Adrift at Sea on HMS Doldrums

Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.  (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

doldrums – noun

1. a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art: August is a time of doldrums for many enterprises.

2. the doldrums,

a.  a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

b. the weather prevailing in this area.

3. a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits.


Captain SweetCheeks and FirstMate K8 have been on a marital voyage for more than 32 years. There have been many days of smooth sailing, more than a couple of near-shipwreck misses near rocky shores, and occasional battering by waves and winds that they somehow managed to safely navigate. They enjoyed sunsets, changed course more than a few times, and learned to trust while charting a course of togetherness for all time.

They took turns steering the ship; sometimes standing together at the wheel.  Sometimes one would stand alone at the wheel while the other, with full faith in the ability and skill of the other, rested or pursued other activities, resuming their watch in due time.

They trained a couple of crew members who then set about on their own journeys, on their own vessels. These grown crew members produced new little sailors who popped onto our ship from time to time, bringing great joy, laughter and adventure.

A long voyage was planned, mostly by the Captain, that would take the seasoned crew away from the children and grandchildren, to a warmer climate. He planned a career move that would carry him to full retirement. First Mate K8, reluctantly agreed to the voyage, and planned a semi-retirement that would include part-time teaching and exploring a life-long desire to write. The ship set sail on the newly charted adventure, the crew standing shoulder to shoulder at the wheel, heading into the sunset.

The ship anchored at the chosen southern latitude. The employment opportunity that the Captain anticipated never materialized. An alternate employment path was deemed unsuitable and the Captain obtained part-time employment to get him off the ship from time to time. First Mate K8 was homesick for her home port, missing her former crew members, dockmates, and comfortable assignments. She struggled daily to stay upbeat, fighting (although not always successfully) to keep from blaming the Captain for her unhappiness. She was offered a demanding full-time position.  Given the economic outlook for the voyage and the need to purchase the large quantities of provisions required to make margaritas (for purely medicinal purposes), she accepted it.   The position included a soul-sucking commute and left her little time or energy for her desired creative outlets.

Thus Captain SweetCheeks and First Mate K8 find themselves on the HMS Doldrums – listless, depressed, lacking movement of any kind. Unable to move forward, unwilling to move backward, they find no wind in the sails of their marital vessel.  They feel the presence of the albatross.

The Captain, as always, feels responsibility for the happiness of the crew and success of the mission. He blames himself, berates himself for the stalled success of the voyage, despite his best intentions. He wishes, more than anything, that the First Mate will find some nuggets of happiness. He misses her laughter, cynicism, and teasing. He wishes she did not have to work full-time, commute so far, give up so much. He fears a mutiny, and treads lightly around her – unsure what to say, more unsure about what, if anything, to do.

The First Mate, finding herself in totally new and unfamiliar surroundings and roles, fights loneliness and depression. The support system on which she had depended for so many years and from which she had drawn her strength feels as if it is out of her reach. She floats adrift – immersing herself in work, floundering socially. She wonders why she agreed to the voyage, and more than once reminds the Captain that she had voiced doubt about the advisability of the mission. She finds no joy in being right.  In fact, she is despondent that he, too, seems adrift.  She hates that he has assumed the burden of responsibility for her unhappiness. Unwilling to make him feel worse than he already does, she also begins to tread lightly in the Captain’s presence.

Thus their interactions become wary, stand-offish, tentative. The crew members, accustomed to finding joy and taking pleasure in each other’s presence, now retreat to solitary pursuits, withdraw from each other. Periods of silence, once comfortable and welcomed, now feel dangerous – as if at any moment an explosion will rip a hole in the side of the vessel. At last fears and recriminations are voiced, tears shed, thoughts and hopes addressed, and healing begins.

There will be no mutiny. The Captain is reminded that he is not responsible for the happiness of his crew – only their safety. The First Mate recognizes that she would rather be on this journey, with this Captain, than anywhere else on this globe. Once again they stand shoulder to shoulder at the wheel, facing the sunset, secure in their love – ready for whatever direction the winds take them.


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36 responses to “Adrift at Sea on HMS Doldrums

  1. I hope fair winds and following seas speed you on your journey to a better port.

  2. I was so happy to read your last paragraph. As someone closing in on 30 years of marriage, I can relate to the sometimes becalmed waters that can leave you feeling aimlessly adrift. I admire your resolve not to blame the captain for your happiness (or lack thereof) – that’s all too tempting and easy to do, isn’t it? – and his desire to make you happy.

    Any chance of turning the ship back to home?

    • It was, indeed, tempting to place the blame for unhappiness solely at his feet, but he does not deserve that. He has supported me in immeasurable ways over the years and there was never a question of whether I would join him on this venture.
      Things may not have worked out as we had planned, but I know we’ll travel together and work things out, wherever the journey takes us.

  3. Although I have not journeyed so far and so long, I can certainly relate to some of the challenges of the Captain and the First Mate. I am glad they have communicated their fears and concerns with each other. Please know that, although “The support system on which she had depended for so many years and from which she had drawn her strength feels as if it is out of her reach” there is a new support system at her fingertips and even a mere phone call away.


    • Thank you, Lisa. I am reminded daily of the support that is here, right on my lap desk – mere seconds away. Can’t wait to read more about your trip and congratulations on your recent anniversary.

  4. The important thing is that the crew and captain are united in their goal of keeping the journey together. I your sails will billow once more.

  5. I’m a part of such a crew myself. We are close as ever emotionally but both in the doldrums vocationally. Alas. The tide will turn soon, I’m sure.

