On Tour!

We're on tour in the windward islands. Interested in crewing? Read Sept 2013 - May 2014 in the Eastern Caribbean + get in touch!

Jah love and plenty of rum

Die Revolution sagt:
ich war
ich bin
ich werde sein
RAF dissolution statement, probably inspired by R Luxemburg - 'tomorrow the revolution will already raise itself with a rattle and announce with fanfare, to your terror: I was, I am, I will be!'

The return to Trinidad for a couple of weeks of work on the boat quickly turned into quite a jolly affair. We attended a huge party called "WeTT Republic", which involved extra loud soca music, lots of watercannon action, and, predictably, the death of another mobile phone. I also had the privilege of attending the première of a film starring my Trini friend Khafra R in the scope of the annual film festival. I had met Khafra on the ferry to Tobago just before I left for my annual European break. We had run into each other at parties a few times, and made friends by sharing a ferry-sized bottle of puncheon rum (that's 69% toxin) on the aft deck, discussing Trinidad, life, women, and the universe.

We were then invited to appear as extras in a dramatised documentary film about the 1940s steel pan movement, featuring as US sailors looking to pick up hookers in a bar, a role that came as naturally to our good selves as Austrian Arnie playing insane robots in the classic if slightly silly Terminator movies. The area of Chaguaramas, now firmly in the hold of the yachting industry, used to be leased out to the US Navy. Apparently the steel pans used to be made out of oil drums from the industry, and the colonial powers took a bit of a dim view upon this art form. Luckily independence was soon to ensure that the locals got to enjoy their oil drums freely - along with their precious content.

Trinidadian culture is an exciting mixture of African and Indian culture. The former colonial overlords, the English in this case, brought indented workers from rural India to replace the freed slaves, who elected to work on their own smallholdings over wage labouring on the big plantations they had literally been slaving on pro bono for centuries. Much like the current generation of Angloamerican University students, the indented labourers were invited to do a bit of gardening for a pittance, money much needed to feed their loans. The convenient side effect to all this is a lovely breakfast option called doubles, an Indian dish made of roti-type pancakes, chickpeas, and hot pepper sauce. Weeks of experimentation have shown that they are best enjoyed with cranbery water.

Before too long, crew trundled in in the form of Oscar W and Jonas O, whose professional training in the nautical black arts quickly earned them the title "the dream team", and charming Christine H, preferred form of address "her royalty", since she likes to claim she is in fact a wayward Danish Princess. My local friend Kemi kindly took us on an excursion to a local waterfall, a great excuse to get the machete out. Not that the practically wheelchair accessible trail leading up the river would have required it.

Following the application of a lovely port-hole styling and plenty of fiddling, we launched boaty around my birthday. Annoyingly, the overhauled injector was playing up, and we had to redock at the nearest pontoon with the help of a 25 hp fishing vessel. Drifting down Coral Cove marina in swampy Chaguaramas without an engine and at the mercy of an undersized outboard is most certainly the single scariest moment of boating I've done. The obligatory docking lagers quickly dissolved the panic-induced adrenaline. I don't really believe nor do I particularly enjoy birthdays, christmases, new years, nor any other sort of annual must-dos, however, this gave me the privilege of dictating that weekend's party protocol.

I elected to go to a J'ouvert event called China Town, which is really a Trinidadian pre-carneval party commencing at 0300 at night. One of the objectives at this event is smearing oneself and anyone else with paint. I've lately seen the European events industry picking up on this as a fantastic excuse for saucy facebook pics. The other objective is wining, the main local dance. In difference to the dreaded Latin-American Salsa, this is a rather straightforward dance where the female, leading party reverses her backside into the male's pelvic area and girates and bounces around. The male part appears to be to graciously accept the dance. I am pleased to report that the crew did well.

Once the injector decided to cooperate, time to move on it was. I had also purchased a cheap inflatable christened FREE WILLY by Christine, and swapped MINIME for a large Carib dinghy generally known as BIG WILLY with my Frenchie friend Jean-Marc. Our practically Trinidadian American expat fisherman and party buddy Travis gave us some fishing tackle (thanks!) and we set off for a quick overnighter towards the Republic of Grenada north-by-northwest of Tobago. Oscar and Jonas proved to be more capable sailors than myself, which, while being no mean feat, made for a comfortable, some might even say lazy journey for me.

