Atlantic Coast

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. 

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Sailing a Remote Coast

What did I learn from sailing a fiberglass spin off of a Hershoff 28 down a remote coast with a psychologist?

Believe what people say; don’t read between the lines. Past behavior is an indicator of future behavior.

Always demonstrate captaincy, even when it’s not your boat.

Two weeks together on a small boat and you’re bound to have some arguments. If you’re still friends at the end of it, you’re mates for life. Sometimes things can fall apart between crew members when you need each other most. Swallow your pride when it comes to passage making and keeping the peace with crew. Tone is everything.

I don’t believe in dogs on boats from a philosophical standpoint, but pugs aren’t really dogs.

Helming; it’s all instinct.

Making decisions is easier at sea than on land. Anxiety on land is crippling, at sea it is necessary for survival.

Mosquito’s can turn ‘God’s Country,’ into “God’s Asshole.”

They don’t call it a shakedown sail for nothing.

Shit is going to break, whether it is a $3,000 boat or a $30,000 boat.

Anything that can go wrong, will.

Happy Fucksgiving

Last year I made up the holiday I Don’t Give a Fucksgiving. This year I modified it to Fucksgiving. Cause I give a fuck so fucking hard. Like I’m just over here giving a fuck, working on my boat this morning with care. Solving problems. Cutting shit just right. Making juvenile jokes with Ray. Taking bomb portraits of him and Ash all cleaned up.

And the best looking couple in the boatyard goes to …

Then I went out and gave a fuck. Wore my nicest shirt. Shared a beer with Capt. Matty. Dropped a crab trap with Pete and Kourtney and rode in their time machine 1950s flat bed . Met Melanie at the sailors’ pot luck where she had a plate and fork waiting for me.

“I didn’t bring anything.” I say. “All I had was steel cut oats.”

“I cooked a turkey. I brought enough food for you,” she says and shoves me into the line up.

Vegetables upon salads upon wonderful food. I broke my veganism. Been doing that a lot lately. What with fresh Mahi from the boys on the dock and all…

“Just enough for a one pot meal,” I tell them. “I don’t have refrigeration.”

Thanks, bros.

Promptly got in a fight about feminism, but he conceded quickly and we passed the peace pipe, so to speak, later on. Encouraged a 13-year-old boat kid to keep playing her ukulele. Bill and Chris were there! From SV Plover and their dock on the Chesapeake where I stayed last year. It’s always great to regal stories with them and pass jokes around with the older generation. They don’t think I’m a joke, even though I have less money than they all can spend in a week. But it’s okay. Went aboard their friends 78 foot catamaran they were crewing on. One turnbuckle costs more than my boat. I wish I’d taken pictures. But even that million (plus) dollar yacht and my (should have been free) $2000 hull can do the same thing. Reach all the same corners.

“The sea is a great leveler,” Kourtney says. Between the rich and the broke, the yachters and the sailor punks, the craftsmen and the hacks . Back in the boatyard now she comes to visit after the festivities. We take a walk to the dock. It’s raining on and off. Hard for a few seconds, then light . The storm clouds forming right above us and dispersing as quickly as they came .

Sometimes on the boat at night, though, after all the friends have gone. After all the tools have been put away. After I’m done laboring . After dark. It can start to feel like the hull is closing in. Something about the narrowness of the boat, the amount of work still left to do to get her splashed, and the yet to be refinished interior — it can literally feel like the walls are closing in. (I.e., ‘the hull is closing in’).

All I want to do at that point is to take a bath and stretch out to do yoga so I can calm my fretting mind.

“The first step in boat care is self care,” I remember Ash saying. But I cannot stretch out. There is plywood and tools everywhere and it’s raining and cold to go to the dock .

I text Melanie .

“I should have just come back to the boathouse with you.” But she’s in bed.

I just want the luxury of space.

Space from the project , and physical space to move my body. I spent the last five months doing yoga everyday and riding my bike ten miles a day and cooking copious amounts of healthy food in a giant kitchen to fuel me all week as I worked on the boat and pedaled and hustled . And then suddenly I’m just crouching around in a tiny, unfinished , under construction boat again. With no cutting board.

