7 Lessons About Boating on My Own

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Things I Learned This Past Week:

1: If your crew can’t make it, go anyway.

I had scheduled to move my boat from Annapolis to DC where I’ll live aboard for the winter. My mentor was going to accompany me, but then life happened. After putting it off a few days, I decided to give it a go solo. It was the best decision I’ve made since buying my boat.

2: Chartplotters are nice; paper charts are essential.

While I had my course plotted on the chart plotter the entire way, my paper chart was always by my side. It gave me perspective on the big picture and helped me make decisions. I’ll never boat without it.

3: Anchoring ain’t that difficult, and if you do it wrong, just start over.

I had to anchor twice, once in a very secluded bay and another time just in the lee of the river. I took my time, remembered the lessons provided to me by friends and I was set. In the morning, I just did it in reverse. I held tight even after I was waked so hard in the middle of the night I had to hold fast for a good five minutes.

4: If something goes wrong, cry, then dry the damned tears and get on with it.

The first night I anchored, I discovered none of my electricswere working, including my anchor lights. My interior lights were out. My bilge was filled with water. I couldn’t get my engine to start. I was terrified. I cried. Then I went looking for the issue. I hand bailed the bilge. I never found the electrical problem, and it was now dark. There was nothing I could do. So I had a glass of wine and decided I’d call Tow Boat US in the morning for a jump. I slept like a baby and when morning came, the engine decided to work—it was slightly in gear and because I was so flustered the night before, I didn’t notice. I motored off in search of a marina where I could troubleshoot the electrical issue with a mechanic. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t kill me either. And the crying? It was totally OK.

5: Always have a plan B. And a plan C. And a plan D. And...

On my second night out, darkness was looming. Tides and winds on my head meant I wasn’t going to make the protected bay where I’d planned to anchor by nightfall. A quick check of the paper chart (yup, essential) and I found a little cove, but it looked shallow. A quick call to a friend who consulted with other sailors for local knowledge and I learned the south end was deeper than charted. I pulled in, anchored, and was set for the night in time to have TWO glasses of wine. Never race the calendar or the clock, they’ll win every time.

6: Docking ain’t easy, but it ain’t hard either.

Again, as I docked and cast off solo, I could hear a good friend in my head saying, “slow is pro” and reminding me to never go faster in a marina than the speed at which I was comfortable with hitting anything. I readied my lines and fenders before I entered the marina, read the wind, took a deep breath and went for it. Honestly, while I was shaking inside the whole time, I made it look like I’d been doing it my entire life.

7: I’m one bad-a** woman!

And I’m damn proud of it. I’d never been out on my boat alone. I’d never put sails up on her. I’d had a few good lessons and watched other people, lent a hand several times and read tons of books, but it was never just me. Then for three days, it was just me. I was terrified, a bit angry and thrilled. I learned more being on my own than I’d have ever learned if I’d had someone with me. I loved being alone and responsible. While I’d been doubting my plan to cruise alone because of my fears, I am renewed in my sense that I can do this! The moral? Grab life by the horns and ride it all the way home. 

After spending her teen years sailing Hobie catamarans, Janelle Kennedy took a 30-year hiatus from sailing to raise kids and earn degrees in philosophy and American studies. She currently lives aboard an Ericson 32-2.

Photo courtesy of Janelle Kennedy

January 2017

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