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Women On Board Cruising

Using many different perspectives to tell of the trials and tribulations of long-distance cruising, 25 women cruisers share their unique experiences. Discover the other 24 women cruisers at www.womenonboardcruising.com

Chapter 8: Pat Ehrman

Vessel: M/V Sea Gator - 38-foot Marine Trader Sundeck Trawler
Residence: Wyoming
Homeport: Fort Myers, Florida
Website: www.boathooked.com

The Question

It was a blustery March day on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We cruised up the Manatee River and made Sea Gator fast in a "transient" slip at Bradenton's Twin Dolphin Marina, just hours in advance of the heavy winds and rough seas forecast. That afternoon I strolled the dock, content after indulging in shore-side luxuries. Lather, rinse, REPEAT! My clean hair whipped in the freshening breeze. I felt snug, secure and well groomed. Near the end of the pier I encountered a pretty, dark-haired woman wearing a tenuous smile and a deer-in-the-headlights stare.

A lock of wet hair slapped my eye, and I brushed it away as we smiled at each other. "What a beautiful boat," I said, nodding at the pretty trawler behind her.

"Thanks," she breathed. "I don't know. We've never owned a boat before."

Aha! A kindred spirit! I myself was the brand-new co-owner of the trawler Sea Gator, our first big boat and a large step up from our previous vessel, a 16-foot un-christened canoe.

My new friend confessed, "I don't know what to expect." She explained that she and her husband had recently sold their home with the intention of living aboard, yet neither had any previous boating experience.

The spirit of sisterhood overcame me. "I didn't know what to expect either," I confided eagerly, "and we've only been aboard for a few months now. But one thing I found out is, I worry a lot."

Suddenly I exploded with babble, erupting like a can of warm Pepsi that's been rolling around on the deck all afternoon. "It's like a constant hum of low-level anxiety. I didn't know I was a worrier, are you a worrier? We have a cat on board. Her name is Goldie. I worry about her all the time and I mean ALL the time..."

"I worry about anchoring out when it's stormy. I worry about leaving the boat at anchor when we've dinghied to shore. And what if we drag anchor? What happens then? What if we plow into another boat in a marina? And what if one of us gets sick or if Goldie gets sick?"

"And what if, what if, what if? You see my trouble."

She did see my trouble. She paused for a long moment, eying me thoughtfully. Then she asked the million-dollar question:

"Is it worth it?"

A Dream, A Goal, A Plan

When September 11, 2001 shattered our complacency, my husband Rick and I realized that postponing our dreams in favor of professional advancement was no longer tenable. We decided, with humble gratitude, that we would pursue our adventure NOW, and that we would simply take our work with us wherever we went.

We set a goal: we would try our luck on a boat before the decade was out.

Why a boat? Although Rick had grown up in New England and loved the water, he had never done much boating. He was intrigued. He longed to explore new horizons and a boat would provide housing, transportation and the challenges of new skills to master and new systems to tinker with, all in one big, happy, expensive package.

I knew nothing of the sea. I am an outdoorswoman of the Intermountain West, and I have every confidence in my ability to survive in the desert or mountain wilderness. As far as "open water" was concerned, I was happy enough with a good trout stream and a campsite beside a clear mountain lake. But I too felt the pull of adventure, and I sensed that I needed to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

May as well either go to sea or go to the moon, I thought. Both seemed equally remote to me.

Getting Ready

Space travel was quickly vetoed for many reasons, not the least being the lack of discrete toilet facilities aboard the space capsule.

The sea it is.

For several years we discussed and studied, scrimped and saved. A sailboat seemed to require considerable skills, which we lacked, so we set our sights on a trawler. We read every back issue of PassageMaker magazine; we bought and read Chapman Piloting and Don Wallace's Seven Miles An Hour: Retiring on a Trawler with Cats. We browsed boats on Yachtworld.com, and in his spare time Rick studied hull designs and living accommodations. At last, he set his sights on a "sundeck" model because, with two of us aboard full-time for the winter, we would appreciate the elbowroom.

