Lonely Blue Highway

(c) Roland Falkenstien

Cities on the water way are so strange. Step away from the harbor front streets, the marinas, the anchorages and it’s as if you’re not even near the water at all anymore. Suddenly it’s suburban sprawl and traffic and you find yourself riding a borrowed mountain bike down a highway sidewalk, diverting into a neighborhood that resembles the hood, just trying to escape the lights, and noise, and rain— in order to get back to your boat.

One mile inland and, it seems, people have no fucking idea they are anywhere near the sea.

Humans are kind to me. For whatever reason I find myself constantly surrounded by people and forming unlikely friendships. Sometimes I forget how to be alone. Sometimes I’m afraid it will end—the people I already know, the people I haven’t met yet. Not only will they not be here physically, they won’t be anywhere. They won’t be in any pocket of my heart, the land or the waterway.

Technology baffles me. So many people keep up with me, meet up with me, and ultimately alter my life in positive ways that put me one step closer to my goal—which is, in a sense, to be away from them completely. To be alone on the sea.

There is not one moment of one day where I don’t think about this boat, my means and my character—and how all that equates to the possibility of actually achieving what it is I envision.

“You are in charge of what happens next,” Chris said to me as I left her dock and historic estate. We were discussing the possibility of my return to that small Chesapeake town for what would be an overhaul to the boat. Another step, in a series of steps and seasons, to be out there on the sea safely, sustainably, solo.

“What’s new in your love life?” my oldest friend asked me in a text message.

“Not much,” I replied. “Just in a solid, committed relationship with my boat.”

My conversations with those furthest away who know me best are reduced to screens. My face-to-face conversations happen with people I hardly know and may never see again. These conversations all feel equally important.

“The intercoastal is that way,” a sailor I traveled with told me twice.

Once when we were at the dock discussing the next day’s route and another time when we were underway. The natural direction I thought to go in both those instances led to the open ocean… not the protected waterway.

When we parted ways and I pulled into port to wait for important mail, he continued on into the next canal and body of water where he hoped to wait for a good weather window and sail offshore.

His mast now far from sight I called out on the radio anyway.

“Good luck out there on the lonely blue highway,” I said, essentially, to no one.

Rigging remedy

 My heart was so full from everyone and all I encountered in Oriental that it felt heavy the night before leaving. My lines did not tug at their cleats. There was not a breath of wind or current pushing me off the dock. I thought, for what must have been the hundredth time, ‘I don’t want to leave.’

I’ve always said this and it remains–life moves pretty fast on a boat that goes an average of five knots.

I showed up at the free dock in Oreintal, NC with a broken lower shroud and a completely drained battery from lack of sun and freezing temperatures. With the help of a young 20-years-old Quebecoise couple that pulled their battery charger off their engine room bulkhead, and several extension chords later, I was charging my battery with power from the public restrooms. Miraculously it was nursed back to health and I should be able to limp it along as my primary ship’s power until I reach warmer waters and stop to work.

My forward, starboard lower stay was completely cracked at its swaged end. Miles earlier in Elizabeth City I’d scored some 1/4 inch rigging cable to replace my aging, cracking, original standing rigging but knew I needed to at least consult a professional before moving forward. Even having gotten the cable for free, the end fittings I need for each stay are still expensive. Around $40 and I need eight. I could only afford to replace the one broken one for now. It was getting to the point where I could not continue to sail, until that one was fixed. So I came to Oriental, the sailing capital of North Carolina to do just that. In between was some of the best sailing this whole trip! Except I was kind of playing Russian roulette the entire time.

The series of events are as follows:

-Hunted through town to find a Sta-lok —the fitting needed for DIY rigging replacement to no avail
-Hunted through town to find a rigging shop that could swage the correct end size fitting for me. This came up successful but it was Saturday.
-Found a mobile rigger on the phone who answered (on said Saturday after thanksgiving) and hunted for a part for me  but came up short. It kinda sounded like the best idea to have him just come look at the whole thing.
-Had an internal crisis about paying someone to do work on my boat instead of doing it myself. Rationalized that I know nothing about re-rigging a sailboat and that I will be able to learn first hand. He was coming at a moments notice in order to help me get underway again, and it required a more professional eye than mine. At least the first time around.
-The rigger was awesome and charged me half price to remove the broken stay and measure exactly for the new one, inspected my current and new (free) rigging, instructed me precisely on next steps of where to go to get fitting swaged and install it myself, and just generally provided merriment, tips, and knowledge to me and another young sailor on the dock.

