Home Liveaboard Lessons Taught By Hope (our 35′ sailboat) After Hurricane Irma
Michael grinding the hull.

Lessons Taught By Hope (our 35′ sailboat) After Hurricane Irma

by Esther Lee
Originally written on Oct. 11th, 2017:

Michael and I have been preparing our sailboat, Hope, for being back where boats belong — back in the water.

The past few weeks have had their moments — some admittedly hard and some sublime.

First, some context: Hope had been stored out of the water (“on the hard”) in Indiantown, FL for the past three years as the previous owners, Kevin and Velma, who live in Alberta had hoped to return and sail Hope again, but weren’t able to, so reluctantly sold their beloved boat. 

During a recent phone conversation, Kevin noted that sailing Hope for ten months in the Bahamas several years ago was “the best ten months of [his] life.”

In early September, we arrived in Indiantown, FL for what we’d hoped was a trip to prepare Hope for moving to Georgia, but Hurricane Irma threatened the area with a direct hit, so our trip turned into a frantic storm-proofing the boat in 100+ degree heat and helping a friend hurricane-proof her home and finding temporary homes for her pets (she was out of town on a cruise) before we had to leave too.

Like us, many people–including employees at Indiantown marina (who apparently have rarely left due to an impending hurricane)–evacuated, seeking refuge or heading north.

Well, after a few weeks of staying in an Airbnb and waiting for the boat shipper to get the okay to ship boats again from Florida, Hope finally arrived to the self-service yard at Lake Lanier in Georgia about two weeks ago, so we could handle some repairs and maintenance.

We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Michael, especially, jumped in and worked long days to heroically handle the messiest (and most toxic) tasks, like sanding the hull and applying fiberglass to a damaged area.

Along the way, we’ve had our share of challenges:

Although he wore head-to-toe protective gear, Michael developed a reaction to the fiberglass and/or perhaps very likely to the nitrile gloves — breaking out in a terrible rash on his hands and face. It was clearly painful and itchy as hell for a few days and required a healthy dose of over-the-counter and, eventually, prescription medications, plus a steroid injection, from a local clinic.

I hit my head (hard) against various parts of the boat probably a half dozen times (no major damage, but ego was properly dented and humbled a bit — my scalp had a couple knots too). Newbie tip: don’t wear brimmed hats inside a boat since they obscure your view of things above like, oh, lower ceilings.

Since the wires at the yard were improperly grounded, we were only able to have limited electricity (so no interior lights — just a crappy, single lamp) while we stayed on Hope to handle the repairs.

We also couldn’t use running water or the fridge because we had a bilge repair to handle and needed power to pressurize the water, so we had to walk or drive to the nearby marina bathrooms for showers, washing dishes, brushing our teeth, etc.

We’ve camped a fair amount over the years, so ‘roughing it’ wasn’t necessarily the problem, but not being able to use an interior bathroom or wash dishes in your future home, plus having to haul everything and anything up/down a 16′ ladder becomes, well, old (and that included bringing our three cats on board, each of them in a carrier).

The delays caused by Hurricane Irma also resulted in us hemorrhaging more funds than we’d planned because of unexpected repairs, supplies, Airbnbs, cat boarding, etc.

As artists who working remotely in tech, we took this leap, in large part, because we want to live on less with more time for creativity, but it was admittedly a rough, few weeks. 

Cat in the companion way

Hope’s companionway area with our cat, Punchki, checking things out.

All that aside, I have to say that getting Hope ready for the water has included moments of deep serenity too:

Sipping bourbon at night with Michael on the foredeck of Hope has been, by far, some of the most memorable, peaceful nights I’ve ever experienced, especially in light of the past two years, which have involved some major changes for our family, in particular, my mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Sometimes, we’d take the opportunity to record some thoughts (thanks to our nifty audio app and portable podcast microphone) and laugh about the day or take a tally of all we’d accomplished on Hope so far.

In the meantime, one of our cats, Punchki, would lounge on the forward berth mattress, staring at us from below deck. I could see her heart-shaped face through the large, opened hatch behind us.

We’ve seen this mama deer with her two fawns nearly every day, along with seeing or hearing a gaggle of geese crossing the street or flying overhead.

I have enjoyed the night sky more times over the past two weeks than I have over the past year. And, because there’s way less light pollution, I can actually see more constellations!

One morning, because we left the large hatch above the berth opened so we could fall asleep while viewing the stars, I woke up with mist on my face from the morning dew.


Lake view

During a break

Another day, I worked on design stuff from Hope while Michael took a well-deserved nap. It had rained all day. The water and trees resembled a glorious, majestic landscape to me.

At the time, I’d picked up some carryout BBQ from a nearby restaurant and it felt like a feast. I opened up the carryout packages on the teak table that is easily one of my favorite design features of Hope.

It folds up when we don’t need to use it and easily folds down when we do need it. As a designer, I’m reminded of a trendy phrase I’d often hear (and sometimes felt annoyed by because it feels overused)— of “delighting the user,” but that table — I get it. This table delights the hell out of me.

We’ve also started developing friendships with kind folks who work or live near the lake.

We also found a go-to pupuseria!


Hope's new pair of pants

Hope with new bottom hull paint (or as Michael puts it — she has new pants)

After living in places like San Francisco and Atlanta, I’ve become a compulsive door locker, so living temporarily at this unoccupied boat yard was kind of spooky at first since I wasn’t used to places with very little street lighting or people.

It took some getting used to because of the quiet and lack of mechanical noises. During the first few nights at the yard, whenever I had to walk from the marina bathroom to the car at night, I felt uneasy and would look over my shoulder.

After two weeks though, I’ve noticed a slight, but significant shift.

Though I’m still mindful of my surroundings, in this place — where I can look out at this gorgeous lake (which apparently encompasses 692 miles of shoreline — about a fifth of California’s total ocean shoreline) with sailboats lined quietly in their slips, I’ve started paying more attention to the trees and their limbs above, how acorns drop around me, as if in syncopation with my steps.

Their plinking is often the loudest noise around. And I’ve started to feel more at ease in the dark.


Michael and Kaylana walking down a dock

Michael and our dog, Kaylana, excited about Hope’s arrival back in August.

We’ll launch Hope back in the water (knock on wood) in two days. Okay, maybe not the most auspicious-sounding date (it’ll be Friday the 13th), but we’ll gladly, gladly take it!


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