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Sassea Sails

SAILING, METAPHORS, ADVENTURE,

NORTH TO ALASKA

Listening to Pandora this afternoon, I was whooed back to 1971 when Johnny Horton’s rendition of North to Alaska roused my senses. Nearly 50 years ago, in mid June, my boyfriend Ronny and I picked up his mom in Seatle, Washington. For the next two weeks we bellowed the words to this hit tune for all the world to hear. We were on an adventure bumping and bouncing along the thousand mile dirt road. Mile marker zero was posted in Dawson Creek, Btitish Columbia. A thousand miles later we sang out a ‘Yahoo,’ when we turned onto the main street in the Yukon Territory. This journey is a part of my life I am blessed to have etched in my memory. 

Imagine, me, my boyfriend and his mom sitting shoulder to shoulder in the front seat of an F150 Ford pick up truck. I was a barefoot, long haired Joan Baez imitator. Ronny was a recovering heroin addict. His mom was a well endowed widow from Miami Beach. Our adventure began when Ronny and I quit our jobs in Lubbock, Texas. Although I never met his mom before this trip, she seemed eager to come along. We picked her up at the Seattle airport. The second she hopped into the truck and slammed the door shut, Ronny peeled out of the airport. We were on our way.

By nightfall we were well into British Columbia. Sleeping arrangements were modest. Ronny had installed a slide on camper into the bed of his truck. He also built a shelf for his mom to sleep on. It didn’t dawn on me until our first night on the road. I recall thinking, “This is weird, I can’t sleep with a guy whose mom is in the upper bunk. What if he wanted to…” Without much ado, I suggested his mom snuggle up next to me on the thick foam mattress covering the truck bed. “Ronny,” I whispered, “you’ll sleep better on the shelf.” And so it was for the remainder of our two month Alaskan adenture.

Ronny’s foresight about access to fuel was appreciated.  Before leaving Lubbock he installed an auxillary 25 gallon gas tank. Just about the time the needle on our fuel gauge moved to the outer stems of the capital letter ‘E’  we spotted a log cabin. A sigh of relief spewed from each of us when a single fuel pump was spotted around the side of the building. There was always a much welcomed outhouse around back. Inside the cabin we could get some lunch.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup were always on the menu. Potato chips and soft drinks were usually available. 

At our first fuel and lunch stop my eyes grew wide at the site of a chalkboard hanging on  the wall behind the counter. Big white letters spelled a concise message, MAIL. Printed below was North- Monday, South-Friday. I grew up with a mailbox nailed to the outside of our house. It was next to the front door. Mail was delivered daily. Here, we sat at a picnic table, in a log cabin, in a remote section of a wilderness road. It was forged during the Alaskan gold rush days. Staring at the mail delivery notice I swear I heard Judy Garland’s epic phrase from the Wizard of Oz. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Then, two men, who rode up on horseback, confirmed that we were far from the suburban lifestyle where we lived. 

Because fuel stops were infrequent we made several concessions to relieve ourselves. Finding a narrow opening alongside the muddy road,  Ronny would pull over anytime one of us signaled a need. He would walk far enough away from the truck so we couldn’t see him. Ron’s mom and I stayed a little closer while we took turns squatting between a few trees. “Watch out for poison ivy,” we reminded each other before dropping our jeans. As the days passed our balance improved and our patience increased while squatting to pee, and then drip drying. 

Pooping was another matter. To begin the ordeal I dampened a paper towel with a dab of soap on it for wiping. Then,I used our folding camp shovel to dig a hole. Next to the hole I’d make a pile of freshly fallen leaves. After wriggling my tight jeans down to my ankles I squatted over the hole to let the dung fall.  After a lavish soap and water paper towel washing to finish the job I dabbed a few drops of baby lotion on my bottom. To hide my excrement I placed a clean paper towel on top of it. Then I piled the huge mound of leaves, sticks, and stones that I had gathered. 

