Even when out of the water…
…the sentiment remains true.
“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” -Kenneth Grahame
2015 was a bang up year. It had it’s fill of tears, but with it came triumphs. I learned a lot about myself–even if it meant just figuring out what I didn’t want I feel like I’m finally on the right path to finding the boat I was meant to sail, and the life I was meant to lead. In between there’s been bikes, beer, and even babies! Join me in this walk down memory lane, and cheers to a happy, healthy new year!
May all of our dreams come true.
This year I… lived aboard one of the most finely built and well designed sail boats in the world. Finally learned how to row, properly. Was the captain of a vessel (albeit small) for the first time.I learned how to navigate (kind of).
Quit my job as a full time newspaper journalist to go sailing and gunkholing around British Columbia.
Said goodbye to a community of sailors that were cut from the same cloth.
Bought and sold four different bicycles.
Went on a fully loaded solo bike tour intended to last thousands of miles, but only rode 100.
Worked my fourth harvest in the wine industry
Reconnected with my family after being away for two years.
Began the hunt for my very own sailboat.
Here is a look into my mind, from when I first really decided I needed to have a boat of my own. Perhaps it was decided for me. Nevertheless, here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote a friend while I was sailing around British Columbia this summer aboard a man’s boat whom we will call Jack, as in captain Jack (obviously). This friend and I met while we were living and working together on a farm in the foothills of Mount Rainier.
I pulled the plug on the Westerly Centaur 26 after a sleepless night tossing and turning between yes and no, sheer terror and delight. I came up with a new adage that describes what I am looking for when it comes to my first boat. I want to outfit, not refit. I hope to gain the physical, mechanical skills that come with sailboat ownership and maintenance to one day take on that project with the potential to be the ‘perfect boat,’ but at this point I want to spend my first season sailing and tinkering, not overhauling.
I can’t pin point exactly what I felt was wrong with the boat as I never went back to give her a second look–I just wrote her off. I know the Centaur is built like a brick shit house. Designed by the esteemed Laurent Giles at least one has circumnavigated and many more have crossed oceans, but there was something rather unnerving about buying a boat from a dead man.
There was no one to answer my many questions. The boat had been in moth balls for over a year and it’s noticeable. Her sails were not properly stored and seemed tired. There was no information about when the standing rigging was last replaced. The tiller was rotted. The interior was cold and uninviting.
I could go on with what seemed wrong with her but I won’t, because honestly I’m not sure I even know the true status of her condition. Structurally she may very well be stout and sound. For reasons I can’t explain I don’t want her, despite the fact that I probably could have walked away as her owner for a couple of grand.
I’m sure all she needed was good dusting and would have been ready to sail locally and I did think it would have been kind of fun to call her Sasquatch, but at this point all I can trust are my instincts, which said move along.
Now I’m reading ‘Inspecting the Aging Sailboat,” by Don Casey in hope that I’ll get far enough along in my search to only have to pay for a survey once. People may say that I was silly to let this boat pass me by, or that I’m never going to find the “perfect boat.” It’s true no boat is perfect, but who’s to say that the guy who meticulously maintained his 70’s era 24-footer isn’t ready to move up a couple of feet and wants to see his baby go to a good home…
I don’t actually know anything about fixing boats. I keep thinking about my future boat and picture this harrowing scenario: it doesn’t have an anchor (bow?) roller or anywhere to store the anchor for easy access while underway and the only thing actually attaching the hook to my boat while anchored are a few wraps on a measly cleat. That can’t be! It’s blowin’ a gale! I can’t get the anchor up! And what about installing a stronger holding mechanism (which probably has a proper name that I don’t know), because I don’t know the first or last thing about attaching a piece of hardware sturdily to the deck.
I get a call from John, the shipyard guy. I left a note on his black station wagon asking him which boats were for sale in the yard. He said none, but there’s a few that have been left “in really bad shape.”
He’s not sure if they have sails, or a title. And I think I know which one’s he’s talking about. This stout little full keeler that I’ve been admiring, 70’s era, she doesn’t have a mast, at least not one up while she sits in the yard. She’s the one I wanted to know about. Maybe I can get her for pennies, maybe all she needs is some spit shining, sails, new thru-hulls, an interior revamp. Who knows! It could be worth it and doable if he’ll let me work in the yard, and my uncle can give me a hand. As long as her hull and deck are in tact…
But the price of cushions alone is enough to steer a broke sailor away. “Sometimes free boats wind up costing more,” I remember being told.
Everyone’s first time is different. Some are with a small, short dinghy. Others with a long, strong yacht. But me? My first time sailing was a 1200 nautical mile journey from Vavau’a, Tonga to Opua, New Zealand, out of sight from land for 10 sanguine days, on a posh 43 foot catamaran. No one told me not to put toilet paper in the head so how was I supposed to know (having never stepped foot on a sail boat before), that within hours of casting off from our mooring ball I’d be covering the toilet with saran wrap, hoping the excrements would stay put for the next 1200 miles? (Secret: we’d been at port living aboard on anchor for a little over two weeks waiting for a weather window to make our crossing. I’d been putting toilet paper in the head all along, so, knowing what I know now about marine toilets, I’m surprised it didn’t clog sooner).
