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)
Sailing into Towndock.net
Courtesy of Towndock.net, 1963 sailing vessel Teal arrives in the harbor for some much needed refinishing.
Genoa, tri-radial by Evolution Sails / Latell & Ailsworth Sailmakers, HQ, Sailloft & Repair, Deltaville, VA ! Made in the USA
Cross-cut mainsail, Precision Sailloft; HQ British Columbia; Canada sail loft in Shenzhen; China 2021
Mainsail Track, Tidesmarine, Hi-density extruded teflon, low-friction mainsail system 2021
Vintage Hydrovane, Self-steering wind vane; British Columbia. Furlex roller furling
Boat hull/design; Tripp 29; Tripp-Lentsch, built by Amsterdam Shipyard in the Netherlands, 1963
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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!
I was sailing engineless down the northeast coast in winter when my grandfather was put on hospice. I knew he’d want me to keep going with my sailing hustle…
My grandfather was an OG hustler. It’s where I got it from. He could sell literal ideas. His first self directed gig was during the Great Depression as a kid in Brooklyn. His grandmother ran a card room and he would sit under the table with his little brother, Donnie, and collect any chips that were dropped. During adolescence, he kept some raw dough in his pocket from the neighboring bakery and sold “feels” to his schoolmates. The claim? They felt like tits.
His father, Irving, spent too much time at the races and later his brother would join him there–meanwhile the three of them were supposed to be running a family business and my grandmother was pregnant still back in Germany. My grandma kept my pop’s shoes as a promise that he would come back. They met after she had escaped communist Germany and made it into Berlin. He was stationed there in the Air Force. My grandma was working as a cocktail waitress and didn’t know English, but pop knew some German.
Pop’s job in the service at that time was in the mailroom. He would take the train to France and bring back hashish and then push it to his comrades through the internal mail delivery system. “He was like the mayor,” my grandma said.
Back in the states now with his young family, he worked for Kraft Foods. Driving the company car one time on the famous Tappan Ze Bridge overlooking New York City, he crashed. It almost all ended right there.
He told me once that the pressure from all the hustle, after all that time, made him an angry man. And that he let that anger smolder for years until something inside of him had to change. And it did. Though he was never perfect, nor did he claim to be.
Later, he moved on to sell insurance. And eventually, industrial supplies. Which would drive him into retirement, on a mountain, where he lived the life of a yogi and died a legend.
*some details in this story may be incomplete*
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Sailing Docu-SEA-ries! Lonely Blue Highway : January in Maryland
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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.
She Thrived: A Q&A with solo sailor, artist, & cancer survivor Capt. Becca
I wrote a story once about my friend Logan and their old boat with its custom wooden spars and self swaged standing rigging. Among other sailor punk repairs that were solid as fuck but didn’t buy into the marine industrial complex, the boat also had a rich history. Nearly all of that was due to Rebecca Rankin, or Capt. Becca. Turned out that some of the facts in my story about her once-boat, Dolphin, were incorrect—and she reached out to tell me so.
I got defensive, of course, and (not soon enough) saw her side. I apologetically promised to make the proper corrections. While it was uncomfortable to hear some criticism about myself and my work, I in turn gained a glimpse into this woman’s remarkable life journey.
She’s an accomplished solo sailor, a finisher of the venerable engineless Race to Alaska, an artist, cancer survivor, and a student at the Maine Maritime Academy. Oh yeah, she’s also a talented visual artist.
Capt. Becca got into sailing on a whim, and it changed her life forever…
Tell me about your boat, Dolphin.
Oh my goodness, Dolphin. Well, to begin I bought Dolphin when I was about 21 years old. I am 33 now. We had travelled to the Florida because my boyfriend at the time, and I, were cold. It was winter and we lived in my Volvo station wagon. Key West, Florida was the farthest south a body could go without a passport so…off we went!
I had some money left over from my grandmother’s inheritance and he mentioned this idea of living on a boat….and I was like, “that sounds neat!” So, we looked at Dolphin and two other boats and then purchased that little 28’ sloop for $6500 on Stock Island, Florida.
We did SO MUCH WORK TO HER. Things were always breaking. For example, a couple weeks after we bought her and before I had even sailed her, the forestay parted during a storm and the rotten mast boot kicked out and she dismasted. I was trying to learn to re-rig a small sailboat before I’d even been sailing. By the time I finally sold her to Logan, I had touched every single square centimeter of that motherfucker, probably twice.