Most of our stops were motivated by nature’s call. Surprisingly there was usually a crystal clear river  flowing within a few yards of where we parked. After doing our business we slipped off our boots, took off our socks and rolled up our pant legs. “Wahoo,” we squealed as we dipped our toes into the icy water. Taking baby steps we ventured into deeper water. We never went beyond knee deep. On two or three occasions we completely stripped down and splashed the chilly water on our bodies. Despite 40 degree temperatures we air dried before putting on clean clothes. Back on the river bank we each kept one of the pebbles that had gotten got stuck between our toes. The pepples served as our souvenirs. 

Arriving in the Yukon territory was like entering a western style movie set. There were no lights or cars on the street. The buildings and landscape were a beige, light brown color. The air had a dusty feel to it. The sky was grey. A hitching post was in front of a cafe that boasted a large picture window which distinguished it from the other barren looking buildings. After days of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we decided to go in and get a proper meal. When the waitress brought us a menu we asked her the time. “Eleven thirty,” she casually replied. Aghast, we stared back at her. “Eleven thirty? It’s still broad day light!” She took our amazement in stride and asked if we’d like some coffee. 

With our bellies full of crispy cooked bacon, scrambled eggs, and home fries, we decided to go for a stroll. Leaning on a lamp post was a man wearing an ankle length distressed leather coat. He had a feather in his hair. Seemingly in a trance he didn’t move an inch when we passed by. Another man was sitting on the sidewalk. His head was turned down, looking fixedly at the ground. The stillness of these men reminded me of characters in a John Wayne movie. Noticing my glare Ron’s mom leaned into my side and whispered, “Quit staring. Those men are drunk.” It was broad daylight. it was midnight. It was time for us to drive on.

“North to Alaska,” we again shouted as we climbed back into the truck. Within a short distance it took a mere millisecond for the front tires to bump onto a black tarred road while the rear tires were still in the dirt. Barely 100 feet beyond the Alaskan Welcome sign the golden arches marred the landscaped. For the previous week or so we slept in a remote forest, ate home cooked meals in the front rooms of family owned cabins, and bathed in fresh water streams. There were no street lights along the dusty, rutted road. We hadn’t seen a billboard in more than a thousand miles. We grew content living in harmony amongst the trees, birds and fish. The only damage we sustained was a tiny pinhole crack in the windsheild. Other travelers were not so lucky as oncoming RVs were notorious for kicking up loose gravel breaking windshields. Flat tires were also noted. 

Driving the ALCAN highway was my introduction to camping which has remained a favorite past time. In Alaska we had other memorable times. Highlights of the trip include: 

*Ron’s mom treating us to a hotel room where we each took a long hot shower after the two week camp ‘n ride along the Alcan Highway

*Flying to Point Barrow, the northernmost 1500 year old settlement on the North American continent

-Climbing down a ladder into a room sized hole in the the frozen tundra which the villagers used as their freezer to store for their hunted game (caribou, seals, polar bears, arctic hares)

-Watching the sun circle the horizon at latitude 71.9 (in July it doesn’t rise nor set) 

-Noticing the absence of a shoreline where the frozen land and the frozen sea seamlessly meet. Faint cracks in the ice formed tiny islands that could easily find you drifting away from the land

-Being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the wind, the water, the endless sky, the infinite ocean, the howling dogs and the absence of trees 

*Learning that a post office in 1906 was responsible for changing the name of the village, Utqiagvik to Point Barrow. This was in response to the British Admirality who found Point Barrow easier for non-natives to pronounce. In 2016 the voters approved the official name change to Utqiagvik. 

Over the years I lost contact with Ronny Selleck and his mom. Yet, the two days we spent with the Eskimos is so etched in my mind it is as if we were there yesterday. And to this very day scouting a privvy where ever I roam serves me well. 

Who am I, Not?

