PART II . Just blue .

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NIGHT 5 // b e c a l m e d

I’ve taken the days, and I’ve taken the nights, put them in a blender and hold down the “whip” button. I don’t remember their individual flavors but together they taste of monotony in 4 hour increments, with the occasional leftover chunk that requires chewing – or should I say, work.

The ocean is a very odd place.

There is a simplistic pattern in sailing the ocean. It brings you right down to basic survival needs. Safety. Rest. Water. Food. That’s it. There is not much thinking beyond these four needs. Every 4 hours we go through the motion.

We are a third of the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Tonight is blacker than a cave with no exit. No moon. No stars. Completely becalmed. It wasn’t long ago I imagined a situation like this – how nice it must be, to sit in a rocking chair in the vastness of an ocean, far from your living room. To go nowhere. To ponder life afloat the deep salt sea. To rest atop a mile of water that somehow sticks to the earth. I thought this could very well be some kind of moving experience in which I would learn something important about myself, about life, about the sea, maybe find some answers in the silence to questions I didn’t even know I had – I don’t know. Here I am, the human in this so-called-beautiful-situation I imagined feeling far from peaceful and meditative. I am frustrated. Fiercely frustrated.

The sails flap like curtains hanging in the back yard. Air rolls through the canvas one end to the next snapping the main sail taut. It goes silent while the air rolls off the edges and the canvas becomes a loose t-shirt hung upon an anxious body. A swell lifts the starboard side and snakes underneath the hull until we rock back to port to compensate. All contents board shift with any spare space. Our first gale passed nearly 24 hours ago, but the swells…mmm… they are still here.

Roll. Snap. Silence. Rock. Shift. Repeat.

The hangers in the closet. The dishes in the cupboard. The cups in their shelves. The Binoculars hanging from the lamp. The sour milk in the ice box. The fruit in the basket. The water in the tanks. The insides of my tummy. The weight of my body. The brain in my head.

Swing. Smash. Silence. Slosh. Shift. Repeat.

You know you are becalmed when you start taking selfies.

This medley of swells and no wind has me pressing for mercy. I’ve come up with only one solution and unfortunately I don’t have the resources to move forward. Bubble wrap. If I would have known what it was really like to be becalmed – I would have brought an adequate supply of bubble wrap to eliminate all the spare space for things to shift around. Then we could carry on in peace packaged tightly together with plastic bubbles.

It’s exhausting to listen to all of these noises on repeat. Out of desperation I have begun to misplace things. I move around one loud thing to silence another loud thing. All of our things are playing musical chairs. Soon, I don’t know where I’ve put anything. Where’s the lighter? Asks Luke. Well I could have jammed it upright in the tapping dish cupboard, could have forced it in between the clinking hot sauces, I could put it in my sandwich and tried to eat it for lunch. Good luck Luke, I don’t know where it is.

Eventually my mind shuts it out, and my body shuts down. I accept we are going no where. I tire myself of seeking stability. I envelope my thoughts around the becalmed sea until I am holding a ball of yarn. I let the swells rock me in my chair. The noises become white. Our movement becomes equalized. Frustration fades. I power down. Rip the plug from the wall. Stop caring. Fall fast asleep. Dream of the wind, and if I’m lucky another gale.

NIGHT 6 // p h o s p h o r e s c e n c e

Luke wakes me at an unknown time. “Jess. Jess…Jess. Quickly.” Off-put by being woken, I receive his voice as something urgent, but not categorized emergency. I can tell he wants me to move faster but I don’t understand why. Rain falls softly, and arctic as it meets the skin. I crawl out the companionway and crouch in the cockpit holding my knees tight, protecting myself from the swelling shivers rising from my bare feet. “What?” I ask.

