A Brief Update!

Holy shit.

Someone made a thread commending the story on this blog about sailing the Dismal Swamp Canal and nine pages later people are still arguing about it!


I almost couldn’t get through all of it, but with persistence and focus I read the entire thread. My mind is blown that there are people who are so upset by the post and this blog and my basic existence that they feel compelled to write, and there are people who feel strongly enough to defend the post and this blog and my basic existence that they feel compelled to write.

I’m literally laughing. Not at anyone, but because I am simply tickled by it!

The comments range from downright creepy to inspiring. Like, women seldom make history and—yeah, those women end up dead or worse. Someone also commented about a recent post I wrote about my grandfather, saying they’d venture to guess I probably don’t know what he really thinks of me. I got a real kick out of that one.

Engineless circumnavigator Sean D’pagnier even joined in on defense, although I’ll probably tell him he is wasting his time with these people!

People went really bizarre and personal with their comments. It just shows we really live in a time where hate, and in this case sexism and people so angered by those trying to cut back on fossil fuels, is so pervasive.

A couple of years ago this would have really bothered me, though. I remember someone made a comment about how the shit I had on Vanu was like a homeless bag lady and being really sad. I was in the process of going hardcore minimalist and a refit when they said that, and went on to make Vanu a prime piece of real estate.

So, those people really can’t say shit.

No one can. There is no bad press. If you have haters, you’re doing something right as far as media is concerned.

And on a more philosophical level? What all those people have to say is more a reflection of themselves than of me. And there are even some nuggets of wisdom buried under there. So, give it a read if you want to join in on the fun!

Anyway I am tucked a way in the mountains a little while longer working on drafts for some magazine articles. Keep an eye out here for a post coming soon about an Herbal Medical Kit for Sailors, and don’t forget submissions are open for Heartwreck : Romantic Disasters at Sea. Heartwreck is a collection of short stories about romance gone wrong on and around boats. Submissions are open now until July. We are compensating writers! Check out the links!

A Great Man

I’m currently northbound by train to New York on my way to see my grandfather for what could be the last time.

I imagine what I’d say after he’s gone.

“He was a great man.”

And anyone who knows him would say that. In fact, when I texted my best friend to let her know what was happening, that’s exactly what she said.

He’s a great man. Present tense. Because as I write this he is still alive.

He has the innate ability to share his love and affection equally—among all of his children, his grandchildren, my grandmother, along with many other extended family members, students, and neighbors.

I want to say it was just us that had such a special bond, but he had that with everyone.

We all felt like the favorite.

I can imagine my grandmother saying my name now, in quiet surprise to see me. “Em-au-ly,” she’d say in her German accent, like there’s a marble in her mouth.

My love for and with my grandparents is the truest and purest form of love I’ve ever had the privilege to know—unconditional and without judgment. I remember showing up at their house as a sophomore in college, reeling from my first heartbreak and prescription anxiety meds I had my first panic attack. No questions asked we just sat and looked out at the mountains.

I started to learn how to deal with anxiety naturally after that.

For most of my life they resided on top of a mountain in upstate New York with only a wood stove for heat, and an ever revolving door of dogs, cats, and the birds their feeders would bring. Even the occasional bear would grace their property.

I think that’s where I first learned about inner peace, or the act of striving towards inner peace. There was one spot on the property, a small clearing amongst greenery and moss covered stones the size of a perch.

He called it Eden.

My grandfather taught yoga right up until his kidneys started failing a few days ago. He kept up with his classes as best he could as his health deteriorated. The last class of his I took was a year ago and he no longer did the full postures. His students followed his voice while he stood there. I remember laughing during the class—he always reminded me of some ancient eastern mystic. We called him Mr. Miyagi despite his being a Brooklyn Jew. After the class I commented on how his teaching style had changed and he said, “now I just walk around like a little emperor.”

Back in my late teen years my grandfather got a gun, a six shooter I’m not sure he ever used. He’d theatrically reach for his hip to pull a gun he never actually kept there. That’s where he earned the nickname Pappy Greenbacks, a name that stuck long after he laid down his right to bear arms. I think at one point he even joined the NRA, adorning his garage with one of its stickers, despite remaining fiercely liberal.

He’s been a medicine man for as long as I can remember. Room full of homeopathic tools and remedies. Dedicated to self improvement and reflection. He is the person who first taught me about remaining in the present moment. A few years ago a cousin and I laughed about being on his email list of new age spam. Blasting off weekly articles about the vagus nerve, benefits of meditation, deep breathing, and other mental health solutions. I’d laugh at these emails and barely read them. Now, I find myself searching for and needing them more than ever.

One of his dreams before he died was to go sailing for the first time, but logistically we never swung it. He did however come and see my boat when I was on the Hudson River. He came aboard and pretended to talk into the VHF radio, he called my boat utilitarian with a nod of approval, and said he couldn’t wait to shit in my bucket one day.

On my twenty-eighth birthday he left me a voicemail misusing sailing terms. Saying he hoped I was tuning my sails, and enjoying the perfect cut of my jib. I wish I still had that voicemail.

My first tattoo was in honor of him. He had a snake on his forearm. Faded and torn from the 1950s.  I wanted the same, only the stick figure version, as a testament to his unfading greatness.

Every time I visited I wanted something to take with me that was his. A CD, a hat, a pair of socks, his old bicycle, his old tent. He’d always say, “You’re not getting another thing out of me this time! You’d take the shirt off my back.” And it’s true, I would. But he always gave in, shaking his head and handing over his possessions.

He is a published writer, fantastic storyteller, and giver of the most sage advice. He is a guru, a chief, and a rock to many. He used to tell me that he always reads my writing, and even if he doesn’t comment to just know that he is always there, reading it.

When I was working as a waitress saving tips to buy my first boat I waited on an eccentric man who turned out to be clairvoyant. As I began to walk away from his table he grabbed my arm and asked me in a dead serious tone, “do the names Cynthia and Robert mean anything to you?”

“Why, yes,” I said rather confused. “Cynthia is my aunt and Robert is my grandfather. They are two of the dearest people to me. My grandfather is my favorite person. ”

“Ah,” he said rather satisfactorily. “They’re with you always.”

I’ve always held on to that sentiment

As time goes on, the older I get, the darker the world seems to become. Climate change. Injustice. Someone dies. Another breakup. More lights go out. My grandfather has always helped remind me of who I really am. Beneath anxiety is a true essence he could always extract.

“You’ll do anything for a laugh,” he’d say, reminding me of my sense of humor.

But soon I won’t have that on the physical plane. I can’t just show up on my grandparents doorstep anymore when I need some no strings attached, unconditional support. It’s time to grow up. I’ll have to turn inward to access the infinite source of my grandfathers love and wisdom because soon, that’s the only place where it will exist.

When I’m feeling low and I wish I could just have some of what he’s got I’ll have to remember that I do.

That he is, quite literally, with me always.

That he was a great man, and I had the great privilege to feel like his favorite.

Happy New Year !

Happy New Year, dear readers!

Many boat and writing projects abound, but I’m stuck in a windy anchorage on a hurricane devastated island.

A fellow engineless sailor is here who helped us get access to bikes, free laundry in a FEMA trailer, and some apples. He lost me, though, when he said he questioned the existence of sexism and asked if feminism was the same as chauvinism. He then seemed surprised when I answered no. And, in his grandest gesture of misogyny he said, “I need to get me one of those,” in reference to a girlfriend who would clean his boat for him. It’s sad because he’s the only other boat around these parts without an engine and he came off so helpful, but it’s 2020 not 1920.

I had no choice but to kick him off my boat even though he’d just shared a couple pounds of fresh shrimp with us.

Should be some wind to sail on out of here soon enough!

I want to express my gratitude for those of you that still read this damn thing and for those who are just starting to. I hope you all get a little further along in your journeys.

Don’t forget submissions are open for Heartwreck: Romantic Disasters at Sea, a collection of stories about love and loss on boats.

Also, check out my article published in SpinSheet Magazine about riding cold fronts down the Chesapeake Bay.

I finally got my writing portfolio moved over here, so check it out and contact me for any of your writing or editing needs.

I’ll get this damn boat seaworthy again soon enough, in the meantime I’ll be here offending all the white men who are holding on to the very last of their undeserved privilege!

Here’s to surviving late stage capitalism, the climate crisis, and all the inevitable break ups and deaths this year!

See you out there!

She Thrived: A Q&A with solo sailor, artist, & cancer survivor Capt. Becca

Rebecca Rankin single handing her 28′ foot sloop, Dolphin, in 2014.

I wrote a story once about my friend Logan and their old boat with its custom wooden spars and self swaged standing rigging. Among other sailor punk repairs that were solid as fuck but didn’t buy into the marine industrial complex, the boat also had a rich history. Nearly all of that was due to Rebecca Rankin, or Capt. Becca. Turned out that some of the facts in my story about her once-boat, Dolphin, were incorrect—and she reached out to tell me so.

I got defensive, of course, and (not soon enough) saw her side. I apologetically promised to make the proper corrections. While it was uncomfortable to hear some criticism about myself and my work, I in turn gained a glimpse into this woman’s remarkable life journey.

She’s an accomplished solo sailor, a finisher of the venerable engineless Race to Alaska, an artist, cancer survivor, and a student at the Maine Maritime Academy. Oh yeah, she’s also a talented visual artist.

Capt. Becca got into sailing on a whim, and it changed her life forever…

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Rankin

Tell me about your boat, Dolphin.

Oh my goodness, Dolphin. Well, to begin I bought Dolphin when I was about 21 years old.  I am 33 now.  We had travelled to the Florida because my boyfriend at the time, and I, were cold. It was winter and we lived in my Volvo station wagon. Key West, Florida was the farthest south a body could go without a passport so…off we went!

I had some money left over from my grandmother’s inheritance and he mentioned this idea of living on a boat….and I was like, “that sounds neat!” So, we looked at Dolphin and two other boats and then purchased that little 28’ sloop for $6500 on Stock Island, Florida.

We did SO MUCH WORK TO HER. Things were always breaking. For example, a couple weeks after we bought her and before I had even sailed her, the forestay parted during a storm and the rotten mast boot kicked out and she dismasted. I was trying to learn to re-rig a small sailboat before I’d even been sailing. By the time I finally sold her to Logan, I had touched every single square centimeter of that motherfucker, probably twice.

I did sell her twice, first to my friend Brenna, after single-handing back from Guatemala and having a hell of a time of it. Then I bought her back. Because why? I don’t remember. Either way, I spent eight months in a boatyard and then sailed her from Key West to New Orleans where I lived for a while then decided to “pursue a career” and sold her to Logan in order to go to school. I don’t know what years anything happened. I’m not terrific with a sense of time, but I think I owned her, on and off, for about eight years.

Rebecca’s personal style shows through her boat’s painted hull

What is the most terrifying thing that happened to you at sea?

