I first met my friend Jake in a boatyard on Lake Champlain while I was sitting on the rocks taking apart a trolling motor that I never would end up getting to work. He cracked open a micro brew and shouted from the ground up to another mate on their boat. Quickly after we were introduced he said to me, “You remind me of my ex wife, and that’s a compliment.”
That summer was spent as a tight knit group of sailors rendezvousing in anchorages, sailing each other’s boats, and collaboratively engineering the shit out of repairs. I can easily be brought back to that time we nearly knocked down Jake’s boat in a squall. Or ate sausages in the cockpit next to the cliffs of Kingsland Bay with his partner. Or the time he offered to help me rebed my leaking deck hardware but I abruptly called it off after we did only a few bolts because the whole task just seemed so daunting. He used to call me, “kid,” which I found annoying and would say, “dude you know we’re only like ten years apart, right?”
Jake had a Columbia 26 at the time, which he’d completely restored. He still exists in my phone as “Jake Columbia 26.” From her damaged hull to the rotten core under the mast, new roller furling sails, glassing in the old big port lights to put in smaller, more seaworthy ones. His eventual plan with the boat, other than sailing the shit out of it on Lake Champlain, was to trailer it across the country and launch it in Washington state to sail the inside passage to Alaska. But life happened, and he sold the boat. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Jake always liked to tell me, “The adventure is not your life. Your life is the adventure.”
Jake has always been there for me. Like a therapist, a mentor, an older brother from another mother, or a spirit guide. He’s helped to see me through many of sailing life’s challenges and been there to celebrate the victories as well. He is my emergency contact if there is ever a problem at sea. He literally always answers my messages and calls to the point where I’ve wondered what the hell he even does all day. He even responded once from Belize. He has helped, like any good friend therapist, to create a secure attachment that feels safe and unwavering that I’ve been able to translate that into many other relationships in my life. He has led by example on how to be a good person, a good partner, a good friend, a good ally.
Before giving up a life of dirt bag foolery for the stability of a regular job he was a lot like me. Which I guess is why, in a sense, I’m his hero.
But really, he’s mine.
One time we were sitting on my boat with our other friend, Dale. Jake had just gotten a ukulele and had begun playing it incessantly. With his eye twitching and voice about to crack, Dale turned to him and said, “PLEASE, Jake, for the love of god, would you stop playing that thing?!”
Jake laid down his weapon, hands up with a sly grin.
He’s come a long way from that annoying, repetitive strumming and has written a song so dark, so traditional, and so poignant in response to the global corona virus pandemic that I couldn’t help myself but to do my own rendition. A rendition that deeply offended my mother (sorry, mom), but did help to lift the spirits of my worried old friend.
You know shit is getting real when the person who has always been a rock to you is starting to get scared, and you’re the one reminding them that everything is going to be okay.
It has to be.
In other news: I said I wouldn’t worry about cosmetics but… Feel free to donate to my paint fund!
I met Cecilia Potts, better known as Ceal, while I was
working at the used marine store somewhere in northern Florida. In between
polishing some brass I overheard her haggling sassily at the counter for chocks,
or cleats, or was it a hawse pipe, or something to mount more solar panels.
I’m always interested in women who sail, but this lady
seemed extra special. She was an electric sailboat engine dealer of sorts. Her
boat was totally electric, completely refitted, refinished, and, she had done
it all herself. From how she talked and looked I deemed her one those, has-her-shit-together-engineering-types.
One day during her lunch break from the solar company she
worked for (where it turns out she was a marketing specialist, not an engineer),
she came to visit me while I was working on my boat in the boatyard. She told
me frankly, “I know you love this boat Emily, but you’ve outgrown it.”
She was right.
Now, Ceal is imparting that same knowledge she gave me to other boat owners and buyers through her new marine surveying business, Set Sail Marine Survey. She is one of only 24 women in the world wide Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors. She is, quite literally, the tits. Which is why I’ve decided to publish my entire interview with her as a Q&A piece. I cried when I read her answers because they were so inspirational, and I can only hope to one day lead with such grace.
Tell me a little about your journey sailing,
living aboard, and fixing up your own boat.
Boats have always sailed into my life with lines attached. They’ve always been owned by the person with whom I was in a relationship, and in the end I’ve always loved the boat more than its owner. The Catalina 28 was different. My name was on the official document. I’d never experienced that before. In all my past lives and love affairs, I was the keeper, the caregiver, the slave, and I’ve lost it all twice because of it. This time was different because she was mine and even though it was cockroach infested and stank like diesel and burned oil, s/v Wooden Shoe was my sanctuary. As soon as I could stand it (yes, there was still an occasional cockroach) I rolled out my sleeping bag in the v-berth, sans cushions and slept on the cold, hard gel coated fiberglass. My friend loaned me a cockpit cushion when he learned I was doing this, so I had about a 1-inch pad to sleep on for the first four months of ownership. You do these kinds of things when she’s yours. You’ll also pee in a Home Depot bucket, eat grocery store sushi and drink warm beer because she’s yours and you’re spending everything you can to get her refitted and restored. After a year and a half of major work, I had my floating condo and could sail it too. Was the Catalina like the Island Packets I had been part of in the past? Nope, but she also didn’t come with any drama, which made all that work 110% worth it.
What were your experiences like working for a
solar company, as well as on boats and in engineering?
I’ve had a career crush on engineering since middle school. But, like most crushes it was awkward and every time I got close to it, I weirded out and ran back to my comfort zone—writing. The opportunity to work at Solar Stik changed everything because it changed my mind. Here’s a company that’s totally been bootstrapped by its owners, providing hybrid electric solutions folks rely on in life and death situations that was started by someone with raw talent and a brain hardwired for engineering who does not have a degree in engineering! Solar Stik was born out of living on a boat. Think about that! All of us who call boat life home, know way, way, way more about power management, energy storage, and power generation than any of our grid-tied friends. Solar Stik pushed me to ask questions and apply my writing skills to help others better understand technical topics.