A remarkable streak of neon blue coils Desirée. I shift around my crouched torso on my tippy toes and follow the glow as it waltzes about. I am mystified. The light dives down and dims with depth. It ascends towards the surface and sets off fireworks. Aurora Borealis of the sea. Fantasia on the big screen. Mind blowing magic tricks. Drunken neon lights. Kids playing with sparklers. Contrails of phosphorescence. Humble mammals soaring through plankton. Dolphins and algae on fire. I could go on… and on. Three minutes is all we get. Jaws dropped. This is the greatest performance we have ever seen.  I let out a slow “Wooowww,”. Luke says “Wow.” I say it again, even slower this time. And he echoes it back. We fixate on the surface until the curtains close. I thank him for waking me, crawl back into the bunk and drift asleep.

When I wake I am unsure if this was reality. It was the kind of magic you only read about in books. In fact I have read it in a book and thought to myself how lucky one must be to be an eye- witness. To be the audience. The kind of spectacular you don’t dare to take your eyes off of to reach for your camera. The kind of closeness with nature only documented in National Geographic. The kind of awesome that makes you feel all the decisions you’ve made up to that point – have been the right ones. Dolphins stirring up trails of phosphoresce in the pitch black, illuminating the sea on a becalmed night never even crossed my mind as a possibility. I love surprises.

DAY 7 // j u s t  b l u e

We survived ice berg alley. Sailed passed the Labrador current. Have stayed relatively close to an ideal course. There is still nothing around. Just blue.

Our watches become less diligent. Watching less, doing more. Luke has read every book on the shelf. I am still on my first, partly because I get so lost in it I don’t want it to end. I stare westwards, backwards, analyzing the swells more often than looking ahead. I write essays and letters instead of looking at the GPS. I review the clouds. I study Luke. I listen to Desiree. There is nothing to see outside our own little world. Nothing to interrupt our path. Just blue. For a moment I understand the legendary Moitessier who created his own world at sea, and was never able to return to the one he left.

We’ve been on the same tack for 4 days. Haven’t seen a ship for 5 days. Haven’t spoken to anyone for 7 days. I’ve found my energy again, my appetite, and every once and a while my motivation. Torrential rain has us surrendered inside the cabin. Penny helms and I remain impressed. Everything is soggy. Everything.

I’m baking at 5am which sounds ambitious but I am wide awake feeling very peppy. Chris Stapleton on the stereo. I wrap asparagus in prosciutto and Pillsbury crescents and stare at the oven while they bake, breathing in its heavenly scent. I look out the ports every once and while and check the AIS. Nothing. Just blue.

Luke is fast asleep. Twitching. Having a spa day. Naked atop the bedding, he lies next to the propane heater that assists in drying out the cabin and fogging up the ports. Wet gear hangs from every hook. Moisture seeps down the bulkhead. Condensation collects in the cracks. What are you dreaming about ? I ask Luke while he is sleeping. He doesn’t respond. So I answer for him. “You, of course”. That’s nice – I think to myself.

By 7am I have cleaned, dried out, baked, written, reefed, read  downloaded the weather, emailed, plotted, un-reefed, and somehow have some energy to do some push-ups and dips. I’m not sure what triggers the good days. What triggers the bad days. I will sway in this mornings splendor for as long as it lasts.

There is only one problem today. I smell cheese. I think it’s time to take our first salt bath. Yes. It’s time to bathe. How cold could it really be? It’s just blue.

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S e v e n t e e n D a y s

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As you may have heard… W E   M A D E   I T. We made it. We made it. We made it. My enthusiasm for landfall deserves copious amounts of exclamation points, but there is something about a vertical dash and a dot that just doesn’t cut it. It’s like when you don’t know how to thank someone, because the words alone simply aren’t not enough. To hold down the shift key and “1” for ten seconds straight, is not enough. I tried it, I don’t like the way it looks.

Please trust, that we are beyond happy to have completed our Atlantic crossing safely, with a floating classic yawl in tact, and a relationship that in my opinion, has been sealed with 5200.

