A lumpy ride

“I thought we weren’t supposed to set out across the Gulf Stream if the winds had any northern component,” I said to Chris.

“The winds won’t be going northwest until we’re across the stream, and anyway, they’re light. And if we don’t go now, we won’t have another opportunity for two weeks.”

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Never a good reason to go, but our flight home from Nassau was in less than two weeks—we’re coming home to do seminars at the boat show in Toronto—so as soon as the tide began to flow out of the Lake Worth inlet, we pulled anchor and set out. Me with some trepidation, Chris with all the confidence in the world. How bad could it be?

It started out okay. The winds were light, as predicted. We put the sails up but kept the engine running—it’s always a good idea to cross the Gulf Stream as quickly as possible because conditions can deteriorate suddenly. Ten miles offshore we began to feel the current pushing us north and see pieces of Sargasso weed—we were definitely in the wide, warm river of water that flows relentlessly from the Gulf of Mexico, up the coast of North America, and across to England.

As all the weather models had shown, the wind-driven waves were very light so didn’t fight much with the current. But what they hadn’t shown was a great swell from the north, left over from some storm off the eastern seaboard, that was meeting the current head on. As we moved further into the stream and the current increased, the waves grew steeper. And steeper. And began to break. This was about as bad as anything we’d seen in the ocean.

“These are a lot bigger than the four-foot waves they predicted,” I fretted.

“I’d say they’re six to eight,” Chris said grimly. And we were taking them on the beam so the roll was pretty uncomfortable. Lunch was cancelled due to lack of interest. Then the bucket came up.

Now Chris and I have very different techniques for dealing with seasickness. He wedges himself in the corner of the cockpit bench where he can keep an eye on the sails and the instruments. Essentially, he makes himself part of the boat.

I use a technique I learned from Bica we call “weaving.” I sit up very straight on one of the side benches, my feet planted firmly on the floor, and move with the motion of the boat, counteracting it as much as possible and keeping my eye firmly on the horizon.

Of course neither of these techniques really works when the seas are as lumpy as they were that day, but by nibbling dry crackers and sipping ginger ale, we managed to make it to the other side of the stream without deploying the bucket.

The cross seas slowed us down considerably and we had been swept north some distance by the current, so by nightfall, we were still 100 miles from Great Harbour Cay, our destination in the Bahamas. But we were in for a beautiful night sail. With the wind and the seas behind us now that we were heading southeast, the motion was much more comfortable. We had cheese with our crackers for dinner and settled into our night watches.

We were sailing across the Northwest Providence Channel, which runs between Grand Bahama and the Berry Islands and is probably one of the busiest stretches of water in the world. It’s a regular route for ocean-going freighters and oil tankers and all other manner of working ship, and a superhighway for cruise ships going to and from Freeport and Nassau. But the boats are well lit and, with the advent of AIS, visible on our chart plotter long before we see their lights. It helps that they are on the lookout for sailboats–nothing complicates a ship captain’s day more than arriving in port with pieces of sailboat hanging off the bow.

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It was all worth it, because now we’re in the Bahamas, where we’ll spend the next four months. Except, of course, for our trip home to Canada next week.

Why are we doing that again? Oh yeah. The boat show.

Seemed like a good idea last August…

Wet Christmas

No-one really dreams of a wet Christmas, but we may be in for one this year. As I write this, rain is pelting down on the steel deck above my head, making a lovely ringing sound—or are those sleigh bells? No, it’s way too early.

Though we had hoped to be in the Bahamas for Christmas, it looks like we’ll be in Florida, waiting for the right weather window to cross the Gulf Stream—and for a new compressor for our fridge.

The compressor is easy—a two-hour drive to West Palm Beach to pick one up (and lunch at my favourite French café there…) then two hours back and many hours of poor Chris with his head in the cabinet beneath the sink while he installs it. I see some skinned knuckles in his future.

