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Pink and Blue -

June 26, 2003 

Eileen waxes the hull and wonders where the other women are

As the old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for." In last week's entry we were complaining about rain of diluvial duration. It got to the point that there were all these animals lined up in pairs at the bottom of the ladder where "Little Gidding" was standing in the boatyard. "Forget it!" David told the assembled host. "This isn't the Ark. Go away. This rain has got to stop!" And stop it did - only to be replaced by stifling heat. Soon we were dripping with perspiration rather than precipitation.

As things began to dry out we returned to our list of boat projects, working at a crazed pace to make up for the soggy delay. We commandeered some of the yard's scaffolding before anyone else could claim it. Eileen got out the fibreglass cleaner, boat wax and a pile of clean rags. David began tinkering with the prop shaft he had retrieved from the machine shop. Other liveaboards emerged from neighbouring boats, blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight. Stefan on the Swiss boat behind us started cutting sheets of foam insulation to fit down his companionway. Soon, George on the German boat across from us was sanding his hull. Next to us, Rich was grinding away at a steel hatch coaming.

Eileen surveyed the scene from her vantage point on the scaffolding. "You know what's wrong with this picture? There aren't any women working on any of the other boats. I know those guys aren't single. Where are their partners?"

It was true. There had been an equal number of women at the potluck barbecue we held between cloud bursts the week before. Now, there was nary a female in sight.

"Maybe they're down below in the engine room," David suggested meekly.

"No they're not! They're just smarter than I am." Eileen pouted. "Why do I have to be the only woman who does boat work?"

Eileen may have overstated the situation, but generally there are pretty clear gender divisions when it comes to maintaining and repairing boats. Men do the messy grunt work; women don't. This extends to other aspects of the liveaboard lifestyle. Women do the cooking, cleaning and laundry; and men... well, they make sure there are adequate beer provisions onboard.

We can already hear the howls of protests from those couples to whom this does not apply. When we met her in a Trinidad boatyard, our friend Donna was doing most of the repair work on her tired boat "Tryst". She was as paint speckled and grease smeared as any of the male do-it-yourselfers in the yard. Onboard the catamaran "Anything Goes", our close friend Pam defers to husband Glenn in the galley. Glenn's a gourmet cook; Pam's culinary aspirations peak at opening a can of Viennese sausages. But it's Pam who handles the ground tackle and trims the sails when they're underway. These cruisers are exceptions.

For a more typical view of sexual stereotyping in the boating world, consider our good friends Brian and Heidi. When the cruising kitty was in serious need of resuscitation, they put Brian's sailboat "Zest" in storage in Florida and began working as paid crew on mega yachts. They were amply qualified. Both were equally capable of stripping down a diesel engine or repairing a recalcitrant refrigeration unit. Both were certified diving instructors. Heidi actually had a higher classification commercial captain's license (she also has a commercial air pilot's license). Brian took additional courses to catch up. Guess who gets to be the skipper when the owner of a luxury yacht hires them on as a couple? No surprise - Brian, of course. Faced with a few millenniums of male dominated nautical tradition, Heidi is forever fated to be first mate. It's a major accomplishment that she's escaped assignment as stewardess (in past centuries she would not have been allowed onboard period).

When we lived on land, we pretty well split most household chores. Eileen's mother is still amazed that David does his share of cooking and dishwashing whenever we visit. None of Eileen's brothers do. It's with a certain sense of dismay, therefore, that we've found that we've been slowly slipping into the "pink" and "blue" categories onboard "Little Gidding". While it's true that Eileen has been putting in equal time in the boatyard, she specializes in cleaning, waxing, wood finishing, and canvas repairing. David scrapes his knuckles in the engine room, attempts electrical repairs, and expends a fair bit of energy cursing broken water pumps, wind generators and outboard motors. However, we still alternate on galley duty; and David cleans the toilet, something for some unremembered reason he always did when we lived in an apartment on land.

Is it a bad thing that our boat responsibilities are now more colour-coded than our household chores ever were? Probably not. It's perhaps inevitable that we would have gravitated separately towards those tasks for which we had the greater skills and familiarity. The key to liveaboard harmony lies more in balancing the amount of work each partner contributes than attempting to duplicate those contributions. As long as both crew have active roles onboard, the boat is still perceived to be "ours". When it becomes "his" or "her" boat, you can expect the cruising dream is no longer shared equally. Time to head for shore.

David & Eileen