My affair with boats started when I was a kid and it evolved into this obsession I have with independence and self-sufficiency. The first time I remember seeing a sailboat was in the early 1980s in my hometown on Lake Michigan. The boats from the Queen’s Cup—an annual race across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, Wis., to Michigan’s western shore—were all tied up along the waterfront in my town and all I could think about was that I had to get on one of those boats and do that. The first time I sailed was in Charlevoix, Mich., on a family member’s boat. Working on boats is what makes my inner being sing and dance, it’s spiritual. Right now, not having a boat feels like I’m walking down the aisle at a cathedral without pants.
What made you decide to be a surveyor? And what
was it like to actualize that goal? What sacrifices did you have to make?
In February 2018, I was sitting alone on a beach before dawn in Mexico starring up at the stars through my tears and asking out loud to no one what I’m supposed to do with my life. I was going through a rough patch with me. Though I loved Solar Stik dearly, I had an oil and water coexistence with my direct supervisor. It made me want to chew on tinfoil and eat glass more than go to work everyday. After the BC (big cry) on the beach, I paddled out at sunrise and caught wave after wave after wave. A lady paddled up to me at the end of my session and gave me a bracelet with a medal of St. Christopher on it and she said this is so you always get home. Home for me is the water and the independence I feel when I’m out there. That was the universe giving me a hug. In May 2018, I had my boat surveyed by a surveyor so I could get insurance. I had just installed the electric motor and was sitting on the hard ready to go back into the water. He said it was one of the cleanest boat’s he’d ever seen…and the biggest finding he made was I didn’t have a Type IV throwable floatation device on board or flares. Easy fix. He told me I should look into being a surveyor.
By November 2018, I was truly miserable at work. It took every thread of my resistance to not reach across the boardroom table and choke my boss. My negativity was affecting others and it was hurting my relationship. My partner and I were driving south to go kite surfing on a Friday (we worked 4/10s at the time) and after a 45-minute silence I said, “I think I’m going to look into the surveying thing.” He agreed and said check it out. Ten minutes later I had Google-searched Chapman School of Seamanship, called the number and made the $150 deposit to secure my spot in the March 2019, six-week course. I’ve never felt so much relief in my life…for like 24 hours, and then I started asking myself, “oh my god, what have I done?” I had an exit strategy and things just started falling into place. My finances have always been precarious (probably because I love boats), and I had to be very careful to not let anyone know I was planning on leaving my very secure J-O-B.
I put a countdown timer on my phone and called it, “Operation Pull The Rip Cord.” I told a couple people I could trust, and my nickname became the flying squirrel. Pride was one of the biggest sacrifices I had to make, and also selling my boat. Chapman School ain’t cheap and I had to borrow money from my dad (which I will pay back) and ask my partner to give me a break on the cohabitation bills for awhile, which he was most willing to do. When I finished school, I had ZERO cash flow and realized the only way to build my empire was to sell my boat. I cried when I let her go, but she went to awesome people who I know will do great things with her.
What do you know about women in this part of the industry? Are there many female surveyors?
I cannot tell you how many female surveyors there are total, but as far as SAMS [Society of Marine Credited Surveyors] members, there are 24 female surveyors that are SAMS members worldwide…and there are 836 SAMS surveyors total. Of the 24 females, five are located in Florida, and I’m one of those five.
What kind of training did you undergo?
That’s a tricky question because 20 years of my experience came from my involvement in boats, which I drew on—heavily—to get to where I am. The formal schooling I received was six weeks full time classroom (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) with exams and tests at the Chapman School of Seamanship. The amount of studying I did in that six weeks made my undergraduate studying (20 years ago) look like a joke. I did end up as co-valedictorian of my class, though, which was very validating. I also tested and passed as a Certified Standards Technician with the American Boating & Yacht Council (ABYC). To become a member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), you have to apply, take and exam, submit a formal survey report, and then be interviewed. From the time I submitted my application to the time I was accepted into SAMS, it was 12 weeks…and this was after my 6 weeks of school at Chapmans. There are two levels of surveyor membership in SAMS. Essentially level 1 is called a Surveyor Associate, and that’s what I am. The next level is Accredited Marine Surveyor (AMS). To become an AMS you have to complete continuing education credits (which also are required for my level of Surveyor Associate), work as a Surveyor Associate for 5 years, and then sit for an intense AMS exam. If you don’t pass the AMS exam after two tries, you get kicked out of SAMS. You’re done. I was accepted into SAMS as a Surveyor Associate with two years of service credit, which means in three years, I have to take the AMS exam. I am already studying. For my continuing education, I am going to focus on electrical. Sometime this fall I will take the ABYC Electrical Standards Exam and then take the corrosion class. Next year I hope to attend the Level 1 course through the Institute of Infrared Thermography.
Was the training program primarily men?
Yes. I was the only female in my cohort at Champan. Incidentally I have been invited to be an instructor for the surveying program in November. At least once a week, or more if there’s a full moon, I am greeted with “I didn’t know there were female surveyors,” or “I’ve never had/heard of a woman surveyor,” or my personal favorite, “Are you sure you know how to use all those tools in your bag?”
Did you experience any sexism in your trainings
or beginning of your work? What about in general in the marine industry?
Yes, without a doubt. Instead of meeting that small minded thinking on the same plane, I use it as a teachable moment. I stay centered and don’t lose my cool and bristle because I don’t want to give anyone more daggers than they already have. Behavioral correction is more effective when offered without a slap. My first solo survey was on a make and model of a boat I was extremely familiar with. This was the survey client who greeted me with the “you know how to use all those tools in your bag?” To be honest, throat punching him did cross my mind, but instead I said “absolutely! And I can’t wait to see what stories they’re going to help your prospective boat tell me.” At the end of the survey, my client bought two rounds of beers and handed me a cash tip with a heartfelt apology. I accepted the beers, cash and apology. We all learned something that day. There’s another story I’d love to share, but it’s still a little raw. Suffice to say it was the first time I ever stood up to a bully in my life personally and professionally and he knew he was dead wrong—there were witnesses.
What advice do you have to women who want to
make their mark in the male dominated marine industry?
