Old salts

Everywhere I go there’s some old salt with thousands of sea miles under their belt who seems to believe in me and my little boat more than I do. Perhaps for every one of them, there is someone who thinks I’m fool hearted. My own thoughts of this whole endeavor fall somewhere in the middle.

dirtbag sailor

The past ten days being in the boatyard have been like an extended self survey. I’ve learned every weakness of my boat, and her strengths. The crazy thing is, I think I can fix damn near everything. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m finally starting to understand all this. I can speak the language, decipher diagrams, ask the right questions, and use the tools. I know what needs to be done, and I more or less know how to do it.

The winds are up which means no boats are being launched today or tomorrow. I’m scheduled to launch first thing Thursday morning and then I’ll navigate to my home port, where the real work begins.

“Don’t get stuck in Florida,” one of the old salts said to me.

“What do you mean, like don’t run aground?” I asked. 

“No,” he said. “Don’t be one of those people that never leaves…and don’t dawdle in the Bahamas!”

Single handed sailor girl

crewfinder, need crew, single handed sailor girl, sailing blog

“This is kind of like…a bachelor pad,” one my older sailing buddies said looking into the cabin of my 1968 Pearson Ariel, as the sun set across a sea of landlocked masts. 

“Yeah, except I’m a girl.” 

“Except you’re a girl. It’s minimalist. It’s not a couple’s boat.” 

single handed sailor, sailing blog, sailor girl, live aboard sailor girl

The conversation then somehow morphed into why I don’t have a boyfriend, as it often does with many of my sailing comrades, who mostly happen to be in between the ages of 50 and 70. I’m not sure where all the younger sailors are, but they’re not here sailing Lake Champlain, so I put up with the probing relationship questions from my married and divorced friends.

I don’t often wonder why I don’t have a partner on my boat, but other people do. Is it the size of my boat? Her condition? My hair do? My location? The questions are asked, but rarely answered. I don’t long for a lover to share the blue road, but it wouldn’t suck to have another set of hands to rebed deck hardware, or, and perhaps more importantly, another person to contribute some legal tender to the whole venture.

These conversations about my being single at 27 have led me to a conclusion, however; I either need a partner, or I need a job–because it turns out sailing an old boat from the era of early fiberglass construction is a wee bit more complicated than I once thought.

So this year I’m in the same place, with a new boat and a new plan. The dream is the same, though. And I don’t need a boyfriend to reach it, but I do need a crew.

cruising lake champlain

SV Vanupied

sailing, sailing blog, Carl Alberg

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.

living aboard, pearson ariel, bone in her teeth

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.

The adventure continues: Epilogue

Dinghy dreams, crew finder, solo sailor girl

Jesse and I left Valcour Island Sunday morning. I hauled anchor and he drove us out of the cove. On the broad lake it was choppy north winds that were shifty between northeast and northwest. It was hard to keep the boat stable in the chop and the jib was luffing. Flopping. Useless. We got a little too close to a powerboat fishing and we exchanged some words before they motored off.

“You have the whole lake!!” the captain called. Which was true, we did and I was sorry, but we had the right of way. Plus I was fledgling trying to keep the sails full.

Wing and wing we headed southeast to Mallet’s Bay, accidentally jibed too many times under reefed main and partial jib. We got some good speed from the gusts. Just about to round the southern tip of the island adjacent to the bay I referenced the charts again.

Mallet’s Bay has a small entrance cut out of an old railroad rock wall turned bike and pedestrian path. Due west of the cut to get in are extreme shallows. In fact, the entire entrance is extremely shallow, so to approach one must go northwest of the shoal before approaching the dredged canal.

I thought it best we tack on the broad lake rather than in between the shallows and the island, so I said, “we’re turning this buggy around!” Sheeted in, put the tiler hard over and off my little Bristol went to windward with a bone in her teeth. Jesse acted as chief navigator as we changed point of sail several times to enter the narrow harbor under the silent power of canvas.

dinghy dreams, single handed sailor girl, lake champlain sailing

Once in the bay we dropped a lunch hook outside of the marina where we met another NYC mate who happened to be in Vermont for the weekend rode his bicycle from Burlington to meet us for an afternoon sail. We tacked out of the anchorage under full canvas, the wind now northwest, Anam Cara heeling and then stiffening in the gusts. An hour in our friend thought it prudent we return as he needed to bike back before dark.

