On Labor Day weekend 2020 I hauled my boat for three days and three days only to paint the bottom, remove the old prop shaft and fiberglass the hole, and make a small repair to the rudder that will prevent me from losing the rudder in the event of fastener failure.
It was a community event. The only reason it managed to happen at all was because I was getting a deal on the fees due to the long weekend and no yachts scheduled for the space.
Sailors and friends came and went. The boatyard manager (and part owner of the yard and marina) offered advice and answered questions. The shipwright (also co-owner) even helped to remove the shaft. The shipwright, my friend and fellow she-pirate, and I all pushed the prop at the same time to finally break it. Then our ‘helper’ grabbed the sawzall and cut into my boat!
“Ack!” I shrieked. “I didn’t consent! You cant charge me for that!”
He laughed and assured me he wasn’t going to. Offered some words of encouragement to keep chasing the dream at sea. Everyone was in high spirits and it was a true collectivist effort. That night I even got a stick-n-poke tattoo onboard my boat, in the yard, commemorating the experience.
But there was a third owner of the marina and boatyard, who didn’t like the cheerful and chummy nature between me and his partners.
By day three I’d salvaged three partial cans of bottom paint all different colors and set to work anti fouling. It was then I was struck by my brilliant idea to add some peaceful, anarcho, collectivist, anti-racist messages to the bottom.
Solidarity, Comrades; Love is free; the acronym for Black Lives Matter; Resist; The Climate Crisis is Real; No Justice No Peace; and even the infamous line from the back of the Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle All for One, One for All; graced my keel.
I launched the next day, and was informed that the partner with the most share in the business was not going to honor the deal because the messages I had displayed. If I chose not to pay, the partner who did me the favor would be held responsible. So I did the right thing to not hurt someone who had tried to help me.
My friend and fellow-she pirate who helped me with my boat, who is also the sole care taker of a salty old boat and four children after her husband passed away during their years cruising together on a traditional gaff-rigged 29 footer, was also penalized and her deal for boat storage was also no longer going to be acknowledged.
I’m asking for donations to recoup the funds from the deal that was not honored. That amounts to $155. Anything extra will be given to my friend for her unanticipated fees upwards of $500. If we somehow raise all of that any remaining donations will be redistributed to mutual aid funds for folks affected by the wildfires on the west coast.
The swells are mesmerizing. The sea is quenching my thirst despite not being able to drink one literal drop. I keep thinking about that quote. How we are 98 percent water and salt, or some number like that. So when you return to the ocean you are, essentially, returning home.
I feel an immense privilege just to be out here, because who the fuck am I? I’m just a girl from a small town on Long Island. I went to a state college in upstate New York. I’m an unemployed journalist.
Leaving the inlet today every captain of every boat that passed me was a man. Their crews were all men. Their boats cost tens of thousands of dollars.
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.
What did I learn from sailing a fiberglass spin off of a Hershoff 28 down a remote coast with a psychologist?
Believe what people say; don’t read between the lines. Past behavior is an indicator of future behavior.
Always demonstrate captaincy, even when it’s not your boat.
Two weeks together on a small boat and you’re bound to have some arguments. If you’re still friends at the end of it, you’re mates for life. Sometimes things can fall apart between crew members when you need each other most. Swallow your pride when it comes to passage making and keeping the peace with crew. Tone is everything.
I don’t believe in dogs on boats from a philosophical standpoint, but pugs aren’t really dogs.
Helming; it’s all instinct.
Making decisions is easier at sea than on land. Anxiety on land is crippling, at sea it is necessary for survival.
Mosquito’s can turn ‘God’s Country,’ into “God’s Asshole.”
They don’t call it a shakedown sail for nothing.
Shit is going to break, whether it is a $3,000 boat or a $30,000 boat.
What happens when you fall in love too fast, or you just think you’re in love, or you’re in love with the idea of someone? For me, taking things slow is a near impossibility. My boat moves slow while my heart beats fast. I’m always just coming or going. Running aground hard and then floating off with the tide. Luffing loudly in irons and then silently sailing away. Time is sped up when you’re traveling around on a little boat. Strangers become friends. Friends become lovers. Lovers become strangers. A new port becomes home and then you leave it all behind. I call it boat years. Like dog years.
It seemed like we had met long before we had met. I was the only young, live aboard sailor on Lake Champlain, but there had been one before me.
“Too bad you weren’t here a few years ago, there was a sailor boy just like you.” “You remind us of this sailor boy that was here. He left. You would have liked him.”
One night my dearest friend on the lake regaled me of stories of this seeming kindred spirit sailor. The stories he told were meant to warn me, but they just made me like him more.
