I’ll hang out with the turtles, thanks

By Dodge Morgan
We had several wandering tribes in Maine this August. One could think that we are returning in spirit to our pre-Columbian, Indian roots with fully self-sufficient clans migrating between halos of action, some on land and some on sea. Tribal names now are acronyms rather than native American labels. Instead of “Micmac,” which, come to think of it, also sounds somewhat like an acronym, we have FMCA. Instead of “Penobscot,” we have SSCA. The CCA and the BYC were also roaming around Maine this summer.

These modern nomads are great for vacationland because they leave wampum wherever they alight and then leave period whenever they go broke. They can be found crowding together like cattle herds in the damndest places. But, very clearly, the rovers by the sea are infinitely more skilled at finding the really good places than are the rovers by the land.

Case in point. The FMCA, long form that’s the Family Motor Coach Association, 5,000 wagons worth, gathered at, of all places, the runway on Brunswick Naval Air Station. The wagons were lined up in chalk-numbered spaces so close to each other to be like teepees anchored by common tent stakes. It was a neighborhood of high class and the ambience of South LA. The assembled machines were almost all huge and fancy, had the self-sufficiency of space stations and the aesthetic appeal of shipping containers.

On the other hand, the SSCA, long form that’s the Seven Seas Cruising Association, numbered 50 vessels anchored in an absolutely gorgeous cove at Islesboro Island in Penobscot Bay. The fleet had breathing room, just close enough together to allow a polite bellow to be heard one to another; this may be one of the advantages of swinging room on a four-to-one rode. It was a nomadic suburb in comparison. The machines ranged from simple to complex, from plain to beautiful, but all were homes in every sense of the term.

The SSCA is fundamentally an organization of live-aboard boaters with members scattered all over the world. Some keep migrating and some more or less stay put. The Tenth Annual Down East Rendezvous was a happy potluck affair hosted ashore by Dick, Kathy and Ashley deGrasse. (The SSCA was established 47 years ago, possibly before motor homes were invented.) The introductions were not limited to the usual head table dignitaries but included everyone who showed up. And there wasn’t a head table anyway. Each crew stood while their most significant vital statistics were read out: boat name, personal names, homeport, time living aboard and longest non-stop passage. Every introduction produced stomping applause with extra gusto going to those with the longer liveaboard terms and nautical-mile passages.

There are some startling similarities as well as differences between the land yachts and sea yachts. Both are nomadic, but the former are trapped, irrevocably and horribly, by ribbons of asphalt. Both brag about their vessel brands but the buses almost all look alike. Both name their vessels but the former choose substantially ridiculous names: land yacht College Tuition to sea yacht Ariel III; land yacht Children’s Inheritance to sea yacht Endeavour. The values of both classes of yachts clearly make up considerable personal net worth numbers for owners but those with wheels are obsolete far, far faster than those with keels (in an exhibit on the runway tarmac, one average 45-foot motor home was priced at a quarter million bucks!)

Of course the sea yachts are very slow underway and the land yachts are very fast. But this is analogous to the turtle and hare parable in several ways. The turtle gets to places actually worth going and does it without having to be in a hurry. The turtle brushes with legal systems at customhouses rather than in speed traps. Turtle energy costs less, is renewable, smells better and demands fewer fuel stops. Turtle-people have far superior bragging rights from passages achieved. Turtle people watch many more sunsets. Turtle wins.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.