Once again in collaboration with YouTube’r and single-hander Sam Holmes, we test a survival suit and it turns out surprisingly whimsical! From his channel “Sam Holmes Sailing.”
Back in February I hosted YouTube sailing sensation Sam Holmes on my boat in Maryland, and introduced him to record-holder and arctic sailor Matt Rutherford. Then I structured, scheduled, and shot this interview for them.
You know what they say, keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer…
I was sailing engineless down the northeast coast in winter when my grandfather was put on hospice. I knew he’d want me to keep going with my sailing hustle…
My grandfather was an OG hustler. It’s where I got it from. He could sell literal ideas. His first self directed gig was during the Great Depression as a kid in Brooklyn. His grandmother ran a card room and he would sit under the table with his little brother, Donnie, and collect any chips that were dropped. During adolescence, he kept some raw dough in his pocket from the neighboring bakery and sold “feels” to his schoolmates. The claim? They felt like tits.
His father, Irving, spent too much time at the races and later his brother would join him there–meanwhile the three of them were supposed to be running a family business and my grandmother was pregnant still back in Germany. My grandma kept my pop’s shoes as a promise that he would come back. They met after she had escaped communist Germany and made it into Berlin. He was stationed there in the Air Force. My grandma was working as a cocktail waitress and didn’t know English, but pop knew some German.
Pop’s job in the service at that time was in the mailroom. He would take the train to France and bring back hashish and then push it to his comrades through the internal mail delivery system. “He was like the mayor,” my grandma said.
Back in the states now with his young family, he worked for Kraft Foods. Driving the company car one time on the famous Tappan Ze Bridge overlooking New York City, he crashed. It almost all ended right there.
He told me once that the pressure from all the hustle, after all that time, made him an angry man. And that he let that anger smolder for years until something inside of him had to change. And it did. Though he was never perfect, nor did he claim to be.
Later, he moved on to sell insurance. And eventually, industrial supplies. Which would drive him into retirement, on a mountain, where he lived the life of a yogi and died a legend.
*some details in this story may be incomplete*
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Hi, I’m Emily Greenberg.
Other experience includes:
-Cover Letter & Resume Writing
-Advocacy & Grant Writing
-Radio & Audio Production
More Samples of Writing:
What happens when two single-handers meet up on Valentine’s Day?
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SUPPORT THE ARTS! Thank you for your interest in maritime literature and other multimedia ventures on the high and low seas!
I felt a crack.
Like a fault line in my brain.
Or my tiny idealist heart shattering.
My sailing trip is now basically over. I said I wanted to test the boat in the harshest conditions both she and I could handle coastal, in winter, to see what we were capable of. I lived on the edges of the sea and my nervous system for seven months exploring from Maine to Maryland. I never had a plan. The boat was completely unfinished and barely hospitable. It was very cold. I was practicing seafaring. She was half seaworthy half dilapidated.
Things were starting to get to me under the current conditions, but it always all seemed to work out in the end. The boat and I came right up on our edge—of heavy weather, and I of my own mind.
Suddenly I more or less now know what my days will look like. I have a plan. My work is steady, the boat patiently waits for her refit which I can now slowly begin. The amenities are plentiful. The people are, fine. And yet I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost something.
For a while everything was really magical. All my dreams were coming true. There were ups and downs but overall, I felt this cosmic thread connecting my every move towards something larger and greater than myself. I was on the right path with my single handing, my career, my personal life and relationships. And everything around me physically reflected that.
This mindset took a long time to achieve and has not been without its regressions. In an attempt to break from self destructive tendencies and crippling self doubt I put notes all over the hull of my new boat with positive affirmations and coping mechanisms, to gain control of my mind and life.
It worked. But did it go too far?
One of the notes read: “Believe in yourself so much they think you are delusional.”
When you continuously have fated, innately romantic and profoundly passionate experiences in regard to every single facet of your life you start to wonder if perhaps the depth of your being and feeling is not magic at all, but a fault in your own wiring that makes you unfit for modern society and relationships.
I’ve often asked the question: do two people fall in love, or does love already exist and two people fall into it? This is a matter of idealism vs. materialism. In philosophy, idealism states that ideas create your material reality. In materialism it’s the material reality that creates ideas.
I am at odds with the material world.
This was apparent when I sailed my unfinished boat and paddled a poorly repaired kayak alone through New York City. Staring at the buildings with a pink sunset and the ocean in front of me it truly baffled me how I was literally the only one out there out of all those millions.
Soul mates. Death pacts. Planets and stars aligned. Astrology. Tarot. Sea witchery. I believed that all my boats had lead me here to this current boat and was symbolic of the spirit of sailing and adventure. That I’d done well in my travels. My dead friends were living on everywhere around me; In my books they gave me, the money they left me, the sea, and through smell. My living friends were serving as inspiration. I felt that despite my mistakes and wrong turns or perceived losses at the times—they all needed to happen so I could be as solid and focused on the dream and goal as I now am. Or, was…
“Do other people just not get to have this?” I asked my old friend Capt. Dan who was the first person to teach me about engineless sailing. “Not only do they not experience it, but they don’t even know it exists.”
I was this close to signing up for a subscription based predictive astrology service. Everything was meant to be and I was moving along with my life’s plans. And then I made a terrible mistake. I started researching. Scientifically, magic doesn’t exist. Only the mind’s ability to believe and perceive it. Science calls this magical thinking vs. the belief in magic. Magical thinking is more of an evolutionary adaptation of the human brain, perhaps in order to survive trying times… Magical thinking is proven to have cognitive and creative benefits. The actual belief in magic, however, has real world implication and historically lead people to cult like and political terrorist behavior, as well as isolation and individualism.
