Sunday, October 17, 2010


If there is one word I could use to describe our relationships aboard Whatcha Gonna Do this past year, it would be “togetherness”.  There is no doubt that it takes a certain kind to be able to endure so much togetherness living in small quarters with little escape 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  I would not have said I was that type, but I seemed to overlook this factor when we decided to do this trip.  I was awed by the opportunity to do something different, exciting, adventurous and fun.  I knew it would be a lot of work, and I had my reservations about homeschooling the kids when I felt challenged simply helping them with homework.  Perhaps these side-tracked me from the fact that I have always needed my personal space, and independence.  I love my “Me Time”.  

Besides, when I’m at home, and I have my ‘ugly’ moments, I can go off and be by myself.  No one has to see it.  Not so when you are together ALL THE TIME. At those times of ugliness, I can’t stand myself, so I can’t imagine how the others feel about me.  And at times like that, I just need my space.  My sweet kids take it as a time to want to comfort me (Michael knows better by now) and I have to tell them that for the moment, I just want to be by myself, assuring them that I’ll be alright. 

In this small space, where does one go?  To the bow of the boat, to my room with the fans blowing, to shore for a walk if it’s not too hot, for a swim, for a kayak.  One needs to get creative.

In the book by Janna Cawrse Esarey, “The Motion of the Ocean”, the author states that it’s not so much the togetherness, but rather the lack of ‘otherness’.  Your crewmates have to be everything to you.  Which is pretty impossible.  I don’t think any one person can be everything to you.  In fact, I think that’s unhealthy.  So it gets a bit tricky when we are somewhere or en route somewhere alone.  What you must know, however, is that we are rarely alone.  There is one wonderful cruising community out there. We have made some good friends along the way, so we have found alternative venues for ‘sharing’ (aka complaining) when the need arises.  The things we (read: women) complain about are understood by every other cruiser (female) out there, regardless of age, background, education, or culture.  The men, on the other hand, only need to discuss alternators, converters, sail drives, pumps and the like, and they’ll be fine.  That and a woman to come home to, and voila: Needs met.

I must say that this has been a great time in my marriage.  Who knew it would bring us so close?  It certainly could have gone either way, and on many boats, it’s gone south.  We’ve come across several boats where the couple is splitting for one reason or another, often after many years together, and sometimes even with kids.  But for Michael and I, we’ve really gotten into a good groove. We work well together, and our labor divisions could not be more complementary (albeit along very traditional lines; cruisers call this the Pink and Blue jobs).  We are really like a well-oiled machine when it comes to the workings of the boat and day-to-day life.  We’ve also learned to handle each other very well when one of us is having an off day.

Like the time when we arrived in Mazatlan after being at different anchorages for about 3 weeks without any time alone (that’s when we tend to fight the most – when we haven’t spent time alone together).  I had taken too much time getting ready to go out for our date night, and then got on the computer to send ‘one last email’.  Michael was furious.  I still convinced him to come out with me as I also really needed to get off the boat.  We went into town and had dinner outside in the town square with music playing and crowds of people.  Michael sat and did not say a word the entire time but at this point I know he still just wanted company and I was happy to oblige and be there for him.  I was over the fight already – I usually get over things faster than he does.  By the end of the meal, I went to the bathroom and there I was confronted by a woman who asked me, “Are you two married?”  I was startled by the question, posed completely out of the blue by a complete stranger.  I responded that we were, but inquired why she had asked.  She said that she and her friends watched us all night, observed that we hadn’t spoken a word to each other all night and thought, “It’s time for you to move on!”.  I had to laugh.  I started blubbering amidst laughter that we live on a boat, we hadn’t been alone in weeks, he’s not usually like that, he’s so much fun, we are very in love, blah blah blah.  It all sounded so excuse-like, even though it was true.  It turns out that this woman was the Canadian Consul General for the State of Sinaloa.  And she wasn’t impressed.

We’ve been fortunate that Danielle and Harrison can stay alone on the boat so that Michael and I can get some couple time.  We take it sometimes to run errands while they are doing school work, or as a date night (usually more successful than the above example).  We have always guarded our date nights, even on land, and we have realized that these are more important than ever. Spending time off the boat, away from boat projects, is essential for smooth sailing.

Interestingly, within the span of only a couple of days, both my kids asked me what makes a good marriage.  I think that among other things, one of the most important is an admiration for the other person – for the things they do and who they are.  I continue to be surprised by Michael’s skill and ability in sailing this boat and keeping it in good shape.  I have learned to admire and indeed enjoy his humor more than ever.  He’s been amazing with the kids, being a kid himself!  And he’s been so accommodating of my needs.  I can keep going…  Bottom line, after the novelty of falling in love wears off, it’s the admiration and respect you have for the other person that will keep that spark alive.  For me, at least.

Then there are the kids.  There are times when the two of them seem to hate each other so much, and then they play so well together that we can’t get them to stop to set the table.  I am not sure how other families do it when they have young kids.  At least we all get breaks from each other.  And it’s far from being bad.  Indeed, it’s been mostly great. We have bonded as a family unit.  We have many game nights and organized family outings like snorkeling or hiking.  We slept on the trampoline together on the hot summer nights. Finally, a bed big enough for all of us!  And then there are the moments, so many I can’t count, of great times that just happen when we are just being together.   Today we helped each other as we caught two fish at the same time – all four of us taking turns reeling them in on two rods, excited to see what we had caught.  We’ve had great conversations about issues like the BP oil spill and the Holocaust.  The kids get to share interesting facts as they do their school work.

My relationships with each one separately have flourished.  How decadent to be able to really get to know your kids – through how they learn, to how they think and what they are curious about. Of course I love them, but with each day, as I learn more about them and from them, I realize, ‘Hey, I really like them as people.’

There are still worries. I’ve been worried about each of my kids at different times.    For example, Harrison has become progressively frightened by the accessibility into his room through his hatches to the outside (or rather, from the outside in).  He’s up almost every night with bad dreams.  We are considering changing his and Danielle’s rooms as the hatches into her room are smaller, plus her room is closer to ours.  On the other hand, Danielle has become quite lonely lately as there haven’t been kids her age around for quite some time.  I don’t know if there will be other kids further south in Central America, and at her age, I know how important her peers are.  As I said, we can’t be all things to everyone. I’m not sure how to resolve that one – if only it were as easy as changing her room…

The issues on board a cruising boat don’t seem much different on land, except that they are magnified given the close quarters, and of course the lack of other distractions like work or school.  Creativity in finding that otherness and/or that personal space is the key.  Some days it works, and some days, not so much.

Signing off from Isla Espiritu Santo on Playa Bonanza,


  1. Barb, this is great. You write so well--just like you talk. You should send this to the sailing magazines.

  2. What a great post. A real piece of literature. So real. I miss talking to you like that. This one should be the excerpt for the book you'll write!

  3. Wow, Barb. Great post. Very inspiring! I agree with Bronna. Perfect excerpt for your book. I can't wait for more.

  4. funny - I can't even picture your "ugly" moments. I guess we all have them - even the ones who always seem so calm and together like you. You are truly and amazing writer. You always make me reflect on something in my life when I read your blogs. Cant wait for our quality time together so soon! xo

  5. It's amazing that you put so much thought and effort into your relationships. You don't take anything for granted. Your analysis of the situation is truly inspiring and spoke to me. You do the same for Allan and me when we're with you - always concerned for everyone. We love you so much...

  6. Barbara, you truly are an inspiring person and writer!! Thanks for sharing these wonderful insights. It's your honesty and attitude that seem to make such a difference. This was truly an amazing blog to read. Love Phyllis