Sailing with "Boat Girl" Melanie Neale and Will McLendon

30 March 2013 | Maule Lake
05 February 2013 | Jacksonville, FL
26 January 2013 | Writerland
19 January 2013 | St. Augustine, FL
05 January 2013 | Cyberspace
16 September 2012 | Saint Augustine
04 September 2012 | Saint Augustine
27 August 2012 | Saint Augustine
01 August 2009 | Ft. Liquordale, FL
01 August 2009 | Fort Lauderdale
29 June 2009 | Ft. Lauderdale
26 June 2009 | Fort Lauderdale
22 June 2009 | Fort Lauderdale

Marina Girl

30 March 2013 | Maule Lake
Melanie Neale
I promised you last time that I’d blog about sailing and not writing. Well, this one is about neither. It’s about something awesome that happened to me a few days ago.

My D.I.Y. book tour has taken me basically anywhere I can crash with a friend and find a place that will let me read. This past week found me taking a day off from my real job so I could drive down to South Florida and read at Broward College. My friend Laura, a poet and professor, had set up the reading for me as part of the college’s Women’s History Month series of events. She even let me stay in her guest room and eat her food.

Readings in the middle of the day at colleges are notoriously sparse. At five-after-when-it-was-supposed to start, I had audience of two. Laura toured the building and found me a few more victims as I chatted with the two. One was there as part of her creative writing class. The other, a pretty brunette in glasses, introduced herself and said, “I had to come to this because I grew up on a boat.”

“Where?” I asked.


“Where in Miami?” I had a sense that something remarkable was about to happen, and she confirmed it with her answer.

“Maule Lake Marina.”

That’s when the connecting-the-dots began. She was the daughter of the dockmaster who’d been in charge when I lived there. She’d moved off of her parents’ boat shortly before I moved to the marina aboard my own boat. We’d stayed in the same slip for a little while. The boat she grew up aboard had been lost in Wilma. I knew the boat, and remembered it tangled in the mangroves after the storm—same storm that killed one of my neighbors and nearly killed me when I was washed off of A-Dock and into the murky water. I learned that the dockmaster, her mother, had passed away, and I remembered how suspicious her mother had been of me when I first came to Maule Lake. Everyone there had wondered what a 22-year-old woman was doing with her own sailboat. They had wondered about my schedule of night classes at FIU. They’d wondered if I was even really a student. Her mother had chuckled under her breath whenever I entered the marina office to get my mail. I didn’t realize at the time that the chuckle was one of appreciation. I was different. I’d chosen not to live a normal life, which was the same decision everyone at that marina had reached at one point in their lives.

Those of you who know me and those of you who lived there understand how much Maule Lake Marina means to me. It’s not there anymore. It fell victim to the overzealous developer that trashed a lot of other marinas in Florida during the boom. The condos were never built and the marina is still as vacant as it was the day the developers kicked us all out.

I have so much to ask this girl. Like what it was like to be there for her entire childhood. What it was like as a girl, turning into a teenager, to walk past the tiki bar at Tuna’s every time she wanted to take a shower. What it was like to watch people come and go. How much she felt the impact of the marina’s significant role in Miami’s drug-smuggling days. Who she remembers that I remember too—the weird family of misfits that I called my own for some of the most formative and best years of my life. Her mom is in the second chapter of the book I am writing now—my follow-up to Boat Girl. I haven’t spent nearly as much time working on it as I would like, but meeting this girl has inspired me to get back to it. A book is something that you write because of love, and I owe it to Maule Lake to get this next book written.

During my reading at the college, I chose the chapter of Boat Girl that describes the beginning of my stay there, and how one weird boxfish, pecking and scraping on the hull of my boat in the middle of the night, brought me to a state of harmony with my surroundings. This girl sat in the back of the room and cried in the stoic way that not everyone can, missing her mother.

Two days after we met, she took her daughter out kayaking in Maule Lake and posted photos on Facebook. They looked like the photos that I have of the marina now—desolate and lonely, the pilings in stark contrast to the lush mangroves. Seeing the photos was like looking through my own eyes.

The ABC's of Courting Indie Bookstores

05 February 2013 | Jacksonville, FL
Melanie Neale
Indie presses, indie bookstores, and new would think that these three things would go together like, well, Honey Boo Boo, s’ketti, and Glitzy the Pig (yeah, I know my Honey Boo Boo). All of us are struggling against “the man,” trying to pursue our art and our capitalistic endeavors with integrity. The indie press wants to publish the unknown author and give her a chance. The indie bookstore wants to sell the books that the bookseller chooses and not those mandated by corporate. The unknown author wants an outlet for her art and wants to become known. What a perfect world it would be if we all worked together, right?