It seems I had fallen into a bit of a rabbit hole.
In one study they used questions such as “to what extent does the ocean have consciousness,” as a quantitative element of how to measure magical belief. It’s no wonder I got swept away living so close to the sea. It’s the only way I know how to survive. If you take away my belief or faith in a person, or a boat, or myself —it stops existing. So who is to say magic doesn’t exist, so much as I’m the one in control of its existence?
I’ve always said that boats are greater than the sum of their parts. How something so simple can be capable of driving something so complex— an adventure through the natural, social, and inner world. Maybe that’s why I do it, because the sea is closest thing to magic I could find.
Welcome all of us to the new age, new year! Wow, 2022 really has felt like a fucking fully loaded winch handle to the face if you know what I mean! And we’re off!
I’m not kidding. I’ve been crying for literally two weeks straight. I cried so much it felt and looked like I’d been punched in the face. I googled it and sure enough my tears had given me two black eyes.
My grandfather died. I witnessed lifelong bonds fracture. A profound personal and professional connection I’d built over a year with an important figure vanished in one night. All within the last month. Nothing makes sense. I am psychologically changed.
But that’s another story.
Do people still need those? Stories? Now more than ever, perhaps. Two years into a pandemic. I think sailors have always been relatable. The sea has always been compared to difficult times in life. Difficult emotions. The ship a metaphor for getting through them.
But what about getting through difficult times and difficult emotions, at and on the fringes of the sea?
I’ve always had this tendency toward the extreme. My parents kept control of me enough when I was a kid that I never ended up on the streets, only the road. The blue road. Never home-less. But home-free. And, eventually, finding home on the sea. But I didn’t chose sailing. I had an opportunity to be out at sea once and from then on nothing else would suffice.
For years I tried to build a home on the sea aboard a broken boat—and finally learned my lessons. I can’t say the same for love—I still try and build a home in broken hearts.
For many people, not only sailors, the sea is home. The problem is we can’t live there. So we settle for boats. Surfboards. Seaside cities. Summers at the beach.
I’ve been studying single-handers for a while now. The ocean sailing kind. Their boats, books, and films. Somewhere along the way I broke this third wall. My heros became something else entirely. Something real. Something tangible. And it wasn’t always pretty.
Something else happened. I became someone else’s hero. More than once, and, I disappointed them. So what should I have expected from mine?
I need to make sure I’m not trying to go further out to sea for the wrong reasons. I have to make sure that I’m not trying to go further out to sea in order to love myself, but that I love myself enough to go further out to sea. That I love myself to keep going. To not give up. To remember that it’s up to me and my boat. No one is coming. You have to go after your dreams yourself. I don’t know why. It seems against human nature.
The sea is the only place that calls of romance without the need for another person. It is something I have gotten to know intimately. I try to remember, even on anchor, that I sleep with the ancient wisdom of the sea beneath me, and that means I’m never really alone. I can’t forget that.
I’m getting to know the sea better. The wind. Myself. I recently felt my sense of self become somewhat fragmented. My emotional self, and my conscious self, separated. It was the result of what I can only imagine has been the constant, hyper vigilance needed for life on the fringes of and at sea.
It didn’t take long before I was back on land and that changed, as I became entrenched in and witness to relational conflict. I didn’t lose my hyper vigilance, I just lost my sense of peace that came with it.
In many ways I want to be alone at sea. Well, I want to be able to be alone at sea. I have to be. It’s the only way I feel I can be a competent sailor. Because doing it alone is better than not doing it at all.
I chose a life at sea to avoid heartache and attachment someone said to me—but I like to think I choose life at sea in spite of it. Because it seems that boats, and boys, break my heart.
But never the sea.
The sea just tries to stop it.
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Read my technical article with a bit of anecdote of course!
I’ve hand steered boat sailing on many different bodies of water and I’ll tell you the last place I want to be doing it is while sailing offshore at 4 AM past the Savanah River where the AIS display looks like pac-man and its cold and blowing and your crew is seasick sleeping on the floor for fuck sake because the wiring to the below deck auto pilot unit in the quarter berth was too janky to risk being pulled out. But despite that precaution to not sleep next to the wiring it gets ripped out anyway. Luckily my crew could steer while I spliced that shit back together.
The first time this happened I was sailing solo overnight on the Pamlico Sound I just let the boat round up and kinda steer itself close hauled the wind wasn’t too bad or the waves. I rewired it really quick and then got underway again.
Honestly I think it happened AGAIN (why am I like this) on mini passage from Beufort, NC to Wrightsville Beach. And then obviously with my crew off the Savanah River. So basically every fucking passage all the way down the coast.
Now as I prepare to head North I’m doing my damn best to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I’ve soldered ll the connections, used heat shrink, and have spares AP unit, motor controller, and actuator rigged up ready to go in case one fails.
I’m also giving a go at sheet-to-tiller because at this point I want as much back up as possible!
Which leads to my next point; I want a wind vane. But I also needed to get my shit together wring. I’ve had fun with auto pilots and sheet to tiller and will strive to have those onboard a vessel in addition to a vane… Maybe it’s a redundancy thing that will make me feel safer. Or who knows maybe I’m one of those people who never just “goes” because they think they always need that next piece of gear. I have a friend who solo’d his Dailer26 from Hawaii to California, then trucked it to the Gulf, launched and then sailed back up and down the east coast.
He only had a tiller pilot. So, yes, it can be done.
