The Epic Cape May Struggle-Part 2

01/17/22

We were very ready to move! We’d been at anchor in the same spot for 39 days. Enough was enough. We’ve weathered multiple wind storms and one blizzard in this anchorage beside the Cape May Coast Guard Station and Training Center. Aside from one night when we dragged in 45+ knot winds, our anchor had held well in the soft bottom, and despite the nasty weather conditions, we were pretty safe there…just not comfortable and feeling more and more discouraged by our lack of progress, as well as from being cold. The cold was endless.

We had lost our engine just a couple of days after coming into the harbor on Dec. 4, and so far, we’d not been able to completely diagnose the issue. Gaylen continued to work the problem with a team of amazing friends/diesel mechanics who spoke with us at every stage of the process, but it was extremely hard to deal with the engine when we couldn’t get the inside temperature up to a comfortable level. Plus the boat was lurching around all the time in what seemed like an endless string of wind storms. It’s rather difficult to do precision work when you have to constantly brace yourself with one arm and most likely a leg, too.

Weeks of phone calls and connecting with people everywhere between Ocean City, MD and Ocean City, NJ had finally resulted in one marina in Lewes, Delaware being willing to take us in and allowing us to have packages shipped there. We decided to make that happen and contacted Boat US, our towing insurance company, to verify that the cost of the tow would be covered. They said it would be–no problem–and to let us know when we were ready.

Meanwhile, our new friend, Marty from the Coast Guard Auxiliary, had offered to let us come to their auxiliary dock for free. We were thrilled at the idea! There wouldn’t be shore power, but we could string an extension cord from the building and at least power some things. Plus we’d be right by town and only a mile walk from grocery and hardware stores. And did I mention it would be free?

The biggest problem was the depth. We weren’t sure Mollynogger would fit in that spot, and we’d have to come in just right with the tides. Marty and Gaylen checked out the depth, and it was a little too shallow for comfort, even though it’s soft mud there. If we got hit by big weather, our bottom might take a pounding–and that’s not good for a boat, even one with a full keel. We were also a little nervous that we could damage their docks, which were only 18 feet long and lightweight, attached to sunken piles. We’re 37 feet long and 23,000 pounds. Even if we tied onto the piles, in strong winds, we could rip their dock from the supports. It just wasn’t the best idea, as much as we appreciated it. It was very tempting.

Leaving the docks by the CG Auxiliary building after our friend, Marty, was kind though to give us a ride to reprovision at Walmart

Marty was allowing us to tie up at the Coast Guard Auxiliary when we had to go to town, and that was a huge help. You wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a place to tie up a dinghy so you could spend money in a municipality, but some areas make it surprisingly hard.

Feeling good about our decision to go to Lewes, Gaylen called the owner of the marina there, again, just to let him know we were definitely coming. There was some relief in finally having a specific plan to get out of the anchorage. What should have been a quick courtesy call completely derailed us. The man was incoherent–impossible to understand–and couldn’t answer questions. Gaylen got off the phone and was dumbfounded. He could barely voice to me how badly the phone call had gone. It was like the guy was obliterated, drunk or something, but it was 2 p.m. on a workday. We realized that if we couldn’t get verification that we were all set to go there, we couldn’t risk showing up and being turned away. Also, Boat US will not tow you unless the place you’re going verifies they’ll accept your boat at that marina. So our Lewes plan was shot.

Mollynogger in the anchorage off the Coast Guard Station and Training Center in Cape Map, NJ, with our dinghy, the Lorri Sue, attached to our stern

We revisited our relationship with South Jersey Marina, where we had been able to shower for a small fee when we first came to town. They had shut down operations due to Covid, but technically, they still had a couple people doing work there. We updated them on our difficulties finding a place to go, and they said they’d discuss it. The dockmaster got back to us letting us know they’d be happy to let us come to their docks for just under $4,000 a month, and they would need one month upfront before we came to shore. “Um…I’m sorry, did you say $4k?” I asked the guy.

“Yeah, but if you leave in under a month, we can reimburse you for part of that.” He was resolute in the amount being fair.

“This is off season, and we can’t even get water or take showers there. Couldn’t you folks bend a little on the price?” I pleaded with him. “We’ve also got to pay for parts and possible a diesel mechanic’s assistance, and we really are 100% dedicated to getting out of here in a couple weeks.”

“That’s the price, because that’s the price I can get.” There was plenty of attitude in his voice, while it was also flat. “Other people are paying that, so why would I give YOU a different price?”

I was appalled. I connected that same day with the Coast Guard Station. A female officer there had been extremely caring and helpful, checking on us, regularly, and making sure we were doing okay out in the anchorage. I told her what South Jersey wanted for an amount upfront, and she was outraged for us. “That’s just ridiculous!” She recommended a few places to us, but we’d already called them all. “Well, just keep us posted, and if you need anything let us know.” They were really wonderful, and it put our minds at ease knowing they had our backs.

The Cape May Coast Guard Station beside the anchorage where we were for 5 weeks

Obviously, we did not go for the $4,000 deal. That, my friends, is what I call a deterrent…their way of making sure we couldn’t say they turned us away while we were in trouble, but they were also making sure we didn’t come to their marina.

It goes a little deeper than that. Sailors have a lousy reputation here. Cape May is a dumping ground where people often leave their boats and just never come back to deal with them. We’ve seen it, ourselves. When we first arrived there were 3 small sailboats in the more shallow anchorage on the other side of the Coast Guard Station from where we were. After one storm, a sailboat washed up on shore. No one did anything about it. Another storm came through, and a second sailboat broke loose from the anchorage and washed up on shore. Again, no one did anything. Both boats are still there, up on land, abandoned. Sailboat owners apparently have a reputation for coming in with mechanical problems, anchoring or docking, leaving, and just never coming back, leaving marinas to deal with sailboats that are broken and losing value by the minute. Sailors are “those people” who leave the locals with expensive messes. We could be the most responsible sailors in the world, and many folks here would still see us as a problem.

Gaylen found another marina about 3 hours away that hadn’t been on our radar at first when we were calling around the region. It was in Avalon, NJ, and even though they were closed, I had a great, productive conversation with the dockmaster. He was willing to have us come to their docks and have packages delivered there, but there would be no water, showers, and such. Same story, different marina, right? It’s just that time of year. We pressed the dockmaster for a price, because we couldn’t afford to be broadsided by another crazy amount. He put us off, saying he’d have to talk to his financial people, but he said not to worry and that we’d work out a deal that we could afford to make sure we had a safe place to go. We felt relieved and although still wanting a specific amount before we arranged for the tow, the dockmaster seemed sincere. It seemed like our safety mattered to him, and we felt trust developing. Whew!

We called Boat US and arranged to be towed to the marina in Avalon. The next day we received a call from the local towing company contracted to do the job. He informed us that there was no way he was taking us to Avalon. He flat out refused and was kind of rude about it, like we were putting him out even by asking. He said the inlet was dangerous and there was no way he would do that for us. He asked if there was any place closer we could go. We did have an offer to go to Two Mile Landing Marina in Wildwood Crest, right next to Cape May, but it’s very remote. There’s nothing near it, and it would result in twice the distance we’d have to dinghy to go to do laundry, go to the grocery store, etc. This time of year, long dinghy rides can be deadly in the cold. We were told there was no fresh water there, and we couldn’t have parts delivered. To us, we couldn’t see paying to be there, at the time, and we told the tow driver so. That was the end of the conversation, and we were back to square one…again.

At that point, we started looking at our worst case scenario plan, which was to have any local boatyard pull Mollynogger from the water, store her on land for us for a couple months, and then come back in the spring to do the engine work and keep heading south. We really didn’t want to do that, but we were running out of options.

When faced with decisions that are your least favorite choices and when what’s considered a “worst case” becomes your best option, it affects your emotional well being. We had been in coping and survival mode for too long. It was wearing on us both, immensely, and we both knew it. We were very much “in it together,” but we were tired, cold, depressed, discouraged, and I was going through the worst case of homesickness I’d had since we started this journey. It was consuming me, and I cried more than I’d like to admit to anyone. In fact, it seemed like I’d been at a point where I could cry at any moment for weeks, like my eyes didn’t know how to NOT well up at least a few times a day. I was raw. It was becoming my norm, and I knew it wasn’t healthy.

We had multiple issues with Boat US while we were trying to make arrangements to go to Avalon. We let them know the original dispatched driver refused to take us, and they promised to try to find a solution for us–perhaps another company nearby. The dockmaster at the marina in Avalon had assured us there was no danger in coming into the inlet and that Sea Tow, a competing towing insurance company, brought folks to their docks all the time. There was one dispatcher we kept getting at Boat US who repeatedly took down information incorrectly. We’d make a request, and hours later, we’d get a call from another Boat US employee asking us questions or telling us things were set up that were not AT ALL what we requested. It was exhausting, and it got bad enough that we finally got a call from a manager who had been pulled in to help with our situation. When she realize how much her team had gotten wrong, she apologized extensively, gave me her direct line and said going forward I could deal just with her. Apparently, the first woman helping us was new. I appreciated the manager taking the time to straighten everything out for us.

We were notified that another nearby towing company, Shamrock Towing and Salvage in Ocean City, was willing to take us to Avalon–YAY! But they wouldn’t be able to do it until the next week. Boat US assured us that Shamrock would be reaching out to us directly by phone as soon as the weather conditions were safe for the tow. We were so relieved. It was going to happen. We’d have a good place to go, and we breathed more deeply that night.

After the pump on our diesel heater stopped working, we were getting by with heat from just this small, “Little Buddy” propane heater designed to be used in a tent when camping and other small applications. One little green propane tank lasts us about 6 hours.

Five days passed and we hadn’t heard from anyone, so we called Boat US to inquire when we might get a call. They informed us that when Shamrock called the Avalon marina to let them know they were bringing us in, the Avalon folks told Shamrock they would not take us. They were closed and not accepting anyone. Well, wait a hot minute! We had a plan with Frank, the dockmaster. He even told us which dock to go to, and I had his cell phone number. I called him, immediately, and he said he hadn’t been in the office. Probably the person who answered the phone just didn’t know what was happening, He promised to reach out to Shamrock the next morning when he arrived at work at 8:30. Meanwhile, why didn’t anyone at Boat US call to tell us we’d been denied? We’d lost another 5 days for no reason.

