I just finished the worst bottom job I’ve ever done—because I don’t have the money or the time to scrape, grind, or sand blast off every last colossal, continent sized patch of old, thick antifouling paint down to bare fiberglass to make way for a proper barrier coat. There’s the right way, and then there’s the right now way. The bottom, I feel, is going to be an uphill battle because of this.
Fiber glassing in two through hulls turned into six because of a previous owners dodgy work. My personal favorite are the two holes (below the water line) that he chose to close up using nothing but a mixture of epoxy resin and sealant. Like most of his efforts on this boat, good intentioned but poorly executed. Such as the cockpit drain through hull that was installed with a bevel so large, the hull itself was ground down to where it was actually compromised structurally. I also must mention the defunct depth sounder right at the stem of the boat that was protected from popping out by a fiberglassed piece of wood on the inside of the hull, which I cracked within my first week of owning this vessel. Build it all back up has been the theme.
The mast has been stripped bare. All tangs replaced. Halyards rearranged and the standing rigging waits for its final bends…but first install the seacocks. Then launch. Being on anchor with no mast while we finish the rigging on land might suck, but not nearly as bad as being in a toxic boatyard for another day.
I used to want to earn respect at boatyards; now I just want to get out of them. When all this is said and done I’ll have a mere $180 left to my hand, but I beg anyone to name one great sailing adventure that wasn’t grossly underfunded.
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It’s light wind and the sun is setting on the Piankatank river as I embark on the maiden voyage of my new boat. It is my first time sailing the boat and I choose to do this at night, alone, with very little wind. My partner is not far behind on his boat. We take turns in the lead. It’s an hour before we reach the next green marker, one mile from where we started. For all intents and purposes, there is no engine. There is, physically, a very good functioning inboard diesel engine on the boat, but I haven’t started it. I have no desire to change the oil, change filters, bleed fuel lines, and replace impellers. Plus, the saltwater intake valve is so corroded that I have a potato at hand just in case it breaks until I can haul out to fix it.
But even if that were fixed, I’m done with engines and plan
to rip this one out and sell it (anyone want a sweet running little
diesel?). I’m done with schedules.
I’m done with being on other people’s timelines. I’m done motoring. I will wait
for the wind, even if that means I go at night, alone, at a speed of only one
I left my job on the tall ship when the heat index reached 128 degrees. Schooner life wasn’t for me. “You are definitely a free spirit,” my boss said in the end. “And that doesn’t always work on a tall ship.” I tried, really. A tall ship person I used to know referred to me as one of those, “small boat people.” I didn’t really know what he meant until I worked on a tall ship with those, “tall ship people.”
I am not one of them.
I met so many people who worked on tall ships that had such
a great passion for what they were doing that they did it for free, as
volunteers, in 100 degree heat with 100 percent humidity. I admire them, really, but the only boat
I’m willing to get heat exhaustion for is my own.
So, when I told my employers I couldn’t work during the heat
wave they ended my contract. I was so grateful. Thank you, I said, perhaps to
their surprise. I’d been planning my escape anyway. Whether I was going to give
proper notice or flee under the cover of darkness I hadn’t decided.
Had I not, in fact, left the job when I did I would have been working the day I bought my new vessel.
A week before my job ended I sold Vanu and was looking at
the very real fact that I was soon to be boat-less. With the termination of my
contract came the end of my living situation on the ship, so I was soon to be
homeless as well. It was decided that I’d move my stuff onto my boyfriend’s
27-foot boat in the meantime while we sailed in search of my next boat.
All of the boats for sale were too far or too expensive. The
Contessa 26, International Folkboat, and more were at the top of my list. There
was a Pacific Seacraft Orion 27 in my price range but it had been struck by
lightening. There were Albin Vega 27’s listed at ten to twenty thousand
dollars! It was clear that people had poured a great deal of money into some of
these old boats in hopes of “living the dream,” but never did. Now they were
imprisoning the boats in their slips or on the hard, for sometimes more than a
year, unwilling to come down in price.
Plus, they all had stupid names. All of the boats I’ve owned had come
with a good name and story along with finding the boat I’d have been remiss not
to keep its designation.
The search had been going on for weeks, and I needed to find
a boat now. So, naturally, I began to lose hope. But in my despair I decided to
search “all of craigslist,” (a process that does exactly what it says and is extremely
time consuming to search new boats listed everyday), just one more time.
