Photos by Stellar Exposure
When your partner falls in love with a sailboat….For anyone who’s ever come home to a newly sailboat crazed girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, or wife, you’ll appreciate this guest post by the talented Sheena Jeffers, a young salt and writer in Virginia Beach @seaslifeforgood.
I write this from a pretty broken place. That’s, sometimes, what happens when you buy a bank-repossessed, 43-foot Catamaran on which the owner used the bottom of the boat as a depth finder, after de-masting the boat and leaving it for nothing.
But I fell in love with a guy who fell in love with this boat.
This is a story of the frustrations and the mishaps that have occurred while trying to breathe new life into this used-and-abused vessel. It’s also a story of how a 30- somethings, unmarried couple works through the frustrations and mishaps that spill over from the boat and into the relationship (and – if we’re being honest – the spillage occurs the other way, too.)
I knew before I met my boyfriend that he wanted to go sailing. In fact, I met him while he was actively searching for a sailing crew. I knew nothing of sailing. I’m a ballerina, and spent my life in black leotards, pink tights, hair in a bun and hand on the barre.
He and I bonded over a single drink, talking about how many times we’ve uprooted our lives, sometimes against our families’ wishes, in order to follow our dreams.
The next morning at work, I tossed my bag down, swiveled around in my chair and said, “Oh, we’re definitely going to date!”
He hadn’t found the boat yet, and he hadn’t asked me to be his girlfriend yet, but I just knew both things would happen.
About 2 weeks into our flirting and adventurous late-night skateboarding and biking by the edge of the ocean, he called me.
“I found the boat,” He said.
It will take me months and months to understand the passion with which he meant The Boat. But as the 2-week old, unofficial fling, I didn’t understand the depth yet.
“Really?!” I said, with excitement, but also a tinge of fear. I was starting to really like this guy; I’d be sad if he sailed away.
“I want you to see it!”
I see the boat for the first time through an unreliable, shaky FaceTime feed. I hear his excitement. I see the boat’s abuse but I also see its potential. There could be love there. Could there be love there… with us?
The next few days go by with a blurred speed in my memory. He saw the boat. He put in an offer. He convinced the broker that this boat was his boat. He secured a high-interest rate, quick-no-questions-asked loan and he transferred the money.
He owned the boat.
The only role I played was picking up my phone in an attempt to calm his nerves as he went months with a house mortgage plus boat payment until he could refinance his home to pay off the high-interest loan. From my point of view, and completely unfamiliar with sailing, I saw only mounting risks for a reward I just couldn’t visualize.
Could there be love there… with us? I’d be sad if he sailed away…
These thoughts plagued me. They were with me every time I pulled my dance bag over my shoulder to head off into my world. On land.
I was starting to feel a stark difference: life on water and life on land. I had no idea what those feelings were about, but I could tell by my boyfriend’s excitement that they were clearly different lifestyles; that different rules applied.
My boyfriend knew this life already, and he was clearly stoked at the chance to return to the water. He had lived on the islands before me with long, curly hair full of salt and toting huge lobsters around. I’d seen the pictures and listened to the stories. He talked about it like it was a glorious life that I didn’t know. Since I had no idea what he was talking about, I felt strangely lesser than knowing only the “on land” experience.
These thoughts were with me every time my phone went silent. I liked this guy, a lot. But I was watching him fall in love with a beautiful boat that he planned on taking away.
“I liked this guy, a lot. But I was watching him fall in love with a beautiful boat that he planned on taking away.”
When he finally had the key in hand, we went to the grocery store and bought brie, cranberries and a bottle of champagne to celebrate. We sat at the stern of the boat and with our Red Solo Cups, cheers!
As the sun slowly disappeared, we packed up our small picnic and headed back home.
I was sure the purchase of the boat meant the impending end of our fling, so I braced myself for a tough conversation when I heard, “Will you be my girlfriend?”
I? What? Boat? Away? Sail? Ocean? You? Go? Me? What?
My brain worked extra hard to form a reliable, sequential thought for me. But I knew I wanted to say yes.
When I finally collected my thoughts, my brain found the word it was looking for: “Yes.”
I went to bed that night with a boyfriend, with a 43-foot Catamaran that we knew was currently not sea ready and we knew it would take at least a year’s worth of genuinely hard work, and excitement mixed with a tinge of fear. Could I do this? Could he? Could we do it together? Somewhere between those thoughts, I fell asleep.
Within the next 10 months, our lives changed and they changed fast. He left his full-time job and started working tirelessly on the boat which, of course, isn’t free, so thousands of dollars went with him in different forms of metals, plastics, shapes, tubes, fabrics, and mounting debt.
The piles piled up. The receipts twisted and spread out like tiny Joshua trees. My boyfriend’s hands were covered in some unidentifiable black substance most of the time: sometimes it was sticky, sometimes it was slippery.
We were making food runs, beer runs, and there was the occasional but necessary jump-in-the-water-and-swim breaks.
Some days, we’d be sitting on the boat scrubbing and strangers would walk up to the boat and say, “Oh, I remember this boat.” They would tell us horror stories of the boat catching on fire, or running around, or being de-masted.
Our eyes would always grow big with shock and worry, and we’d feel a tiny pit grow deeper in our stomachs, but we didn’t mention any of that; just keep scrubbing.