The weather, well, there’s nothing we can do about the weather. There is a massive storm system coming through today, bringing heavy rain and a band of “strong to severe” thunderstorms, whatever that means. I’m sure it’s bad. The storm system is dragging a cold front behind it with gale-force winds. The marine forecast calls for “very rough” conditions on the intracoastal waterways, something we’ve never seen before. “Light chop” is the norm in these protected waters. And Chris Parker, our weather savant, is describing the conditions offshore as “horrendous.”

So we’re actually glad we’re still in the boat yard today, up on stands and tied securely to, well, palm trees. For some reason the boat yard workers, who really know what they’re doing here, have untied us from our mafia blocks—huge rectangles of concrete they tie boats to during the hurricane season. But the palm trees look pretty sturdy.

We’ve reviewed our “what to do if the boat starts to tip over” strategy just in case—well, I have. Chris says it will never happen. My plan is to wedge myself into the V-berth where nothing heavier than a pillow or a roll of paper towel will fall on me and to try to remember to point my feet in the direction we’re falling. What do you think? Sound like a plan?

Florida is a weird place to be at Christmas time. The holiday decorations have a decidedly tropical bent—hula Santa is our favourite, outside a motel along the highway here in Titusville. The garden centres have all the usual lush, flowering plants and trees as well as Christmas trees and truly magnificent poinsettias.

Yesterday, the cashier in the grocery store was humming “White Christmas” as she scanned can after can of chick peas, jumbo packages of toilet paper, many bags of pasta and yes, a few bags of nacho cheese Doritos. We’ve been stocking up on non-perishables—there are only a few supermarkets in the Bahamas, and they are in places we try to avoid, like Nassau.


“Have you ever seen snow?” Chris asked her.

“No. Well, yes. On TV.”

Fortunately, we had a bit of white Christmas in Ontario before we left the farm, so much snow the last few days we were there that we weren’t sure we were going to be able to make it out the unplowed road to the highway. But we did.

The weather forecast was right. It’s raining harder now. The boat yard will be ankle deep in water by the end of the day. In weather like this, it feels pretty good to be living in an ark.

With any luck, the weather will clear once the front moves through and we’ll get the boat launched and be at anchor somewhere on Christmas day. Maybe we’ll find some coconuts and play a little bocce on the beach before settling in to a dinner of fresh crab cakes and a glass of prosecco.

However you spend it, may your day be merry and bright, and may your Christmas be white.

Or at least not wet.

Standing room only

Ten to two and the only people at the back of the bookstore where we’re holding the launch are Chris, my sister Brenda, and my friend Charlene. Gulp!

Then my niece Kathy and her husband Rob arrive. While I’m chatting with them, trying to hide my nervousness, people begin to trickle in. Then flow. At five to two all the chairs are full. By two o’clock, there are people standing at the back.

It was like having my whole life spread in front of me. My family. A friend from highschool. My best friend from grad school. Former work colleagues. Old friends. New friends. There were even some people I didn’t know.

Looking at that sea of faces it was impossible to be nervous. I talked about how the book came to be, read from it. There were some horrified faces as I described what it was like to be in a 43-foot sailboat in the middle of a proper North Atlantic gale.

After the gale

Then I talked a bit about how the experience changed me. I’m not the same person I was before I sailed across the ocean. I’m stronger, and braver, and happier now than I’d ever imagined I could be.

One thing I hadn’t expected was how much fun signing books would be. Fortunately I’d had a chance to warm up my signature the week before at Balzac’s in Stratford, where I signed books for Chris’s ex-wife Linda (starting to see a pattern here?) who bought copies for all her friends for Christmas presents.

Signing books at Balzac’s

There must have been a lot of that going on at the launch. Most people bought two or three copies, some five or six. In no time, the bookstore had gone through all of its stock. Fortunately Karen, my publisher, had the foresight to send me a box of books and instructed me to bring them along, just in case.

