Welcome all of us to the new age, new year! Wow, 2022 really has felt like a fucking fully loaded winch handle to the face if you know what I mean! And we’re off!
I’m not kidding. I’ve been crying for literally two weeks straight. I cried so much it felt and looked like I’d been punched in the face. I googled it and sure enough my tears had given me two black eyes.
My grandfather died. I witnessed lifelong bonds fracture. A profound personal and professional connection I’d built over a year with an important figure vanished in one night. All within the last month. Nothing makes sense. I am psychologically changed.
But that’s another story.
Do people still need those? Stories? Now more than ever, perhaps. Two years into a pandemic. I think sailors have always been relatable. The sea has always been compared to difficult times in life. Difficult emotions. The ship a metaphor for getting through them.
But what about getting through difficult times and difficult emotions, at and on the fringes of the sea?
I’ve always had this tendency toward the extreme. My parents kept control of me enough when I was a kid that I never ended up on the streets, only the road. The blue road. Never home-less. But home-free. And, eventually, finding home on the sea. But I didn’t chose sailing. I had an opportunity to be out at sea once and from then on nothing else would suffice.
For years I tried to build a home on the sea aboard a broken boat—and finally learned my lessons. I can’t say the same for love—I still try and build a home in broken hearts.
For many people, not only sailors, the sea is home. The problem is we can’t live there. So we settle for boats. Surfboards. Seaside cities. Summers at the beach.
I’ve been studying single-handers for a while now. The ocean sailing kind. Their boats, books, and films. Somewhere along the way I broke this third wall. My heros became something else entirely. Something real. Something tangible. And it wasn’t always pretty.
Something else happened. I became someone else’s hero. More than once, and, I disappointed them. So what should I have expected from mine?
I need to make sure I’m not trying to go further out to sea for the wrong reasons. I have to make sure that I’m not trying to go further out to sea in order to love myself, but that I love myself enough to go further out to sea. That I love myself to keep going. To not give up. To remember that it’s up to me and my boat. No one is coming. You have to go after your dreams yourself. I don’t know why. It seems against human nature.
The sea is the only place that calls of romance without the need for another person. It is something I have gotten to know intimately. I try to remember, even on anchor, that I sleep with the ancient wisdom of the sea beneath me, and that means I’m never really alone. I can’t forget that.
I’m getting to know the sea better. The wind. Myself. I recently felt my sense of self become somewhat fragmented. My emotional self, and my conscious self, separated. It was the result of what I can only imagine has been the constant, hyper vigilance needed for life on the fringes of and at sea.
It didn’t take long before I was back on land and that changed, as I became entrenched in and witness to relational conflict. I didn’t lose my hyper vigilance, I just lost my sense of peace that came with it.
In many ways I want to be alone at sea. Well, I want to be able to be alone at sea. I have to be. It’s the only way I feel I can be a competent sailor. Because doing it alone is better than not doing it at all.
I chose a life at sea to avoid heartache and attachment someone said to me—but I like to think I choose life at sea in spite of it. Because it seems that boats, and boys, break my heart.
But never the sea.
The sea just tries to stop it.
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When I first met Sam Holmes I had no idea he was famous. We ended up following each other through Instagram due to our respective tag lines; his is “Sailing Oceans in Questionable Vessels,” mine is “Just Say No to the Marine Industrial Complex.” When we ended up in the same harbor I learned he crossed the pacific from California to Hawaii on a 23 foot boat, and was now sailing his Cape Dory 28 on the East Coast. He also had a YouTube channel with some videos clocking millions of views, and what I would later learn has a cult following.
Our encounter was brief but profound. I was impressed by his voyaging and he was impressed with my boat and work I’d done so far. Sam said I reminded him of the famous sailing anarchist Moxie Marlinspike. Even though I’m nothing like Moxie, who literally designed the encrypted messaging app Signal, I was honored and felt seen. He was going north and I was trying to tie up lose ends on the Chesapeake.
We vowed to meet again.
Sam and I quickly became long distance buddies. He helped me come up with the idea to try and recoup the fees slammed on my friend and I for painting my boats bottom with some messages. He offered me lots of advice and stories about ocean sailing. While I taught him about bronze chain plates and white privilege. With a good amount of shit talking on each other intermixed. He gave me his dinghy, which was an awesome skin on frame nesting dinghy that I tried to bring back to life, but Sam wasn’t kidding about questionable vessels.
I tried to rehab the dinghy but it was starting to seriously sink before I even left the dock. When some of my friends who followed Sam’s channel found out I’d met Sam I jokingly started to say “He gave me his dinghy, but we didn’t make out!”
Eventually, I told the joke to Sam. At which point we both entertained it for like one second before quickly realizing we are much better as just friends. And the rest is history…
Sam and I are literally on other ends of the spectrum. He’s hyper focused, I’m ADHD. He eats fast food and I eat vegan. He worked for Disney as an engineer, I’m an underpaid writer. I wonder sometimes about my close sailing mates, would we be friends on land?
I finally caught up with Sam again in North Carolina after a 20 hour sail south on the Pamlico Sound. I was greeted in the harbor by Sam on a skiff with a local teenager from a family he’d made friends with, also fans of his channel. He handed off homemade vegan tamales to me as I anchored under sail. Later we met up at the free private dock where he was tied up. It was like our own little island when we walked to the fancy marina where we had the shower codes down the forest lined street. I forced him to eat vegan food. We had a sleep over in separate settees aboard his cozy boat. And he helped me run mundane errands.
Sam was headed inland and I was headed south but we got to sail together aboard my boat on a blustery day. He filmed it for his YouTube channel. I tried to bail the morning of our sail, to which Sam said, “Don’t be lazy, Emily.”
And I replied, “Lazy is a term invented by capitalism and not in my vocabulary.”
It’s been a running joke about how I’ve never actually watched his channel, because we are friends in real life. So, I don’t really need to. I get the behind the scenes Sam Holmes Sailing pretty consistently. One of our favorite past times is where I read my latest essay aloud to Sam on the phone. Another common theme has been when I’m frenetically trying to get my shit together to get off the dock, or finish a project, or make a passage. I’ll ask Sam to hold me accountable. Then i’ll completely forget I asked him to do that and get mad at him when he does it. Like, why you hassling me bro?
During my most recent conversation with Sam I started coughing abruptly to which he responded casually, “you hitting the bong?” I was just choking on some coconut snacks but you catch my drift. He’d just finished shaming me for deciding not to go out a particular inlet because I couldn’t get against the currents and I was afraid of the wind over tide. But we can’t all be as brave as Sam Holmes. At least, not right away.
That’s what makes him our hero.