I’m not too good with riding in cars – bumps, vibration, noise – and I quit driving over 10 years ago because of changes in my reflexes related to health issues. You know you shouldn’t be driving when, just like the low-tech test for elderly folks’ driving, you start hearing more and more horns honking whenever you happen to be the one behind the wheel. There’s a lot of speed in cars, and very small movements of the steering wheel or the accelerator have very large, and very quick, effects. You want both muscle control and eye/hand coordination that’s up to the task, and if you don’t have that, it’s really better not to drive.
The nice thing about boats, at least the slow-moving kind (flatwater kayaks, canoes, single hull displacement sailboats, among others), is that the issues that can make car-driving such a hazard pretty much go away when you bring the speed down to an average of 3 knots. And even better, in an ordinary (non-racing) sailing situation everybody is keeping a respectful distance! At four boat lengths, a variation of a foot or two will matter not at all. Never mind that sailing on almost any available water is so much more fun than being out somewhere on a highway.
Beyond the driving issues, sailboats, for me, get around the problems of riding in cars. Almost always sailboat motion is “more rounded.” The bumps land with a certain amount of give, and there is more variation in the strain that one’s body is asked to accommodate. If one has the good sense to stay in port during terrible weather, a lot of bashing around can be avoided. Vibration and noise arrive with the motor – and with some patience and willingness to refine sailing skills, the motor can be avoided too.
Last year I was at a dock for a couple of days that was mainly inhabited by relatively large cruising motorboats, probably averaging about 40 feet and more. It was nice July weather, and I ended up overhearing quite a few conversations. One young man was visiting his (motorboat) friends, explaining that his sailboat was for sale. With the kind of preparation that let’s you know that somebody is about to say something that they think is really funny, he said, “sailboats are good for fun, but motorboats are transportation.” This was in Onset, by the west entrance to the Cape Cod Canal, and I had gotten there from the Connecticut River… sailing. They were three boats away, and I didn’t say anything. But he did me a favor, bringing up that word. It really clarified for me exactly what I’ve been doing in this boat, and in each of the previous others, since cars and driving became such a problem. Each of these boats has been, in fact, accessible transportation!
It’s a pleasure to cover so much ground by water. It’s even more of a pleasure to cover any ground at all. And it’s an outright miracle that the two things go together. I couldn’t be more pleased.
Quite a few years ago I sold what had been my most favorite boat of all, a Falmouth Cutter 22, because I felt that it was unlikely that I would be able to sail it again, primarily because of knee issues that resulted in quite significant mobility limitations. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about the boat thing after that, but kept reflecting on a chapter in the John Dowd book titled Sea Kayaking: A Manual for Long Distance Touring, that I had read some time before. That chapter discussed how a man who had been a sailor, and then had an accident and was paraplegic as a result, had come to Dowd for some help with strategizing solo kayak cruising. Dowd wrote a really good chapter about the ensuing process and that man’s cruising experiences, and the story has stayed with me ever since.
For myself, with illness-related upper body strength issues as well as associated back stuff and the knee thing, extended kayaking wasn’t going to work. But we all have different strengths, and for me a sailboat was much more likely to be manageable, one way or another. So I took off on the “accessible cruising sailboat” tack. This was a direct result of having read that chapter about the fellow in the kayak, and my many thanks go to that kayaker, and to John Dowd for writing it up and putting it in a book. Here’s how my version of accessible cruising boats has been arranged:
The Peep Hen, SERENITY, was adapted enough for me to simply be on the boat, which was enough of an adventure at the time, but the boat wasn’t entirely arranged for independent sailing. AUKLET, on the other hand, was originally built and then set up for solo sailing, by me. In both cases, the adaptations were not particularly exotic. Rather, they made use of standard boat equipment, applied in very particular ways to fit the situation.
SERENITY has a cockpit bench/berth made higher by several layers of closed-cell foam, and a board between the cockpit benches that serves several purposes: slide board for crossing the boat without standing; cockpit table; and underneath the top cover, head seat. Halyards and anchor line are led to the cockpit, but for independent sailing (by me) it also needs a winch for those lines, and an autopilot. This may happen…
AUKLET, the Bolger-designed glasshouse Chebacco, has a raised port berth, the head described in a previous post, halyards and anchor line led to the cockpit, and an enormous two speed manual winch. There is also an easily movable cockpit slide board, and a “tiller pilot” style autopilot that fits into a socket in the starboard cockpit bench and connects to a pin in the tiller. The port cockpit bench has tapered cushions to create a flat, level surface, rather than following the curve of the sheer and the lateral drainage angle, so there’s a very flat level space for lying down, which I find helpful. The main halyard leads through a rope clutch, which holds any strain on the line until the clutch is released, and we added a special curved rubbing strake so that the mainsail can be hauled up from a sitting position across the cockpit, without tearing up the corner of the companionway.
I tried a Winch-Rite portable electric winch handle, but it wasn’t a good fit for my abilities, so we took it back off the boat. At 6 pounds it was heavy to move into and out of position, and required long holding of its trigger from an awkward position while it slowly turned the winch. And it’s very loud. With a different winch position it does have potential, but not in the way that AUKLET is presently set up. A 10 inch manual winch handle with a two-hand grip, however, made a really big difference over the standard 10″ winch handle. It’s the Lewmar “one-touch powergrip winch handle.” It allows one’s upper hand to be oriented palm facing down, which is very helpful for getting the most out of available weight and strength.
Some of the above items were fussy to install, particularly the anchor line which runs over the top of the cabin. But the parts are all garden variety stuff from the boat catalogs or the hardware store. Several of the parts are generally used on larger sailboats, in order to handle big-boat loads using average strength – applied to the smaller loads of a small sailboat, the jobs become possible with less than average strength. Mostly, making the boat “accessible” was about moving around in and on it, and then placing lines and gear so that distances and angles were comfortable for my particular habits of getting about and doing things. The only difference between this and other more average situations is that if a gear arrangement doesn’t fit my particular habits, it’s quite possible that for me it won’t be doable at all, or not as a repeated maneuver. So we took quite a bit of time sorting out details of how to set things up in a workable way within the fixed structure of the hull, deck, and cabin.
We had tried, on the suggestion of Phil Bolger, opening up the cockpit footwell. This creates potential for rolling access between the cockpit and cabin, and for walking between the cockpit and the cabin without any up-and-down steps. I really liked this arrangement, but as it turned out, especially with the extra cushions on the port seat, even with a grate in the footwell a step was needed to be able to get up onto the cockpit seat at all (I’m about 5’7″ tall). It became easier to instead keep the footwell hatch in place and scramble from the cabin to the cockpit, and now that footwell hatch is fastened down semi-permanently, which also has the advantage of making it a lot more watertight.
