That ~WHOLESOME~ content you asked for! Jewish east coast sailor girl ties up at Christian university ! Making friends, rigging a mizzen mast, practicing tolerance of religion, and exploring this historically Black city ! More on my YouTube! Follow for more @dinghydreams
Largest Local SAIL Loft on East Coast!
Take a look inside the magic that happens when community, career, passion, and a conscious approach to capitalism collide! Meet the literal sailmakers of Latell Ailsworth Sails, a trade that employs both traditional sailing skills and the latest yachting industry technology. In a marine industry moving more and more toward globalization and remote consulting–Latell Ailsworth is a brand and business that prides itself on it’s partnership overseas, as well as a strong local and regional East Coast presence. Is it any wonder Latell Ailsworth Sails, of Deltaville, VA–a small yachting center on the southern Chesapeake Bay–is a division of a Kiwi Company?
The kiwi’s may be a small island country but has a strong yachting history, along with modern democratic socialist practices. It’s capital, Auckland–is known as the City of Sails. In fact, its the first place I ever sailed and where I got into this whole sailing mess to begin with! My first day sail ever was in NZ (fun fact: the letter “Z” is pronounced “Zed” in N Zed). Latell Ailsworth overseas partner is Evolution Sails, a New Zealand sailmaking parent company.
I loved New Zealand and have pretty much just been trying to get back there ever since. By yacht of course. I told Latell I’d get the Evolution logo tattooed on me (which he did not endorse…yet) as a testament to my commitment endorsing this opportunity to low key partner Evolution Sails–I mean maybe the parent company wants to sponsor my return to Aoteaora (New Zealand in Maouri, literally translated to Land of the Long White Cloud).
Now I’m day dreaming again.
Sometimes it feels like I have a goal, I chase it, I get the opportunity, and then I have to do the actual work and the entire time I’m just dreaming of the next thing to chase. So before I get back to New Zealand I’ve got to just get back to my boat eight hours east of my current locale, and well, go finish my new Genoa furling headsail a few hours south of my boat, and then bring it to my boat, bend it on, photograph it and send it in on time for the deadline to SAIL Magazine to meet my contract for the October 2022 Issue and the Annapolis International Sailboat show.
Ha, and then sail my boat down of course. To where I have to finish refitting her and launch some entrepreneurial endeavors.
Can I pull it off? I usually do, in some way or another. It always works out in the end.
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Sailing Vlog Preview: Escape from New York
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK! Preview! Full video coming soon! A preview of sailing vlog featuring a run-in with NYPD helicopters while sailing engineless through New York City in December. Stay tuned for the full video!
When I think of the East Coast the first thing that comes to mind is not a wild landscape. Yes, there are beautiful ocean beaches, historic lighthouses, protected national seashores, and a variety of other delights ashore. But the majority of shoreline is privately owned. I think of the east coast as the place I grew up. A good place to buy, fix, and practice seafaring aboard small sailboats. As a place you have to sail past to get to the islands. But never as a place to travel to. It is not the land in itself that interests me. It is the sea. It is being out of sight of land.
Coming back to shore here is merely a means to an end as my boat is a continuous work in progress, not quite ready to be at sea for longer than a few days. It is distant landfalls with far less population that intrigue me, not the coastal U.S. cities. Sometimes I wait weeks for a small passage window, anchored in some town I’d never chose to visit on purpose. Where there are few public landings and grocery stores are miles outside of town down four lane highways. Sometimes I get lucky and I can see a rail yard from the lawn of the public library and watch freight trains roll by while using the WiFi. Other times, there are mates around. I’ve been up and down this coast enough to have friends almost wherever I go, but not always.
From sea the coastline can look almost perverse. The abandoned Ferris wheels of the New Jersey Coast, the sky scraping condos of Miami Beach, accompanying tributaries marked endlessly by mansions, water towers, beach houses, second, third, and fourth homes. It’s as if the only reason they stopped building is because they ran out of land. They ran into the water. It like civilization is just perched precariously and ready to crumble into the ocean. Like an apocalyptic daydream.
The wind can be a challenge as well.
The East Coast is killing my soul a little.
