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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.

Ashley, Apache, and SV Friends
A new life on the water
July 22, 2022

swore to myself up and down that I would not buy the first boat I looked at. I was like, that’s my one rule.”

Ashley Haley had just begun the search for a vessel in 2021, but she’d been thinking about sailing for decades. As a child in the 90s, she’d seen the movie Waterworld, a futuristic dystopia where the ice caps have melted and most of the earth is ocean. Every survivor lived on a boat or floating island of some kind.

Ashley and Apache head to shore.

The boats captured her imagination. “I used to sit with catamaran catalogs and look at floor plans as a kid.” However, Ashley didn’t take her first sailing lesson until six months before buying her boat.

It was her dog, Apache, that prodded her into making the jump.

Apache steadies himself on the stern.

Apache, a mixed-breed rescue, is twelve years old. Ashley found him on a rescue website when he was around a year old. She went to look him over, she says, and found he listened and was well behaved. As a final test, she walked away and called him to come to her. “He ran and jumped into my arms.” They’ve been inseparable since.

In the past few years, Apache spent large stretches of time alone in her condo while Ashley worked overtime to fill in the understaffed gaps in her company. “I was working such long hours and he was sitting home by himself and I just felt terrible,” she said. “I wanted to spend every minute with him for the rest of his life because I felt so guilty.”

Realizing Apache was not getting younger, Ashley quit her job. She’d wanted to travel more and had thought about a van, but had already seen a good part of the States. “I wanted to go elsewhere – places you can reach by boat.”

Apache makes room for Ashley to climb aboard.

Ashley knew what she wanted: a cutter rigged, center cockpit vessel with a large aft cabin. She expected to have to do maintenance to bring whatever vessel she found up to snuff.

What she didn’t expect was to find a used boat in near perfect condition. Sitting in Hurricane Boatyard was a 1985 Moody 34 center cockpit cutter rig originally commissioned in Bristol, England. The boat was called Friends.

“It had everything – a radar arch, solar panels, wind generator, dinghy davits, it was already rigged for a cutter from a sloop, just all these things,” she said.

The previous owners had paid meticulous attention to the vessel. The only major change Ashley made was to the wiring; she switched out the existing copper wire for marine grade.

A plaque welcomes visitors below: it translates from Gaelic to ‘one hundred thousand welcomes.’

There were other upgrades, too. She switched out the lead-acid batteries for lithium ones, added a portable freezer, chart plotter, propane system, bilge pumps, along with other small changes.

“I did break my rule and bought the first boat that I looked at,” she said. “I now can say in hindsight, six months later, I could not be happier.”

Friends, Ashley’s 195 Moody 34, at anchor near the Oriental bridge.
Sylvie, the liveaboard cat who refuses to leave the boat.

There’s a few unexpected items below: a full-size piano keyboard, a liveaboard cat called Sylvie, and an electronic chess board with a gaming engine.

“I’m not that good of a chess player,” Ashley said. “9 year olds will beat me.” She’s loved the game since childhood. The chess engine – a small red box attached to the board – can replay any game in any style from master chess players and championship games. The board recognizes the pieces, making the moves for her opponent. It creates the feeling of playing against a physical opponent, she says. “It never gets old.”

Ashley’s electronic chessboard and gaming engine. She plays every morning.

The piano is another hobby she wasn’t willing to forgo, despite the space her keyboard consumes. She started playing on her grandmother’s piano around 5, learning from friends and her stepdad as she went. Ashley never took lessons, but has taught herself her favorite songs.

She feels the same way about the piano as she does chess: “Just because you love it doesn’t mean you’re really good at it.” But she continues to play both – chess in the morning and the piano at night.

Ashley keeps her boat at anchor, coming ashore in the morning to grab coffee and chat with regulars at The Bean. She has not been at dock since she left Hurricane Harbor months ago. The isolation doesn’t bother her – she has her hobbies. And she stays busy. “I can’t sit idle. I always find projects for myself to keep me busy.”

Early morning coffee at The Bean.
Apache gets a back scratch assist with help from Ashley.

To that end, Ashley has begun documenting “roughly 30 different anchorages on the North Carolina coast.” Photography is another childhood interest Ashley has maintained. She would use her parents’ DSLR camera while exploring the woods near their Tennessee home.

