A Reluctant Voyager?

Lane Finley’s comment on John’s post, A Model T Offshore Voyaging Boat, got me thinking. I agree that some of the reasons women are reluctant to go cruising are those that Lane posits: seasickness, loneliness, inconvenience, discomfort…not to mention separation from children/grandchildren…But I’m wondering if there isn’t more to the issue than that. And, as I really don’t feel I can speak for anyone other than myself, I’m going to talk about my own struggles and hope that they will speak to those of other women too.

It’s Unfamiliar

I came to sailing in my mid-30s when I met John, a long-time sailor and voyager: he knew (almost!) everything about cruising, I knew nothing; I had to give up everything from my familiar lifestyle, including career, to take on John’s lifestyle; I removed myself from the support of friends and family to venture out on a long thin limb (and connections do get more tenuous when you’re so far apart and doing something that’s so foreign to them); and, as I’m sure is true for a number of other women, I jumped into the deep end of cruising instead of starting in the wading pool.

Giving up everything familiar and taking on this challenging lifestyle had major ramifications: it affected my self-esteem, my sense of myself as an independent and competent person, and produced feelings of insecurity (what if something happens to John? I gave up my support network and my ability to support myself to go out voyaging with him). Together with John, I’ve worked through a lot of these feelings over the last 15 years, but it hasn’t always been easy.

It’s Unnatural

That is one big part of it. Another is that sailing just doesn’t come naturally to me. Because I didn’t sail as a kid and because I wasn’t even an athlete when I was a kid (I was a piano bench potato!), it really really doesn’t come naturally to me. So I am constantly in a situation where I feel bad because I don’t have a drive to do this activity we are involved in (I dislike outboards; I refuse to dock the boat, which would be like parallel parking a semi before ever driving a car; I really really don’t like going to windward…). To constantly be faced with this “flaw” in my character doesn’t make me feel good about myself. And I realize that my ambivalence is hard on John, who loves to sail, which makes me feel even worse about it.

It’s Scary

Another thing is that I battle with anxiety and, I must admit, there are times when I wonder how long I will be able to continue to live a lifestyle that contributes in so many ways to this anxiety: the rough motion of going to windward, the noise and motion of the boat at anchor or at a dock in anything above 20 knots of breeze (I don’t sleep when it’s noisy and noise raises my anxiety level), the potential of heavy weather offshore, the potential of something happening to John when we’re way out there…the list goes on.

It’s Limiting

And, back to what Lane alluded to, how long before the urge to settle down somewhere where I can do things that I want to do but are hard to do when voyaging (like take regular yoga classes, join a reading group, take music lessons, or join a choir…) and where I can build a support network in case something happens to John, reaches critical mass?

It’s Also Great

And yet, on the other hand, I love living on Morgan’s Cloud; I can’t imagine sending John off on his own without me for passages and just arriving on the other end on a plane—I’d worry and miss him and be miserable, not to mention that it would feel like cheating!; I do like arriving at a new place to explore with new people to meet; and we have this wonderful moveable feast of friends just about anywhere we choose to go.

So, for now and for me, the positives outweigh the negatives. But I can see how one day that might change, and then John and I will be faced with the issue of how to deal with wanting radically different lifestyles (unless he decides to join the choir too!). And that’s a real hard one to deal with.

Get Naked

Well, I’ve gotten naked, anyone else out there want to too? Especially other women…I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Further Reading

 

 

{ 40 comments… add one }

  • John February 1, 2012, 10:54 am

    Lest you get the wrong idea about Phyllis’ skills, when the chips are down she always rises to the occasion. For example, when not once but twice, un-forecast storm-force winds necessitated maneuvering and anchoring while in Greenland this summer, Phyllis was calm, clear and competent. Further I have, over 50,000 miles of voyaging together, trusted her implicitly while I slept.

    She may be scared sometimes, but she is still the best first mate any skipper could wish for, and a wonderful partner in life too.

    Reply
    • Capt. Joy Sherman February 1, 2012, 12:39 pm

      What a great tribute to your life partner/first mate! Kudos to YOU.

      Reply
  • Walt @s/v Quick Enough February 1, 2012, 11:19 am

    This is one of – no- it is the best candid evaluation I have ever seen in print. Thank you for putting into print what I believe many of us face under the surface. I will show it to my ‘significant other’ You tow seem to be handling it well, at least for now. As I have neither John’s history or skills our solution may well be for me move the boat and have Sally join me at the destination.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 1, 2012, 12:39 pm

      Good luck Walt and Sally with working it out. It’s not an easy issue but we know many couples who have come up with compromises: he does the passages, alone or with crew, and she joins at the destination; they limit their passages to one overnight; etc. In our case, we sail for 6 to 8 months of the year and then stop for 4 to 6 months in a marina somewhere (London, UK one winter; Charleston, SC for two winters; Tromso, Norway for two winters) to let me catch my breath and recover from my PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder!).

