I’m a sailor and a storyteller, and nothing provides new stories like sailing.
(My writing life is covered on a different website:
denahankins.net. I have three books in print: Lysistrata Cove, Blue Water Dreams, and Heart of the Liliko’i. Another dozen of my tales are short stories published in erotica anthologies.)
In 1998, James and I started looking at boats with the intention of living aboard and sailing around the world. Relying on one another, learning and growing together, we have developed a way of being in and moving around our world that is in line with our beliefs, desires, and needs. We have learned about comfortable and uncomfortable compromises. We keep getting closer and closer to our ideal selves and lives.
I am proud of my accomplishments and enjoy crafting the happenings of my life into stories for specific situations, audiences, reactions. In conversation, I might tell two very different stories about the same storm that chased James and I into the Saratoga Passage. That’s because my experience of sailing is multi-dimensional and storytelling is linear. A single near-broach taught me: the feel of a boat nearly out of control; the interaction of sail, wind, hull, and rudder in regaining control; my ability to step out of my body’s way and allow it to respond with natural understanding; that a seasick cat is a hazard aboard; and not least that I could be hurt or killed by my own action or inaction. Integrating all those lessons into a single story is more than most cocktail party crowds want from their sea tales.
More important than my history and what it has shown of my character, I am aiming at improvement. To truly know me is to know what I want to do and who I want to be. It is to understand that I delight in my love for James because it brings me closer to my ideal. It is to understand that compromises others find easy won’t work for me.
This blog is all of these things, I hope. Exhibitions of my accomplishments, stories drawn from my experiences, and reflections on the ways I am closer or farther from my ideal and what is affecting that distance.
Here’s me, getting closer.
1999 – We bought S/V Sovereign Nation on 9/9/99 and hauled less than 2 months later in Ballard (Seattle, Washington). The new life aboard had barely begun when it was disrupted by the bizarre reality of life on the hard.
2000 – We did some sailing to get used to the boat and made our first leap into the unknown. We cruised the San Juan Islands and settled in Blaine, Washington, for the winter.
2001 – The next summer saw us leaping again, but a bigger one. We left the Puget Sound and headed toward the Pacific. The trip stalled in Eureka, California for the winter.
2002 – That spring, we thrust S/V Sovereign Nation back into the Pacific for a wild ride down around Cape Mendocino and into the San Francisco Bay.
2003 – When Dad realized he didn’t want to be a sailor after all, we sold S/V Sovereign Nation and took out a loan to buy S/V S.N. Sapien from him. All of a sudden, we started actually going sailing for fun!
2004 – Some improvements, but mostly just sailing. This was the year we moved to a different marina every month between May and September, taking advantage of having a smaller boat to explore places all over the Bay.
2005 – Adventure time! We took Sapien up the Sacramento River Delta and began to get a taste for anchoring in out-of-the-way places.
2006 – Big year! Not only did we do a shake-down cruise from the San Francisco Bay down to Monterrey, we also make the (easier) trip across the Pacific to Hawai’i. Our first experience with coastwise sailing was a nauseous mess, but striking out farther, the wave action was better.
2007 – The Big Island of Hawai’i had no jobs or slips for us, so we moved to Oahu. That wasn’t really an improvement since, though we had work, the expenses and tensions both ran high. We decided we weren’t meant to live there, and it made such an impression that I wrote a book about that, Heart of the Liliko’i.
2008 – After disliking Hawai’i enough to sell a boat to leave it, we were hungering for adventure. India beckoned and we were enraptured.
2009 – In the end, a boater’s gotta boat, so we went back to the US and bought a new one. S/V S.N. Nomad was in Norfolk, Virginia when we first jumped aboard, but we ended the year out sailing through a snow storm to reach Baltimore.
2010 – After a winter in the city, we moved up a suburban river for summer. More trees and greenery, less heat-island effect, and a bike ride from work. Between census work, working out, and riding, I got pretty buff that year.
2011 – We kept that rhythm and did winter in Baltimore, summer outside the city. We also sailed a lot and learned to love swimming in brown water.
