Love and Marriage Aboard

23 Mar

One of the questions I get with some regularity is: how has cruising affected your marriage?  And I understand why people want to know.  I do.  People are awed by the prospect of spending 24/7/365 with another person, even someone they love.  But this is a question I have avoided so far, because usually it comes from about-to-be-cruisers, and what they are really asking me is, “Is cruising going to be great for my marriage?  Please reassure me.”

And I will.  Sort of.  But I’m going to make this an inductive argument, so hold my hand and be patient.

We just wrapped up a ten-day visit with Erik after almost two (unexpected) months away.  And the four of us were delighted to see each other.  In the battle of Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder versus Out of Sight, Out of Mind (or, for Nicolas: Loin des Yeux, Loin du Coeur), Fonder won hands down.  It was positively sickening how happy we all were.

The next day, the kids went off to school, and Erik and I got down to the real business of a loving relationship.  Namely, reviewing the insurance papers and fixing the outboard.  As as we spent a romantic morning on the dock in the blazing sunshine, passing the vice grips back and forth, fetching drills and Dremels, we talked about other things.  Erik told me stories about work, and I caught him up on what the kids had been doing.  We made pie-in-the-sky plans plans about where to sail next.  I learned how to change the oil.  And we had a delightful time.

Looking back, we’ve never really excelled in the RomanticTM department.  At least, not in a way that would please anyone else.  When we moved into our house almost a decade ago, tradition (read: television) dictates we should have celebrated with a bottle of wine in front of a roaring fire.  Instead, we spent the evening in our unfinished basement trying to figure out how to convert our 50 Hz German washing machine for use in 60 Hz Canada.  (Looking back at that sentence, I see how inevitable it was that Erik I and I would someday go cruising.)  And we were perfectly happy.  And, with a little fancy footwork and a few new parts, we triumphed.

Jump ahead to Papillon: as Erik’s visit wore on, we continued with our normal routine.  Everyone worked during the day, and we had fun together in the evenings.  We read books with the girls.  We fixed stuff.  We bickered.  We dropped the kids with friends and went on a date.  And when it was time to say goodbye, we all rolled out of bed at 5 am and walked down the dock in our pajamas to wave Erik off to the airport.

Off to the beach with Dad.

So here we are, three and a half years into our new life, and I see that it is really our old life in different clothes.  We do the same things together and the same things with the kids as we always did, but we do it more often because we have the time.  Precious, irreplaceable time.

I am reminded of an old story.  A man moves to a new town.  His first evening there, he visits the local pub.  Everyone is drinking and smiling, singing songs, arm in arm. The newcomer gets into a conversation with an old man.  “What are the people like, here?” asks the newcomer, turning his back to the revelry.  “Do they make good neighbours?”  The old man takes his pipe from his mouth and gives a newcomer an appraising look.  “What were your neighbours like in your old place?” he asks.  “Terrible,” says the newcomer.  “Nosy, mean-spirited, unhelpful.  Just awful.” The old man nods slowly as his eyes travel over the happy, laughing crowd.  “Then you’ll find the people here just the same.”

The point is, the marriage you left with is the marriage you’ll carry on with, wherever you are.  Cruising isn’t a death knell for a relationship, nor is it a magic fountain of rainbows.  As for me, I have a great marriage, great kids, and I love cruising.  This has totally worked for us.  And although I can’t promise you, dear reader, that it is going to work for you, too, I will say this: if everyone steps aboard with a good attitude and a willingness to try, then you’re halfway there.  If you can embrace your common ground and be a “good neighbour”, your marriage aboard can be just as much fun as your marriage on land.  Even if you don’t like to fix washing machines.


  1. Al Boudreau

    Hi, My wife Barbara and I have been cruising over 10 years and there’s no better bond for a marriage than someone you can trust your life on as a ship mate.

  2. Gus Schempp

    Amy, Loved your stories. But must chide you about the remark not having excelled in the Romantic Department. There is nothing more romantic than cruising!
    Proof: Went bareboating with my lover in the Grenadines and married her, although we then spoke only different languages,she Spanish,I English. Went bareboating there 25 times since, once a year, with our kids and with friends. Twice we went with couples just dating and it was surefire to lead to great marriages! You can’t beat this. We had fun too with the usual dingy painter wrapped around the propeller (my wife and I alternating with the propylene cutting), or running out of diesel just entering a harbor,and not knowing how to get diesel on a Sunday and bleed the darn thing. Great romantic memories!

  3. Donna Sassaman

    My husband, Bill, and I have lived aboard for nearly 27 years; we’re on our 3rd liveaboard boat. We cruised for three years in the early 90s, from BC to Mexico to French Polynesia to Hawaii and back home to BC. It was fun; we learned lots; we came home still liking and loving each other; and the cruising continues (locally now). Thank you for your wonderful story. It made me smile and nod in agreement. I’m still smiling and nodding!

    Best wishes,

  4. nicolas turcotte

    Dure épreuve 2 mois!! chapeau.

    Was it me who deserve a personal shoutout??? Perks of the fanclub, I like to believe. :)

  5. Dave S

    Amy, what a great summary of relationships in general. And a reminder to put everything in to them. Originally started reading your blog for the sailing but now just enjoy your writing no matter the subject. Keep up the great work.

    Best to you and yours –Dave

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