Cruiser’s Notebook: Buddy Boating
By Cyndi Perkins

Teaming up is a safe and reassuring strategy when exploring territory that is new to you or if you are simply new to cruising. Traveling "in company" means there are more eyes for depth sounding, marker-spotting and plotting an accurate course. There is also safety in numbers. If you encounter trouble, a companion boat may have the tools, equipment or expertise needed to help solve the problem.

Along with that comfort zone, however, comes the human factor. While traveling "on the hip," tempers can slip if buddy boaters don't clearly understand respective goals, including travel speed, miles per day, overnight accommodations and budget. If you are traveling with a flotilla, the potential drama multiplies.

Compatible intelligence and humor levels are very helpful in negotiating a travel itinerary that allows for privacy as well as togetherness.

The bad buddy boaters in these tales shall remain nameless:

Two Midwest sailing couples who began America's Great Circle Loop together on the Great Lakes made it all the way down to the west Florida coast before finally admitting that their ideal resting places were dramatically different. The first couple, we'll call them the "Sunsets," cherished remote anchorages, dropping the hook up quiet creeks or in the shallows of secluded bays. Couple number two - aka the "Sundowners" - reveled in the camaraderie of upscale marinas, preferably those with lively Tiki bars. Because they assumed they'd be making the entire Loop together, no one wanted to concede that it just wasn't working out. Finally, simmering frustrations came to a boil and heated words were exchanged. To their credit the Sunsets and the Sundowners managed an amicable parting of the ways. The lesson for all boaters is to be up-front with your expectations. Even the most compatible of couples may have differing visions of the cruising lifestyle. There's no shame in pointing your boat in a different direction if you find the situation isn't ideal for you.

Buddy boats unintentionally violate the
anchoring-space rule in St. Augustine, Florida, where tidal switches and robust currents near the Bridge of Lions brought Faith Afloat and Chip Ahoy too close for comfort.

Yes, you are allowed to be selfish. We cruise to please ourselves, not necessarily others. Buddy boating etiquette dictates that it is perfectly acceptable to politely say no to anyone you do not feel comfortable traveling with for any reason. Conversely, do not expect every boater you see to want to team up with you. Some cruisers prefer traveling solo. Be sensitive about imposing on their desire for privacy. This leads to two more cautionary examples of buddy boating gone bad …

A cruiser did definitely not coin the adage, “neither a borrower nor lender be”. Boaters are by and large a generous bunch. There are limits, however, to what any boater can or should do. In one case, we reluctantly traveled in company on the Florida East Coast Intracoastal Waterway with a couple rich in knowledge but in a sadly underpowered sailboat that rocked and rolled violently in any waves or wake over two feet. And whenever they experienced a wake - common and unavoidable on the most discourteous portions of the eastern Florida Intracoastal Waterway - they loudly complained on the marine radio. In one day alone the lady sailor issued 25 "you are responsible for your wakes" to boaters. She was even chastising boaters who waked Chip Ahoy!

Cruisers travel in company on the narrow and lovely Dismal Canal waterway leading from North Carolina to Virginia. (Photo courtesy Jay Haugen).

Worse yet, their boat wasn't equipped with adequate jerry cans for fuel or water. Their engine was giving them trouble, so they borrowed a spray we'd been using on our dinghy outboard, as well as jerry cans from a 35-foot Catalina also traveling with us. We eventually took off in two-to-four foot wave conditions the cruising couple from hell did not want to travel in, leaving behind the stuff we'd lent. We were afraid we'd never get rid of them otherwise. Chalking up our small losses to experience, we breathed a sigh of relief at being able to travel faster than five knots without running radio commentary.

Mandatory rafting at Thompson Island, Ontario, involves lots of traffic clambering over many boat decks. Tango of the sailboat Sunntack, the third boat off the dock, is more agile than most humans when making for shore.

In 2005, Chip Ahoy had to tactfully shake loose another traveling partner, a small sailboat suffering from domestic squabbles and economic problems, both of which were loudly broadcast for all and sundry at various anchorages and marinas to hear. While we travel on an extremely modest budget, we do reserve a few dollars to treat ourselves on special occasions. If you have never had people sit and watch you eat in a restaurant when they cannot afford to dine out asking after each bite how the food is, I can assure you it is not a pleasant experience.

The boat captain's grandiose plans to sail around the world didn't jibe with his buddy-boating style, which was to follow as closely behind us as possible, jogging when we jogged, jigging when we jigged. We had to ask him to back off and give Chip Ahoy some breathing room whenever we wanted to troll a fishing line, maneuver in a tight marina basin or exit an anchorage. Though this boat had a shallow draft, its captain never once led into an anchorage. In fact, he never volunteered to lead anywhere or offered an opinion on course plotting or destination planning. Rationally, we understood that we were not responsible for the safety of this boat, but we felt burdened and depressed while traveling in such needy company. The experience taught us to more closely evaluate the folks who ask to travel with us, as well as the state of their vessels.
That's the down side of buddy boating. Fortunately for all of us, the experience is most often positive. We have a long list of cruisers that we greatly enjoy traveling with whenever and wherever our paths cross.

The crew of Victoria Queen prepares for a morning dive on the shipwreck America at Isle Royale National Park. Others in our group, including the Chip Ahoy crew, went fishing instead.

World voyagers Rosi Allen and Jim Rust of Cornucopia, Wis. have seen the world aboard their Contest 34 Libelle and shared numerous Lake Superior sailing adventures with Chip Ahoy. Jay and Janet Haugen of Sleepy Eye, Minn., along with children Kim, Katy and Christopher, were our partners in adventure all the way up the east coast, through the Erie Canal and across Great Lakes Erie, Huron and Superior on their 35-foot Catalina Faith Afloat as we completed our first circumnavigation of the Great Circle Loop in 2003-2004. Bonnie Brennan and Jerry Riedel, formerly of The Bear and now of the motor yacht Blackdog, are tops among our many trawler brethren that can always be counted on to make a passage of any duration fun and safe. Whenever we are in port together, it feels like a homecoming.

Some boats you travel with carry true friends for life, others may only cross your path once. In any instance, the buddy boat experience can be enriching on a variety of levels. From our new friends come new anchoring and rafting techniques, lessons in how to yank - or be yanked - off a sandbar, how to get a lather out of salt water (Joy dishwashing liquid) and the proper way to mix a spicy Canadian-style Caesar at cocktail hour. Then there are the long-time boating buddies including Bill and Linda Reynolds of the sailboat Victoria Queen and George Hite of the Nonsuch Peregrine, who expand every shared excursion into a test on sail trim, racing tactics or navigational prowess.

These outstanding cruisers and the many others we've been so fortunate to share some time with "on the road" can teach us all a thing or two about proper buddy boating whether you're out on the water for a day or forever. See the accompanying list for more tips on teaming up harmoniously.

Cyndi Perkins is a freelance writer and full-time cruiser traveling with husband Scott aboard their 32-foot DownEast sailboat Chip Ahoy. After completing a 6,000-mile circumnavigation of America's Great Circle Loop in 2003-2004, the couple prepared for another extended cruise south while continuing to explore Lake Superior destinations including the Canadian North Shore. In late August 2005 the couple set sail for another trip down Lake Michigan into America's heartland rivers leading to Mobile, Alabama. Cyndi will continue to share top northern and Midwest boating destinations with readers in her regular "Cruiser's Notebook" feature.

Comments, suggestions or questions (short text messages with no attachments) may be directed to Cyndi at