On Being a Cruising Boat Guest
Last February, our good friend, Cat, from Seattle came to visit us in Mexico. Within hours of her joining us on Halcyon, she had served me a beer out of the fridge and was busy scrubbing the bottom of our upturned dinghy on the deck, bouncing along to music she had brought and paired to our Bluetooth speakers. Our friends on the cruising boat next door watched with wide eyes and later asked how in the world we got her to do that. But I could only shrug, sip my cold beer, and smile.
We have been overwhelmed and thrilled with how many visitors have joined us on Halcyon since leaving to go cruising from Seattle 1.5 years ago. To date, we have had 18 guests, plus 9 repeat visits! We love hosting people, but it is not always easy when we are traveling full time on a finite budget and without much of a long term plan or timeline. We quickly learned that a few basic ground rules help ensure everyone has a great time.
First, and most importantly, we tell anyone even considering a visit that they can either choose when they come visit or they can choose where they come visit, but they cannot choose both. This is for our safety and comfort. I believe the most dangerous thing we can do out here is have a hard-lined schedule. With a schedule, we might end up on a passage when we shouldn’t be, over our heads in conditions that could have been avoided, all to make it to a port and meet up with a friend. So even if Michele Obama wanted to drop by for a week on Halcyon in Panama, we would not endanger our boat and ourselves by trying to hurry up and meet with her if we were still in Nicaragua. (Sorry, Michele. We would still love for you to visit!)
Second, we make sure any potential guests understand what they are getting into. It is all about setting expectations. They get to have a free place to stay in a beautiful tropical location, but they are joining us on whatever stage of the journey we are on. If an incoming guest has their heart set on getting to snorkel or surf or sail or shop or swim with sharks or fill in the blank, they may leave disappointed when weather or sea conditions or our ambitions don’t allow that. Maybe we just reached Internet for the first time in 3 weeks and have to spend a few days glued to a computer while they explore town. Maybe the water is murky and no good for snorkeling. Maybe the weather is just right for a three-day passage. Maybe we are in love with this bay and want to stay and surf and lounge on the beach for a week or more. Also, fresh water and electricity are our most precious commodities. So showers come infrequently and are taken in the cockpit, and charging things has to happen in tandem with sunny days or motoring.
And lastly, through a year and a half of trial and error, we have deduced that the sweet-spot for visit length is 7-10 days. Any less than 7 days and we lose the flexibility to stretch out and get somewhere new. Any more than 10 days and the boat starts to feel teeeeeeeeeny tiny. Of course there are a few exceptions to these parameters (like friends who are coming as crew on longer passages, close friends that have been cruising before, and very select family members), but for the most part we ask our guests to stick to this timeframe.
Sound like it’s your kind of vacation? Great. Then book that ticket and come on down. But! There are some important guidelines for you, prospective guest, to ensure you receive that coveted invitation to return.
The most basic guidelines are there to make sure you don’t inconvenience your host, or make us pull our hair out. First, don’t pack in a roller bag. They don’t squish down and they don’t fit on boats. Second, bring your own batch of scopolamine patches, the miracle sea-sickness drug. I have a stash of them, but it is dwindling, and they are expensive in the states, impossible to find in Central America. Third, once you are settled on board, we want to ensure you feel at home. But that does not mean leaving your belongings all over the living space. So stay tidy, this little boat is already cluttered enough! Lastly, pitch in for groceries. We are living off a finite budget, and adding a mouth or two to every meal adds up surprisingly quickly.
If you also follow this second tier of recommendations, the trip is sure to be a blast and you will certainly get an invitation to come back. First, don’t be afraid to pitch in. Even if you haven’t been sailing before, ask what you can help with and watch the steps we take. This is especially important as we are stowing the boat to get ready to go sailing. Every time we are getting ready to leave, Cat closes all the portlights and dogs down all the hatches. The first time, she asked. Now, she just does it. We love teaching people about sailing, and are happy to answer questions and let guests jump in and give it a shot. Second, do the dishes. You might not know how to raise the anchor or stow the dinghy motor yet, but dishes is something that always needs doing and is always appreciated. Every boat has their own system for doing dishes to conserve water, so learn what that is early on. And third, be our adventure buddy! The whole reason we are out here doing this is for the adventure. Some of our most memorable times are when we grabbed beer and snacks and guests for an unplanned day-long dinghy-fishing-snorkeling-beach fire expedition.
So that is how to be a great cruising boat guest. But I’ve got a few more tips for you. These are the top-tier confidential stellar actions you can take to Be Like Cat. This is what it takes to be a true Halcyon groupie, win our hearts over forever, maybe even get an article written about you. First, a stellar guest has graduated from asking “what can I do” to suggesting tasks. Jess, another favorite visitor, was with us as we were putting the boat away to travel inland for a bit. If she had asked “how can I help?”, I likely would have said something like “oh, we’re almost done”. Instead, she said, “I’m free – can I clean the bathroom? I know you have guests coming right after you get back. Would that be helpful?” Yes! That is always helpful. I wasn’t even thinking about preparing for our next visitors yet. Second, be our pack mule. We are forever in need of more stuff from the states. All guests are subject to some amount of amazon deliveries and schlepping boat parts they can’t name. But the elite guests take it to another level. They go to fisheries to pick up will call items, fill their apartment with leftover amazon boxes, print PDF guidebooks on work computers, drive out to Shilshole to pick up mail, and while there, pick up the most recent round of sailing magazines. A crisp paper copy of the most recent 48 North? Now that is one stellar cruising guest.
So don’t be intimidated about visiting your cruising friends. Just be flexible, carry a bunch of boat parts down, hand out some beers and start scrubbing the dingy. You are sure to wow your hosts and quickly rise to elite groupie with an open invitation to come back. Just like Cat.