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Solo Sailor Susan Sails at Seventy

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Susan Tuttle retired from teaching special education. To begin her new lifestyle she looked to the horizon as she set a course for an offshore sailing adventure.  The easy part was finding the same style boat, a Contessa 26,  as the one Tania Aebi completed her round the world solo circumnavigation in the mid 1980s.  Having a friend who was an experienced sailor enabled Susan to have someone teach her the fundamentals of sailing. Then, the adventure began.

As an experienced commercial airplane pilot Susan understood the need to make course adjustments depending on the wind currents.  The first leg of her maiden voyage from Crawfordville, Florida to Isla Muejeres, Mexico took 11 days.  Along with her crew  Susan confessed, “We spent an extra week getting there due to a northern current that we failed to account for which in essence was taking us to Texas.”

In addition to failing to account for the current Susan mused, “I wish we had reefed earlier on our fifth day out.  By the time the squall hit us it was a difficult balancing taking the sails down with waves as tall as my house rolling us fore, aft and side to side. My boat is quite small and with the dinghy strapped on the foredeck I am sure I will forevermore heed the golden rule to reef early.

Safely arriving in Isla Mujeres Susan’s crew flew home. No stranger to living by herself Susan relished the time she spent exploring the village by herself while planning to sail to a more remote anchorage near Excalata, south of Isla Mujeres.  To interrupt the solitude Susan paddled her inflatable kayak to shore where she took several bus trips to visit neighboring villages and the many ruins that have survived the passage of time.

An unexpected pleasure came from meeting a guy she had previously met in her home port. Then, she met another solo sailor. He was from France. It was Susan’ introduction to the small world of sailors who roam the seven seas.  After a few weeks Susan again sailed to an even more remote area near the Mayan jungle. She anchored in an abandoned fishing village. Again, the call of the sea beckoned Susan to set sail even further south.

It was on this leg of her journey that her contentness alone at sea caused her ship’s demise. Susan said she had been below deck cooking, reading, and relaxing for about three hours when she heard the crackling crunching sound of a fiberglass boat being crushed on the rocks. Anyone who has made such a fateful mistake as failing to keep watch need not be questioned; the auto helm on a boat like cruise control in a car still requires human interaction. A mistake is a mistake, even like this one a costly one.

Fortunately, she was able to get herself safely to land while her Contessa lisped along the reef. Imagine how she felt walking several miles until she came upon a resort where she made a deal with some local fisherman to free her boat. They charged her $1500 which was considerably less than what the officials would bill her for.

Susan described a disheartening scene as her  pride and joy filled with water. Then, when the rudder broke free she knew her boat would best be left as scrap. Susan sighed at the remembrance,  “It was just a terrible thing.” Throughout the ordeal she never felt afraid. She just got busy doing what needed to be done. In fact, in all her sailing adventures thus far the only time she felt fear was when anchored about 14 off the coast of Key West. Speed boats were flying by at what she thought were reckless speeds. It was during the night that she realized how vulnerable she would be if one of ‘those guys’ decided to board her boat.

Did crashing her Contessa on the rocks or the fear of ne’ar do wells damper her spirits? Did she give up sailing? Did she wallow in her depleted life savings? NO. Rather, Susan took a job as a special education teacher in Huslia, Alaska. It is an Indian outpost about 250 miles west of Fairbanks. Every spare penny was saved and two years later Susan traded her earned cash for a FLICKA 24. Being similar to the Contessa Susan was confident to once again set sail.

This time, she cruised, alone, along the west coast of Florida to the Dry Tortugas.  Returning north her engine was not cooperating. Taking advantage of her Sea Tow insurance, Susan was towed into the nearest port, Everglades City. Looking for assistance she wandered into the town’s museum and was eventually connected to a mechanic and me.

Though most of her two weeks were spent on maintenance repairs, she was able to get her inboard diesel purring like a kitten. I am grateful to have had the privilege to drive her the required 40 miles to Wal-mart for provisions. We idled away many hours as sailors do, sipping wine and sharing tales of life at sea.

When asked what she has learned from her adventures she shyly smiled. Then, as if with indignation she said, “It is a lot of work. It looked like sailing would be easy, but it’s not. I don’t have a windlass and my anchor weighs 22 pounds.” With a sigh we nodded at each other, filled our glasses, and continued to gab til we fell fast asleep.

Susan’s spirit invigorated my passion for sailing solo. Something I may do again. Hopefully, reading this will inspire you to ‘sail through life, either on a boat or other means.’

