About 50 sailboats descended on Antigua since we arrived here three weeks ago. They were all part of the Salty Dawg Rally that left the U.S., mostly from Hampton VA, around November 1. The rally, which we participated in a number of times, brings the first wave of cruisers into Antigua and starts the winter cruising season in the islands. Our good friend Bob on PANDORA is the rally director and did a great job of organizing the rally. Along with another good friend, Lynn on ROXY, they organized daily social events for the last two weeks which culminated in a Thanksgiving Regatta (due to no wind, it was a kayak race) and a Thanksgiving Dinner at the Antigua Yacht Club. In short, it was a very busy social scene since we arrived, quite a change from the socially quite summer in St. Lucia.
Happy hours, dinners, tours, jam sessions, sun downers, beach gatherings and just plain gatherings were part of our social calendar.
Living on a sailboat and cruising around sounds like a lonely adventure with few opportunities for social interactions. This may be the case if you are constantly sailing, as many do, around the world and spend a very limited time in port. Mostly, however, cruises spend 95% of the time in port. At those times, cruisers gather socially, intermingle with the “locals”, compare adventures, help repair or exchange repair tips, and form friendships that last from weeks to years. It also develops, excuse the pun, very fluid arrangements among cruisers. You may not meet again for months or years but somehow just pick up the friendship where they were left off.
Two trends we have noticed over the last ten years is the popularity of rallies and the size of boats. Rallies have encouraged, and enabled people that would not ordinarily go from day sailing on the weekend to long distance, ocean going, sailing. This is good as it introduces many to this type of sailing. The downside is that long distance sailing is not the same as day sailing, in the same way that because you have a driver’s license means you can drive in the Daytona 500. Rallies do support and can assist in the transition but it still requires more than a few hours of instruction to appreciate the challenges that are faced. The fact that you may be hundreds, if not a thousand miles, from any help should give one pause before starting an off-shore cruise. But rallies also provide the structured framework of social gatherings. Social events in strange lands organized and attended by people you have come to know is a big selling point. The lonely sailor gives way to weeks of social events and is a major draw of rallies.
The other trend is toward bigger boats. Both longer and wider is the name of the game. It is not unusual to see boats and catamarans well over 50 feet sailing with a crew of two. Sometimes these are the first boats the owners have owned. Having owned sailboats for 40 years, starting with a 22’ Catalina, it amazes me how they do it. These bigger boats enable longer voyages and arguably a “safer” passage. But mostly they are more populated with family, friends and crew because they have the capacity to do so. It too, adds to the social experience of cruising or living aboard. The space offered on a large catamaran is like an apartment on the water. And not necessarily a small one. They do make great venues for sundowners and jam sessions!
Fewer pandemic restrictions are in place but island hopping is still not as easy as it was. Fully vaccinated sailors can go to other islands but PCR or quick tests are required and some additional paperwork is involved. This requires a bit of planning and restricts the unplanned and ad-hoc aspect of sailing. Once on island, masks, social distancing, curfews, and some beach restrictions may be in place, although none are really draconian. There has been some recent unrest, protests and strikes in the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique regarding the pandemic but nothing that really affected cruisers. News of a new variant is concerning but at the end of the day, we will have to live with whatever precautions should be taken while living our normal life.
The reality of life, like sailing rallies, is that social events play a major part in our existence. No one is an island, as the poem said, and even on an island, or a boat, you are never far from a gathering. Or a new rum drink.