I contemplate an Uber and then see that the son of the owner of the boatyard is at the shop still. We are friendly. Cordial buddies. His boatyard dog is the favorite boatyard dog. He brought me food, one time. But up until only recently I was self conscious and afraid the owners of the yard thought I was harbor trash . I kept my head down. Now, I ask him if he’s leaving soon, if he’d give me a ride to the south end of town. He says yes.

“It’s been so long since I’ve done anything for homegirl,” I tell him, pointing to myself. “Everything I’ve done since I’ve moved into the boat has been for her,”  I motion to the boat.

That’s 21 days. 21 days I’ve lived back on the boat now. 21 days that all I’ve done is breathe the boat , and try not to forget to eat.

Suddenly I’m back to the boathouse . And it’s just as it was when I left . With it’s dinghy garden, cats, hot bath and cold ice, and wood floors to roll out on, and Melanie of course… who is asleep. There’s even some tofu and a squash and onions here that I’ve left . It was too dark to check on the garden I planted but there might even be something to harvest.

The boathouse feels familiar and like a haven as usual, but much has changed. Melanie’s sold the boat house and it closes in another three weeks. When she’ll move onto a sailboat again. For the first time in ten years. This time with her seven-year-old daughter .

And suddenly I’m moved again by everyone and thing I have to give a fuck about.

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

Salty old sea hag

pearson ariel 26

An old woman passes by the waterfront on her bicycle. Colorful clothing, a heart flag hanging from her seat, a basket. Her aging terrier trots in tow, faithfully, ten feet behind her.

“Is that going to be me when I’m old?” I ask Scott.

He left his boat near Miami to return north by car, to square away business, before crossing the Gulf Stream. He has come to see me en route.

“I don’t see it,” he says.

“Well, then what do you see?”

He looks at me for a moment, and then out at the harbor. My boat is moored there quietly, next to the dilapidated pier. Patiently waiting for me to make a decision on what we will do next.

“I see you in an old boat. Inviting kids onboard and telling sea stories in a raspy voice. Feeding them sardines,” he says.

“Yeah!” I say. Getting into the vision now. “And I’m permanently hunched over from years spent on boats, sitting next to an oil lamp.”

“Right, and the boat is one of those boat’s that is completely set up but isn’t going anywhere. And everyone knows it’s not going anywhere.”

“It’s not going anywhere because it’s already been everywhere.”

“Exactly,” he says. “You both are retired. You and your boat.”

“Wow,” I say smiling to myself and wondering aloud. “I hope I’m on my way towards that.”

Soon the clouds ascend and I rush out of the car to row back to the boat and miss the rain. I leave a small pile of beach treasures in his car. The pointed claw of a horseshoe crab, a piece of coral, a tiny coconut husk. My oars cut through the water. I use my entire body to fight the current. My shoulders, elbows, chest. My feet brace the aft seat. The sound of oars in water, although so familiar at this point, always manage to instill in me a great sense of adventure.

Swooosh

cruising ICW

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.

sailing chesapeake bay

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.”

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.

Single handed sailor girl

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“This is kind of like…a bachelor pad,” one my older sailing buddies said looking into the cabin of my 1968 Pearson Ariel, as the sun set across a sea of landlocked masts. 

“Yeah, except I’m a girl.” 

“Except you’re a girl. It’s minimalist. It’s not a couple’s boat.” 

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The conversation then somehow morphed into why I don’t have a boyfriend, as it often does with many of my sailing comrades, who mostly happen to be in between the ages of 50 and 70. I’m not sure where all the younger sailors are, but they’re not here sailing Lake Champlain, so I put up with the probing relationship questions from my married and divorced friends.

I don’t often wonder why I don’t have a partner on my boat, but other people do. Is it the size of my boat? Her condition? My hair do? My location? The questions are asked, but rarely answered. I don’t long for a lover to share the blue road, but it wouldn’t suck to have another set of hands to rebed deck hardware, or, and perhaps more importantly, another person to contribute some legal tender to the whole venture.

These conversations about my being single at 27 have led me to a conclusion, however; I either need a partner, or I need a job–because it turns out sailing an old boat from the era of early fiberglass construction is a wee bit more complicated than I once thought.

