The cruising life is more of a joint effort with your partner than most women have ever before undertaken. Even marriage and raising a family most likely never brought you together as much as will cruising 24/7 on a boat.
“While living ashore, working two jobs and dealing with children, family, etc, couples are pulled apart dealing with many issues,” writes Debbie Leisure of Illusions, “but while living aboard, they will find that there are few external problems drawing you apart. You are both now dealing with the same issues: boat repair, sailing, and weather, but also everyday needs like meals, shopping, laundry, communications, none of which are accomplished as mindlessly as they were ashore. Couples discover they are now working as a united front. It can be a very rewarding experience.”
Somewhere along the way someone coined the expression of “pink and blue jobs” to describe the division of responsibilities on a cruising boat. While this raises the feminist hackles of many of today’s cruising women, when jobs sort out on the basis of “ability and affinity,” as one Admiral put it, the end result seems to be some fairly traditional divisions of labor.
“We’re much more “pink and blue” on the boat than we ever were on land,” says Eileen Quinn of Little Giddings. “That bothered us at first, but we stopped fighting it for its own sake and just tried to identify what we each really wanted to do. We tend to divide up areas of responsibility on the boat so that we can each be ‘in charge’ of certain things and then we help each other. Women need to avoid being cast solely as the ‘helpmate’.”
If the bulk of your responsibilities seem rosy-hued, there are a number of nautical functions that women seem to have natural affinity for once they’ve had some exposure. For example, with a little initiative and some good courses under their belt, woman often become the primary navigators, radio operators, and weather analysts. And women who sew (I am sewing impaired) are invaluable with sail repairs and canvas work.
“There are always tasks leftover that no one likes,” adds Mary Verlaque of I Wanda, “and you just divide those up in ways that work. The successful sharing of responsibility and drudgery as well as the fun seems to be a key to long term happy cruising.
Ellen Sanpere of Cayenne III summed up her onboard responsibilities as, “Everything the skipper doesn’t have time to do, can’t do, hates to do, puts off too long or gets out of doing.” This brings to mind my years as a charter captain. Over the course of eight years I had five different crew – four guys and one woman. Every pairing was different, but every one was successful, and someone asked how I did it. I realized the answer was that I didn’t find crew to fit MY needs, I found good crew who did what they did well, and then I did what they didn’t. My first crew Glenn, was an experienced mechanic, so he took care of all things in the engine room, but when Judy was my mate, she was a better chef than I, so I took on all the blue jobs: engine maintenance, toilet maintenance, schlepping laundry and groceries, plus all the deck work, even barbecuing. I didn’t love getting my hands all greasy, but I was very proud of that adaptability, of the things that I could do.
Opportunities to earn respect and achieve self-respect have to be foremost in the mix for today’s women to be successfully recruited from the dock to the cruising life. “It is inconceivable that a woman at the pinnacle of success in her land life, where she has earned the respect of her peers, will want to embrace a life where her most important task is viewed as preparing hors d’oeuvres,” says Mary Verlaque of I Wanda.
It will take a joint effort by both partners to make that mix happen, a give and take, since your partner needs his self-respect, too. Most cruising women who are Admirals by my definition, are just those kinds of successful women and yet they are very happy with their lives aboard, more than content to have traded their careers for the self-defined lifestyle that cruising is. The men that must cling to the traditional image of absolute authority?… Well, they can just go cruising alone!
This article was published in the December 2006 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.