      Reply
  • Dena February 1, 2012, 11:51 am

    I’d be interested in hearing about how these anxieties play out in real life. John addresses it to some degree in the first comment by saying that Phillis handles herself and the boat when the chips are down, but how does it feel? I’m thinking about the articles I’ve enjoyed so much, written by John, about taming the wimp within. If John has anxieties and deals with them to perform the necessaries and Phyllis has anxieties and deals with them to perform the necessaries…how are those two situations different? Do they differ only internally or is it behavioral as well? I guess refusing to dock is an example of these anxieties playing out differently.

    In general, though, I think a lot of wives who take the first mate role are undervaluing their contributions. There’s a t-shirt a friend had. It said, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels!” I know that you’re unlikely to wear heels on board, but how about cooking underway in a stuffy cabin while the captain enjoys the fresh air?

    My husband started sailing in his teens and, in his early twenties, was first mate on a 63′ schooner that sailed from Galveston, TX, through the Caribbean and down to Rio de Janiero and back. I met him ten years later, when I was 20, and revived his interest in sailing by being enthusiastic about the idea.

    Perhaps that dynamic made our experience very different from that of other couples – I was a driving force getting us onto the water, though I knew nothing in the beginning and he was an experienced sailor. Whatever the reason, I was committed to being able to single-hand if necessary, since there were so many terrible situations in which that might be necessary.

    Going into my sailing life figuring that I had to be so competent…well, it kept me from refusing any duties. It took me – honest to goodness – 10 years before I was comfortable backing into a slip. It’s also a large part of the reason why we have been sizing down on our boats since the first one. The first boat was a 50′ wooden ketch and I realized over the years it took to sail from Seattle north and then down to San Francisco that I would never be perfectly comfortable single-handing that boat. The Gulf 32 we took to Hawaii was a wonderful, decadent experience in comparison.

    When I make comments like the one on the Model T conversation, I’m not saying go small just because I heard that (from that couple…you know…last name starts with P…grin). It is mostly because there are limits to what this short-handed crew can wrestle.

    All of that leads me to the main thought I had when I started this (very long) comment. My major piece of advice is that adult women with no sailing experience should start in the same way that boys and young men usually start. We shouldn’t jump on the 28 ton ketch and try to learn berthing right away. We should get aboard a Laser or an Ideal 18 or a Sonar 23. A person learns so much by tossing those boats around a protected harbor or relatively calm bay.

    The first smaller, easy boat I got aboard was a Folkboat. That gorgeous design taught me more than I knew I needed to learn. I learned what it felt like to tack without losing way. I sailed into the dock. I heaved to so I could eat my sandwich in peace.

    So many maneuvers that were highly nerve-wracking on my big boat felt simple and obvious on the smaller boat. It changed the way I approached the whole experience. And this was 5 or 6 years into living aboard and making ocean passages.

    My insistence on being able to captain my vessel has resulted in some “two captain” problems, but not many and never anything possibly tragic. I’m taking a USCG Captain’s course right now so that I can supplement my book-learning and sailing experience, but also so that I have an official piece of paper that recognizes my accomplishments. (In the end, it’s to make me more marketable when we stop in port.)

    To end on a weak note – I can’t help with the limiting aspects. I’m a bit of a hermit, naturally. I join gyms but never take the classes. I keep in touch with family by email, but they know to expect gaps when I’m underway.

    It feels to me that losing James would leave me devastated and alone on this boat, but that I would continue to live aboard and sail. If there were too many memories to keep this boat, I would probably size down again. Perhaps I would look for a great deal on a Fisher 25 or a Pacific Seacraft Dana. Shrug. But I wouldn’t leave the water.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 1, 2012, 12:40 pm

      Way to go, Dena. I think it’s great that you are into sailing so wholeheartedly. However, there are several points I need to make in reply to your comment:
      1. if something happened to John, I doubt I would continue to sail and I definitely wouldn’t continue to live aboard. When we’re not sailing our boat, I don’t have any interest in sailing any other boat. Sailing, as I said in my post, isn’t something I feel driven to do. Obviously, you have that drive but I think there are many out there who don’t have it and it’s not something that can be faked. I’ve tried!
      2. being able to singlehand is not a requirement before going cruising; I wouldn’t want anyone to be discouraged from getting out there because they think they have to have your level of expertise. I have written about this in the past (see Further Reading under this post).
      3. John and I have often discussed that having a smaller boat could very well make it easier for me. However, this was the boat John had when we met, we’ve worked very hard to make her suitable for the type of cruising we do, she’s wonderful to live on, and she’s just the best oceangoing boat in the world. So how could we give her up?!
      Good luck with your USCG Captain’s certification.

      Reply
      • Dena February 1, 2012, 2:39 pm

        On your response #1, I know that my drive to travel by sail makes me a different case, and that’s why I said it’s a weak ending. There’s no forcing that, as you say, and it’s not any kind of “answer” to any of the difficulties you experience. I like to poke my oar in on the topic, though, so that the women who do love it won’t feel alone.

