Call me… SKIPPER?!?!

It would seem that the Rum Run continues to be a race that is a special one for me. Those of you who know my saga know that a previous Rum Run, welllll… Rogue Rum Run, was the day I can pinpoint as the day I really fell in love with sailing. It turns out Rum Run 2019 is another special Rum Run! A couple of weeks ago after watching the movie Maiden with dozens of fellow Sloop Tavern Yacht Club I hadn’t yet sorted a ride out for the race so shamelessly asked my friend Mike Danger if he had plans for it. He hadn’t even thought of it yet, but was conveniently sitting next to his friend Duncan and they decided it would be fun to take Duncan’s boat 20 Degrees out! As luck would have it Mike’s partner Nadine was also there. While she doesn’t consider herself a sailor *yet* as soon as I heard him say they haven’t really done a lot of racing together I knew this would be a great opportunity for a gateway race.

As Mike and I continued to chat about plans for the race I knew it was going to be a fun one based on the cast of characters that had been pulled together. The week prior to Rum Run Mike messaged me and asked me my preferred position on the boat. I let him know I love the pointy end but will work pretty much anywhere, and then my heart leaped into my throat as he said that he and Duncan were considering having me take the helm if I wanted it. ACK! Me, helming a race?! So many thoughts went through my head, but I didn’t give it a ton of energy as I wasn’t sure if it would really happen or not.

The morning of the race happened and after excitedly getting to the slip, orienting myself to the boat, a Wylie 34 and doing introductions (“Hi, my name is Lizzy” “Hi Lizzy!” “And I’m a sailor”) we go over roles for the day. Duncan, the boat owner asked me how I would feel about driving and holy crap, it was happening! I’m sure the big grin on my face answered before I could say the words. I had Duncan take us out of the slip (didn’t want to push my luck too much!) and then when we were out and in Shilshole Bay. With admittedly some trepidation, I asked Duncan if he was ready to hand off the tiller. He enthusiastically said yes and holy crap, I was now skipper!

Pre-race start, coffee in hand and eagerly trying to watch traffic and get my wits about me!

Before the race start there wasn’t much wind, in fact we saw the sad eyeballs (0.0) on the speed indicator. Truth be told I was more than ok with this as it gave me more time to try to get my bearings. This proved difficult as the wind was being incredibly flukey and the windex kept swinging around so I couldn’t easily pick a course to stay to and find a setting I liked for the sails! It did mean lots of opportunities to practice calling gybes and tacks with the changing wind direction. After a delay due to waiting for the committee boat to make it through the locks it was time for the race start, AHHH!! Again, fortunately the winds were still pretty calm so the start was in slow motion. Minus one boat that yelled at us as they seem to have forgotten this is meant to be a casual race, the start went reasonably well. I picked a spot to stay in and wanted to be conservative so waited until after the start to hoist our spinnaker. After a couple of minutes the racer in me won out over the anxious person in me so the awesome team on the boat got the kite up and the jib furled in. All went well and THANK GOD the wind filled in a bit and stayed fairly steady so I could get a course and sail towards the first mark. Holy crap, I was doing it! I had helmed for my first race start and we didn’t crash into anybody, and now I was steering towards my first mark and picking our lines. It was incredible. The next mark rounding went fairly uneventfully, though again I was very conservative on calling the timing for the douse so we went way past the mark in order to drop the kite before rounding. Oops! Something I’ll definitely get better at as time goes on. The wind started to fill in a little bit more after rounding the West Point mark and I continued to get the feel for the boat. I started to get to know the sweet spot where I felt even pressure on both sides of the rudder and could tell she was happy. I looked around a little bit to see where other boats were but couldn’t spend much time doing it, I realized now why the skippers I’ve sailed with kept asking me to watch for other boats when I was trimming as it’s really a big job to keep focusing on where I’m driving and what the wind and telltales are doing. Skippers I love, if you’re reading this I promise I’ll be even more diligent about calling traffic and other hazards for you!

