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
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
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.
It’s blowing. Out of the north. Late for the season. Although, I guess…not anymore. The northers, “never used to come all the way into March until this year,” I remember Bahamian Mike saying in West Palm Beach. That was last year. It’s March 18. Still too early to head north. This one, when it is said and done, will have blown for four days. Today’s the worst of it. It’s supposed to calm down. The gusts are definitely up to gale force and it’s a steady 25-30. This is exactly what NOAA has predicted, so, I’m not surprised.
I’m yacht sitting so I’ve left Vanu to fend for herself. Which
of course begged the question, at least in my mind, if it was bad seamanship.
She has two good anchors out, chafe gear, adequate scope, mud bottom. I did an
online poll asking “Is it bad seamanship to leave your boat at anchor to fend
for itself in a gale?” and mostly everyone voted it wasn’t. Not bad seamanship.
I mean think about it. Most people who own boats aren’t with or on the boat when
it’s blowing a gale. It’s at the dock, or on it’s mooring. Am I right? Unless
they’re out cruising, or it’s the weekend, the boat is on the water and its
owner is on land (or in my case on another boat).
Because most boats are at the dock more than they’re, “out
there.” Am I right? Most of the boats at the very marina I’m sitting in right
now don’t have people on them. Most of the boat’s at the mooring field my boat
is anchored next to don’t either. That’s the only reason anyway cares about what
I do and this blog anyway. People don’t pay attention because my boat and I are
special, but because we’re out there doing it, (“which is more than most can
say,” a friend has told me on more than one occasion when I’ve felt like a hack
of a sailor).
A few people voted yes. That it is bad seamanship. But maybe
they’ve just never been out there when it’s really bad. Bad enough to where you
shouldn’t be out there. Or maybe they have. Maybe their entire lives are
wrapped up in some boat that is simply irreplaceable, and they’d never think of
leaving their boat to fend for itself when they could do a better job caring
for it by being aboard. Or maybe they don’t know anything about boats at all.
All I know is I’m glad I’m not on my little boat right now because I’d be all scared.
I’d be checking the weather constantly to make sure it wouldn’t get worse, and
probably be trying to identify strange noises, and bobbing around like a cork,
and start wondering why I do this shit for fun, and eventually I’d get so tired
that I’d be able to sleep with one ear open. I remember when I learned to sleep in a gale, and the many
times I rode them out for several days because I couldn’t come to land during it. So I’m pretty grateful to not be
on my boat right now.
What’s the worst case scenario anyway? She’d bounc off of
things if she ever broke loose. That’s what pilings are for. I have liability
insurance if she ends up damaging anyone’s property. I’ve got tow boat
insurance if she ends up hard aground. The damage that would be caused to her
would hopefully be nominal. She’s in a protected spot with mangroves and sand.
She cannot be swept out to sea.
But even if it was a total loss…then what? I’d be sad but
I’d be able to move on. I’d recover. Financially, emotionally. I certainly
don’t want that to happen, and it’s highly unlikely, and I’ve done everything I
could to prevent it other than being on the boat itself.
What would that mean anyway? Being on the boat? That I’m cold,
miserable, unable to get any work done to the boat because she’s like a ghost
ship heeling and walking up on her anchor and going beam to the wind every few
gusts? Unable to get any work done on my computer because there’s not enough
electricity or WIFI?
Here on the big boat at the marina I’ve filed my taxes, put all of my nautical miles together, made a sailing resume, written cover letters and applied to several boat jobs. I may have even landed one aboard a beautiful wooden cutter from 1935. I can almost already feel her journeys on the Pacific Ocean under my feet on her brightly varnished deck…but I digress.
The boat I’m yacht sitting is actually heeling now. Her lines are creaking. The cat is scared. She’s trying to tell me something. She exits through the open port light that functions as a cat door, but quickly comes back in traumatized. I pop my head out of the companionway. It’s still really blowing. The cat is meowing profusely. I go and get her littler box and bring it inside, since it’s too dangerous for her to go to the dock. She’s tiny and the gusts are big. Another gust comes and seems to radiate through the marina. It had to be 45 knots. I wonder how little Vanu is fairing. This is the last of it. It’s peaking, If she can just hold fast through tonight…
Note: after writing this post I realized I had read the dock fees as boatyard fees, and the live absurd fee has not, in fact, increased. There is merely a three percent environmental fee being added to our bills. Oops.
