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.

Lentils win

Row over and examine abandoned boat, or stay in cabin with warm tea, alcohol heater, and make lentils? Lentils win.

smallboat galley, pearson ariel 26

No wind today. I didn’t care. Was happy to be under way. Was happy to have made some progress to the engine. Was happy it was running so well. The sun made an appearance. Twenty five miles left of the Chesapeake. Anchored in Pepper Creek–sketchy depths. Came in at high tide but leaving closer to low. I may find myself waiting to float off the ground tomorrow with the afternoon flood…Wind forecast perfect for tomorrow, minus some rain. Hope it sticks. My last November northerly on the bay. Hope I find myself just lingering out there tomorrow again, not quite ready for it to end.

cruising guide chesapeake bay
A rare Chesapeake calm in November

I’m wearing an old Pendleton I got from my friends in Matthews, VA. I’m like the son they never had. No, really. I feel like a boy. At least a tom boy. I put in eye liner to go to shore the other day and looked more like I was leaving the coal mines than trying to look presentable in society.

I’m scheming again to take Vanupied far, not this year though. I can’t stop thinking about it. It would be real easy to shorten the cockpit, move her scuppers. I designed a sort of locker in my head that would double as storage while reducing the size. I want to replace her standing rigging, at least some if not all. I’m on this kick about using Dyneema to do it. A backup cheapie auto pilot and sheet to tiller steering (double redundancy). Short wave radio for Chris Parker weather reports. Already got a receiver on the backstay (which unfortunately I think indicates the age of of my shrouds).

I don’t know, though. I still need her looked at with a keener eye than mine. It’s a process. For now I know what needs doing in the immediate future and I have lots, and lots, of ideas.

Back to the abandoned boat. Pretty grey hull with a sorry looking paint job. No mast. Sixties or seventies era. Strong, sturdy hull with pretty, traditional lines. Hell, she could even be an Alberg! Don’t think so, though. Her sheer is slung differently. More elegant.

Maybe it belongs to the creek person I just saw. He was catching oysters on a homemade barge constructed from an old dock and an outboard motor.

See you out there

single handed sailor girl, pearson ariel 26

I’m sitting in a swanky modern coffee shop with an iced tea that cost four dollars. There are dogs and wooden chairs and young mothers with babies in slings, men with beards and macbook pros. I smell like gas and sweat. I just rode in from a neighboring bay where I left my boat safely on her anchor with a seven to one scope in 20 knots. I surf down four foot waves on my mate’s dinghy, yipping and hollering as spray explodes across the bow and into the boat. I spot a Nor’Sea 27 in the harbor with its mast down. I knew it was Nor’sea the other day when I spotted it nearly a mile away and my suspicion was correct. They must be going south.

I struggle hauling three gallons of gas a few blocks from the fuel dock to the dinghy.

I find an eagle feather on the sidewalk in my first steps onto the city side walk.

I haven’t showered in a week.

I subsist off rice, beans, kale, tortillas, and tofu when I can afford it.

My days are governed by the wind and waves.

I take freelance assignments from the paper. I reject freelance assignments from the paper.

I’m broke. I’m ferrel. I’m free.

The past seven days have been a blur of repairs, purchases and installations, raft ups, long beats, long reaches, long scope. Lazy nights under candle and starlight.

Everything is always better out there. Amongst my people or alone, it’s better out there. 

When people come into the anchorage I stand on my bow and stare them down. Yesterday I fended three people off from my space. One bearing down on me under power, another anchoring 30 feet to starboard, another about to drop their anchor right on top of mine. They all obliged. Something about this being a lake, perhaps, but people don’t seem to know anything about seamanship.

I suppose I was there myself, once.

NOTE: My main sail is gutted. On its last legs. I find a new tear everyday. I’ve taken to patching it with 5200, as sewing has just created more strain on the disintegrating fabric. I need another primary main or at least a spare. I have a last ditch plan to turn an old main off a Columbia 26 into a spare. I’ll have to put in reef points and new hanks. I’m going to do it Tom Sawyer style. It’s the only way. 

If anyone knows of or has a mainsail that would fit my boat (dimensions below) PLEASE CONTACT ME and we can strike a deal. 

Luff : 27′
Foot : 11’11”
Leach: 29′ 4″
dinghydreams@gmail.com 

ALSO– watch my film and donate if you care to see it completed !!!

