A familiar story

pearson ariel 26 bluewater, refitting a pearson ariel 26
I traveled the Intracoastal and all I got was this yellow stain on my hull

Peanutbutter sandwiches for days. I’ve found work. I’m supposed to start tomorrow. If for some reason it is postponed by weather or something more sudden it’s okay–plenty of other work to be done and sought.

Another sailor said my boat is not messy, but she is wrong. It is cluttered. Disorganized. One cannot think straight. Her interior leaves something to be desired regardless of my level of sloppiness, much of it needing to be rebuilt  if I really think about keeping my boat long term. But how I can work on something like making her interior more comfortable and inviting when there are so many more pressing matters?

Things will happen. It’s why I’ve stopped. I can visualize them; re rig, re core, repurpose old main sail, redo my lifelines. These jobs will improve conditions on many levels–structural, dampness, safety, space.

The rigging and lifeline material are taking up my v-berth along with the old sail I plan to repurpose for cockpit lee cloths. The section of rotten core becomes saturated and leaks badly into the cabin. I can think of more that needs to be done, but that is what I am thinking about now. One thing at a time I tell myself.

But these projects and simpler ones, even with all of the free materials I’ve received to do them, remain incomplete. The rest of the components require time and a bit of money, neither of which I have because my time is spent trying to procure that bit of money. Once I have a little spare change I hope my spare time can be utilized better.

The weather is a factor. For motivation, yes, but more practical matters prevail. I cannot set epoxy and glass in this rain/humidity. Ha, I don’t have any money for epoxy anyway! Or the LED light bulb or wire or switch I need for my fun lighting project I’ve been dreaming about. Or money for the little fittings on the lifelines. Or the tools I need for just about anything but the coring job in particular. Or money for better reef lines, or a winch for reefing, or new halyards, or a bow roller, or…

Money really is a thing, I’m learning. One can only go so far on goodwill which has managed to propel me for quite some time. Free docks, free food, free rigging, free gas, free dinghies, free charts, free sails, a free cushion, free…

Self Steering for Sailing Craft

sheet to tiller steering

While sailing on the Chesapeake Bay I was gifted a book that I’d been keeping an eye out for over a year. Self Steering for Sailing Craft by John Letcher is a timeless gem that deserves a space on the shelf of any yacht’s library (unless of course you’re on a boat like mine which doesn’t really have shelves). In the book Letcher uses anecdotal tales to impart sheet to tiller steering methods he used on his voyages through the Pacific Ocean aboard his homebuilt 20-foot cutter Island Girl. 

Over the course of reading the book I learned a lot, but while I was reading it I started to wonder–is this guy one of those engineering types? I’ve met a lot of engineers on boats. I envy them. Their minds just work differently than mine and they can pretty much figure out anything. When in doubt, ask an engineer, but I am not in touch with that side of my brain.

Turns out Letcher was an engineer with a Ph. D. in Aeronautics. So I wondered, does one have to be of that mindset to use his methods?

While my auto pilot, Jane, has been a most lovely companion she simply cannot keep up in some conditions and requires a constant supply of sunshine to run off my ship’s battery. Plus, she’s electronic and subject to corrosion and she’s not exactly water proof. I’m not getting rid of Jane, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with her as my only form of self-steering if going to sea.

I wanted to see if anyone had tried sheet-to-tiller on an Ariel and found this guy. Again, another engineering type. His methods seemed a little complicated with all types of custom made equipment. I thought this was supposed to be simple? I found myself slightly disenchanted with the idea. Then I met an engineer on the dock who has circumnavigated and just finished the NW Passage. He said, “don’t bother with sheet-to-tiller, get a windvane.”  And so I moved on to that idea for a while.

I know of one vane unofficially for sale for very cheap in New Jersey but it’s owner basically said, “you’re going to have to engineer the shit out of it to get it work and I’ll be very surprised if you do because I didn’t.” Then I wrote a very flattering letter to Yves Gilenas of Cape Horn Wind Vanes in hopes of scoring one at, ahem, “cost.” If I can’t find a wind vane either for cheap or free I may find myself in a bit of pickle because they cost more than my hull.

Picking up Letcher’s book again now I am thinking sheet-to-tiller may be the best method on Vanupied. It certainly would be cheaper and at second glance doesn’t look too complicated. A friend recently sent me this link which shows the method in very simple terms.

I’m getting ready to begin the second stage of the refit to this little boat and I wonder what method self steering method I will wind up adopting.

Lonely Blue Highway

(c) Roland Falkenstien

Cities on the water way are so strange. Step away from the harbor front streets, the marinas, the anchorages and it’s as if you’re not even near the water at all anymore. Suddenly it’s suburban sprawl and traffic and you find yourself riding a borrowed mountain bike down a highway sidewalk, diverting into a neighborhood that resembles the hood, just trying to escape the lights, and noise, and rain— in order to get back to your boat.

