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After my parents left, I made myself busy working on the boat. I worked best by myself. I liked walking from hardware store to hardware store on Crisfield’s main street, looking for the right part or fitting, and wondering what the crabbers and fishermen thought when they saw me carrying old fuel hose over my shoulder. Had I been a man, they wouldn’t have paid me any attention, and sometimes I envied men for the freedom that they had to move through the world. I enjoyed my femininity. I liked to wear

He pointed his flashlight into the rat’s nest of wires. I swallowed a small lump in my throat. There were a lot of things wrong with the boat, and I knew my dad would find them all. Partially out of habit but mostly out of concern for me, he would catalogue everything that could catch fire, leak, or cause the boat to sink, and he would methodically remind me to fix them and help me fix what I needed help fixing. Eager to show them the things I’d already repaired, I pointed forward to the enclosed head, where I’d installed a new marine toilet. In the past three weeks, I had installed a new bilge pump, replaced most of the plumbing, which involved sending pressurized water up to the sink in the head, and installed a shore-power plug. I was still working summers at the bait and tackle shop in West Ocean City, MD, and driving to Crisfield every time I had a day or an evening off. Back out on the dock, Dad made a list of some of the things that needed to be done. Install 12-volt refrigeration. Fix wiring. Replace rigging. All of this would have to be done by the middle of August, when the boat was scheduled to be trucked to South Florida.

make-up and dresses, and I was vain about my thick hair. But I liked to do the things that men did too—work on engines, dine by myself in restaurants with confidence. I was content to live entirely within myself while I was on my boat, becoming the person I wanted to be. That night, after my parents went home, I lay in Short Story’s V-berth and listened to the bombs go off in Tangier Sound. It sounded like the end of the world, but I felt like it was the beginning.

About the Author: The author of two memoirs, “Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass” and “Boat Kid: How I Survived Swimming with Sharks, Being Homeschooled, & Growing up on a Sailboat” (the middle grade’s version of “Boat Girl.”), Melanie Neale lives in St. Augustine, FL, with her husband and daughter and sails a Morgan Out Island 33.


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