The truth about d o u b l e – h a n d i n g :

Mouth of St. Law -68

En route to ILE DE LA MADELEINE // JUNE 3

6:42 am // My hair is mopped under a winter hat and explodes out the bottom, it wraps around my neck like a fur scarf. I look like a lion. People pay a lot of money for these kinds of things. It attaches itself to the velcro on my jacket. A few strands secure themselves to my bottom lip. I am on the morning shift. I’ve cracked a beer-mosa (Budweiser topped off with orange juice) and am dodging lobster pots. Out of character for me to crack a beer this time of day. But there is something about wherever I am, doing whatever I am doing, that qualifies this as an appropriate moment. Miranda Lambert is singing to me and she typically only does this when Luke is asleep. I drop the back of my Gill trousers and sit indian style off the stern, holding onto the backstay. This is my new bathroom. It’s more relaxing than any other box I’ve ever sat in to do the very same thing.

Lobster pots appear out of the fog and I miss them by meters. Feeling more and more British speaking in meters not feet. I see fishing boats displayed on the B&G AIS overlay. I do not see them in real life. In fact I can see nothing in real life until it is a Desirée’s length away.  I sit in the fog. We move forward under engine over a sheet of mercury. There is no wind. Not even a breath. The circle of visibility in which we sit in the center of, is 1/8th of a mile at best. It’s thick. In every direction I see a block of the same color. White. As if I was staring at a mountain of snow. The sun penetrates just enough to assist my body in heating up. The condensation drips from every surface facing downward. It rolls off of the boom and onto my head. I type words but do not look at the computer screen. Women are so great at multi-tasking. Pardon any typos.

I day-dream of what I will make for breakfast when Luke wakes. I only have one hour left of my four, but I am perfectly happy and wouldn’t mind sitting here for longer than required. A McGriddle. That’s what I will make. Mcdonalds at sea. I do feel the need to step up my game. Luke has prepared the most impressive boat meals I have ever tasted. I have been eating like a queen. He’s prepared Tournedos Rossini, Croque Monsieur, and Scallop Mac’n cheese. I place my breakfast ingredients on the counter in my head, and I like how they look. Pumpkin spice pancakes, with grilled ham and and a fried egg. Christmas at sea. Any diet I have ever considered is completely gone – out the window. My body is changing I can feel it. I don’t care. I am in survival mode. Give my carbs. Give me sugar. Give me a beer for breakfast. What my body wants is what I will give it.

33 miles ahead is  Ile De La Madeleine, an island situated on it’s own in between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 130 miles behind sits Gaspe, Quebec, the mainland that we have finally left behind. People say Ile De Le Madelaine is where people eat lobster, make babies, and never leave. I’m not opposed to the trio. I’d happily take the first and the last, the second might not be the wisest of decisions. We are just miles away from reaching the Atlantic Ocean now. Sometimes I just want to scream, to shout, the celebrate “Do you have any idea how long it has taken me to get here?”

The fog lifts and I can finally separate sea from sky. There is no land in sight. The idea of being completely alone out here does not scare me. I know that people are out there, they are everywhere, everywhere but here. We have found a place where they do not go. Most of them not a clue we are here. Some of them anxiously awaiting our safe arrival. But right now there is no one. Just the birds. They fly parallel Desirée with curiosity. My curiosity is stronger than their’s because they move on too quickly, while I sit here wishing I could keep up.  Their company alone is almost enough. I know that disconnecting from people for a short while is okay. I know it is important. I know that in my normal land life, I am connected beyond explanation. I do find safety in people. It would be nice to find safety in solitude, but it’s not easiest of tasks.

The truth I have learned about double-handing, is that you are alone more often then not. I sleep. You sleep. I am on watch for 4 hours. You are on watch for 4 hours. I sleep. You sleep.  And so it goes. We do our best to cook and enjoy meals together, and when we do get to hang out for an hour it becomes the quickest hour of the day. The rest of the time we chit-chat in passing.  We speak in wind speeds and headings. I count down 240 minutes until I can wake him up.

