For most of us, cruising is done at our own rhythms and speeds. We go where we want and let the wind and the weather dictate our schedules. And then we change our minds and decide to sail somewhere else instead. Usually there is an overall plan, something like being in the Bahamas for Christmas or the Caribbean for Thanksgiving, but not always. Just being warm for the winter may be plan enough. Sometimes we make plans to meet up with other cruisers. Sometimes we don’t.
But we do like to gang up with other boats when we are making passages, particularly in areas that have seen incidents of piracy or heavy weather. Most of us derive a certain comfort from knowing that we are not out there making a long passage on our own, even though we also know that we are entirely self sufficient and well prepared for all contingencies.
Buddy boating is just the natural bonding of cruising friends, and no doubt the development of big rallies such as the Salty Dawg Rally, Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and the Baja Ha-Ha stemmed from the fact that boats were sailing these routes together anyway, rally or not. Successful rallies all follow natural migratory paths.
VHF, SSB and Ham radios play a big part in the networking of boats sailing in company since this is how we all get together and check in with each other, even when we are hundreds of miles apart. In popular destination harbors like Georgetown in the Exumas, Bahamas, mornings for many of the 300 boats that collect there for the winter begin with the VHF net news and weather followed by a general chat.
In the Caribbean, Mexico and South Pacific, where boats sailing together often get scattered, the morning SSB or Ham nets, often but not always run by a net controller such as Dick Giddings on the Do Dah Net, are a way for friends sharing the transoceanic migrations to check in, pass along news and help each other with logistics.
As cruisers get more miles under their keels and more years of experience in various oceans and weather conditions, they tend to become increasingly independent and tend to come and go without a gaggle of buddies with them. They know what they are doing and are happy enough just to meet up with friends somewhere down the track.
But even the most experienced cruisers, for the most part, enjoy having other cruisers around before taking off for a passage and when landfalls have been made successfully. This was really driven home in early November at the start of the 2014 Salty Dawg Rally. Sixty-eight boats and some 220 cruisers gathered at the Blue Water Marina in Hampton, Virginia in late October and planned to depart in company for the B.V.I. sometime around November 2nd.
I was impressed by how experienced this band of buddies was. Most of the skippers had made offshore passages and some had crossed oceans. There were even a couple of circumnavigators in the fleet. What brought all of these salty dawgs together? It wasn’t just the rum or free weather forecasts and routing provided by Chris Parker and sponsored by BWS. No, it was the camaraderie, the fun of sharing an adventure together. And perhaps, too, the knowledge that sailors who cross oceans in company share a bond that lasts a lifetime.