Ha! Oh, Gosh. I suppose when I did my first big single-handed passage from Key West to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I was using this kitchen egg timer to wake myself up in 10 minute intervals while I sailed through a shipping channel at night. I didn’t have any sophisticated electronic equipment onboard cause I was broke. I learned that 10 minutes is sufficient time for a very large freighter to steam from invisible to about three stories directly above your head as she passes directly perpendicularly in front of your bow in the middle of the night… you know those experiences where instead of being utterly, completely fucking dead you’re instead absolutely fine? That was one of them. That ship was so close to me I couldn’t see her top decks without craning my neck, but she passed right on by and into the night and I, and Dolphin, were completely fine. Stunning, that much is for certain. And the stars were so bright.

Sailing influenced, original art by Rebecca Rankin

What kind of boat do you have now? What kind of work does it need? What are your future plans for the boat?

Today, I have a steel 38’ yawl named Cu Mara, which is Gaelic for “Sea Hound.” She was built in Ontario, Canada in 1975 by a gentleman named Al Mason and lived there most of her life until my friend Robin transported her to Maine about six years ago. I bought her, and have moved her only by truck all over the state of Maine. I purchased her prior to my acceptance to Maine Maritime Academy and have been rather forced to put my aspirations for her on the back-burner as I work through school, but I hope very much to see her sailing, hopefully to a foreign country, in the not so distant future. She has been sitting out of the water for many years now so every system requires a general go-over, but she is a steel vessel who has never been immersed in salt water so she is, generally, in remarkably excellent condition for her age.

Rebecca’s current boat: A steel sloop.

You said to me once you are in school at Maine Maritime because you want to be a better captain. What is an example of a time you’ve been a good captain? How about a bad one?

Certainly, that time I fell asleep at the helm and was awoken by the sound of crashing breakers, had a moment where I was thankful I was at the beach, then realized I was sailing at 6 knots directly into the shore so pirouetted around without even waking my crew of two was an example of my less-than-illustrious captaining abilities. That was off the East Coast of Belize and, since we didn’t crash nor die and no one else even woke up, it might qualify as a “good captain” moment as well. I’m torn.

But yes, I am at school at MMA because I have zero “official” knowledge of the ways of the sea. Despite my experience, I have no formal knowledge of things like navigation and, so, especially in the world we find ourselves now, I am working to improve my knowledge of all things maritime in the hopes that I will be a stronger and fairer captain in the future, assuming I can actually handle the responsibility. I’m a single-hander at heart for eternity, most likely, and a reluctant captain at best. I just want to make wise decisions and sail to exotic lands without crashing into things, what can I say?

A diagram by Rebecca Rankin for a course at Maine Maritime Academy.

You competed in the 2019 Race to Alaska and finished! What was that like? What kind of boat? How did you end up as crew?

I did! It was fucking dope and fascinating as all hell! What a crazy little micro-universe, cult type thing they have going on surrounding the R2AK. Such a kooky event. So many awesome people. So weird! The boat we sailed on was an F-27 trimaran named Magpie, one of those folding, trailerable deals and we sailed with a crew of three. My captain, Katy Steward, literally just texted me one day and said, “Hey, you sail right?” She says, now, she thought of me because she needed another hand she could trust to stand watch alone and, even though we had never met, she figured I could handle it. We’re real close now, she’s fucking amazing. Obviously, I was available and said “yes,” which is the first step in any real adventure, after all.

What were some of the negative experiences of R2AK?

There wasn’t any wind so we pedaled that goddamn trimaran across a whole lot of bodies of water. I’m not a racer, so I’m not particularly inclined to go places as fast as humanly possible, especially when it doesn’t make any damn sense to do so, so I struggled with that a bit. I was also intriguingly disturbed by the media attention the R2AK and R2AK racers receive, but that’s more of a reflection on me and my discomfort in the spotlight than anything else.

Razzle Dazzle, the Corsair F27 which Rebecca completed the 2019 R2AK! She also painted the stripes on the hull.

In both the sailing community and marine industry women are in the minority. What kind of sexism have you faced and how have you overcome it?

I have a number of terrifically specific personal experiences, like being dropped from the program at Piney Point for no reason whatsoever, but it’s sometimes personally difficult to separate the experiences I have from the appearance of my gender and the appearance of my tattoos. I am heavily tattooed and believe this to be an equally affective experience in regards to my career, sometimes even more so than the fact I am a woman. I must say, I also stand 6’1” tall, taller than most men, and so have not felt the effects of sexism as directly as many of my smaller, female counterparts. I discern it has something to do with the perception that I can’t be as easily fucked with, so men don’t treat me as less than equal as much. Obviously, discrimination is still a huge part of everything I experience. This is not the maritime standard I hope to see in the future. Sitting with the unbelievable sexist and discriminatory aspects of this industry is incredibly difficult. We are one of the most patronizing and mentally antiquated industries out there. I can only hope that, by continuing forward with my career and intentions, I am part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Original Artwork by Rebecca Rankin

So you’re a fucking survivor and I hope you don’t mind me asking about it. What kind of cancer did you have? How old were you when were you diagnosed? What was it like navigating the healthcare system as a young woman with no insurance?

Yeah, fuck yeah I am! I don’t mind your asking one bit! I was diagnosed with Stage III Ovarian dysgerminoma in July of 2016, at age 30, after having my right ovary, fallopian tube and 26 lymph nodes removed in an emergency surgery after the tumor inside my ovary grew so large it eclipsed my bladder. That sucker was about eight pounds. I underwent 6 months of BEP Chemotherapy, which is a rare but highly effective type of chemotherapy, and have been in remission for about three years now. There is zero history of cancer of any type in my family.

Navigating the healthcare system as a young woman with no insurance was fucking insane. I do not recommend it to anyone and find it incredibly embarrassing that THIS is the point to which we have evolved, societally. Y’all need to get your shit together and re-align your priorities. No person ACTUALLY DYING should have to rely on a friend she hardly knows to feign being a doctor so that she can get the medical attention she requires to NOT DIE in America. It’s a real fucking tragedy. It was about a year, or maybe two, post treatment I could even go IN a hospital without crying. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

Original Artwork by Rebecca Rankin

How has surviving from cancer altered the course of your life?

It has changed my life, completely, as I know it. I am not the same person as I was prior to illness and treatment. For one, I have a lot of lingering physical issues, like Raynaud’s disease in my feet and hands, PTSD and memory issues that are direct results of chemotherapy treatment but, MORE SO, I was forced, by my illness, to finally fucking show up for myself. I learned about boundaries, my needs, my body and my heart in a way that is reserved for cancer survivors. Its difficult to explain, but not a day goes by I don’t consider that event in my life. Its precious, man. Every second is precious. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar cause the only thing I really know is that you really never, ever fucking know.

Original Artwork by Rebecca Rankin

You’re also an artist, how would you describe your art?

My art is fucking beautiful. For many years, it was my primary source of income. I don’t think I produced the best work I could have due to this dependency, but produced I sure did. My art is a direct expression of myself and it is raw, real and unique, just like me. I have no training, besides what my mom taught me, cause she’s a badass artist, and, so, the result is actually original. It took me awhile, but now I can dig that THAT is amazing and priceless. My art isn’t for everyone, but so what.

How can people buy your art or support you in some other way?

Hell! I have a lot of various websites you can see my art, I sell a lot of original pieces through my Facebook and Instagram. I have goals to publish some books and keep creating in the future and you can always just VenMo me money for no reason at all. It’d be great to start a Patreon, but I need to identify a project I feel worthy, first!

What’s next for you and how can we watch?

The goal, currently, is to make my way, at least semi-successfully, to graduation from the Vessel Operations and Technology Program at Maine Maritime Academy. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram and message me any ole time about any ole thing.

We’re Out Here

April 26, 2019

The swells are mesmerizing. The sea is quenching my thirst despite not being able to drink one literal drop. I keep thinking about that quote. How we are 98 percent water and salt, or some number like that. So when you return to the ocean you are, essentially, returning home.

I feel an immense privilege just to be out here, because who the fuck am I? I’m just a girl from a small town on Long Island. I went to a state college in upstate New York. I’m an unemployed journalist.

Leaving the inlet today every captain of every boat that passed me was a man. Their crews were all men. Their boats cost tens of thousands of dollars.

I’m not supposed to be out here.

A girl, alone, on an inexpensive little boat.

And that in and of itself is a protest.

Entering the Cape Fear River, N.C.

Itchy, Poison, Plastic Stuff

Photo by Christina Boswell

I just finished the worst bottom job I’ve ever done—because I don’t have the money or the time to scrape, grind, or sand blast off every last colossal, continent sized patch of old, thick antifouling paint down to bare fiberglass to make way for a proper barrier coat. There’s the right way, and then there’s the right now way. The bottom, I feel, is going to be an uphill battle because of this. 

Fiber glassing in two through hulls turned into six because of a previous owners dodgy work. My personal favorite are the two holes (below the water line) that he chose to close up using nothing but a mixture of epoxy resin and sealant. Like most of his efforts on this boat, good intentioned but poorly executed. Such as the cockpit drain through hull that was installed with a bevel so large, the hull itself was ground down to where it was actually compromised structurally. I also must mention the defunct depth sounder right at the stem of the boat that was protected from popping out by a fiberglassed piece of wood on the inside of the hull, which I cracked within my first week of owning this vessel. Build it all back up has been the theme.

The mast has been stripped bare. All tangs replaced. Halyards rearranged and the standing rigging waits for its final bends…but first install the seacocks. Then launch. Being on anchor with no mast while we finish the rigging on land might suck, but not nearly as bad as being in a toxic boatyard for another day.

I used to want to earn respect at boatyards; now I just want to get out of them. When all this is said and done I’ll have a mere $180 left to my hand, but I beg anyone to name one great sailing adventure that wasn’t grossly underfunded.

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The Right Hands : An Update on My First Boat

The dude who bought my boat didn’t appreciate my glassed in through hulls.

I’ve always said fixing boats is a thankless fucking job, but nothing quite says that like the kid you sold your boat to abandoning it at the dock after you just finished a nine month refit.

Luckily, not all boats I’ve sold have ended up with the same destiny as my last one. I recently got an email from the current owner of my first boat, a Bristol 24 named Anam Cara. He bought the boat from the person I sold it to and has made many improvements! He even specifically praised some of the work I’d done restoring her, although he did forget to mention those proper reef points I put in.

lake champlain live aboard

At least I can say with certainty that Anam Cara fell into the right hands!

