Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The first day

Sunrise on the very first day, as we sit out on the dock at Marion. Karl took this picture--I'll give him credit for almost all of these. He is the photo half of our photojournalism. This is also the first day, so far, that we've managed to wake up for the sunrise.

Marion Harbor, as we leave it in our wake. A lousy picture that I had to take.

Our reefed sail. Yes, this is really how we thought you reefed. Don't laugh.

Karl, looking serious, in his West Marine jacket, with a ginormous barbecue behind him that will be featured in many photos. He was actually serious. As you can see, the seas were pretty serious that day--the roughest we've had to deal with so far.

Marion Harbor to Padanaram, MA

22.7 nm
Wind: SW 20-25 knots, gusting to 30 knots
Seas: 4-6 feet
Maximum speed: 3.7 knots
Average speed: 2.5 knots
Latitude: 41°57.74’N
Longitude: 070°94.63’W

We did it. We actually left Marion harbor. I feel like a couple of lively renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus are in order. We didn’t have an easy time doing it, though. Yesterday, when I posted, it didn’t seem likely at all, in fact. The quantity of things left to be done seemed insurmountable, as they had since last December.

But we did it. That email from Rob, the friend from the Newport Boat Show, really kicked us into gear. That, and the storm this weekend. We knew we had to get out now or else. So we went and got new batteries, the last thing on the list, loaded the rest of the last-minute things into the dinghy, docked after dark and slept there last night, after stocking the boat with ice and fresh groceries.

This morning, we woke up at six, the first time in probably eons, which was a very good indicator that we were serious. We made one last dash to Sally’s for cereal, coffee, and showers, and set sail by nine in the morning.

That was when the fun started. It wouldn’t be a day sailing on Secret without misadventures of epic proportions. While motoring out of the inner harbor, we finally turned on the VHF. We had been religiously watching the NOAA website to track the weather this next week, but hadn’t listened to the VHF broadcast until there was no turning back. Guess what? “Small craft advisories issued for Tuesday, at noon.” We weren’t heading back to Marion after winning our hard-fought freedom. We decided to reef the mainsail before we even got out into the bay, figuring it was better to be safe than sorry.

Have I mentioned that we’ve never reefed the mainsail before? (For the uninitiated, reefing a sail means tying it down so only part of it is able to catch the wind. It’s safer in bad weather. And I only learned that a month ago.) We figured it was simple—there are lines on the sail, called reef points, and you tie them with reef knots. Simple, right? Not quite. Instead, while trying to raise the main halfway so we could tie our reef knots, the boom collapsed on deck. After Karl reattached the topping lift, and got the boom into place, I tied the reef knots only to discover that the sail still ballooned out on both edges. There were holes on the edges, with no reef points, and we had no idea what to do with them.

Eventually Karl found some lines, tied the ends down, too, and we managed to limp out of Marion harbor. The worst of it was that our farewell committee, Ralph and Sally on the beach, watched the whole doggone thing, taking scenic photos of us sailing off into the wild blue yonder. These people are supposed to sail around the world? They must have been thinking. They can’t even get their sail up!

The rest of the day was fantastic, though. Our mainsail didn’t have the best shape, but we were able to unfurl part of the jib for balance and make a fair amount of speed. The most amazing thing was how little the boat heeled! All summer we’ve been gritting our teeth and bearing it as our rail touched the water, only to discover that our rig was completely untuned. (Everything holding the mast up was saggy.) Ian, our wonderful Scottish friend at West Marine, helped Karl tighten the rig, and couldn’t even believe we’d been sailing with it like that. That, combined with the reefed main, completely stiffened the boat up. It’s actually comfortable to sail! And this, on a day that’s a small craft advisory!

The highlight of the day—we saw a seal, heading into Padanaram Harbor. It was just a glimpse, but I figure it’s an omen. We’re doing the right thing. We’re on the right path. It’s going to be hard, but fun.

The icing on the cake was that Rob and his wife met us and took us out for a prime rib dinner. Talk about trail magic. The boat magic continues. He not only explained to us how to reef, but gave us hints for the whole trip—where to anchor off the Statue of Liberty, what to watch for off the New Jersey coast, the best towns for marinas in North Carolina. Talking to them was inspiring, and as delicious as the steak, potatoes, and giant slab of chocolate cake was, I think the conversation was better.

