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Smooth Sailing

I knew when we got SVZV, she would come with her own set of challenges. The physical labor I already knew would be an adjustment. I’m lazy by nature and a even chore as simple as scrubbing the bottom of the boat every 2-3 weeks was daunting. I had mentally prepared for the loss of air conditioning, WiFi, and almost all other luxuries I held as constants in my life. Although I knew it would be an uncomfortable adjustment at first, and poor Austin would have to suffer through my attitude at times, there was never a doubt that the payoff would be worth it. Owning a boat was by far the most responsibility I had ever taken on and I fully understood the effort that I would need to put in to maintain it. Only, for me, I’ve found the biggest challenges aren’t related to the maintenance of the boat.

Becoming the owner of a new sailboat was a lot like becoming a new parent (I would imagine). Since we were on anchor at first, we couldn’t leave her unattended for a long period of time. We couldn’t come back past sunset as it was a long dingy ride to and from the boat ramp. We couldn’t go out sailing past sunset either, as it’s ill advised to drop anchor with no light out. There were no more spontaneous drives or nights out. Everything was planned and we ran on a schedule. We took shifts watching her if the other had to go out for the day. Even when I did go out, I found I had to alter what I did in my free time.

I enjoy eating out, happy hours, decorating my home, bargain shopping, trying new Pinterest crafts, and other things that cost money. Now when I get paid, I first think about what we need to get done on the boat and how I can put each dollar to better use. Having something I am monetarily responsible for has had a wonderful effect on my life. Although it does cause me some stress and heartache at times, I found I am more creative and innovative than ever. I’m in the water constantly and get regular exercise. I was recently dive certified and on the road to becoming a dive master. Getting dive certified was a necessary decision for us to maintain our mooring and take care of SVZV. A practical skill set introduced me to one of the few things I can truly say I’m passionate about. It wasn’t easy to transition into an (extremely) more frugal person but the reward surpassed what I expected. It’s easy to only focus on how this move has effected me but it has proved challenging for both of us.

Austin and I never fight. We don’t bicker. I don’t have to nag him.. that much. We rarely snap at each other. Austin has one of the best dispositions of any person I’ve ever met, and if you knew him you’d understand that it’s easy not to fight with him. The first few months as we were adjusting it was fun and exciting. Besides some heated moments while I was learning to drive the dingy or we were dropping anchor, no disagreements really came up. As weeks rolled by and turned into months we spent a lot of time on the boat. 1. We have been locked down for a long time due to the pandemic, so there really aren’t many places to go 2. We were on anchor and didn’t want to leave her unattended for too long and we didn’t want to dingy back at night. Sometime during those months we started bickering.

Who knows about what. It was rarely important enough to remember the subject matter. I’d imagine being quarantined for months with your partner would cause any couple to bicker. Especially being confined to a 43’ sailboat, I cut myself some slack. Although not monumentally impactful on our day to day life, it was an unexpected adjustment. The shift from everything feeling perfect all of the time to the real world is a tough one. Overall I have learned so much about being a better partner and being a better roommate through this experience. It’s made us so much stronger and more understanding of each other. It’s just… if I have to clean up one more wet wad of paper towels from the sink I might go to prison for homicide, ya know?

After writing this whole thing out it’s clear to me that I have it pretty good. If what I’ve described above are some of the bigger challenges I’m facing, I’m doing well. That’s the thing about SVZV, the amazing life she provides me makes it all worth it.

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The Ugly Truth

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!

Captain Austin proudly displaying his newly caught fish from The Squid
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Stay Calm

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?”

C: “Yes”

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.