Monday, September 10, 2012

Fly on the wall

When one is on a boat at anchor space to move around is limited and you find things to occupy your time. Fixing something that you finally managed to locate the part for, reading, planning the next leg of the journey, locating the nearest supermarket that involves the least amount of walking or "spying on the world". Armed with a pair of binoculars it's amazing what you see.  

In a busy city anchorage like this one in Vancouver we are never short of entertainment. To start with there is boat watching.  Boats are unlike cars in that they come in many more variations. It's rare to see two boats the same in an anchorage of hundreds.

One looks at the boats, their owners and their combined practices and either admire or question them. Boaters fall into many categories. Simple ones are petrol- heads (power boaters) and sailors. These can then be broken down into sub categories. Mega-yacht power boaters, boats of 150ft and above costing many millions. Wannabe mega yacht power boaters, "the lads" in small power boats with loud bass beats driving their topless owners and their suitable accompaniment.  Fishing boats, both commercial and recreational, laden with the latest tackle and fish finding gadgets in search of the elusive Big One for the trophy cabinet and bragging rights down the pub.  Likewise sailors fall into many categories. You have racers in their sleek yachts, matching team clothing and stoking their adrenalin levels for the forthcoming event. Day sailors in smaller boats treating their friends to a day on the water. Relaxed, glass of wine in hand, ladies with unsuitably large hats that gently flap in the light wind sailing.
There are temporary cruisers, couples or families having a few weeks off to explore a new area or returning to a favorite spot. They come in a mixture of practiced experts who know the drills and etiquette of cruising and those who efforts are being practiced. And then there are the live- aboards, who we have recently joined their ranks (from the previous category of practicing cruisers). Live aboards come in various types as well. Families, retirees, individuals, mostly live on sailboats which can be recognized from the large amount of clutter on the decks from bikes, kayaks, crab pots, well used dinghies, washing hanging out to dry, solar panels, wind generators, dogs, cats, parrots and sitting low in the water. Live aboards are both envied and despised. Envied for the freedom to be doing what so many boat owners wish to do and despised for doing it.

A live aboards life is more relaxed than a cruiser. They have the time to sail rather than motor, the time to stay longer in a place and get to know it. Time to visit the out of the way places that holiday cruisers simply don't have time for. But live aboards are generally a frugal bunch, always in search of the free anchorage rather than paying marina fees. Eating onboard rather than out. Knowing how to conserve energy so the use of a generator or engine is limited. Knowing which local attractions are free. Trying to stretch their budget as far as it will go.

One has to try and maintain a level of dignity as a live aboard. Doing laundry is harder than at home, shopping is a chore without a car, having to lug the bags to the dinghy and then from the dinghy to the boat and maintaining a level of cleanliness has t be worked on. Water is a precious commodity at anchor and so is the electricity to heat it. 

But wait there is more. Here in Vancouver you can see it all. Teams of Dragon boats race up and down the creek. Their occupants, both young and old, being mercilessly beaten into action by their paid coxswain. There are Kayakers taking their first experience of being in control on the water. Pleased with themselves. Smiles and waves of joy as they go by. River cruises with drunken passengers in loose fitting summer dress. Then there are people in unsuitable craft, like a family of 5 we saw paddling a small inflatable dinghy, suitable only for a pond, up the river against the tide and with no life vests. (They were eventually taken off the water by the river police but not after enduring a two hour paddle to go half a mile and all sun burnt). A steady stream of water buses that look like miniature tugs or paddle steamers pass by carrying their passengers from different parts of the city.

Along the shore we have dog walkers, fishermen, sunbathers, vagrants and I even had a woman breast feeding her baby only yards from the stern of our boat- eyes left please.

Every place we visit brings a new vista and experiences and few places are the same. Spying is a quintessential cruising pastime embraced by all and binoculars are their tool.


  1. OMG, have you ever considered taking up writing as a career? A wonderful read, thank you!

  2. Agreed - brilliantly written Richo! Extremely jealous, sounds like you're living the dream! Miss you all so very much, hope to speak soon, all my love, ambo x x x x