Now we’ve rowed back to the boat under a gibbous moon. I’ve celebrated Keatsmas (the anniversary of John Keats’s birthday, which coincides with Halloween) with one of my best friends, Stephanie, by cell phone, and Karl’s chatting with his father. I’m exhausted. I can barely see. My back is sore, my legs are sore, my stomach is stuffed. And I can’t imagine a better day. I am completely content. And I think I’m starting a novel tomorrow morning.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wireless Pirates.

Yet again, the departure date is set for tomorrow. They’re still forecasting winds gusting as high as 28 miles per hour, which is higher than I really want to set off in, but I’m so impatient. I’ve been corresponding with a friend we met at the Newport Spring Boat Show, way back in March, long before we got the boat in the water or were anywhere near ready. He and his wife and two kids set sail in a 24-foot wooden sailboat, a la the Pardeys, and ended up spending five years going up and down the Atlantic coast.

He emailed today, and said—you better leave yesterday, because November is nothing but gales. I know we should have left mid-September, as was our original plan, and looking back I can’t even remember why we didn’t. Here we are, trapped at the end of October, with November and winter right around the corner. How could we have ended up in this pickle?

I know that there’s nothing to do but press on, wait for the good days and keep heading south, but I’m very frustrated with my lack of planning, or something. We’ve also been inspired by the Landrums, a couple who did the same trip from Boston two years ago, leaving on November 7. They didn’t get out of Newport until November 14, so we keep using them as a benchmark. “Well, we’re still a month ahead of Rubicon.” “At least we’re two weeks ahead of them.” Etc.

Our buffer is rapidly being eaten up. And somehow, mysteriously, time marches along, refusing to go backwards. Bewildering, isn’t it?

I always feel the need to use my journal as an apology for our actions, a rebuttal to all critics, but it’s still more than a little scary to get warnings from extremely experienced people. We have no choice, though, and if it gets to be more than we can bear, we’ll at least hole up somewhere else along the coast, somewhere closer to the glorious tropics, if only a state or two, where we can live on the boat just as well as we can here. I know all our doubts will float away that first glorious day when we hoist our main in Marion Harbor, put our bow into the wind, and head off for places unknown. That day feels very, very long in coming.

On the plus side, I’ve just discovered that November is National Blogging Month, in honor of which bloggers are supposed to unite to compose daily. That coincides nicely with my plan to write daily once we set sail, even though it’s unlikely I’ll actually have an internet connection daily. So if I disappear for a week, hopefully tomorrow, it’s only in body, not in spirit, and I’ll be posting as soon as I can pirate someone’s wireless.

Wireless Pirates. Arrrrrr. Terror of the Sounds.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More last-minute pictures

So, the bad news and the good news: the bad news--we're still here, thanks to more plumbing problems and a gale-force storm in the northeast, the good news--the fire was a joke, believe it or not, and we're supposed to leave tomorrow. Only the fifth delay in departure date! The funny thing is, we were supposed to leave on Saturday, which besides having sixty-knot winds also was the anniversary of the infamous Perfect Storm. Not an auspicious date.

This is me, rowing across the harbor on another cold, rainy, and windy October day, heading to our going-away party, that ended up being a week premature. Oh well. I know we should have left a month-and-a-half ago--the gales and the weather are just going to get worse, and I keep kicking myself for not having been ready to leave a month ago. How could we have been so stupid? How could we have procrastinated so much? At least I'm learning how to row.

Peter (my brother) and Karl at the party. Thanks for coming, Peter!

Ray, Megan, and Scott at our going-away party. Shout out, guys. Thanks for coming. Sorry for feeling too guilty for being here this last week to hang out.

Seth, Karl's nephew, seems to get more and more confused as we get ready to leave. He's been expressing interest in all of our old backpacking stuff lately, and here he tries on Karl's old, stinky backpack. When Karl and he took off for a walk around the backyard and Grammy asked when they'd be back, he said, "A year!" I'm not sure if he understands if we're going hiking or going sailing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Yup, we're still here.

Our departure date keeps getting pushed back, and it’s driving me a little crazy. I keep holding off, thinking that my next post will be from the boat, as we’re sailing, or at least all ready to leave, but I’m still here, at Karl’s mom’s, waiting. It’s one thing after another after another. Every day I wake up, thinking, “today’s going to be the day!” And it’s not. Not yet. Maybe today. But I doubt it.

