Category Archives: sailing

Recent Interview about Living on Boats and my Shipwreck

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I was interviewed recently about my experiences living on sailboats from 2009-2011, and the shipwreck I experienced with my partner in 2011 that changed our life and moved us into the woods for a while.

Please feel free to check it out HERE.

And Happy coming Solstice and other holidays!

draft 5…draft 6…draft 15…?

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One BIG QUESTION for all writers is – how many drafts do we really have to write for our manuscript to become that elusive “DONE”?

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I’ve been struggling with that question for years, but I think with the completion of each project, the answer gradually gets clearer.  I would now advise any new writers (those without at least one published book-length manuscript, in Prose or Poetry), to do at least 10 drafts of their project before submitting it to publishers/agents or self-publishing.  I thought that might be the “rule” to always follow, but I’m realizing, at draft 5 of my newest manuscript, that the more books you write, the more “finished” your writing is from the start.  It’s all about practice, though there will always be those books or poems that take ten years or longer to finish, or twenty revisions before they get to the point that feels like they have hit their true form.

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I am a firm believer that no piece of writing (or art) is ever “finished.”  We can always always revise it more, go deeper, let it grow, evolve, dream itself into new forms, but there is a point where something has taught us as much as it possibly can teach us—the point where our journey and the journey of a manuscript has certainly reached the point of parting ways.

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It’s terribly hard to know sometimes, when we are done, or even just—when we need a break.  I get obsessive with my writing, I dive into it like it’s a parallel world, and if I don’t have the right goal/dream in mind, sometimes I carry a project to a place I didn’t mean to carry it, a place it shouldn’t be.

I thought draft 4 was DONE for my latest work, so I sent it out, and sure enough, it wasn’t done yet.  It was missing the deeper energy and lyricism I think of as my own personal style of writing.  And I realized, that draft was missing something because I was just trying to get it done fast—I was rushing it.  Rushing the first few drafts of something is absolutely FINE, though.  It’s the part where I thought they were DONE that was wrong.  So now, with draft 5, I’ve started over completely.  I’m telling the same story, but I’m changing a lot of the world facts, some of the plot, some of the characters, etc.  And I’m writing it slowly—I’m not forcing myself to write every day, and I’m only letting myself write when I NEED TO WRITE, when the desire to write surpasses every other feeling in my heart.  Because then, I’ll know, I’m writing from the right place.  I’m writing from my heart.

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I’ve so far written almost 5,000 words, some of them taken from the 4th draft, but most are new.  And it’s been one week (which means, I’m writing in pretty much half the speed I wrote the first 4 drafts, where I wrote 10,500 or so words a week for 6 weeks).  So, really, I’m still obsessed enough to make good progress, but I finally feel that amazing, mysterious sensation that my story is telling itself.  I think that happens when the words are flowing exactly the right way—it doesn’t mean I’m writing the final draft, but I’m writing the real story, and my characters are speaking from their hearts, too.  It’s the most incredible feeling and probably my favorite part of writing.

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So, in speaking to new writers, and writers everywhere—remember that deadlines are nobody’s friend.  This is a sailing lesson, too.  If you rush a boat, you might wreck your boat.  The same is true for our novels and poems and memoirs, but thankfully, with our writing, the repairs are easier.  Of course, writing “repairs” are less tangible, they’re only words, they’re not a hole in your hull, or a torn sail, or broken mast, but they might feel that way.  When we work so hard at something, when it takes over our lives, and we find out—alas—it’s NOT DONE YET, that can be devastating, but when we get over the initial shock, the initial feeling of loss and emptiness (because I have felt empty of words), we realize that we CAN ACTUALLY REVISE, that the words never leave us.  The words never leave at all.

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I’ve heard some people say that “writer’s block” is a myth, and we can always get out of it, we can always free write ourselves out of those kinds of blocks, and sometimes I believe it.  But sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes, I think it’s okay to take a break, feel the emptiness for a while, and then let the words come back slowly (or quickly), like wild animals we might meet in a forest, or on the water.  You can never predict when a dolphin will decide to play between your hulls when you’re sailing a catamaran, just like you can never predict when a fox might step towards you, might even walk straight up to you, and look you in the eye—when the words just appear seemingly out of thin air, and it’s like floodgates opening.