Because this was my first time helming a race, it couldn’t go completely without some oopsies and boy did they. Anyone who sails in Shilshole Bay knows that there are a couple of areas in particular where the water can be deceptively shallow. West Point is one such area, and having gone aground there spectacularly earlier in the year on another vessel (not my fault!!) I gave the beach a wide berth and we tacked away early and avoided any mishaps. As we were nearing the point I figured we should start turning soon I asked the guys what they thought about the tack angle and Mike smiled back and said “You’re the skipper!” Well… Meadow Point is a mark I’m used rounding on a boat with a shallower draft (my beloved Reckless, a J/80) and cut it a little too close before turning towards the mark. We didn’t have a working depth sounder on 20 Degrees and so there was a very soft lurch and we stopped moving and, crap, I had put us aground. Fortunately it was over in a matter of minutes as it was a soft grounding, the engine is solid, and we were able to throw the boom over to weight us. After some work moving the rudder back and forth and a few choice swears we wiggled ourself off of where we grounded and starting moving towards the mark by way of a few tacks. I was embarrassed and apologizing profusely to Duncan for my error and in my head hoping I hadn’t damaged the keel. Because I wasn’t focusing on where I was steering and what the wind and currents were doing, I managed to put us into irons (a point of sail where you don’t have forward momentum or much steerage at all) and the current was all too happy to push us into the Meadow Point buoy. Oops.
Not my finest 15 minutes of my sailing career for sure, and thanks to fellow rad lady sailor Remy on board we were able to avoid a harder bonk as she did a great job of fending us off. At this point Nadine could tell I was mentally beating myself up and encouraged me which I was very grateful for.

This seal was less than thrilled that he/she had to abruptly leave his/her chosen nap spot for an impending sailboat! Photo Credit: Amy Danger Mustard

The wind continued to kick in and it made for quite a fun run to Port Madison. It was revealed that the boat is named 20 Degrees because that is an angle that she sails quite happily at, and I have to agree! There were a few gusts and I think a couple of the crew were more than a little nervous at the angle we were at (sorry Amy!) as this was a new concept. Fortunately I had the awesome team of Mike and Remy trimming and they helped get the boat a little flatter so that there were no crazy broaches or round ups. We sailed past the invisible finish line and while we didn’t earn one of the coveted duck stickers, holy crap I had done it! I skippered a race!! My nervous instinct wanted to get the sails furled right away and throw the motor on, but then brain reminded me that other boats were finishing behind us (yay we weren’t dead last!!) and turning up into the wind just past the finish line would be bad form. We continued to motor sail into Port Madison and then I handed off the tiller to Duncan to get us into the raft up.

The raft up was fun and it was great to see dear friends in the community. A few expressed how proud they were that I skippered and I was grateful for it! I may or may not have had more than a couple of rum drinks to calm the nerves that finally got to get worked out about skippering so definitely did not do any of the driving home!!

One last raft up for the season, the weather was amazing!

Mike and Duncan, thank you SO MUCH for believing in me and entrusting me with the privilege of skippering. Thank you for providing a safe place to learn and make mistakes, and for encouraging me to make calls and experiment with the boat. Thanks for not yelling at me when I ran aground and then bonked the buoy, you would have had every right to take the helm away during the race but you told me to keep going and I feel like I grew so much as a sailor because of it. Remy, thank you for always being a badass and an all around fun woman to sail with. You may not know it but you have inspired me to go whole hog with sailing! Nadine and Amy, you both were awesome on the boat. Thank you for doing a great job of staying on the boat in conditions that were definitely not in the Jimmy Buffet video!

Love,

SailingUnicorn

Choppy, lively seas on the delivery home and yet another gorgeous Seattle sunset!

My body is tired but my heart is full

Y’all, this week has been an ADVENTURE. I’m feeling a bit too tired to get a full proper blog post out so in the meantime please enjoy these quick thoughts. Getting to sail a Clipper 70 has been an absolutely incredible experience. This week was my first time out on one and the high I got working on the boat is unlike anything I have ever felt in my life. The sheer power of these boats is impressive and has to be felt to be believed.

I’ll go over more details when I have more energy, but for now I will say that I have no doubt that this is where I belong.

This week under the mentorship of an incredible skipper I feel like I have grown so much and become a more confident sailor. I ran a freaking foredeck on a Clipper 70!! If someone had told me a few years ago that I would feel ready to work a foredeck on a boat like this I would have said they were out of their tree. Actually, come to think of it I have had such a conversation with someone. Lisa, turns out you were right! This week involved a bit of spinnaker work and some talk on tactics and trimming. Fortunately an awesome friend gave me the North Sails trim book so I got to read that and then go play with some of my readings on a super fun boat.

This week was not without its challenges, as it became apparent that we had some folks who hadn’t necessarily kept up with the homework and/or weren’t in a racing mentality. The challenges became learning experiences in themselves as it meant that I had an opportunity to step up and take my turns leading maneuvers on foredeck and for man overboard drills and sail evolutions, and of course make my own mistakes on some of them because my ego needed a bit of a check at points.

