In the Marine Corps, you might get to know a person for 2 years and they get transferred. But one day, you run into them on another base, in another job…and pick right back up where you left off. But cruising breeds even more stunted relations. You know someone for a week or two and hang out a few times. Then they leave, or you do. Maybe you see them a year later; maybe you never see them again.
So many people…
You see, when you are travelling, you meet people. Lots of people. Sometimes you just want to stop meeting so many damn people. Even on days when you don’t feel like conversing, someone else will. It’s inevitable. This results in a lot of tenuous acquaintances, but real land-like relationships are rare. Let’s put this into perspective…
Howdily Doodily, Neighbor!
What do you typically do when someone moves in next door to your house? He’s out there transferring boxes and suitcases, you happen to be outside getting the mail…so you greet the neighbor, right? Well, at least where I come from… but you go out and make small talk about the neighborhood, the weather, where they moved from, etc. You feel them out, get an idea of personality, hopefully a sense of relief that this person isn’t, at worst, an ax murderer or at the least, a jerk. Do you immediately invite them to go out to dinner or drinks or into your home or to come with you to Walmart? No. Absolutely not. Weird, right? Yes. Definitely. Weird. Who DOES that?
Every Day a New Neighbor
Now, imagine if those new neighbors move out a week later - and a new person moves in the next day. Turnover… every week? Ugh. Then someone new moves in on the other side every 4 days, and another across the street every month, and another kitty-corner every 2 weeks. You’ve got someone different moving in around you every single day. How strange would that be? Pretty soon you just wouldn’t care to say hi anymore…am I right? It wouldn’t be worth it. They are just going to leave again anyway, and you already have your stalwart, longtime friends readily available. If this happened in your cul-de-sac, you’d ignore all of the newbies. But for cruisers, this is our reality. On a typical dock or any anchorage here in Mexico, (except in summer) new boats and new neighbors constantly arrive and disappear. Every day. Except we can’t afford to remain in our shells.
The Difference: Landlubbers Have Core Friendships
The difference is that you people back home already HAVE friends. You don’t need the hassle of acquainting yourself with a new neighbor every day. You have your core group of friends in town who you see more than most, the ones you meet for dinner or at the boat… then there’s co-workers to bullshit with every day, marina acquaintances, book club members, golfing buddies and of course, your family. All of them already KNOW you. These are people with whom you don’t have to start over…and over…and over…
Cruisers have NONE of that. At least new cruisers don’t. We have no core group, typically (unless you live at one marina); we move around too much, and those around us always move away. Gypsies. In order to have ANY friends, period, we soon become a lot more social than we ever were on land. Cruising forces you to talk to strangers.
Why? Because strangers are ALL you ever GET to talk to... like being a travelling salesman...or a truck driver. Better still, it’s like moving to a new state or starting a new job every week or every month. Recall your last move and how it felt to start over. When is the last time you tried to make a new friend because you had none? This is one downside to the cruising lifestyle. Some personalities relish the idea; others recoil. Eventually, you just accept this as the norm and make lemonade. Whether they realize it or not, cruisers continually strive to turn strangers into acquaintances and sometimes friends. We are just looking for engagement with others in the same boat (pun intended).
Want to Go to Dinner?
Under land circumstances, you wouldn’t ask that new neighbor to your home for dinner, having only just met them hours ago. But cruisers do. Not every day or even every week, but enough for it to be highly unusual to landlubbers. We’ve attended dock parties and gatherings; we’ve been invited aboard for drinks… even elaborate dinners; we’ve shared cabs back to the boat after buying groceries or attending an event; we’ve met others at beach taco shacks while having lunch and many others while walking the docks or kayaking an anchorage. All with perfect strangers. Why? You don’t even KNOW them! Like-mindedness and similar circumstances breeds faster rapport.
90% of these chance meetings are just another LinkedIn-type connection. But if you end up hanging out with a couple more than once, that is a cruiser friendship…whereas on land, to designate the word “friend” would be absurd at this stage. On the rare occasion you discover a couple you enjoy hanging out with and end up doing several things together because you happen to be in the same place for awhile, well…it’s a frickin’ miracle.