Ten a.m. came and went, the next day, and we hadn’t heard anything. I called Frank, and he said he was sitting with several other men from his marina in Avalon. “We’ve talked,” he said, “And we’re happy to take you for $3,000 which we’ll need to hold on a credit card.” I know this dance. I’ve been to this party, and I know how it ends. Consider me sufficiently deterred, once again. So our Avalon plans ended. Another plan destroyed, another week wasted. Don’t people realize we’re out here in the cold? Don’t they care? The answer is apparently no.

Our sailing friend, Sharon, who had been in Cape May with us for a few days, had moved on, going up the Delaware River and to the C & D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal. She was staying at a marina right on the canal, and it was reasonably priced and had quite a few winter liveaboards. It would be a great place for us, but it was 14 hours away. The currents on the Delaware River can be extremely tricky, and although we talked about possibly sailing up the river and getting a tow part of the way, in the end it was just too difficult to coordinate. Plus, it would have resulted in an out of pocket cost of over $2,000 for the towing.

The next morning, on Wednesday, Jan. 13, we got a call from Ralph, the manager at Snug Harbor Marina. Ralph had been very helpful getting us water and fuel, but Snug was too shallow for our sailboat. Ralph was on his way to Florida, but he called to let us know we were all set to come into Two Mile Landing Marina, their sister company across the bay, and he just needed some insurance paperwork from us and a credit card. They needed $500 for 2 weeks, which was much more reasonable, but we still wouldn’t have showers, water, or any place to have something delivered–just the dock and power. He said we were being towed at 1 p.m. the next day.

Gaylen and I just looked at each other in shock and then looked back at the phone on speaker setting. “Ralph, we appreciated the offer, but we had decided NOT to go to Two Mile Landing Marina,” and I explained why.

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you, but Boat US has you on the schedule to be moved at 1 p.m. tomorrow. It’s all arranged.” I apologized to Ralph for the confusion and promised to call him back in a few minutes. Right after that, the local Boat US towing guy, Benny, called us, verifying the towing plans, and we, again, explained we had not requested the tow.

To make it even more confusing, Benny–the same driver who had initially refused to take us to Avalon–said he was under quarantine because one of his family members had Covid. So he couldn’t tow us, but Shamrock Towing out of Ocean City would be coming down to take us over to Two Mile Landing Marina. What??? I asked him why he was the one calling me about it.

“Well, they’re just really busy, and I’m home and not doing anything.” Gaylen and I just looked at each other with no words. I rubbed my forehead in a moment of exhaustion.

“I’m really sorry to hear about what you’re family is dealing with right now, but listen, I’m not sure we want to go to Two Mile,” and I explained our reasoning.

“Well, figure it out, because it’s scheduled.”

We called Boat US to talk directly to the manager who had given me her direct line, and she seemed really annoyed that I called. So much for making sure we were all set and happy with our service, I guess. She couldn’t tell me who had requested or authorized the tow that was scheduled for us. Gaylen and I hung up and took a breath. The whole thing was starting to feel very mafia-ish and like we were just pawns in a money making system.

“Do we just take the win?” I asked. “I mean at this point we have HUGE storms coming in, and it is more protected over at Two Mile than in the anchorage. Do we just go with it?”

“I think we just go with it,” Gaylen said. We let all the parties involved know that we’d take the tow that next day to Two Mile Landing Marina. At least we’d be on a dock with shore power. Sometimes when the universe pushes everything in a certain direction, you just need to drift with that current. So we did.

That afternoon, we heard from Shane from Shamrock Towing, and he was really professional in explaining the plans. They wanted to come earlier in the day Thursday, to go through a draw bridge at slack tide. The next morning they even called us when they were about an hour out to let us know their ETA. I liked that there were no surprises. We’d had enough of those.

I still didn’t call the Coast Guard to let them know we were moving until we had actually hooked onto the tow boat. I’d grown accustom to plans falling through, and I wanted to make sure that tow was really happening.

Alli at the bow during the tow to Two Mile Landing Marina

Shamrock Towing did a fabulous job of bringing us over to the marina. It was a short trip–only about 20 minutes, but it went smoothly. They made it easy. It was sunny and the warmest day we’d had for a while. The water was calm. It was a great day for a tow to happen.

Shamrock Towing and Salvage towing us from the anchorage in Cape May to Two Mile Landing Marina in Wildwood Crest, NJ across the bay

Things finally felt like they were going our way. It was in the 50s and sunny in the afternoon. Gaylen made coffee, and we went out on the foredeck without heavy jackets to enjoy a cup in the sun. While we were lounging outside, in a way we hadn’t for what seemed like forever, the dockmaster, Jim, came down to welcome us and give us some information. We liked him, immediately. It had been quite a while since we sat on our boat and had a chat with a person standing next to us on a dock. In fact, we thought back and realized we’d only spent one night on a dock since we left Newport, RI in May 2021. We stayed the night at a dock in Stockton Springs, ME in August when we did a concert at a restaurant there. The dockage was part of our payment. Every other night for the last 8 months, we’ve lived at anchor/on the hook. That, in itself, we mused, was a bit of an accomplishment.

Our friend, Marty and his buddy, John, came down to the docks to check on us and make sure we got settled. I think Marty also wanted to see the boat after having met with us multiple times but always on land after we came in by dinghy.

By going on shore power, we suddenly drastically changed so many of our normal practices. When the engine is working, we can charge our battery system. When it is not, we’re completely reliant on solar and wind power. During these last 5 weeks at anchor with no engine, we generally had enough juice to power our phones, Gaylen’s computer so he could do his tutoring sessions, the lights of our cabin if we were conservative, our anchor light at night, our bilge pumps going off once in a while, and the water pump for our kitchen sink, as long as I was conservative about that, too. But we did not have enough power to watch TV on our mounted television. Gaylen couldn’t charge power tools. I couldn’t use the galley cooktop or oven. Our bathroom light works on rechargeable batteries, and we couldn’t charge those except on a very sunny day. I couldn’t use my computer. And the refrigerator had been cleaned out and turned off the day after the engine died. We were keeping a bag of “cold storage” food in the cockpit.

Any cooking we had done had been on the small grill we have mounted to the back rail of the boat. And when it was windy and cold, we just ate cold meals. It was a balancing act. My grocery runs had started concentrating on meals I could prepare with no heat, but that meant more refrigerated items. The temperatures have fluctuated considerably since we’ve been here–often frigid but with days occasionally up in the 50s. That made food storage and coordinating what got used first a bit of an art form.

Mexican, yellow, green chili rice with onions and green peppers–our first hot meal on the stovetop after connecting to shore power

Suddenly, here we were with no restrictions, and it gave me a big mood boost. That night, I made garlic bread in the air fryer. I cooked spicy, green chili rice for dinner. I made microwave popcorn and hot chocolate with brandy and marshmallows. We felt decadent and pampered. The cabin shot up to 60 degrees with the electric heater going. This was luxury for us. Of course, it had been a warm day for the time of year, so that helped. The little things excited us–being able to turn on all the lights, not just the one right over what you were doing at the time. That was a treat. Gaylen at one point, just said, “Light it ALL up!”

Alli on the first day we arrived at Two Mile Landin Marina.

It was 44 degrees in the cabin when we got up Friday morning. We had opened up the doors to the v-berth and head (bathroom) to try to warm up the entirety of the interior. These last few weeks, we’d been spending all our time in the main cabin to conserve heat and keeping doors shut. The v-berth was still very cold, and it was going to take a while before the heat distributed evenly.

There was no time for relaxing. I went to work getting water for our fresh water tank which was getting pretty low. The water lines on the docks were turned off, which is typical this time of year, but we could still use our 5-gallon cans to get water from a spigot on the side of the marina office. It was quite a long way from where we were docked. This was a practice we were comfortable doing, as we had to do the same routine all winter in Newport, RI.

Gaylen worked on the engine while I dealt with fresh water. We had some sediment in our empty water cans, and I spent some time bleaching them out to make sure our water supply would be safe. I managed to get 20 gallons in the tank before the dockmaster, Jim, had apparently turned off the water in preparation for this weekend’s crazy cold snap. We knew he’d be turning it off. We just thought we had a little more time. He assured us we could get more water later next week, after the temperatures went up a bit. Jim was super helpful with us, even making sure we knew we could call him this weekend during the storm if we had any issues.

Alli points to S/V Mollynogger at the far end of the docks, as she stands near where the spigot for fresh water is at Two Mile Landing Marina. We had the marina entirely to ourselves.

Saturday was bitterly cold, down to 16 degrees F and blustery. It was a “work inside as much as possible” day. We hunkered down, with me getting some writing and computer work done as well as cleaning, and Gaylen working on the engine and researching possible fixes. Our buddy, Marty, made a run to some stores and was kind enough to bring us more propane tanks in case we needed them for extra heat or if the power went out during the upcoming storms. It was good timing, too, because we were down to just 2 small, green canisters. He’d been unbelievably helpful and kind to us, and we were so glad we met him.

Pickles staying warm in our big, handmade quilt

Sunday morning, we awoke to the sound of a loud, female duet. Gaylen thought it was probably recorded music coming from one of the nearby fishing vessels on the commercial dock next to our marina, but I recognized the chordal structure and timing. It was church. There was a church service going on right near us, and we could hear everything as if they were right outside our boat. It took us a bit to realize it was a service happening inside the restaurant at the marina which is closed for the season. The service started at 8:30 a.m., and it was very music-centric. They had even put one speaker on a tripod OUTSIDE and aimed it at the water, which is why we could hear it so well. I guess we must have looked like we needed to be “churched up” or something. At 10 a.m. we had a reprise of the entire service, we guessed, probably because of limited gatherings with recent Covid restrictions.

Gaylen removing the flywheel after jacking up the engine

We came to the docks so we could do some serious work, and whether our engine could be saved or not was still unknown. Gaylen used a borrowed scissor jack to lift the engine slightly. He removed the flywheel and the drive plate, which was not a small operation. The next few days would be very crucial in figuring out our next steps and determining what was causing the primary issues remaining with our engine and what parts needed to be ordered as quickly as possible. But at this point, we had to shift gears.