My skipper was great about encouraging me when I was doing well, and having the “so, what did we learn?” conversations when I had done something that wasn’t correct. I was able to own my errors and it felt really good to be in an environment where that was appreciated. Throughout all of this, Wavy imparted his years of sailing experience on me and let me ask just about any question I wanted about sailing. He caught on quickly that I like working the pointy end of the boat and it turns out that he’s a founding member of Foredeck Union so he was excited. 🙂

Wavy, my skipper with a wealth of knowledge to share

While we didn’t get as heavy into gybing the kite and talking about trim and tactics as I was hoping for, it was still a really valuable experience and I feel like I learned a ton. I feel ready to take on Level 4, but first there is one teensy little detail that needs to be addressed…

I need to finish paying for this damn thing! In addition to shilling beer mittens and candles and being available for other sewing work and putting in hours at Fisheries, I’m on the hunt for sponsors who believe in my mission and want to give a scrappy young sailor a leg up. I am working on my value proposition and presentation, but if anyone has recommendations or advice on pursuing sponsors as an individual racer I would love to hear it! Crew Allocation is May 11th and I’m looking to bust a major move or three before then. I know it’s going to happen through a combination of hard work and dumb luck but isn’t not knowing exactly how I am going to get there part of the fun?

Snag your own candles at https://etsy.me/2ZW1Mq7 and help me do this thing!

I know I’m going to do this and it’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime, all of the hard work will be worth it. I’ve spent so many hours meditating on and manifesting what it will feel like to leave the dock in Seattle with friends and family waving goodbye and wishing good luck.

Sailing these boats is a dream that I am excited to keep living

I love you all, more to come later.

Love and rainbows,

Lizzy

 

Vulnerability

Tonight was supposed to be an excited post outlining my adventures last fall on my first trip to England for Level 1&2 training. Today took a different tack so that post will have to wait. I promised to share the good, bad, and ugly of the journey I’m on so let’s make good on that.

Some optimistic sunrise photo I took at Round the County last November. Insert your own cliche inspirational quote if you must.

My hope in participating in the Clipper Race and other sailing adventures is to encourage others to be brave and take risks. The fact of the matter is that risk tasking involves inevitable failure. It can be minor failure, it can be big failure, but at some point it’s going to happen. Right now I’m feeling pretty discouraged, as I’m not where I hoped to be by now with my individual fundraising and it’s going to be an uphill battle to get there. I know I can do it and I know deep down that somehow it’s all going to work out, but right now I don’t know what that’s going to look like. You see, my HR contract ended at the end of January and I chose to take the leap and go full time with my sewing business. There have been some exciting successes and really great weeks, but also a metric shitload of learning that running a business by yourself is a hell of a lot harder than doing a cute choreographed pitch on Shark Tank.

I say all of this not to be a Debby Downer or to look for pity, but to say that the Sailing Unicorn is not all sunshine and roses and not everything I touch turns to magic. Sometimes I wind up in epic, messy challenges that I need to work a way out of. I am growing and learning all the time and trying to not make the same mistakes twice, but holy crap is this hard to navigate. Sometimes I think I’m an absolute idiot for leaving the corporate job with an enticing stock vesting schedule a few years ago. Other times I realize that while this is not the easy path, it will hopefully result in some epic stories that I will laugh about in the future. I am so incredibly lucky to have the support system that I have, especially on nights like tonight where I got home late, exhausted, and just needed a shoulder to cry on and a beer. Tonight it feels like the goal I have three months to reach is slipping further and further away. Tonight I am discouraged and out of energy to work out Plan D, E, or whatever the F it is at this point. To those who know the Spoon theory, my drawer runneth empty. To those not in the know, I highly recommend you read about it here. Tomorrow I will brew a cup of tea, throw my hair in a bun, regroup and get back to hustling my ass off to make this shit happen.

If you’ve read this quasi-pity party and feel like sending a hug over the internet, go for it. I’ll be ok, but tonight I’m tired and beat down.

Love,

Sailing Unicorn.

Hell with this, I’m gonna LIVE!

CW: Divorce, Depression, Suicide

This post has been composed, edited, deleted, re-written, and so on and so forth so many times both in my head and on my poor laptop. Rather than continue to let my brain’s insanely high standards keep this story from getting out, I need to just send it out continue on with my journey.

I am a survivor of a suicide attempt.

Those who have encountered me typically see me as a very lively, happy person with a zest for life. It’s hard to imagine the Sailing Unicorn reaching a point where life didn’t seem worth the pain any more, and yet about 5.5 years ago I did indeed reach a point where I wanted to do anything I could to stop hurting. In the September of 2013 my now ex-husband decided that he no longer wanted to be married. When he told me in our therapist’s office after we had been separated for a couple of weeks that he wanted a divorce I felt like the wind had been knocked clean out of me. No, our marriage wasn’t the happiest but I thought we were working on it. That wasn’t the case and he wanted out, and no amount of begging or pleading would keep him (believe me I tried). I got married at 21 (yep, pretty damn young) and had my life planned out ahead of me. Enjoy being young newlyweds, work in our careers, go on some vacations to cool places around the world, then after a few years start thinking about kids and starting a family. It felt like my whole world was crashing down.

