If you’ve ever tried to make plans to connect up with a cruising friend who was coming to town, you probably got a firm “maybe” for an answer. This frustratingly vague lack of commitment isn’t due to a fundamental character flaw; its just the nature of the traveling life afloat. One woman explained, “You can pick the time, or you can pick the place, but you can’t pick both.” We knew, for example, that we’d be coming through Charleston sooner or later, but the exact day we’d arrive would depend on the weather, the tides, and numerous other factors, many of which are beyond our control. So if we were trying to meet someone in Charleston, the best we could commit would be to say, “We’ll be there sometime in late October, we’ll let you know exactly when we get there.” or, conversely, we could say, “We’ll meet you somewhere in southern SC on Tuesday. Could be Charleston, or it could be any city within a hundred miles of there; if we’ve been traveling slow we might have only made it to Georgetown 60 miles to the north, or if conditions have been good we may be in Beaufort 100 miles south; we’ll call you on Monday night and let you know where.” This kind of vagueness can be startling to those who aren’t used to it, but honestly, we’re not being flaky, it’s just the way travel by boat is. Trying to be less vague can get you in trouble. My friend Ellen put it succinctly, “The most dangerous thing you can have on a boat is a calendar,” because trying to be exactly somewhere at a specific time can lead you to try to travel in conditions you shouldn’t, or take other unnecessary risks.
If we miss out on some things by being unable to plan, the universe seems to have granted a wonderful symmetry to compensate - our traveling life afloat has more than its share of spontaneous meetings. We were walking down a street in Charleston when someone called our names from a sidewalk café, and there was our dermatologist, on vacation with her husband. We were both so confused, she had to introduce herself - how awkward! In my defense, though, she was completely out of context for me - or maybe it was just that I didn’t recognize her without her white lab coat. Another time, a woman called to me from outside a marina laundromat, and it was someone I knew from my gym back in Annapolis. Same awkward lack of recognition on my part - but again, she was just totally out of her regular context for me. So many people have their regular rounds, regular places they go - school/work/home/shopping/church/favorite recreation/a few favorite restaurants/some friends’ houses - they probably spend 90% of their time in only a dozen or so places. I’m not sure how to define my context, then. When living afloat and traveling, mobility becomes an integral part of our nature. We don’t have a place to give us context; the boat is our context. We often know people solely by their first names and boat name, “Joe and Sue on WindWing,” “Fred on Water Music,” etc. No last names, professions, locations. People are always out of context, perhaps in fact, this lack of context is our context.