In the meantime, I’ve gotten pretty familiar with the Pypilot Auto Pilot. An open source software, below deck auto pilot computer and motor controller unit. It’s sold here pypilot.org , for just under $200. For any sailor on a budget that’s pretty enticing. But it comes with its caveats, like rigging your own actuator from an old tiller pilot or building anew with a windshield wiper motor. And a website/online store without much direction and description.
Apparently, computer code and engineering nerds who also sail have this elite network where they talk in a secret language to each other about their own auto pilot units they’ve engineered, or the changes they’ve gone in and made to their Pypilot unit’s software.
For the rest of us…I’m not sure how anyone who isn’t a total nerd understands this shit. Even my buddy Sam Holmes who is on the way other end of the spectrum than I am when it comes to engineering didn’t understand how it worked looking at the store. I had prior knowledge to all this because I met the Pypilot engineer, Sean D’Epagnier. Without that I would have no fucking clue what those little boxes and all the wires and shit were.
Which is why I’m writing this, a guide of sorts, because even knowing what I knew setting up the new unit Sean sent me and a backup unit proved challenging. I felt like a detective. Unearthing clues. Looking for landmarks. So, I came up with a treasure map of sorts. I heard there’s pot at the end of the rainbow, or was it gold? Either way, I make no guarantees, and Sean will probably get mad about something I say here. And, people, literally this is all I know don’t ask me questions.
So without further adieu..
For the weekend sailor and summer cruising this is absolutely great. For lake, bay, river cruising, and fair weather offshore. I have not tested it in greater than 20 knots gusting 25 offshore 20 miles. It performed well but for anything greater Sean suggests a larger driver motor. I am using a motor the size of the Simrad TP22. Sean also makes a motor controller for big boats hydraulic steering, so it can be done.
I Have personally used with success on multiple passages on the Chesapeake Bay, Pamlico Sound, up to 20 miles offshore on the Atlantic Ocean.
Plan on spending at least 12 hours on all this because boats, and if you’re ADHD at all like me a lot longer/a lifetime. Also account for the amount of time it takes for Sean or someone on the forum to reply to questions. Which, he will. Unless he’s crossing an ocean or something. Keep in mind Sean also hand makes this shit on his trimaran. Some of it’s automated.
1. I have the TinyPilot Autopilot Computer for $120 and the Motor Controller for $65. I don’t know if Sean includes an adapter or what he’d recommend but the original unit he gave me and what I still use is a 12V in (+,-) 5V3A out (USB). I also have spares. The positive and negative wires of the motor controller are wired together with the positive and negative wires of the autopilot computer adapter, to the same switch. Then with the cord provided the AP computer and motor controller link together. And it turns on and off as a whole unit.
2. The Driver/ Actuator / Motor. This is the arm thing that’s physically going to drive the boat. You just wired the brains. There are two more wires that come out of the motor controller, these need a female snap fittings (I have no idea if that’s the right name). The bitter end of the wires on the actuator will have the male fittings. You need to open up the busted tiller pilot you got that’s electronics fried out and carefully follow the wires to find the two that connect to the actual motor itself. Clip those. You’re in business. Splice those to the wire with the male end fittings. You want this wiring to be long enough to reach the helm from where you mount the unit.
Later by trial and error you will figure out which colored wire plugs in to which fitting on the motor controller in order for the unit not to drive backwards…if that makes any sense at all.
3. Now it’s time to calibrate the acellerometer. This may or may not need to be done or spelled right, but can be done on the web by connecting a device to to the pypilot wifi and going to the control page at pypilot.io . You then have to place the unit on each of its six sides for a few seconds to align the inertial sensors. If you’ve done it correctly you’ll see the sensor dots inside the sphere. It’s actually quite satisfying.
4. Now mount that shit. Find level in the settings menu and click it to level the sensors.
5. Calibrate the compass by sailing, sculling, or motoring the boat in a circle (but Sean actually says 180 degrees is fine). This is mostly automatic and will recalibrate every time the boat turns 180 degrees and its on! You can also see the dots fall within the sphere once calibrated. Neato.
6. Set the magnetic offset (I have no idea why this is the way it is I only know that it IS). I used a bunch of compasses to try and get close as possible and I just adjusted the offset until the heading on the screen matched the heading on my other compass’.
7. Now just a few more settings. I set the Servo.max_current to 5 amps. This is pretty self explanatory I guess as it controls the maximum flow of current. The max and min servo speeds should also he set to 100.
Note: Pypilot can be controlled by a remote, through wifi on any device by connecting to the automatic pypilot wifi network and going to pypilot.io, or connecting on the plugin through OpenCPN. But not yet can it be controlled with your mind. Although I think he’s working on it steering to wind! Crazy!
At this point you’re ready to test your unit. I have tested the two units I just set up successfully motoring around the anchorage. I still have a few more boat projects to complete, including sheet to tiller, before heading offshore to test the units (plus sheet to tiller) and then using the Pypilot on and approximately 600NM journey north. I will report back.
As the Pypilot tag line reads, “Finally, a Liberated Auto Pilot,” this hacker unit is pretty anti-capitalist and boat punk as fuck. Thanks to Sean for letting me test Pypilot for free, get started on yours for under $200 at pypilot.org .
Some of the problems I’ve had
-I was always ripping wires out from the actuator to motor controller, oops. I connected them to be much stronger by soldering, but did not hide them behind a bulkhead which would be best in fact I’ll probably do that before setting sail damn it there’s always more jobs.
-screen burned out on one unit, so had to be controlled through wifi but for some reason the wifi was failing intermittently so couldn’t control through web browser either which meant 0 control….Sean sent me a new unit which has a wireless remote that can adjust AP from the cockpit, plus regular remote you have to point to the motor controller, + wifi..so even if screen burned out + wifi failed again, this one should still be able to be adjusted …however you would not be able to see the course heading
-driver faulting. I still low key chalk this up to really light/nearly non existent winds but like 3 ft swells so not really enough forward momentum. But I fixed this by changing the servo. max, min, and current settings.