        On #2, I was unclear. I didn’t wait to cruise. I set off as fresh as a newborn babe, but with the intention of learning as much as possible. As I said, I’d been sailing for 10 years before I got comfortable with some aspects. I read your post, Learning While Cruising, and it seems that we agree on the learning method, if not the eventual aim. I very much enjoy reading your pieces, by the way. Well thought out and well stated feelings and arguments.

        And for #3, I think a new sailor could benefit from starting on small rental boats, regardless of what kind of boat they will spend most of their time on. I feel like I did it the hard way by starting so big, but I also agree that Morgan’s Cloud is a dreamboat, so to speak. *wink*

        This post really got me thinking, so I wrote a lot more on my own blog, with a lot more detail about the kinds of travails that accompanied my learning. Thanks for bringing this up in a way that is engaging, and I hope a lot more ladies share their experiences.

        Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:50 am

      Hi, again, Dena; I’ve been thinking about your questions re the differences in John’s anxiety and mine. I don’t really think there’s that much difference except in degree—we both experience anticipation anxiety prior to a passage or cruise, we both experience anxiety when the wind starts to blow harder, etc. I think the biggest differences are the level of threat or discomfort at which the anxiety kicks in (lower for me than for him, which makes sense based on our level of experience) and the amount of time it takes to get over the effects of the anxiety afterwards (longer for me than for him).

      Reply
  • RDE February 1, 2012, 5:38 pm

    About 15 years ago I was living aboard my Cape George Cutter in Port Townsend marina. Blowing 30+ out of the south— not unusual in the winter. Hear yelling– always a sure sign of entertainment to come. A new Sweden Yacht 41 is coming in parallel to the guest pier, wind full on the beam, hardly room to turn around thru the eye of the wind, one spot about 45′ long left on the pier. Upscale looking couple color coordinated with the boat. Wife driving, husband frantically yelling orders. She lines the boat up with the slot and lets the wind blow it sideways hard onto the dock with a little help from the rudder hard over and a judicious burst of throttle. Husband manages to tie the boat up, then comes back and stands behind the wheel hyperventilating. By this time the wife has heated coffee, poured a stiff shot of Scotch into it, and hands it to the husband who is just now starting to recover.

    Ran into them next day and congratulated the wife on her boat handling skills. “Oh, I’m too weak to hold the boat off the dock and move it around so my husband always has to do the docking.”

    Reply
  • Lee Ann February 2, 2012, 12:18 pm

    From another woman’s perspective, I have loved the water and sailing since I grew up on a lake in New England. Somehow in my teens I started dreaming about sailing bigger boats. I took ASA courses in my twenties and joined Philadelphia Sailing Club where I could learn and cruise during weekends on the Chesapeake and on longer trips around the world. Eventually, the Club considered me experienced enough to become a skipper. It took several more years before I was willing to “be in charge” on the weekends as part of my recreation since I was in charge of too many people and things during the week at work. The first time I skippered, I worried all weekend while things went well – still feeling inexperienced. Then, when the wind kicked up suddenly and the engine wouldn’t start, I went into the “skipper zone” and started issuing directions and getting the boat under control. I realized on reflecting on that incident that I did have what it takes to captain. After almost 30 years of experience, I feel very comfortable on a boat, but am always alert for the next unforeseen happening. Docking is never without anxiety, but you just have to turn it off and do what is necessary – as both Phyllis and Dena have mentioned.

    However, I felt I needed more experience and took the USCG captains course and became licensed as a 50 ton Master – Inland. Then I decided I needed “real” sailing experience and went offshore sailing with Offshore Passage Opportunities. Unfortunately, still being single, I had to go back to work after three passages from Newport to St. Martin and several other adventures including a Force 10 Gale before reaching Bermuda.

    I still am captaining for the Philadelphia Sailing Club as we head for a week in Grenada. My dream is to meet someone (male) that will want to go offshore cruising and will complement my skills with mechanical skills. I plan to retire and live on a boat one way or another, and many friends will join me, but cruising with a partner would be so much more fun!!!

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 10:45 am

      Hi, Lee Ann; I think you’ve taken the approach to learning to sail/cruise that works the best in terms of comfort and ability: start in small boats, get a lot of experience, and take it step by step up in size and challenge from there. It’s the approach we’re always advocating when people ask us how to get out there! It just didn’t work out that way for me, though it did for John. Good luck with your future plans.

      Reply
  • Westbrook February 2, 2012, 12:21 pm

    Phyllis–You are welcome to play our piano the next time you are here. It has just been tuned.
    Dena–You are ahead of me: after 60 years’ experience, I’m still not comfortable about backing a boat into a slip. Success rate (defining success as backing in on the first try without needing vigorously to fend off): about 70%.