Landfall was made in the Isles of Scilly on July 12. We arrived to anchor in the dark hours of the night and woke to the sub-tropical western islands of England. The smell of earth, flowers and moss. High pitched dinghy engines and laughing terns. English accents echoing from animal cracker shaped rocks. Swinging in circles about a cyan bay. My life could have ended on that very morning. Full to the very top with delight. Foaming over the rim and dripping down the sides. I’ve never felt so drunk when I was so sober.

I have a lot to share with everyone. It will take a few posts to get it all out. I thought I’d start with the numbers for my sailors who understand their significance, and for my dreamers who are hungry to comprehend.

S T A T I S T I C S //

2107 nautical miles traveled

5.2 knot average boat speed (meh, ok)

11.6 knot top boat speed (YESSSS)

0 knot lowest boat speed (banging my head against the bulkhead)

45 knot highest wind velocity

38 knot highest gust with spinnaker still up (oops)

15 feet highest waves

3 days of sun

14 days of gray

8 days rain / mist (gross)

3 ice bergs

6 cargo ships

2 days headwind

3 days becalmed

16 days with Penny at the helm (self steering Hydrovane)

5 tacks / gybes

2 accidental gybes (I’ll take the blame)

10 HydeSail changes  (Luke can take the credit)

9 reefs (I got better at this)

102 watch changes (I never got better at this)

3 salt water baths (bur)

56 gallons of water (drinking /cooking only)

56 Engine hours (battery charging and becalmed nights)

21 gallons of diesel

14 lbs of propane

32 beers (ran out too quickly)

3 cartons of eggs

5 loafs of bread

5 medium size bags of rubbish

6 rolls of toilet paper

907 photos taken (less than expected)

34 pages hand written (more than expected)

1 halyard lost at sea (I blame Luke)

1 headlamp lost at sea (I blame Luke)

1 small tear in spinnaker

I can’t count how many times I shed a few tears, or laughed. I can’t count how many times I threw up, or spilled food everywhere.  I can’t count how many times I wished it was over, or how many times I never wanted it to end. I can’t count how many dolphins,  seabirds or the amount of phosphorescence. I can’t count how much I learned, or how many hours I did absolutely nothing. For 17 days we played a card game of patience and strategy. It was a long game. I’d like to think we won. Yeah. I think we won.

DAY 1 // 

The night before cast off  we shove our bodies into the starboard side berth and try to sleep for three hours. We shift around puzzle piecing ourselves until we find a fit. Neither of us sleep well. But it feels nice to be close.

At 3:45 am my alarm confirms the thing I’ve been waiting to have confirmed since February. It’s time to cross the ocean. I stand up to turn the kettle on an arms length away, scooping generous amounts of coffee into the french press. In need of a strong brew. Out of my peripheral vision I catch a shooting star which arcs so far across the morning sky that I have time to twist my head and follow all the way to the horizon. I take this in as a welcome token from the sea. I thank it, and carry on with my morning regime. By 4:09 am, we push the bow off of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club dock. No one is around to wave good bye. Secretly I am thankful for this.

I surprise myself in feeling nothing. As if we are departing for another day trip. I’m not necessarily excited. My tummy isn’t churning. I do not feel fear. I oddly don’t feel much. Five months of anticipation and I have exhausted myself of every emotion. I feel ready, that’s all. I am ready. I don’t cry (surprising) I don’t gaze back at the docks as if it’s the last land I will ever see (surprising) I don’t look ahead to the expanse of the sea and shit myself (very surprising) I don’t look at Luke to check on his emotional status (not surprising considering his emotions are flat lined 93% of the time) We drink coffee and listen to the local radio station. We glide forward through Conception Bay under the stars and wait for the wind. What I don’t yet know, is that the next 17 days will consist of nothing but waiting.

The sunrise back lights the rugged Newfoundland Coast. I take notes on it’s beauty but don’t linger for long in concern of experiencing any kind of land attachment. I unwind and strip off layers of clothes as the sun cultivates heat. By the time it summits I am naked. This is without question, the hottest day we have encountered. The breeze light as one could release from their own lungs. The sails snap full with air, and then fall slack, over and over again. At 2.5 knots, this could take a while. I download a weather forecast from Mazu, curious to see when the wind will come.