You’re ugly. You sleep around. Stop being a victim. These are just some of the messages and remarks I get on a near constant basis. And I wish I could say it was just from internet trolls. It’s not.
From the once generous benefactor who decided he was going to verbally abuse me when I didn’t live out his expectations of me fast enough, to the sailor girl I used to be friends with that’s been harassing and threatening me my entire way down the coast for networking and being friends with her ex boyfriend. This is a day in the life. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear some news from some one somewhere that people are talking shit about me.
When I’m successful, I’m a spoiled brat. When I’m struggling, I should “get a job.” I’m reminded of the last release from the late great Mac Miller, after he overdosed; “Bad news is all they want to hear, but they don’t like it when I’m down. When I’m flying it makes them so uncomfortable, what’s the difference?”
People mistake my art as a cry for help. They interpret my activism as an angry trope. My pension for safety at sea is seen as an excuse.
I’m told to keep politics out of sailing. I’m told to keep social justice out of sailing. I’m told to keep callouts out of sailing. I’m told I’m alienating myself from a bigger audience.
There was an anchorage and inlet recently that I couldn’t get out because it was blowing like crazy. Even with the tide I couldn’t motor against the wind, and the channel was too narrow to tack. Someone not far down the coast from me sent a picture of the weather map to show me that I was wrong, there was in fact no high winds in the area where I physically could not maneuver my boat.
Even NOAA likes to gas light me. The forecast said fifteen knots but then I got knocked down on the river, so…
Wealthier cruisers think I’m rude and bitter because I don’t want to have drinks with them and go on dinghy rides. Sailor guys think I’m a bitch when they offer to do something for me that I’ve already done myself. When I ask for help I’m a damsel in distress. The sheriffs boats come and harass me when I’m working out on the bow of my boat at anchor in a bikini.
I hate it here.
No, not all the people out here are trash. But enough.
I love my sailing buddies and mentors more than anything. It’s my greatest honor to rub shoulders and be friends with my heroes. I never want to be the smartest person in the room. Most of them just happen to be men, and they will never understand what I have had to overcome to get where I am, or what I still have to overcome to get to where they are. Just because I am a woman. I guess that’s why they help me as much as they can.
What’s the reason for all this? I often wonder. “Hater’s going to hate,” my sailor punk girlfriend says. “There is no bad press,” I’m reminded from my college best mates. “It’s because they are jealous and insecure themselves,” says my friend I met when we first left on our boats in 2017.
I mean, they’re right. But still it’s not always easy being this fucking great.
When I first met Sam Holmes I had no idea he was famous. We ended up following each other through Instagram due to our respective tag lines; his is “Sailing Oceans in Questionable Vessels,” mine is “Just Say No to the Marine Industrial Complex.” When we ended up in the same harbor I learned he crossed the pacific from California to Hawaii on a 23 foot boat, and was now sailing his Cape Dory 28 on the East Coast. He also had a YouTube channel with some videos clocking millions of views, and what I would later learn has a cult following.
Our encounter was brief but profound. I was impressed by his voyaging and he was impressed with my boat and work I’d done so far. Sam said I reminded him of the famous sailing anarchist Moxie Marlinspike. Even though I’m nothing like Moxie, who literally designed the encrypted messaging app Signal, I was honored and felt seen. He was going north and I was trying to tie up lose ends on the Chesapeake.
We vowed to meet again.
Sam and I quickly became long distance buddies. He helped me come up with the idea to try and recoup the fees slammed on my friend and I for painting my boats bottom with some messages. He offered me lots of advice and stories about ocean sailing. While I taught him about bronze chain plates and white privilege. With a good amount of shit talking on each other intermixed. He gave me his dinghy, which was an awesome skin on frame nesting dinghy that I tried to bring back to life, but Sam wasn’t kidding about questionable vessels.
I tried to rehab the dinghy but it was starting to seriously sink before I even left the dock. When some of my friends who followed Sam’s channel found out I’d met Sam I jokingly started to say “He gave me his dinghy, but we didn’t make out!”
Eventually, I told the joke to Sam. At which point we both entertained it for like one second before quickly realizing we are much better as just friends. And the rest is history…
Sam and I are literally on other ends of the spectrum. He’s hyper focused, I’m ADHD. He eats fast food and I eat vegan. He worked for Disney as an engineer, I’m an underpaid writer. I wonder sometimes about my close sailing mates, would we be friends on land?
I finally caught up with Sam again in North Carolina after a 20 hour sail south on the Pamlico Sound. I was greeted in the harbor by Sam on a skiff with a local teenager from a family he’d made friends with, also fans of his channel. He handed off homemade vegan tamales to me as I anchored under sail. Later we met up at the free private dock where he was tied up. It was like our own little island when we walked to the fancy marina where we had the shower codes down the forest lined street. I forced him to eat vegan food. We had a sleep over in separate settees aboard his cozy boat. And he helped me run mundane errands.
Sam was headed inland and I was headed south but we got to sail together aboard my boat on a blustery day. He filmed it for his YouTube channel. I tried to bail the morning of our sail, to which Sam said, “Don’t be lazy, Emily.”
And I replied, “Lazy is a term invented by capitalism and not in my vocabulary.”