The rest of “accessible sailing” in this particular situation has as much to do with patterns of activity as with particular equipment. For me, this especially means not too much hand steering, and plenty of time to rest! But here’s the cool thing: the way you achieve those requirements is by sailing off on the open water, which just happens to be my favorite place to sail. In my world, it’s about a million times easier to sail all day at about 5 miles off the coast, than it is to follow a perfectly easy but narrow channel between islands or up a river that means hand steering for an hour or two. I like sailing close in when I have the pep and it doesn’t go on for too long, but I’m in sailboat heaven when the wind is right for the autopilot and it’s easy to relax in more wide-open spaces.
The glasshouse Chebacco is particularly ideal for those wide-open runs, because you can spend a lot of time inside the cabin while still having excellent visibility all around. It’s restful to get out of the wind, and at the same time it’s also possible to do a good job of keeping track of traffic and navigation. When I saw the design of this boat originally, in the magazine Small Craft Advisor, bells went off immediately – my accessible boat! The details are done with further access in mind, but it’s really the design that makes it work for my particular situation.
There are a couple of bits of equipment that have also been especially helpful. One, that’s pretty funny, is a cardboard periscope from the Edmund Scientific catalog. It works like a charm for checking on traffic, or buoys and shorelines, without getting up every 5 minutes. This would not be nearly so effective in a boat with tiny portholes! And the autopilot is my best friend. I carry a brand-new spare, for just in case it quits. The boat will also self-steer, when going some version of upwind, by holding the tiller in place with the autopilot adjusted but turned off, and fiddling with trimming the sails. That is both entertaining, and a useful backup skill in case of electrical disaster, besides saving electricity.
Because the electrical system is so important, this system also has built-in redundancy. 150 amp hours are in one bank of six 25 amp hour, 12 volt, Group U1 size, AGM batteries, and there is a separate 50 amp battery bank (two of the above batteries) for just in case. (The small Group U1 batteries fit the available space, and have been a lot easier for people to move around.) So far it hasn’t been necessary to use that second bank, but I like knowing that it’s there, especially for the autopilot, but also for navigation lights.
This system is recharged by a 55 watt Ganz solar panel on the cabin roof, which is more than adequate for keeping up with loads from the autopilot, LED nav lights, AIS, and cell phone, VHF, and dry cell charging. If I were to use the electric Torqeedo motor very much, especially when the sun is lower in the fall, I would need more charging capacity, but as things are this arrangement has worked out fine. The motor is there primarily as a safety backup and for the last little stretch of getting into and out of marina dock systems, and for this use the existing solar panel has worked out well.
The other big adaptation aboard AUKLET has been the mainsail and its reefing system, which works from the cockpit by roller-furling on the boom, and is borrowed from the Paradox microcruiser design by Matt Layden. However, this sail is not entirely perfect in this situation (for which, after all, it was NOT designed!) In heavy conditions, probably because the installation is not identical to the one on Paradox, you have to do the furling just right or the sail does not roll smoothly onto the boom. This can lead to inefficient sailing, but worse, it can create uneven strains on the sail, with potential for tearing. Further, when the wind and waves are really going, and even more so in the dark, it can be downright scary to consider taking in another reef. This is not good!
So this winter we are going to try making a junk rig, most especially because of the very easy reefing that is a major characteristic of that sail design. If I wasn’t having so much fun with things like overnight passages some ways off the coast, this would not be an issue – the Paradox rig is perfectly fine on this boat in a fairly broad range of conditions. It just hasn’t been such a good fit for me in the somewhat wilder stuff, for which the boat is perfectly capable, that I’m also inclined to be out in. So we’ll see how that progresses…
Overall, it’s been very interesting working with both of these boats from an access perspective. They each have significant strengths. AUKLET has the large, comfortable cabin without requiring setting up, adjusting, and taking down canvas as a daily routine. But while lines are all led to the cockpit, there are still reasons to go forward now and then, and docking and undocking without help are much, much more easily done by stepping off the boat and walking a bit on the dock. At 20 feet long, there is a certain amount of territory to be covered. For my present abilities, that’s okay, and I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly. But all along I’ve been happy to have SERENITY in the garage, as my accessibility fallback plan.
The great thing about SERENITY– and Peep Hens in general – is exactly that small size (14 feet) in combination with the ability to get out of the weather. I would not take that boat straight across from Penobscot Bay to Cape Ann, but it is surprisingly sturdy for coastal sailing, and I’ve been out in winds of 15 to 20 and 3 foot seas and felt perfectly fine. It won’t make a lot of progress upwind in a chop, but with a relaxed schedule, thinking ahead, and carefully watching and working with the weather, it’s surprising what a person can do in that boat, including significant travel without much of a motor.
From a mobility perspective, the Peep has several advantages. When arranged for sailing from and sleeping in the cockpit, no walking is necessary at all, including for messing with dock lines. This is true because the boat is so short, and because of the cabin design, which means it’s possible to scoot onto the gunnel, sitting, and from there, while still sitting, to slide along the top of the cabin toward the bow, with feet over the side on the dock. I know this because on one of the previous SERENITY trips there was some miscommunication about dock line arrangement, and then the crew was away from the boat for a while. This took place during a time when I was doing no walking, but as it turned out I had a perfectly fine time scrambling around and securely tying the bow line to the cleat on the dock. Gosh I like that boat!
For solo accessible sailing, SERENITY would need a few more adjustments. The anchor line is led back to the cockpit, but the anchor does not drop easily from the bow roller. I have since learned that it matters quite a bit which anchor one uses, because a good deal of friction is developed when the chain part of the rode is lying on top of the cabin, and some anchor designs are weighted in such a way as to overcome that friction and fall on their own better than others. It also seems to matter, even within the same anchor design, what the weight is of the anchor being used. A 6 pound aluminum Spade will drop sometimes, but not reliably, on SERENITY. On AUKLET, a 15 pound Manson Supreme drops every single time, but the 10 pound version will not. Neither will the 13 pound aluminum Spade, nor the 33 pound steel Spade (yes, I have an embarrassing number of anchors!) This is something that would need further work for SERENITY, though I’m hoping that the 10 pound Manson will do the trick, because there is a shorter run over the tiny cabin and therefore less friction than on AUKLET. Reefing is another issue that needs to be more thoroughly addressed on SERENITY, and as I said earlier the boat needs an autopilot and a winch. But it’s all quite doable, and I’m having some fun thinking about it.