I did sell her twice, first to my friend Brenna, after single-handing back from Guatemala and having a hell of a time of it. Then I bought her back. Because why? I don’t remember. Either way, I spent eight months in a boatyard and then sailed her from Key West to New Orleans where I lived for a while then decided to “pursue a career” and sold her to Logan in order to go to school. I don’t know what years anything happened. I’m not terrific with a sense of time, but I think I owned her, on and off, for about eight years.
What is the most terrifying thing that happened to you at sea?
Ha! Oh, Gosh. I suppose when I did my first big single-handed passage from Key West to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I was using this kitchen egg timer to wake myself up in 10 minute intervals while I sailed through a shipping channel at night. I didn’t have any sophisticated electronic equipment onboard cause I was broke. I learned that 10 minutes is sufficient time for a very large freighter to steam from invisible to about three stories directly above your head as she passes directly perpendicularly in front of your bow in the middle of the night… you know those experiences where instead of being utterly, completely fucking dead you’re instead absolutely fine? That was one of them. That ship was so close to me I couldn’t see her top decks without craning my neck, but she passed right on by and into the night and I, and Dolphin, were completely fine. Stunning, that much is for certain. And the stars were so bright.
What kind of boat do you have now? What kind of work does it need? What are your future plans for the boat?
Today, I have a steel 38’ yawl named Cu Mara, which is Gaelic for “Sea Hound.” She was built in Ontario, Canada in 1975 by a gentleman named Al Mason and lived there most of her life until my friend Robin transported her to Maine about six years ago. I bought her, and have moved her only by truck all over the state of Maine. I purchased her prior to my acceptance to Maine Maritime Academy and have been rather forced to put my aspirations for her on the back-burner as I work through school, but I hope very much to see her sailing, hopefully to a foreign country, in the not so distant future. She has been sitting out of the water for many years now so every system requires a general go-over, but she is a steel vessel who has never been immersed in salt water so she is, generally, in remarkably excellent condition for her age.
You said to me once you are in school at Maine Maritime because you want to be a better captain. What is an example of a time you’ve been a good captain? How about a bad one?
Certainly, that time I fell asleep at the helm and was awoken by the sound of crashing breakers, had a moment where I was thankful I was at the beach, then realized I was sailing at 6 knots directly into the shore so pirouetted around without even waking my crew of two was an example of my less-than-illustrious captaining abilities. That was off the East Coast of Belize and, since we didn’t crash nor die and no one else even woke up, it might qualify as a “good captain” moment as well. I’m torn.
But yes, I am at school at MMA because I have zero “official” knowledge of the ways of the sea. Despite my experience, I have no formal knowledge of things like navigation and, so, especially in the world we find ourselves now, I am working to improve my knowledge of all things maritime in the hopes that I will be a stronger and fairer captain in the future, assuming I can actually handle the responsibility. I’m a single-hander at heart for eternity, most likely, and a reluctant captain at best. I just want to make wise decisions and sail to exotic lands without crashing into things, what can I say?
You competed in the 2019 Race to Alaska and finished! What was that like? What kind of boat? How did you end up as crew?
I did! It was fucking dope and fascinating as all hell! What a crazy little micro-universe, cult type thing they have going on surrounding the R2AK. Such a kooky event. So many awesome people. So weird! The boat we sailed on was an F-27 trimaran named Magpie, one of those folding, trailerable deals and we sailed with a crew of three. My captain, Katy Steward, literally just texted me one day and said, “Hey, you sail right?” She says, now, she thought of me because she needed another hand she could trust to stand watch alone and, even though we had never met, she figured I could handle it. We’re real close now, she’s fucking amazing. Obviously, I was available and said “yes,” which is the first step in any real adventure, after all.
What were some of the negative experiences of R2AK?
There wasn’t any wind so we pedaled that goddamn trimaran across a whole lot of bodies of water. I’m not a racer, so I’m not particularly inclined to go places as fast as humanly possible, especially when it doesn’t make any damn sense to do so, so I struggled with that a bit. I was also intriguingly disturbed by the media attention the R2AK and R2AK racers receive, but that’s more of a reflection on me and my discomfort in the spotlight than anything else.
In both the sailing community and marine industry women are in the minority. What kind of sexism have you faced and how have you overcome it?
