What Is It With Yachties?

John and I were working below, tied up to the dock in Hermitage—a place that doesn’t get a lot of visiting boats—when we heard a thump on the deck. Poking his head out the companionway, John was met with a bag of perch fillets, from fish caught in the bay that day, landed from a speedboat across the wharf from us. John, our benefactor and the fish buyer, gave directions for cooking the fillets, and then jumped back on the dock to continue moving fish crates around.

Over the last 20 years of sailing in Newfoundland, we have been the recipients of this kind of generosity many times. In fact, it used to happen more often than not…until the last few years, that is. Now, I want to make very clear that it’s not that we expect to be given free stuff; the issue to us is that the change is symptomatic of a growing reserve that we have noticed in outport Newfoundlanders over the last while.

So why the increased reserve? Could it be because there are more boats visiting Newfoundland than ever before and therefore the locals are getting jaded? Or could it be that TV and the internet have reduced the feeling of isolation in these communities and therefore visitors are not that interesting anymore? Absolutely, these are part of the change; however, the inherent generosity and friendliness of Newfoundlanders makes me think that, sadly, it’s the behaviour of some of the people on those visiting boats that’s also contributing to the change.

Let me share a few experiences John and I have had to support my supposition:

  • Tied to a dock in Port-aux-Choix a number of years ago, John and I were having a grand chat with a group of fishermen on the wharf. Up bustled the skipper of a sailboat tied to the other dock. Totally ignoring the fishermen, in fact talking right over them, he demanded that John review the weather with him for his upcoming passage to Nova Scotia.
  • When we were in Port-aux-Choix last year, getting ready for the passage to Greenland, the woman at the office and the driver of the truck both acted very evasively when John inquired about getting diesel. We finally found out that the driver was hesitant to fill sailboats after a yachtie had thrown a wobbler when a few drops of diesel stained his teak deck. We had to convince the driver that we wouldn’t respond like that before he finally consented to fill our tanks. Once reassured he was friendliness incarnate.
  • This summer we were stunned when the skipper of another sailboat in Ramea, while we were chatting with some locals, relayed the story that his father (or brother) had taken a wooden shield from one of the local communities just after it was closed out (an incredibly difficult thing to go through for the inhabitants) and had kept it on his bedroom door for years until it finally went missing.
  • Dressed in his work clothes, John was on the dock at Billings Diesel & Marine in Stonington, ME a few years ago when a visiting sailor bustled up to him. With no lead-in, the yachtie demanded to know where the showers were. “The guidebook says there’s showers and I can’t find them. Where are they?” Speechless, John pointed out their location and the yachtie stomped off. You see, he thought John worked at the boatyard and that’s how he treats boatyard staff.
  • On a number of occasions we’ve seen sailors practicing “ambush photography”. In other words, they don’t bother to chat with the locals or make any sort of connection with them, they just start taking pictures, as if they were at the zoo.

This sign has not become a souvenir, just because it has fallen off the pole it was attached to and there is no one around.

We sailors are incredibly fortunate to be able to access so many amazing places. Please, don’t treat the locals as if they are nonentities, our servants, or exhibits at Disneyland. And don’t take their stuff for souvenirs—it’s stealing.

{ 29 comments… add one }

  • Steve August 29, 2012, 5:39 pm

    Hi Phyllis,
    Your stories hold true for the South Pacific as well. I sailed through the Islands in 1972 and all locals were friendly and giving. When we did that route in 2008 the locals were just the same towards many cruisers, fresh fish and fruit on deck at first light dropped off sometime at night or early morning. But for other cruisers they never had that same experience even though they may be anchored right beside you. What we observed is that some cruisers showed fear of new and different customs. Some cruisers just don’t know how to trust the local populations. For the cruisers it was hard to smile, hard to communicate in any form. They always appeared offish which made them look high ended to the locals. A South Pacific local can usually take one quiet look into your eyes and read you like a book. Cruisers all over the world need to relax and enjoy the rewards they worked so hard for and enjoy the journey. The rewards are many for the cruiser and the local.
    Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  • Chris August 29, 2012, 9:03 pm

    It’s not just yachties. We travel quite a bit by other means and see too many similar situations. Manners have taken a serious hit over the last few decades.

    Reply
  • frank reveil August 29, 2012, 9:23 pm

    When is the last time you tossed a bottle of wine on to a fishing boat?

    Reply
    • John August 30, 2012, 8:23 am

      Hi Frank,

      Good point. No, we don’t toss bottles of wine around, although we often have local people aboard “Morgan’s Cloud” for a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

      And neither of us are good bakers like Alison.

