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Women and Cruising

Looks like the boys should have left the fishing to the girls too.

It was just the girls and I, kicked back in Serengeti's comfortable cockpit, enjoying the cooling evening breeze and a rare "girls-only" get together. Larry and the boys had cooked up a scheme to try some night fishing. Off they had putted in a couple of dinghies, loaded down with what must be every piece of fishing gear they owned, like a bunch of excited Boy Scouts heading out to camp.

Becky, Karen, Jen, and I laughed as we heard the boys' voices trailing away, arguing over which spot to try first. I opened a bottle of wine and poured all around as we speculated on just how many fish would be caught. We toasted to the good life of cruising, our glasses capturing the dancing light from the flickering candles. The night was beautiful and the talk soon turned to how we all ended up cruising about on boats.

"You know," I told my contented looking, barefooted friends, "Back when I used to work at boat shows, I probably spoke to a dozen men a day who told me they wanted to go cruising, but couldn't convince their wives. One man even handed me his cell phone and pleaded with me to talk to her for just 10 minutes."

"Hah!" Jen chortled and sat up suddenly. "What year was that? It could have been me. My husband was trying everything to talk me into going."

"No, the guy's wife wasn't home and he left all disappointed." I responded. "So, what changed your mind, Jen? Why didn't you want to go cruising at first?"

"It was fear. I was afraid of all the unknowns, and I just didn't feel that I knew enough about sailing," she exclaimed, laughingly shaking her head from side to side. I watched the other girls nodding their heads in agreement.

This quickly become the theme of the evening. It appeared that we each had our own individual concerns that might have held us back from joining the cruising life had we not faced them. We spent the rest of the evening comparing our fears, identifying those that were still present, but getting the most enjoyment out of remembering the many that had miraculously dissolved away with miles logged through the water. As it turns out, cruising is much more than just sailing. It's really about learning a whole new way to live your life.

Experience is the best ally to sharing the cruising lifestyle.

Of the group assembled, I was the only woman that had plenty of sailing experience before cruising. Jen, Karen, and Becky each cited their own limited boating skills as their biggest concern before taking off. "I just didn't feel qualified," said Becky. "I didn't want to give up my house," Jen added. "I thought it might be dangerous," Karen jumped in. Jen and Becky, both sailed a little with their husbands back home, but mostly their sailing consisted of a couple of hours out on the water, followed by a picnic in the cockpit. They had both recognized the need to take sailing lessons to bone up on their skills before they left to go cruising. Karen had no sailing experience, and just figured she would learn from her husband along the way. That had been a disaster, she reported, wishing she had approached it differently. "I'm still scared when the wind pipes up. To be honest I wouldn't know what to do if anything ever happened to Bill," she added, appearing now uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. The rest of us clearly felt her anxiety as she further shared some of her misgivings about cruising.

Becky swore us to confidence, then told us that when they first discussed going cruising, she wasn't so sure that her husband really knew enough about sailing and navigation to command their boat safely. Her voice lowered to the level of a whisper and she looked around as if expecting her husband to have somehow sneaked back from fishing early. Her fear was that the first time anything more challenging than what they had experienced back on their small lake in Wisconsin arose, they'd be in big trouble. It was this realization that made her really start getting involved in some of the planning. She ordered all sorts of cruising and sailing books and planned their next vacation at a sailing school. As she said, "I couldn't come right out and question Bob's sailing ability. To most men, that's like questioning their manhood! My decision to become involved early in the planning process allowed me to ensure we both were more comfortable and competent when faced with handling a boat in very different conditions. And so far, it's really paid off."

We all admitted to an uncertainty as to just how well we were going to get along with our husbands in this small space. Spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week was going to be a new experience for all of us. Becky related that she and her husband traveled so much in their work lives that she didn't think they had ever spent more than five days together in a row before retiring on the boat! They hardly knew what to do with each other when they first took off. After comparing stories, we concluded that it takes at least six months to truly adjust to each other, and if you make it that long, you'll be just fine for the long haul. Mutual respect, patience, and a sense of humor are all needed for a successful cruising relationship.

