“Why do you say you’re not a good sailor?” Everyone asks me the same question.
“Because I’m not,” I say. But I think it’s more so no one expects anything of me. Like for me to live out their dream for them…
Met Jim, Catalina 27, as he was sailing off his mooring. Met him again at the dinghy dock, he gave me a ride to the laundromat and a cold beer. Introduced me to Canoe Jeff, who said I could stay on his mooring for as long as I want, the whole summer even. Met Rich, who helped me move to the mooring in a storm and gave me a ride to the hardware store to get supplies to install my new reefing hardware.
I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers in the sailing community time and time again, but it wasn’t quite like this place Every time I rowed my dinghy to shore there was someone new offering a hand, a piece of advice, a beer, or a word of encouragement.
It turns out Jim sent a mass text out to all of his sailing mates. It said, “Met a sailor today – Emily – been living aboard a 24′ tan boat (Cal?) since May 1. Anchored off Blodgett. Very humble. Currently only has jib. Repairing main. Adding reef points. Gave her a cold beer and lift to laundry. Worthy of support if you see her.”
I left the harbor with a swollen heart.
From the countryside of Quebec, to a frozen boatyard, to the lounge of a 200 year old Adirondack cabin, to my grandparent’s house, to the grimiest city in the world, and back home again–the journey to see the boat was a long one.It started early in the morning in sub zero temperatures as I caught the bus to New York City, to catch another bus, and then another bus. From there I did as best I could for my self-survey, but it was cold. Bitterly, bitterly cold. The wind howled through the rigging and snow drifts piled around as the wind off the water blew frozen bits in a steady direction. Before I left the boat, I sat in the port side settee, leaned against the nicely varnished ceiling boards and closed my eyes. I tried to picture warmer weather. I tried to picture myself, with all of my stuff, and my all of crazy notions, living in harmony within this little vessel. Thirty seconds later I sprung up. I had seen the light. That evening I enjoyed a traditional Quebecois meal of meat pie. A few glasses of tea, and a quick performance on the squeeze box and it was time for bed, as the next day I was meeting the surveyor in the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, the temperature was going to near 45 degrees that day. It’s damn cold in the north country this time of year.
When we arrived in the boatyard the next morning, the wind had quieted and the temperature spiked. Within minutes though, the current owner (who had graciously put me up for the night and offered me a ride to the bus stop to catch home later that evening) slipped on some ice which resulted in an intense injury. He had to call it and retreated to the Canadian border.
The surveyor and I went through every inch of the boat for the next four hours. My toes were about ready to fall off, but I felt like a got an education that was worth the frost bite. When the current owner had to bail, the surveyor said he would drop me at the bus stop. The thing was, I would be stranded there until midnight! I didn’t want to fish too hard for an invite to spend the remainder of the day at his house, so I didn’t. “I’ll find a coffee shop,” I said. “Or a bar.”Turns out, he was heading south where he also has a home and business, so I was able to catch a ride with him to my grandparents house in the rolling mountain range a few hundred miles down the line. A quick stop at his 200 year old house that used to belong to the secretary of the great New York poet Pearl Buck, and we were on the road.
Overall, it would take him 90 miles out of his way total to drop me off there. Not only did that not matter to him, but he knocked $150 off the survey price, and we smoked cigarettes in his flash Range Rover the entire time, talking about boats. I felt like a sponge, thirsty to soak up every last bit of information I could from him during our impromptu road trip. He has thousands of sea miles, many of which were offshore.
So many people don’t take care of their boats, or take care of them wrong. In some ways, talking to the surveyor gave my confidence a boost, as I asked the right questions. It was like we both came from the same school—except he was a near zen master, and me just wee student.
Somewhere in between the highway and the back mountain roads he said to me, “Emily, I think it’s great what you are doing, and I’m really excited for you.”
“Thank you. Wow,” I said. “I’m excited to have you as a part of it.”
I’ll keep him in my proverbial rolodex for years to come.
I was at my grandparent’s house in time for dinner, where my poppy gave me lessons in the art of negotiation, and my grandma advised me to wear a life jacket.Tucked into bed with my aunties playing a rousing game of scrabble, the past 36 hours almost seemed like a dream. It had all happened so fast. The boat, the miles of road, the mountains…
That word was used again. That word that has never been the right adjective to describe my actions. That word associated with people who are inherently less likely than me to half ass everything. I’ve never been obsessive compulsive until I started shopping for boats, and while it may be aggravating to the current owner (who I ask to leave me alone with the boat and then respond with a very generic “eh,” when they ask me how I liked the vessel) it’s a quality I’m glad I developed. It’s difficult for me to describe how uncannily fun it was to stomp around those boats I went to see last week. How it made me feel to scrupulously inspect every inch of the hull, deck and cabin. I felt like I was ensuring my safety, like I’d learned so much since I went to inspect my first boat only a short month ago, like a few taps of the head of a screwdriver was going to save me from having to pay upwards of $500 for a surveyor to confirm my suspicion–this isn’t the right boat for me. I discovered some faults that may have otherwise gone unnoticed by the owners, like a rotting bulkhead on one boat. It was clear, that in my sailing education and theirs, we had come from different schools.
One of the owners texted me later that evening asking for my feedback, and when I gave it to him I was reminded of the time I quit a job and my boss asked for the same thing. People don’t actually want to know what’s wrong, and just because you’ve been sailing longer than a neophyte doesn’t mean you necessarily know more about boats, or anything about boats. Although I can’t help but wish I had an experienced sailor and boat buyer there with me, to confirm or deny my findings.
Every boat I call on brings me closer to “the one.” The stars seem to be aligning for one particular vessel, but it’s too soon to reveal anything about her condition or whereabouts. I don’t want to jinx it but unless a star falls out of the sky…
Until then the search continues, and so does my education in the valuable skill set that is the self-survey.
“There are a lot of people in this world at this moment in history who feel pretty lost in life. Who don’t feel like their life has a lot of purpose, has a lot of meaning, they don’t feel like they’ve actually achieved anything…People have gone to sea or have sought that experience as a means to remedy those lacks, and I would attest that can still be the case. If you do feel there a things in your life that you’d like to have that you’ve never had, sailing can be an excellent vehicle to reach that kind of satisfaction.” -Jay Fitzgerald, Pacific Northwest Engineless Sailor.
When I told the editor of the newspaper I used to work for that I’d never made more than $12,000 per year at the age of 25 he looked me in the eyes and said, “that’s impossible.” Meaning it’s impossible not only to live, but to live well, under those circumstances. People, like my boss (and others), might wonder how it’s possible to live on such a low income without either living in your parent’s basement forever or receiving government assistance. While it may be the case right now that I’m living with my parents to save up to buy my very own tiny floating home (thanks mom & dad!), I’ve never needed government assistance and I’ve been in a perpetual state of (slow) motion for nearly five years.
So, curious what kind of accommodation less than 12 grand per year can buy a girl???
Dorm style living, in New Zealand. In 2012 I traveled overseas by myself for the first time for a seasonal job at a winery in the wine region Marlborough. That year was lousy for grapes, in fact we coined a catch phrase “Vintage 2012: Bad for grapes good for mates.” This may look like your typical college party but I assure you, it wasn’t. Everyone in this photo ranges in age from 20 to 40 and everyone is from a different country. Portugal, Argentina, Spain, the US, you name it. I’ve never been to to Italy, but I lived with Italians who taught me how to make excellent pasta sauce from a can of whole peeled tomatoes, which of course we ate at 10 p.m.
One third of a van. I was working for Greenpeace as a street team campaigner and was staying at a hostel in a room where beds were constantly emptied and refilled with travelers and seasonal workers. After a couple of months Greenpeace sent me to campaign all over the North Island using that van above as a home base. In theory, awesome. Sharing the van with a very tall, very stinky Irishman and Canadian? Only awesome for a couple of weeks.
A little cottage with a banana tree.
And an incredible view.
(For any sailors reading this blog, that’s the Bay of Islands where Lin and Larry Pardey live). This sweet little abode was half mine for eight hours per week of housekeeping at the bed and breakfast next door. My then boyfriend/flatmate also worked for eight hours gardening at the B&B to cover his half of the rent. We got sick of the TV so we turned the couch to face outside. The view was always better than what was on.
A room in the cleanest house that ever existed.
Honestly probably my favorite place to live if only for what it represented at the time, a refuge from the storm. I went back to the NZ wine region last minute in 2013 for a job and wound up living in a house that was advertised as having access to the river, and only $75 per week. Well, the river was nice but the owner raised the price to $90 per week because he had bought each of us containers for our food and cleared out extra cabinet space. There were nearly seven people living there and one roommate spoke very loudly (nearly screaming) every night around 2 a.m. to his family in Sri Lanka. The homeowner also refused to turn on the heat and was not very kind to his mail order bride from the Philippines (who by the way was very sweet and made me a plate of mussels and potatoes once). I begged my workmate to ask his landlord if I could stay in the extra room in his house. It was $125 a week and I’m pretty sure the landlord checked every night to make sure I didn’t leave any clothes on the floor (it was a stipulation to living there), but I didn’t care. It was a clean, well lit place.
A handmade clay cabin surrounded by rainforest and permaculture gardens.
In Australia I stayed for free for a month helping my now dear friend maintain her gardens. I went to Australia in hope of staying longer (and because my second visa had expired in NZ), but found myself yearning to experience the coasts of my own country.
A room in wine country.I didn’t get to meet the land lady for a while because she was busy hiking the John Muir Trail (she didn’t like me very much anyway). I remember sitting outside underneath an electric sky of stars and could hear coyotes. Less than a mile away was a dense forest wilderness, vineyards and more sky than I’d ever seen. I felt like I’d finally arrived in California, the promised land.
A really crappy yet fully functional and (basically) reliable car.
