Friday, 16 November 2007


We seem to have had a number of emails recently from cruising friends whose paths have diverged from our own and whom we haven't heard from in a while. It's great to keep in touch.

That set me to thinking about the experiences that we have had over the past few years and what I remember about them. Maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise but you know it comes down to the people NOT the places every time! Sure there are the great cities, the perfect beaches but they are always qualified by the people we meet, and get to know.

And what a fascinating bunch they are! The nature of sailing is such that you can never be certain quite how long you, or the ones you meet, are going to stay in any particular place. So opportunities get taken somewhat quicker than in the life I was used to living on land. Friendships flourish, and sometimes founder, faster and more intensely. I am not sure that's always a good thing!

The extraordinary geographical spread of the sailors never ceases to excite me. I do remember a particular night in Portugal. We were anchored off the village of Pomerao, 32 inhabitants, 25 miles inland on the River Guardiana. There was a group of boats, maybe 4 or 5 and each one came from a different country! Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Norway. A regular event was to meet in the bar in the village, the Sociedad, which was run by the community principally for the locals but they were very welcoming to us itinerant yachties. And the beer was cheap...

The night was fun and laughter spilled across the water attracting the Portuguese locals who joined in. Conversation was running fast and what was astounding was how you found yourself using three different languages to construct one sentence, somehow understanding each other! Long forgotten schoolgirl French and German vied with sign language for the benefit of the Norwegians, adding in recently learnt Portuguese phrases and odd Spanish words. It was a fabulous night.

Friendships that flourish with the local residents can be particularly interesting. To really get to know the community that we find ourselves in is such a privilege. We never have moved very quickly as we cruise... and that has proved to be a great blessing. Taking the time to become a face that people recognise, say good morning to on a regular basis, has opened doors into some very different worlds.

We spent almost 18 months in Portugal and became very fond of the country and its people. It's a place that has undergone a massive cultural change as the European Community has asserted itself and the tourist industry has grown at a faster and faster rate. This has created a divided economic reality for the locals.

Down on the Algarve coast wealth is the order of the day. Big motorboats, high rolling tourists, luxury consumer goods and so on. Back up the river, just 25 miles away, many houses still had no piped water, no interior sanitation and just a weekly bus that took the 1 hour ride to the nearest sizable town. The village that we spent 4 months in was fast becoming overwhelmed by outsiders buying up the ruined country cottages, a mixed blessing I think.

It's a great sadness when the day finally comes to leave, we miss the people, the easy camaraderie that comes with a shared lifestyle. It is hard to know that most of these friends will never come aboard our boat again, nor we visit theirs. Somebody wrote 'It's best to leave when the hand of friendship is still warm'. That certainly happens a lot in cruising!

Then there are the boats that crop up repeatedly as you sail further afield. We met boats in Gibraltar that turned up again in the Canaries, and even some in Panama. The more you stick to the recognised routes the more certain you will regularly meet the same boats.

We met a lovely family from the Netherlands whilst our boats sat on the hard together in Lanzarote, one of the canary islands. Floris, Mel and their 2 year old daughter Tessie shared the trials and tribulations of hauling out. We only knew them for a couple of days and then our paths split as they sailed off to one of the other islands in the group.

Many months later we were roused from an afternoon nap by a familiar voice as we lay at anchor in Tobago, yup it was our Dutch friends again! What a lovely surprise. We sailed with them through Venezuela, and on to Bonaire where they had to turn around to return to their home country. Tessie is now 5 and every birthday we remember the time we sat together eating chocolate cake and singing 'Happy Birthday'. Where we were no longer that vivid, but who we were with still very much alive!

Different places, different friendships, different experiences. Adventurous 'Pagos' first met in Gibraltar, then Lanzarote, then the San Blas islands. Now cruising in Chile.

Mike and Jill from 'Altair', fearless sailors, intelligent debaters, great friends. Now heading back our way from a cruise up the East coast of the USA.

Irreverent Jack and Pat from 'Stormbird'. Gourmet cooks par excellence. I sooo miss your pork in truffle sauce Jack!

Steph from 'Mima' and Karen from 'Nirvana' who made the parties to shop in Panama City into the best kind of girly friendships I have ever known. We were incorrigible! Laughing from dawn to dusk and beyond... how our various 'mates' coped I have no idea but I salute them for it! Miss you girls.

What is wonderful in the remembering is the knowledge that there is so much more to come. Aren't we lucky!I love the sailing, the adventure, the challenges of the open ocean but equally the exploration of cultures and the developing of friendship nourishes me.

In this "my continuing search for the meaning of life," I am constantly reminded that although we are all individuals, we all still depend on others. Somehow this is a truth that lies at the core of our being. Thus as thoughts shift from the places we remember to the people we miss, and as we reaffirm our connectedness, we rediscover our humanity.

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