View yourself as an equal and treat others that way. Don’t get defensive and feisty when a male automatically assumes that you don’t know anything about boats. Take a look at it from his prospective, you’re a unicorn and in his world he’s probably never crossed paths with a unicorn. Know your strengths and train your weaknesses. READ. Know as much about the subject matter your working on/talking about as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. I ask a lot of questions. Today I learned about MBRF fuses and how to stack battery chargers for hybridizing electric propulsion systems for boats 30 feet and longer. Brilliant!
Lastly (and most important)! Tell me about your
My survey business is Set Sail Marine Survey and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 386-319-4848
I offer the following survey services:
Pre-purchase ($22/foot LOA)
Insurance (Condition & Value) ($20/foot LOA)
Appraisal ($20/foot LOA)
Absentee Buyer Inspection ($10/foot LOA)
I’ll fly anywhere in the world. Most recently clients have flown me to the Bahamas, Montana, and Texas. Travel fees are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
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.
My friend recently came ashore from an offshore yacht delivery where she was sexually harassed and inappropriately touched by the Captain. Between the nonconsensual back massages and lewd comments about her (whether she was wearing a bikini or donning foul weather gear), enough was enough. When he finally got the hint that she wasn’t interested in him sexually, he became angry and verbally abusive for the rest of the trip. All of this happened over several days, several hundred miles offshore. Later, she wrote about this experience on the popular women’s sailing group Women Who Sail. She never mentioned the captain’s name, but merely wanted to open up a dialogue on how to warn women of this potentially dangerous captain seeking crew. The captain somehow found out that she had told people in the sailing community about his behavior, and he then threatened her and her career sailing.
It’s a familiar story. One myself or any woman sailor could easily find themselves in. I was lucky enough to pick up on a captain’s predatory vibes right away once, and didn’t take the job—otherwise I could have been right there getting an uninvited back massage as I oiled some teak. While lamenting to a male friend of mine about all of this he said, “Well, I guess in todays day and you have to think twice before going offshore with someone or taking boat work jobs.”
Sure, he’s right. You do have to be more careful as a woman in the very male dominated sailing world. But this captain had references. My friend has done her background work. The captain I had gone to also had been referred to me by someone I knew.
It shouldn’t be like this. But it is. And I have a question for all of you out there– what are you going to do about it?
My first reaction to combat the blatant sexism I and my sailor girl friends experience is through sheer acts of vigilantism. Like, just straight up start cutting anchor lines. Instead, I’m starting a female sailing collective of women sailors and captains for future yacht deliveries. A network where these problems don’t exist because the boats are captained and crewed by women.
More info on the female sailor captain collective coming soon. In the meantime here’s a podcast I was interviewed for back in November. Mermaid Tales Podcast is specifically about women who are carving out their own paths on the water. The podcast is created by Breezy Mulligan, also a sailor and soon-to-be live aboard on a Gecko 39. We talk about the places I’ve sailed, boat rot, perhaps me not staying broke forever, the true meaning of hobo, and of course feminism. I come in around 10 minutes in, and we shoot the shit about her boat and the west coast. The formal interview begins at minute 20. My interview is episode 10.
Thanks to everyone here that follows Dinghy Dreams, listens to the podcasts I’m featured in, watches my sporadic youtube videos, and follows along on Instagram and my recently started Facebook. Also, a major thanks to all donors! Your comments mean a lot to me, even if I can’t reply, so please keep them coming. And for everyone out there who doesn’t comment, but is still reading—thank you.
I was working restoring a 40-foot-sailboat in a boatyard on Lake Champlain. Despite the fact that the owner repeatedly made sexual remarks to me, paid my male friend three dollars an hour more than me for the exact same quality of work, and embarrassed me in front of boatyard customers and workers by aggressively yelling at me when I made a mistake, it was still a pretty good job. Most of the time I was alone on the boat. And even when he was there I usually had my own tasks to work on. I opened and closed the boat each day. I took care of the owner’s constantly sinking dinghy. In exchange I was paid what I thought was a fair wage, and he paid for lunch. I loved working on the boat, and the boatyard I was at. Everyone knew me and respected me for the work I was doing on his boat, as well as living aboard and working on my own boat to eventually head south.
But the job was temporary. I had to sail on and when I decided to do so I was met with serious backlash. The owner sent me abusive text, after text, after text after text. He said I wasn’t a sailor. He said I wasn’t a hard worker. He said I would never amount to anything. He wouldn’t stop, so I had to block him.
A few weeks later, working a new job in a new harbor I got a call from a woman I had met while working on that boat. She was a distant cousin of the owner’s wife, and a nanny to his two young children. She loved boats, had met Bob Dylan, and in general seemed like an interesting, wandering soul.
“I’m just wondering—did he ever sexually assault you, or touch you inappropriately?” She asked me, her voice shaking.
“No,” I said, alarmed. “He made sexist remarks, but that’s it. Why?”
“Because he raped me.”
She then recounted every painful detail of the event where he, in a drunken rage, assaulted her. I begged her to go to the police. To get legal advice. To make a statement. I told her once she did that I would cooperate in anyway I could. I would hand over the text messages. I would make a sworn statement about his anger and uncomfortable comments. I was with her. I believed her. But, I was scared.
This man knew everything about me and how to find me. I wasn’t willing to do anything to help her without some kind of protection from the law.
She didn’t go to the police, and eventually she stopped asking me for help.
I returned to the boatyard the next year, living on my second boat. I kept an eye out for him, and dreaded running into him. I had pepper spray at the ready, nearly always, just in case. When we did finally see each other he waved enthusiastically as I got into my car. I sat in the driver seat for a moment collecting my thoughts, my heart racing, and decided to confront him.
“Hello,” I said in monotone looking him in the eye.
“Hello!” he said enthusiastically, his grin as wide as the cheshire cat’s “I heard you bought another boat. You really are hopeless!”
