In 30 years of ocean sailing, I’ve met more than a thousand women who’ve been interested in learning more about the cruising life. I’ve instructed hundreds of women on making their first ocean passage, and I know many accomplished female crew who’ve successfully gone cruising. I’m also the author of The Essential Galley Companion, a book of recipes and advice-not a dating service, as many men, after looking only at the cover, amusingly conclude. Since 1998, I’ve maintained detailed correspondence with more than 40 women who’ve cruised offshore. For 12 years, with my husband, John, I’ve presented cruising seminars and conducted offshore hands-on sail-training expeditions with sailors seeking passagemaking experience. And I’ve moderated many women’s panels at boat shows.
Although my presentations intrigue women, my intuition and personal experience remind me that what women really crave is encouragement, insights, and support from one another about how to make the cruising dream their own. This, the first article of a four-part series, reflects my conversations with women about what they’re looking for in the cruising life, how they make it work best, and what options there are today that make it more attractive than ever before.
What’s Your Motivation?
Anyone can travel, but going cruising requires each woman to find her own motivation. We approach cruising differently than do men. We sail for different reasons, and we stop for different reasons. Our goals and needs are different, and most important, what we learn from our voyaging is different. When you discover, or create, your own motivation to go cruising, you’ll encounter a new passion for learning, life, and happiness. There may be one driving factor that motivates you to go-to collect textiles or to scuba dive, learn about native cultures, or read books without the interruptions of daily land life-or it may be many factors.
Personal adventure, many women tell me, is one of the main reasons prompting them to go cruising. It motivated Shannon Miller of Wind Rose, a Catalina 25. “I think one of my big desires is to unplug from American culture,” she says. “As my husband, Doug, and I are raising our kids, ages 1 and 3, it’s easy to see a whole life mapped out, with the minivan, soccer practice, and all that. This seemed like a very safe, predictable life, and part of me could be satisfied with it, but there’s another part that craves really wringing all there is out of life. All the comforts that seem to be so nice might just be cocooning me from the big, beautiful world. Those niceties will always be there. But this precious time as a family, while we’re young and healthy, won’t.”
For some women, the dream of going cruising may start by reading books and may not be achieved until later in life. This was the case for Brigitta Kopperud of Maria Two, a wooden Wittholz 52-foot ketch built in 1986. “When I was a little girl, I read a lot of adventure and travel books,” she says. “In my 40s, I flew all over the world while working as a flight attendant, and I decided that someday I’d love to sail in the South Pacific. Ten years later, when I retired, we sailed from Norway to the South Pacific, then on around the world.”
Doing It for Him?
Sometimes I meet women who are planning on going cruising to fulfill external expectations, usually that their partners have the dream of going cruising. Events then tend to unfold along two broad paths. In one scenario, the woman says, “Right. I realize this is an important dream of my husband’s. It’s not my dream, but our relationship means a lot to me. I’ll give it a try as long as I feel safe and comfortable.” Couples tread the other path if the woman’s decision to go is overwhelmingly reluctant, and this probably leaves each partner unhappy in the end.
Laura Cagliero of Indeed, a Hallberg-Rassy 46, chose the first path. “We were living and working in San Diego when my husband proposed that we learn to sail,” she says. “When we’d finished our lessons, he suggested that we get a boat. Soon after, Giorgio said he was bored with harbor sailing and said that we should go to Catalina. That trip wasn’t a big success for me because we made a lot of mistakes. I learned that I had to be more prepared. Giorgio proposed that if we got a stronger boat, I’d feel safer and more comfortable. He suggested that we buy a boat in Sweden and sail it to San Diego. By nature, I always imagine all the bad things that could happen. But I trust Giorgio, and I decided to start looking at going cruising as a big experience we could do together.
“We had two years to prepare, so we chartered different boats and took an offshore-sailing expedition in the South Pacific. Georgio was brilliant on the boat. But it always seemed that I learned only three things to his 12. I worried about crossing the Atlantic. To ease my worries, we decided to do the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and invite experienced friends to join us on the new boat. After our first week at sea, I realized it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared-it was really nice! We cruised for two years, with help on the difficult passages and a visit home from Tahiti. I’m delighted that I helped Giorgio live his dream. I got to visit special places I never would’ve seen otherwise.”