Hi Emily,

I’m current owner of Anam Cara, when i researched the boat before buying I found your website and have been checking it from time to since. My hats off to you. I am so happy to see people taking a path like you. In this increasingly expensive world it seems like such a challenge to live the dream. Love that you have the next boat.When I moved to Vermont in the late 70s land was very cheap, in very rural places zoning was non existent and it was possible to build a cabin with little resources and live an alternative lifestyle with other kindred spirits. Lost Nation in East Haven VT was our refuge. I still have my cabin and see Anam Cara as its water counterpart. In my youth I took the travel path of hitch hiking and riding trains with a cabin with no electricity to go back to. Now at 60 after years of wanting to go back to boats I found Anam Cara. The man you sold it to had big dreams but no time to repair the boat, in fact it went backwards. Large deck hole were created with two stantions torn out. I bought Anam Cara last fall, repaired the deck finally fixed the mast step with new oak beams and reinforced floor. It doesn’t budge. Smaller 6hp motor, solar power and she is comfortable and sails well. Slow in light airs but what a boat when it blows. Im anchored over at sloop cove on Valcour island and I thought I should email you with an update on her. Your work on her brought her forward. The bow roller and whale gusher are great. I was going to name my boat Lost Nation after my spiritual home but who could change Anam Cara.I will include some pictures, the very best to you. Keep living your authentic life, its so important to not let the machine roll over everything. I will follow the new boats rehab, i loved the bronze chainplate work.

Finally, proper mast compression support for Anam Cara!

How Not to Sell Your Boat

Selling your boat is kind of like selling your dog. Or your kid. It’s an extension of yourself. It’s taken all of your money and showed little thanks, yet still managed to teach you lessons you weren’t even aware you needed to learn. You want to find the best home for your vessel, which is why you often hear stories of older people selling their badass ocean-cruiser for a fraction of its value to some young salt who promises the boat will remain where it belongs; at sea.

Many potential buyers (well, the good ones anyway) treat inquiry messages as an application of sorts. They take the opportunity to not only introduce themselves, but to prove they’re worthy of taking over stewardship of your vessel.

the day you sell your boat
They say the day you sell your boat is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life…

I listed my late great boat Vanupied, a Pearson Ariel 26, at a price so she would sell quickly. I didn’t want to be bothered by people who weren’t serious and put that in the ad. Interested in shore power? Navigation instruments? Flush toilet? Move on. Not the boat for you. I think I put it like; “This is a MINIMALIST boat and that is reflected in the price. Only contact me if you get it.”

I didn’t honor my own intentions. I sold my boat to someone who most certainly didn’t get it.

pearson ariel 26
The late great Vanu.

It started with an email where he called me “Sir” (my name was in the ad). When I corrected him, he referred to me as a “Mrs.” By the third interaction he was using my name. He asked questions I considered not answering. Was the boat big enough to sail from its location on the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River? Was it free to live at anchor? Could I get the boat to a location closer to a major bus line so he could see it?

I remembered all the people who were kind to me when I first started out, and when I learned he was new to sailing (rather, boating as he called it) I softened.

No, I wouldn’t move the boat prior to purchase. Yes, you can live aboard at anchor for free. Yes, the boat can handle that trip. And so it went. A back and forth exchange of about 70 emails answering his questions on how to buy, live, and sail on a boat. He called the keel a “tail,” and asked me what kind it was. I told him to look the boat up on sailboat data.

While it wasn’t my responsibility to explain to him the difference between a fin and full keel, a displacement and a planing hull, the tides and currents, and how to not die, I did it anyway.

Despite his constant questions that could have been answered by a simple internet search, I still had hope. He was 23. A broke college kid who said he wanted to live the boat life. He didn’t know up from down, it seemed, let alone port from starboard but we all started somewhere. He said he read my blog and found it to be a “fascinating look into the lives of a seafaring community.” A community he longed to be apart of.

I told him under no circumstances was he to go out on the ocean in the boat until he had more experience and made necessary repairs, and he promised to read every sailing book I intended to leave on the boat from cover to cover. He bought the boat from me sight unseen through paypal transfer, and planned to come get the boat one week later.

pearson ariel 26
Those windows though…

As I off loaded my years worth of stuff and prepared the boat for transfer his questions continued. Where was the boat located again? What’s the best way to get there? Was there a library or somewhere he could get wifi? What about a grocery store? Could he swim to the boat? Could he swim off the boat? Could he borrow my dinghy? Could he fish commercially from the boat? Could he brew beer, and then sell it from the boat? Did I know anywhere he could get a job? Could I stay a few extra days and teach him how to sail? How far can you get on a tank of guess? How do you get gas? What is gas? Why is the sky blue?

(Okay…the last two are a joke)

I was seriously starting to doubt his competence for living on the hook. He called me from a few hours away the day he arrived and asked me if I could move the boat a few miles to a marina across the river. I told him no. I told him there were currents to deal with. I told him I would go over the boat’s sails and systems with him as promised, but I was leaving the next day to sail to my new boat. Finally, he asked if I could get the boat to any marina.

This once again wasn’t my job, but I wanted this kid out of my hair. Luckily there was a marina in the creek where the boat was anchored, and they had a slip. I made sure to get him an end tie for easy departure, although that was wishful thinking… that he’d ever go anywhere.

The last time I saw Vanu, left to an uncertain fate.

When he finally arrived and we met in person, it all started to make sense. Seeing the boat for the first time his reaction was a disappointed, “oh.” He couldn’t stand up in the boat. It looked bigger in the ad. Sorry, no refunds.

I learned that he was the son of rich parents who had decided to pay for him to stay at the marina for a month. I was glad. At least he wouldn’t kill himself out there on my boat. I also learned he was an alcoholic, and after several attempts at college, and a recent event where a friend had to be airlifted from his parents house due to alcohol poisoning, he wanted to move out of his family home for good as to not cause them anymore trouble.

A boat was the cheapest living option, and my boat was the cheapest to buy. He bought Vanu out of desperation. At one point he said to me that he hoped the boat would prevent him from drinking too much, because if he was too drunk he could fall overboard to his death.

The next day I met him in the morning to go over everything on the boat as promised. He was sitting in Vanu’s cockpit with some rich yachter who was telling him he needed to haul out, because that’s what you do when you buy a boat. I told him the boat had just been on the hard for nine months and that’s what rich people do when they buy a boat. You’re broke, remember? His new friend glared at me.

I showed him how to raise the sails, use the stove, run the engine and listened to him go on about “mens rights,” and other disturbing rhetoric like how I should consider having children because I seemed like a wonderful person. When I left him at the dock that afternoon all of the rich yachties where gathered around him as if he showed such great promise. I was appalled. How could I have let my boat fall into the hands of someone like him?

A week later my friends at the marina told me that the kid who bought my boat had a seizure, went to the hospital, and returned to live with his parents. He hasn’t been seen since. Vanu is still sitting at the marina today…

I guess I didn’t need to get him that end tie.

Shattering the Glass Ceiling, Climbing One Mast at a Time : Q&A with Marine Surveyor Cecelia Potts

Set Sail Marine Survey
Cecelia Potts; surfer, sailor, surveyor extraordinaire. Photo Courtesy of Cecelia Potts.

I met Cecilia Potts, better known as Ceal, while I was working at the used marine store somewhere in northern Florida. In between polishing some brass I overheard her haggling sassily at the counter for chocks, or cleats, or was it a hawse pipe, or something to mount more solar panels.

I’m always interested in women who sail, but this lady seemed extra special. She was an electric sailboat engine dealer of sorts. Her boat was totally electric, completely refitted, refinished, and, she had done it all herself. From how she talked and looked I deemed her one those, has-her-shit-together-engineering-types.

One day during her lunch break from the solar company she worked for (where it turns out she was a marketing specialist, not an engineer), she came to visit me while I was working on my boat in the boatyard. She told me frankly, “I know you love this boat Emily, but you’ve outgrown it.”

She was right.

Now, Ceal is imparting that same knowledge she gave me to other boat owners and buyers through her new marine surveying business, Set Sail Marine Survey. She is one of only 24 women in the world wide Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors. She is, quite literally, the tits. Which is why I’ve decided to publish my entire interview with her as a Q&A piece.  I cried when I read her answers because they were so inspirational, and I can only hope to one day lead with such grace.

women who sail
Ceal Potts, far left, at the launch party of my late, great boat.

Tell me a little about your journey sailing, living aboard, and fixing up your own boat.

Boats have always sailed into my life with lines attached. They’ve always been owned by the person with whom I was in a relationship, and in the end I’ve always loved the boat more than its owner. The Catalina 28 was different. My name was on the official document. I’d never experienced that before. In all my past lives and love affairs, I was the keeper, the caregiver, the slave, and I’ve lost it all twice because of it. This time was different because she was mine and even though it was cockroach infested and stank like diesel and burned oil, s/v Wooden Shoe was my sanctuary. As soon as I could stand it (yes, there was still an occasional cockroach) I rolled out my sleeping bag in the v-berth, sans cushions and slept on the cold, hard gel coated fiberglass. My friend loaned me a cockpit cushion when he learned I was doing this, so I had about a 1-inch pad to sleep on for the first four months of ownership. You do these kinds of things when she’s yours. You’ll also pee in a Home Depot bucket, eat grocery store sushi and drink warm beer because she’s yours and you’re spending everything you can to get her refitted and restored. After a year and a half of major work, I had my floating condo and could sail it too. Was the Catalina like the Island Packets I had been part of in the past? Nope, but she also didn’t come with any drama, which made all that work 110% worth it.

Cecelia Potts
Ceal during the glory days of restoring her Catalina 28. Photo Courtesy of Cecelia Potts.

What were your experiences like working for a solar company, as well as on boats and in engineering?

I’ve had a career crush on engineering since middle school. But, like most crushes it was awkward and every time I got close to it, I weirded out and ran back to my comfort zone—writing. The opportunity to work at Solar Stik changed everything because it changed my mind. Here’s a company that’s totally been bootstrapped by its owners, providing hybrid electric solutions folks rely on in life and death situations that was started by someone with raw talent and a brain hardwired for engineering who does not have a degree in engineering! Solar Stik was born out of living on a boat. Think about that! All of us who call boat life home, know way, way, way more about power management, energy storage, and power generation than any of our grid-tied friends. Solar Stik pushed me to ask questions and apply my writing skills to help others better understand technical topics.

My affair with boats started when I was a kid and it evolved into this obsession I have with independence and self-sufficiency. The first time I remember seeing a sailboat was in the early 1980s in my hometown on Lake Michigan. The boats from the Queen’s Cup—an annual race across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, Wis., to Michigan’s western shore—were all tied up along the waterfront in my town and all I could think about was that I had to get on one of those boats and do that. The first time I sailed was in Charlevoix, Mich., on a family member’s boat. Working on boats is what makes my inner being sing and dance, it’s spiritual. Right now, not having a boat feels like I’m walking down the aisle at a cathedral without pants.

electric sailboat conversion
Ceal & her electric engine. Photo courtesy of Cecelia Potts.

What made you decide to be a surveyor? And what was it like to actualize that goal? What sacrifices did you have to make?

