Often, years are spent dreaming about and working towards the time when you can finally retire and take off cruising. But sometimes the dream never materializes because your partner is simply unwilling to go. Yes, it's quite common for the dream of cruising not to be shared equally among couples.
Is there a way to get over this hurdle? The good news is that for lots of couples we know, the answer has been yes. Many cruisers we meet in our travels fall into that category of "dreamer" and "initially very reluctant partner." These now-happy cruisers invariably worked out their own version of a Pre-Cruising Agreement, and have never looked back.
Although Larry and I were both equally anxious to go cruising and this type of agreement wasn't necessary, it's a concept that interests us greatly. We are repeatedly asked by sailors at our seminar presentations how they can get their partner (usually the wife, but sometimes it's the husband) to agree to try the cruising life with them. For this reason, we've discussed the issue for hours with many of our cruising friends. What came of these discussions were some great ideas and some inspiration that may help other couples get started and share the special life that cruising together can offer.
A Pre-Cruising Agreement, or PCA, can be the framework that allows the cruising process to get started. The ground rules in this agreement address potential problems and offer solutions well before you cast off. For example: Lisa agrees to go cruising with Steve for a year and a half, and at the end of such time, if she truly doesn't like it, Steve agrees to return to land—no questions asked. Before leaving, they both agree to improve their skills and take sailing lessons and navigation courses. While cruising, Lisa will not complain, not bring up that she didn't really want to go, and promises overall to be a good sport. Steve will not raise his voice or yell like he has been known to do in the past on the boat. They will share domestic duties as well as boat-handling responsibilities. At the end of their cruising, whether it be a year and a half, or five years down the road, Steve agrees to move back to Lisa's hometown and raise horses on her grandfather's farm—a dream that she has always had.
Your agreement may be much more simple than this, or much more complex. It's up to you and your partner. But hopefully, an agreement of this kind will be your ticket for many years of happy cruising. On the other hand, if the cruising experience doesn't work out for you or your partner, it may provide for a civilized ending with no hard feelings.
Although couples choose a life together, that doesn't always mean there aren't differences in what they want to do and how and where they want to spend their time. Successful relationships generally result from compromises being made by both partners. Some of these may be small, such as eating Chinese when you really had your heart set on Italian, but others may be much larger and require a greater sacrifice. A PCA addresses these larger sacrifices. Open-minded and honest dialogue is the starting point of how couples work out their differences regarding the allure, or lack thereof, that cruising on a sailboat holds for each.
The cruising couples we've met who worked through their differences before cruising by talking to each other at length about what would really make their life complete and then making a promise to help each other realize it. Although everyone's individual Pre-Cruising Agreement will differ, there are several areas you'll want to consider covering when making yours up:
- Make sure you both agree that the PCA you are working on now will represent all the issues and concerns you both have about going cruising. You should agree that there's no bringing up items later that you didn't bring forth now.
- Time frames are helpful. It's especially important to include a minimum time frame for your cruising. In polling cruisers, we learned that most people consider at least one year as necessary for getting over the learning curve. Understand that after the minimum time is up, if one or the other partner wants out of the cruising life, it's all over with no hard feelings.
- The agreement must be accepted with a positive give-it-all-you've-got attitude.
- The PCA is not a one way street. There must be something in it for the reluctant partner who is making the initial sacrifice to follow your cruising dream.
- Identify the parts of cruising that are unappealing to your mate, and work toward making these better.
What happened with so many of the couples we met was, that after spending time on the boat and enduring a steep learning curve, the reluctant party realized the beauty of the cruising life. Before you've tried it, it's hard to imagine just how great it is to simplify your life and live so closely with nature. The women we talked to said it was their agreement that got them through the tough times. Knowing that they could end it at a certain point without any hard feelings allowed them to tough it out. As they faced new challenges, many soon realized that it wasn't so difficult after all. In fact, most reported a renewed sense of values and much more self confidence after the experience.
You might be thinking that it's not always such an easy trade. For someone to go off cruising when there are so many aspects that may scare them or are distasteful to them, surely they'd rather spend time traveling around Europe, visiting museums and attending great concerts, or even raising horses on their grandfather's farm. Given those options, it's understandable how asking your partner to hop on a boat might seem like a greater sacrifice. To make this work, your job is going to be to find out what specifically about the cruising life is so unappealing to your partner and then work through those issues. For some people it's a fear for their safety in heading out to sea. For others, the reluctance is a matter of not wanting to leave family and friends. Still others feel they can't possibly leave the comforts of a home and the conveniences of shops and a car and lots of fresh water.
If you find yourself in the position of a salesman, having to sell the dream of cruising, be careful to approach it the right way. Are you unknowingly scaring them by reading storm survival books every night in bed? Are you talking about how you want to head straight for the South Pacific when your only previous experience has been lake sailing? To someone who does not share your dream, the prospect of being out on the ocean in a small boat, with a skipper whose skills might not be totally polished can be terrifying.
Does your interest in shopping and working on things for the boat always center around hardware or electronics, rather than improvements that will make the boat a really comfortable home? Do you consider the boat yours, not ours? Do you ever talk about taking trips back home to visit family or are you just gone for the foreseeable future?
Your first months spent cruising on the boat are the crucial ones in setting the tone for what the cruising life can be. Rather than talking about ambitious destinations far away that may be hard to relate to for your spouse, or just plain scary, try setting up a more gentle itinerary of traveling inland waterways. Maybe even head for a marina somewhere south and spend a few months. We've met lots of cruisers who began this way. Some even continue to do this each year for the incredible social interaction they enjoy with other sailors. Often, just the sharing of so many stories about other wonderful places to sail can be all the enticing that a reluctant partner needs to make them want to try going further afield.
Nothing will make the experience worse for your mate than not knowing how to handle the boat themselves. Make sure that sailing lessons are part of your deal so that you can both enjoy the cruise. There's no satisfaction cruising around as a full-time passenger. Being part of a team working together in directing your vessel has the remarkable result of pure satisfaction and truly makes you grow as a couple.
As we've watched the sun go down with new cruising friends in beautiful spots all over, we've learned to admire couple after couple who have so successfully worked together to make the cruising life happen through a Pre-Cruising Agreement. Sometimes I feel like they are getting even more pleasure out of it all than Larry and I. For the initially reluctant mate, they've discovered a whole new satisfying life and know they have the full support of their partner for their own goals in the future. And for the dreamer, they're experiencing something that could so very nearly have been missed had they not the foresight and understanding to listen to their partner, as well as ask.