Rigger’s kid

In the meantime I found a climbing harness to borrow from Austin, a crazy 23-year-old sailor on a Sabre 28 who was told to look out for me by the folks on the Bonnie Boat, a sister ship on the Chesapeake Bay. Rode around town doing errands on his dope folding bike (thanks, dude!). Drank far too much wine and sang karaoke with some of my favorite sailors I’ve been seeing along the blue highway. Shared meals and tools and trades with my neighbor. Helped pull two different people up two different masts. Learned that a sailing friend from the best boatyard in the world had indeed sent me the sta-lok he had found in his boat that was exactly the right size I needed and it was waiting for me at the post office ready to pick up first thing Monday morning (Thank you Charlie and Meg)!!.

My good fortune continued. I met a couple, Herbie and Maddie around my age on a 1968 Morgan 45. They’d just been through a gale off Hatteras and were here waiting on parts for their electric engine. I told them I needed someone to pull me up my mast and it turns out Herb is a rigger! Not only that, but I’d read their blog The Rigging Doctor, when I first ventured into this crazy idea to re rig my own vessel from 1968! He knew exactly how to cut the cable and fit the sta-lok (more complicated than you’d think. Keep an eye out for their upcoming video about some DIY-rigging filmed on my boat)!

I was hoisted up with the right tools and instructions. After fiddling with the tight fitting pins for far too long the first part of my new stay was installed! Herb looked through binoculars on my foredeck to confirm it was indeed installed correctly! Then we cut the cable, fanned its individual wires ever so rightly into the new fitting, tightened it, attached it to the turnbuckle and re tuned the rig.

It was a whirlwind–but my rig is whole again. The boat looked slightly sad with her missing stay but it didn’t last long and I could not have been marooned in a better place waiting for all the pieces to come together. As soon as I am somewhere warm and am earning a much needed cash injection, the rest of my stays will all be replaced using the methods I learned in Oriental.

My beautiful new stay!

Dirty Jersey

I think I was allergic to New Jersey. Or at least something in it. I’m not just saying that as a native New Yorker. In Atlantic Highlands I woke up with my eye swollen shut. I thought putting turmeric on it would solve everything, but it just made me look sick with jaundice.

“I think you should see a doctor,” several sailors told me once conditions worsened. They still insisted even once I explained the yellow stain was from the herb. Two urgent care clinics who refused me and a trip to the ER later I was loaded with prednisone and antihistamines. On my way to recovery and ready to go to sea! The only symptoms that lingered was my constant fear of it coming back.

By Atlantic City, I had another inflamed, itchy episode this time on my hip. I managed to heal that one on my own mostly by constantly cleaning it and pumping myself full of Benadryl for five days at anchor waiting for gales to pass. (A month later and the skin where the rash was is still a different color than the rest of my body but whatevs…battle scars)!

In New Jersey I learned something else–that while the ocean scares the shit out of me there is still something strong, strange and undeniable that draws me towards it. Regardless, I was incredibly happy to be done with the Jersey Coast. Few good inlets, autumn gales, allergic reactions. Inland waters were waiting to welcome me with open arms once again.

PASSAGE NOTES: Oct. 10
Atlantic Highland to Atlantic City
80 miles, 19 hours 

1500- No idea where I am. Where is green buoy number one? Heading SW 210 degrees. Light NW swells. 3.5 hours left of daylight.

16:30 – 40 18.874 N , 73 55.616 W

1700- Ocean big and scary. Just want to go in straight line. Wind light. Going two knots sails flapping. Dropped jib. Under power and main. 4.5 kts. Soon I’ll be blind. Entrusting my compass, GPS and nominal navigation skills. Will have to refuel sometime if wind doesn’t change. Black flies are tempestuous. Alone on the ocean. I could easily end up in the shipping lanes if I’m not careful. Will I ever relax and enjoy this?

1800- 40 12.017 N , 73 56.304 W
Hailed sailboat off to port on VHF. Capt. Logan, youngcruisers.org. Headed to Norfolk. “You’ll know what’s right,” he said to me.

19:30- 40 6.097 N , 73 51.151 W
I keep calling it a “sight” when I go down below and plot my position on the chart. I attached battery power nav lights, fearing mine would drain the ships battery and I’m relying on autopilot. When I see lights I turn the masthead light on too. That may be confusing to other boats but…

21:20 – 40 2.270′ N , 73 57.591 W

2200 – Two ships passing in the night. Going along nicely. Vanupied skipping across the swells. She was made for this. Pretty stellar out here. Stars, bioluminescence. Fog seems possible. Don’t want that. See a little light to starboard catching up.

0000, 39 51.933 N, 73 58.391 W. Accented commercial vessel captain yelling on the VHF. Gotta make port before the gale tomorrow. I could live out here.

0300- WHO ELSE IS OUT HERE TRAVELING THIS LONELY BLUE HIGHWAY!? Squall line in Maryland. Will it reach me?

