Musings of a Female First Mate – A Boy and His Boat

There is something about the relationship between a man and his boat that a woman can never completely understand. I say this after living with three boats and three boys, and I say it with a sort of fascination. I think that there is a marked difference between the view that men and women have of their cruising boats, and I do think that it is gender-based. Skip, my husband and cruising partner, agrees with me, and he thinks that it goes beyond boats. He reminisces about the cars he owned when he was a teenager and during his college years as if they were old girlfriends. Beyond girlfriends actually, because he will go into wistful and excruciating detail about how he rebuilt this one or that one, which is something you can’t do with a girlfriend (usually).

I’ve seen this gender-separation over and over again in the cruising village. Get a group of us together in a bar or at a potluck, and after a while there will be kind of a “boys on one side, girls on the other” separation-with the boys talking gear and the girls talking recipes. Even if the group stays mixed, it is highly likely that the conversation will be dominated by boats, equipment, tactics, and personal sea stories that illustrate the greatness of the storyteller’s vessel.

I’ve also seen conversations get very heated when there is a difference of opinion about a particular tactic or piece of equipment-a few times I half expected the warring parties to “take it outside.” I often sit by and watch these conversations, fascinated by the degree to which the skippers appear to have invested themselves, who they are, into their boats. I’ve seen guys nearly come to blows over a piece of equipment–they act as if they are defending their honor, their reputation, their loved one. It’s like watching a different species.

Talk among the first mates does revolve around cruising–how could it not when it’s the lifestyle we are steeped in? But I have never seen the women get defensive or belligerent in the course of comparing notes with their sea sisters. And we tend to go farther afield in our topics, talking about family back home or shopping experiences in some of the far-flung ports we’ve visited. The tips we swap are more often hints-from-Heloise type things-how to get rid of mildew inside the cabin, how to keep weevils from ruining the flour, that sort of thing.

And we either overtly or covertly refer to our bafflement regarding our cruising partners’ view of our boats. “That boat is like his second wife,” I’ve heard more than one first mate say.

I am neither inclined nor qualified to get into the Mars-Venus psychology of boys and girls and their boats. Maybe someone will do a research study on this someday. The main reason I’m bringing this up is that I think that a skipper and first mate need to understand that there is very likely a difference between how each relates to their boat. The quality of their cruising life will be greatly enhanced if both parties can accommodate the other’s viewpoint.

I do love “Nehalennia,” my current sailboat home, and I loved my two previous cruising boats. I could even say that I’ve related to them as if they were alive in some way. How can I think of boat in strictly mechanical terms when she seems to gallop over the waves like a horse kept too long in the stall, or stubbornly refuses to pull her nose through the wind? My emotional attachment, though, has always fallen far short of my partner’s. I know that the boat’s behavior simply comes down to physics, and she is, when all is said and done, a man-made vehicle.

If there is a bottom line here, I think this is it:

Ladies, don’t be surprised if he expresses a surprising degree of emotion about your boat, or if you feel some competition with or jealousy about his relationship with her.

And, gentlemen, don’t be surprised if she isn’t as gaga about the boat as you are, or seems annoyed with you when you’ve been talking about her for hours and in great detail with your buddies!