Work exchange

Sitting in the cockpit at anchor I had this moment of extreme happiness. Tears nearly filled my eyes. The big bad lake behind me, the Adirondacks blue with low hanging clouds. North winds making this wide, open to the west, anchorage possible. Work is all done for the day. Testing my alternator, charging the batteries, checking voltage with the meter, filling the gas tank, pumping the bilge, flaking the sails. Finally time to cook a meal with fresh vegetables from Kathy’s garden. So satisfied. 

homegrown vermont, homestead, sailor girl

People tell me my boat is a money pit, but they don’t understand. I want to spend all of my money on her. I feel like this is my life’s work…

vermont sailing partners, solo sailor girl, work around the world

My reefing system on the boat was driving me crazy. More often than not, I should be reefed. All I had was one set of reef points with some lines hanging down to be tied around the boom. I guess some people call this “jiffy,” or “slab,” reefing, but it is fact not correct. It was incomplete. I needed, I would find out later, a pulley system, cleats, and new line to properly reef.

I called the local and most highly recommended Vermont sailmaker. I asked him for a quote for a second set of reef points, and advice on hardware to install on the boom. We had a good chat and he quoted my $230. I told him my story, and asked if he’d be interested in a work exchange of some sort. He laughed, but said we could probably work something out. I remained optimistic and set off Monday morning to find him.

With my sail in the bag and oars in my backpack I trudged through the small city and to the bus that dropped me off a few blocks away from the sail loft. I met the sailmaker and we went over everything I would need to reef the right way. He had a few cleaning jobs that he and his crew were too swamped to complete, so the next morning all I had to do was show up, clean, and I’d have my coveted second set of reef points.

After I finished working I hung around the loft all day and watched my sail getting worked on. I learned so much. I had no idea what a leech line was, and a few days later was finally able to remedy my constantly fluttering jib thanks to this information!

When I was kind of bragging about the time I put my rails in the water one of the sailmakers said, “Yeah? Was that fun? You could have lost your rig. Reef next time.”

My cheeks flushed red. He was right.

A Lake Champlain love story

No kids, two boats, 50 years of marriage and still looking into each other’s eyes, Pierre and Claire truly are soulmates.

A lake champlain love story

I met them in Monty’s Bay briefly after I’d spent a month in the boatyard ogling their Southern Cross 31. I’d mentioned my intentions to journey my boat south, and they came and found me to give me the charts from the base of the Hudson down to the Chesepeake a few weeks ago.

They came and saw me again in Shelburne Bay. This time with a book called, “The Thornless Path,” a guidebook to sailing south to the Caribbean doing short passages with a new anchorage every night.

“To keep your dream alive,” Pierre said as he handed it to me.

true love will find you in the end

Pierre and Claire met at what I can only imagine was the French Canadian version of a Soc-hop in the 1950’s. There is a photo of them from that first evening. To this day Pierre keeps it in his wallet. While in Europe cruising on the powerboat they keep there to travel through the canals, his wallet fell overboard.

Jumping off the boat in a hurry to retrieve it, it wasn’t the cash or credit cards he was worried about–it was the photo.

They are the original owners of their beautiful boat. They spent many days and nights in the boatyard finishing her, building the entire interior to suit their needs. They’ve cruised extensively from Lake Champlain to the Bahamas–their love never wavering.

Not only does the kindness these two humans have shown me keep my faith in humanity at a high level, their story gives me faith that hell–maybe love is one day out there for me, too.

Afterall, they told me I have a “nice personality.”

Marooned in Shelburne Bay

dinghy dreams, live aboard, lake champlain sailing

I don’t know if Shelburne Bay passed me by, or I passed by it. I arrived with the intention to find some work. Maybe a job at a restaurant,or at the shipyard I rowed into, but rarely on this trip does anything I expect to happen, well, happen.

Shelburne Bay is a great place with a cove for nearly every wind direction, a boatyard full of many classic and forgotten beauties, sailors from near and far full of much advice, and ghosts. Crawling into my little berth at night, Shelburne was the first time I closed my hatch boards to feel more protected by the spirit of my little boat from the spooky evening.