It’s been a running joke about how I’ve never actually watched his channel, because we are friends in real life. So, I don’t really need to. I get the behind the scenes Sam Holmes Sailing pretty consistently. One of our favorite past times is where I read my latest essay aloud to Sam on the phone. Another common theme has been when I’m frenetically trying to get my shit together to get off the dock, or finish a project, or make a passage. I’ll ask Sam to hold me accountable. Then i’ll completely forget I asked him to do that and get mad at him when he does it. Like, why you hassling me bro?
During my most recent conversation with Sam I started coughing abruptly to which he responded casually, “you hitting the bong?” I was just choking on some coconut snacks but you catch my drift. He’d just finished shaming me for deciding not to go out a particular inlet because I couldn’t get against the currents and I was afraid of the wind over tide. But we can’t all be as brave as Sam Holmes. At least, not right away.
That’s what makes him our hero.
When I think of the East Coast the first thing that comes to mind is not a wild landscape. Yes, there are beautiful ocean beaches, historic lighthouses, protected national seashores, and a variety of other delights ashore. But the majority of shoreline is privately owned. I think of the east coast as the place I grew up. A good place to buy, fix, and practice seafaring aboard small sailboats. As a place you have to sail past to get to the islands. But never as a place to travel to. It is not the land in itself that interests me. It is the sea. It is being out of sight of land.
Coming back to shore here is merely a means to an end as my boat is a continuous work in progress, not quite ready to be at sea for longer than a few days. It is distant landfalls with far less population that intrigue me, not the coastal U.S. cities. Sometimes I wait weeks for a small passage window, anchored in some town I’d never chose to visit on purpose. Where there are few public landings and grocery stores are miles outside of town down four lane highways. Sometimes I get lucky and I can see a rail yard from the lawn of the public library and watch freight trains roll by while using the WiFi. Other times, there are mates around. I’ve been up and down this coast enough to have friends almost wherever I go, but not always.
From sea the coastline can look almost perverse. The abandoned Ferris wheels of the New Jersey Coast, the sky scraping condos of Miami Beach, accompanying tributaries marked endlessly by mansions, water towers, beach houses, second, third, and fourth homes. It’s as if the only reason they stopped building is because they ran out of land. They ran into the water. It like civilization is just perched precariously and ready to crumble into the ocean. Like an apocalyptic daydream.
The wind can be a challenge as well.
The East Coast is killing my soul a little.
But I do it for you, Atlantic.
Where do you find the heart of sailing? Is it witnessing both a sunset and a sunrise at sea? Is it in a boatyard with no fresh water, skin itchy with fiberglass? Is it in stepping ashore after a long passage, and drinking sparkling water with a lemon you foraged next to an abandoned dock? Is it in being wet, cold, and slightly frightened?
Or Is it found somewhere else? Is it found in yacht clubs and private marinas? Is it found in a fully enclosed cockpits with electric winches? Or in that moment you cash in your stocks and buy a boat to sail off into the promised sunset, cocktail in hand?
In the harbor right now there are three boats, including myself, that are all “basically engineless.” Meaning we all have some kind of auxiliary propulsion that only really work under totally calm wind, wave, and current conditions. Whether it be an extremely underpowered 2.3 HP outboard, or an outboard with a shaft that isn’t long enough, or a dinghy hip tied. That means in any and almost all conditions we are sailing, unless it’s for some short stretches of the ICW.
Is it because we are broke? Young? Idealists? Perhaps a combination of all three.
I’ve been a vagabond since I was 22 and bought my first boat at 26. I’m 31 now. I haven’t paid rent, except for the odd slip at a marina here and there for a few months at a time, in ten years, and have held various jobs. I happened upon sailing by chance on a yacht delivery in New Zealand and sailed across a literal sea a thousand miles over ten days, and I’ve just been trying to get back to that ever since, on my own boat.
But I never felt stuck in life, in a career, or in the throngs of capitalism that so many people feel that leads them to quitting their jobs and searching for boats. I’ve felt stuck with no money and very unseaworthy boats, but I didn’t do what most of my generation did; which is basically get real jobs. And now that they’re in their thirties and sick of the grind they’re like, let’s get a boat.
And they go buy some plastic boat from the eighties with a comfortable interior and no inherent seaworthiness in its design, but it’s safe enough. They focus on having a good engine, and then motor across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. They follow the “Thornless Path” and motor sail in the calms that can be found in between the prevailing opposing winds. Until they eventually reach the Caribbean and it’s all downwind from there. They have enough money, and enough confidence, even never having never sailed before, that they make it just fine.
Lots of people do this, especially with the advent of YouTube. People are like, “Yo, I can live on a boat and make a YouTube channel to pay for it?!”
But I can tell you this is not where you will find the heart of sailing. That is something you really have to look for. This is where you will find a departure from it. I’ve been trying to find it for years by now of living aboard and messing around with boats, and I still know nothing. “Remember you know nothing,” an old schooner captain told me. That’s what makes you a good sailor, he said. A good captain.
Famous sailor Nancy Griffith said, “know the limitations of your crew and your boat.” Crew, for the most part, has usually been only me. And I’ve scrutinized both myself and my boats heavily when weighing certain passages. I worked at marinas as a way into even learning about boats. My first boat I stuck to lake Champlain, my second I took down the Hudson River and to the Florida keys, only spending a little time offshore. The boat simply wasn’t prepared for passage making. Most of the offshore sailing I’d done before my current boat, was on boat deliveries. So I hold myself to that standard of seaworthiness, of what I’ve seen on the sea.
I spend more time fixing my shit to be at sea then I do actually at sea. I have to fix boats so often because I don’t have money, so I’m pretty DIY. The trouble is I really don’t trust my work. I rely on people with much more skill than I have to tell me if I’ve done something right. For me, the goal is to make my boat as safe and comfortable as possible on the sea. It’s been and continue to be arduous, refitting old boats to be sustainable in such an inhospitable environment, with little money and no formal training.