      In our case we have a high quality photo printer aboard and we have left a trail of letter sized and larger photographs behind us. People seem to really appreciate them, particularly since high quality prints are becoming less and less common since very few photographers bother to learn to print well (not trivial) these days.

      Reply
  • Alison August 29, 2012, 10:55 pm

    Well we haven’t thrown wine on fisherman’s decks but we have left a trail of baked goods. . . Brownies, cinnamon rolls, bread warm from the oven. It’s been wonderful to repay the kindness of strangers and to initiate an acquaintance. And the oven heats up the cabin nicely!

    Reply
  • René Bornmann August 30, 2012, 3:51 am

    Dear Frank, Alison,

    Great replies!!

    Best,

    René

    Reply
  • Jim Leggett August 30, 2012, 7:27 am

    Dear Frank & Alison,

    Sadly this attitude seems to be widespread especially within the yacht charter fraternity. We once offered to take the warps from a charter yacht coming into a marina berth on the West coast of Scotland. He looked at us with total disdain as if we were questioning his boat handling ability and shouted that he needed no help. The inevitable happened and he had a hefty coming together with the dock. (not his boat though, the charter operator’s!!)

    All the best,

    Jim

    Reply
  • Colin Speedie August 30, 2012, 7:44 am

    Hi Phyllis

    Having worked charter boats in and out of remote fishing harbours for many years, I’d agree that relations with local fishermen and harbour staff have deteriorated over time, and that’s a great shame. Sadly, too, the blame can largely be attributed to a minority of yachties who don’t seem to understand that they are actually guests (and often unpaying ones) in someone else’s workplace.

    Here are a few things that I’ve found will definitely not endear you to locals.

    Tying up alongside anywhere you like and then leaving the boat unattended while you go sightseeing. Rafting up on the fleet, and then complaining when they wake you up as they leave at 4 am – and leaving them to move your boat. Phoning the harbour master at 3 am as its getting rough in the harbour, and you’re bumping hard against the fishing vessel inside you – and asking him what he’s going to do about it. Where harbours start to install simple facilities for yachties, in a bid to generate some small income from otherwise underused facilities, it’s not unknown for yachts to say thanks by ‘paying with the mainsheet’, and leaving at 3 am..

    I’ve seen all of the above, in some cases on more than one occasion. (particularly the latter).

    So, we always check that we’re tying up in the right place. We never leave the boat without someone aboard who is capable of moving her, unless it’s been made clear that it’s OK to do so. We ask, politely, before coming alongside a raft of FV’s. We check what time they plan to leave, and if that’s the only place we can go, we set the alarm clock and get up and move when it’s time for them to leave – cheerfully. We have cleats, warps and fenders adequate to defend ourselves at all times – you have to be autonomous in such places. And we check whether there is going to be a charge for use of any facilities, and we pay it – always.

    A comment I’ve heard from many fishermen is that yachties ‘look down on them’. Whether this is true or not, I just don’t know, but perhaps it’s a reminder that it’s up to us to open the conversation, and I’ve generally found that it has led to many really enjoyable exchanges.

    Not that all fishermen are saints, though, any more than all yachties are. Fishing is going through a hard time, and some fishermen are resentful of yachties who they see as wealthy dilettantes playing on the sea, whilst they struggle to earn a living, and who can be obstrcutive and rude as a result.

    But it’s a great pity that relations are souring, which leaves us all poorer as a result. Thanks for a timely reminder that you get out what you put in.

    Best wishes

    Colin

    Reply
    • Phyllis August 30, 2012, 12:16 pm

      Hi, Colin;

      We too have met yachties who take pride in pulling off a D&D (Dock & Dash) as often as they can–and then they brag about it. Hard to believe that they can justify this behaviour as okay.

      But, as you say, this bad behaviour is (hopefully) perpetrated by a minority of cruisers, not the majority as it sometimes feels like when having faced a few of these situations close together.

      And I know that I haven’t always behaved as well as I should in a new harbour, either–maybe I’m exhausted after an overnight or I’ve just had a bad experience in the last place and so I’m a little jaded myself…Hopefully this post will act as a reminder for me when I’m feeling a little less than eager to meet another new face or just want to tie up somewhere and slam the hatch closed behind me!

      Reply
  • Bob Tetrault August 30, 2012, 8:11 am

    Phyllis and John cruise as Brenda and I do, to experience other cultures and learn. We borrow what we find interesting and eagerly share what we think the locals would care to know. It’s very easy to realate to what Phyllis has pointed out, just visit any port where a cruise ship has frequented and voila’. US citizens are the worst. While crusing in Bras d’or we found a fully gassed car on nearly every landing where there was a road. The note on the vehicle invited us to use it but cautioned against trying to replenish the fuel, it wasn’t available anywhere nearby.