But I do it for you, Atlantic.
You’re Never Really Gone From Your Boat
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’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.
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…
I miss poaching docks.
What happens on the hard stays on the hard.
You can almost pretend to be floating…but not really.
This whole thing feels strange and foreign after living in a house for so long.
I am looking at every challenge as a lesson in radical adaptation.
I haven’t had to feed myself in days. Thanks to Ray and Ash, Pete and Kourtney, Autumn and the kids. I make everybody laugh. It’s all I can do. I can’t offer help using tools or bring any actual food to the table, but I can offer laughs. Good laughs. Whole hearted belly laughs. The days spent laughing with everyone are the best days. I’m going to miss the boatyard, I can already feel it. Progress. I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride.
And even if we all wake up tomorrow and it’s all gone to the dogs, you just have to keep going.
Keep working on your projects.
Keep chipping away.
Keep earning your freedom.
Keep being you. Keep being light.
Great energy can come from pain.
It’s times like this I wish I was a plant and could photosynthesize. I’m nervous. I have to force myself to eat. Three days of roaring southerlies has me rattled. A storm that clocked in at over 50 knots has me rattled. I’m launching tomorrow.
I had an offer for crew for launch and the journey home, but after careful reflection I declined. Not quite ready to share my berth with anything more than my headsails. Not quite ready to let anyone into my cluttered little cabin. Not quite ready to explain just why my engine doesn’t fit. I’m not sure if you believe in astrology but I do. I’m a gemini on the cusp of cancer. Always searching for my other half, my lost twin—but hiding in my shell, sequestering myself from society as I close my hatch.
If you asked me a month ago if I was going to live on my boat this year it was a resounding ‘hell no’. For some reason I wanted to balance sailing with a life on land. I wanted to continue working on the farm in exchange for food and accommodation, make as much money as possible, and just sail for fun when not doing all that. A month ago I said to a friend with a similar boat, a similar dream and a plan this year to just go, “I feel like you did something right and I didn’t.”
Those feelings subsided the more time I spent with my boat. I started to feel well positioned to repair her while living on the float at the marina. I started to feel less ties holding me to that bed on the farm. That ‘hell no’ turned into an ‘of course!’
Turns out that same friend from before was having engine problems and decided to scrap his plans for voyaging to spend another season working on the boat, on the hard. Working towards the dream.
What is the dream, anyway? So far for me it’s been soggy sleeping bags, mechanical failures, epoxy stains, and saying goodbye far too often. Goodbye to friends, family, lovers—all so I can crawl into my little shell at night. So I can fear those storms and celebrate those calms. All so I can feel just a little more of what this life afloat has to throw at me.
Everywhere I go there’s some old salt with thousands of sea miles under their belt who seems to believe in me and my little boat more than I do. Perhaps for every one of them, there is someone who thinks I’m fool hearted. My own thoughts of this whole endeavor fall somewhere in the middle.
The past ten days being in the boatyard have been like an extended self survey. I’ve learned every weakness of my boat, and her strengths. The crazy thing is, I think I can fix damn near everything. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m finally starting to understand all this. I can speak the language, decipher diagrams, ask the right questions, and use the tools. I know what needs to be done, and I more or less know how to do it.
The winds are up which means no boats are being launched today or tomorrow. I’m scheduled to launch first thing Thursday morning and then I’ll navigate to my home port, where the real work begins.
“Don’t get stuck in Florida,” one of the old salts said to me.
“What do you mean, like don’t run aground?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Don’t be one of those people that never leaves…and don’t dawdle in the Bahamas!”
In the boatyard the kindness of others was bestowed upon me. I came to rely on it.
By launch I was afraid–but going to do it anyway. So I thought myself brave.
In the north lake I was still unsure.
By Valcour Island I was ferrel.
By Burlington I’ become resourceful.
In the deepest part of the lake I became gutsy. Nearly reckless. Fueled by adrenaline, raucous wind and storms.
Further south I felt aimless–so I rejoined society for a little while, but only halfway.
