Thursday, 24 April 2014

sometimes, friend

Old friends. 'Nuff said.
Today, I was thinking about friends. Old friends. You know: the kind whose friendship is so comfortable, spending time with them is like slipping into a nicely worn pair of jeans. These friends are practically family, without the complications. They knew you when you were younger and stupider. (Then again, you knew them when they were younger and stupider too.) They are among the friends I still miss, along with those that were more recently in my every day before we left Canada. Then there are the friends that belong to a larger group. We liked them or we liked the same activities and that was that. We also had friendships that grew after we went offshore through letters and messages.  And of course, there are the friends I let go or that let me go, because things changed between us.

Our everyday peeps back in Canada
 Mentors turned friends, Bjarne and Barb (not pictured),
joined us in Mexico for some fun in the sun
(Sorry boys, I couldn't help it!)

More than one person has asked me, “But what about friendships among voyagers?” How are they different?

After climbing Mt. Otemanu
with the gang on Bora Bora 
There are the whirlwind friends, (usually a few boats that end up traveling in the same general area). Perhaps those connections are more superficial, but you have enough bodies to make for a dynamic group with whom you spend an intense but short time that you remember with a smile. We met such a group in Bora Bora. We hiked and played like a bunch of kids.

Two crazies we just don't want to
get rid of

Then there are the “couple” friends. We are two on our boat, and sometimes we’d meet another two we hit it off with on another yacht. Every now and then, we’d decide to travel together for a while. This happened to us more than once. It turns out that two-boat adventures were double the fun.

The guys and I on Isla Danzante

Most of the single-handers we’ve met are guys. I find that single-handers often don’t get a fair shake. There’s an attitude that maybe something is wrong with someone who chooses to sail the world alone. We’ve enjoyed meeting some pretty quirky and interesting solo travelers. We don’t need even numbers to call someone a friend. One solo sailor traveled with us for a summer in the Sea of Cortez. Of course, there are the anchorage friends: those definitely belong in the acquaintance category. A social butterfly in an anchorage decides to invite all the anchored boats to the beach for some type of social event, like a potluck. It’s a lot of, “I’m so and so from that boat, went here and here, and am going there, etc.” This can be a lot of fun and exhausting. 
Hanging out on Nyon with
Sabine

In more isolated bays, we met locals who welcomed us into their homes, and shared the food they’d caught. And I met Sabine in Taiohae, the capital of the Marquesas. Before long we were laughing over Nyon’s stove about the language barrier between her partner Jonathan and Rick. (I was the only one that spoke both French and English.) After visits and hugs, we made promises and waved goodbye while wondering if we’d ever see each other again.

In Mexico: Rick and Holly (Wondertime)
relax after playing in the waves
There is one other type of friend we’ve made while cruising: they’re known as the kid boats. We call them that because, well, they’re boats with kids on them: families sailing the 7 seas with children of all ages, including babies and even teenagers, like our friends on Letitgo. Being a non-kid boat, we were not usually in their primary social hub, but we occasionally did “break in”. It’s a special thing to find a kindred spirit in an 8 year old artist or discover a new bay through the eyes of a 3 year old. We found that cruising kids are a neat bunch, the parents themselves tend to be pretty damn cool too.


I feel the need to mention “Internet” friends. Are they valid friendships? They have the potential to be. Through social media and blogs, we voyagers meet like-minded sailors or travelers who share some of our values and interests. While these friendships might not always run deep, they are one way to find support from people (when there is Internet access) who understand what weathering a storm on a yacht is like, or the emotions that run through you when you see land after 25 days at sea. These contacts are also great when it comes to sharing information about sailing into new countries or out-of-the way places.

Bella Star and Dream Time: 2 degrees of Separation
Occasionally, you end up meeting some of them along the way. It’s grand when you realize you like them even more in person than you thought you would. We were first in contact with Aaron and Nicole (Bella Star) through the crew of Estrellita whom we hadn’t met either. We all left from the Northeastern Pacific to go cruising around the same time and read each other’s blogs along the way. Rick and I eventually met both crews which was great fun, (though we didn’t meet one of the crews until 2 years after we’d left Canada, and only very briefly!) It was also because of Estrellita (thanks guys!) that we met the crews of Cariba and Dream Time. Forget the 6 degrees of separation, in the cruising community, make that 2.

But can the people you meet as a transient become friend friends: the kind that you are heartbroken to say goodbye to as you sail off over a different horizon? The sort that you know are kindred spirits after a short time, where you tell each other as many of your favourite stories as you can, all the while wondering how it is that you already feel like old friends. Do those friends even exist out here? Yes, yes, they do. It’s not everyone, but you recognize them when you see them.