    Reply
  • Ben Eriksen August 30, 2012, 9:13 am

    Awesome post. These sentiments really hit home for me. I am often embarrassed to be an American because of it, and never fly the US flag off the boat in hopes that I won’t be prejudged before even stepping off the boat.

    Reply
  • Ty Giesemann August 30, 2012, 9:56 am

    We have never been embarrassed to be Americans. We cruised the East Coast from Newfoundland to the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Azores, and through the Med to Turkey. We always flew a large US flag and found that we were welcomed everywhere. Face it, some people are rude, and nationality rarely makes a difference. Anyone who has seen charterers in the Med (mostly German and French, relatively few Americans) can understand. For example, the German yachtie (not a charterer) who unplugged a commercial boat’s shore power cable in Greece so he could use the single connection for two days and spoiled thousands of dollars of food; the French boat in Italy who always seemed to leave in the middle of the night after deck gear went missing; or the American trawler who rented a car for six months but never seemed to ask the other yachties if they’d like to use it for a run to the market four miles away. Treat locals (and other sailors) like you’d like to be treated and you will enjoy your cruising experience much more.

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie August 30, 2012, 10:46 am

      Hi Ty

      I’ll support you 100% on that. The vast majority of the Americans we’ve met whilst cruising have been charming, interesting and inclusive people – as have been most of the people from other countries, too.

      The thoughtless, the arrogant, the greedy and the plain criminal – well, they’re all out there too, under the flags of every nation. As in life…..

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • richard s. August 30, 2012, 1:47 pm

    in my 20+ years of experience this aspect of cruising has always been squishy in that the majority of the time ports, harbors, marinas, and anchorages are less than hospitable…in a nutshell the usual attitude is they are doing me a favor for just being there…my attitude is to be positive and constructive for as long as possible in the face of this and then to be politely assertive from then on…as soon as i feel the hair on my back starting to rise then i know it’s time to depart the area for some place else…when i am cruising the last situation i want to be in is confronting an adversary…my view is that if a facility is on the water then those there should be at least receptive and tolerant of cruisers until a particular one abuses this welcome and then fine to proceed accordingly…but to be unreceptive and intolerant as a rule is asking for trouble…when i encounter a hospitable facility i always try to reinforce this by returning the favor…otherwise i have trained myself to tolerate surliness and carelessness at the service dock knowing i probably won’t be back there again or at least not in the near future…richard in tampa bay (s/v lakota’s skipper)

    Reply
  • Paul Mills August 30, 2012, 5:55 pm

    Hi all,

    This is a real big subject, and one that I have noticed the need to balance against when ever I can by being proactively open, warm and friendly. It is interesting how the give and take works when sailing; for example over the last 3 years Hazel and I have invited many fellow sailors aboard for food, and enjoyed theircompany. However, only on one occasion have we been invited with our boys to eat on another boat, and as a result I feel Herve and his family will be friendfos for life.

    I had a lovely example today on returning to Falmouth after 4 months away, not one but three marina staff came and said hi…. and I got offerd a winter berth to boot.

    Paul

    Reply
  • Alison August 30, 2012, 8:11 pm

    I think in some places it can be a little difficult to get to know locals. They’re living their lives and going about their business and I’m sure know that we’re temporary visitors. It often seems easier to meet fellow travelers. There’s an instant connection since they’re out of their usual place too. And when you’re sailing off the beaten track there’s even more of an instant connection even if the other person is a land traveler.

    That being said we love to meet and talk with the people that live in the place we’re visiting. You have to slow your travels down enough so the opportunity to visit arises and not just hurry from port to port.

    We’re members of SSCA and firm believers in their “clean wake” policy. It speaks to impressions as well as trash! Leave a place better than you found it in a physical sense and a people relations sense. We’ll all be better for it.

    Reply
    • Phyllis August 31, 2012, 8:42 am

      Hi, Alison;
      I do think that in places that get more visiting boats the locals do get more aloof and then the visitors tend to stick together–which can lead to some wonderful lifelong connections, as Paul mentions above. We’ve seen that in the Caribbean and other places we’ve been. However, in the North where there are fewer visiting boats, it’s historically been the locals that we’ve connected with. (One of the main reasons we tend to go North!) However, with the increase in visiting boats that is, as I mentioned in the post, changing somewhat.