Sometimes I envy the other kinds of travelers. The backpackers. The ones who hoof it, bus it, ride planes and hop trains. But that’s not for me. Devoted to the sea. And if I can’t be there, damn it, I’ll be on land just trying to get there… because nothing else matters.
The first time I ever went to a sauna was in the mountains above the Napa Valley in California. With pools fed by higher elevation hot springs there was a steam room, and sauna. This broke the image in my mind of a sauna full of old white men at the New York sports club. This sauna was filled with yoga teachers, anarchists, hippies, black, indigenous, folks and people of all color and gender.
The next was on an island in an archipelago in the Salish Sea, camping alone I found connection with the people singing chants as we sweat out our demons in unison.
Then, in Vermont, a fire fed sauna with the people who took me in like an orphan when I bought my first boat on Lake Champlain.
Two years ago, my grandfather fulfilled a life long dream of his to have a sauna, and bought a tiny one-person sweatbox and put it in his laundry room. My best friend and I were there on the day before the New Year. Staying in far past the recommended time with my grandma worried sick we’d pass out, we attempted to sweat out all the unrequited love and acts of betrayal we’d endured. It didn’t work. We still went back to our lovers for a while, but it was about the ceremony.
While sailing in British Columbia with a drunk, abusive captain we dropped the hook on a remote island and were promptly invited by some locals to come for a sauna. I was beyond excited, but the captain wouldn’t let me go—and at the age of 25 I was naïve and afraid enough to listen.
Since then, it has been a dream of mine to sail to a sauna.
I got the invite this fall to tie up my boat to the dock of a rich democrat with a house that looks like a museum. As I tied up my boat and he walked down to meet me I said excitedly, “I heard this was the socialist dock!”
As he gave me a tour of the property that I basically had completely to myself, I spotted a sauna. My eyes widened.
“Feel free to use that anytime.”
‘Sail it ‘til it sinks.” Said Tom the brewer with the beautiful wooden boat from 1937. I’m more like sail it to the islands and abandon or sell it for really cheap somewhere else. He shrugs his shoulders and takes a sip of his beer before he walks away. He thinks I need to touch up the paint on the hull, but to make sure it matches otherwise I’m going to have to re paint the whole thing. That I need to scrub my teak with a green scrub pad. And he’s going to bring over some rust off spray to get the stains off my deck. He thinks it’s more important I clean my teak then fix the leaks.
“If it’s leaking on your head just move over,” he said.
I’m half rolling my eyes half listening intently. I plan to take his advice. On a boat, some day, but probably not this one. I was going to do a little cosmetic stuff anyway, I’m literally patching this thing together. This boat. I don’t know really what else to do at this point. I don’t want this to turn into a two year project with brand new awl grip paint on deck and topsides. Bright varnish. Perfectly pressed on tell tales. That’s not what this boat is. At least, not right now.
I like Tom. I figured he thought I was a degenerate making myself look bad with my sloppy finish work. But it was quite the opposite. “I’ve got something for you,” he said one day and handed me two picture books; one on the stars and the other on marlinspike craftsmanship (subtle, Tom).
“Wow, I’m honored,” I said. “I always thought you were ashamed of me.”
“Ashamed of you?” He said laughing in disbelief. “I admire you!”
Sometimes everything is such a chore. I feel like a pirate amongst the royal fleet. But then, I’m sitting on the dog house fiberglassing some free scrap plywood I got from the shop, drilling holes with borrowed drill bits, sitting under a makeshift sun shade, with the perfect afternoon sea breeze and the boats just tugging lightly at the pilings. And I’ve got the same view as the million dollar yachts.
And I won’t let them take that away from me.
On Labor Day weekend 2020 I hauled my boat for three days and three days only to paint the bottom, remove the old prop shaft and fiberglass the hole, and make a small repair to the rudder that will prevent me from losing the rudder in the event of fastener failure.
It was a community event. The only reason it managed to happen at all was because I was getting a deal on the fees due to the long weekend and no yachts scheduled for the space.
Sailors and friends came and went. The boatyard manager (and part owner of the yard and marina) offered advice and answered questions. The shipwright (also co-owner) even helped to remove the shaft. The shipwright, my friend and fellow she-pirate, and I all pushed the prop at the same time to finally break it. Then our ‘helper’ grabbed the sawzall and cut into my boat!
“Ack!” I shrieked. “I didn’t consent! You cant charge me for that!”
He laughed and assured me he wasn’t going to. Offered some words of encouragement to keep chasing the dream at sea. Everyone was in high spirits and it was a true collectivist effort. That night I even got a stick-n-poke tattoo onboard my boat, in the yard, commemorating the experience.
But there was a third owner of the marina and boatyard, who didn’t like the cheerful and chummy nature between me and his partners.
By day three I’d salvaged three partial cans of bottom paint all different colors and set to work anti fouling. It was then I was struck by my brilliant idea to add some peaceful, anarcho, collectivist, anti-racist messages to the bottom.
Solidarity, Comrades; Love is free; the acronym for Black Lives Matter; Resist; The Climate Crisis is Real; No Justice No Peace; and even the infamous line from the back of the Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle All for One, One for All; graced my keel.
I launched the next day, and was informed that the partner with the most share in the business was not going to honor the deal because the messages I had displayed. If I chose not to pay, the partner who did me the favor would be held responsible. So I did the right thing to not hurt someone who had tried to help me.
My friend and fellow-she pirate who helped me with my boat, who is also the sole care taker of a salty old boat and four children after her husband passed away during their years cruising together on a traditional gaff-rigged 29 footer, was also penalized and her deal for boat storage was also no longer going to be acknowledged.