But they will inevitably leave. Or you will. And you must start over…meeting more people. Again. It’s an odd feeling. And it’s a little lonely. But it’s standard procedure.
Non-Existent Stranger Danger
One day, we entered a new anchorage and hailed the only other boat in our tiny cove. We invited them over for dinner, talked for hours…never saw them again. This has happened several times to us, more often for others depending on where your social spectrum falls… curmudgeonly or sparkly. (We are low to middlin’ on that scale.) On another occasion, I invited a boat for coffee and cake; I saw the wife briefly again at Marina Mazatlan, 4 months later. She was buying veges for their trip south the next day. “See you around the world!” she said happily, waving goodbye before heading out into the great Pacific to Tahiti and beyond. Fleeting friendships. I couldn’t even remember her boat name. But that’s typical.
The Cruising Network
Why bother even trying then? Well, everyone needs friends! You can’t have a very fulfilling life without them, even if they might go away in a few days or 3 weeks. You have to try, right? We can’t just talk to each other all day every day. Crikey, we’d be sick of each other!
Did we waste our time getting to know these guys? Even for just one evening? No. We enjoyed and learned from each one of our countless short-lived encounters. There is something authentic and real about meeting on a boat, drinking a beer or sharing a meal. In doing so they are opening up their home, offering a little piece of themselves. We appreciate that. You may never see them again, but then again, you just might… down the line… in another anchorage, or another town, even another country. Or maybe you’ll meet a friend of theirs, in which case you immediately have something in common and suddenly you’re “cruising friends” by default.
I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends
Cruisers are legendary helpers. And one day, this same amigo network might come to your rescue. Whether they buddy boat with you across a daunting ocean (thanks Humphreys), drive you to the hospital (thanks Mike), drive you to Mega for emergency mouse traps (thanks Rhonda), give you his leftover and impossible-to-obtain window material (thanks Orlando), or just awesome advice on everything boat and life in general (thanks Dave). It could be something as simple as giving you a chunk of their freshly caught tuna… or as personal as an invitation to Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, distracting you from missing longtime friends and family back home.
Don’t Be a D…
You also want to be friendly with as many people as possible. Why? Because if you’re not, eventually it WILL get around. The cruising community is big, but not that big. “You know so and so?” “Oh, THAT guy? Let me tell you a story…He anchored right on top of us…what a….”
Becoming friends, really good friends, is a long process for us. We tend to get along with most everyone, but there are very, very few we’d even consider calling “besties”. In fact, I can count the number of really close friends on one hand. With all these passing interactions, does cruising allow you to form lifetime friendships? Of course. Does it happen every day? No. Not even close. Has it happened to us? Yes. Absolutely. There are several couples we know we can pick up with whenever we see them again, just like the Marine Corps; those we’d go out of our way to visit. People with whom we hope to have a lifelong friendship.
Besties? Well, it’s possible, but that takes time. But we’ve observed it in others - a genuine bond between those cruisers who either live in a marina or buddy boat for weeks or months at a time….similar to vacationing together… or living together. They travel together, strategizing daily voyage plans, anchor or dock next to each other, chat via VHF, dinghy to shore together, help each other with boat problems, go on excursions or to the store together, sometimes even eat meals together… everything. While we have no experience with that type of extended buddy-boating, it’s a very interesting dynamic to watch.
Today’s New Neighbor Might Be Tomorrows Friend
It is often difficult for land-dwellers to grasp the concept of such short-lived cruising friends. While Brian and I have each other, we DON’T have the support network of really close friends and family at our beck and call that you all have embedded in your lives back home. So cruisers must actively cast out their fishing poles to see what’s on the other end. Maybe you come up with a nice tuna that will feed your soul for a week or maybe you catch nothing. But you keep casting. It’s just different and sometimes a little lonely. BUT there will always be a new neighbor tomorrow! We have been very fortunate to have met some wonderful people during our travels. Even if we’ll never see them again, working to make those connections, however tenuous, was worth the effort.