One mile inland and, it seems, people have no fucking idea they are anywhere near the sea.

Humans are kind to me. For whatever reason I find myself constantly surrounded by people and forming unlikely friendships. Sometimes I forget how to be alone. Sometimes I’m afraid it will end—the people I already know, the people I haven’t met yet. Not only will they not be here physically, they won’t be anywhere. They won’t be in any pocket of my heart, the land or the waterway.

Technology baffles me. So many people keep up with me, meet up with me, and ultimately alter my life in positive ways that put me one step closer to my goal—which is, in a sense, to be away from them completely. To be alone on the sea.

There is not one moment of one day where I don’t think about this boat, my means and my character—and how all that equates to the possibility of actually achieving what it is I envision.

“You are in charge of what happens next,” Chris said to me as I left her dock and historic estate. We were discussing the possibility of my return to that small Chesapeake town for what would be an overhaul to the boat. Another step, in a series of steps and seasons, to be out there on the sea safely, sustainably, solo.

“What’s new in your love life?” my oldest friend asked me in a text message.

“Not much,” I replied. “Just in a solid, committed relationship with my boat.”

My conversations with those furthest away who know me best are reduced to screens. My face-to-face conversations happen with people I hardly know and may never see again. These conversations all feel equally important.

“The intercoastal is that way,” a sailor I traveled with told me twice.

Once when we were at the dock discussing the next day’s route and another time when we were underway. The natural direction I thought to go in both those instances led to the open ocean… not the protected waterway.

When we parted ways and I pulled into port to wait for important mail, he continued on into the next canal and body of water where he hoped to wait for a good weather window and sail offshore.

His mast now far from sight I called out on the radio anyway.

“Good luck out there on the lonely blue highway,” I said, essentially, to no one.

Rigging remedy

 My heart was so full from everyone and all I encountered in Oriental that it felt heavy the night before leaving. My lines did not tug at their cleats. There was not a breath of wind or current pushing me off the dock. I thought, for what must have been the hundredth time, ‘I don’t want to leave.’

I’ve always said this and it remains–life moves pretty fast on a boat that goes an average of five knots.

I showed up at the free dock in Oreintal, NC with a broken lower shroud and a completely drained battery from lack of sun and freezing temperatures. With the help of a young 20-years-old Quebecoise couple that pulled their battery charger off their engine room bulkhead, and several extension chords later, I was charging my battery with power from the public restrooms. Miraculously it was nursed back to health and I should be able to limp it along as my primary ship’s power until I reach warmer waters and stop to work.

My forward, starboard lower stay was completely cracked at its swaged end. Miles earlier in Elizabeth City I’d scored some 1/4 inch rigging cable to replace my aging, cracking, original standing rigging but knew I needed to at least consult a professional before moving forward. Even having gotten the cable for free, the end fittings I need for each stay are still expensive. Around $40 and I need eight. I could only afford to replace the one broken one for now. It was getting to the point where I could not continue to sail, until that one was fixed. So I came to Oriental, the sailing capital of North Carolina to do just that. In between was some of the best sailing this whole trip! Except I was kind of playing Russian roulette the entire time.

The series of events are as follows:

-Hunted through town to find a Sta-lok —the fitting needed for DIY rigging replacement to no avail
-Hunted through town to find a rigging shop that could swage the correct end size fitting for me. This came up successful but it was Saturday.
-Found a mobile rigger on the phone who answered (on said Saturday after thanksgiving) and hunted for a part for me  but came up short. It kinda sounded like the best idea to have him just come look at the whole thing.
-Had an internal crisis about paying someone to do work on my boat instead of doing it myself. Rationalized that I know nothing about re-rigging a sailboat and that I will be able to learn first hand. He was coming at a moments notice in order to help me get underway again, and it required a more professional eye than mine. At least the first time around.
-The rigger was awesome and charged me half price to remove the broken stay and measure exactly for the new one, inspected my current and new (free) rigging, instructed me precisely on next steps of where to go to get fitting swaged and install it myself, and just generally provided merriment, tips, and knowledge to me and another young sailor on the dock.

Rigger’s kid

In the meantime I found a climbing harness to borrow from Austin, a crazy 23-year-old sailor on a Sabre 28 who was told to look out for me by the folks on the Bonnie Boat, a sister ship on the Chesapeake Bay. Rode around town doing errands on his dope folding bike (thanks, dude!). Drank far too much wine and sang karaoke with some of my favorite sailors I’ve been seeing along the blue highway. Shared meals and tools and trades with my neighbor. Helped pull two different people up two different masts. Learned that a sailing friend from the best boatyard in the world had indeed sent me the sta-lok he had found in his boat that was exactly the right size I needed and it was waiting for me at the post office ready to pick up first thing Monday morning (Thank you Charlie and Meg)!!.