I’m asking for donations to recoup the funds from the deal that was not honored. That amounts to $155. Anything extra will be given to my friend for her unanticipated fees upwards of $500. If we somehow raise all of that any remaining donations will be redistributed to mutual aid funds for folks affected by the wildfires on the west coast.
Thank you for your support.
There’s a tropical storm bearing down and it’s about to clip my anchorage. I wasn’t going to write this on the internet anywhere so my parents wouldn’t worry. But they found out about it on their own accord. I’ve got two anchors out and am protected from the wind direction in this harbor. It’s not expected to blow any worse than a winter gale, but still, it’s a bit early for this nonsense. I’m further south than I’d ought to be this time of year, but I thought I only had to worry about the heat and thunderstorms the further we marched into summer. This time last year I’d just barely arrived on the Chesapeake Bay by now. Tropical Storms were the furthest thing from my mind. Sean was still three weeks out from sailing north around Hatteras. This is the time of year people sail to Bermuda and cross the Atlantic. It’s not supposed to be like this. It kind of snuck up on me without warning. Whether it was fast moving or I simply wasn’t paying attention.
This changes everything. I was planning to cruise the sounds on my way north stopping at different islands for anchorages. Taking about a week to meet up with the inland waterway and then follow that into the Chesapeake Bay. Now I’m not so sure. With the potential for tropical storms and hurricanes to become threats in a matter of a day or two notice, I’m wondering if I should seek the protection of inland waters sooner. I don’t have a large diesel engine that I can just crank on two days before a storm to guarantee miles. I’m at the mercy of the winds.
Speaking of diesel engines, I ripped the one out of this boat and sold it in a quest for simplicity and to pay for my refit efforts. I’ve sold enough gear off this boat now that I got her for $1000. And let me tell you, it’s starting to feel like a thousand dollar boat. I’ve had to redo damn near everything. Through hulls, coamings, standing rigging, chain plates, etc… etc.. I find it troubling that the only thing really of “value,” on the boat, was the diesel engine. That’s what people consider essential. It didn’t matter that the rigging was precarious and all the wood in the cockpit was rotted, or that the through hulls were a terrifying corroded mess of antiquated parts…it mattered that it had an engine you could just fire up and “go.” How far have we come from what is considered essential, and seaworthy? When did it become engine first, then rigging? How many people if you ask, what is the heart and soul of their boat, would say their inboard engine?
Sean has moved off the boat and onto his trimaran. So, I’ve effectively had this boat on my own now for one month. I bought the boat through love colored glasses and we both had dreams to fix it up together and cross the Atlantic. With him I really thought it was possible. But it turns out love isn’t always enough. I realized that I stopped wearing my harness and life jacket when Sean came aboard. I stopped caring about a lot of shit.
He’s the kind of person who can manage to fucking circumnavigate on a boat that was basically derelict when he got it. With the right amount of luck, a great deal of intelligence, and an amygdala that doesn’t register fear and risk in the same way as neurotypical people—he fixed it in mostly all the right places and transitted the fucking planet. Not only is this a feat most sailors and people will never achieve, but he did it probably in one of the most uncomfortable ways.
No bunk. No sink. No standing head room. He told me roaches used to eat his toes at night on passages. I thought he was kidding. I always used to think he was kidding. His boat was a mix between some mad scientists lab and Davy Jones’ Locker. He just laid down on a bunch of wires to go sleep before I met him. All the way across the seven seas–passing the time alone contributing source code to open CPN, a navigation program used by world cruisers, and designing and manufacturing his own auto pilots.
I should have known better than to disturb this delicate creature. Because here we are now. It’s funny how someone can go from your hero to your ex that you have petty arguments with across the harbor.
It turns out the “Go North” and the “Go Offshore” are two entirely different lists. The former I’m almost done with and the latter I plan to finish on the Chesapeake.
There’s nothing left for me here.
I’m still not sure how that story ends, so it’s a good thing the submissions deadline for my anthology project Heartwreck: Romantic Disasters at Sea, has been pushed back. More info on submission guidelines here. New deadline is TBA.
I first met my friend Jake in a boatyard on Lake Champlain while I was sitting on the rocks taking apart a trolling motor that I never would end up getting to work. He cracked open a micro brew and shouted from the ground up to another mate on their boat. Quickly after we were introduced he said to me, “You remind me of my ex wife, and that’s a compliment.”
That summer was spent as a tight knit group of sailors rendezvousing in anchorages, sailing each other’s boats, and collaboratively engineering the shit out of repairs. I can easily be brought back to that time we nearly knocked down Jake’s boat in a squall. Or ate sausages in the cockpit next to the cliffs of Kingsland Bay with his partner. Or the time he offered to help me rebed my leaking deck hardware but I abruptly called it off after we did only a few bolts because the whole task just seemed so daunting. He used to call me, “kid,” which I found annoying and would say, “dude you know we’re only like ten years apart, right?”
Jake had a Columbia 26 at the time, which he’d completely restored. He still exists in my phone as “Jake Columbia 26.” From her damaged hull to the rotten core under the mast, new roller furling sails, glassing in the old big port lights to put in smaller, more seaworthy ones. His eventual plan with the boat, other than sailing the shit out of it on Lake Champlain, was to trailer it across the country and launch it in Washington state to sail the inside passage to Alaska. But life happened, and he sold the boat. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Jake always liked to tell me, “The adventure is not your life. Your life is the adventure.”
