from some routines that had worn us quite thin. It also offered a pivot point for our lives — a way to turn toward the future rather than away from the past. We were also blessed to have, not only an excellent boat for the task, but one we knew — discovering a new boat while discovering full time cruising is not something we would ever recommend. And then there is the WEATHER!
While we weren’t naive about to expect, we have been surprised.
We have been surprised by how bad the AICW has gotten. Our first trip in 1980, we worried about commercial traffic, and once we were very, very nearly run aground by a center-hugging barge tow. These last few trips, we rarely saw commercial traffic in the Ditch – because it has become one. We have nearly been run aground by bad infrastructure maintenance policy. It had gotten to the point we would often only run three to four hours a day in some sections to position ourselves for thin water spots on a subsequent high tide. Several times we found just inches under the keel at high tide. Enough! The emphasis on “last” means we don’t plan to travel the AICW outside of Florida again with this boat. It stopped being fun and became a chore. Cruising includes enough chores we don’t need to be adding any.
We have been surprised by the legislative hostility toward cruisers we have encountered in Florida. They love us when we are paying marina fees or mooring fees. When we are anchoring, there is NO love. Some of the language directed toward cruisers is just plain defamatory. Unfortunately, we have seen a few cruisers who fuel these flames with their behavior. By the 2% we are all smudged. And yet, we’ve never gotten anything but a friendly wave from Florida law enforcement personnel, even when anchored.
We have been surprised by the lack of young people cruising. We’ve met a few, and have really enjoyed their company. But most folks we have met are within 20 years of our age. Full time (sail) cruising seems to be dying out as the people who embraced and promoted it move ashore and beyond.
We have been surprised by the friendliness of the Abaconian people. When we first went there in 1972, that was not the word one would use. Not on Grand Bahama, at least. We understand those days better now, but the welcome these days is truly extraordinary. Their challenge is how to keep the ills of Nassau from creeping north.
The sailing, when it has been possible, exposed a weakness. We aren’t as young as we used to be. For the two of us, 24-30 hours offshore, that’s it, and we don’t take on crew. So we haven’t been as far reaching as we intended. On the other hand, the Bahamas have provided some of the best sailing in years. It’s not about the winches and sails and lines, it’s about endurance. The endurance one develops for horrendous commutes and interminable staff meetings is not the endurance required for dealing with unlit fishing boats on moonless nights in the Atlantic — or the endurance required for 70 knot squalls.
We are well past proving something to ourselves or others. There was a time when setting out for the wide and distant horizon was intrinsically interesting. Now, we prefer that horizon to have something explicitly interesting, preferably attractive, just beneath it. Something reachable in less than 24 hours, and less than that is even better, and on a reach would be nice…with not much motoring involved. Picky? Heck, yes.
When called on to deal with the lions and tigers and bears, the biggest challenges we have encountered are people anchoring poorly upwind of us, powerboats on autopilot with no one paying attention, and heavy squalls when the prediction was for a 2% chance.
Contextually, cruising full time been eye-opening. When we compare our first offshore cruise in 1980 to our most recent foray in the Bahamas:
- We had 1 hp/1000 lbs then, today we have 2.2 hp/1000 lbs of boat
- Diesel was $0.82/gal ($2.35 adj for inflation), today it’s around $4.20 in the US and $6.00 in the BS
- That boat could carry 20 gal of fuel, this one 200 gal. [added 16 May 2014]
- That boat went 5 mph at best fuel consumption, this one 7.5 mph
- Then we had two antennas — VHF and RDF, today its TV, VHF/FM/AIS, 3 GPS, 5 Satellite Comms, and Navtex
- Then we had a solar bag-shower in the cockpit floor, today the shower comes in hot plus cold with a seat and a door.
- Then we slept in the cockpit when it was sweltering, now we can fire up the genset* and turn on the AC.
- Then we had a really good ice box (as in box for block ice), Today it’s a reefer and freezer (that do require defrosting argh!)
Cruising is much less roughing it than it used to be. Our accommodations are on par with the tall ships we sail on, and our head compartment is larger…but we are the cabin staff, cooking staff, deckhands, bosuns, officers, and owners. We still like to take vacations.
We found depending on once a month rental cars got old fast, and insurance savings weren’t offsetting storage costs to the degree expected. We’d save up tasks requiring a car and then do them all at once, and then come back to the boat needing to stow stuff so we could move around. It was a downer. Then someone sideswiped one of those rentals in a parking lot… We got our trusty, paid for car out of storage and move it from base to base.
Cruising, for us, has been much more social at marinas than at anchor. The common dock or lounge seem to serve our generation better than crawling into overloaded cockpits like we used to back when. It’s a matter of flexibility, both mental and physical.
At anchor, we’ve had a few dinghy-borne visitors, but the conversations have rarely moved to the cockpit. Most folks drop by wanting to know what kind of boat it is. And by and large all have been friendly. None have required social media to help the parties relate. However one episode pretty much killed our willingness to let the newly-met aboard from here on out…or we may buy a breathalyzer and require PFDs to be worn. Only one visitor has ever stopped by because of a cruising organization connection. Even so, we have made friends we will have for as long as fate allows. Some are older, some younger and some are in the same indefinite band we seem to be in, neither old nor young and taking life as it comes.
For decades we cruised when the weather suited our clothes. When one cruises full time some of that weather can be pretty unsuitable. We have frozen — ice on the dodger, six blankets, sweatsuits and skull caps (*genset valves too tight). We have sweltered (*genset water pump failed, *genset starter failed). We have prayed for breeze. We have prayed for the anemometer to drop below 50 knots soon (and the 7 foot, 2 second swells too). We have been rained on so hard we couldn’t carry on a conversation, and water from the mainsail half flooded the cockpit. We have gone without rain for so long we wondered why we ever thought we could collect it for drinking/washing. We have been trapped at anchor for days while the wind stayed above 30 knots from the direction we wanted to go. We have motored (on and on and on) with no wind to ride no matter which way we turned. Weather is THE uber-context for cruising. Between Florida and the Bahamas, the Gulf Stream shares that title. Waltzing with the weather is an essential skill. And that can mean quite a few unintended pauses to let Nature have its way.