Thursday, February 7, 2013

Heating Up and Cooling Off - Relationships on Board

It's 3am in the morning and I've just woke up. We're about 36 hours into a two day passage and it's my turn to take watch. But before Brett goes to bed, we need to jibe the boat. We're in light winds (6-9 knots) and we don't have a lot of speed, so we'll need to do it right the first time. Have I mentioned that it's 3am, I've just woken up and it's pitch black out?

We prep for the jibe, get everything in place and are ready to make the switch. I'm at the helm and Brett will crank in the headsail. We go for it and I completely overshoot the turn. Since it's dark and we don't have the chart plotter on (conserving power of course!), I become disorientated and we quickly lose power and thus we lose our steerage. No power (forward motion) equals no ability to steer in the correct direction. I've got the wheel hard over to port, but the boat now has a mind of its own and is turning up into the wind (the opposite of where we want to go). I say to Brett (who is trying to manage flapping sails, the boom and preventer lines) "I've got no steerage and we need to start the engine". He says "Just turn the boat into the right direction" (or a similarly annoying statement). I quickly ascribe to the "he must not of heard me so I'll say it louder" theory of communication and SHOUT that WE HAVE NO STEERING!

Suffice it to say that it was a bit of a fiasco, but in about 10 minutes we got everything safely sorted out. But what remains for me is that when I tried to communicate my situation (no steerage and disorientation with no chartplotter), he came off frustrated and annoyed instead of helpful and confirming - which was what I needed at that scary moment. What he needed was for me to steer the damn boat in the right direction!

So what comes next? For us, it's the post-fiasco play by play review to see how the situation could have been managed better. Sometimes this covers old ground and serves as a communication reminder on certain topics, sometimes it just helps us develop a better process (like deciding to always have the chart plotter on prior to jibbing at night). The past 5 months have brought up MANY of these discussions and reviews as we learn how to communicate within our new cruising lifestyle.

Let's step back in time a little. Back in 2008, when we were getting serious about this trip, we decided (based on all of our research and the cruisers we had talked to) that it would be really important to live on the boat for at least a year prior to departure. It made perfect sense to accustom ourselves to living together in a very tight space (just 245 square feet - yikes!!!) BEFORE the stress of our first long passage. With the economic downturn, we ended up living on the boat for three years before departing and I can honestly say that it was one of the best things we could have done. Not only did we learn every inch of our boat, but we also learned every inch of each other's "hot spots" and "buttons" and how to be honest with each other when something was bugging us instead of just letting it stew. Now that we've been out for 5 months - together 24/7 - day after day after day, that ability to communicate has become VERY important.

Thankfully I am married to one of the sweetest men that has ever lived. He is warm, caring, supportive and has been well schooled in the "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" line of thought. I couldn't have asked for a better partner to take this journey with. But that doesn't mean I don't want to occasionally hit him over the head with my cast iron skillet. And while I am, of course, perfect in every way (HAHAAHAH), I'm sure there are times when he would love to absolutely throw me overboard…

So how do you deal with the rough spots and make sure you're not harboring some long-term grudge based on accumulated frustrations? The key is to always take some time off and cool down before an argument gets too heated. Since we've left, this means being 100% honest with each other when we are upset and communicating how the other person is making us feel. This means a lot of sensitive sentences that go something like this….

"When you say (insert anything annoying) to me, it makes me feel (insert any negative emotion here)."

This is followed by a recap of what happened, the emotions (reasonable or not) that each person felt and then a discussion on how it might be avoided in the future. While it all seems very cliché, I can't tell you how important it is to get it all out - because if you don't, and your mate doesn't know how you feel, then the same thing keeps happening and suddenly we're back to the cast iron skillet again!

But even great communication can't always overcome every problem and sometimes you need to just "suck it up". One of those for me is that when things go haywire during a "boat emergency", Brett goes into total focus-mode on how to fix the problem. Perfect, right? We need to fix the problem after all. But the issue for me is I often don't know what the problem is and he's so focused that he can't even give me a one sentence answer about what is going on - so I'm often left to sit and stew. It makes me crazy to not know what is happening and that he can't even take 10 seconds to tell me - because I might just be able to help him figure out a fix. But over the years and after more "post-emergency discussions" than I care to count, it has become clear to me that this is one thing he is unable to change. This is just how Brett works in an emergency - complete and utter focus to the extent that he barely even knows I'm there - unless it's to bark an order at me. It still makes me absolutely crazy, but I've (grudgingly) come to accept that it's not going to change and that I'm just going to have to accept it. Sometimes that's the way it goes.

So in my opinion, cruising is all about compromise and being completely honest with your mate about what you are thinking and feeling. If you can't share your happiness, your fears, and the things that upset you with the person you've picked to take this journey with, than you are in big trouble! While it's not easy to do (sooooooooo much easier to not rock the boat!), life is infinitely better when the cast iron skillet is only brought out for cooking.

Here's a link to the new Raft-Up website where past articles are organized and there are bios on all of the bloggers - check it out!

1 comment:

  1. Your post was so relevant! I have had exactly the same feelings and my husband also gets tunnel focus during a crisis. Although we also debrief afterwards some things just are what they are. It was great to hear we're not the only ones. Thanks!