Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ground School

Public Dock, Camden
I know it’s been a while since I checked-in here, but yes, I did indeed make it to Maine. And in the end, it was with the help I’d been looking for since Fort Lauderdale. 

Belfast. For a Minute.
After seeing my boat advertised online, a gentleman, potentially interested in buying Annie Laurie, offered to drive to Norfolk and help me sail the rest of the way to Belfast, Maine (he just happened to live in the Belfast area).  After waiting for a perfect weather window for over a week in Virginia, we finally headed out on a 5-day 4-night offshore extravaganza that would put us exhausted and dockside (and, as it turned out, with oily water above the floor boards) at the western end of the Cape Cod Canal.  I think that arrival was the final nail in the coffin, laying to rest any further interest in purchase of my leaky vessel.  I was very open with him from the get-go of the leaks that were present, but my first indication that he didn’t understand the extent to which the salt water was intruding, was the way, on day 3, about 100 miles offshore, he was watching the water pumping over the side, and he looked at me and said, in his very German way, short, clear and succinct, “Laura. This boat is pumping a shit-ton of water. The pump has not stopped in ten minutes.”  Uhhhh-huh. After ten years, I know.  “That’s normal,” I say.  “If it stops pumping, let me know. That’s when our problems begin.”
My crew, doubting the GPS

As kind, generous, gentlemanly, and endlessly fascinating as he was, he was also 6’8, and in my personal space, I quickly became claustrophobic and anxious to arrive in Belfast.  And when we finally did arrive in Maine, it was an interesting turn of events.

Our first stop was Camden, a tiny little harbor on Penobscot Bay, just a stone’s throw from Belfast, so my crew was able to disembark upon our arrival there. The next day, as I wandered around town and mentally prepared myself for my journey finally coming to an end, I stumbled upon a boat that I recognized. It was a sailboat I had sailed on for no more than a week, fifteen years earlier, a couple thousand miles away…

After asking around, I learned that yes, indeed, that was the same boat I sailed aboard from St Thomas to Antigua in 2002, and that the couple who were running it at the time were living in Camden, now running their own, beautiful 1918 schooner Surprise.  I eventually caught up with Ramiro, who had little recollection of me. After a brief catch-up, and mentioning I sailed up here to work on my commercial pilot’s license, he said, “Oh, I have a friend you just have to meet… He’s a sailor and a pilot, he works for Penobscot Island Air, and I think they are hiring…”

Goats, looking for their mail
And so, 2 months later, though I did do a quick touch-and-go in Belfast, I ultimately landed on the island of North Haven, Maine, working for Penobscot Island Air. I am the UPS/FedEx girl, delivering via company van, and am sometimes lucky enough to go flying. No two days are alike, as I deliver everything from diapers to transmissions, queen bees to lawn mowers.  And the people I’ve met along the way… The stories I could tell. Though it might be more proper to save much of it for a future work of inspired fiction a few years down the road.

From the shenanigans that inevitably occur when lobstermen and beer coalesce,
to the anecdotal stories that come my way via the people I hitch-hike with from my anchorage to the ferry terminal or airstrip, it has been an interesting summer.

In many ways, it has been both the best of times, and the worst of times. I honestly, overall, could not have landed a better job with a better group of people (save one, there always has to be one).  With a kind, genuinely caring man as an employer, and the nature of the job being to go out and bring other people happiness in the form of Amazon packages, it is not the bar/cafe/boatyard job I'd been anticipating and dreading as I sailed north. I am frequently met with gratitude in the form of smiles and words, and other times in the form of fresh garden vegetables and warm pecan pie.

Take-off from Witherspoons
It may never have come to be, if it weren’t for sailing on a schooner named Bonnie Lynn from Massachusetts to the Caribbean in 2002, and owners Bonnie and Earl introducing me to Ramido, and all these years later running into all of them up here in Penobscot Bay.  The universe was definitely up to something when it allowed me to land where I am in this moment. And that is why it has been the best of times.

The worst of times are the lonely moments, the moments of feeling like I don’t belong, because, of course I don’t. I’m not from here, and nothing will change that, and some people here make it a point to ensure that I won’t forget that.  And having to put my flight training on hold while I repay my debts and try to save for an expensive endeavor, whilst listening and watching, daily from my anchorage, everyone I work with, flying in and out of the grass strip over the trees.  That has been a little touch of torture, as I struggle to figure out where I’m going to go from here, in terms of training, in terms of where to base myself, in terms of how to rid myself of the responsibility of a this little ship before winter.
Formal Rural Maine Signage

But, there's a lot more that I witness on a daily basis that serves as a good reminder to stop feeling sorry for myself. 