The other thing that we did shortly after SERENITY arrived involved the strong smell of fiberglass, which is typical of a polyester resin boat with no liner. That smell decreases a bit in the first couple of years after construction, but my experience has been that after that initial improvement, even 10 years later there is still a significant odor. I have chemical sensitivities, apart from the various mobility issues, and this has been a big deal. So when I first got the Peep Hen, and it was clear that this was going to be a problem, we coated the interior of all the exposed fiberglass that we could reach. To do this we used West System 105 epoxy with the 207 hardener, which allows about a half an hour of working time and hardens almost clear. In small quantities this stuff is not terribly smelly at all. By the time it was all over the interior of the boat, even after curing for two weeks it was still pretty strong. But the good news is that epoxy, unlike polyester resin, does completely offgas, and it’s an outstanding sealer. It took some time, and a good hot summer in the sun, but by one year later there was no smell at all inside that boat. It’s been a very worthwhile effort.
So that’s about all the adaptations I can think of. Each individual’s situation is unique to that person, so it’s an individual process to work out this sort of thing. But maybe there are some helpful ideas here, and above all, there is the idea that it might be possible. Bigger sailboats have been made that are entirely wheelchair accessible, including for overnight accommodations, lines and helm (see: http://www.disabledsailing.org/ and the book An Ocean to Cross, by Liz Fordred.) But if one’s various requirements allow, there is the “small boat and ditch the wheelchair” option. For me, there is nothing more fun than leaving the empty wheelchair at the dock – for months! These little sailboats have made it much easier to do exactly that.
[Note: there are quite a few references to specific equipment and books in this post. As always, I am not receiving anything for mentioning them, and am including their names simply because I think that it might be helpful…]
In the previous post about shore support, I talked a little bit about the crew, particularly on the Peep Hen trips. The role of those crew on board the Peep Hen, SERENITY, and during the initial launch of AUKLET in 2012, was broader than the ordinary crew definition. It deserves further explanation.
Folks have asked me, over time, about equipment and whatnot for making these boats accessible related to mobility issues. And there is a whole post about that coming. But the biggest, most important part of working out accessible sailing, for me, has been having help along the way. Folks who came to “crew” did so with the understanding that they would be involved in both boat handling and in helping me with tasks that were somewhere along the spectrum of “personal assistance.” Mostly this came down to passing a lot of stuff back and forth, and taking care of anything and everything that involved lifting, or tasks requiring strength that was out of my range, and anything to do with getting off the boat.
During the process of figuring out how to manage each of these boats, that dual role was a big job! It’s one of the reasons for the steady rotation of crew on board SERENITY, because as it turned out it was also a tiring job. As the boat became gradually more organized and outfitted for what we were doing, things became easier, and the last person to crew on that boat with me in 2009 said “what, this is hard?” But the interesting thing is, that same person – thank you Michele! – came with me for the first five days after we launched AUKLET. Which was again a big job, and at the end of it, when Suzanne came to give her a ride back to Holyoke, Michele too was seriously tired. So was I, but as the instigator for all of this, it’s not quite the same!
A couple of different things made being “assistive crew” in this particular setting a hard job. For starters, getting a boat organized for comfortable cruising is a substantial project anyway, and in some ways it’s a bigger project on a smaller boat, because everything has to be just so in order for it all to fit in such a constrained space. The Peep Hen is 14 feet long. It’s a miracle of microcruiser design, but still a small space for two adults and gear for a few weeks. I was set up for sleeping in the cockpit, and crew had the bigger berth in the cabin, but this all involved morning and evening rearranging. Head systems were tried, rejected, or adapted again. Cockpit covering for rain, and insects, involved a long process of refinement, and on and on. We did a lot in the driveway, but that only gets you so far.
While all that on-water development was proceeding, the most common feedback that I got was that it would have been better to have two crew, one for boat handling, and one for “personal assistance.” Most often, folks didn’t care which role they were in, but found it challenging to move back and forth between the two. Some folks didn’t care about the roles issue, but didn’t want to be solely responsible for the muscle side of both sailing and boat well-being, as well as what they saw as being responsible for my well-being. I think that this was more challenging because where I live is not a big sailing area, and as it turned out, the folks I had rustled up almost never had any sailing experience at all. So there was a lot of learning going on about basic sailing, on the part of the crew, and a lot of learning going on for all of us about how to best arrange the boat for both living and sailing. And I was learning how to sail that particular boat, which was new to me.
On top of all this, we were going cruising! And with a very minimal auxiliary motor, no less. In hindsight, I can see what an incredibly tall order all of this was. The miracle is the amount of fun that we had regardless.
In total, about a dozen different women came sailing with me on SERENITY, in five separate trips that overall totaled 63 days, including overnights. We went everywhere from the Connecticut River across the street from where I live, to the lower Connecticut River and over to Narragansett Bay, and on a separate trip, from the North Shore of Boston to Kittery, Maine, on the border with New Hampshire. Some crew came for more than one stint! Some came partly because it was a paid gig, and some came just for fun – or out of friendship, when they ordinarily were not knocking the doors down to go sleep in a tiny sailboat. The entire undertaking was a miracle of generosity and spirit of adventure, and looking back, I am utterly floored that it happened at all.
Nowadays, since the end of that initial five days with Michele after AUKLET’s first launch, I have primarily been on the boat by myself. Here and there Suzanne has stayed overnight, and a few different folks have come sailing with me, entirely for fun. It’s been relaxing to sail alone, and to have crew whose role is simply sailboat crew. But it never could have gotten to this stage without the enormous generosity of all those folks who came sailing with me before, when it was unclear exactly how the whole venture was going to work in the first place.
It would be incomplete to leave out the people dynamics that went with all of the above. I did those trips with folks I had known for years, and with folks I had only just met. Almost always, we had a perfectly fine time, and a good bit of fun. Some of us became much closer, as a result of spending that time together, and our friendships now are deepened by that shared experience. Some have drifted off – which often happens with “assistant” relationships, as people leave the area and move on in their lives.
One old friend and I attempted a plan of sailing together on the Peep Hen for a month. In the end, after two weeks I said that I could not do that together anymore, feeling that the level of conflict was more than I was up for. In hindsight, it has become clear to me that for one thing, the boat was not yet organized enough to undertake such a long single-crew stint. The strains of the disorganization added to the inevitable strains of being in such close quarters for such a long time, and from my perspective our ability to manage those strains in a good, livable manner was exceeded. We had been fine in two previous short-duration sails, of a few days, but not so much, when it came to weeks.
Further, from the broader perspective, sailboat crew/skipper relations are always a thing that might or might not work. Sailing stories are filled with incidents of crew joining and leaving a particular boat, sometimes because the crew leaves at the first available opportunity, or later, after a particular event, and sometimes because they leave at the request of the skipper. Boat compatibility, especially over time, is a miracle involving a whole bunch of varied dynamics.