Except that, in addition to all of those altruistic ideals that define us, we all need or want to make a little money too. This is where the problem comes in. Here’s a conversation I had today with a hard-headed indie bookstore owner that I’ve been courting ever since the release of Boat Girl. I convinced her, in November, to keep some books on consignment in her store, and my goal today was to set up a date for a reading.

Owner: “Who is your publisher?”

Me: “Beating Windward Press. It’s a small independent press out of Orlando. They publish a variety of books, and are preparing to release their 6th. I’m not self-published”

Owner: “How come I haven’t heard of them?”

Me: “Well, they’re small and new. But they have great distribution through Ingram and everywhere else, and they use Lightning Source for printing to there’s no overhead for them.”

Owner: “No publisher uses Lightning Source. And I don’t want to order through Ingram unless I know the book is going to sell.”

Me: “Don’t worry—I can buy books wholesale and I can bring some for you to sell on consignment. And some of the new, small presses are using print-on-demand technology like Lightning Source.”

Owner: “Tell me about this publisher—do they have an editor?”

Me: “Oh yes, of course. Don’t worry--I’m not self-published.”

Owner: “Do you pay them or do they pay you?”

Me: “They pay me royalties, just as any publisher would. It is actually a very traditional publishing contract.”

…And so it went. There was more to the conversation, but it ended with a firm reading date and time at the store and me feeling a little bruised from defending both my literary credibility and my publisher’s. But I think that this bookstore owner and I are going to get along fine. As a matter of fact, I’m excited about the reading and I really like her tell-it-like-it-is attitude. I think, once we get to know each other, we'll get along great.

But the other side of it is that I get it. I know where she is coming from. I worked, for two years, as a buyer/event planner/marketing person for an indie bookstore. Nothing would drive my friend who worked there and me crazier than the persistent self-published people. Of course, if they had a product that people would be likely to buy and if they were willing to offer good discounts to retailers or sell on consignment, then we were more likely to take them seriously. This experience has informed my approach when it comes to reaching out to bookstores. I know Ingram has a less-than-desirable return policy. I know that nobody wants to keep inventory that isn’t selling on the shelf. I know that, no matter how good a book is, it’s not going anywhere unless it gets some press and publicity. I know retail, as a matter of fact, pretty well. I know about profit margins and merchandising and all of that. I’ve used this knowledge to create a very simple consignment contract that I offer when approaching indie bookstore, and I work hard to see the side of the bookseller.

I guess what it comes down to is this. ABC. Instead of Always Be Closing, how about Always Be Considerate? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and remember that the small people really can help each other out. Publishing is changing, and the big houses have cut their advertising budgets tremendously. Everyone knows this. So in a way, this really evens the playing field for the small guys. We can help each other. Very much.

Once More With Feeling!

26 January 2013 | Writerland
Melanie Neale
(Incidentally, the photo really has northing to do with the just shows how awesome and supportive my husband is...awesome enough to wear a t-shirt that says "Boat Girl" on public...)

My husband still thinks I'm crazy because I was thrilled to receive, a couple weeks ago, my first three-star review on Amazon for Boat Girl. He doesn't get it, simply because he hasn't had all the ass-beatings in writing workshops that I've had in my academic career. To give you all an idea of how the academic writing workshop functions, it goes something like this...

You submit your piece (poem, short story, nonfiction, novel or book excerpt...) sans your name and the instructor distributes it to the class (I'm hoping that, these days, this is done electronically, because we sure wasted a lot of paper back in the day). The class then reads it and discusses it at the next meeting, during which the writer is not allowed to speak. No defending your work. No, "But I meant to say that," or, "Those weren't the character's intentions." My husband, who is a very good writer and excellent editor, and also a very smart person, thinks that this is just insane.

"But when you submit your work to an agent or a publisher, you're not there to defend it," I say.

He still thinks it's ridiculous.

It's masochistic, perhaps. And maybe a bit unhealthy. Maybe it's part of the reason why most of the writers I know actually like getting negative feedback. I'm suspicious of people who give me glowing reviews. I'm very appreciative of them, of course, especially if they are on Amazon, but I always wonder if people are just bullshitting me. Or if they even read the book. I've been trained to expect constructive criticism rather than praise, I guess.