    Fair sailing, my friend!


  6. An ominous tale with a hopeful ending. I do so believe in a hopeful, joyful end to every life story. To your life story…

    • The mood has been ominous – but thankfully more cheerful winds are beginning to stir the sails. Thanks for coming by – I also believe that there can be a joyful end to every life story and that we end up where (and with whom) we are meant to.

  7. I’m glad that you and the Captain are finding your way. I really enjoyed the way you expressed this. None of us know exactly how the other person feels, but I’ve spent the last several years at sea, so I feel like I can relate.

    • Thank you. The Captain and I do know what the other feels, usually, both because we have known each other so well for so long, and because we do manage to tell each other although we often try to spare the other from our darker, more hurtful emotions and thoughts.

  8. You voice what many others can only feel. I too am glad there will be no mutiny and that the crew stands together still. May the wind be at your back soon.

  9. No mutiny, but perhaps time to set sail, even with destination unknown. You can both escape together.

  10. I’m glad neither of you resigned your commission, it sounds like a great crew fit.

  11. The wind direction will undoubtedly change and you will be off on new adventures together again. As one who weathered 41 years on the sailing ship we call marriage, I know how easy it would be to blame the captain for the predicament and I often had to remind myself that I agreed to the voyage.
    I hope that you will both find the energy to embark on the next stage of this journey together and that you will once again find the happiness you have enjoyed before. 🙂

    • Oh, Judith. I am pleased that you stopped by. Anyone who has been on a voyage of many years knows, there will be ups and downs. I think most relationships suffer periods of smooth sailing, rough seas, and often motionless time in the doldrums. This will pass – has already begun to do so as we return to our former closeness. It is so easy to place the blame elsewhere but the truth is we are each responsible for our own happiness. I still have a full-time job I really didn’t want, a commute that robs me of precious hours and energy, and a longing for my family that is so deep. But I choose happy – I choose love.

  12. I will not take such a poetic approach as the rest of this bunch of writers who have picked up your thread and continued to weave wonderful words. I will only share that I worried very much about my parents when they were seven years on a journey neither of them planned, required once again by the job my father had. I worried that my mother would resent him, after all these years of following him around to new cities and states and putting her life on hold. I worried that his guilt would be too great to bear, and he would resent her for resenting him. I think there has been some of that. But now, they are where they wanted to be all along, adjusting to retirement and each other. Where there is love, friendship and a true understanding of partnership, there will be calm waters to follow. One day, K8. Meanwhile, as someone who’s not even married, I like to believe that it’s the effort that strengthens the bond between a captain and his most important mate. I hope you watch every sunset together.

    • “…Where there is love, friendship and a true understanding of partnership, there will be calm waters to follow…” So true. I am glad your parents are in a place where they wanted to be all along. When I look at the changes in our lives over the last year and a half (early retirement, long distance move, new jobs, loss of familiar surroundings) I guess I am probably surprised that it hasn’t been worse. We are making great strides, together.

  13. Jackie Cangro

    Amazing how the doldrums can take you by surprise and suddenly the wind stops blowing and the sails of your ship go slack.
    A few years ago someone told me that my ship was out to sea. Way out, she’d said. That stuck with me a long time and I found myself stagnating on the ship of discontent.
    But recently a friend told me to look at it another way: my ship is on the horizon just about to pull into port. I like that outlook better. Makes me want to hoist the sail again.
    I hope your ship is on the horizon and coming into port soon.

  14. poetic doldrums they are Kate, the wind will kick up and into your sails again…hopefully soon. continue…

  15. This was beuatifully written. We’ve only been married 12 years and I feel similar things now. These past few years have been our trying times (to say the least). We tell ourselves to keep hanging on— keep relying on the fact that we still have each other and we can get through anything at all. I hope the same for you two. It seems you’ve both weathered so many storms already that nothing can stop you from reaching that glorious shore again.

    • Thanks, Darla – it was a little tough to write, but it was another one of those that once started, had to be finished – it had to get out. The effort of working through things is the glue that binds and strengthens…I’m sure you two will weather the storms together and enjoy many spectacular sunsets.

  16. Katy;
    I’m sure glad I ventured over here this morning. I have been missing a lot of my favorite blogs of late, due to my newly employed status (bah humbug). Anyhoooo, this was absolutely beautiful. I’m in awe. And now for some weird reason, I’m longing to visit the ocean.
    Congratulations on such a long and successful marriage. Many more awesome adventures await you, I am quite sure!

  17. Terri, I know about the whole work thing interfering with my favorite blogs…and I know it is interfering with my writing as well. I hate to miss any posts of my favorite people – so I just let the housework go!!! Seriously, since I started full time work in November I feel like the drain on my energy has been huge…I don’t know how some of the Mommy bloggers work, care for their families and still find time to write such brilliant stuff. Make me feel like a real slacker.
    I am glad you popped over to visit – and a trip to the ocean NEVER sounds bad to me (well, maybe hurricane season).

  18. This is a personal post, K8. I appreciate your honesty and transparency, as marriage is a journey that can get rough.
    A friend once told me to always look at the contract and renegotiate frequently. I won’t forget those words – and again – I appreciate your honesty. Thank you.

    • Well, I guess it was quite personal, and the honesty felt raw, but necessary. I am a firm believer in negotiating (and renegotiating). As always, I am so glad you keep coming by.

  19. kba

    As usual, much admiration for both your honestly and skilful expression of your status quo.

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