One of my stops on my route is home to a little feather-light Sheltie, who always tears out the door and across the yard to terrorize and intimidate (then, of course, lick my toes).  Her owner tells me, everyday that I stop to deliver, that the dog is very lonely, and wishes more people would come to visit.  I don’t know, of course, what’s in the identical yellow envelopes that I deliver on an almost-daily basis, but I can’t help but wonder if she is placing orders to receive items of importance, or if it’s just to see another human being come down that long road to her isolated house.

Lola, the Post Office Princess
And a few weeks ago, while sitting in the back room of the Post Office awaiting the ferry (which carries the bulk of my deliveries from the mainland), I could tell it was someone of considerable age who had come in to check their mail, by judging the amount of time it took from the moment the screen door opened, until the rattle of the keys finally settled into the key slot of their post office box . When the box door closed, without any sound of rustling envelopes, a delicate, fragile voice quietly said, “Mary, Mary dear… have you had a chance to sort the mail yet this morning?”  

“Oh yes, the mail arrived on the early plane this morning, it’s all been sorted” replied the postmistress.  There was a heavy sigh as the old lady turned to leave, and she was talking to herself as she slowly shuffled her way to the door, “But, there isn't anything in my mailbox...” 

I try to remind myself that I’m still young (enough) and that I still have plenty of time ahead of me to accomplish what I set out to do when I decided to move to Maine. And maybe, just maybe, I still have time to not grow old alone.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Going, Going

Texting and driving, 7 Mile Creek, SC
A few days before departing South Florida, I learned I’d be making the journey to Maine on my own.

The stress of preparations, and the realization of the extent of the trip ahead finally hit home about 10 hours before I planned to weigh anchor.  I burst into tears while dropping off my car with friends (hey, what are friends for!) and that would be the first of many crying spells to come over the next 3 days, though for the rest, there were no shoulders to cry on.

Banff in Charleston, SC
There is no way one can ever be 100% ready for a trip like this, and I could not wait for things to be just right.  There were plenty of unresolved issues as I weighed anchor from Lake Sylvia on the morning of April 19th.

I did have plenty of reassurance, which I frequently sought, from good friends via telephone, especially from one in particular (poor Banff!), as I dealt with the inevitable issues that arise whenever a boat is actually put to use. Slowly but surely, I have checked many of these off my list.

Sunrise, Middle of Nowhere, GA
Of course, in hindsight, I wonder what the hell I was so terrified of.  The fear of going aground, fear of engine failure, fear of the bilge pump quitting. While traveling within the relatively-protected intracoastal waterway, none of these possible snags are anything to fear, though the thoughts of dealing with them on your own does add something to the mix. Facing things alone always adds another dimension to any hurdle in life. It wears you down.

Some people count beads on their rosary in times of stress. I instead buy hard-to-peel oranges to occupy myself until a situation that makes me nervous has passed. It’s been working well enough.

I somehow am overcoming these fears, at least to the extent that I have been able to put almost 1100 miles at my stern. For me, overcoming fear does not mean letting go of it.  I’m still somewhat afraid of one thing or another each morning as I prepare to get underway. But, I go anyway.

Annick, Giles, and Dukey aboard Calista
And as my reward, I have met some awesome, awesome folks along the way, and have managed to reconnect with a lot of friends I haven’t seen in a while. Annick, Giles, and their terrier Dukey, also from Nova Scotia, have been frequent cruising companions since New Smyrna, FL, and I can't imagine what my trip thus far would have been without them.   I’ve walked deserted ocean beaches alongside wild horses, I’ve woken up in remote, pristine creeks, surrounded by tall grass and covered in dew. I’ve watched more sunrises in the last 30 days than in all my years living in Miami. I’ve seen ospreys returning to their nests, feeding their young, deer and raccoons scavenging the waters edge, and even one massive turtle, who apparently, somehow, did not see or hear me coming. I’ve even become acquainted with a few charming little towns I’d somehow bypassed on my previous passages through the same waters.
Cumberland Island, GA

Stage One of the trip, the inside route from Fort Lauderdale to Norfolk, is complete. Stage Two will soon begin; the offshore passage from Norfolk to Belfast.

