You can almost pretend to be floating…but not really.
This whole thing feels strange and foreign after living in a house for so long.
I am looking at every challenge as a lesson in radical adaptation.
I haven’t had to feed myself in days. Thanks to Ray and Ash, Pete and Kourtney, Autumn and the kids. I make everybody laugh. It’s all I can do. I can’t offer help using tools or bring any actual food to the table, but I can offer laughs. Good laughs. Whole hearted belly laughs. The days spent laughing with everyone are the best days. I’m going to miss the boatyard, I can already feel it. Progress. I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride.
And even if we all wake up tomorrow and it’s all gone to the dogs, you just have to keep going.
Keep working on your projects.
Keep chipping away.
Keep earning your freedom.
Keep being you. Keep being light.
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.
Cities on the water way are so strange. Step away from the harbor front streets, the marinas, the anchorages and it’s as if you’re not even near the water at all anymore. Suddenly it’s suburban sprawl and traffic and you find yourself riding a borrowed mountain bike down a highway sidewalk, diverting into a neighborhood that resembles the hood, just trying to escape the lights, and noise, and rain— in order to get back to your boat.
One mile inland and, it seems, people have no fucking idea they are anywhere near the sea.
Humans are kind to me. For whatever reason I find myself constantly surrounded by people and forming unlikely friendships. Sometimes I forget how to be alone. Sometimes I’m afraid it will end—the people I already know, the people I haven’t met yet. Not only will they not be here physically, they won’t be anywhere. They won’t be in any pocket of my heart, the land or the waterway.
Technology baffles me. So many people keep up with me, meet up with me, and ultimately alter my life in positive ways that put me one step closer to my goal—which is, in a sense, to be away from them completely. To be alone on the sea.
There is not one moment of one day where I don’t think about this boat, my means and my character—and how all that equates to the possibility of actually achieving what it is I envision.
“You are in charge of what happens next,” Chris said to me as I left her dock and historic estate. We were discussing the possibility of my return to that small Chesapeake town for what would be an overhaul to the boat. Another step, in a series of steps and seasons, to be out there on the sea safely, sustainably, solo.
“What’s new in your love life?” my oldest friend asked me in a text message.
“Not much,” I replied. “Just in a solid, committed relationship with my boat.”
My conversations with those furthest away who know me best are reduced to screens. My face-to-face conversations happen with people I hardly know and may never see again. These conversations all feel equally important.
“The intercoastal is that way,” a sailor I traveled with told me twice.
Once when we were at the dock discussing the next day’s route and another time when we were underway. The natural direction I thought to go in both those instances led to the open ocean… not the protected waterway.
When we parted ways and I pulled into port to wait for important mail, he continued on into the next canal and body of water where he hoped to wait for a good weather window and sail offshore.
His mast now far from sight I called out on the radio anyway.
“Good luck out there on the lonely blue highway,” I said, essentially, to no one.
I’m sitting in a swanky modern coffee shop with an iced tea that cost four dollars. There are dogs and wooden chairs and young mothers with babies in slings, men with beards and macbook pros. I smell like gas and sweat. I just rode in from a neighboring bay where I left my boat safely on her anchor with a seven to one scope in 20 knots. I surf down four foot waves on my mate’s dinghy, yipping and hollering as spray explodes across the bow and into the boat. I spot a Nor’Sea 27 in the harbor with its mast down. I knew it was Nor’sea the other day when I spotted it nearly a mile away and my suspicion was correct. They must be going south.
I struggle hauling three gallons of gas a few blocks from the fuel dock to the dinghy.
I find an eagle feather on the sidewalk in my first steps onto the city side walk.
I haven’t showered in a week.
I subsist off rice, beans, kale, tortillas, and tofu when I can afford it.
My days are governed by the wind and waves.
I take freelance assignments from the paper. I reject freelance assignments from the paper.
I’m broke. I’m ferrel. I’m free.
The past seven days have been a blur of repairs, purchases and installations, raft ups, long beats, long reaches, long scope. Lazy nights under candle and starlight.
When people come into the anchorage I stand on my bow and stare them down. Yesterday I fended three people off from my space. One bearing down on me under power, another anchoring 30 feet to starboard, another about to drop their anchor right on top of mine. They all obliged. Something about this being a lake, perhaps, but people don’t seem to know anything about seamanship.
