Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Friendliness and Friendship

Nostalgia for a small-town, front-porch kind of community -- in Oriental, NC
"Have you folks come from a boat?"  the elderly woman in the supermarket asked.  Odd question to be greeted with, though her tone was kind.

"Uh-oh, are we that obvious? What gave us away?" I chuckled my reply, while frantically wondering if our clothes smelled of diesel, or which of my friend Tammy's nine wardrobe rules for not looking like a cruiser we had violated, or if, like some of our friends' kids, we had grown so comfortable wearing our life jackets that we had forgotten to take them off now that we were safely ashore.

"Well," she said, "mostly the way you work together.  You are in tune with each other."

I thanked her for the implied compliment, and realized she had picked up on something I had noticed before and loved about our life afloat.  Living in such a small space has definitely made our marriage better.  It has made us super sensitive to each other's moods.  We talk more, and coordinate priorities better, than when we lived in a big house on land.  I hadn’t realized that it showed in even something so mundane as how we moved around each other loading items in a grocery cart, though.

"We love our boaters in this town," she continued.  "Do you need a ride back from the supermarket to your boat with all your groceries?"

Thank you, but, no, we didn't, since the boatyard had loaned us a car to do our errands with.  But that friendly kindness and openness is so typical of what we have found in this part of North Carolina, and in most of our travels in general.  That old small-town warmth, the generosity of strangers, isn't available just in nostalgic sentiment.  We've seen it since we've been traveling by boat to some of the smaller and more out-of-the-way places here in the southeast, never expected or taken for granted, but always welcome, but never more than here in Oriental, sailing capital of North Carolina.  We think of it as a “front porch” kind of town, where people actually sit on their front porches and chat, and know their neighbors.

My wise older cousin Lydia once told me, when we were both living in Colorado, that she found it easy to find friendliness in the western towns, but it was much harder to find [deep, soul-sharing] friendship.  I never forgot that distinction.  

Many cruisers, ourselves included, describe cruising friendships that become very close, very quickly.  I think there are two aspects to this.  First, friendship grows with unusual intensity because you just don't have very much time -- you are in a port together with someone for a while, then you'll go on your separate ways and may not see each other again soon.  Second and perhaps more important, there's a bit of self-selection going on -- other cruisers are necessarily going to share some of the same values you do, those values are what attracts us all to this life in the first place, and so you have a statistically better chance of finding friendship with other cruisers you meet than with random people met in other circumstances.

And in Oriental, we magically found both friendliness and a real friendship, during the 10 short days we were at the boatyard.  I think it started with our chainplates.  (For the non-boaters, these are the things that hold the cables that keep the mast up.  If they break, the mast falls.  Not a pretty picture.)  The chainplates are susceptible to rust and corrosion on our boat’s design so they have to be inspected regularly.  But they are not easy to get to, requiring emptying lockers to see them from below, and disconnecting turnbuckles and digging out sealant from above.   Nor can we disconnect them all at once, because, you know, as I mentioned, they are the things that hold the mast up.

So one or two at a time, Dan exposed the chainplates, and had the yard’s rigger come by to check their condition.  Then Dan would reseal the inspected plates back up and go on to prepare the next ones.  And during the process, we chatted with the rigger – about chainplates, and then about boats, sailing, priorities, life in general.  And then, because there’s only so much chatting you can do while on the boatyard’s clock, invited him over for a beer after work.

And here’s where the friendliness became friendship, in typical cruiser fashion, zero to sixty in a record short time, because we met his girlfriend Cathy as well, and the two couples just “clicked.” We talked for hours, about so many things, and as each evening ended we urgently made plans for the next one, to get in as much time together as we possibly could before we had to be gone to continue our southward voyage.  At one point we talked about how awkward it feels to have met someone on line, then arrange an “IRL” (In Real Life) meeting, because you sort of know each other already, and there’s the tension of figuring out if the real-life person matches up with the person you have come to like online.  The whole situation is especially daunting for baby boomers like me, who did not grow up with the internet.  But with Cathy, for the first time ever in my life, it went the other way … We had first met and become friends the old-fashioned way, in “real life,” and then during conversation, she mentioned that she was a member of an online women sailing group, and I told her I was a member of the same group.  “What’s your screen name?” she asked, and I told her, and we realized we already “knew” each other online.

I love this life for its simplicity, for being able to be in touch with nature in a way I never could when living in a house on land, for being able to be self-reliant and to take our home with us when we travel to interesting places, but most of all for the community we have become a part of.


  1. A woman once stopped and picked us up on the side of the road. (We weren't even hitch hiking) She said she knew we were from a boat. I asked how she knew and she replied "because you were holding hands".....

  2. Are you guys still in Oriental? We're at the Oriental Harbor Marina and would love to meet you if you're still here.

    S/V Kintala

  3. If you run into Capt. Jim Nixon, tell him Rob says hello!

  4. Deb, we left there some time ago (lucky for us, it's getting **cold** we hear); I just didn't have either downtime or bandwidth to post anything longer than the Facebook updates I could do from the phone.

  5. Hi Rob! Hope you're weathering the Chesapeake winter well. We've already left Oriental but will be back for a longer stint in the spring.