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.

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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.” 

 

Pirate Yacht Club

sailing lake champlain, liveaboard

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.”

The adventure continues: Part 1

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The adventure continues onboard my little boat. I tried to make for my furthest point south in building southerlies once again, and once again got my ass kicked before retreating north to a protected anchorage on North Hero Island.  I passed three days there as the strengthening winds marched in tight formation from the exact direction I wanted to go.

But it wasn’t all bad there! I love the way my boat rides out a blow, and every one the we weather the more confident I am in her ground tackle. A wonderful French Canadian couple, Claire and Pierre, who I met in the marina and told my aspirations to journey the boat south, came and met me in the anchorage to bring me the complete set of charts from the bottom of the Hudson River to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay.

bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

I had a good send off from my friends on Grand Isle–drinking wine at anchor, spending the day at my friend’s workshop napping in the Cape Dory he’s restoring, and feverishly taking notes trying to keep track of all the good advice.

old salt, salty dogs, single handed sailor girl

The winds finally calmed but thunder storms were imminent. I left early and the wind was still south but light. I tacked south and once I cleared the Point au Roche reef a huge thunderstorm came my way. It began as a rain storm and dying winds, but soon the New York side was covered in black clouds so I turned on the motor and ran from the middle of the lake towards Vermont. I dropped the hook in a cove just as the lightening began to fill the sky.

The storm passed quickly and the wind picked up so I hauled the anchor, reefed the main and headed back out. Unpredicted the wind shifted from the west and I had a ripping reach all the way to my destination, Valcour Island.  It was my longest solo sail of 20 miles.

live aboard, solo sailor girl

Valcour Island smells like the Pacific Northwest. Her terrain reminding me of the place I will always consider my home waters, and where I learned to sail. I spent two nights on Valcour feeding ducks that ate out of my hand, taking lake baths, and making lists of repairs and maintenance the boat needs.

sailing lake champlain, valcour island

On Friday my best mate from New York City, Jesse, drove up to meet me in Northern New York. I left early and sailed North in light southerlies. Just as I was entering the harbor the wind and waves picked up.By the time I met him the wind and waves were ripping and I had no desire to tack into the slop, so we motored five miles back to Valcour, the bow of the boat lifting and falling with every swell.

bristol 24

Just as my best mate was about to serve up a feast of scallops fit for the finest yacht I saw the sheer line of Vanupied, my friend Oliver’s Pearson Ariel. I hailed him on the VHF, a spot of fine whiskey that Jesse had brought as a boat warming present in my glass, and Olivier rafted up next to us.

bristol 24, sailing blog, solo sailor girl

We spent the evening singing sea shanties and drinking far too much rum! With Olivier on guitar, me on ukulelem, and Jesse on harmonica we coined ourselves “The Floating Dinghy Band,” and sat on the bow of my boat to serenade the anchorage.

The plan was to head south into Vermont the next day with west winds predicted, however a lake wind advisory was in effect with 25 knots predicted. I didn’t feel comfortable sailing with only a newbie for crew in those conditions. Olivier is a licensed captain with a trans-Atlantic and other blue water sailing on his resume. We decided we would anchor my boat in a neighboring cove and sail on his boat in a circumnavigation of Valcour Island, but then we couldn’t get my engine to start…

Home

Back on the New York side, Vermont and everything that happened there seems like a world away.

live aboard, sailor girl, single handed sailor girl, solo sailor girl, bristol 24

Monty’s Bay is home. Home to this boat,  but I took the letters off her stern because we no longer have a home port. She’s is most definitely at home, though, sitting quietly in the perfect calm and nearly full moon, with a thin layer of shadowed cloud wisps stretching across the moonlight.

Sailed south from North Hero Island. Coming through the Isle la Mott and Point au Roche pass the west wind funneled through and I had a hell of a time tacking to meet my friend, Tanya, at one o’clock. I tried to pick up a mooring ball but circled it three times, missed, gave up and dropped anchor nearly a mile away from the dock.

Long row against the wind with two of us in the dink, wind already gusting up to 15 knots. Pulled the anchor up and half the bottom came with it. I should have known to reef the main before we set out. I knew in theory that anything around or above 15 knots warrants a reef aboard my little 24-footer, and that was confirmed when one particular gust put the rails in the water as we screamed along under far too much canvas. Pretty hairy, but the boat is officially christened now.

Tanya was great crew. She stayed out of the way when maneuvering, had fun, trusted me, helped when asked and determined to get some sun (even though it was actually quite cloudy, windy, and cold), wore her bikini the entire sail. Now that’s dedication!

Being alone on the water makes me appreciate land and company that much more. Back at her house that evening she and her partner, John (who helped me install my bilge pump when I was still in the boatyard), stuffed me full of bratwurst and beer. John gave me a solar trickle charger and a volt meter. Two important items on my list that I planned to purchase next time I was near civilization. They sent me back to my boat with a stash of beer for those nights on anchor.

I met John’s father, Bob, who is 85. He’s sailed miles and miles, been to New Zealand six times, and to both the North and South poles. He’s full of stories. He told me I have a good life program. That I’m doing well. When I left he said, “keep your eyes open.”

Once again, I’ll say it. Monty’s Bay Marina and Boatyard, and all the people who I’ve met there— pure fucking magic.