cruising community

How to Talk Like a Cruiser

When I was in high school, long before I started sailing for real, a friend of mine asked me to proofread an essay she wrote. She’s a sailor; the essay was a lovely, personal memoir-type essay about her family and their boat. I made a few corrections and handed it back to her with the comment, “You may want to change the language to make it accessible to anyone.”

Sundowners.

Sundowners.

She disagreed. “It’s an essay about sailing; the intended audience is someone who sails. They’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”

It may well have been my first real lesson in the power of audience and writing for your audience, though I’d been practicing it for years. It also brought to mind, quickly, the nuances of vocabulary.

Any lifestyle, like any geographic location,  has its own special vocabulary, and it goes a long way to helping you fit in when you can speak the lingo.

There’s insider speak on the internet. LOL. (laugh out loud) TLDR (too long; don’t read). ISO (I seek other) and IKR (I know, right?) and BRB (be right back). On Women Who Sail, the constant questions around “So what IS DH anyway?” (dear hubby, deck hand, dick head – multiple meanings depending on the context) are a reminder that it’s helpful to have a guide to the language.

Boating is, of course, no exception to the “let’s create our own language” phenomenon. There are standard boat terms, all of which help with communication from a safety standpoint. When you understand that bow and stern and port and starboard are ALWAYS in relation to the boat, not where you happen to be standing,  yelling out “hazard to port” saves confusion and time. Boat parts and their names are often one of the first things taught in a sailing school for good reason.

But what about the rest of the words? What about going cruising and wanting to fit in? What about when you’ve bought a boat and are on your own, bringing her into a marina for the first time? What special vocabulary might you want to know so you understand? You already know port and starboard, and hopefully you’re at least partially acquainted with the engine and how it works. Here are a few more.

For cruising:

Sundowner: a special drink (alcoholic or not) at sundown. When you’re invited for sundowners, it means you’ve been invited to hang in the cockpit chatting while the sun goes down, an event everyone watches. Take your own drinks and a nibble to share.

Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Provisioning: stocking up on whatever you need for food, drink, and various other items on the boat. It’s like grocery shopping  for the boat.

Dinghy dock: special spot to leave your dinghy when you go ashore.

Reading the mail: listening to other conversations on the VHF. Everyone does it. Don’t think any conversation on the VHF is private, even if you’ve got your “secret” channel.

Weather window: a period of time when the weather appears to be favorable for a passage you want to make. You can help yourself find one by using FastSeas, a weather routing site designed by my husband, Jeremy. And in any case, this book* is great to have on hand to learn about tactics to use when a window slams shut unexpectedly. 

If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

Cruiser’s Midnight: 9 pm. 

The Net: local vhf radio call-in at a set time, usually in the morning. Organization varies depending on location, but generally includes some weather, general announcements, and a time for new boats to introduce themselves. If there is one, it’s a great source of information especially if you are new to the area.

And, to honor my friend and her high school essay, I wanted to include a couple of marina scenarios. If you don’t know the lingo, these questions/statements could totally throw you for a loop.

Marina: What do you draw?

Answer: “Draw” means “how much water do you need to float.” This matters not only for where they put you, but also because sometimes the way in to a marina has restricted depths. It’s a good idea to ask about the APPROACH depths too.

Marina: What's your beam?

Answer: This is how wide the boat is. It matters because they’ll put you (hopefully) into a slip that you fit without the need of grease or a shoehorn.

Marina: Okay! You have slip B-12. Starboard tie.

Translation: Slip? The dock space you’ve been assigned to. “Starboard tie” means you’ll be tying up on the starboard side – IF you are going bow in.  If you prefer going stern in, then you’ll be tying on the port side. Get your lines ready and fenders out. 

Calypso in her slip.

Calypso in her slip.

Obviously, these aren’t the only special words you need to learn. But it’s a good start.

(and the word I wanted my friend to explain? Slip. If she had explained it, it would totally have ruined a wonderful essay. Vocabulary and audience – they both matter!)

