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. 

A pen to build a dream on

oceanus brass, bow shackle pen

I can never find a pen. I’ve had co-workers and editors act outright enraged when I’ve showed up to cover an event and had lost my pen en route. I go through boom and bust periods when it comes to writing instruments. I have times with a plethora of pens and times with none. That’s why everywhere I go—banks, marina offices, libraries, I  try to leave with a pen. Sure, I could just buy a box of ballpoints but what’s the fun in that? This way each pen I have tells a story.

oceanus brass nautically inspired tools

Right now is a boom period. The top drawer in my little boat is practically overflowing. Anytime a fellow sailor needs a pen, I can provide. I’ve had people literally do a sail by so I can toss one into their cockpit.

Even though I’m ink rich right now I keep navigating back to the same one, my shackle pen by Oceanus Brass. Nautically inspired and hand crafted by a small start up company in Boston, Mass., this pen is nearly impossible to lose as it has a shackle to attach to log books, dry bags, or wherever you see fit aboard your vessel. As I’ve been route planning for my upcoming voyage this pen has been seeing much use and it writes just as smoothly as the day it came out of the box.

If anyone can lose or destroy a writing instrument it’s me but this one, made of solid brass and with an attachment point—well, let’s just say I think I’ve met my match. Also, in an emergency I reckon the shackle could be used for something onboard, but don’t take my word for it.

Since I’m a broke sailor, I obviously can’t afford such a fancy pen. The Oceanus Brass Bow Shackle Pen was given to me by the company. This is NOT a paid post (I wish). 

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?

A good cabin boy is hard to find

It was mates for life at first sight. Vegan. Kiwi. Sailor. I had literally just written some lines about how my sick obsession with boats began in New Zealand and then he walked through the door. I’ve always placed more value on friendship than romance. Finding it longer lasting, more meaningful and intimate than any dalliance.

Lust complicates everything. I avoid it whenever possible.

Not long after our first meeting we floated away for a short overnight on my boat. He cooked dinner. He did the dishes (mostly because I blatantly refused). He didn’t try to tell me what to do. In fact, I might even know more about boats than he does and, miraculously, he’s cool with that. I laughed so hard I could barely hold the tiller when he suggested we precociously raft up to a line of power boats at the bottom of the bay, and pretended to hear the jokes (and thus responded) being made onboard a neighboring vessel. He coined the term “my boat, my pussy” which embodies the attitude I’ve had to adopt as a female solo-sailor in a male dominated lifestyle.

It was refreshing to not only be around a sailor close to my age, but around one who doesn’t either hit on me or feel his manhood is belittled when I give direction as a captain.

Our second overnight adventure, while under 24 hours, felt like a lifetime. Time between two people is sped up when you’re on a boat that only goes an average of five miles per hour.

We experienced dead calms and big gusts. We beat off lee shores and sailed pleasantly off the wind. We were encouraged by another boat to poach a mooring ball and watched the sunset over the ridges of distant mountains.

“This reminds me of New Zealand,” I said.

We argued and made up. We had conversations about feminism and veganism while I was shitting in a bucket. He handed me tampons and toilet paper. We sang sea shanties under the full moon. We whispered like kids in summer camp from our separate bunks into the wee hours of the night.

On the way back I told him I didn’t want to do anything. That he could sail the boat home. I trusted him. It was a test of my control freak nature onboard my little boat to not criticize every maneuver. I tried to think of the times I sailed with captains who yelled at me or yanked something out of my hand when I didn’t do it exactly their way, even if what I did wasn’t wrong. I don’t want to be a captain like that.

When I finally looked up from my nesting spot we were safely entering the harbor and it was time to say goodbye. He was leaving America and back to study for his PhD in Europe. We vowed that one day, we’d cross the pacific together. Maybe even onboard Vanupied.