December 06, 2009

December to remember

It's Europe and the streets are filled with fashionably dressed Christmas shoppers. The intricate city of Barcelona wraps around a large port filled with mega yachts and wintering cruisers from all around the globe. In amongst the glimmering boats on display is that little white sail boat from America with four bath towels drying on the life lines. Noche is like the clown car that missed a turn and fell behind the circus.
I started a couch surfing account, and now am mother hen for backpackers traveling through Europe. I woke up this morning and there was a beautiful Brazilian girl snuggled up next to my nineteen year old German couch surfer, out on the deck was a bag full of groceries a bottle of wine and two books on the Balearic Islands that a stranger had brought to us in the night. Its just like Christmas around here, except I am wearing flip flops and board shorts (not so much because it is blazing hot on the Coasta Brava, but because laundry is so expensive).

So here is the update:
Since my parents are the only one's that read this blog and they came for the French Canals, I can save them for latter. We made it to the Mediterranean! I am sailing in the Mediterranean. Wow get out the pencil and cross something off the list of things to do in life. I know everyone else knows this, but the Med is in fact expensive, and the winter winds are unpredictably strong, and the sea state is a mess. So the images I had of clear water, petite villages and cocktail parties on Noche were congered from postcard images taken during the summer. The good news is when I pull up to a petite village the office that collects money has dust on the door knob and the money collector is on holiday, so its free. People don't sail the Med in the Winter.

Ok the real update. I got Ludo. The Ya Ya sisterhood road trip is almost complete.

Two months ago, I met a kid my age on dock in Bordeaux and he helped me remove the mast so Noche could qualify as a Canal boat. Ludo and his father had spent two years completely restoring and preparing a boat to sail from France to Cuba, and were scheduled to depart the following week. We kept in touch and a month later he called me with news that his mother was ill and his sail boat would be parked for another year. He was on the next train to Noche and now we are sailing the Med together. He speaks Portuguese, French, English, Spanish, knows good cheese and can read a wine bottle so he is handy as it gets on Noche.

I have always had a pang of fear about traveling alone, but each time I set off, I learn again and again that you are only alone for one or two days.
If you follow a calling you'll meet like minded people along the way. I meet alot of people who say, they would love to do what I am doing. Its a phrase that I do not understand. I feel like I am working down the list of things I want to do before I die, and everyday I am anxious because I don't think I have enough time. I cant imagine how I would feel if I wasn't doing my list, if I was doing something else instead. Life can take a turn and those dreams we've saved for later might not happen. Ludo and his father will sail some day, and in the meantime Noche will fill in the gap.
Yesterday, we met a Lithuanian girl and her French Canadian boy friend who have been living in Barcelona for six months. She is a bartender, living off 800 euros a month, and he passes out flyers for a discotheque and rakes in 400 euros a month. They have an apartment, nice clothes, etc and look like every other Barcelonan. They took Ludo and I rockclimbing all day, and hosted us around the city. She speaks six languages, and is in her second year of her masters in sociology. He speaks four languages and skateboards all day. This city is full of young people from all over the world, and the lingua franca is English. I speak broken English, burn 400 euros a week, and don't have nice clothes. There is no real point to my story other than, my jaw dropped when I learned how much money they live lavishly on, and how extravagantly well cultured citizens of the world can be.

I am doing this cliche voyage of simplicty, sailing around the world, powered by the wind, and my head spins when I meet a 22 year old Belgian kid who has walked from his home in Antwerp to Tibet and back with out ever paying for a bus or train. Or when a wispy 19 year old French girl trumps me by thumbing it from Mexico to Canada with homemade signs and seventy bucks. There are so many amazing stories out there and I never stop being amazed by how people can do so much with no fear and no money. You can go round the world by lifting your thumb. That is amazing. It's proof that people are good natured and you don't have to be afraid. I continue to learn every day out here.

How about this one: If you sleep eight hours, you'll sleep a third of your life. If you sleep six hours, you'll sleep a quarter of it. If you remember your dreams, you'll experience it all.

Here is the latest. We are newly inspired to rock climb so we will be sailing to the Balearic Islands to do some deep water soloing and I have always wanted to do this experiment: Take a thousand bucks and see how far it gets me. Due to the current "crisis" lets start with five hundred US. I want to dispell the myth that lack of money is a barrier to traveling. So I will be doing this experiment soon and documenting every penny. 500 US is 300 Euros so I should be back with a report very soon.

October 28, 2009

Motoring, Mud Fights and Wine

We we Noche and the French Canals. A year gone by, and she didn't look that bad, but boy did she smell. The first night back in La Rochelle my buddy Patrick said, "Its like camping, campfire smell and all". You do all you can but after all the salt air, the flat screen tv seized along with every zipper from trouser to raincoat to my favorite backpack. The only thing that got better was a stash of Dominican Rum, but not the mayonnaise or the carton of milk next to it. Sunny weather welcomed me off the plane so drying her out and enjoying the boat again was a breeze. Leaving La Rochelle and all the good people there was difficult. I know everyone is tired of hearing about "La Rochelle" and how great it is, but if you have a boat, and can handle castle turrets, and old clock towers illuminating around you as you have that glass of wine at sunset its the place to go. Waking up to the smell of fresh bread in the air and having an organic vegetable market a block away makes the good things in life right at your doors step.