So this year I’m in the same place, with a new boat and a new plan. The dream is the same, though. And I don’t need a boyfriend to reach it, but I do need a crew.

cruising lake champlain

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The Antidote

lake champlain live aboard

It’s mid September and I’m nearly a land based mammal once again. I don’t know how I’ve managed it–to become busy, nearly gainfully employed, riding my bike through the city streets, shopping at the expensive co-op.

But there’s an antidote. I still live on my boat. Exposed to the elements. Like the rolling swells of southerlies that still prevail, the dropping temperatures as the month passes by. The morning dew, the setting sun. Exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates. Watching them come in late at night silently under sail.

My body tells me it’s time, or almost. The lake is starting to become too cold for bathing. My chest felt heavy this morning from the cold. My provisions of dried goods from the beginning of the season have nearly run out.

But I’m not ready to leave.

“I don’t want to go to shore, I don’t want to leave it.  Shake my hair because I wana stay wet.” -Dive Shop, Paihia, NZ

Dear Readers,

It has been too long. I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner. Life moves pretty fast onboard a sailboat that goes an average of five knots (which is actually pretty fast for the hefty, intrepid Anam Cara).

solo sailor girl, single handed sailor girl, live aboard

First off, my goodness–what a boat. We have been through some wild rides. Like the time it took me four hours to tack past Diamond Island. It was difficult to point in the 25-30 knot gusts, and every time we made progress we’d near shore and get blanked by the mountains, the wind would just die.

Or the time my mom came and visited. It was a thunderous, rain storm of a weekend. We stayed on land at a Bed & Breakfast while Anam Cara was tied safely to a friend’s mooring ball. We had one small window, or so it seemed. The clouds began to part. In a nice 12 knots northwest breeze I flew west on a starboard tack and then headed north. I’d been watching clouds develop in the northwest corner of the Adirondacks and it had finally begun approaching. The winds started to shift so I jibed home and was making only three knots.

dinghy dreams, bristol 24

As soon as we entered the bay the storm ascended. We were soaked to the bone, could barely see five feet ahead, but the wind never came. I could see the wind line all around us to the north, south, east and west, but we escaped in some kind of shadow. I arrived on the mooring ball as lightening and thunder cracked the sky. My friend on land saw me come in and later said we looked like a ghost ship through the fog. The VHF reported 50 knot winds from the storm.

Most recently, my best friend on the planet came to visit. Winds were predicted south one day and north the next. I decided we’d sail north to Burlington and back south the next day. Going there was light, easy. We pretended to be pirates and drank far too much wine. We anchored under sail, in the rain, in our underwear, the entire anchorage watching our silent maneuvers.

legs

Leaving, however, was a different story. The winds and waves built all night. We left on a starboard tack heading west to clear Juniper Island before we could head south and run home downwind. Twenty-five knots, sustained, five foot waves and confused ones at that. I had to point very carefully to not get broad-sided, but Anam Cara delivered. Her sturdy keel breaking up the chop.

We’ve weathered five storms at anchor, all over 40 knots. I only dragged once, and luckily into open water. I had anchored under sail and the hook didn’t set until the storm blew us back.

solo sailor girl

But I am pushing the boat sailing in such conditions. She needs more than I gave her in the yard. There’s a crack in the fiberglass above the bulkhead. The one the previous owner said hasn’t gotten bigger in 10 years. But I’ve sailed this boat more in the past three months than she’s been sailed in a decade and, well, it’s gotten bigger. A lot bigger. The mast is compressing the cabin top causing all sorts of trouble.

The roller furler is flimsy, rusted, and needs to be repaired or replaced. I’ve decided to have a new forestay fabricated and convert to hank-on sails. I’ll drop the mast this fall, tend to the compression crack by repairing the fiberglass and supporting the compression post on the ballast of the boat, not the cabin sole that is suffering from dry rot (which seems to be the reason why the whole thing happened to begin with). While I’m at it I’ll have the rigger inspect her standing rigging. I know I need to replace at least one turnbuckle…

This, along with many other issues with the boat, is why I’ve decided not to go south until next year. I need the fall, spring, and probably much of next summer to really get her right. I’ve even gone so far to think I might stay here in Vermont for the winter, get three jobs and a car so I can access the boatyard easily. I’m thinking to hang the boat up at a small boatyard in Vermont, where I have a handshake agreement with the owner to work for him during haul out season in exchange for winter storage. Only problem is I need to haul out soon to get to work on my boat before the cold comes–and with the lake level so low the yard can’t haul boats until they dredge. When it’s going to happen is the question of the hour…

bristol 24

For the last month I’ve been working for a Danish sailor on his Morgan Heritage One Tonne. Cool, ocean race boat. I helped prepare her for launch but left after four weeks seeking the freedom I felt the first few months on the boat, in Monty’s Bay and the north lake, when I still thought I was going south.