Serious weather was headed our way with 50 knot wind gusts predicted Sunday night into Monday and a gale warning in effect through Tuesday morning. Outside the bay, in open water, 9-14 foot seas were predicted, which is crazy. It was going to be a very bumpy day or two, so storm prep became the priority. I tightly wrapped our main sail with a line. There’s already a fabric cover on it, but in winds over 50 knots, the air can fill small gaps and rip a cover right off, leading to sails getting shredded. The winds weren’t supposed to be hurricane force, but when predicted to be over 50 knots, I always feel better winding a solid line down the boom from the mast to the cockpit, lessoning the chance of the wind getting ahold of the fabric. It’s a 5-minute task that might save our sail someday. I also went around and took everything below that could get swept away in the wind and stacked a small amount of heavier things in the lower part of the cockpit. We’ve got a good feeling now for what will stay put in each area of the deck and what will not. Gaylen checked all the dock lines and used blocks to secure spring lines. Doing so distributes the load on the dock better, so we ride out the bumpiness in high winds in more fluid motions.

Prepared as best we could be, we settled in for the evening, poured ourselves shots of rum, and relaxed for a bit. I mixed up some sourdough bread–something we’d been missing since I hadn’t had enough power to bake. Rubber boots and jackets remained handy, in case we had to run out on deck at any point. By 9 p.m., the winds had started gusting up over 30 knots. We expected we probably wouldn’t be getting a lot of sleep that night, but at least we didn’t need to set an anchor alarm.

The Sail Bums get adopted

01/11/22

Around New Year’s Day we were walking through town and noticed a play at one of the local theatres, Adopt a Sailor. The venue was dark that night, and I really wanted to come back to see it, but we never got the chance. Recently, however, we wrote our own version.

A while back we had befriended Marty, the Flotilla Commander for the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Cape May. In fact, we had even gotten permission to be on the docks at their building, although we decided Molly was a bit too beefy for those accommodations.  It wasn’t long, however, before Marty’s generous nature led him to inviting us over for food, showers, and company. Today was the day we took him up on that.

The morning gave us temperatures in the 40s with a stiff but manageable breeze out of the southwest. Some of the wind models were predicting 15-20 kts but we were seeing 10-12, so we made the 1.2 mile ride to the Auxiliary base. The Coast Guard Auxiliary in Cape May has two docks, one in front, facing the South Jersey Marina and the other, longer dock across the street in Devil’s Creek. We made our way to Devil’s Creek and met Marty there.  

After tying up our dinghy, the Lorri-Sue, we piled into his SUV and headed to Walmart for provisions and camp gas for the heater. All the carts pulled to the left for some reason, and by the time we had filled it, it took both of us to manoeuvre it. When we were done we headed back to Marty’s for food and showers. 

Marty and his wife, Mary Ellen, live a few miles outside of Cape May. Their house still had Christmas decorations up, which was nice. An electronic picture frame sat in the living room, scrolling past moments of their lives as we chatted and got to know each other better. Kids, grandkids, dogs, special moments that were important to them flashed by, creating a background for our conversation. We could have, wanted to, stayed longer but the weather was yet again pushing us along. Rain was coming in and we were hoping to get back home without getting soaked.

We said our goodbyes after loading the dinghy and secretly leaving a 6 pack in his front seat to find after we shoved off. We made it back dry, coming through the companionway just as the rain started to fall. It was nice to yet again find friendly people willing to help and we’re very happy to be adopted, even for a short period. It really makes a difference in our attitude and coping with a less than ideal situation.

Waiting and staying warm…ish

01/10/22

It was around 30℉ throughout the night, and even though I had gotten up to run the heater for two hours at 5 a.m., the cabin was at 46℉  by 10 a.m. However, before long we had her up in the mid 50s. The extra sunshine gave us a little boost of heat with some passive solar, as well as feeding our batteries with PV (photo-voltaic) solar. That was enough to make coffee this morning–a much missed part of our routine since winter has hit us. Moreover, the lower sun angles and shorter days have made it a challenge to keep our batteries full enough to use our galley regularly, which is something I did not take into account with the design, figuring we wouldn’t be this far north this time of year.

Today was a stay-in-the-boat sort of day. The northwesterly wind, although not the gale force blow that was predicted, was still 15 to 20 kts, bitterly cold, and provided a bit of chop during the 6 hours of inbound current. We did the normal, routine things: cooked lunch, watched a TV show online, and worked on plans, plus I studied a bit. We are hoping to get in touch with the tow boat people tomorrow, and if all goes well, we’ll make a plan to go the 16 miles up to Avalon Tuesday or Wednesday, so I can begin repairs.

To prepare to be under tow last Thursday, which was our original hope, I had replaced the transmission and attached the coupling. Doing so prevents the shaft from dragging back into the rudder, compromising our steering. Since then either high winds, rain, or extreme cold have kept me from working back in the engine room, and I really don’t want to keep putting this all back together for when the call comes to tow us. 

Also, a giant dredging operation has begun just down river, quite close when the current is heading out of the bay. We haven’t deviated from our anchor radius since we reset a couple weeks back, so I’m not too concerned about dragging into them; but I’ll be happier when we leave. When that is, we still have no idea. But, when it does happen, I’ll be doing a hard burn to get us ready for a cold trip to Norfolk.

The Epic Cape May Struggle-Part 1

01/08/22

We were finally in Cape May, NJ. For over a year we’ve looked at this as a major stop that to us meant we were almost there, almost south. From here, we were just a 30-mile direct sail down to Norfolk, VA, where the temperatures are much warmer and we would have access to tons of resources and gigging opportunities. We couldn’t wait to be wearing fewer clothes and playing music regularly, so getting to this point was huge for us. We were rejoicing, energized, and motivated to do the next leg of the journey.

Coming into Cape May, NJ, Dec. 4, 2021

We came into the harbor just as the sun was setting, and there was only one other boat in the anchorage. In fact, it was the same sailboat which was next to us in Atlantic City, and they were headed south, as well. Although we never met the people onboard, there was some comfort in being close to someone else on the same mission, and we were both making our dreams happen.

Big winds were coming in the next couple of days, so we knew we’d be staying put for a bit. Then we’d need to make the decision to go up the Delaware River and through the C & D Canal to the top of the Chesapeake or to go on the outside directly to Norfolk. Going on the outside would save several days but be a more challenging sail lasting around 30 hours.

Bathrooms/Showers at South Jersey Marina

When we first got into Cape May, we looked for a safe and appropriate place for us to dinghy to shore, and it was a pretty long dinghy ride. South Jersey Marina, about a mile away, was the nearest place to tie up and walk to grocery stores and restaurants. South Jersey was closed for the season, technically, but the staff members were still there doing work. We only expected to be in town a few days. They offered to let us tie up our dinghy when needed and use their showers for a small fee. The showers were gorgeous. They were seriously the nicest marina bathrooms we’ve encountered so far on this journey, and we were so elated to have a nice place to clean up whenever we wanted. They gave us the building codes to access the showers 24/7.

A couple days later, Gaylen went to start the engine to charge the backup batteries, and we were met with piercing squealing noises. Gaylen immediately shut things down and went to work diagnosing the problem. We have a lot of spare parts on board, so he just worked the process of elimination, like one does, including the belt, fresh water intake, alternator, etc. Unfortunately, after several days of working on the engine and making upgrades, the engine was running again but with a loud knocking noise. We’re lucky enough to have multiple friends who are marine diesel mechanics, and we were on the phone with all of them many times, talking through the issues. With each step we thought we had it all figured out, only to find each fix made some things run better but not everything. The core problem remained.

A TMU (machine shop) technician goes over things with on Dec. 21, 2021 Gaylen after doing work for us.

Gaylen sent our injectors out to have some work done on them, and on Dec. 17 he installed the refurbished ones. This, again, did not completely fix the issue, although it was good we had it done. All these upgrades would eventually help our engine run more smoothly, so nothing we were doing would be in vain. It was all stuff we’d have to do eventually, anyway, so bonus points for us…just no grand prize of actually having a well working engine.

Still working toward the core problem, we took our engine head to a local machine shop, TMU, and they were amazing. The technician even came out to to pick up the head and go over the problem with Gaylen in person. Then when he was done, he delivered it back to us. For people without cars, this was a huge help and much appreciated. Plus their work was stellar. It was $400 to have them retool certain parts of our head and fix a couple studs and bolts that had been stripped. We were very happy with their work and hopeful it would lead to a working engine again. At this point it was Dec. 21 and we’d been in Cape May 17 days–almost 2 weeks longer than we’d planned. It was starting to get really cold.

We also got help from Eckels Marine Diesel. The father at that shop is just a wealth of knowledge and talked with Gaylen numerous times, walking him through things to check or replace based on what we were seeing and hearing. They never charged us a thing for their expertise. We’re very grateful and would recommend them to anyone. They understood how desperate our situation was becoming, and they just wanted to help us be on our way.

Meanwhile, South Jersey Marina informed us they were shutting down due to a Covid outbreak, and we could not longer use their facilities. We’d showered twice there toward the early part of our trip, and it had been well over a week since the last time. They reluctantly allowed us to continue dinghying to their docks, but shortly thereafter, they placed caution tape on the ramps, blocking the way to land.

No other marinas were open in town, and even with the situation we were facing, none of them would let us come to their docks. In fact, overall, the lack of helpfulness was extremely disheartening and surprising. In Maine, you look out for each other. Conditions can get treacherous, and when you can help you just do–even if it’s not your normal business practice or procedure. No one is going to let you stay out in the cold, frigid conditions. Our experience here has been very different, even though we’re in a more mild climate, in general. We talked to all the marinas multiple times, but there was no local place for us to dock the dinghy when we came to shore or to take Molly so we could more easily do the work. But it wasn’t just about making it easy. If we don’t have shore power, we can only get the boat up to a barely tolerable temperature. Gaylen needs the engine warmer to do certain repairs and upgrades, so we really need shore power to get the work done. Plus we can’t afford for our engine to freeze. It’s not winterized, and we can’t winterize it and do the repairs. We just need shore power.

The head being reinstalled after being worked on by a local machine shop.