    Reply
  • Lois February 2, 2012, 2:54 pm

    Hi Phyllis
    I am a female aged 59 and in my experience I think ladies come to sailing through two routes: men and madness.

    I am a madness lady. All the things that you have described as causing you anxiety have the opposite effect on me. I love the sounds of the wind howling through rigging and I have come to understand the language of my boat. When a sound seems odd, I know she is not right. I love the motion of my boat. It feels like a dance. I love the company of my boat which in many respects I prefer to the company of people. I believe in the union of boat and person in the Moitessier sense of boat-woman. You see, Phyllis, where the madness is revealed.

    For me, I feel fear, but am not afraid. I love being in every moment, despite the fear I feel. A lot of ladies I have met who have come to sail through men, would prefer not to be in many moments. For the mad ones, the scary moments are the growing moments. And of course there is always the company of the boat to compensate.

    I have met many ladies who have come to sailing through men. How I admire these ladies. It’s so much more difficult to endure the challenges of sailing and living on a boat for the love of a person. It’s easier for those who are lost to madness.

    Lois

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:49 am

      Hey, Lois; My landlubber family would say that I am mad to do what I do, for whatever reason I’m doing it!! Glad you love it. Cheers!

      Reply
  • Daria Blackwell February 2, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I truly appreciate Phyllis’ candor. I met many (mostly) women who expressed similar emotions. I wrote an article published in Lats & Atts called “The Darker Side of Cruising” because, although I was the one who dragged my husband into cruising, I learned that it wasn’t all idyllic. I do love cruising and being at sea. I do love the challenges. And I don’t mind discomfort.

    I have a Captain’s license and feel that both of us have to know how to do everything onboard (one does things better than another in various chores). We have co-written books, articles and conducted seminars and webinars. Still I felt like I needed to be more productive. Yet, when we got ashore, all I wanted to do was go back out there.

    What I have found is that, for me, the ideal is stints at sea alternating with stints on land. That way I never get complacent about either one.

    Thank for your candor Phyllis. A link to Women and Cruising would do a lot of good if you’d consider it.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 10:50 am

      Hi, Daria; I think that a balance between a land life and a sea life could work very well. The time on land gives you a break from the vigilance of living aboard and the time on board gives you a break from our consumer-based, star-oriented, money-crazed society (ooops, did my bias come out there?!). If we ever decide to downsize into a smaller, easier to commission/decommission boat, we might very well move to that arrangement. I’ll look at the Women and Cruising site. Thanks for the heads up.

      Reply
  • John February 2, 2012, 3:54 pm

    Hi All,
    OK, I need to jump in here. Phyllis did not come to sailing because of me. She came to sailing because she is a courageous person who has learned to manage her own fears so that they don’t prevent her from doing exciting and interesting things.

    It’s easy to be brave when you’re not scared, true courage is doing scary things and stepping off into the unknown in spite of your fears. She is way more courageous than I am. After all the sea is my element, I have been on it since I was a small child. It’s not an unknown to me, as it is to her.

    Her first experience on a sailboat was a 5 day gale-lashed double-handed early spring delivery from Bermuda to Maine. She took that initiation-by-fire on without any urging from me or even an invitation, it was her idea! Further, we were not romantically involved at the time. She had a comfortable established life and she made the decision to shake it up and go in search of adventure.

    Also, let’s keep in mind that the sailing she has done in the 15 years since then is, shall we say, a bit higher threat than general cruising.

    In short, she is not the little lady following her man. She is a partner on a cruising boat that has spent much of the last 15 years in some pretty scary places.

    And you know what? Fifteen years ago my courage-well, which has never been full to the brim, was getting pretty low. Bottom line, without Phyllis, I could not have cruised the places we have.
    I may be the Skipper (there can only be one), but she is at least a 50% partner in everything we have done and accomplished.

    One other example of Phyllis’ courage: this post! Talking about your fears, particularly to thousands of faceless people, is not easy. But Phyllis and I believe that one of the most important things we can do to promote offshore sailing is to be honest about our limitations and failings–if we can do it, anybody can.

    It’s all about an Attainable Adventure.

    Anybody else out there want to get naked about their fears? Come on, show a little courage.

    Reply
  • RDE February 2, 2012, 6:13 pm

    I hope nobody misunderstood the message I was trying to convey with my little vignette.

    Ladies, don’t underestimate yourselves! Not the first time where I’ve found that the woman who followed her man to sea is the calm and collected one who really should be called Captain, while the husband is the nervous Nellie who waits too long to reef and then wants to run to harbor across a breaking river bar.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 2, 2012, 7:08 pm

      No worries! Thanks for the clarification. I loved the picture of her calmly handing him the glass of whiskey-laced coffee while he slowly stopped trembling! That vignette could happen in either direction (me giving the mug to John or him giving it to me) on Morgan’s Cloud, depending on the situation!

