Having fun sailing for couples
August 6, 2009 6:38 AM   Subscribe

How to have a great time on a learn-to-sail course? I'm going with a fairly new boyfriend who I really like but don't know terribly well yet. We'll be sharing a cabin in a fairly small sailing boat for a week in cramped conditions and very hot weather. We'll be doing some night sailing with trips into port every other day or so.

How can we make sure we have as much fun as possible without ending up wanting to wring each others necks from the heat and the lack of space? Any tips on keeping cool? On fun things to do? On keeping things flowing well between the two of us in these conditions? I'm thinking of bringing a book of questions for couples, and a map of the night sky for stargazing. Any more ideas or suggestions? Thanks very much!
posted by hazyjane to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest against a "couples" book. I've always found them awkward and forced.

However, have you considered a book of brain teasers and puzzles? Those can be a lot of fun and will generally lead to interesting conversations.

People also underestimate the amount of fun that can be had with Mad Libs.
posted by Loto at 6:42 AM on August 6, 2009

As someone who lived on a small sailboat for nearly 3 years, portions of which with a partner, I can tell you that by the end of this week, you'll know if this new boyfriend is for keeps or not. Nothing weeds 'em out like sailing on a small boat. (Seriously- it's the definition of closeness. Be prepared to see, and, um, hear, a lot more of your boyfriend than you would if you lived together in a regular apartment. Bulkheads ain't walls, and heads ain't bathrooms...)

As for what to do: books. Like, novels. You don't need to read the same thing- you'll already be on the same boat, seeing the same weather, doing the same tacks, eating the same food. Have your own thing. If either of you play guitar, bring that, though I've had mixed experiences with having one onboard. I find that books and music are really all you need- just being on a boat is typically entertainment enough, at least for me- there's the water to watch, weather to keep track of, navigation to be done, sails to adjust just-so...I don't get bored.

Oh, and beer. I don't leave the dock without beer.

To keep cool- a little spray waterbottle is great. You just mist yourself, and it really feels a lot cooler. Get a good hat- I have a weatherbeaten Tilley hat that I wear whenever I'm on the water, which is often- keeping the sun off REALLY helps. I wouldn't worry about sleeping at night- assuming you've been sailing all day, you'll fall asleep when it's time for bed, heat or no.
posted by zap rowsdower at 6:54 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, cramped, sweaty quarters and spending time up at night together in the night air getting to know each other, and jaunts to exotic ports of call can sure be rough on new couples.

Wait, what? You are a new couple about to spend time in cramped, sweaty quarters, up at night together in the night air, and making jaunts to exotic ports of call and you can't think of things to do to pass the time and "keep things flowing"? I suggest you skip the books and bring provocative clothing items and scented body oils.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:57 AM on August 6, 2009

Oh, and one of the funniest conversations I've ever had onboard: me and a buddy had just finished a roughly 80-mile passage under power, through 20 knot winds and 4 foot choppy seas. Finally got the anchor down just after sunset (and I hate anchoring after dark) and went below to make some food. My buddy looks at me and says, "So...how was your day?"

Moral of the story: you may not have much to talk about after a day or two underway...don't worry about it. Usually, just being together is enough.
posted by zap rowsdower at 7:00 AM on August 6, 2009

Pollomacho: she said it's a learn-to-sail course, which implies there'll be an instructor onboard. I'd leave all thoughts of any, ah, alone time ashore. Small boats are NOT a place to have that kind of fun, unless you're the only two onboard.
posted by zap rowsdower at 7:01 AM on August 6, 2009

Happy boating is a lot to do with doing things by the book, which describes a range of nautical skills, keeping everything very, very tidy, and staying calm when it all goes wrong, which it does - which describes a couple of habits. You don't have the skills yet, so you will both make dumb mistakes as you get to grips with the basics of sailing. Probably lots of them! Some of these will involve getting the other wet, dropping things on them, making them re-do something, or doing something wrong in front of the other, who, since they were listening more at some point, will know better.

One the one hand, none of this is directly relevant to your new relationship. But on the other hand, it all is, because you're going to get a crash course in each others' habits: you'll find out loads about each others' approach to coping with pressure, doing their fair share of the chores, their ability to learn (and how they learn best, for example by listening, watching or trying for themselves) and loads more.

So if I were in your shoes I'd be open with each other about treating this as:

- a time when you're both going to find yourselves at times tired and under pressure, just as much as you'll be having heaps of fun (which sailing is!), so you need to be aware of this, and find out how to be sensitive towards how each one of you react/copes and is best supported

- a way to find out a lot about each others' general personality and habits, in a very short space of time, and more importantly, to become aware of how you respond to what you see and discover.

I found learning to sail like this (albeit with a group but not a new girlfriend) a great way to learn how to 'get over' peoples' smaller annoyances and learn to appreciate the many positive things they brought to what is very much a team environment. And you can apply all this to your relationship in the future.

So go in positive, and be explicit with one another that this is a time when you're going to learn a lot about each other. And agree beforehand that any arguments that happen on the boat, get left on the boat, and are resolved by the time you get to sleep each night.

Oh, and night watch shifts are mostly a mixture of cold and boredom, along with the most wonderful sights now and then. If you're on the same watch, this is a wonderful opportunity for extended cuddles and conversation. But for heaven's sake don't forget that you're also meant to be keeping watch and making sure you're going in the right direction.
posted by dowcrag at 7:04 AM on August 6, 2009

Totally agree 100% with everything zap rowsdower says. My fiancé has a 30-foot sailboat, and the first summer we were together we spent a LOT of time on that thing. I was already pretty crazy about him, but there were times he drove me crazy due to the lack of ability to have ANY time apart from him. However, I also have lots of fond memories of reading aloud to each other, playing travel scrabble, learning each other’s favorite music as we each played our iTunes, and just generally learning a lot about in each other in a short time.

It’s a great test of your compatibility, too. Since this is an instructional course, you’ll observe each other’s learning styles and get to see each other under pressure and hopefully have opportunity to work together to achieve a goal. I’ve always actually been pretty hands-off in the boat and would enjoy more chance to learn the actual logistics of sailing, so good for you for doing this together.

It’s great that you’ll have night sails and different ports to visit – our favorite trips have been a combination of sailing and jumping off to explore little coastal towns or islands.

You will likely have a great time, and you’ll definitely come out of this knowing each other on a different level, for better or for worse!
posted by DuckGirl at 7:09 AM on August 6, 2009

You've gotten a lot of good advice. For entertainment: books, music, and maybe a deck of cards or something. Any, um, "extracirricular activities" will be heard by everyone else aboard, so take that under advisement. Honestly, you will probably be so tired most days that after dinner and some stargazing, you'll be ready to crash anyway.

For keeping cool, nth-ing a spray bottle, and also, the cheesy personal fans they sell to tourists are not a bad thing if you have one. I'm not exactly sure where you'll be sailing, but it will most likely be wretchedly hot in your bunk, unless all the hatches are open and you've tied up a windscoop.

Have a great time and learn a lot... about sailing, each other, and yourselves!
posted by somanyamys at 7:49 AM on August 6, 2009

I would recommend bringing a sleeping bag and a good inflatable sleeping bag pad, in case you want/need to sleep on the deck. Unless this boat is larger than 45' or so, the quarters are likely to be very small - sleeping with someone else (especially someone new) can be trying even on a queen size mattress.

I would also recommend doing a little small-boat sailing with him beforehand, if you haven't already, so you know how you'll work together in tricky situations.

Quite a bit of good advice above too. Have fun!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:09 AM on August 6, 2009

Actually, Salvor Hardin, I wouldn't bring either of what you suggested. A sleeping bag's likely to be too heavy if they're going to be sailing where it's hot- I usually just pack a set of those t-shirt material sheets when I'm sailing in the summer, and that's definitely enough. If you're sleeping on deck on a small boat- as you said, anything less than in the high 40s- there's probably not going to be a good place to lay out an inflatable pad, and it'll be in the way of the watch on deck if they need to do some sail handling. You don't really sleep on deck- you nap, and are always sort of ready to get up and out of the way/help out. You are right that sleeping will be trying- the bunks are usually oddly shaped, and you can usually count on one person having to climb over the other if they need to get up. It's just something you have to get used to.

