- by Carol Standish
Changing Course by Debra Ann Cantrell (International Marine, 182pp, $21.95) is first and foremost a primer in rational decision-making. It is also about embracing change, more specifically, the change from living on land in one place to living aboard and cruising. Cantrell is a sailor with over 10 years of cruising to her credit who cruises with her husband Jim and their four-footed first mate, Sidney. She is also an adult educator and workshop facilitator and has relied heavily on her professional training and experience in organizing this book.
The focus of the book is the question: to cruise or not to cruise—a question Cantrell considers difficult for most women. She assumes that men are the initiators of the question and that their partners are the foot-draggers. While this may not always be the case, her advice is sufficiently common-sense based that gender specificity can be largely ignored. The book is helpful regardless of who wants to go and who hangs back. “A commitment to the concept and practice of an equal partnership is the first step… .”
The kind of advice she gives for resolving the question does not involve the usual details like boat criteria, itinerary, fitting out, provisioning or producing gourmet meals in small spaces. Instead, she insists that the potential cruising couple examine their existing relationship, their mode of communication and specific emotional/psychological obstacles (like good old fear—not just of the incidental “rogue wave,” but also of the larger “unknown”).
In a period of five years Cantrell conducted a survey of over one hundred women by questionnaire and follow-up interviews on the subject of cruising with a partner—usually a husband. These responses inform the book and are intriguing in themselves. Every respondent has a story and although Cantrell uses them far too sparingly, quoted responses lend authenticity and universality to the book—not to mention hands-on solutions. “One of my biggest fears was that I would fall asleep on watch and we would be hit by a freighter. It turns out I’m not the only one with this fear.” (In sharing this fear with another cruiser, this respondent learned to keep an egg timer in the cockpit set to go off at ten minute intervals.)
The book is organized like a workshop with lots of headlined short paragraphs of pared down flip-chart-like information and lots of bulleted lists. Among the most helpful chapters is a list of “Sixty-four ways to make Cruising More Rewarding.” Other chapters deal with the larger issues: lifestyle change (whether to sell your land base, for instance), common concerns (like lack of sailing experience, safety, giving up careers and friends) managing fear (identification, demystification), interpersonal dynamics—like yelling. Bless her heart and mind for bringing up that one!
Throughout the book Cantrell relates the reader’s specific concerns to the experiences of people currently active in the cruising world. This approach may be the most persuasive argument for adopting “the life” (which she whole heartedly espouses). In a discussion of the habit of yelling, this anecdote about an elderly cruising couple culled from her survey response tells all:
They were trying to anchor in New York Harbor amidst commercial vessels of every sort. At any moment I was certain they were going to be run over. She was at the helm, and he was on the bow tending to the anchor. All of a sudden I heard her say in a calm, even voice, “Darling, the painter has become tangled in the prop.” [He responded] “No need to fret my love, I’ll dive on it.” He proceeded to dive on the prop and all the while she cooed words of encouragement and affection to him. “Do be careful, my sweet. Let’s get you into the shower quickly, shall we my love?” My partner and I looked at each other with genuine awe. It was as if we were hearing a foreign language.” May we all enjoy such smooth sailing whether we’re cruising or not!