I’ve always said fixing boats is a thankless fucking job, but nothing quite says that like the kid you sold your boat to abandoning it at the dock after you just finished a nine month refit.
Luckily, not all boats I’ve sold have ended up with the same destiny as my last one. I recently got an email from the current owner of my first boat, a Bristol 24 named Anam Cara. He bought the boat from the person I sold it to and has made many improvements! He even specifically praised some of the work I’d done restoring her, although he did forget to mention those proper reef points I put in.
At least I can say with certainty that Anam Cara fell into the right hands!
I’m current owner of Anam Cara, when i researched the boat before buying I found your website and have been checking it from time to since. My hats off to you. I am so happy to see people taking a path like you. In this increasingly expensive world it seems like such a challenge to live the dream. Love that you have the next boat.When I moved to Vermont in the late 70s land was very cheap, in very rural places zoning was non existent and it was possible to build a cabin with little resources and live an alternative lifestyle with other kindred spirits. Lost Nation in East Haven VT was our refuge. I still have my cabin and see Anam Cara as its water counterpart. In my youth I took the travel path of hitch hiking and riding trains with a cabin with no electricity to go back to. Now at 60 after years of wanting to go back to boats I found Anam Cara. The man you sold it to had big dreams but no time to repair the boat, in fact it went backwards. Large deck hole were created with two stantions torn out. I bought Anam Cara last fall, repaired the deck finally fixed the mast step with new oak beams and reinforced floor. It doesn’t budge. Smaller 6hp motor, solar power and she is comfortable and sails well. Slow in light airs but what a boat when it blows. Im anchored over at sloop cove on Valcour island and I thought I should email you with an update on her. Your work on her brought her forward. The bow roller and whale gusher are great. I was going to name my boat Lost Nation after my spiritual home but who could change Anam Cara.I will include some pictures, the very best to you. Keep living your authentic life, its so important to not let the machine roll over everything. I will follow the new boats rehab, i loved the bronze chainplate work.
Selling your boat is kind of like selling your dog. Or your kid. It’s an extension of yourself. It’s taken all of your money and showed little thanks, yet still managed to teach you lessons you weren’t even aware you needed to learn. You want to find the best home for your vessel, which is why you often hear stories of older people selling their badass ocean-cruiser for a fraction of its value to some young salt who promises the boat will remain where it belongs; at sea.
Many potential buyers (well, the good ones anyway) treat inquiry messages as an application of sorts. They take the opportunity to not only introduce themselves, but to prove they’re worthy of taking over stewardship of your vessel.
I listed my late great boat Vanupied, a Pearson Ariel 26, at a price so she would sell quickly. I didn’t want to be bothered by people who weren’t serious and put that in the ad. Interested in shore power? Navigation instruments? Flush toilet? Move on. Not the boat for you. I think I put it like; “This is a MINIMALIST boat and that is reflected in the price. Only contact me if you get it.”
I didn’t honor my own intentions. I sold my boat to someone who most certainly didn’t get it.
It started with an email where he called me “Sir” (my name was in the ad). When I corrected him, he referred to me as a “Mrs.” By the third interaction he was using my name. He asked questions I considered not answering. Was the boat big enough to sail from its location on the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River? Was it free to live at anchor? Could I get the boat to a location closer to a major bus line so he could see it?
I remembered all the people who were kind to me when I first started out, and when I learned he was new to sailing (rather, boating as he called it) I softened.
No, I wouldn’t move the boat prior to purchase. Yes, you can live aboard at anchor for free. Yes, the boat can handle that trip. And so it went. A back and forth exchange of about 70 emails answering his questions on how to buy, live, and sail on a boat. He called the keel a “tail,” and asked me what kind it was. I told him to look the boat up on sailboat data.
While it wasn’t my responsibility to explain to him the difference between a fin and full keel, a displacement and a planing hull, the tides and currents, and how to not die, I did it anyway.
Despite his constant questions that could have been answered by a simple internet search, I still had hope. He was 23. A broke college kid who said he wanted to live the boat life. He didn’t know up from down, it seemed, let alone port from starboard but we all started somewhere. He said he read my blog and found it to be a “fascinating look into the lives of a seafaring community.” A community he longed to be apart of.