I did find some work there, only not in a traditional fashion. When the shipyard gardener was using the hose and I needed to fill my water jugs we got to talking. She’s a homesteader, master gardener, and keeps chickens and goats. My past days of goat rearing came in handy as we hit it off. I asked her if she needed any help and she set me up with two days of work digging in the dirt.

I reached out to another shipyard down south and while he doesn’t have any work for me right now, he offered to help me advise me with any projects I intended to do to get my boat ready for leaving the lake. There’s a possibility there for end of the season work, perhaps in exchange for yard storage in the winter. While in Shelburne I also made arrangements with the sailmaker a short sail north to work trade for a second set of reef points in my mainsail.

Perhaps the most profound thing to happen to me in Shelburne Bay, however, was the chance meeting with the canvas maker at the yard. He lives aboard a Shannon 26 with his wife, also a sailboat sewing guru, and they’ve cruised the world extensively with their children.

I’ve been vacillating between going south down the Hudson this year or waiting another. This time a month ago I gave myself four weeks to make a decision. As time went on I became more and more over whelmed with what the boat needs in order to actually be ready for salt water.

The words of so many couch sailors I’ve met echoed in my ears.

“Just go.”

Talking with the canvas maker he said, “why not wait a year? Don’t outfit in Florida. You’re one of a million. Everything is more expensive. Here people want to help you. You need to be ready.”

So it was decided. I made three lists of what the boat needs. Before winter, before south, and ongoing. While I felt a great relief to be able to enjoy the rest of the summer sailing on the lake without the pressure to leave by a certain date with a certain amount of money, a new type of anxiety set it. I’d have to find somewhere to store the boat, and worst of all, I’d have to move back to land for what could be seven months.

But I didn’t have time to worry about the impending dark months ahead, my little boat sitting lonely on jack stands—I had a weather window and a sailmaker to meet.

The adventure continues: Epilogue

Dinghy dreams, crew finder, solo sailor girl

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.

dinghy dreams, single handed sailor girl, lake champlain sailing

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!”

sailing blog, sailor boys, crew finder, dinghy dreams

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.

burlington sailing, lake champlain sailing

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.

bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain, quarter berth

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.

The adventure continues : Part 2

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

I knew my spark plugs were once again fouled, that they’d need to be taken off and at the very least cleaned, and probably replaced. Yet somehow, after thirty minutes of finessing, we got the engine to start.

“Don’t let it die,” Olivier said as he un-rafted and puttered away. “Meet me in Sloop Cove.”

live aboard, sailing blog, sailing lake champlain

I hauled the anchor, Jesse monitoring the idle, making sure it didn’t cough. When we were free we shifted forward and the engine died. It started again, shifted forward, and died again. This went on for some time, until we slowly began drifting into the small boat in front of us.

“Sorry!!” I called, hoping they enjoyed the concert by the Floating Dinghy Band that went well into the wee hours of the morning.

“Engine troubles!” I said, laughing awkwardly. “Know anything about outboards? Got a spark plug wrench?”

I sure chose the right boat to crash into because we threw them a line, rafted up, and within seconds Guy and Mary, two French Canadian sailors, were to the rescue. We had the spark plugs removed, cleaned them up, put them back in all under thirty minutes, but the engine still wouldn’t start.

“Okay, Emily,” Mary said. “Fifteen minutes and we are going to Plattsburgh.”

So off we went in their little boat to the nearest civilization, where we then got in their car and drove to the store to get new spark plugs. Then they bought us lunch and we headed back to the island, feasting on nachos and juice in the cockpit.

When it was time to head back to the boat Mary had said, “Come on, kids.” I loved that. That she called us kids. And when I told her she recalled a story about her son who hitch hiked across the United States.

“You hope someone is there for your own when they run into trouble traveling,” she said.

Back on my boat we installed the new plug and had a quick moment of silence before trying to start the engine. I flipped on the battery, toggled the key to the electric start, and she came to life in seconds purring like a kitten. We cheered in unison.

As Guy prepared to leave in his dinghy he handed me the spark plug wrench.

“Keep it,” he said. “You will need it.”

We hugged and I thanked him profusely. I hauled the anchor and we puttered out of the harbor waving to Mary and Guy–my heart once again feeling warm from the kindness of strangers, my faith in humanity rising in unison with the RPM’s of the engine as we gave it more throttle…