Snug Harbor Marina was wonderful with us. Situated right across the bay from the anchorage, they made sure we got water and fuel, but they are too shallow for our sailboat. Also their docks are no where near stores and other resources, so it didn’t make sense for us to dinghy there when we needed to go to shore for supplies. Ralph, the manager, had turned off the water on the docks, but he brought us into a back room where there was a large sink, deep enough to fill our two 6-gallon water jugs with nice, clean well water. He didn’t have to do that for us, and plus, we just really liked Ralph. He’s good people.

Gaylen put the head back on the engine with a new head gasket which we already had on hand among our spare parts. Still, we were getting the loud knocking. One mechanic had suggested we should run the engine rather hard in reverse for a while and that maybe some water had gotten into the system. Running it hot might eliminate the water and possibly fix everything. We did this, thinking it was too good to be true, and it was. It did seem to run better after it had been going for a few minutes. We were momentarily encouraged. We started talking about just taking off the next day and hoping for the best. Gaylen said, “If this is still starting up and running like this tomorrow, I say we just go.” Moments later, dramatically, the engine completely seized, leaving only a light “tick-tick-tick” kind of sound. And then we knew. We had much more advanced repairs ahead…repairs that would be extremely hard at anchor.

We spent Christmas in Cape May, which was definitely not on the agenda. A few weeks ago, I connected with a fellow sailor named Sharon who was planning to bring her sailboat south to North Carolina. She let me know she’d be coming through Cape May soon and was hoping to see us in person. Sure enough, right before Christmas she let me know she was headed our way within a few days. Although I was hoping to not be here by the time she came through the area, the idea of meeting her and hanging out with her definitely gave me something to look forward to and was a welcome distraction to what we were facing and the cold we were feeling.

ur heroes, Fran and John, who invited us into their home for showers and took us on a tour of their Cape May during the Christmas season.

I reached out to just about everyone you can imagine trying to find another place for us to shower. It had been 2 weeks since our last showers at South Jersey Marina. None of the local hotels which had pools and showers would allow us to pay a fee to use their facilities, despite the fact that their websites said people are allowed to do so. Local inns, churches, rec centers, etc., could not help. This compounded the feelings of people in the area seeming to be constantly working against us getting anything done.

On one of the calls I made, I connected with a wonderful woman named Fran. She was very empathetic. During the warm, friendly conversation, she gave me multiple suggestions of who to call. I tried some of the outlets she suggested, and then called her back to ask a clarifying question. She said, “I’m so glad you called back. I’ve talked to my husband, and you’re coming to our house for showers.” I cried when I got off the phone with her. Her kindness and selflessness touched me deeply, and after hearing “no” and “not my problem” from so many people, her willingness to help just melted me.

Alli & Gaylen un front of Congress Hall

Fran and her husband not only invited us into their home for showers. They laid out towels and toiletries for us in case we didn’t have them. They fed us holiday bon-bon cookies which reminded me of my mother’s baking, brewed hot coffee for us, and afterward, they drove us all around Cape May to see the beautiful Christmas lights still up all over town. They also took us to Congress Hall–a beautiful, restored estate that’s now a high-end hotel and event center, and it’s decorated to amazing excess. It was a night of beauty, kindness, and clean bodies from showers. Our hope in people was restored, and our negative feelings about Cape May quelled. We can’t thank them enough for their kindness and friendship.

Suddenly, our diesel heater stopped working, leaving us in the cold on a rather chilly night in the 30s. Gaylen quickly diagnosed the problem as a fuel pump that can easily be replaced, but we couldn’t find a place to have the part sent.

We were cold, frustrated, and craving a hot meal. So we headed into shore to try to buy a small propane heater at the local hardware store and grab some dinner. The folks at Swain’s Hardware were super helpful and concerned about us. We had called ahead to make sure they had a heater we could purchase, and we asked them to set it aside for us. It was a mile walk to the store, so we wanted to be sure. As we walked though town, all the Christmas lights were still on display, and we had a brief evening in the 40s–not too cold and downright pleasant walking through all the pretty lights. For a moment, we forgot our troubles and just enjoyed the journey, seeing a lovely town during one of the prettiest times of the year.

My sailing friend, Sharon, came into the harbor Jan. 2, right before a big storm was going to hit the area. She pulled up to a closed marina, figuring she’d settle up with them later. But they were fully shut down. She was able to stay on those docks for a few days, but there was no shore power, no water, and no one there to clean off the docks from the blizzard that was coming through the next day. We messaged frequently to check on each other as the storm brought several inches of snow and winds over 40 knots. Mollynogger was rocked pretty hard by the storm, but our anchor held, and we were safe…just very cold and disheartened. The last thing we thought we would have to deal with on this trip was more snow.

Alli out on deck checking on things during the winter storm on Jan. 3, 2021 in Cape May

The day after the blizzard, Sharon decided to go to Walmart to get some supplies. She came back with a bunch of groceries and 3 large boxes of little, green propane bottles–the same ones we use on our grill and our portable propane heater we’re using to get by until we get our diesel heater fixed. Sharon was struggling to safely bring everything down the snowy docks to her boat, so she made us an offer. She said if we dinghied over to help her bring everything down to her boat, she’d give us one of the three boxes of propane bottles–which was nearly a $100 value. Honestly, we would have probably gone to help her regardless of that offer, because no one should be alone, carrying things down a snowy, icy dock. It’s just not safe.

We bundled up, covering as much skin as possible. It was in the teens and really windy and dark. It was about a 10-15 minute dinghy ride over to where she was. The cold stung our faces immediately, and we were anxious to do the deed as quickly as possible. Half way across the bay, in the middle of the channel where all the fishing vessels come through at all hours, our dinghy engine stopped. It just stopped. And there we were, looking at our breath, fighting panic and realizing we were at least an hour-long row back to our boat without the engine in the frigid cold. It took Gaylen about 10 minutes to get the engine going again as I crossed my fingers, and we made a bee line for our boat, worried we wouldn’t make it back otherwise. I let Sharon know what our situation was and encouraged her to make her way back to the boat to get warm. She decided to leave some of her supplies by a marina building up on land, with the idea of retrieving them the next day. The marina was closed, and most likely no one would mess with her purchases.

We made it back to Mollynogger, and Gaylen figured out what the problem was. He surprised me and said, “Want to try this again?” I thought for sure he would say it was too dangerous to set out a second time that night. We were already so cold, but the promise of free propane and helping a friend in need outweighed our fears. Off we went again, and luckily, this time, we made it over to her quickly and brought her boxes down to her in about 15 minutes. It wasn’t an easy task. The docks were white and packed down quite a bit with wet snow that had started to freeze hard. I’m glad we went, because I definitely would not have wanted her trying to do that by herself.

The next day, we connected with Marty, the outgoing Flotilla Commander at the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and getting his help and connections was a game changer for us. At first he offered to possibly have us stay for free on the auxiliary dock, but we found it was not long or strong enough to handle Molly–too bad, too, because that was a perfect solution. Marty brought us into the auxiliary building to warm up and try to talk through potential plans. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone that afternoon trying to find somewhere else that might take us for a couple of weeks, and I was striking out hard! It all started getting to me, and I just broke down on Gaylen and Marty, much to my frustration. Strong female sailor here–just a few tears of frustration.

Alli in the CG Auxiliary “shack” after hitting road block after roadblock
in trying to find a place to dock Mollynogger
The unique desk in the CG Auxiliary “shack” or office where we met with Marty, the outgoing Flotilla Commander.

While we were doing laundry nearby and meeting with Marty that day, I heard from Sharon, who was having some engine issues as she tried to leave the bay to continue her journey. Gaylen agreed to go over to help her resolve those problem after we were done with meeting with Marty, who really wanted us to just come stay at his house. He didn’t like the idea of us being out on the boat in the cold, but we couldn’t leave the boat unattended and also wouldn’t leave Pickles in the cold. We appreciated his offer, immensely, though, and hoped to take him up on offers of showers another day.

We made our way back to Mollynogger where Gaylen dropped me off to run the heater and get the boat warmed up, while he grabbed some tools and went right over to Sharon’s boat to offer assistance. Sharon had an issue with her belt, and Gaylen made the adjustment and showed her how to do it next time in case it happened again. Things are so shut down here in Cape May. If we hadn’t been here, I don’t know what Sharon would have done to get mechanical assistance. It’s just not available here this time of year, and I’m really glad we were here to help. Now, we’ve developed a very fast and deep friendship, as often happens among sailors, and I’m sure we’ll be connecting more as we continue south.

At this point, it was Jan. 5. It was getting colder by the day. We still didn’t have a place to have anything mailed. We still didn’t have a working engine. Getting water was about to get a lot harder, as Snug Harbor was shutting down completely on Jan. 9, and we still didn’t have a place to dock the boat for a couple of weeks while we made repairs. Things were starting to feel dire and scary. We weren’t technically unsafe. We had food, water, a way to shore, limited heat and a boat that floats. But we were cold with the temperatures in the boat running between 45 and 54 most days even while running the propane heater the majority of the time.

Sharon took off on the next leg of her sailing journey. Her leaving made me feel even more lonely that I already did. I’d been incredibly homesick during this month in Cape May–crazy homesick, crying a lot and all the time wanting desperately to make this work and keep going south. We had to make it work. We’ve worked too hard and come too far to stop now. And stopping wasn’t even an option if we wanted to cut and run. No marina within 30 miles of us was willing to pull us out of the water. In the back of our minds we’d thought, in the worst case scenario, we’d have Molly pulled up on the hard. We’d go somewhere for a couple of months and then come back to do the work and keep going. No one–NO ONE was willing to pull our boat out of the water and store her. We were stuck, truly stuck in a cold, desolate anchorage, right in front of the Coast Guard, next to a sunken sailboat abandoned long ago like a horrible omen we were forced to stare at every day. We were not willing to give up and not willing to abandon Molly. There had to be another solution.

What the Hell Am I Doing Here?

“I can’t feel my toes. That’s probably not a good thing.” They’d been throbbing hard for at least two hours. Now, I felt nothing.

Alli earlier in the day. Cold but feeling positive and excited to get to the next stop.

We were making our way up the river into Plymouth Harbor in Massachusetts, and I’d been out on the bow of the boat in the cold wind with no protection for about 30 minutes. That’s after a full day of sailing just to get to this point. I was as far forward as I could possibly be, trying to get a better view of what was in front of us. My upper back had started to spasm from the frigid air and from trying to stand in one place too long, holding a spotlight and sweeping the area in front of us for lobster pots–the bane of every New England sailor.

