the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

don't tell me that i won't

For all the naysayers out there. This is currently my personal anthem.

There's just going to come a day that I throw off the lines and go. It won't be the first time I've just headed out, not knowing where I'm going, how I'll get there, or what will be, and it won't be the last. And I am just fine with that. I'm not living my life for anyone else anymore or ever again. I won't be enslaved to my insurmountable student debt or society's expectations. Life is just too short to be spent as a meaningless cog in the wheel, working too hard to buy things we don't need. I find it deeply sad that our economy revolves around convincing people to buy cheap plastic shit from China, filling landfills with it, and then working to the bone to buy more of it.

It isn't always pretty. It doesn't always work the first time. Things don't go as planned. That's life. But I can and will go south with this boat. We will survive, possibly even thrive. Will we have financial success? No, it's a given that is a thing of the past. But I don't care about those measures of success any more. My boat, my pack, and I, we are going to cruise away, make our own way, create our own adventures, and leave the naysayers in our wake.

Heard a little rumor that would make winter aboard far less stressful: the Harbormaster may run the pump out boat on Saturdays through the winter. I jumped for joy and begged the pump out guy to please tell the Harbormaster how important this would be for the many folks who live aboard here in Annapolis even through the winter. So, fingers crossed. I still need to get around to writing a formal letter in support of such a service.

Started to try applying some organization to the boat, though once again my efforts have been derailed due to other pressing time commitments. But I did give the bilge a once-over and vacuumed out all the spider webs, though I still need to get in there with a shop vac to remove the lowest level of water that the bilge pump doesn't reach.

Then I tried to start tackling what seem like bottomless piles of clothes and shoes. But I managed to rationalize my main hanging locker a bit and that will make further progress on that front simpler. Many of the things I need to hang, like dresses, are too long for the hanging locker anyway. I decided to move them to the back of the stateroom door, where they fit perfectly, and convert some of the hanging locker into shelves with a few stacked milk crates. I tucked cat carriers in the space behind the crates. I can't afford to let any space aboard go unused. A hanging shoe organizer fit nicely but was two cubbies too long, so I cut them off. I will probably turn the one salvaged one into a little bag for tools or something.

Last Thursday I had an offer from a very experienced boater friend to come practice docking. We previously had an in-depth theoretical discussion of my docking situation, but now he could come help in person. Although I had a zillion chores for the day, I didn't think twice about putting them aside to seize the opportunity for serious docking lessons. The first stage of the lessons was practicing stopping the boat and practicing approaching mooring balls in reverse. It definitely takes a lot more time for the boat to respond in reverse than in forward, but eventually she does. We also learned that the dog thinks mooring balls need to be fetched. I'm going to blame some of my sloppier approaches in part on trying to keep the dog from jumping overboard as I tried to steer to or between mooring balls. We made five separate approaches to dock in my slip. Two of the five were very good, went just as I envisioned, backing right between the pilings as I wanted. My friend asked me to admit that my last one was "perfect," but I feel like there isn't really any perfect docking situation. But I should accept the compliment and feel a little more confident that I am getting better at handling her in close quarters. Though three of the passes I elected to just head back out and try again, in every case with some maneuvering I could have put her in the slip, and we never hit anything, so all in all, it was a very successful 2.5 hour docking lesson. Thanks, Chris; I truly appreciate all the patience and guidance!

One of my favorite running routes.
Friday I managed to get my buns in gear and run 14 miles. I'm behind on marathon and ultra training, but not too late to get there. I just need to be better about getting in all my "short" runs during the week. They are easy to put off but they are the backbone of training and getting one's legs strong, so I need to get in a good routine to stick with them. It's just a challenge as my schedule is a juggle, but the running is my "me" time so I can eat food I enjoy, get slim and sexy, and generally keep the stress from running me down. The 14-miler wasn't beautiful, though the weather and scenery were, but I knocked it out, took a nice steam afterwards, and wasn't sore the next day. (This week's long run: 16 miles.)

