SOS! HELP ME TELL MY #METOO STORY, REBUILD MY BOAT, AND LAUNCH AN ONLINE NEWSPAPER DEDICATED TO SAILING & THE MARINE INDUSTRY SO NO GIRL EVER HAS TO GO THROUGH WHAT I DID JUST TO GET ON BOATS (full story here)
Can’t talk right now, doin’ yacht punk shit
Sailing Docu-SEA-ries! Lonely Blue Highway : January in Maryland
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So You Want to Buy a Boat
Where do you find the heart of sailing? Is it witnessing both a sunset and a sunrise at sea? Is it in a boatyard with no fresh water, skin itchy with fiberglass? Is it in stepping ashore after a long passage, and drinking sparkling water with a lemon you foraged next to an abandoned dock? Is it in being wet, cold, and slightly frightened?
Or Is it found somewhere else? Is it found in yacht clubs and private marinas? Is it found in a fully enclosed cockpits with electric winches? Or in that moment you cash in your stocks and buy a boat to sail off into the promised sunset, cocktail in hand?
In the harbor right now there are three boats, including myself, that are all “basically engineless.” Meaning we all have some kind of auxiliary propulsion that only really work under totally calm wind, wave, and current conditions. Whether it be an extremely underpowered 2.3 HP outboard, or an outboard with a shaft that isn’t long enough, or a dinghy hip tied. That means in any and almost all conditions we are sailing, unless it’s for some short stretches of the ICW.
Is it because we are broke? Young? Idealists? Perhaps a combination of all three.
I’ve been a vagabond since I was 22 and bought my first boat at 26. I’m 31 now. I haven’t paid rent, except for the odd slip at a marina here and there for a few months at a time, in ten years, and have held various jobs. I happened upon sailing by chance on a yacht delivery in New Zealand and sailed across a literal sea a thousand miles over ten days, and I’ve just been trying to get back to that ever since, on my own boat.
But I never felt stuck in life, in a career, or in the throngs of capitalism that so many people feel that leads them to quitting their jobs and searching for boats. I’ve felt stuck with no money and very unseaworthy boats, but I didn’t do what most of my generation did; which is basically get real jobs. And now that they’re in their thirties and sick of the grind they’re like, let’s get a boat.
And they go buy some plastic boat from the eighties with a comfortable interior and no inherent seaworthiness in its design, but it’s safe enough. They focus on having a good engine, and then motor across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. They follow the “Thornless Path” and motor sail in the calms that can be found in between the prevailing opposing winds. Until they eventually reach the Caribbean and it’s all downwind from there. They have enough money, and enough confidence, even never having never sailed before, that they make it just fine.
Lots of people do this, especially with the advent of YouTube. People are like, “Yo, I can live on a boat and make a YouTube channel to pay for it?!”
But I can tell you this is not where you will find the heart of sailing. That is something you really have to look for. This is where you will find a departure from it. I’ve been trying to find it for years by now of living aboard and messing around with boats, and I still know nothing. “Remember you know nothing,” an old schooner captain told me. That’s what makes you a good sailor, he said. A good captain.
Famous sailor Nancy Griffith said, “know the limitations of your crew and your boat.” Crew, for the most part, has usually been only me. And I’ve scrutinized both myself and my boats heavily when weighing certain passages. I worked at marinas as a way into even learning about boats. My first boat I stuck to lake Champlain, my second I took down the Hudson River and to the Florida keys, only spending a little time offshore. The boat simply wasn’t prepared for passage making. Most of the offshore sailing I’d done before my current boat, was on boat deliveries. So I hold myself to that standard of seaworthiness, of what I’ve seen on the sea.
I spend more time fixing my shit to be at sea then I do actually at sea. I have to fix boats so often because I don’t have money, so I’m pretty DIY. The trouble is I really don’t trust my work. I rely on people with much more skill than I have to tell me if I’ve done something right. For me, the goal is to make my boat as safe and comfortable as possible on the sea. It’s been and continue to be arduous, refitting old boats to be sustainable in such an inhospitable environment, with little money and no formal training.
Sometimes I envy the other kinds of travelers. The backpackers. The ones who hoof it, bus it, ride planes and hop trains. But that’s not for me. Devoted to the sea. And if I can’t be there, damn it, I’ll be on land just trying to get there… because nothing else matters.
A surveyor wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole (I know this because my friend’s a surveyor and said so), but that’s a legit home made 12-volt lithium battery for $300 vs. the $700-1000 you’ll pay for a “marine” one.