Overall, I remain enormously thankful to everybody who came on board the Peep Hen as “assistive crew,” and made all of that sailing possible. It’s pretty amazing that it worked at all, and truly amazing that so much of it worked so well! That it led to the kind of sailing that has filled this blog is an extra special gift. My heartfelt thanks go to each one of those adventurous women.
Each of the trips in AUKLET, and all of the trips before that in the Peep Hen, SERENITY, involved a tremendous amount of help from quite a few people. In SERENITY, I had crew along with me, quite a few different folks taking turns coming for anything from one or two days to five days or more, as I stayed aboard the boat for as much as three weeks at a time. (See http://smountainlaurel.smugmug.com/Sailing/Serenity-14-ft-Peep-Hen for more detail on that.) Making that process work, with transportation for crew changes, and organizing and bringing of supplies, involved another role generally filled by folks who were not interested in actually going sailing, but wanted to participate in the project. This is the role that we have come to call “shore support.”
As time has gone on, my goal has been to need gradually fewer shore support meetings. This has indeed been working out, and has made it possible for the kind of extended travel that I did this year. Sailing on my own has of course made a big difference with this, and the trip last year included a lot of testing of systems and supplies, with the goal of self-sufficiency in mind.
The big issue making shore support necessary is that for the most part I don’t get off the boat. If one is more mobile, it’s perfectly reasonable to tie up near a town and hike in for supplies, and that’s how it’s usually done. Packing for AUKLET has been more like preparations for a remote expedition, except for that if I goof up, it’s a lot easier to get help!
Last year Suzanne made trips by car from Holyoke to locations all along the New England coast, bringing food, water, supplies, and tools for projects. We would meet at marinas or a friend’s dock, exchange a tremendous amount stuff, and work on projects to get the boat more in order. While I was somewhat close to western Massachusetts these would be day trips, and sometimes Theo would come too, helping with specific boat projects of the moment.
By the time I was in Maine, Suzanne and I were meeting up about every two weeks, and she was staying over on the boat for a couple of nights, since the drive had become so long. At Belfast – five hours of steady driving from Holyoke – Suzanne said (very understandably!) that that was about as far as she wanted to go. What a gift it was, all those trips. That she did that made the entire seven months of me living aboard AUKLET last year possible. And while that was going on, I was studying, and thinking.
Ten years ago, in a different boat, I had sailed to Cutler. DownEast is my favorite place to sail, and I had very much wanted to go back. I love the rocks, and the northern trees, and the remote feel of so few boats on the water. Getting there again was my biggest motivation (besides making less work for my friends) to work things out with fewer shore support trips from home – and this year it worked.
The boat was more in order, and all that packing in the spring meant that I was very well supplied. Besides substantial amounts of food that keeps easily, I had seeds and soil for growing some greens, carrots packed in peat moss, and gear for collecting rainwater, as well as a carbon water filter to get the chlorine out of municipal water if need be, or to filter stream water. I had materials for washing clothes, and tools and materials for basic repairs and improvements. For everything other than extra greens and the occasional restaurant food, I was well-stocked.
The sweet thing that happened along the way is that a number of people wanted to help! So it turned out that even though I spent quite a bit of time beyond the range of my ordinary shore support, I had an abundance of lovely vegetables, and some really fun restaurant food. Thank you so much to everybody!
The bottom line is that for me, with my range of abilities, shore support is what makes this work. But we’ve been successful at getting the amount of shore support needed down into a more manageable range, and it’s been satisfying to become more independent. For one stretch of this summer Suzanne and I went six weeks between meetings, and got together after that span more because we wanted to see each other than because of any pressing need. I still have hopes of sailing into Passamaquoddy Bay, and perhaps to Nova Scotia. With the systems that are now worked out, this could be possible.
The process of figuring out ways for me to sail off beyond the horizon has involved an enormous number of people. This has included shore support, crew, and folks at home and along the way who have helped with all manner of things, from home canning chicken, and beef stew, to helping wire the boat, and organizing the million supplies. It has included help with me physically getting into and off of these boats, and moral support – both on and off the boats – during the process of seeing if it would work.
When we first took off on SERENITY, I was in pretty tough shape, on the physical plane. During the winter of 2007/2008, after a particularly difficult autumn, I had decided that if I was going to be in such lousy health, I might as well be in such lousy health while floating. A lot of people made it possible to pull that off. As I’ve gotten more strength, it’s become possible to go off on my own. But it’s been a progression, an exploration over the last six years, that has created the foundation that has made what’s going on now possible.
People have become part of this project in a number of different ways: Quite a few people have done assistant work for me over the last many years. I used to run ads on craigslist for assistants that included discussion of sailboat projects and shore support. It was a lot of fun just to get to write those ads. And even more fun to work with all the interesting folks who showed up as a result. Friends have helped, and acquaintances along the way. Folks who build boats for a living have done a tremendous amount of creating AUKLET, and making adjustments as the boat has developed. People with a lot of expertise have shared their thoughts and experience, as I sorted out particular ways to make things work, and this process is still ongoing. The broader definition of “shore support” includes every one of these people.
It can look like a boat is sailing off alone, with a solitary sailor. But the network that supports that boat is so much more than just the water. I think that this is true of just about every boat, in one way or another, but in this case it’s especially so. I feel like a beneficiary of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, although this project has no actual connection with that organization. But the feeling is there – serious health issues, and a great wish, and that wish fulfilled. My unending thanks go to everybody who has participated in making this happen.
Coming home is lovely, but it has its challenges. I’m not particularly good with transitions anyway – once in a groove, I like to stay there! And from an access perspective, I am much better at meeting my daily needs without help when I am on the boat. The boat is so much smaller than my apartment, and everything is within reach. Going outdoors in AUKLET involves moving about 3 feet from my usual spot indoors, and virtually no walking. It’s easy.
At home, to achieve the same goal often involves adaptive equipment, and help. Not to press the point, but it’s not so easy. So much territory to be covered, from one location to the next!
So I am thinking about creatures who carry their homes on their backs, carefully built and perfectly adapted. The thing is, most of them are permanent residents. Snails don’t leave their shells willingly, and fare badly, if they do. And crabs and lobsters shed, but the soft new shell is immediately underway, from the inside out.
I, on the other hand, have been carefully fitting a perfect floating home, with which it is possible to travel endless distances, and to stay in place for weeks if I wish, all the while maintaining food, water, and assorted other basic needs on my own. And then, willingly, I have separated myself from that shell and placed myself on dry land. In spite of the fact that the change in mobility is about equivalent to that of a seal making the same transition. Lithe and elegant in water; awkward, slow, and limited on solid ground.
