I left my heart on the Champlain Canal

americas great loop, cruising the champlain canal

History. Industry. Wildlife. That’s how I would describe the miles logged traversing the historic Champlain Canal. Built in the 1800’s and birthed from the brain of Gov. George Clinton of New York, well, all I can say is hats off to you, Sir Clinton.

cruising america's canal

For every ounce of sun we had there were equal parts rain, which were made increasingly miserable due to the large boom and mainsail taking up most of my cabin, and the breath/sweat condensing from two 20-something women. My crew was my best friend, Whitney. Not a sailor, but born on a boat. She sailed with me last year in a steep chop out of Burlington Harbor where I turned to her and said, “Okay, this is the point of no return–do you want to go back?”

To which she replied, “I trust you, Cap.”

champlain canal, US canal system, NYS canal

If only she could be onboard forever, as her mere presence helps me to solve the problems of the world. But she has her own adventure to build, her own “boat” to find. She will be back onboard Vanupied when we reach southern latitudes. This much is certain.

NYS Canal System

For the first few locks we were nervous and scared. By the final we were entering the great big chambers of water playing the harmonica. We tied on and off docks and wharf walls like it were a game. We docked next to the actual remnants of the USS Ticonderoga and, naturally, saluted it when we left. I could’ve lived there amongst those lock walls and slimy lines with Whit as a canal rat forever but, alas, we finally reached tidal waters.

cruising the hudson river

Whitney traveled with me another several miles on the Hudson River to Catskill, NY where I became a sailboat again. Luckily, her friend came to pick her up and return her back home for work on Monday—because even though I promised her I’d get her somewhere accessible to mass transit to get back in time, I really had no idea if I’d be able to deliver on that.

Huge shout out to Hop-O-Nose marina on Catskill Creek for a doing a dope job stepping my mast, for a free night at the dock and supporting the adventure. My favorite question I received from the owner there was, “WHAT DO YOU EAT?!”

Leaving Lake Champlain

sailing lake champlain, cruising lake champlain, solo sailor girl, spinnaker watches

September 2, 2017

Well, I left. I’d have cut the proverbial dock lines but I sold my mooring bridle to a mate to pay my debt to the marina. It all worked out. I feel like it’s my birthday or something. So many well wishes as I prepared to and left the mooring field. “Bye,” I yelled to my neighbors who I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. “I’m not coming back!”

So, yes, while I technically left I’m only five miles away. And I’m okay with that.

September 3

cruising the ICW, cruising lake champlain, pearson ariel 26 live aboard

I left at 9 AM with a single reef in the main and was glad I did. I wanted to make it to crown point but it took two hours just to make it this far. I was cold, wet. My foul weather gear sucks. The rain, remnants of hurricane harvey, was tempestuous. Busted my depth sounder. I knew something electronic would fry I’m just glad it wasn’t Jane (my autopilot) or my GPS. Guna make me a lead line. No other boats I’ve ever owned or sailed on had depth finders anyway.

I figured why not ditch out while I still can. Soon there will be long passages with nothing in between. I’m anchored off the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum which is fitting. I’m slightly exposed to the south because mooring balls are taking up most of the anchorage. If no one claims them by tonight I’ll move onto one. I fought with the alcohol heater for a while but finally got it to work. Everything is damp but it’s beautiful in the rain.

basin harbor yacht club, cruising lake champlain

I hope to reach Chipman Point in time for my mast unstepping appointment but I’m behind. I’ll have to leave crown point very early and should probably motor if I want to get there on time. Wind forecast 25 kts from the south but this part of the lake is very narrow, meandering, full of eagles I’ve been told.

September  4

live aboard pearson ariel 26, cruising lake champlain

Day three. Depth finder definitely broken. Crown point. I’ve re-anchored for the third, maybe fourth time trying to get as close to shore as possible but the gusts kept pushing me back. I’m scared for tonight. I’ve been in blows before but this spot is unknown to me. 

I left early to avoid increasing wind prediction and motored into a dead calm until a light wind filled in for about an hour. Becalmed for another hour I started to motor until I hit more wind with soon became 20 kts with gusts higher. After some miles tacking one gust hit that almost knocked us down. It was time to go on deck to either shorten sail or motor. I motored. Heeling over hard in 20 kts, solo, on my boat for miles is…difficult. I kept kicking the autopilot out of its socket I was sure I’d break it. It’s hard to look at charts or do damn near anything when I have to sail the boat so closely. Crew would make all the difference in the world in that situation. But at the same time, fuck going to weather. Everyone avoids it whenever they can, right? I don’t have anything to prove to anyone or to myself. 

September 5

cruising the champlain canal

Exhausted! Starving! No time to eat much today. Wiring catastrophe. Tried to drill hole out in bulkhead to pass running light wires and connectors through. Would up drilling into the wires and have to re splice now anyway, so hole drilling was useless and destructive. Wound up lashing the mast to the rails instead of using wood supports. It’s sturdy. Got pretty pissed though when one of the marina employees was insisting on untying my boat from the crane area in the middle of huge thunderstorm. Finally the owner came over and told him to stop. I was pissed, but the owner made it right by giving me free dockage. 

Two cruising families here heading south. One I met last year in the Champlain Islands. 

September 5

cruising family, cruising with kids, sailing mom

Approximately eighteen snaky miles through the creek like, final miles of Lake Champlain. Eagles. White and blue herons. Train tracks. Trees and cliffs. Misty and fjord like. 

Crew: Amber. Off the boat of cruising family. We buddy boated with her son and husband onboard their vessel and passed through Lock 12 of the Champlain Canal. Emerged triumphant. Excellent crew. Tied to the high cement wall in Whitehall, NY now awaiting the arrival of my crew for the next four days who will travel with me the next sixty miles of the Champlain Canal and to the entry of the Hudson River where, shortly after that, I’ll become a sailboat again. 

Single handed sailor girl

crewfinder, need crew, single handed sailor girl, sailing blog

“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.” 

single handed sailor, sailing blog, sailor girl, live aboard sailor girl

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

single handed sailor girl, solo sailor, bristol 24

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…