I pretty much lived out of my car for a while as I road tripped both with friends and solo from California to Canada and everything in between, multiple times. When my friend and I crossed the border into Canada the immigration officer was very confused by the amount of stuff I had in my vehicle and I think he thought we might try and stay there forever…
A tiny cabin/shed on a mystical goat farm.
Some of the best six months of my life were spent shoveling goat poop, milking their udders, and canoodling with the guard dogs. This farm was entirely run by (mostly) young, open minded and inclusive people. We were in the foothills of Mount Rainier and on clear days you could see the mountain in all its glory. But even the stature of the mountain did not compare to the bounty that was this farm and the community that kept it thriving.
A prefab log cabin on a little evergreen island.
This cabin was sweet, but I’ll admit I was very lonely at the time and mostly only took pictures of the food on the shelves (I was OBSESSED with trying to have a “clean diet”). The cabin was part of the employee housing at a snooty marina where I worked tying up boats.
I must remind myself not think about the warm light that will undoubtedly illuminate the saloon, nor the adventures that are sure to ensue. This is a business transaction. Someone is trying to sell me something, and I have to be sure it’s not their problem, or something I can’t afford.
The devil is in the details, so they say. I’m going to look at two boats in New England next week. I’ve done a thorough job in determining whether the boats are worth my time, and “thorough” is not an adjective normally used to describe myself. “Haphazard” is more like it. But I must admit emailing back and forth with the owners, talking with them on the phone, contacting other sailors who own the same type of boats, spending hours researching, it’s been a surprisingly satisfying experience. I haven’t acted this studious in many years. In fact, nearly two years ago I couldn’t even bring myself to finish my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) online certification, and I’d paid $400 for it.
I don’t have a car but luckily I have a good friend whom I haven’t seen in two years who lives in New England and she’s offered to pay for half of a rental car and her parents have a house on Cape Cod where we will stay. We will gallivant around the shores of New England looking at potential boats for me and exploring the region to see if it’s where I’d like to keep the boat and live for the sailing season.
Once again this entire process is a mixture of excitement and terror. I can certainly afford to to buy the boat, but can I afford the boat in general? Most likely not–I’m an underemployed journalist and a waitress, but just like when I get overly optimistic about a boat when I become too negative I must also tell myself to “SNAP OUT OF IT.”
2015 was a bang up year. It had it’s fill of tears, but with it came triumphs. I learned a lot about myself–even if it meant just figuring out what I didn’t want I feel like I’m finally on the right path to finding the boat I was meant to sail, and the life I was meant to lead. In between there’s been bikes, beer, and even babies! Join me in this walk down memory lane, and cheers to a happy, healthy new year!
May all of our dreams come true.
This year I… lived aboard one of the most finely built and well designed sail boats in the world. Finally learned how to row, properly. Was the captain of a vessel (albeit small) for the first time.I learned how to navigate (kind of).
Quit my job as a full time newspaper journalist to go sailing and gunkholing around British Columbia.
Said goodbye to a community of sailors that were cut from the same cloth.
Bought and sold four different bicycles.
Went on a fully loaded solo bike tour intended to last thousands of miles, but only rode 100.
Worked my fourth harvest in the wine industry
Reconnected with my family after being away for two years.
Began the hunt for my very own sailboat.
Here is a look into my mind, from when I first really decided I needed to have a boat of my own. Perhaps it was decided for me. Nevertheless, here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote a friend while I was sailing around British Columbia this summer aboard a man’s boat whom we will call Jack, as in captain Jack (obviously). This friend and I met while we were living and working together on a farm in the foothills of Mount Rainier.
There’s this story of a man, middle aged, he’s a filmmaker and has this small boat and all he can think about is sailing it around the world alone. In his documentary of the solo voyage, where he loses his mast and experiences an incredible torment of large, breaking seas and relentless gale force winds, he says “If I wasn’t here, I’d probably still be thinking about it.” Boats can borderline obsession and I wonder, if I stay aboard Jack’s beautiful, perfectly maintained cutter– will I still be sitting there thinking about my own?
I love Jack and every time I lay down in the v-berth, my head tucked into his armpit, warm light pouring through the open hatch I think “this is perfect, how could I want anything else?” But within minutes of every hour, the thoughts creep back in. Scheming how I can manage to obtain and eat my piece, of the pie, or should I say my “peace.”
On Jack’s boat I’m lazy. I know he is there to keep me safe and I put in minimal effort. I think back to the farm, when my days were so full. I feel like my hands and head were always busy. On my own boat, I imagine it would be similar. I’d be responsible for keeping the farm floating. Yet there’s something inherently isolating about being a sailor, living on a boat. And Jack, who has had partners on boats and been solo, is one of many who says solo sailing sucks. Maintaining a boat alone sucks. Living on a boat alone sucks. But do I perhaps needs to figure that out for myself? Will leaving this boat be one I will always live to regret? Will a boat of my own be my white whale? Something that will swallow me alive financially, emotionally, physically? Do I owe it to myself to figure that out?