“It’s just a lake”

APRIL 22 // 2017

It’s been 6 days since I have showered. Not really bothered about it. In fact I smell Fantastic. Literally. I’ve been spraying myself with Fantastic.

What’s been worse is that it’s taken 6 days for the sun to shine. When the temperatures rise above 40F, sunshine feels like god. Today sunshine is god. It is Earth Day after all. I could go on and on about how cold it’s been this week…let me rephrase – how arctic it’s been this week. I don’t care for anyone to worry about or sympathize for the crew and me, so I will spare you the weather details because it’s boring and that’s what people talk about in elevators. I will say it once and be done with it… from frosty decks to snow flurries and 20 knot winds out of the north I am happy to be alive today. Happy to get a few freckles. Happy to gain a few wrinkles. Wrinkle me up, make me a raisin. And when I am older, leathered, and decorated with cavernous wrinkles – I will remember today.

Monday morning, April 17 we waved Northport goodbye. Jason Thibedeau my (right hand sailor), Cody Brown the (deck bitch), and Mallori Sheets our (galley dude) courageously on board as team-mates until we reach Detroit. Each of us hyper, myself in particular with red-bull wings. I don’t know if my crew understood what this week was going to be like. I don’t know if I understood either. Together we would figure it out.

“It’s just a lake” as my fiancée Luke likes to say, purposefully angering us Great Lakers. I stood there at the helm, Northport got smaller and smaller and I thought to myself “It’s just a lake. It’s just a lake. It’s just a lake.”

For seven days, three humans looked to me for answers, for direction, and to make good decisions. I’ve never been a captain before. Only a co-captiain. The hazards that go along with sailing through the Great Lakes in the middle of April begin with 37 degree water temps, freezing nights, arctic and unpredictable winds, harbors that have yet to be dredged, buoys and markers that have yet to be placed. My crew was trusting me. I was trusting Desirée.

I have felt heavily weighted with responsibility this week. To keep the boat safe. To keep the crew safe. To make smart decisions. To understand my experience level and stay within those regions. I’ve exited those regions a few times this week merely because there is nothing sensible about sailing the Great Lakes this time of year. I’ve kept my chin up, been a bit ambitious, a bit exhausted and am grateful for the three people keeping my morale high and to have push-up, dip, and plank competitions with me just to stay warm. Did you know that the world record for holding plank is 8 hours and 1 minute? Seriously. Two minute plank in a rocking cockpit and I thought I was going to die.

I didn’t cry when we waved goodbye. Which I kind of expected to. I can be such a child in that way. Not ashamed. Okay, Mallori may have caught me glassy eyed. But I will admit to crying the day before, Sunday afternoon the 16th. It was unexpected. The Wizard was helping me rig up the mizzen. He knew it was our last day together for some time. He was calm. Giving me diligent direction and walking me through yet another hourly lesson. All of the work, all the time, the money, the persistence… it extracted a puddle of water from somewhere unknown in my body and shoved it out of my eyes. I just couldn’t believe what he had done to make this happen for Luke and me. I couldn’t believe he was letting me take his boat. His Desirée. I lost it. I thanked him. I told him I loved him. I wiped my eyes dry. And that was it. We carried on rigging the mizzen boom.

Day one :  Covered 65 miles with light headwind and anchored off of St. Helena island just west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Day two :  Woke up to hoist the anchor in 25 degree temps and frosty decks. Took Jason and myself to get the anchor on deck while we ice skated on deck. Tacked into 20 knot head winds and 5 foot waves while passing under the Mac bridge. Called it quits after 25 miles of hell because the weather continued to build. Docked in Cheboygan.

Day three : Ran downwind 96 miles to Alpena. Trying to cover 96 miles in daylight was a questionable maneuver. Huge rollers and 20 knot wind at our back was humbling. A few accidental jibes, and a handful of engine issues as it continued to shut off. To say I was nervous every minute of that day is an understatement. We prepared to dock under sail just after sunset, but decided to bleed the fuel lines one last time, got her fired up and she stayed on.

Day four : Waited out nasty weather in Alpena Marina. Heavy sleet and 30 knot winds all day.  Bled a bunch more air from the fuel lines. Went on a mad mission to top off water and diesel tanks. Found a bar to self medicate. Befriended Aplena Locals.

Day five : Made a run to Port Austin, 65 miles and across Saginaw bay. Bitter cold. Never warmed up despite desperate attempt to exercise in cockpit. Beam reaching all day, Desireé was happily balanced. The auto-pilot, whom I have yet to name drove us the entire way.

