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. 

Sail angels (get it? Like ‘trail angels’)

pearson ariel 26 sail inventory

My main sail was in such bad condition that I’d taken to fastening patches on new tears that were appearing nearly every time I sailed with 5200, because adding more perforation by sewing only seemed to damage the deteriorating fabric further.

My new (to-me) main sail is all dialed in. It even has a third reef point now with completed slab reefing capabilities (which meant a total of eight holes drilled and threaded on my boom). The sail was donated to me. A huge thanks to Bill Phelon, commodore over at the Pearson Ariel owners association who shipped me his old main within hours of my post on the forum. I only paid shipping on the sail from California and it was well worth the cost as it has years of life left whereas my sail maybe had weeks.

Sewing reinforcements for my second and third reef points was also donated (with a partial trade), by Spinnaker Sallie Mack, one of the first female sailmakers on Lake Michigan back in her day, and local Champlain wooden boat sailor. She also helped me make a little storm head sail out of a staysail in perfect condition that came off a 62-foot-ketch my BFF’s mom used to own and sail on the Atlantic Coast. Thanks, Sallie and Kay!

Grommets and further dialing in on my sail inventory came at a fraction of the cost from Ed Trombley up at Doyle Sailmakers on the New York side of the lake. Thanks, Ed.

As prepared as I am I’m learning you’ll never really be ready to go. I’m as prepared as I can be, and know enough to know what I don’t know, you know?

Existential Crisis

sailing the ICW , sailing pearson ariel 26

I’ve been tied to the mooring ball for days. Ten, maybe. Maybe seven. Chipping away at the boat. I’d look at my log but I haven’t been keeping it. The passage of time makes no sense. The days have blurred into one. Drill holes, go to the hardware store, fix a new problem I didn’t know existed. Tear the boat apart. Put it back together.

living on a small boat, refitting a small sailboat for cruising

It seems like a life time ago I was cruising in Tandem with Sixth Girl, a Melody 32, and her captain Dale. She won the Chicago Mackinac, once. In the sixties. She fell off a semi-truck once, too. Dale has been restoring her to do a trip much like my own–except he’s sailing on the outside of the Atlantic Coast. What I intend to do has snippets of it, but is mostly part of the Inter Coastal Waterway. There’s blue water though, on my trip. And even more blue water to chose from once I get further south.

melody 32, charlie morgan,

People ask me why I’m doing this. For food, I suppose. I never know what to eat in the American world of meat and dairy. I’m searching for coconuts and pineapples (although I’m slightly allergic to pineapples. On a crowded bus to a tiny peninsula in Costa Rica my lips started to tingle and I pondered the possibility of a tracheotomy and who on said bus might know how to perform one. I’ve got plenty of benadryl on my boat though…don’t worry, mom).

“I’m trying to find the conch dock,” I’ll often say. “You know, a place you can tie up your dinghy and there’s like, fried conch for cheap.” (But the Carribean and Bahamas are expensive I’ve heard. So the odds are greater I’ll have to learn to forage for my own sea food). I just like saying ‘the conch dock.’

Bluewater, I suppose, is a reason too. While it scares me more than anything it’s something I’ve always yearned to return to since a yacht delivery from NZ to Tonga in 2011. I suppose it’s there that my obsession with sailing boats truly began, but I’m only just beginning to know what I’m actually doing.

pearson ariel 26

Wherein lies my problem is that my boat is ready for this trip (almost, a few more screws and pieces of string), but the whole point is to keep going and she’ll need more work for that. I know that without constant maintenance and upkeep she will turn for the worst. Even though I’ve done nothing but make her better and stronger, I’m afraid that once I leave here and all my resources I’m not going to be able to continuing making progress to her and I’ll be forced to leave. I’m afraid I won’t be able to accept that and I’ll fall into the category of ‘live aboard’ not ‘sailor,’ stuck somewhere in Florida.

What if I never make it beyond to distant shores?

But aren’t they all distant shores? I have the Champlain Canal, Hudson River, New Jersey coast, Chesepeake Bay and more in front of me before I have to worry about that. Shit, there’s even the possibility that this all works out. That I maintain my focus. That I continue to learn.

Still, I can’t stop thinking about making her totally blue water capable. Like strong enough to cross an ocean. Nothing for miles except blue onboard my own boat. New standing rigging, strengthening her transom, ripping out and rebuilding everything that’s decaying, stripping her to bare bones, etc., etc…

Can I do it all along the way? Will other parts of the country, or other countries entirely be as friendly and helpful as this sailing community has been? Will I sail into the perfect port some thousands of miles from her to begin another stage of my little boat’s refit?

I guess I’ll find out.