No, I am not Tracie Edwards,  Dee Cafari, or Dawn Riley. I lack their sailing acumen.  Anne Gardner Nelson and Kathryn Garlick, in the Hobie 16 arena  always crossed the finish line while I was rounding the last mark. What about Tania Aebi, Laura Decker, and Greta Thornber? I am not one them, despite my sometimes wishing I was. On a personal level is my hero Sherry McCampbell. Walking along the beach in our hometown we talked incessantly about our plans to complete a circumnavigation. For nearly ten years she has continued to sail a west bound route. 

Realizing who I am, and who I am not  has been difficult. My belief that I could do whatever I set my mind to was curtailed after I found myself living alone, as a single woman, in a quiet mountain town. New people I met asked, “Where are you from?”  This inspired me to list the places I lived. That list morphed into a list of traits I hated about myself. After a few sleepless nights. I realized it all boiled down to this, “I have the best family and friends. I was a spoiled brat. I have hurtful thoughts toward those who accomplish what I fail to.

Now, at 71, I don’t want to hurt anymore. I want to embrace those who succeed where I dare to go. Like the serenity prayer suggests, I will accept what I cannot change and garner the courage to change what I can.

With that acceptance comes an apology to two women who outsailed me. It was at the 1987 Hobie 17 Championship when I displayed my regretful behavior. After several days of racing the cut off to race in the finals was set at 49. I was 50 or 51. Anne and Julie made it to the finals. I turned my hurt and disappointment into anger. I was enraged that they were good enough to continue racing against the best sailors. Did I attend the cut party? Did I wish these ladies luck?

Did I congratulate them?

Nope! Immediately, after reading the roster for the finals, I got into my little red truck and drove myself home. For three days I cried and yelled to the heavens. Why can’t I be like them? I practiced. I devoured every bit of information on efficient sailing that I could hear or read about. I put my heart and soul into that event. Why did they win and I didn’t? Why did Tania Aebi figure out how to sail around the world by herself. Why did Susan Korzewski dedicate herself to racing a Hobie 16? From questioning my racing to questioning my family I raged. Why did my cousin live in the same house she grew up in while I moved every two years or so? Why did my sister raise a family while I chose to be child free? The final question woke me up “What is wrong with me?” 

The winds whistled through my mind. A sudden puff of reality woke me.  Marlene you are like everyone else. We are all our own champions. We all have struggles, demons and delights. Admiring these people, rather than being them is what makes you the Sassea Sailor. You can’t be them. They can’t be you.

Dorian

It’s as if Dorian has been balancing on the pivot point of a teeter totter. If the high pressure system to the east moves further east, Dorian will teeter north. On the other tack if the eastern high pressure moves west or remains constant, South and Central Florida may get a face lift.

Sitting on the tipping point has paralyzed the ideas swirling around my brain. Unlike writer’s block my head is full of thoughts, not devoid of them. The paralytic force holding the words back is probably for the best. Besides, I wonder, what is there to say about such a ravishing storm? Abaco, a beloved island; an island inhabited by pleasant people of modest means;  an island where thousands of sailors make it their winter home, or at least a stop along the Bahama chain. The worst case is that despite our prayers, Abaco, and its surrounding cays may be no more.

The picture below shows New Hope Harbor as it was before mother nature sent Hurricane Dorian across this otherwise pristine area of the Bahamas. The harbor’s peppermint striped lighthouse reminds all who sail into its tiny harbor that they are in one of the sweetest places on earth. The harbor is a popular mooring field and anchorage. It provides good protection on nearly all sides, save the narrow opening on the north shore. Sailors who visit from near and far take advantage of the locally owned shops and eateries. Will New Hope Harbor look the same after days of thunderous waves and howling winds? Will it remain a sought after harbor?

Linda McGarry, a dearest friend, was in tears thinking about New Hope Harbor. In picture perfect form Linda and the man of her dreams exchanged vows on the bow of their friends’ catamaran. Having the candy striped lighthouse in the background was like the icing on their wedding cake. That was almost ten years ago, on April 16, 2010; a day she still hopes to revisit in the years to come.

