Sailing Strangers Become Lifelong Friends

One of my greatest concerns about leaving our hometown and moving onto our boat was leaving friends behind.  I knew we would keep in touch with family and I certainly hoped we would stay connected with friends.  But how would we make new friends while constantly on the move?

As much as my husband and I love each other, we want and “need” other people in our lives and not just virtually!

While contemplating a cruising lifestyle, I asked cruising women I met how they made friends and if they were lonely.  They assured me that friendships would come, but I was skeptical.

After nine months afloat, I can assure those concerned about making friends while on the move that strangers quickly become friends in this cruising lifestyle. In fact, friendships are formed much faster and more easily “out here” than on land.  We have thought about this phenomenon and have decided that there are several reasons that sailing strangers rapidly transform into longterm friends.

The obvious reason cruisers quickly make friends with one another is the common interest of sailing. Everyone knows that common interests are an excellent basis for friendship. Conversation topics are easy to come by as everyone can contribute to subjects like “where have you been,” “what kind of XYZ do you carry on board,” “where are you heading next,” “do you happen to know how to repair ABC?” and other live aboard topics. And if those don’t start a conversation, just ask a cruiser which anchor he has and why he chose it. A lively conversation is sure to follow. (You might not care, but an opinion will be had!)

Another factor is interdependence.  Much like land neighbors of long ago, cruisers are likely to borrow from fellow cruisers since getting to a grocery or marine supply store can be arduous.  These days on land, stores are so convenient that we tended to simply drive to the store and buy what we needed rather than disturb a neighbor. Not so on a boat.


Sunset in Christmas Cove, USVI.

In December 2014, we were anchored in Christmas Cove, USVI when our dog, Captain, stepped on sea urchin.  The poor puppy had spines protruding from her front paws.  The internet remedy included soaking her paws in white vinegar which we didn’t have. Buying vinegar would have meant a dinghy ride, a long walk or taxi ride to the store and then reversing those steps to get back to the boat.  Probably about a 3 hour process and it was getting dark so going to the store was time consuming and unsafe.

Since we really needed the vinegar, my son, Clayton, and I hopped in the dinghy and asked neighboring boaters if they had any vinegar we could borrow. Happily, Jody and Peter, on sailing vessel Mary Christine, had vinegar and graciously gave us some.  To this day we are in contact with Jody and Peter via their blog, our blog and messaging.  While we were in the BVIs this May,  Jody and Peter pulled up to the anchorage where we were already anchored.  This was an unexpected meeting and we immediately hopped in our dinghy and motored over to visit with them.

Peter and Jody provide day cruises in the BVI.  I highly recommend them if you are looking for a day adventure on a sail boat in the British Virgin Islands.

Cruising in foreign places often means being in remote areas with few resources if something on your boat breaks. While most live aboard sailors carry a lot of spare parts and tools, often a neighboring boater can offer advice about a problem because he or she has already experienced it.  Or perhaps the job requires the one tool you don’t have.  A neighbor is always happy to lend his tools. If the repair is labor intensive and another pair of hands would help, fellow boaters are willing to step up.

While we were in Pointe-a-Pitra, Guadeloupe, our boat neighbors, Kristie, Rich and Tyler on Sail Pending needed to fix their davit.  Frank happened to have material and tools onboard LIB which significantly reduced the repair time and cost for the davit.

St. Fra

Tyler supervises Frank and Rich

Back on land, Sail Pending would have called a repair person or driven to the hardware store for said materials.  Out here, neighbors extend a hand or a tool, and friendships are formed by lending aid.  Kristie expressed her appreciation with homemade cinnamon rolls which were delicious and a rare treat for us!

Wouldn’t it be weird if tomorrow while you were running errands, you saw the same person in two different parking lots, so you walked over and said hello to that person?  Well, while sailing, if we see the same boat in two different anchorages, we often make a point of going over to say hello.  Kinda strange right?


Tobago Cays, where we first met Katahdin

We met Cathy and Larry of Katahdin this way. We had admired their boat when it was anchored in Jumby Bay, Antigua. Perhaps 300 miles south of there, Katahdin happened to anchor next to us in the Tobago Cays, so Frank stopped by their boat and complimented them on Katahdin’s lines and beautiful maintenance. That evening Cathy and Larry joined us for sundowners.