Meanwhile, Rick, tech-guy extraordinaire, estimated that by 2005 wireless technology would be available, so we could transport our two self-owned businesses (his is a software company, mine is a landscape architecture design firm) to any place with access to wireless Internet and cell phone service. During our planning years, we opted for electronic transactions for our regular financial obligations, and we devoted ourselves to creating "paperless" work environments.

At home on the range, our house is remote and difficult for neighbors to monitor. So to protect the plumbing from freeze damage we equipped it with isolation valves and drains so we could empty all the pipes. Rick devised a clever system of electronic temperature sensors and webcams which would monitor the house and e-mail the results to him several times each day. If the temperature inside the house suddenly plummets, we will know something blew or broke open, and then we will contact a trusted neighbor to ski in to the place, wrestle sheets of plywood out of the shed, shoo curious coyotes from the living room and patch the broken window if needed.

Leaving Family and Friends Ashore

Our ducks were lining up. As departure neared, I realized I didn't mind the going, but I hated to leave.

Our families are scattered across the country from coast to coast. We would continue to communicate with them by phone and e-mail, so they did not anticipate missing us. Our friends' responses were a different story when, several months before our planned departure, I confided our intentions. Several friends were tearfully shocked and they cried, and then I cried, and then we all cried. Mopping unexpected tears I began to regret the whole idea.

However, it was too late to turn back - we had already arranged with the UPS Store to collect and forward the snail mail delivered to our storefront box, and you don't mess with the United States Postal Service. So that autumn we signed all the necessary papers, we packed and shipped way too much stuff, and we went to sea.

In one giant leap Rick, Goldie and I graduated from glacial lakes and a canoe to a 38-foot 135-HP diesel trawler plying the shallow waters off the southwest coast of Florida.

Learning the Ropes

So, there we were, on a real boat. What were we thinking!? Right away, we acknowledged that we had a lot to learn before we took our new-to-us boat even inches away from the dock.

We scheduled hands-on instruction with a licensed captain who we found through our broker (an Internet search for "on-board boater training" would also suffice). Captain Gary G. took us through three days of on-board training, teaching us the rudiments of diesel engines and electrical and plumbing systems (all review for Rick but new for me), navigation and communication, and how to pivot the boat within its own length (invaluable when backing into a slip).

The hands-on training proved to be both enormously valuable and highly entertaining. While backing in to a slip, Rick took advantage of the "rub rail" on the boat's sides. I used the rub rail on the way out. Between the two of us, we polished it up nicely. This brought home the fact that you steer the BACK of a boat. Unlike the steering wheel of a car, which rotates the front tires, turning a boat's wheel pivots the rudder at the stern, which is then hit with water from the prop, thus directing the stern to port or starboard. This no-brainer was cause for amazement.

At the end of the third day, we both sat for - and passed - the ABC, America's Boating Course exam (www.americasboatingcourse.com).

Hands-on training for landlubbers may sound like an obvious necessity, but while I was soliciting and comparing boat insurance coverage an agent confided that, to his dismay, many new boat owners simply grab the keys and go. They set off from shore as though they are behind the wheel of a modest minivan, not a hundred-thousand-dollar battering ram. While marveling at this horror, Rick and I quickly agreed that we would be humble, ask as many questions as possible, and learn as much as we could. And keep a sharp lookout for the other guy.

Beware the Creeping Anxiety

So far, so good. Our first week as new boat owners was occupied with the on-board training, cleaning and repairing, and getting to know Sea Gator. We installed a holding tank and made other necessary modifications for living aboard. Rick conditioned the moving engine parts, and together he and his father buffed and waxed the fiberglass. I dusted, buffed and polished the cabin. And we shopped for and stowed non-perishable provisions, as recommended by Skipper Bob in the seminal Cruising Comfortably On A Budget.

Everything was going along swimmingly. Except for me, and I was sinking fast. To my surprise I objected endlessly to elements of the boat's décor, to storage problems, to the quality of DC lighting and the inconvenience of it all. I buzzed like a mosquito, annoying and relentless. Soon I was heartily sick of my own self, yet I felt powerless to stop. I was a train wreck in slow motion. How long could this go on?

