An old woman passes by the waterfront on her bicycle. Colorful clothing, a heart flag hanging from her seat, a basket. Her aging terrier trots in tow, faithfully, ten feet behind her.
“Is that going to be me when I’m old?” I ask Scott.
He left his boat near Miami to return north by car, to square away business, before crossing the Gulf Stream. He has come to see me en route.
“I don’t see it,” he says.
“Well, then what do you see?”
He looks at me for a moment, and then out at the harbor. My boat is moored there quietly, next to the dilapidated pier. Patiently waiting for me to make a decision on what we will do next.
“I see you in an old boat. Inviting kids onboard and telling sea stories in a raspy voice. Feeding them sardines,” he says.
“Yeah!” I say. Getting into the vision now. “And I’m permanently hunched over from years spent on boats, sitting next to an oil lamp.”
“Right, and the boat is one of those boat’s that is completely set up but isn’t going anywhere. And everyone knows it’s not going anywhere.”
“It’s not going anywhere because it’s already been everywhere.”
“Exactly,” he says. “You both are retired. You and your boat.”
“Wow,” I say smiling to myself and wondering aloud. “I hope I’m on my way towards that.”
Soon the clouds ascend and I rush out of the car to row back to the boat and miss the rain. I leave a small pile of beach treasures in his car. The pointed claw of a horseshoe crab, a piece of coral, a tiny coconut husk. My oars cut through the water. I use my entire body to fight the current. My shoulders, elbows, chest. My feet brace the aft seat. The sound of oars in water, although so familiar at this point, always manage to instill in me a great sense of adventure.
Collapsing into a chair in the marina lounge I let out a dramatic sigh. I had two useless job interviews today. My part time boat work remains part time. The hustle continues into the evening, tonight. Uploading a resume and profile to online freelance networks. Haul out is scheduled and I have just enough money for the fees and one month in the yard. That doesn’t leave much left for epoxy, or a seacock, or cockpit drains, fittings for my rigging, or any number of things my boat requires to be made seaworthy.
Somehow I’ll get there, but I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve the height of adventure status as these two. I’ve been following Ellen & Seth’s blog, Gone Float About, since my time sailing in the Pacific Northwest. They circumnavigated in their early twenties onboard an ancient wooden boat under 30 feet. They had no offshore experience, and little knowledge of how to restore said artifact. But they did it!
Now, they are Arctic voyagers, nature photographers, published writers, academics…
I don’t aspire to earn a Ph.D., circumnavigate, or ever go to the Arctic Circle, (although I do have a 40 oz thermos given to me by a couple of Northwest Passage makers) but their level of seamanship, teamwork, and how well they steward their vessel is of great inspiration.
I don’t regularly follow many sailing blogs or youtube channels, although I’ve been trying to collaborate more with other sailing media folks out there recently, I’ve probably been most loyal to Ellen and Seth. Partially that’s because their posts are infrequent (Ellen mostly writes paid articles for sailing publications) and because their work is different than most sailing blogs and vlogs out there.
Their most recent post, however, happened to reach me at just the right time. As I was sighing in self pity hoping for something to distract me from myself their video sailed into my inbox, complete with classical music and all.
Sharing time and space with another human on a small boat forces intimacy. Everything is shared. Meals, work, thoughts. Strangers quickly become acquainted if by nothing more than proximity alone. I noticed this while my ship mate for the weekend cooked dinner. His galley was located right next to my bunk where my wet towel and underwear from a trip to the neighboring yacht club hot tub were hanging to dry, mere inches away from his head.
I spent the weekend working on the boat of a single-handed-sailor named Paul, helping him prep the boat for a new paint job. Because he keeps his boat an hour from where he lives, and an hour from where my boat lives, if I wanted the job I had to campout on his boat, on the hard.
I didn’t hesitate. I love the yard, I love boats, and certainly need the money. Due to a leak below the water line on my little boat I have to haul out sooner than expected and have been hustling to earn enough money in time for my haul out date in about three weeks. I was hoping to work on the boat on the float for a while and haul out somewhere on the Chesapeake, which is my very tentative summer/hurricane season destination this year (PANAMA 2019 YA’LL). But I’m not willing to spend that much time in between now and then, afloat and voyaging, with an underwater leak. So out my boat must come and out comes the depth sounder transducer. The depth reader hasn’t worked in months anyway. One less hole in the boat.
Paul’s boat is a Dufour 30. It is named Sobrius. Latin for sobriety. Paul got the boat only after he became sober. He traded booze for blue water and has since sailed over 1000 NM offshore, alone, and will set sail on another voyage in the spring. I have no doubt he and his boat will go far, and perhaps one day give up life on land all together.
