To go without shoes. To go barefoot. Barefoot vagabond. These are the translations I’ve gotten for the name of my newly purchased little boat, Vanupied. Here hull is American, but her spirit quintessentially Quebecoise. It’s only fitting I wound up with a French Canadian boat after I made it my goal that summer in the French Canadian boatyard, rolling tobacco and walking around in a little red scarf, to prove what a francophile I was.
My stereotypes of French culture aside, it seems Vanupied and I were somewhat destined to wind up together. I’d admired her tight little stern in the boatyard from the cockpit of my Bristol 24. She was the first boat I’d ever sailed on Lake Champlain (she launched before I did) and I told her owner, merely weeks after I moved aboard my own boat, “If you ever sell her, let me know.” I even wrote a song about her while rafted together one evening at anchor that rang something like, “Oh, little Vanupied. She’s always faster than me. She goes to weather so much better…”
Reluctantly I put my Bristol up for sale in the Fall of 2016, after my first summer living aboard and sailing my own boat. I wanted something with a narrower beam and a different standing rigging configuration. Repairs and restoration that once seemed like opportunities and growing experiences, now felt like colossal chores on a boat that I loved but didn’t want to keep long term. At the end of the season I’d realized the Bristol wasn’t right for me beyond the shores of the lake and unbeknownst to her, I had fallen out of love with her lines.
I knew all I could afford on my pittance salary as a freelance journalist was another old fiberglass boat with the same array of issues, but I vowed to find a sailboat that seemed worth putting all of my time and energy into.
When I got the call that Vanupied was for sale I did a quick assessment of my finances, sold the Bristol for a song, and became the proud owner of what I’d always considered to be my number three favorite boat (falling just below the beloved Flicka 20 & Contessa 26) a Carl Alberg Pearson Ariel 26.
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…
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.”
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.
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
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.”