Each cell is about three volts and that little red box is a battery management system (BMS), which keeps it all distributed evenly. The wires off the BMS are soldered to the positive end of each cell . There’s even a fuse on the battery to limit risk of fire in case the battery shorts out. Plus, it’s lithium ion vs. lithium iron. Lithium iron is apparently the more dangerous one, and if one cell melts or gets too hot it can start to burn any cell that is next to it.
It’s the way of the future, and lithium 12-volt batteries are way more efficient and longer lasting than lead acid. But of course like anything it comes with risks and consequences.
Where did the lithium in my batteries come from? Probably some horrible mining practice. I’ll look into that. It seems we just can’t escape the environmental impacts that come with being a human and consumer.
In the meantime I’ll be getting lots of work done on my computer because I can finally plug it in on board. This is the first time ever I’m able to have sufficient power on a boat I’ve owned. I even have a food processor. Hummus anyone? Plenty of solar aboard to charge everything and this battery can easily be disconnected and brought to land to charge! They’re also so much lighter than lead acid, and if you’re really clever you can swap them back and forth with your electric bicycle which is all these cells are anyway. Electric bike batteries.
I am not that type of clever, however, so just leave me to some basic carpentry and fiberglassing. This addition to Sohund is definitely not my creation, but I’ll take it!
Hang in there folks. Spring is almost here. I came out of the boat and I didn’t see my shadow, so– I’m sure of it.
A short note: Please sign up for email updates below! My subscribers all got deleted! All that’s left are 13 randoms and one of them has already sent me hate mail saying I am deranged and to take him off the mailing list. Sorry, but I don’t even know how you got ON the mailing list let alone how to get off it . So I guess he’s out of luck.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A New Adventure
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Rebedding the Portlights
I’m not the biggest fan of the signature Alberg windows. They seem too large to be fit for sea. If I were preparing Vanupied, my Pearson Ariel 26, to cross an ocean I would definitely glass in those gigantic holes and put in smaller, opening port lights. I’m not preparing my boat to cross an ocean, but I am essentially preparing her for the sea and island hopping, so my windows needed some work.
I first discussed my window problem with my friend Russell who I met while on a delivery of an Endeavour 43. Russell and his wife have sailed the world on their Kelly Peterson 44, “Blue Highway.” I was telling Russell about some cracks in the aluminum window frame. The conversation went something like this:
“How structural is it?”
“Can I just put some epoxy onto the cracks?”
“I wouldn’t. You should really get it welded.”
“I don’t have any money to pay a welder!”
I put “properly fix windows” on the list. Plus, they were leaking pretty badly and it was time for rebedding. I met Oliver by chance at a party at the yacht club. He’s a welder, a sailor, and my exact age. He recently sold his small sailboat that he lived on and sailed extensively! Even if no one else wanted to go out, Oliver was down whatever the weather. Living on land now he recently quit working for the man and went for it with his own business. Because he does excellent work for majorly nice yachts to earn the majority of his income, Oliver was more than willing to help a sailor out for a very reasonable price!
But first I had to remove them. The frames were held together by bolts using the tap and die method. I didn’t have a big enough screw driver for the bolts, so I set out in search of one in the boatyard. Skip, a friend of a friend, came through. Later he came to check on how the job was going.
“They’re seized,” I said. “Got an impact driver?”
He did, in fact have an impact driver, but many of the bolt’s heads were stripped or quickly became so. The impact driver required someone to use the entire force of their body to get a single bolt to even budge! Even Skip who is six feet tall, 250 pounds, and has 40 years of experience with fixing things was having a hell of a time! It took a long time, and a lot of Skip’s sweat but we finally got the windows removed. One frame broke into three pieces! I was definitely glad to be getting these fixed up. Off to the welder it went.
Because the aluminum was soft to begin with, and fifty years old, it turned out to be a hell of a job welding the windows as well. It’s a good thing Oliver loves a welding challenge. Meanwhile, I covered up the holes for the windows with heavy duty plastic wrap and duct tape. This turned out to be a pretty terrible idea because as soon as the sun hit the duct tape it basically became permanent. It took hours spanning two days with a sander and paint thinner on the deck in the hot Florida sun to get that off!
Once I got the windows back, they continued to be a pain in the ass. Skip continued to help me with the reinstall. When removing the frames we had broken a few bolts that were now stuck inside the holes, so we decided to drill new holes and tap new threads for those bolts. But threading the old aluminum was basically impossible. We broke all of our taps. Then we decided to through bolt the frames, and wondered why we hadn’t thought of this all along! We continued to break things like bits, nuts, and bolts. There were three trips to the hardware store in one day.
