Building A Lasting Love Boat
Edited By Ann Dermody
For Lin's original article, go to www.BoatUS.com/Magazine/archives/keepyourlover.asp.
Where He Wants To Be
I could tell you that my wife Kay's passion for boating lovingly parallels mine as we approach nearly 25 years of marriage, 20 of which have been engaged in some form of sailing on the Great Lakes in Michigan. But in order to do that I would have to ignore the fact that I signed her up for her first sailing lesson on Lake St. Clair when she was eight months pregnant with our firstborn son, Will. I would also have to leave out the fact that I was sailing with my friend Rich a month later (when she was six days overdue with the same firstborn), when she went into active labor. This was at a time when cell phones were a novelty and the size of footballs, and I thought I had taken all the necessary precautions as an attentive husband. I had borrowed a cellphone so my wife could reach me. I called her before we got underway. I left her the phone number of a friend nearby who could race over if needed. And I'd asked the attending physician lots of questions during her last pre-natal visit.
The one precaution I overlooked was choosing not to sail at all that day! So it should be no surprise that I disregarded the fact that her doctor that morning was a 28-year-old male who had never experienced birth before (nor had any biological basis in experience) when I asked him if it was okay for me to venture out sailing that day. "Sure, this is her first child, this baby may not be here for awhile," he said.
That was enough of an endorsement for me. My friend Rich and I headed off to the marina, and it never occurred to me that her doctor might be measuring "not for awhile" in minutes rather than days. A few hours later the harbormaster showed up at the boat as we were pulling into the slip and yelled, "Haven't you been answering your cellphone? Your wife called and went into labor." Rich got me home at speeds that nearly exceeded the laws of physics, and I got Kay to the hospital on time.
It should come as no shock to your readers (certainly those of the smarter sex) then, that I thought I was "off the hook" when we arrived, but an even deeper pit formed in my stomach when the nurse said to Kay, "good news, we're ready to go!" in a cheery voice, followed by, "of course, it's too late for drugs, we're going to do this naturally today!"
I would like to believe I am smarter today, but I still consider it a monumental blessing that Kay remains on speaking terms with me, and also happily married 20 years later (so she says). I also think that sailing happily into the sunset, as a couple, is often a triumph of hope over experience.
I can remember the soft grounding we had outside the Metropolitan Beach Marina just as Will was ready to nurse that first summer, and the generosity of strangers that came and pulled us off the sandbar. Whether I remember the high-pitched screaming of a hungry infant or the simple joy of sun-brewed iced tea afterward, watching our newborn fast asleep as we listened to Maynard Ferguson's "Sunday Morning" is a choice my memory allows me make. It is also the choice that defines whether or not we are better off watching life pass us by on the horizon from our cockpit, contemplating the next adventure, or at home watching life from the television. What lingers in my memory is that somehow our marriage survived both toddlers, and my numerous snafus, as an inexperienced helmsman. What Kay has taught me about staying happily married invariably means being a good sport a lot of the time, often despite her better judgment.
Three years ago, on the eve of an economic downturn, Kay said to me, "You know, you need to stop talking about buying a boat (instead of continuing to lease) and just do it."
Months later, anchored in a quiet cove on the south arm of Lake Charlevoix on our 38-foot Beneteau, Tres Joli, I asked her why she wanted to spend our disposable income on a boat rather than countless other things. She said, "I like the way you are on a boat, and that's the guy I enjoy being with the most." What exactly did she like? The fact that I'm far more tidy aboard our boat than I am at home? That I am slightly less absent-minded onboard than ashore? Or that I am far more content doing work, repairs, or just hanging out with our sons and friends aboard Tres Joli than almost anywhere else on the planet?
Keeping All The Crew Happy
We make every effort to have things on the boat that fulfill individual needs. For example, Kathy loves to cook, so we have a set of pots that would be the envy of any land-based kitchen. There is also a small stash of baking pans, really good knives and utensils, and the best available nesting bowls. These are all high quality and greatly add to the enjoyment of preparing meals in the galley and they fit in less space than the collection of cast off stuff that came with the boat.
We live aboard. This puts us in close proximity to each other all day long. We get in the others way, or, bump into each other. So, I kiss my wife several times a day in passing. She seems to still enjoy this after 40 years. I try to make our home a romantic place to be in addition to going to art shows and the like. Kathy must feel the same as she takes me to boat shows whenever there is one in striking distance…
But Honey, I Wanted Diamond Studs!