I told him under no circumstances was he to go out on the ocean in the boat until he had more experience and made necessary repairs, and he promised to read every sailing book I intended to leave on the boat from cover to cover. He bought the boat from me sight unseen through paypal transfer, and planned to come get the boat one week later.
As I off loaded my years worth of stuff and prepared the boat for transfer his questions continued. Where was the boat located again? What’s the best way to get there? Was there a library or somewhere he could get wifi? What about a grocery store? Could he swim to the boat? Could he swim off the boat? Could he borrow my dinghy? Could he fish commercially from the boat? Could he brew beer, and then sell it from the boat? Did I know anywhere he could get a job? Could I stay a few extra days and teach him how to sail? How far can you get on a tank of guess? How do you get gas? What is gas? Why is the sky blue?
(Okay…the last two are a joke)
I was seriously starting to doubt his competence for living on the hook. He called me from a few hours away the day he arrived and asked me if I could move the boat a few miles to a marina across the river. I told him no. I told him there were currents to deal with. I told him I would go over the boat’s sails and systems with him as promised, but I was leaving the next day to sail to my new boat. Finally, he asked if I could get the boat to any marina.
This once again wasn’t my job, but I wanted this kid out of my hair. Luckily there was a marina in the creek where the boat was anchored, and they had a slip. I made sure to get him an end tie for easy departure, although that was wishful thinking… that he’d ever go anywhere.
When he finally arrived and we met in person, it all started to make sense. Seeing the boat for the first time his reaction was a disappointed, “oh.” He couldn’t stand up in the boat. It looked bigger in the ad. Sorry, no refunds.
I learned that he was the son of rich parents who had decided to pay for him to stay at the marina for a month. I was glad. At least he wouldn’t kill himself out there on my boat. I also learned he was an alcoholic, and after several attempts at college, and a recent event where a friend had to be airlifted from his parents house due to alcohol poisoning, he wanted to move out of his family home for good as to not cause them anymore trouble.
A boat was the cheapest living option, and my boat was the cheapest to buy. He bought Vanu out of desperation. At one point he said to me that he hoped the boat would prevent him from drinking too much, because if he was too drunk he could fall overboard to his death.
The next day I met him in the morning to go over everything on the boat as promised. He was sitting in Vanu’s cockpit with some rich yachter who was telling him he needed to haul out, because that’s what you do when you buy a boat. I told him the boat had just been on the hard for nine months and that’s what rich people do when they buy a boat. You’re broke, remember? His new friend glared at me.
I showed him how to raise the sails, use the stove, run the engine and listened to him go on about “mens rights,” and other disturbing rhetoric like how I should consider having children because I seemed like a wonderful person. When I left him at the dock that afternoon all of the rich yachties where gathered around him as if he showed such great promise. I was appalled. How could I have let my boat fall into the hands of someone like him?
A week later my friends at the marina told me that the kid who bought my boat had a seizure, went to the hospital, and returned to live with his parents. He hasn’t been seen since. Vanu is still sitting at the marina today…
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.
I am incredibly honored and excited to announce that I’ve been featured in SAIL Magazine and its latest article Sailor-Punk and the State of Cruising. I’m beyond stoked! Not only am I featured next to the legendary Moxie Marlinspike and the kids from Hold Fast but the editor named me his personal favorite young sailor blogger. I’m also really excited to be referred to as a sailor punk. It’s an identity I embrace, but I was never really in the punk scene on land, or on the water. So even though in my heart I felt like a boat punk, I wasn’t sure I qualified. In light of this recent honorable mention I figured I might get some new readers, and a brief update was in order.
I’m currently working as a deck hand and living aboard a 100-foot schooner on the Chesapeake Bay. After launching my boat in March the budget was busted. My money for the Bahamas was non-existent and to be honest, the state of affairs onboard Vanu, despite so many months in the yard, were still precarious. On top of this I had to borrow nearly $700 from my dad to bail my ass out of Belize after the boat delivery from hell. I did eventually wind up getting that $700 back from the captain by threatening him with a lien on his boat, but that’s another story.
