I get by with a little help from my friends

The words from an acquaintance when I was contemplating buying my first boat last year sometimes echo in my mind; “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed that Lake Champlain isn’t exactly a sailing mecca.” He was wrong.

cruising the ICW

Bluewater boats, Bluewater sailors, Bluewater scheming and planning and dreaming around every corner and cove. Chart swapping, gear talking, beer cans clinking. Boomkins, boom gallows and bowsprits. Varnish and vagabonds. Full keels, fin keels, twin keels. Gaffers, cutters, schooners and sloops.

sailing lake champlain, sailor girl, sailing blog

I must be the luckiest sailor in the world. I’ve said it before, but every point I round on this lake there is someone who has helped me or taught me to thread aluminum, cut with a grinder, fair my epoxy, wire my electronics or tune the rig.

sailing blog, sailing lake champlain, pearson ariel 26

We hold each other’s screw drivers, we take turns buying packs of beer and cigarettes, we act as sounding boards for ideas, we climb each other’s masts, we stop what we are doing to help. We are friends. We are brothers and sisters. We are cousins. We are a circle of humans. A tribe. A water tribe.

My community is strong, my boat is strong, my spirit is strong. I don’t want to jinx it but…I think I’ve set a departure date.

“You going south this year or what?!”

“I’m going to try, but I’m scared! Like really scared.”

“Good! You Should be! It’ll keep you alive.” 

 

SV Vanupied

sailing, sailing blog, Carl Alberg

To go without shoes. To go barefoot. Barefoot vagabond. These are the translations I’ve gotten for the name of my newly purchased little boat, Vanupied. Here hull is American, but her spirit quintessentially Quebecoise. It’s only fitting I wound up with a French Canadian boat after I made it my goal that summer in the French Canadian boatyard, rolling tobacco and walking around in a little red scarf, to prove what a francophile I was.

My stereotypes of French culture aside, it seems Vanupied and I were somewhat destined to wind up together. I’d admired her tight little stern in the boatyard from the cockpit of my Bristol 24. She was the first boat I’d ever sailed on Lake Champlain (she launched before I did) and I told her owner, merely weeks after I moved aboard my own boat, “If you ever sell her, let me know.” I even wrote a song about her while rafted together one evening at anchor that rang something like, “Oh, little Vanupied. She’s always faster than me. She goes to weather so much better…”

Reluctantly I put my Bristol up for sale in the Fall of 2016, after my first summer living aboard and sailing my own boat. I wanted something with a narrower beam and a different standing rigging configuration. Repairs and restoration that once seemed like opportunities and growing experiences, now felt like colossal chores on a boat that I loved but didn’t want to keep long term. At the end of the season I’d realized the Bristol wasn’t right for me beyond the shores of the lake and unbeknownst to her, I had fallen out of love with her lines.

I knew all I could afford on my pittance salary as a freelance journalist was another old fiberglass boat with the same array of issues, but I vowed to find a sailboat that seemed worth putting all of my time and energy into.

living aboard, pearson ariel, bone in her teeth

When I got the call that Vanupied was for sale I did a quick assessment of my finances, sold the Bristol for a song, and became the proud owner of what I’d always considered to be my number three favorite boat (falling just below the beloved Flicka 20 & Contessa 26) a Carl Alberg Pearson Ariel 26.

Lost dogs

Sailing blog, dinghy dreams, bristol 24, live aboard

If you want an adventure buy a small sail boat, fix it up as best you can, and live on it traveling from port to port as long as you can. You’ll be amazed at what you’re made of. How quickly life reverts to basic instincts like finding food, protection from weather, and a safe place to sleep.

bristol 24 live aboard, live aboard sailor girl

You will be humbled by what you don’t know, surprised by what you do. You’ll learn a thing or two about integrity and your own work ethic–if you cut corners while fixing her up they’ll come back to visit when the drink gets angry (which she does, often).

lake champlain live aboard

You will come face to face with yourself. It may not be in the form of changing sail in a storm, alone on the bow of your boat, but in a relationship with someone you meet along the way–and you will meet so many, and you will learn why you are worthy of their time and help.

You will learn what you attract in this life.

A Lake Champlain love story

No kids, two boats, 50 years of marriage and still looking into each other’s eyes, Pierre and Claire truly are soulmates.

A lake champlain love story

I met them in Monty’s Bay briefly after I’d spent a month in the boatyard ogling their Southern Cross 31. I’d mentioned my intentions to journey my boat south, and they came and found me to give me the charts from the base of the Hudson down to the Chesepeake a few weeks ago.

They came and saw me again in Shelburne Bay. This time with a book called, “The Thornless Path,” a guidebook to sailing south to the Caribbean doing short passages with a new anchorage every night.

