From Strangers to Friends
I was nervous. Was this going to be one of the best experiences of my life – or one of the worst?
Here I was, having flown halfway across the world, about to embark on a two-week yachting tour in a fleet of six yachts, sharing a living space the size of a small caravan with three people I had never met before. Right. Deep breath. You’ve got this.
My yacht-mates – a Mexican, a Croatian and an Aussie expat from the UK – weren’t complete strangers. In the months leading up to the trip we had all been introduced via email. We’d shared various details about our eating habits, our preference for gin over vodka (or vice versa) and our sailing experience (or lack thereof). By the time we finally met, and stepped onto our yacht, it was like meeting someone you sort of already knew, yet didn’t. It was a little surreal, but not in a bad way.
The first couple of days were about establishing our normal, and we did so with the utmost of politeness. We observed one another, and found where we best fit into the pattern of day to day sailing life. Who preferred an early night? Who liked to sleep in? Should I put my hand up to be the washing up lady? Who was going to take the rubbish ashore? Should we each have individual jobs or rotate the responsibilities?
It wasn’t long, however, before the formal politeness – the respectful excuse me’s when passing on deck, the not-too-invasive questions like “Isn’t this bay stunning?” or “What do you do for a living?” – soon gave way to comfortable conversation as we began to loosen up. Then, after the shared exhilaration of our first sailing race and the crew dinner ashore at a local restaurant which followed, we began to relax, probe deeper, and form the early bonds of real friendship.
“So, what brought you to Croatia?”
“Where did you learn to sail?”
“How come your partner didn’t join you?”
By day three, we were making lunch on board with an unspoken rhythm and passing the Mexican chilli sauce without being asked, because we knew she liked it on everything she ate.
From then on it was smooth sailing – when it came to being comfortable with these no-longer-strangers. We shared long conversations, swam in deserted bays together, discovered ancient towns, traded wisdom and taught each other new skills. We each took turns to make coffee in the morning using the little espresso machine on board. There is something wonderfully special about a person you only recently met, making your morning coffee and knowing exactly how you take it.
While we may have been living in close confines, we didn’t spend 24/7 together. We spent a lot of time apart, too. We got to know when someone needed time out, and weren’t bothered if someone chose to do something alone, or hang out with members from other yacht crews. It was friendship without obligation – and I felt free and independent, yet never lonely.
Sharing a small space with people you hardly know certainly tests you. It accelerates the speed in which a relationship would normally develop, in a situation where you can’t control everything around you. However, having no shared history and no obligation for a shared future, made it easier to be flexible and look for the positives. And being in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I think, made us all want to simply make the most of every moment, rather than worry about whatever small frustrations may have arisen as we got to know one another intimately.
On one of our final days on board, our crew was getting ready to sail to a new bay for the afternoon. We were tied to a little pontoon and by this stage in the sailing tour, we knew what we had to do. Like clockwork the cameras were stowed, the washing was taken down from wherever it happened to be pegged that morning, and we cast off like a well-oiled machine, avoiding the other boats, pulling in stern lines like professionals. There was no wind that day, so we were all sitting in the cockpit while the skipper sat at the helm. The rest of the yachts in the fleet were cruising close by and we could hear the chatter of our extended travelling family. We had music playing. It was a playlist we had collectively formed from our time sailing together for the past two weeks. Aside from sailing and adventure, we had bonded over a mutual love of music.
One of the crew brought up a selection of cold drinks from the galley and we sat for two hours like this. Chatting, reminiscing, or just sitting in comfortable silence together. This was my favourite part of the whole trip. I was so comfortable with these travellers – they had become friends, not just travelling companions. And yet two weeks ago, I had never laid eyes on them.
Sharing a yacht with people you’ve never met opens you up to new cultures, opinions and conversations you just don’t generally experience on a regular basis in everyday life. And if you’re lucky, you might just make some lifelong friends as well. You’re sharing a unique sailing experience in a beautiful new country and it’s the kind of adventure that can’t help but bring people together.
What an experience. What a way to travel. Yes, I had been nervous. But I knew this had been one of the best experiences of my life.
Explore how you can experience a share boat with us here and here.