Sea Change

Are you just stepping into the cruising world? Or are you a seasoned salty? I’ve journeyed from newbie to professional mariner – I get it – I understand what it is like. Here I look at it from both points of view – both will learn something from this story. (As well as a gem of tip!)

If you’d like to listen to this story – click here for the podcast episode.

The majority of cruisers we meet have a similar ethos; the man has the life-long relationship with all things nautical; and the woman doesn’t. But whether you’re a man, woman or how ever you identify yourself, stepping out of the relative safety of your already established existence into the unknown, to go cruising, can be damn hard, frustrating and very scary.

I did not pioneer these emotions!

Remoulding your life into a salty structure and into the gait of the rolling sea means different things for different people. Recently meeting a nautical novice, I was reminded of my first hellish year onboard. Andrea’s frustrations with a new world made me realise I did not pioneer these emotions, indeed many before have stepped bravely into our watery world and many will continue to follow my soggy footsteps. Talking to Andrea and re evoking these buried memories and emotions I put fingers to keyboard and thought it worth explaining the enigmas I was faced with in the beginning, to help those who are currently experiencing coercion to perform metamorphosis from land dweller to sea gypsy.

We’re the mid-range cruiser; the ones that have enough for a seaworthy boat, ample navigation tools and enough dough not have to source a paying job at each port; but where hot water means boiling a kettle and showering is a public affair.

It's a line not a rope!
It’s a line not a rope!
Foreign Speak

For my first season onboard, most of the time I felt stupid. The boatie community were welcoming and friendly, but the language they spoke was foreign. “Pass the painter” – in my head this would evoke vivid images of a tall, dark Italian man with an open, white cotton shirt that has enticing splatters of coloured paints across the chest area. Reality brings you down with a thud when a painter is the bit of rope/string (sorry – line) that you tie your dinghy up with.  I could see I was going to struggle.

Learning ‘boat speak’ is the first hurdle. Not so much when you are sailing with your partner (pointing and colours and location of lines are a help), but when sitting in the cockpit sharing the sunset with other boaties. “My head is playing up”, a fellow cruiser may utter with brutal candidness; if you don’t know what this is, you start finding yourself covertly shuffling away from the poor soul and start wondering if he’s a screwdriver short of a toolbox.

Learning a completely new way to speak caused me to withdraw a bit and I felt terribly shy and foolish. I had come from a corporate job, managing a large team and budget, understanding what was expected of me and being in full control. Suddenly I am thrust into an alien world, with no regimented times, no project plan and laid out goals that used to be my daily mantra.

Looking the part

When we purchased Mariah and hauled her out for the first time, I was suitably attired in rags from a charity shop in order to work and get filthy doing all things on a boat. Walking along the jetty in third generation, baggy green pants and a t-shirt so out of fashion, no one could recognise the pop group emblazoned across my chest; I felt very proud when a fellow boatie piped up – “well you look like yachties!”

But, when the time came to work on the boat that looked so alien out of water, I was completely lost. Feeling superfluous, I would try to help and just get in the way. The days would drag, I didn’t understand the boating terms let alone what jobs to do. I was never a “handy” person, so even painting was a struggle. With no understanding of the mechanics, dynamics, systematics and the endless jobs associated with preparing and maintaining a boat, I became bored, listless and fed-up.

Jackie ‘chillin’ in the dinghy, anchored within the atoll of Tahanea (Tuamotus in French Polynesia).
Jackie ‘chillin’ in the dinghy, anchored within the atoll of Tahanea (Tuamotus in French Polynesia).
Stupid is as Stupid does

Most sensible people, at this point, would have enrolled in a course, read appropriate manuals and asked countless questions. I withdrew, which made the learning all the more difficult. Assisting my withdrawal were those “yachties” who have travelled as far as the end of their protected river and back, every other weekend and consider themselves experts. These types of people would speak to me as if I were three years old; correcting my terms. “No, it’s galley not kitchen”, “line, not rope”. I wish I had been brave enough to say “who cares?, you know what I mean!” But the cloak of shyness that engulfed me, kept me quiet. Talking to another adult as if you are conversing with an idiot is about as helpful (and stupid) as shouting at an oil leak.  Fortunately, Noel was patient and undemanding. “I don’t care if you call it orange marmalade as long as we call it the same name,” he explained; which led to most items being “thingamajig”, “whatsaname”, “oodgermigig” and “you know, the dooverlacky over there.” Quite surprisingly we both knew, what we are both referring to and we have since become a great team.

