An old woman passes by the waterfront on her bicycle. Colorful clothing, a heart flag hanging from her seat, a basket. Her aging terrier trots in tow, faithfully, ten feet behind her.
“Is that going to be me when I’m old?” I ask Scott.
He left his boat near Miami to return north by car, to square away business, before crossing the Gulf Stream. He has come to see me en route.
“I don’t see it,” he says.
“Well, then what do you see?”
He looks at me for a moment, and then out at the harbor. My boat is moored there quietly, next to the dilapidated pier. Patiently waiting for me to make a decision on what we will do next.
“I see you in an old boat. Inviting kids onboard and telling sea stories in a raspy voice. Feeding them sardines,” he says.
“Yeah!” I say. Getting into the vision now. “And I’m permanently hunched over from years spent on boats, sitting next to an oil lamp.”
“Right, and the boat is one of those boat’s that is completely set up but isn’t going anywhere. And everyone knows it’s not going anywhere.”
“It’s not going anywhere because it’s already been everywhere.”
“Exactly,” he says. “You both are retired. You and your boat.”
“Wow,” I say smiling to myself and wondering aloud. “I hope I’m on my way towards that.”
Soon the clouds ascend and I rush out of the car to row back to the boat and miss the rain. I leave a small pile of beach treasures in his car. The pointed claw of a horseshoe crab, a piece of coral, a tiny coconut husk. My oars cut through the water. I use my entire body to fight the current. My shoulders, elbows, chest. My feet brace the aft seat. The sound of oars in water, although so familiar at this point, always manage to instill in me a great sense of adventure.
I want to be so close to a manatee that its snot gets on my face. That’s what happened to Tabatha, age 9, who lives aboard a 46-foot Hunter with her 11-year-old sister Elizabeth and their parents, Ferrel and Phil, from Austin, Texas.
“The manatee nibbled my hair!” she said giggling.
“You’re not supposed to touch them but it’s okay if they touch you,” her sister chimed in. “They got so close that one’s snot got on Tabatha’s face when it sneezed!”
I looked at this boat child in disbelief. She nodded in earnest.
“You’re so lucky,” I said and the saloon erupted in the little girls’ laughter.
Michael, onboard an Irwin-something, was in the same part of town as me. I’d walked to the goodwill in an effort to find a pair of rubber boots. I passed an Aldi’s on the way and convinced him to meet me there and share his Uber with me back to the marina. I went crazy on canned fish, peanut butter, coconut oil, crackers, and introduced him to the magic of this discount store for provisioning.
I bought a canned ham because it seemed sailor like and promised we’d cook it together for Michael’s thirty-second birthday this week.
“Except it’s already cooked,” he said.
On Saturday we launched Bi Polar. By we I mean myself, Kourtney, Pete, Pete’s 15-year-old daughter Ava, and her teenage boyfriend, Liam. How excited these people get a fixing problems astounds me. I stared at them in awe as they methodized how to remove some tight fitting rubber from the oars. I’d just have cut it, but they excitedly interjected different suggestions and strategies until it was done. I sort of felt like I was watching an act, but it was real. These people don’t give up.
Bi Polar is, of course, a dinghy. The dinghy of my dreams, actually. A double-ender, eight-foot, salty little row boat. The dinghy once belonged to Kourtney’s friend Scotty. Scotty taught her how to row. Scotty recently died. Scotty liked to drink so we drank champagne in honor of him and the relaunch of his old boat. Kourtney has had Bi Polar for ten years. It will soon be the tender to the 25-foot Pacific Seacraft she has gutted and is rebuilding from the ground up. But for now it is my loaner dinghy until we come up with a permanent dinghy solution.
It was kind of like a dream. These people showing up in their magical VW bus, helping you solve your problem, and then leaving you there alone to row your dinghy in peace while dolphins swim alongside.
In the hullaballoo of getting to the pre-launch dinghy preparations in town, one of my rubber boots managed to detach itself from my backpack. In an effort to locate the missing boot I made signs and retraced my steps, but to no avail. My efforts were merely cathartic it turned out. I may have lost my sea boot but I’ve gained so much.
The girl I’m working for now, Jillian, is 31 and owns her own yacht services company. We wax sport fishing yachts and sailboats and oil teak. She does so much more than that, but right now that is what keeps us busy. She brought me to the ocean and we ate warm soup in her van on a day we got rained off from work. She is connecting me with another sailor and possibly more work painting his boat.
