25 July 2014

Shakedown Cruise Review: Relationships On Board

Background - When we decided to become full-time cruisers, rather than buy our "forever" boat and set off around the world, we took a different approach and moved aboard our "for now" boat in New Zealand for the 2013/14 season. We used it as an opportunity to do a shakedown cruise to discover what works and what doesn't for us in terms of the cruising lifestyle before we buy our next boat. This is the seventh in a series of posts on how it all went. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a post about relationships at sea. I tried to anticipate the types of challenges that might come up if we moved aboard a 26' sailboat together. I'm pretty sure 20 plus years of marriage doesn't really prepare you for something like this. But it sure did help. Here are a few of the things I learned about relationships on board during our time cruising in New Zealand.

1. Being the skipper can be stressful (and unfair).

Maybe we need to trade in pink and blue roles for violet ones?
I didn't fully realize how stressful living on a boat was for Scott at times until we moved back on land and he slept soundly through the night without worrying about our floating home. Because he was the skipper of our boat, he took responsibility for our safety, getting the boat from point A to point B and making sure the boat is in good working order. He was basically responsible the engine and everything "up above" and I took care of everything "down below" (like cooking, laundry, cleaning etc). 

Given the fact that Scott is much more experienced than I am when it comes to sailing, the division of  labor made sense at the time. But in reality, it just wasn't fair to Scott to have him be the sole skipper of our boat. I didn't feel like I was pulling my weight in terms of our relationship and my contribution onboard and he always felt like he always had to be on duty. On our next boat, we'll have to find a way to be co-skippers to balance things out a bit better.

2.  Sometimes when you're grumpy with each other, it's just the weather.

It's hard to sleep soundly when you're worried about dragging anchor.
Yes, there were times when we got grumpy with each other. Every couple has those moments (if they say they don't, they're probably lying). We did notice that we got grumpier with each other living on our boat, then we normally do on land. After talking about it, we realized that it wasn't each other that was making us grumpy, it was things outside of our control. Like not being able to sleep because of an annoying swell slamming your boat from side to side. Or being stuck in an anchorage or marina for days and days because of an ex-cyclone. Or staying up all night worried you're going to drag anchor in the middle of a gale. 

When you're sleep deprived and frustrated because things aren't going the way you want them to, sometimes you take it out on your partner. The trick we learned is to realize that it isn't us, it is the weather. And in the end, the weather always gets better and so do our attitudes.

3.  We really do learn differently. 
Math was never my strongest subject in school, but algebra seems like a breeze now compared to some of the stuff I've had to learn when it comes to sailing.
Scott knows more about sailing then I do, so he ended up trying to teach me things and help me practice new skills. The operative word here is "try". I wasn't always the best student and he wasn't always the best teacher - for each other, that is. I'm probably an amazing student for some teachers and Scott is probably an amazing teach for some students, but we have very different learning styles. He learns by watching people, listening to them explain how to do something and asking questions. The he tries it out (often nailing it the first time) and asks for feedback from people as to how he did. I have a more "internal" learning style - I like to read about something, understand the theory behind it, think about it, think about it some more and then maybe try it out in the real world by myself. 

You can imagine how this works when Scott tries to teach me something, like tying a knot. He shows me how to do it while explaining it, then expects me to try it out right then and there. Generally, I just stare at him blankly and then go down below to read about knot tying and think about it while eating a snack.

4.  We both like to travel and explore, but sometimes at different paces.

Where should we travel to next on our boat?
We already knew that we both like to travel and explore - we're both restless vagabonds at heart - and our time cruising in New Zealand affirmed this. However, we do operate at slightly different paces. Scott is a big fan of what he calls "guerrilla tourism". He likes to see as many places as he can and do as many things as he can when he visits someplace. He is a full-on type of traveler. I also like to see and do a lot, but I do require more rest stops and snacks than Scott does. 

So no surprise that when it came to cruising, sometimes I wanted to hang out in a particular anchorage for more than one day and just read a book in the cockpit. Fortunately, we've learned through the years to find the right balance between Scott's full-on mode and my slightly lazier mode.

5.  It's important to have fun together (and be silly). 

If you can get your husband to let you take a picture of him with a box on his head in honor of Boxing Day, then you know you have a keeper.

We wouldn't be married for this long if we didn't have fun together. Otherwise, what's the point? Living on a boat and cruising together can be stressful, so if you can't have fun together and do silly stuff, I don't think you're going to last very long. Overall, we had lots and lots of fun together cruising in New Zealand so we're hoping to get our next boat soon so we can continue our adventures on the water.

What lessons have you learned living with your partner 24/7 on your boat? 

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All images via The Graphics Fairy, except for the photo of Scott with a box on his head.


  1. Been going back through some of your older posts, Ellen - this one is pure gold! Nicki and I are in pretty similar shoes, and with the same differences in learning style. It does make for challenging moments!
    (PS - looking forward to finally meeting Scott some day - he sounds like a gem!)

    1. Wow - I kind of forgot about this post. It's kind of neat to go back and read what I was thinking at the time. Glad you liked it :-)

      Scott is a real gem - I wouldn't trade him even for a lifetime supply of chocolate chip cookies.


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