Boatyard fees are up and I’ve basically announced it to everyone in the yard who may not have seen the email yet. The email concluded with an offer to contact them if we have any concerns, but my only concern is that I can no longer afford this yard as a small boat sailor. Even my friend who works for the yard seemed surprised.
“Again?” He said.
I damn near gave my neighbor a heart attack as I heard him open his hatch and I spun around from scraping caulk like the girl in The Exorcist to exclaim, “HEY, yard fees just went up.”
“I haven’t heard that.”
“Yep,” I went on. “Fifteen dollars a foot plus the live aboard fee. Maybe you’ll be grandfathered in though since you do so much work diving here.”
“Doubt it,” he said.
“I dunno. The owner calls you Matty. You’re on nickname basis.”
What does this mean exactly for someone ahard on a mere 26-foot-sailboat?
Well, I was originally paying $390 per month. I was living in a house and doing a work exchange for rent so this wasn’t much money at all! Once all of my grinding was done, and the oppressively hot Florida summer had passed, I started sleeping aboard my boat and the fee went up to $469 per foot with the “live aboard” fee. With the new yard rates, my base fee will be $490, plus the live aboard fee (which is now more of a live absurd fee) for a total of $569 per month.
In the grand scheme of things this is still less money than someone would pay for rent, but nearly $600 in boatyard fees for a boat as small as mine is steep. If you’re on a small sailboat, you’re likely on a small budget. Rising fees make boatyards like this inaccessible to the humble sailboats. What’s unfortunate is that this is the best, safest boatyard in town and was one of the last remaining affordable boatyards that is still safe to live and store your boat in.
But nothing like a little pressure to light a fire under your ass. I’ve already started scraping faster. I have a designated launch date that I don’t really have a choice but to meet, because it’s the last of the money I have designated for yard fees. Once I launch I still have work to do outfitting and repairing, and need to start earning more money so I can set to sea.
For now I’m just focused on the work I need to do to get out of the yard. No point in wasting time trying to make more money for increased boatyard fees, because then I’m going to lose days working on the boat, which means I need more days in the boatyard, which means I need more money. I’m trying to avoid the spiral of becoming an indentured servant to myself and use my time as efficiently as possible in lieu of this news. I probably should have been doing this all along.
Unfortunately this boatyard is becoming a place that a hobo sailor girl such as myself can no longer afford. As the years go on, fees will only continue to rise. Luckily, I’m in the home stretch of my projects on the hard.
My rigging sounds different than usual in the gusts. I thought trying to tune the rig would help. It’s really fucking with my brain because when I’m sailing the rigging doesn’t shudder like that. Not even in gusts. That ‘fluttering’ sound is usually indicative of something being wrong. Like, when I hear that sound Vanu is saying adjust me. Trim the sails, bitch. So my mind computed this new sound in my rigging to tune the rig, bitch. So I did.
But it’s still happening.
Maybe it’s because I’m on the hard. The rig is even farther aloft, or…something. Or maybe I’m losing it, and don’t actually know anything about sailing.
I’m still in the boatyard with quite the list. But it’s different now, actually living on the boat on the hard. I’ve kept boats in boatyards before for entire winters, but this is the longest I’ve ever lived on a boat on land, and it ain’t over yet. I think I’m making progress, though. I can’t exactly measure up what I’ve done, versus what still needs to be done, versus what I’m doing. Despite my copious lists, it’s all kind of a blur. I just try to accomplish as much as I can everyday and remember that these things take time.
The owner of the boatyard does this thing where he goes around the yard and puts anything on the ground around people’s boats up on the deck. Sometimes he uses a forklift. I’ve somehow escape his wrath unscathed. How? I don’t know. I keep boxes of tools on the ground, but as neatly as humanly possible. Maybe he sees that I’m fucking trying to be neat and work on my boat. Or maybe he doesn’t see me at all. All I know is most of my life I’ve had a real problem with authority except when it comes to the Coast Guard, and the owner of this boatyard. I don’t even look him in the eye. I’ve never spoken to him and any time I’ve even considered addressing him it was with, “Sir.”