As the female partner of the couple who had never sailed, I wrapped these worries and fears around me like a blanket. The blanket started to feel tighter and tighter with every discovery of something else that doesn’t work.
But I was also struggling to understand the lifestyle and my boyfriend, overwhelmed with the endlessly growing list of boat projects, didn’t have time to answer all of my questions or even process my fears.
I was thrown into a Facebook group, Women Who Sail, and there I found a network of wholehearted women willing to hear my concerns. It took me months of silently observing their conversations, but I finally found the gumption to post.
On November 11, 2016, I wrote:
“Wow! I have spent the weekend connecting with sailing women (from this group!) and here’s why (and this is where I need you all)! I am a ballerina, born & raised in a small town, and have fought for a successful career here on land. I met a sailor and we fell in love but I didn’t know he would be purchasing a 43-foot Catamaran and want to travel the world starting 6-12 months from now! [WHAT]. So, I have a lot of FEAR (deep- rooted fear) because I don’t know this world, life or how to DO IT (how to make money, raise a family, be covered if we were to get ill or injured). My anxiety increases as his excitement of leaving increases. Facts: I want to learn this world & be open & experience it, but I need some comfort, some guidance, a stronger knowledge-base to stand on). Thank you to the two amazing women who spent HOURS with me this weekend over wine & coffee chewing on difficult life STUFF with me. If any of you have advice or are willing to respond to email full of questions, I would welcome your advice, support & clarity. Blessings!”
I received 23 heart-felt, encouraging messages. I was given book suggestions (I ordered and read them all). I was given boat-life advice (I wrote it all down).
And then I got this:
“First, learn to sail. If you love it (sailing, not the guy) your relationship will soar, and the adventure will fill your soul. If you merely tolerate it, you might be bitter for the life you miss… If you hate it, your relationship will fail.”
Advice like this is hard to swallow when you’ve never been sailing and you’re shoulder-deep in boat projects trying to be supportive to a stressed-out boyfriend covered in unidentifiable black stuff with everything he touches sticking to him.
Your relationship will fail.
Fear rushed in the way I imagine water would rush in if we tried to sail this boat right now. But all I could do was look over at my boyfriend who shot me an exasperated smile, his head sticking out of the engine room.
Somewhere between all of this, he listed his home for sale in an effort to free up money and with the intention to move onto the boat. The projects continued to pile up: home projects, boat projects, showings, cleaning for showings. Oh, and it was hurricane season.
I found my solace by talking to other female sailors: How does one get health insurance? How do you cook? What happens during a storm? Night watches? Those hanging plants are incredibly cute, but how do they stay up?
These women spent time with me. They nurtured my hyperactive mind and soothed my concerns with their clear, concise but honest answers.
But here we were. Stuck in a zone of stress: How can we sell the home, keep the boat floating, pay for all of this, while being present for each other in our infant stages of a relationship?
During stressful moments, I would hear my boyfriend say, “We’re supposed to be in the honeymoon phase…”
Your relationship will fail. I hear that Facebook comment threaten.
I personally don’t know of a single couple that took on repairing a very-broken boat while trying to sell a home, after quitting a full-time job, and trying to start a relationship.
Our honeymoon phase felt hijacked but I felt OK with that because I was still in love and observing progress and I was really starting to want this. With him.
We started to notice our differences more. We permitted our personal fears and frustrations to be let out on each other. We hid a lot of feelings because we were so tired.
At night, I would wake up and roll over and see him: exhausted, but the muscles around his eyes were still tense as if he was thinking about he worries in his sleep. I’d scoot closer and kiss the freckles on his shoulder, gently, so I didn’t wake him up.
Could I do this? Could he? Could we do it together?
I would like to say that times got easier and everything got better. We have been dating for 10 months, and we’re headed into month 11 bruised, battered, emotionally and physically wiped out.
But I am incredibly proud of our journey (minus the ugly parts when we said mean things to each other out of pure chaos brought on by oh-so-many things).
We have achieved so much in such a small amount of time while learning each other.
I love this human being, even though he is so very different than me. I find him infuriating but totally refreshing.
“Strangers would walk up to the boat and say, “Oh, I remember this boat.” They would tell us horror stories of the boat catching on fire, or running around, or being de-masted.”
I recall the first time he took me out sailing on his small Hobie Cat that he keeps tucked away on the beach. It was my first time sailing, and I remember standing up and then swoosh! A wave tossed the small boat and my shin slammed into a metal pole. I looked down and a small dribble of blood slid down my leg. He wiped the blood off and kissed my leg.
We’re in a phase now where there is a lot of wiping metaphoric “blood” off of metaphoric wounds and a lot of kissing to make up. We spend our weeks and weekends discussing, planning, fighting, making up over this boat and any action items that have to be checked off before we can move forward – and working through emotional action items still count as action items to be completed before moving forward.
We still work through a tremendous amount of fear, insecurities, perceived judgments, imagined inaccuracies.
But I keep coming back to that first night on the boat when we sat watching the sun sink below the skyline and clinked our Red Solo Cups together.
Could I do this? Could he? Could we do it together?
Sheena Jeffers is a writer, dancer, choreographer and yogi living in Virginia Beach with her water-loving boyfriend Ryan Carroll. As the projects pile up, so does the excitement that sustains their focus and effort. You can follow the ups and downs of their boat adventures – at @seaslifeforgood #seaslifeforgood on Instagram and Facebook.