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  • Writer's picturetheblacksprayhood

Ms and Mr Matusadona

“What’s wrong with that picture?” said one woman to a group she was with, pointing at us, entirely seriously. “You’ve got her well trained” was the gist of the joke from men we heard at least three times in the short distance we covered.

When we first arrived at our anchorage, we had winds of thirty knots. It’s a long dinghy ride in to shore - 15 minutes with our pitiful 2.3 horsepower outboard engine. But this is offset by the beauty and privacy of our location. Here we can swim around our boat every evening in clean water and I can do yoga and shower at the back of the boat without an audience.

Unfortunately, while the sailing life is definitely one of infinitely greater freedoms; some of these freedoms are slightly more available to men than women. There have been three occasions since arriving in the Caribbean when I have been showering (in a bikini) at the back of the boat and have looked up to find a man on the boat next to us with his binoculars trained on me. On all three occasions, me noticing them has not been enough for them to feel embarrassed and look away, and this is the most intimidating part of it. This is obviously only three occasions in the many many anchorages that we have been to, but these three occasions have been enough to make me uncomfortable and now I ask Luciano to be in the cockpit with me when I shower and clearly visible when we are in a busy anchorage to avoid it happening. On the other hand, men can freely walk around their boats naked. I am very glad for them that they have this freedom; but it’s quite simply a privilege that women sailors don’t share where there are other boats around. Some men, we are convinced, even use their nakedness as a tactic to avoid having other boats anchor too close to them.

The patriarchy seems particularly on show in the sailing world. There might be a number of explanations for this. Perhaps it is partly the older demographic that make up liveaboard cruisers. Perhaps it is partly about the hierarchy of the skipper/crew relationship. Maybe sailing attracts people who like to be in charge. We have seen a lot of jostling for alpha male position between male sailors that we have never observed so overtly on land. Then there are the roles on the boat. There is an awful lot more maintenance on a boat than there is in a home on land and perhaps this means that women and men take on those domestic vs maintenance roles as a division of labour that is more equally divided in relation to the time taken compared to onshore. In fact, we struggled with this in the beginning ourselves. Luciano gravitated more naturally towards the maintenance tasks. I grew up with parents who mostly paid professionals to do these types of tasks. Luciano on the other hand grew up with a father who built machinery parts for a living and had a tool shed with machinery that he used to play with. At some point after feeling frustrated doing the washing up three times a day every day and trying to constantly clean the boat, which gets untidy so fast because it is a small space with hidden storage areas; and Luciano feeling he was doing all the maintenance, we decided we needed a rota to ensure we didn’t end up in these stereotypical roles. We would both consider ourselves feminists and Luciano has always pulled his weight domestically at home, but suddenly he was saying that the domestic tasks were pointless and only the maintenance to keep the boat afloat was a worthy task. For my part, I felt that I didn’t know how to do these maintenance tasks and it was outside of my comfort zone. But a lot of these tasks, such as plumbing and electrics he has never done either and I have to make an effort to learn these. I tried a simple plumbing task for the first time last week and it was ridiculously easy. A lot of it is just about reading the manuals and having a go. But I do think that social conditioning has affected us and we have to be conscious of it and make a big effort to overcome it and ensure that we both learn the new skills required to keep our boat in good shape. Don’t get me wrong, Luciano will always be better at the tasks that require handiwork and a cosmetic finish and I will always be the one to do the research and paperwork, but we are trying to make it more balanced.

We have met several couples where the woman is the skipper, but we have also seen on some occasions in conversations about boating with couples, where the husband has told the wife to shush. We have never observed this on land and I am sure it is entirely subconscious, but it is a danger that where gender based power imbalances arise, they can verge into disrespect. One example of this imbalance is that it is nearly always the man driving the dinghy for some unfathomable reason. When we were learning we strictly took it in turns, but quite early on, I noticed that it was more often Luciano driving the dinghy and I worried that I was becoming deskilled, so now it’s nearly always me who drives it. Why was it him driving in the beginning? I think we were subconsciously influenced by the patterns we saw around us, which are so ingrained. Once when we were in Barbados, we decided to get some exercise. I would row us into town and he would row us back. On the way in, when I was rowing, we actually got several negative or ‘jokey’ comments from both men and women about it. “What’s wrong with that picture?” said one woman to a group she was with, pointing at us, entirely seriously. “You’ve got her well trained” was the gist of the joke from men we heard at least three times in the short distance we covered. Other tasks, like handling the sails, deciding where to drop the anchor and manoeuvring the boat into a marina berth are more challenging and there is a real danger that you can forget how to do them. The latter, we have been very good at taking it in turns, although we haven’t been in a marina since we left Cape Verde, so we are probably both deskilled at this by now. Dropping the anchor, we went through a period where it was mostly Luciano deciding where to drop, but we now take it in turns again. The handling of sails is still mostly him while I’m on the helm. This does require some physical strength, but it’s not an excuse and on reflection we need to get back to taking it in turns. It’s the easier path to stick with what you know best, but when you’ve spent time and money learning how to do something, it is silly to let that go through lack of practice.