Why? You might ask.
Why have I adopted this don’t speak unless spoken to attitude?
Because the dude’s cut throat. There are all sorts of embellished tales floating around the marine community about him just launching your boat and setting it adrift if you piss him off. But regardless of these tall rumors, I respect the shit out of him! Millions of dollars in perfect yacht finishes are always coming and going through his yard and I’m just here existing in constant trial and error.
Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I don’t want to get kicked out of the yard before I’m ready, so I keep my head down, do my best, and try not to break any rules. But there’s still a part of me that wants to win him over and get him to like me.
I’ve thought about ways I could find common ground between the owner and myself. Like by playing a practical joke. I’d put a bunch of those plastic pink flamingos that people put on their front lawns, on the ground in front of a bunch of people’s boats. And him and the yard workers would come back after their holiday vacation and see it. But I thought better of it. I think it might back fire when he runs over a pink flamingo with the travel lift, or sees a bunch of happy pink little birds on the ground that he is so adamant about keeping clear.
I’d like to establish a rapport sooner as opposed to later, though. Because at this point what am I supposed to say if the apocalypse comes? What am I going to say then?
“Sir, will you please launch my boat?”
I thought maybe the flamingos could bridge the gap. But it’s too dangerous. The act itself in putting them on the ground and possibly getting a negative reaction rather than a laugh, and also the symbolism.
My friend Dave and I were recently having a conversation where I asked, in earnest, “do you think I’ll ever get off the hard?”
“Not a chance,” he said sarcastically. “Might as well get some pink flamingos to put in the ground outside your boat.”
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.
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.”
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 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.
Interested in what a day on the hard looks like? Watch my first ever boatyard Vlog! Complete with self deprecating humor, a field trip to the boatyard of broken dreams, a typo, and a joy ride in my neighbor’s jalopy!
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DO realize it’s all in the prep. You’ll be grinding through the ‘ole anti fouling, gelcoat, and fiberglass to create a bevel 8 x 12 times the thickness of your hull.
DO pre cut fiberglass cloth and pre measure epoxy resin before beginning.
DO text your boat neighbor every time you mix and lay up a new batch of resin and fiberglass, especially when things have gone horribly wrong.
DO point to your freshly laid and perfectly placed fiberglass patch and say “No, I don’t think so,” when someone comes over unsolicited and says “I saw your repair on the other side and thought you could use some advice.”
DO ask anyone and everyone in the boatyard to touch your fully cured resin just to “make sure it’s actually hard.”
DO cover up any poor craftsmanship until you can sand. You don’t want anyone to see your quality of work unless you’ve invited them to.
DON’T mess up your resin to hardener ratios or you’ll have to sand off all of the thickened epoxy you mixed to a perfect consistency and laid on as filler for the holes.
DON’T lay on your patches big to small after someone in the boatyard tells you to do so. Even though some of the books says big to small is structurally more sound, small to big is equally as solid and is much easier to work with. Trust me, I’m a proffesional.
DON’T over saturate your fiberglass cloth. Make sure you squeegee excess resin out before you lay a piece onto the hull. If you don’t you will have a huge mess that is very hard to clean up, especially after it’s cured. I spent two hours sanding and grinding off excess epoxy resin in a full body suit, in 90 plus degree heat.
DON’T forget to put a finishing cloth on top. If working with bi axel fiberglass cloth, which is the recommended kind to use, you will want to put a layer of thin woven roving on top for a perfect finish!
DON’T get discouraged. That item on the to-do-list that reads “Glass in Through Hulls” actually has about 1,000 bullet points within it, so…
DON’T fart in your Tyvek suit when comes time to sand. Just don’t.
Want more info on how exactly I glassed in my through hulls fittings? Stay tuned for “How Not to Glass in your Through Hulls.” A step by step guide on what I did, so you can avoid it.