On First Matehood

Hi, I’m Ryan. I’m Chris’ wife and First (and only, according to our marriage vows) Mate. I’m quite new to this whole sailing thing, so please forgive any misuse of nautical terms and/or jargon you may find in my posts. Though I’m a beginner who is still slightly terrified of sailing, I’m attempting to embrace this project and subsequent journeys with all of the interest and effort I can muster. Chris has been dreaming of climbing aboard a sailboat and setting off towards who-knows-what since he was a boy, which I think is amazing and inspiring. I’m not sure I’ve been dreaming of anything since I was a little girl, except maybe chocolate chip cookies. The fact that my husband is passionate enough to have unfailingly held on to this dream for so long means something to me. It gives me hope that we can do what we put our hearts and minds to, and it keeps me hanging onto sanity when I’m under fluorescent lights sitting at my desk, or sitting in traffic on my commute home from work. And so, as life would have it, I find myself co-owner of a 26-foot Pearson Ariel (is it bad that the name of the boat makes me think of The Little Mermaid?) and First Mate by Default.

That being said, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a First Mate. Wikipedia tells me that a First Mate or Chief Mate is “watchstander and is in charge of the ship’s cargo and deck crew” and is also “responsible to the Captain for the safety and security of the ship. Responsibilities include the crew’s welfare and training in areas such as safety, firefighting, search and rescue.” Ok, that seems straightforward (and maybe a little boring) enough. There is no crew besides the two of us. I can certainly start reading about safety measures and equipment, and I can totally be in charge of cargo, especially if we’re talking about food and clothing. However, I’m pretty sure a First Mate is supposed to be able to operate the vessel and provide other support, and as of now, I got nothing on that. The Wikipedia info is good to have (I guess), but it certainly doesn’t inspire any feeling in me about my position.


So, being an English Major, I turn to literature for inspiration. In Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s First (actually, “Chief”) Mate was called Starbuck. Starbuck is a character I can understand. This line I especially identify with: ” ‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ ” Starbuck has a healthy fear of what he cannot control. My mentioning above that I am slightly terrified of sailing comes from a deep fear of what I cannot control. And, right now, what I cannot control is a sailboat! But, I’ll get there. Starbuck is also the voice of reason aboard the Pequod, and he tries to convince crazy ole Ahab not to seek revenge on the white whale. I’m not sure how Chris would feel about being compared to Ahab, but I think I can also take on the role of the one who voices concerns out of a wish for safety and prosperity.

An aside: Starbuck was also the name of the bad-ass pixie cut-sporting lady-pilot in Battlestar Galactica. More on being inspired by TV Show Geekdom at a later date, methinks.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I am not assuming First Mate status simply because I’m the wife and Chris is the husband (gag). I hope there are women out there who assume the role of Captain. I also hope there are women out there dragging their partners to sea (it would make me feel better). But in our case, because this is my husband’s idea and passion, and I’m along for the ride in a way, it’s only fitting for me to be in a sub-Captain role. And so, I’m happy to be the Chewbacca to my husband’s Han, Spock to my husband’s Kirk, and Zoe to my husband’s Mal. He and I make a pretty darn good team in life, so I’m thinking we can handle this.

So far, my role in helping fix up the boat has included the following:

  • Removing deck hardware- Spent 3 hours attempting to remove16 screws. Got 14 out, got 1 epic blister, a stink bug flew into my face
  • Scraping bottom paint- Joys of wearing a respirator, sore arms, slow progress, loud music
  • Scraping bottom paint again- Respirator fashion statement (“I make this look good!”), much more progress, beer (see? We learned), music at a reasonable volume, sore arms, sore arms

So, that’s where I’m coming from. I’d love to hear any stories from any couples out there, or from anyone who has/had a partner who got them into sailing and cruising. Chris will probably be the primary poster here on The Bonnie Boat, so I’ll let you know ahead of time when I’m the one talking at ya!


8 thoughts on “On First Matehood

  1. Ryan, you’re doing better at being a First Mate than I do. Unfortunately, our lovely 16 foot Sturdee catboat has been sitting in our driveway for too long because we haven’t found a place to dock it and inserting the 30 foot mast each time we want to launch it is becoming more and more difficult for us oldsters. I’m thrilled that you and Chris have another boat even if it needs some work. Aunt Rosie

  2. I’ve always wanted a big sail boat. It’s on my bucket list (Things you didn’t know about me)….I’m thrilled for the 2 of you. Follow the dream…days go by quicker than you think. And one day, I want a ride on that boat!!
    Jared’s mom

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