It’s a cool, clear evening. The wind is calm and the water is so glassy that you can see the reflections of the stars and the clouds on the surface. There is no moon yet. I’m in the cockpit listening to the sound track from “Legends of the Fall” on the stereo. Suzy’s below getting ready for bed. It’s good to relax. I spent most of the day repairing a leak in the water heater. Next I have to figure out why the engine isn’t heating the water. It’s too cold to try to get by without hot water. Whatever. Cruising is all about fixing your boat in exotic places.
l went forward a few minutes ago to check the anchor. I surprised a cormorant sitting on the bowsprit. It splashed into the water while squawking at me for the interruption. The foredeck is a mess. I guess we’ll be washing poop off the deck tomorrow. The dew is falling. The sail cover is soaking wet.
We’re getting into our onboard routine. We rise with the sun at about 7 am and have a casual breakfast while half-listening to the news on NPR. By mid-morning we’re at work on our projects. Suzy is trying to whip the galley into shape and figure out the storage and menu rotation. I’m doing maintenance on the engine (and trying to get the water heater working). We squeeze in a light lunch between tasks. We might take the dinghy ashore to go to the grocery or hardware store. By 4 pm, the sun is getting low and we’re wrapping up our work. We have Happy Hour as the sun sets. The sun is down by 5:30, and we’re putting supper together. Everything is cleaned up by around 7, and we’re just about done for the day. Not long ago, we heard some friends referring to “Marathon Midnight.” This is Marathon in the FL Keys. Apparently, Marathon Midnight is about 9 pm. That must be right, because by 9 we’re ready for bed.
The last several evenings, I’ve been going over charts trying to plan our trips. I’m taking a break tonight. I can hear voices from ashore carrying over the water. Other people are having a good time. It’s a great night to be out. It’s a great night to be still. I’m enjoying doing nothing.
The anchorage is just about back to normal, now, but a few days ago it was hopping. What started out 13 years ago as a makeshift get-together by a couple of cruisers stranded in St. Marys by bad weather has turned into an event that some people drive in for even if they aren’t moving their boat south. The crowd wasn’t the largest we’ve ever had, but it was just as enthusiastic. I think we had about 150 people for the meal on Thanksgiving Day.
Suzy and I had been looking forward to this event, knowing that we were sure to meet other cruisers heading the same direction we are. We needed to tap them for local knowledge before heading out. We had lots of questions. What are the pros/cons of going “outside” (ocean), versus staying in the ICW? What are the best ocean inlets? Where are the worry spots along the ICW? Where are the most convenient anchorages? What are the best chart books or cruising guides to have? What are the most interesting spots to visit along the way? What is the best jumping-off point for the Bahamas from Florida? What is the most convenient (or least hassling) check-in point in the Bahamas?
I made a real nuisance of myself… but the other cruisers were gracious and seemed happy to share their experience. Everybody was a greenhorn at some point.
We ran into some old friends we hadn’t seen in years, and made several new ones. We traded boat cards (like business cards for your boat), drank a lot and talked a lot more. And we ate. And drank some more. There was something to do every day of the week of Thanksgiving. The early birds met for Happy Hour on Monday; then there was a potluck soup dinner on Tuesday; an oyster roast on Wednesday; the big meal midday on Thanksgiving; a pancake breakfast on Friday morning and a cocktail party on Friday evening. There were a couple of light rain showers on Thursday, but not enough to dampen the spirits of the cruisers. The weather on Friday and Saturday was almost perfect, and boats started the long parade south.
Hopefully, we’ll catch up with them in a couple of weeks.
The people we’ve met cruising — for the most part — have treated us like old friends from the first moment we met them. I suspect it’s the same for bikers, hikers, or people who travel in their RVs from campground to campground — any group with a shared interest. But cruising feels different to me. The bond cuts across all strata of class and income. Everyone seems generous and helpful. Maybe it’s because cruising is non-competitive, but can be seriously dangerous. The ocean doesn’t care who your parents are or how much money you make. It’s big and it can hurt you, especially if you do something stupid, but sometimes even if you’re careful. Cruisers seem to help other cruisers whenever there is a need, because everyone will need help eventually. You pay it forward. People we’ve met who live along our route have offered us guides and rides and places to stay. We’ve been given parts and charts and books. We do the same for them. I know it’s not universally true — and I’ll have to be careful — but I feel I can trust them. It’s a tight community. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.