That’s when I first saw the Sohund. A Great Dane 28. Transom hung rudder, excellent capsize and comfort ratings, built and designed in Denmark for one thing: going to sea.
I almost overlooked her, still suffering from boat finding
despair. She was only 40 miles away from where I was. I said to my partner,
“I’ll go see her once I’ve transferred Vanu to her new owner. If she’s still
available when we pass by there then maybe it’s meant to be.”
But the more we looked at the reputation of this boat,
considered the location, as well as the price and work it would need to be
refitted, it became clear that this was the boat.
I emailed the owner. Then I emailed him again. And again.
Then we talked on the phone. Before going to see the boat the next day I sent
him one final text.
“What does the boat name, Sohund, mean?”
“Sea Dog,” he replied.
The next day he picked us up, brought us to the boat and I
bought her right there, a mere 18 hours after the ad had been listed.
“Have you ever sold a boat this fast?” We asked the previous
owner, Dan, over lunch that he had bought for us.
“Never,” he said. “I think it was meant to be.”
Leaving my job, selling my boat and buying another, then
sailing a very crowded and over loaded 27-foot sailboat up to my new one wound up
being one of the most stressful escapades of my life…but I digress.
We arrived at the boat and stayed on Dan’s brother’s dock
for a few days cleaning up and making it inhabitable. My nerves were still shot from the week prior, and I was
staring into the beast of a six-month refit. But once that was completed I’d no
longer be trapped by the limitations of a vessel. I’d be truly free. So we
kedged our way off the dock and anchored in the creek, enjoyed a pile of
oysters with Dan and his brother, waited for the right wind (albeit light)
direction to sail out of the creek—and drifted off at one knot into a new
I don’t know what’s fuller, my heart or my belly. All of the jobs to make my little boat “seaworthy” are done. All that’s left is some cosmetic work and I’m splashed. But I’m not ready to leave this little boatyard community.
My French neighbor, John, with the Pearson 35 that he’s sailed to the Bahamas and back with his wife Gaby, reckons if I were here all alone I’d have figured it out. I can’t help but feel though that I couldn’t have done it without him and all the others who have helped me and my little boat get this far.
I’ve always secretly resented people who “forget to eat.” If I meet up with a friend around dinner time and they say they’ve had a “big lunch” I seethe silently. But it’s been happening to me. I’ve been forgetting to eat. It’s so hot during the day and the boat’s such a mess that the thought of cooking something and having to clean it up deters me and then I get caught up doing something else. I’ve managed to get a stock of some quick and easy stuff to make in a pinch (avocado and tuna tortillas anyone)? and I’m in no way too broke or cheap to buy food–it’s just sort of been slipping my mind.
The onslaught of wonderful humans feeding me started with the waitress at the marina cafe refusing to let me pay for my lunch when we went out. A few days later her boyfriend helped me install my bilge pump, a four hour job over the course of two days, and then invited me back to dinner at their house. They sent me home with a plastic bag full of chicken breast in my pocket. Yesterday morning I was having coffee with Josie, another female solo sailor, when I ran into Renee who had bought me a bag of fruit. Just because. “I thought you could use some fruit.” I ate the mangos like a ravenous beast in my cockpit underneath the sun. It reminded me of the tropics. I can smell the melon ripening as it hangs in my food hammock beside sweet potatoes I’ve yet to cook.
Last night a huge storm came through. I could see it building on the lake, marching towards the boatyard. My starboard chainplate, which is what keeps my mast attached to the boat, was removed for a bulkhead repair I was working on. Then the storm hit. I had two halyards tied down supporting the mast, so it wasn’t going anywhere in theory, but the wind blew hard and my mast leaned to the side in a way I never want to see again. The sound of the mast leaning from inside the boat had me sure the whole thing was going to come down any second. But sounds are always amplified inside the boat. Fellow boatyard neighbors Michael and Peter saw my commotion and came to help. When the storm passed they invited me for wine and snacks. After a couple of glasses Peter said, “Come with us to the restaurant, I’ll buy you dinner. The least I could do for a fellow hungry sailor.”
Today while I was helping another sailor tighten down his stanchions, Renee said, “Are you hungry?” and gave me ribs, corn and potatoes he had leftover from lunch. Then he invited me to a picnic dinner with a few other sailors where we ate pizza and salad. Julie and Alex are going to be sailing their Beneteau to the Bahamas this year. Julie had just baked a cake in their galley. She wrapped a piece up in some tin foil and I put it in my pocket.
