Home (freezing cold) Home

March 2nd was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and blowing. The airport had lost my bag, so I made my way to Gecko with just a backpack and a down jacket clutched around me. My mom was visiting for a break from the cold Maine winter, and she followed me down the dock wearing all the clothes she had packed. Luckily our friends Tim and Jennifer had loaned me a space heater, and we were soon huddle around the tiny white beast while I put the kettle on and grabbed blankets. I felt like I’d never left.

Not many moms would visit their kid on a cold, snowy, unheated boat

 

For my mom’s entire visit, the temperature never got above 50 (in the sun, out of the wind). She can do anything, so she never complained. When she left, her shorts sat unworn in the bottom of her bag. That was when my work began.

Day 1 of being home. Note the clean hair, nice clothes, and well-rested face. Yep, definitely day 1

My work list looked something like this:

-Working jib (get one)

– Fix stupid leaking anchor chain locker

– Sew new slugs onto main

– Sun shade (make one somehow)

– AIS receiver

– Waterproof foredeck hatch

– Get charts

My first task was acquiring a sail. My dad had loaned me his working jib for my trip down with the stipulation that I send it back to him when I arrived. I was trying to figure out how to get a used jib inexpensively when I ran into Crazy Joe and his newly purchased marine surplus store. Oriental is home to a large population of sailors, both transient and local. It also has a marine surplus store with a colorful history of owners and inventory. When I sailed in in November, it was under different ownership but I had gone in to check out their vast inventory of sails. Nothing was marked or organized, and I spend a fruitless morning sifting through jib after jib and finding nothing. When I came back in March, Joe had purchased the place and he offered me a deal: if I helped to measure and organize the sails, I could take what I needed in return. I agreed, and thus came into two beautiful new jibs.

Sail inventory at the marine salvage shop.

The other projects on my list were more straight forward. To waterproof the anchor chain locker, I first rebedded the hawseholes themselves. There was a tired gasket under each one, and the screw freely turned in the deck. I realized that most of the water that had been getting in was probably washing between the ports and the deck. This might have accounted for much of the large volume of water I’d been pumping out.

Re-bedding the anchor chain ports

I entirely sealed up the starboard anchor chain port. The ports themselves are too big for the boat and are an enormous hole to have right in the front of your boat. I figured with half the hole volume, I’d get half the volume of water. I then bought an inspection port and installed it into the door of the chain locker. I used putty and boatlife caulk and sealed the door in place. That done, I decided to see how the locker did at sea before I drilled a drainage hole in the bottom. It’s always better to wait before you drill holes in your hull. Perhaps the water coming in will be insignificant enough that I can get it out with a pump occasionally and not worry about flooding the compartment.

Waterproofing the anchor chain locker. It’s so nice to work from bed

I’ve decided I would like an ais receiver for passages. If I can set a guard alarm for ships, I’ll be able to get better sleep offshore, and I’ll be able to hail them at night if I’m unsure of their course. I looked into several options, including a receiver with a wifi antennae that I could pick up on my iPad. However I soon realized that the cheapest option would be to buy a new vhf that came equipped with an ais receiver. That way I wouldn’t have to install a new antennae, run new wires, or spend a surprisingly large sum of money on the string of electronics I’d need to make the luxury of wifi work.

Wiring in my new VHF with AIS capabilities!

For a sunshade, I found an old sail and cut it to make it fit over my cockpit. I sewed a slit with velcro to fit around the toppinglift, and then lashed the ends to the mast and shrouds. My only complaint is that it’s a bit bulky, but it’ll be great for catching rain water and withstanding heavier winds without tearing.

Sewing my new canopy from an old sail

I’m hoping to leave Oriental in the next few days! I still have a few projects to get done before I go, but I’m almost there. I’m so excited to get going!

