A good cabin boy is hard to find

It was mates for life at first sight. Vegan. Kiwi. Sailor. I had literally just written some lines about how my sick obsession with boats began in New Zealand and then he walked through the door. I’ve always placed more value on friendship than romance. Finding it longer lasting, more meaningful and intimate than any dalliance.

Lust complicates everything. I avoid it whenever possible.

Not long after our first meeting we floated away for a short overnight on my boat. He cooked dinner. He did the dishes (mostly because I blatantly refused). He didn’t try to tell me what to do. In fact, I might even know more about boats than he does and, miraculously, he’s cool with that. I laughed so hard I could barely hold the tiller when he suggested we precociously raft up to a line of power boats at the bottom of the bay, and pretended to hear the jokes (and thus responded) being made onboard a neighboring vessel. He coined the term “my boat, my pussy” which embodies the attitude I’ve had to adopt as a female solo-sailor in a male dominated lifestyle.

It was refreshing to not only be around a sailor close to my age, but around one who doesn’t either hit on me or feel his manhood is belittled when I give direction as a captain.

Our second overnight adventure, while under 24 hours, felt like a lifetime. Time between two people is sped up when you’re on a boat that only goes an average of five miles per hour.

We experienced dead calms and big gusts. We beat off lee shores and sailed pleasantly off the wind. We were encouraged by another boat to poach a mooring ball and watched the sunset over the ridges of distant mountains.

“This reminds me of New Zealand,” I said.

We argued and made up. We had conversations about feminism and veganism while I was shitting in a bucket. He handed me tampons and toilet paper. We sang sea shanties under the full moon. We whispered like kids in summer camp from our separate bunks into the wee hours of the night.

On the way back I told him I didn’t want to do anything. That he could sail the boat home. I trusted him. It was a test of my control freak nature onboard my little boat to not criticize every maneuver. I tried to think of the times I sailed with captains who yelled at me or yanked something out of my hand when I didn’t do it exactly their way, even if what I did wasn’t wrong. I don’t want to be a captain like that.

When I finally looked up from my nesting spot we were safely entering the harbor and it was time to say goodbye. He was leaving America and back to study for his PhD in Europe. We vowed that one day, we’d cross the pacific together. Maybe even onboard Vanupied.

Sexism on the low seas

pearson ariel 26 liveaboard, pearson ariel 26 cruising
This is my boat in a storm of convective energy that blasted through the mouth of the bay where I anchored. This photo was taken by the boat anchored next to me, before the storm got really bad (At which point the captain told his crew ‘put the camera down’)! Shit got real. This photo has nothing to do with this post 😉

When I was selling an outboard engine on craigslist one caller said, upon a female (me) answering the phone, “Is this your boyfriend’s, or your brother’s, or your dad’s engine and can he tell me more about it?”

I once had a dude circle my boat at anchor in his small power boat like a predator, several times throughout one day.

One man told me that I’d be better positioned to be a boat owner and long distance sailor if I was a boy who had grown up around sailing and tools.

A fellow sailor I’d thought was my friend, who is nearly old enough to be my grandfather, told me recently that my shorts gave him the impression that I wanted sexual attention from old men (including him) at the yacht club.

For the most part, most dudes I meet on the high and low seas are nothing short of awesome, but blatant and rampant sexism exists and it can be demoralizing as a young, female sailor to always have that negative attention based off how I look or by being friendly and enthusiastic about boats.

pearson ariel 26, live aboard community
This is George, one of the good dudes on the sea. He owns a Contessa 26 to which I am the next rightful owner.

I recently had a weekend crew member who couldn’t accept the fact that I was the captain.  Things were fine if I accepted his suggestions without protest, but many times when I gave him a task he outright refused. The facts were that it was my boat and I had more experience on the water than he did, but for some reason he thought he knew better. The thing about boats is it’s not a democracy, and no matter how nicely the captain tells someone to do something—it’s a command, not an option.

It started off innocently enough when he suggested we motor off the mooring rather than sail. That’s not usually my style, but he made a good point that I should run my engine. Then, as we hit flukey light winds rounding the point, he insisted on sheeting in all of my sails tight. In the meantime he went forward to untie the sheets from the hank-on headsail, and retie the bowlines I’d already made.. When I said “what the fuck are you doing?” he smugly smiled and said, “You tied it wrong.”

