This month finds me in contemplative mood. I’ve always thought that cruising was simply tourism seen through another window, but I’ve recently discovered that we – cruising sailors, that is – can also be a source of local colour to other tourists. Part of the scenery, as it were. Theatrical properties in a theme park....or do I mean dream park.
My story starts in a cosy beer joint where Chele and I had taken refuge from the sun and fallen into conversation with a fellow sailor; easily identified by garb, manner and a DIY haircut of spectacular imprecision. We had never met before but soon found we had mutual friends amongst the cruising fraternity and were able to swap details of who was now where (and with who in several cases) and what they were up to.
The yarns drifted on in a generally gossipy way and he told us about his mainsail, the imminent demise of which was hampering progress. “We've come to the point of repairing the repairs,” he admitted. “I can’t complain. It's fifteen years old. Five or six grand at the very least.” He had my sympathy, dreading the time when we would be confronted with the same. The photo above shows Vaquero, Chele's elderly Cal 40 becalmed on the Grand Bahama Bank; its sails vaguely reminiscent of the Turin Shroud and well beyond their useful lifespan.
Together, we mournfully contemplated the enormity facing him, an obstacle I was glad to observe that didn’t discourage him from ordering another beer. I mumbled my condolences, wished him well, and we made to leave.
“Oh, you’re going,” said a female voice behind me. “What a pity. We were so enjoying eavesdropping.
I turned. A middle-aged couple, both bright pink in the early throes of their tans, beamed up at me from a nearby table. They were smartly turned out. A decent camera beside the carafe. Nice sunglasses. Clearly English. No doubt tourists comfortably placed.
“It was fascinating listening to your tales. I hope you don’t mind. We would just love to go sailing,” she said, adding, “where it's sunny, of course.” A nodding head from her husband signaled agreement and I got the feeling that he agreed a lot with what his wife had to say.
“Well, why don’t you?” I asked.
The man coughed and said wistfully. “I’m afraid we couldn't possible afford it.”
Which words triggered those contemplations I mentioned. Do you really have to be really well heeled to go cruising? Certainly a liberal supply of loot is not exactly an impediment but is it an actual necessity? The answer is clearly no. For the price of a hotel billet, there are flotilla holidays to be joined – or perhaps bareboat charter for the more experienced. Fun in the sun and learn while you’re about it. There has never been a better way to dip one’s toe into the sailing pond. I told them what I knew of both.
“We mean longer term, like you all do here. After Donald retires, of course.”
“Bravo,” I encouraged.
Granted this put a different complexion on it, but not much. A modest boat doesn’t mean modest dreams and there are some very good bargains to be had – particularly in today’s straitened financial circumstances. There’s a whole armada of yachts which sail warmer climes in the appropriate months, retreating into the marinas over the off-season to take advantage of the much cheaper rates – an arrangement that suits long-term cruisers and live-aboards well.
I trotted out my thoughts.
“Ah, but then there’s the maintenance,” she said with a knowing look at her husband. “Like that sail you were talking about earlier. Five thousand, did I hear? Why, I could re-carpet our whole house for that.”
And that says it all. It’s not what you have but how you spend it. Since it was clear that carpets were rated well above crisp new sail cloth, I very much doubt if we’ll be seeing them down here any day soon.
Oh, and our carpets at home in Poole are a considerable disgrace.