It has been an interesting year. Everyone around me seems to be regrouping in some way, everyone shifting from one place in life to the next. And each shift is different…and unique.

It is all very interesting to watch from 30,000 feet.

In my circle of yacht club friends, many of the older members who belong to the cruising fleet, are either selling their big boats, or thinking of it. Most are not leaving boating, but their enjoyment of cruising has changed, or more precisely, they have changed.

Perhaps they tire of going to the same local destinations with the same group of people. Some of their friends have passed away, and it just isn’t the same as it was when everyone was healthy and active. When we inevitably age, so does our excitement to do the same thing year after year. And many of these people are distracted with aging parents who refuse to accept their own changes in life.

I compare this to other club members, especially the racing crowd. They are older, with grown families, and they want to begin exploring the waters beyond buoys they have raced around for decades. They are quick to check out the boats being listed by the aging cruisers, so boats often change hands among friends.

I think of the folks I know in the Pacific Northwest, who look forward each summer to cruise SE, and know that this trip, however similar it may look on a chart, will be as different as can be, each a unique, memorable experience. There is no expectation of sameness.

It is the same for cruisers on the East Coast who don’t stay put in Chesapeake Bay or their home waters and travel north and south each year. Even with the coming of the fall and winter seasons, many are not solely aiming for the same slip in sunny Florida. Many continue to the Bahamas, Hopetown is particularly attractive, as are the Abacos, and other treasured pieces of paradise that never get old.

(Below: The Abacos.)

Abacos Bahamas

These are just examples of how life tends to move on, and things change whether we are on board or not. The joys of discovery from spending a weekend a few miles away where the tourist flock and the crabs are good, no longer holds the same interest after more than a dozen times. Just look at the number of tracks on your plotter that go to the same destination over and over. It is not hard to see why interest might wane.

It is time to go elsewhere, perhaps time to move on to other things. I will never forget a rendezvous we hosted at our waterfront home one weekend. I remember one lady looked at me funny when I asked if she and her husband planned to go to New England any time soon. She looked at me like a dog who didn’t understand. She had the same cocked head and curious look.

“Why, Bill, why would we go anywhere new?”

The folks who are selling their big boats are not headed to an adult living center just yet, and a number have their sights on smaller cocktail cruisers, even electric launches and leisurely runabouts. Forget the quad 400hp outboards for this crowd. A single engine with comfortable seats and drink holders will be more than enough—if there is a grab rail to assist getting on and off the boat.

(Why dinghy companies don’t embrace that need is beyond me. When the Dashew’s came to visit on their lovely FPB Windhorse, which was too big to tie at our dock, they anchored out and launched the dinghy. The custom aluminum dinghy has a beefy grab rail for everyone to hold onto when stepping on or off the boat. That makes so much sense.)

I’m sure you know of or perhaps follow those popular YouTube channels of young cruisers living the good life while sailing the world. Immensely popular, they are the rock stars of the Annapolis Sailboat Shows. Each couple makes it a priority to attend as celebrities greeting their loving fans who lust after their bikini-only lifestyle.

Yet each of these couples had to cope with unexpected changes to a cruising life paid for by a willing Patreon audience. When Covid hit, these couples (and families) had to make major changes when their normal cruising grounds shut tighter than a bank vault during a robbery. The entire South Pacific was off limits. How to cope and still please and entertain their paying audience? It was (and is) quite a challenge.

Then, on top of the trials brought on by the pandemic, these couples started having babies, and all the life changes that go along with this. Life on a 40-foot monohull is tight enough for a couple. Add a baby or two and the need for a bigger boat becomes alarmingly obvious. Living and cruising in a small boat on the oceans of the world changes dramatically when there are more people to take care of, and new parents are rightly reluctant to head across oceans with small toddlers on a small boat, assuming they are even allowed to go anywhere.

Some of these couples decided that to satisfy the needs of a growing family, they need to build a new boat, some selecting a sailing catamaran built in the Far East. Just how does a couple keep the mojo flowing while waiting a year or two as their new boat comes together, along with supply shortages, manpower problems with Covid, and all the other delays inherent in building a new boat in far-off places like Vietnam?

And how does one keep the Patreon folks happy to continue footing the bill? How to stay relevant in a world that is so clearly changing? It is a problem with no ready solution.

COVID has been a problem, but then so is life.

But there is the other side of this pendulum as well. People reluctant to make serious changes to go cruising because of life’s challenges—financial, family, climate, health, age—are now embracing that they need to go for exactly these reasons. To continue putting it off may prove fatal to their dreams. Better to grab it now while they have the chance, realizing that at some point in the future that window will close for good.

Even though we are months away from the boat shows, I am already talking to people who got out of boating at one point for any number of reasons, often a growing family and the cost of living a “normal” life. Now, however, they have rekindled their interest in cruising and want back in, to reclaim some of the joy they fondly recall from years gone by.

This resurgence in interest is like a magnet to the smaller cruising boats now on the market that did not exist back in the day. There are now very viable cruisers that provide all the adventure one could ask for in a smaller package that fits the mission for many of these returning boaters.

(Below: The Excess 11 is under 40-feet and provides ample room to liveaboard and cruise.)

Excess 11 Catamaran 

Most everyone had a dream boat that dates to a boat show, or perhaps seen under sail, a boat that sent flutters in one’s soul. A boat from which dreams were conceived and which have persisted in the back of one’s mind all these years.

For those in my generation, it might have been the sight of an exquisite Hinckley Bermuda 40 sitting peacefully at anchor in the setting sun. Or perhaps it was the first sight of the new Valiant 40 on Lake Union in the 1970s. I remember stopping in my tracks when I first saw the Flying Dutchman 30, aka Baba 30 by Bob Berg, designed by Bob Perry. I knew one day I would own one, the perfect boat for a single guy to live the dream.

(Below: A Hinckley Bermuda 40)

Hinckley Bermuda 40

But I am older now, and my physical abilities may not match what my mind has treasured all these years. Carrying folding boarding steps because of the canoe stern and rigging ways to haul the dinghy and motor aboard now trigger red lights in my mind. Things should be easy, with a natural flow.

And I’m also not a fan of gear all over the exterior of the boat…arches, solar panels, davits, and all the other crap that clutters the beautiful lines of a classic beauty.

The big takeaway from this discussion is that all of this is okay, and perfectly normal. The adventures I might have had on that dream boat are safely tucked away no matter what.

The ocean crossing in my mind aboard that perfect passagemaker will live on—even if my real-life crossings on beautiful sailboats and trawlers made me realize the dream never matches reality. And the reality is, well, more real. Is that wisdom?

What does all this mean? In an active boating community, it means there should be continued interest in boats across the full range of power and sail boats for some time to come. Older people, over the big boat hump, are now looking at smaller boats. And younger people are looking to upgrade to bigger boats that can take them over the horizon.

It seems everyone seeks their own “next boat” that fits where they are right now on the merry-go-round of life.


Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles: