Poop Deck: My 1976 Ranger 29, Sailing and Love, The Best Of Skipper Jenn

Boat Relationships: How Boat Ownership Mirrors Life

Pix: Me and Poopsie having a conversation about the galley refit.

Sailing is amazing. When you learn to sail and crew, charter, or race on someone else’s boat, it is so fun. You have moments of trouble shooting boat issues, and you are definitely learning many aspects of boat handling. It gives you a sense of badassery and empowerment as you do new things and gain competence. You gain a lot of experience without a lot of financial, physical or emotional investment. What you do not experience is the deep intimacy with its extreme joys and sorrows of active boat ownership.

What I have learned first hand is that owning a boat is a complete and full time relationship. You love one another, you challenge one another, you fight, you make up, you annoy one another. There is a reason boats are lovingly named and deeply anthropomorphic. Honestly, it’s a co-dependent dynamic; you literally rely on one another for survival.

My boat was a total fixer upper. I bought her so I could learn all the systems. I wanted to take sailing to the next level from crew and charter. In my opinion, if you plan on any distance sailing, you need to know at the very least how to trouble shoot the rig, engine, and electronics. No better way to do that than a giant DIY. In the two years I’ve owned her I am almost done with a complete refit. I have touched every aspect of the inside of her hull at this point. Soon I will say the same for the outside.

In this process I can honestly and unabashedly admit that I speak to her. Like: whole conversations. I have yelled at her, I have kissed and petted her, I have asked her opinion or for her help. She’s seen me laugh and cry, heard my praise and exasperated expletives. Poopsie, as I like to call my 1976 Ranger 29, Poop Deck, is like my high spirited child. I adore her, I think she’s amazing, she is full of potential and she is high fucking maintenance. Just like a toddler, she takes all my resources emotionally, mentally, physically and financially. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve spent time and money talking to my therapist about her.

With steady and patient parenting, I am hoping all this pays off and at some point she is more self sufficient, needing continued care but not non stop foundation work. We will go places together and have adventures, hang out and have a more reliable, equal and friendly relationship. Who knows? Maybe she will even take care of me in retirement. But I am not obligating her to that, no one likes a smothering mother.

I think other people have equal but different relationship dynamics with their boats. I’ve met people who’s boat is their spouse, or a best friend, a sibling even. I’ve met boats who are boys, boats that are girls and non binary boats. Mine is most definitely my baby girl. As if I had gestated her all this time and pushed her straight out of my vagina I love this boat.

My land dwelling friends compare a boat to a car or house. Certainly there are similarities and it gives a point of reference to maintenance and care. Since I have lived in houses and driven cars my whole life and now live on a boat, I can safely say nothing prepared me for the daily needs of a floating home. Boats are vastly different from a house or car and I’m going to explain why.

I know this is a huge shock, but boats live in the water. Water is constantly moving, responding to the weather and tides. At times it is coming at you from every angle. Like a crazy frienemy roommate with questionable boundaries, uninvited, it is always trying to get up in your grill and into your stuff at random times and at any hour. You love the water deeply, even it’s unpredictable wild side, it makes for good stories and interesting experiences. But sometimes when it goes too far you wish it would just chill the fuck out and be stable for a bit. There are lots of interventions. Then there is the sun. The UV gloriously coming down from heaven and then bouncing off the water like a big warm fuck you to all your canvas, sails, lines and plastic with resins that keep your boat together and looking nice.

This causes wear. This causes all manner of issues over time. Between the two it is corroding your foundations every minute, tiny little strains and weaknesses start in stainless fittings, fibers break down, caulking gets brittle around bolts, moving parts get stuck. Boats, like people, need preventative care and check ups. For ouchies, instead of gauze, bandaids and ibuprofen they need sikaflex, epoxy and sail tape. Both people and boats need duct tape. I can’t consider someone a safe and prepared person on land or sea unless they have ample duct tape around.

As I write endearingly about the relationship I have with my boat it makes me think of the parallel with people. Life causes wear. I walk the docks and see so many neglected and abandoned boats. They sadly list with chafed lines. Algae and barnacles are their only companions. Cracked gel coat and dirty sail covers cry out for a bath as the stuck and ungreased winches long for the days where they had a job.

The owners pay the moorage and forget them. At first I I could not understand this. Then I looked at it through my therapist lens of relationship. I cannot help but to think of how derelict and rotting boats are not too far off of how humans sometimes treat one another, or even themselves. Dreams of fun days and connection lost to traumas, careers, illness, or simple habitual complacency. Once sparkling new hulls loved with state of the art tech, full of promise and potential now sit outdated and ignored.

All people and boats have a story, a history unique to them. All have weathered storms and smooth sailing days. Both rely heavily on relationships to survive, ultimately no one gets anywhere completely alone. Boats and people need collaboration and teamwork, time and understanding to thrive. These lonely boats find that no one prioritized them, no one paid attention or did simple maintenance. Some of them were abused and injured, never to be repaired. No one showed appropriate connection and care. This is the basic human wounding therapy addresses.

All relationships take commitment, time and work. Even our relationship to ourselves. Besides all of the yummy metaphor here let’s be crystal clear. Your boat is a mirror, a portal into your state of mind. When I fight with Poopsie I know it’s with myself. Fighting fatigue, frustration, insecurity, uncertainty, stress. When I have joy or pride in her appearance or performance I know it’s by my capable hand and savvy mind and I celebrate the effort. Each day is uniquely full of lessons and we are definitely in it together learning and growing. In the tough times, when I want to quit, when I think I might leave her, I have to keep my eye on the prize and have gratitude. I have to remind and ask myself: why am I doing this? Why am I with her? What do I need to reconnect? The answers are a long list, longer than my to do list or list of grievances. If that list shifts, if there are more hardships than joy, things need to change. Like any healthy relationship, I have to stay engaged, be accountable and communicate clearly. This is the deep intimacy of boat ownership I didn’t see coming, and I am deeply grateful for. Sail in peace friends.

For more on how to cope with boat stress read my Tantrum Series.

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