It’s mid September and I’m nearly a land based mammal once again. I don’t know how I’ve managed it–to become busy, nearly gainfully employed, riding my bike through the city streets, shopping at the expensive co-op.
But there’s an antidote. I still live on my boat. Exposed to the elements. Like the rolling swells of southerlies that still prevail, the dropping temperatures as the month passes by. The morning dew, the setting sun. Exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates. Watching them come in late at night silently under sail.
My body tells me it’s time, or almost. The lake is starting to become too cold for bathing. My chest felt heavy this morning from the cold. My provisions of dried goods from the beginning of the season have nearly run out.
But I’m not ready to leave.
“I don’t want to go to shore, I don’t want to leave it. Shake my hair because I wana stay wet.” -Dive Shop, Paihia, NZ
Pirate Yacht Club
What happens late at night inside the cabins of our boats is crew business. It never leaves the saloon. Just hangs there like a sort of poltergeist, the kind that inhabit boats. The good kind. The kind that keep you safe at sea, and pinch your bum when you’re being reckless. The kind that are your toughest critics, but biggest allies.
I can’t tell if I’m talking about the friends that have frequented my modest little yacht, or the soul that is modest little yacht. Maybe that’s all it is–the good sailors that come by. They fill my bilges with an invisible light that keep me afloat.
All I know is that when I find myself leaning into the mast at night watching the sunset, I feel something hugging me back. That I have one foot on land, one foot on the boat–and when I start to doubt myself, thinking I’ll never get my boat off this goddamn beautiful lake, a voice says to me, “Chin up, fuck that.”
The boat basin bros
“Why do you say you’re not a good sailor?” Everyone asks me the same question.
“Because I’m not,” I say. But I think it’s more so no one expects anything of me. Like for me to live out their dream for them…
Met Jim, Catalina 27, as he was sailing off his mooring. Met him again at the dinghy dock, he gave me a ride to the laundromat and a cold beer. Introduced me to Canoe Jeff, who said I could stay on his mooring for as long as I want, the whole summer even. Met Rich, who helped me move to the mooring in a storm and gave me a ride to the hardware store to get supplies to install my new reefing hardware.
I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers in the sailing community time and time again, but it wasn’t quite like this place Every time I rowed my dinghy to shore there was someone new offering a hand, a piece of advice, a beer, or a word of encouragement.
It turns out Jim sent a mass text out to all of his sailing mates. It said, “Met a sailor today – Emily – been living aboard a 24′ tan boat (Cal?) since May 1. Anchored off Blodgett. Very humble. Currently only has jib. Repairing main. Adding reef points. Gave her a cold beer and lift to laundry. Worthy of support if you see her.”
I left the harbor with a swollen heart.
Marooned in Shelburne Bay
I don’t know if Shelburne Bay passed me by, or I passed by it. I arrived with the intention to find some work. Maybe a job at a restaurant,or at the shipyard I rowed into, but rarely on this trip does anything I expect to happen, well, happen.
Shelburne Bay is a great place with a cove for nearly every wind direction, a boatyard full of many classic and forgotten beauties, sailors from near and far full of much advice, and ghosts. Crawling into my little berth at night, Shelburne was the first time I closed my hatch boards to feel more protected by the spirit of my little boat from the spooky evening.
I did find some work there, only not in a traditional fashion. When the shipyard gardener was using the hose and I needed to fill my water jugs we got to talking. She’s a homesteader, master gardener, and keeps chickens and goats. My past days of goat rearing came in handy as we hit it off. I asked her if she needed any help and she set me up with two days of work digging in the dirt.
I reached out to another shipyard down south and while he doesn’t have any work for me right now, he offered to help me advise me with any projects I intended to do to get my boat ready for leaving the lake. There’s a possibility there for end of the season work, perhaps in exchange for yard storage in the winter. While in Shelburne I also made arrangements with the sailmaker a short sail north to work trade for a second set of reef points in my mainsail.
Perhaps the most profound thing to happen to me in Shelburne Bay, however, was the chance meeting with the canvas maker at the yard. He lives aboard a Shannon 26 with his wife, also a sailboat sewing guru, and they’ve cruised the world extensively with their children.