There are good reasons to be on land – central heating, for one! And dear companions, and the sweet earth. But I’m reminded of hermit crabs. Periodically they decide to move. They loosen the tight grip of their soft curled tails, abandoning one found shell for another. And I wonder: do they get annoyed at the uncomfortable fit, when they first move in to the new one? How stressful is it, while between homes, soft, and awkward, and so undefended. It’s those transitions that get you. And now, here I am: re-adapting to the contours and corners that were so very comfortable just a few months ago!
In the driveway, this morning I climbed into the boat. Already half unpacked, it is no longer a seamless fit – and of course, the water is missing. But it was comforting, to move in that small space. And I look forward to doing it again.
A person might read this and think: so why leave, why not sail south, and avoid that pesky transition altogether? But the earth calls, and the relaxation that comes with setting aside that constant vigilance that is a big part of “good seamanship.” I do treasure this time when it doesn’t matter if I listen to another weather report, when anchor lines, or dock lines, do not need to be watched for chafe, when rigging is safe in the driveway, or the garage. I’m not as mobile at home, but once I get reacquainted with those household contours, they have their own coziness, and it’s nice to relax into a winter on land, watching the hillsides go brilliant, and then the drifting snow.
Using the yuloh on AUKLET has become quite matter of fact and routine. I don’t use it as much as I might, because it’s easy to overdo, but it’s a lovely alternative to the motor.
A yuloh is a curved, or bent, Asian sculling oar, used off the stern of the boat. It has a wooden socket in the middle of the loom (the long skinny part of an oar), somewhat nearer to the handle end, and that socket fits onto a metal pin on the transom. In this case, it fits onto a bicycle trailer hitch ball, roughly 1/2 inch in diameter, mounted on a post to get it up to the correct height. At the handle end of the yuloh there is a lanyard tied from an eyebolt in the handle to a low point in the cockpit.
In use aboard AUKLET, the yuloh is slid from its storage location along the port sidedeck and then slid off the port side of the back of the boat. Once the blade is floating in the water it’s easy enough to lift the handle and drop the loom socket down onto the transom pin/hitch ball. On this boat, the yuloh lanyard is generally stored tied to its padeye in the cockpit, so it’s easy to pick up the end and tie it to the eyebolt in the handle of the yuloh.
Most folks use a yuloh from a standing position, which is ergonomically nice, allowing for swaying side to side using bodyweight to provide the power. But it turns out that you can also operate a yuloh from a seated position, facing the center of the boat, and alternately pushing and pulling on the handle and the lanyard, also using bodyweight in the process. The lovely thing about the physics of a yuloh is that the combination of the bend in the loom, and the lanyard at the handle end, works to cause the rotation needed to make sculling work. This takes a lot of the strain off of wrists and elbows, and allows for a simpler push/pull motion.
When I finally got the details worked out, I was quite surprised and impressed with the way the boat moved. Compared to an open rowboat, which is most often the kind of boat seen sculled in this part of the world, AUKLET is large, and heavy. Regardless, with very modest effort I have moved the boat at about 1.5 knots for some distance. I am accustomed to occasionally moving the boat by sculling with the rudder – the boat moves MUCH farther with the yuloh, for the same amount of effort. A couple of times I have taken the boat more than a mile with yuloh power alone (being me, this involved a lot of rests). Anke and Dave have routinely propelled their motorless cruising sailboat for many miles in the long calms of Southeast Alaska, though lately they’ve also been making use of a pedal-powered propeller. See: http://triloboats.blogspot.com/2012/04/windless-running-on-grits.html and http://triloboats.blogspot.com/2014/04/yuloh-20-and-beyond.html
Getting the yuloh to work on AUKLET was a progression. Initially the biggest problem was that the yuloh tended to jump off its pin. I tried a Velcro strap, which of course the yuloh pulled right off. I tried different positions – in the original construction we included three sockets in the loom, not knowing exactly which location would be best. I tried different adjustments to the length of the lanyard. There was still a lot of jumping, and some frustration.
Finally it occurred to me, about the third time of getting the yuloh out and trying again, to try gentle pressure downward on the loom to see if it would make a difference. Gentle pressure down on the handle was helpful (pressure near the pin made little difference). Since I didn’t want to have to apply that pressure ongoing, it seemed like adding some weight to the handle might do the trick. I happened to have a spare 4 feet of 3/16″ chain already on the boat, and it was easy enough to wrap that around the handle and tie it with a stray sail tie. Bingo! Yuloh training wheels!
For the next many uses of the yuloh, each time I pulled it out I would then wrap the chain around the handle. Once, after a few rounds of this, I tried using it without the chain, but it was back to jumping off its pin. Another quite a bit of use went by, and then I had a peaceful opportunity to try it again sans chain. Two things had changed: I had become much more accustomed to the rhythm of pushing and pulling both the handle and the lanyard at the appropriate moments, and the socket in the yuloh loom had become worn on the sides, creating a more sloping shouldered edge. I expect that both of these changes had something to do with it, but whatever it was, I had graduated from training wheels to operating the yuloh without the additional weight. That sure simplified things!
I’m still working on getting better at steering – it seems tricky to get the same amount of force on both the push and pull stroke, and I spend a lot of time making steering adjustments by using my feet on the tiller. But I do think that this will improve also, and theoretically it should be possible to fasten the tiller and steer by adjusting yuloh strokes. I’m still working on that. However, it’s possible to go in a generally straight line, and to arrive at a chosen destination, even if the execution isn’t perfect.
Now, if the wind dies and where I want to be is somewhere not that far away, it’s easy enough to get there. Maintaining the motor as decoration is much more realistic and doable, since having the yuloh, and my sense of security if the motor were to fail outright is much stronger.
In Asia, it’s often the women who do the big yuloh work, including on enormous barges, and often with a baby on their back. First off, we know that those are hard-working women. But it’s also a testament to the mechanical elegance of this particular tool, and its ability to use available strength in a very efficient manner. It’s a lot of fun to be putting it to use in this setting.
Since my highest priority was to have the easiest use possible, adhering to as much traditional design as possible seemed like a good idea. I wanted a piece of equipment that could move a giant barge, on the theory that with the strength that I was dealing with it might make it possible for me to move my boat.
