I have this friend, Emily, who I’ve never met. I imagine her thus: The kind of adventuress you meet in some hostel off the beaten track; blonde dready hair, warm smile, American accent. She’s the friendly one who advises you not to use the dodgy second shower in the washroom. She’s all athletic and cycley, and she probably eats healthier than you, but you like her a lot nonetheless.
When I first found her in WordPress world she was living on a boat with a fella, and it was wonderful to discover a kindred spirit on the other side of the sea. Now she’s on the hunt for a vessel of her own to command, taking a leap into solo sailing that piques my admiration and amazement, and she’s spilling the beans about the whole process here. She’s nominated me for one of those Liebster award chain letter things that hooks people up with new blogs to read. Thanks Emily! I looked up the rules and they don’t seem to be set in stone, so I’m going to just go with the ones she inherited – answer her questions, nominate and ask some more. I’ve added some photos I took in the forest this week because I like them a lot even though they are thematically irrelevant.
1. What’s the pants shitting scariest thing that has happened to you while either out sailing or working on your boat? I am learning to sail as we go along, and even though I’d bought myself a dinghy to learn the basics there was nothing that could really prepare me for sailing our home for the first time. Actually, the first time was wonderful and I felt like a natural. The second time, however – I still shudder when I think of it. A big unexpected wind came round Penlee and we had more sail up than we needed and we heeled over properly for the first time and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing and, yeah, I started crying. By the time Rich had convinced me to turn the boat around I’d moved on to heaving snot-dribbling wheezing sobs. I know there are MUCH scarier things to come, but hopefully I’ll never feel that powerless to do anything useful again.
2. What are the biggest challenges you face living aboard a sailboat? Money is a problem, but it would be whatever we did because we both like having projects more than savings. Practical hurdles come and go – at times we’ve gone without lighting, water, heating and even a roof to get where we are, and of course that hasn’t always been nice. Living without a fridge or a proper bathroom got easy pretty quickly, and finding storage is one of those dreaded regular challenges that results in throwing a lot of stuff away. But the one challenge that endures is that of personal space. Living with someone in such a small space is fine for some, and you can often work around each other quite easily with a little compromise, but doing that all the time is not what I’m used to. I’ve always travelled alone and I was living alone when I met Rich – I look forward to “me time” like some people look forward to parties. It’s the only challenge that requires permanent attention.
3. Ever ponder how you are a minority in the sailing community (as a woman)? How does that make you feel and what would say to a woman who is perhaps intimidated by sailing being such a male dominated lifestyle? I ponder it to the extent that it’s sometimes made very apparent to me, but that’s mostly by non-sailors. I have seen the flicker of disgust soften in to pity in the faces of well-kept ladies when they hear about my wardrobe and toilet arrangements, and I still remember the impressed/amused amazement on a colleague’s face as I rowed out from Gwen to pick him up from the beach. I guess girls don’t do that in his world. There are a lot of women about among the liveaboards and cruisers and around here they’re mostly coupled with their (male) partners, but I’m also lucky enough to know a couple of inspirational women who have sailed the world as crew or on their own yachts. A couple of the local boatmen are obvious chauvinists who only address Rich and look uncomfortable when I pick up a power tool, but they’re in the minority. Ultimately, the perception that you’re any different to any other sailor because of your gender is one that you only need to conquer in yourself, so to that woman who is intimidated I’d throw our Ellen McArthur DVD and say “fuck it, get on with it”.
4. What scares you the most and why: pirates, the possibility of a giant squid taking your boat down to meet Davy Jones, or storms? They’re all pretty scary, aren’t they! Pirates though – yeah, pirates. We love them on the telly but we’re not going to a couple of places just to avoid them on account of their real-life rapey murdery reputation. Storms – sure, I’m terrified – but they’re going to happen at sea one day and we’ll just have to deal with it. If the question was which way I’d rather die then give me the giant squid any day – at least I’d be going “WOW” as I pop my clogs, and my mate Dave would be well impressed.
5. What do your non sailing friends and family think of you living on a boat? I really can’t tell with my family. For the first couple of years my parents seemed to be burying their heads like emus and would gloss over parts of the conversation where I mentioned our adventurous dreams. These days they both ask “how’s the boat?” as part of the natural course of conversation, and my dad, who never seems to consider me capable of much beyond tying my own shoelace, seems satisfied that Richard at least knows what he’s doing. Their concerns come up in surprising ways: the other day I told my mum I was doing an RYA navigation course and she said “I’m so relieved”. I wonder what she worries about. My sister is my opposite – she has a house, a husband, a baby and a career – and we have always had an understanding that we will never understand each other’s lives, we just listen in wonder and laugh occasionally. I like that about us.
My friends are supportive. The ones “up North” (i.e. not Cornwall) who think (not entirely incorrectly) that I’ve jacked in any hope of prosperity to dick about in hippy land seem reasonably amused and enjoy the gory details. Friends closer by support me and let me lie on their carpeted floors and treat myself to hot running water when the amount of work or the boat/life compromises get too much. They wouldn’t go for this watery dream themselves but there are enough caravan-dwellers, tree huggers and arty types around these parts that I’m not too much of a freak. And of course there are the boaty friends, the ones who seem to exude enthusiasm from every pore. They say “do it” and “do it now” and give us a rum for motivation.
So, for nominations… I have no idea how long these awards have been going or who in the boaty blog world has done them so this is a bit of a punt, but thinking about it got me searching for a boat renovation blog I fell in love with ages ago but can’t tell if I’m following (I’m trying to do it now but WordPress is being an arse). Here it is! What the hell? They’ve waded through all that epoxy and are now sailing? Looks like I’ve got eight months worth of blog posts to catch up on.
So, Chris and Ryan: 1) What’s the plan? 2) Who would play you both, and your boat, in the film/television adaptation of your blog? 3) (stolen from Emily) What has made you poo your pants in fear so far? 4) What would you be doing if you weren’t sailing? 5) What is your top tip for surviving a boat building project?
Finally, a quick update from Gwen. I’ve just cooked us a lovely dinner to eat while we enjoy the rough and sweaty arghsploitation of “Black Sails” and now Rich is using the oven to try and recycle his own plastic. He’s already mangled an old milk bottle in to an artistically dubious lump and made a crap tray from ironed carrier bags. He’s a strange boy and I do love him. Gwendolyn out.