I journeyed my little boat from Florida back up to the Chesapeake Bay on a five-week voyage of sorts to start my new job. The trip was filled with a constantly failing electrical system, getting chased by wild horses, gales, coming face to face with my past traumas, great days sailing, bad days motoring, time offshore, time inshore. There were times I wanted to run my boat up on a sand bar and walk off forever with nothing but a backpack, and there were times I didn’t want it to end. Oh yeah, I also fell in love with an engineless circumnavigator who designs and builds autopilots and sells them.
I learned what this boat was truly capable of for the first time. I cried. It made me fucking cry to feel that. I finally learned how to make passages. Which is why, as of now, I am continuing to sail and work on the structural refit of my boat, until the next boat presents itself. I have to take what I learned on this trip and apply it. I have to keep going. There will be another boat in the near future but until then I just have to make money. Save it. Keep working on Vanu and practicing sailing her. I’ve got a big wide river and lots of little creeks that I’ve already begun to sail and explore.
I want to tell you all more about this, but please be patient with me. I am working 12-hours a day on the tall ship, and when I’m not doing that I’m usually frantically trying to keep my boat safe. She is currently tied to a broken dock off of a fisherman’s museum with yet another leak below the water line. This time it’s the fiberglass tube that houses the rudder shaft. It’s a slow leak, but it needs to be remedied. I plan to make this repair by careening the boat and patching it from the inside.
I just spent the last two hours of
my day off cleaning my electrical connections. The rest of the day was spent
inside the belly of my boat pin pointing the leak. So, my apologies for the
lack of blog posts, but I can assure you that if you hold fast you won’t be
disappointed with the content to come. Standing by channel 1-6.
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…
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.”
“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
I wrote this song after a night anchored up with my friend Aaron and his Baba 30 on Lake Champlain. We had spent two summers as boatyard buddies. His family quickly became surrogates to my own and I stayed with his parents often and did work for them while I was still on Lake Champlain, preparing my boat for the long journey south.
The wind was ripping that day. He had just launched after years on the hard. He and his partner, Sarah, were sailing to Novia Scotia soon and I was going in the opposite direction. I had sailed over to meet him for one final hurrah under double reefed main only. He had moved from his mooring to a more protected spot closer to land which was tranquil as could be.
We drank beers, talked about our future travels and past adventures, worked on our respective projects, tied a rope between the two boats so we could pull ourselves across by dinghy, and of course argued a little like any sister and brother from another mother would.
The following morning after our rendezvous, a small squall came through. Not long after it was dead calm, and I heard a gentle thud. I hopped up out of my bunk and into the cockpit.
“HEY” I called to Aaron. “Your bowsprit is in my cockpit!”
He came on deck bleary eyed and wondered aloud, “Oh, shit. How did that happen?”
I climbed aboard over the bowsprit and we set to re-anchoring his boat and theorizing as to why it happened. Had he not set his anchor after we took the boat to get provisions? Did he drag?
It turns out we both had pretty long anchor rodes out, and without the wind pushing us in a single direction we clonked into each other. The beauty of it is that we both have strong boats that easily survived the collision no worse for wear, and I came up with this marvelous song.
I met Mac in Atlantic City while poaching the dock at the historic Gardiner’s Basin. I was walking to the dock when I heard someone call, “HEY, are you on a boat?”
“Maybe,” I said. I had recently decided to only tell other boat people that I was on a boat just to, you know, be safe.
He shook his head and laughed. “Maybe?” he asked. “I’m on a sailboat, too. Right out there.”
He pointed to his boat which was anchored right out of the inlet entrance channel. The currents there were insane and twice a day you’d find your boat opposing the anchor.
“Damn!” I said. “Did you ride the gale out there?”
“How was it?”
“You got to go into the secret anchorage!” I told him. “Turn into the small channel right off of Rum Point.”
“My draft is five and a half.” He said. “Can I fit?”
“Absolutely! There are some big boats moored in there and my depths never read below six. The dock here is free, too! It’s after season and the harbormaster is nowhere to be found!”
Mac was on a C&C 35 named Suka, which in sanskrit means ‘place of beauty.’ His mother named the boat. He bought the boat from his parents. While he got a good deal, it was still priced at fair market value. He had saved enough money for the boat and his intended voyage by working in Antarctica. His crew consisted of his two younger sisters, Skylar and Rourke. The funny thing about these sailors is that when they were children, they did the exact same trip on the exact same boat, with their parents at the helm. The sailed from Toronto to the Bahamas as a young family. However at the time Mac was living out the years of teenage angst, and wound up hopping off the boat halfway down the coast. This would be his redemption sail!
