This one is hard for me to write because it’s not a lesson I’m proud I needed to learn. When we first got Squid (our dinghy), ZV was on anchor at the outer edge of the mooring field, roughly a 15 minute ride from shore. I, having incredibly little experience, had only been in a boat with an outboard motor on a few other occasions in my lifetime. The first few times I watched the motor being started it looked easy enough. That being said, I had never even started a lawnmower before. So how could I really know? Well turns out I didn’t know. On my first attempt I sat there for 10 minutes yanking that cord, growing increasingly frustrated until I threw in the towel. Dramatically, I threw my hands in the air and exclaimed that I would “NEVER” get this stupid thing to work. And so it began.
Not being physically able to start that damn motor frustrated me beyond belief. If no one was around I could usually get it started after a handful of attempts. If we were leaving the boat ramp, or in another public location, my frustration would turn into embarrassment overs others seeing my failure. The overwhelming feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and inadequacy often pushed me to the point of tears and I would shut down. Not only was I giving up on myself, I was giving up (and often times getting angry at) Austin, who was working hard to teach me the necessary skills involved in boating.
Logically, I understand there is no shame in being a beginner and learning as I go. Logic stopped mattering when faced with a seemingly impossible task. I felt attacked and put on the spot. I’d get defensive and rude. It took me a few weeks to really look at my behavior and realize the outboard motor wasn’t the problem.. I was. This attitude I had been developing towards difficult tasks was stopping me from absorbing the knowledge I needed to know. To defeat this attitude, I had to identify the root cause of my mental block and let go of my ego.
There are still a lot of times where I get combative when learning something new. It’s something I struggle with and I’m constantly working on. At least it’s a behavior I recognize now. Being put in such a high pressure situation forces me to work on aspects of myself I don’t put much thought into regularly. For that I’m incredibly grateful. I’m incredibly proud of the hard work I am putting in, not only on the boat, but in myself as well.
As I’m sure you’ve already guessed- I can now start that motor up, no problem!
It seems like the right time to tell you my first “oh shit” story.
Before making the decision to purchase a boat, Austin spent a lot of time preparing me for life as a liveaboard. To him, that meant feeding me worst case scenarios and presenting the doomsday version of life on a boat. Essentially he wanted to make sure this is something I really wanted before making the commitment; and I did. He could not scare me away.
The first two weeks living on ZV were smooth sailing. Hard work? Yes. A major adjustment from life on land? Yes. Doomsday level difficulty? No. I was proud of myself and confident in my progression of experience and knowledge. Too confident.
I woke up a bit grumpy because I had to get up early to help re-drop the anchor, as the previous day Austin noticed our chain was fouled on old line and chain left on the ocean floor. It had been a few days since we last lifted anchor and we had been fine, so I thought it was unnecessary. It was my day off and I wanted to sleep in. His decision probably saved our boat.
It was a rocky morning on the boat. As the hours rolled on, conditions began to intensify. Out of nowhere, not forecasted by any weather app, the wind began howling and the waves started to increase in size and strength. We are fairly protected from storms where we are located on the leeward side of the island. But this storm came from the west, hitting us hard. The waves swelled up 10ft high. At that point I could no longer see the shore less than 50 yards away.
Already worried about the anchor setting correctly and holding ZV without dragging, I let go of my pride and called Austin as things started to escalate.
My first call went as follows:
Chelsea: “ It’s getting really bad out here. I’m worried about the motor on the dinghy. It’s slamming so hard on the waves it’s about to slide off. What do I do?”
Austin: “ Bring the dinghy in closer to the boat and tie it off”
C: “ Got it. Also, the rudder is banging from side to side and the steering wheel is slamming back-and-forth.”
A: “ Tie the wheel off to something to steady it. You’ve got this!”
It was pouring rain and the waves were pounding me, making it difficult to see and navigate the boat. I brought the dinghy in and tied it off on the cleat, making sure to put the working load to the front like Austin taught me. I located some extra line and began working to secure the wheel. As I was doing that I noticed an unmanned boat floating by.
“Shit” I thought, “that sucks”.
“That boat looks familiar” I looked up again. “That’s our dinghy”.
My next call to Austin:
C: “The Squid (the name of our dinghy) broke the cleat.”
A: “ Broke the cleat?”
C: “ Yes. The stainless snapped and Squid is on shore”
A: “Can you see him?”
A: “Keep your eye on him. I’ll figure out what to do. We’re ending the charter early. I’ll call you soon”
Waves were crashing over ZV and her bow began to dip into the ocean at the end of its ride down the face of each massive wall of water. I was watching other boats disappearing in and out of vision, hanging on for dear life as they weathered the storm.
With all the commotion, the Coast Guard zooming by on jet skis rescuing divers and paddle borders from the water, the thunderous sound of waves crashing all around me, I completely missed a small sailboat wash onto the beach. Now, I was hyper-focused on my surroundings.
I noticed another sailboat drifting dangerously through the mooring field, edging towards shore. It seemed as if the boats captain was attempting to turn it and motor to safety. In the blink of an eye it was stuck on the reef.
That’s when I made my third and final call:
C: “ You need to come get me. Now”
A: *guests loudly getting sick* “It took us longer than expected to get into the harbor. It’s a mess. Stay calm. You’re doing good. ”
The whole ordeal only lasted for 3-4 hours. I’m proud to say I only cried for 30 minutes of it. This experience was a huge lesion in emotional control and staying calm under pressure. By the time Austin got to the boat, I was filled with joy and relief that the storm was dying down and our gear kept ZV safe.
Added bonus: the day ended with an incredible sunset. Almost like the Earth was comforting us after a long day.