But everything is different, now. The goal has been and will continue to be to journey this boat back to saltwater–now that it won’t happen this year, everything has changed. I’m just biding my time, at anchor, before I have to get my shit together. Winter is coming.

Marooned in Shelburne Bay

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I don’t know if Shelburne Bay passed me by, or I passed by it. I arrived with the intention to find some work. Maybe a job at a restaurant,or at the shipyard I rowed into, but rarely on this trip does anything I expect to happen, well, happen.

Shelburne Bay is a great place with a cove for nearly every wind direction, a boatyard full of many classic and forgotten beauties, sailors from near and far full of much advice, and ghosts. Crawling into my little berth at night, Shelburne was the first time I closed my hatch boards to feel more protected by the spirit of my little boat from the spooky evening.

I did find some work there, only not in a traditional fashion. When the shipyard gardener was using the hose and I needed to fill my water jugs we got to talking. She’s a homesteader, master gardener, and keeps chickens and goats. My past days of goat rearing came in handy as we hit it off. I asked her if she needed any help and she set me up with two days of work digging in the dirt.

I reached out to another shipyard down south and while he doesn’t have any work for me right now, he offered to help me advise me with any projects I intended to do to get my boat ready for leaving the lake. There’s a possibility there for end of the season work, perhaps in exchange for yard storage in the winter. While in Shelburne I also made arrangements with the sailmaker a short sail north to work trade for a second set of reef points in my mainsail.

Perhaps the most profound thing to happen to me in Shelburne Bay, however, was the chance meeting with the canvas maker at the yard. He lives aboard a Shannon 26 with his wife, also a sailboat sewing guru, and they’ve cruised the world extensively with their children.

I’ve been vacillating between going south down the Hudson this year or waiting another. This time a month ago I gave myself four weeks to make a decision. As time went on I became more and more over whelmed with what the boat needs in order to actually be ready for salt water.

The words of so many couch sailors I’ve met echoed in my ears.

“Just go.”

Talking with the canvas maker he said, “why not wait a year? Don’t outfit in Florida. You’re one of a million. Everything is more expensive. Here people want to help you. You need to be ready.”

So it was decided. I made three lists of what the boat needs. Before winter, before south, and ongoing. While I felt a great relief to be able to enjoy the rest of the summer sailing on the lake without the pressure to leave by a certain date with a certain amount of money, a new type of anxiety set it. I’d have to find somewhere to store the boat, and worst of all, I’d have to move back to land for what could be seven months.

But I didn’t have time to worry about the impending dark months ahead, my little boat sitting lonely on jack stands—I had a weather window and a sailmaker to meet.

The adventure continues: Epilogue

Dinghy dreams, crew finder, solo sailor girl

Jesse and I left Valcour Island Sunday morning. I hauled anchor and he drove us out of the cove. On the broad lake it was choppy north winds that were shifty between northeast and northwest. It was hard to keep the boat stable in the chop and the jib was luffing. Flopping. Useless. We got a little too close to a powerboat fishing and we exchanged some words before they motored off.

“You have the whole lake!!” the captain called. Which was true, we did and I was sorry, but we had the right of way. Plus I was fledgling trying to keep the sails full.

Wing and wing we headed southeast to Mallet’s Bay, accidentally jibed too many times under reefed main and partial jib. We got some good speed from the gusts. Just about to round the southern tip of the island adjacent to the bay I referenced the charts again.

Mallet’s Bay has a small entrance cut out of an old railroad rock wall turned bike and pedestrian path. Due west of the cut to get in are extreme shallows. In fact, the entire entrance is extremely shallow, so to approach one must go northwest of the shoal before approaching the dredged canal.

