By Kim Kavin
Gates Richards describes his wife, Margy, as “5-foot-2, if I’m being generous.” He’s not sure whether it was her size, her gender, or a combination of the two that shocked a boater who gawked, eyes bulging, as Margy stood at the helm of a 42-foot Grand Banks trawler yacht and navigated it flawlessly into a marina slip.
“This yahoo came out onto the deck of his boat and said, ‘My gosh, did you see that?’” Gates recalls. “I thought we had hit something, but then the guy shouted, ‘That woman just docked that boat!’ And at that moment, like something out of a movie script, the guy’s wife came up from inside their boat and said, ‘See, I told you we could do it.’”
The unfortunate reality for many couples who become boaters as adults is that the husband dreams of being a captain and talks the wife into coming along for the ride. Reality sets in the first time they try to dock or anchor, with the inexperienced husband shouting frantic commands at the wife who doesn’t know a bowline from a rode. Unlike in Hollywood, hilarity fails to ensue. It’s mostly shouting, anger, and bye-bye to boating.
Gates and Margy Richards, who are 71 and 64 years old, respectively, are a success story in this sea of frustration. They went from would-be boaters with zero boating experience in 2002 to confident handlers of their own boat in 2003 to happy offshore cruisers today.
The trick, they say, is that they learned to boat together by taking a “couples course” offered through Florida-based Sea Sense and its female captain-instructors.
“If you take the course together, you not only learn to boat, but you learn what your partner can do,” Margy says. “Your husband sees that you enjoy and are good at being in the engine room — and that women can sometimes fit into those spaces better, because those spaces are small.”
Sea Sense, which has operated since 1989, is a sailing and powerboating school by and for women. Capt. Patti Moore says her team has always offered couples courses through special arrangement, but couples are now retiring younger and wanting to learn about the cruising lifestyle together. Sea Sense is therefore now offering couples courses not only on demand in Florida, but also in the Chesapeake Bay from May through October.
“These courses came into being so that we could teach couples how to run a boat as a team,” Capt. Moore says. “It’s making sure that both people know things like how to dock the boat, but also learn how to communicate with each other as boaters.”
The only communications problem Gates Richards now sees is with people who don’t understand the Sea Sense philosophy: Learn boating and have fun at the same time.
“Capt. Patti’s skill is that she teaches couples,” Gates says. “She didn’t teach me, and she didn’t teach Margy. She taught us as a couple so that we could go out boating together.”
Now the Richards regularly enjoy sailing together. “My only regret is that we didn’t do it earlier,” he adds. “I can’t imagine boating without my wife. We’re having a terrific time.”
Click here to read a testimonial from Gates and Margy.
Interested in signing up for sailing lessons with your sweetheart? Travel there on American Airlines or one of our oneworld partners. Sea Sense is a short drive from Tampa International Airport (TPA). Book your flight now using our Fare Finder tool or the Book Now link located at the top of this page.
Kim Kavin is an award-winning journalist who specializes in travel by boat. She is the author of Dream Cruises: The Insider’s Guide to Private Yacht Charter Vacations, and edits the world’s leading yacht-charter information website, www.CharterWave.com.