In February 2018, I was sitting alone on a beach before dawn in Mexico starring up at the stars through my tears and asking out loud to no one what I’m supposed to do with my life. I was going through a rough patch with me. Though I loved Solar Stik dearly, I had an oil and water coexistence with my direct supervisor. It made me want to chew on tinfoil and eat glass more than go to work everyday. After the BC (big cry) on the beach, I paddled out at sunrise and caught wave after wave after wave. A lady paddled up to me at the end of my session and gave me a bracelet with a medal of St. Christopher on it and she said this is so you always get home. Home for me is the water and the independence I feel when I’m out there. That was the universe giving me a hug.  In May 2018, I had my boat surveyed by a surveyor so I could get insurance. I had just installed the electric motor and was sitting on the hard ready to go back into the water. He said it was one of the cleanest boat’s he’d ever seen…and the biggest finding he made was I didn’t have a Type IV throwable floatation device on board or flares. Easy fix. He told me I should look into being a surveyor.

By November 2018, I was truly miserable at work. It took every thread of my resistance to not reach across the boardroom table and choke my boss. My negativity was affecting others and it was hurting my relationship. My partner and I were driving south to go kite surfing on a Friday (we worked 4/10s at the time) and after a 45-minute silence I said, “I think I’m going to look into the surveying thing.” He agreed and said check it out. Ten minutes later I had Google-searched Chapman School of Seamanship, called the number and made the $150 deposit to secure my spot in the March 2019, six-week course. I’ve never felt so much relief in my life…for like 24 hours, and then I started asking myself, “oh my god, what have I done?” I had an exit strategy and things just started falling into place. My finances have always been precarious (probably because I love boats), and I had to be very careful to not let anyone know I was planning on leaving my very secure J-O-B.

I put a countdown timer on my phone and called it, “Operation Pull The Rip Cord.” I told a couple people I could trust, and my nickname became the flying squirrel. Pride was one of the biggest sacrifices I had to make, and also selling my boat. Chapman School ain’t cheap and I had to borrow money from my dad (which I will pay back) and ask my partner to give me a break on the cohabitation bills for awhile, which he was most willing to do. When I finished school, I had ZERO cash flow and realized the only way to build my empire was to sell my boat. I cried when I let her go, but she went to awesome people who I know will do great things with her.

What do you know about women in this part of the industry? Are there many female surveyors?

I cannot tell you how many female surveyors there are total, but as far as SAMS [Society of Marine Credited Surveyors] members, there are 24 female surveyors that are SAMS members worldwide…and there are 836 SAMS surveyors total. Of the 24 females, five are located in Florida, and I’m one of those five.

Ceal Potts, Set Sail Marine Survey
Ceal on the job, one of only five women in the world-wide Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors. Photo Courtesy of Cecelia Potts

What kind of training did you undergo?

That’s a tricky question because 20 years of my experience came from my involvement in boats, which I drew on—heavily—to get to where I am. The formal schooling I received was six weeks full time classroom (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) with exams and tests at the Chapman School of Seamanship. The amount of studying I did in that six weeks made my undergraduate studying (20 years ago) look like a joke. I did end up as co-valedictorian of my class, though, which was very validating. I also tested and passed as a Certified Standards Technician with the American Boating & Yacht Council (ABYC). To become a member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), you have to apply, take and exam, submit a formal survey report, and then be interviewed. From the time I submitted my application to the time I was accepted into SAMS, it was 12 weeks…and this was after my 6 weeks of school at Chapmans. There are two levels of surveyor membership in SAMS. Essentially level 1 is called a Surveyor Associate, and that’s what I am. The next level is Accredited Marine Surveyor (AMS). To become an AMS you have to complete continuing education credits (which also are required for my level of Surveyor Associate), work as a Surveyor Associate for 5 years, and then sit for an intense AMS exam. If you don’t pass the AMS exam after two tries, you get kicked out of SAMS. You’re done. I was accepted into SAMS as a Surveyor Associate with two years of service credit, which means in three years, I have to take the AMS exam. I am already studying.  For my continuing education, I am going to focus on electrical. Sometime this fall I will take the ABYC Electrical Standards Exam and then take the corrosion class. Next year I hope to attend the Level 1 course through the Institute of Infrared Thermography.

Was the training program primarily men?

Yes. I was the only female in my cohort at Champan. Incidentally I have been invited to be an instructor for the surveying program in November. At least once a week, or more if there’s a full moon, I am greeted with “I didn’t know there were female surveyors,” or “I’ve never had/heard of a woman surveyor,” or my personal favorite, “Are you sure you know how to use all those tools in your bag?”

Did you experience any sexism in your trainings or beginning of your work? What about in general in the marine industry?

Yes, without a doubt. Instead of meeting that small minded thinking on the same plane, I use it as a teachable moment. I stay centered and don’t lose my cool and bristle because I don’t want to give anyone more daggers than they already have. Behavioral correction is more effective when offered without a slap. My first solo survey was on a make and model of a boat I was extremely familiar with. This was the survey client who greeted me with the “you know how to use all those tools in your bag?” To be honest, throat punching him did cross my mind, but instead I said “absolutely! And I can’t wait to see what stories they’re going to help your prospective boat tell me.” At the end of the survey, my client bought two rounds of beers and handed me a cash tip with a heartfelt apology. I accepted the beers, cash and apology. We all learned something that day. There’s another story I’d love to share, but it’s still a little raw. Suffice to say it was the first time I ever stood up to a bully in my life personally and professionally and he knew he was dead wrong—there were witnesses.

Set Sail Marine Survey
Photo Courtesy of Cecelia Potts

What advice do you have to women who want to make their mark in the male dominated marine industry?

View yourself as an equal and treat others that way. Don’t get defensive and feisty when a male automatically assumes that you don’t know anything about boats. Take a look at it from his prospective, you’re a unicorn and in his world he’s probably never crossed paths with a unicorn. Know your strengths and train your weaknesses. READ. Know as much about the subject matter your working on/talking about as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. I ask a lot of questions. Today I learned about MBRF fuses and how to stack battery chargers for hybridizing electric propulsion systems for boats 30 feet and longer. Brilliant!

Consider Ceal for all your marine surveying needs!

Lastly (and most important)! Tell me about your business.

My survey business is Set Sail Marine Survey and I can be reached at survey@setsailmarinesurvey.com 386-319-4848

I offer the following survey services:

Pre-purchase ($22/foot LOA)

Insurance (Condition & Value) ($20/foot LOA)

Damage (varies)

Appraisal ($20/foot LOA)

Absentee Buyer Inspection ($10/foot LOA)

I’ll fly anywhere in the world. Most recently clients have flown me to the Bahamas, Montana, and Texas. Travel fees are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

DIY Chainplates

making your own chain plates
Readying the fire we used to anneal the bronze before bending our backstay chainplates.

What goes up must come down, they say, and while true of my mood for the majority of time the old adage best not apply to my mast. So, strong chainplates are most certainly in order! Eventually all chainplates, stays, and turnbuckles will be replaced, but I decided to start with the backstay chain plates because they were horrendously undersized, and attached to the hull with only one bolt and a screw.

Annealing silicon bronze flatbar
Later we learned it was easier to get the area where we intended to bend red hot by cutting it and sticking it directly in the fire.

The side stays are glassed in (whyyyyyyyyy) and the forestay is attached with a pretty strong stainless steel cranse iron. I think bronze is stronger and better than stainless for attaching the forestay and would never go to sea with glassed in chainplates from 1971, but the back stay chainplates were by far the sketchiest so they were first in line.

While the industry standard promotes stainless steel, bronze literally lasts forever. I guess that’s why yachting went in that direction, so the industry could make more money from us by flooding the market with something shiny that needs to be replaced every 10-15 years due to crevice corrosion. On top of that, stainless steel is much harder to work with. It requires a drill press to drill holes, proper tools to polish, and has an involved annealing process to the metal before and after making a bend. That’s why riggers charge upwards of $100 per chainplate for small sailboats. Plus, you can never know if the material is still good years later without a fucking x-ray machine. Again, bring in the rigger!

Stainless steel was not the right material for both long and short term self sufficiency.

making your own chainplates
The final product.

We went with flat bar silicon bronze, a quarter of an inch by two inches. Overkill? Maybe. It was more than sufficient in size, especially when compared to its predecessor. We measured the angle of the bend using a wire and built a fire out of charcoal. We stuck the bronze into the fire until the end we intended to bend was glowing, then we cooled it down in a bucket of sea water and made our first bend which was very slight. We annealed again, cooled, and bent little by little until we reached the angle needed. The annealing process made the bending easier and strengthened the metal after we had literally stretched its innards.

replacing chainplates on your sailboat
New vs. old. Undersized chain plates with only ONE bolt and a screw holding them in place.

Of course, something had to go wrong. Up until then the process had been relatively painless. Because the turnbuckles and rigging cable are also going to be replaced in the not so distant future, the chainplate had to be sized for a bigger turnbuckle. This meant the current turnbuckle wouldn’t fit, so we fastened the present turnbuckles to large shackles first, and then to the chainplates as a temporary solution.

making your own chainplates on a sailboat

On the mission to town to get another shackle we stopped by a used marine/antique store that’s only open one day per week for four hours. It was an hour past closing time but the doors were still open. That morning I’d lamented for hours wondering how I was going to get the larger, bronze turnbuckles I’d need for re rigging. The situation was seeming absolutely fruitless with astronomically expensive prices (both new and on Ebay) until we walked into this shop and bought these turnbuckles for three dollars a piece!

re rigging your sailboat

The owner of the shop recognized us from the creek we were anchored in where he happens to live. He complimented Sohund’s lines and was interested to hear about this Danish built sea dog. We didn’t have enough cash on us to pay but he let us take the turnbuckles anyway, and we rowed to his house later with the funds after we had finished installing our new backstay chainplates!

making your own chain plates
One step closer to seaworthiness !

A New Adventure

Great Dane 28 Maiden Voyage
Janky rigged running lights anyone?

It’s light wind and the sun is setting on the Piankatank river as I embark on the maiden voyage of my new boat. It is my first time sailing the boat and I choose to do this at night, alone, with very little wind. My partner is not far behind on his boat. We take turns in the lead.  It’s an hour before we reach the next green marker, one mile from where we started. For all intents and purposes, there is no engine. There is, physically, a very good functioning inboard diesel engine on the boat, but I haven’t started it. I have no desire to change the oil, change filters, bleed fuel lines, and replace impellers. Plus, the saltwater intake valve is so corroded that I have a potato at hand just in case it breaks until I can haul out to fix it.

Great Dane 28 cockpit

But even if that were fixed, I’m done with engines and plan to rip this one out and sell it (anyone want a sweet running little diesel?).  I’m done with schedules. I’m done with being on other people’s timelines. I’m done motoring. I will wait for the wind, even if that means I go at night, alone, at a speed of only one knot.