We finally got the windows back in! Not only are they leak free now, but they are much stronger thanks to the welds and the through bolts. Windows are all through bolted these days on boats. Sometimes the modern way can be better and stronger!
If you are traveling on the ICW and need some welding done in and around northern Florida, contact Oliver Heckscher at Weld Done- Mobile Metalworks & Fabrication. Huge thanks to Skip & Oliver for makin’ it happen!
“It’s All Rotted” : A Boatyard Vlog
Interested in what a day on the hard looks like? Watch my first ever boatyard Vlog! Complete with self deprecating humor, a field trip to the boatyard of broken dreams, a typo, and a joy ride in my neighbor’s jalopy!
Like what you see?
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That’s Alotta Water
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of when I left Lake Champlain onboard my little boat. I’d have cut the proverbial mooring lines, but I sold my bridle to a friend to pay my debt to the marina.
I left with $1,000 in my pocket headed south on an old, neglected boat that I was slowly improving. I learned about sailing and fixing boats along the way. Not much has changed on the financial side, but at least I am seeing improvements to my vessel and sailing skills! I’m even going to be giving a sailing lesson soon! Each day I get to know my boat better which has ultimately revealed more weaknesses. My ideas that included Puerto Rico, Panama, and other Caribbean destinations for this boat have been replaced by a more realistic voyage to explore the Bahamian islands solely. Cuba would also be possible. I’m exactly where I thought I might be a year later, stuck somewhere in Florida working on the boat.
I’ve traversed the Champlain Canal, Hudson River, New Jersey coastline, Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Atlantic Intra Costal Waterway from Norfolk, VA to the Florida Keys. One time while in Georgia I ran painfully hard aground outside of Jekyll Island. When I tried to kedge myself off, I put the anchor on the wrong side and wound up kedging myself further aground. I also managed to get my anchor completely stuck. Luckily, some locals passing by on a John Boat broke the anchor free for me and returned it. When they asked where I’d been and I started naming some of the rivers, bays, and coast I’d sailed one of them looked at me wide eyed and said in a very southern accent, “that’s a lotta water.”
I thanked them, and was soon on my way after the small wake of a passing catamaran and a few more hours of rising tide floated me off the mud.
I want to take this time to thank everyone who has helped me along the way and who cares enough about this journey to donate their time, gear, and hard earned freedom chips. There are still so many stories left untold of people who have not only helped me fix my boat or get me further along my way, but helped restore my faith in humanity.
And to all the people I should thank again for teaching me something important about sailing and helping me work on my boat: Lake Champlain- the good folks (not the bad ones) at Monty’s Bay Boatyard, Tanya & John Foley, John Hammond, Sallie & Jonathen, Tiny & Roel, Jake, Dale, Aaron & Sarah, Bruce & Sue, Point Bay Marina for always looking the other way, Capt. Dan, Hudson- Josh on Albatross, Chesapeake- Rich Acuti, Bill & Chris, Ladies’ Island- Mary, Susie & Adam, NoFlo- Kourtney & Pete, Nubby, Skip, Ray & Ash, Melanie Sunshine, SoFlo- Johnny, Kim, Mike, random folks whom with I rode out a 50 knot squall on a John Boat, Keys- Kacie & Joel
Thanks to my fam for sending me supply items always! To my friends for their friendship. And to all the people I might have forgotten, or who I only met in passing who lent a hand, a tool, or an ear.
Thanks to all the readers of this blog for allowing me a platform to show others that you don’t need a lot of money, or a lot of boat, to go sailing!
And a special thanks to all those who have donated and left kind words of encouragement.
Consider a donation if you enjoy this blog and would like to see more stories and how-to’s on sailing, fixing, and living aboard boats on a shoe string budget!
Notes from donors
With that list the weather will be cooler when you splash! KEEP ON keeping on young lady!
Hope that boot showed up..and a sailing partner if you want one..and fair winds always!
A little something to spend on yourself and your dreams! Hope you are Well and Happy.
hope this gets you down the channel a bit further or helps to keep your blog “afloat”. Would love to see those “Dinghy Monologues” but it’d be so awesome to see a video of you reading them in a dark theatre under the spotlight! Loved what I’ve read so far. “Wind at your back!”
Hi Emily! Hope this helps some. I admire your journey.
Hey, Not much impresses me these days. You’re doing what we all want to do. Much fair wind at your back! Gypsy Eyes 🙂
Nice to see someone living the dream. Keep up the good work.