So I was thrilled the other morning when I was chatting online with my good friend Tammy. I was multitasking like a mother, working out on the elliptical while touching up my gray hair and checking the news, Facebook, and everything else on my new (free) iPhone. And, of course, chatting with Tammy, who, for some reason, was up at 5 AM too. "To be honest, I am having trouble getting through your book," she said.

Jackpot! "Why? Please tell me--I need to know. So I can write a better book next time." I was aware that this was a tiny bit pathetic, but I was so excited to find out why someone might not want to read my book that I could barely wait to her hear response.

"I read for emotion," she said.

"So my book is emotionless?"

"Well, the details are great. But there are too many details and not enough emotion."

"I take it you haven't gotten to the 'fighter slut' or 'lesbian angst' sections, have you?"

"Um, no. I'll keep reading."

This was funny, because earlier drafts of the book had even less emotional significance. I was trained to avoid "filtering" words like "feel..." I was trained to show, through raw language, how the character felt, rather than have the character tell us how he/she felt. Matt, my publisher, wrote in his notes on my manuscript over and over again: "More emotional did this make you feel?"

So I've realized that people do like a little bit of emotion. I'm a very emotional person in my real life, but I internalize it all and hide it very well. I'm a bad person to come to with problems because I think like a guy. I'm not going to dwell on how something makes you feel--I'm going to tell you how you can fix it. But most people, especially women (sorry for the stereotype, my femme friends), want to dwell on feelings a little bit. I'm learning this, and trying to apply it to my writing and my personal life at the same time.

My sister's book club maven refuses to allow her club to choose my book as one of their monthly reads. The reason, the maven says, is that she is afraid that not everyone will like it. This strikes me as weird, since the maven and many of the members of the club are artists, and don't visual artists do the same thing as writers in their workshops? Aren't they in favor of constructive criticism? Another book club plans to read the book, but a friend who is in it told me that she asked all the members to give their honest opinions on the book and to post honest reviews on Amazon. I thanked her and told her that honest feedback is exactly what I want.

So, if there's anyone out there who didn't like my book, please tell me why! Tammy had been afraid to tell me what she thought, and once she finally did I think she was surprised at how happy I was to hear it. I have a few three-star reviews on Amazon, and I am grateful for them. Give me a one-star review if you want--just tell me why and don't be mean.

Maybe my husband is right. Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

BOAT GIRL: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass by Melanie Neale is now available through and in both print and e-book for Kindle and Nook users. Not into online shopping? You can also ask for Boat Girl in person at your local bookstore.
While you're at it, please like our page on Facebook Sailing with "Boat Girl" Melanie Neale and Will McLendon.

Brokers are Okay!

19 January 2013 | St. Augustine, FL
(About the photo--that's Maule Lake Marina in North Miami, back in the good old days! My broker's boat is the trawler on the end of B-Dock, with the tender on the stern.)

"Part of a broker's job is to take the emotion out of the boat buying experience," Nils said to me over the phone. He'd called to tell me that the seller of the Ericson 36C that we'd viewed the previous weekend wasn't budging on his price. We'd made an offer, and then upped our offer, but the seller wasn't willing to counter. Will and Maryann and I sat in our living room in St. Augustine. I'd just finished explaining to Will about how much emotion is involved in the buying and selling of boats.

"It was easier to buy our house," Will said.

There's the old cliché about the two best days of a sailor's life--the day you buy your boat and the day you sell your boat. And I suspected that the owner of the Ericson was attached to his boat and just didn't want to let it go that easily. Unfortunately, Will had become attached to it too. We both spent the week after we viewed it fantasizing about prettying it up, pricing out marinas, getting insurance quotes and looking at our finances to figure out how on earth we'd be able to fit a boat into the picture. The truth was that we were both ready, whether we could afford it or not. Will lost his mother, early and unexpectedly, a few months ago. We were both watching our daughter grow faster than we'd ever dreamed she would. She was having whole conversations with us, and saying, "I love you, sailboat," when she and I passed Oyster Creek every morning at the beginning of our long commute to Jacksonville. And I was burnt out--three years of commuting two hours a day and trying to kick ass ay my career, birthing a child and then a book, and keeping up with my duties as mom and partner were getting to me. Will's commute was just as long and he was juggling an online MBA program with all his other responsibilities. I'm not saying our lives are any harder than anybody else's, and every day I am thankful for our health and our jobs and our home. But neither Will nor I are "good enough" types of people. We're not people who settle. And we were ready to take a big risk and buy a boat.