I caught up on and off with Suka all the way from Atlantic City to Annapolis. They were the first of many sailors I would meet who were actually close to my age. The majority of folks out there cruising East Coast waters belong to the 50 plus age category. The Suka crew made it to the Bahamas by Christmas 2017 where their parents met them to spend the holiday together on the boat, just like old times.
Not only was Mac there on the boat this time around with his family, but he was the captain!
I first met the crew of SV Belis, a Pearson Triton 28 completely outfitted for long distance voyaging, briefly at a marine consignment shop. Our immediate connection was our boats which are nearly identical, save for two feet. My boat, a Pearson Ariel, was designed in the spirit of the Pearson Triton.
The Pearson Triton was made famous by circumnavigator and writer James Baldwin. He sailed his Pearson Triton, Atom, around the world. Baldwin is basically a legend in the sailing world and has inspired many a long journeys on simple production boats. I suppose some of those journeys are the reason I still kinda, sorta, believe in my boat’s ability to go beyond. I had written to James Baldwin while in Georgia where he lives and works restoring classic plastics. A meeting never materialized, but he had told his friends on a Pearson Triton to keep an eye out for me.
The main differences between my boat and her sister ship were in the boat’s condition, and the boat’s crews. Belis had brand new rigging, chainplates, the right sail combinations, water catchment system, solar oven, composting head, a wind vane, lazy jacks, etc. My boat had a malfunctioning auto pilot, bulkheads that weren’t rotten everywhere (just in some places), a fully functioning VHF, a good sail combo, engine, anchor, and not much else. The Triton was ready to leave land forever. I had to stick close to shore.
I had gleaned some of this information from my brief meeting with Chris at the chandlery but got to know him, his family, and their boat much better when I ran into them again in the keys! The Triton was a crew of four: Capt. Chris, Mama Annie, and their literally free range children Bella and Ishi. There’s nothing quite like meeting friends along the way and traveling together by sailboat. What’s even better is when they’re close to your age. The absolute best is when they basically have the same boat as you but it’s fitted out way better, and they give you sweet gear like a bow roller and oil lamp for when you start your own refit.
We cruised in tandem, dinghied in tandem, tied to a mangrove in tandem. I spent hours on their boat hove to one day just for fun. During the height of the winter there were northerly gales weekly. The keys offer little protection and terrible holding ground. The first layer of ground is just airy mud, then there’s coral. I dragged there and I never drag because a., I always put out adequate scope and b., I have a Rocna anchor. But the keys, Islamorada especially, was drag city. So we took to sailing up the bay daily so that during the day we could access the amenities on shore, but by the time the northerlies came back through we’d be protected by another key a few miles away.
I bonded with the Belis crew fast and was sad to see them go but knew they were on to bluer waters. I was proud of them, and so was James Baldwin. One night while sitting in the cockpit I heard Chris talking to James about the daily happenings. “Oh yeah,” he said. “We met up with Emily.”
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of when I left Lake Champlain onboard my little boat. I’d have cut the proverbial mooring lines, but I sold my bridle to a friend to pay my debt to the marina.
I left with $1,000 in my pocket headed south on an old, neglected boat that I was slowly improving. I learned about sailing and fixing boats along the way. Not much has changed on the financial side, but at least I am seeing improvements to my vessel and sailing skills! I’m even going to be giving a sailing lesson soon! Each day I get to know my boat better which has ultimately revealed more weaknesses. My ideas that included Puerto Rico, Panama, and other Caribbean destinations for this boat have been replaced by a more realistic voyage to explore the Bahamian islands solely. Cuba would also be possible. I’m exactly where I thought I might be a year later, stuck somewhere in Florida working on the boat.