Back in the 70’s I owned a wooden salmon troller and fished SE Alaska and the West Coast of Washington and Oregon. It was a life of poverty but I was young, immortal. I fished a marginal boat in very serious waters. At the end of the season I might have enough saved to get the boat back to Port Townsend, pay for a month of dock space, and begin looking for odd jobs. I’ve had so many. Worked in the woods logging, worked tree planting while living in a tent in the winter rain, boat delivery, deck hand on a fish packer in the Aleutians. I did what I had to do to eat and get the boat ready for the coming season.
The Original Sailing Anarchists
I just want to take a quick moment to pay homage to one of the original sailing anarchists. Moxie Marlinspike. He created the documentary Hold Fast, where he and two friends buy a derelict boat (which probably should have been free), fix it up and take off sailing across the Gulf Stream. They are on a bare bones budget with bare bones equipment when it comes to sailing and filming. They literally use bags full of bricks at one point for secondary anchors.
What’s so great about Moxie and his crew are they’re literally the antithesis of the “yachtie,” which is really just a club for the good old boys anyway (which was recently exemplified by our friends over at sailinganarchy.com). Moxie started the Blue Anarchy Sea Collective which had self-steering guides, a telegraph for other sailor punks to keep in touch, a not a yachter cruising guide, and more. Unfortunately, the website is no longer active but here is an interview from 59 North magazine about where our hero Moxie is today! You can also read some of Moxie’s sailing stories over at his website.
A huge thank you to everyone who read, shared, and commented on my post Why You Should Stop Reading Sailing Anarchy(.com) . The post has been shared so many times and there are hundreds of comments pouring in all over social media! Someone posted some negative stuff about me on the Sailing Anarchy forum and I am grateful for that too, because it’s driving even more traffic to my site. The post has been viewed several thousand times thus far, so thank you to all my followers, and my haters. I’ve literally never been so popular or so hated.
Last but not least it seems that the SA publisher is not pleased by my post, and sent me a threatening email. The good thing is that bitches be mobilizing all over who are tired of SA’s sexist nonchalance.
“You can’t beat women anyhow and that if you are wise or dislike trouble and uproar you don’t even try to.” -William Faulkner
The Good Ship Dolphin
“So I’m trying to get my boat on the hard.”
I’m talking to Logan. He’s in Puerto Rico having sailed there from Lake Worth a couple of months ago. We met in Cocoa Beach, FL, and lamented the Florida ICW together until he left to cross the Gulf Stream and I continued along the ditch in hopes of finding work and getting my boat fit for sea.
“One of the projects is closing up my through hulls. Doing it the right way means removing the through hull fittings, grinding a five inch bevel and filling it with layers of glass. And I’m like, can’t I just put some wooden bungs in there with 5200, close my leaky through hull fittings and call it good?”
“Absolutely!” he said. “You can even use a potato. Carrots work too.”
I’m laughing but know he’s serious. This is coming from the dude who when we first met asked me within minutes, “Have you been dismasted… yet?” One day while looking for his through hulls I found a corroded seacock handle that looked about ready to snap off. This was days before his intended blue water passages. When I pointed it out he simply shrugged. He had plenty of potatoes and carrots onboard, so I assume he wasn’t worried.
Despite his antics Logan was quite the competent captain. His boat, the Good Ship Dolphin, was loosely based on a Columbia 28, however she was much more cavernous and carried an expansive amount of tools, fermented foods, and other supplies intended for delivery to hurricane stricken islands.
Dolphin was a fiberglass Columbia 26. Logan acquired the boat from the previous owner, Rebecca Rankin. She and Dolphin had many adventures together.
Rebecca and her previous partner had done their best to make the rig bullet proof after a dismasting during a storm in the Florida Keys. She wound up making a mast step out of laminated plywood that extended seven inches up the mast, and spreaders made from white oak and stainless steel, “so Dolphin would never lose her mast again,” Logan said. The standing rigging itself was redone sailor gypsy style with nicro press fittings and a hand swaging tool. Because the backstay was too short, a shackle and some links of a chain were used for proper tension.
(At the time I was embarking down my own rabbit hole of redoing my standing rigging and had a breakthrough seeing how it was done on the Good Ship. The only reason I would wind up not going that route was because I got a crazy deal on machine swaged fittings…but I digress).
The boat was, essentially, very seaworthy as long as there was a potato at hand in case of a failing through hull. There was also mention of a rotten skeg, but what were a thousand nautical miles with a rotten skeg to boat like Dolphin?
Nothing of much concern, apparently, because Dolphin made it all the way to Puerto Rico no worse for ware complete with waterspouts, close whale encounters, and a detention in the Dominican Republic where his crew abandoned ship. Logan wound up single handing the rest of the way to Peurto Rico.