I have a number of terrifically specific personal experiences, like being dropped from the program at Piney Point for no reason whatsoever, but it’s sometimes personally difficult to separate the experiences I have from the appearance of my gender and the appearance of my tattoos. I am heavily tattooed and believe this to be an equally affective experience in regards to my career, sometimes even more so than the fact I am a woman. I must say, I also stand 6’1” tall, taller than most men, and so have not felt the effects of sexism as directly as many of my smaller, female counterparts. I discern it has something to do with the perception that I can’t be as easily fucked with, so men don’t treat me as less than equal as much. Obviously, discrimination is still a huge part of everything I experience. This is not the maritime standard I hope to see in the future. Sitting with the unbelievable sexist and discriminatory aspects of this industry is incredibly difficult. We are one of the most patronizing and mentally antiquated industries out there. I can only hope that, by continuing forward with my career and intentions, I am part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
So you’re a fucking survivor and I hope you don’t mind me asking about it. What kind of cancer did you have? How old were you when were you diagnosed? What was it like navigating the healthcare system as a young woman with no insurance?
Yeah, fuck yeah I am! I don’t mind your asking one bit! I was diagnosed with Stage III Ovarian dysgerminoma in July of 2016, at age 30, after having my right ovary, fallopian tube and 26 lymph nodes removed in an emergency surgery after the tumor inside my ovary grew so large it eclipsed my bladder. That sucker was about eight pounds. I underwent 6 months of BEP Chemotherapy, which is a rare but highly effective type of chemotherapy, and have been in remission for about three years now. There is zero history of cancer of any type in my family.
Navigating the healthcare system as a young woman with no insurance was fucking insane. I do not recommend it to anyone and find it incredibly embarrassing that THIS is the point to which we have evolved, societally. Y’all need to get your shit together and re-align your priorities. No person ACTUALLY DYING should have to rely on a friend she hardly knows to feign being a doctor so that she can get the medical attention she requires to NOT DIE in America. It’s a real fucking tragedy. It was about a year, or maybe two, post treatment I could even go IN a hospital without crying. It’s absolutely unbelievable.
How has surviving from cancer altered the course of your life?
It has changed my life, completely, as I know it. I am not the same person as I was prior to illness and treatment. For one, I have a lot of lingering physical issues, like Raynaud’s disease in my feet and hands, PTSD and memory issues that are direct results of chemotherapy treatment but, MORE SO, I was forced, by my illness, to finally fucking show up for myself. I learned about boundaries, my needs, my body and my heart in a way that is reserved for cancer survivors. Its difficult to explain, but not a day goes by I don’t consider that event in my life. Its precious, man. Every second is precious. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar cause the only thing I really know is that you really never, ever fucking know.
You’re also an artist, how would you describe your art?
My art is fucking beautiful. For many years, it was my primary source of income. I don’t think I produced the best work I could have due to this dependency, but produced I sure did. My art is a direct expression of myself and it is raw, real and unique, just like me. I have no training, besides what my mom taught me, cause she’s a badass artist, and, so, the result is actually original. It took me awhile, but now I can dig that THAT is amazing and priceless. My art isn’t for everyone, but so what.
How can people buy your art or support you in some other way?
Hell! I have a lot of various websites you can see my art, I sell a lot of original pieces through my Facebook and Instagram. I have goals to publish some books and keep creating in the future and you can always just VenMo me money for no reason at all. It’d be great to start a Patreon, but I need to identify a project I feel worthy, first!
What’s next for you and how can we watch?
The goal, currently, is to make my way, at least semi-successfully, to graduation from the Vessel Operations and Technology Program at Maine Maritime Academy. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram and message me any ole time about any ole thing.
On a Good Day
March 13, 2019
At some point you just have to say fuck it, and go sailing. I know this boat. I know all its weaknesses. I know what it can take. I also know what I can take, which is probably a lot less. I know how quickly it can change out there. That’s why some passages are…questionable. On a good day this boat can do it out there. On a good day any boat can do it out there. This is not the boat I want to be in when shit hits the fan. At least not in its present condition.
I think at this point being on the water is intrinsic to my being; or I’m jaded. I just find it hard to fully immerse myself in the moment and enjoy when I feel a lot of pressure to prove myself and make this boat respectable.
Let’s see I have six weeks, maybe eight, to finish the rest of the work to this boat. Did I mention I want to refinish the interior on this piece of shit? I know, I know, she’s my piece of shit which is precisely why I am making her pretty. Shit, I might AirBNB her when I get wherever the fuck it is I’m going (north).