I’ve traversed the Champlain Canal, Hudson River, New Jersey coastline, Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Atlantic Intra Costal Waterway from Norfolk, VA to the Florida Keys. One time while in Georgia I ran painfully hard aground outside of Jekyll Island. When I tried to kedge myself off, I put the anchor on the wrong side and wound up kedging myself further aground. I also managed to get my anchor completely stuck. Luckily, some locals passing by on a John Boat broke the anchor free for me and returned it. When they asked where I’d been and I started naming some of the rivers, bays, and coast I’d sailed one of them looked at me wide eyed and said in a very southern accent, “that’s a lotta water.”
I thanked them, and was soon on my way after the small wake of a passing catamaran and a few more hours of rising tide floated me off the mud.
I want to take this time to thank everyone who has helped me along the way and who cares enough about this journey to donate their time, gear, and hard earned freedom chips. There are still so many stories left untold of people who have not only helped me fix my boat or get me further along my way, but helped restore my faith in humanity.
And to all the people I should thank again for teaching me something important about sailing and helping me work on my boat: Lake Champlain- the good folks (not the bad ones) at Monty’s Bay Boatyard, Tanya & John Foley, John Hammond, Sallie & Jonathen, Tiny & Roel, Jake, Dale, Aaron & Sarah, Bruce & Sue, Point Bay Marina for always looking the other way, Capt. Dan, Hudson- Josh on Albatross, Chesapeake- Rich Acuti, Bill & Chris, Ladies’ Island- Mary, Susie & Adam, NoFlo- Kourtney & Pete, Nubby, Skip, Ray & Ash, Melanie Sunshine, SoFlo- Johnny, Kim, Mike, random folks whom with I rode out a 50 knot squall on a John Boat, Keys- Kacie & Joel
Thanks to my fam for sending me supply items always! To my friends for their friendship. And to all the people I might have forgotten, or who I only met in passing who lent a hand, a tool, or an ear.
Thanks to all the readers of this blog for allowing me a platform to show others that you don’t need a lot of money, or a lot of boat, to go sailing!
And a special thanks to all those who have donated and left kind words of encouragement.
Consider a donation if you enjoy this blog and would like to see more stories and how-to’s on sailing, fixing, and living aboard boats on a shoe string budget!
Notes from donors
With that list the weather will be cooler when you splash! KEEP ON keeping on young lady!
Hope that boot showed up..and a sailing partner if you want one..and fair winds always!
A little something to spend on yourself and your dreams! Hope you are Well and Happy.
hope this gets you down the channel a bit further or helps to keep your blog “afloat”. Would love to see those “Dinghy Monologues” but it’d be so awesome to see a video of you reading them in a dark theatre under the spotlight! Loved what I’ve read so far. “Wind at your back!”
Hi Emily! Hope this helps some. I admire your journey.
Hey, Not much impresses me these days. You’re doing what we all want to do. Much fair wind at your back! Gypsy Eyes 🙂
Nice to see someone living the dream. Keep up the good work.
Back in the 70’s I owned a wooden salmon troller and fished SE Alaska and the West Coast of Washington and Oregon. It was a life of poverty but I was young, immortal. I fished a marginal boat in very serious waters. At the end of the season I might have enough saved to get the boat back to Port Townsend, pay for a month of dock space, and begin looking for odd jobs. I’ve had so many. Worked in the woods logging, worked tree planting while living in a tent in the winter rain, boat delivery, deck hand on a fish packer in the Aleutians. I did what I had to do to eat and get the boat ready for the coming season.
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.
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.
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.
At the dock of Chris and Bill from SV Plover, a Dickerson 41 built on this here Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia. Civil war shit. Their house has a ghost. It’s been like living history this trip. The Revolutionary War battlegrounds of Lake Champlain. The exploration of the new world by Henry Hudson. Modern industry steeped in the tradition of the mariner in the Atlantic shipping lanes.
And now, this here Bay that I’d certainly like to get to know better historically speaking. For the most part I’ve just been sailing hard. Only catching a glimpse of what is, or once was, taking place on its shores.
Twenty knots again today (at least it wasn’t 25). Waves up to my rub rail again. Engine locker swamping with water again. I’m closing up the hole in the engine locker first chance I get. My engine needs tending to. It’s been getting knocked around, banged and hassled. It’s a good thing I installed a lip on the mount to keep it from shaking loose. Fucking outboards. So simple, yet so… beyond my realm of consciousness. I’m going to need it soon. I’ll be in the ICW with little room to sail. At least here, for example, if the engine dies say while coming into a harbor—I can sail.