I only found her because Kourtney brought me to the used marine store and the owner gave me her number. I called her, told her my story, told her who I know and the next morning she came to meet me even though she had just learned her friend died. We looked out at my boat from the seawall and she gave me a job.
I am continuously humbled by the kindness and friendship from strangers. – January 14, St. Augustine, FL
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Peanutbutter sandwiches for days. I’ve found work. I’m supposed to start tomorrow. If for some reason it is postponed by weather or something more sudden it’s okay–plenty of other work to be done and sought.
Another sailor said my boat is not messy, but she is wrong. It is cluttered. Disorganized. One cannot think straight. Her interior leaves something to be desired regardless of my level of sloppiness, much of it needing to be rebuilt if I really think about keeping my boat long term. But how I can work on something like making her interior more comfortable and inviting when there are so many more pressing matters?
Things will happen. It’s why I’ve stopped. I can visualize them; re rig, re core, repurpose old main sail, redo my lifelines. These jobs will improve conditions on many levels–structural, dampness, safety, space.
The rigging and lifeline material are taking up my v-berth along with the old sail I plan to repurpose for cockpit lee cloths. The section of rotten core becomes saturated and leaks badly into the cabin. I can think of more that needs to be done, but that is what I am thinking about now. One thing at a time I tell myself.
But these projects and simpler ones, even with all of the free materials I’ve received to do them, remain incomplete. The rest of the components require time and a bit of money, neither of which I have because my time is spent trying to procure that bit of money. Once I have a little spare change I hope my spare time can be utilized better.
The weather is a factor. For motivation, yes, but more practical matters prevail. I cannot set epoxy and glass in this rain/humidity. Ha, I don’t have any money for epoxy anyway! Or the LED light bulb or wire or switch I need for my fun lighting project I’ve been dreaming about. Or money for the little fittings on the lifelines. Or the tools I need for just about anything but the coring job in particular. Or money for better reef lines, or a winch for reefing, or new halyards, or a bow roller, or…
Money really is a thing, I’m learning. One can only go so far on goodwill which has managed to propel me for quite some time. Free docks, free food, free rigging, free gas, free dinghies, free charts, free sails, a free cushion, free…
While sailing on the Chesapeake Bay I was gifted a book that I’d been keeping an eye out for over a year. Self Steering for Sailing Craft by John Letcher is a timeless gem that deserves a space on the shelf of any yacht’s library (unless of course you’re on a boat like mine which doesn’t really have shelves). In the book Letcher uses anecdotal tales to impart sheet to tiller steering methods he used on his voyages through the Pacific Ocean aboard his homebuilt 20-foot cutter Island Girl.
Over the course of reading the book I learned a lot, but while I was reading it I started to wonder–is this guy one of those engineering types? I’ve met a lot of engineers on boats. I envy them. Their minds just work differently than mine and they can pretty much figure out anything. When in doubt, ask an engineer, but I am not in touch with that side of my brain.
Turns out Letcher was an engineer with a Ph. D. in Aeronautics. So I wondered, does one have to be of that mindset to use his methods?
While my auto pilot, Jane, has been a most lovely companion she simply cannot keep up in some conditions and requires a constant supply of sunshine to run off my ship’s battery. Plus, she’s electronic and subject to corrosion and she’s not exactly water proof. I’m not getting rid of Jane, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with her as my only form of self-steering if going to sea.
I wanted to see if anyone had tried sheet-to-tiller on an Ariel and found this guy. Again, another engineering type. His methods seemed a little complicated with all types of custom made equipment. I thought this was supposed to be simple? I found myself slightly disenchanted with the idea. Then I met an engineer on the dock who has circumnavigated and just finished the NW Passage. He said, “don’t bother with sheet-to-tiller, get a windvane.” And so I moved on to that idea for a while.
I know of one vane unofficially for sale for very cheap in New Jersey but it’s owner basically said, “you’re going to have to engineer the shit out of it to get it work and I’ll be very surprised if you do because I didn’t.” Then I wrote a very flattering letter to Yves Gilenas of Cape Horn Wind Vanes in hopes of scoring one at, ahem, “cost.” If I can’t find a wind vane either for cheap or free I may find myself in a bit of pickle because they cost more than my hull.
Picking up Letcher’s book again now I am thinking sheet-to-tiller may be the best method on Vanupied. It certainly would be cheaper and at second glance doesn’t look too complicated. A friend recently sent me this link which shows the method in very simple terms.
I’m getting ready to begin the second stage of the refit to this little boat and I wonder what method self steering method I will wind up adopting.