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. She’s writing about it at their blog Stofnsara, but also here, as part of exploring what a marriage can be on Reclaiming Wife. 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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  • Amanda

    Love the hiking boots analogy. I’m not that avid a hiker, but just returned from a trip up Mt Kenya with my fiancé on our pre-wedding honeymoon (this isn’t some new thing, like two wedding dresses, we’re just having one of each–wedding and honeymoon–in the opposite order than they’re commonly done).

    It was the two of us with our one guide for three and a half days. Not enough air, barely enough warm clothing, and sleeping bags zipped together for warmth. We take for granted that intense experiences teach us much about ourselves; it turns out that intense experiences shared with a partner teach us as much about our relationships.

    • Manya

      Do you live in Kenya? If so, we have an APW contingent in NBO! Get in touch!

    • I sincerely hope you plan to write for APW about this in a full post…! holy bananas.

      • meg

        Yeah, RIGHT?

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      Oooh, I’ll vociferously advocate the pre-wedding honeymoon. Ours was unintentional (we’d planned to elope on the beach… but when it POURED the entire day, we pushed the ceremony back and did the vacation part first) and perfect. It gave us much-needed time together to relax and giddily discuss what we were about to do.

    • I want to climb Mt Kenya! (Not Kili.) Superb.

      • Amanda

        I don’t live in Kenya, just here for the honeymoon, though my fiance may end up here a lot doing PhD research so if I do come back it’s good to know I’ll already have people to meet!

        I have so many half-posts mulling around my head right now it might explode. I’ll be sure to send at least one or two in for consideration once they’re better formed.

      • Manya

        Me too! Climbing mount Kenya is my next big audacious goal (now that this wedding thing is wrapped up). Kili is cool too… but Kenya is less known, less crowded, and more beautiful. Yet it’s still a serious 4-day trek.

  • Loved the analogy. And yeah, as much as you bicker, you also learn how to be “better” with each other, also when you are angry/tired/anxious/whatever. Is part of learning to be with each other, to try and handle each other with care also (perhaps more so) when it is difficult.

  • Love the analogy and the story – a wonderful reminder of what it is all about.

  • YAY Stof and Sara!!!! :)

  • I love sailing, and I grew up spending summers sailing around the North Carolina outer banks on a 40ft sailboat with lots of relatives. This post has made me so very nostalgic for that. I hope you are soaking in every minute, and I love this post. That is all.

  • Ever since I started working the early shift at work, it has been rare that the daily APW post shows up on my reader before I have to leave. What a treat this is to fill up on APW (and such an inspirational, thoughtful post, at that!) before heading off to the daily grind of daycare.

    I love this hiking boot analogy – even though I don’t hike, or know much about the appropriate shoe choice, it is clear to see the beauty behind this intensive building of your relationship. Thanks for sharing.

  • Manya

    I love this analogy.

    Thanks for giving me another one to add my my surfing and stock market analogies (ride the waves, stay loose, hold the line and “don’t be a day trader… marriage is a long term investment in solid stock that yields annual dividends and increased equity… but not if you trade it in every time the market trembles!).

    Now that my wedding is done, I’m even MORE into APW… anyone theories on why that might be?

    • meg

      It happens quite often with long term readers…. (WEDDING GRAD POST).

    • uhm is the day trader analogy really a thing? It’s so smart it made my head hurt.

      I’m totally using it the next time one of my finance friends has a relationship problem. My artsy child-oriented analogies don’t connect so well with that group.

  • I love this post (and this series). Makes me wish my partner and I had the gumption to do something similar…maybe one day…

    (also – as an aside – so happy for the early post!)

  • Sarah

    I love this post – it’s so beautifully written and the adventure you’re on is so inspiring. Can’t wait to hear more!

  • “The leather of our marriage is softening beautifully.”


    Congrats and continue to enjoy the adventure!

    • Yes! That sentence flew like an arrow right into my heart. Definitely keeping that in mind for the “breaking in” years.

  • Kathryn in VT

    What a fantastic adventure. I love your hiking boots analogy, and it’s comforting to think of blisters as a painful but necessary part of breaking in a new “fit.”

    This post is particularly timely, as I was out on the water for one of my first sailing lessons with my new husband this weekend. We’re not planning on crossing any oceans anytime soon, though!

    Safe travels to both of you!

  • I love Sara and Stof. The fact that you are having this awesome adventure on top of the awesome adventure of being one-year-weds just blows my mind. Fair seas and following winds to you as you put-put through paradise :)

  • well I could just exactly a bunch of comments (done) but I have to chime in with my own and say how ridiculous-awesome that analogy is. I do not even own hiking boots. sadly had forgotten to add your blog to my reader so now must go catch up on your adventure! thanks so much for this APW post.

  • Jen M

    I was just thinking last week about going through the archives to find their blog…yay!

    • meg

      It’s also in my blog roll, silly!

      • Jen M

        I’m not so good at this internets thing ;)

  • Carbon Girl

    I have been thinking a lot lately about getting new hiking boots so I just loved the analogy! Makes me think I should keep my old ones.

  • Thank you for writing this post. My fiance and I have also been on an adventure since February 2011, and in fact got engaged in the midst of it. We are driving around the U.S. and Canada for a year, exploring and volunteering along the way. Since we are travelling by land it is easier for us to take time away from each other and I appreciate that. However, I have gotten so used to being within a few feet of him most of the time that I can not imagine going back to a life that has us spending most of days apart working on separate things. I’m curious if you have thought about life after your adventure and whether you will try to keep up the physical closeness or not.

    • Some days we want to and we reckon we’ll be unstoppable. Some days we think we will drive each other nuts. We’re both doing some career-soul-searching so we’ll have to see what lies ahead.

  • A perfect thing to read on our 2 year wedding anniversary. “The leather of our marriage…”

  • Ohhh man do I get the 100% together all the time causing some blisters. When we did our trip around the US last year it was together-all-the-time. There were broken expectations, tiptoing of feelings, and all sorts of things to work though. And finally, more than a year later, I can see how much stronger we became during the times that were notsofun (and I see less of them when I look back at the trip and instead see us brilliantly smiling at Carlsbad and New Orleans and Vermont).

  • Jo

    I heart Sara and Stof! I was so stoked for more updates on the blog, and then on APW too?! LOVE!

    And this post actually made me cry with the sweetness and the YES!ness.


  • Beautiful writing! What a great way to start Monday!

  • Merci for all the wonderful comments! So much love for this amazing community of (mainly) women in the process of wife. Now we must up anchor and go to Bora Bora. Life’s tough!

  • Hooray! I’m so happy to hear an update and such a beautiful one at that. And I love the hiking boot analogy, too.

    Since our marriage (July 2009), my husband and I have gone from our 1-bdrm apt to a studio in Hawaii, then a friend’s bedroom for 5 months and now we’re living in a small cargo van as we travel around the country. And we both work from home (or the local coffee shop wherever we are), so LOTS of time together.

    I, too (like Sharon above) wonder about the closeness and how we’ll deal with each other when we have space again. I find that learning about, and getting to know myself as a wife and life partner, while in such close quarters during such constant transition (oh, and did I also mention I started my own business in a brand new career during all this? geez… I don’t do things in small ways apparently) is challenging (to say the least). I’m continually inspired when I hear others’ stories and experiences.

    Cheers to creating and living our dreams!

    Thank you for sharing! Looking forward to more posts. :)

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