|Paparazzi greeting us as we docked in our slip in Morehead City (not really, but that's what it felt like. Image from here.)|
I think of life at sea as requiring traits like independence and self-reliance and the ability to deal with a bit of loneliness. Our boat is a tiny bubble of light and warmth in a big, uncaring ocean. (And no fooling – there’s times that even a relatively sheltered bay or estuary can seem plenty big and threatening when the weather acts up.) We and we alone are responsible for making sure we have power and water and generally maintaining our own comfort and safety as we live and travel.
In the weeks since we made our trip south, my memories have softened into a collage, and here’s a paradox. I didn’t feel independent and alone when we traveled; I felt part of a wonderful tight community of cruisers, whether I met them underway, at the dock, or just as voices on the VHF radio or online. Most of them, like us, were getting away from winter. We relied on each other for help, advice, simple favors and companionship, and all were generously given.
Dan and I traveled like rock stars. Not because we traveled in opulence – traveling by slow sailboat is anything but luxurious in physical comfort terms – but because the trip was organized not so much about the way we were going as the places we were stopping, and the people we could connect with there, like performers on a multi-city tour.
To some extent we had planned the stops on our trip south around familiar ports, or new cities we wanted to explore, spaced the appropriate distance apart (40 miles a day, give or take) and 3-4 days between marina stops unless bad weather forced otherwise. But really, the entire trip was also organized around seeing friends in those ports. Fellow traveler Kay was intrigued to hear an unfamiliar boat hail us when we were crossing the Elizabeth River; the boat had recognized our name when we were talking with the Coast Guard on VHF, and just wanted to catch up and compare plans. And then a few miles later, it was our turn to hail a boat who we’d heard talking, and try to figure out where we could hook up, since we had a book of theirs to return. “It seems Cinderella is famous in these parts, from Jaye’s presence online,” Kay wrote in her blog. Traveling with you is like traveling with a celebrity, she told me. “Everyone knows you.”
Kay wasn’t with us when we pulled into our slip in the marina in Morehead City, NC after making some brand-new friends in Oriental, or she would have really been amazed about traveling like a celebrity; I know I was. There was a small group of people watching us pull into the slip. And one or two had cameras pointed at us. My first thought was, “Huh? Wow, paparazzi! They’ve obviously mistaken us for someone, wonder who?” My second thought was, “Eek, I hope I don’t do anything awkward on this docking with all these people watching!” Satisfactorily for my dignity, the docking was drama-free, and then I figured out who the audience was…and they hadn’t mistaken us for anyone else, they were there for us. One of the greeters was a marina dockhand, and there were also a couple of guys who had happened to be on the dock who stuck around just in case their help was needed – it was windy and the current was running – but the other two, and the source of the cameras – were fellow-bloggers Tom and Sabrina. We had been in touch online and they had known that we were “probably” coming in that day; we had set up to meet for dinner our first chance to meet after following each other’s blogs for years, but it’s impossible to express how wonderful it felt that they’d been listening to the VHF to learn exactly when we were coming in and were there to welcome us.
As we continued down the ICW, our paths would interweave with other boats, we’d hear them on the VHF radio and then find ourselves sharing an anchorage; we’d meet someone on a dock and then find ourselves waiting for a bridge together a week later. So different from the solitary majesty of travel on the open ocean, our ICW trip was extremely social.
And then, we got to St Augustine. As we came in the inlet, and saw the Castillo (the old fort) completely dominating the horizon, and we saw a puff of smoke and heard a bang of cannon fire – my brain knew it was just by coincidence the scheduled display for the tourists but I live a rich fantasy life and of course that cannon salute was to celebrate our arrival! After we docked we were again greeted by friends that we’d been in touch with online since we left here a year and a half ago; they met us on the dock before we could even reach the shore, and they greeted us with smiles and “Welcome Home.” Welcome not to a physical home, (we bring that with us, floating wherever we go) but to home in that most crucial sense -- the place where you are surrounded by people that know you, care about you, and will help you -- our cruising community.