Jake has always been there for me. Like a therapist, a mentor, an older brother from another mother, or a spirit guide. He’s helped to see me through many of sailing life’s challenges and been there to celebrate the victories as well. He is my emergency contact if there is ever a problem at sea. He literally always answers my messages and calls to the point where I’ve wondered what the hell he even does all day. He even responded once from Belize. He has helped, like any good friend therapist, to create a secure attachment that feels safe and unwavering that I’ve been able to translate that into many other relationships in my life. He has led by example on how to be a good person, a good partner, a good friend, a good ally.
Before giving up a life of dirt bag foolery for the stability of a regular job he was a lot like me. Which I guess is why, in a sense, I’m his hero.
But really, he’s mine.
One time we were sitting on my boat with our other friend, Dale. Jake had just gotten a ukulele and had begun playing it incessantly. With his eye twitching and voice about to crack, Dale turned to him and said, “PLEASE, Jake, for the love of god, would you stop playing that thing?!”
Jake laid down his weapon, hands up with a sly grin.
He’s come a long way from that annoying, repetitive strumming and has written a song so dark, so traditional, and so poignant in response to the global corona virus pandemic that I couldn’t help myself but to do my own rendition. A rendition that deeply offended my mother (sorry, mom), but did help to lift the spirits of my worried old friend.
You know shit is getting real when the person who has always been a rock to you is starting to get scared, and you’re the one reminding them that everything is going to be okay.
It has to be.
In other news: I said I wouldn’t worry about cosmetics but… Feel free to donate to my paint fund!
“It’s called a bulkhead, Dr. Steve. Bulkhead. Not a wall,” I say rolling my eyes.
We’re aboard the boat of Dr. Steve Cohen somewhere on a river in North Carolina. The boat’s high and dry. It blew aground in the last storm and has been there ever since. Without much of a tidal current, it could be a while until he gets it off. He’s a New York Jew, like me. He’s always feeding us vegan brownies and fermented foods. He’s a revered practitioner of natural medicine, with clients from near and far who come to him when nothing else is working.
But he knows absolutely nothing about boats.
He recruited my boyfriend and a young Mennonite who owns a lumber mill to help him build a sculling oar, because his engine is unreliable. He has to spray it with gasoline to start it. It’s a diesel engine. He says he can, “sail anywhere,” but we don’t believe him.
He’s had this same boat, anchored out in front of a private community, for ten years. He locks his dinghy on shore at the park and recently some community member slathered his entire dinghy (oars, seats, and sole) in grease. To what end I can only assume was send a message to get his boat out of their little development.
No such luck, though, since his boat is still hard aground a week later. And Steve isn’t the kind of guy to let a little grease on his dinghy or a hard grounding prevent him from becoming a sailor.
I (the Jew) am somehow roped into organizing setting up and splicing a permanent mooring for his boat, and Sean (the engineer in the story) works with the woodsman (the Mennonite) cutting and carving the oar. It all seems rather fruitless for a boat that is high and dry, but Dr. Steve (the other Jew) has the confidence, enthusiasm, and endless bowls of soup to convince us. He’s convinced himself, too, that Tow Boat U.S. will be able to pull him off once the water levels are up. After all, they know him by name. So we have to finish his new means of propulsion and his new mooring before then.
Steve has been instrumental in helping me get my health on track. He’s guided me in treating a myriad of health issues naturally. It’s been a long road, but like Dr. Steve says, “If it could be fixed right away it would be called a miracle, not treatment.”
When I asked Steve if we could stay in contact after we left he said, “Of course! We’re Jews!”
As in, we stick together
So even though he’s literally the worst at boats, I’m swamped with work, and it’s time to leave his town as soon as possible–we feel inclined to stay a little longer to help him finish his sculling oar and new mooring. Which will hopefully prevent a grounding of his boat, and another greasing of his dinghy in the future.
As far as getting his boat off the ground, well, that’s in the hands of the tow boat…
A surveyor wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole (I know this because my friend’s a surveyor and said so), but that’s a legit home made 12-volt lithium battery for $300 vs. the $700-1000 you’ll pay for a “marine” one.
Each cell is about three volts and that little red box is a battery management system (BMS), which keeps it all distributed evenly. The wires off the BMS are soldered to the positive end of each cell . There’s even a fuse on the battery to limit risk of fire in case the battery shorts out. Plus, it’s lithium ion vs. lithium iron. Lithium iron is apparently the more dangerous one, and if one cell melts or gets too hot it can start to burn any cell that is next to it.
It’s the way of the future, and lithium 12-volt batteries are way more efficient and longer lasting than lead acid. But of course like anything it comes with risks and consequences.
Where did the lithium in my batteries come from? Probably some horrible mining practice. I’ll look into that. It seems we just can’t escape the environmental impacts that come with being a human and consumer.
In the meantime I’ll be getting lots of work done on my computer because I can finally plug it in on board. This is the first time ever I’m able to have sufficient power on a boat I’ve owned. I even have a food processor. Hummus anyone? Plenty of solar aboard to charge everything and this battery can easily be disconnected and brought to land to charge! They’re also so much lighter than lead acid, and if you’re really clever you can swap them back and forth with your electric bicycle which is all these cells are anyway. Electric bike batteries.
I am not that type of clever, however, so just leave me to some basic carpentry and fiberglassing. This addition to Sohund is definitely not my creation, but I’ll take it!
Hang in there folks. Spring is almost here. I came out of the boat and I didn’t see my shadow, so– I’m sure of it.
A short note: Please sign up for email updates below! My subscribers all got deleted! All that’s left are 13 randoms and one of them has already sent me hate mail saying I am deranged and to take him off the mailing list. Sorry, but I don’t even know how you got ON the mailing list let alone how to get off it . So I guess he’s out of luck.