Three ice bergs float the horizon, and appear contradictory to the days temperatures. I check the water temp, its one degree above freezing. This confirms that yes, they are indeed going nowhere fast. They shine shockingly white. Each one appears and disappears into the swells. They are a kind reminder to keep alert. We have 300 miles until exiting the ice limit.

A duo of Puffins awkwardly skim the surface. Their geometric faces are separated by blocks of black and white, trimmed with sherbet orange beaks. They are littler than I expect, cuter than I expect, and I wish deeply that I could keep one. But they are monogamous and I couldn’t bare to take one from another so that means I will have to keep two. I wonder what Luke will think when he wakes to Puffin pets on my shoulders.

Minke whales surface as we pass Cape St. Francis in a pod of two, one dorsal fin next to another. These animals in pairs assure me that traveling in a pair is in fact, enough. That Luke and I being double handed, will be just fine, we are enough too.

I don’t notice when the coastline disappears. When I finally register that I won’t be seeing land for weeks It doesn’t bother me. I’m almost relieved. We are simply along the ride now. I see the next ice berg on the horizon, and adjust Penny to steer straight for it.

It takes 3 hours to reach the berg. We sail questionably close to it’s storybook features . Utopian in its figure. Classic in it’s coloring. Inviting in the way you envision having a picnic on it’s timeless slopes. I want to stay and explore. I want to peer under the sea to understand its entirety. At the same time it’s making me nervous. It’s beauty intimidating, the kind that makes an entire room go quiet. I feel privileged to be in it’s presence. We watch it undulate in and out of the sea, as long as we possibly can.

A hump back whale breaches 1/4 mile to port. It launches from the sea dropping my jaw and lifting my arm to point. My reaction startles Luke as he reckons something is wrong, but he sees it before crash landing the surface. It’s size immeasurable. It’s power inconceivable. It’s brief moment on stage striking.

I can’t add up the glories of one single day one. It’s doesn’t feel right to be gifted so many things in less than 24 hours. I feel a very subtle shift in my gut. I know how these things tend to balance out. As my first grave yard shift begins the subtle shift takes a sharp turn. Upwards. Outwards. Stuck in between the back of my throat, threatening to come out of my nostrils. I am sick. Again. Again. And again. I put water in. It comes back up. I put a cracker in. It comes back up. Ginger ale. Comes back up. What does it want, quarters? I prevent myself from trying this. Someone has hooked up a macerator pump to my mouth and is pressing the button. Over 4 hours I drain my body of everything that is not securely attached to the walls of my stomach. I move onto dry heaving and count down the minutes till I can wake Luke up.

Good morning Luke. Want a kiss? Your turn.

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Results of a gale while tied up to a fishing dock in Newfoundland. Depature-5Depature-7

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Result of drawer flying out on port tack.

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Provisions. Not including beer, juice, water, canned goods.

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DEAR NEWFOUNDLAND // I want to extend the greatest of thank you’s to the Royal Newfoundland Yacht club, one of its commodores Mark Wareham, his wife Kerri, and a handful of it’s kind members who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. They did such a grand job of making us feel at home and helping us prepare for our crossing, that it was very difficult to sail away. I have a lot to say about Newfoundland. Luke and I fell in love with it. Kindest people I have ever met in my life. I thought I was nice. Now I’m starting to think I need to step it up. We will be back. Above every place I’ve landed since Michigan, I recommend the RNYC first. Despite Newfoundlands notorious fog, icebergs, and labrador temperatures, it’s a  m u s t. Don’t miss it.

Night-shift notes

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JUNE 6 // En route to ILE DE LA MADALEINE 

2:35  – The moon is nearly bright enough to light the pages on my book. If I concentrate hard enough I can almost make it through a sentence.

2:45  – Silver fins slice the surface. I can’t see their details, only the shape they take as they pass through a tunnel of moonlight. My friends are back and here to keep me awake. They play around the transom just long enough to check in and make sure we’re okay. We are okay. They move on.

