Married for Life, But Not for Lunch? What 24/7 Really Means
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.
What a great love story!
Posted by: NIna | 02/08/2013 at 11:10 AM
Great blog. Happy Valentine's Day to you both!
Posted by: D&J | 02/08/2013 at 12:01 PM
Stew is a lucky, lucky man - and he knows it. Love you both.
Posted by: Jim Nixon | 02/08/2013 at 12:21 PM
Glad I found your blog through one of our readers! I've read through several of your posts already, especially the ones about decision making. Since we've been married for 30 years, remodeled two houses, raised two kids, and have been sailing for about 10 years now, maybe we will be prepared to take off across oceans when the time comes! I read with interest your post about getting rid of things, and having a friend who stores things in her basement for you. We are in the process of letting go of 30 years worth of roots we've put down, struggling with the 'sell the family home or not?' decision. It's a hard one, but your thoughts about being responsible for property far, far away fell on fertile ground. By the time we have to make that decision, I hope to be living on board full time, saving money, like you two did. Also read with interest your thoughts about the size of vessel and I must say it's refreshing to know that I'm not the only one who considers that 'real sailors' still want to maintain some kind of comfort on board. I would like to know, however, if you find it difficult to handle your 47 foot boat on your own? If EW were ill, or incapacitated, could you sail it yourself? It's not a pleasant thought, but I think about that and it makes me consider boats that are smaller than what I actually want.
Sorry for the long comment, but I am reading your blog with interest. Give us a shout at LittleCunningPlan.com.
Posted by: Melissa White | 02/13/2013 at 03:27 AM
Hi, Melissa. Thanks for responding. I scooted over to your blog and love it! You are so right about "Go now and go in the boat you have." That isn't always the right choice. As for folks who write before they actually did it, I didn't have a blog until a few years after we moved aboard -- but the live-aboard in Maine part that precedes the cruising part may give you a few ideas. As for your most important question, yes, if something happened to EW I could bring get the boat to shore in nearly all conditions/circumstances. We have a roller furling main sail, so I don't have to go on deck - or worse - up on the bimini or dodger to furl the sail. I can lighten sails alone, navigate, and run the electronics. I am not mechanically inclined and would have issues if I had to fix something. We have an SSB radio and will have a Sat Phone for ocean crossings, so I could reach someone be a "remote-controlled repair person" if need be. Our ideal boat would have a ketch rig, making it easier to handle the smaller sails, but we love La Luna.
Posted by: Barb | 02/13/2013 at 01:42 PM
Thanks, Barb. I'm looking forward to catching up with all of your posts. La Luna is a beautiful boat. We know a couple who took off a few months to the southern climes in a Cheoy Lee 47 and they have loved it. We shall see what happens with Moonrise. I'm of the opinion that if we do our part, the Universe will do its part, even if it's not what we expect in the moment. Looking forward to further updates on your travels! I shall live vicariously until we meet in an anchorage somewhere! :)
Posted by: Melissa White | 02/13/2013 at 01:50 PM
I just ran across your blog via Monkey's Fist. Great post about really living together 24/7. Your insights will really come in handy as we get ready to move onto our boat next month. Cheers - Ellen
Posted by: Ellen | 11/27/2013 at 03:21 AM