I’ve been vacillating between going south down the Hudson this year or waiting another. This time a month ago I gave myself four weeks to make a decision. As time went on I became more and more over whelmed with what the boat needs in order to actually be ready for salt water.
The words of so many couch sailors I’ve met echoed in my ears.
Talking with the canvas maker he said, “why not wait a year? Don’t outfit in Florida. You’re one of a million. Everything is more expensive. Here people want to help you. You need to be ready.”
So it was decided. I made three lists of what the boat needs. Before winter, before south, and ongoing. While I felt a great relief to be able to enjoy the rest of the summer sailing on the lake without the pressure to leave by a certain date with a certain amount of money, a new type of anxiety set it. I’d have to find somewhere to store the boat, and worst of all, I’d have to move back to land for what could be seven months.
But I didn’t have time to worry about the impending dark months ahead, my little boat sitting lonely on jack stands—I had a weather window and a sailmaker to meet.
The adventure continues: Epilogue
Jesse and I left Valcour Island Sunday morning. I hauled anchor and he drove us out of the cove. On the broad lake it was choppy north winds that were shifty between northeast and northwest. It was hard to keep the boat stable in the chop and the jib was luffing. Flopping. Useless. We got a little too close to a powerboat fishing and we exchanged some words before they motored off.
“You have the whole lake!!” the captain called. Which was true, we did and I was sorry, but we had the right of way. Plus I was fledgling trying to keep the sails full.
Wing and wing we headed southeast to Mallet’s Bay, accidentally jibed too many times under reefed main and partial jib. We got some good speed from the gusts. Just about to round the southern tip of the island adjacent to the bay I referenced the charts again.
Mallet’s Bay has a small entrance cut out of an old railroad rock wall turned bike and pedestrian path. Due west of the cut to get in are extreme shallows. In fact, the entire entrance is extremely shallow, so to approach one must go northwest of the shoal before approaching the dredged canal.
I thought it best we tack on the broad lake rather than in between the shallows and the island, so I said, “we’re turning this buggy around!” Sheeted in, put the tiler hard over and off my little Bristol went to windward with a bone in her teeth. Jesse acted as chief navigator as we changed point of sail several times to enter the narrow harbor under the silent power of canvas.
Once in the bay we dropped a lunch hook outside of the marina where we met another NYC mate who happened to be in Vermont for the weekend rode his bicycle from Burlington to meet us for an afternoon sail. We tacked out of the anchorage under full canvas, the wind now northwest, Anam Cara heeling and then stiffening in the gusts. An hour in our friend thought it prudent we return as he needed to bike back before dark.
“Can you get the bike in the morning?” I asked. “Let’s sail to Burlington!”
Winds were now due west so we motored into the wind and back through the cut, past the shallows and onto the big lake. I hoisted the main, unfurled the jib and we cruised along at a good clip, still in the lee of the islands. As we neared Colchester Reef and the open lake the wind was sustained at 15 knots and gusting higher. Had I been alone I would have been reefed, and probably should have been regardless, but we were making way reaching at six knots with our asses glued to the high side. The rails were in the water more than once. It may not have been efficient sailing but it was exhilarating.
Not quite thinking through the direction of the wind I anchored off of Burlington’s north beach, with hundreds of other boats all there for the Fourth of July fireworks. The boat pitched and rolled in the swells. I tidied up, put on an anchor light and rowed the boys to shore one at a time.
In the guidebook I read that Burlington was rife with dinghy thieves. I wasn’t taking any chances so I put my oars in my backpack. The city was crowded in a bad way. Jesse and I grabbed a burger then headed back to the boat, both looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
But a good night’s sleep did not find us. The winds were manageable, maybe only 10 knots, but from the southwest and we were completely exposed. It was the most miserable uncomfortable night I’ve ever spent at anchor. I wound up making us each a bed in the cockpit where the motion was more tolerable, and we managed to each get a couple of hours of rest.
In the morning I rowed Jesse to shore, hugged him goodbye, hurriedly pulled up my hook and motored three miles in a sleep deprived haze to Shelburne Bay, where I’ve been marooned ever since.