Yes, I admit that was my response to my husband's gift for my 50th birthday four years ago when he presented me with a 47-foot 1985 Harbormaster. Other than a few trips on a pontoon boat when I was a child, I'd never really boated. But my husband Bill had built a 30-foot houseboat with his father and older brother in 1959, and never forgot the joy of boating.
"Let's try it for a year; if we like it, well ..." That "well" turned into a 2007 Harbormaster 52WB two years later, and we're now in our sixth summer of weekend living at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, aboard Pure Grace II.
Determined to be a great first mate, I took a skipper-saver course offered by our local Power Squadron, and learned how to "parallel park" our river yacht, take it through locks, and drop anchor. During the early spring, we've both wielded paintbrushes as we put five coats of barrier coat, and two coats of anti-fouling paint, on the hull. I don't mind polishing the stainless railings and washing windows, but I draw the line at waxing and polishing the hull. My husband loves to do it, with cigar firmly clamped between his teeth, so I leave him to that particular pleasure!
It's now five years since that infamous birthday gift and we've started our search through various Southern cities and marinas to find our retirement spot next year. We entertain quite a bit, and the photo of dinner on our flybridge was snapped by a guest against the beautiful backdrop of the city, at the confluence of our three rivers.
Making The Connection
I love sailing and recently reconnected with my high school sweetheart after 27 years and the end of long-term marriages for both of us. On our first sailing trip, I took her by boat to Florida's Destin Seafood Festival, and to watch a live concert. She enjoyed the two-hour day trip to Destin, and on the way home, the moon was out and we had the bay to ourselves. We sat on the bow and enjoyed nature and the peace and quiet. It was very romantic. There's just something about being together on a moonlit evening, out on the water, with someone you truly love. Needless to say, we're anxious to expand our boating experiences together in the future!
Fake It Till You Make It!
Wow! How I can relate to your wonderful article, "Ten Ways To Keep Your Lover." In the beginning, I did what most women do when they fall head over heels for a man who has a hobby or job he loves more than life itself. I faked it.
My husband ate and slept boating and fishing. During college he got his 100-ton captain's license, and afterwards decided to go into business as a charter-boat captain, the youngest in Biloxi, Mississippi.
I was at the other end of the spectrum. The only boating experience I had was going to the river fishing with my dad. I'd never driven a boat, and had no desire to do so. So when we fell in love, I was terrified of this huge 38-foot Bertram, and aware that she was his first love. How was I going to compete and win this man over? I concocted a devious plan to pretend to be totally interested in the ins and outs of the boat and the business.
At the time, I owned a small deli and loved it. I thought there was nothing as invigorating as owning my own business. But six years later, I'd totally fallen in love with boating, completed my captain's course, and received my 100-ton license. I shut down the deli and together we bought the second oldest tourist attraction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, The Biloxi Shrimping Trip, and I discovered being on the water all day is the most liberating experience of all.
I also discovered another truth. I was not the one "reeling in" my potential husband at all. By patiently teaching me everything he knew about boating and fishing, he was putting the hooks in me! Eleven years, two children, four boats (a tour boat, two charterboats on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and a charterboat in Islamorada, Florida) later, the process has taught me one thing. Sometimes faking it can backfire!
In It For The Long Haul
Alice and I have been boating together the 53 years we've been married, and the two rules I've learned are: One, never scare the mate, and two, give the mate the creature comforts she desires.
I was brought up around boats, but Alice, a non-swimmer, had only experienced a ferry ride to Catalina before we married. We eventually settled in Dallas, and our first sailboat was a Lone Star 13-foot sloop that we took to the lake with three small children, the dog, and the ice chest. The three children all learned to sail on that boat and we camped out and sailed, sailed, sailed.
We moved up to a 27-footer that we kept on Lake Texoma and a 40-foot trawler when early retirement was offered to set out on our adventures. By then, Alice and I had completed the USCG safety course, which gave her additional confidence. But one evening on the boat, I told her I had a serious problem. "Alice, if you get sick or die and we are out to sea, I will get you and the boat back to some port. On the other hand, if I get sick or die, what are you going to do?" That was motivation enough for Alice to learn how to read charts, plot a course (these were pre-GPS days), start the boat, pull anchor, steer, and navigate. Then we were ready for our first adventure, a yearlong voyage to Grenada.
Not exactly our final destination, as it turned out. Friends convinced us to head to South America with them and then up to Long Island Sound. Then back down to Florida and back to South America and Trinidad.