The thing that’s been holding us up this time is the propane system. Karl’s brother (a plumber) went out on Sunday with Karl to try to set it up, and allegedly there was a fire. They came home and told me this and I thought they were joking. The teak and holly, which Karl worked so hard on this winter, was scorched. I was devastated, and angry, but Karl acted like it was no big deal, like he didn’t care. I just feel like they must have been careless, to let something like this happen, or that Karl’s brother can’t have been as careful as just Karl would have been in the same situation. I mean, this boat is ours. The only thing we own in the world. Fires are not in the program.

I haven’t seen the damage yet, and I’m waiting for Karl right now to head out to the boat, with yet another load. We have six extraneous sails to fit on the boat somewhere. These seem essential, like something we shouldn’t leave behind at any cost, but where are we going to put them? There’s also about three boxes of miscellaneous paint, paint varnish, epoxy, fiberglass filler, fiberglass cloth, and paint thinner. We haven’t even started working on where we’re going to put all of Karl’s tools. And these are things we have to have on board, because we have to be able to fix the boat if it breaks.

I keep going to the boat and devotedly putting things away, and the next time I go, Karl’s done more work and it’s all ripped apart again. I’m doing my best not to be frustrated with him, but we’re both impatient, on edge, and at each other’s throats. Imagine moving all of your belongings into a new apartment—that happens to be 33’ by 9’. Good luck, right? Our perspectives differ completely on what we’re allowed to bring, too. In my mind, we’re setting up a home for us to live in comfortably for a long time. In his, the boat is nothing more than a glorified backpack.

Our perspective on the food differs completely, too. In my mind, the $300 worth of canned goods that we bought are a backup, in case we get stranded at sea or on a desert island, we have enough food to live for several months, with the supplement of fish and coconuts. I don’t want to live off fruit cocktail and evaporated milk for our entire coastal sojourn. In fact, if we do that, I’m convinced we’ll end up eating out ninety percent of the time, because neither of us are going to be happy. If we use the canned food to supplement the fresh food that we buy more or less weekly, we can cook and eat like we live in a normal household, and avoid spending money on restaurants. But in his mind, it’s a waste of money and fuel to buy any more food than we’ve already bought. And if we put any extra weight on the boat, it’s going to sink.

Maybe these are normal disputes to be having. Maybe my emphasis is too much on comfort. The root of the conflict in our relationship has always been happiness. Karl thinks I need things in my life to make me happy, instead of having happiness come solely from my inner being. Which is all well and good, but would anyone be happy if forced to eat mushrooms and mustard for three months straight? No matter how Zen they are? You can have internal happiness inside a concentration camp, but that doesn’t mean that anyone would choose to live in those conditions. Except Karl, evidently.

I keep returning to the Japanese art of feng shui, about which I know nothing, I should probably confess. But my idea of feng shui is that my surroundings are important, and have a connection to my spiritual being. One needs to align the things in one’s life in order to maximize one’s connection to the world of the spirit. Things are not just things. Our spirits do not just exist in isolation from our bodies. Our bodies and their comfort are important—no, vital, to our spiritual wellbeing. And our bodies don’t just become happy by themselves. We have to work on creating for ourselves space that cultivates the spirit. This is why people who meditate, or do yoga, or whatever, have places in their lives that they carve out, where things have spiritual resonance and meaning. I want that for our boat. The boat has that potential. But if we have epoxy falling out on our heads and jars of olive oil breaking and are sleeping next to sails, it’s not going to work.

I don’t mean to complain about Karl, because I love him and I wouldn’t be doing this with anyone else. I’m sure both of us are right, in some ways. I’m probably trying to bring too many things that tie me to home, and he’s probably trying to bring too few. I emphasize the importance of comfort too much, and he not enough. But we’re both strained almost to the breaking point right now. We’ve put off our departure for the fourth time now, and it gets colder and colder, and we get more and more frustrated.

We’re trying not to take the stress out on each other, but it’s inevitable, to some degree. I emailed all of my friends and family saying that we were leaving the 21st, the two-year anniversary of our Katahdin summit on the Appalachian Trail. We had a going-away party on Friday night with all of our friends, telling them we were leaving the next day. We said goodbye to Karl’s nephews, although I don’t think they really grasped the concept. And we’re STILL here. The kids show up again today. What are we going to tell them? This is getting to the point of ridiculous. I’m embarrassed to still be here. But there’s nothing to be done about it except keep plugging away.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Getting ready to leave

Secret on a cold and stormy October day in New England. We're rowing out--you can see Karl's oar in the foreground.

Karl rowing out in the dinghy on the blustery New England day. This is the wonderful view I get whenever he rows me out to the boat. And yes, I am practicing my dinghy-rowing skills!

