How We Learn

A medical crisis leads Marti to buy a sailboat and learn to cruise

Marti Brown In the early 1990′s, I was a single, healthy and athletic woman, making a living in the health care industry. I had planned to retire when I hit 55, buy a cruising boat and sail away to somewhere for fun during the “golden years”.

My plans were changed when I got very ill with gangrene of my small intestine and almost died.

While I spent 51 days in the hospital, 41 where I couldn’t eat, I decided that if I got out of this crazy health jam I was in I would sell everything and buy a bigger boat and just go sailing! Wasn’t sure if I would even live until 55 or be healthy enough to sail then.

In 1993 I sold my house, bought a bigger boat that I have now, and sold the smaller boat, a Hunter 27.

The Other Woman, my Allmand 31I began saving money and preparing to get totally debt free to go sailing.

Part of the process was to get to know my new boat, make modifications in preparations for cruising and learn all there was to know about diesel engines as I had only had experience with outboards in my previous two boats.

I also wanted to see if I would enjoy living on the boat. My parents and family thought I had lost my mind. I would take the boat out for long weekends and two or three week vacations to try and get the feel of what it might be like if I went cruising.

My friends at the marina where I lived, suggested that I put an SSB/HAM radio on the boat

…so that I could communicate and get weather while I was cruising. I bought the books to study and passed my General class HAM exam.

Then I bought an SSB/HAM radio and talked to a bunch of people about how to install it and then I put it in. There weren’t any books to teach me how to install it or how to use it for that matter so I asked a lot of questions and did a tremendous amount of searching to find information.

In one of the sailing rags, I read about a new technology that would allow you to send and receive emails through your SSB/HAM radio so I went ahead and bought a radio modem and tried to install it and use it. That was daunting and I didn’t figure it out by the time I left.

The Other Woman at anchorIn November of 1997, I slipped the dock lines for the final time and went off into the sunset, solo and alone.

I was really nervous but very excited at the same time. I had anticipated all of the maintenance issues and the boat behaved very well as I day sailed down the coast of Florida.

I came into Boot Key Harbor the day after Thanksgiving and was so exhausted after dodging crab traps in the Florida Bay and seeing the harbor so full of boats at anchor that I wimped out and took a slip. I think I slept for about 14 hours I was so pooped. When I was scoping out the harbor I realized that I needed to set two anchors. Never in my cruising life to date did I ever have to set two anchors and I realized I needed to consult Chapman’s to read about how to do that.

I finally left the slip and went into the Harbor and then many things on the boat went bust. Batteries, depth sounder and so forth. I fixed all of that but the weather was pretty wicked and the windows to the Bahamas were pretty slim. I tried to leave for the Bahamas several times and just gave up as the actual sea state was too nutty and winds from the wrong direction.

In 1999 I was ready and left for the Bahamas.

I did have a crew member who had come highly recommended as she had soloed her boat down from the Carolinas and had been to the Bahamas with her boyfriend several times. Turned out she didn’t know jack shit about navigating or sailing and she probably was the deck lizard on the trips to the Bahamas.

My crew member and I made it to Bimini, then to Great Stirrup where I spun an outboard prop. Then on to Spanish Wells to try and buy a new outboard for the dinghy. We also went to Royal Island and goofed around there for a while. Then left for Abaco and entered North Bar biting our nails all the while as we entered the essentially unmarked inlet surrounded by reefs and rocks.

Hurricane Floyd 1999 09/14 at 1945utc After we got to  Marsh Harbor, Hurricane Dennis was bearing down on us and my crew mate bailed which had been discussed prior to setting out.

So, I was alone during Dennis but not really. I had found new friends on the HAM radio and in the cruising community.

The boat and I weathered the storm well and then set out alone to Green Turtle Cay two weeks later.

The day I got to Green Turtle, I was delighted to see some friends I had met in Marathon. We got together for supper that night and I felt pretty darned good about life until I heard the weather report on the HAM radio the next morning.