We might be only 6 feet apart, which is mutually preferred over an ocean apart. But the word “solitude” continues to cliff note our current state of existence. Do not let this take away from the opposite, in which teamwork is every reason we are able to carry on. But this kind of teamwork requires one to be working while the other recovers.  You never want to wake the other up, even when you feel desperate. You understand how important it is for the other to rest. You understand how important it is to maintain your watch. It is in fact, exhausting and quite lonely.  And being the incredibly social person that I am, this is difficult. When I see something – anything – a bird, a seal, a dolphin, a bug, a fishing boat… I am instantly comforted by the existence of something else. These little things have become my greatest joy. I have become an emotional old lady, hunched over in her chair, who writes letters and waits for visitors.

Grandma over and out – onwards to Ile de la Madelaine.

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Spice Girls

Leg 2-39

In 18 days I have had 3 sets of crew and together we have traveled 902.69 nautical miles, averaging 64 miles a day at 6.1 knots.

14 of those days were traveling, 4 of them down days for weather and maintenance.

A fraction of Lake Michigan, and the whole of Huron, Erie, Welland Canal and Ontario are complete. I am pleased to say they are behind us now.

We have made it to the gateway of the St. Lawrence seaway ahead of schedule. I repeat – ahead of schedule. Unheard of.

 

We arrived in Kingston, Ontario at 7 am after 128 mile overnight from Whitby, Ontario. That day, I couldn’t even muster up the energy to stand up, to eat, to drink water, until 5pm. It had all caught up to me. The Lakes. The wind. The rain. The unbearable temperatures. The tight quarters. The change of diet. The lack of sleep. The sense of responsibility. The maintenance. The heightened awareness. The constant anxiety of making the right decision. The friends. And maybe some of the beers. All of it caught up with me. I was defeated.

This was however, exactly what I wanted. This was what I signed up for. I paid money for this. And when I was hit with total exhaustion I thought – Hell yes. Just let me sleep for a second. I’ll be ready again. I promise. Just let me rest.

This is only the beginning.

The perfect person showed up that evening. My mother.

Leg 2-16

My co-captain and celebrity guest Katie Smith, AKA Katie Girl, flew all the back from California to help me sail through Lake Erie and the Welland Canal. Two of my other closest friends signed up to be cold, wet and miserable with us. One whom I’ve known since kindergarten Olivia, AKA O- Dawg, found herself as a very creative chef, a galley genius to say the least. One of my other bestest from college Erica, AKA E-Money, researched and delivered the history of each landmark we passed and expressed genuine interest in life aboard.

Leg 2-14

We wove through hundreds of fisherman and a handful of ships southbound on the Detroit River. I do guarantee we were the only sailboat with a chock-full of women in the cockpit listening to the Spice Girls. I was bound for England after all, figured if I knew some classic English pop by the time I got there the locals would accept me. We spiced our way to the mouth of Lake Erie.

O-dawg and E$ both got sea-sick on day one. Bless their little hearts they toughed it out and learned how to avoid it there-after.

We sailed into Put-In Bay and docked in an empty marina where there was no one to greet us, or charge us any fees. What is known as one of the hottest party spots in Ohio,  was shut down aside from one bar. I considered it my bachelorette party.

A lovely gentlemen by the name of Jake Byers welcomed us into his local yacht club in Cleveland, with a slip and cold beers waiting. Thank you so much Jake, for your hospitality.

Our first overnight sail was 138 miles to the entrance of the Welland Canal. The girls did awesome while I hid my nerves, which I tend to do well. Katie and I helmed through the night. For hours we had a consistent 35 knots of apparent wind at our back, gusting to 40, in the pitch black. Wooo baby.  Focused. On a mission. I was so tense I could barely move my neck and shoulders the next morning.

Waited a day and half in Port Colborne to lock through the Welland Canal. At 17:30 we hear a knock on the hull – it was time to go. Canal traffic called for us and two other pleasure craft to lock through together. The canal is 28 miles long, with 8 locks that drop you 326 feet into Lake Ontario. It was almost a perfect night time operation. Until we waited for 2 hours for an unbound ship to pass, when of course, I couldn’t start the engine. There was a problem with the starter. Traffic control requested we get towed through the last lock and to a safe place to tie for the night. The sailboat in front of us kindly towed us through, and released us near a cement wall to tie up. It was not the most graceful pass off – but it worked. The following day we sorted out the problem. The starter was dangling from it’s bolts. One of which was stripped.

My Spice Girls hopped off in St. Catharines. But not Katie. Katie booked a later flight so she could stay on for 5 more days. When we sailed overnight and found ourselves keeled over laughing and exhausted at sunrise, I realized I needed her. Who else could make me laugh that hard when I am cold, tired, and nervous? God we laughed so hard. About absolutely nothing. My abs hurt.

Leg 2-18

In 18 days I’ve begun to learn most everything I was hoping.

I’ve learned and am still learning the boat. How 18,000 pounds moves through the water. How to get her perfectly balanced. How to maneuver in small spaces (still scared of reverse) I am learning to adjust my course depending on where she wants to go not where I want to go. I am learning her systems, from plumbing, to electrical, to mechanics. I have been forced to dabble in each subject.

I am falling deeply in love with Desirée. I feel proud of her.

I am feeling self sufficient. Feeling self reliant. Feeling resourceful. Feeling well prepared.

I toggle between thoughts ” I’ve come a long way. I think I actually know some shit.” and  “Who in the world do I think I am? This is not wise.”  It’s constant. I sit right in the middle. Which could be a good place to be sitting. On the edge of my seat at all times, even in my sleep.

I’ve needed to build confidence before Luke is on board. I’ve needed to know that this is something I can handle on my own if anything were to happen to him. I’ve needed to feel like a captain, not a passenger. I’ve needed the time to be scared and not able to ask for help. I’ve needed the time to make tough calls. I’ve needed to be so cold that 50 degrees felt like summer. It’s working. I have a long way to go. But it’s working.

My mother and I will cruise the next leg. 163 miles, 7 locks and a favoring current. Montreal here I come.

See you soon Luke : )

We are looking to have 6 sails shipped to a reliable address and contact in Montreal, if anyone has any suggestions or could help us with this please contact Luke or I ! Jesszevalkink@gmail.com // luke.yeates@hydesails.co.uk

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“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.

T e e t h S h a t t e r i n g

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MARCH 25 // NIGHTMARE

I hear an earsplitting “pop” inside my starboard side molar. I can’t see anything. I reach into my mouth to feel what just exploded and my molar has shattered. I feel around to collect the slivers of tooth swimming through my saliva when my port side molar shatters. I hang my head, cup my hands under my mouth and my entire set of chompers explodes, one tooth after another. Thousands of tiny pieces pile into my hands and overflow onto the floor. I have no teeth. The lights come on. I look at my ceiling sprawled with charts of the North Atlantic.

Good morning Jessie.

My nightmares are in full swing. In conversation I portray confidence. On social media I portray bravery. In daylight I portray proficiency. Should have been an actress. But when it’s dark and no one is around the pressure builds exponentialy. And all of the sudden k a b o o m it all explodes in my mouth. Shattering my teeth. N i g h t  t e r r o r s  s u c k.

MARCH 30 // THIS WEEKS LIST

Solve the worlds problems . Re- run halyard through mast . Chain plate investigation . Finalize crew .  Measure battens . Flake sails . Bleed fuel . Mount solar panel . Instal inner forestay . Put track back on foredeck . Stop drinking Monster . Instal Hydrovane . Ignore Luke’s socks on floor . Find correct alternator belt . Check all rig dimensions . Find radar reflector . Instal mast fitting . Remove all the gunky messes I made . Blog this week . Instal U-bolt fitting . Paint the bottom . Stop making so many trips to the hardware store . Draw a seacock map . Create a bumper for steering quadrant . Polyester hull at new seacock . Buff. Buff some more . Wax . Wax on . Wax off . Polish . Sand . Varnish . Sand . Varnish . Repeat 8x . Stop cleaning up the Wizards’ and Lukes’ messes . Just let it be . Make smaller goals .