Saturday morning I jammed some Slightly Stoopid and danced around the boat as I baked brownies. Two dozen each Butterscotch Brownies and Cocoa Brownies. The oven is small, so I can only bake one pan-full at a time. I moved the rack up in the oven so the flame wouldn't be so strong on the bottom of the pan, flipped the pan halfway through so the side getting the heat from the flame wouldn't overcook, and timed them very carefully. Definitely the best batches aboard so far and generally very good batches overall. Half of the brownies went in a care package and half are aboard. I need to start giving them away lest I eat them and undermine my hard work running!

I started gifting cookies and cake to local bands and bartenders a couple of summers ago as preventive medicine for my chronic habit of collecting broken, defective, wayward, or hapless guys and trying to nurture and fix them. By giving away my yummy baked goods I could satisfy that drive to nurture, and have a better chance at avoiding taking in the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of men, the sad-puppy-at-the-pound guy. I admit I have a hopeless weakness for floppy hair; blame it on my first love and my first lover. Being aboard and having less ability to churn out baked goods en masse, I got out of the habit of nurturing through baking and started relapsing into collecting the broken or wayward boys. I really have to get my act together and stop selling myself short. I deserve nothing less than a guy who is going to make damn sure he rocks my world. And I really should hold out not just for that, but for something real and meaningful. Eventually, I'll find a kindred spirit to cruise away with this mermaid. Until then, I'm busy having my own adventures and charting my own course.

Thirty-plus hours of intensive sailing lessons on a 26-footer is not the same as handling my 37-footer. So although I have learned a lot and feel far more comfortable sailing, my boat remains a challenge. Saturday afternoon was supposed to be a nice day sail with friends. Come Saturday morning, however, no one could make it. It was my first chance to sail my boat myself, my first chance since my basic keelboat course, and possibly my last Saturday off work for the foreseeable future. When no one could or would come out, I was crushed. I let myself be pretty upset and disappointed for a bit and then set about salvaging the day with errands and boat chores. Then at the last minute I heard from friends wanting to go out for a sail.

We got a much later start than planned due to schedules and a couple hours of struggling with the jib furler and then just the usual details of taking the boat out, e.g., unplugging from shore power, removing the dog ramp that is tied to the boat and the dock, dropping the dodger so I can see, and removing loose items from the decks. We motored out of Back Creek, having to dodge several sailboats anchored pretty much smack in the middle of the creek where all the boat traffic is trying to transit. I headed out a ways to find a place where the marine traffic was lighter so we could hoist the sails without having to worry so much about avoiding collisions.

After a slow start we managed to get moving, and eventually got up to 5.6 knots under sail. The boat clearly likes sailing a beam reach. However, we had wanted to sail upwind to the south and drop the hook. But try as we might we never could get her close hauled. I suspect a good portion of the problem is that the jib wouldn't trim in beyond a beam reach. The very aft blocks we used for the jib simply wouldn't allow the trim we needed. I had wondered why there were some blocks shackled at the bow to some anchor rode. I also never understood how the cars on the traveler attached to the toe rail could be for sheets since the opening on the cars faces athwartships rather than fore and aft, so they wouldn't be any good at "guiding" the sheet the way some guides along the side deck keep the furling line in order. After Saturday was done and gone I had an "A-ha!" moment in the middle of the night. Those blocks almost certainly need to be shackled to the cars. Then I can adjust the cars on the traveler as needed to help me get the best angle on the jib for the conditions. I'll have to verify that that is the case, but I mostly trust my instinct on that one.

Although we mostly just headed back and forth across the bay on a beam reach, it was a lovely sail. Pup dog had to be restrained repeatedly because she has such a strong instinct to fetch that she wanted to jump in and fetch every crab pot buoy she saw. When sunset was nearing we readied to head back in. We got up some speed so we could tack and head back. Try as we might we could not get tacked across the wind. I'd get us up to 5 knots, the wheel would be hard over, and the boat would just stall out head to wind.

