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Just Another Kind of Tourist?


Our friends Bill and Jane sailed across the Pacific this year on their way to New Zealand. They are great ones for high latitude cruising and have been to the Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador, Chile, the Falklands and Alaska as well as all the way through the Great Lakes. However, they were less than pleased with their Pacific Islands cruising experience. The anchorages were too crowded for them and they felt as though they were just another kind of tourist, which was not how they usually thought of themselves as cruisers.

But maybe that's all we cruisers are. Perhaps cruising is just another kind of adventure holiday of the sort that has become so popular in recent years. When we cruised in Glacier Bay in Alaska, making our way up close to the great tidewater glaciers, we were sometimes jockeying for position with huge cruise liners. When we walked one day along the boardwalk in the tiny village of Puerto Eden in the Chilean Canales, hundreds of miles from any other human habitation, we could hear more English, German and French spoken, than Spanish or indigenous language, because the Navimag ferry was in, carrying more visitors than the village's total population.

When we visit the many countries along our nautical route, we travel inland in exactly the same way that any other tourist might. We rent cars or take buses and drive to the Grand Canyon, or Mexico's Oaxaca, or Ecuador's Quito, or New Zealand's Rotorua. We ooh and aah and buy postcards and souvenirs. Many cruisers may not mind being labeled as 'tourists', even though the word can call up the worst kind of 'Today-is-Monday-so-this-must-be-Madrid' experience. However, tourism has brought prosperity to many otherwise impoverished areas of the world, exciting new experiences and perhaps wider knowledge of and tolerance for peoples of other cultures.

Having said all that, we still baulk at the idea that cruising is nothing but tourism in another guise. We aren't cosseted passengers on a cruise ship. We see ourselves as independent and self-reliant. We choose our own routes, plot and guide our own courses and take risks to reach our goals. Though we may enjoy the company of others - particularly other cruisers - we also enjoy isolated anchorages and pitting our wits and energies against the forces of nature.

All that may be true, but lets not kid ourselves; we aren't Captain Cook or Bruni d'Entrecasteaux. We have the constant back-up of a sophisticated, highly industrialized society. When we need parts for a broken down fridge in some far away foreign port, it's amazing how quickly they can get to us.

So what can make cruisers something more than just tourists? We've seen some examples, which we think show how. Cruisers on Mexico's Pacific coast can sometimes be seen as the ultimate nautical tourists. They sit for weeks at a time in one port, mostly traveling and socializing. It's a pleasant way to spend the northern winter. But sometimes they do more. Some years ago in Zihuatanejo, a favorite cruiser hang-out, some cruisers got together to try to develop better relations with the local community. The project they settled on was to improve the chances of the local Indian population getting into school.

In Mexico, children are required to speak Spanish as a pre-condition for school entry. There are still many indigenous Indians who speak only or primarily their own language. The children need the help of an intensive Spanish course at an Indian school to allow them to access the state education system.

The annual Zihuatanejo Sail Fest was established as a means of getting cruisers involved in this project. Each year the Sail Fest has raised more and more cash to support the Indian School. In 2004, $35,000 was raised through the activities of the event. Not surprisingly, the success of Sail Fest has vastly improved relations between cruisers and the local community.

Like most island villages in Vanuatu, Asanvari, on the Island of Maewo, is isolated and lacking many of the supposed essentials of modern life. There is no electric power, running water or sewage system. However, the village is in an idyllic setting, behind a reef and a white sand beach, with a waterfall at one end. The village is beautifully landscaped and tidy. It is a favorite cruiser anchorage.

We visited Asanvari a couple of months after a cyclone had ripped through the islands. The village had suffered less than many, but had lost the use of one of its few modern amenities, the HF radio with which its little clinic could communicate with and get help from central authorities and experts. No one in the village had either the knowledge or the tools to make repairs and no help was available from the government. It took only a couple of hours for a small group of cruisers to deal with the problems with the power supply and antenna, restoring the village's ability to communicate with the outside world. There are stories like this throughout Vanuatu and other island groups every cruising season. Our friends Jeanette and Jim were recently in Micronesia, making sails for islanders' canoes.

Only a few miles from one of our anchorages in the Chilean Canales, a South African cruiser set out for the short hop south down Canal Sarmiento from Puerto Bueno to Caleta Damien. Five miles down the channel, they came across a stricken Ro-Ro Ferry. Its engines had failed, its anchors were dragging, it had hit a rock and was taking on water. Most of the crew were in an engine-less lifeboat. The cruiser took the lifeboat in tow, getting it to shore, until another ship and a helicopter came to the scene. For five hours they stood by, helping with communications and ensuring that the crew would not be left stranded.

Cruisers rarely feel like 'tourists', but it is when weengage with and make a difference to other people's lives that we can be sure that we are something more.


Tom & Vicky Jackson