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.

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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!”

Single handed sailor girl

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“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.” 

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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

Landlocked

Early September

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…

sailing lake champlain

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.”

The progression

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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.