How to live together and not kill each other on a sailboat

To have a relationship while sailing is a challenge, I’ll tell you, how you you can live together and not kill each other on a sailboat. In this article you can find out my real life experiences.

Wow, you guys are brave. That’s what I hear before leaving our home port countless times. But I don’t feel brave. In May 2016 we loose the lines after three years of working on the boat on the hardstand. We leave nothing more behind than five boxes of personal stuff, filled with photo albums, memories and books about our professions and of course our friends and family. We moved onto our 10 m steel boat. She has a strong character, lets put it like this. We can drive backwards with a moderate long keel, but in which direction that’s her decision. Our task is to stand at the tiller and look as if we want to go exactly where the old lady is taking us. Even though the neighbors in the marina start running around with their fenders and looking nervous. We learn that our English Perkins Diesel engine somehow has to have to a fuel leak, if not it’s broken.

Who we are

We are a young couple in our 30s. We sold everything, cars, jobs, flat and moved completely to our boat, to explore the world. Without safety net and double bottom. Everything we worked for over the last years, our dreams, hopes and desires we put into the boat and the journey. Before we left, I read every book and online blog, watched every Youtube Video, movie and documentary I could find. I imagined myself on the boat in a slight breeze sailing along beautiful coasts, exploring tiny islands in the Pacific and enjoying the sunshine, snorkeling through crystal clear water, the wide ocean, the freedom. I was convinced we will be able to solve every problem that would occur. Well, then reality hit. On our first day we had nice sunshine but afterwards we had cold shitty weather, with rain and cold temperatures for the next weeks. In the lock at Heidelberg we lost our steering ability, on the river Rhein we had a thunderstorm and feared we would loose the mast. In England we learn that rain is called “liquid sunshine” and the seagulls steal your breakfast from your hands. Then the crossing of the Bay of Biscay. I was scared of all the things I had heard before. Why does nobody write about their nice and boring crossing of Biscay? Ours was uncomfortable but doable.

Crossing the Biscay, looking out for land
Crossing the Biscay, looking out for land

Such a journey may not be something outstanding, it is done by lots of people, some in smaller boats with lower budgets. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a big thing. I have to cook and clean up every day. Though, it is exciting and we both get to our personal borders from time to time. The boat forces me to look into the not so nice corners. Over and over. I don’t only mean cleaning the toilet or crawling into the bilge. It is a tight space and I can’t hide my personal weaknesses and failures. Even more, the ocean and the waves push me there again and again. It is not only a journey to exotic places but also a journey to myself.

How is it now in reality?

Some may ask, how is it to live so close together with your husband or partner on a small sailing boat? Together exploring the world, enjoying life. Being together every day.

A lot of stuff is not told in all these shiny blogs and books, videos and documentaries. Of course I thought a lot about how it would be before leaving home. I never thought that it would be easy living together with my husband from one day to another for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week on a 10 m sailing boat. Being stressed by wind and waves and maybe encountering problems. I knew there would be arguments and discussions, something unavoidable when being so close together.

The boat is everything we have. 10 meters long. Having space for yourself is not as easy. Either you close one of the cabin doors or one partner is below deck and the other above. If you can’t see your partner you can imagine being alone, but you aren’t.

In good as well as bad times, that’s the challenge. For myself and for our relationship. To be honest, more for myself. Adapting to this lifestyle is not as easy as I thought being at home – and secure on land. We have now been living on the boat for two years and we had quite harsh weather at the beginning of our journey. Rain, problems with the engine. While crossing the Bay of Biscay in the first night I lay in bed, being shaken around from side to another, freezing and I couldn’t sleep and I asked myself if I am really a long distance sailor. At the moment I would rather be on land, safe and sound, anywhere but not here. Every part of my being, of my character, is challenged. During the time we have llived aboard I encountered so much about myself, that I would have never imagined before leaving. I would like to be the calm and reasonable person facing the waves, wind and seasickness that I imagined, but everything shakes and rattles me deep inside me and all my imaginations go over board.

Sometimes I miss the opportunity to go out with a friend and have a glass of wine, talk or go to my yoga class. I do yoga now every morning on deck or at the pontoon if we are in a marina, but that is not the same.

