Tuesday, November 24, 2015

High & Dry Hopes

--> My hopes were raised to unspeakable levels in recent weeks when I thought I had a serious buyer for Annie Laurie.  Some papers were signed, a deposit was submitted, a sea-trial conducted, and we sailed south to haul the boat for an out-of-water survey. The potential buyer had the same stars in his eyes that I had for Annie Laurie the first time I saw her at Armdale Yacht Club one early spring morning in 2006.  I felt the deal was cinched.

I saw a whole new future for myself, unburdened, some cash in hand, able to pursue other opportunities I've had on the back-burner for a few years. When the call came yesterday that the potential buyer was no longer interested, I wasn't fully equipped to handle such a let-down. I don't blame him; his sailing experience was minimal, and after the sea trial, he realized he might want a smaller boat to learn to single-hand with.

On the upside though, it resulted in an excellent bill of health for Annie Laurie in her survey, which can only help when the right buyer comes along.  Although I will remain aboard and based in South Florida for the foreseeable future, after purging my boat of most everything I own, letting go of hope when there was none, and withdrawing from situations that were not healthy for me, I feel able to move on in other ways.  I’ve accepted a new job locally with great people, where new opportunities are more than probable, they are inevitable.

It remains true that you really don’t know what you’ve got until you’re about to lose it, and after this fire drill, I really appreciate Annie Laurie in a way I haven’t for quite some time.  I look forward again to the simple things; weekend trips down to Lake Sylvia, to sit quietly at anchor, unplugged from shore-power and shore life… propane stove, charcoal grill, and a kerosene lantern light to read by. 

Just Effie and I, and yet another new beginning.

Friday, September 18, 2015


I had a few false starts when trying to leave Miami.  First, a little bit of corrosion on the bottom of my new fuel tank resulted in a bilge full of diesel, and a two-week delay while I figured out how to access the hole and do the necessary patch.  Next, as I headed offshore bound for Fort Lauderdale, my dried-out planks, not having seen any real seas in the past 5 years, began allowing more water into the bilge than my bilge pump could handle.  I returned to No Name Harbor, and spent the next week, at anchor, dumping water down the inside of my hull to encourage the planks to swell. So, when I was finally underway up the ICW on a hot peaceful typical summer day, I couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen.

Annie Laurie's last trip down the Miami River
Hours passed, and slowly I was reassured that I was finally on my way; I was finally escaping Miami once and for all, and everything was going to be just fine. By early afternoon, I had one final drawbridge to clear, Dania Beach Blvd Bridge, and as I approached for their 1pm opening, I was to be 4th in line, with three fishing vessels also standing by waiting for the same scheduled opening.

I called the bridge tender to ensure he saw me. He acknowledged, and said yes, he was opening in 5 minutes for three other vessels, and he would hold the opening. The bridge opened, the vessels passed, and then I was a bit surprised when I was still about 300 yards from the bridge, and I could see the spans lowering. I called him back, saying, "Dania Blvd Bridge, northbound sailing vessel, can you please hold that opening?".  He stopped the spans, and said "Roger Cap, hurry up, I'll hold for you". I said, "Roger, I'm almost there, I'm going as fast as I can".

It's a little frustrating traveling on the ICW sometimes, when you just miss a bridge opening, and are forced to sit there for another 30 minutes waiting for the next scheduled opening, so I try to be as kind to the bridge tenders as I can, and often times, they are kind in return, and will hold an opening a little longer than I know they feel comfortable, so I can continue on my way.

I was so appreciative of this particular bridge tender, holding the bridge for about 4 or 5 minutes for me. I felt bad, because the closer I got to the spans, the harder the current was flowing against me, and the longer it was taking me to get there. When I was finally in the fender system, between the spans, I was almost full throttle, but making less than 2 knots. As slow as I was moving, I finally felt relieved that I had made the 1pm opening.

Relief quickly turned to horror though, as I heard the all-too-familiar sound of the bridge hydraulics running.  I had my sunshade up, so for the final few yards of my approach, I couldnt actually see the bridge spans. I thought it was safe to assume that after holding the opening for 5 minutes, the bridge tender was going to hold for the additional 20 seconds that it would take me to pass between the spans.
Atlantic Blvd Bridge, Pompano


I was directly between the spans, and they were coming down.

It was too late for me to abort. I throttled up, maintained my course, picked up the radio and, in what I'm sure was a raised and panicked voice, I said "Dania Beach! Dania Beach! I'm right between your spans! Stop the bridge!".  The bridge tender sauntered over to the window, just to make sure that he wasn't about to unnecesarily stop the spans and further hold-up vehicular traffic.  Once he was certain that there was indeed a sailboat about to be crushed, he stopped the spans. By that point, I had about 3 feet of clearance on either side of my main mast.