I really can’t wait to get out of New England. It’s beautiful, and it’s home; and it’s FULL of freaking lobster pots. I call it the live-action dodgeball video game. It’s absolutely constant! Taking shifts on the boat isn’t really possible until we get out of New England. It takes both of us scanning the water for the little buggers. After hitting one off Cape Elizabeth early on in our departure from Maine this year, we are committed to not letting that happen again. We got lucky and had no damage, and we were on our way in a couple of days. I had no interest in tempting fate again!

It was a long, windy trek into Plymouth Harbor, through channel markers which we’d navigated twice before but never in the dark and never late at night. After the day we’d had–being tossed around like ragdolls for nearly 13 hours, we were so very tired and DONE! Our rear ends were sore from the constant impacts of the waves. My arms were throbbing from hanging on tightly as we kept tipping side to side at extreme angles all day long with only a few seconds between drastic changes in which hand or foot was keeping me in place. But we weren’t done. We still had probably another 45 minutes to an hour of working our way at a snail’s pace to the mooring field and grabbing a ball for the night. I’d called ahead, and the harbormaster’s office was letting us take a mooring for one overnight at no cost. One night would be great. We’ve spend enough time in Plymouth in the past. There was no need to linger.

Last year, on our way south, we got stuck in Plymouth for a solid week because of storms around Thanksgiving. We spent the holiday on the boat right near where the historic first Thanksgiving happened, but conditions were so poor, we never left the boat, despite being within sight of the huge Mayflower replica. Plymouth, as lovely as it is, always feels a little cursed in connection to our journey. In three trips here, we’ve never been to shore. Maybe that’s the problem, who knows. So here we were, in the pitch black, having diverted to Plymouth instead of continuing to Provincetown as planned, because of the way higher seas than predicted and less than favorable wind conditions that were not AT ALL what was in the forecast for the area. We were frustrated, exhausted, a little wet, wind blown, sore, and couldn’t wait to not be moving.

Gaylen at the helm near sunset, before entering the inlet for Plymouth Harbor

I kept shifting my weight on my feet, putting one leg up on the toe rail, then switching to the other, stretching my side, doing forward bends, back extensions, shoulder rolls…anything to keep the blood flowing, make me warmer and keep my joints from locking up in the cold. They’d all been taxed way too much today.

My thoughts continued for a long time with laser sharp focus and speed for that last part of the trip. I think my brain was trying to distract my nerves from how much everything hurt.

Look at the lights on shore there. Those houses must be worth millions, right on the beach, right along the dunes. Oh, look at that one with the huge wrap around porch. I love a big wrap around porch. I’ve always wanted one. I never got it, but I guess that’s what the deck of our boat is–HA! A small one, but it DOES go all the way around.

Damn, my feet hurt so bad. My sciatica is killing me–in BOTH legs. That never happens. It’s normally just on the right side. Maybe if I keep shuffling the weight on my feet like I’m doing backup singer moves but not actually moving my feet very much so I don’t lose my balance it won’t hurt so badly. Yeah, loosen up the arthritic joints and they’ll feel better, I’m sure. (Singing in my head, “Honey, YOU are my shining star…” Shuffling my feet slightly and moving my hips to the slow beat to warm up, keep things lubricated. Dammit, it’s just making my feet hurt worse. I put my right foot up on the gypsy and leave all my weight on the left leg. That doesn’t help. I just makes my left foot throb more. Seriously, are my feet just going to split open? They feel like balloons about to pop.

I do more backup singer choreography but with tiny movements, so I don’t fall over into the dark water. “Do you remembuh…the 21st of Septembuh!” I sing softly to myself.

Turn on the spot light, sweep for pots. “One o’clock!” I yell out to Gaylen at the helm, and he responds he heard me. He veers to avoid the pots slightly each time I bring them to his attention. He’d never see them if I wasn’t up here shining the spotlight across the channel. It’s so dark. Thank goodness we have a good spotlight.

I wonder how much those houses go for, anyway. “Are we moving at all?” I yell out to Gaylen and he lets me know that, yes, we’re going but barely over a knot…so…super slowly. That’s okay. I didn’t want to get warmer anytime soon. It’s fine. I could stay out here all night. Really. I don’t mind. F–K my life!

WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE!!!!???? I’m 50 years old. I have Psoriatic Arthritis. I have Osteoarthritis. I’m overweight, even though I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last 2 years. I’m a grandmother. What was I thinking? What made me think this was a good idea? I can’t do this! Standing out on the bow of a big sailboat in the pitch black, trying not to hit things, trying to spot the marker buoys before we smash into something we do not want to hit. Then we’ll REALLY be cold, let me tell you! We hit that water, and, boy, we’re gonna wish we were never born.

Turn on the spotlight, sweep for pots. I motion to a pot at 11 o’clock but I’m so tired I can’t think of the words “eleven o’clock” at the time. “See that one?” I yell to Gaylen, training the spot directly on it. It’s white. He should be able to see it with the spot on it.

“Yup,” he yells back. Meanwhile, he’s dealing with some weird jaw pain and yup is about all he can muster without being in a world of hurt. I’m trying not to make him talk/yell much. We can’t hit a pot. We can’t afford it, if it were to do serious damage to our prop or rudder. God, that would be awful. The fear is real!

“Another one at 2…and…STARBOARD, TURN TO STARBOARD, AND POT PORT BOW NOW!!!” I scream, and wave my arms emphatically while making the light blink quickly at the pot right in front of us. He quickly jerks the wheel to starboard. I grab onto the lifeline to keep from falling over sideways. My legs aren’t working normally at this point–super stiff and cold, tired and swollen from the day’s business. It was a long day of business. A lot of nope for my joints. Missed the pot, I thought. Whew. Sweep more often, but save the spotlight battery as much as possible. Just keep doing that. Ignore how cold you are and how much everything hurts. How am I supposed to save the battery on the spotlight but look often enough to avoid pots? What if I use it too much and then we have nothing? I bring this up to Gaylen in a moment of just needing to connect with someone. It’s kind of lonely up here on the bow.

“What you’re doing is perfect!” he says with a note of pride in his voice. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

“Well, THAT’S not something I hear every day,” I yell back with some attitude and a bit of laughter in my voice.

“Well, that’s just sad!” And that was the end of the conversation for a while. Neither one of us really had the energy to keep yelling back and forth. We’d reminded each other we were in this together. Okay, moving on…next look ahead.

Turn on the spotlight, sweep for pots. My feet, Jesum-crow! How can they hurt this badly? I’ve been sitting or being slammed into the coaming on my ass–all day. Why do my feet hurt so much? Oh, I know, I’ve been bracing myself all day because my ass was taking such a beating, getting pounded by the waves. THAT’S why my feet hurt. Knowing that does…not…help me.

“There’s a huge batch of them up ahead a bit,” I blurt out quickly, “Like 4, 5…oh, crap, a lot!!!” Gaylen diverts multiple times as I keep shining the light so he can see everything we’re trying not to hit. At this point, I can’t even vocalize all the directions he needs to go. I’m just making sure he can see everything, so he can adjust his course and avoid them.

I wonder, again, if the light I’m using is going to have enough juice. If we lose this spotlight, we’re screwed. I need to order a backup. I really didn’t want to spend that money right now. Whatever. We do what we have to do. Find a way or make a way! I still want that as some sort of tattoo. Where’s the best place for me to get that on my body? I don’t just want lettering alone on my skin. I feel like I should put it beside something else. Autumn (my tattoo artist and friend) could design something cool, I’m sure. Maybe the words with some sort of wave or an artistic interpretation of water. Maybe it should go on my right shoulder, but I want to be able to see it well.

Turn on the light, sweep for pots. “White one right in the middle of the channel!”

“Yup!”

Man, you’d think with all this stretching I’m doing my back would be loosening up. Nope! Sudden, sharp, crazy pain through my left inner forearm. My hand involuntarily releases the rail I’m hanging onto for balance and safety. Oh, my God! Where did that come from? It’s from hanging on all day trying not to get thrown from the boat. That’s where. Well, that was apparently great for my carpel tunnel. I wonder what that’s going to feel like tomorrow.

Turn on the light, sweep for pots. Nothing ahead for now so breathe. If you breathe deeply it will warm you up. Use your yoga breathing. You know how this works. Just breathe.

Turn on the light, sweep for pots. Still nothing. Maybe there won’t be any more pots as we get closer to the mooring field. Wishful thinking, but it’s a nice thought.

I stretch my spine backward again, trying to relieve the shooting sciatica pain down the backs of both legs. I look up. There are a million stars. The moon is starting to brighten things. It was much more cloudy when we started coming in the channel over an hour ago. It’s clearing off now. So many stars, with the kind of clear, crisp skies that only seem to happen in colder temperatures. I’m 50 years old. I’m standing on the bow of a boat in the darkness, responsible for making sure we don’t hit any pots or rocks coming in here. I have that responsibility. If I don’t see it, we could hit it. How did I get that responsibility? Who thought I could be trusted to do that?

This is such a rare thing. Who gets the chance at 50 years old to stand out on the bow of the boat like this–our home, our floating paradise. I’m an adventurer. I’m a badass. The vast majority of people I know just wouldn’t do this. They just WOULDN’T!

I look to my left as we turn a corner in the channel between two buoys and suddenly the full harvest moon is right over my left shoulder, bright, gorgeous, and casting a perfect stream of light over the water. I get to see this, to experience this. No one else has this view, right now, right here, other than us. We have the whole outer harbor to ourselves, and it’s huge. The moon is magical. Suddenly, I can see so much better, and even without the spotlight, I’m starting to be able to pick out where there are obstacles ahead. It’s like the moon knew my breaking point and came out to help and to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone out here in the dark. I thank the moon out loud, willing a celestial connection with it.

Suddenly, I feel lucky. Even with all this going on, I feel like I’ve done something right in my life to deserve this opportunity. I’m sure people think this boating thing is so relaxing and glamorous. It’s constant work, especially while we’re making our way south in the cold conditions. The relaxing comes later, when we’re down in the warmth. Right now, it’s hard. Some days it feels like a full time job.