I suppose I was there myself, once.
NOTE: My main sail is gutted. On its last legs. I find a new tear everyday. I’ve taken to patching it with 5200, as sewing has just created more strain on the disintegrating fabric. I need another primary main or at least a spare. I have a last ditch plan to turn an old main off a Columbia 26 into a spare. I’ll have to put in reef points and new hanks. I’m going to do it Tom Sawyer style. It’s the only way.
If anyone knows of or has a mainsail that would fit my boat (dimensions below) PLEASE CONTACT ME and we can strike a deal.
Luff : 27′
Foot : 11’11”
Leach: 29′ 4″
ALSO– watch my film and donate if you care to see it completed !!!
June 1— Launch was bad. Real bad. At anchor now and it’s blowing hard. Dealing with a lot, but it’s good. Managed not to panic, managed not to hit any boats. Engine died midway in the dock channel, on a collision course with a beneteau and my main halyard snags my topping lift. I lost my favorite hat to the wind. The miserable troll who owns the boatyard said something about my boat sinking as he lowered me into the water, then the yard manager said “good luck, sweetie,” and pushed me off the dock. The transducer for the depth sounder is leaking. It’s okay, but it’s below the water line, so I’m monitoring it closely. Wind is howling. I don’t know if I’ll raise sail today. In full on captain mode.
June 2— The forecast is wrong so far. I’m anchored off a beach. The weather guesser says southwest, five knots, but it’s higher. I’m exposed. I’m nervous about lifting the hook and being blown in to shore. It’s supposed to clock around to the north, so I’m waiting, which could be a mistake. The boat’s a wreck. I have to eat and square away a lot on deck before I can even think about leaving. I’m basically engineless. I have to force myself not to just crawl back into the v-berth. It’s cold. Forty degrees last night. Yesterday’s sail was intense. I’m less worried about the leak, it’s slowed as the wood block has started to swell. I left yesterday at 6:30 p.m. Right off the reef in treadwell bay my jib halyard came undone. Wind still ripping when I went forward to fix it. I managed to tie it back on but forgot to go through the traveler, so sheeting became inefficient and tangled. At some point I was able to sail on a reach right into my anchorage. I anchored but not before jamming my finger in the hook I use to hold it on the bow. I know longer have a knuckle. I’m lucky I didn’t break it, but there’s blood everywhere. I’m grateful I learned to sail engineless last year. Still can’t believe I do this shit “for fun.”
Later— Weather guesser wrong again. Five knots. Ha! Maybe for five minutes. I had the rails in the water with a reef and my tiniest headsail. Five knots…
Leaving the beach was smooth enough. Sailed off the anchor broad reaching to clear the reefs. Winds were still kind of confused. SW, NW, W? Maybe I’m the confused one. Cumberland straights were easy. Nothing like that time we raced the trimaran in the McDonough, where it seemed like McDonough’s army itself was marching towards us in the form of ten foot rollers. Once south of there the wind started to rip. Gusting to 25, sustained at maybe 18. It was cold, raining, and I was getting broadsided. Do I want to keep sailing in this? No, so I made for Valcour Island, due west.
Vanupied went to weather with a serious bone in her teeth. She loved it. She’s a sadist, I swear. If only I could trim her sails properly. Always luffing no matter what I do. Maybe it’s her old, shitty sails, or maybe I’m a shitty sailor. Her backstay is sketchy. The whole time I just kept saying, “please don’t break.” If the fisherman weren’t impressed by my screeching into the anchorage and dropping the hook under sail, well I’ll be damned.
Everything is blue. Blue sleeping bag, blue lake, blue sky, blue dinghy. I’m in no particular hurry, I have to remember that. As soon as I get home though, bills are due. Car insurance, mooring fees, electric bilge pump, registration…but I don’t want to think about that right now in the blue.
June 3— Well, I’m happy to say Vanupied and I are in our home port. I’m showered, fed, and have everything I need right here. Even my bicycle is locked up on shore. I’m anchored far off the mooring field. Not yet wanting to deal with being in the throws with other boats. I just want to stay on the outskirts a little longer. When I arrived I was hungry and out of tobacco. It was a long, arduous day. Everything felt insurmountable. But not now. It all feels possible.
This time last year I wasn’t even in the water yet. And it wasn’t until another month that I found myself this far south. So, there’s time. Not much of it, but it exists.