I left my job on the tall ship when the heat index reached 128 degrees. Schooner life wasn’t for me. “You are definitely a free spirit,” my boss said in the end. “And that doesn’t always work on a tall ship.” I tried, really. A tall ship person I used to know referred to me as one of those, “small boat people.” I didn’t really know what he meant until I worked on a tall ship with those, “tall ship people.”

I am not one of them.

I met so many people who worked on tall ships that had such a great passion for what they were doing that they did it for free, as volunteers, in 100 degree heat with 100 percent humidity.  I admire them, really, but the only boat I’m willing to get heat exhaustion for is my own.

So, when I told my employers I couldn’t work during the heat wave they ended my contract. I was so grateful. Thank you, I said, perhaps to their surprise. I’d been planning my escape anyway. Whether I was going to give proper notice or flee under the cover of darkness I hadn’t decided.

Had I not, in fact, left the job when I did I would have been working the day I bought my new vessel.  

Great Dane 28

A week before my job ended I sold Vanu and was looking at the very real fact that I was soon to be boat-less. With the termination of my contract came the end of my living situation on the ship, so I was soon to be homeless as well. It was decided that I’d move my stuff onto my boyfriend’s 27-foot boat in the meantime while we sailed in search of my next boat.

All of the boats for sale were too far or too expensive. The Contessa 26, International Folkboat, and more were at the top of my list. There was a Pacific Seacraft Orion 27 in my price range but it had been struck by lightening. There were Albin Vega 27’s listed at ten to twenty thousand dollars! It was clear that people had poured a great deal of money into some of these old boats in hopes of “living the dream,” but never did. Now they were imprisoning the boats in their slips or on the hard, for sometimes more than a year, unwilling to come down in price.  Plus, they all had stupid names. All of the boats I’ve owned had come with a good name and story along with finding the boat I’d have been remiss not to keep its designation.

The search had been going on for weeks, and I needed to find a boat now. So, naturally, I began to lose hope. But in my despair I decided to search “all of craigslist,” (a process that does exactly what it says and is extremely time consuming to search new boats listed everyday), just one more time.

That’s when I first saw the Sohund. A Great Dane 28. Transom hung rudder, excellent capsize and comfort ratings, built and designed in Denmark for one thing: going to sea.

I almost overlooked her, still suffering from boat finding despair. She was only 40 miles away from where I was. I said to my partner, “I’ll go see her once I’ve transferred Vanu to her new owner. If she’s still available when we pass by there then maybe it’s meant to be.”

But the more we looked at the reputation of this boat, considered the location, as well as the price and work it would need to be refitted, it became clear that this was the boat.

I emailed the owner. Then I emailed him again. And again. Then we talked on the phone. Before going to see the boat the next day I sent him one final text.

“What does the boat name, Sohund, mean?”

“Sea Dog,” he replied.

The next day he picked us up, brought us to the boat and I bought her right there, a mere 18 hours after the ad had been listed.

“Have you ever sold a boat this fast?” We asked the previous owner, Dan, over lunch that he had bought for us.

“Never,” he said. “I think it was meant to be.”

The Sea Dog

Leaving my job, selling my boat and buying another, then sailing a very crowded and over loaded 27-foot sailboat up to my new one wound up being one of the most stressful escapades of my life…but I digress.

We arrived at the boat and stayed on Dan’s brother’s dock for a few days cleaning up and making it inhabitable.  My nerves were still shot from the week prior, and I was staring into the beast of a six-month refit. But once that was completed I’d no longer be trapped by the limitations of a vessel. I’d be truly free. So we kedged our way off the dock and anchored in the creek, enjoyed a pile of oysters with Dan and his brother, waited for the right wind (albeit light) direction to sail out of the creek—and drifted off at one knot into a new adventure.

On a Good Day

March 13, 2019

Ready or not.

At some point you just have to say fuck it, and go sailing. I know this boat. I know all its weaknesses. I know what it can take. I also know what I can take, which is probably a lot less. I know how quickly it can change out there. That’s why some passages are…questionable. On a good day this boat can do it out there. On a good day any boat can do it out there. This is not the boat I want to be in when shit hits the fan. At least not in its present condition.

I think at this point being on the water is intrinsic to my being; or I’m jaded. I just find it hard to fully immerse myself in the moment and enjoy when I feel a lot of pressure to prove myself and make this boat respectable.

Let’s see I have six weeks, maybe eight, to finish the rest of the work to this boat. Did I mention I want to refinish the interior on this piece of shit? I know, I know, she’s my piece of shit which is precisely why I am making her pretty. Shit, I might AirBNB her when I get wherever the fuck it is I’m going (north).

refinishing sailboat interior
If you can’t make ’em seaworthy, make ’em pretty.

And even though it pains me not to be in the Bahamas today was a win. Moving the boat to the other side of the waterway. The island side. I can hear the ocean over the dunes and mangroves. There’s a lighthouse. Some pretty boats. You can land your dinghy at the public launch ramp or hide it if you want to leave it for longer. They can ticket your dinghy, but I have a feeling Loner will slip through the cracks.

Loner, the anarchist dinghy.

There are some dero*  boats here (*side note: my Kiwi friend used to call me/Vanu “dero.” It is literally short for derelict but in Kiwi slang it’s used endearingly for someone that is hobo/hardcore/crusty or whatever. Someone usually broke, traveling, and kind of dirty. I’ve adopted the term to refer to the derelict boat problem in Florida). But I’m not worried about them. I can keep to myself, speak their language, or defend myself if ever necessary.

I’ve decided that after Vanu I’m going to own a boat a year until I find “the one.” Being on Vanu has literally been a time warp. Throw in daylight savings time and, well, I’m tired of the struggle. I’m selling out. I’m getting a job. And then I’m getting another boat.

In the meantime I’ll be illegally stashing my dinghy, prepping the boat, and doing odd jobs here and there before leaving this town, out the inlet and onto the next adventure. On a good day, of course.


My return to the Chesapeake Bay

I am incredibly honored and excited to announce that I’ve been featured in SAIL Magazine and its latest article Sailor-Punk and the State of Cruising. I’m beyond stoked! Not only am I featured next to the legendary Moxie Marlinspike and the kids from Hold Fast but the editor named me his personal favorite young sailor blogger. I’m also really excited to be referred to as a sailor punk. It’s an identity I embrace, but I was never really in the punk scene on land, or on the water. So even though in my heart I felt like a boat punk, I wasn’t sure I qualified. In light of this recent honorable mention I figured I might get some new readers, and a brief update was in order.

My number one blog reader

I’m currently working as a deck hand and living aboard a 100-foot schooner on the Chesapeake Bay. After launching my boat in March the budget was busted. My money for the Bahamas was non-existent and to be honest, the state of affairs onboard Vanu, despite so many months in the yard, were still precarious. On top of this I had to borrow nearly $700 from my dad to bail my ass out of Belize after the boat delivery from hell. I did eventually wind up getting that $700 back from the captain by threatening him with a lien on his boat, but that’s another story.

From 26 to 100 feet

I journeyed my little boat from Florida back up to the Chesapeake Bay on a five-week voyage of sorts to start my new job. The trip was filled with a constantly failing electrical system, getting chased by wild horses, gales, coming face to face with my past traumas, great days sailing, bad days motoring, time offshore, time inshore. There were times I wanted to run my boat up on a sand bar and walk off forever with nothing but a backpack, and there were times I didn’t want it to end. Oh yeah, I also fell in love with an engineless circumnavigator who designs and builds autopilots and sells them.

Pretty sure we are going to take over the world

I learned what this boat was truly capable of for the first time. I cried.  It made me fucking cry to feel that. I finally learned how to make passages. Which is why, as of now, I am continuing to sail and work on the structural refit of my boat, until the next boat presents itself. I have to take what I learned on this trip and apply it. I have to keep going. There will be another boat in the near future but until then I just have to make money. Save it. Keep working on Vanu and practicing sailing her. I’ve got a big wide river and lots of little creeks that I’ve already begun to sail and explore.

Offshore, alone.

I want to tell you all more about this, but please be patient with me. I am working 12-hours a day on the tall ship, and when I’m not doing that I’m usually frantically trying to keep my boat safe. She is currently tied to a broken dock off of a fisherman’s museum with yet another leak below the water line. This time it’s the fiberglass tube that houses the rudder shaft.  It’s a slow leak, but it needs to be remedied. I plan to make this repair by careening the boat and patching it from the inside.

The sketchiest dock on the meanest river

I just spent the last two hours of my day off cleaning my electrical connections. The rest of the day was spent inside the belly of my boat pin pointing the leak. So, my apologies for the lack of blog posts, but I can assure you that if you hold fast you won’t be disappointed with the content to come. Standing by channel 1-6. 

You’re Never Really Gone From Your Boat

Blown in from the depths of the gale! A Portuguese Man-o-war.

It’s blowing. Out of the north. Late for the season. Although, I guess…not anymore. The northers, “never used to come all the way into March until this year,” I remember Bahamian Mike saying in West Palm Beach. That was last year. It’s March 18. Still too early to head north. This one, when it is said and done, will have blown for four days. Today’s the worst of it. It’s supposed to calm down. The gusts are definitely up to gale force and it’s a steady 25-30. This is exactly what NOAA has predicted, so, I’m not surprised.

I rode out the gale on this boat, leaving Vanu to fend for herself.

I’m yacht sitting so I’ve left Vanu to fend for herself. Which of course begged the question, at least in my mind, if it was bad seamanship. She has two good anchors out, chafe gear, adequate scope, mud bottom. I did an online poll asking “Is it bad seamanship to leave your boat at anchor to fend for itself in a gale?” and mostly everyone voted it wasn’t. Not bad seamanship. I mean think about it. Most people who own boats aren’t with or on the boat when it’s blowing a gale. It’s at the dock, or on it’s mooring. Am I right? Unless they’re out cruising, or it’s the weekend, the boat is on the water and its owner is on land (or in my case on another boat). 

Because most boats are at the dock more than they’re, “out there.” Am I right? Most of the boats at the very marina I’m sitting in right now don’t have people on them. Most of the boat’s at the mooring field my boat is anchored next to don’t either. That’s the only reason anyway cares about what I do and this blog anyway. People don’t pay attention because my boat and I are special, but because we’re out there doing it, (“which is more than most can say,” a friend has told me on more than one occasion when I’ve felt like a hack of a sailor).

A few people voted yes. That it is bad seamanship. But maybe they’ve just never been out there when it’s really bad. Bad enough to where you shouldn’t be out there. Or maybe they have. Maybe their entire lives are wrapped up in some boat that is simply irreplaceable, and they’d never think of leaving their boat to fend for itself when they could do a better job caring for it by being aboard. Or maybe they don’t know anything about boats at all. All I know is I’m glad I’m not on my little boat right now because I’d be all scared. I’d be checking the weather constantly to make sure it wouldn’t get worse, and probably be trying to identify strange noises, and bobbing around like a cork, and start wondering why I do this shit for fun, and eventually I’d get so tired that I’d be able to sleep with one ear open.  I remember when I learned to sleep in a gale, and the many times I rode them out for several days because I couldn’t come to land during it. So I’m pretty grateful to not be on my boat right now.