The picture below shows Susan navigating the Barron River in Everglades City on her homeward voyage along the west coast of Florida. Her boat is a Flicka 24.

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For more information about Susan you can access the May issue of the Mullet Rapper published for and about Everglades City or contact me at sailorhiker@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”     Antoine de Saint-Exupery (taken from Ellen MacArthur’s book, ‘Full Circle’)

Holden and Folden

You gotta’ know when to hold ’em

Know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away

Know when to run

as song by Kenny Rogers

I QUIT

In poker they say you have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. In my life quitting has been absent. During one particular 45 mile race the wind died and before reaching the ten mile mark most of the sailors got towed to the finish line. My crew was not happy as I continually waved on the power boats offering to tow us. At 11 pm we crossed the finish line. The committee boat was long gone. When we reached the beach where the food had been served and the band had the crowd dancing to their favorite tunes, only two people were on the beach. It is nice to have these two friends greet us after twelve hours of listening to my crew whine about how ridiculous my decision was. For me, it was a win despite losing her as a crew for future races.

With my own aging and the death of my husband there has been a progression toward quitting. Why stress? To learn to set up a website as part of my choice to provide a service to my community I leaped at the chance to create their monthly newsletter. Then, they added the job of distribution. I have not enjoyed that part. Typing e-mails with a system that my internet service provides a constant challenge, then having to drive 40 miles to the Staples for copies, with a final task of sticking address labels and stamps on envelopes gets in my way. I wanted a job that could be done at home at my leisure, as producing the newsletter is.

Stupidly, I also offered to learn how to update their website. Talk about stress. Again I blame my poor internet service. ENOUGH! By the end of this month I will detach myself from that job. This will come after last night’s decision to no longer distribute the newsletter. I will continue to write and produce the newsletter until December 2017. Call me a quitter.

Compounding my stress is my choice to quit cruising. As I write this blog entry  SPRAY’s new owner sits about 3 feet to my left. While he surfs the FCC regulations to transfer the Ham Radio and Single Side Band license from my clutches, I wonder how I ever came to this decision. The decision to to quit cruising? To become the mate of a tall, handsome gentleman who, like me, is not perfect? To become an unwed housewife?

Wow, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? Oh, never mind, I know why I quit cruising. Although until this moment I didn’t realize it was the same reason to quit spending so much time on the museum newsletter tasks. I quit because of the self imposed stress these situations caused.

Kenny Rogers would be proud that I learned the lesson he so eloquently sings. Yipe, I have finally learned when to fold ’em.

RV Women

It isn’t everyday one meets an adventurous, cost conscious woman who chooses the life of a modern day vagabound. Unlike those classified as homeless, RV women own their own home and live in. They don’t sleep under bridges, in cardboard boxes of even homeless shelters. The RV women have income, sometimes work, and are self sufficient.

One woman who I recently met drives a big Toyota Tundra pick up. A truck of this size allows her to tow her 5th wheel mobile home where ever she dares to go. The national and state parks have become popular retreats for couples who want a free site. In exchange for the free site these folks are called camp hosts. Their responsibilities include collecting fees, moderating conflicts such as noise compliance and pet annoyances. They also keep the restrooms clean.

Private campgrounds also work out an exchange of work for rent free living. Such is the arrangement of my new found acquaintance. For more information about RV Women, the adventures of this particular gal, and the world in which she lives check out her blog:

Hittingtheroad27.blogspot.com

 

 

When it Rains, , ,

It has been said that when it rains, it pours. So it has been during this past week. From learning to post information on an existing website for the Museum of the Everglades, to updating my website her on word press, to biking with a new friend I am overwhelmed. Then, there is the book I finished reading yesterday that has once again inspired my passion to sail away. Lest I remember learning to link the websites of two friends/colleagues is also on my agenda. Oh yea, tomorrow is my mate’s birthday and I need to make him a card.

Unlike my sister who is living in state of boredom I have so many things I want to do immediately I may just make a cup of tea and go sit on the porch while watching the day’s last vestige of tourists who just had to go for an airboat ride. Far from being bored I am overwhelmed. What to do first? What can wait? What should be deleted?

In the end it is this state of flurry when living in the world of too many self imposed demands that makes me feel alive. Feelings of being popular, of being involved, and of being wanted optimistic motivate me to write. Write on my blog, write my dialog for an upcoming presentation, or write a birthday card for the man in my life, my fingers can’t seem to type fast enough.

