We pulled into the anchorage and dropped the hook, scanning the water for the boat we’d upended our plans to come by and meet. There - there she was. Osprey. No sign of life aboard.
These were people we’d met only in passing (literally - they passed us on the ICW one nippy November morning) but had connected through a combination of the internet, dumb luck, and the single sideband. We’d decided to anchorage hop to meet for real, hoping that our children would hit it off and dispel some of the kid loneliness that sometimes happens when you’ve been mostly hanging around couples. Still, you never know.
We tidied up in the normal “after a passage” fashion, covering the main and washing stray dishes, putting out the ladder and getting shower stuff ready. No movement on Osprey. Julian and Bee set up school in the cockpit, bracing against the cabin sides as they negotiated books and journals.
I dropped a kayak and donned the lifejacket. Took a breath and paddled over to the apparently-empty boat. “Osprey, Calypso.” The knock on the side of the hull seemed tinny and echoey. Maybe I should have called on the VHF. Maybe we should have just continued our meander down the Exumas. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe . . .
A head popped up from down below. “Hey! Are you Nica? I’m Wendy.” And the conversation took off.
An hour (more? Less?) later, I was still hanging on to the side. We were still talking. The kids still had not met each other.
“Bring the kids over for a movie later,” offered Wendy. “You want to come for dinner?”
“Jeremy got a huge lobster this morning. We can bring that!”
10 years later, we’re still friends.
Okay, Nica, this is all well and good. You had kids on board and so did they. Serendipity played a part. But how can I make friends cruising?
Everyone is different (there’s that “it depends” answer again, for heaven’s sake), but there are three tips I have to help you break the ice, so to speak.
Stay off the VHF. Instead of grabbing your cruising guide, or glomming onto a lackluster wifi connection and searching Noonsite or Facebook, hop into the dinghy and go around the anchorage when you have a question about life on shore. Knock on a likely-looking hull to ask that burning question about where to buy tomatoes or do the laundry. You have a question that needs an answer - someone who’s been in the anchorage likely has the answer. Everybody likes to be an expert. Say hi, share your name and boat name, and explain you just came in from Beautiful Bay down the way. You don’t have to hang onto the side of the boat for hours, and you definitely don’t have to share a lobster, but you will make friends faster by approaching in person than you will by hiding behind the VHF.
Share your bounty. Catch a huge mahi-mahi or a wahoo as you’re turning the corner into the anchorage and your fridge isn’t large enough to hold it? Butcher it up and portion it out, then go around the anchorage offering it up. Not for sale, but because you want to share.
Sit in the cockpit and wave. It’s a whole lot easier to approach a boat that has people who look, well, approachable. Sit in the cockpit with the intention of taking in the surroundings, and make a point of making eye contact and smiling and waving as people go by. Chances are decent you’ll learn something about the anchorage and more importantly, you’ll probably get someone waving back.
Asking questions and being interested is a good way to make friends, whether you’re on land or on the water. It’s not small talk when you really need the answer in order to make your life better.
Got any tips on how to make friends while cruising? Share them in the comments so all of us can learn from your wisdom!