Day six : Today. 85 mile run to the mouth of St. Clair River. The sun shines. Wind is at our back. Wing on wing (two dogs f&$i*g as Katie and I used to call it)  Everyone has energy. Mallori prepared us a full pancake, egg, and bacon breakfast. Cody is dancing on the bow with a cocktail. Jason is basking in the sun. I can’t sit still. I am feeling wildly motivated. Motivated enough to write a few things down for the first time this week. I’m warm. I mounted our super sexy B&G chart plotter and geeked out over first use of the AIS when we saw ships.

It already requires focus to piece the days together. It took one week to remember what it means to simply exist on a boat. Only a handful of things matter. Food, water, shelter and Luke’s favorite quote, “Take care of the boat and the boat will take care of you”. He is right. His little obnoxious comments sit on my shoulder as if he himself is sitting there. Which must be the case cause my shoulders are sore and I don’t know why. I am sad he is not able to be here for this epic delivery to the sea and I know he is too. All of this is for him. Because of him. For us.

The crew and I have found our rhythm. Jason sweats positivity. He breathes gratitude. He understands sailing. Together we discuss scenarios and situations. He helms with confidence. Cody became a sailor for the first time this week. He holds a course like a boss. When he is not busy being the easiest going guy I have ever known, he shocks us all with a wild dance move. Mallori and I became sisters this week. She took over the galley. Prepped meals, and cooked in shitty conditions. She is the cutest button who flew all the way back from California to be freezing cold with me.

I am really proud of everyone. I don’t want them to leave.

Satisfied from the inside out.

My next crew arrives Monday in Detroit… AKA the Spice Girl crew (starring Katie Smith)

Next leg – Lake Erie & Welland Canal.

It’s just a lake. It’s just a lake. It’s just a lake.

On the edge of my seat and paying attention at all times.

One eye is always open.

I can’t believe I am where I am. Doing what I am doing. Going where I am going.

P.S. Just because the following photos depict rainbows and butterflies doesn’t mean that it is always butterflies and rainbows. But every once and a while – it is.

46 days and trying not to count…

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SINCE LAST TIME WE SPOKE :

I am running up walls and doing back flips like Jackie Chan. Electrified.  I’m ready.

I am sweating in the panic room like Jody Foster. Paralyzed. I am not ready.

I’ve spent the last two and a half years saving without knowing what I was saving for. This is it. My savings is being hacked away at to put it lightly – for those of you who have had something to loan it is oh-so-deeply appreciated.

Can’t thank those of you enough who reached out with items to sell or pass along, your enthusiasm is felt from all corners and it is outstanding.

We are checking off the list. The never ending list. When we check off one thing we seem to find yet another thing in need of checking. Trying to break this cycle. Keep it simple. Keep it simple. Keep it simple. How many people have crossed oceans with  n o t h i n g  but a hull? A lot.

Knee deep in mud studying with no teacher. Head just above water in projects I can’t do on my own. Swimming in a sea of emails. Trying to understand my priorities even when they differ from others.

I know this feeling. This feeling of “never being ready”. I tell myself what I have so easily been telling everybody else for the last 5 years, “You will never feel ready, you just have to go.”…. thanks Jess easier said than done.

I am officially taking the St. Lawrence Seaway out to the Atlantic. Learning as much as I can about it. Please email me with any first hand advice on traveling this water-way in the month of May. Anchoring? Licenses required? Currents/tide? Ice bergs in the Gulf of St. Lawrence? South coast of Newfoundland? St. John?  TELL ME EVERYTHING.

It’s March today. 46 days until my goal departure date. It’s a full on northern Michigan white-out today. Fuck. The boat is an hours drive from home in a storage unit. The Wizard (dad) and I are commuting often as possible to complete projects. Pardon my fuck this afternoon I am just in no mood to be censoring.

The only time the Wizard ever says the “F” word is when we are working on the boat. It brings me great joy when it slips. Just in case you were curious.

If all goes to plan Katie Girl will be making a guest appearance as we sail this ole yawl out of the Great Lakes next month. She always raises my moral in the crappiest and coldest of “shit-uations”. I know you all miss her, cause I do too.

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CURRENT SITUATIONS :

The engine has been rebuilt. After many struggles we lowered it back into the kitchen where it hides under a secret door and rests. In theory lowering an engine back into it’s compartment is a simple task. All I have to say is that nothing is a simple task on a sailboat. 

One step forward. Two steps back. Everytime.

The engine is not running yet. In fact the alternator and spacer to connect the transmission to the propeller is missing somewhere in our garage. Big problem. However it’s freshly painted and looks brand new and I just want to kiss it.

VHF & Seatalk instruments also missing somewhere on our property. How could this be you ask?!?!  I  l i t e r a l l y  do not know. Probably because our property would qualify for the next episode of “Hoarders”.  Another big problem.

