Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Pink and Blue Jobs: A Cautionary Tale

Visit any sailing blog and you will find a post about the division of labor of a sailing couple: pink for women’s jobs, blue for men’s.  I have always disliked these posts since no job on a boat is either pink or blue when both partners take responsibility for running the boat.  As a rule, each partner must be able to manage every task on the boat, alone if necessary.  (Not sayin’ it has to be pretty…)

Mareda tied up in her winter berth in La Linea de la Conception, Spain, just across from Gibraltar.  That big hotel in the background, we have just learned, hosts the marina's web-cam (see next photo!)
Patrick and I divide tasks based on affinity for the job.  Patrick is stronger than I am, so he hoists the mainsail 99% of the time and is usually up front when it comes time to set the anchor (where the windlass does most of the work, but you never know when you might hit a snag.)  Patrick is taller than I am, so he is usually the one that tucks the mainsail into the lazybag.  But Patrick has a bad ankle after 2 surgeries, so I’m the one who jumps (er, um.. steps lightly) off the boat to tie her up when we come into port.  Because I enjoy these tasks more than he does, I’m in charge of the navigation strategy and sail trimming, and because I’m lighter and have no fear of heights, I’m the one who climbs the mast when needed.

But none of this matters.  Every couple will organize their tasks as they see fit.  The problem comes when we think that “equal” means “same”.  For example, I know now that I can tackle any job on the boat alone.  But I have been forced to accept that I cannot do things the way someone bigger or stronger would.  This sounds obvious, right?  This is where my cautionary tale begins.  

Mareda, seen this morning, via web-cam.  How cool is that?
The good news first.  I have developed carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis, resulting in the loss of normal use of two fingers.  Huh?  Good news?  Yes, indeed.  The first diagnosis of my problem was Rheumatoid Arthritis, an incurable degenerative disease where the go-to treatment is “mild” chemotherapy.  My aunt died last week of complications from her 16-year battle with RA and the side effects of the immune-system-suppressing drugs meant to stabilize it.  Osteoarthritis is the good old fashioned wear-and-tear variety where the treatment involves resting the afflicted area and anti-inflammatory drugs when needed for pain.  My rheumatologist says I may never have another flare up and don’t need treatment beyond a little pain killer now and then.  But nothing can bring back those two fingers and the others are sending me warning signals to take it easy.

I have always prided myself on my physical force and being able to sail the way most of my male friends sail.  When I crew for others, they tell me they don’t notice that I’m a woman (um… thanks?).  I’m now paying the price for that short-lived thrill of feeling equal to anyone on the water.  Without really knowing or accepting it, I have been doing irreparable damage to my hands all these years by ignoring the warning signs and letting my pride and the adrenaline of the moment blind my reason. 

This isn’t necessarily a pink problem.  As we get older, pinks and blues are both faced with having to accept new limitations, to back off a notch, to graciously accept help when it’s offered, to take things slower, to use the winch instead of bare hands, to re-position the boat in its slip using the motor rather than trying to tug and shove 7 tons into place, to take 3 days instead of 1 to clean the hull.  If anything, this back step is probably easier to accept for pinks than it is for blues.  It takes a certain courage to accept this notion of slowing down as wisdom when it feels like a loss.  As the tee-shirt and coffee-mug philosophy says: “Old Age: No Place for Wimps.”

At 48, I can reasonably argue that I have reached middle age.  When I think back on all that I’ve experienced and accomplished in the first half, it makes my head spin to think of the possibilities for the next half.  Sure, the next half will necessarily be slower and gentler, but that’s an insignificant price to pay for the potential wonders that life still has in store for me.  So if you see me out on the boat winching where others use their hands, stepping lightly, or asking for help, please don’t feel sorry or embarrassed for me.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry and I’m pacing myself.


popsi kopper said...

Having just moved to a bigger boat (44ft) and being basically a single-hander, I had a similar lesson to learn. The key points I had to accept were:

Start early
Take it slowly
Think it through twice
Listen, watch and feel closely for signs when things go hard.
If they do, check if it's really the right time to use more force.

With that, I was surprised how easy things became, even if it means that I won't do regatta-tacks any more.

The goal becomes more about conserving resources, minimising work and running a smooth boat.

Sailing Mareda said...

Exactly Popsi ! I found that when I slowed down, I was less clumsy and had time (because I took time) to plan before acting. But like you say, no more regattas in this new mode.

Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

This is such a great post with wonderful food for thought and good advice for all of us as we start to get older. I'm really happy that your diagnosis didn't end up being rheumatoid arthritis. That's such a devastating condition to live with. I'm really sorry to hear about your aunt's battle with it.

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks, Ellen. It ain't easy getting old(er) but I'm definitely not ready to give up sailing any time soon !

Keith & Nicki Davie/Dunbar said...

Nicki and I have come to an agreement aboard: nobody gets hurt.
Not always possible, but the first correlary to that rule is that doing something that can damage your body is just foolish, be you pink or blue! And we've become really good at noticing when a task holds the potential for getting hurt, and pointing it out to each other.
At 54 & 50, we're not bulletproof anymore. Thanks for your take on the issue!

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Keith and Nicki. Right on... not bullet proof at 48 either ! My problem was (is?... still working on it) recognizing that as a small person with small hands, I shouldn't even be attempting to do things that bigger stronger people do. Muscle-wise, I have fewer problems, but bones and joints are uncompromising.