Full-time cruising couples often refer to themselves as Captains and Admirals when in the company of others—not entirely in jest either. While the Captain's word is law aboard a boat, the Admiral outranks the Captain. Hence, the ongoing discussion as to which half of the couple has the final say on board. Before your cruising dreams can be fulfilled, this point of potential conflict has to be resolved.
Trust Couples who successfully make the transition from land-lubbers to boat-people develop a high degree of mutual trust. This does not come automatically, but only after training, teamwork, practice, and time. In La Paz, Mexico, we met a couple who had been married for over 30 years. They had sailed in San Francisco Bay for a number of years in a very seaworthy, 40-foot boat. After less than six months of living their dream, they were splitting! They had not effectively prepared themselves for full-time cruising and found that neither could trust decisions made by the other.
To develop trust, the importance of training can not be overemphasized. Both the US Power Squadron and the US Coast Guard Auxiliary offer coastal piloting and navigation courses in addition to the typical courses in boat handling. Commercial sailing schools are an excellent alternative to gain boating skills quickly. Both you and your significant other should take the courses. It is one thing to gain that knowledge—but when your partner has it also, a degree of mutual trust is gained. It is not necessary that the woman on board be able to overhaul the engine without help, although I have known some that were quite competent to do so. Neither is it necessary that the male half be an haute cuisine chef in the galley. But each should be cross-trained at a basic level if their liveaboard partnership is to survive and thrive.
Don't think you have to be an expert in every aspect of the maritime lifestyle before you move aboard. However, don't wait until you are aboard to start learning—chances are that it will be too late by then.
Responsibility In some cases, the man cannot effectively deal with the stress and responsibility of being in the role of Captain. One lady confided to me, "I would like to go on like this for years, but my husband says he just can't take all this responsibility—so we're going back to the States." After three more years of retirement preparation "on the beach," they sailed to the South Pacific and followed the golden triangle of New Zealand, Tonga, and Fiji for a number of delightful and fulfilling years.
In Mexico's Nuevo Vallarta marina, a woman shared her recent, firsthand experience with my wife Louise. Her husband wanted to go sailing, so they sold their spacious home in Colorado, bought a small condominium and a new, top-of-the-line sailboat. After a few daysails in southern California, they took another novice couple aboard before setting sail for a six-day, offshore passage to Cabo San Lucas. By the time they approached that cape, the water tanks were empty and the batteries were dead. With little sailing experience, light air, and a foul current, it was two more days before they could attract attention to their plight and get a tow into the harbor. After this ordeal, they decided to go back north to sell the boat and return to Colorado. Her final comment was, "And I gave up my home and all my nice things for this fiasco!"
The following two incidents are true:
- While out for a daysail, we heard a woman frantically pleading for help on the VHF radio, "My husband's collapsed; he's unconscious! Won't somebody help me?" Marine Patrol and Coast Guard personnel responded without success. She did not know that the radio's squelch control was turned so high that no sound came from the speaker.
- While crossing San Pedro Channel one night, a fog developed and we heard a man's anxious request to the Coast Guard for assistance. In the ensuing conversation, it was revealed that his only problem was that he didn't know where he was. He had lost sight of land when the fog came in, had not been keeping a DR, and did not know how to use his navigation aids. Plan for the unexpected—the worst-case scenario—and you won't be surprised; you will be prepared! By training both members of the cruising team for the unexpected, you'll eliminate stressfull and nasty surprises once you're underway.
It makes little difference whether your boat is 25 feet or 45 feet, closeness can be an asset or a liability when it comes to a couple's compatibility. No boat is big enough for two when there is unresolved conflict. But when both are working toward a common goal—that of enjoying the freedom of the cruising life—it doesn't get much better! Whether it is anchoring or weighing anchor, tying up or leaving a dock, responsibilities are shared by a liveaboard team. Each task should be discussed and decided beforehand and any potential mis-communications ironed out. The best surprise is no surprise at all.
Louise and I try to share the load. Both our knapsacks were full of groceries in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It started to rain cats and dogs when we were still blocks from the bus stop. After finding shelter under a storefront awning, she pronounced: "I didn't retire to become a pack mule!" We caught the next cab back to the dock without further discussion or thought. When you share the tough times, you will have more and better good times.
We also share the navigation duty—in fact, she runs a better DR plot than I do. Off of Rose Island in the Bahamas one time, I misread the chart. Had Louise not spotted my error in time, we would have been up on a submerged reef.
I cannot overemphasize the value of shared abilities and responsibilities. Louise likes the sunrise. She takes the early watch and then wakes me with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. One morning she handed me the cup and said, "We're having fresh fish for supper tonight!" She had caught, landed, and cleaned a Dorado while I slept. When I asked about the cleaning operation, she replied, "I've watched you do it enough times—I learned by watching". No fish ever tasted better, even though it was our mutual choice that I cook most of the seafood and make all of the bread.
After both partners are prepared—when they are both ready and willing to take that last giant step of casting off—then the adventure of their lifetimes will begin. Bon Voyage!