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Back on the New York side, Vermont and everything that happened there seems like a world away.

live aboard, sailor girl, single handed sailor girl, solo sailor girl, bristol 24

Monty’s Bay is home. Home to this boat,  but I took the letters off her stern because we no longer have a home port. She’s is most definitely at home, though, sitting quietly in the perfect calm and nearly full moon, with a thin layer of shadowed cloud wisps stretching across the moonlight.

Sailed south from North Hero Island. Coming through the Isle la Mott and Point au Roche pass the west wind funneled through and I had a hell of a time tacking to meet my friend, Tanya, at one o’clock. I tried to pick up a mooring ball but circled it three times, missed, gave up and dropped anchor nearly a mile away from the dock.

Long row against the wind with two of us in the dink, wind already gusting up to 15 knots. Pulled the anchor up and half the bottom came with it. I should have known to reef the main before we set out. I knew in theory that anything around or above 15 knots warrants a reef aboard my little 24-footer, and that was confirmed when one particular gust put the rails in the water as we screamed along under far too much canvas. Pretty hairy, but the boat is officially christened now.

Tanya was great crew. She stayed out of the way when maneuvering, had fun, trusted me, helped when asked and determined to get some sun (even though it was actually quite cloudy, windy, and cold), wore her bikini the entire sail. Now that’s dedication!

Being alone on the water makes me appreciate land and company that much more. Back at her house that evening she and her partner, John (who helped me install my bilge pump when I was still in the boatyard), stuffed me full of bratwurst and beer. John gave me a solar trickle charger and a volt meter. Two important items on my list that I planned to purchase next time I was near civilization. They sent me back to my boat with a stash of beer for those nights on anchor.

I met John’s father, Bob, who is 85. He’s sailed miles and miles, been to New Zealand six times, and to both the North and South poles. He’s full of stories. He told me I have a good life program. That I’m doing well. When I left he said, “keep your eyes open.”

Once again, I’ll say it. Monty’s Bay Marina and Boatyard, and all the people who I’ve met there— pure fucking magic.

 

A pirate looks at 27

live aboard, lake champlain, live aboard, single handed sailor girl

Lake Champlain has an inland body of water, cut off from the broad lake by a sandbar to the south, and mainland Canada to the north, with the Grand Isle drawbridge as the only way in and the only way out.

My shakedown cruise as a singlehanded sailor took place on the Inland Sea, lovingly referred to by my French Canadian friends as “Second Lake.” A place home to my dockside Shangri La. A place home to an assortment of sailing fairy godfather’s I met who helped me in several pinches. A place with beautiful yet minimally protected anchorages.  A place I’m happy I escaped, as it was starting to feel like a wormhole.

My birthday was the other day. As I present to myself I bought a new battery for the boat, as one of my batteries was completely toast, and the other only half toast. As a present from the universe I was offered a free slip to suss out some woes, and free labor/advice to repair them.

My engine wasn’t starting with the electric starter, and was also dying at idle. I thought it was a battery issue. One one particular day I pull started a 9 horse power engine four times. Four. Times.

Once to leave the mooring, once to drop anchor, once when I anchored too close to another boat, and once again when I realized I was in the wrong spot for optimal wind protection. I’d like to become a better sailor and rely on the engine less, but for now…

With the maneuvers to tack into 15 kts up St. Albans Bay, plus starting the engine, I was sure my arm would be sore for the rest of my life.

Miraculously the next day the iron genny purred right to life as I headed towards the free slip my friend offered me. “Run the engine a while to charge your batteries,” another friend recommended, but as soon as I was out of the lee of the island, up went the sails and I tacked silently out of the bay.

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

When I arrived at the marina and prepared to dock, the engine died as I made my turn into the slip and throttled down. I pulled out the gib to try and sail in, but no such luck. The timing and my skills weren’t quite up to par. I flagged down a boater on an old but beautifully restored Chris Craft, and he arrived just in time as my anchor was two feet from another boat, and I was straddling the bow to fend off.

A quick cleaning of the spark plugs, a new battery, and everything was good to go. I sailed away from the dock, waving to my mate and hoping I wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I dropped the hook off of Savage Island, for what would be a miserable lunch hook.

Bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain

Power boaters, jet skis, shoals. I’m pretty sure I scraped the bottom and I’m not sure my anchor ever even dug into the rocky bottom. After a rest inside the boat from the punishing sun I needed to get out of there.

But the wind wasn’t in my favor. In fact, there was no wind at all. In the distance I saw a boat sailing. The lake was taunting me. I’d see a little ripple, or another indicator of wind, pull out the sail and it would flap in the dead calm. I felt like a true hobo, motoring my little house around trying to get to a safe spot for the southerlies predicted to pick up after midnight. I didn’t dare ask for wind, though.