I could easily say that I've spent the majority of my adult life boat shopping. Even when I had a boat, I still looked at boats and studied them. My conversations with brokers usually proved that I knew just as much about boats as they did. But the two boats I've bought and sold in my adult life have been private sales, without brokers involved. I've never worked with one closely. Nils was a liveaboard from Maule Lake Marina, the small and tightly-knit community in North Miami where I'd spent my graduate school years aboard my 1969 Columbia 28. I'd always liked him--an easygoing and friendly soul who always seemed ready to offer help. He showed up at the Miami Book Fair, bought a book, and offered his help in our boat search. Nils works for Sparkman & Stephens. He sells big, expensive boats. Smallish sailboats and thirty-somethings going trough premature midlife crises are not part of his norm. "It doesn't matter to me how much money the client has," he told me. "I want to treat every client the same."

Before he let us make an offer, which we were both anxious to do, he insisted on doing hours of research on the particular model of boat. He looked at sales data of similar boats. He enlisted the help of a professional appraiser who was also a friend of his. He and I had several long discussions about osmosis and blisters (there was no evidence of either of these on the boat but they are a concern of mine in any old fiberglass boat), engine hours, equipment, seaworthiness, and what we would check on a sea trial should the seller agree to one of our offers. Nils brought rational thought into a completely irrational process.

"I honestly think it's time for us to move on," Nils said over the phone. I agreed and Will and Maryann and I set out for a walk around our neighborhood to clear our heads. We walked by the Intracoastal, where Maryann pointed to the anchored sailboats and said, "Muah, sailboat! Sailboat hug!"

"Anything could happen," I said to Will. Optimism has always been my biggest strength, and at this point in our boat search it was something we both sorely needed.

"There aren't any other boats I've liked as much," Will said. "I'm tired of hearing about this supposed 'buyers' market' that we're in."

"Anything could happen," I said.

Uncanny Connections

05 January 2013 | Cyberspace
Melanie Neale
It's amazing the lengths people will go to when it comes to finding that perfect boat. You know--"The One." It's a lot like trying to find your soulmate (if you believe in those). Or at least a soulmate-for-a-little-while. Making a poor choice can mess your life up and cost you a ton of money and it can even turn you against boating or endanger you. Maybe this is why people will do a lot more research when it comes to boat-buying than they do for other cash-equivalent purchases (I woke up this morning thinking that a lot of people spend more money on cars than we're looking at spending on a boat...and you can't even live in most cars!). In two cases I've seen recently, the research has lead to uncanny human connections.

Story #1. My best friend's father passed away last summer. It was unexpected and terrible, and left Michelle's three half-siblings (young adults in their early twenties) without both parents and my best friend without the dad that she'd cherished and sailed with and fought with and loved. It also left them with a sailboat--a rare shoal-draft center-cockpit Columbia 40 named Kokomo. Michelle's Dad had lost his wife a few years prior, and had bought the boat and was getting it ready to go cruising. It was his dream, and he planned to leave in the Fall of 2012 to head south. Michelle, her sister, and I spent an emotionally charged afternoon aboard her in September, shortly after Gary's passing, cleaning her and polishing her and getting her ready to put up for sale. I briefly considering trying to purchase her, but decided that she wasn't right for my small family (an amazingly enthusiastic husband who is up for anything but who requires a certain amount of physical space, and a crazy-hyper and awesome toddler who also needs space). So Michelle, her sister and I rolled up our sleeves and put all of our girl power into prettying her up.

My book, a memoir about growing up living aboard, came out in October, and shortly afterwards a man named Larry Wlison friended me on Facebook and sent me a note that he had enjoyed the book. I noticed some photos on his page that looked like Kokomo, with some captions about it possibly being "The One." I commented, saying, "I think I know that boat--message me!" Around the same time, Michelle forwarded me an email she had received from Larry, saying:

"I'm interested in purchasing Kokomo if she's still available. I live in Richmond, I'm retired and can travel to Little Creek pretty much anytime. My daughter and her husband own a beach home in Ocean Isle, about 30 miles north of Myrtle. Let me know if she's still for sale, and if so, when it would be convenient for me to take a look. In browsing thru your facebook page, I found a link to Melanie Neale's book. I bought it and downloaded it yesterday, and sat up til 2 am this morning, reading it from cover to cover. I feel almost as if I know all the people she wrote about."

