Landlocked

Early September

I went back to the boat today for the first time since she’s been hauled. Other than a short drive by, we haven’t seen much of each other. She has a fine spirit, one I feel mostly while I’m inside her cabin. But in so many ways she’s so wrong. So basic. So rudimentary. Bare bones.

I’m not an artist or a craftswoman when it comes to boats. I cannot turn her into the restored vessel she could be. Rather, I’m not sure I want to. 

I’m afraid I’ve fallen out of love with her lines. Maybe she was only right for me for the lake…

sailing lake champlain

It’s hard to believe it’s been over three months since I was charging through Cumberland Straits with Jeff and Danimal on the Space Station for the annual 75 mile McDonough race. How I convinced them one night after far too many beers that we should do it. How I nearly bragged to my harbor mates about the 25 knot sustained wind prediction. How our spinnaker fouled on the start. How the halyard snapped not long after. How the we ran aground off Nichol’s Point and cracked the daggerboard right off. How my mate’s words were echoing in my head as it happened. “Nichol’s Point. Badlands.” How it was now blowing a consistent 30 kts and we had to beat our way home into 6-8 foot waves on a trimaran with no ballast, and no daggerboard. “The beatings will continue,” was no longer a joke we said when someone didn’t tie a proper cleat.

How we reached the straits and only had two choices: go back and seek shelter, or continue on and seek shelter. There was nothing in between. I’m sitting in the doghouse watching Danimal’s face as he tries to keep us pointed as high as possible. We have a double reefed main and a tiny bit of jib. Another wave crashes over the yama. “SHELTER,” he says. “We need shelter.” Which we found, finally, in a swamp just off the Plattsburgh Boat Basin, where we run aground again before tying up to the town dock next to two revolutionary war re-enactment row boats.

When we get back to our home port, everyone is going back to their houses–and I’m going back to the little cabin of my boat. They wait for me to row my dinghy to shore. Looking at my boat, elegantly poaching a mooring ball, I say, “It’s funny–after all that you guys are going back to land and I’m not.”

“Of course you’re not,” Danimal says. “You’re a mermaid.”

The progression

live aboard sailor, traveler

In the boatyard the kindness of others was bestowed upon me. I came to rely on it.

By launch I was afraid–but going to do it anyway. So I thought myself brave.

In the north lake I was still unsure.

By Valcour Island I was ferrel.

By Burlington I’ become resourceful.

In the deepest part of the lake I became gutsy. Nearly reckless. Fueled by adrenaline, raucous wind and storms.

Further south I felt aimless–so I rejoined society for a little while, but only halfway.

The Antidote

lake champlain live aboard

It’s mid September and I’m nearly a land based mammal once again. I don’t know how I’ve managed it–to become busy, nearly gainfully employed, riding my bike through the city streets, shopping at the expensive co-op.

But there’s an antidote. I still live on my boat. Exposed to the elements. Like the rolling swells of southerlies that still prevail, the dropping temperatures as the month passes by. The morning dew, the setting sun. Exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates. Watching them come in late at night silently under sail.

My body tells me it’s time, or almost. The lake is starting to become too cold for bathing. My chest felt heavy this morning from the cold. My provisions of dried goods from the beginning of the season have nearly run out.

But I’m not ready to leave.

“I don’t want to go to shore, I don’t want to leave it.  Shake my hair because I wana stay wet.” -Dive Shop, Paihia, NZ

Pirate Yacht Club

sailing lake champlain, liveaboard

What happens late at night inside the cabins of our boats is crew business. It never leaves the saloon. Just hangs there like a sort of poltergeist, the kind that inhabit boats. The good kind. The kind that keep you safe at sea, and pinch your bum when you’re being reckless. The kind that are your toughest critics, but biggest allies.

I can’t tell if I’m talking about the friends that have frequented my modest little yacht, or the soul that is modest little yacht. Maybe that’s all it is–the good sailors that come by. They fill my bilges with an invisible light that keep me afloat.

All I know is that when I find myself leaning into the mast at night watching the sunset, I feel something hugging me back. That I have one foot on land, one foot on the boat–and when I start to doubt myself, thinking I’ll never get my boat off this goddamn beautiful lake, a voice says to me, “Chin up, fuck that.”

Dear Readers,

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).

solo sailor girl, single handed sailor girl, live aboard

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.

dinghy dreams, bristol 24

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.

legs

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.

solo sailor girl

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…

bristol 24

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.