Also, dowcrag said what I tried to say originally, only better. It's a mental thing, but be ready for it! As Bob Bitchin' likes to say, the difference between adversity and adventure is attitude. Remember that!
posted by zap rowsdower at 8:48 AM on August 6, 2009

I've done most of the ASA courses, some liveaboard and most with my fiance. Here are a few of the things I picked up along the way:

Don't try to fill the silence with conversation, especially on long voyages. When you do break the silence, do it with some warmth, humor or an offer to help. Sailing for days on end can be very tiring and you'll find yourself, your boyfriend and the rest of the crew taking "mental space" to make up for the lack of physical space lost on the boat. When your boyfriend does this (totally normal) recognize that it isn't about you.

Bring far less stuff than you think you need. Dry clothes are great, but hair dryers aren't useful on a boat. If you're in cramped quarters, try to reserve as much space for yourselves vs. your gear.

Benadryl is a great lightweight sleep aid when you're hot, tired and too uncomfortable to sleep. Sleep is key to staying functional and having a good attitude.

Ask your instructor about any great sailing stories he has. I'm sure he'll have plenty. Most are comedy gold.

Mesh with the routine of the boat, which will likely mean waking early and going to bed shortly after sunset. Even if its not your natural pace, finding rhythm with others can be a bonus. When you're looking for something to do and the conditions don't prevent it, fix food to share with others. Bread and peanut-butter, while boring, is like food from the gods when you're hungry, sweaty and tired from an all day battle upwind.

Play music, bring music. What about a harmonica?

Consider trying out my favorite warm-weather sailing garment ever.

On most of my trips a quick cold water rinse in the morning with face washing was the highest level of personal hygiene we were able to achieve. Baby wipes are a great supplement, as is dry shampoo. I don't go on trips without these two things.

Having sex on a small boat is going to be difficult. First, consider the limited supply of fresh water -- you're not going to be able to rinse off whenever you want. Privacy is at a bare minimum. Last, you're going to be very tired. Plan on limited physical intimacy, but there's no harm in trading shoulder or back rubs.

I hope you have fun and stay safe. I recommend Salvor Hardin's advice to try some small-boat sailing ahead of time in your area, if possible.
posted by cior at 8:51 AM on August 6, 2009

Also, here are photos from a few of my trips if you're looking to get a better idea of what it could be like out there:
Grenadines 2009 on a 43 Grand Soleil, 4 crew and 1 instructor
Grenadines 2008 on a 41 Beneteau with 2 crew and 1 instructor
posted by cior at 8:55 AM on August 6, 2009

Remind me never to share a cabin with any MeFites! jeez, what a bunch of stiffs! Unless, hazyjane feels that they cannot be discreet, or is a prudish MeFi square, I stand by my answer!

Well, I'm off, if anyone needs me, I'll be frigging in the rigging.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2009

Heh, just years of experience, Pollomacho. Lying in my forward bunk on my 33 footer, with my eyes closed, I know when the water pump kicks on, I know when the bilge pump kicks on, I know if the rudder isn't centered and locked perfectly, and I certainly can tell where onboard everyone is and what they're doing, just from the sounds and movement of the boat. The instructor or owner will be able to do the same.

I mention this to make sure that hazyjane knows that while the trip can/will definitely be romantic, it probably won't be sexual, unless her and everyone else on the boat are from somewhere much cooler than me. Cior's got it right, and discretion has nothing to do with it.

(Although if you're the only two on the boat, there are all sorts of interesting possibilities...)
posted by zap rowsdower at 12:28 PM on August 6, 2009

Not to be a prude, I will admit that I've had great success making romance on sailboats with condoms, baby wipes and sheer force of will.