Now my book is out there, which feels great. Sales are nice and all that (I say this with a nod to Karen…) but what a writer really wants is to be read. I’ve heard from several people who have finished the book already, some of them in a single day. Their glowing praise is making me quite impossible to live with.

After such a successful launch, I’m really looking forward to our presentation at the Toronto International Boat Show in January. There had to be 50 people at the launch in Guelph. What’s a crowd of 150? Though I may have to recruit some friendly faces to sit at the front.

Any takers??

Countdown to launch day

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Writing is a solitary occupation, which suits me just fine. I am at my happiest when we’re rocking gently at anchor and I’m tucked in on the starboard settee, my computer open on the table in front of me, a cup of coffee within easy reach, the oil lamp swinging gently overhead.

Working in my treehouse when we’re at Meadowlark is almost as good—in some ways it’s better: my coffee never slides across the table when I’m not paying attention. And when I’m stuck, I can gaze out the window at cows grazing in the meadow below the treehouse.

So getting myself ready for the launch of Sea Over Bow is a bit of a stretch. It all starts on Sunday, November 25th at 2pm with a reading and book signing at The Bookshelf in Guelph. I’ve already sorted out what I’ll read, and what I’ll wear. I’ve even bought new boots for the occasion: I call them my writer’s boots and will wear them to give myself courage.

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I’m feeling better about the launch now that books have finally arrived. Delays in printing have been frustrating, but they’re in stores now. The e-version of the book is out, too. Amazon, Chapters, and my publisher, Signature Editions, all offer it online.

But what’s really making me feel confident are the initial reviews which have begun to appear. Below is my first online review at Chapters. Yes, it makes me blush, but it feels so good to be read—and praised. Who wouldn’t like that?

If you live in the area, I hope you’ll come to the launch next Sunday. I’ll try to be brave, but if it’s too much for a quiet, introverted writer, I’ll just tap my heels together, close my eyes, and say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Okay. I promise not to do that. I’ll give you a bit of background on the book, read for you, answer questions, sign books, and we’ll have a great afternoon together.

And you can admire my new writer’s boots.

Prepare to be swept along with Sea Over Bow! 

I’m no sailor, but I felt like I was a stowaway on Linda Kenyon’s passage through the storms of the North Atlantic, and through the tempest of her past. Alone on the night watch, with no moorings or landforms, it turns out to be all too easy for her to lose her bearings and let her mind flood with painful memories and self-doubt. The narrative flows from one timeline to another, through multiple generations of women attempting to navigate the shoals of their lives. As well, maternal warnings float up, on ancient waves of fear and vulnerability. Yet, in the present, in the context of her new relationship, Kenyon is awash in the delights of shipboard terminology, food, sea light and wildlife–and the terrors of “proper North Atlantic gales.” This tumultuous immersion in the senses transforms her from passenger in life to sailor: a woman able to adapt, to take risks, to acknowledge her own bravery, and, above all, to find and celebrate the joy of the moment. In the end, she may have buried her past at sea and have her future in sight on the horizon, but I am left becalmed, wanting to know what happened when they sailed the boat back. It seems I’ll have to wait for the sequel…

–M. Jeanne Yardley

Act now!

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We were at anchor in the Bahamas, waiting for yet another front to pass through, when the email message came in:

“Signature Editions would be delighted to publish your manuscript. Do let me know if it’s still available.”

I let out a whoop of joy and Chris dove below deck and came up with a bottle of Prosecco and two glasses. My book had finally found a publisher. It was really going to happen.

And it’s happened fast. Six months later, Sea Over Bow: A North Atlantic Crossing is at the printer, scheduled to be shipped to bookstores across the country on October 31st.

I’ll admit that lately I’ve been googling my book each day, watching with amazement as the number of hits keeps growing. It’s on The Nautical Mind bookstore’s site, and on Chapters and Amazon. It has started popping up in other countries: in England, in Australia. Listings have begun to appear in other languages: Swedish, Italian… Chinese.

