Sassea Sails




Pandemic in my World

So, what have I been doing? From December 11 until last Monday I was living on my CSY 33 sailboat at the Vero Beach City Marina. I met a few new people with whom I enjoy socializing with. Of course, since March we have kept our 6 foot social distancing. Then, on Monday I mozied up the coast in our* van to Georgetown, South Carolina. (*I still think of the van as Ron and I’s).

Why Georgetown, SC? Because I was fortunate to be invited to crew on another gal’s boat for it’s sail up to Rhode Island. On Monday the boat will have an engine mechanic do some diagnostics and determine what will make it purrr like a kitten. His assessment, along with Chris Parker’s weather forecasting, will decide if we can set sail this Wednesday.

If we don’t set sail on Wednesday I may drive to North Carolina where I can social distance with a friend. I may even make it to Virginia to corroborate with the trimaran guru, Jim Brown. I volunteered to help him with a project in which we will digitize early multihull magazine articles.

My visits may have to wait if we are lucky to set sail next week. Heading to Rhode Island will be my coldest sailing adventure ever. So, I treated myself to a nice blue and white offshore jacket. I already had the dropseat overalls.

In the meantime, I idled my time these past few days by painting the interior of my van. What a mess it is this evening. Due to the humidity the paint is still tacky. So I’m sitting on the floor of the van in my beach chair. I’ll have to put the mattress on the floor to sleep. Of all the things I can be accused of, it cannot be said I demand creature comforts. In fact, Ron astutely named me the sleeping queen, “She can sleep anywhere, in any position, any time.”

In case you didn’t hear, I was on a live video with the Women’s National Sailing Association. They have a great inspiring program called, She Sailors Sea Stories. They have a facebook page. If you email me I will gladly get you in touch with the group. One lady, Susan Epstien got her first boat in 1942 when she was about 9 years old. Talk about being on the leading age of women’s sailing…Another gal is the captain of a big schooner. Incredible, inspirational, and just plain fun.

Well, cheerio and ta-ta for now, wear your mask, and write letters to loved ones.

It Depends

Working on my dissertation I became overwhelmed by the degree to which operational definitions were demanded. Words like sailing, competing, terrain, preparations, experience and even the word ‘it’ had to have its context defined relative to the theme of the research. Due to my growing anxiety with meeting this criterion I made an appointment with my advisor. “Look at me,” she said. My eyes focused on hers. With a twinge of sarcasm, she gave me hope. “Soon as you get your degree you can answer every question with two words: ‘it depends.’ More than twelve years have passed since that consultation. As recent as a few hours ago, I got a kick out of responding to an interviewer’s questions with those two words, ‘it depends.’

I present this backstory as it relates to a recent meeting with a lady I will refer to as my mermaid. Although she is a real live person, until her and I establish whether she wants to be identified I will give her the fictitious name of Mermaid. We met, via a phone conference. I answered her ad that was posted on the marina bulletin board. Her note said she was looking to boat sit. The idea of having a responsible person live on my boat during my absence was curious. I called her. Instantly, the seeds for a symbiotic relationship were planted.

Writing is Mermaid’s ambition. The theme of her current book is about a gal who takes to the sea. In addition to providing supportive data for her tales, I agreed she could use my nickname, Sassea, as the name of her protangonist. I was flattered, inspired and motivated by our discussion.

The inspiration came from Mermaid’s dedication to writing. She reminded me of the importance to write daily.  Being flattered by using my name reminds me of the unique person I am.  It is these two dimensions, inspiration and flattery, that are motivating me to once again sail beyond where I have sailed before. A passion I recently let slip away. To help me clarify why I am inclined to follow this once forgotten dream, I was compelled to answer Mermaid’s questions.

Mermaid:   What makes you do it (sailing)?

Sassea:     It depends on my emotional, physical and psychological being.

Mermaid:   How far away will you sail?

Sassea:    It depends on my stamina, finances, and gumption.

Mermaid:   What about the crazy terrain?

Sassea:     It depends on what you mean by crazy terrain.

Mermaid:   How do you make extraneous preparations?

Sassea:     It depends on my mood, available resources, and course.

Mermaid:   How do you do the whole sailing experience.

Sassea:     It depends on weather, finances, and my stamina.

Interestingly, after getting an earful of ‘it depends,’ Mermaid suggested we meet again. Through the phone I could hear her sigh, “I didn’t realize there were so many things to depend upon.”