I was not ok. I had previously been diagnosed with depression but was not currently taking any medication or seeing a therapist for it. What happened over the next couple of days was a bit of a blur as I didn’t feel like me. I felt like a person lost in someone else’s body, yet the few times I could bear to look myself in the mirror I did see someone who looked similar to me. Somehow I was able to get in to an urgent care clinic and after looking at my medical history they prescribed me an antidepressant… and Xanax. I had never taken this medication before but was up for anything that might make me feel a little better about this whole thing. It was either that night or the very next night that I realized at the time nothing would be able to make me feel better so I just wanted to sleep for a very long time and not be in pain any more. I was alone in the house in Seattle that my ex and I had moved into a few months before. That house never really felt like a home to me, I could never put my finger on why. I was alone in what used to be “our” room and was tired of being too exhausted to do anything of substances but unable to sleep. I either messaged or called my ex and told him that I was taking the whole bottle of Xanax and wished him well. In hindsight I’m not sure why I did that as I was determined that I wanted to just fall asleep and not be in pain, but I’m glad I did. He called my mom who somehow managed to make what was usually the hour drive about 30 minutes. I think at some point SPD was called too. The whole night is an incredible fog. Fortunately they were able to determine that I had not actually taken a lethal dose and would be ok after being allowed to sleep it off under supervision. The next day held a lot of serious conversations and tears both with my mother as well as the close friends she had summoned to come over and help.

I am very lucky. I didn’t at the time think to look up what a lethal dose or combination would be, I just assumed the amount of Xanax I had taken would be enough to send me peacefully of to sleep. I am so damn grateful that I was wrong. The Fall and Winter that followed were some of the hardest months I’ve ever been through in my life, and yet I’m glad I was able to get through them. Almost two months to the day after my attempt I was browsing online and came across a Black Friday special where adoption fees were waived for animals with black coloring that PAWS, a local animal shelter north of us was hosting. I had always wanted a dog, and it was time. There will be a longer post dedicated to him at a later date, but that Black Friday special became Murphy, a sweet lab/dane with the cutest little tinge of gray on his muzzle. I owe my life to the dog who is currently snoring right next to me as having him meant I had to be home at least twice a day to care for him and could therefore not go off on weekend-long benders. I may have resolved to not attempt to go to sleep forever again but I still wasn’t making some of the best life choices so he kept me from going completely overboard. I had the support of a few very dear friends, some of whom I am still close with to this day. One who I became closer with through this process took me up to the mountains with Murphy to the snow on New Years Day of 2014 and we did a Trash the Dress shoot so that I could reclaim the experience of wearing my now-former wedding dress. I also had a party at Golden Gardens when my divorce was finalized where I burned wedding photos and other mementos from the marriage and invited friends to bring what they needed to release in the flames as well.

This was the first time Murphy crawled in my lap, shortly after I adopted him and he rescued me. 🙂

I continued to get through that winter and the coming spring with the support of my amazing network. My mother also took it upon herself to get me out sailing more and well, we know how that ended up! Sailing has become an incredible force in my life as it has helped me gain courage, strength, and an absolutely amazing supportive community. Through sailing there have been so many “I’m glad I’m alive for this” moments. While sailing is part of my therapy, I have also found a wonderful therapist who has been helping me work through life. My goal as the Sailing Unicorn is to encourage others to keep fighting to stay alive by spreading awareness of depression and resources available to avoid suicide. We never know who may be fighting an invisible internal battle, it’s so crucial to be loving and supportive to those around us. By sailing in the Clipper Round the World yacht race I hope to take the message globally as these are things that impact people all over the world. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If it has impacted you I welcome continued dialogue. If you need someone to talk to please seek help, it’s never too late.

One of my first times sailing in Shilshole Bay, what would soon become one of my happy places!

Stay alive my friends.

Love,

Lizzy

If you or someone you love has struggles with suicidal thoughts PLEASE reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They provide free, confidential guidance and resources for individuals and people who care about them for free over the phone, via text, or online chat. They are staffed 24 hours a day and are connected to centers all over the US to help individuals access care close to home in order to get help. I have spoken to them before and was over whelmed by the compassion and care on the other end of the phone. I recommend saving this number in your phone, you never know when you or someone you love might need it.

1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential help 24 hours a day.

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