It’s described variously as a travel story, a memoir, a love story (I’m not entirely sure how it’s characterized in Chinese.) But see for yourself. I’ve added an excerpt from the book to this site.

If you like it (and of course I hope you do), please consider pre-ordering it. When you place a special order at your local bookstore, it brings the book to the attention of a real live bookseller. And I’m told that advance orders have a big impact on a book’s rating on online sites like Amazon. You may want to order extra copies for Christmas presents!

Ugh. I’m great at writing, I like to think, but very bad at this selling stuff.

Buy my book. Just buy my book. (There—how’s that? Too subtle?)

From sea to sea

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“There it is!”

Chris points to what looks to me like the remains of a foundation. I had imagined something much larger, wide enough for four horses to ride abreast, like the Great Wall of China.

“Are you sure?”

I’ll admit we were a little underwhelmed, but what the wall lacked in width, we discovered, it more than made up for in length.

Begun in AD122 by… wait for it… the Roman Emperor Hadrian, it runs—or at least ran—from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea in the east to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea in the west. We were attempting to walk the path from sea to sea, a distance of roughly 120 kms. In five days. This meant that at least two of the days, we had to walk 30 kms, even though I have never managed to walk more than about 25 kilometres without collapsing.

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Though it was cold and raining lightly, the first day was easy. We walked along the River Tyne for a while then climbed up out of the river valley through the suburbs of Newcastle to Heddon on the Wall, where we discovered our first wall fragment. It was a short walk from there to our bed and breakfast in a farm house surrounded by grazing sheep, where we slept under the watchful gaze of the portrait of some 18th-century lady.

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The next day’s walk was a little longer, through relatively flat countryside, but we started seeing more and more of the wall. The path wound through wooded areas and through rolling pastures of soft green grass. By dinner time we had reached the village of Wall, not to be confused with Heddon on the Wall, or East Wallhouses, or Wallsend, or… are you starting to see a theme here?

The third day was to be our first 30km day, and it started out well, but soon the terrain became much more challenging, the scenery more breathtaking. There were long, continuous stretches of wall now, some along the tops of cliffs. We shook our heads at the effort it must have taken to build it. We thought mortaring a small stackwood shed was a lot of work. Of course we didn’t have an army of legionaries at our disposal.

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There were the remains of forts to explore, and milecastles which guarded gateways through the wall, even the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to the sun god, who had actually treated us pretty well so far. For a brief time, we were permitted to walk on top of the wall, which barely had room for a person at this point, never mind a horse. Or four.

view from the top

Around four o’clock we reached the summit of a very steep hill—but not as steep as the next one.

“I’m done,” I told Chris. I called the innkeeper at our bed and breakfast and he kindly came and collected me. Bush Nook Guest House just outside of Gilsland was my favourite stop. The room was cosy, the breakfast amazing, and the innkeeper, Malcolm, was just so kind. He even drove us to the pub across the village for dinner that night, knowing that I was too weary to walk another step.

Day four and another 30kms to cover, most of it through farmland and open country. Soon the wall disappeared, much of it “repurposed” for one thing or another, and the only traces left were earthworks and the wall ditch, dug to discourage incursions from the northern wilds. Though the walking was easy enough, I only made it until mid-afternoon, when I called a taxi to take me into Carlisle. Chris soldiered on and reached the bed and breakfast just before dark.

The last leg of our journey was a short 25kms, through the outskirts of Carlisle along a river then through some pretty wet cow pastures. We were tired and muddy by the time we reached the village of Burgh by Sands and I convinced Chris to walk through the church yard in hopes of finding a bench.

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We found much more than that. A woman appeared at the door of the church and invited us in. It was impossible to say no. We both eyed the upholstered bench just inside the door but decided it would be churlish to sit down without taking at least a cursory look around.

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I’m very glad we did. The woman explained that stone from Hadrian’s Wall had been used to build the fortified church and showed us one of the reclaimed stones with Roman carvings on it in one of the defence towers.