The southerlies did indeed come, and I had a hell of a time pulling up the anchor. I sailed dead downwind to the Grand Isle Drawbridge. Missed the opening by five minutes, and tooled around in the harbor until the next one. After the bridge is a place called ‘The Gut.” A weedy, shallow, miserable body of water that I hope to never cross again. I made two knots through the muck, until I reached my Oasis. Nichols Point.

Bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain

Back on the broad lake, protected by the southerlies, other boats all around me–I could see the Adirondacks to the west. Wind mills dotted the horizon as the full moon rose. I planned to head south in the morning and make for Valcour Island.

The 20 knot southerlies had other plans. After getting my ass kicked beating into the wind and four foot waves, I turned around and headed North, downwind to Pelot’s bay, an anchorage I’m familiar with.

My boat knew what to do when I didn’t. My eyes nearly stinging with tears as she surfed down the waves, her heavy keel breaking up the motion. I cooed to her as we jibed to clear the reef of Isle La Motte, and sailed through the rock wall entrance to the harbor.

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails”

Leaving Shangri La

rowing dinghy, hard dinghy, dinghy dreams

I’ve got to be the luckiest sailor in the world. The marina I wound up staying at for four nights while I rested my weary eyes and waited for the bad weather to pass turned out to be some kind of Utopia.

I was introduced to Jonathen, a solo bluewater sailor who just sold his Shannon 34 and has a Cape Dory Typhoon. He was recruited to give me a sailing lesson but it was still blowing hard the morning he showed up and my inflatable dinghy was half sunk. Trying to find the hole in the bottom, which was never meant to be rowed without a plywood floor in place (oops), he said “I have a dinghy for you.” So off we went on a tour of Grand Isle, Vermont, which reminded me so much of where I learned to sail in the San Juan Islands of Washington.

While I scrubbed the old fiberglass dinghy, still going strong after it washed up on a beach 20 years ago, Jonathen rummaged around for this and that he thought I might need. He gave me two harnesses, a dry bag, a handful of lines and charts, a solar shower… The best part being that my $200 unopened sailing harness I bought could now be returned.

liveaboard, bristol 24 interior, solo sailor girl

He gave me his contact info and told me if I ever get into trouble on the lake, to call him.

I thanked him profusely, sort of wondering why this complete complete stranger would be so inclined to help a riffraff sailor like myself.

“You’re living the dream,” he said as we waved goodbye. “Keep doing it for the rest of us.”

Bristol 24 liveaboard

John the boat repair man was another character I was lucky enough to meet at my dockside Shangri-La. He knows just about everything about boats, was quick to offer me advice, swap stories, and drop what he was doing to bullshit with me just about every hour on the hour. He’s an artist when it comes to restoring old boats, has thousands of sea miles, and is basically the spitting image of Gary Busey without the the surly demeanor. He let me climb and clamber around the boats he was working on, gave me a spare winch handle and an extra fender. He let me stash my half sunk dink in his old Land Rover until my friend who I promised it to comes to get it.

Ladds Landing Marina, Grand Isle VT, sailing Lake Champlain

Emily and Dan, the marina owners, are probably the most involved waterfront proprietors I’ve ever met. On my first night, before I could refuse, Dan came down with a power chord and said, “You need heat. But we’ll have to move you.” Next thing I knew he was untying my lines and hopped into the cockpit to do a quick, tight maneuver to another slip. When an unpredicted, near gale Easterly blew through Emily, Dan, and their daughter were on the docks the entire three hours of the storm securing boats. Emily drove me to the post office to mail my harness and we talked about feminism as the Vermont island countryside passed me by in her old station wagon.
single handed sailing

Then there was Brian who is basically my new favorite human on the lake. He held the heads of the bolts as I tightened them to install the new mini cleats in my cockpit for the tiller tamer I was forced to buy second hand from another sailor in the yard. We went for a sail after that and I let him sail my boat, since he doesn’t have one of his own at the moment, but kept a keen eye on everything. When we saw an approaching storm we had to make a quick decision, so we booked it back to the marina and waited for it to come but it dissipated soon after. I realized when it comes to crew, the other person needs to be a sailor. At this point in my novice sailing career I can’t be responsible for teaching someone, or having someone onboard who doesn’t know how to help.

The next morning he met me to untie my lines. Full of nerves I had my worst leaving the dock experience to date. I went into forward too soon, and when I came pretty close to a shiny power boat I kicked it into reverse without throttling down, causing the prop to lift up. Dead in the water I threw Brian a line and he pulled me in. Embarrassed by the terrible job I did driving my boat he offered some kind words, a sympathetic smile, and off I went into the lake alone.

