Sunday, 2 November 2008

Crunch time for Cruisers?

We have been living aboard our boat now for 8 years. It doesn't seem that long!

We have changed a great deal during those years. Aged, learned, forgotten, grown (both physically, not so good, and intellectually, much better!). Becoming both more and less tolerant, strange but true.

As we move in to a new stage of our lives, a closer relationship back to the world of business for a while, it has set me to thinking about the changes we have seen in just the short years that we have been aboard our boat.

I grew up in a family that loved boats and the ideas of adventure. My sister, a qualified RYA dinghy instructor, kept my parents busy ferrying her back and forth with her various boats as she competed in competitions all over the place. At that stage in our lives I was just as demanding with my interest in horses...

I read everything that came my way about cruising and great voyages and haunted marinas and harbours imaging the challenges that could come my way... one day.

Of course the reality is never quite what we dreamed of and my first voyages had me pretty much paralyzed with fear a lot of the time. Fear of my own ignorance, the weather, pretty much everything. But rescue was at hand in the form of Martin Northey, a knowledgeable and gifted instructor who we chanced upon via a small ad at the back of one of the yachting comics. His gentle coaching and encouragement led both TBH and I through a sharp learning curve to the acquisition, finally of our Yachtmaster qualification. This was a vital component in my own confidence building.

And yet on reflection it is nothing. A piece of paper, an intellectual endorsement. And on our early long passages I realised just how meaningless it was.

I had wanted to test myself physically and mentally to the limit, probably not realising that I actually did have a limit to test!

I recall watching Ellen MacArthur as she cried into the video camera on one of her world girdling record attempts. How crass I thought! Fancy collapsing like that... until I faced, in a small way my own nemesis.

Halfway across the Atlantic we were hit by a squall, a big one. It knocked the boat down and blew out our reefing line, snapped the sacrificial tube to the Monitor and had us in a state of shock. We were 1,500 miles from anywhere. I suddenly realised there was no rescue helicopter, no "I'm a celebrity get me out of here" option!

Working together, we started to restore order, then TBH trapped his hand in the steering gear, crushing his fingers. He was in agony. That was a real 'oh shit' moment!

It was then that the training Martin had so painstakingly given us kicked in. Restoring order we got the boat comfortable, TBH sheltered, and dealt with the situation calmly, well reasonably so!

We came through it because we spoke to each other throughout the whole thing. Asking questions, making decisions, acting together. It was a defining point in both our sailing careers and our personal relationship.

And then I collapsed. Pointing nervously to starboard I announced there was a big wave coming and TBH calmly answered, "Yes and there's another one behind that, and another and another!"

One of the big changes we have seen is in the type of new cruiser that we are meeting on our travels. Often these are type-A individuals. Determined to prove something to themselves and others by circumnavigating the world, often with family in tow, in just three years. Because they don't have the luxury of a steadily graduated learning curve, they spend generously on a new boat expecting to turn the key and drive it away with no great mishaps.

These are the people you find littering the remote marinas waiting for parts and shaking their heads because the third replacement generator didn't work either, and they are now trapped in a pissing match between the boat builder and the generator manufacturer about whose fault it was and who foots the bill.

TBH says that all good skills take 7 years to master. You might learn a language in 3 or 4 but it will be 7 before you are writing poetry in it. It's the same with cruising. You might even surmount the technical challenges (if you have practical flair) in 3-4 years but the deep knowledge of yourself and your partner that only comes from facing and overcoming life-threatening situations takes longer to acquire.

My heroes in this respect are the Roths, who not only handled a terminally leaky boat whilst they circumnavigated the Pacific but also coped with shipwreck in the remotest part of Chile. Rebuilding their shattered boat and restarting their cruise. The strength they developed as a couple and the self-sufficiency of their lifestyle enabled them to overcome the never ending tests that cruising throws at you.

Increasingly the cruisers we are seeing are seeking 'the perfect anchorage', a 'better party', another cocktail hour. They cruise in packs abdicating a personal responsibility, becoming part of a group-think mentality. It's themselves that they are cheating.

They employ 'experts' at every destination to fix the sails, the engine, the a/c, the refrigerator, the bureaucracy. Complain about the lack of first-world facilities in third-world settings. Moan about lack of safety in foreign ports.

Seeing themselves as adventurous non-conformists they flout the laws of their host nations, overstaying visas, evading charges for checking in/out. Refusing to attempt to speak the local language and maintaining a cultural imperialism, oblivious to their surroundings.

Not all cruisers are like this but we seem to have seen rather too many in this mould recently. Hopefully the financial crunch will weed them out and we can once again be proud to be cruisers as we travel the world.

1 comment:

Ranting Sailor said...

Gerry & Geoffrey - I couldn't have said it better. I think a real good storm or scare while miles from nowhere will separate the sailors from the marina rats.