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A 2-year odyssey on a 20-foot ‘trawler’

Woman says she found freedom cruising N.Y., Canada waterways in a converted sailboat

Woman says she found freedom cruising N.Y., Canada waterways in a converted sailboat

Gillian Outerbridge had always dreamed of visiting Greece — Greece, N.Y., on LakeOntario, that is.

Her book, “Going About! A Waterway Adventure,” published last June by the Nautical Publishing Co., Rockledge, Fla., tells the story of how she transformed the sailboat she had owned for 10 years into a trawler of sorts and spent two summers cruising the waterways of New York and Canada with her Jack Russell terrier, Tucker.

“Basically when you are navigating waterways the mast is a definite disadvantage,” says Outerbridge, 66. “Many of the bridges the clearance is 15 feet.”

Outerbridge turned her Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, Dart, into a power cruiser by taking down the rigging and installing a new 9.9-hp Yamaha outboard, Bimini top, and a mini-mast that can be dropped for low bridges. “The Bimini was great because the whole hatch area would be completely covered if it was raining,” she says.

Outerbridge says she tried to keep things simple — one saucepan, one frying pan, two bowls and two plates. Since Dart doesn’t have a head, she had to stay close to land. “I read about these 50-footers that have three complete bathrooms, and I laugh,” says Outerbridge. “These are floating mansion houses, and I have a floating cottage.”

Originally from London, Outerbridge moved to Bermuda at age 20 with dreams of buying a boat and cruising the Mediterranean. However, between raising three children and helping run a glass-bottom charter boat company with her husband, those dreams got lost in day-to-day realities.

“I flew through the years of motherhood, the decades of wifely duties, the ‘committee years’ of middle age, and the commitments of the family boat charter business,” says Outerbridge in the book’s first chapter. “The calls to the sea echoed in the back of my mind, but the boats diminished in size as the decades passed.”

Outerbridge says she first eyed a 60-foot Baltic Trader, then a 50-foot Canadian schooner, and finally, as she was approaching 50, a friend suggested she take a look at a Flicka, a Bruce Bingham design modeled after Newport, R.I., workboats from the turn of the century. She describes her search for a Flicka 15 years ago as a kind of marine “speed-dating.” In fact, she found Dart advertised in Soundings. The boat was at a yard in Erie, Pa.

“Dart was her name when I bought her,” says Outerbridge. “The name was carved so intricately into the boat, and I thought, ‘Well, I can’t change this.’”

Outerbridge was content sailing harbors around Bermuda until a man broke into her house and held a knife to her throat in 1997. “It was a wakeup call,” she says. “I’m totally over it now, but I was surprised I was alive. But one thing I learned is when something horrible happens, don’t be a victim. Be a survivor.”

With the help of her counselor and friend Sarah White, Outerbridge decided it wasn’t too late to realize her dream of cruising. “I thought, ‘This is my chance, and I had better take it,’” says Outerbridge. “From the time I began talking to Sarah after the incident it was about four or five years in the making.”

Outerbridge says her three children were very supportive, and so was her ex-husband, whom she divorced 15 years ago but still goes boating with. She had Dart freighted to New York, where she began her journey on the Hudson River with Tucker in May 2002.

“Tucker was a wonderful companion, and she’s a great waterdog,” says Outerbridge. “I always say if you want a cuddle, kiss and a laugh, get a Jack Russell terrier.”

From May to October 2002 and 2003, Outerbridge cruised the Hudson to the Erie Canal, the Trent-Severn Waterway, Rideau Canal and the LachineCanal before making her way back to the Hudson.

“I just loved the feeling of freedom that every day brought,” says Outerbridge. “Every day felt like Christmas, like a giant stocking filled with wonderful gifts. To be able to see the beauty of America and Canada was absolutely stunning.”

Outerbridge kept a log of her adventures and began writing what would become “Going About!” in 2004. “I’ve always been a writer, but I’ve done feature articles and been a contributing writer on marine topics,” she says. “So I took everything directly from the log. After a few months of writing, it was fascinating to be able to re-create my experiences.”

Outerbridge says it took about two years to find the Nautical Publishing Co. “I basically searched for the kind of books I would read and saw who published them,” she says. “I still have Dart, and she’s a part of the family. On the waterways, she became my little cave of security and mobility, and I know I can always ship her back up to New York if I ever want to do it all over again.”