“I hope you are nearing the sea my friend,” Logan wrote to me ten days after he’d arrived and had begun carpentry hurricane relief efforts on the island. “Many mysteries.”
Sharing time and space with another human on a small boat forces intimacy. Everything is shared. Meals, work, thoughts. Strangers quickly become acquainted if by nothing more than proximity alone. I noticed this while my ship mate for the weekend cooked dinner. His galley was located right next to my bunk where my wet towel and underwear from a trip to the neighboring yacht club hot tub were hanging to dry, mere inches away from his head.
I spent the weekend working on the boat of a single-handed-sailor named Paul, helping him prep the boat for a new paint job. Because he keeps his boat an hour from where he lives, and an hour from where my boat lives, if I wanted the job I had to campout on his boat, on the hard.
I didn’t hesitate. I love the yard, I love boats, and certainly need the money. Due to a leak below the water line on my little boat I have to haul out sooner than expected and have been hustling to earn enough money in time for my haul out date in about three weeks. I was hoping to work on the boat on the float for a while and haul out somewhere on the Chesapeake, which is my very tentative summer/hurricane season destination this year (PANAMA 2019 YA’LL). But I’m not willing to spend that much time in between now and then, afloat and voyaging, with an underwater leak. So out my boat must come and out comes the depth sounder transducer. The depth reader hasn’t worked in months anyway. One less hole in the boat.
Paul’s boat is a Dufour 30. It is named Sobrius. Latin for sobriety. Paul got the boat only after he became sober. He traded booze for blue water and has since sailed over 1000 NM offshore, alone, and will set sail on another voyage in the spring. I have no doubt he and his boat will go far, and perhaps one day give up life on land all together.
I’m a traditionalist at heart when it comes to boat design, but the Dufour 30 seemed incredibly seaworthy despite it’s missile-like keel. Small cockpit, good use of interior space, sturdy rigging and a blue water reputation. Many Dufour sailboats are sailing the world’s waters, and this one in particular crossed the Atlantic twice with previous owners.
As much as I enjoyed the boat, the work, the amazing marina facilities next door, the friends I made in the yard (both human and animal), and Paul’s company—I missed my little boat.
I had folks looking after her while I was gone. Even though the leak is just a slow, tiny trickle, and every marine professional I talk to says in increase an water intrusion is extremely unlikely, I still worried about her alone on her mooring for two nights. When my friend’s sent me pictures of her afloat and in good standing on Sunday afternoon I felt pangs to get back. To get home. It was my first time sleeping away from my boat since September, and before that I was never more than a mile away.
Rowing back to my boat, exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates, climbing into her cockpit down the companionway I realized everything was exactly how I’d left it. The transducer was still leaking. My dishes were still in the sink. I was still going to have to hustle to make the boat right. And I took great comfort in all of that.
Note to Readers: Thank you to everyone who donated to my lost boot fund, and to the fees associated with this website. Both have been taken care of and any extra has gone into my boatyard fund. Also–if anyone is interested in Paul and his Dufour 30 Sobrius check out his book, Becoming a Sailor, and his youtube channel!
We ain’t giving up
All I can say is luckily the sun is supposed to shine for the next week…
I’ve always said this and it remains–life moves pretty fast on a boat that goes an average of five knots.
I showed up at the free dock in Oreintal, NC with a broken lower shroud and a completely drained battery from lack of sun and freezing temperatures. With the help of a young 20-years-old Quebecoise couple that pulled their battery charger off their engine room bulkhead, and several extension chords later, I was charging my battery with power from the public restrooms. Miraculously it was nursed back to health and I should be able to limp it along as my primary ship’s power until I reach warmer waters and stop to work.
My forward, starboard lower stay was completely cracked at its swaged end. Miles earlier in Elizabeth City I’d scored some 1/4 inch rigging cable to replace my aging, cracking, original standing rigging but knew I needed to at least consult a professional before moving forward. Even having gotten the cable for free, the end fittings I need for each stay are still expensive. Around $40 and I need eight. I could only afford to replace the one broken one for now. It was getting to the point where I could not continue to sail, until that one was fixed. So I came to Oriental, the sailing capital of North Carolina to do just that. In between was some of the best sailing this whole trip! Except I was kind of playing Russian roulette the entire time.
The series of events are as follows:
-Hunted through town to find a Sta-lok —the fitting needed for DIY rigging replacement to no avail
-Hunted through town to find a rigging shop that could swage the correct end size fitting for me. This came up successful but it was Saturday.
