November 21, 2011.
Lets talk about “Buddy Boats”. There are several different degrees of buddy boating. Your first buddy boat is probably the most important one you will ever have. You've read all the books, gotten the boat ready, maybe even taken a few classes and you head out. You might not realize it, but you still don't know anything. The passage of time will cull away some of the stupidity but finding a buddy boat that has the “mentoring gene” will save you countless miles of scratching your way clear of your own easily avoidable mistakes.
Our first buddy boat was Non Linear. They picked us up in South Carolina and hand fed us the rest of the east coast of the US as we followed them to Marathon, Florida. Once there, they crossed to the Bahamas while we spent the winter in Marathon, exploring the Keys. During the 8 weeks we spent with them they showered us with the benefit of their experience. For them it was like raising a child but once the umbilical cord was cut we went out on our own stumbling our way down the waterways. Did we still make mistakes, absolutely, but their lessons saved us from countless others.
Another type of buddy boat is what I like to call the Compadres. They're the type that when you see one of them you can be sure the other is fairly close by. These people are happy in the fact that they've found another boat of such like minded people that they can follow one another from port to port without ever tiring of each others company. They're social with other boaters but when its time to move on its pretty much always in concert with “their” buddy boat. Compadres are usually 2 boats, a third boat makes things a little awkward and comes dangerously close to becoming an Entourage.
An Entourage is a group of good friends that happen to be boaters. I've traveled for a while with an Entourage so I can appreciate the benefits but I can also remember the drawbacks. A big plus is that no matter where you head you always have several of your closest friends just a dinghy ride away. The downside of course is that sometimes you just want a little private time. Trying to decide where to go, when to leave and how to get there becomes an exercise in futility when you consider the opinions of a gaggle of boats. Throw in some weather discussions and you'd be better off trying to herd cats in a burning building. Then there’s always the chance that someones feelings are going to be hurt by some imagined slight. Or God forbid that a subset of the larger group form a tighter bond. For me, the logistics are just mind numbing. Its fun but a little trying at the same time.
Then there’s the Kid Boats. Having kids on board adds a whole new dimension. Finding a buddy boat with kids on board is pretty important to other boats with kids. It gives the kids an outlet where they can just be kids and the parents can get together to commiserate with each other about added difficulty of having kids on board.
One of the great things about having a buddy boat when doing the ICW is that some days you just get to take a day off. Instead of sitting up and paying rigid attention to the depth and every twist and turn you can just relax a bit and follow your buddy as he leads the way down the ditch. The next day, he can follow you. You make the same amount of distance while only doing half the work. We've spent months traveling with the same boat and enjoyed it as much as any time we've spent on the water because we shared the load.
On the flip side of that coin is the buddy boat that always follows. You end up being the tour guide while the boat behind you basks in the safety of your wake. I'm not sure what it is. Whether they feel inadequate to the task or if they feel entitled. If its a boat with years of experience and miles under the keel but with no confidence, then I kinda feel bad for them. But once in a while I get the feeling that its more like the follower feels entitled. As if their personal comfort and safety is more important than yours and that just galls me. They can come up with more “you take the lead, because........” excuses than I have fingers and toes.
One type of buddy boating that doesn’t fit into any category is the Armada. The classic example of the Armada is a crossing to the Bahamas. The weather window starts to look promising a few days before it arrives. This gives anyone wanting to cross an opportunity to get themselves staged at a logical jumping off point. Its not unusual to have dozens of boats waiting to cross from a popular spot like Miami. When the window opens there will be dozens of boats heading out from No Name Harbor, Government Cut and even from Fort Lauderdale all converging on a few safe points to enter the Bahama Bank. The Armada provides the illusion of safety, forms on the whims of the weather and dissipates as everybody scatters among the islands.
I guess all these thoughts about buddy boats came to me because this is the first year we won't be seeing our friends on Far Niente out on the water. They sold the boat this spring and bought a huge motor-coach to cruise the United States with. They live in Vero Beach so we saw them this week while we were there but unlike every other year, this year we left them behind. We've been Compadres, we've shared an Entourage and followed each other for more miles than I can recall. Things change, we move forward and remember the fun we've had in the past.
In the mean time we are looking forward to our next Armada......