He muttered something over the radio... 'Why would you attempt to pass with the spans coming down?", something to that effect.  Exasperated and shaking, I angrily said, "I didn't see your spans coming down! You told me you were holding the bridge!".  He obviously didn't bother to stand up and look out the window before bringing the spans down, as I was in clear sight from the bridge house during the last 7 or 8 minutes of my approach.

All is well that ends well, so they say, but the cumulative effect of all these traumas have taken their toll.  When I anchored that afternoon in Lake Sylvia in Fort Lauderdale, I had myself convinced there was no way I was ever going to make it to the Bahamas. I no longer felt I had within me the mental fortitude required to head out on the open ocean alone.  I would continue up the intracoastal to West Palm Beach, and that's where I would sit indefinitely, too scared to head out into the Gulf Stream, becoming one of those sailors who talk about getting out there again someday, but who are ultimately destined to sit at anchor until their ship rots beneath them.

I couldn't have known that afternoon how things were about to change.  The next day, as I sat idling at Atlantic Blvd Bridge waiting for their opening, I met a fellow who said he might possibly be up for a jaunt to the Bahamas too...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dreams For Sale

As is often the problem with cramming so much life into a few very short weeks, I struggle to know where to begin telling the story of my life since escaping Miami.  I could start at Day One, just a few hours north of Miami, when Dania Beach Blvd Bridge almost crushed my boat. Or I could start on the day in Pompano when I met another single-hander with whom I'd share some of my Bahamian journey. The conching, snorkeling, the dinners aboard with new friends...  it has been anything but contemplative time, until a couple of days ago, when my buddy-boater cast off his lines one final time to return to Florida.

I am not far behind, having recently accepted a job back in the States. Soon, the Bahamas will be just a memory, and a great memory at that; a perfect final cruise aboard Annie Laurie.  The push is on now to get her sold. Please share, friends: Annie Laurie For Sale

Next post, I will share the story of the drawbridge, and I think I'll call it Irony.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Blank Pages

Miami has become a series of dead ends in many aspects of my life, and so, after 5 years, a fresh start is in order.  As I leave the Miami River in the rear-view mirror, I look forward to, well, looking forward.

I've had moments in these final days that have ranged everywhere from bliss to calm to confusion, and a few days, frankly, that I could do little more than stock-up on mint chocolate, don my favourite onesie, and binge-watch
Madmen and Gilmore Girls.  On those days, all one can really do is try not to think too much, batten down the hatches, and ride out the storm. Or, alternatively, weigh anchor and sail to calmer waters.

Finally departing the place you once felt entirely conflicted about leaving is a bit like coming to terms with the inevitability of your own death. You can fear it and dread it for months, years, or even decades, but when the situation reaches a point of being unbearable, you come to terms, and maybe even welcome with open arms, where it is you're bound. By that point, you're likely more than ready for the trust fall.  

I don't really fear change this time around, though departing before determining a final destination has my stomach feeling a little unsettled at times. But all in all, I recognize how very lucky I am; how I am utterly free.

I have said most of my goodbyes, in one form or another; hugs, tears, texts, phonecalls, letters, tequila shots.  Letting go of some of the characters from the Miami episode of my life has been akin to coming to terms with the loss of a limb. They will never be a part of my future, and I will always miss them, but there's unfortunatley not a damn thing that can be done about it.  Others I know I will see again, somewhere down the road, and the goodbye is no more than a so-long for now.  Then there's a special few that will be the recipient of a silent good riddance, perhaps in the form of sign language, as I look back on the Miami River one final time from Brickell Avenue Bridge.

There are many ways to turn the page to a new chapter to your life, and we all require something different.  I need a change of scenery, a journey to a new place to call home, a book of blank pages. 

To begin the journey, some bridges must be burned to ensure they aren't crossed again, while others just need to be raised.  Those bridges can be raised by letting go of what no longer serves you, by forgiving those who may have hurt you, and, most importantly, by forgiving yourself for the blindness that put you in the path of those who betrayed you.

Hasta la vista, Miami.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Feeling Small

I set out a couple of weeks ago on what would be my final camping trip with old Bella, my '69 Beetle.

I wanted to go to a place where I could feel insignificant again; a place that could bring me back to earth, to be reminded of how temporary the pains and joys of daily life truly are.  It's easy to feel emotionally lost in a city; the constant hum of traffic and planes, the chores of daily living, and for me, the constant reminders of the past, and what is over.

My destination was a little island 8 miles from Everglades City on the west coast of Florida.  Camping on a small island by kayak is a bit like being offshore in a sailboat; knowing there is no Emergency Exit, and you have to face however it is you feel, without being able to so much as pick up the phone to reach out to a friend.  I wonder how differently we might feel, or how we might otherwise react to situations if we didn’t have this constant access to instant feedback in our daily lives, if we only had ourselves to turn to when faced with a dilemma.  The men of 19th century Nantucket whaling ships would go to sea for years at a time, sometimes receiving letters from their loved ones a year or more after they’d been written. Take a moment to really ponder that one.
Gulf of Mexico

Ultimately, my excursion to Ten Thousand Islands as a whole became a lesson in letting go.