“And this is an old gravestone,” she said, pointing to the lintel over the doorway to the steps that led to the bell tower.

“When raiders were spotted, the women and children and farm animals would crowd into the church and the men would climb the tower and defend them.”

She showed us a narrow hole in the thick wall with a clear sight—and arrow—line to the front door of the church.

church women“Tea?”

Another woman appeared from nowhere with a tray and offered us two cups of hot tea and a plate of biscuits.

“Do you mind if we sit,” I asked?

“Of course not.”

We plumped gratefully down on the upholstered bench, our tired feet sprawled out in front of us, and enjoyed the best cup of tea I’ve ever had in my life. And a chocolate biscuit. Or maybe two.

We set off grudgingly with 10kms to go. The longest 10 kms I’ve ever walked. In fact, we had no choice but to stop in at a pub and fortify ourselves with a pint of beer. Around five o’clock we got our first glimpse of the Solway Firth. Not long after we saw our friends Mick and Jenny, who had come to pick us up, walking towards us.

We were foot weary but feeling very proud of ourselves for walking all (well in my case, most) of the way across England.

raising a pint

 

Map compliments of Matt Underwood at bookmytrail

Summer in the meadow

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I was looking forward to seeing the bluebird chicks fledge this year. Last year, we left for the summer just as they were ready to fly. This year I’ll see them, I thought. I was wrong. Although a pair of bluebirds checked out the nesting boxes in our meadow, in the end it was a pair of tree swallows who moved into the middle box, chasing all other comers away.

It was fun watching them build their nest in the box I had carefully cleared out for the bluebirds, one beakful of grass, one twig at a time. Then eggs were laid, apparently, and the long, patient incubation period began. The parents would take turns sitting on the nest and soaring around over the meadow snatching bugs out of the air. Swallows are such accomplished fliers. The little ones did fledge, finally, and suddenly the tree swallows were gone. House wrens moved into the boxes, and we got to watch them fledge one or two broods before they too flew off.

But there was another treat in store for us. In early May I heard sandhill cranes flying overhead.

“Just passing through,” I told Chris.

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And I thought they had, until one morning in June I heard them in the meadow next to us. I raced out of Meadowlark in my pyjamas (not a sight you ever want to see) with my binoculars slung around my neck, climbed a big rock in the fenceline between our field and the neighbours, and there were two long, skinny necks rising above the grass, calling wildly to the parents, who were circling overhead, calling back to them, trying to coax them into flight, perhaps? It didn’t work. The young birds slunk over the crest of the hill and out of sight as soon as they spotted me.

“They do nest here!” I told Chris. Turns out they are no longer in decline—in fact their population is stable and increasing. I hope this pair comes back next spring. Sandhill cranes like to nest in marshy wetlands, and goodness knows we have lots of that.

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We have spent the summer working on our own nest box, Meadowlark, the boat we’re building in the meadow on our farm south of Owen Sound. You would hardly recognize it now. Remember the picture from last winter?? Plywood floors, plastic vapour barrier on the walls? Here’s what it looks like now.

Sure, the bedroom, which is behind the wall you see, isn’t finished yet. Maybe next year. Chris has moved on to another project.

He’s building a woodshed/garden shed down at Brenda’s cabin, and if you think this means whapping up some two-by-four studding and slapping on a roof, you don’t know Chris. He started by cutting down trees.

Then he milled them into 6 x 6-inch timbers using a chain saw.

After that, he put up posts and beams then recruited some help building the walls.

He’s made great progress, but the project is on hold for now because we leave for England in a couple of days to hike across the country. The narrow part of the country—we’re walking the path along Hadrian’s Wall, ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, a distance of 120kms. Which is a bit of a stretch for me—there will be a couple 30km days—but it’s just a stroll between pubs for Chris. With his new drone hovering along behind him. He’s out in the meadow training it right now.

Keeping a sharp eye out for awkward young Sandhill cranes flying overhead.

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