“Yeah yeah, ha ha,” I said. “Look I got some interesting news last year from _____, saying you sexually assaulted her. I’m not saying it’s true or not, but I just want you to know if you ever try anything like that with me I will take you down so hard and fast. I know everyone in this yard and they all have my back. The yard manager is right there, and I’m not afraid to get him or anyone else involved.”
The truth is, I was afraid. This was a rich guy at the boatyard and I was just a riffraff sailor chick. I was in survival defense mode. I had to act tough and confront him and make it known that I would not be a victim. He denied it, of course. At first he seemed very nervous, but as his story went on he relaxed. Brushing some paint thinner onto a Sun Fish he had just acquired he smugly shrugged and said, “We don’t know what to do with her, she does this all the time.”
I did wind up telling some people who worked at the boatyard about the incident. I wanted it to be “on the record.” For the victim’s sake, and for mine. But still, I wish I could go back.
I wish I could have gotten her to come forward to the authorities.
I wish I could have given her a written statement to go forward with so she felt like she had some back up.
I wish I had looked him straight in the face and said, “I believe her.”
I met Capt. Allison when she took command of her recently purchased vessel, an Endevour 43. This sailboat is actually quite massive with a wide beam and very high freeboard. Ketch rigged, built stiff with big winches for big sails, encapsulated ballast, and an amazing layout down below. If a bit sloppy to steer down wind, all in all this vessel was an excellent choice for this captain with a story unlike all the rest!
Capt. Allison is a 32-year-old single mom of two! Talk about a nearly unrepresented group in the sailing world, single mom sailors! She has her 100T Captain’s license, teaches sailing, and is becoming quite handy on the sail rite machine. She used to be the Captain of a personal motor yacht, a “big ‘ole burger” as she referred to it, on the waterways of Tennessee. She is a personal friend and was a captain for the charter business in the Caribbean run by one of the original sailing bloggers, Brittany of Windtraveler. This saucy captain also worked for Play Boy at one point doing promotion, and has attended many parties at the Play Boy mansion. But that was before sailing life and ultimately mom life took hold!
I met Capt. Allison when she took ownership of her vessel in June and hired me as delivery crew to help get the boat from where she bought it on the St. John’s river to her home port on the gulf coast of Florida, where she and her kids would begin life aboard. Her 3-year-old son was home with grandma, but her one-year-old came along for the voyage.
Our trip down the coast was eventful of course. We dealt with fouled halyards, uncomfortable seas, wind over tide inlet conditions, an unreliable dinghy/dinghy engine, a leaking water tank, a faulty alternator, an early season tropical storm, and more. One of the things I love about this sailor is she totally gets it. Even though she had just bought this boat for upwards of fifty grand, she didn’t complain about the boat work and repairs. Of course, there is always a level of frustration when things go wrong, but there are so many people going out there actively looking for boats for sale who expect the boat to be perfect, and don’t get it at all. There is going to be boat work on even the most expensive, biggest sailboats! Sometimes more work because they are more complicated vessels with more to break like refrigeration, water pressure pumps, electric windlasses…
I had to hop off the boat in Miami due to time constraints. Our passages had taken longer than we anticipated due to weather, and another crew took my place as they continued on towards the Florida Keys and through the Gulf. Capt. Allison lives aboard with her two kids who are adjusting well to boat life. She plans to set sail back to the Caribbean in the coming years when her boat babies get a little bit older. For a look into the floating life of Capt. Allison you can request her on Instagram @mermaid_crossing
May 20 ::: Outbound Left St. Johns river at 0900. I nearly got left behind at the dock untying the lines! I had to climb over the bow platform. Damn though, this girl can drive a boat. The river was beautiful, grey and new. We had some annoyed bridge tenders but that’s expected. We are waiting a few days before going offshore as we get to know the boat better. All is well floating along…
It was mates for life at first sight. Vegan. Kiwi. Sailor. I had literally just written some lines about how my sick obsession with boats began in New Zealand and then he walked through the door. I’ve always placed more value on friendship than romance. Finding it longer lasting, more meaningful and intimate than any dalliance.
Lust complicates everything. I avoid it whenever possible.
Not long after our first meeting we floated away for a short overnight on my boat. He cooked dinner. He did the dishes (mostly because I blatantly refused). He didn’t try to tell me what to do. In fact, I might even know more about boats than he does and, miraculously, he’s cool with that. I laughed so hard I could barely hold the tiller when he suggested we precociously raft up to a line of power boats at the bottom of the bay, and pretended to hear the jokes (and thus responded) being made onboard a neighboring vessel. He coined the term “my boat, my pussy” which embodies the attitude I’ve had to adopt as a female solo-sailor in a male dominated lifestyle.
It was refreshing to not only be around a sailor close to my age, but around one who doesn’t either hit on me or feel his manhood is belittled when I give direction as a captain.
Our second overnight adventure, while under 24 hours, felt like a lifetime. Time between two people is sped up when you’re on a boat that only goes an average of five miles per hour.
We experienced dead calms and big gusts. We beat off lee shores and sailed pleasantly off the wind. We were encouraged by another boat to poach a mooring ball and watched the sunset over the ridges of distant mountains.
“This reminds me of New Zealand,” I said.
We argued and made up. We had conversations about feminism and veganism while I was shitting in a bucket. He handed me tampons and toilet paper. We sang sea shanties under the full moon. We whispered like kids in summer camp from our separate bunks into the wee hours of the night.
On the way back I told him I didn’t want to do anything. That he could sail the boat home. I trusted him. It was a test of my control freak nature onboard my little boat to not criticize every maneuver. I tried to think of the times I sailed with captains who yelled at me or yanked something out of my hand when I didn’t do it exactly their way, even if what I did wasn’t wrong. I don’t want to be a captain like that.
When I finally looked up from my nesting spot we were safely entering the harbor and it was time to say goodbye. He was leaving America and back to study for his PhD in Europe. We vowed that one day, we’d cross the pacific together. Maybe even onboard Vanupied.
When I was selling an outboard engine on craigslist one caller said, upon a female (me) answering the phone, “Is this your boyfriend’s, or your brother’s, or your dad’s engine and can he tell me more about it?”