Bordeaux...but not yet. There are crazy tides and wild Kiwis before lazy canals and cheap wine. Jon and Paul happened to be in the neighborhood. One carbon tiptoe for Jon from London to Toulouse, and Paul happened to be ridding his bike through the Pyraneese mountains on a month holiday from his mega yacht in the Med, so we met up and took Noche into the Garronne river on the rising tide at eight knotts to the walls of Bordeaux in one day. Well... all in one day, meaning we stumbled back from a Cuban dance bar in Royan at two in the morning and wanted to take the boat out...we left the car at the dock, and believe it or not Paul fell as sleep on the couch as Jon averaged about four knots out into the river and into the night. Having three "Captains" on board was luxury cruising so I crawled into my fart bag and when Paul and I woke up, Jon had done the hard watch and as the sun came up and burnt off the fog the tide changed and we started to reach speeds of eight and nine knots.

Bordeaux, pretty similar to Royan. We closed down the Irish pub and then danced the night away in a sweaty club with no air or elbo room to familiar Caribbean music and Mojitos. Somehow the wonderfull bar tender Anna,
from the Irish pub ended up with us the next day and we took a leisurely drive though wine country and had a mud fight in front of peaceful family vacationers in a sleepy beach town in autum. Its always so much fun with those guys.

Then the possie came down from La Rochelle for a monday night. Chris, another bar tender...came down first from LR, and thought I could use a fresh shirt so he took me shopping... meaning you go to little chic-shops looking for a t-shirt that's to small but comes wrapped in a fancy bag that you carry around town making you feel fancy for the rest of the day. We bought a few bottles of wine, and made reservations at a street side Italian restaurant for latter that night. Then we got Macaroons, a regional cookie that comes in different colors and flavors and again it is served with a white glove and boxed up like a wedding ring. Half of the experience is presentation.You select a baguette and they tie a paper bow around it. Everything is done intently and with great importance. Greeting people is the same. A greeting starts with "hello", then two kisses, you chat and then two more kisses, "good bye", and then "good journey". In this region life is one sensational moment after another.

September 28, 2009

"Thats fishing"

How was Alaska? My mind races, my emotions whirl, physical and mental exaustion brings everything to mind at once. The seemingly endless mecanical failures,scarcity of fish, relentless wind and sea paired with days of perfect hamony of weather, man, machine, and abundance of fish. We had weeks of trying so hard and earning so little, and then we had hours of success that produced more than those weeks of struggle.
It was "A first year" as they say, that I will undoubtedly forget by the time the season rolls around. And thats what suits one for fishing. You learn from your mistakes, heighten your awareness, forget those times of misery and remmeber those moments of sun shine and easy fishing. So how do you answer that question?
Murphies Law is undisputable. If it belongs on a fishing boat and you need it to fish, we broke it. We broke it once, and we broke it twice. Without gettting to technical, if it floated when we got it, we sunk it while using it, if it spun freely we froze it up. If a line seemed new and strong we cheifed it, snapped it, spliced itback to gether, snapped it, spliced it and snapped it again. If the weather was bad and the fleet was tied up, we were setting our net. If the season closed for 22 hours, half the crew were at the welding shop for 22 hours with bits of metal to restore and the other half were tracking down the local mecanic to come fix another part of us so we could go fishing again.
We had crew fall overboard, bar fights in the local taverns, sharks in our nets, and what seemed to be just about every Alaskan adventure. We had moment after moment of total dispair. Relentless challenges, wore down those on the crew who seemed at first to be the most promising with their years of experience and proclaimed importance and then they quit. While those who started as the unexperienced, became the expereinced, and stuck it through to the end of the rainbow, where we eventually found a little pile of silver.
We worked harder and longer than those around us, while catching fewer fish all summer long. But we lasted longer and ended up catching and passing some of our local competitors. Would I do it again? I can't freaking wait.


May 07, 2009

The Resurrection!

Western Alaska had a tough winter this year while the headlines boasted of sunken boats and epic rescues at sea. A friend of mine, Bill, called me in March from Durango Colorado, where he was spending his winter vacation. In a radical storm storm his boat had frozen in the ice pack and been swallowed by the rising sea and needed some TLC. He built the Namorada him self years ago on Kodiak Island and has fished it all over Alaska for twenty plus years with his wife and son. I have been privileged to work with him for five years and through many adventures and prosperous seasons I have grown attached to the boat my self. News of her sinking, was hard to bear. It was going to be "a miracle", but Bill wanted to resurrect and refit the boat so that we could fish in four short weeks. With pictures all over the Internet the word was out and the consensus was overwhelmingly doubt full. It was going to be an a life time experience dealing with the cold and desolate conditions up there and it sounded like another adventure.

Some parts of Alaska solidify in ice during the winter, and we happened to be in one of those parts. The F/V Namorada was stored on the beach at the end of the summer in a tributary of Bristol Bay. Through the winter the rivers become five feet thick highways for those who live there year round. The Namorada was preserved in the ice pack poised for Shackleton's photographer, when an extreme hide tide and a twelve foot storm surge came for a visit.
Amazingly four weeks time has brought us from the above, (a complete bath then the boat becoming a solid block of ice inside and out) to where we are now... completely ready to fish.
Chipping the ice out of the boats living quarters, cleaning every nut and bolt, defrosting and breaking apart our fishing net, repairing radios, reviving the engines, chipping the boat out of the ice with a crowbar and a two inch wood chisel. Jacking the boat up out of its ice bed, then towing the boat off the beach into the water and having a bottle of champagne flown in for the occasion (great job Amanda)!
When you have a guy who smiles in the face of everything, knows his boat backwards, has a spare part for everything and can tell you what size wrench you are going to need for every job, values good conversations hot cups of tea anything is possible. We are in the wild wild west out here, beyond the realm of OSHA and hardware stores where WD40 and a good pair of vice grips is all you need.