Shakedown sail

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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.

Know thyself

It’s times like this I wish I was a plant and could photosynthesize. I’m nervous. I have to force myself to eat. Three days of roaring southerlies has me rattled. A storm that clocked in at over 50 knots has me rattled. I’m launching tomorrow.

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I had an offer for crew for launch and the journey home, but after careful reflection I declined. Not quite ready to share my berth with anything more than my headsails. Not quite ready to let anyone into my cluttered little cabin. Not quite ready to explain just why my engine doesn’t fit. I’m not sure if you believe in astrology but I do. I’m a gemini on the cusp of cancer. Always searching for my other half, my lost twin—but hiding in my shell, sequestering myself from society as I close my hatch.

If you asked me a month ago if I was going to live on my boat this year it was a resounding ‘hell no’. For some reason I wanted to balance sailing with a life on land. I wanted to continue working on the farm in exchange for food and accommodation, make as much money as possible, and just sail for fun when not doing all that. A month ago I said to a friend with a similar boat, a similar dream and a plan this year to just go, “I feel like you did something right and I didn’t.”

Those feelings subsided the more time I spent with my boat. I started to feel well positioned to repair her while living on the float at the marina. I started to feel less ties holding me to that bed on the farm. That ‘hell no’ turned into an ‘of course!’

Turns out that same friend from before was having engine problems and decided to scrap his plans for voyaging to spend another season working on the boat, on the hard. Working towards the dream.

What is the dream, anyway? So far for me it’s been soggy sleeping bags, mechanical failures, epoxy stains, and saying goodbye far too often. Goodbye to friends, family, lovers—all so I can crawl into my little shell at night. So I can fear those storms and celebrate those calms. All so I can feel just a little more of what this life afloat has to throw at me.

The progression

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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.

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.

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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.

Lost dogs

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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.