“To keep your dream alive,” Pierre said as he handed it to me.

true love will find you in the end

Pierre and Claire met at what I can only imagine was the French Canadian version of a Soc-hop in the 1950’s. There is a photo of them from that first evening. To this day Pierre keeps it in his wallet. While in Europe cruising on the powerboat they keep there to travel through the canals, his wallet fell overboard.

Jumping off the boat in a hurry to retrieve it, it wasn’t the cash or credit cards he was worried about–it was the photo.

They are the original owners of their beautiful boat. They spent many days and nights in the boatyard finishing her, building the entire interior to suit their needs. They’ve cruised extensively from Lake Champlain to the Bahamas–their love never wavering.

Not only does the kindness these two humans have shown me keep my faith in humanity at a high level, their story gives me faith that hell–maybe love is one day out there for me, too.

Afterall, they told me I have a “nice personality.”

Leaving Shangri La

rowing dinghy, hard dinghy, dinghy dreams

I’ve got to be the luckiest sailor in the world. The marina I wound up staying at for four nights while I rested my weary eyes and waited for the bad weather to pass turned out to be some kind of Utopia.

I was introduced to Jonathen, a solo bluewater sailor who just sold his Shannon 34 and has a Cape Dory Typhoon. He was recruited to give me a sailing lesson but it was still blowing hard the morning he showed up and my inflatable dinghy was half sunk. Trying to find the hole in the bottom, which was never meant to be rowed without a plywood floor in place (oops), he said “I have a dinghy for you.” So off we went on a tour of Grand Isle, Vermont, which reminded me so much of where I learned to sail in the San Juan Islands of Washington.

While I scrubbed the old fiberglass dinghy, still going strong after it washed up on a beach 20 years ago, Jonathen rummaged around for this and that he thought I might need. He gave me two harnesses, a dry bag, a handful of lines and charts, a solar shower… The best part being that my $200 unopened sailing harness I bought could now be returned.

liveaboard, bristol 24 interior, solo sailor girl

He gave me his contact info and told me if I ever get into trouble on the lake, to call him.

I thanked him profusely, sort of wondering why this complete complete stranger would be so inclined to help a riffraff sailor like myself.

“You’re living the dream,” he said as we waved goodbye. “Keep doing it for the rest of us.”

Bristol 24 liveaboard

John the boat repair man was another character I was lucky enough to meet at my dockside Shangri-La. He knows just about everything about boats, was quick to offer me advice, swap stories, and drop what he was doing to bullshit with me just about every hour on the hour. He’s an artist when it comes to restoring old boats, has thousands of sea miles, and is basically the spitting image of Gary Busey without the the surly demeanor. He let me climb and clamber around the boats he was working on, gave me a spare winch handle and an extra fender. He let me stash my half sunk dink in his old Land Rover until my friend who I promised it to comes to get it.

Ladds Landing Marina, Grand Isle VT, sailing Lake Champlain

Emily and Dan, the marina owners, are probably the most involved waterfront proprietors I’ve ever met. On my first night, before I could refuse, Dan came down with a power chord and said, “You need heat. But we’ll have to move you.” Next thing I knew he was untying my lines and hopped into the cockpit to do a quick, tight maneuver to another slip. When an unpredicted, near gale Easterly blew through Emily, Dan, and their daughter were on the docks the entire three hours of the storm securing boats. Emily drove me to the post office to mail my harness and we talked about feminism as the Vermont island countryside passed me by in her old station wagon.
single handed sailing

Then there was Brian who is basically my new favorite human on the lake. He held the heads of the bolts as I tightened them to install the new mini cleats in my cockpit for the tiller tamer I was forced to buy second hand from another sailor in the yard. We went for a sail after that and I let him sail my boat, since he doesn’t have one of his own at the moment, but kept a keen eye on everything. When we saw an approaching storm we had to make a quick decision, so we booked it back to the marina and waited for it to come but it dissipated soon after. I realized when it comes to crew, the other person needs to be a sailor. At this point in my novice sailing career I can’t be responsible for teaching someone, or having someone onboard who doesn’t know how to help.

The next morning he met me to untie my lines. Full of nerves I had my worst leaving the dock experience to date. I went into forward too soon, and when I came pretty close to a shiny power boat I kicked it into reverse without throttling down, causing the prop to lift up. Dead in the water I threw Brian a line and he pulled me in. Embarrassed by the terrible job I did driving my boat he offered some kind words, a sympathetic smile, and off I went into the lake alone.

“Utopia. The Greeks had two meaning for it: ‘eu-topos’, meaning the good place, and ‘u-topos’ meaning the place that cannot be.” -Rachel Menken, Mad Men