According to the dictionary, cruising is the lifestyle of living on a boat while traveling from place to place. Beyond that simple definition it is as varied as one’s imagination.
Some folks like to stay in their home waters as they develop the skills and confidence of boat handling while enjoying the pleasure of living aboard. A woman on a semi-custom trawler once asked me why anyone would want to go somewhere new? She liked that they knew the local anchorages and she preferred being close to home. For her, living in her tiny home at anchor was joyful enough. Nothing more complicated than that.
Others like to go far over the horizon, seeking new destinations or returning to familiar places they’ve been to before. It might be a tropical island or wilderness area where they have fond memories, and they hope to remain for an extended period while immersing themselves in the local life. It can be very satisfying to be in one place for a while, becoming a temporary member of a community, learning when the farmer’s market has the freshest produce, and even giving back by helping rebuild buildings and infrastructure damaged in tropical storms, which is currently happening this winter in the Bahamas. Helping rebuild paradise also makes for lasting friendships within the cruising community.
Cruising can be a yearly event. Snowbirds go south in the fall and head to a favorite island or other destination for the winter, especially if they have past friends who will meet them there. It becomes a seasonal community with group activities and social events of like-minded boaters. Some owners’ groups follow this model very well and it becomes an attraction to the brand. One might say this is less about cruising than it is a seasonal migration of liveaboards. But there is nothing wrong with that as a form of the cruising lifestyle.
(Seen below: A Grand Banks cruising boat heads to its next destination.)
Other cruisers have itchy feet and can’t seem to stay put very long. They are always on the go, never staying in one place except to reprovision and head out again. I know quite a few couples who feel accomplishment in checking off their list of stops along a planned cruise and yet never stop long enough to smell the roses. They might circumnavigate on a sailboat in record time or complete the Great Loop in a short number of months. (I’m not sure why that kind of cruising bothers me so much. But when I had lunch with three Midwest couples in Annapolis doing the Loop on their boats last summer, and who only stopped to have lunch with me and refill their propane tanks, they told me they expected to “do” the Chesapeake in three days, on their way up the East Coast. What is the point of that?)
I will argue that the ideal form of cruising for most people is somewhere in between. Once we reach a new destination, we want to discover what it has to share. An interesting waterfall, a local hot springs, or local museum or historical landmark...so much history awaits those who take the time. Guidebooks are very helpful to identify local attractions. It might take a couple of days to see it all at a leisurely pace, or a week. But after some number of days, it just feels right to move on, lest one falls into a routine that rots ships and men.
I find this phenomenon fascinating, whatever little voice inside us that hints that it is time to move on. I often ask cruisers how they know when it is time for them to leave, but have yet to hear a single, definitive answer.
An unhurried exploration of the Pacific, Southern Caribbean, or the world might be best done with no schedule. Northern Marine expedition trawlers define the breed of heavy, full displacement expedition yachts. Starr, Zeehaen, and Meander are outstanding examples of having all the comforts of an exquisite home which is completely self-sufficient. There is no need to rush the adventure and some prefer to spend months to experience the local scenery and culture. For world cruising, this type of yacht is ideal.
(Seen below: The new Northern Marine 57 is currently in production at the Anacortes, WA shipyard.)
On the flipside, there are those too busy in life to slow down, and their need for speed means they are constantly on the move. They choose a sleek, fast boat, as they don’t need the living space and storage. They fuel up every day. They are not living aboard in the same sense as a couple on a traditional trawler. They sleep on the boat, but generally eat out most evenings and stay at marinas to take care of business and be ready for a quick getaway the next morning. They blend cruising with other life demands, such as a dentist and his wife I know who like to cruise for 10 days, then fly home to continue working for three weeks before returning to the boat. The balance of work and life works for them as they hopscotch up and down the coast.
(Read: A Guide To Buying & Owning A Trawler Yacht.)
Of course, most of us are somewhere in the middle of the cruising spectrum. Which is why I feel the semi-displacement trawler is the best choice for most people. It allows owners to do both and everything in between. There are exceptions, of course. When we traveled north on the ICW and stopped in Daytona Beach, we were put in a slip next to a nice couple on their 48-foot Sea Ray Sunseeker from Chicago. That is certainly not a “proper” cruising boat on anyone’s short list, but it was simply the boat they owned when they retired and decided to cruise the U.S. East Coast, at trawler speed, mind you. It burned way too much fuel to go fast!