3:00  – I meet a painter. The artist takes a brush and walks the horizon with deep blood orange. She walks back and forth blending it into navy, and then into black. Color is added again and again warming the seam. On the opposite side of the canvas, the moon tucks beneath the covers.

3:15 – A satellite passes over head. I start to think about space. I stop thinking about space, understanding that maybe there are some things meant to be misunderstood. I set the thought down with intentions to pick it up later.

3:25 – I find a half frozen chocolate in my pocket. Better than finding crinkled cash in old blue jeans. I melt it in my mouth. It tastes like jersey junction, the local ice cream shop where I grew up. I’d roller blade there and spend all the quarters I made ironing my mother’s work clothes on candy.

4:00 – This morning’s sunrise is the greatest present. I want to unwrap it forever. I am embarrassed with myself. Everything makes me want to cry. I set up the fishing pole to distract myself.

4:17 – Staring at a fishing pole is less entertaining than staring at the wind indicator. I take my boots off, peel my socks back, and stare at my toes instead. This is interesting.

JUNE 7 // En route to ST. PIERRE & MIQUELON

21:43 – I reach my peak of anxiety as the sun sinks. Another breathtaking setting sun I find little appreciation for. I try to stop and like it, love it, try to marvel  in its hot pinks and purples. Instead I notice the steam pouring from my exhales, the instant temperature drop and the jolting shiver that shakes me from my toes up. Night time is coming again.

23:20 – I play games to stay awake. These desperate games distract me from looking at the clock.  The first game a play is called “stand up, sit down”. It’s as simple as that. I stand up and tell myself to do so out loud, “stand up.” I stand for roughly 4 seconds. And then I sit down, “sit down.” I do this again and again. Interestingly enough, the forced physical movement via vocal instruction gets difficult.

The second game I play is a balancing game. The seat that sits behind the helm is in the shape of a dome. I take my hands off the wheel and feet off of the floor grates. I balance on my ass and count how long I can do this before I have to use an appendage to break my fall. I feel my abs weak, and get discouraged quickly.

The last game comes out of my mouth. I hum. It comes out by default as “The Little Mermaid.” When I finish humming Disney I upgrade to Celine Dion “My heart will go on forever” Then I realize I am not far from ice berg alley. I stop humming this song.

1:30 – I wake Luke up 15 minutes early and am feeling awful about it. But I am a hazard behind this helm.

JUNE 8 // ST. PIERRE // FRANCE 

5:43 – We arrive at the St. Pierre Yacht Club just after sunrise. We drink wine and eat triscuits for breakfast. After 240 miles and nearly 3 days we fall into a very very deep sleep.

8:00 – Two French men (customs) knock on the hull. Puffy eyed and half asleep we welcome them aboard. We provide them our passports and documents. My hand is shaking as I sign papers because I am still cold from the night before. The empty bottle of wine sits on the counter. Luke’s zipper is wide open. The boat is a mess. We are a mess. They seem to respect that we have just sailed for 3 days and don’t ask any unnecessary questions. They leave and we fall back into a coma.

17:30 – The weather forecast is a disaster. A gale is passing through for the next 4 days. Thirty-five knots of wind has us heeled over at our dock. Exercising patience on this secret French island. We walk the streets. Hike the hills. Eat fresh bread. The list of chores and tasks aboard Desirée grows like bamboo. Every day trim it down.

JUNE 14 // AVALON PENINSULA // NEWFOUNDLAND 

21:00 – We have entered the ice berg zone. We are in the region where 7 have been reported. The sun has set…again…like it always does. Can’t see anything…again. It’s foggy and windy. We turn off our running lights to eliminate the back glow, in hopes of seeing just a few more feet ahead. We drop all canvas besides a 2nd reefed main to slow down. Lightning flashes twice a minute but there is nothing to see besides birds circling. Fog, wind, lighting, blackness, circling birds. I have a bad feeling in my tummy. We agree to take shorter shifts tonight. I go down below to try and rest.