“Can you get the bike in the morning?” I asked. “Let’s sail to Burlington!”

sailing blog, sailor boys, crew finder, dinghy dreams

Winds were now due west so we motored into the wind and back through the cut, past the shallows and onto the big lake. I hoisted the main, unfurled the jib and we cruised along at a good clip, still in the lee of the islands. As we neared Colchester Reef and the open lake the wind was sustained at 15 knots and gusting higher. Had I been alone I would have been reefed, and probably should have been regardless, but we were making way reaching at six knots with our asses glued to the high side. The rails were in the water more than once. It may not have been efficient sailing but it was exhilarating.

Not quite thinking through the direction of the wind I anchored off of Burlington’s north beach, with hundreds of other boats all there for the Fourth of July fireworks. The boat pitched and rolled in the swells. I tidied up, put on an anchor light and rowed the boys to shore one at a time.

In the guidebook I read that Burlington was rife with dinghy thieves. I wasn’t taking any chances so I put my oars in my backpack. The city was crowded in a bad way. Jesse and I grabbed a burger then headed back to the boat, both looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

burlington sailing, lake champlain sailing

But a good night’s sleep did not find us. The winds were manageable, maybe only 10 knots, but from the southwest and we were completely exposed. It was the most miserable uncomfortable night I’ve ever spent at anchor. I wound up making us each a bed in the cockpit where the motion was more tolerable, and we managed to each get a couple of hours of rest.

bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain, quarter berth

In the morning I rowed Jesse to shore, hugged him goodbye, hurriedly pulled up my hook and motored three miles in a sleep deprived haze to Shelburne Bay, where I’ve been marooned ever since.

The adventure continues : Part 2

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

I knew my spark plugs were once again fouled, that they’d need to be taken off and at the very least cleaned, and probably replaced. Yet somehow, after thirty minutes of finessing, we got the engine to start.

“Don’t let it die,” Olivier said as he un-rafted and puttered away. “Meet me in Sloop Cove.”

live aboard, sailing blog, sailing lake champlain

I hauled the anchor, Jesse monitoring the idle, making sure it didn’t cough. When we were free we shifted forward and the engine died. It started again, shifted forward, and died again. This went on for some time, until we slowly began drifting into the small boat in front of us.

“Sorry!!” I called, hoping they enjoyed the concert by the Floating Dinghy Band that went well into the wee hours of the morning.

“Engine troubles!” I said, laughing awkwardly. “Know anything about outboards? Got a spark plug wrench?”

I sure chose the right boat to crash into because we threw them a line, rafted up, and within seconds Guy and Mary, two French Canadian sailors, were to the rescue. We had the spark plugs removed, cleaned them up, put them back in all under thirty minutes, but the engine still wouldn’t start.

“Okay, Emily,” Mary said. “Fifteen minutes and we are going to Plattsburgh.”

So off we went in their little boat to the nearest civilization, where we then got in their car and drove to the store to get new spark plugs. Then they bought us lunch and we headed back to the island, feasting on nachos and juice in the cockpit.

When it was time to head back to the boat Mary had said, “Come on, kids.” I loved that. That she called us kids. And when I told her she recalled a story about her son who hitch hiked across the United States.

“You hope someone is there for your own when they run into trouble traveling,” she said.

Back on my boat we installed the new plug and had a quick moment of silence before trying to start the engine. I flipped on the battery, toggled the key to the electric start, and she came to life in seconds purring like a kitten. We cheered in unison.

As Guy prepared to leave in his dinghy he handed me the spark plug wrench.

“Keep it,” he said. “You will need it.”

We hugged and I thanked him profusely. I hauled the anchor and we puttered out of the harbor waving to Mary and Guy–my heart once again feeling warm from the kindness of strangers, my faith in humanity rising in unison with the RPM’s of the engine as we gave it more throttle…