shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Relationships Onboard

December 2, 2013

Living in any small space creates previously unimagined challenges. You can't take all your stuff with you, what you did take is hard to access, you smack your head several times a day, and everything you do is just a little bit harder than it is in a bigger space. Add to the mix the fact that your house floats, and moves, and heels, and must be changed from a sailing machine to a comfortable home every time you want to go sailing and the challenges multiply. Throughout this occasional emotional and physical turmoil you try to keep a healthy relationship with your partner. Not always an easy feat.

One thing that must be kept in the front of your mind is that everything is accentuated on a boat. Those little ticks that your partner has that you try to ignore on land will likely drive you crazy within a week onboard. The increased amount of time together in a small space makes even the smallest quirk insupportable. Her cackle of a laugh, the habit he has of sucking his teeth, how she pronounces a certain word, that one bit of bad grammar he uses, her leaving her shoes in the middle of the floor, his inability to put something back after he uses them, the list of potential relationship bombs is endless. We were eating raw veggies as a snack one beautiful day in the Caribbean, the trade winds blowing through the hatch, wavelets lapping at the hull, when suddenly Dave shouted at me, "Could you please not eat carrots like that?" I stopped mid-bite, trying to figure out how I could possibly eat a carrot incorrectly. Once his blood pressure was no longer red-lining he explained that the way I eat carrots is bizarre, annoying, and intolerable. I don't really care how I eat crudité, so since it was that important to him, I changed. But his outburst was indicative of how much time we spend together. Every carrot I've eaten in the past 12 years has been in front of him. No wonder he went a little berserk.

Only room for one captain

But it's not just proximity and a lack of personal space that can rock your boat. If one partner feels like the other isn't pulling his weight (and you can see everything that he does in a day, so you know he's not) tension that could otherwise be ignored if you were going to be apart most of the day builds to an uncomfortable height. Remember those chores you promised to help with once you moved onboard? Have you? Or have you gotten back into the shore side habit of one person doing most of the house/boat work? Keeping a boat clean, organized, and well-maintained and a crew fed takes everyone onboard. Rather than set yourself up for a mutiny, make sure you're doing your share. When we had kids we had a rule after a long passage: No one sits down until everyone is done working. So if Dave was still putzing on deck, changing Eurisko back to her harbor status, the other 4 of us had to find something to pick up, organize, clean, or otherwise improve until he was done. Even now that the boys are gone, if one of us is doing something for the boat, the other will get up and find something productive to do during that time. It's a sign of support and respect and helps keep our floating family happy.

If all this sounds like a boat is one big happy democracy, think again. When the anchor is up (or dragging) Eurisko becomes an autocracy. There's only room for one captain onboard. Since I certainly don't want the responsibility, Dave is it. Those who know me well know how difficult it is for me to unquestioningly take orders, but when Eurisko is a sailing machine instead of just a floating home, I've learned the benefits of keeping my mouth shut. Not everything is, or can afford to be, debatable. Sometimes the captain gives orders and you just do it, because he thinks it needs to be done. Afterwards I've been known to ask, "Why didn't we do it this way?" and he often admits that my way would have worked, but sometimes there's just no time for opinions, just action. Late one night, on watch alone, I stared at a set of lights for half an hour, completely unable to make any sense of them. Finally, I called Dave out of his warm pilot berth. "Sweetie, can you come look at this? I cannot figure this guy out." Dave poked his head out the companionway and immediately said, "TACK!" I didn't think, I didn't question, I didn't debate. I threw the tiller over, released the starboard genny sheet and hauled in the port sheet. By doing so I avoided a collision with a boat that was much smaller, and therefore closer, than I'd known. A fresh set of eyes, a captain who's not afraid of giving orders, and crew smart enough to follow them now, ask questions later, avoided a potential disaster.

It's worth the effort to keep life good on your boat.

But with the title of captain comes more responsibility than just running the boat and giving orders. How those orders are given can affect the length of your cruise. If time permits, Dave has learned to include a "please" with his orders. "Could you bring that genny in a touch, please?" But in stressful situations, after we snapped a chainplate while under full sail in way too much wind for example, he always reminds me that the "please" was implied. When he kicks into emergency mode, expecting him to be polite is like expecting an ER doctor to tiptoe around the nurses for fear of hurting their feelings. Do it, do it right, do it now. As crew, the trick is to understand that none of this is personal. But it's the captain's job to have previously created the atmosphere that ensures his crew knows that it's not personal.

Shouting orders just because you're captain will not endear you to anyone. In fact, it makes you look like an idiot. Before any tricky maneuver that requires cooperation (short taking out of an anchorage or through a cut, raising the drifter pole, sailing up to the dock) Dave always talks his crew through what he expects to happen and how everyone should react when the unexpected happens. If you do your job well, your crew can make you look good. But those captains who blame their crew for not reading their minds, who yell at them when the captain screws up, not only deteriorate the floating relationship, but make everyone within earshot shake their heads.

I've written both last week's and this week's post as if the man is the captain. I do this only because that's my personal experience, but I realize others have different situations. A divorcee I know decided she wanted to sail away. She set her business up to run without her, bought a boat, and while heading down the East Coast, met a man willing to share her dream. We met them in the Caribbean, months later, and he was always quick to let people know, "She's the captain. It's her boat. I'm just faithful crew." He came onto the sailing scene later than she and was perfectly willing to let her continue her role as captain. Like he had a choice.

Other couples we know alternate duties. On some passages he's the captain, on others that's her role. But regardless of the situation, there is only room for one captain onboard. Make sure everyone onboard knows who that person is and that orders are given and followed accordingly. And when shit hits the fan, it's no fair turning over the reins in the middle of a passage.

The most important key to happy relationships in general, floating ones in particular, is communication. Talk about things that bother you before they become a big deal. Let your crew know what you're planning and what alternatives there are. When you want opinions, ask for them. But know when not to offer unsolicited advice. Follow orders first, ask questions later.

A few adages that have helped us over the years and that have become Eurisko rules we picked up from others over the years. Don't start (or continue) an argument until you have both showered, eaten and slept. It's amazing how huge issues become laughable when you're clean, full and well-rested. Another is to never make life decisions out of sight of land. "If we ever make it to land, I'm never stepping foot on a boat again!" is commonly said, but rarely meant. My personal favorite, that I've avoided saying because of this rule is "I'm never sailing with you again!"

For the past two weeks I've used a lot of words to say what? Don't think life afloat will "fix" a broken relationship. This lifestyle change will not help a hurting partnership, but it sure can hurt a healthy one if you're not conscious of the potential problems that can arise. In the right situation, though, living and traveling on a small boat can bring you, your partner, and your kids closer than you ever imagined. Even if you don't like how they eat their carrots.

We all talk about the glories of sailing away and landlubbers continually tell us we're "living the dream." But what no one tends to talk about are the nightmares that go along with it. I was recently asked about any negative aspects of the lifestyle. MONDAY we'll share the bad and the ugly that we tolerate for the good.

Last day to use the 25% off coupon for paper versions of Simply Sailing, Eurisko Sails West: A Year in Panama, and My Boat Lists. Use this code at checkout: FB2YQCHZ

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