Our First Sailing Adventure (attempt)

During the boat searching and purchasing process, I had many friends, family members, complete strangers ask if I felt comfortable and ready to sail around on a boat. In my mind right now I see JB’s dad sitting across the cockpit table from me (his parents were aboard right before Christmas), asking this question, very seriously. I took the conversation in passing, verbalizing my answer before ever really considering all factors, factors like: I’ve never sailed before in my life. This is one of the rare opportunities in life where someone gets to wholly recognize how ignorantly blissful they were. I look back at my younger (by 6 months) self and think you stupid girl, stupid, stupid girl. I’ll take this opportunity to apologize for lying to everyone who asked if I was ready to sail out into the open blue: it was such a good lie, even I believed it.

Pointing out the turtles that live in the mooring field

JB and I have been on two sailing escapades.

Sailing is 90% relaxation and 10% complete terror, or so says the lady at the laundromat. I think she has those statistics swapped. JB had 4 days off over the Christmas holiday, so we planned to take our maiden sail on Ahimsa over to St.John, the quieter and prettier of the U.S. Virgin Islands. With both engines firing, I hesitantly released the second and final rope keeping us safely connected to the ocean floor. Mooring ball. Sweet mooring ball. I will never leave you again. We were about 10 feet off the mooring ball before the starboard engine started making an uncharacteristically loud rumble, something sounded broken, he turned it off. With mooring ball hook still in hand, I shouted to JB at the helm, “Should I pick the ball back up?” In true, unfailing, JB fashion, he said no, I mean, we still had one engine…. My eyes widened, my stomach sank, and panic started bubbling up from the ever constant realization of life’s fragility and my overactive imagination. Out in the channel, even though I has just sat through “how to put up the mainsail for dummies,” reality does not go nearly as smooth, it was almost up, then it was down, then it was up. Time for the furling headsail, apparently not the type of sail setup JB is used to operating (“used to” referring to his 9 month walkabout in his 28’ Bayfield).

After both sails were up we motor-sailed for a quick second, until we started smelling something burning. I didn’t realize how important it was to have a good sniffer when living aboard, honestly, the same thing went for the van. I could always smell when something wasn’t right. Jb however, after playing years of hockey, and consequentially breaking his nose multiple times, doesn’t have such a good nose, or so he claims after I ask if he farted and his response is “I can’t remember.”  Actually, he just had a minor surgical procedure done while we were in Florida in mid-December. So he is still recovering and blowing giant scabs out of his nose – gag gag gag. Side note: He is now able to breathe so much better, he contemplates how much brain damage he had from so many years of inadequate oxygen transport to his brain. He still can’t smell much. Therefore, my job is to sniff around the boat for the source of problem, if I had a dime for every time he asked me to stick my head in a confined space to see what it smelt like in there. If there is anything that has stuck with me from my time at BP it is confined space awareness, and to look left and right for polar bears before stepping outside. He still asks me to do it, I still say no. So we turned off the port engine.

Bye bye port engine, you were nice for a while, but you have decided it is time to go our separate ways. There we were, sailing as close to the wind as we could, directly over the 3-4ft swell, no engines and seasickness making her first appearance for me  – but honestly I couldn’t differentiate between the self-induced nausea from fear and actual seasickness. After the burning smell faded without pinpointing its origin, and JB convincing me it is safer on the boat than jumping overboard (I really need to stop trying to jump out of moving vehicles) he suggested we turn around, or really, he asked if I wanted to. UH YA! (I said in my mind) but part of me also knew that the whole sailing part of living on a sailboat was inevitable at this point, so I told him to make the call. When he decided to turn around that is when the panic went from a simmer to full boil. JB is really hard to read, and if something is wrong, or he is worried, he won’t let me know about it – I mean I’m already a wreck, and he doesn’t want to add to it – I get it. But I need communication, I need to know what is going on, what level of panic is appropriate for our current scenario? Since it was my first time sailing, everything was new, I didn’t know what bumps, rolls, and noises were normal and which ones weren’t. I had to ask if it was okay for the bow of the boat to go underwater like that. WHY?!? Why do people like this I ask myself again. I think I was at about 80% of the way to COMPLETE TERROR. Coming about the wind as we turned around would take care of the next 20%. Flying downwind at 9 knots, I did not experience that sense of liberation that I have heard described to me, instead I daydreamed of my mooring ball and sipping a cup of coffee. We had a bit too much sail up for that maneuver and JB was glad we didn’t tear the sails.

After a small squall blowing through and struggling to lower the mainsail, you couldn’t tell the rain from my tears. Still under sail we were nearing the channel that led us to our home bay, with maybe too little sail up now. We weren’t going anywhere fast, like 3 knots – Kristen friendly speed.  The plan to pick up the mooring ball was start both engines – loud rumbling, burning and all – and hope we make it. In effort to move out of the Speedy ferry’s way we had to turn the engines on sooner than we would have liked, but they shut off anyways. Somehow we ended up making some wonky U-turn and trying for the channel again. After another attempt, our port engine started up and got us home. I used to be adventurous, I swear.

On our second sailing attempt, we tried to push upwind, who knows why. Long story short, we thought we were taking on water (since the bilge kept turning on), but we weren’t. We don’t think.

Now both our engines are running smooth, although the thought of leaving our mooring ball permanently hasn’t really gotten any more pleasant. I love living on a boat – I hope I learn to love sailing just as much. I mean… we are leaving next month.

Jb enjoying his favorite spot aboard
sunsets from Water Island, St.Thomas

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