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Breaking into your own boat

With two massive duffels I started the long journey to Perth. I arrived at the Fremantle Sailing Club and it felt surreal. I teetered down the long temporary visitor dock with 1 XL North Face duffle on my back and one on my front, collectively weighting about as much as I, powered entirely by my excitement of new boat ownership.


I lugged the duffels into the cockpit and broke out the keys that the previous owner mailed us.  With about seven keys on the chain, I started by looking for the brand of lock. Disappointingly none matched. I then one by one try to see if any will magically budge the lock, despite the brand incompatibility. No luck, none of the keys even fit in the hole. Miffed but unperturbed, I believed that surely there is a spare key hidden somewhere or a hatch left unlocked. About an hour later, still no success and I’ve come to a few conclusions: the boat is very safely locked, no one is getting in, and I would be a terrible robber.


By now it is starting to get late but luckily the marina bar is full of men having just come off the water from a regatta. With the prospect of sleeping in floor of the cockpit, I started approaching men at the bar asking if any happen to have bolt cutters that they could lend me.  Admittedly, asking people to help you break into your own boat, is a very good way to introduce yourself to everyone at a marina very quickly.


I was met by equal parts bewilderment and entertainment. Drawing a bit of a crowd, the break-in team and I tried various crowbars and small blot cutters. Unfortunately, the owners of the biggest bolt cutters and angle grinders would not let me use them or use them themselves, for fear of damaging the companionway doors. And of course, locksmiths were not available for 48 hours.


As the evening settled in, I realized I would be sleeping in the cockpit if I didn’t do something soon….


The hold under the lazarette that three-hours ago seemed too small to fit through, now seemed like the only option. And so I went. Diving into the stern lazarette, I crawled past the water maker, the autopilot, a steering quaternate, got my butt stuck for a solid 30 minutes then finally pushing the aft bulkhead through and broke into my own boat. Tears of joy streamed down my face. I was inside my own boat!


My first few weeks alone were a rollercoaster of triumph to soul crushing frustration - sentiments that would vacillate typically multiple times per day. There was (and still is) so much to learn.


While the boat had taken over my life, I was still working full time in my corporate job. In Australia, particularly prevalent in Western Australia, is the concept of the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) worker: someone that flies in and out of their workspace (typically a remote mine). It was in this time that I became a corporate FIFO worker. For the next 1.5 months, I made weekly day trips to Sydney or Melbourne from Perth (a 5 hour journey each way).  I would get back to the boat (exhausted), leave my high heels on the dock, strip off my suit and swap it for oil stained engine room cloths.


The outfitting / fix it process became (and still is) all consuming, I dived into one repair only to find three more. I spent my days working alongside James and Mark the engineers, Craig the electrician and Edgar the rigger. Learning all kinds of tips and tricks about tools, adhesives, polishing diesel, backflushing the water maker, changing impellers, plumbing, sail material, 110 volts in a land of 240 volts, the list goes on. No matter how hard we tried, preparing the boat for the departing the dock became more and more involved. The list of refit “to-do’s” and purchases quickly expanded.


I was on a first name basis with the two ship chandlers in Fremantle. They shouted my name in excitement when I walk in the door. I remain uncertain if this is because it is so rare for a 29-year-old female to be embarking on such an adventure solo or because I couldn’t seem to leave the chandlery without spending copious amounts of money.


Many in the marina sighted their dismay with my lack of sailing experience and said I’ll never leave the dock, let alone sail around the world. It was a constant challenge to orchestrate the multiple boat projects, a revolving door of trades men helping me complete the projects, disregard doubters, not get fired from my full-time job, cook 3 meals a day and let loved ones know I’m still alive.


By this point, it is four days past when the date I told the harbormaster I would set sail. I think about how much I’ve learned. I can now change fuel and oil filters, and impellers, I somewhat understand my water system, I know what every seacock is used for. But still the engineers drop by on a daily basis to help with any passing question, concern, installation or fix. The to do list is getting smaller, and the essential systems are sorted for the time being. But how will we solve new problems when the masters are in my wake?


One of the marina residents walked by and asked “shouldn’t you have sailed always by now Sophie?” I don’t think we’ll every be 100% ready, but at some point, we just have to cast the lines and head out. That point is near….


Nautical miles travelled 1



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