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What Sailing Across The Ocean Teaches You About Marriage

Long time readers will remember The Hillrat’s Voyage. Sara and her husband Stof married in a blazingly honest ceremony in South Africa. Then, when they started to ponder what they wanted their married life to look like, the decided to dive into the most bravely adventurous thing they could think of: sailing (and otherwise traveling) across the Pacific Rim (and blogging while doing it). Sara and Stoff just finished their Pacific crossing in a sail boat, and Sara is here to tell us what she learned about her marriage throughout the journey (she wrote this post out long hand, during the trip). Without further ado, one of the APW Staff’s favorite features:

Gosh! It has been an age. You’d think that I had been hiding out in the middle of the Pacific… (groan).

I last wrote for APW about being a wife in the thrust of travel adventure. My husband and I had landed in Mexico and finally reunited with our sailboat, the lovely Laura Takalani. We had a crazy two month period to work and get our boat ready for a voyage across the Pacific, then one Wednesday in mid-April (after hitting the organic market for a final provision) we finally set sail.

It soon became apparent that we had spent so much time preparing the boat for an ocean crossing that we (I) had neglected to mentally prepare ourselves (myself). Those of you lovelies who are following our adventure will know that I found it all rather terrifying. Of course, terror begets exhilaration and I have spent some time reflecting on how personally fulfilling it was to have done such a big scary audacious thing.

I have not yet written about what that ocean crossing did for our marriage. We spent some time “negotiating” power shifts. Stof sails like he was born to; I am cautious of physical challenges that are unfamiliar (like sailing) and somewhat awe-struck by the sea. This meant that we had to recalculate how to meet challenges. I had to learn some humility. Stof had to learn some patience. We both had to learn teamwork and serious trust. Twenty three days after leaving Mexico, we made landfall at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands with a marriage galvanised by an ocean. We were in love with the verdant mountains, dramatic shoreline and cheap baguettes (in a country where everything is ridic expensive). Mainly, we were really proud of ourselves, of each other, and of Team Hillratt.

Since then, Stof and I have been swanning around a series of paradise islands. Welcome to our lives for 2011! We have also been spending a serious amount of time in each others’ company in a rather small sailboat.

In order to illustrate what this has meant for us, allow me to steal an analogy I once heard: Finding a marriage partner is a little like finding the perfect pair of hiking boots.*

It can take years to find the perfect fit, brand, weight and material. You may try on many models: some are abysmal; some are a close fit, but are somehow lacking. And then you find The Boots: they are perfect and marvelous. They fill you with wonder every time you even think of them. You can’t stop dreaming of the mountains you will summit in those boots. So you take the plunge, make an enormous commitment and buy the shoes. At first, you cannot believe that you are the actual owner of those most fabulous of hiking boots… Until one day they give you a tiny blister. Then they give you another. It heals, but soon they’re giving you a bunch of blisters (sometimes in the same jolly place)! Inevitably, each one of us is faced with a decision: walk through the blisters until the leather is soft and your feet build up the calluses; or abandon boot before more lasting damage is caused?

Now, even the most avid hiker will agree that you do not want to wear your hiking boots all day. (Every day.) There are times when you want to wear work shoes or snazzy party pumps. Sometimes you want to chuck on your flip flops or slip on the slippers and be done with it. On some days, you just want to go barefoot. Meaning (if you follow the analogy): we all play different roles in life. Playing those roles is important because, inter alia, it allows us to appreciate the hiking boots even more.

Well. There is little luxury of escape on a sailboat that measures 41 foot at her longest and 13 foot at her widest. For Stof and I, it’s husbandandwife 100% of the time, day after day. (We call it marriage intensive.) Which means that the blisters build and pop far more frequently than they might ordinarily do. We have become particularly talented at “discussing”, bickering, and generally driving each other nuts.

But: The leather of our marriage is softening beautifully. We are learning how to tread to achieve maximum performance. Wearing those boots all the time is teaching us how versatile a relationship we actually have. We have built up considerable bunions and calluses, but many of them are now smooth from continual use and they add to the overall fit of the shoe. Each scuff and and scrape is the mark of this amazing experience. Our “hiking boots” have become indispensable. In our second year of marriage, that’s about all we can ask for.

*Presuming you like hiking… otherwise I’m sure you can adjust the analogy appropriately.

Sara Hillratt is traveling across the Pacific with her husband, starting with sailing from Mexico to Australia. Their adventure started in February 2011. If you want to start closer to the beginning, you can read her post about money and independence, read all about their trip here, and about Sara & Stof’s marvelous South African wedding here.

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