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Three Reasons to Go to a Boat Show

Boat shows are ubiquitous, at least at certain times of year in certain parts of the country. This past weekend, April 20-22, there were at least 2 I know of and more I’m sure I’m totally oblivious to.

I went to the one in Annapolis, Maryland, on the east coast of the US. 

Unlike the fall show, where there are hundreds of boats and thousands of vendors, with deals on everything from foul weather gear to anchors to autopilots, this one was far more intimate. Last spring I made it a point to get on every single boat at the show; this year, I wasn’t interested at all in stepping on board boats but made the rounds of talking to vendors and seeing what interesting stuff might be out there. At first glance, it was a bit of a let down. 

If you like jewelry, or clothing, or overpriced hand lotion, you’d be in luck. Lots of those spots. They competed with charter companies and boat insurance and refinancing booths.

Among those, though, I found a few really interesting places selling niche products that the people had created because of a lack they found in their own cruising experience. There is Ugo, for example, that sells a waterproof wallet/purse so waterproof they fill it with cash, cards, phone, and more – and float it in a water tank from which they fish it to show off the truth in advertising.

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There was Weems and Plath, the navigation tool people, who I talked to about our old compass that needs a new dome. They couldn’t do it – but they steered me right across the way to J. Gordon and company, who talked to me refurbishing antique compasses and took a guess about what kind ours is, a guess that was confirmed as correct by Jeremy when I reached him on the phone.

The spring show at Annapolis may be tiny, but the bonus with tiny is that you can spend all the time you want talking to people. You can poke on boats without a salesperson trying to show you every nook and cranny (which gets old in a house; imagine on a 40’ sailboat!). You can get boat cards, be referred across the way, hear about how someone came up with the idea they now are selling. There’s no worry on either side about the fact that you might not be buying – it’s not like there are 10 people lined up behind you, credit card in hand, making both the seller and you nervous about spending too much time just shooting the breeze.

Even if it’s fall, though, if you want a collection of people selling boat stuff all in one place at your fingertips to chat with? Go to a show. 

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So one reason to go to a show? You can see a lot of boats and boat products, all in one space. You can talk to other people about why they’re looking at that particular one, and what else they’ve considered. 

Another reason to take you and your wallet and your feet to a boat show is in the realm of ideas. Every time I step on a boat, I get an idea about layout, or storage, or even fittings down below. When I have 400 boats at my disposal, I may only step on 50 of them, but that’s more than I get on during the course of a season. I take lots of pictures, bring home lots of brochures, and spend lots of time dreaming. My preference is to focus on one certain thing – I’m currently on a sink kick, since we will be replacing ours – and look for options and different ways to think about the problem.

Is it the perfect size sink?

Is it the perfect size sink?

But by far the best reason to go to a boat show is the people. There are the people who are selling things, of course, who are generally incredibly knowledgeable about their products and being on the water with them. There are the other people at the show, people who don’t think this boating lifestyle is weird or different or out of the ordinary. When you are surrounded by a society that tends to think in terms of the “norm” (which includes a ranch 3:2 with a white picket fence and the minivan parked out front), the energy you gain from a group of people who at the very least are investigating the possibility of life on board . . .  it’s impossible to underestimate that value. And finally, there are the friends you see at the show. These might be friends you’ve met online, or friends from previous shows. They might be people you start talking to while waiting in line at the portapotties or for painkillers, and it turns out you’re simpatico and actually keep your boats 2 marinas apart.

Friends.

Friends.

Friends.

Friends.

Friends and food.

Friends and food.

Three reasons to go to a boat show? The people. The ideas. And the people. Sounds about right to me.

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I’ll be at the Annapolis Boat Show in the fall, working at a booth we call the Hugs and Smiles booth (officially Lin Pardey's booth, L&L Pardey Publications). If you’ll be there, stop by – it’s next to the Hendricks Gin Barge and the line for hugs will be unmistakable. And if you want even more of dose of cruising information, sign up for Cruiser’s University; I'm teaching a seminar on provisioning as well as one on the myths and realities of cruising.

Hope to see you out there!