I shift my weight a few times again, trying to get the blood going in my legs which feel like tree trunks now. Are they twice the normal size? They feel like twice the normal size. I sing in my head and move my hips to the imaginary sound, “Oh, we’re back on the chain gang, back on the chain gang.”

We’re almost to the far shore, and when we get there, we’ll have the lights of Plymouth to help us see better. Then the pressure will be off us, considerably, and I’ll know we’re close to being able to pick up a mooring and rest. God, I’m going to sleep like a baby, after a drink…drinks…and food. A lot of food.

I love this life. Even when I’m cold, I love the process of warming up afterward so much. The ordeal makes me appreciate the simple things so much more, like heat. I love being sore, because I know I’m pushing my body in a way I simply would not be if I was working a desk job and in my car half the day and on the couch at night. I love seeing places I’ve never seen before, interacting with people I’ve never met, dangling my delicate trust out in front of me to see if someone deserves it or if my body can handle what’s ahead. I love that we’re doing something a very small part of the population has done. I went to a dinner party recently, and folks were in awe of what we’re doing and had a hundred questions. They’re fascinated, and I get it. I was completely enthralled with the people who were doing it when I was dreaming of this lifestyle. They were my heroes and the people I aspired to be. And now I’m filling that role for someone. That’s amazing. I’m proud of that. I love sharing our stories with people and helping others who are in the beginning stages of planning to join this crazy, nomad, cruiser and liveaboard life. I no longer let doubt keep me from doing things I’ve never done. If you never try, you can’t know what you are capable of doing.

Right: back to business. Turn on the spotlight, sweep for pots. “The harbormaster’s office says we can pick up any orange-flagged ball,” I yell back to Gaylen as I scan with the light and see two of those moorings up ahead.

“Orange?” he questions.

“Yeah, orange–not the green ones. The orange ones will hold better in the high winds tonight. Want that one?” I yelled and put the spotlight on the closest one that fit the description.

“No, the next one!” I use the light to focus in on the one I think he prefers.

“That one?” I yell, as I realize I’m starting to lose my voice from the cold and just being so tired.

“Yeah, that one.”

We settle into a comfortable, practiced routine. We know it’ll be over soon. We’ll be able to go down below, get warmed up, and relax our muscles for a few minutes before cleaning up around deck. In fact, we might not even bother to do anything up on deck till morning. I go to get the expandable boat hook secured on the foredeck. I get ready to lean out through the front stanchions to reach the mooring ball loop, normally just under the water next to the floating ball which marks the big, heavy mooring down on the bottom. I realize, feeling like an idiot, that I don’t need the hook…or I shouldn’t. These moorings have really tall pendants or floats with sticks on top of them with flag markers. I should be able to just lean over, grab it, haul it up on deck, and then pull until I have the actual mooring line loop to secure on a cleat. I’ve done this a hundred times. It’s easy with these tall markers. No biggie. This will be quick, and then we can relax, thank goodness.

Gaylen throttles back slowing our speed, so we can just coast up to the side of the mooring. I’ll reach out and grab the marker and then get us attached. I crouch down and reach out for the pendant. I realize in the last couple of seconds of our approach that we’re going to be just a few inches too far away for me to get my hands on it. Helplessly, I watch it go by my open palm. NO! Crap, now we’ve got to go all the way around several boats, make a wide circle and come back to try again. We were supposed to be done. I should be done by now. I stand up, look helplessly back at Gaylen and shake my head, signaling that I missed it.

He’s as exhausted as I am. “Oh, COME ON!”

“Yup.” I’m disgusted with myself.

Gaylen brings the boat back around for attempt number two. We almost never need a second attempt when there’s a tall pendant we can grab. I position myself again. No way am I missing this! I’ll freaking hang off the side of the boat if I have to, and he can help me back up. I’m catching this pendant. It lines up perfectly. It’s going to drift right into my outstretched hand. Suddenly, the bow veers to starboard. “Closer!” I yell out to Gaylen a little aggressively in tone, so he can adjust and turn into the mooring just a little. I’m not missing this damn thing. There’s no adjustment. He doesn’t hear me. I miss the pendant by less than a hand’s length, but I can’t lean out any further without falling in the water.

I want to cry. My legs are so stiff and sore it takes me more than a few seconds to stand back up again…in shame. I look back at the cockpit, guilt and defeat on my face. I don’t have to say anything. He knows.

“You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!!” Gaylen says and then makes a completely appropriate audible sound of frustration which I feel all the way to my toenails. He swings us around for attempt number three–unheard of for us at this point in our cruising career. Cue the circus music, because we’re just a clown act now. Might as well be wearing red noses and passing out popcorn. “Use the boat hook,” he yells. I don’t normally need it for these tall pendants. I’m exhausted, not thinking straight. My limbs are awkward. I can’t really feel my hands anymore. I squat down really low, extend the boat hook as far as it will go, ready for anything including falling into the water while trying to catch this thing. The current kept pushing us away from the mooring as we approached before. We both realize that now, and we’ve both adjusted for it.

You got this, I told myself out loud on attempt number three. Sure enough, I use the boat hook to tip the pendant toward me by just a few inches, grab it with all my might and wrestle it on deck, then pull the line to get the nasty, dirty mooring loop to secure it to our deck cleat. Gaylen comes running out on deck as soon as he sees the pendant come up in my hands. I’ve got it, solidly, but the damn slimy, nasty pendant is spreading green and black goo all over my cold weather pants. Gaylen starts pulling the line out of my hands, and I yell, “No, just get the damn pendant off my leg.” He stops and doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t understand. At a moment like this why would I care about getting dirty? And in my head I’m thinking BECAUSE IT’S ONE MORE DAMN THING!!! One more thing I didn’t need to deal with tonight. It’ll take me 20 minutes to clean the stinky goo off my only pair of foul weather pants, and I don’t have the energy for that tonight.

Gaylen immediately goes down below to get warm. He’s done. He’s been in jaw pain all day–probably aches all over, too, just like I do. But I don’t seem to know how to stop. I start cleaning everything up on deck, washing off all the slime that came up with the pendant and mooring line. There’s green and black, stinky goo everywhere. The smell turns my empty stomach. I can’t leave it there. I pick up our tethers, life jackets, our lunch bags from earlier in the day that I stuffed into the top part of the dodger so they wouldn’t blow away, our drink cups in the holders, our gloves I want to hang below so they dry out for tomorrow, and a blanket I had put up in the cockpit for the cat.

“Honey, you’re done. Come down,” Gaylen says gently. “Don’t worry about all that. We’ll get it tomorrow.” I’ve pushed myself so hard to keep going for so long today, I don’t seem to know how to stop. I finish cleaning everything up on deck and carry everything down below. I start taking Clorox wipes to our jackets and my pants to clean off the green slime I can’t stop smelling. I won’t be able to relax till that smell is gone and I know we’re not spreading it down below on what few clean things we have. I take off my hat and sweatshirt, because the heat is going in the cabin now. The warmth feels great, but I know if I don’t start removing insulation, I will start sweating. And then my thermals will be damp for tomorrow. I need them dry tomorrow, so I can stay warm. My hair is wild. I run my fingers through it to get it under control. I’m still wearing thermal underwear and thick socks. I should change, but I don’t have the energy. I go to the galley and start making us food.

“Just stop. Have a drink,” he urges. So I do.

He’s already poured me a shot of something–not sure what it is. I don’t care. I grab it and curl up on the end of the settee with a blanket over my legs. Oh, yeah.

This is nice. I might never get up again.

Questions

I get a lot of questions. But, that’s okay, I don’t mind questions. I used to mind them a lot. Probably because questions were used as a form of passive aggressive discipline when I was younger: “Do you think you’re being cute?” or “Why did you think that was a good idea?” and one of my favorites “Do you see any of your friends acting this way?” Those weren’t real questions. I could tell because when I answered them truthfully, I got into more trouble. I did think I was cute, fucking adorable even. It was a good idea because it made me happy, and my friends aren’t acting this way because I haven’t told them about it yet.

No, most of the questions I get now are real questions. They are meant to gain a better understanding of me and to strengthen connections. I like those questions. I welcome them. But I get a lot of the same ones from different people, so I thought I would address some of them here.

We don’t have a destination.

I had a wonderful flask Alli bought me. What made it so wonderful, aside from all the things that make most flasks wonderful, was the engraving; a J. R. R. Tolkien quote from The Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I say had because I no longer have it in my possession. It is wandering. And so am I. Just not with that flask. It’s not gone, it has to be somewhere. I imagine it is bringing someone joy right now. And I find my joy in other things. Maybe we’ll meet again, but probably not. 

We wintered in Newport, RI and in doing so, we started to experience what is, for us, a new aspect to cruising, leaving new friends. We loved our experiences in Newport, the group of people that became part of our everyday and special folks who would drift in and out of our days. This is why we do this, to discover people and make connections. But eventually, it’s time to move on and find more amazing friends. 

And there it is, the mission statement: we are wandering, perhaps even sauntering about, bumping into interesting things, making new connections. There is no physical destination.

Still, I get it.

It’s common, when someone tells you they are a full time cruiser, for a Jimmy Buffet song to begin playing and visions of your favorite screensaver photo of a tropical beach to overlay the reality. Hey, that’s what I thought too, no shame. The destination seems physical, tangible. It is some PLACE; tropical, sandy, warm. Once you get there, you stop, because you’re there.

No.

That’s not it at all. I could have gotten on a plane, flew first class to whatever destination I wanted, bought a hut near the beach with five times more space than we have now for the same price. That’s not what we’re doing. We are adventuring. We are wandering.

We are not retired.

That concept doesn’t, has never, existed for me. In fact, I despise the model, going so far as to be offended by it. The idea that a person is expected to give up the major portion of their lives to make money is disgusting. To make money for someone else, especially. To pay into a retirement plan all during the most able bodied and healthiest years of your life so that one day, maybe, you can live your dreams during the time in your life when health issues and mortality rates are the highest makes no sense to me. I’ve seen too many times where friends and people I know either get near retirement and the financial rug gets pulled out beneath them or retirement happens and health issues make it impossible to enjoy. Do what you want to do now. It’s like one of Alli’s favorite phrases–“find a way or make a way.”