Homelessness and the Final Push

I left Cape May when it was blowing 20 knots in the anchorage. I was waiting for the wind to switch from the south to the northwest. As it swung around, it grew in intensity until my boat was bobbing around and the rigging was clattering for attention. I didn’t want to go out where it was blowing 20-25 with 7-foot seas. I had just come through enough weather getting to Cape May and I was sick of it. Why couldn’t it blow 15-20 with a nice gentle swell? I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would be stuck in Cape May for at least another three days because of another system that was due to roll through. Once again, my choice was to jump out between two storms. I was tired, my legs were covered in bruises, and I was sick of the cold, windy, wet overnighters.

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Days of pre-dawn departures were starting to weigh on me

At around nine that morning, before the wind had finished shifting, I laid on my back in the main cabin and called my mom. My parents circumnavigated on their Cal 25, and sailed up in the Arctic on their 33’ sloop. They’ve seen more weather than most, and I felt like I needed a pep talk. My mom was sympathetic: “You should just go”, she said. “If you can handle a little breeze, you’ll be so glad you went. Otherwise you’re going to be stuck in Cape May hating yourself”. She was right. So I went.

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Cozy mornings in my PJs are a rare treat compared to my usual pre-dawn departures

To prepare for another offshore trip, I had blocked up the anchor chain ports as much as I could with my limited resources on hand. The starboard hole, I sealed off with a plastic bag held in place with hair ties and sealed with putty stuffed into the cracks. The port hole was trickier because it had my anchor chain coming up through. After upping anchor, I stuffed a bunch of plastic bags in the hole and hoped for the best. I pulled back the v-berth cushions away from the locker and staged the pump. I was as prepared as I could be.

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Other prep involved making baked potatoes to stuff into my pockets on deck as homesteader-style hand-warmers

I unenthusiastically upped anchor and headed out into the swell. The waves were bigger than any I’d seen yet, although the wind wasn’t gusting to 35 like in Sandy Hook, so at least there was that. “See,” I told myself, “It could be worse.” Once the sails were up and Gecko was pointed in the right direction, I actually began to realize that this trip was going to be just fine. The wind was strong enough that I was making good speed without the thrilling gusts that dipped the rail under. The waves were large, but they were hitting me on the quarter, and Gecko was scooting along as happy as a clam, and just as wet, I thought to myself, as I turned up the collar of my jacket. I set the windvane and settled back in the cockpit to watch the sun ride across the sky and plop below the horizon. Once darkness hit, I started my routine of napping for 20 minutes, popping up on deck to check for ships and adjust my course, and then heading below again. It was so cold that I pulled my blankets over my head and curled up in a little ball to get warm. Right when I started feeling cozy, my alarm would go off and I’d have to get up. I slept in my full foulies, sea boots, and harness, because it was so wet in the cockpit, and every second I spent adjusting my gear was a second I wasn’t spending sleeping.

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Another boat sailing next to me. Nice bottom paint!

I kept up this routine until about one in the morning. There was a shoal that I was going past and I wanted to keep my eye on it until it was safely behind me. I went below and pulled the sleeping bag up to my chin, but instead of going to sleep, I kept my eye on the chart plotter to make sure I didn’t veer off course and over the shoal… I woke up an hour later feeling great and wondering why. With a start, I realized I was sitting up with the chart plotter in my hands. I frantically checked my position and realized I’d sailed right past the shoal. Fool’s luck, coming to the rescue once again.

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I’m a big fan of fool’s luck

I arrived in Norfolk the next afternoon. The wind never stopped its insistent blow, and Gecko sped down the channel. Navigating around all the container ships and navy cruisers on a half-working brain probably would have been more stressful if I wasn’t so tired. It’s kind of like a built-in anxiety destroyer, I mused. The more tired you are, the less you care about your limited functionality. I remembered the morning after I spent my first night sailing across the gulf of Maine. There were so many ships that I hadn’t had more than about an hour total of sleep that night. The wind died as the sun rose and I was motoring and falling asleep at the helm. At one point, I remember thinking: “It’s ok to go to sleep. Holly’s steering. She knows what she’s doing.”