New blood, new ideas

I made some remarkable innovations very early into my sea gypsy life. Quite often a new comer has novel ideas and a refreshing way of looking at and tackling tasks.  Noel has struggled and uhhmmed and arrhed over problems and I have come up with the perfect solution. At Demopolis yacht basin in Alabama, we spent three months on the hard. One day Noel was perplexed and a little alarmed when I marched up to him holding a tampon aloft and thrust it in his direction.  He had been staring at the pot of anti-foul paint for sometime as if trying to will the puddles of rainwater to evaporate from the top of the extraordinarily expensive paint, that he found when prying off the lid.  A tampon sucked up the offending water without contaminating the paint and cured the problem in just a few seconds.  (It works wonders, apparently, with sucking up water from diesel too).

Insurmountable Rewards

Eight years later after one planet lap under my belt I was still learning something new most days. And now, over twenty years later, with another half circumnavigation and many miles through inland waters, plus working on commercial vessels, I teach maritime!

And the magic of that is – I teach like a woman wants to learn, which men find interesting (at first) and then they find it useful and refreshing! And the other plus, is that I get it, I really get how people feel when they are at the start, overwhelmed, confused, and feeling like they are sinking. Teaching Skippers’ tickets for a registered training organisation means I have trained young and old. I know what different levels of ability and skill need. I have the skill to teach several different ways at once and really understand how to make the boating world real when sitting in a classroom.

So that’s my trumpet blown – and why not. I bring my skills and my experience to every class. I also bring my doubts, my fears and my learnings – all from experience.

The first years’ struggle is a dim and distant memory that still makes me shudder.  Our worldwide watery friends stay in touch. We have boating buddies scattered around the world and find ourselves magnetically attracted to any being that likes moving. This watery life offers immense rewards, those fine 360° views; witnessing the first sparks of light of the new-born day; dolphins playing on the bow and kindred spirits always ready to assist in difficult times and enjoy unique flaming sunsets.

So next time you meet a new boatie; ask them about them, take into account the odd boating language and find out what makes them tick. Take time to explain what confounds you, where your enigmas lay – the newcomer finding their way in our esoteric world may well come up with a gem for you.

And if you are new to boating, don’t lose heart, be patient, relax, gravitate to those who want to help you without condescending you, and enjoy your life on the water.

Tell us your story on Turning Your Cruising Into Reality FB page.

A few ‘nautical nuances’

  • Bulkhead – same as boof head?
  • Head – what’s with all cranium references?
  • Draft – make mine a Tooheys
  • Anode – a sung poem?
  • Freeboard – there’s something free?
  • Heeling – when shoes need repairs?
  • Poop – isn’t that something birds do on your head?
  • Wind effect – too much curry the night before
  • Foul gear – rude outfit?
  • Weigh anchor – yup, about 20 pounds
  • Tender – my head after knocking it on the bulkhead (heads again!)


How to cope


  • Enrol on a course.
  • Buy and read Cruising Magazines (particularly SisterShip Magazine!), you’ll learn a lot about what to do and what not to do!
  • Dinghy over to other boats on anchor for a chat, it is amazing what you can learn from just ‘sticky beaking’ around another boat!


  • Don’t be too daunted, you’ll be surprised how little some sailors know.
  • Don’t be scared to ask, most boaties will be happy to explain stuff without being condescending; those that are – well don’t ask them again (and you’ll

find their behaviour covers their ignorance.)

  • Don’t give up, the more you cruise the more you’ll learn.
  • Don’t expect to know it all – ever!

2 thoughts on “Sea Change”

  1. Hi Jackie
    I am daunted by all the weather apps and guidance systems would love an informal course that explained a bit about weather, tides, current and how to use electronics

    1. Hi Michele,
      It is daunting isn’t it? I am pulling all this together now and will keep you updated (following SisterShip Training FB page and this website for updates, but I’ll add you to my mailing list) – but it is like navigation, a bit at a time and it all comes together.

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