Cruising Life

Sharing space

Crewing aboard LLYR, a 53-foot steel ketch

Imagine your house.  Now shrink it down to your living room and kitchen.  That’s the size of the boat my husband and I lived on for two months with seven people as we sailed across the largest ocean on the planet on Llyr, a 53-foot steel ketch.  Now take that space and shrink it down to 40 square feet.  That’s the size of the space Rob and I shared for our 33-day passage between Panama and the Marquesas Islands, and for the weeks of prep-work at Shelter Bay Marina beforehand.  Currently, we’re sharing 30 square feet on a 43-foot Polaris bound for Tonga.

I know what you’re thinking … and, no, we’re not midgets, dwarves or leprechauns.  We’re just brave, or really stupid, depending on your point of view.

One year ago, we decided to start our sailing adventure by crewing on boats, rather than buying our own right away.  This allows us to:

  1. Make sure we REALLY like the cruising lifestyle before dropping tens of thousands of dollars;
  2. Learn more about blue-water sailing;
  3. Test drive a variety of boats to see what we like best;
  4. And travel much more cheaply through the South Pacific.

You can read reams of blog posts on how couples transition from living in comfy, spacious homes to living aboard a sailboat.  Our growing pains aren’t that different, really, except that we moved into one small part of someone else’s sailboat, rather than having a whole boat to stretch out into.  When we started planning for our “hitch-sail  around the world” adventure, I hadn’t really thought ahead to how crunching into tiny new spaces might affect Rob and me, individually and as a couple.

For instance: our bed aboard Llyr was the size of my two body pillows back home, and a far cry from the king bed Rob and I could each spread-eagle across.  To be fair, while I missed my body pillows dreadfully, Rob definitely suffered more, since he was a foot longer than the berth.  Our closet consisted of three tiny cubbies and two short shelves. Instead of our own room, we each got our own hook on the wall.

Our berth on LLYR – Small space for Rob

To be clear, Llyr had the NICEST sailboat berth I’ve ever been in.  Seriously. I was expecting one half the size, and was giddy with excitement that we had a big, breezy hatch to open, our own mini-desk, seven foot headroom, and … drumroll, please … a door to close!
Right this minute, I’m longing for Llyr‘s cushy berth as Rob sets up his settee (the quarter-berth on our current sailboat doesn’t fit two people unless one wants a bloody nose in the middle of the night).  But even the biggest sailboat berth is still small enough to create some angst between a husband and wife used to living very independently.

To compensate, we compromise.  A few minor sacrifices during our Pacific crossing maintained the greater peace: Rob let me have an extra pillow on the tiny bed, and a whole hook dedicated to hair ties.  I ignored the constant clutter on the desk, and his boxers hanging in my face from the improvised clothesline.  I got more cubby space since I have five times more clothing, and Rob got an extra shelf for his fishing gear.

It’s not just space we have to share now, either.  Our new lifestyle required downgrading material goods, since all our belongings had to fit in one big backpack each as we hop between boats.  This downgrading was unfortunately doubled one week into our adventure by “The Great Baja Theft” when one of our bags was stolen near La Paz.   Now, we have to swap the one iPod, the small laptop, the one red headlamp, the remaining water bottle, the guitar (since Rob’s learning to play), the single body lotion, the one beach towel, the only yoga mat. At least we still have our own toothbrushes.

Sharing the guitar

Back home in Montana, we didn’t own a huge house, by American standards.  But our 1,700 square feet nestled in the mountains felt luxurious. We each had our own room, or “chaos space.”  Mine was dubbed the ”earring room,” filled with jewelry, clothes, guitars, photos, my desk, and my books.  Rob’s was dubbed the ”gear room,” with his fly-tying station, 12 backpacks, packraft, fishing, hunting and skiing gear all on top of his paperwork and files.  As we crew on different sailboats, our combined clothes, papers, guitar, backpacks and recreation gear must all fit in our seven-foot by four-foot berth.  Oh, and we have to fit in there, too.

Rob on our one yoga mat on the stern deck of LLYR

For two extremely independent people who were used to having inherent boundaries of “my stuff” and “your stuff,” it’s been quite a transition to move onto other people’s sailboats.  The good news: we made it through our first anniversary. The other news: it ain’t easy sharing a tiny space with your partner, but it is possible with a lot of patience, solid communications skills, and an ever-present sense of humor.

Luckily, Rob and I are both communal people, used to sharing our home, our gear, our thoughts and our lives with others and each other.
The only tough part, really, were the up-front negotiations about who gets what when, not the least of which is a bit of privacy.  As long as I can occassionally spread-eagle alone on the berth with a book and he can tune me out with headphones and loud music, we seem to get along just dandy. Again and again, we prove that a deep breath, clear communication, and lots of jokes ease rough moments in our shared space.

Brianna dancing on sailboat bow

We’ve now lived on seven different boats in the past six months, and are pros at maximizing small spaces.  We reach around each other in a graceful and almost-effortless dance. All the sharing of space and possessions has made us a stronger couple.  We are more adaptable, more comfortable with each other, and more confident in our ability to weather all types of storms.

That being said, I still miss our king-sized bed.

About Brianna Randall

As comfortable in fancy earrings as she is in her ratty yoga pants, Brianna loves sailing, writing, snowboarding, diving, biking, hiking, guitar-playing, dancing and yoga.  Brianna grew up where the desert meets the mountains in Southern California, and then headed to the ocean to attend the University of San Diego (where she learned to sail).  She fled the traffic and smog of Cali to get her Master’s degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, and decided the wonderful community and endless adventures in Missoula made up for the 8-month-long winters (but just barely).

Brianna spent 9 years directing policy, outreach, and grants at the Clark Fork Coalition, and has presented on water issues in Spain, China, Australia and across the Western U.S. She is also a freelance writer, and wrote a children’s novel about Montana.

After a decade of ”working like an adult,” she convinced her husband (easily) to try sailing around the world for a couple of years.
Brianna and Rob are “hitch-sailing” as crew in the South Pacific this season — follow their adventures at

More on this website
  • The Crew Quandary (Admirals’ Angle column #63), by Gwen Hamlin:
    When long passages loom, cruisers invariably wonder whether or not to take on crew. Here are some things to consider.
  • Balance of power … afloat, by Jaye Lunsford
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