I once had a dude circle my boat at anchor in his small power boat like a predator, several times throughout one day.
One man told me that I’d be better positioned to be a boat owner and long distance sailor if I was a boy who had grown up around sailing and tools.
A fellow sailor I’d thought was my friend, who is nearly old enough to be my grandfather, told me recently that my shorts gave him the impression that I wanted sexual attention from old men (including him) at the yacht club.
For the most part, most dudes I meet on the high and low seas are nothing short of awesome, but blatant and rampant sexism exists and it can be demoralizing as a young, female sailor to always have that negative attention based off how I look or by being friendly and enthusiastic about boats.
I recently had a weekend crew member who couldn’t accept the fact that I was the captain. Things were fine if I accepted his suggestions without protest, but many times when I gave him a task he outright refused. The facts were that it was my boat and I had more experience on the water than he did, but for some reason he thought he knew better. The thing about boats is it’s not a democracy, and no matter how nicely the captain tells someone to do something—it’s a command, not an option.
It started off innocently enough when he suggested we motor off the mooring rather than sail. That’s not usually my style, but he made a good point that I should run my engine. Then, as we hit flukey light winds rounding the point, he insisted on sheeting in all of my sails tight. In the meantime he went forward to untie the sheets from the hank-on headsail, and retie the bowlines I’d already made.. When I said “what the fuck are you doing?” he smugly smiled and said, “You tied it wrong.”
I didn’t realize what was really going on yet, so I proceeded to treat him as an able bodied crew member, but then we decided to change to a larger headsail. He said he’d set it up and I said okay. But he didn’t tie down my haylard while doing it and when I told him so he said it, “didn’t really matter because it was such light winds,” (I made him properly cleat the line before continuing).
When we began to reach our destination, the wind died and we motored the rest of the way. I know the entrance to the harbor well, and it’s littered with rocks, reefs, and wrecks. When I told him the course to keep, he said he was just going to use the rock we were trying to avoid as his reference point, instead of steering in between the rock and the land like I had said.
At that point it was starting to hit me. I grabbed the tiller from his hand and we motored in silence for rest of the way while he played on his phone. When I told him I was going to be anchoring soon, and he could be a part of the plan if he put his phone down and listened to my direction, he glared at me.
As the hook set reality of the situation did as well. I told him we would not be continuing north as planned, and he left the next day.
I contemplated this for a while, wondering what could have possibly caused someone to act in such an appalling manner. When an accomplished male, sailor friend said it sounded like my mutinous crew couldn’t accept the fact that a woman was a more skilled sailor than he, I sadly agreed.
The words from an acquaintance when I was contemplating buying my first boat last year sometimes echo in my mind; “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed that Lake Champlain isn’t exactly a sailing mecca.” He was wrong.
Bluewater boats, Bluewater sailors, Bluewater scheming and planning and dreaming around every corner and cove. Chart swapping, gear talking, beer cans clinking. Boomkins, boom gallows and bowsprits. Varnish and vagabonds. Full keels, fin keels, twin keels. Gaffers, cutters, schooners and sloops.
I must be the luckiest sailor in the world. I’ve said it before, but every point I round on this lake there is someone who has helped me or taught me to thread aluminum, cut with a grinder, fair my epoxy, wire my electronics or tune the rig.
We hold each other’s screw drivers, we take turns buying packs of beer and cigarettes, we act as sounding boards for ideas, we climb each other’s masts, we stop what we are doing to help. We are friends. We are brothers and sisters. We are cousins. We are a circle of humans. A tribe. A water tribe.
My community is strong, my boat is strong, my spirit is strong. I don’t want to jinx it but…I think I’ve set a departure date.
“You going south this year or what?!”
“I’m going to try, but I’m scared! Like really scared.”
It has been too long. I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner. Life moves pretty fast onboard a sailboat that goes an average of five knots (which is actually pretty fast for the hefty, intrepid Anam Cara).
First off, my goodness–what a boat. We have been through some wild rides. Like the time it took me four hours to tack past Diamond Island. It was difficult to point in the 25-30 knot gusts, and every time we made progress we’d near shore and get blanked by the mountains, the wind would just die.
Or the time my mom came and visited. It was a thunderous, rain storm of a weekend. We stayed on land at a Bed & Breakfast while Anam Cara was tied safely to a friend’s mooring ball. We had one small window, or so it seemed. The clouds began to part. In a nice 12 knots northwest breeze I flew west on a starboard tack and then headed north. I’d been watching clouds develop in the northwest corner of the Adirondacks and it had finally begun approaching. The winds started to shift so I jibed home and was making only three knots.
As soon as we entered the bay the storm ascended. We were soaked to the bone, could barely see five feet ahead, but the wind never came. I could see the wind line all around us to the north, south, east and west, but we escaped in some kind of shadow. I arrived on the mooring ball as lightening and thunder cracked the sky. My friend on land saw me come in and later said we looked like a ghost ship through the fog. The VHF reported 50 knot winds from the storm.
Most recently, my best friend on the planet came to visit. Winds were predicted south one day and north the next. I decided we’d sail north to Burlington and back south the next day. Going there was light, easy. We pretended to be pirates and drank far too much wine. We anchored under sail, in the rain, in our underwear, the entire anchorage watching our silent maneuvers.
Leaving, however, was a different story. The winds and waves built all night. We left on a starboard tack heading west to clear Juniper Island before we could head south and run home downwind. Twenty-five knots, sustained, five foot waves and confused ones at that. I had to point very carefully to not get broad-sided, but Anam Cara delivered. Her sturdy keel breaking up the chop.
We’ve weathered five storms at anchor, all over 40 knots. I only dragged once, and luckily into open water. I had anchored under sail and the hook didn’t set until the storm blew us back.
But I am pushing the boat sailing in such conditions. She needs more than I gave her in the yard. There’s a crack in the fiberglass above the bulkhead. The one the previous owner said hasn’t gotten bigger in 10 years. But I’ve sailed this boat more in the past three months than she’s been sailed in a decade and, well, it’s gotten bigger. A lot bigger. The mast is compressing the cabin top causing all sorts of trouble.