Gaylen working with a student online

So we work. But work is different. Our monthly expenses are incredibly low compared to our land life. Also, we work for ourselves, and that is different. We only work when we want, where we want, with few limitations in that regard. I am a private tutor for math and physics. Everything is done online, and my students can be anywhere. Alli does voiceover work and marketing consulting. Now that C19 is getting more under control, our musical act, The Sail Bums, is starting to book shows again. It’s all stuff we love and are passionate about doing. Now that I think about it, I’ll take that all back, we don’t work after all. We’re just not retired.

We are not on vacation

Vacations have beginnings, which I am all for, however, vacations also have endings, which I am vehemently against. Moreover, just as there is no final physical destination in this journey, there is also no temporal limitation. This is what we do now. Will we do it forever? I have no idea. But we have no plans to stop. No exit strategy.

When a person announces that they just bought a house, it would be unusual to ask when they plan on moving again. Also, on a person’s wedding day, very few would inquire when the divorce is planned. Although, as for the latter, some of us might venture to guess. C’mon, you’ve done it.

I’m in favour of piecemeal marriage, by the way. “Love you forever” is bullshit. I love you now. Probably for the next 5 to 10 years, not sure about after that. Yes, that sounds like a prison sentence, but while state sanctioned marriage is still centered around monogamy, perhaps it should be treated as such. But that’s another post.

Alli and Pickles enjoying the sunshine together in the cockpit

We say we’ll cruise for another 5 to 7 years and see how we like it, but that’s just talk. We’ll stop when we don’t like it. It takes effort to do this, so stopping is easy. Society creates a lot of resistance to freedom. Hopping back on the hamster wheel of conformity is something we’ve been institutionally trained for and can make it happen quickly.

There are many other questions, but those are among the first and most common that people ask us. Honestly, if you are reading this, you have probably asked them to us already. Or not. Maybe you just assumed. I probably should have made this post about assumptions, not questions. But it’s too late now; I have a big day of fucking off planned, interrupted by the occasional stress of watching people anchor too closely.

Hot Vegetable Soup!

(Non-dairy and vegetarian)

Living on a boat, we occasionally have to deal with some cold, harsh weather, and nothing warms you up more than a hot bowl of yummy soup. No matter where you live, no one likes waste, and the magic of soup is that you can add a lot of diverse ingredients and still end up with a creative, delicious meal that’s never the same and never boring.

I like to use soups, stir fry dishes, and pasta meals to make sure I use up any vegetables that might be near their edible lifespan. In this case, I had some pieces of green pepper, mushrooms, onion, and spinach that if not used soon, would have wound up in the trash. What a waste! I try not to let that happen.

I really enjoy the texture combination of dark kidney beans with elbow pasta, and honestly, I could throw just about anything in there with it and be happy. I use a vegetable broth base with tomato sauce added for depth, flavor, and creaminess. Then I play with the spices a bit based on what I’m using for vegetables, but basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and Sriracha almost always make an appearance in my tomato sauce-based soups.

My cooking style is unique in that we live on a sailboat. I’m always looking for ways to minimize energy consumption, and I do some pretty creative things to cut down on the “juice” or power I have to use for cooking. For instance, I had about a cup of tomato sauce in the refrigerator to use in this soup, but I didn’t want to add it at the refrigeration temperature and cool down my soup while it was cooking. So while the pasta was boiling, initially, I had the lid slightly ajar on the pot. I held the glass container of tomato sauce over that opening so that the steam warmed the tomato sauce before I added it to the soup. Creative? Yes. I little weird? Okay, I’ll own that, but it got the job done.

Another creative boat tactic in the galley is to use as few pots or pans as possible, again, cutting down energy usage. As a vegetarian, I often boil the veggies I’m using in a dish right along with rice, pasta, quinoa, or cous cous, so it all cooks at once.

Whenever possible, I try to make soups that will result in two meals for us or four servings. For this one, I used:
1 1/2 cup elbow pasta
1/2 medium zucchini
1/2 yellow onion
1/2 green pepper
4 large mushrooms
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp basil
2 1/2 tsp Better than Bullion (vegetable or roasted garlic version)
1 tsp Sriracha
1 small can French cut green beans
1 can dark kidney beans
Salt and pepper to taste (around a half tsp of each)

Instructions:

Boil the pasta and chopped fresh veggies (minus spinach) in enough water to cover them by an inch in a medium pot. When the pasta is mostly done, add seasoning, bullion, canned goods, and other ingredients (minus the spinach as it doesn’t need very long to steam), and simmer for another 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Add the chopped spinach, stir, and allow the soup to sit in the hot pot with a lid on for another 5 minutes. Stir, serve, and top with a little shredded cheddar cheese (non-dairy for me).

I like to serve the soup with some crusty French bread or some homemade sourdough bread I’ve made right on the boat. The bread is really just the vehicle for the warm, melty butter which adds to the comfort food feeling brought on by the warm soup. Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter are my two favorite vegan brands. They both have good flavor, but the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is a bit more like real butter in texture. Also, make sure you check the packaging and ingredients. Both brands have multiple variations, and I was surprised to learn some of them contain milk! It’s good to be aware of that if you have a dairy intolerance like me or if you are fully vegan.

Don’t be afraid to try lots of weird variations of this soup. I’ve used eggplant, asparagus, water chestnuts, corn, potatoes, cabbage, and swiss chard before to round out a veggie soup and make sure I was using up any vegetables before they “turned.” I’ve also served it with toasted English muffins, crescent rolls, or breadsticks. Have fun with it. There are very few “wrong” ingredients or ideas when it comes to hot, comforting vegetable soup.
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Fresh Greens on Homemade Bread

One of our favorite things to do when we come into a new area is to find out where they have a farmers’ market. We love seeing what the local farmers grow, which is often very different than what you can find in your local grocery store. The Rockland, Maine farmer’s market is a great example of this. You can still get local, organic eggs, green peppers, onions, and mixed greens, lettuce, tomatoes, and all the typical things you’d expect to find, but this outdoor market next to the harbormaster’s office right by the water always has some interesting options.

The last time we stopped there, I found sunflower sprouts, pea shoots, and some of the biggest garlic scapes I’ve ever seen. Garlic scapes, by the way, last a crazy long time! Just put them in your refrigerator with a dry paper towel to absorb moisture, and I’ve had them last as long as 3 weeks. They add so much flavor to soups, salads, and stirfry dishes.

For this recipe, I used homemade sourdough bread I’d already baked and vegan cream cheese. I like the Violife brand. I find it creamier than some of the others, and you can get it in cheddar cheese or chive flavors, too (which are both amazing for cucumber sandwiches).

I also had some left over falafel, so I crumbed that into the salad for an extra boost of flavor…and because I hate wasting food. I’m always looking for creative ways to use up bits of what’s left from previous meals.

Recipe:

(Note–I did not pay attention to amounts when I made this, as I tend to be an “eye ball” cook, and you may like more of certain ingredients than I would, such as onion or Sriracha. Also note that NOTHING in this recipe is cooked except the sourdough bread I’d baked the day before and the left over falafel.)

Salad–mixed greens, sliced radishes, red onion slivers, Violife shredded cheddar cheese, and crumbled left over falafel

Salad Dressing–olive oil base seasoned with mustard, sriracha, salt, pepper, and oregano

Bread Topping–a cut up mixture of sunflower sprouts, red onion,& garlic scapes, then toss with imitation bacon bits, green chili hot sauce, salt, pepper, onion powder, and olive oil to make a course paste. Apply cream cheese to the bread and then spread the vegetable topping on top in a thin layer.

Fresh greens on homemade bread with salad

Gaylen liked it so much we had almost the same meal a second night in a row, but I made two changes. I ran out of falafel, so I used some pieces of seitan instead (also left over from another meal). I had also run out of cream cheese, so instead, I used garlic hummus for the base under the fresh topping on the bread. It was really good but created a very different flavor. We both liked the hummus version but preferred the cream cheese base on the bread.

I’m sure you could come up with a hundred different variations of this easy meal based on what you had handy and what you found at a farmers’ market. That’s kind of the cool part in my mind–trying different combinations and taking risks. Fresh vegetables are so flavorful, especially when combined with just the right spices. A lot of it is trial and error, but the more you do it, the more you’ll start to get a feel for what will compliment different flavors.

Heading South from Maine 2021

Gaylen and Alli in front of the van our friends, Robin and Ed, let us use for several weeks during the last of our stay in Maine, summer 2021. It felt weird to lock the keys inside, knowing we probably won’t be driving again for a very long time.

We are on our way south, again, and I’m happy to say we’re leaving more than 5 weeks prior to our departure in 2020. Last year, we didn’t leave until Nov. 5, after the first two snowfalls, and it was MUCH later than we wanted to be sailing. Maine is a very cold state once winter starts setting in, but often October is just beautiful. In fact, earlier today (Oct. 4), I was writing this blog post while wearing a tank top and shorts with the cabin all opened up. The sun was shining and it was downright lovely outside today.

If you’re new to our story or just catching up, we moved aboard our sailboat in October 2020 and headed south but only made it as far as Connecticut due to numerous heavy, winter storms. We wound up returning to winter aboard S/V Mollynogger in Newport, RI, and it was a wonderful experience. We don’t regret a thing, as we made incredible friendships, got to know our boat which we’d refit over three years on the hard, and it was MUCH warmer in Rhode Island than we would have been in Maine. But we are very anxious to not have a repeat of last year. We’re ready to make our way down to warmer conditions and stay there for a while.

We left Stockton Springs, Maine on September 20, 2021 and began our journey down again, dreaming of warm conditions, sunny skies, and being able to pack up our winter clothes not to be used again for…I don’t know…at least a year, please. But Maine weather is very sporadic. This time of year, we can have a 75 degree day followed by a 48 degree day, and you really just have to keep every kind of climate appropriate piece of clothing handy. Within a day, the temperature can vary more than 30 degrees in fall.

Harvest Moon through the masts of our neighbors in the anchorage at Warren Island.

