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Making Sailing Enjoyable for Your Mate

When your significant other goes to the point of buying you a MacGregor 26 Classic for your birthday, the least you can do is to make sailing just as enjoyable for her (or him).

By Bob Cassel

Sailing is my passion—not necessarily my wife's. But she is a great wife and a real asset on the boat. Heck, she bought the boat for me for my 45th birthday. Did I say she was a great wife?

Anyway, since the sailing bug is mine, but I really want Kaycee (my bride) to enjoy it, the preparations, menu, planning and getting ready is for me to do. I want her to be as happy and carefree before the trip and on the boat. I took the same attitude when I set about turning Fiu! into "our" boat. We mostly planned on weekend trips on our MacGregor 26 Classic, but it has evolved into up to 10 days on the Sea of Cortez, a week on Lake Mead and several week-long trips on Lake Tahoe. I think this means I either got it right, or I’ve got the most tolerant wife in the world.

To start with, I planned on doing everything and told Kaycee that I was happy to have her along, but that she was to only participate to the extent that she wanted to. This meant that if she just wanted to be a passenger that would be fine with me. I set the boat up so I can singlehand as much as possible. I also modified the cabin for comfort and simplified the use of as much of the equipment as I could. The drawers are filled with “boat-dedicated” pots, pans, knives, tongs, and utensils. I didn’t scrimp and go for camping-grade utensils and such. I bought things that I’d be happy to use at home so that this didn’t seem like a step down. Don't forget to get the absolute best corkscrew you can find! Go good quality on all these things; don't be overly cheap—it shows. A full complement of paper plates with plastic backup is kept on board and so are full settings of quality plastic cutlery. Here you can scrimp, but get good paper plates and such, in other words get the finest “Chinette." You don’t want to do the dishes and believe me, she doesn’t either, so make it a simple job.

Planning meals ahead of time means that there is little to no cleanup after an excellent dinner on board.
Invest in a vacuum bagging unit. You will never regret it. Seal up those meals, make ice bags that fit your needs, and don't fill your cooler with water. Seal up your first-aid kit and your registration papers. Put things in organized places. If everything makes sense to her it will be a lot more pleasant of a trip.

Meals should planned so there is little to no cleanup—especially from each of the early meals. Everything either makes compressible trash (paper plates, tin foil, plastic bags) or is re-usable. Zip lock bags for early-in-the-trip meals make great containers for left-overs or for putting spoilable trash in to keep the flies and bugs away. Speaking of meals, this shouldn’t be a survival expedition if you want your spouse to enjoy the life. I plan our first full days dinner as filet mignon, salad, corn on the cob, and wine (good wine that she likes).

Other main meals are homemade stew in those freezer bags with a good bread roll.  Now that is good cooking and warming on a cold night. You just put the frozen bag in a pot and boil it until it’s hot, then serve. There’s no mess and it’s very tasty. The same can be done with other casserole type dishes. Take those leftovers from dinner and turn them into boat food. You won’t regret it. But do it yourself; don’t just tell your spouse to do it—take on the load; it will pay off in spades.

The only meal we make that has "a dirty pot syndrome" is the last day’s breakfast. We make pancakes, oatmeal with raisins and nuts, warm sweet rolls for other breakfasts. The last day is usually scrambled eggs and ham. It's hard to make scrambled eggs and not create a messy pan. When we finish this one we wipe down the pans and put the dirty dishes and such in one of the plastic drawers. When we get home, it goes in the house and doubles as a dishpan.

Let your first mate participate in the sailing experience the way that he/she wants to, not the way that you deem appropriate.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. Never, ever shout at your spouse. You shouldn't even have to yell to her. Let her know what you want her to do, or let her know that you will handle all of this yourself if she would prefer. But let her make the decision. Kaycee wanted to get involved after the first couple of trips, so I bought FRS radios for anchoring and the like. I don't shout or have to worry whether she can see me or my signals. I just press the button and say, "Put her in neutral as I drop the hook.”

If your spouse wants to participate, find out what he/she is good at or enjoys. Kaycee does a lot of the maneuvering under power. She has a knack for it and the patience. Since she does that well, so I use that time to prepare for docking, get things ready, and I take my cues from her. We also agree that whoever is on the helm is in charge. We may discuss what we want to happen, but when it comes to implementing the plan, whoever is on the helm is the one who makes the decisions. If that’s not going to work, don’t go there, plan on singlehanding the systems.

A good, comfy bed can go a long way toward making the separation from land less stressful.
Now let’s talk accommodations. My wife likes to be warm and cozy. That means a good quality bed system. We found a great zip together sleeping bag and I sewed 300 thread count sheets together to make a sleep sack for the inside of it. These are better sheets that we have on our bed in the house! Kaycee always comments on how great these sheets feel and she sleeps like a queen. That means she wakes up happy. I also make sure she wakes up to a pot brewing.

Now, it may sound like I’m going way overboard here. I only had to do the whole job on the first two or three trips out, and make sure she knew that anytime she wanted, I’d take any job she wanted to get rid of back. As it is now, the only thing that I do that she steps back from is stepping the mast. Everything else Kaycee has decided she is interested in and has learned to do.

Those are my submittals for making life easier and more pleasant for the one who may be only along for the ride but may decide to be more. You probably have your own. Please, let me know yours. I'm always looking for ways to make this addiction I have more of a positive experience for those around me. 

About the author: Bob Cassel has been sailing on and off since 1972 but only
seriously since 1998.  He now sails regularly in the San Francisco Bay and other northern California lakes in a MacGregor 26 Classic.  The boat was a 45th-birthday present from his wife.

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