The roller furler is flimsy, rusted, and needs to be repaired or replaced. I’ve decided to have a new forestay fabricated and convert to hank-on sails. I’ll drop the mast this fall, tend to the compression crack by repairing the fiberglass and supporting the compression post on the ballast of the boat, not the cabin sole that is suffering from dry rot (which seems to be the reason why the whole thing happened to begin with). While I’m at it I’ll have the rigger inspect her standing rigging. I know I need to replace at least one turnbuckle…
This, along with many other issues with the boat, is why I’ve decided not to go south until next year. I need the fall, spring, and probably much of next summer to really get her right. I’ve even gone so far to think I might stay here in Vermont for the winter, get three jobs and a car so I can access the boatyard easily. I’m thinking to hang the boat up at a small boatyard in Vermont, where I have a handshake agreement with the owner to work for him during haul out season in exchange for winter storage. Only problem is I need to haul out soon to get to work on my boat before the cold comes–and with the lake level so low the yard can’t haul boats until they dredge. When it’s going to happen is the question of the hour…
For the last month I’ve been working for a Danish sailor on his Morgan Heritage One Tonne. Cool, ocean race boat. I helped prepare her for launch but left after four weeks seeking the freedom I felt the first few months on the boat, in Monty’s Bay and the north lake, when I still thought I was going south.
But everything is different, now. The goal has been and will continue to be to journey this boat back to saltwater–now that it won’t happen this year, everything has changed. I’m just biding my time, at anchor, before I have to get my shit together. Winter is coming.
“Why do you say you’re not a good sailor?” Everyone asks me the same question.
“Because I’m not,” I say. But I think it’s more so no one expects anything of me. Like for me to live out their dream for them…
Met Jim, Catalina 27, as he was sailing off his mooring. Met him again at the dinghy dock, he gave me a ride to the laundromat and a cold beer. Introduced me to Canoe Jeff, who said I could stay on his mooring for as long as I want, the whole summer even. Met Rich, who helped me move to the mooring in a storm and gave me a ride to the hardware store to get supplies to install my new reefing hardware.
I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers in the sailing community time and time again, but it wasn’t quite like this place Every time I rowed my dinghy to shore there was someone new offering a hand, a piece of advice, a beer, or a word of encouragement.
It turns out Jim sent a mass text out to all of his sailing mates. It said, “Met a sailor today – Emily – been living aboard a 24′ tan boat (Cal?) since May 1. Anchored off Blodgett. Very humble. Currently only has jib. Repairing main. Adding reef points. Gave her a cold beer and lift to laundry. Worthy of support if you see her.”
Jesse and I left Valcour Island Sunday morning. I hauled anchor and he drove us out of the cove. On the broad lake it was choppy north winds that were shifty between northeast and northwest. It was hard to keep the boat stable in the chop and the jib was luffing. Flopping. Useless. We got a little too close to a powerboat fishing and we exchanged some words before they motored off.
“You have the whole lake!!” the captain called. Which was true, we did and I was sorry, but we had the right of way. Plus I was fledgling trying to keep the sails full.
Wing and wing we headed southeast to Mallet’s Bay, accidentally jibed too many times under reefed main and partial jib. We got some good speed from the gusts. Just about to round the southern tip of the island adjacent to the bay I referenced the charts again.
Mallet’s Bay has a small entrance cut out of an old railroad rock wall turned bike and pedestrian path. Due west of the cut to get in are extreme shallows. In fact, the entire entrance is extremely shallow, so to approach one must go northwest of the shoal before approaching the dredged canal.
I thought it best we tack on the broad lake rather than in between the shallows and the island, so I said, “we’re turning this buggy around!” Sheeted in, put the tiler hard over and off my little Bristol went to windward with a bone in her teeth. Jesse acted as chief navigator as we changed point of sail several times to enter the narrow harbor under the silent power of canvas.
Once in the bay we dropped a lunch hook outside of the marina where we met another NYC mate who happened to be in Vermont for the weekend rode his bicycle from Burlington to meet us for an afternoon sail. We tacked out of the anchorage under full canvas, the wind now northwest, Anam Cara heeling and then stiffening in the gusts. An hour in our friend thought it prudent we return as he needed to bike back before dark.
“Can you get the bike in the morning?” I asked. “Let’s sail to Burlington!”
Winds were now due west so we motored into the wind and back through the cut, past the shallows and onto the big lake. I hoisted the main, unfurled the jib and we cruised along at a good clip, still in the lee of the islands. As we neared Colchester Reef and the open lake the wind was sustained at 15 knots and gusting higher. Had I been alone I would have been reefed, and probably should have been regardless, but we were making way reaching at six knots with our asses glued to the high side. The rails were in the water more than once. It may not have been efficient sailing but it was exhilarating.
Not quite thinking through the direction of the wind I anchored off of Burlington’s north beach, with hundreds of other boats all there for the Fourth of July fireworks. The boat pitched and rolled in the swells. I tidied up, put on an anchor light and rowed the boys to shore one at a time.
In the guidebook I read that Burlington was rife with dinghy thieves. I wasn’t taking any chances so I put my oars in my backpack. The city was crowded in a bad way. Jesse and I grabbed a burger then headed back to the boat, both looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
But a good night’s sleep did not find us. The winds were manageable, maybe only 10 knots, but from the southwest and we were completely exposed. It was the most miserable uncomfortable night I’ve ever spent at anchor. I wound up making us each a bed in the cockpit where the motion was more tolerable, and we managed to each get a couple of hours of rest.
In the morning I rowed Jesse to shore, hugged him goodbye, hurriedly pulled up my hook and motored three miles in a sleep deprived haze to Shelburne Bay, where I’ve been marooned ever since.
In one of my sailing books I read about the ritual of caring for your boat once you’ve come in from a sail. Flaking the mainsail, snugging up the dock lines perfectly, securing the chafe gear on the anchor line. My boat doesn’t have shining varnish, sparkling gelcoat, or brand new nonskid on the deck, but she’s nearly always one of the prettiest boats in the harbor and I take pride in taking care of her as best I can. While many things were crossed off the list after spending a month in the boatyard, I now having a new one of things that need to be done as I continue to head south on this journey.