No worries, this is what engines are for. I would've liked to sail her closer to the channel before powering up, but we did want to get in before dark. We dropped the sails and I hit the "start" button. Nothing. No vroom-vroom, no straining or coughing. Just nothing. I ran up and down the companionway checking the battery monitor and my electrical panel and trying the start button again. How the starter had just given up the ghost I didn't know. Well, no worries, this is what unlimited on-water towing from TowBoatUS is for. I was definitely disappointed to have my very first time sailing her myself end with being towed in. The sense of defeat. The public humiliation. I might have fussed and trouble-shot a little longer if I were alone, but I didn't want my crew to be worried, so I decided it was time to "get my money's worth" for that tow policy and call it in.

I called another liveaboard friend and let him know my cell phone battery was getting low and if the tow couldn't put us in the slip, we might need a dinghy hop. He graciously offered to monitor VHF channel 16 in case we needed to hail him for help. Night came on quickly and despite the stressful and unplanned circumstances, I tried to enjoy this night sail as best I could. We rehoisted the main to try to get ourselves to shallower water where we might anchor while waiting for the tow, or at least get out of the main shipping channel. But the boat pretty much sailed us and we ended up under the Bay Bridge. At just that time the tow boat was hailing us on the radio. I told him we were under the bridge and heading north. He asked if we were under sail or drifting. I paused a second and then shouted, "Both!" There was radio silence for a minute while he clearly had a good belly laugh at this wayward drifting sailor. But we managed to get north and thread a narrow path between the shipping channel and the shallow areas where we could run aground. The tow boat caught up with us, reassured us, and we were quickly heading home. The most harrowing part of the trip for me was when as we were under tow and moving pretty quickly Hunter came out the companionway and almost jumped overboard. Poor seasick kitty still has not adjusted to sailing and wouldn't take his Dramamine. Had he jumped, it'd have been virtually impossible to find a grey cat in the black night water or to stop quickly enough and turn about while under tow. Lesson learned that the hatch needs to remain closed when the boat is under way.

About halfway home I happened to look down at the pedestal and the gear shifter caught my eye. It was one of those time-standing-still moments when all the snippets of a story flash by in sequence and... "a-ha!" I chuckled to myself then turned to each side and smiled at my crew. "Don't kill me," I said, "but the gear is in forward... and the engine will only start in neutral." We all paused for a second and then laughed hysterically. We decided it'd be best to just let the tow boat get us to the slip and then check my theory after we were docked. We got tucked into the slip and the tow guy gave me some paperwork and very sweetly, very concerned, said he hoped the engine was going to be OK. Once he had left, the engine started right up without a hitch. Well, I'll NEVER again forget to check that she's in neutral when I'm starting her, will I?

A huge shout out and thank you to my hardworking and patient crew, Lane and Eli. It wasn't a perfect cruise, but it was an unforgettable one.

So my first time sailing Ambrosia was also my first night sail and my first tow. C'est la vie. No one was hurt, we never hit anything, and it was all an opportunity to practice and learn. It isn't always pretty. It doesn't always go as planned. But don't tell me that I won't.


  1. Trust me.. I will also never forget in ANY type of vehicle/vessel I am in to check gears as a possible answer to a non-starting problem! I feel it was a valuable life lesson ;). Too funny, and since we didn't get run over by a carrier, all's well that ends well! -Lane

  2. Have you considered lifevests for your kiddies just in case?

  3. I think lifevests for the pets would be wise. Although the dog is an amazing swimmer, she could tire out or get hurt in a fall. A friend offered me one she isn't using, so hopefully pup dog will take to it. I think some little lifevests for the kitties would also be a good idea. If they did go overboard it'd be easier to fish them out with a boat hook, give them a fighting chance if it's cold or choppy, and make them more visible in the water. I'm sure that trying to get cats to wear life vests will make for a humorous blog post down the line.


Thanks for reading! Have you had a similar experience you'd like to share? Have a link to an interesting blog fellow readers and I might enjoy? Just want to say hello? Post your comments below. I'm a smart, resourceful girl doing things her own way, so I just ask that folks keep the unsolicited advice to themselves.