I’m a traditionalist at heart when it comes to boat design, but the Dufour 30 seemed incredibly seaworthy despite it’s missile-like keel. Small cockpit, good use of interior space, sturdy rigging and a blue water reputation. Many Dufour sailboats are sailing the world’s waters, and this one in particular crossed the Atlantic twice with previous owners.
As much as I enjoyed the boat, the work, the amazing marina facilities next door, the friends I made in the yard (both human and animal), and Paul’s company—I missed my little boat.
I had folks looking after her while I was gone. Even though the leak is just a slow, tiny trickle, and every marine professional I talk to says in increase an water intrusion is extremely unlikely, I still worried about her alone on her mooring for two nights. When my friend’s sent me pictures of her afloat and in good standing on Sunday afternoon I felt pangs to get back. To get home. It was my first time sleeping away from my boat since September, and before that I was never more than a mile away.
Rowing back to my boat, exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates, climbing into her cockpit down the companionway I realized everything was exactly how I’d left it. The transducer was still leaking. My dishes were still in the sink. I was still going to have to hustle to make the boat right. And I took great comfort in all of that.
Note to Readers: Thank you to everyone who donated to my lost boot fund, and to the fees associated with this website. Both have been taken care of and any extra has gone into my boatyard fund. Also–if anyone is interested in Paul and his Dufour 30 Sobrius check out his book, Becoming a Sailor, and his youtube channel!
I want to be so close to a manatee that its snot gets on my face. That’s what happened to Tabatha, age 9, who lives aboard a 46-foot Hunter with her 11-year-old sister Elizabeth and their parents, Ferrel and Phil, from Austin, Texas.
“The manatee nibbled my hair!” she said giggling.
“You’re not supposed to touch them but it’s okay if they touch you,” her sister chimed in. “They got so close that one’s snot got on Tabatha’s face when it sneezed!”
I looked at this boat child in disbelief. She nodded in earnest.
“You’re so lucky,” I said and the saloon erupted in the little girls’ laughter.
Michael, onboard an Irwin-something, was in the same part of town as me. I’d walked to the goodwill in an effort to find a pair of rubber boots. I passed an Aldi’s on the way and convinced him to meet me there and share his Uber with me back to the marina. I went crazy on canned fish, peanut butter, coconut oil, crackers, and introduced him to the magic of this discount store for provisioning.
I bought a canned ham because it seemed sailor like and promised we’d cook it together for Michael’s thirty-second birthday this week.
“Except it’s already cooked,” he said.
On Saturday we launched Bi Polar. By we I mean myself, Kourtney, Pete, Pete’s 15-year-old daughter Ava, and her teenage boyfriend, Liam. How excited these people get a fixing problems astounds me. I stared at them in awe as they methodized how to remove some tight fitting rubber from the oars. I’d just have cut it, but they excitedly interjected different suggestions and strategies until it was done. I sort of felt like I was watching an act, but it was real. These people don’t give up.
Bi Polar is, of course, a dinghy. The dinghy of my dreams, actually. A double-ender, eight-foot, salty little row boat. The dinghy once belonged to Kourtney’s friend Scotty. Scotty taught her how to row. Scotty recently died. Scotty liked to drink so we drank champagne in honor of him and the relaunch of his old boat. Kourtney has had Bi Polar for ten years. It will soon be the tender to the 25-foot Pacific Seacraft she has gutted and is rebuilding from the ground up. But for now it is my loaner dinghy until we come up with a permanent dinghy solution.
It was kind of like a dream. These people showing up in their magical VW bus, helping you solve your problem, and then leaving you there alone to row your dinghy in peace while dolphins swim alongside.
In the hullaballoo of getting to the pre-launch dinghy preparations in town, one of my rubber boots managed to detach itself from my backpack. In an effort to locate the missing boot I made signs and retraced my steps, but to no avail. My efforts were merely cathartic it turned out. I may have lost my sea boot but I’ve gained so much.
The girl I’m working for now, Jillian, is 31 and owns her own yacht services company. We wax sport fishing yachts and sailboats and oil teak. She does so much more than that, but right now that is what keeps us busy. She brought me to the ocean and we ate warm soup in her van on a day we got rained off from work. She is connecting me with another sailor and possibly more work painting his boat.
I only found her because Kourtney brought me to the used marine store and the owner gave me her number. I called her, told her my story, told her who I know and the next morning she came to meet me even though she had just learned her friend died. We looked out at my boat from the seawall and she gave me a job.
I am continuously humbled by the kindness and friendship from strangers. – January 14, St. Augustine, FL
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