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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

A pirate looks at 27

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Lake Champlain has an inland body of water, cut off from the broad lake by a sandbar to the south, and mainland Canada to the north, with the Grand Isle drawbridge as the only way in and the only way out.

My shakedown cruise as a singlehanded sailor took place on the Inland Sea, lovingly referred to by my French Canadian friends as “Second Lake.” A place home to my dockside Shangri La. A place home to an assortment of sailing fairy godfather’s I met who helped me in several pinches. A place with beautiful yet minimally protected anchorages.  A place I’m happy I escaped, as it was starting to feel like a wormhole.

My birthday was the other day. As I present to myself I bought a new battery for the boat, as one of my batteries was completely toast, and the other only half toast. As a present from the universe I was offered a free slip to suss out some woes, and free labor/advice to repair them.

My engine wasn’t starting with the electric starter, and was also dying at idle. I thought it was a battery issue. One one particular day I pull started a 9 horse power engine four times. Four. Times.

Once to leave the mooring, once to drop anchor, once when I anchored too close to another boat, and once again when I realized I was in the wrong spot for optimal wind protection. I’d like to become a better sailor and rely on the engine less, but for now…

With the maneuvers to tack into 15 kts up St. Albans Bay, plus starting the engine, I was sure my arm would be sore for the rest of my life.

Miraculously the next day the iron genny purred right to life as I headed towards the free slip my friend offered me. “Run the engine a while to charge your batteries,” another friend recommended, but as soon as I was out of the lee of the island, up went the sails and I tacked silently out of the bay.

Bristol 24, live aboard, solo sailor girl

When I arrived at the marina and prepared to dock, the engine died as I made my turn into the slip and throttled down. I pulled out the gib to try and sail in, but no such luck. The timing and my skills weren’t quite up to par. I flagged down a boater on an old but beautifully restored Chris Craft, and he arrived just in time as my anchor was two feet from another boat, and I was straddling the bow to fend off.

A quick cleaning of the spark plugs, a new battery, and everything was good to go. I sailed away from the dock, waving to my mate and hoping I wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I dropped the hook off of Savage Island, for what would be a miserable lunch hook.

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Power boaters, jet skis, shoals. I’m pretty sure I scraped the bottom and I’m not sure my anchor ever even dug into the rocky bottom. After a rest inside the boat from the punishing sun I needed to get out of there.

But the wind wasn’t in my favor. In fact, there was no wind at all. In the distance I saw a boat sailing. The lake was taunting me. I’d see a little ripple, or another indicator of wind, pull out the sail and it would flap in the dead calm. I felt like a true hobo, motoring my little house around trying to get to a safe spot for the southerlies predicted to pick up after midnight. I didn’t dare ask for wind, though.

The southerlies did indeed come, and I had a hell of a time pulling up the anchor. I sailed dead downwind to the Grand Isle Drawbridge. Missed the opening by five minutes, and tooled around in the harbor until the next one. After the bridge is a place called ‘The Gut.” A weedy, shallow, miserable body of water that I hope to never cross again. I made two knots through the muck, until I reached my Oasis. Nichols Point.

Bristol 24, live aboard, lake champlain

Back on the broad lake, protected by the southerlies, other boats all around me–I could see the Adirondacks to the west. Wind mills dotted the horizon as the full moon rose. I planned to head south in the morning and make for Valcour Island.

The 20 knot southerlies had other plans. After getting my ass kicked beating into the wind and four foot waves, I turned around and headed North, downwind to Pelot’s bay, an anchorage I’m familiar with.

My boat knew what to do when I didn’t. My eyes nearly stinging with tears as she surfed down the waves, her heavy keel breaking up the motion. I cooed to her as we jibed to clear the reef of Isle La Motte, and sailed through the rock wall entrance to the harbor.

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails”