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 Antidote

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It’s mid September and I’m nearly a land based mammal once again. I don’t know how I’ve managed it–to become busy, nearly gainfully employed, riding my bike through the city streets, shopping at the expensive co-op.

But there’s an antidote. I still live on my boat. Exposed to the elements. Like the rolling swells of southerlies that still prevail, the dropping temperatures as the month passes by. The morning dew, the setting sun. Exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates. Watching them come in late at night silently under sail.

My body tells me it’s time, or almost. The lake is starting to become too cold for bathing. My chest felt heavy this morning from the cold. My provisions of dried goods from the beginning of the season have nearly run out.

But I’m not ready to leave.

“I don’t want to go to shore, I don’t want to leave it.  Shake my hair because I wana stay wet.” -Dive Shop, Paihia, NZ

Dear Readers,

It has been too long. I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner. Life moves pretty fast onboard a sailboat that goes an average of five knots (which is actually pretty fast for the hefty, intrepid Anam Cara).

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First off, my goodness–what a boat. We have been through some wild rides. Like the time it took me four hours to tack past Diamond Island. It was difficult to point in the 25-30 knot gusts, and every time we made progress we’d near shore and get blanked by the mountains, the wind would just die.

Or the time my mom came and visited. It was a thunderous, rain storm of a weekend. We stayed on land at a Bed & Breakfast while Anam Cara was tied safely to a friend’s mooring ball. We had one small window, or so it seemed. The clouds began to part. In a nice 12 knots northwest breeze I flew west on a starboard tack and then headed north. I’d been watching clouds develop in the northwest corner of the Adirondacks and it had finally begun approaching. The winds started to shift so I jibed home and was making only three knots.

dinghy dreams, bristol 24

As soon as we entered the bay the storm ascended. We were soaked to the bone, could barely see five feet ahead, but the wind never came. I could see the wind line all around us to the north, south, east and west, but we escaped in some kind of shadow. I arrived on the mooring ball as lightening and thunder cracked the sky. My friend on land saw me come in and later said we looked like a ghost ship through the fog. The VHF reported 50 knot winds from the storm.

Most recently, my best friend on the planet came to visit. Winds were predicted south one day and north the next. I decided we’d sail north to Burlington and back south the next day. Going there was light, easy. We pretended to be pirates and drank far too much wine. We anchored under sail, in the rain, in our underwear, the entire anchorage watching our silent maneuvers.

legs

Leaving, however, was a different story. The winds and waves built all night. We left on a starboard tack heading west to clear Juniper Island before we could head south and run home downwind. Twenty-five knots, sustained, five foot waves and confused ones at that. I had to point very carefully to not get broad-sided, but Anam Cara delivered. Her sturdy keel breaking up the chop.

We’ve weathered five storms at anchor, all over 40 knots. I only dragged once, and luckily into open water. I had anchored under sail and the hook didn’t set until the storm blew us back.

solo sailor girl

But I am pushing the boat sailing in such conditions. She needs more than I gave her in the yard. There’s a crack in the fiberglass above the bulkhead. The one the previous owner said hasn’t gotten bigger in 10 years. But I’ve sailed this boat more in the past three months than she’s been sailed in a decade and, well, it’s gotten bigger. A lot bigger. The mast is compressing the cabin top causing all sorts of trouble.

The roller furler is flimsy, rusted, and needs to be repaired or replaced. I’ve decided to have a new forestay fabricated and convert to hank-on sails. I’ll drop the mast this fall, tend to the compression crack by repairing the fiberglass and supporting the compression post on the ballast of the boat, not the cabin sole that is suffering from dry rot (which seems to be the reason why the whole thing happened to begin with). While I’m at it I’ll have the rigger inspect her standing rigging. I know I need to replace at least one turnbuckle…

This, along with many other issues with the boat, is why I’ve decided not to go south until next year. I need the fall, spring, and probably much of next summer to really get her right. I’ve even gone so far to think I might stay here in Vermont for the winter, get three jobs and a car so I can access the boatyard easily. I’m thinking to hang the boat up at a small boatyard in Vermont, where I have a handshake agreement with the owner to work for him during haul out season in exchange for winter storage. Only problem is I need to haul out soon to get to work on my boat before the cold comes–and with the lake level so low the yard can’t haul boats until they dredge. When it’s going to happen is the question of the hour…

bristol 24

For the last month I’ve been working for a Danish sailor on his Morgan Heritage One Tonne. Cool, ocean race boat. I helped prepare her for launch but left after four weeks seeking the freedom I felt the first few months on the boat, in Monty’s Bay and the north lake, when I still thought I was going south.

