Women's Work

The following article by Betty Ludford, a former Treasurer of the Association, first appeared in the Spring 1965 issue of the Bulletin—enjoy!

 Woman’s Work …”

  Extract from a letter from the Editor (Dr. J.A. Richards) to my husband . . . “If Betty feels like putting pen to paper on one or other of the female aspects of the sailing world, any contribution from her would be welcome.”

  Now what exactly are the “female aspects of the sailing world”? Yes, I have heard about the basis of all yachting, but consider that to be just a hopeful masculine aspect. From the articles in the yachting press one gets the impression that all that is needed in a boat to keep the “ladies” happy is a nice sink in the galley, but if any man thinks that a sink is the peak of woman’s ambition he has clearly never read the newspaper advertisements. In any case, the myth that all the wet, cold, nasty, dirty work on a boat is gallantly done by the he-man while the little wife keeps nice and cosy with her little sink, spacious(?) galley and coloured cushions is best described by a very workshop expression. If this is so on a boat, it is equally so in a household invaded by the boat-building bug.

  The female aspect of a build-your-own-boat household (particularly if the female is the wife of the Boat Builder) is, as all such females well know, not all strawberries and cream, and it is right that the wife of any incipient Boat Builder should be warned in time before she is heedlessly enmeshed.

  Firstly, I am not the only trusting wife who has had her hand diverted from the absorbing task of beautifying her home with her womanly touch, to that of dealing with the hard world in order to earn the wherewithal to pay the timber merchant. And, once it is established that she pays the bills, nothing but the best is good enough. She may buy her clothes (if she gets any) in the sales, her vegetables in the market and her meat in the cat-food shop, but for the boat, only the best.

  Then of course the Boat Builder has no time to dig the garden, mow the grass, replace washers etc. (i.e. all the things he dislikes doing anyway). Such “unskilled” jobs are her affair. All house decoration is “unskilled”, in fact all painting and varnishing of any sort is “unskilled” and that goes for the boat too. Mixing and applying glue, holding this, finding that, stopping and rubbing down, knocking in keel bolts with a fourteen-pound hammer, tightening this (inaccessible) nut, changing that (inaccessible) screw—all “unskilled” and therefore her job. Anything involving lying on your back under the boat, such as rubbing-down  with wet and dry (wet) or anti-fouling (particularly anti-fouling) is “unskilled” despite the fact that the female form, in this house anyway, is not designed to fit very well underneath an Eventide. Any protest on these structural grounds gets no sympathy.

  If, unfortunately, it is now too late and the B.B. has got his teeth into it, take heed. Never volunteer to do anything. Through a misunderstanding, our hull (we had the skin put on by a professional) was built with brass screws and the B.B. wanted bronze. One fine summer day when I was waiting to hold something, I changed one or two nicely-placed screws; it was then my job, done under a very critical foreman who inspected closely to make quite sure that I was not doing unmentionable damage to the screw slots. So, never start a job. Be dim-witted and helpless. Don’t let yourself be goaded by gambits such as . . . “Well, I don’t suppose you could manage that, it’s a skilled job.” A false reply in a truculent moment found me sail-making, and then the trail of cottons coming downstairs from the bedroom sail loft met the trail of sawdust and shavings coming up from the garage, and it was even less use than usual pointing out that we did have a doormat at the back door.

  Again, make it quite clear before you are commandeered on a Sunday morning to “just hold this, it wont take five minutes” that if you do there will be no dinner. Otherwise, after having immobilised you in the most uncomfortable position possible in a freezing wind for hours, the B.B. will say in a very ill-used tone “Are we never going to have anything to eat today?”

  So, if you are dinghy sailing and it is getting dark, the food has all gone, the wind is fading and the tide about to turn against you, don’t say “If only we had a boat with a cabin we could have a cup of tea, or a gin, or not have to come all this way back up the river tonight, or . . .  Of course you could build one, dear, I’ll help.” You little know what you are letting yourself in for. Have a washing-up machine and keep your lily-white hands immaculate, and an automatic washer to relieve the burden of washday, and try to live up to this advertisers’ myth of female fragility. You won’t find that “porcelain look” in the anti-fouling tin. At the very most you might perhaps be mildly interested in being given a nice sink and pretty cushions. But “given” is the important word.

P.S. Our boat has been finished and comparative order restored. But there is just one thing that worries me. Does anyone know of any other excuse so good for not doing that major abomination, housework? After all if we had a bigger boat we could have standing headroom in the cabin and another hanging cupboard and an anchor winch and . . . “Of course you could build one, dear. I’ll help!”  

Betty Ludford (E. No.274)