To zap's point, other folks might know what's up -- but as long as you're discrete and polite about it, they may not care.
posted by cior at 12:48 PM on August 6, 2009

If you have long hair, bring a leave-in conditioner, which will allow you to comb out the wind-blown tangles without needing to use a shower-worth of water. Be ready for your hair to be gunky. Bring hair clips, elastics, etc.

Whatever other toiletries you want for conditions where you'll basically be taking sponge-baths most of the time. Water is at a premium and if you're on a cruise with a bunch of other people you will want to minimize your impact on the water situation. Cooling face-wipes might be a good idea.

Bring motion-sickness pills. Don't be shy about taking them if you're feeling like ass the first day. They work best if you can take them 20 minutes before feeling sick, you'll quickly learn how to predict. They will make you sleepy. Sometimes motion sickness gets better if you go below, sometimes it gets better if you stay abovedecks where you can see the horizon and feel the wind, try to figure out what works for you. Don't be embarrassed, it happens to the most experienced people sometimes (so experienced people will be sympathetic and not hate you), and there's nothing to do but wait it out. Try to keep hydrated. Be patient with your partner if he gets motion-sick and has to just lie around looking green for a day.

Books - giving each other a bit of alone time is key
Deck of cards, travel game, etc
Star chart is a great idea
Depending where you are you may want bird book, fish-ID book, history of the island -type book

Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock - bring extra, reapply regularly, don't miss the easily-missed places, getting burned will suck
Hat with a neck-cord
Sunglasses with a cord
Clothespins (probably your cruise will supply these, for pegging your wet towels and swimsuits to the lifelines to dry)

Others above are definitely right in the general advice about keeping things tidy (don't just leave stuff sitting around, stow it; be especially careful with how you leave rope that you've been handling), following instructions quickly, and generally being aware and quick to do your share.

"When you're looking for something to do and the conditions don't prevent it, fix food to share with others." Yes, god yes.

If you're feeling crabby, drink some water or juice, and have something quick to eat.

And the advice to bring less stuff than you think you'll need is good. In my experience the typical sleeping arrangement for a couple is: exactly enough flat space to fit both bodies if both are medium-sized; sometimes there is also a very narrow ledge to tuck a duffel on. For a completely hot-weather cruise I would bring something like 2 pairs of shorts, 3 shirts, 1 skirt if you're going to eat ashore, swimsuit, washcloth, old worn towel for swimming, water sandals like tevas.

Check with the company leading the trip about what you can expect for night-time temps. If you're going to be way out on open water, and sailing at night rather than mooring, night temps can be surprisingly cool - you'll want to ask and pack accordingly.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:21 PM on August 6, 2009

LobsterMitten has it right about the motion sickness stuff. You can forget all the other suggestions if one of you gets seasick. Don't be shy about taking the medication. Realise that seasickness is an awful feeling and cut that person some slack.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:19 PM on August 6, 2009

"... We'll be doing some night sailing ..."

You needn't, and shouldn't, wait until your cruise begins to learn your stars. Or, how to read a nautical chart. If you can read The Practical Sailor by Roger F. Duncan before you leave, and not act smug about whatever you've thus learned while aboard, you'll be marginally better for it. If you take aboard reading material, a copy of the Journal of Bounty's Launch by William Bligh (yes, Captain Bligh) reads especially well over salt water.

A good sailor is a quiet sailor, all else being equal.
posted by paulsc at 11:44 PM on August 6, 2009

Ok, I'll ditch the couples book but bring puzzles and star charts and novels, won't bring my guitar though as I'm terrible and would probably be forced to walk the plank if I did. And I'll do my best to be tidy, helpful, and patient. Thanks so much to everyone for the advice! I feel really positive about this trip now.

Paulsc, thank you so much for your last line - funny but one of the things I was concerned about was that I'm a fairly quiet person and was wondering whether there would be too many long, uncomfortable silences from spending quite so much time together, so I'll keep what you said in mind.

But yeah, I think we can figure out for ourselves whether or not to have sex, pollomacho, thanks for the laughs though!
posted by hazyjane at 11:49 PM on August 7, 2009

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