It may be a trivial fear, but one we all shared was that of gaining weight. Once our more structured and disciplined home life had been left behind, could we resist the temptation to snack all day and would we get enough exercise? I was particularly worried about lack of exercise since we planned to be at anchor most of the time. Becky piped in that she was most worried about the constant physical proximity to the galley, mingled with the fact that she loves to cook. But, of the four of us, only Jen reported that she had gained any weight since embarking on her travels. The rest of us found that we were actually eating very healthy meals, having left behind all remnants of fast food. A combination of never-ending-boat related jobs, and walking or riding bikes each time we went ashore seemed to be keeping us in fine shape.

Losing some of the "creature comforts" of regular house dwelling seems to be easier for most men than for women. We all groaned as we listened to Jen tell us about the altercations she had with her husband before making the final decision to live aboard. She didn't think she could get by on a boat where she couldn't take long hot showers, had to manually flush the toilet, and would be limited in the amount of clothing, makeup, jewelry, and shoes she could bring. Being grubby and casual might be OK for her husband, but she couldn't see herself in that role. They finally struck a deal that she could have most of the storage room for clothes, he'd really scrimp on water so that she could use more, and they'd stop in marinas regularly. Jen concluded she now feels ridiculous about it all. The thought of leaving these comforts behind was much more difficult than was the actual loss. After only a few short weeks, she realized just how silly she had acted. She was experiencing things in her life now that wouldn't have been possible if she hadn't "sacrificed" what she thought was important to her. "I never want to see another pair of high-heeled shoes or panty hose again as long as I live," Jen proclaimed.

We all realize that many of our fears were unfounded, but not until we're close to the destination.

Karen and I started to laugh when the fear of sailing at night was brought up. I told the other girls about the first words Karen ever spoke to me two years before. Larry had dinghied over and invited her and her husband over for happy hour. As Karen, a complete stranger to me, boarded our boat she blurted out, "If you say you like sailing at night, I'll hate you!" Through our late night cockpit discussions, we realized we had each gone through the same process of being, at first, quite intimidated by the thought of traveling at night, then realizing it was just another small learning curve we had to go through. In fact, once you get used to all the new sensations, it can actually be a unique and special experience. Karen remained alone in still having some doubts about night sailing as she continued to feel the need to wake her husband for even the smallest occurrences.

Sailing offshore was admittedly an initial concern for all of us. I think everyone fears getting caught in a storm to some degree. Sailors address this in different ways. Jen and her husband have decided that offshore sailing is really not for them. They stick to inland routes and waterways whenever possible and have found this type of travel suits them best. Jen says they haven't run out of new places to discover yet. Becky's way of dealing with offshore sailing has been to learn as much as possible about the weather herself. She got tired of leaving with other boats that said everything looked fine, then having a really bumpy, uncomfortable voyage. She now gathers and interprets the weather forecasts herself. "This way, it's my call whether we leave port!" Becky pronounced. Her newly acquired confidence was obvious as she spoke. We all agreed that some of the most enchanting cruising moments can happen when you're miles away from shore.

Mixed feelings were expressed over leaving family and friends back home. Karen was missing her two kids in college, but admitted she probably wouldn't see much of them back home anyway. "They love visiting us in places like the Bahamas, and tell their friends we're really cool," she chuckled. Jen's daughter is about to have their first grandchild, so she and her husband are presently discussing a plan to split their time between cruising and being back home so that they can get to know their latest family addition. Becky worried about her aging parents, but had finally gotten them a computer, and feels good about regularly communicating by e-mail. We all realized that how you decide to deal with leaving family and friends is a very personal decision, but that there are lots of options.

The stars were twinkling brightly and the moon cast a magical sheen over the calm waters. The four of us silently reflected on our own initial reservations about cruising. Sure there's still reason for concern sometimes, but isn't that true of life anywhere? Facing challenges and confronting the unknown is often easier than it might first seem. Many anxieties dissolve with just a little experience and a few miles under your keel. I don't think any of us there that night would have traded places with anyone.

You can take charge by taking the helm of a small boat first.

Through the darkness, we heard some familiar voices heading our way. "So, figure the boys caught anything?" Becky queried. "Not a chance!" Karen and I chimed in together and we all hooted. As we quieted back down and readied ourselves for the boys to join us, Karen looked over at me a little shyly. "Hey Sue, do you think you could show me how to sail your little dinghy tomorrow?" "Of course!" I replied, wishing I'd thought of it myself. It looked like Karen was ready to take charge of her future sailing skills.

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