The adventure continues: Part 1
The adventure continues onboard my little boat. I tried to make for my furthest point south in building southerlies once again, and once again got my ass kicked before retreating north to a protected anchorage on North Hero Island. I passed three days there as the strengthening winds marched in tight formation from the exact direction I wanted to go.
But it wasn’t all bad there! I love the way my boat rides out a blow, and every one the we weather the more confident I am in her ground tackle. A wonderful French Canadian couple, Claire and Pierre, who I met in the marina and told my aspirations to journey the boat south, came and met me in the anchorage to bring me the complete set of charts from the bottom of the Hudson River to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay.
I had a good send off from my friends on Grand Isle–drinking wine at anchor, spending the day at my friend’s workshop napping in the Cape Dory he’s restoring, and feverishly taking notes trying to keep track of all the good advice.
The winds finally calmed but thunder storms were imminent. I left early and the wind was still south but light. I tacked south and once I cleared the Point au Roche reef a huge thunderstorm came my way. It began as a rain storm and dying winds, but soon the New York side was covered in black clouds so I turned on the motor and ran from the middle of the lake towards Vermont. I dropped the hook in a cove just as the lightening began to fill the sky.
The storm passed quickly and the wind picked up so I hauled the anchor, reefed the main and headed back out. Unpredicted the wind shifted from the west and I had a ripping reach all the way to my destination, Valcour Island. It was my longest solo sail of 20 miles.
Valcour Island smells like the Pacific Northwest. Her terrain reminding me of the place I will always consider my home waters, and where I learned to sail. I spent two nights on Valcour feeding ducks that ate out of my hand, taking lake baths, and making lists of repairs and maintenance the boat needs.
On Friday my best mate from New York City, Jesse, drove up to meet me in Northern New York. I left early and sailed North in light southerlies. Just as I was entering the harbor the wind and waves picked up.By the time I met him the wind and waves were ripping and I had no desire to tack into the slop, so we motored five miles back to Valcour, the bow of the boat lifting and falling with every swell.
Just as my best mate was about to serve up a feast of scallops fit for the finest yacht I saw the sheer line of Vanupied, my friend Oliver’s Pearson Ariel. I hailed him on the VHF, a spot of fine whiskey that Jesse had brought as a boat warming present in my glass, and Olivier rafted up next to us.
We spent the evening singing sea shanties and drinking far too much rum! With Olivier on guitar, me on ukulelem, and Jesse on harmonica we coined ourselves “The Floating Dinghy Band,” and sat on the bow of my boat to serenade the anchorage.
The plan was to head south into Vermont the next day with west winds predicted, however a lake wind advisory was in effect with 25 knots predicted. I didn’t feel comfortable sailing with only a newbie for crew in those conditions. Olivier is a licensed captain with a trans-Atlantic and other blue water sailing on his resume. We decided we would anchor my boat in a neighboring cove and sail on his boat in a circumnavigation of Valcour Island, but then we couldn’t get my engine to start…
Trapped in paradise
In one of my sailing books I read about the ritual of caring for your boat once you’ve come in from a sail. Flaking the mainsail, snugging up the dock lines perfectly, securing the chafe gear on the anchor line. My boat doesn’t have shining varnish, sparkling gelcoat, or brand new nonskid on the deck, but she’s nearly always one of the prettiest boats in the harbor and I take pride in taking care of her as best I can. While many things were crossed off the list after spending a month in the boatyard, I now having a new one of things that need to be done as I continue to head south on this journey.
Some people are extroverts and some are introverts. Some recharge their inner battery by being around others and some by being alone. I was feeling a bit trapped in the north lake. After I made the decision to sail north on the day of gusting southerlies, I got caught up spending time with friends and working for the marina. The first day of summer passed and now everyday is getting shorter. I can’t help but think about the winter.
But I’m so glad I stayed. Last night was spent cozied up in the cockpit of Pierre and Mariev’s boat with our friend Rene. We walked along the road to the neighboring marina and campground. Pierre and I shared a cigarette while Mariev and Rene walked ahead of us, their conversation in French sounding melodic. Pierre said I should be on my boat by myself for a while. To not rush into bringing girls, or boys, or dogs aboard. I agree.
