Inspired by people we’ve met throughout our cruising journey, I wrote this article for the June issue of 48° North (read the full magazine HERE). And though I share just five short stories, I would like to thank all the friends new and old who have helped us along the way — THANK YOU ALL. Enjoy!
From the Salish Sea north to Alaska, down to California and now in Mexico, our family has been continually humbled by the generosity and hospitality of others. We have been graciously taken in, given thoughtful gifts, and nourished by more meals than we can count, none of which we’ll ever forget.
Reflecting on years and thousands of miles of cruising, we are immensely grateful for all those we’ve met along the way. And we recognize, now more than ever, how important these connections to other people and communities have been.
Seeing examples of selflessness and generosity throughout society as Covid-19 gripped the world has reminded me of the gifts—tangible and otherwise—given to our family by the special people we, as cruisers, have had the good fortune to encounter on such a regular basis. It’s an uplifting feeling to think back on all those blink-of-an-eye moments when strangers instantly became friends.
I hold out hope that we can soon give our customary thank you and goodbye hugs again, but I am certain that the world doesn’t have to return to “normal” for us to find ways to offer and receive such kindness. In that positive light inspired by those who are helping and giving so much in these crazy and uncertain times, here are a few stories from our adventures about those who have shared so much with us.
A Dreamcatcher Gift in Gig Harbor
Anchored in the tranquil waters of Gig Harbor, the sun was about to set on another beautiful Pacific Northwest summer day. Sitting in the cockpit, I held our oldest son, Porter, who was just a few months old, and watched the goings on of other boats around the bay. A few boat lengths west of us, I noticed our neighbor climb into her rowing dinghy with something in hand and, to my surprise, start rowing towards Yahtzee.
I greeted her at the starboard rail and Jill came on deck to join the chat. After exchanging pleasantries, the woman explained that her and her husband, both in their 80s, had cruised the world over and gathered many mementos along the way. She held up a small dreamcatcher that had been crafted in British Columbia and offered it to us. Accepting the gift, and holding it up to look at its intricate design through the last of the day’s sun, I listened as she said something I didn’t expect. “My husband and I love seeing your young family out here. While our cruising days are waning, yours are blossoming. And we want to give you this dreamcatcher to remind you to always follow your dreams. They’re worth achieving.”
In the moment, I was positively stunned and incredibly grateful for the thoughtful gesture. The dreamcatcher quickly found a place hanging in Yahtzee’s cabin and hasn’t moved since.
Drying out in Coffman Cove
It was blowing a steady 35 knots, gusting to 40 and raining sideways when we rounded Whale Point and rolled into Coffman Cove in search of shelter from a strong spring low. The small hamlet sits on the east side of Southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island and boasts a population of less than 200 inhabitants. With the help of the only other cruiser on the dock, and against the raging protests of the building gale, we finally got Yahtzee wrangled to the pier and set out to stretch our legs with the boys.
At the first house we came to above the marina, a friendly middle-aged couple came out on their front porch to greet us and invited our family in for shelter from the heavy rain and driving wind. After sharing our story with them, they explained that they had a guest apartment upstairs and that we were welcome to stay there to take showers, do laundry, and relax. Our reply was a genuine, “thank you for your kind offer, but we’re fine on the boat”. That answer didn’t fly with them, though, the wind and rain wasn’t supposed to let up for a couple days. At their insistence, we were staying.
Much obliged, we basked in the warm confines of the apartment, ate dinner with a friendly neighbor who shared her own sailing stories, and sipped hot cups of coffee in their cozy living room. The sun was finally shining on the day we left, and it was with big hugs and smiles that we said warm thank yous and goodbyes to our hosts. The generosity of others never ceases to amaze.
Salmon Fishermen in Kodiak
Pulling into remote Kodiak Island after a 550-mile passage across the rugged Gulf of Alaska, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew there would be fishermen. Lots of them. That’s exactly what we found at the city marina. With nary another cruising boat in sight, we tucked into a slip amongst the local fishing fleet and found ourselves warmly welcomed.
Shortly after our arrival, a captain aboard a well-worn salmon seiner called young Porter over to look at their particularly large catch. My son stood looking in awe at the silver piles of fish. Taking notice, the weathered captain called for a deckhand to give Porter a fish and he beamed with pride as he brought it home to Yahtzee cradled in both arms.
We were in port on-and-off over the next couple weeks and the fishermen sort of took us in under their wings. Though their daily lives were filled with work preparing boats and gear, they also found time to exchange pleasantries and share tips on weather and anchorages. And they had a special affinity for the boys, as many of them had children of their own that they didn’t often see during the busy fishing season.
On our last day in town, the captain on the boat next to us handed me a huge sockeye salmon they’d caught just that morning. “This is the freshest fish you’ll get anywhere,” he said with a crooked smile and cigarette hanging from his lips. He was right, it was delicious, and kept us delightfully and gratefully fed for days.
A Car in Sausalito
One of the difficult parts of the cruising life can be how to quickly and easily get groceries. This was particularly true in the San Francisco Bay area where stores weren’t often near anchorages or marinas. Part of the adventure, then, can be walking or taking public transportation to obtain the things we need. But that doesn’t always work.
In Sausalito, we needed to go to the chandlery for several larger items and wanted to get groceries at the same time. It was shaping up to be a challenging mission: dinghying to shore before continuing on foot with a 4- and 6-year-old, especially when the stores weren’t an easy walk away. Enquiring with a friend of a friend who was a liveaboard at a local marina about logistics and where to leave our dinghy, we were surprised when she simply said, “Leave your dinghy in my slip and take my car. No worries!”
Wow. “Sure!” we stammered in disbelief. In the hours we had the car, we were able to get more done than we would have in weeks.Yahtzee was fully stocked and we were able to purchase and haul everything we needed for several boat projects. Profoundly appreciative, we left the car with a full tank of gas and some hand-me-down clothes for her youngest child.
Help in Mexico
Similar to cruising in other places we’ve been, it’s not always convenient to get everything you need in one place. When our watermaker broke and a new part wasn’t available for weeks, we suddenly found ourselves needing freshwater in a place where it has to be brought out to our anchored boat in 5 gallon jugs. Easier said than done in a small dinghy with no outboard engine.
Fortunately, we’d made friends with a couple in a small beach town and, through our broken Spanish and their broken English, we were able to work out a system to get water. I’d row into town in the dinghy and then he’d help me get the water in his truck. We’d then take it to his house where he has a panga and we loaded it up and drove it out to Yahtzee. He stood by while we transferred the water to our tanks and then I rode back with him to return the jugs and fetch our dinghy.
When this system proved efficient and effective, the gracious couple offered to help us with other chores like getting laundry done and filling up gas tanks and propane tanks. And when they found out our outboard engine had been stolen months prior, they hooked us up with a friend who sells engines—and just like that, we bought a shiny new Yamaha 8-horse. They always seemed genuinely happy to help and we, of course, compensated them for their time, effort and kindness.
In the times we’re living in, it’s inspiring to see people helping people—even in the smallest ways. In our experience as cruisers, acts of generosity from others creates a profound sense of connectedness that we all need now more than ever.