I guess it is a little different, but since cruisers are transients, they usually don’t have a circle of friends nearby so there is an openness to friendship that is less common on land where neighbors are longterm and friendships remain the same for years on end.

Take that idea of making friends out of strangers in an anchorage one step further…. while lending a hand or discussing anchors, one boat crew will probably ask where the other is heading next and if their paths are similar, the two boats might just agree to sail in tandem to the next anchorage, or two or three! A “buddy boat” has been found.

Buddy boats sail from anchorage to anchorage together as long as their plans align. They might spend a week or two or perhaps months in tandem.  Then, just as easily as they joined itineraries, one or the other might decide to head out in an independent direction.

Sailing is well represented by special interest groups on-line and this has become a resource for information and friendships.  We have met several sailors because we read their blog or they read ours.  Our very first “sailing friends” were a direct result of mutual blog reading.

We met David and Amy of Starry Horizons way back in 2013 when they were ordering their Helia and we had our Helia in charter. Our first meeting was before Fountaine Pajot had finished building Starry Horizons!  We keep up with David and Amy’s adventures and have met with them five different times – two on land and three in anchorages.  Our meeting places have been as varied as Ft. Worth, Dallas, the US Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Lucia!  One time we sailed within half a nautical mile of Starry Horizons near Antigua but our schedules precluded a meeting.  Instead we had a nice chat on the VHF radio as we sailed in opposite directions.


Starry Horizons anchored to starboard.

David and Amy are literally young enough to be our children, but sailing erodes age barriers and we consider these two our very dear friends!

Which leads me to age. The range of ages for the sailors we consider friends is much more broad than the ages of our friends on land. It isn’t that we cannot relate to an equally wide range of ages on land, it is that we simply tended to interact within a more narrow age group. I’m not sure what causes the age barrier to callapse in sailing, but removing it has widened our friendship experiences and enlarged the pool for friendships.

Similarly, financials are less defining among boaters. Small boats or large, we all share the same “neighborhoods” and similar systems on our boats.  Big yachts or minimalist cruisers, each have unique yet overlapping experiences which allow them to  contribute to conversations about favorite anchorages, preferred electronics, upcoming weather patterns, etc.

One afternoon while avoiding my next boat project in Puerto Rico, I received a message on Facebook from a fellow Texan I had never met. Renee assured me she wasn’t a secret stalker, but she and her husband were nearby in Puerto Rico and wondered if we wanted to meet for dinner….


Palmas del Mar Marina, where Alegria and LIB shared many dinners

Frank and I were new to cruising at that time and a little surprised by the invitation but we are SO glad we accepted.  Renee and Dave of Alegria have become some of our favorite cruisers.  We ended up moving to “their” marina in PR and we have been fast friends ever since.  We make it a point to see them any chance we can; like when we altered our route back to the US and added a stop in the BVIs so we could hang out with Alegria and revisit our favorite haunts from charter days.

I could wax on about new friends and how we have met, but rather than bore you with the stories, I will list the factors we believe contribute to quick camaraderie between cruisers:

  1. a common interest
  2. reduced access to goods creates interdependence
  3. making repairs without hired experts encourages cooperation
  4. lack of  repair shops or local parts encourages asking for help
  5. boats generally travel with only a few people on board, so we all seek out friends
  6. limited internet so you can’t just “Google” answers, instead seek advice from others
  7. comfort in numbers and sharing experiences encourages “buddy boating”
  8. random introductions are considered normal not odd
  9. age and financial means are not a barrier

Of course this list is not complete and I would love to know what other factors you believe allows strangers to become fast friends when cruising.  Or maybe you disagree completely? Feel free to share your thoughts.

In essence, cruising recreates a neighborliness that has been lost on land where independence and immediacy are sometimes more valued than creating friendships.

This is not a condemnation of “land life,” but an observation of how living on a boat and living at a slower pace has, in our opinion, recreated the neighborliness of a past generation.


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