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What I was wearing when I was mistaken as homeless

I spend that night in Portsmouth over by the Navy hospital. My legs were itching for exercise, so even though I was exhausted, I went ashore for a walk. I decided to go to the Food Lion and get some more provisions. On my way back, I found myself suddenly flanked by two woman wearing head-to-toe fleece, and big smiles. They told me that their church was having a free dinner and that I was welcome to join. I smiled and thanked them, thinking they were looking for new recruits or something. My sleep-deprived brain was too addled to realize what was actually happening. The women looked at me with concerned eyes, and started talking about how all hard times come to an end and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Then they told me that they would walk me to their church. At this point, the truth started dawning on me and I realized that not only would I not get out of their free dinner, but that they thought I was homeless. It’s incredibly hard to refuse charity once people decide to give it, and the ball was already rolling. My protests only strengthened their resolve. I was ushered into a warm little room and given a fried chicken dinner from more sympathetic eyes and smiles. I tried to appear grateful and homeless so as to satisfy their need to provide aid to the destitute. How do homeless people act? I looked at the ground and smiled shyly at their compliments and kind words.  Finally I was set free. I somewhat guiltily made my way back to my boat, the first home I’ve ever owned, and the first time I’ve had a permanent place of residence in over four years. The dinner was a beautiful display of charity, and I was touched by the church warrior’s generosity. I was also convinced that I had been thoroughly been initiated into the live-aboard shabbiness that seems to befall so many of the cruisers I’ve met. I was officially Boat Trash. I was psyched.

Dolphins, Whales, and Avian Hitchhikers

I set out from Pemaquid Harbour at around noon on October 30th with a strong tail wind, and high ambitions. My parents saw me off, lovingly attaching my jib sheets and halyards. Half an hour before I was due to leave, my dad was headfirst in my lazarette, messing around with the engine, and my mom was giving me a jar of homemade butternut squash soup. They stayed in their dinghy as I cast off the mooring lines and sailed out of the harbour. It was the best send-off I ever could have wished for.

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Glorious sunset on my first night out. I had 25 knot winds and I covered a ton of miles.

My first evening was beautiful; I had great wind, and the gleam of adventure made everything shiny.

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Some windvane action

That night the wind died, the temperature dropped, and there were ships everywhere. I made it through the night wearing all my clothes and huddling in my sleeping bag. If you want a visual, imagine a colourful maggot clinging to a tiller and eating crackers.

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Breakfast after a freezing night of temps in the mid 30’s

By the next morning, I was near Cape Cod, and life was on a hard upward swing. I had a pod of about 10 dolphins playing in my bow wake, two little land-birds hitched a ride on my boat, and I sailed so close through a pod of whales that I was worried they would hit me (or that I would hit them).

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I picked up a mooring  in Province Town that night. It was blowing 20 knots, the sun was down, and I was hilariously tired. It took me three tries to grab the mooring because I kept getting blown off before I could run forward and grab it. I kept telling myself that soon I’d be happily attached, as the wind stole the curses out of my mouth and sent them flying.

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My temporary shipmate

The next morning I woke up at five and headed for the Cape Cod Canal. It was gloriously warm, and I spent the day cleaning my boat and singing loud nonsense songs at the top of my lungs. There’s a great freedom to being at sea by yourself.

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Gecko going under her first bridge in the Cape Cod Canal

After the Canal, I motored through Buzzard’s Bay in the dark. There was a huge weird tide rip, no moon, and unexpected swirly currents. Several years ago, I made the same trip at night when I worked aboard the Harvey Gamage. The only difference then  was that I was in charge of a watch of fifth graders, who were on the helm the whole time while I nervously jittered by their elbows. In comparison, this time was, if not a walk in the park, maybe a jog  through a bad neighbourhood.

Yesterday night I picked up a mooring in Marion and I’m waiting out some bad weather. I’m hoping to leave early tomorrow morning and see how many miles I can make before another system rolls through on the 7th. Fingers crossed!