I didn’t realize what was really going on yet, so I proceeded to treat him as an able bodied crew member, but then we decided to change to a larger headsail. He said he’d set it up and I said okay. But he didn’t tie down my haylard while doing it and when I told him so he said it, “didn’t really matter because it was such light winds,” (I made him properly cleat the line before continuing).

When we began to reach our destination, the wind died and we motored the rest of the way. I know the entrance to the harbor well, and it’s littered with rocks, reefs, and wrecks. When I told him the course to keep, he said he was just going to use the rock we were trying to avoid as his reference point, instead of steering in between the rock and the land like I had said.

At that point it was starting to hit me. I grabbed the tiller from his hand and we motored in silence for rest  of the way while he played on his phone. When I told him I was going to be anchoring soon, and he could be a part of the plan if he put his phone down and listened to my direction, he glared at me.

As the hook set reality of the situation did as well. I told him we would not be continuing north as planned, and he left the next day.

I contemplated this for a while, wondering what could have possibly caused someone to act in such an appalling manner. When an accomplished male, sailor friend said it sounded like my mutinous crew couldn’t accept the fact that a woman was a more skilled sailor than he, I sadly agreed.

 

I get by with a little help from my friends

The words from an acquaintance when I was contemplating buying my first boat last year sometimes echo in my mind; “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed that Lake Champlain isn’t exactly a sailing mecca.” He was wrong.

cruising the ICW

Bluewater boats, Bluewater sailors, Bluewater scheming and planning and dreaming around every corner and cove. Chart swapping, gear talking, beer cans clinking. Boomkins, boom gallows and bowsprits. Varnish and vagabonds. Full keels, fin keels, twin keels. Gaffers, cutters, schooners and sloops.

sailing lake champlain, sailor girl, sailing blog

I must be the luckiest sailor in the world. I’ve said it before, but every point I round on this lake there is someone who has helped me or taught me to thread aluminum, cut with a grinder, fair my epoxy, wire my electronics or tune the rig.

sailing blog, sailing lake champlain, pearson ariel 26

We hold each other’s screw drivers, we take turns buying packs of beer and cigarettes, we act as sounding boards for ideas, we climb each other’s masts, we stop what we are doing to help. We are friends. We are brothers and sisters. We are cousins. We are a circle of humans. A tribe. A water tribe.

My community is strong, my boat is strong, my spirit is strong. I don’t want to jinx it but…I think I’ve set a departure date.

“You going south this year or what?!”

“I’m going to try, but I’m scared! Like really scared.”

“Good! You Should be! It’ll keep you alive.” 

 

Know thyself

It’s times like this I wish I was a plant and could photosynthesize. I’m nervous. I have to force myself to eat. Three days of roaring southerlies has me rattled. A storm that clocked in at over 50 knots has me rattled. I’m launching tomorrow.

emily greenberg, dinghy dreams, lake champlain sailing, live aboard sailor girl, sailing blog

I had an offer for crew for launch and the journey home, but after careful reflection I declined. Not quite ready to share my berth with anything more than my headsails. Not quite ready to let anyone into my cluttered little cabin. Not quite ready to explain just why my engine doesn’t fit. I’m not sure if you believe in astrology but I do. I’m a gemini on the cusp of cancer. Always searching for my other half, my lost twin—but hiding in my shell, sequestering myself from society as I close my hatch.

If you asked me a month ago if I was going to live on my boat this year it was a resounding ‘hell no’. For some reason I wanted to balance sailing with a life on land. I wanted to continue working on the farm in exchange for food and accommodation, make as much money as possible, and just sail for fun when not doing all that. A month ago I said to a friend with a similar boat, a similar dream and a plan this year to just go, “I feel like you did something right and I didn’t.”

Those feelings subsided the more time I spent with my boat. I started to feel well positioned to repair her while living on the float at the marina. I started to feel less ties holding me to that bed on the farm. That ‘hell no’ turned into an ‘of course!’

Turns out that same friend from before was having engine problems and decided to scrap his plans for voyaging to spend another season working on the boat, on the hard. Working towards the dream.

What is the dream, anyway? So far for me it’s been soggy sleeping bags, mechanical failures, epoxy stains, and saying goodbye far too often. Goodbye to friends, family, lovers—all so I can crawl into my little shell at night. So I can fear those storms and celebrate those calms. All so I can feel just a little more of what this life afloat has to throw at me.

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!”