Over several years of doing live-aboard seaschool training, we've encountered countless couples conflicted about their new chosen adventure. The husband is usually eager and rearing to go while the wife readily confesses that she is doing this only because she reluctantly promised her husband to at least give sailing a try. "But don't expect me to like it!" is often the response from the fairer sex. This begs the question: Why are the spouses often so negative about this adventure?
I found that the ladies came on board feeling a little intimidated and somewhat inadequate. They fear the big rig and sails or steering a "big ship" and having to go offshore overnight. They are intimidated by the "complicated systems" and do not feel confident that they will be able to handle the boat by themselves if need be. Ladies are usually unsure about cruising on a catamaran because they lack education. Often times their only experience of sailing is discomfort and hanging-on-for-dear-life type sailing.
We usually solve most, if not all of her objections or problems while on board with us for their sailing school. She quickly comes to realize that catamaran sailing is not rocket science. We can all get to a comfortable level of competence relatively quickly. Knowledge is power and the more confident she is about her seamanship, the more enjoyable sailing and cruising a catamaran will be. With competence comes confidence.
Do a sailing school on a live-aboard boat with classes and sailing on the boat where you will be living for the next several days or weeks. This will give you the complete experience. DO NOT do a sailing school on small boats. Doing the school in a classroom and sailing a few hours a day on small boats is not representative of the lifestyle and chances are that she will hate it if she is not a sailor.
Living aboard while learning will also orientate her to figure out what she likes or dislikes about boats or what she thinks will be a deal breaker for her personal situation. Armed with this knowledge, she can make intelligent and informed decisions about living aboard and the kind of boat will suit her specific needs. A week long sailing school cannot prepare you fully for cruising but it's a good start. It will be up to you to get more experience by either making short trips on your own boat, chartering, joining a sailing club or being a crew member on deliveries. The more you experience different boats, the easier it will be to make a judgement.
It is important that when you go to a sailing school to learn as a couple, you are treated and taught as two individuals. The husband should not interfere with the teaching process. We have had to put many husbands in "time-out", away from their spouses while teaching! Husbands tend to want to do things for the wife to make it easier for her. That is NOT helping her! She has to take ownership and fully make the commitment to learn if you have any hope of getting her to embrace the lifestyle.
The number one thing that we tell dreamers NOT to do is to commit all their funds to "the dream", if at all possible. For your and her peace of mind, have a small condo (or a house, if you can afford one) to go back to if you feel the need. Most cruisers will lay up the boat for hurricane season (2 or 3 months) in which time they will go "home" to visit family, do their business and generally just get off the boat. When you return you'll be fresh and ready to go and enjoy it again. With a place of your own on land, you will never feel trapped or feel like the boat is your prison. A fallback plan gives you freedom to enjoy the lifestyle knowing that you have a choice. It also gives you peace of mind that there will be a place to go back to when you are done with cruising (if ever) or for when the family will need you to be close.
You should be confident and proficient in sailing and handling of the boat if you ever hope to convince your partner to take to the seas. Your insecurity will strengthen her belief that she is in danger and will never be competent enough to handle the vessel in any situation, let alone in the moment critique. Your confidence will instill a level of confidence in her and will most probably inspire her to pitch in.
Self-sufficiency is important on a cruising boat. If you think that every modern convenience on board will do the trick to convince her that life would be easy on board, think again. Just like in a house, things break but unlike in your house where you can call the plumber or send things in for repair, on a boat you often have to make repairs yourself or hunt down some obscure person to "help" with repairs. The frustration level of not knowing how to do basic repairs could be devastating for both of you. Conclusion: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Know the systems on your boat and be prepared to make basic repairs.
Are you both ready to give up certain home comforts for a more simple and adventure filled life on board? Be honest and realistic about the sacrifices that have to be made to your life. No need to scare her but prepare her for the requirement to pare down on "stuff", the limitations of onboard refrigeration and storage, the need to live on a budget and for sailing overnight and standing watches. She should be convinced in her own mind that there is a rewarding alternative for giving up some things to gain others.
Share the cruising lifestyle dream before you buy the "dream boat". Do NOT go to the boat show and get her to agree to buy the biggest, most glamorous boat with every gadget imaginable. You know, the one that SHE liked with the great galley and nice walk around bed, the icemaker and washer/dryer etc., hoping that it will convince her to go cruising. We have seen this scenario play out so often at boat shows and it is sure to backfire big time. If she is not fully convinced, she will feel obligated to go cruising since you bought her "dream boat". She will feel trapped and it will no doubt lead to resentment of the boat and possibly you! See our section on Boat Buying Tips.
Each of you should take on a critical part of the operation, i.e. (1) you take care of systems on board, she takes ownership of navigation (2) you are responsible for docking the boat, she is responsible for safe anchorages etc. This is something that you should work out for yourselves and then cross reference. If both of you are engaged, she will feel like a valuable member of the crew and it will encourage her to get more involved. If you think that you could entice her to go cruising by doing everything for her, forget it. It will be more damaging than not. Being just passenger is not fulfilling and will eventually get to her and probably to you too. Having a non-participating crew member can be as bad as having none. The ladies on our sailing schools usually leave feeling confident and positive, not because we coddle them but because we give them the tools and knowledge to cope with the boat and lifestyle. They quickly realize that no matter what, when you know what to do, you feel confident and if you feel confident, you feel empowered and can therefor enjoy the lifestyle.
Often the ladies are panicked about docking the boat in an emergency. My advise is that she should learn how to do it if she feels comfortable but she should not freak out if she cannot do it perfectly. If you really have to get to a dock, there are almost always people around that will gladly help and if not, anchor your boat and take the dinghy to shore. This should not stop you from cruising.
You both have to have confidence in your vessel; that it can be handled by the two of you, that it is safe and that you are not overwhelmed by the systems on board. Buy the best boat that you can afford, not neccessarily the biggest!
The cruising lifestyle should be built on a strong foundation. When both of you are competent and confident and share and enjoy the lifestyle, the stress level goes way down. And don't forget the "dream". After all, that is what started this all! Sailing is the last freedom left on this planet and since we're not here for a long time, we may as well have a good time!