What’s the worst case scenario anyway? She’d bounc off of things if she ever broke loose. That’s what pilings are for. I have liability insurance if she ends up damaging anyone’s property. I’ve got tow boat insurance if she ends up hard aground. The damage that would be caused to her would hopefully be nominal. She’s in a protected spot with mangroves and sand. She cannot be swept out to sea.

But even if it was a total loss…then what? I’d be sad but I’d be able to move on. I’d recover. Financially, emotionally. I certainly don’t want that to happen, and it’s highly unlikely, and I’ve done everything I could to prevent it other than being on the boat itself.

What would that mean anyway? Being on the boat? That I’m cold, miserable, unable to get any work done to the boat because she’s like a ghost ship heeling and walking up on her anchor and going beam to the wind every few gusts? Unable to get any work done on my computer because there’s not enough electricity or WIFI?

Here on the big boat at the marina I’ve filed my taxes, put all of my nautical miles together, made a sailing resume, written cover letters and applied to several boat jobs. I may have even landed one aboard a beautiful wooden cutter from 1935. I can almost already feel her journeys on the Pacific Ocean under my feet on her brightly varnished deck…but I digress.

It’s me and you, Cat.

The boat I’m yacht sitting is actually heeling now. Her lines are creaking. The cat is scared. She’s trying to tell me something. She exits through the open port light that functions as a cat door, but quickly comes back in traumatized. I pop my head out of the companionway. It’s still really blowing. The cat is meowing profusely. I go and get her littler box and bring it inside, since it’s too dangerous for her to go to the dock. She’s tiny and the gusts are big. Another gust comes and seems to radiate through the marina. It had to be 45 knots. I wonder how little Vanu is fairing. This is the last of it. It’s peaking, If she can just hold fast through tonight…

She survived the gale !

A Series of Choices : Part III

Things were falling apart, right in front of this very backdrop.

As we motored up the Rio Dulce and into the most majestic, lush, tranquil canyon that ever did exist the captain was stressed.  We had to check out of the country and he didn’t know how much it would cost. He still hadn’t set up the foot pump for the water tank, and the gimbaled stove had also not been connected to the propane and tested yet. They both got done while I steered us out of the bay, but man were we cutting things close. While rowing back from customs we nearly got run over by a “launcha,” locally built wooden boats up to 25 feet long powered by sometimes massive outboard motors. This was a particularly large and fast launcha. I was watching it the entire time, but didn’t say anything to the Captain, waiting for him to look around at all but he was clearly in his own head.

“BOAT,” I yelled, right before it was almost too late. I stood up in the tippy rowboat ready to abandon it. The driver of the launcha saw my bright green shirt and my arms waving and veered off at the last minute from our bow. Within inches it seemed. It felt like a bad omen. 

We motored out into the Gulf of Honduras and eventually met a brisk wind on the nose. According to the captain winds were predicted light and variable until a steady Southeast flow would ensue the next day. But even with steady trade winds the land has a funny effect on the winds outside of the Rio Dulce and it’s known to be a slog to get out of. That’s why the world cruising route favors the natural channel between the Guatemalan/Belizean coasts and the barrier reef. But we were not favoring the proven world cruising route, so we continued to claw our way offshore.

During our first night at sea in the Gulf of Honduras I counted 20 ships during my two watches. As we were tacking in between Guatemala and Honduras, my mind began to wander. These were some pretty impoverished nations.  Pirate territory, maybe. Is that why so many cruisers favor the reef? The wind was dying and the captain came on deck for his watch. I voiced my concerns about pirates.

“Don’t mention that,” he said. As if I had jinxed us.

My nervous laughter returned. “Oh okay. Ha. Ha. Well, just might be a good idea to be have a plan.”

I went down below and am awoken an hour later to him calling my name.

“GET UP HERE,” he says.

I poke my head out the companionway and it’s dead calm. The self-steering wind vane can’t do its job. We are motoring. He is readying his spear gun.

“What’s up?” I ask calmly.

“There was a boat.”

“What do you mean a boat?”

“A launcha, right behind us. It crossed our stern. It didn’t have any lights on. I shined the spot light on its hull and outboard motor.”

“Do you want me to get the flare gun?”

I come on deck although that seemed counter intuitive. If there were pirates isn’t it better they not see me on deck? There are no more signs of the boat. We sit there in silence. After a few minutes he now wants to talk about the plan for pirates. Give them anything they want I tell him.  Of course, he says, you hide in the V-berth. He talks about how he could shoot them with the flare gun but the barrel that holds the flare is broken and he doesn’t know if it actually works. I sigh and go back down below. We don’t even have a working flare gun.

My second shift of the evening I find myself hand steering.

“Can we engage the autopilot?” I ask.

“It’s not set up for this boat,” he says.

“What do you mean? I see it has its own switch on the breaker panel. It even has a name, PePe.”

“It’s not set up for this boat.”

“Man that’s really something we should have set up before leaving? Was it ever set up? Does it just not work?”

“I thought you were a hardcore sailor.”

By the next morning there is still no wind and the swell is building from the east. I’m too seasick to cook and there is nothing to eat that doesn’t require cooking besides fruit. By the third day we are still clawing our way out of  the Gulf of Honduras. We are averaging between 2-3 knots. We have managed to come together enough to get some meals cooked and I’m trying to convince the captain we can’t make it all the way to Key West with the food situation as such. We have to stop in Mexico. We haven’t even reached the Gulf Stream or gotten parallel with Belize City yet, which was only 120 miles north of where we left. I don’t know exactly how many miles we have traveled because he’s not keeping track on the paper chart. It’s not my style of navigating, but I don’t fight him because I’m exhausted and hungry and plotting the coordinates seems difficult. We have the GPS and Navionics going. It’s his boat, I tell myself.

The wind and seas are building and are right on the beam. We are still moving along slowly. By evening the captain is also fed up with seasickness and not having the right food to eat and he agrees to plot the course for Cozumel, Mexico. This feels like a win. Soon there will be food! I start thinking about my friends in the keys that I’ll get to see when we make land fall. I think about my friends that I had made in Rio Dulce. But I can’t escape a sinking scared feeling that something bad has happened back home. That someone is in trouble and I write in my log that day that I just want to make it back home.

Moving along still at only 2-3 knots we are getting punished by the wind and waves. By midnight it is 35 knots, gusting 40. Any semblance of a structured watch schedule that I tried to create went out the window after the first night. Now, in what very much feels like a gale, we are only getting one to one and a half hours of sleep each. I start thinking about what I’ll do when I get back to shore to boost morale. We are pointed into the wind with a triple reef in the main sail with tiller lashed to leeward. The boat can’t get enough momentum to tack and falls off. We are shittily hove to until conditions worsen and we are getting rocket launched off of waves. I’m pretty scared of a knock down at this point and start reading the storm tactics book in my bunk while intermittently poking my head outside and regularly watching the AIS.  For some reason I’m not seasick anymore, but it is too rough to cook. On my next off watch I wake up to the loud crash of a wave beam-on and the captain scrambling up from his bunk to look at the AIS. He begins to franticly call a ship. He was asleep on his watch.

“Norwegian Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise lines this is the small sailboat off your port bow I cannot adjust course do you see me, over.”

“This is Norwegian cruise ship,” the ship captain replies calmly. “I don’t see you on radar or AIS. Over.”

The captain flashes the spotlight out into the night.

“Oh my god,” the ship’s captain comes back, his voice no longer calm. “I see you. I am changing course.”

I look outside and see the cruise ship cross our bow eerily close moments later. If it was daytime, and there were people on deck, I could surely have seen them. There’s my nervous laughter again. Another waves crashes into our beam and sends us flying. The captain is thrown into the stove and knocks it off its gimble. There is potato soup everywhere. I can hear panic in his voice. I try to clean up the soup and remain calm. The ships captain comes back on the radio. The gusts are getting stronger. You can hear and feel it.

“How long have you been out here,” the ships captain asks. “It’s fifty knots right now. It’s kind of crazy that you guys are out here. Really kind of crazy.”

We ask him for a weather report and he only has one for the next six hours, which doesn’t show the wind letting up. We tell him that we will likely run down wind to Belize City, which is about fifty miles west to get inside the protection of the reef and then 25 more miles south to the channel into the city. He tells us he thinks this is a good idea. I give him our position and ask him to notify the Coast Guard of it once he is in radio communication, so that they know where we are just in case. He tries calling the coast guard but is out of range. He wishes us good luck.

We both look at each other and don’t know what to do. We discuss options. I suggest heaving to with the storm jib back winded as well as the triple reefed main. He says he’s tried it before and he can’t get the boat to heave to like this. So I suggest we add the sea anchor to that mix but he doesn’t want to hoist the storm jib. He begins to ready the sea anchor but doesn’t want to use it in conjunction with any sails. Running down wind under bare poles to Belize City is an option, but neither of us know how the boat will handle that. How much is too much wind or how big are too big seas to run down wind. We don’t know what kind of control we will have with the boat like that and worry we might end up on the reef. He drops the main and we deploy the sea anchor. It doesn’t work. We are still just drifting along with the wind and seas on our beam. We go on like this for an hour, maybe more. He is apologizing to me. He is praying. He is saying, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.”

It’s going to be okay, I remember saying. But maybe it wasn’t out loud.

He decides to haul in the failing sea anchor (which only works when hove-to properly with your sails from what I understand). He’s not sure if he will be able to get it in or if he will have to cut it. He is wearing my foul weather gear and tells me I have to go up on the bow to help him.

“No,” I say calmly.

The deck has been a mess since we left. There are halyards, reefing lines, lines used for sheeting angles, all over the deck. Nothing has been coiled. The oars are placed hazardously. I have no foul weather gear to wear because he is using mine, and there is no reason to risk my life going up on the bow for something that doesn’t require two people. It was not my boat, and I hadn’t had an equal part sailing the boat, and I didn’t feel comfortable going forward in these conditions because of that. 

He begins to scream at me.

“WHAT?! You’re not going to help me?”

“I’m going to help you,” I say. “I’m just not going up on the bow.”

The sea anchor is hauled in from the cockpit, around the winch. The captain is very tired from all the maneuvering in this sea state and I’m sympathetic to that, but need him to see us through. Because neither of us are familiar with the bare poles storm tactic, we don’t know if the weather is going to get worse, and there is a reef pass we are going to have to navigate we decide it’s best to press the emergency alert button on the SPOT tracker so the folks at home can notify the Coast Guard of our position, just in case.

“What’s the worst case scenario you think?” I ask him.

“I don’t know,” he says. “We lose the boat and have to get plucked off the reef.”

I press the emergency alert button.

