First Plunge

I’m pulling into Santa Barbara, 940 miles of highway behind me, as the sun dips low to the west. On my right: occasional glimpses of the sea, tantalizing and unreal, but ahead there’s only bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

I’m racing the clock as I inch through Montecito, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel. The sun’s fully below the horizon by the time the cars thin out, but there’s still time. I’m navigating by instinct across overpasses and down twisty back roads. I’m ignoring the sign that says “Park Closes at 5:30” (it is after 6) and flinging my car across two spaces in my haste to get out. I’m scrambling toward this place I’ve been coming to since I was 3 because I am giddy with disbelief and this is where I need to go to know it’s real.

James calls right as I reach the edge of the sandstone cliff. The sea is mirror-bright and full of sunset. I show him my view (an inadequate FaceTime mockery) and babble about the impossibility of it all. The prickly scrub is catching at my ankles as I stare out at this thing I’ve been unable to feel like I deserve to be near for so long. I realize there’s no time for talking, make my apologies, hang up, and start running down the slanted track to the sand.

There’s barely anyone on the beach as I kick off my shoes. The light’s failing. Everything smells of salt and woodsmoke. 

Up close, the colors in the sky and the immensity of the water make me dizzy. I feel simultaneously tiny and expansive. Opening. Unfolding. 

What’s the rule?

If I am near a body of water and I can feasibly get into it, I must get into it.

I didn’t think to grab my towel—or my bathing suit, for that matter—but I don’t really care. There isn’t time. I strip to my underwear as the dark closes in and stride toward the water. The sand is gleaming blue with light. The waves are gentle at first, waist high and cold, but I’ve braved worse. I can’t believe I’m here. I shuffle my feet, wary of stingrays, and move deeper, chattering to myself. To the water. To the sunset. 

“Hello. Wow. Hi, hello. Oh my god. Hello. I missed you. Okay. Woof. Okay. Okay okay okay here we go. Here we FUCKING GO—“

And then I am under the onrushing breakers and nothing matters anymore. I am not cold. I am not alone. I am not uncertain.

I come up laughing, and I am home.

A gleaming ocean at sunset. The sky is blue fading into fiery apricot at the horizon.

Strange, Familiar Seas

Not every night, but most nights, the English writer Philip Hoare gets into the sea.

I know this because he tweets about it. Not every night, but most nights. A brief, poetic, timestamped dispatch from the waves.

I read Hoare’s book Risingtidefallingstar toward the end of 2018 and fell hopelessly in love. It’s a sweeping voyage through various coastal regions, literary lives, and strange creatures of the sea. It defies categorization—feels tidal rather than textual. (Just describing the book makes me realize that it shares many qualities with Always Coming Home, which should hardly come as a surprise at this point.)

When I followed Hoare on Twitter, I started seeing these fleeting messages in my feed. The nature of the platform meant that it took me a while to realize how consistently they cropped up, but when I noticed, it shifted something.

In 2019, I made a pact with myself after a week by a lake on an island in Canada: if I find myself near a body of water and it is even remotely possible for me to get into it, I must get into it.1 I’ve since plunged into frigid waves on the Oregon coast, silky river waters of the Columbia Gorge, and the hidden shock of a creek in my hometown of Ojai, California.

Often, as I’m sprinting, screaming across the wide expanse of sand toward the breakers, or furtively scrambling out of my clothes in the underbrush, I think of Hoare’s constant devotion to being where he feels most alive. Most held.

It’s not even about whether or not he swims every night, or what time he goes (does the man ever sleep? Unclear), or what the sky is doing on that particular Tuesday. It’s just a reminder that there is a person who embodies his affection for the sea so fully and faithfully that he’s out there, in the water, baptized night after night.

Whatever Hoare writes next, I’ll probably love it. But my primary interest isn’t his creative output. The thing I want to know is whether he is still himself, and as far as I can tell plunging bodily into the ocean on a near-nightly basis is the backbone of his existence.

I’ve chewed on the idea of object permanence a lot this year—dug into my mistrust of fleeting social media feedback, questioned how online creators can feel secure in taking leaves of absence, and wondered at what it is about our work that truly endures. Hoare makes me consider relocating the idea of permanence from deliverables like books and art and films to the substrates of our creative practices; these undercurrents of selfhood.

That is the thing I want to celebrate and support.

1. Even having trod on a stingray and endured unimaginable agony two months after taking said vow, I still believe it to be sound.

New Comic: Sail Cargo Resurgence

Hey friends,

Fittingly, I’m writing this blog post from the deck of the Oliver Hazard Perry, a new tall ship in Rhode Island that I’m currently working aboard as a visiting artist. But that’s secondary to the following exciting news of the day: I’ve got a new comic up on The Nib!

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For the last few months I’ve been researching and illustrating this brief introduction to the modern world of sail cargo—a movement driven by environmentalism, optimism, and countless volunteer hours. There are a surprising number of operations around the world working to convert tall ships into viable cargo-carrying vessels—or build new ones from the ground up.

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It’s a trend I find deeply fascinating, and my only regret was not being able to fit more of my research into this introduction. The sailors working on these vessels are the embodiment of enthusiasm and dedication, and I really enjoyed talking with them during my research.

Of particular interest right now: Sailcargo Inc. are launching their Kickstarter to build a dedicated cargo vessel (Ceiba) from scratch in Costa Rica! Keep an eye on their website for details on the launch.

Fairtransport are also making great strides in building a coalition of sail cargo vessels around the world. Their website has a wealth of information, including vessel tracking and more. View all the ships in their network here.

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Brigantine Tres Hombres, Photo Credit Hajo Olij

Of course there are also efforts being made to implement modern sailing technology on existing container ships at a grander scale. To learn more about the DynaRig technology behind parts of that movement, check out this article. There’s some fascinating stuff afoot, and even though it’s moving slowly, progress is being made.

I’ll have more news after my week aboard the Perry, but until then, enjoy the comic!

Fair winds,

Lucy

T-1 Week to the Baggywrinkles Kickstarter!

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Ahoy, friends! I am so, so excited to announce that Baggywrinkles: A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea will be hitting Kickstarter July 20th.

What is Baggywrinkles, you ask? Why, it’s my educational, autobiographical comic series about living aboard an 18th century tall ship! You can read the first five issues online for free, and check out new content from the series every week on Patreon. I’ve been working on these short stories intermittently since 2010, and I’m finally ready to bring the whole bundle together under one cover.

So next Monday (July 20th) I’m launching a campaign to fund the printing of a 100-page, 6×9″ softcover collection featuring Issues 1-5, the never-before-seen-in-print Issue 6 (all about the history of scurvy), and a host of other exclusive goodies. Take a look at the finished cover design!

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I’ve been hard at work with a team of stellar professionals to make this collection something you’ll all be proud to own—we’re talking French Flaps, patterned endpapers, high-quality matte paper stock, and deliciously thick covers.

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So pattern. Very endpaper. Such nautical.

I’ve also got some really neat extra rewards. Like remember this giant guide to sailors’ tattoos I drew for the Vancouver Maritime Museum?

Photo by Erika Moen
Photo by Erika Moen

Well, I’m gonna turn it into a super fancy two-color, limited edition letterpress print in collaboration with the fine folks at Twin Ravens Press in Eugene, OR! And there’s more extra rewards to come.

This post is your official warning to watch this space (or follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram) for the campaign launch next week, and to keep your eyes peeled because I’ve got a very special stretch goal that I’ll be announcing once the book goes live.

I can’t wait to share more with you—stay tuned!