Funny, that title makes me think of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Not a terrible chick flick. At least that blonde gal—who I believe is now the dashing Blake Lively—was not at all terrible to look at in the movie.
No, here, we’re dealing not with pants but with a book. A kind of special book. One that has very specific travel powers and that has opened itself only to those salty mariners who dare to find literary magic in the most hit-or-miss of places: the Pandora’s Box that is the free marina book swap. Many of you have seen them, perused them and—more often than not—taken them up on their very kind offer of “take a book, leave a book.” The free marina book swap is a fantastic concept, particularly for cruisers who love to read and are generally aiming to travel on the cheap. Everywhere you stop, there it is: a free, no-membership-required little library with a wide variety of books and no return dates. I have previously written about my love for book swaps as well as the apparent voodoo that goes along with them, the ever-illusive “book swap mojo” and the deference it demands.
Annie here, returning (with much reluctance) a very powerful read, The Paris Wife, to the book swap in Key West during our trip down to the Keys in 2014 to pay homage and ensure my continued good book swap mojo.
I am also intrigued by the typical books you always see in the marina book swaps. I like to imagine the types of cruisers who leave and read these genres. I’ll bet the Clive Cusslers are the sort of Captain Ron type cruisers that bump their way into any anchorage and usually ask forgiveness rather than permission when it comes to docking their dinghy, borrowing power, water and the like. Then, there’s the Danielle Steels and the Nora Roberts, the “Fabio books” (I like to call them), like our Western Man here. Shazam!
I’ll bet the readers of these rather unabashed love stories are just that: romantics. They likely see their husband/captain in a bit of a lofty, heroic manner and while many aspects of cruising may frighten them a little, they find the chivalry of their mate taking the wheel against dangerously beautiful blue water so moving, they find the courage to go. So, kudos to you Romance Ladies. Cruise and read on! Now, who’s reading the John Grishams, Deen Koontz, Tom Clancy’s and the like? Probably problem solvers. Those types of boat-project gurus that love to talk for hours about whether you should Loctite that transmission shaft key back in place or drill a hole in it and use seizing wire. (For those of you thriller/suspense fans who are familiar with our “tranny key” problem, feel free to weigh in in a comment below. ; )
But, what type of cruiser leaves or takes a book like this?
Me, of course! Being it’s duly-appointed author and just so darn proud of that little salty gem. But also being the type of person—to a freaking “T”—the very book itself describes: “A durable but not-so-dainty sailor.” I like to envision the other boaters and mariners out there who have read, enjoyed and especially shared Salt of a Sailor with others feel they are somewhat the same, or had somewhat the same experience when they were just getting into sailing. Graduating from the ignorant-but-eager “What rope should I pull?” to the more seasoned “They’re not called ropes. They’re lines. Or sheets or halyards or topping lifts. Anything but ropes.”
These are my people. Having enjoyed the experience so much myself—of becoming, first, a sailor, then a cruiser, then a bonafide “I finally get it, boats … always something” boat owner—I love sharing my experience through each phase of the transformation. My revelations, my fears and, particularly, my lessons learned. But, what I did not quite know, until I stumbled back across the Traveling Book, was how much others were enjoying my stories as well. Now, it’s time to share the story of the Traveling Book with you.
Travel back with me to last week. Phillip and I cruising up Florida’s Forgotten Coast, really soaking in all the little sleepy marina towns along the Big Bend, for the first time in years feeling once again live true live-aboard cruisers. Ahhh …
On our way north from Key West, we stopped again in one of our favorites Florida ports—because of its few fantastic restaurants, quiet coastal walking trails, great kitesurfing cove and rightfully-titled “friendliest marina in Florida”—Port St. Joe. We love that place. And, it was really fun to learn, turns out, they quite like us too.
We had just docked at Port St. Joe Marina after having spent the day motoring up “the ditch” from Apalachicola along Apalachicola River and Lake Wimico.
And, I should say up-and-coming Captain Annie docked us right and proper in Port St. Joe, because I did. I nailed it! And we had just finished washing the boat down—the chore we always tackle the minute we get docked up after a passage—when Lisa, who runs the marina office, walked out to our boat, knocked on the hull and asked: “Is this the famous author?”
I stammered a little, blushed, a little slow on the uptake. “I don’t know about famous … ” I started in making my way up the companionway stairs but was wondering: “How did she know?” Or at least how did she remember so quickly put two and two together having not yet seen my face.
“Plaintiff’s Rest,” Lisa blurted out, and Phillip and I shared a kind of “Yeah, so … “ look not knowing where Lisa was going with all of this. “The name of your boat. I’ll never forget it as I’ve never met another Plaintiff’s Rest, so I knew, when you hailed us out in the bay, it had to be you. You’re Annie, right?”
I nodded and then recalled that fateful day years ago when Lisa and I first met. You see, when Phillip and I were in Port St. Joe last on our boat (it was during our way down to the Keys in 2014), Lisa had found me pouring over all the treasures in the marina book swap and we struck up a conversation.
