Relationships & Roles Aboard, What I Like About Cruising

What do women like most about sailing their boats?

Two years ago I started a little project where I talked to other women on sailboats about their sailing life. I only started sailing/cruising in 2007 with my spouse and soon realized it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I could either quit or try to find out what would make me happy. So I set myself a project to talk to other women.

Why? To find a way to make sailing my own adventure. To bring who I am to my sailing adventure. To have a reason to talk to people and a reason to write. To find out from other women how they make sailing their own adventure as opposed to going along on their husband’s/boyfriend’s sailing adventure. I was hoping I’ll find some good ideas I’ll take for my own.

What do women like most about sailing their boats?

Cliff jumping into Dean’s Blue Hole, Long Island, Bahamas

In one word it’s for the adventure. Or possibility of adventure.  I find it ironic, though, because a sailboat is a lot of work. Work that can be frustrating, mundane, expensive.   Not a lot of adventure in that.  Work isn’t adventurous at home and it isn’t adventurous at sea!  And the woman’s part in the work is, not surprisingly, often the traditional female role – provisioning, cooking, cleaning, laundry.  At least that’s my view based on the women I’ve met. Granted, they are usually about my age and in similar circumstances so it’s not surprising their boat roles would be quite similar to mine. However, enough about roles.

Adventure includes living outdoors, traveling to new places, learning about local history and culture.  For one friend it includes “going through a raging storm”.  She said this with a glow in her eyes and her words and the look on her face have stuck with me. What could she be thinking? Why a storm?  Storms at sea are scary and dangerous.  Maybe that’s exactly what she wants – fear and danger.  To pit herself against the elements and see what she’s made of.

I’m thinking of Maureen Blyth (Innocent Aboard) and her months long sailing adventure with her husband, Chay in the 1960’s sailing from South Africa back to England.  She wrote that she gained insight into her husband’s compulsion to undertake extreme adventures.  I wonder now if her experience led her to chase extreme adventure for her own ends or was she satisfied to taste adventure as a means to understanding her own husband.

Back to my friend in the boatyard refurbishing her boat with the hopes of experiencing a raging storm at sea.  I picture her working day after day stripping and sanding the floorboards in the boat she and her husband are rebuilding.  A boat damaged in a hurricane and written off.  She’s slim, blond and has kind eyes.  Her image doesn’t, to me fit with someone chasing danger and fear in a sea storm.  Shame on me. Do only big burly males get to chase danger and fear?  Are girls too frail?  Or only certain types of girls too frail?

There are other reasons women sail, of course.

To see different places, experience other cultures. To hike new lands.  As one woman put it, life is “real” on a boat.  You’re just you. You don’t have to be what anyone else expects you to be.  She also said it’s a means to an end and that end is travel. When she met her future sailing husband she knew she was a marrying the lifestyle she wanted. A traveling lifestyle suited to her curiosity.

While we’ve mostly cruised in the Bahamas, there is still lots of variety and new experiences which helps keep me interested in cruising. Bahamas sailing sloop in the Easter Regatta at Long Island in 2009.

A young, single woman on a sailing adventure with her grandfather claimed freedom as her reason for sailing.  Being able to do what she wants. Unique to her, because of her age, sailing allows her the freedom to think about her future. She has big life decisions to make at her age. What will she study at school? What career should she pursue?  Or can she have more than one career and in what order?  (I didn’t ask her if the tides swept in answers to her.)

Sailing feels normal to her, she says.  Her first adventure at sea was in Croatia when she was fifteen.  And indeed she seemed at home on the water. Very natural.  Several times I watched her from a distance as she manned the helm while her grandfather dropped the anchor in the same anchorage as us.  At a 500 metre or more distance her strength and agility were apparent as she sheeted (pulled) in the sails to bring the boat to a stop.  (They rarely turned on their engine, so proficient – and patient – they were as sailors committed to the wind power only philosophy.)  When later she rowed her dinghy (again, no motor) to visit our boat she looked a vision of strong, lithe, and confident woman power.

(When I got to know her better she let me know she would prefer an outboard on the dinghy.  Rowing only was too confining.  Motorized travel would open up many more possibilities.  Indeed, she sometimes felt like the sailboat was a prison because she often couldn’t get to places she wanted to get to for, for example, snorkelling, town trips, or to visit newly made friends.)