We chatted for a few more minutes. Then, I ended the call by saying I expect we will talk again. She whispered, “It all depends.”

Either Way, I am Alone

Lying in my bunk, with the lights out I sense the sandman is not far away. Tiny waves slurp along the dock after their long fetch across the narrow passage. The wind creates an errie sound. Ever so gently Sass Sea rocks me back and forth. 

It is almost midnight. Teddy, my faithful stuffed bear is snuggled in our home on wheels over in the parking. I know I am the only one on board my little ship. Sensing the arms that once held me keeps lonliness at bay. 

Even without lonliness being alone is daunting. It makes me mindful of where I go, how I go and who I go with. It is a new lifestyle. My once carefree spirit took flight when widowhood arrived. What if I were alone at sea on a night like this? Do I have the stamina to weather a storm? I remember crossing the gulf stream about four years ago. I was on watch while my boyfriend slept soundly in his bunk below. It was a moonless night. Clouds muted an otherwise starry sky. When the wind switched direction a sail change was needed. I could handle the tasks by myself  but hated the raucous that woke my tired crew. Auspicisouly a safety thought crosses my mind. What if I am asleep and my crew falls overboard? A difficult decision comes to mind. Do I sail alone without being responsible for a mate or do I sail with a mate to share the tasks? 

Sharing the adventure has its lure. An argument for doing so presents itself. With or without a mate I will still be alone with my thoughts. And so, I ask the world, “What’s a woman to do?”

From Grief to Fondness

Not knowing what I lost until two years after my husband died, I spent the next seven years in a quandry. Danny and I built a fun loving secure life. We had a sporty convertible, a comfortable pick up, a house full of surfboards and custom built furniture. Danny couldn’t be replaced but all the stuff could be. 

With his passing the only obstacle to sail offshore by myself was also gone. He always said it was foolish to sail alone. There was no stopping me now. I found the perfect 35-foot trimaran. I flew to Guatemala to secure and sail it home. There were only two questions on my mind. Where did I want to sail to? What did I need to do to make it happen? Answering these questions left little time for anything else. My answers led me to Bermuda, Eleuthra and the Exumas. 

Busy, busy, busy. Loving life. Floating on crystal clear water. Savoring the gentle breeze. Often called an ‘easy place’ to sail, my time in the Bahamas had some challenging moments. Sailing into Red Shanks, on the south side of Elizabeth Harbor I dropped the anchor. Misjudging the outgoing tide in 3 feet of water,  I panicked when the boat quickly turned 180 degrees. To keep the stern from hitting the rocky shore I jumped off the starboard side and pushed with my might. But, how long would my muscles hold out. “What do I do? What do I do?,” I silently asked myself.  

One of the guys in a passing dinghy jumped out. He swam with relentless vigor to my side. He held the boat while I got back on. It all happened so quickly. I put the boat in gear and aimed toward the center of the channel. I must have gotten the anchor up. It was a moment I hope to never relive. To this day that event plagues me.

Months later on a quiet, distant shore, the opportunity presented itself to leave the solo sailing world behind. For the next seven years while nurturing a new relationship, I grieved my loss of Dan. My new mate and I shared many adventures sailing and camping together. On land or on the water, I had so much free time. I didn’t have to pump the gas, set the sails, or weigh the anchor all of the time.  I could if I wanted. It was just that I only had to do those things half of the time. Every chore was shared. Grocery shopping, cleaning the cars, paying the bills were only taking 50% of my time. 

I read more during those years than in my whole life. I cried more, too. On those long treks across Montana, or crossing the gulf stream Danny was always on my mind. I didn’t hide the tears. They just flowed. Why didn’t I do more to save him? How can I be with someone else? These questions, I am sure, every widow asks. 

Then, suddenly, as if I woke from a coma, in plain view, upon a hillside was this cute little house. It had a slanted roof like the salt box houses in New Hampshire. The inside was designed like a mountain cabin. “I’m going to buy that house,” I declared. The next day I did. 

Suddenly my grief for Danny turned into fond memories. Ron and I pledged to appreciate each other’s past while spending our remaining years together as a couple. With the sun shining on the snow-capped mountains, the wind blowing across the valley below, and the fire warming our souls each night, for the first time in my life, there was nowhere else I wanted to go.


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.


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.


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 ? ? ?

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