Tuesday, December 01, 2009


When I was a young man I had this fantasy.

I saw myself sailing with my beautiful bride... perhaps crewing a racing dinghy together on our home waters in England, and cruising the Mediterranean and the Caribbean on bareboat charters with our young sons for vacations.

I thought it would probably be a good step for us to learn to sail first. So we dumped our young sons on their grandparents for a couple of weeks and I took my beautiful bride off to Minorca Sailing in the Med.

It was warm. It was sunny. We took sailing lessons together in a little dinghy called a 350. Some afternoons she relaxed by the pool while I played on the 350 on my own. I made lots of mistakes. I learned a lot from my mistakes. At the end of the vacation my beautiful bride and I won the beginners' race in the 350s. We had tasted the rare pleasure of winning a sailboat race. (I did not yet know how rare it would be.) We enjoyed our prize, a bottle of champagne, at the post-race barbecue. Life was good. I was one step nearer to fulfilling my fantasy. Before returning to the UK I had my first sail in a Laser. It sent chills down my spine. That was almost 30 years ago and I still remember it.

We went home. We discovered that my parents had taught our youngest son (12 months old) to walk while we were away. Bastards! We missed his first steps. Aaah, but it would all be worth it for my sailing fantasy.

Then my beautiful bride announced that she had enjoyed our trip to Minorca but, on reflection, she had decided that she didn't like sailing. It was not for her. Had I shouted at her too much during that race we won? Not more than usual, she told me. She just "didn't know what she was doing" when we were sailing. She kept thinking about "all that water under us". It just wasn't her thing.


So I bought a Laser. I learned to sail it. I bought a wetsuit. I started racing year round on the local gravel pit. We went back to Minorca Sailing a couple of years later but this time I sailed Lasers and my beautiful bride painted pictures of boats and palm trees. I won a Laser race. One of my beautiful bride's paintings of boats and palm trees still hangs in our bathroom today.

We moved to Rutland and joined Rutland SC and I sailed my Laser on Rutland Water. My sons were old enough to learn to sail, so I bought them an Optimist. My sons took sailing lessons. I bought them a second Optimist. Every weekend my sons and I went sailing, and my beautiful bride came to the sailing club and happily acted as trolley dolly and brought us our lunches and generally looked after us. She said she didn't want to sail herself; she didn't like sailing.

We moved to America and lived near a lake in New Jersey. There was a Sunfish fleet on the lake. My sons and I raced Sunfish every Sunday in the summers. My beautiful bride sat on the beach and looked beautiful. She told us that she didn't like sailing.

But one year, after our sons had left home for college, she said she would like to try and learn to sail the Sunfish. I was pretty experienced by then at teaching people of all ages to sail Sunfish. I gave her a few lessons. She was progressing well. One Saturday morning she woke up and announced, "I would like to try a capsize drill this weekend." Great! We sailed my Sunfish out to the middle of our little lake. I gently capsized the boat. She swam around to the daggerboard and did a perfect capsize recovery. Then she decided once again that she didn't like sailing. It just wasn't her thing.

I've tried everything I could think of. I suggested that she go on one of those Womyn Only sailing courses where "nobody shouts". She wasn't interested. I suggested that we buy a bigger boat, one that doesn't tip over like a dinghy. She wasn't interested. She just doesn't like sailing.

However, from time to time when we are on vacation she will come sailing with me. We sailed a Hobie cat in St. Lucia and nearly sank one off the Florida Keys. We sailed Rhode 19's once together in Maine and more than once in the BVI. My beautiful bride's usual opening gambit is, "I'll come on the boat if I don't have to do anything." But once we are afloat I say, "Hold this rope for a minute," or, "Just hang on to the tiller while I get my camera out." There is a photo in a frame on my desk of her holding a tiller with sparkling Caribbean waters behind her and a huge smile on her face. Is she smiling because she enjoys sailing? Or is she laughing because once again I have tricked her into having a photo taken that makes it look as if she enjoys sailing?

On rare occasions she will even race. She has crewed for me and for friends we have made on vacation. She has won every race she has ever crewed in. She is the perfect crew. Yet she is adamant that she doesn't like sailing.

So I have adapted my sailing to cope with the inevitable fact that I am married to a wonderful woman who only has one real fault: she doesn't like sailing.

So I sail my Laser on my own. We travel together all over the world to satisfy my need for a Laser racing fix. Australia. Europe. South America. Caribbean. She goes for long walks and sits on the beach and looks beautiful and sips drinks with little umbrellas in, and is perfectly happy. When I come off the water she brings me my dolly - and a beer if I'm lucky - so I'm perfectly happy too.

So I sail my Laser on my own. It suits me. I'm not a great team player anyway. There's no me in team. If my beautiful bride and I had sailed together I expect we would have had constant disagreements brought on by the stress of dealing with all the minor crises that sailing a boat inevitably creates. It's better this way. I go sailing. I come home to her afterwards. We are both perfectly happy with the arrangement.

Building a successful marriage is not about following the wild fantasy of one partner. It is about learning and understanding each other's likes and dislikes, and forging a relationship that plays to each other's
strengths and weaknesses. My wife has many interests and skills; I can only marvel at the many fields in which she is so talented. On the other hand, I am fanatical about sailing but am not especially good at it.

Every morning, when I wake up, my first thought is how fortunate I am to have married this amazing woman beside me and how lucky I am that she is still with me. My second thought is to look out of the bedroom window at the wind on the waters of my bay and wonder if today will be a good day for sailing.

Marriage is not about a destination. It's about savoring every moment of the voyage. It's about give and take, ebb and flow. Or as Janna said... it's all about the motion of the ocean.

Life is good.

This post is my own contribution to our group writing project Love and Sailing.


O Docker said...

I've been trying to coax my wife out there for about 25 years, too, and am still not sure to what extent she is humoring me when she says she likes to sail. I guess that is one of the great mysteries of marriage.

When I wrote up my Who Do You Trust post, that opened up the whole subject again, and she suggested I write up the It's A Rock! episode, too.

She has now agreed to take real sailing lessons in a few weeks. I told her that she could then be the skipper and that I would follow her orders. She is suddenly very enthusiastic about taking those lessons.

I sense that there will be more blog posts about this over at O Dock in the future.

I felt I should warn you about that.

Skye said...

I had a friend who loved to sail. He found himself a lovely bride and decided to teach her to sail. They went out in a small lake in a Sunfish. They were having a great time when a puff capsized them. They were in the process of splashing around and getting the boat up, when a person on shore saw the "disaster". They called the local Army base who scrambled a helicopter and a scuba team to recover the "bodies". Lovely bride was sooooo traumatized she will not even look at a sailboat.

So, consider yourself lucky that she will sit with you in a boat while you sail!

EscapeVelocity said...

I can think of one woman I know who sails and is married to a man who doesn't. Makes me scared to date nonsailors.

Joe said...

That was a great story!

I met my wife sailing back when I was teaching. She stopped sailing because the "Bay Is Too Cold!" That's why I went from an Olson 30 to a Force 5......sigh.

Janna Cawrse Esarey said...

Somehow in reading all the other love and sailing stories, I missed this one. Sounds like you're a very lucky man, Tillerman. And your wife is lucky too. Enjoy your vacation.

Unknown said...

A young friend of mine has it down right. He only dates girls who are on the college sailing team.

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