His & Hers

By Pamela Humbert
For Points East

My husband Jim and I have been sailing together for years, and on our old 22-footer we discovered it takes some parleying to achieve a mutual sense of peace and order aboard. There are the things he manages – spare parts, tools and emergency gear – and details I handle, like, food, clothes and galley ware. We agree that certain things have to be handy, but our ideas of which things varies enough to pose a challenge.

We also found over the years that “boat work” sometimes magnifies our different ways and means. His finished products never disappoint, but sometimes I just can’t watch. The skipper has a tendency to lay claim to any flat surface or stowage nearest the companionway. Anything and everything that leaves his hands piles up there. Then I brave his inevitable “Where’d you put the (fill in the blank) ?!” by answering, “I put them away.”

We bought Morgana one September, with just a few weeks remaining in the season. We left everything exactly where the previous owner had left it. Making her our own would come the following spring when we put her through a spa treatment of bottom paint, compound, wax and polish, then recommissioning her from scratch.

The day came in late October to say goodbye for the season. Decommissioning Day. I packed up everything below, and Jim took it to the van. Morgana, a Pearson 30, was as empty as the van was full. As I stood in the companionway looking into the saloon one last time, I realized that a his-and-her system would solve most of our issues. The tools, spare parts, sea anchor, flares and other stuff would all fit in the port side cubbies. All the towels, sheets, snacks, chargers, etc. would stow nicely on the starboard side, running beyond the galley.

First, we dropped off the sails at the sailmaker for cleaning and maintenance. Then we went home to start cleaning her accessories: fenders, lines, cushions, fender-boards, dishes, utensils – everything. Jim took everything that was to get washed with the hose outside; I took everything to be washed in the sink, dishwasher and washing machine inside.

In just a few days all Morgana’s things were organized and packed in her new cubby-fitting bins. Jackets for the wet-locker were hung on hangers, tied together and covered. Tray inserts for the drawers were reloaded and plastic wrapped for easy transport. Bulky pillows and blankets were placed in Rubbermaid containers. All of Morgana’s things were packed away with care in the guestroom closet, which we commandeered to become the “boat closet.” Come spring, we knew everything would be loaded back aboard smelling as fresh as the new season.

Where would we stow it all? We’d added quite a bit to what had come with the boat: Our jackets, sheets, blankets, spare clothes, and more cookware. We intended to cruise on Morgana, and our stuff was understandably growing. She had to be ready to keep us happy and comfortable, whether we raced, sailed, cruised, overnighted, or simply swung on the mooring visiting with friends.

Besides all of the new stuff to consider, there was also “the step,” a coveted little compartment hidden under the top companionway step. We both wanted it, and arguments were made by each as the winter wore on. The previous owner had used it for spare shackles, gaskets and hoses, giving Jim the “possession is nine-tenths of the law” advantage. “No. This won’t do at all,” I thought.

To mentally escape from the winter, I’d daydream about the coming summer and spring commissioning. I couldn’t wait, but what was to be done with The Step was still unsettled. From one of these late winter daydreams I took a shot at resolving the dilemma. “How about we use the step for the deck key, keys, flashlight, binoculars and other items we want accessible from the cockpit, and your spare bits and bobs go in one of the port-side cubbies?” I offered. “You’ll still have room, and then the galley drawer can be used for its intended purpose.” The Skipper’s silent response was an easy read: DOA.

One afternoon between snowstorms, I took a jaunt down to the waterfront where Morgana winters. It’s a salty area, with shore-hugging streets dotted with canvas shops, marine suppliers and boatyards. After making a number of stops along the way, I pulled into Morgana’s yard, trekked down the rows of boats, and spotted her black bottom and fin keel. As I walked around her, looking for anything amiss, I placed my cold hand affectionately on her even colder topside and whispered, “Morgana, the days are getting longer, and we’ll be together again soon. Take care sweetheart.”

By the end of February, Jim had taken care of the winter’s garage-friendly projects of varnishing the swim-ladder steps, washboards and cockpit trim. He’d charged the batteries and made a new mounting panel for the switches. I had crocheted a blanket for the V-berth. Together, we mounted a plaque to on the new panel that read: “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea,” a sentiment of Isak Dinesen.

March blew in, and Jim set off to install the new electronics he’d spent much of the winter researching and planning. That being a project too difficult for me to watch, I grabbed my gloves and leaf bags and began our yard’s spring clean-up. When my soft winter muscles started to groan, I told myself that it was timely physical conditioning for “boat-work season.” And then Jim called.

“Hey can you come down for a while,” he said. “I could use a hand snaking some wires.”

“Sure can, I’ll see you in a bit.” I knew where I was headed. In the days of the old 22, our youngest was the only one small enough to get into the bilge. And he acquired the moniker Bilge Mouse. These days, I’m the smallest, and I climbed aboard Morgana, asking, “OK, what’s first? Where do you need me?” He looked first at the line locker, then at me with a wink, and said, “In you go, Bilge Mouse.”

