Which do you think would be more stressful on a marriage?
□ 1. Selling your home and nearly all of your belongings; moving most of the rest, including an 85- pound Black Labrador, aboard a new-to-you 47-foot boat; and living aboard, year-round, in Maine for 8 years.
□ 2. Cutting the dock lines, leaving Maine, and setting sail for a Cruise of Indefinite Length in that same boat and with that same spouse. (We lost Jake, the Lab two years prior to setting sail.)
AT RIGHT: Our former home.
If you thought as I did that moving aboard, and living on the dock through eight Maine winters would be more stressful than living on the hook on a familiar and loved boat, with a familiar and loved spouse -- you’d be wrong. The difference is the marketing phrase: 24/7. There is comfort in that phrase if you’re talking about convenience stores and emergency rooms -- not so much if you’re talking about life on board with one’s beloved spouse. Trust me.
ABOVE: One winter on the docks.
BELOW: On the hook in the Bahamas. (Yes, I am aware that I have nothing to complain about.)
Much of my blog during our first year as cruisers focused on two issues: Boat Projects and Our Relationship. Both issues could only be kept in perspective through humor and love, and humor may have been the more important of the two. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary the year we left Maine, and I believe that we fought more during our 26th year of married life than we had in all of the prior years. I tried to explain this to a couple from our yacht club back home who met up with us a few months into our second year as cruisers. They took a one-year sabbatical, sailing down from Maine and making it as far south as Guadeloupe, before heading back home. When we last talked, they said that they were glad to have done it, but that they weren’t ever going to cruise full time. I tried to tell them that the first year was the worst, and told them how much better things were in Year Two. It’s true. We still undertake planned and unexpected boat projects, but not to the extent that we encountered in our first year at sea. And we still have some disagreements, but they are much fewer and farther between than the epic fights of our first year. Good thing, or I’d have had to kill him. (Just kidding. Violence never occurred to me. Really.)
My sweetie, EW , and I moved aboard our 47-foot Cheoy Lee cutter in May of 2002. We had a five year plan, during which we would live aboard year-round, on a dock in Maine, while we worked to prepare the boat and our finances for the Cruise of Indefinite Length. Five years turned into eight years of sailing on weekends and vacations in the summer, and actually enjoying the challenges of Maine winters: northeasters, ice, record-breaking tides, sleet and snow, breaking docks, and living under shrink wrap. When we first lived aboard on the dock, EW would set off every morning for a 45 minute commute to his office up the coast, and I would depart a bit later for my 10 minute commute to an office just across the river. Life was certainly more interesting than it had been living like normal people do, but we never experienced what we called the “Oh. My. God!” moment, when one or the other of us would realize that we had made a big, huge mistake. We, and our black lab, Jake, took to living on the water with good humor, mostly realistic expectations, and the willingness to “get her done”. In the winter, EW schlepped fuel down in jugs, we worked with our neighbors on Saturdays to get water via hoses lying on the bottom of the bay, hosted parties with the other live-aboards, and organized storm procedures. It was a great neighborhood, and our marriage thrived. Sure, we still had moments of discord, but that was no different than when we lived as normal people do in a home on land.
In fact, the move from home to boat was only a move of one mile from our home of 15 years to a marina in the same town. We voted in the same place, shopped in the same grocery stores, ate in the same restaurants, and participated in life in southern Maine much as we had before. We no longer could host our large Thanksgiving celebrations, but were exempt from hosting the much larger family Christmas party. Life was good, and we were working together toward a ginormous goal -- leaving our jobs, setting sail, traveling to distant shores, and living on the hook -- just the two of us, together -- twenty-four/seven. How romantic!
Not so much.
Before we even left Maine, I was shocked to discover that our future life at sea wouldn’t always one of romantic harmony. In the spring of 2010, five months before our planned departure, we opted to save money and “practice” by leaving the dock and taking a mooring near EW’s Yacht Brokerage office, forty-five minutes north of Portland. For the prior five years, I had been working as a consultant, with an office on the boat, and could fairly easily work from Brunswick as I finished my last client obligations. EW would commute to work by dinghy, giving him more time to tackle a boat project in the evening. He was delighted. As was I, until he began to come home for lunch - in my office! I would be working on the laptop, or talking on the phone and he’d clamber aboard, bang around in the galley, and sit down at the other end of the dinette, munching and crunching on a sandwich and chips. I was chagrined to discover that I resented his presence, and a bit appalled when I realized that this would be my life -- this invasion of my space. This lack of control of when lunch occurred, this lack of alone time, and this togetherness was what we had been working towards for the past eight years!
I handled it by writing a blog post in which I confessed one of my hidden quirks. I thought it was a funny post that poked one of my foibles. When EW read it, his feelings were hurt. “You mean you don’t want me to have lunch with you?” Well, that wasn’t the message I had intended, but truly I didn’t want him to come home for lunch every day. However, this break was important to him, so I adapted. Some days I worked off the boat at an Internet café, and when I did work from home, I broke for lunch whenever EW arrived.
Over the next year, we worked out many other things - most with humor and compromise, but more often than I would like to admit there were harsh words and tears before the humor. Still, we never had the “Oh. My. God!” moment at sea, either. This living on the water is an excellent lifestyle for us. Here’s how we make it work:
1. We apologize more often and more quickly. We still may snap or snark at each other, but we take it back or say “I’m sorry” and move on, usually within minutes.
2. We’ve forgiven each other for old news and past issues.
3. We each have embraced the opportunity to develop new passions, and fully support each other in those activities. EW has his music and I have my writing. I never tire of listening to him practice and can enjoy endless repetitions of the same song or chorus while writing or reading. When he participates in an Open Mike Night or Music Jam, I almost always attend, take photos, and proudly act as his “Band Aide”. I write for my blog, have self-published a book about our first year at sea, and have written a number of magazine articles. EW edits, praises, gives me the time and space to write, brags about me often, and -- most important -- cheerfully accepts his role as “The Topic”.
4. We find a few ways to each have some alone time on the boat. I may go grocery shopping alone, or play dominoes in Trinidad or Grenada, or meet with other cruising ladies for a walk or day trip. EW will go to another boat to practice music or help with a project, take the local bus to seek parts for something, or even participate in a poker night. What the one left does aboard isn’t relevant. We may read, watch a movie, make a SKYPE call, or write or play music. We may actually tackle a boat project. A little time alone on the boat is precious to each of us.
5. We love to laugh, and can easily laugh at ourselves. For us, this makes this 24/7 lifestyle work.
Instead of the “Oh. My. God! What have we done?” moment. Our life is full of gratitude and wonder that we are able to live aboard and fully embrace and enjoy this lifestyle. As we often say when sitting in the cockpit at sunset, “This does not suck.”
ABOVE: 2011 in St. Lucia
AT LEFT: 2011 26th Wedding Anniversary, St. Lucia
Finally, this is my first post for Raft-Up, a site that offers boating bloggers the opportunity to blog about a particular topic each month. This month's topic is Relationships at Sea, one of my favorites. For other takes on this topic, check out Raft-Up.