“Utopia. The Greeks had two meaning for it: ‘eu-topos’, meaning the good place, and ‘u-topos’ meaning the place that cannot be.” -Rachel Menken, Mad Men

Single handed sailor girl

cruising, solo sailor girl, bristol 24

I’m starting to wonder if my karma is fucked. I’ve had only two days of settled weather since I launched my boat 10 days ago. Everyday I’m running from an ever changing wind direction, trying to find protection for the night. I’ve had a mutiny onboard already and my crew member left the boat today with her dog. I met a sailor boy who lives far away with a boat of his own. My heart aches a little just to think about the short time I spent with both of these humans.

My dinghy most certainly has a hole, and I’m draining my cruising kitty by passing three days of near gale north westerlies at a marina because I couldn’t find an anchorage in time for the approaching system.

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

But it’s not all bad. I spent the better part of the day kicking around the shop in the boatyard, picking the brain of the salty and knowledgable repair man, touching all the tools and admiring his gelcoat refinishing jobs. He helped me to replace the stuffing in the packing gland of my rudder, which was causing quite a bit of water to get into the boat. He gave me the names of all his friends at boatyards down this side of the lake, and encouraged me to use his name to try and find work.

I have the heater that I stole from my friend at the marina where I launched my boat, so I’m toasty and warm tied to the dock with an excuse to track him down on his boat next weekend to return the heater and rendevous.

My boat is finally my space again. My guests are all gone. I no longer have to worry about how long they are staying, if they are coming back, if they are enjoying my lifestyle. I’m free now, I suppose.

solo sailor girl, bristol 24, live aboard

A few days before launch I wrote in my journal about freedom.

“I have no job, no bills, no partner, no one to answer to or take care of. I’m fucking free, but I suppose there’s a loneliness in that freedom.” 

Two days later and therein I was consumed with new relationships, mending relationships, crumbling ones. All on top of a boat that never stops moving, weather that never stops pounding, fears that never seem to waver.

Despite all the drama with my ever changing and motley crew, I’m moved by what’s happened this past month and half. The onslaught of help, kindness, and encouragement. As soon as this storm passes it’s time to face the world alone in my little boat, just as I always intended to do.

Cutting the dock lines

Bristol 24, cruising, live aboard

It’s amazing what little faith I have in simple machines, maneuvers, and mechanisms. Rather, how surprised I am when they actually work.

I corralled one of the dock boys to hold the bow line and directed my first mate Gina, who had never been sailing before three days earlier, on the stern. I had no idea how it would work. Pulling in and out of docks is my weakness. Rather then over think everything, such as where the stern will swing when I push the tiller in one direction, I just did it. The force was with me. We were off to a good start.

We reached our way across the bay in about 10 knots, but knew that it was going to get more intense when we rounded the point and were in the open fetch of Lake Champlain. The forecast predicted a consistent 10-20 knots.

Bristol 24, cruising, live aboard

I’d been staring at that pass for a month, and now I was finally cutting through it. A huge gust had us heeling hard over. I was glad I’d reefed the main at the dock and only had a small amount of headsail unfurled. The gusts were reaching nearly 25 knots.

I was scared. My friend, too. But I never showed it. I wasn’t scared in the sense that my life was in danger, rather it was an intense and uncomfortable motion of the boat. I sheeted in and tried to point up a little higher to balance out but it didn’t really work, so we rode the gusts out until they dissipated. That’s the good thing about gusts.

As we headed north towards our first anchorage we were dead downwind, surfing down the little 2-3 foot waves that felt a lot bigger. I had the sails wing and wing, which was quite an accomplishment for me. I had to steer carefully to stay directly downwind and gain as much speed as possible. A trimaran and windsurfer raced past my little heavy displacement hull.

bristol 24, cruising, live aboard

To enter the harbor we had to pass through a small cut in a breakwater rock wall. I was warned to keep left as there is an uncharted “stack” underneath the water. We wanted to sail into the harbor but I thought it best to furl the sails and use the engine.

While motoring the wind and waves were directly abeam and while we were in no immediate danger my instincts as well as my knowledge of seamanship told me this is not where you want the waves to be hitting. So I headed downwind to gain some sea room and then cut back up into the waves bow first.

We reached the harbor. Slowly motoring past all the beautifully moored boats to the open anchorage we had nearly all to ourselves. After circling a few times I dropped the hook for the first time and she set right away. We cracked open a beer for we had arrived.

Bristol 24, anchored, live aboard, on the hook