I thought it best we tack on the broad lake rather than in between the shallows and the island, so I said, “we’re turning this buggy around!” Sheeted in, put the tiler hard over and off my little Bristol went to windward with a bone in her teeth. Jesse acted as chief navigator as we changed point of sail several times to enter the narrow harbor under the silent power of canvas.

dinghy dreams, single handed sailor girl, lake champlain sailing

Once in the bay we dropped a lunch hook outside of the marina where we met another NYC mate who happened to be in Vermont for the weekend rode his bicycle from Burlington to meet us for an afternoon sail. We tacked out of the anchorage under full canvas, the wind now northwest, Anam Cara heeling and then stiffening in the gusts. An hour in our friend thought it prudent we return as he needed to bike back before dark.

“Can you get the bike in the morning?” I asked. “Let’s sail to Burlington!”

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Winds were now due west so we motored into the wind and back through the cut, past the shallows and onto the big lake. I hoisted the main, unfurled the jib and we cruised along at a good clip, still in the lee of the islands. As we neared Colchester Reef and the open lake the wind was sustained at 15 knots and gusting higher. Had I been alone I would have been reefed, and probably should have been regardless, but we were making way reaching at six knots with our asses glued to the high side. The rails were in the water more than once. It may not have been efficient sailing but it was exhilarating.

Not quite thinking through the direction of the wind I anchored off of Burlington’s north beach, with hundreds of other boats all there for the Fourth of July fireworks. The boat pitched and rolled in the swells. I tidied up, put on an anchor light and rowed the boys to shore one at a time.

In the guidebook I read that Burlington was rife with dinghy thieves. I wasn’t taking any chances so I put my oars in my backpack. The city was crowded in a bad way. Jesse and I grabbed a burger then headed back to the boat, both looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

burlington sailing, lake champlain sailing

But a good night’s sleep did not find us. The winds were manageable, maybe only 10 knots, but from the southwest and we were completely exposed. It was the most miserable uncomfortable night I’ve ever spent at anchor. I wound up making us each a bed in the cockpit where the motion was more tolerable, and we managed to each get a couple of hours of rest.

bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain, quarter berth

In the morning I rowed Jesse to shore, hugged him goodbye, hurriedly pulled up my hook and motored three miles in a sleep deprived haze to Shelburne Bay, where I’ve been marooned ever since.

The adventure continues : Part 2

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

I knew my spark plugs were once again fouled, that they’d need to be taken off and at the very least cleaned, and probably replaced. Yet somehow, after thirty minutes of finessing, we got the engine to start.

“Don’t let it die,” Olivier said as he un-rafted and puttered away. “Meet me in Sloop Cove.”

live aboard, sailing blog, sailing lake champlain

I hauled the anchor, Jesse monitoring the idle, making sure it didn’t cough. When we were free we shifted forward and the engine died. It started again, shifted forward, and died again. This went on for some time, until we slowly began drifting into the small boat in front of us.

“Sorry!!” I called, hoping they enjoyed the concert by the Floating Dinghy Band that went well into the wee hours of the morning.

“Engine troubles!” I said, laughing awkwardly. “Know anything about outboards? Got a spark plug wrench?”

I sure chose the right boat to crash into because we threw them a line, rafted up, and within seconds Guy and Mary, two French Canadian sailors, were to the rescue. We had the spark plugs removed, cleaned them up, put them back in all under thirty minutes, but the engine still wouldn’t start.

“Okay, Emily,” Mary said. “Fifteen minutes and we are going to Plattsburgh.”

So off we went in their little boat to the nearest civilization, where we then got in their car and drove to the store to get new spark plugs. Then they bought us lunch and we headed back to the island, feasting on nachos and juice in the cockpit.

When it was time to head back to the boat Mary had said, “Come on, kids.” I loved that. That she called us kids. And when I told her she recalled a story about her son who hitch hiked across the United States.

“You hope someone is there for your own when they run into trouble traveling,” she said.

Back on my boat we installed the new plug and had a quick moment of silence before trying to start the engine. I flipped on the battery, toggled the key to the electric start, and she came to life in seconds purring like a kitten. We cheered in unison.