-Found a mobile rigger on the phone who answered (on said Saturday after thanksgiving) and hunted for a part for me but came up short. It kinda sounded like the best idea to have him just come look at the whole thing.
-Had an internal crisis about paying someone to do work on my boat instead of doing it myself. Rationalized that I know nothing about re-rigging a sailboat and that I will be able to learn first hand. He was coming at a moments notice in order to help me get underway again, and it required a more professional eye than mine. At least the first time around.
-The rigger was awesome and charged me half price to remove the broken stay and measure exactly for the new one, inspected my current and new (free) rigging, instructed me precisely on next steps of where to go to get fitting swaged and install it myself, and just generally provided merriment, tips, and knowledge to me and another young sailor on the dock.
In the meantime I found a climbing harness to borrow from Austin, a crazy 23-year-old sailor on a Sabre 28 who was told to look out for me by the folks on the Bonnie Boat, a sister ship on the Chesapeake Bay. Rode around town doing errands on his dope folding bike (thanks, dude!). Drank far too much wine and sang karaoke with some of my favorite sailors I’ve been seeing along the blue highway. Shared meals and tools and trades with my neighbor. Helped pull two different people up two different masts. Learned that a sailing friend from the best boatyard in the world had indeed sent me the sta-lok he had found in his boat that was exactly the right size I needed and it was waiting for me at the post office ready to pick up first thing Monday morning (Thank you Charlie and Meg)!!.
My good fortune continued. I met a couple, Herbie and Maddie around my age on a 1968 Morgan 45. They’d just been through a gale off Hatteras and were here waiting on parts for their electric engine. I told them I needed someone to pull me up my mast and it turns out Herb is a rigger! Not only that, but I’d read their blog The Rigging Doctor, when I first ventured into this crazy idea to re rig my own vessel from 1968! He knew exactly how to cut the cable and fit the sta-lok (more complicated than you’d think. Keep an eye out for their upcoming video about some DIY-rigging filmed on my boat)!
I was hoisted up with the right tools and instructions. After fiddling with the tight fitting pins for far too long the first part of my new stay was installed! Herb looked through binoculars on my foredeck to confirm it was indeed installed correctly! Then we cut the cable, fanned its individual wires ever so rightly into the new fitting, tightened it, attached it to the turnbuckle and re tuned the rig.
It was a whirlwind–but my rig is whole again. The boat looked slightly sad with her missing stay but it didn’t last long and I could not have been marooned in a better place waiting for all the pieces to come together. As soon as I am somewhere warm and am earning a much needed cash injection, the rest of my stays will all be replaced using the methods I learned in Oriental.
I left my heart on the Champlain Canal
History. Industry. Wildlife. That’s how I would describe the miles logged traversing the historic Champlain Canal. Built in the 1800’s and birthed from the brain of Gov. George Clinton of New York, well, all I can say is hats off to you, Sir Clinton.
For every ounce of sun we had there were equal parts rain, which were made increasingly miserable due to the large boom and mainsail taking up most of my cabin, and the breath/sweat condensing from two 20-something women. My crew was my best friend, Whitney. Not a sailor, but born on a boat. She sailed with me last year in a steep chop out of Burlington Harbor where I turned to her and said, “Okay, this is the point of no return–do you want to go back?”
To which she replied, “I trust you, Cap.”
If only she could be onboard forever, as her mere presence helps me to solve the problems of the world. But she has her own adventure to build, her own “boat” to find. She will be back onboard Vanupied when we reach southern latitudes. This much is certain.
For the first few locks we were nervous and scared. By the final we were entering the great big chambers of water playing the harmonica. We tied on and off docks and wharf walls like it were a game. We docked next to the actual remnants of the USS Ticonderoga and, naturally, saluted it when we left. I could’ve lived there amongst those lock walls and slimy lines with Whit as a canal rat forever but, alas, we finally reached tidal waters.
Whitney traveled with me another several miles on the Hudson River to Catskill, NY where I became a sailboat again. Luckily, her friend came to pick her up and return her back home for work on Monday—because even though I promised her I’d get her somewhere accessible to mass transit to get back in time, I really had no idea if I’d be able to deliver on that.
Huge shout out to Hop-O-Nose marina on Catskill Creek for a doing a dope job stepping my mast, for a free night at the dock and supporting the adventure. My favorite question I received from the owner there was, “WHAT DO YOU EAT?!”