 

Overhaul Part 1: Carpentry, Love Notes, and the Custom Galley

When I first purchased Gecko in May of 2017, she was set up as a weekend sailer. Even though she’s only twenty-seven feet, I was able to comfortably sleep seven people. The galley was perfect for storing booze, snacks, and plastic cups. The storage was minimal, and the cushions were plaid horsehair; in short, I had purchased a floating hunting lodge. Regardless, I had a great summer cruising around Maine and starting my fathoms-long list of changes and improvements.
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Gecko the way she looked when I purchased her as “Seamark”
I hauled out in October of 2017 and started on my first project: rip out and rebuild the galley, convert the pilot berth into lockers, change the drawers into lockers with doors, and redo the head storage area. I figured it was smart to start with something unambitious and easily manageable.
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The most torn apart Gecko ever was. At this junction there was no plumbing, electrical, and all the main cabin lockers were torn out
I started by replicating the port side lockers into the space that was formerly the pilot berth. Once I had completed this, I took out the sink in the head, redid the counter top, and pulled the locker face forward by about eight inches to create more storage. Although I liked the idea of saving time by washing my hands while I was using the head, I felt like I could handle the twelve-foot trek to the galley sink.
Gecko’s original galley when I purchased her
I ripped out the entire galley and purchased a two-burner gimballed stove with an oven to install in lieu of the Princess two-burner stovetop. I started designing my new galley by putting all my kitchen supplies into the empty space and building cardboard partitions around my kitchen-ware. I find it much easier to build into the three dimensional space, rather than trying to draw it out on a 2D piece of paper.
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Early cardboard mock-up for my galley lockers area behind the stove
Once I was satisfied with cardboard palace, I created templates and started cutting out plywood and building my lockers. Therefore, my locker that holds pots and pans is the width of my widest pan, the plates fit perfectly into the plate area, and I can never buy any new kitchenware ever again or I’ll have to rip out all the wood and rebuild.
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The dry-fit galley lockers. And new stove!
I also put in a new sink, a fresh and a salt water pump, and installed a new counter-top.
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My completed galley
After I’d created all the shelves and bulkheads around the boat, I cut out locker faces and doors. Instead of using finger catches to hold the doors closed, I carved little tabs out of teak for each door. This is a locking system my dad came up with on his first boat, and it is an elegant and inexpensive solution for motivated fools with a chisel and spare day or two.
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Same view, different boat! (This was pre-launch, so minus the mast)
I replaced all the port lights with lexan that I cut and routered into shape. I’m not sure what brand of ’till-death-we-part adhesive was used to seal in the original port lights (probably 5200), but it took about half an hour with a hammer and chisel to get each one out. They came out in splintered pieces.
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Replacing the port lights was a tedious job. Here I was celebrating my last day with giant holes all over my cabintop

 

Rebuilding the interior was the first project I started, and it was ongoing throughout my other renovations. After several months in, I went back over the very first locker I built, and was able to see how far my skills had come (not as impressive as it sounds since I was starting somewhere after macaroni necklace but before mud fort). Underneath the counter-tops, I wrote messages to myself like little hidden talismans in the heart of my boat.

South of Cape Horn

We left Punta Arenas on October 4th to cross the Drake Passage that lies between Cape Horn and the Western Antarctic peninsula. This journey typically takes us about four days, depending on weather. On the afternoon of day one, we were met with 50 knot winds hitting us on the beam, and 25 foot seas on the nose. For reference, the top of the crane in the video below is about 25 feet above sea level and the containers on deck are about ten feet high.

We had waves breaking onto the back deck, and with each new trough, the whole boat would shudder as it took the force of thousands of pounds of white water slamming against the hull.

After about 24 hours, the winds dropped and the seas laid down. On day four, we encountered pancake ice, rising and falling with the swell. This was the first sign that we were nearing Antarctica!

Ice and fog in front of the glacier skirted mountains

On the evening of day four, we got our first glimpses of the mountain ranges and glaciers that make up the Neumayer Channel that we transit through to get to Palmer Station.

Our first views of the scenery

At last, on the afternoon of day five, we tied up at station. Today we are doing cargo ops- delivering fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as lab chemicals, containers of break bulk, and various other supplies. We will remain on station for seven days, before we head back into the notorious Drake Passage.

All tied up at station