The credit for taking the principles in that article and turning them into concrete plans for a yuloh on AUKLET goes directly to Theo Fadel. The success of her interpretation is evident in the way the boat moves. Our yuloh is made from a Doug fir 2 x 8, selected by picking through the pile at Home Depot, rough cut on a bandsaw and then shaped with a hand plane and a router. The bend is formed by two glued scarf joints, afterwards covered with seine twine seizing for extra strength. Later, after I’m home again, Theo and I will come up with plans that show exact measurements. (See http://sailingauklet.com/2015/03/26/yuloh-plans/ )
We took very seriously the bit in the article about transom height, and made a “yuloh post” for the back of the boat. It’s kind of like a samson post, and is removable, in case it turned out to be in the way for sailing. In practice it hasn’t been a problem, and we’ve only removed it for access to the transom for other projects. The bicycle trailer hitch is mounted at a 45° angle on the top of the post, facing aft. That angle was our guess at the most sensible position given the working angle of the yuloh. I got the bicycle trailer hitch on the Internet from http://www.biketrailershop.com/radical-design-bike-trailer-hitch-p-1627.html
(Just like always, I’m including this link for people’s convenience, and I’m not receiving anything for the mention of this business in the blog.)
I wished that the article mentioned above had included more detail about the socket and the pin in traditional yulohs. More specific information about angles, depths, and diameters would have been helpful. [See update on this at bottom of this blog post.] We were concerned about weakening the loom by putting sockets directly into it, so we added a piece of teak with the sockets hollowed into that. It’s possible that this might have contributed to the jumping off the pin issue, because it takes the sockets away from the horizontal centerline of the loom. But since the jumping issue has now resolved, it’s also possible that it didn’t. I do like that the loom is stronger at the sockets, rather than weaker, with our arrangement.
Even with the chain weight training wheels, only one of those sockets made the system work without jumping. And the lanyard length was important. I stitched a couple of pieces of colored whipping twine into the lanyard as markers, where the lanyard was tied at each end, so that I could keep track of what length was working. Interestingly, this made it possible to see just how much the knots were slipping, as well as making it easy to get the yuloh into position with a minimum of fuss.
Anke and Dave made a new yuloh this year, and Anke mentioned that it really made a difference to use a thicker lanyard rather than a thin one, because it made it easier on your hand. Based on her saying that, I used a piece of soft braided 7/16 line for the lanyard, and have been happy with that. I tied a good-sized stopper knot about where I thought my hand would go to help make it easier to hold, and I have found that useful too. But nowadays I seem to like my hand placement somewhat above where the knot is, and I haven’t gotten around to re-tying it, and have been doing pretty well just holding the thick line. It’s that stuff called Posh, from R & W Ropes, and it’s particularly nice and soft and fuzzy. I think that the more slippery double braid wouldn’t be as much fun, requiring more hand-muscle to keep one’s hand from slipping when working the lanyard.
A nice extra thing about the lanyard is that when you prefer the blade out of the water, it’s easy to push the handle down and wrap the lanyard two or three times around the handle, which means that the yuloh will be at rest on its pin with the blade out of the water. This is convenient for taking a break, and also for those times when a little breeze comes up but it may or may not be going to last. It works just fine to sail with the yuloh in its raised position, until it’s needed again or it’s obvious that it won’t be needed and can be put away.
That’s about it for the yuloh details. Photos http://smu.gs/1b67GnD include the yuloh in position for use, the lanyard wrapped around the handle to raise the blade out of the water, and a close-up of the socket arrangement. So far we have no photos of this yuloh in real use, rather than at the dock, but hopefully one of these days when I’ve got it out to move the boat there will be somebody with a camera nearby!
More yuloh resources:
I had the pleasure of seeing the following because the page you’re looking at right now was listed! Some of the entries in this reference include links (also copied below) to video of yulohs in use. These have been particularly helpful for seeing how this tool is properly used – note hand placement on the lanyard, immediately below the yuloh handle, and body movement front to back, crossways to the centerline of the boat. In the first video below, in the canal, one of the yuloh operators has also added some interesting bits to the deck, for foot support.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of an e-mail exchange with Slieve McGalliard, who wrote the above linked yuloh article, and this gave me the opportunity to ask questions, as I’ve continued to puzzle over pin angles and socket depths. He shared a photo of a traditional yuloh pin, taken of a model in a museum, which I have since found here: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fassitt/cranks/mar-mus_sampan.html (scroll down about two thirds of the page for that photo.) This pin is angled at about 30° aft. Regarding the question about the depth of the socket, one possibility is that traditional sockets are shallower than I would have thought – a little over half the diameter of the ball at the top of the pin. This could use some further experimentation!
Another excellent, detailed article about yuloh design, construction, and use, taking off from the article by Slieve McGalliard linked above, has also turned up, and is titled “The Easy Go Yuloh.” It has no author included, but the Junk Rig Association reference says that it was written by Bob Groves: http://www.junkrigassociation.org/Resources/Documents/Easy%20Go%20Yuloh.pdf
This article discusses that on their schooner Easy Go, Bob and Kathy Groves used a half-inch diameter pin, rounded but without a ball, set vertically (plumb). Their article does not include information about socket depth, but does say that the socket is angled at 45°, drilled into a board that is fastened to the underside of the yuloh loom (shown from the side in a photo near the end of their article).
I’ll include further yuloh updates, if and when I come across more information…
It is Saturday, October 12, and I am in my house, and AUKLET is in the driveway. My psyche hasn’t quite caught up with the physical realities (like there’s no motion!), but it’s nice to be home. There’s a possible storm next weekend, and the weather has been in the 40s at night. I’m happy to be taking the easier route this year, coming ashore before the serious fall weather. And the drive back here was lovely, with the fall colors really in gear in the higher elevations around Worcester.
Pulling the boat out of the water went well, and AUKLET was high and dry by about 8 AM, after starting early to beat the falling tide. And we had a tremendous group! There’s nothing more fun than a party at the dock.
Cleaning the hull this time was easier than last year, partly because of the work it had been possible to do last week in the Jones River, and partly because of better equipment, and lots of help. This time we had a long handled brush, a scraper for barnacles, and a couple of other brushes, as well as a pump-up pressure sprayer, the kind sold for greenhouse and garden applications. That made the job easier! As did having so many folks helping. Thank you Suzanne, Melissa, Michele, Carolyn, and Jane!
Many photos were taken, and Bob and Jane Hicks, from Messing about in Boats, were there, Bob with his “journalist” hat on, so who knows what might come of that. Susanne Altenburger, from Phil Bolger and Friends, also came to see the boat out of the water – modification discussions continue! It was a wonderful time, on all fronts.