Jodi & son
The most challenging part of the intracoastal, by far, were the hours (occasionally days) of solitude.  I know many of you will find this difficult to believe, but I sometimes over-think things.  So, these extended periods of time without outside input were occasionally unfavorable to my state of mind. I worried excessively about things that never came to pass.  The incessant drone of my engine hasn’t been helping matters, either. It has left me craving complete silence like nothing else ever could.

That said, I am facing the likelihood that this is my final trip aboard Annie Laurie. These last few days, she has a distinct skip to her step, like she knows exactly where she’s going, and can’t wait to get there. I’m less anxious than her for this all to be over. I have that feeling most days like everything is coming to an end, and that has been the other difficult part of this trip. I am writing my final chapter with her, and there is so much I am going to miss. Recalling the memories of the last 10 years has been bittersweet. I think of all the people I never would have met if it wasn’t for this boat.  Some, of course, I wish I hadn’t, but I can count them on one hand.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to deal with the solitude of living ashore.
Sunset, contrails
As I watched birds land on the island sanctuary, just a stones throw from where I sat at anchor last week, with their wings tilted and their tiny feet and legs out, braced for landing, I was seeing tiny feathered planes; landing gear deployed and wing flaps fully extended.

And I was reminded what all this is for.

P.S. – I think I have had more inquiries on how Effie’s doing than how I'm doing. Rest assured, she believes she’s aboard an all-inclusive cruise, and has been eating accordingly.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Altitude

My original plan of going start-to-finish, Private to Commercial in 6 months or less, has not exactly gone as planned. But then, what in my life ever has? While it was a disconcerting realization that I would not be able to reach my goal in the time I allotted myself, it was slightly less distressing than realizing the artist I’ve been happily singing along to for weeks is actually Justin Bieber.

I have opted to embrace my setbacks as just part of my journey; as how I’m meant to experience the road to becoming a pilot, instead of pushing against a brick wall expecting it to move.

I have already met the best people, and isn’t that what it’s all about? From some very inspiring gal pilots (Melissa, Kimberly, Beth, Myra, just to name a few), to some great times with my instructor Brian at North Perry, to all the other fun people who are only in my life right now as a result of my flying endeavor (Klaus, Rick, Pretti) I have no reason to regret these delays. I'm sure I will look back fondly on these days as some of the best; I have some wonderful memories in the bank for when I’m old and grey.

One of these friends is someone I met a couple of years ago, but have only had the pleasure to become better acquainted with very recently. He owns a flight school in Maine. And as a result, I have decided to sail Annie Laurie to Maine.

First flight in a taildragger!
An Austrian who learned much of his American dialect in Maine (lobstah!), Klaus is actually my original inspiration for becoming a pilot.  Following a boat delivery from Antigua to Maine in spring 2013, Klaus was hired by the owner of the boat to fly my crewmate to Nova Scotia, and then to drop me off outside Boston.  I was impressed with his piloting skills, as we landed at Halifax International on a typical Nova Scotian spring day (the fog was so thick, I didn’t see the runway until the wheels were actually touching it).  He was flying his Beechcraft Duchess that day, and he allowed me to take the controls on the way south.  From that moment, I knew it was only a matter of when, not if, I would become a pilot.

My reasons for Maine are twofold, as I am still actively looking for a buyer for Annie Laurie, and what better place to find a buyer for a classic wooden boat than along the coast of Maine? And I’ll be glad to escape the southern heat, and the extreme weather summer could bring.  Which reminds me, I don’t think I mentioned the tornado that came through the anchorage in Fort Lauderdale, did I?