Some people are extroverts and some are introverts. Some recharge their inner battery by being around others and some by being alone. I was feeling a bit trapped in the north lake. After I made the decision to sail north on the day of gusting southerlies, I got caught up spending time with friends and working for the marina. The first day of summer passed and now everyday is getting shorter. I can’t help but think about the winter.
But I’m so glad I stayed. Last night was spent cozied up in the cockpit of Pierre and Mariev’s boat with our friend Rene. We walked along the road to the neighboring marina and campground. Pierre and I shared a cigarette while Mariev and Rene walked ahead of us, their conversation in French sounding melodic. Pierre said I should be on my boat by myself for a while. To not rush into bringing girls, or boys, or dogs aboard. I agree.
Today I finally took my friend John for a sail with his girlfriend, Tanya. We ghosted silently in a five knot breeze until it died all together so we drank beers, measured the height of the mast, and floated on the glassy lake. When we pulled into the dock I hugged them goodbye, not knowing really if I’ll ever see them again, but grateful that they adopted me as one of their own and acted as my north country family the past two months.
Rowing into shore to have a drink with my friends still in the yard, I noticed my dinghy had a bit of a leak in the bottom. Lucky for me to be in the boatyard my friend Alex gave me a bit of fiberglass and epoxy and I patched the bottom.
Now that I’ve had so many days around my mates I feel ready to take on the next week of solo sailing. Finally I will make for my furthest point south through the part of the lake with the biggest fetch, and thus biggest winds and waves. The forecast calls for increasing southerlies so I will leave early in the morning. My main is already reefed. I have sandwiches and snacks ready to go. I realized that so far aboard my little boat I’ve traveled 150 miles. That’s nearly the entire length of the lake. I should be able to make it off the lake before winter just fine.
The universe loves me! Then it hates me. I send a text to my friend the local bay constable. He’s got a shed full of marine junk. He gave me a piece of teak I’m going to cut and use as a block for my bow roller, so it sits flush on deck. It’s a shot in the dark, “have any old life jackets laying around you want to sell me?”
I’ve recruited my cousin to come out with me on a test row of the $100 inflatable dinghy next nice day we both have off, and I need two life jackets before we can do that.
I’m at the DMV legally making the boat mine. I got the signed contract from the seller weeks ago and just signed it the other day. It felt weird, signing it. No turning back now. I get a text about the life jackets. Yes, he has some I can have. Have. Surely I’ll throw him a couple of bucks, but there’s no need. He gets a big box each year at work, and gives them out to people. I walk out of the DMV, sure that my number won’t be called anytime soon, and he’s there in a police truck. It’s funny. I always just assume cops won’t like me. Like they can sense my anti-authority demeanor from the way I dress, or walk or something. But this cop likes me. He’s a sailor.
Two brand new life jackets and I’m on top of the world! My faith in humanity restored, as it so often is on this journey. I thank him profusely. We chit chat about bottom paint and the splice I’m going to use on my ground tackle, which is arriving today!
The line at the DMV moves fast. It’s the best day ever. I know my new anchor is going to be on the stoop when I get home. I just got two free coast guard approved life jackets. I actually have all the correct paper work to get the boat put into my name. I see my number come up on the screen and jump to my feet before it’s even called.
A few cracks on the stapler later and she gives me the total. Still smiling, I hear her say, “That’ll be 300 and something dollars.”
WHAT. My jaw drops. I’m confused. Registration isn’t that much!
Tax. Bloody sales tax. I forgot the old buying a used car trick. Put a lower number on the bill of sale.
“Can you see the way there? If you can see the path there, get going. If not, get busy with something else.”I visualize it in 3D, actual life, real time. I visualize it on paper, with stick figures, cartoon sails, a narrow drawing of a canal. I see the end of the season and finding some way to make money over winter for the next, which will be the entrance to another waterway. It’s not about the money. Sure, I worry a little I might run out of money, then what? But it’s not about the money. There’s always more of that. My entire life, every idea I’ve ever had, people will say “I’m afraid if you do X, Y or Z (i.e. something different than their way) you’re going to fail.” They don’t realize though, quitting is not an option. I can’t quit my life. This isn’t a sport. This isn’t a vacation. This isn’t some model fucking airplane I’m building. It’s a lifestyle. A long-term, sustainable, lifestyle.Hell, you know how they ask your “5-year plan” at a job interview? Well, I never had one—until now.
As I pour over selections for ground tackle for the better part of the day–what size chain, line, shackles, what kind of splice to use, how to splice, length selection…I’m reminded of simpler times what I was no more than a passenger on someone else’s boat.
Ever since I signed the contract for my boat I’ve had this IV of adrenaline hooked up that releases a tiny amount every hour. Just enough to function beneath a daily, low grade stress with an almost constant heartbeat in my throat that takes my full attention to quell.
Ah, I’m alive.
Being away from my boat physically pains me. I want to get to reconditioning her. I have wonderful, simple ideas on how to make her look like a shiny little yacht in no time. A bit of paint, wax, varnish…
But those daunting jobs still loom, like re-bedding her starboard chainplate and glassing in the small plank of wood it’s bolted to inside the cabin. There’s water getting in, and I hope the snow melt hasn’t damaged the bulkhead in my absence. I’m afraid of what I might find when I drill holes in the deck to install my anchor roller. The haws pipe on deck wasn’t properly sealed, which could be allowing water in to saturate the core.
I’m behind on ordering parts. I’m nervous about what lies ahead. I’m hoping for the best but planning for the worst, trying to remember what resilient creatures we humans are, and how I’ve always managed to wind up somewhere in the middle.