So, while others cringe at the thought of a rainy day, today’s sunshower and infinite list of todos, has me shouting, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.

 

Vocab – Moitessier’s Sailing to the Reefs

ineffable – The essence of his voice at its best is an ineffable mix of prosaic practical advice and metaphysical exaltation.

prosaic – The essence of his voice at its best is an ineffable mix of prosaic practical advice and metaphysical exaltation.

exaltation – The essence of his voice at its best is an ineffable mix of prosaic practical advice and metaphysical exaltation.

inchoate – We see it inchoate in the incredible energy he displays.

corvette – Two months after the wreck, the British corvette Loch Glendhu dropped me at the island of Mauritius.

francs – Somewhere around five or  six thousand francs for all I should need.

incommoded – The artificial lung could thus be lowered slightly below the keel of the boat and the divers could move horizontally and vertically without their work being incommoded.

conjugal holidays – Why would she die, not undersanding the importance of ‘conjugal holidays’ something I am beginning to appreciate.

boccas – The anchor was stowed on deck, the sails hoisted and Marie-Therese II set out towards the ‘boccas’ which open out into the sea opposite, Grenada.

fathoms – I dropped anchor in three fathomas.

Maxiton – Why had I never decided to keep a tin of Maxiton in the medicine chest on board?

draught – The draught will be as small as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Menage a Trois

With overcast skies, a 10 knot southeasterly breeze was conveniently blocked by  the mangroves bordering  the northeast and southwestern shores of the Barron River here in Everglades City. This was nature’s blessing as we launched our first joint financial investment; yipe we recently purchases a Windrider 17. After selling each of our offshore cruising boats we vowed to find a boat capable and inexpensively able to be kept out of the water. No more bottom paint and no more river scum was our primary criteria. Despite my longing to continue offshore cruising, I can live with the goal to sail solo into the many harbors that beckon me to remain a goal. There are no guarantees in life. If I learned one thing, I learned that when the sun rises each morning a new day of opportunity arises.

Similar to our cruising boats, the Windrider is a trimaran; some say tris are basically  a monohull with training wheels. The amas provide enough bouyancy to make the boat nearly impossible to capsize. If you have never sailed a tri, do yourself a favor and heed the call. Because only the mainhull of a tri performs like a monohull tacking is smooth. Whereas catamarans, both large and small take a bit of finesse to get two hulls to cross the eye of the wind, the tri, only has to get the center hull through the eye.

Today, we challenged ourselves. From launching against the tide, to motoring along the five mile channel from Panther Creek to Indian Key, to anchoring, to sailing upwind then downwind, to motor sailing back home, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we had done something right. That all our woes, worries, and fears about our relationship with ourselves, with each other and with the sea melted with the setting sun.

There is something to cherish each and every day. Regardless of how tragic a situation is, regardless of how lonely our hearts get, and regardless of the fear of the unknown, if we can just keep our eyes on the horizon, let the tears fall, and force a smile, nature will take it from there. That is the beauty of sailing. Just the wind, the water, and the simplicity of a life fullfilled.

And so it is on this Christmas Day, the 25th of December, the second day of Hanakah, in the year 2016 that my beau and I celebrated the goodness we are fortunate to embrace. With thoughts of Danny, I am especially grateful for all he brought to me. His love for me and my love and respect for him endures. I saw him in every wave, every ripple, and every breeze on my cheek as our Windrider 17 ever so smoothly sailed the waters of my new hometown, here in southwest Florida.

 

Tri Again . . .

From my Corsair F28, with my Marples 35 in between, to Ron’s homebuilt F31-9A to our newly purchased Windrider 17, we are tri ing again. Why not? Although for me it has been an intuitive, beauty in the eyes of the beholder, a trimaran is the way to sail. For those technies that need/want to understand their seafaring attributes from an expert, listen to Jim Brown’s podcasts. You can access them on ‘outrig.com’  Or simply google them.

Pictured above on the left is “Chiquita” Ron’s F-31, 9A that he built, sailed extensively around the mid Bahamas and round trip from Everglades City to Orr’s Island, Maine.

Pictured above on the right is Pete Kissel’s original Windrider 17 that he purchased in 2002. Now, the proud owner is me, the sassea sailor…. Actually, ownership is shared with me mate, Ron. We named her LC, ‘lil’ Chiquita.’ After all, compared to his former F9A she looks like a baby banana.

 

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