May 28, 2020

Clean wake: A concept amongst cruising sailors that stresses the impact that individual behaviour has on the group. Bad actions will reflect upon those who follow and potentially poison perceptions for generations.

Janet, Darryl, Ella and IrisJanet and Darryl with daughters Ella and Iris at the beginning of their five year adventure

20 years ago, being an unemployed recent graduate searching for a purpose, I read a book that changed my life.  Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” is the story of a man’s battle with Mount Everest during the deadliest year the mountain has seen.  It is a story of adventure, loss, and overcoming challenges.  After reading it, it inspired me to find an epic adventure of my own, something that challenged me and opened me up to a life lived to its fullest.  And so, I read other adventure memoirs landing solidly amongst the published works of circumnavigating sailors like Lin and Larry Pardey and Liza Copeland.  Their books opened up a world of far off South Pacific Islands where visitors were rare and local customs still prevailed.  Their ethos was to embrace the differences between us all and adapt to their surroundings.  Their sensitivity was such that they never failed to remind their reader that sailors, as visitors, must respect local customs and law even when it seems strange and always leave a clean wake.

  Fast forward 20 years.  By the time we embarked upon Maple and our world cruise, the number of sailboats traversing the globe had grown into the tens of thousands.  What had been a small community of voyagers seeking a simple life different from that which they could find at home had become an annual migration of sailors transplanting their western lifestyle to their floating homes. 

Maple at Anchor in Bocas del Toro PanamaMaple at anchor in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Photo Credit: Damien Prive, SV Manwe

A growing community of sailors has also led to an increase in the numbers of those who apparently feel that rules do not apply to them.  Across the globe we have met sailors who think nothing of failing to clear into a country, anchoring where there are restrictions, picking fruit from trees that don’t appear to belong to anyone, going ashore on private land or leaving recycling/garbage in the wrong areas.

In the time of Covid-19 and increased restrictions on activities and movement, the flaunting of rules has become even more clear.  As we sit in French Polynesia, waiting for borders to open I see daily Facebook posts from misinformed, entitled, or deliberately obtuse sailors that offend the concept of leaving a clean wake.  Comments like “we’re the only tourists they have, they should be grateful…” and “it is the law of the sea, they need to provide safe anchorage for sailors…”  and “we know the borders are closed, but we heard that a boat was checked in so we’re leaving today bound for French Polynesia…”  It seems as though the levels of entitlement and lack of respect for local laws are reaching an all-time high and its little wonder that locals in nations along the traditional cruising route are tired of hosting us and unwelcoming.

But then I am reminded that for every self-absorbed soul who sets sail - even though 95% of national borders are closed and the island nations they are bound for are the least well equipped to deal with a pandemic – there are dozens of kind souls who remember the concept of leaving a clean wake and implore the selfish among us to stay put, wait for borders to open and respect local restrictions.

As a world traveler, there are some things that have become increasingly clear to me in the last 5 years.  Technology is making the world smaller, people are more alike than they are different, most of us are good, considerate and decent, but above all, those of us who travel are visitors in the lands we venture to, and as visitors are tolerated and even welcomed, but we simply must respect the local customs and rules or those who follow will bear the consequences.  Covid-19 has shown that borders can be closed easily.  If we want them to be open to us as travelers, we need to demonstrate we are worthy of their hospitality.