I normally use this space to try to counteract the efforts of Madison Avenue that tend to make you think that a bigger boat will be more fun, that a fully-battened main is essential, or that you need an electronic gizmo to determine the direction of the wind. Sailing's very best pleasures, I want you to know, require no more than a slippery hull and a decent sail.
There is, however, a third essential and today being Valentine's day this seems the perfect time to address this issue. For most of us, a companion enhances the experience. And it can be the companion's level of enthusiasm that ultimately determines how much we sail.
Many of you know exactly what I am talking about. For those that don't, take a stroll through any marina in America on a breezy Saturday afternoon and you will be struck by how many sailboats sit in their slips. These boats cost thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars to purchase. They continue to ring up slip fees and insurance premiums. Many will be "tricked-out" with the latest in electronics, go-fast hardware, and high-tech sails. So why aren't their owners using them?
The easy answer is that modern life is complicated. On any given Saturday these boats' owners are attending an art festival, visiting grandma, fighting a cold, playing golf, remodeling the kitchen, doing the taxes, or going to Disney World. But for the whole answer, you have to look deeper. More often than not, sailboats sit unused because sailing is not a shared passion.
If sailing is a sport for you, then you need only your partner's tolerance. But if you hope to embrace sailing as a lifestyle, your partner must buy into that dream. "How did you get your wife to go cruising?" It is a question I hear over and over, but what the questioners really want to know is, "How do I get my own wife to go cruising?"
If you wheedle, beg, or bully your partner into cruising, odds are it will not be the wonderful experience you imagine. Your partner must have at least some interest in the enterprise, timorous though it may be at the start. You cannot conjure that interest, but you can darn sure kill it.
- An inordinate number of us become despots when we step aboard our own vessels. If you are among this group, I suggest you consider what effect this behavior is likely to have on your partner's desire to spend even more time aboard with you.
- Does your partner or does your adrenaline have the bigger say in how aggressively you sail? What is fun when you are comfortable aboard can be terrifying when you aren't. More sail may advance the boat, but it is often less sail that advances the dream.
- Are breakdowns, groundings, docking fiascoes, or other traumas rare or routine under your command? You gain your partner's trust the old fashioned way—you earn it.
- Do you yell when things go wrong? Or maybe you are the "Get out of the way; I'll do it" type. Neither reaction is going to help your case.
Of course, avoiding these, and similar, onboard unpleasantries may make cruising less unattractive, but it doesn't make it more attractive. To do that, we have a tendency to try to "win over" our partners by droning on about how wonderful cruising will be—interesting destinations, 24/7 freedom, sunshine, palm trees, and moonlight strolls on the sugar-sand beaches. Such puffery ignores the downside of cruising, yet for your reluctant partner it is the negatives that are the controlling factors.
Forget about selling your vision and concentrate on seeing cruising through your partner's eyes. If you are a man hoping to entice a wife or girlfriend, you are likely to discover that her perspective on cruising is a lot different from yours, and rightfully so. Here are some samples:
- Cruising is your dream. In it, you get to be in charge—totally in charge. Compared to your life ashore this is probably a promotion for your psyche. Your partner, however, gets to follow orders—your orders. How does that prospect compare to your partner's life ashore?
- Speaking of life ashore, how satisfying is your partner's? Is it defined by job? Family? Friends? How, exactly, does a cruise improve on that?
- Ashore the two of you have separate lives. Is being around you all day, every day, a pleasant prospect? I sure hope your response isn't that you are counting on cruising to improve your disposition.
- Who made lunch the last time you spent a day on the water? The time before that? Do you see a pattern here? Your partner does.
- Statistically, the kitchen is the most remodeled room in a home, and today the cost of remodeling a kitchen is likely to exceed $20,000. How much have you spent on galley improvements?
- Stiff hair may strike you as a fair trade for unlimited diving opportunities, and maybe you don't really need clean underwear every day, but don't expect your partner to share your values. Clean hair, skin, and clothes are almost certainly major concerns.
- Do you know what collagen is?
When Olga and I are out cruising, most other cruising boats we meet are likewise crewed by a couple—partners in life, including this particular chapter. And contrary to all pre-departure indications, only rarely is the female half of these twosomes detectably less enthusiastic than her partner. But that truth is moot if you never get away from the dock.
If, in your heart of hearts, you know your partner lacks enthusiasm for cruising, finding the perfect boat and outfitting it "just so" will not get you away. I spent much of 1998 immersed in examining this issue and writing about what I discovered. The result was a thin, but packed, volume which I titled Dragged Aboard: A Cruising Guide for the Reluctant Mate. Courageously published by W. W. Norton, this book has remained nearly as big a secret as the problem it addresses. If this column strikes a chord with you, if you dream of cruising and your partner doesn't, I unabashedly recommend this little book to you. It is likely to be of more value to you than anything I have ever written about selecting, restoring, or outfitting your boat. In addition, it contains a great deal of information for improving your lot as a cruiser, reluctant or not.
Take a look around any marina or sail club. Men will outnumber women 10 to 1. If that is a reliable indicator—and I think it is—it makes 9 out of 10 boats short the third essential. This dooms 90 percent of cruising dreams. Yours doesn't have to be among the casualties.