In Larry's quest to find "The One," he had not only stumbled across my book, but learned about Gary and Michelle and become so much more connected to Kokomo than he would ever have if he had simply browsed and Googled. He took the next step and took the risk (is it a risk? It seems like some people would think so...) of reaching out and making a human connection. Ultimately, someone else beat him to the sale, but I have this feeling that he and Kokomo are going to cross paths again. Someone else buying the boat isn't the end of the world...people do sell them eventually!

Story #2. I'm not going to say that this is "The One," because I haven't even seen her yet. But yesterday, while browsing Yachtworld (I refer to it as boat porn) in my office when I should have been working, I found an intriguing boat. An Ericson 36C in Ft. Pierce, FL. It didn't look like other Ericsons--it had more of a shippy Taiwanese look, with lots of teak, a flush deck, and a large interior. I'd seen them before but never paid a whole lot of attention. There were many things I didn't know about them. As I do with all boats that intrigue me, I emailed the link to my husband, who was sitting across town in his cube and, like me, in need of some good boat porn.

I dig Ericsons. I lost my virginity on one. Read my book. People who lose their virginities in cars remember what kind of car it was, don't they? I went to the Bahamas on one. I had a strange habit, as a matter of fact, of dating guys who owned Ericsons (a 35, a 39, and a 27, in that order). But I know little about the 36C.

Being resourceful, I Googled it. (Have you ever seen the website "Let Me Google That For You?" It's a great thing to share with non-resourceful people.) I came across several 36Cs for sale and a few mentions in chat rooms, but no reviews and very little specific info about the construction (was the keel bolted on or encapsulated? What was the mast step like?). Then I found a blog by Arline and Jon Libby, who had bought and refitted one and were now cruising on it. They had tons of great photos of their refit, and seemed to be loving what they were doing. Their boat was named Kasidah. At that point, I took the next step and shot them an email, asking them the questions I had about the boat's construction. I had no idea whether they would respond, but it seemed like the best way to find out what I wanted to know (I also shot an email to my broker, a former slip-mate of mine from Maule Lake Marina, and asked him to find out more about the boat in Ft. Pierce).

Shortly thereafter, Jon emailed me back, giving me all the info I'd asked for and more. And, even better, he'd been aboard the specific boat that we were interested in! I thanked him, and later that night he and his wife dug up some photos that they had taken of the boat in Ft. Pierce. It was uncanny to me that a random email had generated so much valuable information, and a great reminder of how nice, giving, and informative people can be. Nobody knows as well as I do about how busy we all are. I work in a high-pressure job (that's why I need to take small breaks for boat porn), commute 2 hours a day, write on the side, and am a wife and mom (and yes, I want to add a boat to that mix of craziness!). And I know that most people are just as busy as I am, if not busier. I value time and efficiency above a lot of other things, and the fact that these total strangers had just taken the time to write me such a thorough response and send me photos blew me away.

Anyway, this may or may not be "The One." But, as always, boat shopping is proving to be a great adventure. And I have a good feeling .

BOAT GIRL: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass by Melanie Neale is now available through and in both print and e-book for Kindle and Nook users. Not into online shopping? You can also ask for Boat Girl in person at your local bookstore.
While you're at it, please like our page on Facebook Sailing with "Boat Girl" Melanie Neale and Will McLendon.

Je ne sais quoi -- Part III

16 September 2012 | Saint Augustine
Part III

Disclaimer: For those of you who don't know me, I tend to embellish in the name of humor and that is certainly my modus operandi here. Although this blog is based on actual events, the part of the broker, including all dialogue, is completely fictional in order to protect the innocent.

Saturday came as quickly as your standard glacial ice flow. My tendency to get over-anxious about big changes had thrown me into a manic frenzy all week and I was scant on sleep and patience. We were buying a sailboat damn it! Should I go with Captain McLendon or William the Conqueror?

As we pulled into the HP parking lot, I was frothing at the mouth and ready to burst out of our Honda CRV. I saw myself preening down the docks with the grace of a gazelle, leaping from the weathered wood onto the decks of the Cal 36, grasping her deck in a warm embrace and claiming her as my own. But Melanie said we had to talk to Bobby first.

Bobby was the broker, a self-made man of backwoods Georgia origin, kept alive by the occasional exchange of fiberglass for money which undoubtedly was surrendered at the breasts of Hurricane Patty's most voluptuous bartenders. He gave us a grunt and the permission to board the Cal without the pleasure of his company.