The first stop on our journey was Warren Island by Isleboro. There are several free mooring balls there, first come first serve. We got there about 45 minutes before dark and hoped to catch a ball, but the only ones available were either a little too close to shore or too close to other boats for our comfort. We anchored just inside the anchorage area and next to two beautiful, large schooners filled with excited tourists, taking in all the beauty of the rugged Maine coastline. The air was filled with sounds of someone playing a concertina and singing sea shanties. It was also the night of the full, harvest moon, so there was an incredible, magical charge in the air.

The moon was so bright that night, we never needed to turn on any external lights. We sat out in the cockpit, enjoying the brisk but not cold night air, the moon’s glow on the water, and the happy sounds of people enjoying each other’s company at the anchorage.

Alli sailing between Warren Island and Rockland, ME

Early the next morning, we set off for Rockland. We love Rockland. It’s just a big harbor with tons of room, and there’s lots to access and do there. We arrived and grabbed one of the free Samoset mooring balls, right behind the breakwater. There are three free moorings there, and all of them were open when we arrived.

There’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t stay on one of the free Samoset balls more than a couple of nights during the busy season, so others can benefit, as well.

Rockland has a lot to offer. We love their farmers’ market which is held in the park right next to the harbormaster’s office. The town docks are easy to use. It’s $5 to park your dinghy there for the day, but during the off season, you might not even encounter someone to pay. The harbormaster is super friendly and helpful, and there are showers and laundry on site. Only one washer and dryer are available in a small room to the left of the harbormaster’s office. The washer takes quarters, and they ask that you give money to the harbormaster for the dryer. If there’s no one around, well…free drying.

We stayed two nights on the free Samoset balls and then moved over to the anchorage. This stop was a “get-er-done” stop for us. We finally had everything we needed to do some big projects we hoped to complete before leaving Maine, and we were waiting for the winds to shift. We had several days of winds in the totally wrong direction, so we used the time to do three big jobs.

First, we redid and revamped part of the plumbing for the head and did some trouble shooting. We’d been getting a lot of bad smells recently, and any boater can tell you, keeping the head working properly is almost a daily job. It was nasty business, but everything is working SO much better now.

For project number two, Gaylen installed our wind generator, which we’ve named 007 after our wonderful friends with the last name “Bond” who donated to our journey and allowed us to purchase the device. I painted the nosecone and tips of the blades the same blue as our stripe along the side of Mollynogger, and it looks so cool! More importantly, though, even on rainy days, if there’s wind, we’re generating power to replenish our batteries.

And finally, we did our lithium battery conversion, which is HUGE! We’ve been carrying our new lithium batteries around with us for a little while now and finally had the time to do the full install. Gaylen has worked so hard doing the design, researching just the right source for the batteries, and then piecing them together to make the best system for us. We removed two 200-AMP AGM batteries from the underside of the quarterberth, and you wouldn’t believe the difference it makes in how the boat sits in the water. The old, marine batteries are so heavy that the boat actually sat way lower in the water on the port side. Our new batteries take up about half the space as the old ones and weigh much less. Most importantly, though, they can store more power and keep it maintained for longer.

One of the many things that means for us is that we don’t have to be quite as selective about when we cook or use power. In the past, we had to do things in the earlier part of the day and hope the sun would bring the AGM batteries back up. Now, the lithium batteries store more power for longer. It’s more efficient. Going lithium is a very progressive movement in sailing. Gaylen’s been researching this move for us for a couple of years and was really looking forward to making the switch. He also did it on the cheap, piecing the system together himself, and we did not hire any outside help or consultants to do the conversion. He did all the work on his own. We did, however, have a wonderful friend in Maine who helps redesign our entire electrical system, and he even supplied extra materials and some of his own time and manpower to help us get that job done. That work definitely made our boat safer and more efficient and helped clear the way for us to do this conversion more easily. We’re incredibly grateful for the assistance of our friend, Brad, during our refit.

Mark is the tall one

We had one more nice surprise in Rockland. My long time friend, Mark Zollitsch, contacted us and let us know he was visiting family in Maine and would like to come by the boat. Mark is an accomplished boat builder, sailor and racer, and I honestly have much more in common with him now than we did when we were younger. Mark is the brother to one of my dearest childhood and young adulthood friends, Brenda. Their family will always be family to me, and we were excited to have him check out Mollynogger in person. We we way out on the far side of the anchorage in Rockland, but we came in, during the dark, picked Mark up and brought him back to the boat. Mark bought some amazing coconut rum for us, and we spent the evening talking about boat design, racing, how much we love sailing, and what our next adventures might be.

Log Notes:

Sep. 20–Stockton Springs to Warren Island, ME, 6.8 NM, 1HR42M

Sep. 21–Warren Island to Rockland, ME, 11.2 NM, 2 HR49M

Sep. 23–Rockland Samoset ball to anchorage, 1.3 NM, 19M

Sep. 24-25–Installed wind generator

Sep. 26–Lithium conversion completed

A New Feeling of Home

Those who live a more nomadic life tend to develop deep ties quickly. That’s definitely the case for us. Part of it may come from us being more hippie-peace-love kind of people, but it’s also because, as cruisers and liveaboards, you miss your family and friends. You miss being able to text a buddy and meet up half an hour later for a quick drink. So when you meet really cool people along your journey, there just seems to be more meaningful conversation and less mindless chitchat. There’s no time to waste, so you dive right in to see if you can both find something valuable and memorable from that interaction.

Hanging out with fellow liveaboards and friends in Newport, RI

Just like life in one place, some of the people you meet are instant friends. Others are folks you immediately realize you probably don’t need to talk to again. And some are just part of the landscape of that location, so you might not take the time to stay connected. It’s really a lot like meeting people in bars and other venues as a musician. As you float in and out of places you play over time, you get to know certain bar tenders, habitual patrons, and certain enthusiastic music lovers, but most of the faces fade into the background after you’ve packed up your gear and headed home for the night.

When we were in Newport, RI, we had one of those instant, meaningful connections with Captain Janet, who maneuvered a 60+ foot, expensive and obviously new yacht into the marina where we were staying the winter. Janet pulled up to the outside edge of the docks (the only place her boat would fit), and Gaylen went out to help grab her lines, as all good, nearby boaters tend to do. It wasn’t even necessary, though, because the power yacht she operates has so many thrusters she was able to inch up perfectly and just step off the boat with ease. She’s an incredibly capable captain, and that was obvious as soon as I saw her approach the docks. Honestly, I had a moment of a “fan girl” response. My insides were saying, “Oh, she’s really cool! I wonder if she’d talk to me.”

I waited until she had everything settled, and most of the people on the boat had departed with suitcases and bags in hand, obviously going up to a nearby hotel. I casually went up, told her my name, and we went through the ritualistic conversation of where we were from, how long we’d been living on our boat, and where we were headed next. And she let me know she was the paid captain for the vessel owned by a family. The father works in New York, and she is retained to take them out whenever they would like, within reason. She has a small crew quarters on the backside of the yacht, and they were only there for a day or two. I invited her to join us for sundowners that evening if she’d like as the family was not going to be back to the boat till morning, but we said, “No pressure!” Making new friends when you know you only have a short window is a lot like dating. You need to make a good impression right out of the gate. You kind of want to make things happen quickly, but you don’t want to seem too eager. Because, you know, that could be a turnoff.

I was so pleased when I heard a quick knock on the boat later that evening, and there was Janet, a cup of something in hand, ready to enjoy our company and excited to come aboard. We spent quite a bit of time that night talking about life, what brought us to boating, and what really mattered to us. Janet’s path is an interesting one in which she worked in upper level healthcare positions doing both care-giving and training. After decades building a successful career as a nurse and nursing professor, she decided she wanted to be a boat captain. That’s not exactly a common change. She’s been working toward this for several years, and when she recently gave her notice at work, some of them really didn’t understand. But Gaylen and I did. Sometimes you just know what’s going to make you happy, and for Janet, it was captaining a boat–a really nice boat in this case, too. The family just recently purchased it, so everything is super shiny.

Meeting Janet gave us an inside view of an aspect of boating we don’t know that well: the part where a person gets their captain’s license and works for someone else and not on their own boat. We’ve had friends who are part-time delivery captains, taking people’s boats to one destination or another or delivering them from the manufacturer to new owners. Janet’s done those jobs, too, but she was the first person we’d really talked to who currently works specifically for one boat owner over an extended period of time.

One aspect of the cruising life that I’ve been really looking forward to is when you make those meaningful connections and then months or even years later, you come across those same people again. We’ve heard so many amazing stories from our cruising friends of making friends here in the states and then encountering each other unexpectedly in Mexico or something like that. On Facebook sailing groups you often see people chatting and saying things like, “Are you coming through here next week? I’m here right now. We have to see each other.” Being able to see traveling boaters you consider friends is kind of like coming home. That homecoming may be in a place neither of you have been before, but you, your friendship, that connection…that feels like home.

Alli pointing at the yacht on which Captain Janet had just entered New Harbor at Block Island

Then it happened for us. We were at Block Island, RI for a few days and preparing to head south. We didn’t know anyone on Block, and there were very few boats there at the time toward the beginning of the season. It’s a 75 acre anchorage, which is huge. There were maybe six boats in the bay at the time, so we were all pretty spread apart. That’s why we were so surprised to see Janet! I was down below when Gaylen yelled, “Hey, I think Janet just pulled into the anchorage!” She was just far away enough that we weren’t sure at first. We had the binoculars out to check. It looked like the boat she captains and her signature, low ponytail silhouette. A short time later, I saw her start waving her arms wildly and happily. Yup, it was Janet. She wasn’t sure it was us at first either, as she was anchoring quite a ways away from us.

I waited till she’d been there for a bit and then texted her. She called us right back, sharing our excitement to see a friendly face. She was bringing some of the family and their friends to the Island just for the afternoon, so she had no time for sundowners or dinner this time. But just talking with her on the phone from across the bay and knowing we were both there at the same time brought all of us joy.

We so deeply value the connections we’re making with people on this trip, the lessons we’re learning from others, and the things we’re figuring out about ourselves in the process. The world is filled with amazing, fascinating people, kind people, helpful people who are smart in so many different ways. As a reporter for more than 20 years, I loved meeting new people, getting to know them in a sprinted session, and then sharing their stories with others. Now, I love meeting people, briefly, developing meaningful and lasting friendships, quickly, and sharing that hope that our paths will cross again in person. Luckily, often times, they do.