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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Abby Normal
Positive Flotation: Boat Easier Than Apartment
January 4, 2016

’ve had people tell me, ‘You are the happiest handicapped person I’ve ever met.’”

abby normal
Cliff Kyle on his Pearson 26, Abby Normal at the Oriental Town Dock in late December.

Cliff Kyle lost his left leg years ago when he was hit by a truck whose driver had a seizure. These days, he is living on a 26’ sailboat and was heading south on the ICW when he stopped in Oriental for a few days after Christmas.

abby normal
The Pearson 26 taking Cliff Kyle south this winter.

Cliff has been an Army Ranger in the “All-American” 82nd Airborne Division, a biomedical-electrical engineer and a father. But when his Kentucky home was foreclosed two years ago, Cliff, who is in his late 40’s, decided it was time to return to the sailing and cruising he had done as a younger man.

“It seemed better than sitting around the house waiting to die,” Cliff says with a crooked smile.

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Cliff approaches his boat.

For years, Cliff’s gotten around in a wheelchair. “I always decided to be positive about it.” he says. At first, that was on land. Now, it’s on docks. And boats.

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Cliff Kyle clearing the lines just before pushing off from the Oriental Town Dock.

Cliff first started sailing before the accident. It was in the early 90’s after he finished his stint in the Army. At the time, he wanted to try his hand at deep-sea fishing.

“When I got to Florida, I found I couldn’t afford a deep-sea fishing boat,” Cliff says.
He was, however, able to find a 1967 Pearson Wanderer for $700. He spent two years of the early ‘90’s living off the coast of Florida.

“I ended up not catching fish but learning how to sail,” Cliff said.

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The dragon tattoo predated Cliff’s stop in Oriental.

One thing sailing teaches is how to handle what’s thrown at you and navigate through it. That might also describe Cliff’s attitude in the years since that accident. “I always decided to be positive about it.” he says.

“When I lost my leg, I got to raise my son solo,” he says. “And I’d always choose raising my son and losing my leg.”

abby normal
Cliff’s wheelchair folds relatively flatly.
abby normal
But does require some heavy lifting over the lifelines.

Abby Normal is actually the second Pearson he’s lived aboard since moving from Kentucky two years ago. He first bought a Pearson 30 and lived on it for a year.

This past July, he found the Pearson 26 for sale online. Cliff headed to Rhode Island to buy it. It was cheap, he says. He repaired it and continued the modifications while travelling, with stops at, among other places, Block Island, Mystic, and Chesapeake Bay.


abby normal
Line zig-zags close to the ceiling of Abby Normal’s cabin, so that steady balance is just a hand hold away.

Abby Normal’s forward hatch was enlarged to make it easier for Cliff to maneuver.
and close to her cabin ceiling he strung line, port-to-starboard. That makes for easy grabbing to catch his balance.

The smaller space on the boat works in his favor. “I think it’s easier living on a boat than an apartment,” Cliff says. “There’s always something to grab onto.”

abby normal
Cliff Kyle atop his Pearson 26, Abby Normal at the Oriental Town Dock.

“It’s mostly hands and butt while I’m on the boat, but I’m always lower to the ground than most sailors.”

In the cockpit, Cliff has arranged food, water, PFD’s and much more within arm’s reach. There are still modifications to be done. For instance, he wants to run all of Abby Normal’s lines into her cockpit. abby normal
A cockpit with things close by.

One particular upgrade in the cockpit resulted from something Cliff had posted on social media, where he’s been very active, writing about his travels.

abby normal
Cliff and the orthopedically enhanced carbon fiber tiller.

A few months ago, he wrote online about cracks in his tiller. One of those reading his posting was an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor performed an operation on the tiller that turned the wooden tiller in to a carbon fiber one.

On his way south, Cliff’s met some of his readers. “And we’re becoming friends,” he says. “It’s nice to meet people you’ve been talking with on Facebook.”

The boat’s name, Abby Normal may sound familiar to those who, like Cliff, are fans of’ “Young Frankenstein.” It comes from a plot line in the Mel Brooks movie.

In that same Brooksian spirit, Cliff Kyle says he plans to rename Abby Normal’s dinghy. Its transom currently carries the name, “Wispy.” Cliff wants to change it to “’Island Hopper” and he says he even knows how he wants the font to look on the dinghy’s transom: with the ‘I’ in Island and the ‘HOP’ in Hopper capitalized. He pauses, smiles, and waits for his wordplay to sink in.

On one of the last days of 2015, Cliff and Abby Normal pushed off from the Oriental Town Dock under power of a 9.6 motor. He is aiming for warmer winter weather in St. Augustine, Florida and if possible, the Bahamas.

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Cliff on Abby Normal and the dinghy to be (formally) named later. The boat carries a few burgees with pirate themes. He’s hoping to add more.
cliff hoists up the mast
Needing some mast work done, Cliff provided the muscle at the base of the mast… hoisting up a fellow cruising sailor to the top. (Will Flannery photo)
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Navigating by thermometer, Cliff Kyle motors out of Oriental’s harbor, on his way to Florida.
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Cliff Kyle.

Cliff Kyle passed away February 10, 2019. We were fortunate to have met him.

Posted Monday January 4, 2016 by Keith N. Smith

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