      We’ve also found, like you, that it takes several days in a place before things start to really click. That’s why this summer was so great–we had the time to stay in places for a while and so were able to make connections with the locals. And then hopefully we’ll be able to return to these same places within a few years and follow up on those connections. This is actually one of the main reasons why we just can’t seem to leave the North Atlantic: Each time we return somewhere we build on the connections we’ve made in the past and we make new ones that we can build on during our next visit…and on it goes. If we started all over somewhere else we’d be, well, starting all over!

      Reply
  • RDE August 30, 2012, 9:57 pm

    Off topic, but intimately related to those who make their livelihood on the sea:

    Like many I’ve been watching the impending breakup of the north polar icecap with morbid fascination and horror for a number of years. As you know the percentage of ice free ocean has set a new record already this year, with a number of expected melt days remaining and a continued rapid decline rate. http://nsidc.org/news/press/20120827_2012extentbreaks2007record.html

    Now comes a study from a climatologist from the University of Ottawa who studies Arctic ice drift patterns and concludes that under the right circumstances we could see an Arctic ocean devoid of pack ice THIS YEAR. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByLujhsHsxP7OXliVnN4T3lnekE/edit?pli=1

    Regardless of whether it happens this year or a few years hence, the world as we know it is going to radically change, not within our grandkids lifetimes, but within our own.

    Reply
    • John August 31, 2012, 8:40 am

      Hi Richard,

      You are absolutely right to be concerned. I have been going north for just 20 years and have seen radical changes to the sea ice and glaciers in just that short time. During our voyage to Greenland last year, Grete, the scientist we had aboard, had interview after interview in which Greenlandic hunters told her of the radically changing conditions in their lifetimes. And the truly frightening thing is that the rate of change seems to be actually accelerating.

      I personally believe that there is only one answer, but it maybe too late even for that.

      Reply
      • RDE August 31, 2012, 10:28 am

        Unfortunately the problem is not just oil, but rather the fossil fuel energy base upon which we have built industrial civilization. June was warmest month on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe. Burying your head in the sand like almost everyone on the planet doesn’t change those numbers.

        It has been estimated that the total “budget” for human addition of carbon into the atmosphere over the next half century is something like 565 Gigatons if we are to have a chance of maintaining a sustainable planetary equilibrium, but 2795 gigatons of proven reserves are already on the plate awaiting drilling and mining. Last year, in the midst of a global recession/depression emissions rose 31.6 gigatons above the previous year.

        Radical climate change is already baked into the system regardless of whether we as a species behave like lemmings or wise seers. The post carbon age carrying capacity of the planet is far closer to one billion humans rather than the seven billion it now contains who are striving to exponentially grow that number to nine or ten billion. And relatively safe and sustainable atomic energy systems like liquid fluoride thorium reactors have been cast aside in favor of reactors that produce byproducts suitable for atomic weapons. So the die has been cast.

        Reply
  • Dick Stevenson September 4, 2012, 6:08 am

    Ben,
    I am just catching up after being internet deprived for a week or more, so I am sorry this is not more timely to your comments. I agree with Ty and I am sorry you feel that way about the American flag (my flag also) and the pre-judging that you feel is likely when you fly it. We have visited 30-40 countries and have never been aware of being pre-judged in the way you worry about. Once we got to know people, some have said that they are/were unhappy with our country’s policies (as am I upon occasion), but quickly and genuinely went on to say how they like Americans and feel like we are generally good peoples and very welcome to visit their country. And then they went on to make us feel very welcome.
    On a more pragmatic note, I believe not flying an ensign in international waters and/or when in other countries goes against some rules and/or understanding although I am not at all sure of the details. So I believe there to be some sort of obligation to wear your colors regardless of how you feel about those colors. I do know that not flying a flag is an invitation to be boarded by local authorities who often care a good deal about those kind of proprieties (like having a ratty courtesy flag) and will more likely visit vessels who are out of usual compliance.
    Respectfully disagreeing, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Fowey, England

