Resolving Onboard Conflicts - SailNet Community

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Old 04-24-2003
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Resolving Onboard Conflicts


Onboard, space and privacy are hard commodites to come by, so promptly resolving conflicts becomes even more pertinent.
Sue runs to the bow to escape. I hasten down the deck after her to try to smooth things over. But as almost always, it doesn't work. When Sue's angry she looks for space, peace, and quiet. On a boat though, and particularly during an argument, space is indeed a dear commodity.

One time early in our cruising I remember her being at the bowsprit trying to get as far away from me as she possibly could. Being so frustrated by the confines of the lifelinesand apparently by meshe was screaming into the wind at the top of her lungs. Do we now remember what that argument was about? Of course not. It was something silly and, as always, we both got over it.

Fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence on Serengetti. In fact, living on a boat can bring two people closer together than ever beforeand I don't mean just physically. It's the rare moment in your life when with the luxury of time, you can just sit, talk, and discover the inner thoughts of your spouse, without the distractions of your former lifestyle. This is very preciousand hopefully what you uncover will please you.


The authors have found that little disagreements can quickly escalate into major arguments within the confined space of the boat.
We've found that for a relationship to survive on a boat you need to respect and trust each other. When you take off sailing there's no escaping reality. In fact, you'll magnify it. If you had any doubts about your partner on land, they will not go away on a boat, and could even wreck the cruise. We've seen couples that cruised only six months because relationships were stressed, and one or both partners couldn't take it any longer. Look at all the sailboats for sale in the Caribbean. Many of these represent the flotsam of shattered cruising dreams, often brought about by onboard relationship problems.

In a conventional life you have separate jobs, and sometimes different hobbies and interests. You probably spend less than one-third of your waking hours with your spouse. But on a boat, you're together 24 hours a day, every day, rain or shine, and in very close confines.

Once cruising, you'll leave behind most of the usual causes of conflict between couples. Job stress will be gone and if you've organized your finances correctly, money won't be a source of anxiety any more. Even other family-related pressures might be lessened since children are often out of college and running households themselves.


Sometimes resolving disagreements requires a more basic approach.
So what's left to put a damper on your new ideal life? Conflicts on board usually occur as a result of another situation that brings about stress. Handling of the boat in adverse conditions, or particularly while docking and anchoring, can be the start of bad feelings between couples. It's during these times when voices are raised and miscommunication is at an all-time high. It's when many skippers will reveal their own insecurity about a situation in yelling at the crew. And after witnessing a few cruising relationships on boats with which we've voyaged, it's easy to see why some women don't want to sail any more with their husbands. But let's not put all the blame on the men. We've met women who after agreeing to be part of the new cruising life, don't really give it a chance and always find something to complain about, thus making the experience miserable for both parties.

This is where the importance of respect for each other comes strongly into play. Nobody likes to be yelled at or told that they're wrong, especially in the presence of other sailors. Naturally, once under way, there will be a strong learning curve for both partners, regardless of previous sailing experience. Things will happen and it's easy to react by raising voices or pointing fingers, but that's not going to be the best solution for solving the problem and continuing the cruise in harmony.


Proper communication and mutual respect go a long way toward ensuring harmony on board.
For Sue and me, arguments usually begin over a simple misinterpretation of a tone of voice. We might then spend an hour re-enacting the scene (that's after I can get Sue to return from the bow), each of us telling it the way we heard it. When we look back at it, the incident is totally ridiculous. But at the time it was the center of our own little universe. We've found that with each spat, we are usually able to store away another piece of positive information that in the future may help divert a similar disagreement.

Yes, once you cast off adjustments usually need to be made by both parties. Full-time cruising is not like any weekend sail or a charter you've done in the past. Every day will not be a picnic. There will be storms and there will be equipment failures. There will also be times when one of you feels you're contributing more than the other, be it boathandling and cleaning up, or standing watches and cooking. But all these things can be worked out and accomplished better as a team. As a result, your relationship will be strengthened.

You won't find a better vehicle than a cruising boat to guide you closer to the wonders nature has to offer. Rocky starts sometimes occur but with a little effort, you'll find your own rhythm and create your own harmony. And, I believe, you'll gain a special insight into the most important person in your lifeso that, hopefully, there'll be very little time spent by either of you alone at the bow.

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