She also took inspiration from her grandfather’s career. He “was a photographer in the Navy in the ’40s and was one of the people that shot the original photos and video of the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb drop, when they dropped it on their own ships to test it. And he has originals of that.”

Ashley followed in his footsteps, spending about a year in the Navy in mass communications, learning the technical aspects of photography. The education serves her well on her current anchorage exploration mission.

Ashley uses a drone to capture a unique overhead view of the anchorages she visits:

Drone photo of an anchorage in Spring Creek in Bonner Bay. (Ashley Haley photo.)
Drone photo of an anchorage near Wrightsville Beach. (Ashley Haley photo.)

Using photos, charts, and drone footage to explore the anchorages, Ashley gives an overview of the space and checks for things like access to shore for sailing pets. It’s all documented on her YouTube channel, TRANSient Sailing. She hopes it can be a resource for other people traveling through the area. The videos are not meant to be an income source, she says, “just an odd form of scrapbooking more than anything.”

There’s also videos of her first days as a liveaboard. Something, she says, she was not well prepared to do.

Ashley in the salon, talking about her grandfather.

“I tried to prepare as much as I could without doing the actual thing, and I thought it would do more for me than it did,” she says. “I read every book I could get my hands on. I watched every YouTube video. I really immersed myself.”

The only physical preparation was an ASA 101 sailing course, about 6 months before buying the Moody 34.

Ashely ducks down in the doorway to the aft berth.

Ashley does not recommend her approach to others looking to become liveaboards. “I think it can make you make bad decisions because you are a little anxious when you’re experiencing these things – like high wind at anchor,” she explains.

“I think you should be with someone that’s done these things before, even if they’re sitting there doing nothing and you’re doing it all yourself, learning the same way I did, but you’re going to have a safety net so you’re not putting yourself or the vessel or someone else in danger.”

About that wind – it was one of the things she recommends people get a feel for before venturing out on their own. “Learn what it feels like under a fast wind – at anchor, under sail, with the sail up,” she said.

A look inside Friends.

“I was really scared in the beginning because I’d never anchored a boat before. I had a 12,000lb boat being held by this 35lb piece of metal. To somebody who’s never done it before – I understood the math behind it, I understand how to set scope – but feeling it, and your entire home and your pets counting on it, makes you feel a little different when you start getting fast winds.”

Ashley has more advice for would-be sailors: go out and charter sailboats. Spend time overnight anchoring, understand how to drop sails in high winds. “You don’t want to be alone the first time that happens.” Ashley was terrified. “When you get that scared, this is not fun. If you want to have fun, go find those things out first before you come to do this for yourself.”

Ashley and Apache down below. Apache’s toys are stuffed into the shelf behind him.

Her reading and YouTube education did provide her with one advantage. “It made me understand it was going to be tough. I knew coming in that there was going to be times when you’re frustrated and it’s gonna seem impossible and you’re gonna be scared.” Looking back at her first few weeks, she says she saw all kinds of errors and mistakes. She was very surprised she didn’t hurt herself or damage the boat.

Luckily, she had hired help on that first sail away from the boat yard. Captain John Rahm helped her navigate her way to Oriental. On the trip, the engine gave an overheat warning and they had to tack Friends upwind on their journey. “I got to see what a real sailor is like and it was really fun to see how far heeled over he was comfortable being with the boat. After 6 months, I’m not that comfortable.”

The last several months have been an adventure for Ashley. “All this stuff you just have to learn. I learn it all so fast because I have to. I feel like this is almost a college degree. Moving onto a boat teaches you so much.”

Motivational encouragement.

There’s also the other part of the experience that pushed her to leave her life onshore: the peace and relaxation.

“I can’t think of anyone else I know in my life back home that has ever experienced the level of relaxation I have. To be out in the middle of some creek or bay and not see a single boat for 5 days. Not a single person. Just you. Just the water. Just the little beach right there.”

Apache takes in the harbor view.

She knows that there will come a day when Apache can’t make the jump down onto the dinghy or back up into Friends. She’ll return to shore then, she says, to make it easier on him.

For now Ashley says she can sit and watch the sunset or the ripples on the water, and take time to think and understand. “I really do like that I’m not in a hurry. If I see something I like, or I wanna do something, I have the time to just invest myself. And I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.”

Related Links
TRANSient Sailing

Posted Friday July 22, 2022 by Allison DeWeese

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