I’m such a sucker for books!
I told her I was a very amateur writer and wannabe author working, at the time, on my first non-fiction sailing book that did not yet have a name. An avid reader herself, particularly of pieces written by cruisers as she meets so many running the busy marina there at Port St. Joe, Lisa immediately said she wanted a signed copy of my book once it was published. It was the first time anyone asked me for that. I was so flattered and motivated by our conversation that I feverishly wrote several chapters after Phillip and I left Port St. Joe on our way down to Key West. I completed the first rough draft of Salt of a Sailor during that voyage, self-published in February, 2015 and—remembering Lisa’s request for a signed copy and her very-encouraging excitement about reading my book—sent a first edition signed copy to Lisa at the Port St. Joe Marina office.
I also decided to make that my first “traveling book,” writing a little note in the inside cover explaining why I, as the author, had donated the book to the free marina book swap in hopes that it would travel from marina to marina, being shared among cruisers, each of them writing inside their name, home port, date they finished the book, and what they thought of it for the next reader, and that I might somehow stumble across it again one day and get to see all of the “durable but not-so-dainty” mariners it had touched. What a cool prospect! I didn’t know if it would work, if cruisers would really follow my lighthearted instructions and keep the Traveling Book alive, or, much less, if the book even made it to Lisa in Port St. Joe. But, I soon learned, it had accomplished much more.
“We all loved your book!” Lisa said.
No, take that back. I beamed. Lisa told me she was so excited when she got my book in the mail (now over two years ago) that she saved it for herself first, read it, loved it and then shared it with many of her permanent tenants at the marina, who then shared it with others. Apparently my little book went all around the marina in Port St. Joe for a year or more, with all the cruisers talking about it and sharing their favorite parts, before it traveled off. Where to? Lisa did not know, but it didn’t matter as the whole point was that the book traveled—from book swap to book swap—not to which marinas it traveled to. That little worn copy may be somewhere in the South Pacific right now for all I know. I like to imagine it is. Sitting salty, sun-dyed and dog-eared next to a leathery old cruiser and his scruffy dog, waiting to be read (perhaps finished!) during sunset.
And what an awesome moment to share with Lisa again. “Well, you played a big part in it,” I told her, because she had, that fateful day when we chatted by the Port St. Joe Marina book swap. So many of my followers motivate and encourage me to continue to share our ups and downs as Phillip and I are, ourselves, still working toward becoming full-time cruisers. My writing is where it all started.
My goal when I left the practice was to build up some sort of online company where I could earn remote income through my writing. While I have failed many times in that effort and had to learn from my mistakes and misplaced efforts and strike out in new directions, I also learned so much each time about marketing and how I can best use my writing skills (and new skills I have learned along the way) to help my clients reach and engage more people and grow their businesses, as I grow mine in turn. Although my career as a renowned author—where Phillip and I were supposed to simply sip Mai Tais and watch my royalty checks roll in—never took off quite how I imagined, I don’t mind at all. I simply love to write and when book or story ideas come to me, I love to run with them. It’s the ultimate creative high! And the ultimate reward.
Lisa, too, was about to get a very-surprising reward for her contribution as well.
“That book was so much fun,” she said, talking about Salt of a Sailor. “I wish you had written another.” I smiled again as Phillip and I shared a glance full of fun secrets. I told Lisa I had written a sequel to Salt, that actually covered parts of the trip Phillip and I were taking at the time I met her, on our way down to the Keys in 2014 and that I would bring her another signed copy to the marina office later that day. And, much to my surprise, Lisa asked:
“Does it have all of those old stories about your grandma and growing up in Alabama?”
You’re darn right it does! And just like that. BOOM. Traveling Book #2 was born.
Go little book, go!
If any of you haven’t read Keys to the Kingdom yet—the story of my escape from corporate-consumeristic America—go to the Books tab at HWWT.com to download a free preview and check it out. Next time we stop in Port St. Joe, Lisa will be thrilled to hear as well about my third book and I’ll leave her a signed copy of None Such Like It to round out the trilogy. Books are such fun!
Also, as a fun aside. While my docking at Port St. Joe went well, unfortunately the DE-docking did not when this amateur helmswoman took the wheel, didn’t handle the prop wash too well, backed up like my buddy Chuck would say, “a drunk elephant,” got us all whopper-jolled in between the two dock aisles (I call them) and had a slight boat bump on the way out. Well, technically it was a very minor anchor-to-outboard *kiss* at the last minute, so Phillip says it’s technically not a boat-to-boat collision.
But, docking. Still scary. Still not great at it. But still working on it. My nerves were better this time, though. Throughout the very tedious 10-point turn Phillip walked me through, I didn’t lose the ability to function, and I only left the helm for a second (just a split-second!) to fend off another boat’s bow. Apparently as helmsperson that’s the one thing you’re not supposed to do. Whoops. Still learning.