      Reply
  • Hazel February 2, 2012, 7:49 pm

    Empathised with much in the article. My husband has sailed since school and introduced me to sailing as a work colleague. At this early stage it was easier, we even honeymooned for a month on a 20 foot gaffer (not including bowsprit). Now for me, however,it is a fear thing and quite simply, physically it is just hard work.

    I trust the boat (ovni 395), I trust my husband, but we sail for 2 – 3 months in the spring with our 2 children (now 6 and 9) and it is the mother in me who really struggles at times. Its the ‘what if’ questions (many of those voiced above) but with the added responsibility of 2 small boys.

    When the going gets tough, yes i can winch, yes i can helm, but afterwards, where my husband is exhilarated, I am exhausted. As a result my husband has to do the majority of the handling and our eldest and I do joint watches. Obviously there is a balancing – I cook more and do more of the home education that has to happen, but he would like me to do more of the sailing.

    And there are some great times and lovely sails and we all love the places we can get to, and over the last couple of years have clocked up a pretty impressive mileage for such a ‘weak’ crew.

    For my husband and i the challanges are different. He wants to sail, further, longer, more adventurous. Me, island hoping suits, shorter passages and many shore opportunities for the small creatures. He is a natural gypsy whereas I am much more of a homing pigeon. He loves the boat 52 weeks a year, I love it when in boat mode and onboard. The rest of the time I am too busy with everyday life and my more domestic hobbies to think much about it.

    One solution to some of the challanges, is an extra pair of hands and this has worked well on longer crossings as they can concentrate on the sailing and I can concentrate on the children. but ultimately it is about compromise.

    For this year, it is back to the Western Isles and a friend will help my husband take the boat north. Last year we started in Chichester and sailed all the way, via Lands End and Ireland, and then south again to Falmouth. This year we want to have more ‘island’ time as that is good for all of us.

    Hoping for fine weather and happy sailing.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:07 am

      Hi, Hazel; Thank you so much for sharing your challenges and compromises. I totally relate to your comment that it used to be easier but that it has become harder over the years. John has often said, “But I can remember that in the first few years you weren’t at all anxious. What happened?” I think it’s because I’ve experienced a lot more and so know more about what can go wrong (with the weather and with boat systems); I have put much more of myself into the boat and our relationship, which means I feel much more responsible; and I realize now that this is, at least for now, my life–it’s not a vacation!
      I can also relate to the exhilaration/exhaustion dichotomy! I think that occurs because sailing is just so natural for John, he’s been doing it for so long, that it comes easier for him in many ways. When I’m on watch and having to deal with sailing the boat, I’m also second-guessing everything I’m doing, I’m planning ahead for what I should do if such and such should happen, agonizing about when and if I should wake him to help out (my internal voice is saying I’ve been doing this long enough that I shouldn’t have to wake him…), etc. That is a lot more exhausting than just sailing the boat!
      Then add kids…I think you’re doing amazing! And you’re not exactly sailing in an easy place. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for good weather in the Western Isles this spring (somewhere we hope to spend time in the next few years).

      Reply
      • Hazel February 3, 2012, 1:30 pm

        Hi Phyllis

        thank you for your lovely reply. I can only say good things about the western Isles. We all loved them. The boys love being able to anchor and go ashore and have an island, hopefully with ruins al to ourselves. the eldest rows the dinghy around in quiet lochs and anchorages and the small one can now paddle his own canoe. His delight at acquiring this skill last year was such a pleasure. Ben, the eldest, is learning his navigation markers, taking compass bearings and helms. Josh the small one is a great look out and loves to helm in quiet water – very funny as has to stand on the seat to see over the wheel. His favourite thing, having and Ovni, is to dry out, something we did lots of when on the East Coast 2 years ago – sand castle building right beside the boat, before breakfast! They both keep me company on watches. We read loads as there is nothing to get in the way and eat every meal together. These are the things take make it worth it and are, off course, one of the big attractions of this way of life. It is an antedote to the business of regular living.
        For this year, we have a long list of recommended anchorages (not all by distilleries!), either that we didn’t get there last year or that other sailors have passed on. What I can say is that they are very beautiful, peaceful and definitely worth the effort. I have hundreds of pictures if you ever want to look. When away we post lots on facebook and the class teachers show them to the other children as they plot our route. We like to challange them with the most obscure place names possible :)

        Reply
  • Christina Watkins February 2, 2012, 8:27 pm

    Gosh Phyllis, I am full of admiration for your candor…if you, with 15 years of some extreme cruising adventures can “get naked”…you truly give us sailing partners permission to speak. You touched on many salient points, but I will just run with the “anxiety-thing” a bit:

    In 2004, just before George and I began the cruising segment of our life together, we addressed some medical and dental stuff just to get it out of the way. I had some crowns done that I had been putting off. In 2007 some of them had seriously cracked and 2009 found me getting broken crowns patched and replaced. Why, my Newport, RI, dentist asked me, do you grind/clench your teeth so much?? “Because I’m terrified out there sometimes”…my answer slipped out. Maybe terrified was a bit extreme and “anxious” would have been more appropriate…nevermind, he got the point as he is a sailor himself.