Another friend of a friend who owned a cottage in New Hope Harbor gave a sad report. Her cottage is gone. There is a video showing the water rising above rooftops while the rain and wind persist (I regret I lost track of that particular video).

Speaking to a favorite crew, Karen Minette, from our early days racing Hobies and later J-24s, we recalled the summer we met in Abaco. A group of our sailing comrades from Melbourne, Florida converged in the crystal clear waters surrounding Abaco. Some raced between Green Turtle, Man of War and Marsh Harbor; some snorkeled.  Everyone ended each day with a sundowner. Whether it was a Margarita or a chilled Kalik, the sunsets were as endearing as the gentle breeze.

Two days ago, while Abaco was helplessly awaiting her demise, a sailing comrade, Annie Gardner, posted a picture of a weather map. Clearly Abaco was being dismasted. Next to the clip she wrote, “Sickening.” I about cried. Compelled to show solidarity, I wrote something, too. My words added nothing.  She said it precisely. My heart sunk.

A sailor in Vero Beach has already organized a flotilla to bring supplies to the islands. What islands? Will there be an Abaco, a Marsha Harbor, a Treasure Cay? Will sailors be able to safely navigate the insurmountable debri now endangering the great Bahama Bank?

Selfishly sitting in my loft, at 7000 feet above sea level, I stare at the iconic stationary Spanish Peaks. Perhaps this is the wake-up call I need. Perhaps my new passion will be to use my sailing skills and my boat to come to the aid of others who weathered this horrific storm.  

Never Not Ever Again

Newly enforced rule: Only functional items stay on the boat. 

During my 45 years of sailing I always kept on board only items essential to sailing or living on board. Why, then, oh why on my CSY 33 did I keep a 5×2’ wooden slat designed for extending the starboard settee into a single size bed on board? I remember telling myself I didn’t need to carry this heavy piece of wood to the van. Besides, why store it in the van?  It is a part of the boat. When I sell the boat the new owner may want it. I convinced myself to stand it up against the wall in the head. It will be out of the way. 

Upright it fit a few inches below the towel rack. Two fluffy towels draped over the towel bar hid the slat from view. For more than two months, while Sassea was comfortably tied to the dock, the slat held its place. Out of sight-out of mind, until . . . our return to the dock after Sassea’s perfect day of sailing. During our sunny four hour sail, my crew and I joyously cruised along the coast of Ft. Lauderdale. We successfully retrieved a life jacket as part of our man overboard drill. We tacked and jibed several times to stay clear of boat traffic, to avoid storms, and to collect data on tacking angles. 

Needless to say, despite the less than 12 knots of wind and 1 to 2 foot waves, Sassea’s 11 foot beam did a minimum amount of rock and roll. Apparently, as we learned back at the dock, it was enough to tilt the slat on to the opposite side of the head. It didn’t just lie on top of the door knob. It seriously jammed itself such that no amount of torquing would allow the knob to turn. 

“No problem,” was my first thought. I’ll go on deck and climb in through the overhead hatch. That would have worked had I not done the right thing and dog down the hatch before we headed out the inlet. Taking the rear hinge off the hatch didn’t allow it to pop open enough to get my hand and arm inside to unscrew either of the dogs.

Cutting a hole in the stuck door was another option. As much as I feared getting locked inside the head, I dreaded putting a hole in the finely carved wood.

The chosen option was to grind off the door hinges. Thankfully, my boat friend, Mike, obliged and took to the task.

Despite my possibly getting a sliver of the metal hinges in my eye (as it swelled up the next morning), grinding off the door hinges worked. The door is off. It will be stored along with the bed slat, and half of the table that is not needed. When I return in October I hereby solemnly promise to remove any and all items off the boat that I will not be using. Never again will I ever store anything that is not needed for sailing or living on.