21:35 – Laying in my bunk with the lee cloth. Waves rock us from the side. I wish I could say it feels like being rocked in a cradle, but it doesn’t. My body is flexed to stay in place. I’m doing better burning calories than I am sleeping.

22:15 – I smell ice. I think about the fact that I smell ice for another hour, maybe longer and I don’t say anything. I don’t trust that it is possible. I tell myself that it is not possible. You can’t smell ice. But I do.

12:00 – Luke goes down for a nap. My eyes are glued to blackness. We move forward under power at 3 knots. I may as well be asleep because looking ahead is completely useless. We are traveling blind. We are gambling. This is torture. A few minutes pass and I think we are really stupid. Another few minutes pass and I feel like an arctic explorer. This goes on for the next three hours.

3:00 – We switch shifts. For a moment we sit together in the companionway watching the eastern sky start to change color. My anxiety lifts for a few minutes by having Luke awake, and next to me. We stare into the darkness. I give him a detailed report of my watch.

3:15 – I squint my eyes to focus. I squeeze Luke’s arm, my fingers form a vice-grip with alarming pressure. I extend my opposite arm full length and point, “Look…….look.” My seriousness is relayed in my grip, not my voice. We pass a wall of white 1/4 of a mile away off the port side. It’s an ice berg. It’s a fucking ice berg. A chunk of glacier the size of a three story house silently drifts into sight. We stare it harder than we’ve ever stared at anything in our lives. It disappears into the fog within a minute or two.

I am just a little girl from Michigan, this is hard for me to wrap my head around. I feel the exact same way I did when I was 12 years old, in the front row seat at the movies watching “Titanic” for the first time. My eyes round as grapefruits, my arm hair standing on end.

We spend the next hour staring into the abyss. Looking for more. Looking for anything. Having a sophisticated conversation – “Wow.” “Yeah.” “Wow.” “Yup” “Wowww.” until I exhaust myself and have to leave Luke alone.

4:00 – I lay down debilitated. I never expected to have so many emotions about a piece of ice. I can’t get over it. It took my breath away. It froze me just as solid as it.  It was magnificent. It was petrifying. It put in perspective what I have been willing to risk.  I have absolutely no proof. No video. No photo. It was just a minute in time that only Luke and I will remember. I think we just shared one the most epic minutes of our lives.

So I did smell ice. Ice berg sighting no. 1 – check.

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Where is everyone?

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May 7 // 1 0 0 0  I s l a n d s //  “Anchored snugly in a beautiful quiet spot amidst multiple islands. I am loving Navionics, which makes cruising so much easier. Jessie and I have switched roles. She is the mom. She is in charge. I like it ” – Claire. My mother.

May 8 // Departing 1 0 0 0  I s l a n d s // The olive oil has congealed. Snowflakes rest on my Gill gear. The lines wrap stiffly around the winches. The northerly air sears the side of my face. I ice skate on the frosty deck to hoist the anchor. My nostrils are smokestacks.

I knew leaving this early in the spring was questionable. I knew it would be brutal. I knew it wouldn’t be a joy ride. I’ve always been a believer in having control over my attitude in awful conditions, and do trust greatly that bitching is a waste of energy. Don’t get me wrong – I do bitch. I bitch most often in the form of writing but very little in the physical presence of other humans

It’s snowing. Not just a little bit. It’s actually snowing. When it began to fall this morning it looked like specs of glitter. We motor through Islands, mansions, cottages, all appearing to be unoccupied. It’s beautiful.  For a moment I think to myself how amazing this is – cruising the St. Lawrence River in the snow. There is absolutely no one. Just us.

The wind picks up out the North. Glitter morphs into wet bullets. We have over 30 miles to go and my enthusiasm turns to panic. That moment I had with the remote islands, mansions, and glitter is history. I am wondering what the hell we are doing out here.

Where is everyone?