It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Who I knew, not what I knew. The boys delivered the yachts to and fro twice each year and had room for me. So I paid my way from NZ to the islands and lived like a sailor for close to a month. I didn’t know cruising existed, and it wasn’t for many years later that I knew I could live on a boat, hell even own a boat of my own. Blissfully ignorant I had no idea the implications of sailing this somewhat treacherous area of the Tasman Sea at this time of year. I listened to but never felt concerned about the reports that came through the coconut telegraph on the VHF each morning. I trusted our captain, and we were at port a good while waiting for a clear window in between cyclones.
While in Tonga I walked a pig on a leash, rode in the back of a hay truck to a strange lagoon where the beach dropped suddenly off into the deep ocean, slept in a traditional Tongan hut with the branches of palm trees for bedding (when I told my Tongan friend I was freaked out by all the spiders in there he snapped his fingers and two little Tongan boys went and shook out all the leaves), ate a piglet roasted on a spit and root vegetables cooked in banana leaves, got the shits from drinking too much coconut water, got the shits from drinking too much kava, got the shits from eating too much papaya, got constipated from taking too much imodium.
While at sea…time blurred, or stopped all together. I felt truly free and alive for the first time. I cooked and made sure we didn’t run into any shipping containers. I kneaded and baked bread. I wrote sea shanty’s. I never got seasick. I picked up pumas from the water that had come from an underwater volcano eruption–it had tiny crabs living on it and I thought to myself, this baptism of fire is how it all began…
The inception of this mad idea began over a year ago and only now am I truly beginning to thwart off the self-induced skepticism that this dream might actually become a reality in the near future. I hate to say the things I’m going to do, preferring to report once I’ve done them, but I’m choosing to share these humble beginnings with you, small audience.
Perusing a bookstore in the University District of Seattle one week ago I drifted toward the sailing section. Don Casey’s book of Fiberglass Hull & Deck repair caught my eye, and I bought it. Cap’n Fatty Goodlander says to have a memento to remind yourself of your intent…
I’m 26 years old and I’ve just returned to my hometown by the sea to live with my parents so I can save a modest amount of money, with the intention to acquire a modest amount of sailboat. What will happen in between I’m not sure. If you can handle my modest amount of melodrama then join me as I chase my dinghy dream.
“Don’t look back, because someone might be chasing you.” -Tom Waits
The romantic notion of living in a tent on the vineyard while working as a cellar hand during this year’s wine harvest was exactly that, a romantic notion. I’m holding on to boat life with slippery fingers. Not quite willing to take that job that requires the car. Not quite willing to leave these islands for the mainland. Not quite willing to trade the smell of brine for the smell of fermented wine. The wine harvest has been my means of travel for many years. It’s brought me to new places, afforded me bits of extra cash, and suddenly ended as quickly as it began. It’s been a lesson in impermanence. A lesson in saying goodbye. Being a traveling cellar hand has always felt like being part of this secret club. A club of cellar rats doing a job that anyone could learn if only they knew it existed. Making wine breaks my back, stains my hands and fills my heart each year. But in the end it leaves me homeless in a strange place where I must then move on to more work or more travel. I am part of a different club now, however. Even though that seasonal job with the French winemaker a state away sounded fun, it wasn’t going to get me any closer to my boat. It was going to take me further away. During our phone conversation he said in a thick accent. “This too is my dream, to have a boat and sail away. But you must first buy your freedom.” People tell me to apply myself. To get a “real” job. To “do what I love”. To not “work for money.” All seem to contradict themselves. I can’t do what I love without money and a real job would afford me no time to do what I love.
Pretending to live aboard is a lot like playing house. You cook and clean up in the tiny galley, you pee in the bucket at night and walk the dog in the morning. Despite the blackberries in full force where you poop the dog, the way the dock feels at different times of the day on your bare feet, and the way the marina bathroom always seems to feel so clean and inviting, it is not your boat, your dog, your slip or your life.
You will not know what to do if the boat catches on fire from leaving the old batteries plugged in or from cooking on the butane camp stove. You will not feel the pangs when someone ashes their cigarette accidentally in the cockpit. Your face will not drop when someone brushes against your fresh coat of varnish. You will never be responsible for something that isn’t yours.
Spending so much time on someone else’s boat means that everyone you meet will assume it is yours. People will start seeing you day after day and think you live there, permanently. After a certain amount of time you might just stop correcting them. You might start using terms like, “us, we, ours.” But it will never be yours.
I’ve always said it’s dangerous to be in love with the idea of someone. There’s nothing wrong with being in love with a lifestyle, but make sure it’s your lifestyle. Make sure it’s your hard work that got you on that boat. Whether it’s the prettiest boat in the harbor or the biggest hunk of shit, make sure it’s yours. Make sure it’s your story you’re telling.