Having given up land life in the past year - I got married at the ripe old age of 38 (1st time), and bought and moved aboard a used sailboat (full-time) with my now husband - not only has my day-to-day life changed but my priorities and perspectives have really changed. I used to work 16-hour days in New York City, party and socialize with my many single friends (or go on endless dates) for the 4 hours following work and then get approximately 4 hours of shut eye, if I was lucky. Now I spend my days almost oblivious of time - sailing, relaxing, cooking, reading, sewing, chatting, listening to the radio, doing boat repairs/upkeep and, when on land, socializing with the locals and other sailors. And, my social circle has radically shrunk as there is just the two of us on board our sailboat, 24 hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week.
Living on a boat with one other person, with very limited space and limited ability to disembark, is a challenge and a real test of your relationship. (On one particularly contentious occasion, one of us almost resorted to putting on our scuba gear and swimming back to shore over a navigation argument). I have witnessed couples that dove into the cruising adventure and ended up extremely disliking each other within the year of moving aboard, fighting continuously - these tend to be the boats you see advertised as "quick sales". The polar opposite to this is that I have witnessed many retired couples who have been cruising for 10-20 years and are perfectly at peace with each other and watching them work together on their boats is harmonious. The positive aspect of a cruising life with your partner is that you form a real team, one that is very dependent upon each other, which brings you alot closer as a couple.
I have been rather fascinated by the number and types of couples that serve as their own crew on their personal sailboats - you see: families, older, retired couples, younger, newly married couples, lesbians, gays, and single-handers (even some female single handers). You will run across personal crews that are fully experienced sailors or, to the other extreme, have no experience and are just "living the dream". I have, nevertheless, primarily run into couples whereby the man wanted to go cruising and convinced his partner to come along and learn to sail.
When searching for a 2-person crew for one of our sailing passages, we signed up to findacrew.com and I was surprised by the number of single-handed sailors online (mainly male) looking for partners (friendship or otherwise) to take off and sail around the world. All of this got me thinking about what attributes make the optimal sailing companion, if someone (as a single-hander) is looking to cruise full time - as based on my personal observations and experiences to date. And, yes, I left the personal aspects (such as looks, physical attraction) off the list on purpose.
This "how to" article is a little tongue-in-cheek but I hope it gives the reader some food for thought......
1) Self-Starter. Owning and sailing a boat is high maintenance....unless you are the fortunate soul that owns a mega yacht and can afford to pay a full working crew. Your boat, especially if it is of an older age, is a non-stop "TO DO" list. It is important to be have a sailing partner that is willing to put in the work required (and work with you) to get these jobs done. Preventative maintenance is key to your boat's upkeep - it is great to have someone who is willing to nip the problem in the bud, rather than wait for a crisis, such as a toppling mast. It is more fun to have your partner assisting with these arduous, annoying mechanical/electrical/plumbing problems versus you having to curse and battle through them yourself. Females should not use the excuse that they are not mechanically inclined to avoid boat repairs....
2) Attention To Detail. There is alot to master and keep on top of as a cruising couple. One of you needs to file and keep your boat documents, insurance, and bill payments up to date. The same person is also probably the person in charge of the "spare parts" list, "to do" list and ensuring maintenance is done on time. Although doable, maintaining a 40+ foot boat by oneself, including the mechanics as well the navigation, monitoring the weather, the finance, insurance, and paperwork aspects of it is more than a full-time job.
3) Inclined, Mechanically. A boat needs constant work - and the more you do yourselves, as your own crew, the better off financially you will be and the better you will know your boat. It will save you alot of heartache when one of your key systems goes down (i.e. engine) if you are able to think through and troubleshoot the problem. If your potential cruising partner knows nothing about mechanics, how interested is he/she in learning ? If he/she is only interested in sleeping or sitting on deck sunning, that really doesn't make for a dynamic team.