And even though it pains me not to be in the Bahamas today was a win. Moving the boat to the other side of the waterway. The island side. I can hear the ocean over the dunes and mangroves. There’s a lighthouse. Some pretty boats. You can land your dinghy at the public launch ramp or hide it if you want to leave it for longer. They can ticket your dinghy, but I have a feeling Loner will slip through the cracks.
There are some dero* boats here (*side note: my Kiwi friend used to call me/Vanu “dero.” It is literally short for derelict but in Kiwi slang it’s used endearingly for someone that is hobo/hardcore/crusty or whatever. Someone usually broke, traveling, and kind of dirty. I’ve adopted the term to refer to the derelict boat problem in Florida). But I’m not worried about them. I can keep to myself, speak their language, or defend myself if ever necessary.
I’ve decided that after Vanu I’m going to own a boat a year until I find “the one.” Being on Vanu has literally been a time warp. Throw in daylight savings time and, well, I’m tired of the struggle. I’m selling out. I’m getting a job. And then I’m getting another boat.
In the meantime I’ll be illegally stashing my dinghy, prepping the boat, and doing odd jobs here and there before leaving this town, out the inlet and onto the next adventure. On a good day, of course.
You shouldn’t trust sailors on land.
“Don’t forget me,” I say. Only to the important ones. When they are leaving or I am leaving. I feel like I used to be so good at leaving. Now it takes so much longer. Sometimes you gotta stop before you can keep going. Sometimes you have to get into the boatyard to get out of it. That’s why I’m moving back aboard. Even though it’s hard. Even though there’s dust. I’ve taken to calling it pixie dust. My buddy Canoe Jeff from Lake Champlain coined that turn of phrase. He’s definitely one of the ones I told not to forget me.
And he hasn’t.
The boathouse and my time here feels like a blur. Visiting sailors have always been welcome here. It’s how I first ended up here, and I’ve kept the tradition alive. Two schooner boys are our next guests. I remember the first one that showed up. Scott from SV Steady Drifter. His experiences in the Bahamas had rendered him changed. Then there was Johnny and Pete, who I would sail my boat with for the final time before hauling her. Chris and his Nor’sea which laid at the dock because work kept him chained to a ship that wasn’t his own.
They’re all land based now, too.
Never trust sailors on land. There’s more at stake out there, so there’s no time for trivial things. Like the anxieties of modern life and modern relationships. Being out there makes me a better person. Being out there makes me more independent and sharpens my desicion making skills. Out there everything is simple, even though the reality and rules are harsh.
On land everything gets misconstrued, so I had to start keeping a planner.
“I don’t do well alone,” my friend says. This is over the phone. Maybe that’s why he’s talking to me at 1 a.m. The funny thing about being alone is I only notice it when someone else comes along and points it out. Going down the Hudson river, getting shit out into the Atlantic ocean at the bottom of the tidal universe, my six horse power engine buzzing and my main sail struggling to stay full of air in the busy harbor. The passing ferry wakes are mountains I climb and careen down. There are tankers, container ships, water taxis and I don’t know which way to go to get out of their way, so I just hug the buoys. Content with running aground or into a bridge pillar if it means avoiding collision with one of them. I’m shit out into the Atlantic ocean and the wind fills my sail. I turn off the engine.
I am completely alone.
Everywhere I go there seems to be some old salt with thousands of miles under their keel that believes in me. However for every one of them, there is someone who thinks I am fool hearted. -From the Log, May 2017
Many people say you can’t sail the ICW. “It’s all motoring. It’s all motor sailing. It’s not really sailing. It’s motoring.”
It’s true that some of the time you will not be able to sail or you will have to use the motor to get to an anchorage before dark, but there is still some incredible sailing on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway! Its tight quarters, heavy traffic, and fast currents make for challenging but fun conditions. The ditch stretches from Norfolk, VA to Key West, FL, but it doesn’t always resemble its earned nickname. There’s plenty of long stretches where several points of sail are possible. You can still have a great sailing adventure on a modest boat and budget by sailing the ICW!
I picked up crew in West Palm Beach who hated using the engine as much as I did. We left early one morning with 30 knots out of the east but it didn’t matter, we were on the inside! We went screaming past Peanut Island and when we reached the first of what would be many bridges we saw some sailors I had met further north. We did a drive by under sail and traded them some coconuts for some beers. On the second day our good fortune continued. We met Captain Mike who was driving a Sea Tow boat. He knew the Alberg designs and came by to chat. He used to own a Seasprite 23 and we were immediately connected by the threads of our classic plastics.