My good fortune continued. I met a couple, Herbie and Maddie around my age on a 1968 Morgan 45. They’d just been through a gale off Hatteras and were here waiting on parts for their electric engine. I told them I needed someone to pull me up my mast and it turns out Herb is a rigger! Not only that, but I’d read their blog The Rigging Doctor, when I first ventured into this crazy idea to re rig my own vessel from 1968! He knew exactly how to cut the cable and fit the sta-lok (more complicated than you’d think. Keep an eye out for their upcoming video about some DIY-rigging filmed on my boat)!

I was hoisted up with the right tools and instructions. After fiddling with the tight fitting pins for far too long the first part of my new stay was installed! Herb looked through binoculars on my foredeck to confirm it was indeed installed correctly! Then we cut the cable, fanned its individual wires ever so rightly into the new fitting, tightened it, attached it to the turnbuckle and re tuned the rig.

It was a whirlwind–but my rig is whole again. The boat looked slightly sad with her missing stay but it didn’t last long and I could not have been marooned in a better place waiting for all the pieces to come together. As soon as I am somewhere warm and am earning a much needed cash injection, the rest of my stays will all be replaced using the methods I learned in Oriental.

My beautiful new stay!

Dirty Jersey

I think I was allergic to New Jersey. Or at least something in it. I’m not just saying that as a native New Yorker. In Atlantic Highlands I woke up with my eye swollen shut. I thought putting turmeric on it would solve everything, but it just made me look sick with jaundice.

“I think you should see a doctor,” several sailors told me once conditions worsened. They still insisted even once I explained the yellow stain was from the herb. Two urgent care clinics who refused me and a trip to the ER later I was loaded with prednisone and antihistamines. On my way to recovery and ready to go to sea! The only symptoms that lingered was my constant fear of it coming back.

By Atlantic City, I had another inflamed, itchy episode this time on my hip. I managed to heal that one on my own mostly by constantly cleaning it and pumping myself full of Benadryl for five days at anchor waiting for gales to pass. (A month later and the skin where the rash was is still a different color than the rest of my body but whatevs…battle scars)!

In New Jersey I learned something else–that while the ocean scares the shit out of me there is still something strong, strange and undeniable that draws me towards it. Regardless, I was incredibly happy to be done with the Jersey Coast. Few good inlets, autumn gales, allergic reactions. Inland waters were waiting to welcome me with open arms once again.

PASSAGE NOTES: Oct. 10
Atlantic Highland to Atlantic City
80 miles, 19 hours 

1500- No idea where I am. Where is green buoy number one? Heading SW 210 degrees. Light NW swells. 3.5 hours left of daylight.

16:30 – 40 18.874 N , 73 55.616 W

1700- Ocean big and scary. Just want to go in straight line. Wind light. Going two knots sails flapping. Dropped jib. Under power and main. 4.5 kts. Soon I’ll be blind. Entrusting my compass, GPS and nominal navigation skills. Will have to refuel sometime if wind doesn’t change. Black flies are tempestuous. Alone on the ocean. I could easily end up in the shipping lanes if I’m not careful. Will I ever relax and enjoy this?

1800- 40 12.017 N , 73 56.304 W
Hailed sailboat off to port on VHF. Capt. Logan, youngcruisers.org. Headed to Norfolk. “You’ll know what’s right,” he said to me.

19:30- 40 6.097 N , 73 51.151 W
I keep calling it a “sight” when I go down below and plot my position on the chart. I attached battery power nav lights, fearing mine would drain the ships battery and I’m relying on autopilot. When I see lights I turn the masthead light on too. That may be confusing to other boats but…

21:20 – 40 2.270′ N , 73 57.591 W

2200 – Two ships passing in the night. Going along nicely. Vanupied skipping across the swells. She was made for this. Pretty stellar out here. Stars, bioluminescence. Fog seems possible. Don’t want that. See a little light to starboard catching up.

0000, 39 51.933 N, 73 58.391 W. Accented commercial vessel captain yelling on the VHF. Gotta make port before the gale tomorrow. I could live out here.

0300- WHO ELSE IS OUT HERE TRAVELING THIS LONELY BLUE HIGHWAY!? Squall line in Maryland. Will it reach me?

0600- About to make my approach but waiting for sun to rise. Blood red sky. Ninety-seven percet humidity. Mosquitos, flying beetles, and moths fall out of the sky onto my boat. Is this my own personal rapture? Nah, there’s a dolphin, too.

Oct. 11 PM

My boat danced like a pony cross the sea all night. I made it into the inlet just a conditions began to deteriorate. Now, GALE.

Only tiny riplets in the marsh during a 30 hour gale in Atlantic City