Leaving Lake Champlain
September 2, 2017
Well, I left. I’d have cut the proverbial dock lines but I sold my mooring bridle to a mate to pay my debt to the marina. It all worked out. I feel like it’s my birthday or something. So many well wishes as I prepared to and left the mooring field. “Bye,” I yelled to my neighbors who I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. “I’m not coming back!”
So, yes, while I technically left I’m only five miles away. And I’m okay with that.
I left at 9 AM with a single reef in the main and was glad I did. I wanted to make it to crown point but it took two hours just to make it this far. I was cold, wet. My foul weather gear sucks. The rain, remnants of hurricane harvey, was tempestuous. Busted my depth sounder. I knew something electronic would fry I’m just glad it wasn’t Jane (my autopilot) or my GPS. Guna make me a lead line. No other boats I’ve ever owned or sailed on had depth finders anyway.
I figured why not ditch out while I still can. Soon there will be long passages with nothing in between. I’m anchored off the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum which is fitting. I’m slightly exposed to the south because mooring balls are taking up most of the anchorage. If no one claims them by tonight I’ll move onto one. I fought with the alcohol heater for a while but finally got it to work. Everything is damp but it’s beautiful in the rain.
I hope to reach Chipman Point in time for my mast unstepping appointment but I’m behind. I’ll have to leave crown point very early and should probably motor if I want to get there on time. Wind forecast 25 kts from the south but this part of the lake is very narrow, meandering, full of eagles I’ve been told.
Day three. Depth finder definitely broken. Crown point. I’ve re-anchored for the third, maybe fourth time trying to get as close to shore as possible but the gusts kept pushing me back. I’m scared for tonight. I’ve been in blows before but this spot is unknown to me.
I left early to avoid increasing wind prediction and motored into a dead calm until a light wind filled in for about an hour. Becalmed for another hour I started to motor until I hit more wind with soon became 20 kts with gusts higher. After some miles tacking one gust hit that almost knocked us down. It was time to go on deck to either shorten sail or motor. I motored. Heeling over hard in 20 kts, solo, on my boat for miles is…difficult. I kept kicking the autopilot out of its socket I was sure I’d break it. It’s hard to look at charts or do damn near anything when I have to sail the boat so closely. Crew would make all the difference in the world in that situation. But at the same time, fuck going to weather. Everyone avoids it whenever they can, right? I don’t have anything to prove to anyone or to myself.
Exhausted! Starving! No time to eat much today. Wiring catastrophe. Tried to drill hole out in bulkhead to pass running light wires and connectors through. Would up drilling into the wires and have to re splice now anyway, so hole drilling was useless and destructive. Wound up lashing the mast to the rails instead of using wood supports. It’s sturdy. Got pretty pissed though when one of the marina employees was insisting on untying my boat from the crane area in the middle of huge thunderstorm. Finally the owner came over and told him to stop. I was pissed, but the owner made it right by giving me free dockage.
Two cruising families here heading south. One I met last year in the Champlain Islands.
Approximately eighteen snaky miles through the creek like, final miles of Lake Champlain. Eagles. White and blue herons. Train tracks. Trees and cliffs. Misty and fjord like.
Crew: Amber. Off the boat of cruising family. We buddy boated with her son and husband onboard their vessel and passed through Lock 12 of the Champlain Canal. Emerged triumphant. Excellent crew. Tied to the high cement wall in Whitehall, NY now awaiting the arrival of my crew for the next four days who will travel with me the next sixty miles of the Champlain Canal and to the entry of the Hudson River where, shortly after that, I’ll become a sailboat again.
Sail angels (get it? Like ‘trail angels’)
My main sail was in such bad condition that I’d taken to fastening patches on new tears that were appearing nearly every time I sailed with 5200, because adding more perforation by sewing only seemed to damage the deteriorating fabric further.
My new (to-me) main sail is all dialed in. It even has a third reef point now with completed slab reefing capabilities (which meant a total of eight holes drilled and threaded on my boom). The sail was donated to me. A huge thanks to Bill Phelon, commodore over at the Pearson Ariel owners association who shipped me his old main within hours of my post on the forum. I only paid shipping on the sail from California and it was well worth the cost as it has years of life left whereas my sail maybe had weeks.
Sewing reinforcements for my second and third reef points was also donated (with a partial trade), by Spinnaker Sallie Mack, one of the first female sailmakers on Lake Michigan back in her day, and local Champlain wooden boat sailor. She also helped me make a little storm head sail out of a staysail in perfect condition that came off a 62-foot-ketch my BFF’s mom used to own and sail on the Atlantic Coast. Thanks, Sallie and Kay!