    Dental bills notwithstanding, what I want to say is that anxiety is a healthy response to being in a potentially hostile environment. Respecting the elements (i.e. weather, water, and combinations of those two) causes one to be thoughtful, prepared, and circumspect in critical situations. Fear is O.K. There is one captain on our boat and one first mate and together we tend to err on the side of caution in planning passages…but “stuff happens” sometimes. A tropical storm suddenly takes a wild tack; or we find ourselves in serious shipping traffic in a dense fog; or a halyard parts in heavy weather…you follow my drift. These can, and often are, the stuff of anxiety…terror, even…but dealing with these situations as a team is thrilling! No really, I mean it…and I speak as the less-experienced member of that team. Where George brings a lifetime of sailing skills…I come with enthusiasm, love of the sea, respect for our boat, and willingness to do what is asked of me by my captain.

    To not acknowledge one’s fears is to invite danger…thank you for your provocative blog, Phyllis. And, uh, do you think you could maybe recommend an affordable dental insurance plan?

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:27 am

      Hey, Christina; Sorry, no tips on dental plans! But I do agree that getting through the hair-raising situations as a result of team work is actually, as you say, a thrilling thing. I can remember how close I felt to John during the intensity of the science cruise this summer (even though, I’d like to point out, it was his idea in the first place!) and the sense of accomplishment we both felt from managing all the challenges in a competent way (most of the time). I also agree that fear is important as a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, the comfort of our automobiles means we don’t feel fear on the highways, where we really should be scared! And the discomfort of being on a boat seems to bring out the fear more than it should, based on the actual danger involved. I guess the trick is in balancing the level of fear (anxiety) with the actual level of threat–something I’m working on doing better!

      Reply
  • Jim Ferguson February 2, 2012, 9:14 pm

    Lot’s of great comments and courageous partnerships, let me just add a quote from John Fischer, “Two kinds of women take to the sea — those who like it and those who fear to be left behind.” My wonderful wife Kathy’s been with me for 32 years of living aboard and long-range cruising and I’m so happy she “likes it.”

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:29 am

      Excellent! John and I are hoping for 32 years–only 17 to go! Fair winds!

      Reply
  • flax hermes February 2, 2012, 9:15 pm

    I spent some time in the past teaching for a sailing school for women.
    Quite a lot of the women loved sailing and wanted to increase their skills.
    A significant number were under a lot of pressure because they felt if they didn’t learn to “enjoy” sailing they would lose their husbands/partners.
    Another group was totally intimidated , often because their husband/partner was incompetent and made the experience miserable or even dangerous.
    One 3-day course was almost entirely made up of women who had spent years voyaging on sailboats (way longer than me) but had never even raised the main and realized that they and their husbands were getting older and if they wanted to continue sailing they had better learn how to handle the boat in case of an emergency (often voiced as fear of heart attack).

    So I guess my point is there are many reasons why women have issues about sailing/cruising. And it’s not all grandchildren and cooking.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:39 am

      Great to hear from you, Flax. I’m sure your wealth of experience dealing with the issues of handling a sailboat (a large boat, singlehanded) went a long way towards helping all your students feel more comfortable on board. I’d have loved to have had you as an instructor (though I’ve been lucky in that John is a great teacher). And, yeah, I’m still pulled to a land life at times and I don’t have children or grandchildren and John does at least 50% of the cooking!

      Reply
  • richard February 3, 2012, 8:14 am

    another possible discouraging factor is the natural tendency of friends and family members to dissuade us from our adventures for numerous reasons, but the real reason, as i’ve heard it from lin pardey and believe it to be true, is that they are simply jealous of our lifestyle and secretly wish they had the gumption to do it themselves…as they don’t then they subconsiously want us to forego our adventures so they can peacefully go back to settling for their conventionally domestic lifestyles…richard in tampa bay (m/v caviu’s skipper, formerly s/v sidra’s skipper)

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 3, 2012, 11:45 am

      Hi, Richard; I think you are so right. One of the most common and often the initial question I’m asked when people find out what we do is “Aren’t you scared out there?” I’m so relieved when the response is “Man, that’s so cool. What’s it like?” With the first response I tense up and start thinking about all the scary parts instead of focusing on the great and exciting and wonderful aspects. And our friends and family have, for most of us, a strong influence on what we do. It’s not easy to defy that pull back to a life they’re familiar with, supportive of, and not threatened by.

      Reply
  • John February 4, 2012, 11:26 am

    Oops, I just made an error:

    We get about 150 spam comments a day. Almost all of them are automatically caught by the very effective spam filter we use. And that same filter almost never marks a real comment as spam.

