With 20 Atlantic crossings under the keel and a firm connection with the ocean, I meet Dan quietly repairing his hiking boots on deck. “No point throwing a good pair of boots away”, he affirms. An aromatic hand-pumped expresso is produced as we sit down for our annual catch-up.
If you spend time with long-distance sailors, certain patterns may emerge. As with many seasoned travellers, their footprint is often small and tidy. Propulsion is powered almost exclusively by clean energies (wind, tide, hydro and solar) and with space on board at a premium, possessions are restricted in number and geared towards multifunctionality and repairability. Similarly, a limited supply of energy, water and food requires careful rationing and forethought, particularly when the next reprovisioning point might well be a couple of weeks off.
Notable also is a welcome openness and conviviality between sailors who meet up in anchorages or marinas. The normal barriers that impede easy conversation with strangers put aside, past lives are almost irrelevant, and many sailors recount the ease with which friends are made; exchanging stories in the knowledge that tomorrow is another day and potentially another destination. The majority also recognise feeling particularly disposed to help others when needed and where possible, reflecting the maritime law and tradition. Touching base with Joan Conover of SV Growltiger, she described the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s Clean Wake project; honourable and laudable volunteer efforts being carried out in the Caribbean and Central America to assist communities suffering from the destructive impacts of extreme weather events: “We are cruisers helping where we can...we just gather up and fix things.”
A culture of solidarity naturally encompasses marine life. Far, however, from nurturing a romantic notion of wildlife, cruisers recall profound and sometimes alarming encounters that shape their habits. Solo circumnavigator Izabel describes the horror of witnessing a seagull ingest an entire plastic bag and has observed chicks too weak to fly having been fed a diet of plastic waste. A clear and firm rule is that nothing goes overboard.
This environmental sensitivity extends to noise pollution. Cruisers are fully aware how sound carries over water and accordingly adjust their sound levels, sleeping with one ear open, even on an apparently restful night in a peaceful anchorage. Don’t expect to make many friends arriving on a motorboat with a noisy generator or accompanied by keen jet-skiers. The code, developed perhaps through sharing cramped and uncomfortable quarters with people whose habits and behaviours might not concur with one’s one, coupled with long periods of meditative silence at the helm, is one of mindful awareness.
“Respect. Respect is everything”, explains Oliver, who has spent the last 8 years living on board, writing cruising guides and organising transatlantic rallies. “On a boat we have the great luxury of visiting places right off the tourist trail. We research a new area prior to arriving to ensure we adhere to customs or traditions; we buy local produce from coastal communities and aim to have as minimal an impact as possible.”
Beyond simply interacting with locals for provisioning purposes, most cruisers can relate an entertaining tale or two from a rich hoard of memorable experiences – where, more often than not, they are the butt of the joke…
Dan shrugs: “You just need to keep an open mind.”
As a template for sustainable travel - even sustainable living, it’s a hard one hard to beat.
Sincere thanks to Dan Hogarth, Izabel Pimentel, Oliver Heinrich Solanas and Joan Conover.