It was a rude awakening. Around 7AM, the day after my birthday, I was still in bed when I heard the wind begin to roar.  I assumed it was ‘just a squall’, and hesitated to even bother getting up to look out the window. Then I remembered I had new neighbours anchored fairly close to me, so I got up to make sure if one of us dragged anchor, we wouldn’t be on a collision course.  Almost as soon as I stood up, the boat was knocked down.  Books flew off the shelf, my toaster oven landed on my shins, and all my undone dishes smashed to the floor.  It was a WTF moment, and as the boat gradually righted herself, I jumped on deck to watch my new neighbours drag past me, about a boat-length away.  Then, I realized I was dragging too, in the direction of a concrete seawall.  The rain was torrential and the wall of wind so solid, I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I went below to switch my battery switch over to my starter battery for the engine. On my way to the switch, the boat was knocked down again, this time on the other tack, and it took an excruciatingly long time (say, 20 seconds?) to right herself.  For a moment, I didn’t think she would, and my mind raced with contingency plans. What could I possibly do? Nothing.  There was absolutely nothing I could do but hope for the best.  My dinghy James was tied-up midships, and the boat had fallen on top, submerging him (with a bow and stern line tied to the mothership, he didn’t actually sink).  When she finally did right herself, I scrambled on deck again in the driving wind and rain, started the engine, and motored for no less than 15 minutes, with the anchor still down, just trying not to drag any closer to the seawall.  When it was finally over, I was so drenched and cold, I thought my teeth were going to break from chattering so hard.  Then I heard my phone ringing down below.

My neighbor Monica was calling, asking if I was okay.  I was in shock, I suppose. I couldn’t even answer her question.  The only thing I remember uttering was, “Monica, what the fuck just happened”.  That was indication enough to her that I was indeed okay, and she informed me of the extent of damage in her end of the anchorage.   I looked out beyond the gas cans, paddles, cockpit cushions and life jackets bobbing around in the now relatively calm lake, and there I finally saw that a catamaran was capsized, and a trawler had sunk. 

 Annie Laurie suffered no damage except some broken glass down below; my nerves were far more shattered than the glass.  Now, winds of 15 knots or more in the anchorage cause my hands to shake and my breathing to shallow. I think I have a mild case of PTSD after that morning.

So, it is with much trepidation that I plan my final northward journey with Annie Laurie.  Weather being what it is, and with so much experience behind me and therefore extensive knowledge of what could go wrong, I’m honestly not looking forward to the trip.  But, as fearful as I might be, I have no doubt it’s exactly what I should be doing.  However long it takes, and whatever route I end up going, one thing is for sure: it is bound to be an adventure.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Flying over Flamingo
It seems to be human nature to cling to what appear to be well-shaped stories. Whether it be a series of circumstances which put us in a situation we never would have otherwise found ourselves in, or a romance where coincidence seems to make certain implications, it is sometimes tempting to believe that in one way or another, it is meant to be.

But when a character falls short of their role, or an unexpected piano drops from a 4th-storey window, we can be left feeling empty by failing to find ourselves in a movie-script ending.

As wondrous and mysterious life is, it is also random. Just because you’ve been through the wringer doesn’t necessarily mean something good is on its way.  And if things are really quite good, there’s no reason to live in fear that something bad is about to happen.  It probably just means that you have a good outlook on things, and you are approaching life with the right attitude.

If your narrative until now has made for a good story, it isn’t an indication of where you are supposed to go. It is simply where you’ve been, and is as impermanent as life itself, only shorter. 

By letting go, an entirely different story, perhaps much better, has the potential to be written.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cleared For Take-Off

Storm approaching the anchorage, Lake Sylvia
As most of you know by now, I have begun my training to become a commercial pilot.  I’ve surrendered my dock space on the river, and am living peacefully at anchor in Lake Sylvia.

In this new pursuit, I have met with a mild degree of opposition, not unlike that which I faced when I stated my intention to sail from Nova Scotia to Cuba all those years ago. This time, it’s much easier to shrug my shoulders at those people who say that it cannot, or should not, be done, and thank them for getting out of the way while I do it anyway.  Another similarity to my Cuba trip is the presence of my cheerleaders too, of whom I am grateful for.

4500 feet over Lake Okeechobee
Sylvia Plath once said that perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing. We all owe it to ourselves to pursue what inspires us, despite our age, or other circumstances that might initially suggest our desires are an unwise investment of time or resources.  Following your bliss is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

You may not be the youngest, the most talented, or the most successful, but if you’re doing what inspires you, you will find yourself fulfilled.  You cannot know ahead of time the opportunities that will arise when you start down a new road. You might not be considered ‘ahead of the game’, but the time will still pass, no matter how we chose to spend it, so why ever hesitate to do something that excites you, and that you feel passionate about?

Life, unlike flying, only gives us one go-around.