Farewell to the Wildcat!

Greetings from Warrensville, North Carolina!

I have some big news to share today my friends! Zion and I successfully sold the Wildcat this week and concluded our sailing journey! Selling the boat does not mean that our project is finished - I still have several blog posts to write, campaign perks to send out, and the interactive map to complete. Stay tuned, there is still much more to come!

Bidding farewell to our faithful vessel after more than 1,000 hours of restoration, 3,500 miles sailed, and nine months of living aboard was an emotional moment. After checking over the boat one last time, we ceremoniously high-fived and took a selfie before packing our entire lives into our overloaded Impreza and heading off for a few celebratory milkshakes.

As you might imagine I’m in a reflective mood at the conclusion of such a long journey, and I wanted to take some time to share some thoughts and stories from living on a sailboat for nearly a year. I’ll write a companion newsletter to this one soon with conclusions about the state of climate change impacts and adaptations on the East Coast.

Living on a boat for nine months allowed for moments of breathtaking beauty. After carefully winding our way amongst the thousands of tiny granite islands in the North Channel of Ontario, a channel suddenly widened before us. Just then the wind, ushering in the gentle summer storm rolling up behind us, dramatically filled our sails. We picked up speed and seemed to fly past the small granite humps topped with pine trees as sheets of rain approached from behind.

Humor and misadventure also characterized the Odyssey. A few months later we loaded our friends, lunch, and a few beers into our dinghy, revved up the 40-year-old engine, and puttered our way out to an uninhabited island off the coast of South Carolina. The bugs and thorns on shore were formidable, but after finally reaching the beach we discovered an untouched trove of shells and other treasures washed ashore by hurricane Joaquin. We collected some monster whelks and beach glass, ate our lunch, and then hiked back, only to find our engine had breathed it’s last while we were away. After a vigorous effort to revive it proved futile, Zion popped in the back-up oars and paddled us to the boat as the sun sank behind us.

My favorite moment came on New Year’s Day of 2016. After ferrying eight friends and their camping gear out to Tiger Key in the Everglades National Park we enjoyed a few lovely days camping on the beach (as well as the engine troubles that seemed to be our hallmark). On the morning of January 1st we loaded up the boat for a day sail into the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We snacked and chatted until one of us realized we were being followed by a pod of five spunky bottlenose dolphins. They swam right beneath us as we lay on the nets, even swimming sideways to get a better look up at us. We watched in awe as they continued to swim along for several minutes, seeming to delight in our squeals and shrieks.   

These moments of joy and discovery came well earned, sometimes emerging after long weeks of sailing through nearly unbearable heat and humidity dogged by relentless biting insects. As a light sleeper I struggled with sleepless nights spent anchored near loud train tracks, under bright marina lights, or near harbors where powerful wakes from fishing vessels caused a jarring wakeup at 4am. 

One of the biggest challenges I found was summed up thoughtfully by one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, in his account of a road trip taken across the US in 1960 titled Travels with Charley in Search of America. The story is, unlike the tales we (myself included) weave today on social media, no filtered highlight reel of a sparkling and flawless journey. I wish I had the same talent for articulating my complicated feelings about our Odyssey, but alas I’m better with images than words so I’ll borrow some from Steinbeck. As he settles into the routines of travel he begins to notice something about the truck drivers he meets along the way. As he sat down at a bar filled with them he observed,

“I soon learned not to expect knowledge of the country they passed through. Except for the truck stops, they had no contact with it. It was driven home to me how like sailors they were. I remember when I first went to sea being astonished that the men who sailed over the world and touched the ports to the strange and exotic had little contact with that world.”

This lack of meaningful connection with the places we stopped along the way was a source of subtle but persistent frustration. We covered 3,000 miles in the first five months of our journey, never stopping for more than five days at a time. That whirlwind left me feeling unsettled, exhausted, and impatient with the inconveniences of living on an old wooden boat. I am, after all, building a career as an artist making work about specific places observed and catalogued over long stretches of time. Floating through a new landscape each day was not conducive to my slow and deliberate absorption of my surroundings, and as a result, to cultivating a grounded and calm state of being.

I am well aware however, as a friend reminded me during his visit to the boat, that no person can grow until they have ventured out of their comfort zone. I’m grateful to have had the chance to wander far away from home and the familiar, and to do so with an incredibly capable and patient partner in crime! Big props to Zion for always stepping up to do the most challenging jobs on the boat like freeing a clog from the vent in our septic tank, diving into choppy Chesapeake Bay to cut a crab trap stuck on our rudders, or steering the boat for long and soggy days on the Intracoastal Waterway. And of course for keeping both of us in good spirits whenever things went south.

Finally, as always, thank you so much to all of you who donated to our campaign and made this journey possible! Again, there is a lot more to come, so stay tuned.

Happy trails, Lucy (and Zion)