As Guy prepared to leave in his dinghy he handed me the spark plug wrench.

“Keep it,” he said. “You will need it.”

We hugged and I thanked him profusely. I hauled the anchor and we puttered out of the harbor waving to Mary and Guy–my heart once again feeling warm from the kindness of strangers, my faith in humanity rising in unison with the RPM’s of the engine as we gave it more throttle…

Trapped in paradise

Bristol 24, sailor girl, solo sailor girl

In one of my sailing books I read about the ritual of caring for your boat once you’ve come in from a sail. Flaking the mainsail, snugging up the dock lines perfectly, securing the chafe gear on the anchor line. My boat doesn’t have shining varnish, sparkling gelcoat, or brand new nonskid on the deck, but she’s nearly always one of the prettiest boats in the harbor and I take pride in taking care of her as best I can. While many things were crossed off the list after spending a month in the boatyard, I now having a new one of things that need to be done as I continue to head south on this journey.

Some people are extroverts and some are introverts. Some recharge their inner battery by being around others and some by being alone. I was feeling a bit trapped in the north lake. After I made the decision to sail north on the day of gusting southerlies, I got caught up spending time with friends and working for the marina. The first day of summer passed and now everyday is getting shorter. I can’t help but think about the winter.

But I’m so glad I stayed. Last night was spent cozied up in the cockpit of Pierre and Mariev’s boat with our friend Rene. We walked along the road to the neighboring marina and campground. Pierre and I shared a cigarette while Mariev and Rene walked ahead of us, their conversation in French sounding melodic. Pierre said I should be on my boat by myself for a while. To not rush into bringing girls, or boys, or dogs aboard. I agree.

live aboard sailor girl, solo sailing girl, bristol 24

Today I finally took my friend John for a sail with his girlfriend, Tanya. We ghosted silently in a five knot breeze until it died all together so we drank beers, measured the height of the mast, and floated on the glassy lake. When we pulled into the dock I hugged them goodbye, not knowing really if I’ll ever see them again, but grateful that they adopted me as one of their own and acted as my north country family the past two months.

solo sailor girl, girls on boats, live aboard

Rowing into shore to have a drink with my friends still in the yard, I noticed my dinghy had a bit of a leak in the bottom. Lucky for me to be in the boatyard my friend Alex gave me a bit of fiberglass and epoxy and I patched the bottom.

solo sailor girl, sailing community, live aboard life

Now that I’ve had so many days around my mates I feel ready to take on the next week of solo sailing. Finally I will make for my furthest point south through the part of the lake with the biggest fetch, and thus biggest winds and waves. The forecast calls for increasing southerlies so I will leave early in the morning. My main is already reefed. I have sandwiches and snacks ready to go. I realized that so far aboard my little boat I’ve traveled 150 miles. That’s nearly the entire length of the lake. I should be able to make it off the lake before winter just fine.

A pirate looks at 27

live aboard, lake champlain, live aboard, single handed sailor girl

Lake Champlain has an inland body of water, cut off from the broad lake by a sandbar to the south, and mainland Canada to the north, with the Grand Isle drawbridge as the only way in and the only way out.

My shakedown cruise as a singlehanded sailor took place on the Inland Sea, lovingly referred to by my French Canadian friends as “Second Lake.” A place home to my dockside Shangri La. A place home to an assortment of sailing fairy godfather’s I met who helped me in several pinches. A place with beautiful yet minimally protected anchorages.  A place I’m happy I escaped, as it was starting to feel like a wormhole.

My birthday was the other day. As I present to myself I bought a new battery for the boat, as one of my batteries was completely toast, and the other only half toast. As a present from the universe I was offered a free slip to suss out some woes, and free labor/advice to repair them.

My engine wasn’t starting with the electric starter, and was also dying at idle. I thought it was a battery issue. One one particular day I pull started a 9 horse power engine four times. Four. Times.

Once to leave the mooring, once to drop anchor, once when I anchored too close to another boat, and once again when I realized I was in the wrong spot for optimal wind protection. I’d like to become a better sailor and rely on the engine less, but for now…

With the maneuvers to tack into 15 kts up St. Albans Bay, plus starting the engine, I was sure my arm would be sore for the rest of my life.