After everything was in order, Melissa and Richard hauled the boat to Holyoke with their substantial pickup truck, and on the way they took it to a truck scale. In case anybody was wondering, the boat and the trailer together weigh about 4700 pounds, with the boat somewhat more than half loaded, since a lot of gear had been taken off already. One guess on the trailer weight is about 1200 pounds, but it might be more. The next time that the boat is floating we’ll get just the trailer weighed, and know for sure. So that makes the boat, and a good bit but not all of the gear, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3500 pounds. That rather high figure would be both because I pack heavy, and added quite a bit of hardware as well as batteries to the boat itself, and because the actual construction was done a bit heavy rather than light.
As I’ve said previously, the additional weight has been a benefit, rather than a problem. The boat isn’t quite as fast, but it’s more stable and more comfortable, well loaded. I noticed the difference in the marina after Suzanne took a good load of stuff home on Wednesday. The boat became noticeably more sensitive to both weight shifting and wakes. On the other hand, for those interested in light, quick response, one can go like heck in a lightly-loaded Chebacco boat!
It’s a good time for reflection, when you haul a boat out of the water. I’m looking forward to sitting with what this time has been, in the next while. And there were quite a few things that happened that have stayed in mind but that I didn’t get a chance to write down. Hopefully that will be possible to catch up on now!
Very many thanks go to all the people who have helped to make these last months of sailing possible. It’s a blog post all of its own, which is coming shortly, but in the meantime, my deeply grateful appreciation goes to every one of you. It’s an enormous gift that I have been given – thank you so much.
This is Friday – ramp day is tomorrow, Saturday. Suzanne is bringing the trailer from Holyoke, Melissa and Richard are bringing their truck from Maine, Michele and Carolyn are coming from Plaistow, and AUKLET and I are coming from across the little river.
Earlier today the two guys from the boatyard came to help with the masts. I had spent yesterday getting them all detached, halyards tied, etc., and Suzanne was here on Wednesday taking the second anchor and its crate out of the bow well, and the bolt out of the tabernacle and main mast, and all sorts of Stuff off the boat. It feels like such a job, getting the rigging all taken apart, but it’s pretty much done now, and most everything is horizontal on top of the cabin.
Tomorrow will be four months and three days since we launched in early June. Some of my primary goals worked out: overnight passages, sailing downEast, outfitting and supplying the boat for being off for many weeks at a time without shore support visits and resupply. Gear was tested, and found to be good: the leecloth, the AIS, and all those new gaskets. And I had marvelous visits with friends, old and new, and with family, and with WHALES! Who could ask for more!
And still, there was: one of my other missions was to find a place that might be nice to move to, by the water. It came a bit by surprise, but Suzanne and I are now looking around at that lovely point of land just south of Joy Bay. Who knows how that will develop, but just thinking about that beautiful, quiet shoreline, and friendly community, makes me enormously happy. Today I’m taking the boat apart, but in a year or two perhaps we’ll get to just take the masts down and pull it into the boathouse…
For this trip, I tried to pack five months worth of food and supplies. Packing this all at once wasn’t strictly necessary for this time around, but if I were setting up to sail to Alaska from Washington state, or something like that, it would be. So I wanted to know if the boat could do it, and I wanted to make a beginning on figuring out how much to bring.
The boat held up well. Fully loaded it was a good bit lower in the water, about a half-inch above the top of the antifouling waterline, which we had already raised by about 3 inches above the designed waterline. But the chines were still out of the water, and I was delighted to find that although the boat was, predictably, not nearly as light on its feet as last year, it was much more comfortable in a variety of conditions. Before, when not loaded so heavily, in a confused, crossing waves situation the boat had a snappy roll, that was uncomfortable and occasionally a little bit hazardous as far as staying in the cockpit. Susanne Altenburger explained this, when we were visiting, as being a product of the hard chines, as the boat would come onto the flats of the bilge panels and bring itself quickly back up. She also pointed out that if the boat had the originally designed taller and heavier mainmast, that this motion would be dampened by having the extra weight up high. That snappy roll is a worthwhile trade-off for this hull shape and the shorter, lighter mainmast that I’ve been using, but even better when it goes away because the boat is so well-loaded! Knowing this, I have completely stopped worrying about carrying extra books…
Here’s the list of what went into the boat:
We used to have a Food Saver home vacuum packaging machine, which eventually gave out and was replaced with a more sturdy semiprofessional version. This has been incredibly useful for packaging boat supplies. It protects food from all moisture, as well as making it keep longer because of removing the oxygen that contributes to rancidity. I think it’s the most worthwhile equipment we’ve gotten for dealing with trip supplies.
I am in fact coming home after four months. There were not enough cashews (my favorite, staple food) and Suzanne brought more to Belfast, as well as more pistachios, which is my general suppertime food, together with some kind of vegetable. The regular chocolate is running out, and I would bring four bars.
Cashews – raw organic, from Sunfood, in 2.5 pound bags – 12 bags
pistachios – raw organic, unsalted, case bought from the co-op and packaged at home in 12 bags of approximately 2 pounds each
pecans – raw organic from American Harvest, repackaged at home in 2 pound vacuum bags – four bags
macadamia nuts, raw, not in shells – from Raw from the Farm, packaged at home in vacuum bags with about one quarter pound in each, for treats – four bags
freeze-dried peas, organic, unsalted, from the natural food store – 12 packages (because we ordered a case) eight packages would have been plenty
freeze-dried organic blueberries, from the natural food store – six packages
freeze-dried organic raspberries, from the natural food store – two packages
freeze-dried organic blackberries, from the Internet– one package
raw organic kale chips, one package (still haven’t tried these!)
dried string beans, dried carrots, dried broccoli – not organic, from the Internet, mixed and vacuum packaged at home in approximately 2 ounce packs – 12 packs. These make good snacks mixed together with various nuts in an easy container for snacking
Organic unsalted peanut butter from the natural foods store – one jar
organic raw coconut oil – one jar
Fresh carrots – 2 pounds (there’s a story that goes with this)
organic “romaine hearts” — 3-pack lasts 2 weeks in cooler Maine waters, no ice, stored low in the boat
occasional vegetables from kind people — lettuce, zucchini, kale, chard, carrots, string beans, blueberries — and wild things from Reilly!
Organic saltine crackers – two boxes
Bunny crackers – Annie’s, from the natural food store – four boxes
organic pseudo-Oreo cookies (vacuum packed at home in four cookies/pack) so far I haven’t actually eaten these – but it makes me happy knowing that I could!
