|ANNIE LAURIE, Allan’s Cays, Exumas (Bahamas). Photo by Wanda DeWaard|
When I first decided to set out to the Bahamas aboard my 40-foot wooden Rosborough ketch, I didn’t really contemplate the possibility that I would be wholly unsuccessful at finding crew interested in a free tropical vacation. But, alas, people have lives and responsibilities, and when Annie Laurie was prepared for sea, I found I was left with little choice other than to muster up the courage to set out on my own.
|ANNIE LAURIE, off Bahia Honda, Cuba.
Photo by Laura McCrossin
I had sailed south from Nova Scotia the winter before, with the help of my sister and a few good friends. I had experienced the allure of Cuba and Mexico, and spent many months anchored in Key West. As I planned to take Annie Laurie home to Canada for the upcoming summer, I decided a detour to the Bahamas was in order before the long slog home.
While in Nova Scotia, I had sailed many times alone, but never more than the 60-mile passage between my hometown of Halifax and the nearby town of Lunenburg.
I knew my boat, and was confident and comfortable doing everything aboard, engine-wise and otherwise. I only really sought-out crew when I knew there would be overnight trips involved with a passage, as I didn’t have a working autopilot aboard.
After looking over the charts of the Abacos, Eleuthera, and the Exumas, I knew I could make my way around without the necessity of an over-nighter, so with that excuse for crew no longer valid, I began to convince myself it was high time I challenged myself with an extended solo trip.
As I made final preparations, many people (who’d never sailed a 6-foot draft boat) readily assured me I drew too much to cruise the Bahamas, and would have to choose an alternate destination. In addition, I was informed toredo worms were rampant, and my mahogany-on-oak boat would look like a sponge by the time I was ready to sail back to the United States. As doubts compounded, I fortunately met a sailing couple that had cruised the Bahamas with their wooden boat years earlier without an issue, and now cruised the same waters aboard their 9-foot draft steel schooner.
As I got underway, I was greeted with repeated doses of surprise by many sailing couples, as well as men sailing solo. I began to feel I carried a certain responsibility to spread the understanding that women are just as capable as men of cruising alone.
|My first, and only, Cuban cigar,
following a stressful reef crossing in 25 knots and no charts
Many didn’t understand how a woman was up to the physical challenges, to which I could only respond that that is the least of one’s challenges when cruising. On a 40-foot boat, Marconi-rigged and with a roller-furled Genoa, the sails were not the least bit heavy, or difficult to raise or trim. The most physically demanding aspect of handling Annie Laurie was hauling the 33-lb Bruce anchor and 30 feet of chain without the convenience of a windlass (I know I have carried heavier boxes of groceries into the house from the car). Sometimes I wish sailing was more physically demanding, as whenever I’m underway for any length of time, I usually find myself rooting through cubbies to dig out my my fat pants.
Another one of my favorite reactions I received was “Aren’t you scared?” Sure I was scared. Most of the time, might I add. I think every careful sailor, who is in constant mind of the possible worst-case scenario, will carry a certain amount of fear and concern at any given moment. It’s what keeps you safe. Couples may handle that fear by having each other, and men sailing alone might handle it by quietly telling themselves that everything will be okay, and that things aren’t as bad as they seem, and by reminding themselves they made every prudent preparation before ever leaving the dock. That is human, and that’s what I did.
|Sure I was scared. Most of the time, might I add. Photo by Laura McCrossin|
There is a certain amount of mental stamina required, mostly to deal with the monotony of ones self during those days when other cruisers are scarce. Having a best friend aboard of the canine or feline variety can provide a sense of calm in any situation, and can even provide occasional on-board entertainment when they inadvertently fall overboard, or seek attention by posing for a picture.
|Cabin Girl, Effie McCrossin.
Photo by Laura McCrossin
Effie, named for the oldest Grand Banks schooner still afloat (Effie M. Morrissey, now known as Ernestina) continues to be my loyal companion, and was with me through some of the most difficult challenges of my life. Through stormy seas, and turbulent relationships, she never left my side.
Finally, it is human nature to help other people, especially if you see them facing a challenge alone. I was the grateful recipient of many acts of kindness during my voyage, whether by receiving help setting a second anchor in a gale, getting my engine started after a filter change and I’d allowed too much air through the system for the umpteenth time, or when I met an electronics expert from South Africa who fixed my autopilot and had it working for the first time in years.
People were always coming out of the woodwork, without solicitation, to lend their assistance. And there is something about eating dinner alone that seems to tug on heartstrings of sailing couples, and when anchored amongst other boats, I rarely ate dinner without good company.
So if my experiences are any example, then I find it increasingly difficult to claim I sailed the Bahamas alone. If I had known the people I was about to meet, and the shared experiences and memories I was about to make, my worries before departure would have been greatly alleviated.
And if you’re single, you’ll undoubtedly meet a few admirers along the way, and you might just meet your soul mate. I did.
|Phil and I, No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne, FL. Photo by Ann Spencer|
About Laura McCrossin
Laura was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and began her sailing career on tall ships in 2001.
For the last 6 years, she has enjoyed the freedom of sailing her own wooden ketch from Canada to Cuba, Mexico, the Bahamas, and many ports in between.
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Read also on this website
Getting started on tall-ships, by Stephanie Katz
The Need to Know: Sheri Schneider is on her own in the Pacific after her husband is evacuated, by Gwen Hamlin (Admiral’s Angle column)
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