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Part of me is writing this to tell other writers: don’t despair when you realize you’ve revised your work to death and it STILL needs more revising.  Or when your work gets rejected.  I don’t yet have an agent (though I feel absolutely blessed to have one published novel out there circulating in the Universe), but I’ve heard that even when you do have one, you’re still going to get rejected, or be forced to revise things so many times, you might find yourself going crazy.  Take a breath, and keep going though, this is our dream job, isn’t it?

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Wishing everyone the best of luck in their endeavors, whether they are writing or sailing, and remember, two things from this post:

DON’T RUSH.

THE WORDS NEVER LEAVE US.

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my shipwreck, May 16th, 2011…

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the shipwreck my family and I experienced two years ago yesterday, and I found the first email I sent to a fellow multihull sailor, on May 17, 2011.  I suppose it’s fitting that the email itself was written two years ago today, and I’d like to post it here.  For a matter of recording it publicly, for other people who have gone through shipwrecks, for all people who love living on boats and understand what it’s like, and lastly, for myself, to help me let go a little more, because I totally have NOT let go completely yet.  I’m still uncomfortable living on land, and I miss our boat every day.  I miss the sea every day.

I miss it so much, I ended up writing about the sea again in a YA novel I just finished, but this time I wrote about sailing, too, which has brought up the memories more vividly than usual.

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Here’s my email recollection of the shipwreck (the name of the friend I wrote to is omitted for privacy):

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…It’s really really bad.  Both her AMA keels were ripped out, one AMA has a whole chunk missing. The middle hull walls were moving as her floor flooded up to the seats we straddled as we pulled together the most important parts of our stuff.  Shes really broken apart.  Rob is pretty convinced she can’t be repaired.

Her whole structure collapsed under the waves pounding her and spinning her on the beach.  Our stuff was scattered along the shore like the remains of a too real shipwreck.  4 miles out on a shoal where the gps thought it should be 11 feet of water.  There were a thousand forewarnings and a thousand horrible and good reasons seemed to come together to make this happen.

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We are so in shock.

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We really didn’t mean to dream of a new boat and then NEED it so suddenly.  I know it wasn’t like no smoking just offed herself, though.  Inside, I feel she knew we loved her. She wanted to be ours.  But those waves just smashed her around us while we stood inside clenched and holding her while feeling each pound of That Great Mother shattering the world we made our home, where we planned to begin raising our son.

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I was doubtful a little about building a catamaran or even living on a boat forever, but this has shown me by that first step onto the cold hard beach, down from that butterfly of a boat that was broken, that maybe I am a sailor after all.

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But shipwrecks seemed so much more romantic before.  When I saw her keels laying hundreds of feet down that sandy beach, I saw them as body parts and no smoking was a person.  A creature that was broken partly because of our fears of a coming storm and our overlooking of our instincts.  Deep down, I knew that inlet couldn’t be trusted, but my fears of the storm and false thinking that we might reach it before dark made me say, let’s go.  We both had navigated Atlantic city twice, in fog and in rough waves, but WE also didn’t want to turn around, even just 10 miles or so…so hard to think of all the tiny things that made such loss happen.

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I’m wishing right now for a canal boat, ANY boat, to begin the baby raising. I can’t wait for years to float again…God, land is so hard.  So still it feels unnatural. Unfeeling. Uncradling.

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I’ve definitely learned that the ocean can be so fucking scary, but a boat was built for it, built to float…of course land is the hazard, not really the waves or the sea.  It’s the places where they meet that both protect and threaten our boats.  Like any place where two worlds meet, it should be approached with respect and caution, or left alone (especially if you cannot SEE it for what it IS).  We could never have avoided that beach…the fog left, the channel had markers that were not on the charts, and then as soon as we were past the breakers, going 8 knots just to maintain control, the fog came back and Rob shouted at me to go to the bow but our lights wouldn’t have shown us that shoal in time.

