Skip to main content

Boat Girl: Melanie Neale’s Racy Memoir

Boat Girl: A memoir of youth, love & fiberglass, written by Melanie Neale, is a first-hand account of growing up aboard a cruising sailboat.

Boat Girl: A memoir of youth, love & fiberglass, written by Melanie Neale, is a first-hand account of growing up aboard a cruising sailboat. You may be familiar with Melanie’s father, Tom Neale, who wrote the popular cruising book All in the Same Boat and has been a sailing journalist for decades. His daughter takes an unexpected approach in this tell-all. Melanie starts at ground zero, when she was a baby—imagined years she doesn’t actually remember. After documenting her childhood move to a boat, she proceeds to share seemingly every crush, every kiss and romantic exploit from her pre-teen to adult life.

Boat Girl chronicles Melanie’s parents quitting their life on land and introducing their two daughters to a life of cruising between the East Coast and the Bahamas during their formative years, and enrolling them in a home-schooling program through high school. With her knack for visual description, Melanie gives us a vivid sense of what that life was like: the closeness to nature, the education one gets about boats and marine life, the proximity to family but distance from other kids. Living aboard was normal to Melanie and her sister, and she wasn’t one of those kids who longed for what she didn’t have. She embraced the cruising life, and bought her own boat as soon as she was old enough.

What’s shocking is the light in which Melanie reveals her father, a well known sailing personality. They clearly had a complicated relationship, and in this memoir, she cathartically gives voice to his words, spoken in the privacy of their cabin. In these passages and others, she doesn’t hold back. In fact, the book as a whole could be edited further, as it reads at times like a diary without the level of perspective one expects from a memoir.

When Melanie was twelve, she had her first kiss with a boy in George Town, Bahamas. When her father found out, she recalls him saying “[People will] call you a slut and it’ll make our whole family look bad. That’s not the way we’re raising you.” Later on, she describes a teen pregnancy scare, that again, her father found out about. This time, he was the one calling her a slut. She remembers him saying, “You’re a goddamned slut and you’ve just ruined your life.” I have to wonder what the ramifications of writing this novel-length diary were for Melanie.

As a kid, she was poster child for family sailing. Melanie and her sister would sign copies of their dad’s book while he gave talks at sailboat shows. But as she started to grow up, she describes the natural desire she felt for independence that butted up against her parents’ desire to keep their family unit intact. It was undoubtedly a struggle to stay on one boat for as long as they did, and a relief for Melanie to finally go to college and then grad school, where she lived on her own boat. There’s an intense push and pull that she experiences between her love for the boat of her childhood and her need to separate herself from its confines. Ultimately, she marries one of her teenage sailing sweethearts and settles down at a desk job and a house on dry land.

I don’t think Melanie Neale’s story is over. The book reads with a great deal of emotion—the unresolved kind. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

Related

Alexforbes Archangel1-1 (14)

Cape2Rio Draws to a Close

With just four boats still on their way, it has been a long road to Rio for the fleet competing in this year’s Cape2Rio. Larry Folsom’s American-flagged Balance 526 Nohri took line honors and a win in the MORCA fleet, finishing with a corrected time of 18 days, 20 hours, and 42 ...read more

_01-Steve-and-Irene-1

Close Encounters: A Star to Steer By

I first met Steve and Irene Macek in the proper way—in an anchorage full of bluewater cruising boats. This was in St. Georges, Bermuda, in the spring of 2019. Theirs, without doubt, was the most distinctive boat there—an immaculate, three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner ...read more

14_01_230123_TOR_JOF_0414-2048x

The Ocean Race Leg 2 Kicks Off

After a trial by fire start to the race and only a brief stop for limited fixes, the five IMOCA 60 crews in The Ocean Race set off for Cape Town, South Africa, early on January 25. Despite arriving somewhat battered in Cabo Verde, an African island nation west of Senegal, the ...read more

Lead

Cruising: Smitten with a Wooden Boat

I was sailing down the inner channel of Marina del Rey under a beautiful red sunset when Nills, one of the crew members on my boat, pointed out an unusual and unique-looking 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cutter tied to the end of a dock. Its classic appearance was a stark contrast ...read more

Screen-Shot-2023-01-23-at-12.03.19-PM

Racing Recap: Leg One of The Ocean Race

New to spectating The Ocean Race? Managing Editor Lydia Mullan breaks down everything you need to know to get started. ...read more

image00001

From the Editor: Keeping the Hands in Hands-On

SAIL Editor-in-Chief Wendy Mitman Clarke enjoys a sunny autumn cruise in her Peterson 34 on the Chesapeake Bay. It was late afternoon just after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis when I climbed aboard the last boat on the schedule. I and others who review and sail boats for ...read more

P1580711

B&G Announces New Zeus S Chartplotter

B&G has long been putting out top-of-the-line electronics, but the new Zeus S Chartplotter is a new take on the best way to give sailors the exact information they need, when they need it. “So many more people sail shorthanded these days, whether as a couple or when they’re ...read more

00-LEAD-DSCF1601

Charter: Mission to Mars

In the wake of the pandemic, many sailors are seeking adventure and grabbing onto a vision of their best lives. For some, that may mean sailing across the Atlantic with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) while for others, it could be a yacht charter in the Caribbean. The ...read more