Saturday, January 12, 2013

His, Hers, and Theirs

I am holding in my hands the Jabsco replacement kit for our toilet -- which in the nautical world we call a 'head'. The story of how yachties came to call the crapper a head is just gross. Let's not go into it today. The kit looks nothing like a toilet or even parts of a toilet. It actually appears that a dog ate a box of Legos seasoned with a bicycle tire and vomited them back up again. Fortunately, it comes with a sheet of instructions.

I believe firmly in the principle of RTFM (read the f*ing manual). For many years, I wrote manuals for a living. I figure I have a vested interest in devoting at least a modicum of my time to ensuring the gainful employment of my professional peers. However, I immediately note something missing in the user guide for the Jabsco.

"I don't see where in this little booklet it says, 'Make your wife do it'", I inform my husband and captain.

DrC glances up from his latest multi-millionaire dollar investment in Nigel Calder's editorial future and reminds me, "You did say we should divide up responsibility for the systems on the boat, Toast. You agreed plumbing would be yours."

"Yeah," I protest, "but I meant the sink, the water pumps, maybe the bilges..." I trail off weakly as really there is no getting around the salient point. The toilet is the very definition of plumbing. Muttering darkly, I spend the next hour more or less covering myself, the port head, and every tool we own in shit. Literally.

And so we learn our jobs on the boat.

While Don Quixote has a very firm policy of cross-training, it is also true that virtually all jobs fall into three categories: his, hers, and theirs. This division of labour evolved over time and not without a few rather heated discussions. And despite other more forward thinking and 21st century cruisers on the Raft Up rolls and our family's otherwise liberal to point of absurdity politics, the truth is that Don Quixote assignments have a misogynist, old school feel with the macho tasks firmly in my husband's grasp while I tackle the girly chores.

On the the hand, the boating world is an arduous and oft-times unforgiving one. It makes sense to split tasks in the most efficient way policy. In other words, sometimes you need a guy to man-hand something. Sometimes you need a gal to finesse it. And it is always easier to have the person work on a system who has a talent, an interest or a personal vested investment in its success or failure.

DrC is essentially all things mechanical; He supplies water, power, and motion to the boat. I am all things organisational; I do the navigation, provisioning, and scheduling. He makes sure things work; I make sure we have all the right things. The girls keep all the things clean. To be fair, they also get all the things dirty in the first place.

But there are notable exceptions. As mentioned, I do the plumbing. I also seem to gradually be taking over the lighting for reasons that escapes me. We negotiate the weather, routing, and overall itinerary. I am SSB and radio-girl, finances, insurance and visas. DrC is rigging, haul out, and diesel maintenance. We all haul stuff, wash stuff, rig stuff, and move stuff. We squeeze and pull and scrub and polish stuff. The kids never got paid a dime until we landed in New Zealand. Now we pay them to do major maintenance tasks that we would otherwise hire someone to complete, such as end-to-end wax job or revarnishing the salon wood.

Technically, there is another category of work: expensive guy jobs. The expensive guy really needs to visit our boat. Maintenance takes you only so far. At some point, he, she and they can't fix it. Someone with special skills, magic hands, and a box of insanely pricey technical toys must come make a new one. A better one.

So as I stand in front of the starboard head with a second Jabsco maintenance kit in my hand, I can't help but ask DrC plaintively, "Are you sure there isn't such a thing as a boat plumber guy?"

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January's Raft-Up Writers

The topic this month is allocation of labour. We all have different strategies to divvy up chores, responsibilities, and worries. If you haven't already subscribed to these authors, I encourage you to explore the excellent writing my fellows in Raft-Up:

4 Stacey
5 Steph
7 Behan
8 Diane
9 Jessica
10 Lynn
11 Verena
12 Toast
14 Ean
15 Dana