Today I finally took my friend John for a sail with his girlfriend, Tanya. We ghosted silently in a five knot breeze until it died all together so we drank beers, measured the height of the mast, and floated on the glassy lake. When we pulled into the dock I hugged them goodbye, not knowing really if I’ll ever see them again, but grateful that they adopted me as one of their own and acted as my north country family the past two months.
Rowing into shore to have a drink with my friends still in the yard, I noticed my dinghy had a bit of a leak in the bottom. Lucky for me to be in the boatyard my friend Alex gave me a bit of fiberglass and epoxy and I patched the bottom.
Now that I’ve had so many days around my mates I feel ready to take on the next week of solo sailing. Finally I will make for my furthest point south through the part of the lake with the biggest fetch, and thus biggest winds and waves. The forecast calls for increasing southerlies so I will leave early in the morning. My main is already reefed. I have sandwiches and snacks ready to go. I realized that so far aboard my little boat I’ve traveled 150 miles. That’s nearly the entire length of the lake. I should be able to make it off the lake before winter just fine.
Back on the New York side, Vermont and everything that happened there seems like a world away.
Monty’s Bay is home. Home to this boat, but I took the letters off her stern because we no longer have a home port. She’s is most definitely at home, though, sitting quietly in the perfect calm and nearly full moon, with a thin layer of shadowed cloud wisps stretching across the moonlight.
Sailed south from North Hero Island. Coming through the Isle la Mott and Point au Roche pass the west wind funneled through and I had a hell of a time tacking to meet my friend, Tanya, at one o’clock. I tried to pick up a mooring ball but circled it three times, missed, gave up and dropped anchor nearly a mile away from the dock.
Long row against the wind with two of us in the dink, wind already gusting up to 15 knots. Pulled the anchor up and half the bottom came with it. I should have known to reef the main before we set out. I knew in theory that anything around or above 15 knots warrants a reef aboard my little 24-footer, and that was confirmed when one particular gust put the rails in the water as we screamed along under far too much canvas. Pretty hairy, but the boat is officially christened now.
Tanya was great crew. She stayed out of the way when maneuvering, had fun, trusted me, helped when asked and determined to get some sun (even though it was actually quite cloudy, windy, and cold), wore her bikini the entire sail. Now that’s dedication!
Being alone on the water makes me appreciate land and company that much more. Back at her house that evening she and her partner, John (who helped me install my bilge pump when I was still in the boatyard), stuffed me full of bratwurst and beer. John gave me a solar trickle charger and a volt meter. Two important items on my list that I planned to purchase next time I was near civilization. They sent me back to my boat with a stash of beer for those nights on anchor.
I met John’s father, Bob, who is 85. He’s sailed miles and miles, been to New Zealand six times, and to both the North and South poles. He’s full of stories. He told me I have a good life program. That I’m doing well. When I left he said, “keep your eyes open.”
Once again, I’ll say it. Monty’s Bay Marina and Boatyard, and all the people who I’ve met there— pure fucking magic.
Leaving Shangri La
I’ve got to be the luckiest sailor in the world. The marina I wound up staying at for four nights while I rested my weary eyes and waited for the bad weather to pass turned out to be some kind of Utopia.
I was introduced to Jonathen, a solo bluewater sailor who just sold his Shannon 34 and has a Cape Dory Typhoon. He was recruited to give me a sailing lesson but it was still blowing hard the morning he showed up and my inflatable dinghy was half sunk. Trying to find the hole in the bottom, which was never meant to be rowed without a plywood floor in place (oops), he said “I have a dinghy for you.” So off we went on a tour of Grand Isle, Vermont, which reminded me so much of where I learned to sail in the San Juan Islands of Washington.
While I scrubbed the old fiberglass dinghy, still going strong after it washed up on a beach 20 years ago, Jonathen rummaged around for this and that he thought I might need. He gave me two harnesses, a dry bag, a handful of lines and charts, a solar shower… The best part being that my $200 unopened sailing harness I bought could now be returned.
He gave me his contact info and told me if I ever get into trouble on the lake, to call him.