We hurried down the docks, Maryann in hand, and stepped aboard the Cal with earnest enthusiasm, making our way through the companionway and into the quirky layout that greeted us below. At first glance, the space was unexpectedly tight for a 36 footer, but its uniqueness compensated for any thoughts of claustrophobia. There were, however, missing items in the galley, some cracks and inexplicable stains, but what was most striking, was the removal of entire access panels that once hid spaghetti wires and earthworm-like plumbing. The boat's interior had a look bordering on "ghetto fabulous," a distinction that, for some reason, is held in high regard by my wife.

"It's....interesting," I said in a befuddled tone. I wasn't disheartened, but we had yet to see what creatures dwelled in the dark recesses of the bilges.

Just then, the boat rocked violently to dockward followed by Bobby's head peering down at us from the cockpit, his bald cranium glowing from an angelic solar halo.

"How's it goin' down thar? I spoke with the owner. He said he'd let ya'll have it for nine and throw in the dinghy too."

"You mean that withered bit of flaccid rubber taking on water behind us," I thought. "Score!"

Bobby continued. "Yeah, this boat was owned by this old guy who lived on it down in Miami. He brought it up here and sold it to another guy whose wife won't let 'im keep it. She said there's too much to fix up on it."

Right then, Melanie opened a floor hatch to peer into the bilge and we saw it. Oil. Black, viscous, oil about two inches deep, pooled like an ancient tar pit.

"There's oil down here," Melanie said in the direction of Bobby.

"Oh, they just spilt some when they done changed it last."

"Sure," I thought. "The Exxon Valdez had misplaced a few quarts itself."

Then there was the fuel tank.

"Bobby," said Melanie. "I read there were some problems with corrosion on these tanks that caused leakage."

"No," he said assuredly. "This one's solid."

"Then why did they install a temporary tank further aft?"

"Oh, they was some dirty gas in that old tank and she wasn't startin'. The owner put in that other'n to just get her goin'."

It wasn't adding up and with reluctance, we thanked Bobby and ambled over to HP for a much needed alcoholic refreshment (Maryann had a virgin White Russian). This wasn't the one and we knew it. After doing a post-mortem, we ordered some fried clams and gator tail and gazed out over the marina with heavy sighs.

"Well," I said. "I guess there's always next weekend with that Allied in Fernandina. Hey, look! There's Bobby!"

BOAT GIRL: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass by Melanie Neale is now available through and in both print and e-book for Kindle and Nook users. Not into online shopping? You can also ask for Boat Girl in person at your local bookstore.
While you're at it, please like our page on Facebook Sailing with "Boat Girl" Melanie Neale and Will McLendon.

Je ne sais quoi -- Part II

04 September 2012 | Saint Augustine
After several minutes of searching, I found my little family of two standing before the weathered sailboat with a glint of joy invading Melanie's face. A kiss later, we swapped out the baby and Melanie was aboard, crawling about the deck like a seasoned pro, testing and prodding, while Maryann and I stood in awe. I scanned her hull and then stretched my neck back to take in the edifice that was her mast.

"Wow," I said. "This is certainly bigger than 19 feet."

And it was. 17 feet bigger to be exact, and in those 17 feet came a lot of boat. I tried to image myself taking her off the face dock below me and into Oyster Creek. It couldn't be done. Could it? I suddenly noticed the old salts milling about the dock, telepathically reading their silent ridicule of me as I stood there wearing my tie and holding my daughter. I was pretty sure they were secretly hoping we would buy the boat so that they could gather like horseflies the day we first took her out and mock me as I ran aground on the nearby shoal. I casually waved to a man in a faded Scarlett O'Hara's t-shirt and he pretended not to notice.

After Melanie's inspection was complete, she stepped back onto the dock beaming like a cat with a mackerel in its jowls.

"I really love this boat!" she said as she took back Maryann in a tag team wrestling move that signaled it was my turn to climb aboard.

Inspecting a boat used to make me feel like a primate in a quantum physics class, but my association with the Neale family had remedied some of my ignorance and I was able to confirm Melanie's diagnosis of strong stanchions and a solid deck. My optimism in this boat began to grow and when I asked if it was time to go below, Melanie stopped me in my tracks.

"We're not supposed to go down since the broker isn't here, but he said we could open the hatch and have a look."

I opened up the companionway and peered down below. It was a curious bi-level layout with a galley and settee that stood a step above a lower berth. Beyond this were the head and then the V-berth. By all appearances, it was unique and most importantly, intact, festooned with a stained glass depiction of a boat at sail, facing outwards toward the cockpit. I was starting to fall in love too.

"When can we go down and dig through the bilges?" I asked Melanie anxiously.