Another beautiful October day's sunset, in Marion Harbor. Those are our neighboring boats--Freestyle, the powerboat to the right, and Corsair, the navy blue sailboat to the left.

Our naked transom. This job is what Karl's been working on, one of the things that's delaying our departure. He scraped off "Top Seacret", and then we decided we needed to paint the transom to cover up the residue that remained even after sanding. I think it looks great, especially for having been done in the water, but Karl's a paint perfectionist.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Second, and third, thoughts

I’m supposed to be rowing out to the boat right now, by myself, for the first time. But I’m a little nervous, I guess, which is ridiculous. We’re getting ready to set sail. Next week, allegedly. I should be able to row a dinghy to the boat. Karl’s decided to help his friend pick cranberries for a week or so, which will pad our bank account a little bit, but isn’t helping with our procrastination. And it’s left me along to begin to bring our earthly goods out to the boat and to tie up the loose ends that remain out there.

One of the cranberry bogs Karl is harvesting, with floating cranberries.

The closer the departure date gets, the more nervous I feel. Do we really know what we’re doing? No. Should we really do this? Yes. We have to. I’m sure we’ll be fine—many other people have done this with even less experience and preparation than we have, but it’s still nerve-wracking. Our friend Rob, the friendly neighborhood West Marine salesperson, is afraid for our lives. He’s helped us out a ton on gear, but he thinks we need more sailing experience before we set off.

We do need more sailing experience. I honestly thought we would spend more time sailing this summer, and I’m disappointed that we haven’t. I’m not sure why we haven’t. We probably would have been better off if we had spent less time reading and buying, and more time on the water.

Both of us have felt some wariness. We love the sailing, but avoiding sailing is a way for us to avoid looking this adventure in the face. You can’t hike fulltime the way you can sail fulltime. You can’t live on a trail the way you can live on a boat. This journey will either be an utter failure, which wouldn’t be a failure at all, really, or a semi-permanent lifestyle change for us. We haven’t done any one thing for any longer than six months, in the whole course of our relationship. But we could end up living on a sailboat for five years. It feels like the end of my youth and the beginning of my middle age.

I’m getting far too ahead of myself, of course. The bigger chance is that we decide we hate sailing and find a new adventure, which would be par for the course. In which case, I’m going to be really sad we spent $400 on canned goods and $300 for snazzy new raingear. Not to mention the $600 on various navigation aids, the $200 on books, the $800 on epoxy.

I recently listened to a podcast with Larry and Lin Pardey, and they said the number-one trend they see in sailing today is people not spending enough time learning—they just want to hop on a boat and circumnavigate. And I wonder: is that what I’m doing? Do I need to spend three years bending teak timbers for a wood boat and sailing a dinghy around the harbor to be ready? Should I have a thirteen-year plan to save $3 million, just to have enough money to buy the perfect boat, the perfect gear, and a lifetime supply of American goods at island prices? Do I need $3 million and a Swan just to cruise the Caribbean? What about go simple, go small, go now?

I know I don’t have the sailing experience I need. That’s why I’m sailing the Intracoastal Waterway, not to Bermuda. When I think about the alternative, which would be getting a job, a real one this time, finding an apartment or a permanent mooring, shrink-wrapping the boat for a god-awful New England winter, making Karl get a job he’ll most likely hate, working days and nights for another year or more just to cover the expenses of life in these United States as well as all the boat improvements we’ll convince ourselves we need, I want to shoot myself. I know I’d rather face forty-knot winds and twenty-foot waves than deal with a single day of that. We have a boat. We can make it go. Isn’t that all we need?

This journey is pulling us onward, irresistibly. That boat found us. She pulled us to herself and now she’s pulling us south, towards the Equator and distant horizons. I can’t resist, even as my conscious mind fights. The story will have a happy ending, one way or another, even if we end up with a wrecked sailboat and a farm in Maine. If I really believe that God is bringing all things toward completion, then the story will have a happy ending however it ends. And no one will be able to say we didn’t live bravely, ferociously, gloriously.

Enough. I have some dinghy-rowing to do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Beautiful Secret

This is Secret, our boat. The picture to the left was taken before we bought her, and before we did any work on her. She's now, happily, on the water, but I still love this picture.

Karl in the cockpit, on a gorgeous August day.

Secret in the water, the first day we docked her. Karl is busy pumping out the holding tank. Isn't she beautiful? With the glimmer off the water, you can't even see that her topsides are scuffed up.