Miraculously the next day the iron genny purred right to life as I headed towards the free slip my friend offered me. “Run the engine a while to charge your batteries,” another friend recommended, but as soon as I was out of the lee of the island, up went the sails and I tacked silently out of the bay.

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

When I arrived at the marina and prepared to dock, the engine died as I made my turn into the slip and throttled down. I pulled out the gib to try and sail in, but no such luck. The timing and my skills weren’t quite up to par. I flagged down a boater on an old but beautifully restored Chris Craft, and he arrived just in time as my anchor was two feet from another boat, and I was straddling the bow to fend off.

A quick cleaning of the spark plugs, a new battery, and everything was good to go. I sailed away from the dock, waving to my mate and hoping I wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I dropped the hook off of Savage Island, for what would be a miserable lunch hook.

Bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain

Power boaters, jet skis, shoals. I’m pretty sure I scraped the bottom and I’m not sure my anchor ever even dug into the rocky bottom. After a rest inside the boat from the punishing sun I needed to get out of there.

But the wind wasn’t in my favor. In fact, there was no wind at all. In the distance I saw a boat sailing. The lake was taunting me. I’d see a little ripple, or another indicator of wind, pull out the sail and it would flap in the dead calm. I felt like a true hobo, motoring my little house around trying to get to a safe spot for the southerlies predicted to pick up after midnight. I didn’t dare ask for wind, though.

The southerlies did indeed come, and I had a hell of a time pulling up the anchor. I sailed dead downwind to the Grand Isle Drawbridge. Missed the opening by five minutes, and tooled around in the harbor until the next one. After the bridge is a place called ‘The Gut.” A weedy, shallow, miserable body of water that I hope to never cross again. I made two knots through the muck, until I reached my Oasis. Nichols Point.

Bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain

Back on the broad lake, protected by the southerlies, other boats all around me–I could see the Adirondacks to the west. Wind mills dotted the horizon as the full moon rose. I planned to head south in the morning and make for Valcour Island.

The 20 knot southerlies had other plans. After getting my ass kicked beating into the wind and four foot waves, I turned around and headed North, downwind to Pelot’s bay, an anchorage I’m familiar with.

My boat knew what to do when I didn’t. My eyes nearly stinging with tears as she surfed down the waves, her heavy keel breaking up the motion. I cooed to her as we jibed to clear the reef of Isle La Motte, and sailed through the rock wall entrance to the harbor.

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails”

Fixing a hole where the rain gets in

live aboard, learning to fix your boat, budget sailorIt’s a half hour past sunset and I’m messing with my rigging. Ripping out cotter pins, tightening and loosening turnbuckles. I don’t know what’s come over me. I’m inherently the laziest person on earth. The fact that I even get out of bed in the morning is a wonder to me.  But somewhere along this journey I’ve taken a genuine interest in actually doing something. Fixing stuff with my own two hands. Using saws, hammers, power drills, and lots of hand scrapers.

On any given day I have no idea what will happen. I think in the morning that I have a general one, and then something completely different ensues. Today I went into town for some provisions, odds and ends for the boat. After that I planned to lay my first coat of varnish (weather permitting), and finally get those bloody battens taken care of. The day had other plans.

living at the dock, learning how to fi your boat, budget sailboat

I borrowed a shop vac from the boatyard to suck up the years of accumulated muck I’d sanded off my wood. I managed to get the oversized thing up the ladder, but when I saw my French boatyard friend Alex I asked if I could hand it down to him.

He’d been wanting to have a look at the boat for a while so he came onboard for the five second tour. She’s only 24 feet after all. Looking at my newly painted companionway I noticed a leak.

“What IS that?” I said flabbergasted.

“That’s water,” he said.

We started talking about the nature of leaks and how yes, they are a nuisance, but can be detrimental to the integrity of the boat’s structure. They can be especially bad for boats in northern latitudes as the water trapped inside the deck freezes.

“But if you head south this year, you won’t have to worry about winter,” he said.

learning how to fix your boat, live aboard sailor girl

I had two choices. I could try and fix the damn thing, wait until Fall to try and fix the damn thing, or just let my boat slowly rot right before my eyes. I chose to try and fix the damn thing.