Hurricane Floyd had formed and was making a bee line for my location.

The HAM mentors I had met on the radio warned that this one would be life threatening for anybody on land, let alone on a boat. So, I stripped the boat and prepped her hoping that she would survive and then called on the VHF to try and find somewhere on land to evacuate to.

I got an offer for shelter from a nice guy Jim and dragged all I could drag off the boat in the dinghy to the cottage. The hurricane was brutal with 155 mile an hour sustained winds and gusts to over 200 mph. Whew! My boat did great.

For the next two weeks I was on the HAM radio providing health and welfare traffic to and from the islands. I made many more friends in the Abacos from my efforts but in doing so I missed a lot of the good food that the restaurants were grilling as they had lost power! Rats!

Then I decided it was time to go back to the States for a while and I left with a couple of other boats I had met.
We all slowly made it to Old Bahama Bay and the weather was pretty crummy for a crossing. We even tried once and it was just too rough. So, we all came back to West End and just goofed off and snorkeled and had pot luck dinners waiting on the weather.

One morning the dockmaster came over and said, “Get tied up quick! Another hurricane is coming!

“Oh shit” was the general sigh. We all made fast to four poster slips and spidered in after we had a look at the weather channel forecast. The marina was a great hurricane hole for this hurricane, Jeanne I think was the name and we all walked around during the storm taking pictures and shaking our heads about the trifecta of hurricanes we had all suffered through.

I guess I really liked Boot Key Harbor so I went back there to lick my wounds and try to beef up my cruising kitty. I found work at the local hospital and began working six months in the Fall and Winter and taking off the Spring and Summer months. In my off time from the hospital, I sailed back to the Abacos. It was easy solo sailing where I could run for 12 hours, anchor and sleep and get up and do it again.

Annie Reading the Radio Email Bible I got the idea in the Abacos that I should write a book about Marine SSB radio

… how to use it as there were no books about it on the market. So, I started writing the first book. Then, in 2003 I finished the “green” book about radio email. In 2005 I revised the first Marine SSB book and in 2008 I published the The ICOM M802 Radio Manual for “Idi-Yachts”
and a murder mystery, Murder At Stacy’s Cove Marina.

I began doing seminars at the boat shows on Marine SSB radioI began doing seminars at the boat shows on Marine SSB radio to demystify the device and help folks learn to use it. People began calling on me when they came to Boot Key to assess their SSB installation and teach them how to use their SSB.

I’ve been caught in a few more hurricanes in the Abacos; in 2004 Frances and Jeanne and in 2005 in the Florida Keys; Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma. The boat did well once again. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

Life is good!
Marti B

How did you learn to sail and to handle and maintain your boat?

I took a sailing course that I won in an auction to benefit the Arthritis Foundation in Tampa, FL

To maintain my boat, I met a mentor who was my neighbor at my first marina when I bought my first sailboat, a 23′ Hunter. He was a retired fellow that was delighted to coach me through all of the things about sailing and boat upkeep and repair.

Did you start out with sailing/boating experience early in your life?

My father didn’t swim and was raised on a farm. He never had any interest in boating. My mother swam but also had interest in boating. My god parents liked to go out fishing in the Great Lakes in Michigan but they never took me out. Rats! I guess I got hooked on the water by watching Lloyd Bridges on TV.

What were the skills that you found hardest to learn? How did you tackle them?

Diesel repair and maintenance. It was a weird struggle to overcome some strange message in my head that told me I shouldn’t or couldn’t do this. Had to learn to take off my learned stupidity as a woman.

What advice do you have for other women who may be interested in doing what you have done?

Read, ask questions, take the risk and push the envelope. You’ll make mistakes but you’ll learn or you’ll sell the boat. It can be very empowering!

What kind of boat do you have?

I now have a 31′ Allmand sailboat, full masthead sloop with a three foot draft, 16hp diesel engine.

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How did you learn your sailing/cruising skills?
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