Many ways exist to help a partner live a dream. If long passages scare you, fly out to meet the boat once it’s in port. Perhaps part-time cruising-half a year cruising, half a year at home-would be a good compromise. If you have a dream of your own that has nothing to do with cruising-renting a house, say, in the South of France for a year-have the courage to tell your partner. Perhaps the two of you can make room in your future to fulfill both dreams. No law says going cruising has to mean selling everything and sailing over the horizon forever. Be creative. Open yourself to different scenarios.
Some women initiate the cruising dream, viewing it as an opportunity for personal achievement and growth. Others come to it skeptically. Lorna Mongell of Evergreen, an Allegro 33 sloop built in 1981, gave it careful consideration before finding her own motivation. “I thrived in Auckland, New Zealand-dinners, shows, theater, and outings with friends,” she says. “I was surprised, and reluctant, when my husband suggested that we go cruising. But then I thought it through. I enjoy the little challenges that add up to a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. I missed that. I’d retired from working for a corporation for 15 years, the house was paid for, and our three sons had left home. I became attracted to cruising by the amount of knowledge it would require.”
When my dad first proposed that our family go cruising, I don’t think it was with much consideration for my brother and me. It was most certainly his dream. He motivated us into helping him build our two cruising boats by telling enticing stories of the experiences we’d have. My mum was a schoolteacher and open-minded to the idea. Her motivation was her family. She viewed cruising as an opportunity to spend family time together, and she decided that this learning lifestyle for her children was more intellectually challenging than the suburban life.
Annette Meins Pedersen of Scafhogg, a 40-foot, one-off steel sloop built in 1985, shares the same view as my mother. “We’d just finished restoring our house, and we were content in it, with good jobs and schools,” she says. “Anders came home one day and suggested that we sell everything and go to sea. I slept on it. It was a chance for adventure and to be with my husband and two children. I said yes.”
Cruising offers the chance to expand our circle of friends, both with fellow cruisers and with people from different cultures. For me, this is one of the alluring factors about cruising, and I certainly share the views of Mavis Norman of Kaien, a steel Waterline 444 built in 1990.
“I love traveling,” she says. “Cruising appealed to me because it allows you to visit and explore places while having the comforts of home. You approach a country unconventionally, and people view you differently. It’s not the same as flying in at an airport with a bag of luggage. You can invite new friends on board for a cup of tea, really get to know each other, and become part of the culture.”
Making a positive contribution is a passion for some cruisers. I’ve known cruising women who’ve volunteered at schools and orphanages, helped local artisans learn new techniques, organized local children to clean up beaches, and offered their services at medical and dental clinics. Along with adventure, volunteering is also one of Shannon Miller’s motivations to go cruising.
“Doug and I get excited by different parts of cruising,” she says. “He’s all about tackling any adventure he can find. What gets me excited is getting to know local people and helping out in the local schools. We’ll work those different aspects into it for both of us.”
Follow Your Own Talents
Because I’m a dancer and textile artist, cruising is very attractive to me. I love meeting local women and learning how they incorporate art and tradition into their clothing through design and local fabrics. I have fond memories of my Tahitian friend Henari patiently teaching me how to weave a flower crown. I practiced as my husband, John, and I sailed through the South Pacific, and I wore a new crown ashore when we visited my friend Jean, in a remote village in Vanuatu.
After the formal village greeting, I was extremely honored when Jean shyly hinted she’d like to study my crown. When I offered to show her how to make her own, she smiled with delight and went running about the village gathering friends and flowers. Oh, how we all laughed and chatted that afternoon as we sat in the shade weaving away while the young children silently gazed at the white ghost taking their mothers’ attention.
For women especially, cruising may not be at all about the sailing. While some enjoy expanding such hobbies as painting, bird-watching, music, drawing, and knitting, others take on needlepoint, photography, writing, and jewelry, and by doing so, they enrich their cruising lives.
More often, though, cruising for women may be about creating opportunities for personal growth and building relationships with loved ones as well as with new friends along the way.
Amanda Swan Neal sailed in 1989 aboard Maiden, the first all-female team to complete the Whitbread Round-the-World Race. She and her husband, John, conduct offshore sail-training expeditions aboard Mahina Tiare III, their Hallberg-Rassy 46. Contact them at their website (www.mahina.com).