I thanked him profusely, sort of wondering why this complete complete stranger would be so inclined to help a riffraff sailor like myself.
“You’re living the dream,” he said as we waved goodbye. “Keep doing it for the rest of us.”
John the boat repair man was another character I was lucky enough to meet at my dockside Shangri-La. He knows just about everything about boats, was quick to offer me advice, swap stories, and drop what he was doing to bullshit with me just about every hour on the hour. He’s an artist when it comes to restoring old boats, has thousands of sea miles, and is basically the spitting image of Gary Busey without the the surly demeanor. He let me climb and clamber around the boats he was working on, gave me a spare winch handle and an extra fender. He let me stash my half sunk dink in his old Land Rover until my friend who I promised it to comes to get it.
Emily and Dan, the marina owners, are probably the most involved waterfront proprietors I’ve ever met. On my first night, before I could refuse, Dan came down with a power chord and said, “You need heat. But we’ll have to move you.” Next thing I knew he was untying my lines and hopped into the cockpit to do a quick, tight maneuver to another slip. When an unpredicted, near gale Easterly blew through Emily, Dan, and their daughter were on the docks the entire three hours of the storm securing boats. Emily drove me to the post office to mail my harness and we talked about feminism as the Vermont island countryside passed me by in her old station wagon.
Then there was Brian who is basically my new favorite human on the lake. He held the heads of the bolts as I tightened them to install the new mini cleats in my cockpit for the tiller tamer I was forced to buy second hand from another sailor in the yard. We went for a sail after that and I let him sail my boat, since he doesn’t have one of his own at the moment, but kept a keen eye on everything. When we saw an approaching storm we had to make a quick decision, so we booked it back to the marina and waited for it to come but it dissipated soon after. I realized when it comes to crew, the other person needs to be a sailor. At this point in my novice sailing career I can’t be responsible for teaching someone, or having someone onboard who doesn’t know how to help.
The next morning he met me to untie my lines. Full of nerves I had my worst leaving the dock experience to date. I went into forward too soon, and when I came pretty close to a shiny power boat I kicked it into reverse without throttling down, causing the prop to lift up. Dead in the water I threw Brian a line and he pulled me in. Embarrassed by the terrible job I did driving my boat he offered some kind words, a sympathetic smile, and off I went into the lake alone.
“Utopia. The Greeks had two meaning for it: ‘eu-topos’, meaning the good place, and ‘u-topos’ meaning the place that cannot be.” -Rachel Menken, Mad Men
Sailors are a lonely bunch
It’s nearly two in the morning and I’m rowing my dinghy around the marina back to my boat. I round the corner of B dock and the sheer line of my little vessel is illuminated from the soft lantern light coming through the port. The sound of laughter is coming through the hatch.
This is my little house, I think to myself. She’s floats.
My two friends and a dog are inside. They’re cooking chicken and laughing about the French guy on the boat a few slips down that ran out in his speedo to help us dock the boat after we went for a sunset sail. He invited us over for drinks and put out a spread of every cocktail imaginable and high end cheese. With ice clinking in my glass I’m reminded of why I love this lifestyle. The people.
When the yard manager and his crew knocked on the hull at 9 AM on Friday morning and said, “You ready, Captain?” all the work from the last four weeks, all the uncertainties, and lonely nights in the boatyard, the hours of frustration and fears, the storms that bellowed through, the long days filled with little food floated away with the gentle four knot breeze.
And as my nearly two ton boat was lifted into the air, my motley crew surrounding me, I stared in wonder at this piece of fiberglass, metal and wood that has already taken me on a great adventure.
To all the people who have lent me a hand, a buck, or a word of advice–I couldn’t have done it without you.
“Happiness only real when shared.” -Alexander Supertramp
There’s a whole lotta lake out there
Now that my boat is just about ready to go in the water–I’m scared.
Sure, I’m excited, proud and looking forward to sailing this little boat I’ve literally bled on…but I’m fucking scared.
Maybe that’s just my way with sailing, though. Maybe I’m always going to be fucking scared. And maybe doing it anyway is what will make me brave.