A new head is being installed. No more stinky bladder from the 70’s. Surprised I just used the word “head” that was very nautical of me.

Luke is drawing plans and will be installing an inner-forestay as soon as he is state-side. Not to mention 37 other projects he is taking on while working a full-time job. Thanks babe.

Set of bullet proof  Hyde Sails are currently being manufactured in Philippines.

We are rebuilding the entire steering system. Edson Marine you rock.

I’ve purchased a HYDROVANE. Bye bye savings and hello to what I think is going to be the greatest investment I’ve ever made. I’ve already named her – Penny. We haven’t met yet, but I am already having conversations with her.

We have locked down a SWITLIK  life-raft god forbid we need to use it.

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QUESTIONS :

Having trouble finding valuble information on the Gulf of St. Lawrence… Ice bergs, tides, trade winds, anchorages, shipping, fog, etc. If you or anyone you know has sailed the St. Lawrence out to the Atlantic, I would love to hear from you. Anyone have charts?

We will have a Delorme InReach, and possibly an Iridium-Go as well. Advice on  communication and receiving weather with either of these devices would be helpful.

Anyone have a Hydrovane? Just tell me how much you love it please cause I already sent the check.

Still in search of an appropriate medical kit / contacts who might be of assistance or have any loaner kits.

Does anyone have a drogue appropriately sized for a 37′ yawl ?!

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SIDE NOTES :

Desireé is currently in a yard sale state. Bit and bits (so english) tossed everywhere. Clutter is my claustrophobia. I put on my blinders every time I go out to the boat and focus on exactly what we need to work on that day.

Luke will be here in two weeks. I didn’t think I was needy. I am getting needy. And right now – I need him.

Doing my very best to live this romance novel on international engagement but I am stuck on an extensive chapter about boats. Since deciding to cross an ocean together one would think we were business partners, not lovers. I remind us to take breaks in this chapter and turn back to the romantic pages because I am complicated and seek a scientific balance that has not yet been discovered. That being said – we do make damn good business partners.

The more I expose this experience to the world wide inter-web, the more difficult I find it to write. When I think about the people who may be reading I question every sentence. I do my best to just type to a screen. To nobody. To outer space.

I am understanding the power of a simple blog. How it has connected me in unimaginable ways. It’s wild. 

Every night I lay down I think to myself – there is no way we can pull this off in the next month and a half.

Every morning I wake up I think to myself – we have every means, every ingredient, to pull this off in the next month and a half.

So here I am. Doing backflips up walls and then sweating in my panic room. Just trying to sail across an ocean.

Okay. Thank you. That’s all. Bye now.

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Two Girls One Boy

Jessie (Me. Hi.) Desireé (Sailboat) Luke (Fiancé)

Me and them. Him, her and I. Myself, she and he. Us and him. Them and me.

Here we are. Two girls, one boy.

I’m sitting here at my desk in Northport, Michigan. Seven inches of winsome snow lay on my deck, and they accumulate quicker than I can sort out what my next sentence will be. Luke, the man I agreed to marry, sits opposite me and researches the point at which icebergs shouldn’t be a concern in crossing the North Atlantic Great Circle Route. I’ve had my fear on boats; adding icebergs to the list doesn’t appear to be deterring my hunger to cross oceans.

It’s been just over two years since Katie Smith and I completed America’s Great Loop aboard S/V Louise. I’ve spent my adulthood making abrupt life changes in two year stints. Whether it was where I was living, what I was studying, who I was dating, or where I was adventuring – in reaching two years, some kind of fervent curiosity always led me elsewhere. Every time. By no means has this been a conscious countdown…it’s this uncontrollable enthusiasm to do, to see, to be, more than whatever I was, whatever I am.  I’ve been back home in Michigan now for… just over two years.

Staying put has always been my most difficult task. If you were to query my  multiple employers they certainly wouldn’t categorize my actions as “staying put”. However from my perspective these past two years have been my safest. My most grounded. My most sensible. But here I am again uncontrollably enthused about not just one, but two of my finest decisions. The first one joyously shattering my two year stints, and the second one holding me right to schedule.

  1. I said yes to forever. I do not understand what forever means. I don’t think many of us do. But I have discovered who I want to try and understand that with. Who I want to work for that with. Who will freak out every two years with me, dropping everything, most likely to attempt something for which we are completely unqualified.
  2. So what now?  Our first test is an obvious one: to plan a sailing trip instead of a  wedding. We will sail double handed from my country to his. America to England. It only seems practical for us to sign up for the first “forever” test.

As the list begins of how we can possibl pull this off by spring, I have ransacked Luke’s notes with full intentions of relaying them to the world without his permission. So here they are… Luke’s unedited notes followed by my italicized assessment of course.