Grommets and further dialing in on my sail inventory came at a fraction of the cost from Ed Trombley up at Doyle Sailmakers on the New York side of the lake. Thanks, Ed.
As prepared as I am I’m learning you’ll never really be ready to go. I’m as prepared as I can be, and know enough to know what I don’t know, you know?
I’ve been tied to the mooring ball for days. Ten, maybe. Maybe seven. Chipping away at the boat. I’d look at my log but I haven’t been keeping it. The passage of time makes no sense. The days have blurred into one. Drill holes, go to the hardware store, fix a new problem I didn’t know existed. Tear the boat apart. Put it back together.
It seems like a life time ago I was cruising in Tandem with Sixth Girl, a Melody 32, and her captain Dale. She won the Chicago Mackinac, once. In the sixties. She fell off a semi-truck once, too. Dale has been restoring her to do a trip much like my own–except he’s sailing on the outside of the Atlantic Coast. What I intend to do has snippets of it, but is mostly part of the Inter Coastal Waterway. There’s blue water though, on my trip. And even more blue water to chose from once I get further south.
People ask me why I’m doing this. For food, I suppose. I never know what to eat in the American world of meat and dairy. I’m searching for coconuts and pineapples (although I’m slightly allergic to pineapples. On a crowded bus to a tiny peninsula in Costa Rica my lips started to tingle and I pondered the possibility of a tracheotomy and who on said bus might know how to perform one. I’ve got plenty of benadryl on my boat though…don’t worry, mom).
“I’m trying to find the conch dock,” I’ll often say. “You know, a place you can tie up your dinghy and there’s like, fried conch for cheap.” (But the Carribean and Bahamas are expensive I’ve heard. So the odds are greater I’ll have to learn to forage for my own sea food). I just like saying ‘the conch dock.’
Bluewater, I suppose, is a reason too. While it scares me more than anything it’s something I’ve always yearned to return to since a yacht delivery from NZ to Tonga in 2011. I suppose it’s there that my obsession with sailing boats truly began, but I’m only just beginning to know what I’m actually doing.
Wherein lies my problem is that my boat is ready for this trip (almost, a few more screws and pieces of string), but the whole point is to keep going and she’ll need more work for that. I know that without constant maintenance and upkeep she will turn for the worst. Even though I’ve done nothing but make her better and stronger, I’m afraid that once I leave here and all my resources I’m not going to be able to continuing making progress to her and I’ll be forced to leave. I’m afraid I won’t be able to accept that and I’ll fall into the category of ‘live aboard’ not ‘sailor,’ stuck somewhere in Florida.
What if I never make it beyond to distant shores?
But aren’t they all distant shores? I have the Champlain Canal, Hudson River, New Jersey coast, Chesepeake Bay and more in front of me before I have to worry about that. Shit, there’s even the possibility that this all works out. That I maintain my focus. That I continue to learn.
Still, I can’t stop thinking about making her totally blue water capable. Like strong enough to cross an ocean. Nothing for miles except blue onboard my own boat. New standing rigging, strengthening her transom, ripping out and rebuilding everything that’s decaying, stripping her to bare bones, etc., etc…
Can I do it all along the way? Will other parts of the country, or other countries entirely be as friendly and helpful as this sailing community has been? Will I sail into the perfect port some thousands of miles from her to begin another stage of my little boat’s refit?
I guess I’ll find out.
I get by with a little help from my friends
The words from an acquaintance when I was contemplating buying my first boat last year sometimes echo in my mind; “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed that Lake Champlain isn’t exactly a sailing mecca.” He was wrong.
Bluewater boats, Bluewater sailors, Bluewater scheming and planning and dreaming around every corner and cove. Chart swapping, gear talking, beer cans clinking. Boomkins, boom gallows and bowsprits. Varnish and vagabonds. Full keels, fin keels, twin keels. Gaffers, cutters, schooners and sloops.
I must be the luckiest sailor in the world. I’ve said it before, but every point I round on this lake there is someone who has helped me or taught me to thread aluminum, cut with a grinder, fair my epoxy, wire my electronics or tune the rig.
We hold each other’s screw drivers, we take turns buying packs of beer and cigarettes, we act as sounding boards for ideas, we climb each other’s masts, we stop what we are doing to help. We are friends. We are brothers and sisters. We are cousins. We are a circle of humans. A tribe. A water tribe.
My community is strong, my boat is strong, my spirit is strong. I don’t want to jinx it but…I think I’ve set a departure date.
“You going south this year or what?!”
“I’m going to try, but I’m scared! Like really scared.”
“Good! You Should be! It’ll keep you alive.”