Martin Prins loves to rock the dock, regardless of whether it’s in Europe, the States or New Zealand. Ditto cockpits, yacht clubs and beaches. He’s a large, easygoing Dutch sailor who lives aboard his Bavaria 46 Acapella with his wife, Ellen Reijndorp, an electric bass guitar and some dog-eared passports.
We first met musically last year in Tahiti and have been bumping into each other at various Pacific cruiser parties ever since. Yesterday we jammed together in Whangarei, New Zealand, at the Town Basin, along with a dozen other circumnavigators.
Martin enjoys nurturing musical talent almost as much as playing. He manages to encourage his fellow musicians without stressing them out. Some members of our informal scratch band have been playing for, oh, two weeks or so, while others have been plucking for a lifetime. Maestro Martin knows it isn’t about getting the performance perfect but rather enjoying the musical moment.
He peers over his bass guitar, gives me a nod, and says, “Make some noise, Fatty.”
I nervously take a solo, miss the chord change but recover during the turnaround of the 12-bar one-four-five chord blues progression. A lusty cheer goes up from my fellow pickers. After all, I hung in and managed to—kinda—rally at the end. The group is supportive, to say the least. “You had
all the right notes, chords and the vocals,” someone quipped. “Now it is just a matter of playing them at the same time.”
So true. That’s why Martin calls it “making noise” rather than soloing. Making noise isn’t nearly as intimidating. Every week, one or two intrigued members of our Kiwi audience wordlessly morph from passive listeners into shy creators. “Soon every Jack Tar on the North Island will be in the band,” marvels a Euro multihull sailor with a rusty kazoo.
“How ’bout playing Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’?” asks David Irvin, of the 65-foot S&s-designed, aluminum Rewa, built by Abeking & Rasmussen. “It’s only three chords.” Three chords are plenty for many of us. Thank God for “Eleanor Rigby,” which has only two.
Martin and David are not the only string pluckers with nurturing skills. The dynamic duo of Larry Hamilton and Sue Holt, two ukulele-crazed East Coast sailors aboard a wellfound Formosa 46, Serengeti, are the social glue that holds us far-flung musicians together. Sue is Canadian and was a dinghy champion in her youth. Moving south, she became the marketing director for Beneteau USA. Larry’s been involved with various cruising boats for three decades. Their dream as a couple was to sail the world, and that’s exactly what they are doing.
“No schedule,” Sue admits. “No master plan. Just cruising fun from here on out!”
“We were both a bit concerned about leaving our careers and venturing offshore,” Larry says. “But we never looked back. The cruising life is amazingly fulfilling, and the musical camaraderie we share makes it even better.”
Why the growing
Often at beach parties in paradise, the band sets up under a palm tree within earshot of the main group, and the sailors wander back and forth between the conversationalists and the rockers. Instant barefoot dance party!
enthusiasm for homegrown music among cruisers worldwide? One reason is technology. It is now possible to carry portable amps like the JBL Eon One aboard
Serengeti. It allows numerous musicians to jack in to a single battery-operated amp and play for up to five hours. Often at beach parties in paradise, the band sets up under a palm tree within earshot of the main group, and the sailors wander back and forth between the conversationalists and the rockers. Instant dance party!
Another reason there are more sailing guitar players than ever before is because many of us are lifelong rock-star wannabes and only now have the time and money to be able to indulge our stifled musical passions. Whether we think of ourselves as rockers, pickers, country crooners, folkies or bluegrass types doesn’t matter. The music itself brings us together.
The third reason is that inexpensive IOS software like Onsong now allows everyone with an ipad tablet to be instantly on the same page—er, screen—and even change keys if needed.
“Too complicated,” sniffs one of our ukulele players, a regal Samoan sailor named Litara Barrott. She lives aboard the wooden ketch Sina with her husband, Noel. She often regales us with tales of Cape Horn—just one of the milestones that won them the Blue Water Medal from the Cruising Club of America in 2002.
Yes, we are an ethnically diverse group, but our lust for melody unites us. Music is the universal language. I’ve had wonderful times playing in Fiji, Borneo, Vanuatu, Yap, Cocos Keeling and Madagascar with local musicians, despite not having a single spoken word in common.
As an icebreaker, I collect guitars strings from First World musicians and distribute them informally to Third World musicians on distant isles. A few have never played with real store-bought strings before.
I’ve found that the musical tastes of sailors vary as widely as their boats. Lisa Benckhuysen of the highly modified (crazily, they threw away the transom!) Carl Schumacher-designed Express 37 Harlequin enjoys writing songs as she circumnavigates. She organized a cruiser’s tune that we sang for the Tourist Department during the climax of the 2018 Bluewater Festival in Tonga. Many of the crews on boats from around the world contributed a verse. As odd as it sounds, “Vava’u, We Love You” came off quite well and was greeted with wide smiles by the locals.
Other floating musicians prefer to keep it techno-simple. Vandy Shrader of the Able Apogee 50 Scoots just brings out her bongos and is always in demand. (Her husband, Eric, plays bass.) If I don’t feel like lugging my Rainsong guitar ashore, I just toss a plastic egg shaker in my pocket, or a pair of maracas, and back up the band with my (faint) percussion and perhaps the occasional vocal.
Classical American pianist Barbi Devine has a Roland electric piano built into her Whitby 42 Pago in the Med, but seagoing instruments don’t have to be large or expensive. Hohner harmonicas are always welcome. Washboards and tamarind seeds can be called into play as well. Discarded brake pads ring like a bell in poorer countries. Elaborate drum sets can be created from empty upside-down paint cans. Any wood butcher with a pile of hardwood can whittle up a primitive vibraphone.
My wife, Carolyn, and I know penniless cruisers in Southeast Asia who not only make their own bamboo flutes, they play them in public to earn a few bucks.
Come to think of it, we’ve met a number of yachties that have gone on to be professional musicians. Joe Colpitt of Virgin
Fire is one; his Hot Club groupies are mostly in their 80s—nothing wrong with that. Ditto for Barefoot Davis of Splinter
Beach. Country songwriter Gene Nelson retired from Nashville to gunkhole the Indian Ocean. His “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and “Bubba Hyde” are just a couple of his bestsellers. Cruising World’s own editor-at-large Tim Murphy plays all over New England when not toiling on his Passport 40 Billy Pilgrim; former editor John Burnham plays guitar as well.
During the ’70s and ’80s, Carolyn and I used to anchor next to the gaffer
Moon in Gustavia, St. Barts, and listen to Jimmy Buffett teach both Mishka Frith and Heather Nova their musical chops. Both boat kids went on to have successful musical careers.
Speaking of Carolyn, she loves to sing and just returned from a monthlong shore vacation to hear some tunes in Austin, Texas, and New Orleans. Our duet of “Hit the Road, Jack” has brought many a cruisers’ party to its feet, and our “I Shall Be Released” ain’t bad either.
Most marine rockers have a signature tune they can immediately play upon demand. The fact is that world cruisers, circumnavigators and long-term live-aboarders are extremely self-actuated people. They gulp from a cup that the timid fear to sip. Numerous scientific studies have shown that singing uplifts both the singer and the audience. I know it brings a smile to our faces—and to our merry little band of cruising musicians who rock the dock wherever they sail.
East Coast sailors Sue Holt and Larry Hamilton, with ukuleles in hand, are ready to “make some noise” with Fatty (top). Martin Prins welcomes one and all to the dock jams (above right). Songwriter Lisa Benckhuysen pulled together a cruiser tune for Tonga’s Bluewater Festival.