Why aren’t there more young people out here?

Fort Jefferson sunset
One of the best ways to see the Dry Tortugas is by cruising sailboat. The cruising sailor can stay for an entire week for less than the cost of a day trip on the ferry from Key West.

While speaking with a friend a couple of days ago the subject of the average age of cruising sailors came up.  He had the idea to start a “young cruiser’s club”.  It would be a place to meet other cruisers and encourage more people to get out there.  My first question was, “Well, what qualifies as young?”.  Who should we focus on?  After a couple of numbers were tossed out there I finally said that we should admit anyone who isn’t yet eligible to collect Social Security benefits.  That really thins the crowd these days.

The fact is that I don’t meet very many people out cruising who are not fully retired and out enjoying their golden years afloat.  I immensely enjoy meeting other cruisers and rarely focus on the fact that they may be a few (or more) decades my elder.  I have made some wonderful friends who are old enough to be my grandparents, but I can’t help but feel just a little bit removed from their social circle.  There is more than just a generation gap between me and the average cruiser that I meet.  It’s more like an immense, yawning canyon with a tiny little river and some trees waaay down there in the shadows at the bottom.  We can laugh together for a few hours at a potluck on the beach, but there isn’t usually much shared experience beyond the fact that we are all out cruising.

The fellow who brought up the idea of some sort of club for younger cruisers is in his 40’s.  He sails a Bristol 30 that he bought on the cheap.  He is a new cruiser and told me that he often feels that he is the only “young” person out sailing!  He was floored by the fact that he seldom sees anyone under the age of 50 out cruising.  I am in my early 30’s and should probably feel even more removed from most of the cruising crowd than he does, but I have been cognizant of the demographics of this group of people for years because I have spent a lot of my spare time in boatyards and in anchorages where cruisers gather ever since I was a teenager.  I had stopped giving it much thought except for the times when someone near my own age would call me an old man because the average age of the people that I hang around with is about the same as that of my grandparents.  This time hearing from someone who was looking at the cruising lifestyle with fresh eyes got me thinking about what is keeping younger people off of the water.

Cost is the obvious answer, but a summer cruise could easily be done on a modest boat for less than a summer cross-country road trip or similar, and there are many people who undertake trips like that in any given year.  There is a minimum knowledge that needs to be acquired before setting out so that the cruise can be made safely, but that can be had at one of the many Coast Guard Auxiliary or sailing school training courses available throughout the country.  It would be great to hear from others about what is keeping people in their 20’s and 30’s from taking to the water.

I would like to see more people take a “gap year” cruising vacation before going to college or before starting work or before starting a family.  These are natural transition periods for young people.  Those transition periods work well for providing the time necessary to have a grand adventure.  Going on an extended cruise can be fantastic way to hone decision-making skills, take the time to decide what to do next, unwind, get fit, meet new people, and visit new places.  All of this can be done at a very reasonable cost, especially with the very low price of some quality used boats out there right now.  If more people begin to make these sorts of cruises, then there will be an even better market of inexpensive but adequately outfitted boats as people enter and leave the cruising lifestyle.

I hope that there is a new wave of young cruising sailors about to take to the waters in small but seaworthy craft.  They should be ready to spread their sails to a fair wind and discover the exhilarating feeling  of true freedom that is still available to anyone on their own boat on the wide rolling sea.  They will discover the peace of a snug, deserted anchorage, and the wonder of a sky full of bright stars on a dark night.  They will feel the excitement of new landfalls and learn of the satisfaction of successfully navigating their small ships safely to their intended destinations.  They will benefit from learning the art of self-sufficiency and from having their personal horizons broadened by meeting new people in new places.

See you out there!

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