Rewind 18 years to when we knew nothing about cruising couples communication tips. It was time to do my very first stern-to mooring. The plan was for my husband, Simon, to back the boat into the marina jetty, I was going to throw an aft line and grab another line from a dockhand. Then I was instructed to quickly walk the line up to the front of the boat and use it to secure the bow of the boat.
Knowing the plan for an hour or so I had a pit in my stomach. How exactly would I grab the line?
Why did I have to wear garden gloves? What if I dropped it? What if I didn’t make it to the bow of the boat quickly enough? Gosh…I hated unknowns.
Before Simon started to back the boat towards the jetty I looked up and saw eight other boats all lined up and watching us. They were a part of our sailing flotilla and we were the last in. There were a total of 23 sets of eyes on us and I could feel each of them like lasers examining my every move.
My palms were sweaty, I felt light-headed and I was full of nerves.
Simon positioned the boat close enough to the jetty for me to throw one line aft and grab what was called a ‘lazy line’. Holding the lazy line carefully with the supplied garden gloves I noticed the multitude of barnacles and other sharp objects affixed to the line as I carefully walked with it towards the front of the boat.
The wind was blowing my hair in my face. I couldn’t go very fast. My big toe prevented my quick progress by getting caught on a deck fitting. Ouch! Now a throbbing feeling radiated up my foot but I had to keep going. I felt flushed with heat as everyone watched.
And that’s when the wind took our bow and slammed our boat into our neighboring boat with a loud crash. C R A S H!
It wasn’t any boat that we smashed into. It was the lead crew boat helping us and the eight other boats sail around the British Virgin Islands for a week. The skipper happened to be in the head and our crash nearly sent him off the throne. We didn’t hit other novice newbie sailors. We hit the experts.
The sting of embarrassment wasn’t felt in one singular part of my body. It was felt throughout. I couldn’t believe we messed up so badly. Actually, I couldn’t believe that Simon didn’t instruct me well enough to do the job correctly. All my embarrassment, anger, and anxiety was instantly directed at Simon. He caused this. He was the jerk that didn’t tell me how to ensure I did the job perfectly!
Being someone that prides herself in doing a good job and getting things right the first time, I couldn’t cope with the ‘event’.
For three hours I sat in the cockpit of the charter boat not speaking to Simon. How could he allow this to happen? We were on holiday having a vacation of a lifetime yet I wanted to die or perhaps I wanted Simon to die?
The facts? I simply didn’t get to the bow of the boat quick enough to secure the anchoring line before the wind caught us. Also, the guy on the dock instructed me to throw the wrong aft line so when Simon used forward pressure we drifted towards our neighbor rather than being held off.
My pride was hurt. I felt like a failure.
I then thought that sailing wasn’t for me and I thought Simon and I weren’t a good team. Part of me even thought of divorce! (Yes – I was a control freak drama queen a while ago. I’ve matured quite a bit since then – thankfully.)
Looking back, I needed some cruising couples communication tips because…
- I had an extremely unhealthy aversion to failing at anything. If I might fail I rather not do it. I was afraid to do anything new.
- When ‘we’ messed up at learning this new hobby of sailing I immediately and without consciousness blamed Simon for whatever the situation was – whether it was my fault, his fault our both of us. Even when it was someone else’s fault I would blame Simon for not being a fortune teller and knowing something wrong was about to happen.
It’s only because it’s 18 years after the event and several failures later that I can admit, and share with you, how I felt at the time.
It’s rather embarrassing to announce that I was so afraid of failure. And it’s also difficult to realize that I held Simon accountable for way too much.
When Simon and I started out our marriage together it was me and it was him. There really wasn’t much of an ‘us’. But that was okay for the most part. We both had our lives where he did his thing and I did mine. When we moved onto a boat, however, our lives became more entwined and to make the dream work we had to consider this ‘us’ stuff a bit more.
I wish I could say that our first boat crash on a charter boat was when I realized my fear aversion issues but it wasn’t. We later went onto buying a 35’ Moody that we sailed along the south coast of England. Failures and thus embarrassing situations would repeat but there was also the pleasure of sailing. And at the start, I got seasick often but I loved getting somewhere. We’d visit amazing ports, go sightseeing, and enjoy a weekend away traveling by boat. Thankfully there was enough pleasure to push through the pain of learning how to sail.
On our Moody, I would shout and scream a bit and I would still blame Simon for problems.
How did you not see the fishing net in the water that caused our prop to stop in the middle of the busiest channel in the world? Why didn’t you realize that those marks on the chart are anti-submarine WALLS just below the surface of the water? How could you allow me to take us aground?
