'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

“Learning Styles” – the A to Z challenge


There were some tense moments aboard our old boat, Honfleur, during our early days sailing together.

When the Mate and I met, I had a boat, and had been teaching myself to sail for a couple of years. She, on the other hand, had been sailing once, liked it, but hadn’t had a chance to do more.

Starting out that way – with a pretty wide difference in experience, knowledge and comfort levels – meant that she always felt like she was in catch up mode, always a half beat behind.  That isn’t a comfortable place to be.

To make it easier, I tried to help by explaining clearly just what was coming up next: What I would do and what she would do to make the maneuver, whatever it was, come off.  So I’d explain, ask “Got it? Any questions?”, and when she said “I think so”, start doing it.

Which didn’t work very well.  And in fact it still doesn’t work.  She wasn’t ready, and wasn’t going to BE ready without a whole lot of question and answer and discussion and demonstration. I was content to know how, but she needed to know why and wherefore and all the possible results and permutations of the action we were about to take.

And friends, there just isn’t that kind of time on a boat sometimes. And sometimes – I’m sorry to say – I just don’t have that kind of patience.

So it was with great interest that I read a recent article about the differences in learning styles between men and women.  MOST men. MOST women.

Yes, there are exceptions, but it seems that on the whole, the way men and women learn a new skill is very different indeed – and Nicki and I are a live example of the difference.

When men are placed in an unfamiliar situation and are asked to perform a task that’s new to them, they gather what info is available to them, then step in and try.
Sometimes they fail spectacularly, sometimes they succeed brilliantly.
Most of the time they survive long enough to learn to do it better. For example:


That’s me at the helm attempting to back Sionna off the dock the first time we launched. It was also the first time we’d been aboard the boat, and the first time I’d tried to back a keel boat. The fellow desperately fending us off the dock is the former owner. He was probably apologizing to poor Sionna the whole time.  I learned a lot that day!
Now, if you place a woman in the same situation, something very different usually happens.  First, they will often refuse the task (I offered Nicki the helm – she wisely said no).
Barring that, before they will attempt it, they will want to know exactly what is expected of them, what the expected response is, and what the possible negative outcome(s) might be if they do it wrong.

I’d sum it up this way:
     Men look at the single task and attempt to accomplish it, assuming that they can.
     Women look at the wider view, the big picture, and attempt to assure a positive outcome before      they attempt it.

I think there are two ways of viewing this difference in learning styles. One is that men are reckless and impulsive and afraid to appear weak or frightened, so they jump in without considering the situation carefully enough (ok, this is probably true more than it should be) – while women are more responsible and reasoned, and don’t care about looking silly as long as everything works out well in the end.

The other extreme would be that men know how to separate cause from effect enough to make those quick decisions that sometimes must be made, so they operate that way all the time, while women study the problem so long that they struggle to make a timely decision.

I think the truth is somewhere in between. Or perhaps it’s a mix of all those. Harkening back to my earlier career in aviation, whether male or female, the BEST captains and first officers are a mix of both styles.  If there’s time to hash it out completely before acting, they will.  If there ISN’T time (say during an in-flight emergency), you’d need a stop-action camera to sort out the scores of suggestions, counter-suggestions and decisions that go into handling a difficult situation.

Back on the boat. If I want Nicki’s help, I need to learn to give her the time she needs to be reasonably comfortable with a plan of action .  That’s her learning style. For her part, Nicki needs to jump in and DO a task sometimes, to push her comfort edge. In time, I suspect we’ll find that middle ground.




Author: s/v sionna

Living the dream in 32'. We left Maine on August 18th, 2016, and have gradually worked our way south until we felt warm enough. After spending the summer in Maine, working to replenish the cruising kitty, we’re back on the boat, with plans to visit the Bahamas later in the winter. Follow our blog here, and follow our progress in map form by joining www.Farkwar.com!

10 thoughts on ““Learning Styles” – the A to Z challenge

  1. Great post! Scott and I have some of the same differences in learning styles as well. Has made for some “interesting” moments on board.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Even to this day, I like to talk over some maneuvers before we attempt them. It used to drive David nuts but now he understands that I’m going through the process in my mind and checking to make sure I’ve got everything covered (I’m a visual learner).

    Cheers, Stephanie


    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! And it’s critical that both have a chance to digest things in their own way if the task is to be completed as a team!


  3. We’ve got the enormous advantage of having learned together, at the same time, in the same way, from the same teachers. And we’ve even got similar learning styles. Given that we both have (*ahem*) “strong” personalities I honestly don’t think we would have survived as a couple if there was a big asymmetry in our skill levels such that one of us was always ‘skipper’ and the other was always ‘first mate.’ — Jaye @ Life Afloat

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: “Yelling” – the A to Z Challenge | 'Til the butter melts

  5. Women are tree branch thinkers … so yes, we see the big picture and plot things out in our minds for all possible outcomes. It’s because we are generally the caretakers and need to be able to see all situations. So in doing, women are generally plotters and men are generally doers. I believe a balance between the two can happen if you are both patient with one another.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And of course there’s good value in both. I suppose our overriding goal is to learn in integrate the two!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes I agree, there is definitely value in both.. thank goodness some men will charge in and get it done.. we would be lost without that strength, all of us 🙂 I think half the fun in life is figuring out how to do both, plan and take charge.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s