Clark March 17th, 2007
They’re out there.
I’ve heard the estimate that there are ten thousand cruising yachts in circulation around the world’s oceans. This seems about right, given that something less than a thousand cross the Pacific each year via the Milk Run.
Outsiders think that the cruising life is fiercely independent, which it is in some ways, but it is also a very tight community, in which trust and interdependence are almost instantaneous.
Every cruiser is different, but over the years certain archetypes have emerged in my mind:
The Crusty Cruiser (or Grotty Yachtie): Seafaring life a thin disguise for alcoholism. Don’t really ever sail anywhere, but settle into haunts like Marina La Paz, Phuket, or certain Caribbean islands where rum is cheap. Boats are likely to have cockroaches and lots of dog hair. If male, beard. If female, hairy arm pits. Personal hygiene neglected due to water shortage aboard. Favorite part of cruising: Cocktail hour.
The Yacht Club Officer on Tour: YC Burgee flown at all times and boat usually looks ready for Opening Day. Usually wears polo shirt with YC logo or their yacht’s name embroidered. Weakness: Can’t maintain brightwork to normal standards in the tropics. Favorite part of cruising: Flag etiquette.
The Retired Drug Smuggler: Made it big in the ‘70s by making runs in the Carribbean, back when it was a ‘gentlemen’s game.’ Retired rich before getting busted, but lifelong social group limited to other retired drug smugglers with large yachts and Cayman Island bank accounts. Weakness: New tax and investment transparency laws after 9/11.
The Land Adventurer Turned Sailor: The boat is a means to an end. Financial and circumstantial factors necessitated the cruising life, rather than a love of the sea. Boats usually have strange but functional improvisations. Large amount of mountaineering gear substituted for sailing gear. Definitely no refrigeration. Weakness: Use of arcane sailing jargon by other sailors.
The Frustrated Engineer: Always fixing things for self and others. Has vice and makeshift drill press on boat. Once rebuilt a Perkins 108 in Chagos using only items found washed up on the beach. Weakness: Doesn’t like the water. Favorite part of cruising: Things always keep breaking.
Barbie and Ken: Usually conceal a Wondergym or Abdominizer somewhere on their boat. Often seen swimming butterfly through the anchorage before other cruisers have awakened from drunken bender. Favorite part of cruising: Beach volleyball. Weakness: Fatty, non-vegetarian food at cruiser potlucks.
The HAM Radio Nerd: Cruising is a platform for worldwide radio communications. Can’t introduce self or boat without repeating call sign and ‘maritime mobile’ afterwards. The hull is nothing more than ground plane and the rig is there to hold up an array of antennas. Still knows and practices Morse Code. Weakness: Has to miss social events because they conflict with ‘the net.’ Favorite part of cruising: Monitoring sunspot cycles.
The Misfit: Couldn’t possibly fit into any other place in society and the boat is the last stop in life save jail, a mental institution, or some kind of wilderness compound. Personal hygiene either sadly lacking or Howard Hughes-esque. Wears items of clothing that wouldn’t qualify as such to others. Weakness: Cruiser potlucks and other social gatherings where social interaction is forced upon them.