I used to sail in and out of harbors all the time. On and off moorings and my anchor. I haven’t done that once since I left the lake. Who am I?
Received charts here from Aaron and Sarah. Inside was a gift of some Vermont food staples. It was a very kind gesture, of which I credit to Sarah solely, because while it may be Aaron who gave me his charts, she orchestrated their arrival.
I now have almost every chart I need for the remainder of this here venture. I still need to obtain some offshore charts for North and South Carolina. There are some options there for going offshore but man I really wish I had crew for some of the longer ones. It’s the same adage—when sailing offshore off shore, I think having crew is not AS imperative perhaps because you are so far off and can actually sleep.
But I can only go a few miles off. Vanupied is simply just not equipped for the wilderness desolation 100+ miles offshore. Will she ever be? Doubtful. I’ll probably just get another boat and equip her. At least that’s the latest crazy plan I’m scheming. But I waffle. Vanupied could be made right. Honestly, even the Bahamas might be slightly sketchy on this boat as is. I’m not sure. I’m still shaking her down. She’s proved herself alright in this latest round of northerlies.
I am on the cusp of the Atlantic Ocean. New York Harbor. South of the Battery, the center of the tidal universe. Tomorrow, with the force of the mighty Hudson, the East River and the great Atlantic I will be sucked through the Verrazano Narrows, essentially, into the sea. -October 2
The Hudson River proved to be excellent training grounds for the rest of this trip. However, I feel like a much different person now than I was while traversing that body of water. It was the first time I would sail on tidal waters in years, and have contact with commercial shipping traffic.
Currents on the Hudson are gnarly. So gnarly, in fact, that even in 30 knots my boat would point stern to the wind if the current was opposed. After the third time this happened I stopped freaking out, and accepted it as merely uncomfortable.
I got a slow start and stayed on the Hudson probably longer than I needed to. Hurricanes were still pending and I had visions of the next Hurricane Sandy or Irene pummeling the northeast and decided to stay creekside until I knew the right path.
In Esopus Creek is a beautifully protected anchorage where the light is mesmerizing, A very nice man who worked at the Saugerties Steamboat Company pointed me in the right direction towards the best place to anchor, let me tie up for free at their unused dock the next day so I could meet some of my family. When he asked me my boat name I said, “Vanupied! It’s french for barefoot peasant.”
“But you’re wearing shoes!” He replied.
I never saw him again but had the entire brand new dock to myself that night.
From there I travelled to Kingston, NY and wound up staying ten long days awaiting a hurricane that never came in Roundout Creek. My only contact with other humans was at the power boat club and campground next to where I anchored. They were kind to me and when I left showered me with gifts like a flare gun (for protection), a bottle of rum, twenty dollars, and fresh gallons of water. Huge shout out to the Anchorage Marina folks in Rondout Creek for treating me as one of their own even though I was on a sailboat.
When I left Roundout Creek it was a fifty mile sail/motor sailing day down to Dundeberg Mountain–which isn’t really an anchorage at all and I had a miserable time pulling up my anchor in the 30 knot winds that morning.
Thanks to some friends ahead of me on an Alberg 30 I learned about the ‘Bowline Pond’ anchorage on the west side of the river across from the northern section of Haverstraw Bay. This place is the shit. Seriously a hurricane hole. Protected 360 degrees. The entrance is tricky and the waves can stack up as it gets shallow. Plenty of depth there, but if you attempt this anchorage make sure you keep the mooring ball in the middle to STARBOARD to avoid an actual stack of bricks on the other side of the entrance. This ‘pond’ is actually man made. My parents and sister visited me there and I illegally tied my dinghy to a public park entrance and we crashed a private party at the park with a live band until the ranger kicked us off. It wasn’t before I could row each one out to my boat, though! I also met some kickass New York sailors on a Westsail 32. The captain, Josh, gave me probably the most integral navigation lesson of my life which in turn saved my ass from being completely lost on the ocean during my offshore passage.