“Everybody will help you. Some people are very kind.” -Bob Dylan
If only fools rush in then I must be some kind of genius, ’cause I’ve been nursing this boat since November when I had a mere $900 to my name, and not a clue where I’d get together the money, or the nerve, to buy anything other than a bag of rice.
Yet somehow, with the help of my parents who allowed me to move back home to save money for the purchase, and three jobs, I’ve come up with the funds to buy, outfit and sail my very own magic carpet.
The catch? She’s buried in ice until May. Oh yeah, and I barely know how to swing a hammer.
In no way is she perfect, but such is the life of 40 year old boat. As I rushed around today negotiating, typing up a purchase agreement, contacting the DMV to see if her lack of a title was an issue, entrusting the bank to convert all of my cash into a piece of paper, and leaving it up to pony express to deliver said check, I’ve hardly had a chance to realize what I’ve done.
I’ve just bought a sailboat, and I’m in way over my head.
So, how does it feel? Sublime; that moment in time where terror parallels delight.
“Thing about boats is, you can always sell them if you don’t like them. Can’t sell kids.” –Lin Pardey
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From the countryside of Quebec, to a frozen boatyard, to the lounge of a 200 year old Adirondack cabin, to my grandparent’s house, to the grimiest city in the world, and back home again–the journey to see the boat was a long one.It started early in the morning in sub zero temperatures as I caught the bus to New York City, to catch another bus, and then another bus. From there I did as best I could for my self-survey, but it was cold. Bitterly, bitterly cold. The wind howled through the rigging and snow drifts piled around as the wind off the water blew frozen bits in a steady direction. Before I left the boat, I sat in the port side settee, leaned against the nicely varnished ceiling boards and closed my eyes. I tried to picture warmer weather. I tried to picture myself, with all of my stuff, and my all of crazy notions, living in harmony within this little vessel. Thirty seconds later I sprung up. I had seen the light. That evening I enjoyed a traditional Quebecois meal of meat pie. A few glasses of tea, and a quick performance on the squeeze box and it was time for bed, as the next day I was meeting the surveyor in the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, the temperature was going to near 45 degrees that day. It’s damn cold in the north country this time of year.
When we arrived in the boatyard the next morning, the wind had quieted and the temperature spiked. Within minutes though, the current owner (who had graciously put me up for the night and offered me a ride to the bus stop to catch home later that evening) slipped on some ice which resulted in an intense injury. He had to call it and retreated to the Canadian border.
The surveyor and I went through every inch of the boat for the next four hours. My toes were about ready to fall off, but I felt like a got an education that was worth the frost bite. When the current owner had to bail, the surveyor said he would drop me at the bus stop. The thing was, I would be stranded there until midnight! I didn’t want to fish too hard for an invite to spend the remainder of the day at his house, so I didn’t. “I’ll find a coffee shop,” I said. “Or a bar.”Turns out, he was heading south where he also has a home and business, so I was able to catch a ride with him to my grandparents house in the rolling mountain range a few hundred miles down the line. A quick stop at his 200 year old house that used to belong to the secretary of the great New York poet Pearl Buck, and we were on the road.
Overall, it would take him 90 miles out of his way total to drop me off there. Not only did that not matter to him, but he knocked $150 off the survey price, and we smoked cigarettes in his flash Range Rover the entire time, talking about boats. I felt like a sponge, thirsty to soak up every last bit of information I could from him during our impromptu road trip. He has thousands of sea miles, many of which were offshore.
So many people don’t take care of their boats, or take care of them wrong. In some ways, talking to the surveyor gave my confidence a boost, as I asked the right questions. It was like we both came from the same school—except he was a near zen master, and me just wee student.
Somewhere in between the highway and the back mountain roads he said to me, “Emily, I think it’s great what you are doing, and I’m really excited for you.”
“Thank you. Wow,” I said. “I’m excited to have you as a part of it.”
I’ll keep him in my proverbial rolodex for years to come.
I was at my grandparent’s house in time for dinner, where my poppy gave me lessons in the art of negotiation, and my grandma advised me to wear a life jacket.Tucked into bed with my aunties playing a rousing game of scrabble, the past 36 hours almost seemed like a dream. It had all happened so fast. The boat, the miles of road, the mountains…