When we both turned 75, it was time to go bigger. We currently sail a 42-foot Hunter Passage, which carries our favorite name, Contentment, and plan one more trip to Trinidad before we "age." We've been at this for 20 years now. Cruising is 95 percent fun and five percent sheer panic. It's that five percent that you and the lover have to be prepared for.
Do You Want To Go Knitting?
Back when I was a newspaper reporter, I covered a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I asked the woman if she'd ever considered divorce.
"Divorce, no," she replied. "Murder, yes!"
Perhaps I'm a lucky dude because my wife realized years ago that keeping a boat may prevent a murder — on her part. When I ask Jill, my bride of 49 years, "Do you want to go boating?" her reply is usually, "Do you want to go knitting?"
We've both tried to analyze why Jill isn't comfortable with overnight trips in our 1984 Bayliner Contessa Flybridge. Jill has her own ideas on that. "Remember that time you took me to Oxbow Marina on a Saturday night and we arrived just after 5 p.m. when the store was closed and we had no food on the boat? We had to make a beeline for a restaurant a few miles away, ran into fog, and ended up having to dock there for the night and endure the noisy band until 2 a.m." Point taken.
Our marriage is one where opposites attract. Yet we agree on the important issues. I was a country rube from Montana, Jill a sophisticated California girl. She loved dancing; I hated it. She's the saver; I'm the spender. Compromise is the key ingredient to a successful marriage and I credit her with all our success.
After I sold my newspaper in 2005, and bought a 1974 Carver 28-foot Mariner, she liked the idea of being able to keep everything onboard, instead of having to load and unload a ski boat with gear every time we got home. Then we bought a 1969 38-foot Hatteras tri-cabin that Jill thought we'd like when our children and grandchildren visited us, but it was too big.
Our next boat was a 26-foot Invader, great to zip out to Delta restaurants and easy to dock, but it had one sin. If there were more than two of us in the boat, I had to send Jill up front to be the ballast to make it plane. Not many wives will consent to being the ballast for long, so you know what killed that boat!
Two years ago we traded in for the Bayliner, my favorite boat of the seven we've owned. Several times since the downturn in the economy, I've suggested we sell the boat to save the monthly slip fee. But Jill knows boating is part of my DNA and always says, "But what would you do without your man cave? Bug me? Let's keep the boat."
Building A Boating Team
Our boating lifestyle began early on in our relationship, when I spotted a rundown boat in Ben's backyard. Picturing all the fun we could have together on the water, we spent months fixing up the old 1973 Starcraft that Ben had been meaning to fix up for years. Finally, we took Seapickle out on a small inland lake for the day, and were hooked!
A few years later, we began to get the itch for a cruiser to use on Lake Michigan. When Ben proposed, we used some of our wedding savings to buy the new boat. Our boating song, "Into The Mystic," became our wedding song, and our love of boating turned into a lifestyle. We even had a 16-day Lake Michigan cruise on Seapickle II as our honeymoon.
Both of us were new to boating, so we learned to use our boat together, as a team. Some things were stressful at first (like docking when everyone was watching!), but we worked through it.
The 50/50 Vision
We've cruised for 33 summers in the Pacific Northwest beginning with two children still in diapers, and now four grandchildren, and we've learned a great deal about sailing as a couple. We live in a community-property state, so the boat belongs equally to both of us. That being said, we also both contributed to the purchase of the vessel, so either way, it's a 50/50 deal. When I come up with a bright idea about going somewhere that Lyn doesn't agree with, she simply says, "My half of the boat isn't going there." It's a message that makes us both smile, but the point is, we do have to agree or we don't leave the dock or weigh anchor.
I cannot count the number of times we've seen a couple anchoring with a 200-pound-plus man staying at the controls, moving little hydraulic levers, while his 90- to 100-pound partner is out on the bow handling the anchor and chain. It's truly an unfortunate example of macho. Lyn is quite capable of moving from forward to neutral to reverse and back again. I lower the anchor and manage the release of the chain. Early on, we agreed on hand signals so there would be no talking or yelling in the anchorage, very important if the vessel has a dodger or windscreen. We use a simple system: one finger up for forward, two for neutral, and three for reverse. We have a quick discussion in the cockpit before I go forward to choose the area of the drop, so that once I'm on the bow, all that is left is the set.
From the very beginning of our boating lives together, Lyn has been a partner. We always shared the helm. Involve your partner completely and they just may fall in love with boating as much as you have. Then looking forward to time onboard will be a desire and pleasure for both of you.
— Published: October/November 2011
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