CREW

Who’s boss? Well that’s obvious – who is legally responsible? You’d think that’s “the man’s job” but technically the boat is Jess’s and her sister’s inheritance. So she is the captain. This is correct, Smart man. I could be considered a co-skipper.

JESSIE

6000 nm “America’s Great Loop” with another sea-bird called Katie, aboard a 27 foot Cal called ‘Louise’. Made famous by their mildly entertaining blog, articles in Cruising Outpost and on Sailing Anarchy. Two landlubbers on a learn or die mission to sail the inland waterways and Eastern seaboard of the United States of America. Including Bahamas and Canada. They made it, and came home with two years  of quality live-aboard experience. 60% coastal cruiser, 40% adventurer, 0% racer. 

LUKE

Sailing everything and everywhere since 1995. 60% Racer, 40% adventurer 0% cruiser. Sailed an 18 ft catamaran double- handed 2000 nm around Great Britain because he was bored of sailing up and down the coast. Humbly not mentioning he holds a speed record for sailing  around Britain. http://www.yachtsandyachting.com/news/21288 Later sailed a 1937 wooden 15 sqm 1700 nm from the UK to Sweden for fun. Enjoys difficult situations. Likes to keep the spinnaker up too long. Thrives on danger. Has the oddest sense of humor.

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DESIREÉ

1962 Pearson Invicta 37′ ketch designed by Bill Trip Jr. Yawl. Owned by Jessica’s father Jim Wizard ( his pride and joy for decades ). Old fashion shallow draft long keeler with centerboard designed for CCA rules. I don’t know what CCA means. Won the 1964 Newport to Bermuda race. Heavily built. First GRP boat to win this prestigious race. I don’t know what GRP means either…racing stuff.  There are 20 of these hulls in existence. It has made 4 Atlantic crossings in it’s time. Our hull, No. 8, has not seen the salt water since 1975-ish. It is in pristine condition and it will be expected of me to keep it this way. AH. 

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MISSION 

Recently engaged couple attempts their first ocean crossing of the North Atlantic, sailing the great circle route double handed across the Atlantic is considered tough, very tough. It’s a long way north, its cold, its wet, and its windy. The dangers are everywhere, Atlantic storms, icebergs, huge seas, container ships, and potential Hurricanes. Sleep deprivation from being on watch becomes debilitating, even crippling as the days pass. Tempers will fray. Will this transatlantic leave their happy engagement in pieces or will they overcome the odds and become crew mates for ever. Dun dun dun.  

pilot-chartAnd there you have it. We are both making light of this situation when it is in reality quite heavy. Poking fun at a serious quest is really the only way I know how to manage the highly overwhelming preparation.  Luke and I are taking on this responsibility seriously and have a full understanding of the threats it poses, the impact it will have on our families, and on our relationship. This colossal trial will test many things aside from young love. And for some unknown reason I have my head wrapped tightly around this possibility, just as the average 27-year-old would have around her wedding. What’s wrong with me? I am consumed. I am hyper. Keen – as Luke would say.

We are not being funded in any way and are not trying to be funded. Expenses are coming from what I have been able to save over the last several years and from what Luke will be contributing from his salary as the own label manager for Hyde Sails. We are blessed to have a solid, ocean worthy boat to borrow and if it weren’t for that we would be a long way from the ability to pull this off on such short notice. Narrowing down the list of prep-work and separating wants from needs has be tricky. Here is what we are left with :

  • EPIRB

  • SELF STEERING WIND-VANE 

  • AIS TRANSPONDER / RECIEVER FOR VHF

  • JORDAN SERIES DROGUE (or something similar) 

  • NORTH ATLANTIC CHARTS / ST LAW. SEAWAY CHARTS & BOOKS

  • SATALITE PHONE / IRIDIUM GO

  • LIFE JACKETS

  • FIRST AID

  • CANADIAN CURTESY FLAG

If you have any of this stuff laying around, know someone who might, or if you have good contacts for any of these items please email me. If you have something else laying around you firmly believe is a need not a want / are interested in selling, email me. We would like to keep things simple as possible, bringing only the items that may help save our lives if and when we find ourselves in a sticky situation.

I welcome advice, direction, and any kind of feedback as we spend the next few months running around with our heads cut off. ANYTHING HELPS. I will be blogging about the process as well as writing articles for Cruising Outpost & Sailing Mag.

WOOOOOO !!!! ! ! ! ! !   !   !    !     !       !        !          !            !              !

Thank you for finding yourselves at this “mildly entertaining” blog once again. I promise to keep the content provided honest, authentic, and as relatble as possible. I understand these kind of voyages can be difficult to wrap our minds around. Those of you who make it to the end of these posts are those who keep me motivated. XO.