APRIL 4 // BYE LUKE

Luke flew home today. Back to England. Back to HydeSails office. Our time slipped away as if I sprayed it with WD-40. I had a borderline panic attack morning of departure.  This is not our first rodeo, we say farewell every month. But this time around, I lost it at the thought of having to start this voyage without him. Before he arrived last month I was convinced I had this all under control. By the time he flew out I was convinced I couldn’t do it without him. My teeth just about shattered for the second time. See you in Montreal love.

APRIL 6 // SPLASH

We launched the boat today. As the truck backed Desireé down the ramp and into Lake Michigan I was beside myself. Crazed. The arctic air blew down from Canada, stirring up tomorrows predicted blizzard. And there we were – splashing a boat into the last of the ice melt. Like crazy people. Were crazy.

APRIIL 7 // MIND-SHIFT

Desireé.  She is floating. Water drips one drop every ten seconds from the seacock in the bathroom sink. Water falls a baby sized waterfall at the engine water intake valve.  Looks like we have some leaks to fix. Rest assured, the Wizard is a fantastic plumber and I’m not a horrible apprentice.

Lake Michigan is more beautiful today than I have ever seen in my entire life. Could be a simple change of perspective. Could be the fact that I am having a complete mind-shift into living and breathing water and weather. It’s 50 feet deep and I can see the bottom with clarity. It’s jaw dropping.

Wizard’s on the helm. He looks like a kid. He is happy. I am happy. I make a promise to him inside my head that Luke and I will do everything in our power to take care of Desireé to the best of our ability.

I start the next list. We have so much to do. I don’t have time to be scared. Right now – I am incredibly excited.

APRIL 9 // FINAL WEEK

Solve the world’s problems . Complete plumbing . Re-wire alternator. Fix battery charger . Collect medical kit . Order engine spares . Edson pump on a board rebuild kit . Order inflatable kayak . Pick up battens . Re-arm life jackets . NMEA2000 starter kit . Make a tool box . Fit 3rd reef on boom . Glow plug / starter switch instal . Connect VHF / AIS . Mast head light connection . Instal stern light . Leaky sink . Calm down stop panicking .   Reef lines . Rig mizzen . Balance rig . Mount propane tanks . Mount generator . Find a home for life-raft . Store books / charts . Put together ditch bag . Set up Delorme Inreach . Register EPIRB . Download charts for B&G plotter . Sand . Varnish . Silicone all leaks . Oil cockpit teak . Fill water tanks . Fill diesel . Talk with crew . Provision . Try saying the F word less .

APRIL 10 // HAIL

It hailed big style today. Shit.

APRIL 15 // I DON’T KNOW

Today. Right now. I don’t know what to say. Hard to sum up the past two weeks. Still attempting to sail out of here Monday morning. I should probably not be typing. I should probably be packing. However I have had handfuls of lovely humans stop by the marina this week to wish me luck, to tell me they will be following along. I want to thank those of you for that. I have had a few of my closest friends drive far out of their way just to come lend their time and helping hands. I have a father who has been working day and night to make this happen. I have a mother who despite her worries has taken on a handful of responsibilities with a smile on her face. I have a brilliant sister who is busy being a professor but always finds time to check in with me. I have another half who might be all the way over in England but who talks me through every project, who can answer all of my questions, and who trusts me to make all of these things happen, all in a British accent.

Okay. I am off for now. Thank you for following along. Please contact me if you have ties to any marinas, yacht clubs, docks, mooring balls, anchorages etc. We will be passing through Lake Huron, Detroit river, Lake St. Claire, Lake Erie, Welland Canal, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence Seaway… Montreal, Quebec city. Any connections help !

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SO MUCH LOVE TO B&G MARINE  BOB & JODY @ CRUISING OUTPOST YEATES @ HYDESAILS  ADAM @ EDSON  ANDY MOLESTA & FAMILY . KATIE ARIEL SMITH .  ANNA SHRIFT. MICHELE GRANTHAM. ASHLEY BUSH. MOLLY THOMASMA . TOM & DEB BECKER . DAN STEFFEE . SAM CARTER . GILL NA . FELICIA KAS .