I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a few minutes of guidance until Alex went to work on his broken inboard diesel engine, and I was left to my own devices with a screwdriver and a chisel. I got the tracks for the sliding hatch off, and then the hatch itself. I was feeling pretty amazed and surprised that I’d actually figured it out. In my glory, however, I didn’t realize the entire contents of the project were covered in silicone. That menace to society. The ultimate contaminant. The worst sealant for a boat.

Two and a half hours later I was still scraping silicone.

I finished, finally. Just in time for a shower and a meal before sunset. I can’t seem to get my hands clean. I crawl into the boat and have a dance with two mosquitos. I relax into the settee and wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Drilling holes in your boat

Installing a manual bilge pump, whale gusher titan, bristol 24

The count for holes drilled in my boat now totals six. I’m not an expert, but I’ve got it down to a system. First I visualize the holes, draw a diagram that looks like a five year old did it, then I mark them. Then I have an eerie calm wash over me, and right around bed time I start to freak out and send massive amounts of text messages to boat friends in a panic, and scour the internet for information for the umpteenth time. Finally I head to the bathroom and take a nervous shit. The next day, I drill (or make someone else do it will I sweat over their shoulder).

rocna anchor, rock solid, installing a rocna

The first three holes were through the deck for my bow roller to store my plow style Rocna anchor. I grew up on Rocna, i.e. the sailboat I spent the most time and learned to sail on had this style hook. I remember sitting in an unprotected anchorage as a gale blew over us, the wind whipping through the rigging so loudly that we shut the forward hatch for a reprieve from the harrowing howl. The anchor never budged. I’ve been a firm believer ever since.

The roller I got required three holes to mount. I drilled the holes oversized and filled them with epoxy. A lot went wrong along the way. The first time the epoxy was so thin that it dripped right through the protecting tape on the bottom of the deck. The second time, though thickened correctly, proved that my original holes weren’t measured correctly–as when I drilled through the cured epoxy my drill still picked up bits of core. At this point the best I could do was to overdose the fittings and hardware with sealant, and hope for the best. It worked out great. I call it the “epoxylypse.”

installing a manual bilge pump

The next project was to install the manual bilge pump. This required a hole through the cockpit/bulkhead, through a piece of plywood that sections off the hanging locker, and finally through the hull (gulp). My boat has been sailed since 1976 with no bilge pump. Tight as a drum (knock on wood), but I wasn’t about to splash my boat without one. The previous owner purchased a Whale Gusher manual bilge pump but never installed it. Luckily, I’ve become friends with the right people who drove me back and forth from the hardware store to get the right hoses and fittings, and are very handy with tools. It took us two hours on two different days but we finally got it installed, and by golly it works! I hope I never have to use it for anything other than condensation or drainage from the anchor locker.

thru hull fitting

I’m a firm believer in take care of your boat and your boat will take care of you. Everyone said the boatyard is miserable, to expect misery, but I’m not so sure. This boatyard is magic. With the help of others, I’ve completed two of the three major jobs that make Anam Cara “seaworthy,” in the opinion of me and my professional marine surveyor. All I have left to do is rebed my starboard chainplate and strengthen the bulkhead it attaches to with a bit of fiberglass. Then it’s little things like brightwork, painting, and a small upgrade to her mainsail. The boat will be ready to splash soon, the only question is… will I be?

Never trust a sailor on land

I just spent the last hour finally finishing up fixing a cataclysmic error. Okay, it wasn’t that bad. I was trying to coil my anchor line after having gotten a bit tangled up earlier today, and I got frustrated. Ultimately throwing the clean, unkinked line in a heap on the floor along with the mess already there, and making the mess even bigger. Sailor girlMy morning was spent learning to splice. I’ve settled on a pretty standard rope to chain back splice but man am I scared I’m doing it wrong! Youtube video after youtube video, photo after photo, diagram after diagram and I think I finally got it. Although at this point my spliced strands are so frayed and unraveled that I’m just going to start over. It’s a good thing I have 200 feet of line to work with.

It’s hard to imagine that my entire life is essentially going to be hanging by a thread pretty soon. A thread that I childishly tossed onto the floor in a heap because I was tired of studying the splice and not getting it right.

Tomorrow I’ll get it right.