Early on in his hand steering us down wind, bare poles, fifty knots, 10-15 foot waves he says, “Emily I’m getting sleepy.”

I pop my head out of the companionway and yell at him.

“No,” I yell over the wind, behind us now. “That isn’t an option. See us through. Do this for your kids. Pretend your kids are onboard.”

Every time a wave crashes into the boat I yell out to make sure he hasn’t been thrown overboard and is still awake. I don’t sleep down below. I am finally familiarizing myself with the chart, which has now gotten wet and is torn into pieces. I’m taping it back together and reading about navigating the channel that I hope we will pass through safely. I don’t sleep. At one point I hallucinate that the captain is one of my ex boyfriends and I feel safer for a moment. I only break down once when I spill powdered milk all over and I start to think about my parents and how worried they must be and I just want to get back to shore so I can tell them I’m okay. We are making insanely good time down wind. The seas and wind don’t seem to be increasing. Eventually I come outside and hold the tiller while he hoists the storm jib. The wind vane can be engaged again. It’s midday now and it’s been the night and morning from hell. We come into radio range and I hear ships talking about a sailboat in distress. They are talking about us. I get on the radio and tell them that we are okay. I talk to a few ships, then finally the coast guard. They have to send a plane to confirm our coordinates before they can officially call off the alert that was put out for our boat. The plane passes overhead of what I can only imagine was quite a sight.

I thank the Coast Guard profusely and immediately feel ashamed and embarrassed. Wondering if I made the right call to push the button. I cry alone inside the cabin feeling like a terrible sailor.

Coming into the channel the night of our fourth day underway things are mildly euphoric. We are drinking a beer, we’ve eaten a meal, the seas are flat even though the wind is still howling. We drop anchor off of a Belizean mangrove. We are still ten miles from Belize City where I get off the boat.

The day I leave the Captain is beside himself that he has to pay to check in so I can leave, sighting that I should be responsible for the fees because this was a mutiny. Meanwhile it costs me way more money for a hotel that evening, and a flight home the next day. A total of $600 I had to borrow from my dad, plus the time and money lost for being away from my boat. The captain contributes nothing to my expenses. The captain insists on keeping my SPOT tracker.

“I might need it,” I say. “I might have another delivery when I get back. Whose to say you will even give it back to me? You haven’t made good on any of your promises and you are under so much self imposed stress you can’t think of anyone outside of yourself.”

He then tells me to call his partner and kids and tell them I wouldn’t lend it to him. He tells me I’m heartless. An argument ensues. He yells at me for not doing the dishes. Says I’ve been a useless crew. We almost crash into the rocks. He says he will give me money for the month of the SPOT tracker I already paid for but he doesn’t. I help him tie up. I leave him the tracker. The immigration officer stamps my passport.

I leave him in his boat, tied to the dock in Belize City at a marina he couldn’t afford, crying over the fees he just had to pay to customs and the weather report he’d just gotten that predicted winds too strong to sail in for the next three days.

“Keep it together out there man,” I say and walk away.

Me, illegally stepping off the boat in Belize before customs had given me the OK.

I spent that evening in a hotel room crying at random intervals. I call his partner and tell her I left. I tell her I’m sorry. I recount the tale to my friends and parents. Wondering what I could have done differently. Wondering what I could have done better. Wondering if I’d made the right call pressing the emergency button. My captain friends try and offer kind words.

“Staying would not have been ‘doing better’.”

“You send the alert early, because later might be too late.”

“You did what you had to do. You didn’t know how it would end.”

One person asked me what I had learned, specifically what I had learned about the conditions in regard to my boat.

“Could your boat have handled that?” they asked.

It was hard to put into words how much I had taken from this situation. I learned to trust my gut. To leave when the captain first exhibits warning signs of being unfit for sea, to know proper storm tactics, to never ever leave the dock without knowing the boat and its systems stem to stern, to heed the advice of local sailors and to respect world cruising routes. To not take a passive role when it comes to weather routing and navigating, especially if you are having doubts about the captain. I also learned what an amazing land support team I have, that the Coast Guard is going to do absolutely everything they can to get you home safely, and to always have float and emergency contingency plans in place.

There are still questions left unanswered.

What if conditions had gotten worse?

What caused the forecast to go from 35 to 50 knots?

What should I have done differently?

As far as my boat and how it would have handled those conditions? I would have never gotten into that position. Distress or disasters at sea happen because of a series of events… or choices.

A Series of Choices : Part II

El Relleno Marina in Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

The pillow talk had come and gone by the time I’d arrived at the marina. The Capt. had apologized and assured me that he could of course take care of a pillow and said his oversights were due to stress. I apologized for saying “are you fucking kidding me,” one too many times. All was well enough. I was enjoying being in a foreign country, on foreign waters, and meeting many foreign sailors. Some good times were had and there were moments where morale was high and we functioned as a good enough team. I washed the boat (which was no easy feat having been at a dock in the jungle for nine months). I organized and cleared the cockpit. I did some painting. I cleaned up the Captain’s messes from projects and I tried my best to feed us with the meager provisions onboard at the time.

“I haven’t been eating,” was one of the first things he said to me when I arrived. “I haven’t been taking care of myself.”

I soon realized what he meant was he wanted me to do things like his laundry (which I didn’t do) and keep him fed (which I tried to do because I was also hungry) while he readied the boat. Any efforts I tried to take to be involved as crew were meant with serious backlash. I found myself laughing awkwardly, often, raising an eyebrow at his responses to what should have been the simple procedure of acquainting a new crew with the vessel. 

There were things I wanted and needed to know before leaving; like the sail inventory, the reefing system, the route plan, ground tackle info, a run down on the electronics. We needed to discuss weather patterns, provisions and water for the trip, but none of this was possible. The captain would dismiss me, blatantly ignore me, and just generally be rude when I asked questions. He would respond as if his patience was on thin ice, as if I was being extremely annoying in my efforts to know the boat before setting off into the western Caribbean sea for several days at a time. I had dropped everything to come down there and help him for no monetary compensation and I was only concerned with my own safety and basic needs for survival at sea. He should have been acting gracious.

I eventually became worried about going to sea with him. I wondered how he’d handle an emergency. Luckily the boat was very simple and similar to mine, so I was able to observe things enough to get a sense of most of the systems, but there was something in my core that was very bothered by his inability to go over the boat together, and how he thought that it wasn’t important or necessary.  I began to distrust his abilities as captain. Why should I have to be on my own learning his boat? It didn’t feel safe or right.

On the third or fourth day it was time to start thinking about untying from the dock. We still hadn’t provisioned and I still didn’t know which water tanks would contain filtered water and which would contain washing water. He had already made it clear that we would be provisioning on a budget, but then he told me with a staunch attitude that he would give me a certain amount of money and if I couldn’t provision within that then “oh well.” He said this in passing, walking past me carrying planks of wood for a sun awning that he never finished building. I took a breath, got up from my chair and followed him.

“Look,” I said as calmly as possible, “I’m not going to buy a bunch of outlandish items. It will cost what it is going to cost. I’m not going to go with you on the trip if this isn’t understood.”

He conceded, quickly. But the damage was already done. He’d tell me to get snacks, and then say nuts were too expensive. He told me not to worry about how much propane we had. He told me not to worry about the weather. He told me not to worry about water. He. Had. It. All. Under. Control.

I was pretty stunned. I was in a foreign country. I was starting to feel exhausted from having to fight for information and for what seemed like the most basic of needs. By the time he agreed to not capping the provisions budget, I was so anxious and exhausted I provisioned poorly with rice, vegetables, fruit, and eggs. Lots of them, but it all required massive energy to cook in an environment that was not only hostile due to its humidity, bugs, and punishing sun—but had become hostile between the two of us.

I contacted my friends back home. I talked to other people in the marina. I contacted the mother of his children. Some said I should leave, but I felt that if I left I was weak, I would return home with my head held in shame, that I was a failure. His partner at home told me he was responding to stress, that he was a good person, that he needed my help, but she would understand if I left.  She talked to him and he apologized to me, again, in tears.

“I’m just so stressed out about money,” he said. “I just want to get home to my kids.”

I understood his predicament. I’d felt buried by the burden of my boat on more than one occasion. I know what stress, pressure, anxiety and depression can to do the mind. But it wasn’t an excuse for his behavior, and going to sea with a captain in that mental state seemed troublesome to me. At my weakest times emotionally, I didn’t bring someone else onto my boat. But I still wanted the sea time. I had come there with the intent to put to sea and damn it I was still going to do it.

I told him I was no longer doing this as a friend, and he’d have to compensate. I told him he’d have to pay me the amount it would cost for him to fly me home (a mere $200), and that he’d have to give me a solar panel and storm jib once we reached the United States. He was selling the boat anyway and had extras of each. Those were the terms. Otherwise I’d walk.

He pouted and said things like “this wasn’t our agreement,” and, “I don’t feel this is fair.” I made him shake my hand and look my in the eye. He then gave me a speech about how he was the captain. I just glared at him. I had no energy left to argue.

I felt better after asserting myself but nothing really changed. I tried to take a passive role. I still believed in the boat. When he said the route was solid I took his word for it. When he said the weather was good I believed him. He said there was one period where we might see strong 35 knot trade winds but they’d be on our stern quarter. I didn’t ask about the 35 knots, if it was part of regular trade wind behavior or some other weather system. I tried to treat this as a job with a bad boss, and as a practice for myself in trying not to be the captain. I convinced myself that was a good idea.  I had managed to piece together a float plan to inform my contacts back home but left the rest to him.

Things continued to deteriorate and by the time we reached the bay where the sail repair and rigging shop was located up the river, we weren’t really speaking. When a young, dreadlock sailor girl tied us up to the riggers dock and looked at me to say, “What a beautiful little boat you have here.”

I quickly said back to her, arms crossed, “It ain’t my boat.”

We took an immediate liking to each other. She was at the dock refitting her classic wooden sailboat and works as a charter captain in Belize. I told her everything. She tried to rationalize it.

Capt. Sarah, a legit angel friend during my time of need.

“You’ve already decided you’re staying, right? He’s just really stressed out. That’s not an excuse for his behavior but you trust the boat and he got down here, didn’t he? Just treat it as a job like you said. You need a ride back to the state’s anyway and you said you’d rather go by boat. Get your sea time. Get the items you negotiated. And get off the boat.”

After the rigger went up the mast I pulled him aside and told him briefly the scenario. He said the rig and sails were solid. That the captain was not an idiot, he was just nervous.

The folks at the dock, all sailors with a keen local knowledge, tried to tell the captain to stay inside the reef for the first 150 miles. It would be easier to make time before picking up a fair current with the Gulf Stream, but the captain wanted to go offshore the entire way.

The night before we were outbound to sea I went to the bar with my new friends and had a conversation with one of saltiest old salts I’d ever met. I started to ask him about storms.

