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The Sailor's Bank

Since we began sailing, there has been no shortage of kindness showered upon us by fellow sailors, most of it undeserved, all of it accepted gratefully. In each port and in every country we have found generosity and kinship in both the sailing and the local community. And when we have reached out for support, it has come quickly and without hesitation. For a long time we were recipients, and only recently have we been able to ourselves make some deposits into what we call the Sailor’s Bank.

It’s a metaphor, of course, operating in the same space as The Universe and Karma and all those surreal balance sheets that our minds configure to help us place order to the chaos. But this bank has no ledgers, no Bob Cratchit to keep Scrooge’s books, no Will Danaher writing down what is owed. This bank operates on the real knowledge that out here, on what author and sea gypsy Rick Page calls “the big blue wobbly thing,” you are on your own, but all together with fellow sailors, all of us bobbing and working and praying.

The Bank can be divided into many departments, but for us, we have discovered a common vein of positive interactions over and over. These themes have marked our journey so far, and we have tried to pay whatever we can forward, offering our limited nautical skills—mostly labor—as a way of helping others. The three departments of the Sailor’s Bank are Friendship, Advice, and Aid.

Friendship. It is first necessary to define this, and by define I mean broaden. In the cruising world, friends are made quickly and maintained forever. It is possible to have spent only a few days with another sailor at an anchorage, yet remain connected forever. This is not simply a function of modern communications and social media. Proof of this is etched in sailors like inked arms through the ages. But a relevant example comes from the 19th century and the book Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana.

This seafaring tale predates Moby-Dick by several years, and follows the Harvard-educated Dana as he signs on to a brig as a simple seaman for two years. The journey itself is dramatic enough, and it illustrates the hard life at sea of a merchantman. Twenty-four years after the journey, in 1859-1860, Dana retraced his steps and returned to California, where his journey had taken him. Now well-know because of the book, Dana adds an appendix to the writing, and in it relates how he was always remembered by those he encountered—in Boston and in California. This friendship honorific repeats as a theme again and again, without aid of memes and friend requests.

Our own experience with friendship happened early after we occupied the decks of Camino in Woburn Bay, Grenada. One day we heard a dinghy motor slowing, then heard the rap on the hull: “Hullo! Hullo!” This was Captain Kris, a sailor with many years of experience who now called Grenada home. He came to see how we were doing and answer any questions we had. He also took us into St. George’s on the bus and showed us around. He remained a wonderful friend, and when we had to return to the States for two months, he looked after our boat. He has been invaluable with the other two legs of this stool: advice and aid.

Advice. We met Mike from Sanitas much in the same way we met Captain Kris. We were up on deck one morning and a dinghy buzzed by, slowed, and turned around to come see us. “I feel we must have some things in common,” Mike said by way of introduction. “The name of your boat is Camino—does that have something to do with the Camino de Santiago?” Yes, we said. “And my wife and I just hiked the Long Trail in Vermont, and you are from Stowe.” We did indeed have lots in common, and we bumped into Mike and his wife, Jennifer, a few more times in Grenada, then again in Carriacou, catching up to them in Bequia, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Mike and Jenn have been sailing for several years, and Mike was a wealth of technical boating information, from bottom paint to engines to sail sewing, to anchors and chains, no question we had for him was too obtuse. One day he was over on the boat, and we were discussing the state of our anchor chain. While looking at the chain, he noticed that our snubber was made from braided line. “Three-strand nylon will give you a nicer ride when the boat hitches up on the snubber,” he said. “I’ll make you one.” And he did.

Back in Woburn Bay, before we left, one of the best places to get information and advice was during happy hour. The sailors who gathered there had, in many instances, sailed around the world. Ask any question and they could put you on to the resources necessary.

Aid. Asking for help is not something that sailors want to do. A fiercely independent lot, they would rather try and solve problems themselves. But sometimes lowering a new engine into a boat takes a few extra hands, and the sailors we have met are only too happy to pitch in, especially if there is a cold beer at the end of the task. Recently, we benefited from this generosity.

We had booked a mooring ball at the big marina in Martinique to remove our own anchor chain and install a new one. But the day before, Chantal slipped on the swim ladder on the transom and bruised a couple of ribs. She would not be able do any heavy lifting or contorting. But our friend Tim on APOTA graciously volunteered to help us, cleating his dinghy to Camino as we motored over to the marina, wrestling a shopping cart full of 44 meters of chain to the dinghy dock, and helping me haul it up on deck. We could not have done it without him.

We have recently been able to make some deposits in the Bank. In Martinique, Chantal has been able to offer her proficiency with the French language to help solve some routine problems that required phone calls. It’s a little thing, but it feels good to help.

These are but a few examples of the Sailor’s Bank that we have encountered. Maybe these vignettes aren’t as surprising as we think. Maybe this is the exception. Sailors all know that sometime they will have to make a withdrawal, and they want to be square.

Or maybe I’m still jaded by the world of commercial fishermen I grew up in. I can still remember a sign in the Grog Shop, a place in Scituate Harbor we used to drink in—a place, it should be noted, that had no chairs, because the owner tired of replacing them. What I remember is this sign over the bar:

Fisherman’s Credo:

Everybody in this place is an asshole except for you and me.

And I’m not sure about you.

Now that we have experienced the Sailor’s Bank, we know this isn’t true. We know that in the universe of the big blue wobbly that each contributes according to their means, and each withdraws according to their need.

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