Thursday, April 26, 2007

Territorial Prerogatives

We met a couple a few years ago preparing to leave for a year long cruise to Mexico. I liked both of them. I didn’t like their kids, but then again, I frequently don’t even like my own. The lot of them are too noisy, too fast, too sassy, and they get in my way. But never mind, the point is I thought we would bond with this couple. Here were two people in the middle of their lives with three small children and dream to sail the world on a catamaran. Who could be a better match?

Well maybe someone who isn’t dragged aboard.

There is an entire genre of the sailing literature to address the spouse dragged aboard by her sailing husband. The alternative is to sip high balls on the deck overlooking the golf course with the golf widows, and frankly any sensible woman would rather rot in hell. So these women accede to the pressures and cajoling of their loving partners, leave behind all their worldly goods, and step on to the deck of {insert husband’s dream boat here}.

God help these women because nothing else can. The problem is that hubby’s dream boat is inevitably an uncomfortable speedy tub with a smelly head, no storage space and an oven that doesn’t work. They are expected to cook, clean, and apparently put out. Repeatedly. Isn’t that what every captain deserves after a hard day of sailing upwind in the Trades? Uh, no. Not on our boat. There’ll be no putting out until he does the dishes at least.

I thought our friends had it made. She must have had some influence, because they were sailing out of our marina in MY dream boat: a beautiful, luxury 41 foot catamaran with enough space to play basketball in the saloon and complete with a dreamy 10’ Walker Bay dinghy. I drooled when I stepped on that boat. I could feel saliva pooling and my heart rate increase. I wanted that boat. I lusted for that boat. It had room for laundry, two Lewmar winches on either side of the cockpit, and a vacuum head with macerator.

But as we toured their boat, I felt a troubling sensation in the pit of my stomach. It took me awhile before I could put my finger on it. They had owned this boat for over a year. They were leaving in four months. I could not see a single sign that she existed on the craft. Anywhere. There was no evidence of her presence. When the discussion drifted to boat systems – as it inevitably does in the cruising world – she fell silent or played with her children.

I tested my hypothesis with a leading question, “So, you’ve had her for awhile now. How’s the oven? We’ve got a similar one, and I’m wondering what kind of performance you’re getting?”

She laughed and replied, “Oh, I have no idea. We’ve never used it.”


The day before her husband left with the boat to ship it from Seattle down to San Francisco, she told me with delight, “I finally got into that sailing class I told you about!” The beginning sailing class. The class to begin. The first class. That class? The first class you take to learn how to sail. You’re leaving on a one year cruise of coastal Mexico in two weeks, and you’re just now enrolling in a sailing class?

I think she had a good time. They all returned alive. I understand that they basically spent their cruising season moving from marina to marina. Fortunately, yachtistas are a well cared for breed of migrating animal in Mexican cruising grounds. And let’s be clear, I believe they found a compromise that works for their boat and their needs. He has his boat and his cruise and his dream, and she lives on the dock. Even in Mexico.

Toast at the Helm
Toast at the Helm
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
But with this lesson in hand, I found myself doing three things immediately on delivery of our boat. First, I put pictures of the girls in the salon. Second, I ripped out every dog gamn deodorizer left by the former owner and burned Beanpod candles and incense for 2 days. Third, I started designing new curtains, cushion covers, and a bimini. In a fit of nesting – albeit in a floaty boaty sort of way – I scrubbed every bit of the interior, orange oiled every wood surface, and took apart both heads. I wasn’t satisfied that the boat was truly mine until I stood in manky bilge water and informed my captain that he needed to replace the water impeller before we lost the port engine.

As far as I’m concerned, you can be dragged aboard or you can piss on the tree and make your mark. It’s your territory, too.


Toast said...

Heh... I'm not the only one it turns out. On this same subject, a recent post from another fem sailor attending Strictly Sail:

Laureen said...

No, Toast, you are heck-and-gone not the only one! Thanks for linking to my blog.

I have been told flat-out that I won't be as good a sailor, because I am a small woman. As if that somehow matters in this age of leverage devices and indoor plumbing.

I laugh in their faces, and leave them in my fluffy pink wake, as me n' my multihull speed by. =)

Jody said...


What I can't even begin to imagine is how in the hell they survive? I mean, what happens when a tricky squall comes up and both hands are needed on deck?

I made my mark on our boat as soon as we bought her. The first damn thing I did was help my husband remove the chain backstay that was placed on the boat by a past owner who was a shrimper. We re-rigged it back to the original pulley system and it no longer looked like we needed a huge shrimping net trawling behind our 31ft sailing vessel.