Lessons Learned Under Crisis
Living Aboard a Sailboat and Winter Dock Walking

Teaching Your Wife/Husband to Sail and Other Secrets of a Long Marriage

On Friday, my wonderful husband delivered a used 17 foot O'Day "Day Sailer" to me at Great Island Boatyard in Harpswell. I am delighted, thrilled, and acting like a kid with a new toy. 

As I write this I am on La Luna, our floating home working and wondering if there is enough wind in Quahog Bay to take Selene for a sail. Since I will not be in Quahog Bay today, the question is moot, but I do want to sail my boat. 

In a normal summer (one with decent weather and a husband who didn't spend July battling cellulitis) we sail/motor to Great Island Boatyard every Thursday or Friday and return to South Portland for the work week on Sunday evening. As a Yacht Broker, Stew works all of Friday most of Saturday and a bit on Sunday, so I am left to my own devices in an area with no cell phone coverage and limited Wifi on the mooring. Last summer Stew (EW - to those who follow @BarbAtSea on Twitter) was gifted with a small sailing dinghy really suitable for one child  or small person. She had one sail, and did not point well, but I had a ball sailing that boat around the bay. 

This weekend Stew purchased the 17 foot boat that can easily take three adult women (Woot) and that I can also sail alone. Unlike the smaller dinghy sailboat, this one has a main and a jib, and a small cuddy cabin to keep things relatively dry. She sails much faster, points to windward better, and is much more responsive than the dinghy sailboat. I will be able to practice maneuvers that will come in handy as we sail "La Luna" to more distant ports. I've named her "Selene" as in goddess of the moon to show that she respects the queen of our fleet, "La Luna". I spent most of Saturday cleaning her, and running down the few parts I needed. EW fixed one broken spreader - he is talented like that - between selling boats and listing boats and showing boats. 

That afternoon, we took her for a short sail and discovered the centerboard wouldn't come down. We fixed that for the season and called it a day. On Sunday, we took the inflatable to shore, got a newspaper, towed Selene back to the mooring in the outer harbor and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast. Stew then went to the office while I puttered and waited for the wind to fill in. Finally, La Luna's flag was fluttering to indicate that we had wind, and I set sail on Selene. Once moving through the water, I called Stew on the marine radio to let him know. He was done with work and ready for a sail, so I stayed in the vicinity until he was ready to join me. 

I love Stew. We have been married for 24 years and I want to stay married to him for at least 51 more. He is welcome on Selene whenever I am not sailing with women friends. (With all of this build up you know what's coming, right?) Yep. We had "a moment". 

I need to learn some things on my own. I don't do well with being told stuff and not being able to try it myself, without interference. Except for one marginal sailing class on a Sunfish 25 years ago, everything I have learned about sailing I learned from my husband. There are many sailing programs and classes just for women for a reason. Spouses (of either gender) don't let spouses make mistakes and learn from them. We prod, we teach, we poke, we gently remind, point out, correct -- we interfere. I do that when I am the "expert". Stew did that as I was handling my new boat on Sunday, telling me I was too close to the wind and to fall off. I made the course adjustment, but also responded with the rolled eyes and snarky manner of a 14 year old. (Hey - I'm not proud of that, but I am truthful.) 

Stew was perceptive enough to say, "Do you not want me to tell you anything or what?" I replied, "No, I don't. You have told me how to sail for 24 years. These are things I need to try myself in order to really learn it. Unless we are in real danger, I want you to be the crew and enjoy the ride." He grudgingly agreed, but then showed he didn't quite get it when he eagerly added, "But do you feel the difference?" I told him he couldn't even ask that, and didn't answer him. 

This is a conversation we have had for over 20 years on four different boats. We both know that I have to sail this boat on my own in order to feel the wind in the sails, make the corrections, and build my confidence. It is past time. We had a terrific day on the water. Yes, I did offer him the opportunity to take the tiller (and total command of the "ship") and he showed me a new way to rig the jib sheet when sailing downwind. I discovered why the sheet gets hung up on the spreader and suggested a fix for that. I am learning to be a better, more observant sailor - because I have insisted on having the time to make my own observations. 

Stew did two great things this weekend. He got me a wonderful boat to learn on -- and he agreed to step back and let me learn. I can take 51 more years of that!


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Nina Pierce

Having been married 25 years to my high school sweet heart ... I can totally relate. Its hard for the fixer of a man to sit back and let us struggle without stepping in. You made me giggle.Enjoy the new boat.


Nice post, Barb. I guess you both are learning with the new boat!

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