Our division of labour this week has been as follows - Luciano has been working on the internal wood of the boat, filling in the holes with wood filler, sanding, painting and varnishing. It is looking really beautiful and Luciano’s training in colour and composition means he can do a much better job of getting the colour for the wood right where it has been patched. It will be a long and ongoing process because we have so much wood, but he has completed the whole of the bow cabin and the bow heads. I have been doing some sewing; I repaired our laundry bag and sewed some reflective strips onto the cover for the outboard engine to make the dinghy more visible in the dark. I’ve also had my admin hat on, researching welders to come and give us quotes for our bimini frame and chauffering them to and from the boat. I’ve also been researching and applying for insurance quotes from a range of companies. This is not a simple task as so few companies will insure you in the Caribbean and many don’t cover you for named storms. It takes a lot longer to get confirmed quotes compared to car or domestic boat insurance as they have to check certain aspects with the underwriters. For example, we ask to be covered for more than the purchase price of our boat because of the expensive additions we have had done to make our boat suitable for offshore passages and living aboard, such as our solar panel arch, solar panels, new batteries, watermaker, Hydrovane, electronics, rigging etc. They will also stipulate requirements about where you must be in hurricane season. Many insurers won’t insure you in the Caribbean and some won’t insure us because our boat is deemed too low value to make it worth their while. It will be hugely expensive (again) but we feel it’s worth it. Some people just get third party liability insurance for this reason, but given that our boat will be in Grenada while we are in England with no way of moving the boat if a hurricane is on its way, we would prefer to have full coverage.

We did make time to see a little of Grenada this week. We got the bus to try and visit the Grenada Chocolate Company, a cooperative operating in Grenada’s rainforest that grows the beans and makes the chocolate. The company was founded in 1999, but sadly two of the three founders have since died - one from cancer and the other from electrocution whilst working with solar panels. The company’s chocolate is very sustainable - it is entirely vegan and utilises restored antique machinery powered by solar panels. It is shipped abroad by sailing boat and transported by cycle couriers once it reaches Europe. It is also a co-operative with all of the workers paid the same wage. Unfortunately, when we got the bus there, the driver and some of the passengers told us it was closed and dropped us at the Belmont Estate, a former slave plantation that has been turned into a chocolate producers. We declined to do a tour there because they keep captive animals, including birds in cages; but we were told that at the back, the Grenada Chocolate Company had an outlet and we might be able to buy some chocolate. We eventually found our way there and met Camiter, who works for the company. She was sitting in a dark room piled high with bags of cocoa beans. She was sitting at a table sorting good cocoa beans from bad. We asked if we could buy some chocolate from them and she called the salesperson to come. While we were waiting, she was kind enough to explain to us about the history of the company. Unfortunately the factory they were renting was being reclaimed by the owners, so they were in the process of moving all of their machinery and cocoa beans down to this new location at the back of the Belmont Estate. A pile of solar panels was outside her window waiting to be set up again to power the machinery. She talked us through the process of how they sort the beans. The bad ones - cracked and shrivelled are returned to the earth as fertiliser and the good ones are used in the making of their chocolate. Her openness and pride in the company was plain to see. Eventually the salesman arrived from their other site and sold us some chocolate bars, which we can now confirm are absolutely delicious; full and flavoursome as only small production bars can be. We did try to buy some for friends and family but I doubt there will be any left when we return home. Sorry!

We also took a dinghy ride round to Hog Island, an island in the bay where we are anchored. Considered the main anchorage, we had heard it was very busy. We landed onshore on a sandy beach and walked through the mangroves and across the low lying island covered in whiteish grasses, sometimes with flashes of orangey red lichen flaring on the white barked trees and black rocks. We walked back over to the other side where some simple beachside bar shacks are, with hammocks and rope swings under the shady trees. We bought a couple of ice cold coconuts to drink and some fruits to take back to the boat. As we were leaving we saw some sailors coming onland to play music, as there is a jam session every Friday night. Surrounded by mangroves, the anchorage is much more protected than where we are and we thought we should probably move there the next day from our exposed position. It is also much closer to get onshore. Then we saw some people we knew leaving their boat and they told us of a free spot from a catamaran that had just left. We got back to the boat as the sun was setting and gazed around at the birds flying over the sandy cliffs, the moon high in the blue sky and decided no, we couldn’t leave. There are only two other boats in our anchorage, both plenty of distance away. We have clean water and privacy here. We swam and I did yoga and felt at peace about our choice to stay where we were. The next morning at six am we were woken by the wind howling and torrents of rain battering the boat at a sideways angle. I turned on the instruments and they showed we had thirty five knots of wind. The anchor is holding well, but we are concerned about too much pressure on our anchor swivel if we keep getting these sorts of winds. Reluctantly we will move to the more sheltered mangrove area, the safety of the boat has to take precedence over everything else. We will miss our tranquil position but the protection, sociability and convenience of the new location should make up for it.

This week's Vlog.

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