The Seasprite, it turned out, was in need of a home. It was later gifted to my crew member and I upon our return to Palm Beach, and we sold it for $1000 which we split 50/50. The day we met Captain Mike he had his professional telephoto zoom lens camera onboard and he tailed us for miles snapping photos and radioing to power boats to get out of our way and watch their wakes because we were under sail and didn’t they know the rules, damn it!
We had our very own chase boat until we neared the border of Mikes towing jurisdiction. We said goodbye and handed him a coconut. “See you out there!” I called as we tightened the sheets to make the the next bridge opening.
We ain’t giving up
All I can say is luckily the sun is supposed to shine for the next week…
I think I was allergic to New Jersey. Or at least something in it. I’m not just saying that as a native New Yorker. In Atlantic Highlands I woke up with my eye swollen shut. I thought putting turmeric on it would solve everything, but it just made me look sick with jaundice.
“I think you should see a doctor,” several sailors told me once conditions worsened. They still insisted even once I explained the yellow stain was from the herb. Two urgent care clinics who refused me and a trip to the ER later I was loaded with prednisone and antihistamines. On my way to recovery and ready to go to sea! The only symptoms that lingered was my constant fear of it coming back.
By Atlantic City, I had another inflamed, itchy episode this time on my hip. I managed to heal that one on my own mostly by constantly cleaning it and pumping myself full of Benadryl for five days at anchor waiting for gales to pass. (A month later and the skin where the rash was is still a different color than the rest of my body but whatevs…battle scars)!
In New Jersey I learned something else–that while the ocean scares the shit out of me there is still something strong, strange and undeniable that draws me towards it. Regardless, I was incredibly happy to be done with the Jersey Coast. Few good inlets, autumn gales, allergic reactions. Inland waters were waiting to welcome me with open arms once again.
PASSAGE NOTES: Oct. 10
Atlantic Highland to Atlantic City
80 miles, 19 hours
1500- No idea where I am. Where is green buoy number one? Heading SW 210 degrees. Light NW swells. 3.5 hours left of daylight.
16:30 – 40 18.874 N , 73 55.616 W
1700- Ocean big and scary. Just want to go in straight line. Wind light. Going two knots sails flapping. Dropped jib. Under power and main. 4.5 kts. Soon I’ll be blind. Entrusting my compass, GPS and nominal navigation skills. Will have to refuel sometime if wind doesn’t change. Black flies are tempestuous. Alone on the ocean. I could easily end up in the shipping lanes if I’m not careful. Will I ever relax and enjoy this?
1800- 40 12.017 N , 73 56.304 W
Hailed sailboat off to port on VHF. Capt. Logan, youngcruisers.org. Headed to Norfolk. “You’ll know what’s right,” he said to me.
19:30- 40 6.097 N , 73 51.151 W
I keep calling it a “sight” when I go down below and plot my position on the chart. I attached battery power nav lights, fearing mine would drain the ships battery and I’m relying on autopilot. When I see lights I turn the masthead light on too. That may be confusing to other boats but…
21:20 – 40 2.270′ N , 73 57.591 W
2200 – Two ships passing in the night. Going along nicely. Vanupied skipping across the swells. She was made for this. Pretty stellar out here. Stars, bioluminescence. Fog seems possible. Don’t want that. See a little light to starboard catching up.
0000, 39 51.933 N, 73 58.391 W. Accented commercial vessel captain yelling on the VHF. Gotta make port before the gale tomorrow. I could live out here.
0300- WHO ELSE IS OUT HERE TRAVELING THIS LONELY BLUE HIGHWAY!? Squall line in Maryland. Will it reach me?
0600- About to make my approach but waiting for sun to rise. Blood red sky. Ninety-seven percet humidity. Mosquitos, flying beetles, and moths fall out of the sky onto my boat. Is this my own personal rapture? Nah, there’s a dolphin, too.
Oct. 11 PM
My boat danced like a pony cross the sea all night. I made it into the inlet just a conditions began to deteriorate. Now, GALE.
At the dock of Chris and Bill from SV Plover, a Dickerson 41 built on this here Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia. Civil war shit. Their house has a ghost. It’s been like living history this trip. The Revolutionary War battlegrounds of Lake Champlain. The exploration of the new world by Henry Hudson. Modern industry steeped in the tradition of the mariner in the Atlantic shipping lanes.
