Where am I?

Well, if you were wondering, my last post should have cleared that up. I’m in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Now, you might be wondering, what the hell happened in between from when I left my hear on the Champlain Canal and now?!

Good question. One I’ve been trying to answer myself. While I know every place I’ve dropped the hook, can describe every person I’ve met, and can recall the conditions of nearly every passage–I’ve been having a hard time putting it into words. The only thing I know is I seem to keep leaving my heart everywhere. Yelling terms like “SEE YOU OUT THERE,” and “STAY SALTY, MATES,” as I depart each lovely harbor and its inhabitants. I catch myself saying things (to myself) like, “I’ll be back,” and, “I don’t want it to end.”

But it isn’t just the people that have had such a profound effect on me. Voyaging on my boat day  has brought me closer to her as a spiritual entity, as a sailboat, as a way of life. There is magic in these waters. There is magic in boats. How is it possible, I often wonder, for something so simple as fiberglass, metal, wood, canvas and rope to be possible of propelling one on such an adventure? A sailboat is greater than the sum of its parts.

“You’re living the dream!” People often say. And it’s true. I am. I came up with this idea, poured my energy into it and poof, like a magician, the dream came true. Here I am. The thing is, the dream sucks sometimes. I’m confronted daily by the elements, things out of my control, financial issues and my own personal demons. One cannot hide from themselves on a 26-foot-boat. Doing this trip on such a thin shoe string has made me realize I want to earn a few more shekels to be more comfortable, safer. That’s why I decided I won’t aim for the Bahamas and Caribbean this year. It’s simple, really. The boat needs more work, and I need more time to earn the money and do the work to her. By the time I do all that, I’ll most likely have missed my window for the tropics.

There just simply isn’t enough time in the day (plus I’m a naturally unproductive human AND the man just forced me to set my clocks back) to sail my boat, fix what needs fixing, stay fed AND take over the world as a sailing media mogul. So, the blog has laid dormant. Until I earn a cash injection wherever it is that will be my temporary ‘home port,’ the boat won’t be set up for blogging from onboard. As far as going to shore and finding wifi and somewhere to plug in, it hasn’t always been easy let alone a priority. Until a week ago I didn’t even have a working dinghy (huge shout out to Rich on the Rhode River for hooking me up with another dink, free dock, hacksaw blades, stories as a submariner, and more). The only writing I’ve managed to get done, besides log entries that border coherence and incoherence, is a short burst that was published on Sailing Anarchy.

You may also be wondering, what’s taking me so long. I left Lake Champlain September 2, and I’m not even technically half way yet from my unspoken stopping point.

Well, the answer is, I’m sailing. While many chose to motor on (friends are motoring 30 miles today, and another boat 60 miles), I’m choosing to sail. I still use my motor, and have used it quite a bit but there are also certain conditions my motor simply won’t go into. If it’s a light headwind, or too strong of a headwind, often times I won’t be able make enough progress to get somewhere before dark under sail. On days like these I do short hops, from one Chesapeake tributary to another, or chose not to go at all. Now that I’m further south and the bay has widened, safe harbors are further apart.

I know there are long days of ICW motoring ahead of me, and hopefully some sailing on the outside when weather permits, so I’m taking my time under sail. Shaking out and putting in reefs, dodging ships, convening with pelicans, marveling at the ridiculous shit I hear and contribute to on the VHF, watching my boat’s interactions in her natural element–salt water.

On top of this, in regard to my slow pace, this year has been tempestuous with gales and dead calms. Seriously. Ask anyone out here. You can’t make this shit up.

If my scattered updates haven’t put you off thus far, stay tuned. There will soon be detailed posts recounting my journey down the Hudson River, New Jersey Atlantic Coast, and Delaware Bay. Well, as detailed as possible, it is me we are talking about. The sailing world’s most unreliable blogger.

Shakedown sail

live aboard, solo sailor girl, pearson ariel 26

June 1— Launch was bad. Real bad. At anchor now and it’s blowing hard. Dealing with a lot, but it’s good. Managed not to panic, managed not to hit any boats. Engine died midway in the dock channel, on a collision course with a beneteau and my main halyard snags my topping lift. I lost my favorite hat to the wind. The miserable troll who owns the boatyard said something about my boat sinking as he lowered me into the water, then the yard manager said “good luck, sweetie,” and pushed me off the dock. The transducer for the depth sounder is leaking. It’s okay, but it’s below the water line, so I’m monitoring it closely. Wind is howling. I don’t know if I’ll raise sail today. In full on captain mode.

sailing lake champlain, sailing on a shoestring

June 2— The forecast is wrong so far. I’m anchored off a beach. The weather guesser says southwest, five knots, but it’s higher. I’m exposed. I’m nervous about lifting the hook and being blown in to shore. It’s supposed to clock around to the north, so I’m waiting, which could be a mistake. The boat’s a wreck. I have to eat and square away a lot on deck before I can even think about leaving. I’m basically engineless. I have to force myself not to just crawl back into the v-berth. It’s cold. Forty degrees last night. Yesterday’s sail was intense. I’m less worried about the leak, it’s slowed as the wood block has started to swell. I left yesterday at 6:30 p.m. Right off the reef in treadwell bay my jib halyard came undone. Wind still ripping when I went forward to fix it. I managed to tie it back on but forgot to go through the traveler, so sheeting became inefficient and tangled. At some point I was able to sail on a reach right into my anchorage. I anchored but not before jamming my finger in the hook I use to hold it on the bow. I know longer have a knuckle. I’m lucky I didn’t break it, but there’s blood everywhere. I’m grateful I learned to sail engineless last year. Still can’t believe I do this shit “for fun.”

carl alberg

Later— Weather guesser wrong again. Five knots. Ha! Maybe for five minutes. I had the rails in the water with a reef and my tiniest headsail. Five knots…

Leaving the beach was smooth enough. Sailed off the anchor broad reaching to clear the reefs. Winds were still kind of confused. SW, NW, W? Maybe I’m the confused one. Cumberland straights were easy. Nothing like that time we raced the trimaran in the McDonough, where it seemed like McDonough’s army itself was marching towards us in the form of ten foot rollers. Once south of there the wind started to rip. Gusting to 25, sustained at maybe 18. It was cold, raining, and I was getting broadsided. Do I want to keep sailing in this? No, so I made for Valcour Island, due west.