Still waiting for coastal swells to die down from hurricanes I went to Haverstraw Bay where it took me two days to fix my autopilot. All it took was some wood, epoxy, screws, and a sock. Who would have thought? I rode out another gale just south of there where I was convinced I’d drag into the shipping lanes. This was before I learned to sleep through gales.
My final stop on the Hudson before heading through NYC was the Nyack Boat Club. I fucking love this place. It’s an historical gem. I met so many wonderful people who gave me detailed current and tide lessons, anchorage spots all along the east coast, and kisses on the cheek when I left. My dear friends Aaron and Sarah on their Baba 35 where on their way north back to Lake Champlain after a summer sailing in Novia Scotia and they picked up the mooring next to me. It was the last time I might see them for a long while. It was in Nyack that I received a small single side band radio and the WQXR classical music station would become my constant companion.
The hudson continued to widen the further I went. Ferries zoomed past creating monstrous wakes. Helicopters loudly flew through the sky. There were no channel markers but many ships. It was like the wild west. While still much less crowded than NYC by land it was still quite chaotic and the worst was yet to come. I anchored for the night west of the Statue of Liberty.
The final section of New York Harbor was insanely crowded with commercial traffic. I felt like a needle in a haystack. I approached the Verrezano Narrows only to second guess my navigation and tried to hail some fisherman to ask them which way to go to avoid the ships. “That way,” they said. But I couldn’t see where they pointed since I was fucking around with the engine.
I managed not to get run down by a ship and I was shit out in the Atlantic Ocean.
I’m getting closer to the ‘conch dock.’ I can feel it. There are pelicans. I don’t want it to end, sailing the Chesapeake, but it’s getting cold. Today, the water grey and glistening, had sloppy, choppy waves with little crests that broke and disappeared under my boat’s keel. Sometimes a rogue set would send Vanupied careening into their troughs, knocking the wind out of her sails. But there wasn’t much wind to fill them anyway. As the remaining gusts from the cold front dissipated not much was left, but the leftover seas never did really settle. I should have flown the big genoa only. Could have made better time.
As it was 20 miles took nine hours and I arrived after dark to an empty anchorage in front of a tiki bars, piers, and buildings on stilts. One restaurant was playing some golden oldies and the free entertainment was welcome aboard. While squaring things away on deck another boat came in and I heard her captain call to his crew,”We’ll anchor just behind this guy.”
“Hey!” I yelled friendlily. “I’m a GIRL.” Sometimes I want to shout it from the rooftops.
Turns out it was the sailor on the Grampian 30 I met in Annapolis. He’s cruising with his wife and two daughters. They invited me over for a feast of Dahl, spinach and fried paneer for which I was much obliged. Despite being horrifically lactose intolerant, I devoured the cheese dish and yogurt sauce with vengeance. It was the most food I’d eaten in a single setting in ages. Their eight year old daughter, while only in third grade, could probably write a thesis and it turns out she gives excellent back massages. Her hands did a good job kneading the knots in my back from days in the cockpit and crouching around inside my boat’s little cabin–but her endurance was a bit lacking. Oh well, she’s only eight. She’ll get there.
Upon arriving I really wished I’d had an extra $20 to go ashore for a burger and a beer at the restaurant playing the oldies–this, however, turned out to be much better.
History. Industry. Wildlife. That’s how I would describe the miles logged traversing the historic Champlain Canal. Built in the 1800’s and birthed from the brain of Gov. George Clinton of New York, well, all I can say is hats off to you, Sir Clinton.
For every ounce of sun we had there were equal parts rain, which were made increasingly miserable due to the large boom and mainsail taking up most of my cabin, and the breath/sweat condensing from two 20-something women. My crew was my best friend, Whitney. Not a sailor, but born on a boat. She sailed with me last year in a steep chop out of Burlington Harbor where I turned to her and said, “Okay, this is the point of no return–do you want to go back?”
To which she replied, “I trust you, Cap.”
If only she could be onboard forever, as her mere presence helps me to solve the problems of the world. But she has her own adventure to build, her own “boat” to find. She will be back onboard Vanupied when we reach southern latitudes. This much is certain.
For the first few locks we were nervous and scared. By the final we were entering the great big chambers of water playing the harmonica. We tied on and off docks and wharf walls like it were a game. We docked next to the actual remnants of the USS Ticonderoga and, naturally, saluted it when we left. I could’ve lived there amongst those lock walls and slimy lines with Whit as a canal rat forever but, alas, we finally reached tidal waters.
