M/V ANNA JACKMAN
Dave’s first ‘berth’ at 6 months
Begin as you mean to go on.
How We Got Started, OR, Down to the Sea in Slips
My first sail, at fourteen, was with fellow teens in a flotilla of rafts and canoes faring from Hoonah -- in Southeast Alaska -- to Tenakee Springs and back, involving two inlets separated by a high-tide portage.
One glorious, fair wind day we rafted our seven slim vessels together, erected a lattice of spruce boughs festooned with tarp and poncho, and sailed a sunny thirty miles!
Sailing!! Oh, it was wondrous, lazing along without a stroke, pushed by the kindly flow of the world! I'd had zero exposure to real-life sailing craft, and had somehow acquired the misimpression that such were nowadays yachts; toys of the very rich. Now this experience planted a seed of another species.
On to college. Strange financial terms meant that whatever I earned in summer came off my aid package. Summer overheads, in other words, translated directly to debt. What to do? Well. I hadn't seen much of the 'Lower 48'. Hitch-hiking was an obvious solution. Which I loved.
On the Road, I discovered the Tao -- that Watercourse Way – and Drift, a pace that suits me. To me the phrase, "sails full and by the wind's whim", are heart and soul of the drifting, dreaming Tao.
I considered hitching on; but the glow of the '60s was fading, and the Road was becoming dark and strange. I considered a 'hippie' bus; but a motor vehicle is no improvement on a motor boat. How to be free and footloose in a world of pistons, cogs and oil?
Musing, I returned to Sitka and signed aboard a salmon troller for a couple of seasons and worked the shoreside fish plants.
And then. And then! Rummaging through a box of Library cast-offs I came across. Sailing the Farm! A Survival Guide to Homesteading on the Ocean!! Independence on Thirty Feet!!! Ken Neumeyer, I exalt your name!
My torch was finally well and truly lit.
But to build or to buy? That was the question! Didn't help that I soon fell head-over-heels with the Pardeys and SERRAFYN/Lyle Hess! Good people; good boats - but well out of present reach.
I more-or-less wasted a few years in research, dither and scheme.
Anke learned to swim before she could walk.
She grew up shoreside along the river Rhein in Duisburg, Germany; the world's largest inland port. Shipping, boats and barges were a constant backdrop. Riverside parks stretch for miles along the banks, and bridges criss-cross the river.
In Schleswig, on the Baltic coast, a family friend would sometimes take her along to join his children in working the nets.
But Europe is crowded. She was drawn to the wide wildernesses of boreal forest. She signed on for a cultural exchange, which took her to Sitka at the dawn of her adult life.
She soon found employment at Patterson Bay, a wilderness research station studying salmon hatchery. Lots of water-work, there, both fresh and salt, ashore and afloat.
And she loved cold water. There were rumors of mermaid sightings.
It was love at first sight.
I was watching a small (live-aboard) sailboat for a friend who'd urged me to take it out. To my concerns that I was a pre-beginner, he tut-tutted. "If anything breaks, you'll fix her, and we'll both be the better for it."
So Anke and I headed off, on the first adventure of our new life together. All book-larnin' and no experience.
We scared ourselves, of course. Despite small, bite-sized steps we occasionally encountered a puff of wind or send of swell. Our first real ‘voyage’ had us up sailing and worrying all night, resisting the motor we had forsworn, the sooner to learn what it takes to go without.
We finally put anchor down, fell into one another's arms, and slept.
Hooked for life.
In those days small, inexpensive wooden sailboats were scarce. In vain, we scoured the Seattle waterfront, looking for a small, sailing liveaboard that we could afford, yet was only moderately challenged (we wanted to learn marine carpentry, but not rebuild!). It also required that certain je n’sais pas quois.
I, of course, had my hopes set on a boat far above our means. Deep draft, ocean capable, classic! Anke pragmatically suggested that I wake from fruitess dreamboating and follow the Pardey's advice that we 'go small, go simple, go now.' Accordingly, our horizons expanded.
We found just what we were looking for in BRAMBLE (formerly TERRAPIN), a salty, gaff-rigged, lifeboat conversion from 1942. Bronze-fastened, larch-on-oak. 26ft on deck by 8ft beam by about 2½ft draft (this was our first taste of shoal draft - both serendipitous and portentous!).
The owner accepted rent-sized installments after an initial down-payment. I took a job flipping pizza, while Anke worked at a small winery. After eight months, we owned our own home, free and clear.
Our first port - while working off our debt - was in the late, great live-aboard community at Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, across from Seattle. It has since succumbed to predatory Bureaucracy, but at that time was truly Magic Harbor. There, many gracious friends patiently mentored us onto the water.
Despite our (or at least my) slow and stuttering start, Anke and I now live aboard among the islands of SE Alaska's Alexander Archipelago. Since BRAMBLE, we've designed, built and sailed a series of vessels.
We sail on a shoe-string, engine-free, and are learning to subsist ever more on local forage.
Goin' on a while, now.