April 3, 2012

Dreams of cruising

DOWN AT THE BOATYARD YESTERDAY I ran into a man with dreams of cruising.  He has a 36-foot William Garden  cutter, one of those with a bowsprit, a wooden taffrail, and even a figurehead of a naked mermaid.

He'd like to head for the Caribbean, he said.  Had I ever been there? A few times, I said, not as often as I'd like.  Where was my favorite place?  The British Virgin Islands, I said.  I sailed through there once in my own 30-footer, and a few years later I was sent back on assignment for Cruising World magazine. But isn't the BVI too crowded, he wanted to know.

Ah yes, there's the rub. I get the feeling that there's hardly anywhere in the world these days where a cruiser will experience the thrill of finding an island or even an anchorage that hasn't already been explored by hundreds of boats before his. We all seem to be imbued to a certain extent with the old ideals of new discoveries and pristine tropical paradises. There was a time when the anchorage at Suvarov Atoll in the Cook Islands wouldn't see a yacht, or any other vessel for that matter, in six months. But look at it now. Literally rows of yachts anchored out and battling each other for swinging room. It makes you wonder if the game is worth the candle.

The world's population has exploded.  Sailboats have become comparatively cheaper. Navigation has become much easier. Rescue from emergencies has become more certain. Consequently, thousands of people are circumnavigating the globe on sailboats at any one time and to a large degree the old romance has disappeared. No longer are world sailors regarded with awe for daring the dangers of the High Seas. Sixteen-year-old girls are doing it, alone. We're not seeing any new heroes. Just fleets of liveaboards battling for spaces in crowded parking lots.

But to get back to the BVI for a moment. I urged the would-be cruising man not to miss these charming tropical islands with their blazing white beaches, their swaying palm trees, warm turquoise water, and rich history.  I told him how we were anchored alone off a little island there when a large cruise liner appeared and hove to off the point. Her sides opened up and a fleet of small boats sped in toward our "private" beach. Passengers, packed like sardines, spilled out onto "our" island, wearing sunhats and swimming flippers. Beach chairs and sunshades appeared. Scores of strangers frolicked in "our" surf while we skulked quietly up under the shade of the coconut palms, sullen, shocked, dismayed, and wishing them all the worst.

Then, after 45 minutes, they suddenly all scrambled back into their little boats.  The cruise ship swallowed them up again.  Crew members combed the beach and carted off any debris they could find. Then they, too made a run for the ship, which sailed slowly off to the east, no doubt to astonish another sailboat crew on another deserted island.

Just one hour after the initial onslaught, there was no sign of cruise-ship life. We walked the beach and marveled at how clean they had left it. Apart from footprints, there was nothing to indicate that  a crowd of landlubbers had been invading our privacy.

This, I suppose, is the compromise, though I'm not sure it's working that well in many other parts of the world. The BVI, which hosts large charter fleets, has also installed mooring buoys at strategic places where anchors and their chains could harm the ecology. This is smart thinking, a practical way to deal with the new reality that the earth is becoming overcrowded. And it does at least soften the blow for those of us who still linger helplessly in the nostalgia of the past.

Today's Thought
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone.
— Tennyson, The Lotos-Eaters

“Where did you get that nice new anchor?”
“Well, I was going to my boat yesterday when this beautiful blonde came along carrying a 25-pound CQR. When she saw me, she threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes, and said: ‘Take what you want.’”
“Ah, good choice. The clothes probably wouldn’t have fit you anyway.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Kevin H said...

I too was astounded that a place as remote as Suwarrow could have a forest of masts in the anchorage. But in the same vein as your earlier blog that the boat does not have to be sailing to give the owner pleasure, one does not have to be the first or only boat in the anchorage to enjoy it's charms. In fact, we are pleased that at least one person went there before us otherwise there would be no chart of the place and then we'd be too chicken to enter.! As long as we all respect our mother earth and keep our impact on the place and others to a minimum, it is still a voyage of discovery for ourselves.

Caribbean Cruises said...

Just tumbled across your blog today while looking for cruise holidays and instantly loved it. The thoughts from Tennyson and Tailpiece is an added plus. Thank you for a thought provoking post.