“He went south on someone else’s boat. He was always sailing on and off the dock. Never using his engine. When he left he got in an accident and lost the use of his right arm. He learned to sail again with one hand. Got another boat and headed south again. There’s all these stories now of him sailing engineless through bridges along the ICW. He has excellent boat handling skills, but he’s reckless.”
Engineless? Through bridges? One working arm? I was intrigued.
I made a film about sailing in an effort to raise money for my trip south and the sailor boy saw it. He messaged me. Then we emailed. Then we talked on the phone.
“You remind me of me,” he said.
He was helping as crew on an Alberg 30 headed south at the same time as me from a different lake. We just kept missing each other. He was always a few days or weeks ahead of me. We tried to meet on the canasl, on the Hudson, in New Jersey. By the time they reached the Chesapeake it was too late. I was too far north and they were quickly moving south. We’d have to try again some other time.
Eventually I ran out of money. I had tried to recoup some of it in a city further north, but still had everything to do to get my boat actually seaworthy. I was tired of the intracoastal waterway. I wanted to go to sea, but everyday I meandered down the straight waterway in search of a place to rebuild my bank account and my boat so that could actually happen.
Then we met in person for the first time in West Palm Beach and it felt like I had met my soul mate. We were both Gemini. We weighed the same amount. We both had eaten too much salt on our journeys down the coast, alone, which caused our poop to turn the color of sand (and both, subsequently, googled it and feared we were having liver failure). He was my lost twin. He was going to be my third hand, I was going to be his right hand. Who else could have gotten into the same taupe poop sailing scenario? It was clearly meant to be.
I had a feeling like I was falling too fast down a flight of stairs. I knew that I should tread lightly. I was not where I wanted to be with my boat, and therefore myself, and it wasn’t the right time to be entertaining romantic entanglements. Especially with a person equal in intensity to me. But I also knew I was going to do it anyway.
I looked at him and said, “you remind me of a mistake I made in high school,” and we decided to sail together down to the keys.
We anchored in front of the lighthouse and jetty of Hillsboro inlet and flew a kite. I washed his hair. He made a gourmet meal out of my humble provisions. We slept in separate port and starboard settee’s, whispering into the wee hours about sailing around the world. When the wind picked up that night and the swells became uncomfortable I just pretended I was at sea. In the Bay of Biscayne we reached along in 25 knots under double reefed main and working jib. The sail combination was perfect. There was saltwater all over the cabin floor which had come through the hawse pipe, I’d deduced. But I was prepared if it had come from below the waterline. I didn’t panic. While he sailed my boat and I tended to her elsewhere I remember thinking, “I could go to sea with this person.”
Or was it, “could I go to sea with this person?”
But despite all this, I knew it wasn’t right. I reminded myself to tread lightly. I was still broken. My boat was still broken. My friend and his boat were also, essentially, broken.
So I tried to break it off in key largo. We were both broke, underfed (obviously we had too much salt in our diets), and needed to get our shit together before we could actually ever be together. But instead we decided we’d try to get our shit together while being together.
We stayed in the keys a while, and then headed back to West Palm Beach where his boat was, and where shit started to break down. There were positive things that happened there and while we were together; like the stepping of my mast and new standing rigging, a few friendships that were my saving grace, finding a little bit of work, getting offered a free boat and selling it—but mostly it was the wrong situation for me and my boat.
In the worst of times he was manic, I was depressed. He drank, I didn’t. He wanted a big boat, I wanted to rebuild my small one. He was reckless, I was cautious. He wanted to be a captain, and so did I. It became explosive. I threw a plate. He screamed at me about bottom paint. We could not be on the same boat.
He got an offer to crew on some blue water, and I limped out of town having learned a lesson. Sometimes having the most seemingly uncommon things in common, isn’t enough. Sometimes even taupe poop isn’t enough. We were the two most incompatible people on a tiny boat together. We were still the two most incompatible people between two tiny boats. Even on land, we learned later after trying to do long distance, we remained the two most incompatible people.
We had been surrounded by water, but were fire and gasoline.
You can almost pretend to be floating…but not really.
This whole thing feels strange and foreign after living in a house for so long.
I am looking at every challenge as a lesson in radical adaptation.
I haven’t had to feed myself in days. Thanks to Ray and Ash, Pete and Kourtney, Autumn and the kids. I make everybody laugh. It’s all I can do. I can’t offer help using tools or bring any actual food to the table, but I can offer laughs. Good laughs. Whole hearted belly laughs. The days spent laughing with everyone are the best days. I’m going to miss the boatyard, I can already feel it. Progress. I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride.
And even if we all wake up tomorrow and it’s all gone to the dogs, you just have to keep going.
Keep working on your projects.
Keep chipping away.
Keep earning your freedom.
Keep being you. Keep being light.