Anam Cara, which means Soul Friend in Irish, is a 1976 Bristol 24. I rushed up to see her for the first time the day after Valentine’s Day, 2016. I tried to look at her with a critical eye but had already fallen in love when I stepped onto her frozen decks, in the dark, while the wind rendering the temperature in the single digits ripped through her standing rigging. The Bristol 24 was a popular cruising boat built in the 60s, 70s and even into the early 80s, by Sailstar Boat Company, which later became Bristol Yacht Company, in Rhode Island. She was designed by Paul Coble.
She draws about 3.5 feet and has a long keel with a cutaway forefoot and attached rudder. With only an 18 foot water line the B24 is relatively slow, but what she lacks in speed she makes up for in stiffness. She displaces a total of 6,000 lbs, 3,000 of which are in her lead ballast. With an 8 foot beam and 6 feet of standing headroom, this B24 is a roomy 24-footer, which is probably what made her so popular for cruising families back in the day. An estimated 750 hulls were built during production.
On the day of survey, the surveyor denoted Anam Cara in “fair condition,” meaning she would be safe and sailable with some usual maintenance. However there is no major structural damage and what does need to be fixed is indicative of previous use, not neglect. I certainly have my work cut out for me to get her in Bristol condition, but I reckon we’ll be sailing along just fine in due time.
I bought the boat on one of the largest fresh water lakes in the U.S., where I plan to sail her for the season and then begin the long, meandering journey through a series of canals and rivers back to her original birthplace; salt water.
I move aboard Anam Cara, in the boatyard, in May.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” -C.S. Lewis
Is it too late to claim my prize? Nearly two years ago the magnetic duo from SV The Red Thread nominated me for a kind of blogger to watch award created by, well, other bloggers to watch, and I never claimed my booty. I’m always late to show up to the party, like the time I literally came down with the swine flu in 2011, or the late notice sitting unopened in regard to my overdue library books.
Basically the Liebster Award works, rather, worked, like a chain letter where one blogger nominates another and on it goes. So, without further ado here are my answers to the queries bestowed upon me by two of my favorite voyaging sailors.
1. Who are you and what inspires you to do what you “do” (take that as you please)? I suppose I’m the creative type, definitely a student of life, constantly reinventing myself and always searching for something to feel. I’m a traveler, a nomad. I’ve had many different jobs, most often as a seasonal cellar hand in commercial wineries. I’ve also worked as a newspaper journalist, a farm laborer, a dock girl at a fancy marina, and more. Right now I work as a waitress, freelance journalist, and on the bottling line at a winery.
I try not to define myself by my job. I try not to ask people “what do you do?” Rather, “what’s your story?” Above all I’m a feeler and a writer. I’ve always said we need to feel as much as we can because you never when you may not be able to feel anything anymore. I quell my social anxiety by being an extreme emotion seeker. It doesn’t always work out, but I like to think I can create some piece of art from an experience–whether it be a poem, a song or an essay, which is very cathartic.
2. We are all seeking something in this journey – what are you after? I’m seeking a sense of significance in this life. A sense that I’m living a life well lived. Community amongst like minded people. I want to be a part of something that keeps my hands busy and feet firmly planted in reality, yet allows for plenty of dreaming and scheming. I want to come face to face with myself, be humble enough to accept help from others yet be astute enough to overcome challenges on my own.
3. The sky is the limit; where would you like to go next? Well, I plan to buy, live and sail on my boat around the northeast. When I’m ready I’d like to harbor hop down the Atlantic coast to the entrance into the Intracoastal Waterway and putter my way down to the Florida Keys. From there it’s only 60 miles to the Bahamas… However an old sailor just recently told me a story of how he became shipwrecked in the Bahamas, which got me a bit rattled. “Never sail at night there,” he said.
4. Who is the hero in your life? That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I suppose I just really respect people who are living the lives that they want to live, and who don’t paint it as this rose colored journey without sacrifices. I also truly admire couples who are still in love after years together and never got sick of or began to resent the other so much that they called it quits. I could easily say something like “Lin and Larry Pardey are my heroes,” but all I can say about them is if you read the entire “Cruising in Seraffyn” series you’ll not only have read one of the best sailing adventure books out there, but one of the greatest love stories of all time.
5. What hidden talent or skill do you have? I’m a ukulele songstress who sings and performs all original music.
6. Share your favorite *simple* recipe (okay, that is actually a request…). I’m no whiz in the galley and basically eat for survival, budget and nutrition. Rice and beans, potatoes and eggs are my staples. But here is a simple recipe for a pasta sauce that a broke Italian taught me to make:
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
Chop onion and simmer in olive oil. Add tomatoes and break them up with a fork. Add chopped garlic. Cover and let stew until all the flavors that will make your breath stink have seeped into the sauce. It costs about a dollar and you can add other veggies if you’d like.
7. If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? I’d like to meet the current owner of the boat that is meant to be mine
9. Describe yourself in 3 words, no more and no less (oops, again, a request). I can’t do that, but one time I wrote a “room wanted,” ad while I was living in Wellington, New Zealand and it said this: “Friendly. Likes gardens. Pays rent.”
10. What are you afraid of? Other than everything? Waves.
Okay, so now I’m supposed to nominate a blogger to watch and I nominate Justine and Tricia. Justine is a badass Canadian who is living aboard her little C&C 24 with her partner. They have plans to leave the frigid water temps in British Columbia and sail down the wild west coast to the Mexico where the water and beer is warm. Tricia is an English lass that has been living aboard and restoring a good old boat named Gwen with her man friend and they’ve finally made it out of the boat shed and onto the water after a year (or more) of hard work. They also have adventures up their sleeves.
So, here are my questions, ladies, if you’d like you can answer them now in a post of your own, or you can wait two years to do it, like I did.
1. What’s the pants shitting scariest thing that has happened to you while either out sailing or working on your boat?
2. What are the biggest challenges you face living aboard a sailboat?
3. Ever ponder how you are a minority in the sailing community (as a woman)? How does that make you feel and what would say to a woman who is perhaps intimidated by sailing being such a mail dominated lifestyle?
4. What scares you the most and why: pirates, the possibility of a giant squid taking your boat down to meet Davy Jones, or storms?
5. What do your non sailing friends and family think of you living on a boat?