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Living Aboard—Same-Old-Same-Old
When You're 12

by Ann Lee Miller


As an 11-year-old, moving aboard a sailboat warranted little more than an eye roll. My dad, a dead ringer for Willie Nelson, had already packed the family into a VW van for a year to pan for gold out west and in Mexico, pitched us a tent on a St. John beach in the Virgin Islands, and built a dinghy in our Miami rental house he had to dismantle to get out the door.

Ann swinging in front of boat
Family under sail
Ann on boat

Dad’s second boat—a thirty-six foot yawl—he built in the yard out of plywood and fiberglass. I watched the boat take shape from skeleton to upside down ark to floatable RV all my elementary years. Familiarity made moving aboard and docking at Dinner Key Marina seem like no big deal.

I slept in the aft cabin beside a pile of lumber, terrorized by a spider the size of my hand and a spare palmetto bug or two. Every morning I tore down the dock on my bike, rattling the teeth out of my head, to school in Coconut Grove. In the afternoons I shimmied into my bathing suit, cannon-balled off the end of Pier 1, looked both ways, and dodged boat traffic to a nearby island. I thought my life was unremarkable because every other kid at the marina lived it, too.

On weekends the family putted into the bay with our ten-horse Johnson outboard, then raised sail on mismatched masts, one aluminum, one wood. Bored silly, I snacked on powdered eggs and grilled peanut butter sandwiches while Mom and I read Gone With the Wind aloud—she skipping the racy parts, I ferreting them out later.

Buoys made the folks crazy. Dad knew red-right-returning, but he was colorblind. Mom recognized colors, but not what they meant. So, I got handy with the depth sounder—a long mop handle with notches carved at foot intervals. Once, the pole stuck in seaweed and mud with me attached. I screamed bloody murder as the Annie Lee sailed off. Since Dad had captained the University of Miami’s swim team in college, I darn sure knew how to swim. But boy-howdy was he POed when he had to come about and fetch me from the shallows.

My little brother hadn’t completed his swimming indoctrination and still ran around the dock with a Styrofoam football on a belt circling his waist. Every month or so, Dad hacked off another slice of the thing till he could swim on his own. My brother, who still says these were the best years of his life, rode his tricycle full-tilt off the end of the dock. A fully clothed stranger jumped in to fish him out. Dad had to dive for the trike. The next time my brother cycled off the end of the pier, Dad went after him, and the tricycle stayed at the bottom of the bay.

Even at my snottiest, I couldn’t help being grateful for pram sailing lessons where I picked up the much appreciated life skill of capsizing—one I’ve indulged many times. The actual going over doesn’t thrill me. What I love is standing on the dagger board, flipping the mast upright, and watching water sluice off the sail. My sailing companions have failed to share my fascination.

Staying up late, armed with nets and spot lights when the shrimp were running, did have its appeal. But I whined about picking fish bones out of my spaghetti, wearing zinc oxide as a second skin and never-ending boat chores.

If I'd known I was living the swan song of my parents' marriage, making life-long friends, packing memories like a thousand sea sponges into a dock box—maybe I would have rolled my eyes less and said thank you more.

Boat in dock with trike

About Ann Lee Miller


• Ann Lee Miller calls her adolescence aboard the Annie Lee an aquaculture for mold and dysfunction that launched her--in lieu of therapy--into writing. But more telling is the fact that sailboats appear in all four of her completed novels. Perhaps, just maybe, her family drama wasn't the boat's fault.

• Ann earned a BA in creative writing from Ashland (OH) University and writes full-time in Phoenix, but left her heart in Florida. She loves speaking to young adults and guest lectures on writing at several Arizona colleges. When she isn’t writing or muddling through some crisis—real or imagined—you’ll find her hiking in the Superstition Mountains with her husband, meddling in her kids’ lives, or sailing on rare occasions.

• Ann's latest novel, The Art of My Life, which is about a guy struggling to get his charter sailing business off the ground, is available as an ebook at Amazon.com,BarnesAndNoble.com, and Smashwords. A paperback version will be available in October at Amazon.com.

Cal walked out of jail and into a second chance at winning Aly with his grandma’s beater sailboat and a reclaimed dream of sailing charters.

Aly has the business smarts, strings to a startup loan, and heart he never should have broken. He’s got squat. Unless you count enough original art for a monster rummage sale and an affection for weed.

But he’d only ever loved Aly. That had to count for something. Aly needed a guy who owned yard tools, tires worth rotating, and a voter’s registration card. He’d be that guy or die trying.

For anyone who’s ever struggled to measure up. And failed.

• Ann's debut novel, Kicking Eternity, is available free on request at her website AnnLeeMiller.com.

• She may also be reached via Twitter at @AnnLeeMiller or Facebook at www.facebook.com/AnnLeeMillerAuthor.