Relationships & Roles Aboard

Boat jobs: Pink or Blue? Betsy Morris's confession

sail-mag-pink-blueI have a new sailing friend, an exceptionally competent woman.

The first day we met, on a beach in the Bahamas, Doris said “I wish I’d understood when we moved aboard how uneven the tasks would seem.  I wish I’d understood that my husband’s skills carried more weight than mine.

That got us talking about how we divvy up chores aboard.  Another friend, equally competent, joined us.

Neither Doris, nor Maj-Lis, nor I change the oil.  We don’t know how; frankly none of us want to learn.  Yet we do our share of chores.

Boat chores, like home chores, fall into categories:

  • domestic (laundry, cooking, remembering to send birthday cards);
  • running the boat (navigating, sail trim, helm, anchoring);
  • ordinary maintenance (polish the fiberglass, teak, brass, etc., clean the bilge, annual inspection of standing rigging, sheets, ground tackle, sails, etc.);
  • and extraordinary maintenance when something’s going wrong (steering cable replacement, unclog head, fix/replace water pump).

Who does these jobs on your boat?  I’d like to report that I can do all those things and that I do them.  But I’d be lying. 

Many women I know do them routinely.

I asked some cruising friends this winter, sailing in the Bahamas on my Gulfstar 39 Salsa, and wrote an article on the subject for SAIL Magazine.  The article’s called “Pink or Blue?“  It’s in the May issue on the last page in the section called Wind Shifts.

Take a look and let us all know your thoughts on the subject.

Monty-emerges-from-untangling-fishing-net-from-prop Monty emerges from untangling a line from the prop (blue job?) Betsy-sewing-machine-repairing-canvas
Betsy sewing canvas in the cockpit (pink job?)

From Betsy’s article “Pink or Blue?” in SAIL Magazine, May 2010:

Do you change the oil?” she asked.

I sensed a gurgling in my brain, not unlike static; it was the same feeling I’d get as a little girl when my mother asked if I’d brushed my teeth, and I lied, “Yes, Mom.” I remembered my promise to myself in 1992 when our plans gelled to retire from our jobs and sail off the edge. I would learn to do every single thing on the boat that Monty could do…

Betsy Morris-Black-Point-Bahamas About Betsy Morris

In 1993 I retired from banking, and with my husband, Monty, took off from our home port of Marblehead, Massachusetts, for the Caribbean. But first we turned left out of the harbor instead of right, and spent the first summer in the remote ports of Newfoundland.  Eventually we sorted ourselves out and pointed Salsa, our 39′ Gulfstar, in the right direction, and spent five consecutive years in the Caribbean.

Now we’re land lubbers again, only cruising on Salsa for three months each winter.  In the meantime we’ve done boat swaps in Wales and Brazil and will do another this summer in Scotland.  We keep a Quickstep 21 in Marblehead, since you can’t live in coastal New England and not sail in the summer.  I write for SAIL, Points East, Southwinds, and even a couple of motorboating magazines.  In my spare time I write fiction, give writing workshops, and am a mediator, mostly in the Salem, Massachusetts, courts.

Related articles (on this website)

How do you divvy up the boat chores?
Does it fall along pink and blue lines?

Let us know.
Email or leave a comment below.

Boat jobs: Pink or Blue? Marcie Lynn comments

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6 comments to Boat jobs: Pink or Blue? Betsy Morris’s confession

  • sylvie branton

    Don’t tell anybody but maybe we are being smart?

    You see, some men need things that only THEY can do properly, so that we can admire them as heroes.

    I love heroes. And like Betsy unless it is absolutely totally compulsory I don’t really WANT to change the oil. Rather go swimming and let the “experts” proudly do the glorious dirty (highly qualified?) jobs in the hot engine room.

    I can learn to do it if it is necessary, just a question of motivation.

    I can’t change the oil – by the way, do Navy Admirals change their engine oil? – but I help to adjust the valves clearance, I am often the first to hear when something is wrong with the engine, and I am good at detective works like troubleshooting and combing technical manuals for clues.

    Clean (and not so tiring) jobs…

  • I do know how to change the oil, and I have changed it, although not in quite a while. Frankly, changing the oil isn’t rocket science. It can be messy but if you set up a system like we have with an electric pump, it’s not even ALL that messy.

    For me, there are lots of more disagreeable tasks, like cleaning out the carburetor multiple times if the outboard won’t start, climbing into the engine room and trying to work with your body contorted like a pretzel, or standing in a pitching dinghy trying to change the bulb in the running lights, while dancing around with the caulk gun trying not to get it everywhere.

    Bill does most of the dirty maintenance, and truth be told, I don’t do my share. (I’m actually feeling guilty and don’t plan to show Bill this comment.) But I can do quite a bit: I have changed the fuel filters, and rebuilt the head. I have recharged the fridge. I am slow at those tasks and would probably have to ask or look up instructions because I don’t do these tasks regularly. When I first started sailing, neither my (ex-)husband nor I knew much about the engine and the boat systems so we sort of both learned together. We had been used to working together on our houses over the years, so this wasn’t that different. If he had been an engineer with a lot of mechanical expertise, perhaps I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did early on. (Have you ever noticed how many former engineers there are out cruising? I think that says something about the challenge of maintaining boat systems – they are less likely to be intimidated by it all.)