Puddles remained where great banks of snow had been weeks before: It was time to head to the yard for our first boat-work season. Our cars were loaded to the gills with weapons against grime, scuff marks, rust, pitting, and tired paint. I had packed enough food, coffee, tea and sweets to keep us all going, all day long. Our grown kids climbed in, and we were off.

Jim set up a staging area with tools and supplies behind her transom for bottom painting, polishing and odd jobs. I grabbed my belowdecks cleaning kit and headed for the ladder. Jim went over the list of things that needed to be done, and we each picked a place to start and got to work. Conversation ebbed and flowed as the morning progressed. The parking lot filled. The sound of sanders, scraping and radios reached epic levels. Some jokes and bursts of laughter kept it light as our arms grew heavier and heavier. Over the following weeks, work zones turned into clean zones, and our numbers dwindled until it was just Jim and me. Morgana was really getting her shine on!

While working below one afternoon, cleaning off last year’s scuff marks and spills, it dawned on me that Morgana had assumed the demeanor of a test-weary patient: weary from the poking and prodding with invasive wires and her stem-to-stern “spa treatment.” I felt that she’d had had enough of our attentions and intentions. I felt exhausted as I pulled off my gloves, and relieved as I loaded the cleaning and detailing supplies into the car. She was ready to splash, and boat-work season was over.

One of our boating buddies climbed down from his boat, and we shared and laughed for a bit, running through the highs and lows of the commissioning process. Becoming serious he said, “Jim’s lucky you’re so into it.” The truth was, I thought to myself, I’m so lucky he’s into it.

Now all Morgana’s things had to be put back aboard. Everything from the boat closet, to the car, to the boat, and then stowed. A perfect job for me, and one I’m certain Jim would rather not watch. Mighty Mouse in action. First the cushions, rugs and curtains to soften the light and silence the echo of emptiness. The bins dropped easily into their compartments. Some trial and error had the saloon shelves and galley exceeding my expectations. Lines, fenders, and miscellaneous gear were arranged smartly in the lazarette. Only that step remained.

I decided to load it as I’d imagined, stowing the spare parts that had been there before, with their mates in the saloon’s forward port cubby. I pulled out the pillows and arranged them. Leaning against the galley sink I looked all around for anything out of place, finding none. It looked and felt like home. I couldn’t wait for Jim to see it. I heard the ladder creak.

“Hi, in there,” Hah! Jim’s perfect timing. I stayed put. Leaning into the saloon from the companionway, I watched as he slowly looked all around. “I see you’ve been busy. It looks so welcoming. Where did you put everything?”

I first opened each of the bin-filled compartments on the port side, talking him through each of his bins and his inventory. Moving over to the starboard, I did the same with all the rest. He nodded and followed along until the end of my tour. “Soooooo, what’s in the step?”

“Ah!” I said, feeling confident I’d nailed it. Lifting the step as he got closer to look, muttering, “Deck Key, flashlight, air horn . . . ” Ah, indeed; there was the blessed look of agreement.

We saved dressing Morgana for when she was floating quietly in her slip, the last step. Together we fed, raised, rolled, snapped and secured all the canvas. Jim manned the shackle key and halyards, and I took the winches and cleats. Once finished, we sat down for the first time in what was suddenly “this season,” with immense feelings of joy, accomplishment, excitement – anticipation. Tomorrow, we take her home.

The next day, we headed down the gangway, the gateway to our summer. Slipping easily into our preferred tasks, I opened up Morgana, while Jim started and warmed the engine. Our coffees waited in the cup holders. With Jim at the helm, we slipped our lines, and she glided through the water with the soft purring of the engine. The sun and fresh air felt delicious on our faces. I walked aft with lines and fenders in hand, grinning from ear to ear.

Beaming, Jim initiated the first banter of summer: “OK, Captain, she’s all yours. Want to take the helm?”

“I am not the captain,” I shot back as always, countering with “first mate.”

“Skipper?”

“Co-skipper.”

“OK co-skipper, want to take her now or would you like to enjoy the ride with your coffee?”

“Definitely enjoy the ride with my coffee for now.”

At day’s end, we climbed aboard the launch and exchanged greetings with the others. Jim and I looked back admiring Morgana as we pulled away, savoring the view. Morgana is where the “his and hers” of it all comes together.

She’s ours.

Pam Humbert, a Northport/East Northport, N.Y., native who’s been boating since she was 7 years old, is a devoted wife and mother of three grown children. She is also founder of P.K. Services, providing start-ups with the skills and services they need to help keep their sails trimmed. Pam, her husband Jim, and their family cherish their days aboard Morgana (a Celtic name meaning “dweller of the sea”).