How one cruises can also influence the size of the cruising boat. When we enjoyed a winter in the Florida Keys, we spent a couple of months in Marathon, about halfway down the island chain. Our 36-foot Downeast cruiser was just too small for living full time in a marina, especially with a golden retriever as crew. We would have much preferred a larger trawler.
(Seen below: An example of a downeast cruising boat, our Legacy Yachts 36.)
And while I’m talking about the diversity in the power-cruising community, I must mention one Miami show when a diminutive couple approached our show booth. I asked what kind of boat they owned. The husband took out pictures of their boat and explained how they like to cruise the Florida Keys for a week or so at a time. They lived in Florida and trailer their boat down to the Keys. Their boat was a Boston Whaler 17-foot Montauk, a classic open boat they modified to fit their idea of a cruising boat. The Whaler had a full enclosure for rainy weather, a cassette toilet, and a sturdy cooler that also served as the galley counter. They had a small stove on the boat, and the couple came up with a bed configuration for sleeping. It was all they needed to go cruising.
(Read: What's The Best Cruising Boat For You.)
Another example of a pocket cruiser is the story of Dave Pike. I first met Dave and his wife in Seattle years ago. At the time they owned a Krogen 42, which they cruised to Alaska. Years later they moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and when Dave approached a milestone birthday, he decided it was time for a solo adventure to celebrate. He bought a 15-foot Walker Bay RIB, and set it up to do the Great Loop, the 6,000-mile trip around the eastern portion of the U.S. and Canada. He planned to stay in motels each night, sleeping aboard the small boat only when necessary. As Dave is an avid pickleball player, he also arranged through its national association to play the game almost every afternoon with local players.
(Seen below: Dave's RIB appropriately named "Journey".)
When I caught up with Dave near Annapolis, he was enjoying his adventure. He was in great shape from playing the game, and successful in finding a place to stop for the day where he could connect with fellow pickleball players, who picked him up. Dave completed his Great Loop over two summers and now has a lifetime of memories and many new friends. He said he rarely drove the RIB at speed as it was too tiring, so he mostly ran at near trawler speed. He chose the Walker Bay instead of a bigger boat so his grandchildren could later use it on the waters around Grand Rapids.
One day three men stopped into our offices. They wanted to tell me they were in town on their Hatteras motoryacht, heading south from Connecticut. Their wives had bid them farewell, and they planned to play every golf course they could find along the ICW down to Jacksonville. If this trip was successful, one man shared, he planned to do the same for the entire Great Loop and write a guidebook about playing golf on this popular cruising adventure.
And there is a new kind of cruising—some call it “resort cruising.” People buy a boat that is faster than a trawler, an efficient, get-there-safe-and-sound cruiser with complete if not elaborate accommodations, and head off to a resort, such as the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. The couple then relax at the resort, spa treatments and all, couples massage, fine dining…a day turns into three. Then it is off to the next exotic destination with a couple of nights at anchor to round out the cruising experience. Happy wife…happy life, you bet!
It takes all kinds.
I have lived as both a mover and a stayer, but I think I am more a stayer. I like to reach a new destination, settle in, and explore and enjoy my surroundings. The urge to move on comes naturally, often when I wake up and realize we’ve done what there is to experience. Obviously if I am on a specific trip, it might seem more like a delivery, with schedules to follow to keep moving. But when I am in cruise mode, schedules are less important than favorable weather windows.
One’s cruising style will likely change with age. My current boat, a Hunt Harrier 25, could be set up as a cruising boat, I suppose, but now that seems more like camping than cruising to me. And the age factor explains the change in our yacht club’s cruising fleet, where the number of sailboats once so popular has given way to trawlers and faster powerboats that don’t require the strength and agility required for sailing a big boat.
Most of the experienced sailors I know will not cross another ocean unless the sailboat is capable of 200-mile days.
In our youth, it was all about the journey. But as we get older, there seems to be a shift in focus from the journey to the destination, and the next one after that.
At whatever speed fits our style.
(Seen below: Several cruising boats wait for the lock to open at Great Bridge to continue their journey.)
Read some of Bill Parlatore's other articles about boating:
- What to know about cruising the South Pacific
- The Wish List: A couple reveal their requirements for buying a yacht
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising: Alaska Edition
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising: Caribbean Edition
- A Trawlerman's New Year Resolution
- The case for the semi-displacement hull-shape
- Northern Marine Is Back!