The sailing life leads to odd relationships. Not odd in the quality but more in the means employed in establishing and growing those interpersonal connections: the happenstance, randomness and good fortune involved in who we even have the opportunity to connect with.
People come in and out of our lives literally with the passing of each tide.
Some fellow sailors are friends for a meal or a few days in one port, remembered fondly but as fate and diverging cruising plans would have it, never to be rendezvoused with again.
Other people are friends for a longer time. Perhaps an overlapping prolonged stay in a Mexican port or a shared long-term rally provide ample opportunity to get to know each other over a longer period of time. The cruiser’s net, dinners aboard and joint shore excursions are the fabric with which we begin to weave our social tapestry. Radio comms and emails (yeah, you can get those via satellite uplink or over a HAM radio now…) allow us to fill in the gaps when we are mutually underway while Facebook and blogs can keep us connected while we’re in different ports.
In our case, there are those people who ask us onboard their vessels for anywhere from a few days to a few months. For that time we become roommates in a home that none of us can leave. Typically we share meals, time, adventures and our lives for however long we’re onboard. We, to a varying degree, become family. These people are, for the time we’re connected to them, a huge part of our world. Often we leave as good friends.
The downside to our situation is that, unlike most cruisers, we are unable to extend our time in places to form a relationship if our captain decides that they wish to depart. Friendships are created and maintained by a mixture of fortunate run-ins and dedicated effort placed into correspondence.
What we’re saying here is that interpersonal proximity is a variable, sometimes an obstacle and always a consideration in the formation and maintenance of friendships at sea.
Then there’s the case of Rod & Elisabeth.
Greg clearly remembers the first time he met Rod. We had arrived in San Diego and just moved onboard our first vessel, S/V SAGITTAIRE, and Greg was walking back from the dock’s bathroom to the ship when he heard the sound of a…well, it sounded like a ukulele gradually getting closer. After a moment he identified the source: a guy walking down a San Diego pier playing one of the little guitars. Greg, being Greg, decided to make a friend. So he asks the gentleman, “what is that?”
To which the man replied “My wife finder.”
Greg: “Excuse me?”
Rod: “My wife finder. When I can’t find my wife I walk around playing this and she finds me.”
Greg: “Ok, I need one of those.”
Talk about your foreshadowing.
We traded names, shook hands, Greg wished him luck with his ‘wife finder’ and they both headed their separate ways.
We met again in a few days. Being as over 200 ships had signed on to that first rally we joined, it really wasn’t too surprising to find that their ship was sailing in the fleet with us. We got to know each other over cruiser parties and other assorted adventures that come with sailing down the coast in a fleet of recreational sailing yachts. We also got to meet Rod’s wife Elisabeth, who is German…which, if you know us, makes her already awesome anyway, but she’s also got a great sense of humor and more than a fair share of musical talent herself.
We also found out that not only are they also from the Bay Area but that they had spent several months living in the Alameda area at the same time we were there. With Greg’s business and Tiffany’s work as a sailing captain we shopped at the same stores, ate at the same places and even knew of some of the same people but had just never managed to connect until we were both about 500 miles south of the Bay. Heck Rod is even from the same town Greg was born in. Sometimes it works that way.
After the two week rally, the final barbecue and awards ceremony, at 2230 with the now-disbanding fleet riding at anchor in Cabo San Lucas harbor we can’t prove it but we’re willing to put good money on the voice we heard over the now-defunct fleet radio channel ask us all,
“uh, now what do we do?”
We continued to sail the coast of Mexico and Elisabeth & Rod were just two of those people who happened to be in our general proximity during those six months. Those of you who’ve been following us for a while should recognize their voices and faces from such adventures as:
Assorted tests of sailor prowess in skills that have no application to actual sailing.
Our Mexican truck-taxi dance club party (yes, you read that correctly).
Tiffany’s tequila tasting zip line trip.
It’s not that unusual actually. We’ll go into more detail on this later, but recreational sailing ships move in flocks and follow global weather patterns. So boats typically travel in the same general direction and stop at the same ports along the way. Cruising is a community and there are lots of yacht club parties, BBQs, and the occasional race that bring us all together. Also, when cruisers get along well, then they typically spend time in port just hanging out.
It was at this time that Tiffany left for her captain job in the Caribbean and returned with Greg’s first ever musical instrument: a ukulele. Rod and Elisabeth volunteered to give Greg a few pointers and get him started.
Then came the event that separated us from many of our Mexico sailing friends: we got a ride to Tahiti. Of the options for routes for a boat to take, the Pacific Puddle Jump group probably contained the smallest number of ships. Many of our friends were left behind to head either to South America, the Caribbean or back up to California. Our friends Allan and Alison asked us to help them sail to French Polynesia and what we didn’t mention at the time was the good sailing practice of “buddy boating.” It’s pretty much the buddy system, applied to yachts. You keep in contact, make sure you’re each alright, relay messages, provide a safety net, that kind of thing.
Allan and Alison had made friends with another yacht that was going on the Puddle Jump and they decided to buddy up with them…
…and that was how we ended up talking to Rod and Elisabeth every day for 22 days on our sailing trip to paradise.
Looking back at our “victory dinner” picture in Hiva Oa, French Polynesia, Rod would be the one with the steak knife in his teeth.
Right, well you kinda had to be there. We had been at sea by ourselves for almost a month.
We again parted ways after the Marquesas due to diverging desires on how to best spend the 90 day visas we were allowed. Read that entry for the details. Again we shook hands, waved farewell and thought that we may never see each other again…
Only to, after we had changed boats again, run into each other (not literally) at the Tahiti-Moorea Rendezvous.
After shucking coconuts in the rain and catching up yet again we departed with our new ride and for the next few months our hellos and goodbyes were radio calls and waving as one of us pulled into an island and the other pulled out.
In Tonga, we left the cruising world for a time (again, assorted reasons, it’s all in this article) and by far and large lost contact with many of our cruiser friends. No one’s fault – when you fall out of the rotation and people don’t see you for a while, it just happens.
Then one day we notice on Facebook that Rod & Elisabeth’s boat is undergoing repairs in Whangarei, New Zealand…about 3 hours drive from our place in Helensville.
And what good is the power of go if you don’t use it to see your friends?
So for an evening in New Zealand we joined our fellow sailors “on the hard” (nautical speak for a boat out of water) and things came full circle as Greg finally got a chance not only to jam with some of the people who taught him to play but also tried his hand on the ‘wife finder’ that got this whole thing started.
How appropriate that we would spend an evening playing music, drinking wine, telling stories, playing Mille Bornes (Greg is STILL the undefeated champion of the boat, thank-you very much) and altogether just catching up with people we’ve known since the start of this journey onboard their ship.
Which is named, by the way, S/V PROXIMITY.
(Not because of us, that would be silly. They have a really good story about the why of their boat’s name but we’ll let them tell it to you.)
Oh and because we promised Elisabeth, here is her song –
We said our farewells again because we didn’t know when, if ever, we would cross paths again. But hey, at this point, who knows.
As you can see, stranger things have happened.
Rod & Elisabeth are pretty cool people. If you’re interested in this sailor’s life and want another take on it, they also keep a blog we keep tabs on. As of this post they have left New Zealand and arrived back in the South Pacific Island nation of Fiji where we’re sure they continue to make friends, have fun and play really, really good music. You can check out their blog here: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/proximity
Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at www.CoastGuardCouple.com!