NEVER, NOT EVER AGAIN

A Penny for Your Thoughts,,,

Penny at the Helm June 29, 2019

After 45 years as a professional educator it seems that teaching is what inspires me most. Watching my prodigy, Maryanne take the helm during a recent J-24 women’s race, then, seeing my friend Linda gleam at the helm of her newly acquired sailboat my heart filled with even more pride while Penny drove Sassea around a crowded anchorage. To top it off, two days ago I had the pleasure of teaching a new acquaintance, Tona, how to sail her ten foot Walker Bay.

Thankfully, the sweet smell of their success takes away the bitterness at returning Sassea to the boat yard. The same way too many layers of nail polish peel off one’s fingers the paint is peeling off the newly built rudder. At the sight of this blundering mistake I immediately called the boat yard where, two months ago the rudder and boat’s bottom were painted. The bottom paint is in good order. Perhaps the yardmen forgot to put primer on the new rudder.

I don’t know. I only know I have a meeting with the boat yard manager at 8:30 am tomorrow morning. Hopefully, they will accept responsibility and have Sassea in and out of the boat yard this week so I can get at least 7 or 8 days of cruising the coast before I have to put Sassea to bed while I return home for two months…

Anyone else want a sailing lesson ? ? ?

Eyes See What Your Mind Creates

“Perfect vision!” That is what my ophthalmologist said yesterday morning. It is a fact I take pride in. To be two days short of my 71stbirthday and not need cheaters to read a menu, or glasses for driving is incredible. Yet, as the day wore on I became obsessed with wondering why, with perfect vision, I had been blind -sighted on the previous day. It was at the end of my final check out dive for SCUBA certification. 

Under sunny skies the surface seas were barely a foot high off the coast of Riviera Beach, Florida. After a 40-foot descent, the instructor and I enjoyed a tranquil drift along the living reef. My harmonious breathing, slow and steady, kept me floating about two feet off the bottom so as not to disturb King Neptune’s garden. Gazing at the vibrant colored corals and tropical fish we were pleasantly surprised by two aquatic wonders. A giant loggerhead turtle was poised by my side. After a few seconds, he/she majestically swam across our path.

Right behind the loggerhead a ten-foot green moray eel slithered along.

An involuntary deep breath ensued as I marveled at the abundance of sea life. 

When the instructor signaled with his thumb pointing up I was relieved. I accomplished my goal to remain calm under water. It was time to ascent. Then, at the fifteen-foot safety stop my demeanor changed. Bored while hovering at the three-minute controlled stop, I checked my watch. The instant my timer went off, my breathing became shallow. My heart raced.

When my head popped onto the surface. I inflated my BCD (buoyancy compensator device). Faster and faster my heart went. My mouth was dry. Thinking fresh air would moisten my dry mouth I pulled the regulator out. Self- talk, thankfully, screamed at me. “Put that dam thing back in your mouth.” I did.

The dive boat was clearly in view. The instructor remained at arm’s length. But, instead of maintaining a more desirable state of mind, my shallow rapid breathing continued, my legs kicked feverishly. I felt desperate to get back on the boat. When I reached the transom I barely had enough energy to pull off my fins. Maybe someone else took them off for me. Climbing the boarding ladder seemed impossible. My thighs were like rubber. I could feel them, though powerless to lift me. The dive master pulled me up. The other divers helped me out of my gear.

All night I wondered what happened. During the safety stop, why couldn’t I see my instructor and I as three dimensional beings hovering on the ocean’s bright blue canvas? At the surface why couldn’t I see myself floating peacefully on my back? To slow my breathing and heart rate why couldn’t I see the tranquility and beauty that abounded, if, indeed, I have perfect vision? 

Regretfully I saw what was in my mind, not my view!

Explore

Exploring new places and cultures are ubiquitous dreams of perspective cruisers. What discourages most, perhaps more woman than men, is the exploration of what it takes to make those dreams come true. Let these selfies of my exploration of Sass Sea’s transom under the cockpit speak volumes. To reach it, I had to crawl into the starboard lazarette, lie on my

back with a flashlight in hand and scooch around the corner.