The outdoor, self-sufficient lifestyle ranks highest in my reasons to sail.

My husband Dwight on our day adventure kayaking across Shroud Key, Bahamas. We have 2 sea kayaks on board. My kayak is key to my cruising experience. It gives me freedom to have my own adventures doing something that I love to do – paddling.

It’s a continuation of my past experiences paddling, camping, hiking, back country skiing and the profound personal meaning I found in those adventures.  It was the inner journey of testing my strength and finding out if I measured up.  Digging in deeper if more courage, patience, perseverance, calmness, or ability was required.  Coming up with an inventive solution to a problem whether it was cooking a meal when a key ingredient hadn’t been packed or escaping a flooding river.

It was also putting myself in places where nature’s intense beauty could not be missed.  Where natural beauty seeped inside me and shifted the contours of my thoughts, feelings and attitudes into more pleasing shapes and there was more room for wonder.

You know, though, my sailing doesn’t really have those features – or at least very strongly.  I can recount very few times this trip when I’ve been awed by a sky or sea scape.  I’m in this boat – now one with a cockpit enclosure – and screened off somewhat from the natural landscape we pass through.  Plus, the focus is so much on maintaining, cleaning and fixing the boat that there is a danger of the boat becoming the landscape rather than the boat being the vehicle to experience landscape.

WILD ROSE goes in the water at St. Augustine, Florida. February, 2010. This was our second sailboat, a 42 ft Brewer. We bought her in 2010, worked on her in the boat yard for 2 months, then sailed her to the Bahamas and back.

And as for self-sufficiency I’m predominantly subject to the decisions of a vastly more experienced and proficient captain.  Mostly I seem to myself as if I’m more of a burden and frustration than someone who is carrying their own weight.  I’m far from self-sufficient out here. In fact, it seems like I struggle to have my own mind!  Yes, there are many things I need to be told – sometimes more than a couple times – but I remain sceptical that so much and vehement telling is absolutely required!

I hold out hope that I will be more self-sufficient as time goes by.  On board the sailboat I have my kayak.  When we’re at anchor I can paddle my kayak – a yellow Ocean Kayak, the Caper model.  I lower it into the water, climb precariously atop (it’s a sit on), grab the lovely lightweight paddle with both hands and paddle where I want to go.  I’m my own master propelling myself under my own steam to whatever destination strikes my fancy. My kayak will stay part of my reason for sailing.

Snorkeling is also part of why I sail.  Water is the First World is the title of a book of poems my sister gave to me.  It’s about birthing and motherhood but I think of it in the watery world of sailing and snorkelling.  Underwater is primal, beautiful, foreign and it knocks me off centre.  Under water I feel vulnerable.  Currents and wave action push and pull me without any regard that I exist.  I’m just more flotsam and jetsom.  I brush up against things without realizing I’m that close.  My sense of myself in relation to things in my watery world is so underdeveloped at the beginning of our sailing adventures that I’m like a baby. I startle easily.  I apologize when I bump into things.  Unlike on land, things can come at you from all four directions with equal probability.  I wish for eyes in the back of my head, my stomach and my back. Then I could see what’s coming.

I spear my first lobster.

As R. said, on a boat it’s just “you” without the expectations and roles that define us on land.  That reason holds true for me, too, however, I’m finding this boat brings with it some roles and expectations that are chafing me considerably and consistently.  What will I find out about myself as I try – in my way – to come to terms with it?  Is this where the digging deeper for more perseverance, skill, strength and a creative solution comes in?

What I don’t like about my sailboat

Last night the wind gusted several squalls our way.  With boat hatches and port lights fastened down against the rain I had no choice but to turn the noisy fan above my head in the aft cabin.  I did not like my sailboat during these hours.  I longed to be in a tent in the shelter of the trees on shore. A tent would have kept me dry and cool.  It would not creak, groan and clank as boat does as it – and its contents – roll from side to side in the swells that come with windy weather.