And now, this here Bay that I’d certainly like to get to know better historically speaking. For the most part I’ve just been sailing hard. Only catching a glimpse of what is, or once was, taking place on its shores.
Twenty knots again today (at least it wasn’t 25). Waves up to my rub rail again. Engine locker swamping with water again. I’m closing up the hole in the engine locker first chance I get. My engine needs tending to. It’s been getting knocked around, banged and hassled. It’s a good thing I installed a lip on the mount to keep it from shaking loose. Fucking outboards. So simple, yet so… beyond my realm of consciousness. I’m going to need it soon. I’ll be in the ICW with little room to sail. At least here, for example, if the engine dies say while coming into a harbor—I can sail.
I used to sail in and out of harbors all the time. On and off moorings and my anchor. I haven’t done that once since I left the lake. Who am I?
Received charts here from Aaron and Sarah. Inside was a gift of some Vermont food staples. It was a very kind gesture, of which I credit to Sarah solely, because while it may be Aaron who gave me his charts, she orchestrated their arrival.
I now have almost every chart I need for the remainder of this here venture. I still need to obtain some offshore charts for North and South Carolina. There are some options there for going offshore but man I really wish I had crew for some of the longer ones. It’s the same adage—when sailing offshore off shore, I think having crew is not AS imperative perhaps because you are so far off and can actually sleep.
But I can only go a few miles off. Vanupied is simply just not equipped for the wilderness desolation 100+ miles offshore. Will she ever be? Doubtful. I’ll probably just get another boat and equip her. At least that’s the latest crazy plan I’m scheming. But I waffle. Vanupied could be made right. Honestly, even the Bahamas might be slightly sketchy on this boat as is. I’m not sure. I’m still shaking her down. She’s proved herself alright in this latest round of northerlies.
“It’s not about the boat it’s about the skipper.”
Somewhere in the middle
November 4, 2017. Solomon’s Island, MD
I’m getting closer to the ‘conch dock.’ I can feel it. There are pelicans. I don’t want it to end, sailing the Chesapeake, but it’s getting cold. Today, the water grey and glistening, had sloppy, choppy waves with little crests that broke and disappeared under my boat’s keel. Sometimes a rogue set would send Vanupied careening into their troughs, knocking the wind out of her sails. But there wasn’t much wind to fill them anyway. As the remaining gusts from the cold front dissipated not much was left, but the leftover seas never did really settle. I should have flown the big genoa only. Could have made better time.
As it was 20 miles took nine hours and I arrived after dark to an empty anchorage in front of a tiki bars, piers, and buildings on stilts. One restaurant was playing some golden oldies and the free entertainment was welcome aboard. While squaring things away on deck another boat came in and I heard her captain call to his crew,”We’ll anchor just behind this guy.”
“Hey!” I yelled friendlily. “I’m a GIRL.” Sometimes I want to shout it from the rooftops.
Turns out it was the sailor on the Grampian 30 I met in Annapolis. He’s cruising with his wife and two daughters. They invited me over for a feast of Dahl, spinach and fried paneer for which I was much obliged. Despite being horrifically lactose intolerant, I devoured the cheese dish and yogurt sauce with vengeance. It was the most food I’d eaten in a single setting in ages. Their eight year old daughter, while only in third grade, could probably write a thesis and it turns out she gives excellent back massages. Her hands did a good job kneading the knots in my back from days in the cockpit and crouching around inside my boat’s little cabin–but her endurance was a bit lacking. Oh well, she’s only eight. She’ll get there.
Upon arriving I really wished I’d had an extra $20 to go ashore for a burger and a beer at the restaurant playing the oldies–this, however, turned out to be much better.
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.
A good cabin boy is hard to find
It was mates for life at first sight. Vegan. Kiwi. Sailor. I had literally just written some lines about how my sick obsession with boats began in New Zealand and then he walked through the door. I’ve always placed more value on friendship than romance. Finding it longer lasting, more meaningful and intimate than any dalliance.
Lust complicates everything. I avoid it whenever possible.