Bella broke down twice on the Tamiami trail on my way to Everglades City. I attempted to troubleshoot the best I could, from what I'd learned about Volkwagens from friends, and from my Compleat Idiots Guide for VW's (yes, that's how the authors spelled it). After sitting on the side of the road half the day with not a single person stopping to help, including, sadly, a club of old Volkwagen campers passing at one point (they broke the code!), I eventually made it to the National Park with just enough time to paddle like mad to reach my destination before sunset.

Tamiami Trail
After 5 or 6 breakdowns on the return home, and really feeling that I was not only putting myself in a potentially dangerous position (I could already imagine the headlines: Canadian Woman Reported Missing in Everglades: '69 Beetle Found with Camp Shower Bag Full of Gasoline Mysteriously Lashed to Roof") but also, as many times as friends have gone out of their way to help me when this car has left me stranded, I was beginning to feel inconsiderate and irresponsible asking for help.

Aside from being naturally special as an antique Beetle, Bella was my first car, so it was difficult to let go.  She was responsible for a lot of special moments in my life, especially recently, that wouldn't have otherwise happened.

But you can't hold on forever when the universe is telling you in so many ways to let go.  And so, last weekend, I let go.
Bella's new home with Seth in Key West

Letting go of what you know is rarely easy, whether it's a car, or memories of experiences with someone who has become a part of your personal narrative.  But, when the cord is cut, truly cut, you realize the sun will still rise tomorrow.  The anticipation of what may be when you let go of what you've clung to so fervently is by far the worst part of the process.  You have to look at it as making room for new beginnings and positive experiences and great new memories, and accept that there's a reason why evolution put our eyes on the front of our head, and not the back.

In the quiet nights laying under the stars at Ten Thousand Islands, listening to waves just outside my tent, a feeling of urgency began to surface; I thought about just how short life is, and how we each serendipitously stumble upon a handful of people during our time on earth who we can love, and we are often the ones responsible for building the walls that stand in our own way.  What lays ahead if we're finally able to wash away all the self-doubt, confusion, frustration, and misguided loyalty, and cut the chain to an anchor that is irretrievably caught on the rocks and weeds of the past?

I hope to find out.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Sea smoke and George's Island
As I drove with Cheryl to the Halifax airport today, looking out on a bitterly cold harbor, with billows of artic sea smoke rolling down the narrows, I think about how not much has changed since I left Nova Scotia for the long-haul when I was 27. I feel lucky that I have changed though, and I am now able to look at my hometown with a new perspective; I see opportunity and possibilities for a fulfilling life that, despite always loving my city, I honestly could never fully see before. Despite awaking to a minus 30 degree wind-chill on the morning of departure, winter almost seems tolerable, and worth bearing.

My plans are still quite vague, but what I do know for certain is that I cannot be in Miami right now, and the Bahamas are only a day-sail away. Knowing what you don’t want is perhaps as valuable as knowing what you do want, especially if what you do want is not currently realistic.

Scotty on a tugboat ride
I’ve been accumulating ‘last times’ in Miami; my last haul-out for the boat, my last Critical Mass bike ride, last tugboat ride, last swim at Venetian Pool… soon will be my last swing dance, my last camping trip in the Everglades, and my last night at anchor in No Name Harbor before setting sail for the Bahamas.

As I search for leads on how to make life decisions in the coming weeks, I have whittled my thoughts down to a few basics, and these are things I know: first and foremost, friends mean more to me than anything else on this earth, and I need them.  And I know I cannot be with someone who cannot be alone. I also know I don’t want to sit aboard a boat that doesn’t move anymore. I think the combination of these factors provide a solid, if mottled, foundation with which I can begin to construct a meaningful life, and move on from the general confusion and uncertainty that has followed me since moving to Miami.

I feel good about being alone right now; about knowing it’s a choice, and whatever comes next, I’m happy with myself and where I am (figuratively speaking, of course). It’s much better to be alone than to live in the delusion that someone else is able to fill a void that can ultimately only be filled on your own.

Rainy Christmas Day on the Northwest Arm
Talk is cheap, and getting cheaper as I grow older.  I’m becoming more adept at seeing through people when they claim to feel one way or another.  If words aren’t accompanied with a reflection in the form of action, they’re meaningless, and slightly offensive because of the thoughtlessness behind them.  I’ve wasted enough time on people who offhandedly throw notions on the table in an attempt to keep their options open.

A friend said it so well the other day: you know the truth by the way it feels.

And today feels like a great day to start over.