                                

Notice the rotting wooden backing plate.

It was installed 40 years ago when the original through hulls were installed. Of all the exploring, this is the imperative one. 

Ladies, take charge of your destiny. Get a little dirty, get help from others.

EXPLORE

Alone

Alone, having no other person in the house, having no pet, no dog, no cat, no lover, no mate, no friend nearby. Just you, yourself, with no physical contact with another. The radio is off. I-Tunes is off. A car passes by.

The ice cream man has long been gone. His high-pitched sing song melody is finally gone. The kids who clamored for a nutty buddy or icy treat are surely in bed. A Netflix movie ended. The yard cats fed.

A neighbor is raking leaves or doing some other task making a whoosing sound. A plane flies overhead. A street light wastes energy every night, all night long.

My room mates aren’t home. I am always at home. Where ever I go. I am home. I eat vegetables and rice for dinner; cook on our one burner stove. I sit on the bench seat, feet propped up over the hinged table. I type the words for my blog.

Another month til a year has passed. The loneliness feels alone tonight. There is gratitude for the friends, family and the two special men who bless my life. There is peace. There is the gym for swimming, the boat for working, and the errands for driving. There is no passion for sailing or anything else I do. There is no one else home. Just me, alone, brushing my teeth before crawling into bed.

Memories start, loneliness returns. Good times, awkward times, adventure, romance and boredom. Like a never-ending song. Take a Dramamine, drift off to sleep. In dreamland, REM sleep, in a state of calm. Where I am, alone.

Swim in the morning, work out at the gym. Buy a portable fridge. Tidy the boat, check out a Portland Pudgy, visit sister Jane. Drive to Ocala. Buy new rudder. On and on and on, it goes. Alone.

Danny Diesel

What better name for my Perkins 4.108, 50 hp diesel engine than Danny Diesel. After all, he was on my mind when I woke up this morning. I had a visual picture of his expression 48 years ago when he became aware that I failed to respond to the oil indicator light in his Ford Pinto. He wasn’t happy having recently rebuilt that engine. A month later, I fried it.

Fast forward to the present. when my CSY 33 mentor, Dag Hansson, took the time to give me a tour of the 40 year old engine perched below the galley sinks in my sailboat. I listened, took notes and asked questions. Later that day in the quiet solitude of the setting sun I rewrote my notes. Below are things to know about Danny Diesel and perhaps about your prized engine too!

Check the zinc on the starboard side of the cooling engine. It is under the six sided bolt head.

Heat Exchanger – blue cylinder along back of the engine – look for a zinc – should be a spare heat exchanger on the boat-if so take it to a radiator shop to have it acid washed, then pretty it up by repainting with blue Chrysler paint

Oil Filter – orange cylinder in rear s/b side – change every 100 hours: unscrew to loosen, place a freezer thick zip loc baggy around filter, catch filter and oil drippings in zip loc, dispose of properly

Secondary Fuel Filter – blue cylinder with a white label on it; above cooling engine and below to rear of air filter, 2 micron filter

Lift/fuel pump – manually lift and lower when engine is bled to get air out; it is the small tab with a hole in it; pointing to it with a pencil in pix below

 Electric Fuel Pump – on circuit breaker labeled ‘fuel pump’                                 

Battery Switch – behind circuit board

    Impeller is the salt water pump                    

Salt water hose lies across front side of engine leading into impeller                                 

 Coolant is collected in the bottle on bottom of engine room- need to clean it out; check inside the coolant thingy to see if/when to add more

Pressure Cap for coolant is same as in a car; get new cap at NAPA Auto Parts                               

Silver tape – get some for inside engine doors

Injectors – have mechanic do every 400 hours

Valves – have mechanic do every 1000 hours

 Hope this helps

As always your questions and comments are encouraged!

Sassythesailor@gmail.com

                                    

            

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