During the 2011 hurricane season, Miss Kitty, from the sailboat Falcon, led the Grenada Cruiser’ Net every Saturday, beginning our day in her husky southern drawl with, “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!” After the weather, she’d welcome new cruisers to the Net, introducing the topic by saying: “This cruising life is a life of howdies and goodbyes,” and then she’d invite first those who had just arrived, followed by those sailors who were leaving for other ports, to check into the Net. Often, that was how we found out that cruising friends had finally joined us for the season and, after Miss Kitty signed off, we’d excitedly hail the newly arrived boat and set up a time to get together. In this cruising life we meet lots of wonderful people—and then we part.
In real life, when we and all of our friends lived in a house, we never wondered if we’d see them again. Sure, people move, but you can prepare for that as it often takes months to sell one’s home, find a new one and pack everything up. When I was ten, my best friend’s family moved to New York. Kathy stayed at my house while her parents traveled to Long Island looking at homes, checking the schools, and getting things ready for their daughters. We were heartbroken to be separated, but we planned summer vacations, and promised to be best friends forever. We’ve kept that promise. Later, when my husband EW and I left to go cruising, leaving Kathy, our families, and so many other friends, was the hardest part. Knowing that we were going to miss celebrations, funerals and births just about broke my heart. I never expected I’d feel that same pain and loss while cruising.
As cruisers, we don’t have the luxury of knowing when we may be seeing someone for the last time. Sure, people we love here and at home have died, but more often we are separated by the cruisers’ desire to seek the next adventure. We all have our own course to chart and that course can take us anywhere in the world. Each dinner, game of dominoes or music jam may be the last we enjoy with that couple, solo sailor, or group of musicians. We all wait for prime weather- windows, and that window can happen days earlier than expected. We all are subject to boat repairs, illness, necessary trips back home, or the call of a favorite anchorage. We aren’t expecting death any more than those who live on land, but we must learn to expect to be left and to leave others, and since our home ports are spread around the world, each goodbye may truly be our last.
At the end of this season, we are staying in St. Thomas, where we will work on the cruising kitty and prepare the boat for a cruise that will take us across the Atlantic twice in one year. Our new friends for life, Diana and Ross on One White Tree are sailing west to Panama, to be followed soon by Karel and Phil on Tehani Li. As I wrote this piece, Pam and Nick from Knot Yet motored past La Luna on their way to St. Martin. They, Peter and LeeAnn from Two Much Fun, and others will be back in Grenada for another hurricane season and keep telling us that the music jams and the net just won’t be the same without us. We know how they feel. Our lives won’t be the same without them, either.
Sailors from all of these boats—and many, many more—have touched our lives and become forever friends. We’ve helped each other with boat projects, snorkeled together, played rousing and loud games of dominoes, ate, drank, towed each other’s dinghy, played music, shared charts and tips, laughed, commiserated, dog sat, and exchanged recipes. We are neighbors in the truest sense of the word. But we are often just fleeting neighbors. Right now, we are scheduling ‘one last’ evening together with friends here in St. Thomas. Soon, we’ll all depart in different directions, but one day we may be back in Grenada, announce our arrival on the Cruisers’ Net, and connect with some of these forever friends. Maybe Miss Kitty will have returned by then. We haven’t heard her bright and cheery Texas voice in well over a year.