Slowly I began to comprehend just how vast our change in lifestyle really was. I had never really experienced anything like the situation we were in. Despite all the planning and dreaming, I couldn't really know what it would be like until we were in it, and at that early time, I still didn't know. The symptoms of stress were emerging long before I realized how very far I had moved outside my comfort zone.

After lengthy reflection I came to realize that I was complaining about inconsequentials in an effort to exert some control of a situation over which I felt I had no control. I was in over my head both figuratively and literally, and because death by drowning is too fearsome to face, I diverted myself by obsessing over who tracked sand into the galley. We DO sweat the small stuff because sometimes the big stuff is unthinkable.

Since then I have witnessed the same subtle stress coming from others in many different situations, and I have learned to recognize little twitches in my own demeanor that indicate when I am on edge. Then the challenge is to face the situation and determine what, if anything, I can really do about it.

The biggest challenge I have had to face is evaluating the realities of fear.

Fear: The Unexpectedly Bad

We were mere days away from the dock with our new boat, and I was still trying to understand her systems and our new lifestyle, and at that point still wondering why I felt so out of sorts. Sea Gator was floating alone in the anchorage when, on the second day, the thunderstorm of the year tore across the peninsula. For the next three days lightning cracked, the wind screamed, the anchor line groaned, and I stared out the portlight wide-eyed and mute with terror, twitching each time we swung more than 20 degrees.

I had no idea it would be this scary. Was our line going to snap like a thread? Would our anchor drag along the bottom, would we fetch up against the rocks downwind in a wave-battered heap of unrecognizable fiberglass? I began to reconsider the whole sea vs. moon debate and to wonder how I might look in a space suit.

As a landlubber, I had devoured glossy cruising magazines and sailing calendars. They all featured balmy days, glassy waters and blue skies; evidently photographers find it inconvenient to photograph boats while buffeted in a storm. With no ocean experience I didn't stop to think that, obviously, the reality would be less balmy and perfect. I had not anticipated such ferocious weather, nor could I have known how it would feel to be marooned on a piece of flotsam attached to earth via a ridiculously thin line in a howling thunderstorm. I felt physically powerless, and it was terrifying. And no one we had met so far had mentioned similar experiences or fears. Was it because it was really no big deal to most cruisers? To me, it became the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Since that first storm, I have questioned other women boaters: "How do you deal with fear?" Those who take only day trips face it calmly because they will be safe ashore by nightfall. So I asked Michelle, who had followed her boyfriend aboard their first sailboat and immediately set out for South America. She admitted that eventually she "left the boat and never went back." Sue, on the other hand, snapped, "What's there to be afraid of?" Hmm, none of those responses were very helpful in my circumstances. Maybe there isn't a single magic bullet, but most cruising women have tried to find theirs.

Some women confidently defer to their husband as the more experienced sailor of the crew, and they are able to trust blindly that all will be well. That does not work for me because (A) Rick and I began as rookies together, and (B) I have control issues, obviously. At the other extreme, one woman cruiser scorns passivity; she obtained her own master's license and assumes full responsibility for decisions made while she is at the helm. I tend to veer between these extremes depending on circumstances.

Responding to circumstances IS my magic bullet. I learned that I would have to consciously differentiate between "fear" and "discomfort." Fear is the anticipation of death, injury, or serious property damage, and it is not unreasonable since water and weather are powerful forces that deserve respect. Seen in a good light, fear becomes a tool with which to shape the next right action.

Discomfort includes anxiety, worry and the expectation of embarrassment. I admit that running aground, hitting a piling or dragging anchor must all fall somewhere in the confusion of discomfort. Seriously, is it more humiliating to drown or to be rescued? I am just saying. After I wrestle these variables into perspective I can proclaim aloud "OK, this is just really uncomfortable" or "This sucks and I want to go home before we're all killed." Then Rick and I can discuss the situation as it really is and for me an honest discussion lessens the dark loneliness that exacerbates fear.