To be continued one more time...

BOAT GIRL: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass by Melanie Neale is now available through and in both print and e-book for Kindle and Nook users. Not into online shopping? You can also ask for Boat Girl in person at your local bookstore.
While you're at it, please like our page on Facebook Sailing with "Boat Girl" Melanie Neale and Will McLendon.

Je ne sais quoi -- Part I

27 August 2012 | Saint Augustine
Tuesday tends to be the je ne sais quoi of one's workweek--listless, vapid, dull. It is an ugly reminder that only yesterday you began this daunting crucible and despite your best Jedi mind-tricks, you are still three days away from your weekly coup de grace (pardon moi for all the francais). That is why I was startled and aroused (in the literary sense of course) by the text message I received while careening down a Jacksonville highway one Tuesday afternoon.

"Meet me at Hurricane Patty's. We're going to look at a boat."

Melanie and I had decided about two years ago to put the sailing life on hold while she was pregnant with our daughter, Maryann. The logistics of raising our first child and caring for our little 19' Starwind Annabel Lee seemed to be too much to ask of ourselves, so instead of allowing her to become another guano encrusted dock dweller, we let her go for a paltry sum and didn't look back. Soon we were up to our elbows in poopy diapers and singing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse jingle, blissfully ignorant of the Gregorian chant growing inside each of us. Get a boat! Get a boat!

When I pulled in to HP (sorry Hewlett Packard, that's what we call it), there was a primal boost of adrenaline coursing through my veins as I scanned the docks for a woman, a baby and a 1968 Cal 36' Pilothouse Sloop with a green hull. Earlier, when I had run off the road trying to analyze an iPhone-sized rendition of the boat somewhere in the vast expanse of nothingness between Jacksonville and Saint Augustine, I remarked to myself what a perfect boat it appeared to be and for only ten thousand! This could be the boat we had dreamt of when we first scoured Indiantown for a live-aboard vessel for what now seemed like eons ago. I began to make my way down the docks with an erratic, yet optimistic gait.

To be continued...

BOAT GIRL: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass by Melanie Neale is now available through and in both print and e-book for Kindle and Nook users. Not into online shopping? You can also ask for Boat Girl in person at your local bookstore.
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Anchored in Lake Sylvia II

01 August 2009 | Ft. Liquordale, FL
The people on the boat next to us are singing "Piano Man" out of tune, and another boat just dropped anchor about 50 feet away from our spot. All fine and good for a night in Lake Sylvia. Earlier, right after we'd first anchored, some guy at one of the multi-milion dollar houses onshore ran out into his yard and blew an airhorn and screamed at a Boston Whaler going too fast. People watching in Lake Sylvia is almost as good as people watching along Las Olas Blvd! But here you are at a much safer distance!

Anchored in Lake Sylvia

01 August 2009 | Fort Lauderdale
Will / Pleasant breezes and partly cloudy, warm
We made it to Lake Sylvia after a mostly problem-free setup and launch. The ICW traffic was sparse and we are now surrounded by several rafting parties. Stella's sealegs are still functional as she spent most of the cruise here pacing Annabel Lee like a sentry. Lexi, on the other hand, has stayed below and has yet to emerge. More to come...

We have moved!

29 June 2009 | Ft. Lauderdale
We moved our blog to "Sail Blogs"...more appropriate, don't you think?

Leaking on Land

26 June 2009 | Fort Lauderdale
Statistically, more boats sink at the dock than anywhere else. Too much rain gets in the bilge, the water rises up and shorts out the battery, and it's goodbye bilge pump. A hose connected to the dock's water supply breaks. A seacock gives out. Some of the things that sink boats are about as un-dramatic as you could ever imagine (for more about what kind of stuff sinks boats, Bob Adriance's book Seaworthy, a collection of stories and lessons learned from the Boat US insurance files, is of my all-time favorite nautical books...pick it up at Bluewater Books & Charts).

So you would think that the benefit of having a trailerable sailboat is that you don't have to worry about things like that...which is true. It would be kind of hard for a boat to sink while it's sitting on the trailer. Short of an earthquake, quicksand or a sinkhole, I'm not sure what could cause a boat on a trailer to sink. But about a week after we bought Annabel Lee, we started noticing that there was water in the bilge.

