Updated: Sep 20
Our time in Linton Bay marina has been an eye opener. The feel of the place is very different from anything we have witnessed to date. This is not just a transit station, it is also the base for medium and long term projects. There is a community who have been here, sometimes for months, doing serious overhauls of their boats or simply making essential repairs. And all in their own time. Or maybe Panama time. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, things DO take a long time. Most supplies have to be shipped in from outside Panama. It can take weeks to receive important parts. Also, this community do the work themselves. Taking time gives more opportunity to research the required skills. And the longer the stay, the more other cruisers you can ply for knowledge. And the fact that life here in general (and the bar in particular) is relatively cheap, enables this approach. We have landed amid a community of seasoned, long-term, live-aboard cruisers (LTLA's).
In the early 80's, this trimaran took 1st (all categories) in the Round the island race, Round Britain race and the OSTAR. As a fast trimaran it is, of course, owned by a Frenchman! Now it is a long term project!
What are the characteristics of an LTLA?
Firstly, they have been doing it for a hell of a long time, in some cases over thirty years. Not just sailing, but exploring the world from their boat. This experience has generated fountains of knowledge. About cruising grounds. About the latest maritime technology. And about fixing boats. Sometimes I feel that they have forgotten more than a 'newbie' like me will ever know!
They are unbelievably generous with their time and that knowledge. I thought that the four weeks here, waiting for the solar arch to be repaired, would pass slowly. Not a bit of it. I try to be like a 'sponge' working hard to assimilate their help and advice as best I can.
I knew before we set off that we needed to carry an array of spares and tools. But, for certain jobs, I often seem to lack the ideal tool. No problem here. Just casually mention the problem at the bar and at least one LTLA will smile knowingly, suggest you pop over to his boat later where the required tool magically appears.
Of course, to have been cruising for thirty years already, it implies the journey started long before normal retirement age. So these guys are either braver, or more fool-hardy, than we are. A consequence is usually that finances need to be carefully managed. Most have been successful enough in early life to have property or investments which generate a monthly income. However boat maintenance or upgrades can sometimes throw up expensive surprises. Some maintain their professional skill base so it is always possible to work a few months to fill the coffers again. Alternatively, 'working from home' on a part-time basis allows saving for that unexpected expense. Others stick to cruising areas where living costs are lower.
Generally an LTLA prefers cruising grounds rather more adventurous than our own RTW plans. We intend to stick to the well-trodden, trade wind routes, passing through the doldrums only twice. We have no plans to explore West Africa, go round Cape Horn, sail the North Pacific or leave Australia to starboard. Our only 'LTLA worthy' route choice is for our final leg. We plan to eschew the Bermuda-Azores passage across the North Atlantic in favour of a more northerly route visiting Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland. These routes can be further from civilisation with no guarantee of access to shops as we know them. No problem. LTLAs have perfected the art of once/month shopping. They know which fruit/veg last the longest (and how to make meals out of them), tricks to prolong storage time and are good at adding to their larder with fishing tackle.
Last year we had many enjoyable evenings with boats which had crossed the Atlantic with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). I remember a discussion on the benefits of such rallies. Someone said that the flag alone was worth the entry fee because it acted as a perfect introduction to many new friends. An LTLA would never consider doing a rally with a fixed start time. An LTLA always waits for the perfect weather window. And besides, most LTLAs have their own 'calling card'. Just explore the anchorage or dock and look for the famous flying fish pennant of the Ocean Cruising club (OCC).
But there is one more important characteristic. Anyone familiar with the Eddie Izzard sketch about flags (recommended, click picture to watch) will know the premise of 'No flag, no country'.
In the case of LTLAs, the flag equivalent is a mascot. No mascot and you are not an LTLA! The Llama above (no, NOT a lamb) belongs to SV Ruffian. Skyfall does not (yet) have a mascot so it is not just our lack of experience which precludes us from this club. And having spent the last years trying to clear the loft, taking dustbin bags of our childrens' cuddly toys to charity shops, we do not feel inclined to buy one specially. It is too late to choose 'Little ear' as a mascot. Laura's favourite Saint Bernard is (hopefully) now bringing joy to another child. However, I believe, provided Ellen agrees, that we are still in time to ask the next crew visiting from Belgium to bring 'Bernie', who is in Gent, getting excited about his possible up-coming sailing adventure.