This article has first appeared in February 2015 issue 233 of Caribbean Compass. You can find it on-line on pages 26-27.
A Woman Who Sails
by Mira Nencheva
After a few hours of uneventful sailing from Antigua to Guadeloupe, we arrive in Deshaies, the first bay on the northwest side of the island. We are excited to find our sailing buddies, Caryn and Mel aboard S/V Passages already there. Deshaies is a small charming fishermen village with a few restaurants along the shore, souvenir shops and a small boulangerie offering delicious French baguettes and pastries. We are greeted by the monotonous song of the bells from the bell tower of the small church etched against the dark evergreen mountain.
After checking-in, we decide to do a little river exploration and hike to a small waterfall not far from the village with our friends Mel and Caryn. We invite the crews of the two other boats in the anchorage, Mark and Tina aboard S/V Rainbow and Bev aboard S/V Aseka to come along. We are now an impressive group of cruisers walking through the forest looking for a waterfall.
Soon it is nothing but giant trees, roots like snakes, extravagant ferns and black butterflies. The morning sunlight can only pierce tiny shafts of white light through the holes of the forest roof disturbing the heavy humid shade of the canopy above. Trees and rocks and muck and more roots and the hush sound of the small river gurgling down among grey boulders covered with eternal moss. There are crabs rushing back to their dark holes in the soft ground, paranoid little lizards hiding behind branches, and further in the distance, a small pond with green tranquil water inviting us for a few minutes of chill-down.
The hike proves longer and harder than we have expected. Almost everyone is wearing flip-flops, as we thought it’s going to be a few minutes’ walk in the park. Instead, we are jumping over huge slippery boulders inside the stream for over an hour and still no waterfall. We start getting worried. Are we on the right path (if this can be called a path)? Frankly, I am also worried for our friends. What if someone trips over a slippery rock and breaks a leg? Mel is helping Caryn, Tina has Mark for assistance, and Ivo is taking care of Maya and me at the most difficult places: across boulders, fallen trees and fast-running water. But Bev, in her fifties, is on her own the entire time. Yet it doesn’t look like she needs any assistance at all. Cheerful, she skips form rock to rock with great energy, chatting with us all the time.
– Bev, how come you are sailing around alone? I am curious.
– I just wanted to go sailing, that’s it. I have been sailing for 35 years now. It’s my life.
Beverly Cory-Bev was born in Auckland, New Zealand. Her father was a Construction Engineer and his job meant constantly moving from place to place, with the entire family. Bev went to 21 different schools in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England, and Algeria by the time she was 19. She got used to traveling and she enjoyed the errant ways of her family; it became natural to her.
– One day, when I was 19, an old boyfriend I used to surf with, took me sailing. It turned out it’s a racing yacht and we went out racing! Suddenly I was pulling lines, cranking winches, packing a spinnaker. The crew thought I had experience. But I have never been on a sailboat before, I told them. The captain looked at me, I will never forget this moment, and said: You will. Next thing you know, I dumped the boyfriend, quit my job, and went sailing on an old Dutchman’s boat who needed a crew. He taught me everything about sailing. I was doing what I wanted to do.
After years of cruising around Australia, New Zealand, United States and the Caribbean, after two boats: one 36 Van de Stadt, which she built and one Tayana 37, and after a couple of lousy husbands (“My mum told me I wasn’t good at it – so don’t do it again (the husband thing)!”), Bev is now cruising alone on Aseka, a 2005 Maxim 380 catamaran built in Durbin. The design of the boat is ideal for singlehandling. All lines come in the cockpit so Bev can adjust the sails and reef easily while at the helm. She can also drop and lift anchor all by herself with the help of a windlass controlled from the cockpit.
– Lifting the anchor is the riskiest procedure, since I have to also flake the chain. I tend to stay clear of other boats when anchoring, so I don’t drift down on them as I clear my anchor.
I wait to be clear of boats when I hoist the sails.
I reef early.
So far, she hasn’t had any troubles sailing singlehanded and visiting places alone, but she needs to be extra careful. There are places where she won’t walk around alone, and places she prefers to sail to with crew, like Columbia, where Bev is heading soon.
– My longest solo passage was from Puerto Rico to Bonaire, 60 hours. At night I would sleep for 15 minutes, wake up, check everything, and sleep for 15 more minutes.
Sometimes, Bev invites friends or friends of friends to help with the longer and more difficult passages, but most of the time she prefers sailing alone.
– You do get used to being by yourself. I prefer not to have to rely on other people. Others don’t care about the boat like I do, It’s my life. When I have people over, they act as if they are on a holiday and it’s a big party. But this is not a charter boat and I am not their servant. They come to crew and they have to cover their expenses.
When Bev was 21, for 2 years she crewed on a private 3 masted square rigger Brigantine with 10 sails- the foremast alone had 27 lines. Traditionally rigged, there were no winches, just block and tackle. They sailed New Zealand then across to Australia. She was the sailing master, in charge of deck and sails.
When she was 23, Bev worked for 2 years as a deckhand on a prawn (shrimp) boat. She was the only woman on a commercial fishing vessel in that fleet. It took the other boats six months to accept her, constantly watching her.
– But when they finally did accept me I had so many big brothers it was ridiculous.
You do some crazy things when you are 20…
This included driving mining trucks in a uranium mine and being the first woman in Australia to work on an oil rig as a radio operator, which she did on and off for 2 years.
Later, Bev became ERP analyst setting up software systems for copper and gold mines throughout Australia, the Pacific, and Africa. She worked and lived in The Congo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Zambia, and South Africa. When she wasn’t working she went backpacking.
But sailing was always what she wanted to do. She bought S/V Aseka when she was working in Burkina Faso. The name means ‘to prosper’ in the local Burkinable language.
– People think I am ‘strange’ for sailing solo. My mother thinks I am crazy. I think it’s crazier when inexperienced males try to tell me what to do.
You are asking me what the hardest thing is for a singlehanded cruising woman like me. The hardest thing is not having someone to go diving with.
Finally we hear the muffled voice of a waterfall. The sound grows loud and heavy as if the fall is coming down for us. It’s a small cascade hidden in a canyon behind black rocks that rise suddenly, covered with abundant tropical vegetation. The long painful hike was worth it. We scramble through a deep pool and after one last vertical climb we reach the place where the water rushes down from its rock walls with great force and determination. We shower under its might holding on to our shorts.
I start thinking. I imagine myself alone on our boat, adjusting the sails, pulling the lines, reefing, dropping and lifting anchor while steering, fixing the engine… I am not too good with driving a dinghy by myself, let alone a boat. I have always relied on my husband for the more technical and physically challenging parts. I have always been just a “deck hand”, never the “sailing master”. I feel ashamed.
I admire Bev and she inspires me to learn more about our own boat, about sailing and navigating; to get more involved with the entire process of sailing.
If Bev can do it, I can do it. All women can.
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