We mopped it out, but all it took was a light rain for the bilge to start filling up again. Basically, the boat was leaking like a sieve (doesn't get any more cliché than that, does it?) from everywhere- the base of each stanchion, the portholes, the cockpit drains (which were a bigger problem when the boat was in the water than when it was out...). I tried to explain to Will that this was normal- that old boats just leak a lot, but he wasn't buying it and I really wasn't either. Sure, old boats may leak a lot, but this was a little ridiculous. My old boat, Short Story, leaked a little around the portholes, but I had been able to keep the leaks under control with caulking. I pointed out to Will that even my parents' boat leaks a little.

But I'm still having trouble accepting all the leaks. It's going to be interesting dealing with them. The first time we put the boat in the water, we barely made it out of the Dania Cutoff Canal before we had to turn around and try to figure out where all the water was coming was pouring through where the caulking around the cockpit drains had dried and cracked loose.

We have since caulked and re-caulked everything, and there's still water coming in, even when the darn boat it sitting high and dry in the driveway. It's not as bad as it was right at the beginning, but it's still unnerving. For right now, I think we're just going to have to deal with a few leaks. As long as they're slow ones we should be okay...

Sailing (sort of) with the Family

22 June 2009 | Fort Lauderdale
It was inevitable that the day would come when I would be called upon to captain the Annabel Lee without Melanie's assistance. I figured it would be well into the future, after I had become the proverbial "Old Man and the Sea," equipped with a peg-leg and a ragged gray beard. But when my family decided to visit Fort Lauderdale a few weeks ago, I was suddenly charged with a responsibility that I could not have foreseen.

My sister, Morgan, and my brother-in-law, Robert, had brought my mom into town the weekend before their wedding. The original plan was for the five of us to go sailing offshore, but as things were put into focus, it became apparent that Melanie's work schedule was not going to cooperate.

"You can handle it," Melanie said to me in a reassuring tone, and after a bit of cajoling, she had not only convinced me, but my family too.

So on a Saturday morning, we took off from Harbour Towne Marina in Dania, after stepping the mast in record time (4 people, what a luxury!). Motoring up the ICW was a piece of cake, and our first destination was Bahia Cabana, where we were to meet Melanie for lunch. It was a relatively smooth ride and I felt confident about our afternoon sail. My crew, who collectively had more sea time than I, began to show signs of respect for their captain-of-the-day.

After a cheeseburger and fries, we said good-bye to Melanie and climbed aboard Annabel Lee for our journey offshore. I started rehearsing the scenario over and over in my mind. Melanie had reminded me to put the main sail up as we began to enter the Port Everglades Inlet, and I could feel my heartbeat go into overdrive as we cleared the 17th Street Causeway Bridge.

I yelled out,"OK. We're going to put the main up after we turn into the inlet."

"Oh, Will, let's wait until we get out. There are too many boats in here!" my mom retorted.

I knew better, but I complied. My mom had been a sailboat gal once upon a time, but she had never been through Port Everglades Inlet. She was right about the boats, but she didn't realize what we were about to face. Our 19 footer began to be walloped by the huge wakes expelled by the countless powerboats that were flying by us, and having the main up would have offered some stabalization.

We held on and I made the decision to turn south, thinking it would be less congested. Once we were clear of the inlet, I told Robert to man the tiller, and I climbed up to the mast to raise the main. We were getting all of the "2ft or less seas" NOAA had forecasted that day, and I was struggling to hold on. I had not fastened the halyard during our prelaunch routine, and now I was fighting the latch on the shackle. Finally I got it, but as I started to raise the main, something happened and the sail was no longer moving. I looked up and to my horror, the halyard was 3/4 of the way up the mast. I had not latched the shackle completely and now my halyard was swinging freely and out of my reach. Defeated, I called down to my crew.

"Let's take her back in. We won't be sailing today."

Thankfully my father had not come down early for the wedding with my mom, so I was spared the ridicule I would have received while the halyard coiled and uncoiled itself around the stays. Besides, I was already taking it pretty hard since I had made such a rookie mistake.
Later that evening, Melanie and I did a post-mortem, and I began to feel a little better about myself. As all people should do in situations like this, I learned a few lessons.

First of all, I should have probably fastened the halyard before we left Harbour Towne. That would have ensured a calm surrounding with less distractions. Secondly, I should have listened to myself and put the main up in the inlet. Being in charge of the boat means everyone should listen to you. And finally, I should have made sure the shackle was fastened all the way down before I raised the main.

Lessons learned.
Vessel Name: Annabel Lee
Vessel Make/Model: To Be Determined...
Hailing Port: Saint Augustine
Home Page:
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Annabel Lee's Photos -

Port: Saint Augustine