“You don’t just get ‘caught’ in a storm,” he said. “If the captains not an idiot, he’ll have looked at the weather before going. He got down here didn’t he? You said you trust the boat. If you stay inside the reef to Belize City you pretty much pick up the gulf stream parallel with the pass .”

“Yeah I trust the boat,” I said.  “Yeah he got down here. Yes he’s looked at weather. But he doesn’t want to stay inside the reef. He wants to go offshore the whole way. He’s already been told to stay inside the reef by local sailors.

“Well,” he said in his Australian accent, fifty years experience at sea, “Unless you want to get in a big, dangerous fight at sea, don’t tell him what to do when you’re out there. Treat it as a job, and get home.”

A Series of Choices : Part I

Next stop, Guatemala

They say you don’t really know someone until you sail with them on a voyage on a 28-foot-boat. Or until you’re at the dock, getting ready to go on a voyage on a 28-foot-boat. They say that disasters at sea happen because of a series of events that lead up to them. Or a series of choices you make if you’re the captain or the owner of the vessel. Or a series of choices someone else makes if you’re the crew.

I was not in a disaster at sea. Obviously, I am here right now to tell the tale. But the nature of the distress I experienced happened that way; in a series of events, or a series of choices. Choices made by someone other than myself, because I was the crew.

The intended voyage was Rio Dulce, Guatemala, to Key West, FL on a 28-foot Pearson Triton. The boat was solid, this much I knew. Extensively outfitted for blue water. The captain had successfully made his way from the East Coast to the Rio with his young family in tow enjoying the foreign ports, sailing friendships, and beautiful scenery along the way.  The captain was known for being cautious, conservative, and doing everything to a T. There was really only one incident the entire way down where their weather forecast in Cuba was wrong and they experienced 30 knot winds and a wind over tide in the Gulf Stream during a 24 hour passage. The boat and crew made it through no worse for ware. I knew the captain personally and looked up to him for the work he had done to my boat’s sister ship.

The return trip was going to be a bit different. No family. More of a mission. A mission I felt prepared for, because I trusted the boat and the captain. We would go offshore as much as possible, with only one or two stops as seen fit at the time. He would pay all of my expenses (which were very minimal because a flight to Guatemala and food were very cheap). To compensate for my actual time spent sailing, which actually was costing me money because I’d be leaving my unfinished boat accruing fees in a boatyard, he was supposed to help me work on my boat and deliver some much needed spare gear he had. This was to happen when he dropped his trailer off at the boatyard he intended to haul out in, which was right near my boatyard. 

He never brought down the trailer, and thus never helped me work on my boat before leaving like he’d said. It was okay. Time gets away from you. I understood. I still wanted the sea time. I still trusted the boat and him. Then he didn’t have time to send the gear he’d promised for my boat, but he had time to send me two pounds of Pink Himalayan salt for the trip for me to carry in my luggage, and I had time to find him (us really at this point), a gimbaled stove from the used sailing shop which I paid for and also had to transport to Central America.

He then informed me that he had left his SPOT Tracker (a personal GPS Satellite tracking device that can be used for emergency communication) in the mountains of Guatemala, or was it California, or North Carolina, leaving the boat with no offshore emergency communication. Luckily I had my own SPOT device, which I had planned to activate anyway, but it was an older generation model that I’d been given for free and hadn’t used yet. Then he wanted me to buy him the waste and oil discharge placards required by the U.S. Coast Guard, or take the ones of my boat and let him use them. I only had two days between the last delivery I was on and leaving for this one. I was running around trying to pack, square my boat away, get any last minute supplies I would need, and activate and test my emergency communication device. I didn’t have time to go to buy them and I wasn’t going to peel stickers off my boat for him. I ignored his request for the placards.

I asked him how the weather patterns were looking. He replied by saying he hadn’t been looking at the weather, since he’s been so busy working on the boat, and he saw no point in looking at the weather until the boat was ready to go.

He then told me to bring my own pillow.

I didn’t have room in my luggage because I was carrying gear for him, my foul weather gear and personal safety equipment. He was starting to sound a bit unprepared and I was flying there the next day. Would I not have a pillow for this entire voyage? Was he so broke he couldn’t buy me a pillow in Rio Dulce, a busy little town where the U.S. dollar goes far? Was this indicative of what was to come?

I called my friend the night before leaving and asked “is this voyage ill fated?”

Sailing a Remote Coast

What did I learn from sailing a fiberglass spin off of a Hershoff 28 down a remote coast with a psychologist?

Believe what people say; don’t read between the lines. Past behavior is an indicator of future behavior.

Always demonstrate captaincy, even when it’s not your boat.

Two weeks together on a small boat and you’re bound to have some arguments. If you’re still friends at the end of it, you’re mates for life. Sometimes things can fall apart between crew members when you need each other most. Swallow your pride when it comes to passage making and keeping the peace with crew. Tone is everything.

I don’t believe in dogs on boats from a philosophical standpoint, but pugs aren’t really dogs.

Helming; it’s all instinct.

Making decisions is easier at sea than on land. Anxiety on land is crippling, at sea it is necessary for survival.

Mosquito’s can turn ‘God’s Country,’ into “God’s Asshole.”

They don’t call it a shakedown sail for nothing.

Shit is going to break, whether it is a $3,000 boat or a $30,000 boat.

Anything that can go wrong, will.

Mermaid Tales Podcast

I was interviewed for Mermaid Tales Podcast, check it out! My interview is Episode 10!

My friend recently came ashore from an offshore yacht delivery where she was sexually harassed and inappropriately touched by the Captain. Between the nonconsensual back massages and lewd comments about her (whether she was wearing a bikini or donning foul weather gear), enough was enough. When he finally got the hint that she wasn’t interested in him sexually, he became angry and verbally abusive for the rest of the trip. All of this happened over several days, several hundred miles offshore. Later, she wrote about this experience on the popular women’s sailing group Women Who Sail. She never mentioned the captain’s name, but merely wanted to open up a dialogue on how to warn women of this potentially dangerous captain seeking crew. The captain somehow found out that she had told people in the sailing community about his behavior, and he then threatened her and her career sailing.

It’s a familiar story. One myself or any woman sailor could easily find themselves in. I was lucky enough to pick up on a captain’s predatory vibes right away once, and didn’t take the job—otherwise I could have been right there getting an uninvited back massage as I oiled some teak. While lamenting to a male friend of mine about all of this he said, “Well, I guess in todays day and you have to think twice before going offshore with someone or taking boat work jobs.”

Sure, he’s right. You do have to be more careful as a woman in the very male dominated sailing world. But this captain had references. My friend has done her background work. The captain I had gone to also had been referred to me by someone I knew.

It shouldn’t be like this. But it is. And I have a question for all of you out there– what are you going to do about it?

My first reaction to combat the blatant sexism I and my sailor girl friends experience is through sheer acts of vigilantism. Like, just straight up start cutting anchor lines. Instead, I’m starting a female sailing collective of women sailors and captains for future yacht deliveries. A network where these problems don’t exist because the boats are captained and crewed by women.

More info on the female sailor captain collective coming soon. In the meantime here’s a podcast I was interviewed for back in November. Mermaid Tales Podcast is specifically about women who are carving out their own paths on the water. The podcast is created by Breezy Mulligan, also a sailor and soon-to-be live aboard on a Gecko 39. We talk about the places I’ve sailed, boat rot, perhaps me not staying broke forever, the true meaning of hobo, and of course feminism. I come in around 10 minutes in, and we shoot the shit about her boat and the west coast. The formal interview begins at minute 20. My interview is episode 10.

Thanks to everyone here that follows Dinghy Dreams, listens to the podcasts I’m featured in, watches my sporadic youtube videos, and follows along on Instagram and my recently started Facebook. Also, a major thanks to all donors! Your comments mean a lot to me, even if I can’t reply, so please keep them coming. And for everyone out there who doesn’t comment, but is still reading—thank you.

Happy new year every one!


Classic Plastics for Sale: Cape Dory 27

Hot dang, someone’s ’bout to go on an adventure.

1977 Cape Dory 27, Hull # 40 for sale! Completely outfitted for blue water cruising and capable of all your offshore dreams! Self-steering wind vane, new sails and rigging; this structurally sound pocket cruiser is in excellent condition. Best of all winter storage and spring launch is paid! It may be cold in the northeast now, but someone’s about to take this boat on a damn adventure come spring time…will it be you?

Can I be here on this vessel now, please? 

Reliable engine.Solid decks, no soft spots. No blisters. Bronze through hull fittings and seacocks in excellent condition. Solid bulkheads, no rot. Designed by prolific and proven yacht designer Carl Alberg and over built in the era of early fiberglass production by Cape Dory Yachts. This true classic plastic was constructed to withstand the test of time, and it has. With only two owners throughout its 41 years of life, the boat has been meticulously maintained and recently upgraded to meet long term, blue water cruising needs.

That cruising spinnaker though…

This boat embodies the words of world cruising legends Lin and Larry Pardey, “Go Small, Go Simple,Go now.”

Completely outfitted in 2017 for offshore cruising with the following gear:

-New 135%voyager Genoa from Hyde Sails. ( used 1 season) 
-New Alado Roller Furling. ( Bomb proof) ( used 1 season)
-New cruising spinnaker snuffer. ( used 1 season)
​-New interior V-berth cushions, and side berth cushions. Cushions were made from templates of old cushions and are made from  100% new foam and Sunbrella  ( never used) 
– Pacific light wind vane built by Wind Pilot of Germany. ( installed spring of 2018) 
-New halyards, and Sheets.
-New LED anchor light.
-New Standard Horizon GX-130000 marine VHF
-New Cockpit compass 
​-New Whale manual bilge pump

** Note The furler and Genoa were purchased in 2017 but were not installed until the spring of 2018, so there is only 1 season of use on these.The cushions were never used and only put in place for the photos taken to list the boat. 

Other gear includes:

Mainsail was built by Quantum sails in 2014 and is in excellent condition. it has only been used for 2 seasons. (fully battened with 2 reef points).

Engine-Yanmar Ysm8 single cylinder diesel. 
8 gallon fuel tank ( range 0.3 gallons per hour or aprox 100 miles). Extremely reliable. 

​Water holding tank- holds12 gallons. line from tank to sink was replaced in 2017 and a new whale sink pump was installed. 

2 burner alcohol stove- original equipment and works great

Ice box  able to hold 2 blocks of ice, and enough food for a week cruising. 

2 Danforth Anchors- 16 lb for overnight anchoring and a 8 lb “picnic” anchor). 

Double house and starting battery setup with a selector switch. 

Asking $10,000 for this spritely vessel. New England, the coast of Maine, Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Florida, the Bahamas; this boat will take you anywhere you want to go in safety and in style.

More photos here : https://capedory27number40.weebly.com/pictures.html

Located on the hard in Wakefield, RI. To inquire about this vessel:

Contact Eben Horton
call or text 401-447-0672
email- ebenhorton@gmail.com