The important fact that I sometimes forget is: we ARE still afloat. We DO have the power to choose our anchorages and our cruising days and our protection. Therefore, reason dictates that my worries are groundless. Logic is a negligible factor when I am overwrought, but it does help me in those dark moments to review our track record.

Back to our very first thunderstorm. At last, it wore itself out. In the ensuing peace we dinghied to shore in search of groceries and solid ground, and when we returned to the anchorage we found that another trawler floated serenely nearby. A friendly man waved from her bow, and we rowed across to meet our neighbors, who became the first of our dear new friends in our boating life. So, the week that began with fear and isolation ended with warmth and friendship… as it always does.

Picking our Weather and Running for Cover

Rick and I soon quantified our tolerance for lightning and wind and waves, and we established guidelines for handling the type of weather we would ride out. As coastal cruisers, we do have choices about where we will go and when, and so we began to note our responses to various conditions. For example, we found that winds at 15 knots or greater made our daily cruise uncomfortable, and so we would stay put during those conditions if we could.

After that first big storm, whenever winter cold fronts approached we discussed our anchorage's protection and holding conditions. We decided together that if the winds are forecast at 20+ knots for any sustained period, and in the absence of excellent holding and faultless protection, we would set a course for the nearest marina and tie in for the storm.

We make the decision together. Although Rick has a higher tolerance for "excitement," he doesn't want to experience my anxiety any more than I do. Because the alternative is leaving the sea for good (in which case he will have to deal with "Honey, does this spacesuit make my butt look fat?") he has been very understanding.

So, we ride out the occasional major front at a marina or mooring field where we keep very busy with work and boating chores such as fetching water, pumping out Sea Gator's holding tank, shopping for perishable provisions, and getting some exercise.

Safe anchorages, mooring fields and marinas all have tremendous potential for adventure and discovery. We began to anticipate the fun of exploring new towns and little islands, and we began to meet fellow boaters. That's when this new life aboard began to feel like "home."

Taking Nothing for Granted

Speaking of making decisions, and faced with so many unknowns in the early days, Rick and I realized that humility would be our saving grace. We would be unassuming, we assured each other; we would be sponges and absorb as much information and knowledge as possible. We would be cautious and never make assumptions.

So, we learned to obtain weather reports from multiple sources (NOAA weather via VHF radio and online at www.weather.gov and www.wunderground.com). We double-check each other's GPS points when plotting a route, and we consult guidebooks when entering a tricky passage. We decided to err on the side of caution and to just take it easy.

Because we know that our best-laid plans sometimes go awry, we developed our very own "Anchor Policy": After setting the anchor, we stay aboard until tide or winds change at least once to be sure that our anchor is set. We have heard stories of folks returning to find that their boat has mysteriously gone missing downwind while they were ashore. We hope to avoid that possibility. Whenever either of us becomes anxious to go ashore too soon, the other intones with either smugness or regret: "That is not our policy."

Among all our new experiences, we have gladly learned everything we can about the fragile marine environment. We recognize that we are interlopers, and we try to practice reverence for the environment and its creatures. So, we store up our recyclables until we come to an enlightened town with a recycling program, and we don't dump our holding tank, galley scraps or trash overboard. It is the small stuff that adds up for either good or bad.

Asking Questions

Our on-board training was only the beginning. For many months I simply did the single next right thing and hoped for the best. Most important, over time I learned to practice humility by asking questions. I ask lots and lots of questions.

Curiosity is another trait Rick and I share, and we have found that asking good questions is a real pleasure. If someone is doing something that we don't understand, then we are all over it. Simple and sincere questions have opened doors wherever we go because - face it - nearly everyone enjoys talking about themselves and what they know.

My favorite all-purpose conversation starter is this: "Hi there, whatcha doing?" I recommend it to everyone. Occasionally I substitute the back-up query: "Excuse me, what's that?" Almost without fail, the questionee (if you will) happily shares his or her knowledge.

With time and experience, I have become less ignorant but still ready to learn and grow. I hope I maintain that desire because without it I would have a hard time getting up in the morning. Besides, complacency is dangerous, especially in a potentially hazardous environment. Finally, it is also quite boring.

