The Few, The Fortunate, The Live-aboard Sailors.

When re-uniting with another person from the lucky minority of live-aboard sailors, their are some formalities that simply are not necessary.

What Doesn't Need Saying

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day, browsing around the organic ground beef and boneless poultry, when I bumped into a woman intent on the price of a whole turkey. We backed off and apologized for getting in each other’s way, and then stopped.

“I know you,” I said. “I know you, too,” she answered. She was tall and elegant, so familiar, and I tried to figure out how I knew her. Sailing, I said, and she said, yes, that was a likely possibility, and rattled off a few names that rang no bells. Then she said her name, Gail, and suddenly I knew it.

"You're Star!" I said. "Gail from Star! I'm Wendy from Osprey."

"Osprey, of course!" she exclaimed, and we were suddenly hugging each other, all smiles, as if we were old dear friends, which in a way we are. I couldn't remember her last name—I don't know if I ever even knew it—and she probably didn't know mine, but what did it matter? We identified each other through our boats and our time crossing paths while cruising, and that told us all we needed to know.

We did a little catching up—it was December in a Trader Joe’s in Maryland, not a drop of blue water anywhere in sight, so what the heck were we each doing here, rather than being where we should be?

And that’s a good question.

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The short answer is that Osprey has stopped long-term cruising for now. We're still living aboard—we still can't quite stand the thought of moving off of her and walking away after all the miles and years she's safely housed and carried us, patiently watching us grow and learn. There's nothing false or sentimental about the bond that develops between sailors and their boats after tens of thousands of miles and millions of memories. She's a living thing, in a way that a house on land can never be; she's a part of our tribe, and so deserves a certain respect and care that's impossible to explain to people who've never placed their faith in something that looks like an aggregate of metal and wood and paint and fabric but is so much more.

That same unspoken understanding is true of cruising friends. Whether or not Star and Osprey made a passage together or spent a lot of time in the same places was really immaterial. Nor did I need to remember Gail's last name, or she mine, to understand a great deal that didn't need to be said. Star! Osprey! That was enough. What we shared had little to do with words, and everything to do with shared experience.

We both knew the beautiful darkness of the nights, a million stars glittering in an ancient, flawless sky. We knew the loneliness of setting out and leaving behind family and friends, and fighting with WiFi connections to make contact, and getting sad news in the email, and feeling so far away sometimes.

We knew how wonderful it was to value the smallest things that would be taken for granted in our old lives, but which now seemed so precious—organic boneless poultry, for instance.

We knew how fun it was to dance at a rake ’n’ scrape in Rock Sound or at Eddie’s Edgewater and to feel the small triumph of making a passage to a new country, clearing in, and anticipating all that was fresh and unknown.

We both knew how it felt to struggle through a long night watch only to earn the grace of sunrise each morning and feel awed and honored and lucky, knowing how tiny was our privileged minority.

We knew how frustrating it was to live with people (four on Osprey, two aboard Star) in 45 feet of space, and how completely gratifying it was to be that close to one another.

We understood the treasure of quiet nights on the anchor, reading a book aloud to one another.

We knew how hard it was to keep our floating homes operating well, and how expensive and complicated it could get to secure needed parts in far-flung places, though we loved the confidence and pride inherent in a self-sufficient, independent life.

| |Michael and Windy Robertson and their two girls plan to head Del Viento north from Victoria B.C., as soon as the weather warms up.|

We knew how vulnerable we could be out there, at the whim of weather and forces so beyond our control, and how fulfilling it is to live a life deeply connected to the natural world, the wind, the clouds, the rain, the storm.

We both knew what it was like to count on one another, without doubt or question. We were, and are, as my friend and fellow cruiser Randy says, all in this together. We also knew how much we'd given up to stop sailing, even if only for a while, and how fragile and fleeting a gift of the years together on an Osprey or a Star could be.

So that’s why I hugged Gail, whose last name I can’t remember, and why I was so happy to stop everything to reconnect with her.

Because I got it, and she got it, and the language we were speaking was our true language, the story of a life few would ever know, and one that we would never trade.

The Clarke family is currently aboard Osprey on the Chesapeake.