Organic dark chocolate – 2 1/2 bars
raw cacao paste wafers, from Z Natural Foods – one pound in original bag
organic unsweetened raw coconut flakes from the natural food store, one package
rice — 1 lb
lentils –1/2 lb
organic, pastured, unsalted chicken and broth, homemade and home pressure canned – 40 jars, 12 ounces each, plus some 8 ounce jars with just broth
Organic, grass fed, unsalted homemade beef stew, home pressure canned in 8 ounce jars – 12 jars (more is better!)
tinned sardines, BPA free, relatively low salt – 15 tins
wild Alaskan red salmon, relatively low salt, in room temperature-storage pouches – 15 pouches (these are older than they should have been, by a couple of years, and have still been fine)
Organic oatmeal/powdered coconut mix, oatmeal in bulk from the co-op, coconut from Z Natural Foods, mixed and vacuum packaged at home in approximately 2 pound packs – 8 packages, each package refills the canister for everyday use; each day 1/4 cup goes in Tupperware covered bowl, water added in evening for eating in the morning – no cooking necessary
Organic raw cacao nibs ground at home together with organic raw coconut and vacuum packaged in approximately 8 ounce packs. Nibs from Sunfood, coconut from Z natural foods (we got a 25 pound box of coconut from them, which vastly improved the price) – 6 packs, each pack refills two jars for everyday use
Mangosteen powder, from Z Natural Foods, one pound, kept in original package (food/supplement that I mix in oatmeal)
Sunflower lecithin (food/supplement that I mix in oatmeal) three small jars and most of one large jar that was already open – from Raw Love. This was more than needed – two small jars were extra.
Raw rice protein powder (for mixing in oatmeal) from Internet, four canisters
“Beets and sweets” – vegetable chips from the natural food store – two bags, nice for offering to company.
Freeze-dried organic liver capsules – from Dr. Ron’s – four bottles
fermented cod liver oil capsules – from Dr. Ron’s – three bottles
calcium/magnesium tablets (okay, horse pills) – two bottles
Dr. Ron’s Friendly Flora – two bottles
B12 tablets – three bottles
Krill oil capsules – four bottles
Rainbow Light iron complex – two bottles
(Just like always, including company names just to be thorough, but not receiving anything for listing them on the blog)
Wish that I had:
water in bottles to offer to company – I drink out of too many of the containers in general use on the boat
natural food root beer for special occasions and company
Buckwheat groats for planting – 1/4 pound
sunflower seeds with hulls for planting – two 8 ounce packages
chard seeds for planting – one 1 ounce package
soil for planting –two 1 quart Ziploc bags (because of the fungus gnat issue, this needs to be discarded when planting new crops)
worm compost – in the future I would make a mix of fertilizer, lime, and worm compost and have just one container
Dental care (big issue in my world)
two spare toothbrushes
three packs of interdental tool refills, and one spare handle
two spare “end tuft” toothbrushes
two full dental floss packs
dental mirror and cleaning tools
enamel cup for toothbrushing
Magnesium oil (so-called because it feels oily, but it’s actually a magnesium/water solution) this works as completely fragrance free deodorant that is actually good for you, and is also helpful for rubbing into sore muscles and bruises
Baking soda – this is multipurpose, for toothbrushing, clothes washing, handwashing, cleaning oily dirt – packed approximately 1 pound, needed more, mainly because of clothes washing
toilet paper – packed 20 rolls, received more during shore support. Should have packed two entire bulk 16-packs (used for dish washing as well as head)
Peat moss, for composting head – 20 Ziploc bags, one gallon each – this was more than needed, but one would not want to run out, they are lightweight, and if the bags hold their seal they would provide flotation, rather like kapok.
Lump charcoal for stove – 20 Ziploc bags, one gallon each, repackaged from the 7 pound bags from the natural food store. These are not briquettes, but charcoal made from chunks of actual wood, sold for fancy barbecuing, and used on AUKLET for the charcoal heater stove. Coming home in mid-October after an unusually warm fall, this is more than enough, but I would feel more comfortable with 30 bags, based on last year sailing well into the chilly fall. It’s possible to go through one bag/day when the weather is cold. It takes up a good bit of space, but is lightweight for its volume. AUKLET has more than enough space for storage – the issue in packing is overloading the boat with weight, which happens before the available storage space is filled.
Spare water filter elements – started with none, now have two
Empty gallon jugs – for storing extra rainwater, for managing water filtering process, and for replacing pee jug – started with two spares, added two more plus 2 more half-gallon jugs for replacing the cockpit “day use” jug that eventually develops algae.
It’s good to have an indicator for when you get really tired. Not “sleepy” tired, but fatigued, in the way that can compromise thinking, decision-making, and all the rest. Lately, I have that indicator.
When Anke and Dave were on the boat last year, I wasn’t getting much sleep. I’m not that good at sleeping anyway, and then we did, after all, sail through the night. At some point along the way Anke observed: “Shemaya, you really jump around between whatever things you are doing.” I had noticed this before, myself, that sometimes I tended to jump to whatever caught my attention and work on that, until the next thing caught my attention, often partway through whatever I had just been in the middle of. Eventually I decided that this wasn’t the end of the world, that six different things all got finished in the end, but that it was funny that I was completing them in so many disjointed parts. The advantage of doing this on a small boat is that you are never very far from being reminded of the tasks that you’ve wandered away from! Anyway, after Anke made that observation I started to pay more attention.
Which brings me to Mummy. My mom had a lot of issues, and a life with some really substantial difficulties. She was prescribed a broad array of psychiatric drugs, and endured a number of horrendous procedures that were considered “treatments.” Some of these things she found helpful, and others not. After one of them, her ability to stay on a particular task really deteriorated. Visiting at her apartment, in my 20s, she would suggest that she would make some coffee, which sounded good. 45 minutes later, that process would be somewhat underway. By the time she was getting older, there were folks who were coming to help with things like getting out of the house to go to appointments. One of them told me that taking a morning shower took about four hours, from start to finish. It was a long project, to get out of her apartment!
Once I got my own “jumping among tasks” clearly in view, I started to pay more attention to what was going on. For my mom, it was brain injury that caused this issue (never mind that it was an intentional surgery, and that she actually felt good about the results, and was willing to put up with the other effects.) With me, I started to pick up on the connection between lack of rest and task-jumping. It could be lack of sleep, or it could be the fatigue that comes with strenuous effort, both physical and mental. For example, sailing in big conditions with lots of factors to keep on top of, like tide, current, and tricky navigation with serious consequences for goof-ups. Doing heavy emotional work can contribute to the same effect.
It’s handy to have a quick shorthand for recognizing that level of fatigue. Nowadays, when I notice myself jumping between tasks, I say “oh look, I’m channeling Mummy.” Then I can both remind myself to follow one task through to completion before changing (probably a good pratice from a safety perspective), and to get some rest. Bonus, I get to think of my mom, in all her complexity. To embrace that I was able to say “oh, would you like me to help make the coffee?” And that she said yes.