During our time on the water - and ashore - we have encountered folks who appear impervious to either curiosity or humility. When subjected to a droning monologue by one of these I become frosty and bored. I would rather share time with someone who can laugh at themselves and talk about what went wrong or why it went right and what they learned from that experience. No person is perfect, but only the lucky ones admit it. These are the folks I admire and want to befriend. I adopt an insight from Billy Joel: "The sinners are much more fun."

Meeting New Friends

So, here we are on the water and learning stuff and still afloat and that's all great. But still, leaving my posse behind was a tremendous blow. I value my women friends' humor, wisdom, beauty and grace. And I was trapped in a 38-foot hull with a man! An excellent man, but still a man.

Since living aboard I realized that a good heart-to-heart, preferably with a "sinner" like myself, every week or so is critical to my well-being. An unforeseen benefit to being transient is that I am forced to overcome my shyness in order to make new friends. Now I will talk to anyone about anything, anywhere, anytime. Please.

To Rick's great credit he enables my friendships. Sometimes he only waves goodbye as I dinghy away with my folding-bike crammed in the bottom of the Avon. Occasionally he ferries me to shore and amuses himself while he waits for my return. Even less often, he accompanies me on a social outing, and those are treasured events.

In search of fellowship, I have joined common-interest groups with chapters throughout the country. Other women cruisers find companionship through their religious affiliation. For pleasant and superficial feminine conversation a drop-in session at Curves, Pilates or yoga, Jazzercise or Zumba never fails. And there is always the reliable standby - the marina Laundromat.

One cannot overstate the importance of the marina Laundromat. It is truly the most common ground where all fine washables are created equal. When I'm not meeting new friends there I am learning great tips, such as Bounty's "Color Catcher," which allows you to combine colors and therefore run fewer loads. I will bet a woman cruiser invented it.

Rick and I have met new friends while dinghying past their boat; when sharing an anchorage; while walking on a deserted beach; and as transient members of a congregation. The only requirement is that all parties are open to a friendship with someone new. Experience has proved that it is worth the risk of making the first move.

Often new acquaintances lead to a visit aboard our boat or their boat. At these times, invariably, Rick and the other man leap into the engine room to compare pistons (or whatever it is they do down there). Left to our own devices we women often skip the small talk and get straight into the realities of our lives. "Tell me the story of your life and I'll tell you mine." I'm grateful for the companionship of every woman cruiser I have met.

Keeping in Touch

Still, severing all ties with our mountain friends is unthinkable. To reassure family and friends that we are still hull-side down we regularly update our website (www.boathooked.com) with news of our travels. I include activities, trivia, local history, people we meet, rants and raves, and lots of photos. That way folks can keep up to date with our travels if they so choose.

Consequently phone conversations with family and friends are more succinct: they already know what we are up to. What many people don't realize is that they still have to tell us what they are doing! "But we're not doing anything interesting," they moan. I say, "Just tell me what you had for breakfast - Wheaties? Granola? These are not hard questions, and I'll feel like I'm a part of your life."

One advantage to working full-time aboard is that we must always anchor within Internet and cell service areas. It somewhat restricts our choice of cruising grounds, but it ensures that we are able to keep in touch regularly via e-mail and phone calls and we don't feel as though we have dropped off the edge of the earth.

Keeping up Appearances

Speaking again of imperfection, one of the first questions I asked a boating woman was, "How do you keep your hair styled?"

She looked at me like I was nuts then said, "Well, I don't." I was speechless.

However, it didn't take me long to decide that she was right. Being perfectly coiffed at sea is not a priority, and what a relief that turned out to be! Now I too am less concerned with superficialities such as my hair. I have learned to wear headbands as my haircut grows out, and to wear a hat at all times (hat-head is better than none). I have learned to wear sunscreen every day, which precludes precise eye and face makeup anyway. My nails grow better at sea level, but I keep them short. I have never met anyone who has an ironing board on their boat, so relaxed clothes are the norm. Adopting this practice has made life at sea a lot easier, and now I carry that easy attitude home with me too.

