Cruising as a (Happy) Couple

By Derek On October 3, 2011 Under Post

Something I’ve noticed about cruising is many singlehanders didn’t start out that way; they usually began as a couple. And most singlehanders are men. Obviously, something happened and the female part of the crew left. Guys, this unfortunate sequence of events can be avoided by following these five simple rules.

It may be your lifelong dream to sail the seven seas. I know, it was (and still is) mine, but likely as not, it isn’t hers. She may go along with you but that doesn’t mean you share the same goals – and this is dangerous.

The Chinese have a saying here:

Same bed, different dreams.

How do you get her to share the dream? Well, to be honest, sometimes you can’t. BUT you can still make it work naturally by following these simple rules. Forget or ignore them at your peril.

1) You may be the Captain but she is the Admiral

Let her make some of the big decisions such as where you go. When my wife and I were in Chagos in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I had dreams of going on to Madagascar and spending a year in Africa. “Africa! What are you crazy?” was her response. “I’m not going there to get malaria.

Damn. Well, I had talked her into sailing as far as half way across the Indian Ocean. What do we do now? “I haven’t been to Europe,” she mused. OK, we can do that, I thought. Going to Europe as a couple was much better than going to Africa as a singlehander. And so it proved to be.

2) Have a fair division of labor

Here is another biggie where most guys get it wrong, in my opinion. They want to be the big man and navigate, steer the boat, go places that are rough – and they want three hot meals a day doing it, too. My wife is petite and can’t manhandle the sails. She doesn’t know how to sail or even how to swim, to tell the truth! So, I had to do all the navigating, sail changes, engine/generator maintenance, anchoring, etc.

She is a great cook, though. But cooking AND cleaning up down below like most couples do is just the hated shore side routine moved to a cramped and uncomfortable galley. The cook’s motivation is to just get through meals and make them as fast and as simple as possible.

Why do a 2-3 course meal when all it means is more dishes and pots to clean afterward? If she cooks and you clean you will eat better and live better. This, my friends, I guarantee.

3) Let her decide what is needed down below

If she says the boat needs new curtains, it needs new curtains. If she says the shower sucks, the shower sucks. Don’t argue. The more she is able to re-arrange the nest the more committed she is to the enterprise and the more comfortable she will be as a result.

Another little story:

We bought our last boat, Tehani-li (link to logs), a Tayana 52, in Malaysia and spent the first six months in the marina working on her and figuring out just what each wire did and where each hose went. That was a big boat for me at the time, having only sailed a 33 foot sloop before. When I lifted up the heavy floorboards and saw inch and a half hose running fore and aft and all around the bilge it was like looking inside the belly of a whale.

I wonder how much water that two inch seacock will let in if something goes wrong? After we were comfortable with things we planned to sail out of Malaysia and up to Thailand. But the day before departure the wife put her foot down. “I’m not going.” Uh, why? “I don’t like the toilets.” “What! These are standard Jabsco marine pump toilets, functional and easy to fix.” (That was me, talking like an ignant male).

It turns out she hated pumping shit overboard and wanted an electric head. Groan. OK, we got an electric head but kept the forward one a pump model, just in case. It turned out the electric head was actually brilliant, worked flawlessly and was one of our best upgrades. More importantly, she was happy and we could continue together on our merry way.

4) Let her do the social thing

Cruising is a very social activity. As I have said before, you will be alone only if you want to be. Everywhere you go you will meet likeminded sailors and get together for “sundowners” on somebody’s boat or on the beach in every anchorage. This is one of the joys of cruising. Most likely, one of your female crew’s biggest fears when discussing the idea of cruising will be loneliness. She will be away from her friends and support network. Or she won’t have any friends, etc.

Even if you are not so inclined, be social. Go visit other boats as a couple. (Don’t take the dinghy over by yourself and spend the evening talking diesel engines with the other guy, leaving your wife or girlfriend alone fuming on your boat). Bring her along.

Let her meet and make friends with other women who are doing and going through the same things she is. Let her decide when to have people over and whom to invite. Let her keep in touch with those back home as much as necessary and the new friends she makes along the way. There will be times she gets tired of looking at your sorry mug, believe me.

5) Don’t forget her birthday!

I mean, please, this applies on land too! Make the effort here. Buy something nice along the way and hide it on board for the big day. Also, don’t forget your anniversary whether married or not – write it down somewhere. (I had mine engraved on the inside of my wedding ring). She won’t forget and she won’t ever forget that you did… This is an easy one to get right (or wrong) and it is worth remembering to keep peace aboard.

I am sure other couples have found different strategies that worked for them. The above were some of our solutions and we stayed happily married for our three year cruise on Tehani-li across the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea and across the Med and through some rough neighborhoods. More importantly, we are still together today and happily so.

Remember, pleasure shared is pleasure doubled. Happy wife, happy life. You get the idea. Oh, and please be nice to the singlehanders you meet along the way!

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