    But this morning as I was clearing out the spam filter, a split second after I hit the clear button, I think I saw a real comment that I had missed, and it’s gone for ever now.

    If that comment was yours, I’m very sorry, and, if you could re-post it, I will be more careful next time.

    Reply
  • Dora February 4, 2012, 11:49 am

    Phyllis, Thank you so much for your candid post. We are now 16 months out and I still feel “bad” for not loving our more “bumpy” passages, tying knots, getting seasick (before discovering stugeron), going to windward and not loving the physics of sailing (tacking) as much as my husband does. Luckily I love the midnight watches and just about everything else about living aboard our Westsail 42, Windrifter. A friend of mine who recently published an ebook on Amazon – Harts at Sea : Sailing to Windward – told a great story that when her then fiancé said “I sail and all my friends sail,” she said I can learn. But when he told her that someday he wanted to go sailing full-time “she cried.” Now 20 years later, and eight years of living aboard in Maine (yep winters too) she is an amazing sailor and totally committed to their shared cruising lifestyle. I am so inspired by your comments, especially after following your blog for several years – that the same issues come up for even those who really goes “out there” and that in time one find ways to overcome them or at least enjoy the ride. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 4, 2012, 3:42 pm

      Hi, Dora; Great to hear from you. I guess there are good things and not-so-good things about everything we do and it’s all about focusing on those activities where the good outweighs the not-so-good. I’m glad that for you, as well as for me so far, the good in the cruising life is still in the lead! Thanks for the heads up about your friend’s book. I look forward to reading it. Smooth sailing!

      Reply
  • Dave February 4, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Being a member of the less sensitive sex and a life long sailing enthusiast, I will leave the getting naked stuff to the others. However, having recently stood watches with Phyllis for several weeks crossing the Labrador Sea and up the coast of Greenland, I am uniquely qualified to discuss my observations at sea. Any misgivings or lack of confidence were not perceptible. I found Phyllis to be supremely capable and enthusiastic. Like all good sailors, she was totally in tune with the sounds and feel of Morgan’s Cloud. Unlike many of us, she was also amazingly aware of and enthusiastic about the unique wildlife. While endlessly staring into the fog looking for ice on watch, Phyllis would suddenly say something like “Wow, that was amazing. Did you see that wild eyed, split tailed, red bellied, Greenlandic pelagic honey badger? Whether I had or not (usually not) she would then launch into a detailed lecture on the indigenous wildlife. One could not ask for a better shipmate.
    I have complete confidence in Phyllis’s seamanship and sailing abilities and would stand watch with her again any time, any place.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 4, 2012, 3:45 pm

      Well, I am a member of the more sensitive sex and so I’ll admit that your lovely comment brought a tear to my eye! I also really enjoyed doing watches with you–The A Team rules! (A wild eyed, split tailed,…? I’d love to see one of those! I’ll be keeping an eye out!) Here’s looking forward to our next watch together!

      Reply
  • Brigid June 13, 2012, 5:25 am

    Thank you for the post.
    I came across this post randomly, looking up something about a marina.
    I totally resonated with it. I felt happy to read it.
    I feel similar on so many levels, although, my situation/experience is different. (Aren’t all of ours’?)
    I first came to sailing when I was 21, and off on an adventure across the U.S. (coming from Oregon.) I found myself in Key West, as the first mate on a charter sail boat, taking people out snorkeling and diving. I had pretty much never really been on boats, or even ever been out over my head in the ocean, being somewhat terrified of that prospect. I found myself then, all of a sudden, miles off shore, having to go snorkling, and diving (it doesn’t look too well if the first mate is afraid of water), and sometimes sailing the boat. All with an alcoholic captain, who was though, a good sailor.
    I never got sea sick. I could eat sandwiches down below while passengers threw up on deck. I made myself overcome the fear of diving. I learned what it felt like to sail the boat with a stiff but giving breeze, and know the sails through the wind on your skin. As I also slept on boats, I learned what it felt like to not set foot on land for a few days at a time.
    But, I was always terrified of strong winds. In fact, I preferred to go out in storms, so we could motor. That, or no wind at all. I would wake up praying for no wind. Maybe partly because of a drunk captain yelling at me.
    After all that though, I had it in my head that I wanted to cross an ocean by boat. That something human in me wouldn’t be met until I did.
    I sailed with a friend, several years later, when she was taking lessons, and the act of heeling over didn’t terrify me quite so much.
    I still haven’t sailed across an ocean, and I am still scared to do so.

