I was three days out from port when my water jug sprang a leak. Aside from the puddle in the bottom of my boat, it didn’t seem like a big deal- but it could be in a few days. As I contemplated my repair options, Charlie and Alice, kayakers who I’d met just the previous night, insisted that I take theirs.
There’s an affinity and kindness that I’ve experienced among boaters that I haven’t with other groups of people I encounter. My friend Michael explains it like this: “I think of our cohorts on the water as a tribe, not something you join, but are born to. We spend our lives meeting other members of our tribe, whom we often know even before we meet.”
I met Kim accidentally at the boat ramp one afternoon. Unlike the other well-meaning land lubbers who stop by to say “nice boat,” he actually owned several small craft. We chatted for a while, exchanged contact info, but as often happens with random meetings, I expected nothing further to come of it. That’s where Michael’s explanation proved me wrong.
I’m a quiet person and Kim can be quite chatty, but this difference didn’t deter our friendship. It felt as if I had known him for a long time and this was just normal. As we started rowing and plotting adventures together I noticed that his threshold for bad weather, risk, and location was surprisingly similar to mine. Although I wouldn’t go on a multiple day trip on a body of water as large as the South Salish Sea with just anybody, when the idea came up, it seemed perfectly natural to go with Kim.
We decided to launch from Charlie and Alice’s house near Shelton, Washington and spent the night before departure gathered around their dining room table eating good food and swapping stories until well past bedtime.
Despite the gray skies and drizzle, Kim and I were excited to be off the next morning, though it was tempered with the knowledge that we were leaving our friends behind.
A couple of hours and a few miles later, I caught the shape of a traditional rowboat out of the corner of my eye. The two of us in our rowboats were unusual enough, but to encounter another of our kind was almost unheard of.
“Kim, Kim- I thought I saw a rowboat out by that point,” I gestured excitedly.
“Doubt it,” he replied.
But a few moments later not one, but two boats appeared ahead of us. We stared at each other in momentary disbelief. Then a man in the lead boat spoke.
“Are you Bruce?” he asked, with a tone that implied he knew the answer.
I practically fainted with surprise. I sure didn’t know these people personally, but they were part of my tribe too.
“Are you one of my blog readers?”
“Nope. Andy said that you might be out here this weekend and I figured there were only so many rowers around.”
Serendipitously, I had met Andy on this stretch of water a few years earlier and we’ve been friends ever since.
The rest of the day was spent rowing in tandem and individually, the conversation flowing in bits, like a stream of consciousness. We coasted past quiet stretches of forest, admired other boats, and shook our heads at some of the oversized houses perched along the shore.
One moment a rower was ahead, later one of us had stopped to watch a creature, capture some floating trash, or just marvel at the changing sky.
Late in the afternoon, we pulled onto the tip of a rocky island. As night settled on our campsite, we built a beach fire, discussed our lives back in Portland, and were grateful to be together in such a breathtaking place.
As I drifted out of sight from Kim on our return trip, I wondered what other friends I had yet to meet and if there was a flavor as good as friendship. If there were one, it would have the warmth of summer, the tang of sea salt, and the intensity of the homemade blackberry sorbet served for dessert at Alice and Charlie’s house.