    Reply
  • Dick Stevenson September 4, 2012, 7:05 am

    Dear Phyllis (and everyone)
    Your observations and the subsequent comments echo concerns I have had for years. As some have noted, these are not transgressions reserved for the boater’s world. I have struggled with ideas on how to respond when I observe what I consider mis-behavior. It is quite challenging (at least for me) to move from observing mis-behavior to attempting to do something about it. I would contend that we are obligated to do something about it for at least two reasons. One is that to not do something is in some way condoning and complicitous and the second is that I would want things to change and get better and for those inclined toward transgressions to have second thoughts.
    Given the above lead in, it may be guessed that I have some thoughts: basically if we do not police ourselves, then others will come in and set up rules/procedures etc that will make for restrictions that undermine the options of those of us who do not take advantage. (One sad result might be a fishing village that chooses to close itself off from visits from private vessels.) When we hear someone bragging about leaving a dock early so as to not pay, we need to challenge him/her (in the nicest possible way). No one else is going to do it. Similarly shore side, the general public should challenge those who park in handicapped parking without need- or who litter etc. These are petty transgressions and should be the community’s responsibility to regulate (the police have better things to do). We who cruise are usually loathe to have anyone make critical comment on our habits, but, if we can police ourselves, we are less likely to have others wade in doing so. One example: recently, I see more and more sailing vessels giving incorrect communication with their nighttime light choices. It is dead calm and they are going 6+ knots with their tricolor on clearly under power. (Or more often, both tricolor and side/steaming lights—when challenged the skipper responds that he wishes to ensure being seen.) It will not be long before the big boys start to dismiss light configuration on sailing vessels as unreliable or before there is a movement to rescind our more privileged status (when under sail with the motor off) over motor vessels. There is a whole long list of transgressions, some situational (like holding tank/sewage protocols) and some pretty cut and dry (leaving without paying), but all should be in ongoing discussion among cruisers as we meet and congregate and we should not be hesitant about sharing our disagreement (again in the nicest possible way) with those who we feel are transgressing and likely to generate a backlash.
    My best to all, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Fowey, England

    Reply
    • John September 5, 2012, 5:58 pm

      Hi Dick,

      We think you are absolutely right. My problem is that I’m always so gob smacked when someone does something out of line, like the examples in Phyllis’ post, that I’m usually rendered speechless and only think of the right thing to say three days later. (When I was 30, instead of 61, it was the day after.)

      Having said that, Phyllis and I have discussed trying to be more proactive when something is going down a bad road, although we are also very conscious of the danger of sounding sanctimonious–it’s a hard one, at least for us.

      And finally, the tricolour with steaming light and deck navigation lights is one that drives me up the wall.

      Reply
  • Dick Stevenson September 6, 2012, 4:26 am

    John, Agree about being gobsmacked and also worry about the sanctimonious part. I figure that at least a few are uneducated or unthoughtful and might appreciate a heads up: those committed to their transgressions, I am less concerned about how they feel. Challenging people without causing offense is a skill that I am still developing. I have been part of a profession that did a terrible job of internally challenging obvious transgressions and the profession suffered. My default stance right now is that if I am on the fence, I try to push myself to take some sort of action. Dick

    Reply
    • Colin September 7, 2012, 10:22 am

      Hi Dick

      This is subject we cover in our WiSe courses (www.wisescheme.org), where wildlife watching operators ask us how to intervene if they see members of the public getting too close (for example) to wildlife.

      As we take it for granted that most incidents of this nature are errors of omission, not commission, we recommend that they:
      Make contact in friendly manner, and gently point out the nature of the error – this is usually all it needs.

      If that fails, be sure of your ground in advising on the rules and regulations, whether they be local or national, and simply and clearly point them out.

      Whatever the response always, always, remain polite.

      There’s probably no perfect formula, but the above simple rules do seem to work much of the time, and avoid the exchange becoming heated – to no-ones benefit.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • Mike H January 22, 2013, 1:27 pm

    Great post and after 10 years in the US Navy, I’ve seen the “visitor to foreign port” at their best and their worst. Locals, in my experience, respond in kind to how they are treated. Having seen maybe a third of the ports in the Mediterranean, I know my smile, kind word and feeble attempts to speak someone else’s language went a long way. As a result of just basic courtesy (even if I stink at other languages), I’ve had nothing but good experiences at any port I’ve ever been to.

    I think it’s also important to remember that there are two kinds of people – sailors, and people who own/ride on boats. Even in my crew of hundreds, there were sailors and there were people riding the boat with a uniform on. Anyone in the former group knows what I am talking about, and anyone in the latter will say “huh?” and wonder why the locals seem standoffish no matter where they go.

    If you’re a sailor, educate the people who own/ride boats. Just remember that they have an inner sailor that you need to help them let out.

    Reply
    • John January 22, 2013, 5:35 pm

      Hi Mike,

      What a great comment, beautifully put, thank you.

      Reply
      • Colin Speedie January 22, 2013, 7:00 pm

        Hear, hear! Great comment, Mike, and something that should be put at the top of the list in any crew briefing for visiting new lands.

        Best wishes

        Colin

        Reply
  • Cerph April 5, 2014, 12:00 pm

    Not a defense but societies decency has been falling off for years. It used to be you could pull into a new port and hear: “Are you one of the Yachties?” and that was a good thing to the local. Now I think they ask just so they can prepare for the worst in behavior.

    Reply

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