But over time, as we both learned the ropes, we both made fewer mistakes. If only the sailing schools would teach you what you really need to know (there I go again blaming someone! But at least it wasn’t Simon this time!) We also learned how to communicate without raising our voices and without contempt.
I’m proud to announce that now when most failures happen, it’s a question as to how do WE find a way to fix it.
Why am I writing this?
Well…I’d like to hope that in some way I can help you and your partner, if you’re anything like Simon and me, to avoid the long learning curve that I went through. It’s no fun feeling embarrassed and it really isn’t helpful to think of divorce after a boating mishap or miscommunication.
Over the years I’ve learned the following cruising couples communication tips:
- It’s important to stop worrying about being perfect all the time. It’s helpful to look at this sailing malarky as a game rather than take things so seriously. Things go wrong. It’s okay to mess up. That’s part of learning. Every time I mess up I learn far more than when I get it perfect and that is a good thing. I learned how to envision a successful outcome (ex. Docking perfectly in a marina) but I also spent a bit of time considering what could go wrong, how I’d handle it, and remind myself that ‘shit happens and it’s okay if it does.’
- Living the dream is supposed to be a dream but it can easily be a nightmare if you don’t have the right mindset and even more important if you don’t OWN the results you’re getting. And this is for the sailing dream and life in general. It didn’t happen overnight but eventually, I took responsibility for every outcome in my life – the good and the bad. When we got into trouble I asked myself ‘how did I contribute to this happening and what can I do to find a way forward.’ By owning your outcomes you have the power to change them. When you blame others you simply give up your power to do anything. By me making this change everything about WE changed for the better. And on the positive side, at night when I watch the sun go down over the water’s edge I pat myself in the back and say, ‘Well done. You created a good day!’ Own it, baby! Own it all – the bad and the good.
- Changing the fundamental and not-so-healthy belief I had about Simon was imperative. For some reason, I held him up to my impossible standards of being perfect. The same ridiculous standards I held for myself. I’ve been able to accept the fact that he’s human, he’s going to fail and THAT’S OKAY. It’s okay for both of us to fail.
- There are some core competencies in sailing that require you 1. Know how to do them correctly and 2. You practice over and over to get good at them. Oddly, many of these competencies are unknown by new sailors (It’s not really odd…sailing schools don’t really teach them adequately or at all). Many people think that they need to focus on sailing when that’s the easiest of all the tasks you need to learn. Before setting out if you can practice and perfect (or get competent) at mooring balls, anchoring, tight space boat maneuvering, docking, understanding safety systems and having your set safety procedures, maintaining and troubleshooting your engine(s) and passage planning/weather forecasting (on a modern device!) there will be a massive reduction in heated arguments. Take time to allow yourselves to mess up while practicing. Get messy, allow yourselves to make a hash out of it, get it done, and then go out and live life! (Just a side note – knowing how to sail is key. It is fundamental but it’s just one of the cogs to make the whole thing work. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of proper training.)
The top three cruising couples communication tips really changed my life for the better.
The last one – the one about getting out and practicing the core competencies. That one we learned the hard way. We went out and winged it and we paid the price. In hindsight, I wish we spent more time when we first started out with someone that could teach us the real ropes. But…we got there in the end and now we can perhaps help others knowing where we struggled.
So…if you’re just starting out on your sailing journey and finding it difficult to communicate with your partner it’s okay and it’s normal. Take time to look at areas where issues arise (after you no longer feel the heat from them) and discuss how you both can make things easier for each other – think of alternative approaches. Try different things. Stop yourself from blaming the other person. Own the issues together. There are no rules so make them up together. Find a way where you both own events (the bad and that good) and can win together even if it’s winning together at failure.
And make life easier on yourself…
Before you head out into the sunset spend a couple of weeks with a liveaboard cruiser or cruiser couple to learn from those that have made all the mistakes already and can help you fast-track those core competency areas.
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Ernest Pucillo says
John Farmer says
Good advice! When we first started racing Jeanette would get mad when I yelled instructions, especially at the starting line and windward mark. I finally convinced her I was not mad at her but we were about to hit another boat and had to do something very urgently! Sailing on the edge, in high winds, with a 150% genoa when we would have been cruising with a 110% caused concern! After we ditched the roller furling 150 for hank on 150 and 110 things got easier. The standard comment, at our sail club was, “If you have a potential mate in mind, take then out for an entire weekend, on a small boat and if you are still speaking they might be the chosen one”.