Despite the perception that cruising couples are forever bonded by vision and molded tightly together by the elements, those of us who've done long-term cruising with our partners know that life on the open ocean will change your relationship forever.
You may have met couples who've endured the miles together and present the illusion that they held hands and smiled sweetly the whole way. These are the same couples who seem strong and focused individually but have somehow managed to meld as a team to safely, and happily, navigate themselves through life.
How do they do it? Is life beyond the anchorage or marina always full of communication and common goals? Or is there the occasional odd snap from the bow, a cranky remark while changing watch, a killer glare over the chart table, a difference of opinion over where to drop the pick? Perhaps so, but despite the sparks, the two of them still end up sitting together to watch the sunset.
All relationships are tried and tested through time, and nothing tests a relationship quite like 50-knot winds, sleep deprivation, a broken watermaker (if you're lucky enough to have one), or an empty LPG bottle. Factor in that you have only each other for company, live in a confined space, and can't always find enough alone time away from the boat. Then throw in a couple of kids and try and tell me about finding space and time for yourself while savoring family life!
I've cruised full-time for several years with my husband, Mark, and two children. It's an understatement to say that our relationship hasn't been tested to the limit. Recently, we had The Big Talk-again-about the direction of our vision and our priorities. As of today, we remain mutually optimistic about our common goal, and the whole family is cruising north along the west coast of Sumatra, in Indonesia.
We've all heard it from the gurus about how time alone is so important and about how the stronger you are as an individual, the stronger you'll be as a couple and a family. Every crewmember needs time alone, and I set about finding out how to achieve it, even on a 42-foot boat.
Namara, our 10-year-old daughter, tells me that she finds her own space aboard by reading. "When I'm in the story, I'm not really here at all. I'm somewhere else," she says. Arran, our 9-year-old son, says he likes playing Lego Star Wars on the computer, battling Darth Vader with lightsabers.
One opportunity for privacy arises during the convergence of a number of cruising conditions-say, when boat school's finished, there's no wind and no work on deck, the engine's running, and you're not at a 45-degree heel. Now, suddenly, you have the chance to off-load the kids to a DVD or a computer game. The batteries are charging, and you can focus on yourself.
Another good time is when the boat's at anchor or in a marina. Then it's easy to escape on your own or socialize with friends. This is your time to go swimming, surfing, and snorkeling and to visit other boats.
I've also learned how to stretch out village and market visits. It can sometimes take me half a day, dictionary in hand, to buy eggs, onion, and garlic at an Indonesian market. Funny enough, the kids quickly grew tired of learning the local names of vegetables, leaving me to wander alone. Yippee!
Here are more tried and tested tips to maintain your individuality and therefore perhaps help save your relationship and sanity while you're on board:
• Continue to nurture your own skills, be they photography, music, writing, art, cooking, or crafts. Beer drinking doesn't count.
• Write in a journal. The writing doesn't have to be overly personal or introspective. It can simply present the details of things as they're seen from your perspective, capturing a little more detail than you'd normally record in the ship's log.
• Get out of the cockpit! It's amazing how different you can feel given a slightly different vantage point while on board.
• If you're lucky enough to have a spare cabin, use it when you need it. Keep it clean and uncluttered so you can relax in a space that you don't usually visit.
• If reading is a chosen escape, mix up genres and authors, so you don't get bored and feel stuck in a rut.
• Have a shower, or pour a bucket of water over yourself. Feel clean and refreshed on the outside to feel good on the inside.
• Crank up the music to pick up your spirits. Have a dance or sit on the foredeck with your earphones in and watch for dolphins.
• Relax and curl up in your cabin while your partner's on watch. It's important to have this space all to yourself every now and again.
• Do some exercise, even if it's only a bunch of sit-ups. Try some yoga on the deck; controlled breathing and meditation really do work.
• Never be afraid to say "I need some time alone." The most important part of nurturing yourself is communicating your needs while respecting others' rights to their different needs. Open, honest, positive communication allows you to find your role in a partnership and family and can ultimately save your lives.
As I write, my husband is taking his cushion and his book onto the foredeck, and my children are playing two-handed Lego Star Wars. We're motoring toward new discoveries, and I've enjoyed my "me time" while writing this. In a while, I'll concentrate on spending some quality time together as a couple and family. But that's another story!
Aboard Glayva, their self-built Sayer 42, the Robertsons are still one crew and one family happily making their way through Southeast Asia.