Finally, and most important: I have learned through bitter experience to never, ever get my eyebrows waxed in the state of Florida. Heed my words.

Taking Care of our Health

One year our worst fears were realized when I became ill as we were hunkered down in Russell Pass anchorage during a winter cold front. We debated the merits of weather, distance and time, and finally arrived at a doctor in the Keys seven days later. Had it been an emergency, we would have had to make very different plans.

The situation was an eye-opener. We are as cautious as it is possible to be, but no one ever sets out to get hurt. That's why they call them "accidents." We maintain our first aid kits.

Rick installed a water filter on our galley faucet so we can stay hydrated. The filter is valuable far beyond its cost when you consider the effort involved in ferrying bottled water to the boat and then recycling the containers. I refrigerate the water in a Britta pitcher so it is always ready.

The first few years aboard the boat brought an ominous shrinking of all my clothes, which later proved to be a gradual five, ten, 15-plus-pound weight gain. Holy cow! Even though we walked and rode our bikes when ashore, it simply wasn't enough - the confined space plus creeping hormones (and a new favorite: Sweet Potato Fries) took their toll. We consulted a registered dietician and now we monitor our diets, seeking out fresh produce whenever possible. I have established a stretching and crunches routine, which is effective although tricky in the confines of the cabin with Goldie on my lap and Rick lurking nearby. Some women cruisers purchase a Curves membership, which many franchises honor. I search out Jazzercise or Zumba classes when ashore to enjoy the great workout and social benefits.

One ongoing surprise is how tired I feel sometimes. It seems the constant movement of the boat creates some fatigue, even when the weather is still and calm. This is especially true when we first come aboard after a period ashore. I have learned not to fight it and to accept that naps are a good thing. Now there is a benefit I had not foreseen!

Finally, on the topic of health and following that of sociability, I will mention booze. We do have alcohol aboard, and Rick serves it to guests, but it is treated as a beverage not a lifestyle. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the effects of being on a boat including continual motion and vibration, sun, and engine noise, all collaborate to increase impairment more so than when a person is on land. And if one falls overboard, he or she may experience increased disorientation resulting from inner ear disturbances. While stone cold sober, I have managed to tumble down our swim platform ladder, down our saloon and stateroom stairs, and bash my head on the aft hatch (I thought it was open, it was not). Imagine if I had a buzz on! I have tried it both ways and my preference is to experience all of our new joys and terrors with a clear head.

Taking Care of Goldie

This is secretly my priority. Goldie is a tortoise-shell cat wearing white tights on her feet and belly. She is approximately ten years old at this writing and has the playfulness of a youngster combined with the circumspection of a mature girl. Everyone loves Goldie.

Much of my anxiety centers on Goldie's safety and happiness, so I strive to keep her secure. While we are underway, she snoozes in one of the PFD lockers at the upper helm station. There she is close enough to be under observation, but she benefits from privacy and a safe distance from the noise of the engine. She likes her cruising station and whenever the locker is open she scrambles inside.

Cat safety rules are non-negotiable. When it is dark or windy or rough, Goldie must stay inside the cabin. She is permitted on deck only when we are all aboard and the weather is calm and the water is smooth. Some sailors teach their cats to swim to the stern of the boat by lowering them in the water and showing them the way, but Sea Gator's swim platform is above the reach of any swimming cat. So, Rick fastened some rigid boards to the platform and covered them with carpet for claws. I pray that Goldie will never have to use it.

Needless to say, I also worry while we are at a dock that Goldie will wander ashore and get lost. So, she wears a harness with her rabies tag and a tag bearing Sea Gator's name and my cell phone number. She is also "micro-chipped" (Goldie's vet uses Avid FriendChip at www.avidid.com) and at each checkup, I ask her vet to scan her to verify that the chip is still readable.

Finally, I constructed a mesh screen which loosely blocks access to the side decks from the sundeck. Goldie could surely evade it if she chooses, so I believe she trusts it to keep other animals from coming aboard her boat. It makes her feel secure.