But everything is different, now. The goal has been and will continue to be to journey this boat back to saltwater–now that it won’t happen this year, everything has changed. I’m just biding my time, at anchor, before I have to get my shit together. Winter is coming.

Work exchange

Sitting in the cockpit at anchor I had this moment of extreme happiness. Tears nearly filled my eyes. The big bad lake behind me, the Adirondacks blue with low hanging clouds. North winds making this wide, open to the west, anchorage possible. Work is all done for the day. Testing my alternator, charging the batteries, checking voltage with the meter, filling the gas tank, pumping the bilge, flaking the sails. Finally time to cook a meal with fresh vegetables from Kathy’s garden. So satisfied. 

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People tell me my boat is a money pit, but they don’t understand. I want to spend all of my money on her. I feel like this is my life’s work…

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My reefing system on the boat was driving me crazy. More often than not, I should be reefed. All I had was one set of reef points with some lines hanging down to be tied around the boom. I guess some people call this “jiffy,” or “slab,” reefing, but it is fact not correct. It was incomplete. I needed, I would find out later, a pulley system, cleats, and new line to properly reef.

I called the local and most highly recommended Vermont sailmaker. I asked him for a quote for a second set of reef points, and advice on hardware to install on the boom. We had a good chat and he quoted my $230. I told him my story, and asked if he’d be interested in a work exchange of some sort. He laughed, but said we could probably work something out. I remained optimistic and set off Monday morning to find him.

With my sail in the bag and oars in my backpack I trudged through the small city and to the bus that dropped me off a few blocks away from the sail loft. I met the sailmaker and we went over everything I would need to reef the right way. He had a few cleaning jobs that he and his crew were too swamped to complete, so the next morning all I had to do was show up, clean, and I’d have my coveted second set of reef points.

After I finished working I hung around the loft all day and watched my sail getting worked on. I learned so much. I had no idea what a leech line was, and a few days later was finally able to remedy my constantly fluttering jib thanks to this information!

When I was kind of bragging about the time I put my rails in the water one of the sailmakers said, “Yeah? Was that fun? You could have lost your rig. Reef next time.”

My cheeks flushed red. He was right.

Marooned in Shelburne Bay

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I don’t know if Shelburne Bay passed me by, or I passed by it. I arrived with the intention to find some work. Maybe a job at a restaurant,or at the shipyard I rowed into, but rarely on this trip does anything I expect to happen, well, happen.

Shelburne Bay is a great place with a cove for nearly every wind direction, a boatyard full of many classic and forgotten beauties, sailors from near and far full of much advice, and ghosts. Crawling into my little berth at night, Shelburne was the first time I closed my hatch boards to feel more protected by the spirit of my little boat from the spooky evening.

I did find some work there, only not in a traditional fashion. When the shipyard gardener was using the hose and I needed to fill my water jugs we got to talking. She’s a homesteader, master gardener, and keeps chickens and goats. My past days of goat rearing came in handy as we hit it off. I asked her if she needed any help and she set me up with two days of work digging in the dirt.

I reached out to another shipyard down south and while he doesn’t have any work for me right now, he offered to help me advise me with any projects I intended to do to get my boat ready for leaving the lake. There’s a possibility there for end of the season work, perhaps in exchange for yard storage in the winter. While in Shelburne I also made arrangements with the sailmaker a short sail north to work trade for a second set of reef points in my mainsail.

Perhaps the most profound thing to happen to me in Shelburne Bay, however, was the chance meeting with the canvas maker at the yard. He lives aboard a Shannon 26 with his wife, also a sailboat sewing guru, and they’ve cruised the world extensively with their children.

I’ve been vacillating between going south down the Hudson this year or waiting another. This time a month ago I gave myself four weeks to make a decision. As time went on I became more and more over whelmed with what the boat needs in order to actually be ready for salt water.

The words of so many couch sailors I’ve met echoed in my ears.

“Just go.”

Talking with the canvas maker he said, “why not wait a year? Don’t outfit in Florida. You’re one of a million. Everything is more expensive. Here people want to help you. You need to be ready.”

So it was decided. I made three lists of what the boat needs. Before winter, before south, and ongoing. While I felt a great relief to be able to enjoy the rest of the summer sailing on the lake without the pressure to leave by a certain date with a certain amount of money, a new type of anxiety set it. I’d have to find somewhere to store the boat, and worst of all, I’d have to move back to land for what could be seven months.

But I didn’t have time to worry about the impending dark months ahead, my little boat sitting lonely on jack stands—I had a weather window and a sailmaker to meet.