 

Shakedown sail

live aboard, solo sailor girl, pearson ariel 26

June 1— Launch was bad. Real bad. At anchor now and it’s blowing hard. Dealing with a lot, but it’s good. Managed not to panic, managed not to hit any boats. Engine died midway in the dock channel, on a collision course with a beneteau and my main halyard snags my topping lift. I lost my favorite hat to the wind. The miserable troll who owns the boatyard said something about my boat sinking as he lowered me into the water, then the yard manager said “good luck, sweetie,” and pushed me off the dock. The transducer for the depth sounder is leaking. It’s okay, but it’s below the water line, so I’m monitoring it closely. Wind is howling. I don’t know if I’ll raise sail today. In full on captain mode.

sailing lake champlain, sailing on a shoestring

June 2— The forecast is wrong so far. I’m anchored off a beach. The weather guesser says southwest, five knots, but it’s higher. I’m exposed. I’m nervous about lifting the hook and being blown in to shore. It’s supposed to clock around to the north, so I’m waiting, which could be a mistake. The boat’s a wreck. I have to eat and square away a lot on deck before I can even think about leaving. I’m basically engineless. I have to force myself not to just crawl back into the v-berth. It’s cold. Forty degrees last night. Yesterday’s sail was intense. I’m less worried about the leak, it’s slowed as the wood block has started to swell. I left yesterday at 6:30 p.m. Right off the reef in treadwell bay my jib halyard came undone. Wind still ripping when I went forward to fix it. I managed to tie it back on but forgot to go through the traveler, so sheeting became inefficient and tangled. At some point I was able to sail on a reach right into my anchorage. I anchored but not before jamming my finger in the hook I use to hold it on the bow. I know longer have a knuckle. I’m lucky I didn’t break it, but there’s blood everywhere. I’m grateful I learned to sail engineless last year. Still can’t believe I do this shit “for fun.”

carl alberg

Later— Weather guesser wrong again. Five knots. Ha! Maybe for five minutes. I had the rails in the water with a reef and my tiniest headsail. Five knots…

Leaving the beach was smooth enough. Sailed off the anchor broad reaching to clear the reefs. Winds were still kind of confused. SW, NW, W? Maybe I’m the confused one. Cumberland straights were easy. Nothing like that time we raced the trimaran in the McDonough, where it seemed like McDonough’s army itself was marching towards us in the form of ten foot rollers. Once south of there the wind started to rip. Gusting to 25, sustained at maybe 18. It was cold, raining, and I was getting broadsided. Do I want to keep sailing in this? No, so I made for Valcour Island, due west.

Vanupied went to weather with a serious bone in her teeth. She loved it. She’s a sadist, I swear. If only I could trim her sails properly. Always luffing no matter what I do. Maybe it’s her old, shitty sails, or maybe I’m a shitty sailor. Her backstay is sketchy. The whole time I just kept saying, “please don’t break.” If the fisherman weren’t impressed by my screeching into the anchorage and dropping the hook under sail, well I’ll be damned.

Everything is blue. Blue sleeping bag, blue lake, blue sky, blue dinghy. I’m in no particular hurry, I have to remember that. As soon as I get home though, bills are due. Car insurance, mooring fees, electric bilge pump, registration…but I don’t want to think about that right now in the blue.

live aboard sailor girl

June 3— Well, I’m happy to say Vanupied and I are in our home port. I’m showered, fed, and have everything I need right here. Even my bicycle is locked up on shore. I’m anchored far off the mooring field. Not yet wanting to deal with being in the throws with other boats. I just want to stay on the outskirts a little longer. When I arrived I was hungry and out of tobacco. It was a long, arduous day. Everything felt insurmountable. But not now. It all feels possible.

This time last year I wasn’t even in the water yet. And it wasn’t until another month that I found myself this far south. So, there’s time. Not much of it, but it exists.

Senioritis

I’m not sure why I’m not good at holding onto a job. Never wanted one badly enough I guess. Always found something better to do.

“But you gotta pay to play, sister,” my sailing mate said to me the other day. It was the first time I’d seen him since the summer passed. The first time on land. When I ran into another sailing friend a few weeks prior, it felt surreal. When I knew those dudes was another life. One far from how I’m living now.

But it’s good. Mild stability is good. Although I’m careful not to become too comfortable, or reliant, on having this warm little room on these vast 14 acres.

I have my hand in too many different things. I’m writing regularly for a hard hitting news publication. I’m trying to prep for the upcoming growing season. I’m trying to manage my stress, my relationships, my time. I’m carving a piece of wood. I don’t even know why, just decided I was going to start and finish it, damn it.  I booked a trip to Central America on a day I felt far too overwhelmed with my responsibilities. Thought maybe going to stare into the ocean and eat coconuts might help me get my priorities straight.

My boat calls to me. She’s finally thawing out and I’m finally getting around to visiting her. I’ve got a small cabinet project to complete, an install of some deck hardware, some washing, waxing, painting and she’s splashed. She’ll be on a mooring ball two miles from the farm where I’m living and working to grow my own food.

Some people are far more ambitious than I am. In my mind I’ve put in my time. I wrote enough articles to pay for my mooring ball, my projects, and to have a little left over. All the while I got to rub shoulders with Bernie Sanders!

But despite the mild success I’m finding here on land as a journalist, it’s my paid work–not my life’s work. I consider my fiscal year complete, or at least put on hold, until my winter storage fees are looming.

Like my favorite uncle said, “what’s the point of being a free spirit in a world of deadlines?”

Now I just have to figure out a way to tell that to my boss