0600- About to make my approach but waiting for sun to rise. Blood red sky. Ninety-seven percet humidity. Mosquitos, flying beetles, and moths fall out of the sky onto my boat. Is this my own personal rapture? Nah, there’s a dolphin, too.

Oct. 11 PM

My boat danced like a pony cross the sea all night. I made it into the inlet just a conditions began to deteriorate. Now, GALE.

Only tiny riplets in the marsh during a 30 hour gale in Atlantic City

Lentils win

Row over and examine abandoned boat, or stay in cabin with warm tea, alcohol heater, and make lentils? Lentils win.

smallboat galley, pearson ariel 26

No wind today. I didn’t care. Was happy to be under way. Was happy to have made some progress to the engine. Was happy it was running so well. The sun made an appearance. Twenty five miles left of the Chesapeake. Anchored in Pepper Creek–sketchy depths. Came in at high tide but leaving closer to low. I may find myself waiting to float off the ground tomorrow with the afternoon flood…Wind forecast perfect for tomorrow, minus some rain. Hope it sticks. My last November northerly on the bay. Hope I find myself just lingering out there tomorrow again, not quite ready for it to end.

cruising guide chesapeake bay
A rare Chesapeake calm in November

I’m wearing an old Pendleton I got from my friends in Matthews, VA. I’m like the son they never had. No, really. I feel like a boy. At least a tom boy. I put in eye liner to go to shore the other day and looked more like I was leaving the coal mines than trying to look presentable in society.

I’m scheming again to take Vanupied far, not this year though. I can’t stop thinking about it. It would be real easy to shorten the cockpit, move her scuppers. I designed a sort of locker in my head that would double as storage while reducing the size. I want to replace her standing rigging, at least some if not all. I’m on this kick about using Dyneema to do it. A backup cheapie auto pilot and sheet to tiller steering (double redundancy). Short wave radio for Chris Parker weather reports. Already got a receiver on the backstay (which unfortunately I think indicates the age of of my shrouds).

I don’t know, though. I still need her looked at with a keener eye than mine. It’s a process. For now I know what needs doing in the immediate future and I have lots, and lots, of ideas.

Back to the abandoned boat. Pretty grey hull with a sorry looking paint job. No mast. Sixties or seventies era. Strong, sturdy hull with pretty, traditional lines. Hell, she could even be an Alberg! Don’t think so, though. Her sheer is slung differently. More elegant.

Maybe it belongs to the creek person I just saw. He was catching oysters on a homemade barge constructed from an old dock and an outboard motor.

Swooosh

cruising ICW

At the dock of Chris and Bill from SV Plover, a Dickerson 41 built on this here Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia. Civil war shit. Their house has a ghost. It’s been like living history this trip. The Revolutionary War battlegrounds of Lake Champlain. The exploration of the new world by Henry Hudson. Modern industry steeped in the tradition of the mariner in the Atlantic shipping lanes.

And now, this here Bay that I’d certainly like to get to know better historically speaking. For the most part I’ve just been sailing hard. Only catching a glimpse of what is, or once was, taking place on its shores.

sailing chesapeake bay

Twenty knots again today (at least it wasn’t 25). Waves up to my rub rail again. Engine locker swamping with water again. I’m closing up the hole in the engine locker first chance I get. My engine needs tending to. It’s been getting knocked around, banged and hassled. It’s a good thing I installed a lip on the mount to keep it from shaking loose. Fucking outboards. So simple, yet so… beyond my realm of consciousness. I’m going to need it soon. I’ll be in the ICW with little room to sail. At least here, for example, if the engine dies say while coming into a harbor—I can sail.

I used to sail in and out of harbors all the time. On and off moorings and my anchor. I haven’t done that once since I left the lake. Who am I?

Received charts here from Aaron and Sarah. Inside was a gift of some Vermont food staples. It was a very kind gesture, of which I credit to Sarah solely, because while it may be Aaron who gave me his charts, she orchestrated their arrival.

I now have almost every chart I need for the remainder of this here venture. I still need to obtain some offshore charts for North and South Carolina. There are some options there for going offshore but man I really wish I had crew for some of the longer ones. It’s the same adage—when sailing offshore off shore, I think having crew is not AS imperative perhaps because you are so far off and can actually sleep.

But I can only go a few miles off. Vanupied is simply just not equipped for the wilderness desolation 100+ miles offshore. Will she ever be? Doubtful. I’ll probably just get another boat and equip her. At least that’s the latest crazy plan I’m scheming. But I waffle. Vanupied could  be made right. Honestly, even the Bahamas might be slightly sketchy on this boat as is. I’m not sure. I’m still shaking her down. She’s proved herself alright in this latest round of northerlies.

“It’s not about the boat it’s about the skipper.”