Not long after our first meeting we floated away for a short overnight on my boat. He cooked dinner. He did the dishes (mostly because I blatantly refused). He didn’t try to tell me what to do. In fact, I might even know more about boats than he does and, miraculously, he’s cool with that. I laughed so hard I could barely hold the tiller when he suggested we precociously raft up to a line of power boats at the bottom of the bay, and pretended to hear the jokes (and thus responded) being made onboard a neighboring vessel. He coined the term “my boat, my pussy” which embodies the attitude I’ve had to adopt as a female solo-sailor in a male dominated lifestyle.
It was refreshing to not only be around a sailor close to my age, but around one who doesn’t either hit on me or feel his manhood is belittled when I give direction as a captain.
Our second overnight adventure, while under 24 hours, felt like a lifetime. Time between two people is sped up when you’re on a boat that only goes an average of five miles per hour.
We experienced dead calms and big gusts. We beat off lee shores and sailed pleasantly off the wind. We were encouraged by another boat to poach a mooring ball and watched the sunset over the ridges of distant mountains.
“This reminds me of New Zealand,” I said.
We argued and made up. We had conversations about feminism and veganism while I was shitting in a bucket. He handed me tampons and toilet paper. We sang sea shanties under the full moon. We whispered like kids in summer camp from our separate bunks into the wee hours of the night.
On the way back I told him I didn’t want to do anything. That he could sail the boat home. I trusted him. It was a test of my control freak nature onboard my little boat to not criticize every maneuver. I tried to think of the times I sailed with captains who yelled at me or yanked something out of my hand when I didn’t do it exactly their way, even if what I did wasn’t wrong. I don’t want to be a captain like that.
When I finally looked up from my nesting spot we were safely entering the harbor and it was time to say goodbye. He was leaving America and back to study for his PhD in Europe. We vowed that one day, we’d cross the pacific together. Maybe even onboard Vanupied.
Sexism on the low seas
When I was selling an outboard engine on craigslist one caller said, upon a female (me) answering the phone, “Is this your boyfriend’s, or your brother’s, or your dad’s engine and can he tell me more about it?”
I once had a dude circle my boat at anchor in his small power boat like a predator, several times throughout one day.
One man told me that I’d be better positioned to be a boat owner and long distance sailor if I was a boy who had grown up around sailing and tools.
A fellow sailor I’d thought was my friend, who is nearly old enough to be my grandfather, told me recently that my shorts gave him the impression that I wanted sexual attention from old men (including him) at the yacht club.
For the most part, most dudes I meet on the high and low seas are nothing short of awesome, but blatant and rampant sexism exists and it can be demoralizing as a young, female sailor to always have that negative attention based off how I look or by being friendly and enthusiastic about boats.
I recently had a weekend crew member who couldn’t accept the fact that I was the captain. Things were fine if I accepted his suggestions without protest, but many times when I gave him a task he outright refused. The facts were that it was my boat and I had more experience on the water than he did, but for some reason he thought he knew better. The thing about boats is it’s not a democracy, and no matter how nicely the captain tells someone to do something—it’s a command, not an option.
It started off innocently enough when he suggested we motor off the mooring rather than sail. That’s not usually my style, but he made a good point that I should run my engine. Then, as we hit flukey light winds rounding the point, he insisted on sheeting in all of my sails tight. In the meantime he went forward to untie the sheets from the hank-on headsail, and retie the bowlines I’d already made.. When I said “what the fuck are you doing?” he smugly smiled and said, “You tied it wrong.”
I didn’t realize what was really going on yet, so I proceeded to treat him as an able bodied crew member, but then we decided to change to a larger headsail. He said he’d set it up and I said okay. But he didn’t tie down my haylard while doing it and when I told him so he said it, “didn’t really matter because it was such light winds,” (I made him properly cleat the line before continuing).
When we began to reach our destination, the wind died and we motored the rest of the way. I know the entrance to the harbor well, and it’s littered with rocks, reefs, and wrecks. When I told him the course to keep, he said he was just going to use the rock we were trying to avoid as his reference point, instead of steering in between the rock and the land like I had said.
At that point it was starting to hit me. I grabbed the tiller from his hand and we motored in silence for rest of the way while he played on his phone. When I told him I was going to be anchoring soon, and he could be a part of the plan if he put his phone down and listened to my direction, he glared at me.
As the hook set reality of the situation did as well. I told him we would not be continuing north as planned, and he left the next day.
I contemplated this for a while, wondering what could have possibly caused someone to act in such an appalling manner. When an accomplished male, sailor friend said it sounded like my mutinous crew couldn’t accept the fact that a woman was a more skilled sailor than he, I sadly agreed.
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.”