    But, I am now living on a boat. I have been for two and a half years. My Partner and I came down the Mississippi and a few other rivers on it, with an outboard engine, with the intention of finishing it in a warmer climate. It is a boat he has been building from scratch for 30 plus years.
    So, I know we can handle rivers together, and I know myself, that I can handle intense moments, and that generally I am scared to do certain things (like driving a car) until I learn to do it.
    The boating thing was not something I was averse to at all, but the similarity to your story, and other womens’ stories, is that my fear/anxiety, is wrapped up in it being *his* boat, his voyage, his captainship. That he has built the boat, including felling trees for it, and milling the wood, and boiling and shaping it in tar. It is a fairly big boat…40 ft, named after his mother and daughter.
    There is the fear of damaging it.
    Of not being as much a part of it as he is, because he built it.
    So, all the fears I would have anway, such as whether or not I can really handle storms at sea, being faced with my own flaws, and mainly I think, just rough weather, (along with the wind drives me crazy after awhile), are compounded by the feeling of being unequal in the boat. Because I didn’t build it.
    He doesnt have more sailing experience than me per say, but he does with boats in general.
    Somehow though, we are still weathering all those storms, of still living on the boat, still trying to get it finished, while living in such a way that not many people “get”.
    As you said…
    “it affected my self-esteem, my sense of myself as an independent and competent person, and produced feelings of insecurity (what if something happens to John? I gave up my support network and my ability to support myself to go out voyaging with him).”
    I have those same feelings.
    Not for all, but in part, because of our different relationship to the boat. If it was “My boat”, I might feel differently (though I would still be afraid of rough weather). I dont think I’m afraid to dock my own boat, ….but someone else’s?
    You are right, no matter what the scenario, it is not always easy.
    I do know, from coming down the rivers, and other experiences, I am always ready when I need to be.
    So, I don’t fell I had to be dragged to sea by a man, but in a way, I still was.
    I think the main fear , at least for me, is being one’s own captain (or the fear of *not* being ones own captain), which implies so many different things.

    Reply
    • Brigid June 13, 2012, 5:40 am

      Part of what I meant to say in all of that, is the feeling, or fear, that if we feel we are doing it for someone else, then we worry more about what we are giving up, or worry more about our shortcomings, then when we are the initiators’.
      I think we are tempted much more to give in to our fears in that scenario.
      I also think it is completely undue, for couples to continue with the ‘captain’, ‘first mate’ roles. Unless they change the role periodically. Because the Captain generally is the ultimate authority, and for liveaboard couples, that just feels so undermining, to someone, generally the woman.

      Reply
      • Phyllis June 13, 2012, 7:59 am

        Thank you so much, Brigid, for your insightful comments.

        I think you hit the nail on the head about different relationships to the boat having a big effect on anxiety levels. I had not thought of that before. Initially, I was terrified of hurting the boat that meant so much to John and that he had so much invested in. I have now put a lot of sweat, blood (and a few tears) into the boat myself and so that unequal relationship (to the boat) has balanced out over the years. So now I’m terrified of hurting the boat that we both have so much invested in!

        Another thing that you mentioned that I hadn’t really clearly thought of before in quite the way you stated it, is that because John was the initiator of our lifestyle, that sets up a certain relationship balance that is hard to change. Initially I just went where John said, when John said, because I didn’t have any knowledge or experience to add to the discussion. My only recourse was to pull back when I got anxious. Now we discuss our plans and I feel confident enough to express reservations if I have them (it may just be that I’m not feeling up to an overnight right then–not anything to do with danger, as John is very conservative about when we go and in what conditions). And so my anxiety levels have gone down as I feel I have some control over the outcome.

        But I do have to admit that I am happy for John to be the skipper. He has the experience and the personality to do a great job of it. I have different skills and interests and it works out great since between us we manage to do all that needs to be done (except polishing the stainless!). I actually don’t feel that is undermining for me anymore, since I have built competence in other areas of the voyaging life. But every crew has to work out that balance for themselves.

        Good luck with fulfilling your dream of crossing an ocean and kudos to you for continuing to voyage despite your anxiety. As John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death–and saddling up anyway”.

        Reply
  • Brigid June 14, 2012, 3:41 am

    Yes, Phyllis,

    I agree with you. It is up to each couple, and each person, to determine “roles”, (or a lack there of.) And sometimes that balance is so hard to achieve.
    There are so many pressures in the world, I find it a wonder that any couple manages to last at this point.
    A boat might be the best place to try it.
    Each person, at least when under way, has to acknowledge, every other person on the boat (even, and especially if it is only two), for their strengths and weakness’.
    You cant escape certain truths, confined, on a boat, moving on the water.
    And I dont agree persay, that humas are un-natural to the water. Most animals take to the water.
    I think we are just too used to land.

    Reply
    • Brigid June 14, 2012, 3:52 am

      By the way,
      I didn’t mean that you said it is un-natural for humans to live on the water…just that other people say that.
      Again, I appreciate everything you have to say.
      I just wish women got as much clout being on a boat as their men do. It seems that unless she is on the boat by herself, she falls into the shadows.
      That to me is part of what is tough about being a couple, is weathering pressure from world standing, and why it is so important for the couple (and the self to do so), to ackowledge each other.
      Again, thank you Phyllis.

      Reply

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