Goldie is the light of our little ship. Rick, proud holder of a Boy Scout Life Saving Merit Badge, has sworn an oath that if - heaven forbid - we go down he is to rescue Goldie before he rescues me.

Marital Bliss: The Unexpectedly Good

Who knew? Who knew that after nearly 20 years of marriage our lives on land would be so well organized that we could literally go for days with little more than "Hi, how are ya?" when we passed each other in the hall. When things got real dicey, we would add "Please remember to get bread when you go into town today." We gradually began to function independently.

Happily, our relationship is completely different aboard. Instead of getting on each other's nerves (much) in tight quarters, we communicate better aboard Sea Gator. We have to because we agreed to make every decision as a team. That pretty much takes up the entire day.

For example, purely for safety's sake and even though I wear an ID bracelet, I won't just hop into the dinghy and motor away without conveying a detailed itinerary. And neither of us makes the sole decision on routes or anchorages, so all of our doings are discussed and resolved. The discussions have brought us closer together and more aware of one another's preferences and feelings.

We still disagree but our arguments are short-lived. The silent treatment has no place on board a boat. There is no dignity in marching away in a huff when three paces bring you to open water. And the stateroom is too narrow to work up any momentum in slamming a door - it just kind of taps shut, pufff-t, and then you have to hang around in there by yourself like an idiot. We get along more smoothly aboard because we have to.

I have re-discovered my life partner. Thank heavens Rick is still the good man I married, and he is even improved with age, as he has grown more patient. He is an interesting person with a good heart. Reviving our relationship and renewing our commitment to each other for the long haul has made the journey worthwhile. Even without the scenery and adventures, that would be reward enough.

The Answer

Amid the pencil-thin eyebrows, the fear and discomfort, the loving and squabbling, I often think of that dark-haired woman at the Twin Dolphin Marina with her brand-new trawler and her million-dollar question:

"Is it worth it?"

The answer I gave her then, in all my ignorance, is the same answer I would give her today: "Yes!"

I would assure her that, despite scary storms and goofy haircuts, there is tremendous personal satisfaction in learning each new cruising skill. That there is peace to be found in a secluded anchorage so silent you can hear dolphins exhale before you can see them, and that there is quiet joy in walking with my honey on a sandy beach. That even among a crowded anchorage there is the fun of weaving among boats in the dinghy to visit friends, and that the setting sun is beautiful when blazing through a bristling forest of masts. That there is nothing to compare with the pleasure of an afternoon nap with a cool breeze lifting the portlight curtains.

If you see her, tell her that I still get really scared and uncomfortable sometimes, no matter how hard I try to reason myself out of it. But that every time I push beyond what I think are my limits - however much I don't like doing it - I get stronger. And that the new confidence I have gained has helped me grow in my professional life and in my personal life at sea and at home.

I want her to know that I am still here - living on a boat. A BOAT! And that is just the coolest adventure there is.

Tell her, I'll see her on the water.

About the Author:

Coming of age in the western deserts and mountains, Pat learned that she could go OUT there on her own two feet and get sand in her teeth and ice in her hair and still come back alive.

Pat was skiing in the Utah mountains when, on a perfectly beautiful day on a steep and powdery run, mutual friends introduced her to Rick, and the rest is history. They moved together to Jackson, Wyoming, where she became the first licensed woman landscape architect in the state. Her favorite mountain activities are working, hiking and biking with friends, drawing and gardening.

Rick brought her to New England to introduce her to his family and to romantic walks on the beach. But actually living ON the water has been a whole new kind of adventure. "I didn't know what to expect. How could I? We didn't have tidal waters in the Great Basin."

Pleased and surprised that adapting physically to life on a moving boat has been fairly simple, she says, "The rest of the life is coming on line incrementally." Her shipboard duties include keeping her clients' projects up-to-date, cat wrangling, documenting the group's adventures on their website (www.boathooked.com), co-piloting Sea Gator, trip planning, navigation, and line and anchor handling.

Can a desert rat learn to love the sea? Yes, she can.

Copyright Patricia J. Ehrman, used with permission.

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