2012 – Baltimore was a good stop and I made some great friends, but it was time for another real leap. This time we sailed north, heading (if possible) to Scotland. When the mast tried to come through the deck, we stopped in Maine to fix it and get marriage equality for same-sex couples. Not that I’m a fan of marriage. Instead of wintering in Portland, we got jobs down in Groton, Connecticut, and took the boat to Noank, where the Mystic River meets Fishers Island Sound.
2013 – A hard winter at the old-folks home transitioned into a summer crewing on a schooner – the Mystic Whaler – based in New London, Connecticut. It broadened my seamanship skills tremendously, but I doubt I’ll ever do that again. We headed down to the big city that winter.
2014 – New York City didn’t woo us, so we traveled again during the summer and settled in Boston that winter. My first book, Blue Water Dreams, came out that September.
2015 – We took off from Boston for another northern adventure. This time we kept the boat intact all the way to Mount Desert Island in Maine! In a strong, gusting wind, the jib-sheet track tore a section out of the wooden toerail. We stopped for several weeks in Somes Harbor, which was anything but a sacrifice. While there, I completed the first draft of my third book, Lysistrata Cove. Once we started south, we didn’t stop until the following year.
2016 – After an amazing winter cruising south as far as Southport, North Carolina, we made our way back up to Annapolis in time to pick up work. After working seasonal jobs all summer (me as dockmaster and James as hardware surveyor for a consignment chandlery, Bacon Sails), we went to India that winter.
2017 – The year stated in India where, among a multitude of other things, I celebrated Attugal Pongala with a friend, Maya, and her family. It’s a fertility and abundance festival wherein I used fire that came from the Attugal Bhagavathy Temple’s eternal flame to make pongal – rice mixed with boiled milk and jaggery. The whole point is that the pongal boils over the edges of the pot and sets you up for a year of plenty. After returning to the US and a second go at seasonal jobs in Annapolis, we headed south for the winter.
2018 – The winter trip south, begun in late 2017, was nowhere near as pleasant as the first one back in 2015/2016. The cold chased us all the way down to South Carolina and our water tanks were fouled in a subtle enough way that it took a long time to understand why we felt shitty all the time. We leapt back up to Annapolis and steady work, but only lasted a few months. In July, we started cruising north again. We bought S/V S.N. Cetacea in Maine and settled into Portland for the winter.
2019 – Our new-to-us Baba 30, Cetacea, begged to go cruising and there was no way we were going to say no. That said, she did need some work and we got right to it as soon as it warmed up enough in the Portland spring. Our travels took us through most of New England and then back to India for a third time.
2020 – No one enjoyed the Year of Covid like we did. We were among the very few people who were able to lock down and travel at the same time. Following social distancing guidelines quite strictly became second nature very quickly when going ashore for groceries and it wasn’t long until we had an array of masks like everyone else. Because of our insistence on energy independence, we could sail from anchorage to anchorage while marinas were closed without the nervous frustration of other boaters. Something we got determined about that year? Getting the watermaker working.
2021 – We ran out of money (like we do) before the end of 2020 so 2021 was a year of hourly wages. We moved from Charlestown in Boston out to Salem Harbor, where I got a job doing shipping and receiving for a flowmeter manufacturer. I was running the department within a few months and we were able to catch up and get ahead a little. Meanwhile, life on a mooring ball with our new kitty, Beluga Greyfinger, was actually pretty good that summer. It wasn’t until winter that things got hard.
2022 – What a big travel year! Once we got away from the job and Lynn, Mass, we went sailing with a plan to cross the Atlantic. Another set of engine problems and a rigging rebuild put us well into hurricane season and we decided to head to Canada and then south for the winter! I celebrated my mid-forties by going back to a previously favored hair style and enjoyed society’s reactions to me quite thoroughly.
My lover, beautiful!!!
If you are interested in seeing a slice o Berkeley. Go to the Salon’s FB page. I hadda smile when I saw the bull’s eye!
James & Dena
The two of you are living the dream. Thanks for writing about it, thereby I can live through you. Be safe my friends and keep writing.
It was great to meet you at the Clearwater Festival! We hope to get up to your current homeport soon!
Hello! I hope you get to visit my area this fall, after the Mystic Whaler’s season! I’d love to see you again.