    Like Sylvie, I know a lot of what is normal aboard the boat – engine temperatures, battery voltages, amperage draws, etc. But Bill is much better at the maintenance (he is an engineer though a civil engineer). Partly though he is so much better because he gets all that practice. He gets all that practice because he knows the buck stops there with him. He has to do it. I only have to do the onerous tasks if he is not there. Having to do those onerous tasks from time to time makes me more appreciative that Bill does them.

    I don’t think it’s necessary that each person know how to do everything on the boat. I have my boat jobs and areas of expertise as well. I maintain the inventories. Bill doesn’t know how to operate the sewing machine, though he did the measuring and layout when we last sewed fitted sheets for the bunk. I think it is good to have different areas of expertise, each investing their time in acquiring certain skills. However each person on the boat should know the skills that would be needed in an emergency.

    So, I don’t think it’s important that every woman aboard know how to change the oil. There are plenty of tasks aboard and changing the oil doesn’t seem to me to be one that you have to be prepared in a second to do. You generally have the time to learn it if your partner is unable or unwilling to do it.

    But if not knowing how makes you feel “less than” aboard the boat, or if the division of labor aboard the boat is causing problems for the two of you, perhaps you might want to learn and do it … just once.

  • I confess I do not change the oil, let me also confess right here and now I do not consider myself a mechanical sort of person. I do however fully participate in many of the other ‘blue’ jobs involved in being the caretaker/owner of a boat.
    When we sandblast and recoat the bottom, I apply etching compounds, epoxy coatings, bottom paint and all the messy unpleasant stuff. I also scrape, sand and refinish wood, I have also been part of fiberglass repair, replacing of leaking port seals …well you get the idea.
    I do the laundry usually, Mark cooks more than I do and so it goes. He is also more likely to sew than I am. I am more likely to research items we made need to purchase, handle the communications.
    We both however do most things even if one or the other of us is more likely to do a job than the other is.
    In a true partnership you hopefully play to each other’s strengths and are aware of the weaknesses that exist. We work together living aboard and cruising on our boat and don’t consider jobs blue or pink. We never thought of jobs that way when we lived in a house or when on the farm, so we don’t do it now.
    If I want to learn how to do a job I don’t generally do, I ask for a lesson. I have a very patient person as my partner who is adept at teaching me things that I may be unfamiliar with. The list grows shorter.

  • I have considered myself ‘pink’ where the boat chore distribution is concerned, and my husband, Jim,‘blue’. I am responsible aboard ‘Hotspur’ for much of what I was responsible for back home on land: grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, bill paying, sewing, etc…

    However, I got to thinking about your article and it dawned on me… not all my jobs are ‘pink’. I think I might fall into the category of ‘violet’. For example, you might call me the ship’s Communication Officer. This could be construed as ‘pink’ because it requires talking, but this job falls to me because I have decent Spanish speaking skills. We have been cruising Mexico since June 2008. I also take charge of the radio communications and acquired the general license for the HAM radio. I often volunteer for net control positions when there is a need so that we, as well as other cruisers, get accurate and detailed weather reports for our area.

    In addition to communication, you might call me the ship’s Medical Examiner. We have had sting ray wounds, scorpion welts, cuts and lacerations, rashes, fevers, and fungus. And just a few days ago, I assisted another cruiser in giving her son 6 stitches in a gaping wound on his foot. And no… I was not in the medical profession prior to cruising! But, boy… do I have experience now!

    I have taken apart the Barient winches and cleaned, greased/oiled and put them back together. I help clean the bottom of the boat, I sand, varnish, and paint. And, I also clean the fish we catch.

    Our children are aboard, as well… our son, Tim, is almost 15 and our daughter, Carolyne, is 10. It’s funny because we are raising them on the boat to be ‘violet’, too. Since Tim is interested in both the workings of the engine and the galley, Jim and I have our son in charge of cleaning and maintaining the outboard engines and he occasionally cooks several very good dishes in the galley. He also helps with night watches when we have crossings. Carolyne has less adult-like chores than Tim, but she is responsible for helping with laundry, provisioning, proper trash disposal, feeding the pets aboard, cleaning the bottom of the boat when is grows grass, polishing the stainless, etc…

    Have I ever changed the oil… never. I’m afraid if I do, that will be one of my ‘violet’ jobs, too!

  • Pat Manzione

    Betsy, I tried to contact you several times, but didn’t realize that you’d be sailing the world! You will recall that we went to Goddard together and I’d love to hear from you!

    I hope that you will have access to my email address when you see this, so that you can drop me a line and let me know how you are.

    How wonderful that you spend so much time sailing. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures.

    Pat Manzione

  • jaki leppard

    Betsy,I wonder if you are an old friend.Did you live in Alaska?Children Sage and Chelsea?My married name was Funderburk.I am also a sailor for the last 20+years.sailors tend to lose track of people they knew.Jaki Leppard

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