4) Laughter. A sense of humour is VERY important when cruising. When there are just two or three or four of you as crew on a boat, I don't care who you are, you are going to get on each other's nerves and argue. This is particularly the case when stuck in port too long due to bad weather or when in strenuous sailing situations (i.e. a squall catches you offguard, or you missed a mooring ball and are heading right towards the boat in front of you). There will certainly be arguments, especially stupid ones. Therefore, you need to have someone on board who will laugh all this off very quickly and just get back to business. Sulking and holding a grudge doesn't work when you are miles out to sea and, franky, is dangerous.
5) Ingenuity. You need to think "outside the box" in living on a boat. For one, things are going to go wrong or malfunction - and you may not have the right spare parts or even know how to fix it. Having a partner that can think logically through the problem and come up with possible solutions so the two of you can brain storm is very helpful ! Ingenuity also doesnt hurt in the kitchen (especially when you are stuck out to sea and supplies are dwindling) or for thinking of things to do during your "down time".
6) Needs Patience. There will likely be one sailing partner that is less experienced than the other. You will either need a sailing companion that is a patient teacher or a willing student.
7) "Go-Getter" Attitude. Let's face it - you cannot possibly spend 24-7 doing maintenance projects on your boat. When you are cruising, you will find you have ALOT of free time that you never had previously. Therefore, now is the time undertake new endeavors - start your own business for a little extra cruising cash, research and take on new hobbies, or go out and meet new people. All of this will enrich your crusing experience, and make your long days much more worthwhile. It is even better when your partner also gets caught up in this. You don't want a sailing partner who is going to sleep all day while you are running the ship or want to go out exploring....
8) FOR....ever. Need I say more - the commitment of your partner, especially in less than perfect times, is so important.
9) Loves To Cook (or at least willing to learn...). Once you are living aboard a boat, with limited cooking amenities, you would be surprised how much of your day cooking can occupy - if you want to eat well and eat varied meals. As the head chef, it gets a little dull to do all the meal planning, provisioning, cooking and baking - and therefore it really becomes alot more enjoyable with a partner willing to join in or, even better, take over (at least once in a while) on cooking the meals. Chopping vegetables, kneading bread etc. is alot more of fun if you have someone to chat to, have a beer with while you are prepping for dinner. It also gets a little old when one partner is always asking, "What's for breakfast, lunch, dinner ?"
10) Intelligence. If you are not a fully fledged sailor, there is ALOT to learn when you go cruising on your own. You need someone with the "smarts" to sit down with maps, cruising guides and figure out your best sailing routes based on the impending weather/winds. There is also the technical aspect of using GPS, electronic maps, and the communication equipment on the boat (VHF, Single Sideband Radio, Pactor Modem, Satellite Phone).
11) Frisky - A Sense of Adventure. Cruising life is all about new experiences - trying a new sport, living more simply, learning new skills, experiencing nature, seeing new places and meeting new people. You don't want someone on board who is going to be unhappy without their constant access to the internet or cable TV. Or unhappy that the remote island you just landed on doesn't have all the at home amenities, including a McDonalds !
12) Experience Is Nice. There is a relatively high percentage of cruisers out there that buy a boat to start cruising without much sailing experience. That is ok - everyone has to learn somehow - but it is a much more comfortable and safer voyage if you have a crew member on your boat who knows what they are doing. Sailing is an exhilirating sport but can be a dangerous one too and the more experience you have on board, the better equipped you are to handle poor (unexpected) weather and sea conditions. Also, sea sickness is a common problem - if your partner has a bad case of it, if they have a little boating experience, at least they know how to deal with it. And if one of you gets violently seasick, you need a partner than can handle any problems that arise in these difficult conditions (i.e. auto pilot fuse blows, bilge pump fails, engine needs oil or diesel). I have read numerous stories of inexperienced people that go to sea for the romance of it, only to succumb to sea sickness for the first time and then vow never to step off land again.
The most important part of joining the cruising community, whoever you are and however many crew you may have on board, is that you love what you are doing! Sailing off into the sunset may sound perfect but sailing life is not like that (or at least not always like that). It is a harder life than living as a landlubber and will put a real test on your relationship(s). Finding the right person (or people) to fulfill your sailing dream is the first step to smooth sailing......