MAY 9 // En route to C h r y s l e r  P a r k // The river is flooded. Cabins look like they are floating. Trees, branches, and pieces of dock float down-bound alongside us. Marinas are closed. When we phone ahead  to find out if any docks can accommodate us – voices are weary. This is the highest anyone has ever seen the river.

 I am inside warming up while mom is at the helm. The current is moving us swiftly. An easy two knots accelerate our progress. Rain instead of snow today. When cold days stack on top of each other I find there is only way to distract myself from the situation. Taylor Swift. By default it is her album I turn up loudly.  I look up to see my mom swimming in her multiple layers of foul weather gear, but it’s more than just a swim. She is dancing. She is smiling. She is getting rained on. All by herself. She looks so happy. I can’t help but think to myself – w o w – there she is, a prime example of how to shift your mind in unpleasant situations. I must have learned this from her. I am instantly proud of her. Proud to be hers. I join her in the cockpit for a Taylor Swift dance and we float on down the river on auto-pilot in the rain. I am not cold anymore.

Where is everyone?

May 10 // En route to C o r n w a l l // We slept like babies who were given sips of whiskey. Borderline comatose. This morning we took turns taking hot showers in the marina. By the time I was done with mine, mom had banana walnut pancakes prepared. Role change again. She is the mom. I am the daughter.

The river is glassy today. Everything mirrors the surface. Double Desirée. Double clouds. Double birds. Double ships. Double me. Again, no one is around. Just us, the cormorants, and the swallows floating on a surface of mercury.

Mom is nervous about the locks because she has never been through one. As we drift up to the cement wall painted with colors scraped off  large ships, she wraps a line around the floating bollard. We begin to go down. Down. Down. Down we go. Looking up at the colossal cement chamber surrounding us, her eyes widen. Here we are at the bottom of a water elevator, sinking deeply into its’ engineering. The leaky gates open. We are released back onto the mercury river. Mom isn’t a “lock virgin” anymore. Her confidence is immediately restored.

MAY 11 // En Route to V a l l e y f i e l d  // I like rivers. I like locks. I like shoreline. I like the birds. I like the houses. I like the floating debris. I like talking to ships. I like waving to fisherman. I like watching the clouds pass from one tree line to the next. I like not knowing whats around the next corner. I like seeking the next buoy. I like that they lead you to oceans. But I am scared of the ocean. It’s not that far ahead of me. I wish this river would take me all the way to England.

May 12 // En Route to M o n t r e a l // Sitting at the helm eating cookies, unsure how else I should spend this time. Driving in circles, being ignored by the Valleyfield bridge operator.

Forty minutes later we are acknowledged by the bridge man, who grants us special permission to pass under the next two bridges, and through two locks. They do not technically open to pleasure craft until tomorrow. I was supposed to be given permission by the seaway ahead of time to pass through – but like the bridge man – they never responded to me. We are only the second sailboat to transit the seaway this season. Where is everyone?

The bridge opens. We stop traffic. We pass under and thank the bridge man for making an exception. We arrive at the next bridge and wait. I eat more cookies. Do a few push-ups. Forty minutes later a ship comes roaring by and the second bridge opens. The ship ignores my call. The bridge ignores my call. We follow in his wake. We arrive at the first lock. Tie up to a floating dock. I eat another cookie. Do a few dips. Mom calls the lock master. We wait. An hour and  half later, two ships have locked through and we get the green light. It’s out turn.

We lock down. Motor through a canal 1/2 a mile long, and pass another up-bound ship. The ship is from Holland. The men wave. We wave back. They wave again. And so do we. This goes on until we are out of sight. I imagine what it was like to cross the ocean on that ship. I imagine what it will be like to cross in Desirée.

We lock down again. The gate opens.

I CAN SEE MONTREAL! The city skyline… It’s right there in front of us.

I REPEAT : I CAN SEE MONTREAL ! I would like another cookie please.

WE MADE IT TO MONTREAL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There everyone is. 

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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 .