To go without shoes. To go barefoot. Barefoot vagabond. These are the translations I’ve gotten for the name of my newly purchased little boat, Vanupied. Here hull is American, but her spirit quintessentially Quebecoise. It’s only fitting I wound up with a French Canadian boat after I made it my goal that summer in the French Canadian boatyard, rolling tobacco and walking around in a little red scarf, to prove what a francophile I was.
My stereotypes of French culture aside, it seems Vanupied and I were somewhat destined to wind up together. I’d admired her tight little stern in the boatyard from the cockpit of my Bristol 24. She was the first boat I’d ever sailed on Lake Champlain (she launched before I did) and I told her owner, merely weeks after I moved aboard my own boat, “If you ever sell her, let me know.” I even wrote a song about her while rafted together one evening at anchor that rang something like, “Oh, little Vanupied. She’s always faster than me. She goes to weather so much better…”
Reluctantly I put my Bristol up for sale in the Fall of 2016, after my first summer living aboard and sailing my own boat. I wanted something with a narrower beam and a different standing rigging configuration. Repairs and restoration that once seemed like opportunities and growing experiences, now felt like colossal chores on a boat that I loved but didn’t want to keep long term. At the end of the season I’d realized the Bristol wasn’t right for me beyond the shores of the lake and unbeknownst to her, I had fallen out of love with her lines.
I knew all I could afford on my pittance salary as a freelance journalist was another old fiberglass boat with the same array of issues, but I vowed to find a sailboat that seemed worth putting all of my time and energy into.
When I got the call that Vanupied was for sale I did a quick assessment of my finances, sold the Bristol for a song, and became the proud owner of what I’d always considered to be my number three favorite boat (falling just below the beloved Flicka 20 & Contessa 26) a Carl Alberg Pearson Ariel 26.
I’m not usually nostalgic for a moment so quickly after it has passed, but I was almost immediately after we docked my new French-Canadian friend’s Pearson Ariel, after a rousing 20 knot first sail of the season. I knew he would be leaving soon to go back home for the week, and I’d be “alone” in the boatyard since I arrived six days ago.
I’d been admiring the boat since I got to the yard. Her beautiful lines and sturdy keel perched right behind mine. I’ve always wanted to sail a Pearson Ariel and have kept a keen eye for ones that come up for sale. Being aboard her, with a Quebecer as the captain nonetheless, I felt like I was in a scene from Jean Du Sud, the epic journey of Yves Gelinas around the world aboard an Alberg 30.
My friend’s boat, Vanupied, went to weather with a serious bone in her teeth as we heeled harder in the 25 knot gusts. I felt so safe as the boat and her captain, Oliver, took good care and we soared back to the marina at six knots. It’s a feeling I hope to have again when my own boat goes into the water.
Why do I love sailing? It’s not only the way it feels on the water, the challenges or satisfaction it brings–it’s the people. The community. Oliver gifted me a tin of tea that made an Atlantic Crossing with him a few months ago, vintage charts of Lake Champlain, a space heater that I have roaring right now. We drank coffees and wine and walked around the yard admiring the beautiful boats, sharing stories, playing music. Yes, there was lots of work in there, too. He introduced me to Marco who helped me finally complete the installation of my bow roller, and fabricate a stronger backing plate.
My crew member, and official first mate of this vessel, Gina, has proved deserving of the title as she picked me up from the bus station, loaded a dodgy wooden ladder (which she carried her 50 pound dog up every morning and night) on to the top of her car, then drove us to the boat and helped me every day cross some boat work off the ever growing list. She’s handier with tools than I am, makes me laugh until I can’t breathe, and I can tell she’ll be a better sailor than me one day. She returns in three short weeks and we take off sailing together around this magical lake.
With my friends now gone, reality has set in. I’m not ready. I have one big job down, but two more massive ones, and lots of little ones to go before I can launch. Both of those jobs require the help of someone more skilled and knowledgeable than I am. While it’s not been a problem so far, I’m still anxious about finding someone to help and getting everything completed.
After being a part of the launch of Oliver’s boat the jokes of “Oh, I’m not going sailing, I’m just going to live in the boatyard forever,” are starting to seem less funny. The boat’s surrounding me are all going into the water. Slowly but surely, one by one. The sailing season has begun. I better knock on wood. I want to come, too!