Living together in a tight space is a challenge that I honestly underestimated. For me alone and us as partners. We have more time for everything, including love 🙂

Still I also get upset about bits and pieces. It can happen that we argue because someone has left the toilet paper roll empty for the third time in a row and I have to change it again. Maybe this doesn’t happen to others, but it happens to me. I was convinced I could handle whatever might come. Well, at least I should because I have chosen this lifestyle for myself. I thought about it, saved money and tried my best to prepare myself. I knew there would be problems, but we would surely solve them. I was so sure about this. Of course I can do it, but just not now at the moment and not very well, to be honest.

Every moment I am busy surviving. Energy management on the boat, water storage, food, how do get from one point to another and the boat of course depends on myself and my partner. The whole system depends on us to take care for it. A system that is easily disturbed. And never forget Murphy’s Law: whatever can break, will break. Sometimes this stresses me more than I like to admit and more than I would have ever imagined before. We are independent on the water, free. There are things on the boat that I can’t handle or fix myself and therefore I am dependent somehow. This makes me vulnerable, somehow. If something breaks at sea, I am unlikely to be able to fix it myself. Engine, electrics – I have got a bit more knowledge about it, but not much. Theoretically, I know how to bleed the engine, but standing in front of it in real life I have no clue what to do. This is the ‘responsibility’ of my partner and makes me – the big feminist – dependent. Something, I never wanted to be.

In theory, I know very well that the waves are not a big problem. Annoying yes, but not a problem. In reality, it’s different. The boat shakes, it wiggles, makes noises and I assume we will drown at any minute, but we won’t. I learn something new every day and by now I know the boat pretty well. It takes time for me until I have trust in the anchor and it’s holding at every new anchorage. Even then it takes one or two nights during which I wake up at every strange movement of the boat, at any gust that hits. That bothers me and I can see the effects also in my relationship that has to take a lot. With less sleep and no coffee I am no sunshine and sometimes I forget that my partner is stressed by all of this, too. He wants me to be happy and content. Not so easy.

Going ahsore, having a walk at the beach, going into the marina or to town gives us a change, a little pause. Or not, because in town we have to get food, in the marina we have to clean the boat, fill up the tanks and fix this and that. Only the walks at the beach are a real break.

Comparing with others

On our journey I meet a lot of couples who are liveaboards, as we are. Most of them older than us and on their way for various time periods. Looking at them I feel like they have a Polly Pocket wonderland, where everything is great. As usual, don’t judge a book by its cover. More than one couple living on sea separated because of the tight living space and the incompatibility of the partners. It is important to take some personal space as often as possible.

We have to work on us and our relationship. It may sound old but communication is key. It is not always easy. A real eyeopener was a short visit home over Christmas. I went to visit some friends alone and sitting in the train by myself I wondered. Something felt different. Alex wasn’t there with me. After over a year of being together every day that felt strange. Of course, we do spend time away from each other, but usually not longer than a few hours and he’s never far away. Now I was alone for the first time since we started. I felt weird and after a few days I felt, I miss him. Being together, I just have to look at his face to see what he thinks, I don’t have to ask a lot of questions. All that we experienced together has brought us closer. All the bad and all the good stuff that has happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this kind of lifestyle and don’t want to change it. There is nothing better than waking up and drinking the first coffee in the cockpit having a stunning view, being surrounded by the sea on which the sun is shining and sparkling, then asking myself, what do I want to do with this day? It is great to explore a country and the landscapes or to just swim to your anchor neighbor. All the new impressions that I could collect on my way I wouldn’t want to miss them. It has changed me, more than I actually think, I guess.

It is not always happy days. Not every day is gorgeous. I just try to give an honest impression of my life and how I feel about it. What does it mean to loose control to someone who likes having the control? It is loosing control being on sea, dealing with the weather, adapting to the waves and the wind. I can’t influence that, but what do they say? I can’t change the wind, but I can adjust the sails. I feel tiny on the big ocean that is so massive and I am so small on my boat. It is thought that should free me but it also scares me. It scares me to be vulnerable. That’s the real challenge on long distance trips or living aboard. Not the relationship, but my personal growth. I am forced to look into parts of my character that I may not like or would prefer to hide, from others and me. It is work living on a boat, but it smooths the edges and corners and I think that is great.

living together on a sailboat
living together on a sailboat and exploring the world can be beautiful

One thought on “How to live together and not kill each other on a sailboat

  1. Pingback: Featured Blogger Ursula on Couple's Travel - LOVE LUST OR BUST

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