Migratory Birds

We are feeling left out of the annual migration of boats. We watched in October as the long lazy Florida summer ended with the first cool, dry days, and on the north wind the snowbirds began to blow in. We are on the east coast, along the Intracoastal waterway, connecting the frozen north to the balmy south, and in one of the last civilized stops before long passages to the islands and their turquoise waters. In previous years we have joined other boats as they crossed the Gulf Stream, but we never fly in formation, so we’re not really part of the flock. We’ve often commented that we sometimes feel alone—the rare family in a sea of child-free couples, but we’re also alone because we don’t do what everybody else is doing.

This is not necessarily by choice, really, because who wouldn’t want to head off into the sunrise for tropical adventures as the temperatures begin to drop? But the stage of life in which we find ourselves dictates when and where we travel, and whom we seek for company. That, and we own a twenty-plus-year-old boat that we are still refurbishing.

We live at a popular marina, and see lots of boats coming and going. We often see familiar boat names, ones we’ve heard on the VHF in the Bahamas or seen in Boot Key Harbor. And the ports of call look familiar too: Ontario, Quebec, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia are common. The Chesapeake-to-Bahamas migration is a popular one, with the same folks traveling the same routes, sometimes for a dozen years or more.

Sometimes a friend unexpectedly comes into the marina, like Bob on Pandora, whom we met last year in the Abacos with his wife Brenda. We ran out onto the dock waving and shouting, and got to spend some time with him while he was here. Not unlike birds, cruisers form a small and close-knit community, and you never know when or where you’re going to meet up again with an old friend, but you inevitably will.

Other times, we watch as boats come in battered by wind and waves and bad weather, like broken-winged birds, jibs shredded, engines dead, pumps running. This is always a heart-rending sight, regardless of the circumstances, and a lesson to never let your guard down where the sea is concerned.

November has passed and it’s past time to be heading south. I’ve seen all the tee-shirts on the docks displaying the places boats have been on their migrations: St. Maarten, Abaco, Barbados, Grenada. Places to which I wouldn’t mind being en route. Sometimes I long to be free to fly with the others, but staying longer has offered other opportunities, like deeper friendships with locals, social activities with other children, overland expeditions, ease of finding food and boat parts, a place to work and to work on the boat. This is the trade-off: we don’t sail on a schedule, so we’re free to stay as long as we’d like and to go only when we’re ready, but sometimes we are left behind when the flock moves on.