Whitney traveled with me another several miles on the Hudson River to Catskill, NY where I became a sailboat again. Luckily, her friend came to pick her up and return her back home for work on Monday—because even though I promised her I’d get her somewhere accessible to mass transit to get back in time, I really had no idea if I’d be able to deliver on that.
Huge shout out to Hop-O-Nose marina on Catskill Creek for a doing a dope job stepping my mast, for a free night at the dock and supporting the adventure. My favorite question I received from the owner there was, “WHAT DO YOU EAT?!”
Well, I left. I’d have cut the proverbial dock lines but I sold my mooring bridle to a mate to pay my debt to the marina. It all worked out. I feel like it’s my birthday or something. So many well wishes as I prepared to and left the mooring field. “Bye,” I yelled to my neighbors who I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. “I’m not coming back!”
So, yes, while I technically left I’m only five miles away. And I’m okay with that.
I left at 9 AM with a single reef in the main and was glad I did. I wanted to make it to crown point but it took two hours just to make it this far. I was cold, wet. My foul weather gear sucks. The rain, remnants of hurricane harvey, was tempestuous. Busted my depth sounder. I knew something electronic would fry I’m just glad it wasn’t Jane (my autopilot) or my GPS. Guna make me a lead line. No other boats I’ve ever owned or sailed on had depth finders anyway.
I figured why not ditch out while I still can. Soon there will be long passages with nothing in between. I’m anchored off the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum which is fitting. I’m slightly exposed to the south because mooring balls are taking up most of the anchorage. If no one claims them by tonight I’ll move onto one. I fought with the alcohol heater for a while but finally got it to work. Everything is damp but it’s beautiful in the rain.
I hope to reach Chipman Point in time for my mast unstepping appointment but I’m behind. I’ll have to leave crown point very early and should probably motor if I want to get there on time. Wind forecast 25 kts from the south but this part of the lake is very narrow, meandering, full of eagles I’ve been told.
Day three. Depth finder definitely broken. Crown point. I’ve re-anchored for the third, maybe fourth time trying to get as close to shore as possible but the gusts kept pushing me back. I’m scared for tonight. I’ve been in blows before but this spot is unknown to me.
I left early to avoid increasing wind prediction and motored into a dead calm until a light wind filled in for about an hour. Becalmed for another hour I started to motor until I hit more wind with soon became 20 kts with gusts higher. After some miles tacking one gust hit that almost knocked us down. It was time to go on deck to either shorten sail or motor. I motored. Heeling over hard in 20 kts, solo, on my boat for miles is…difficult. I kept kicking the autopilot out of its socket I was sure I’d break it. It’s hard to look at charts or do damn near anything when I have to sail the boat so closely. Crew would make all the difference in the world in that situation. But at the same time, fuck going to weather. Everyone avoids it whenever they can, right? I don’t have anything to prove to anyone or to myself.
Exhausted! Starving! No time to eat much today. Wiring catastrophe. Tried to drill hole out in bulkhead to pass running light wires and connectors through. Would up drilling into the wires and have to re splice now anyway, so hole drilling was useless and destructive. Wound up lashing the mast to the rails instead of using wood supports. It’s sturdy. Got pretty pissed though when one of the marina employees was insisting on untying my boat from the crane area in the middle of huge thunderstorm. Finally the owner came over and told him to stop. I was pissed, but the owner made it right by giving me free dockage.
Two cruising families here heading south. One I met last year in the Champlain Islands.
Approximately eighteen snaky miles through the creek like, final miles of Lake Champlain. Eagles. White and blue herons. Train tracks. Trees and cliffs. Misty and fjord like.
Crew: Amber. Off the boat of cruising family. We buddy boated with her son and husband onboard their vessel and passed through Lock 12 of the Champlain Canal. Emerged triumphant. Excellent crew. Tied to the high cement wall in Whitehall, NY now awaiting the arrival of my crew for the next four days who will travel with me the next sixty miles of the Champlain Canal and to the entry of the Hudson River where, shortly after that, I’ll become a sailboat again.