What's Your Hurry

Cruising friends of ours, I’ll call them John and Lisa, are currently preparing to transit the Panama Canal in their circumnavigation of the globe. We met up with them while weathered in at an anchorage off St. John in the US Virgin Islands just ten months ago. Since then, they’ve managed to sail through the remainder of the Leeward chain, down through the Windward islands, and from there made way to the San Blas Islands situated just off the coast of Panama. You might think this sounds exciting and without doubt it is. But it also sounds exhausting and I find myself wondering with every e-mail that arrives via their SSB transmitter, ‘what’s their hurry?’. They’re cruising through some of the most beautiful places in the world and oblivious to most of them – places they are unlikely to return to because John’s mission is to sail around the world. Once he’s achieved this goal he won’t be returning to places they’ve merely kissed along the way because he’ll have ‘been there and done that’.

Lisa on the other hand laments their brief stay at every port and wishes they’d stay put for more than the time it takes to refuel, take on water, do laundry, stock the galley and clear customs. She’d love to rent a car and explore on land, visit historical sites, meet the local people, and in short, savor the culture. This, after all, is why she agreed to sail around the world in the first place. With each e-mail that arrives I sense Lisa’s growing discontentment and the stress that’s building in her and John’s relationship. John doesn’t hesitate to remind Lisa that she’s doing what the vast majority of people only dream of. Lisa tries to remind John that it’s not the ‘what’, it’s the ‘how’. “What does it matter that we sail around the world if we’ve not taken time to enjoy and explore the sites along the way” she asks.

John and Lisa’s race around the world is like to trying to ‘do Europe’ in 15 days. The one significant difference between these cruisers and land lubbers blazing through Europe is that time and money are not obstacles for Lisa and John. They have the resources and the vessel – a brand new sixty-two footer equipped with just about every bell and whistle imaginable – to cruise indefinitely.

Mary and Keith, long term cruisers we met anchored off Norman Island in the British Virgins proceeded with similar haste. They wanted to be in Trinidad by a specific date and this meant they wouldn’t have time to meander through the BVIs, one the most spectacular cruising destinations in the world. Instead, they sailed straight to Trinidad and skipped all the islands in between. Once there, they were disappointed in just about everything they found and expressed regret at having chosen to bypass so many diverse islands along the way.

We’ve met an increasing number of Johns and Lisas and Marys and Keiths over the years who are racing to get where ever their vessels will take them with little regard for the land masses in between. A lot of cruisers from Canada carry on a similar pace every year when they head south via the Erie Canal and Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW). Foremost in their minds is arriving somewhere warm before the first frost. Since many cruisers leave too late in the season to dawdle, the trip south becomes a marine freeway where stopping for necessities takes precedence over leisurely gunk holing and on-land exploring for nothing more than sheer curiosity and pleasure.

Many people in their haste to see palm trees and walk barefoot along deserted crests of beach, vow to slow their pace on the return trip up the ICW or to check out the islands between the Virgins and points north on their return passage. But life holds many surprizes and plans to island hop on the return down wind track are often abandoned for any number of extenuating circumstances, just as the planned leisurely jaunt up the ICW gives way to an offshore sail directly north to Norfolk due to perceived time constraints. Time is of the essence to be sure but one of the most alluring aspects of the cruising life – that which most people were attracted to in the first place - is being forfeited by a race against the calendar.

The haste and pace with which more and more people are voyaging from one destination to another keeps me asking ‘what’s the hurry?’. The cruising lifestyle provides an opportunity to slow the pace, to explore what lies beyond the beach, to linger ashore with bikes or on foot, to take time to meet and chat with local people, and experience first hand day-to-day life in other cultures. Freed from the often grueling demands of land life with its myriad obligations, expectations, and externally imposed time schedules, the cruising life lets you move when and if you want to, on your own terms, at your own pace, and on your own schedule. Yet, many cruisers find themselves racing from one port to another because they’ve allowed external demands to dictate: having to be at specific islands on predetermined dates to meet airplanes, pushing the weather envelop to rendezvous with friends in time for Carnival, leaving the serenity of a peaceful anchorage if only for the company of a buddy boat on the next leg of a passage, and so forth. Before long the cruising life threatens to resemble land life and moving back to land suddenly begins to look like a less imposing alternative.

Whether you have a year or two to live your cruising dream or are setting out for an indeterminate period, keep in mind that it’s not about how far your get or how fast you make it from A to Z; it’s about all that’s in between. If you make it only half way down the island chain, because after a few weeks at Lupéron you’ve barely tasted the Dominican Republic, consider staying put. Slow down, linger at will, and savor the journey. What’s you hurry?