Vanupied went to weather with a serious bone in her teeth. She loved it. She’s a sadist, I swear. If only I could trim her sails properly. Always luffing no matter what I do. Maybe it’s her old, shitty sails, or maybe I’m a shitty sailor. Her backstay is sketchy. The whole time I just kept saying, “please don’t break.” If the fisherman weren’t impressed by my screeching into the anchorage and dropping the hook under sail, well I’ll be damned.

Everything is blue. Blue sleeping bag, blue lake, blue sky, blue dinghy. I’m in no particular hurry, I have to remember that. As soon as I get home though, bills are due. Car insurance, mooring fees, electric bilge pump, registration…but I don’t want to think about that right now in the blue.

live aboard sailor girl

June 3— Well, I’m happy to say Vanupied and I are in our home port. I’m showered, fed, and have everything I need right here. Even my bicycle is locked up on shore. I’m anchored far off the mooring field. Not yet wanting to deal with being in the throws with other boats. I just want to stay on the outskirts a little longer. When I arrived I was hungry and out of tobacco. It was a long, arduous day. Everything felt insurmountable. But not now. It all feels possible.

This time last year I wasn’t even in the water yet. And it wasn’t until another month that I found myself this far south. So, there’s time. Not much of it, but it exists.

Old salts

Everywhere I go there’s some old salt with thousands of sea miles under their belt who seems to believe in me and my little boat more than I do. Perhaps for every one of them, there is someone who thinks I’m fool hearted. My own thoughts of this whole endeavor fall somewhere in the middle.

dirtbag sailor

The past ten days being in the boatyard have been like an extended self survey. I’ve learned every weakness of my boat, and her strengths. The crazy thing is, I think I can fix damn near everything. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m finally starting to understand all this. I can speak the language, decipher diagrams, ask the right questions, and use the tools. I know what needs to be done, and I more or less know how to do it.

The winds are up which means no boats are being launched today or tomorrow. I’m scheduled to launch first thing Thursday morning and then I’ll navigate to my home port, where the real work begins.

“Don’t get stuck in Florida,” one of the old salts said to me.

“What do you mean, like don’t run aground?” I asked. 

“No,” he said. “Don’t be one of those people that never leaves…and don’t dawdle in the Bahamas!”


Early September

I went back to the boat today for the first time since she’s been hauled. Other than a short drive by, we haven’t seen much of each other. She has a fine spirit, one I feel mostly while I’m inside her cabin. But in so many ways she’s so wrong. So basic. So rudimentary. Bare bones.

I’m not an artist or a craftswoman when it comes to boats. I cannot turn her into the restored vessel she could be. Rather, I’m not sure I want to. 

I’m afraid I’ve fallen out of love with her lines. Maybe she was only right for me for the lake…

sailing lake champlain

It’s hard to believe it’s been over three months since I was charging through Cumberland Straits with Jeff and Danimal on the Space Station for the annual 75 mile McDonough race. How I convinced them one night after far too many beers that we should do it. How I nearly bragged to my harbor mates about the 25 knot sustained wind prediction. How our spinnaker fouled on the start. How the halyard snapped not long after. How the we ran aground off Nichol’s Point and cracked the daggerboard right off. How my mate’s words were echoing in my head as it happened. “Nichol’s Point. Badlands.” How it was now blowing a consistent 30 kts and we had to beat our way home into 6-8 foot waves on a trimaran with no ballast, and no daggerboard. “The beatings will continue,” was no longer a joke we said when someone didn’t tie a proper cleat.

How we reached the straits and only had two choices: go back and seek shelter, or continue on and seek shelter. There was nothing in between. I’m sitting in the doghouse watching Danimal’s face as he tries to keep us pointed as high as possible. We have a double reefed main and a tiny bit of jib. Another wave crashes over the yama. “SHELTER,” he says. “We need shelter.” Which we found, finally, in a swamp just off the Plattsburgh Boat Basin, where we run aground again before tying up to the town dock next to two revolutionary war re-enactment row boats.

When we get back to our home port, everyone is going back to their houses–and I’m going back to the little cabin of my boat. They wait for me to row my dinghy to shore. Looking at my boat, elegantly poaching a mooring ball, I say, “It’s funny–after all that you guys are going back to land and I’m not.”

“Of course you’re not,” Danimal says. “You’re a mermaid.”

The progression

live aboard sailor, traveler

In the boatyard the kindness of others was bestowed upon me. I came to rely on it.

By launch I was afraid–but going to do it anyway. So I thought myself brave.

In the north lake I was still unsure.

By Valcour Island I was ferrel.

By Burlington I’ become resourceful.

In the deepest part of the lake I became gutsy. Nearly reckless. Fueled by adrenaline, raucous wind and storms.

Further south I felt aimless–so I rejoined society for a little while, but only halfway.