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I think you must understand how tragically awful this feels.  It was our home so briefly but a home we made right as we married, our first home together as husband and wife…so many dreams were in those hulls and now we are homeless, and I don’t think we can possibly go to Block Island without living on a boat there…so we’re stuck.  Literally shipwrecked on land…no idea where to go and piles of debts just following along like chains and anchors we can’t use any longer. What can we anchor now?  How do we find peace?

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Sorry I’m going on a bit, somehow I can only say all this to you right now…too devastated to talk to anyone who doesn’t really comprehend living inside a boat like this.  What it does to you and how it strips you of all you thought you were and shows you who you really ARE.

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I’m so sorry for your sickness, yuck and I do understand!  I grew to love vomiting on the boat cause I just lean over the side of the deck and the sea swallows it for me.  I guess she has finally gotten me back for all that vomit during my first trimester, huh? Ohhhhh.

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Every other thought in our heads is a broken dream and broken home right now. The moon shining overhead, just watching.  Illuminating the edges of these memories so they glow, but not in glory.

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Okay.  Must sleep. My stomach is flipping in circles and the baby either completely understands or doesn’t have a clue as to what is making mommy so completely freaked out and hurting so deeply.

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Wishing all sailors right now fair winds…and I’ll see you soon upon the waves.

the boat I am haunted by

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The 38′ wooden Piver trimaran that I bought and lived on for almost a year was called No Smoking.  She happened to be docked at the same marina where my partner and I lived aboard our first sailboat, Serenity, a 36′ wooden monohull.

We fell in love with the idea of living on a boat with more than one hull.

“Trimaran” and “catamaran” just sound so much grander than “monohull.”  They sound like promises, dreams, or flying carpets.

My partner, Rob, and I got married in September of 2010, just one month after we bought No Smoking.  A month later, in October, we left our current home (Block Island, RI) and sailed south, aiming for Florida and then the Bahamas.

Sailing, like writing, is a blind journey.  You can start off with an “outline” or a “plan,” but the ocean and the creative flow of the human mind, often throw the wildest obstacles into our paths.

I kept a blog of our sailing trip south HERE.

Read it with kindness, and I regret to inform you that as of now, it is still unfinished.  The end of that fateful journey was our beloved No Smoking shipwrecking onto a peninsula beach along the coast of New Jersey.  We were hurrying back to Block Island, and I was pregnant.  We took risks, but with sailing, like writing, there are always risks.  Our GPS and nautical charts weren’t up to date enough to show us that beach.

There’s a lot of reasons why we shipwrecked.  And the blame?  Was it the ocean?  The wind?  The shoaling?  Wrong information?  Rash decisions?  Yes to everything.  It was our fault as much as it was the fault of the sea, because sailing, like writing, is it’s own force, but we have to be responsible for ourselves, too.  Responsible for our mistakes.

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We now live in the bottom floor of a log cabin in the woods, which would have been my greatest fantasy as recently as five years ago.  But five years ago, I had not yet known what it was like to sleep in the cradle of the sea itself, feeling the sound the waves made as they slapped against our hulls.  I had not yet watched sunset after sunset (and a few sunrises) reflected in the shining waters around me.

The woods are still magical to me, but they’re not the same as the ocean.  When I am on the water, I miss trees, but they don’t haunt me.  The sea haunts me even when I’m cruising, because it just goes on seemingly forever, and inside the sea are creatures larger than our boat.  And they are always there – floating through the abyss, devouring plants or each other.  We sailed through the Gulf Stream for a while, where the bottom of the sea was thousands of feet below us.  My writer brain was perpetually, deliciously haunted by the animals I imagined (and often, too, by the possibility of the mythological—mermaids and selchies, gods and goddesses, sea dragons).

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Now, I sit by a window with a view of tall pines and maple trees, but inside my mind, I am remembering scenes like this:

NC-AlligatorAnchorage