Reunited after 2 years!
In my naïveté, I had expected to meet more of them when we first began to sail abroad. I learned that those connections are something to be cherished. Because if you do meet kindred spirits, they may not be sailing in the same direction, or they might be living on the land you are passing through. You have days, (and if you’re lucky) weeks to get to know each other before the friendship becomes long-distance. What is it that makes you connect with another person like that? For us it’s when our interactions quickly become effortless, by reaching a certain level of candor through stories and laughter. Among other fine sailors, we experienced this with an Aussie boat called Storm Bay. Chris and Margie popped into our lives in Victoria (as they cruised through) and we met up again in the Northern Sea of Cortez 2 years later. They are now in Chile and we are in New Zealand. We still write and follow each other’s journeys. Maybe one day, our wakes will cross again, we’d really like that. (I just need to convince Rick that he wants to go around Cape Horn!)

Girl Time
One of my walking buddies
Some friendships take off with “that first talk”. I don’t know how many of you that cruise or travel have had that happen. You meet someone, and there’s an instant connection. Or maybe there wasn’t one right away, but a couple anchorages later, something clicks. You happened to be chilling out on the same beach, or agreed to meet for an early morning walk. One of you opens up, shares something a little more personal. And you both dive into a juicy conversation that is more raw and honest than what you’ve experienced in a few months of encounters. In the end, you leave each other with lighter hearts. It can be that you go your separate ways never to see each other again, or that conversation can be the seed for a newfound friendship.

Buddy boating with Gab (above) and Issy throughout the
the Society Island was awesome. 
While voyaging on the ocean and hopping from island to island, I learned to accept that friendships come and go. Some associations survive in a finite place and time. But some connections do have staying power, and those ones are worth the heartbreak of inevitable goodbyes. Because when you end up anchored in the same part of the world once again, it’s like you’re finding an old part of yourself. Sweet is the taste of meals shared with friends who last hugged you thousands of miles away. Sooner or later, you have to say goodbye all over again. Such is the life of a voyager.

Having said all that, it is undeniable that there were times on our journey when we felt awfully lonely. Short meetings with lovely people left us hungry for more. The intermittent contact with friends and family back home was not enough either.  In time, Rick and I realized that we had to work hard at being each other’s best friend because of our transitory lifestyle. And when you spend a lot of time together in sometimes challenging circumstances, it means you have to forgive easily and laugh a lot. There aren’t too many people I could share what I shared with Rick on this voyage so far. Yet we both do value our connection with the people around us. It’s important to reach out when you travel. Half the fun is the people you meet. Sometimes, they turn into a good story. Sometimes, they become friends. And sometimes, they’re both.

NOTE: Thank you for putting up with my need to cram as many photos as I could in this article. Many special people are missing, but you get the idea...

18 comments:

  1. Here is an update for you about the picture titled "The guys and I on Isla Danzante", where I believe the man on the right is called John from the Mexico area. He recently lost part of one of his legs below the knee, caused by the prop of a run away dinghy is was trying to help the owner regain. As I understand it the owner was standing up as he was running the dinghy, and something caused the owner to fall into the water. The owner wasn't wearing the strap to the kill switch on the motor, so after the owner fell in the water the dinghy was going in large circles through the anchorage. John tried to be a good Samaritan and help the owner catch the runaway dinghy, and in the process the dinghy ran over John causing extensive injury to one of his legs. Friends in La Paz rallied to his aid, and helped him get evacuated to a hospital in San Diego, California. The injury resulted in the removal of part of one of his feet, and the lower part of the leg below the knee. Family members are helping him with his recuperation, and John is being fitted for a prosthesis so he can walk again on his own. Friends in La Paz are taking care of his boat, until he recovers and can return to Mexico. You can read more about it on Tom and Jeanne's blog (s/v Eagle), at http://www.sailblogs.com/member/bigleftturn/

    Don

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    1. Oh yes, we knew about John and sent what we could, Tom wrote us soon after it happened, we've passed on his info on our Facebook page, John's a nice guy, it sucks that this happened to him, but he's a positive guy, a go-getter, he'll be fine. :) There are occasional updates at this address: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/bigleftturn/

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    2. I thought I was sending you new news, but it appears you two are on top of this! :-)

      Don

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  2. This article can help .... I can read them with new knowledge ... thank you so much for what was given to me

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  3. Hey Guys,
    I've been reading you for a few years and love your stories. I really liked this one about people you meet along the way. We're a couple years away from having our own boat and chartering for now (one of the charters we did La Paz to Loreto and back on a cat & loved that). Really looking forward to our own experiences. All the best to you.

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    1. Thanks Mark, that's lovely of you to say! That area (between Loreto and La Paz) is pretty cool, we loved it.

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  4. great post! I think with your blog and the internet it is now so much easier to keep in touch with all the people you meet along the way!

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    1. You're right, the Internet has made it easier to stay in touch, when we're in places with Internet that is! Definitely grateful.

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  5. Love this. "Half the fun is the people you meet."- might even be more than half for me, it's the people we meet that make such a huge impact in defining our memories and experience of a place! I love your characterizations of the many profiles of friendships we make as cruisers. I'm looking forward to the day I can you from "internet friend" to the real deal in person. :-)

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    1. It really is about the people you meet, I agree - in person is always better, I look forward to the real deal with you too! :-)

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  6. Ok you two, it's been three months.... time for an update? :-)

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  7. Indeed, a post is long overdue! We've been busy with a long list of projects, an update is coming this week, I promise!

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