A list of what I don’t like about my sailboat formed easily in my head, whipped on by the frustration I felt:

  • We spend a lot of time and money lugging this boat from place to place then it “turns” on us, becomes this hot, noisy monster.
  • The boat keeps me inside! Separate from the natural landscapes and sensations that I long to feel. (OK, sometimes the shelter of a boat is a good thing.)
  • The boat keeps me more sedentary than I want to be. It’s harder to get exercise, especially when we’re on passages.
  • The boat has way too many motors. All noisy and smelly. The noise keeps me separate from the natural landscapes and sensations.
  • The electricity, running fresh water, refrigeration, lights, navigational aids are high on our list of appealing boat features. Then the reality of the price they exact becomes apparent almost too late. The boat demands more of us to keep these amenities operating.
  • Way too much talking about boats and cruising experiences with others who are too much the same as me. Where is the experiencing other cultures?

I begin to wonder if we’re sailing the boat or the boat is sailing us?

I end this section with a question for myself:
Why do I sail?

Karen Bergman
A caricature of me my
former colleagues gave to me when I retired last year. Sailing /cruising seems so exotic to those who haven’t
done it.
About Karen Bergman

I was born and raised in southern Alberta, Canada. For over 22 years I lived in Canada’s Arctic where my children were born and raised. My first adventure on the ocean was in an open boat to fish and hunt seals. In early spring we travelled on the frozen ice by snowmobile and komatik (a sled with runners). (No, we didn’t live in igloos! And, yes, we had electricity and running water.)

When I was young, I had romantic dreams about sailing around the world. I didn’t really think about how that would work given I get motion sick on a swing. My first adventure on a sail boat in 2007 saw us traveling around the Florida panhandle in a 32 foot Pearson, Island Breezes. I remember the heat, nausea, lightning storms and a water spout bearing down on us when our motor was disabled. Our max speed was 1 knot. I was terrified.

And unimpressed by the whole thing. I thought there had to be more to this cruising life. Next year we cruised in the Bahamas. That was more like it and I found enough in it to stick with cruising. We’ve been back to the Bahamas several times and also cruised (as crew on another boat) in south and central America. Currently, our cruising platform is m/v Popeye, a 42 foot Tolleycraft.

I retired from a wonderful public service career in 2011. I live now in southern British Columbia, Canada with my partner Dwight on 5 acres of solid land with mountains, lakes and rivers nearby. Between us, we own 9 boats, including the canoe and kayaks. I have three children and two granddaughters.

I’ve just started blogging again: Karen Blogs Again.

Read also on this website

What do you like (and don’t like) about cruising?

Let us know.

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7 comments to What do women like most about sailing their boats?

  • Love this honest article! We won’t start cruising until 2013, and while I think I’ll love it … it’s good to prepare for the not-so-good. I’m looking forward to the Bahamas!

  • I am a woman who has spent most of her life sailing boats to different parts of the world. I spent the first sixteen years of my married life raising two sons afloat while we sailed to over 80 countries. And now that I am a grandmother to 8 little ones, I still sail across oceans. All these experience has lead me to publish a small book, mostly pictures, of how I organize our boat. There are heaps of stories on our website. One of the best from those years long ago is “Tears in Paradise.” Plus there’s a youtube video of me sailing the Coral Sea looking after 5 big men, and my two children.
    All the best from “Down Under”

  • Great Post! Wow you really covered alot.

    I LOVE the adventure, and can see why some people get addicted.

  • As with Mid-Life Cruising, we are still weekend cruisers. But we love our center cockpit 1990 Morgan 44′. She has a centerline berth and good size aft cabin. We also have a small bathtub in the aft head! Plus she is sturdy and sails well.

  • Karen bergman

    It’s great to get comments! Thanks so much. Mid-life Cruiser, I see you’re a triathlete. I got back into it this year and am hooked again. It will be a challenge to keep up the running while cruising this winter. I will be lobbying for anchorages where I can dinghy or paddle to shore for runs on roads from time to time.

  • Karen bergman

    Jude, I found and read the Tears in Paradise posting. What a different era when you began cruising. We sometimes think we missed out on a big part of the experience of visiting remote countries 10 – 20 years ago. For example we were in the San Blas islands 2 years ago. People live in grass houses but have cell phones. A woman asked me – through hand gestures – to charge her phone for her on our boat.
    Us there even a “remote” country anymore? And what do you think about the safety of cruising in , say, the waters of the middle east?
    I’d love to hear your views.
    There’s so much info on your website! Thanks for posting. I will be taking in more. Especially the books you’ve written.

  • Karen bergman

    Aaah, a Morgan 44. Probably one of our top favorites for when we go back to a sailboat.
    Get in touch should you find yourselves thinking of changing boats!

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