We did a bit of good old-fashioned tourism in Grenada, visiting the Fort of the capital Fort George by sheer coincidence on the 30th commemoration of the assassination of leftist president Maurice Bishop by right wing coupists (does that word exist? it does now). This Cuban supported progressive experiment thus came to an end, culminating in the 1983 US invasion under ex-cowboy actor and then-president Reagon. Amusingly enough, Hunter S Thompson covered the coup, as Christine discovered in her Thompson biography.

We relocated to Carriacou just north of Grenada. Our anchor winch imploded upon arrival; a quick inspection showed that we were just lacking a few bearings, which we ordered from St Maarten. Carriacou is a lovely-sized island with 10k very gently-spoken inhabitants.

They say you can get "good-stuck" or "bad-stuck" with the everlasting boating problems, and we chose the former, snorkelling lots..

.. befriending both locals and dogs..

.. on sundays, we sail at "paradise beach" - which sort of deserves its name..

.. went to a Pentecostal church service, got a fire, brimstone, and perfection sermon in.

We should be back on the road in the next couple of days :)

Expedition mode

Like lost children we live our unfinished adventures.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Much to my dismay, we had to leave Kyle, veteran of 5 months and thus current holder of the long-termist title, behind in Ceará; he wasn't quite done with Brazil. There was also talk of an expedition to Machu Picchu with Arne the cyclist. We can't all be playboys, as my friend James G would say. Leaving the promised land proved very hard for other reasons, too. For it's not just the Brazilian joie de vivre, their pleasant tropical hedonist culture, or this country's delightful locals' open and friendly manner.

Foreigners of the fair-skinned variety also benefit from a most peculiar type of what I like to call aesthetic racism. Even though I usually take great pleasure in reporting I've not watched any teleprompter apart from Pipi Longstockings under the careful supervision of my parentals, who would only permit this red-haired anarchist on screen, followed by my secret enjoyment of the late-night repeats of Baywatch during the pubescent years, I am at times inadvertently exposed to this primeval one-to-many medium. In Brazil, the average soap features a bizarre vision of aryans doing their rounds in s classes, inhabiting huge mansions, while the country's predominantly black population features in the form of the occasional humble servant, the invariably female empregada. This has the straightforward effect of instilling self-hatred in the locals, convenient for the burgeoning beauty industry, as well as resulting in a perverse attraction to whitey. Good for us, the gringos and gringas. Because we all like a bit of attention don't we.

Either way, 5 weeks in this 5 star resort were exposing even our most modest champagne socialist ambitions to ridicule, and the time for a bit of expedition mode had come. I was joined by Dutchie Leentje, who comes from a bit of a boat gypsy background herself, and, shortly thereafter, by surfers Federico il professore and Leandro, both acquaintances of my friend Clélia's. Leandro left to help single-handed Josean, we did some shopping and goodbyeing, and we were good to go.

Unusually strong winds drove us straight up to the equator, and we celebrated our crossing with a quick cachaça com limão, para matar a saudade. I told my follow sailors all I knew about our next obstacle, the mostly windless intertropical convergence zone, aka the doldrums, and its main hazard: the dreaded tropical squall. This is basically where paradise, with your only enemies usually being sunburn and - oh horror! - shortage of cold beer, turns into a warm version of an autumn north sea cruise.

Neither Leentje nor Fede had heard the term or seen one before, something Neptune soon rectified: First, big squalls, later, lines of squalls, and then, after I had answered Fede's question 'is that a front?' dismissively 'this is the equator, there are no fronts', entire fronts of squalls akin to a low pressure system appeared. With gale force gusts and torrential rain. Now I know what cruising guru Cornell meant when he wrote 'the Itcz can be a surprisingly unpleasant place'. In the midst of one such weather phenomenon, I spotted some whales. Sadly only the standard breathing hole spume. Don't be fooled: these surprisingly vain creatures only do breaching and tail fluke slaps during mating season, and only when a bbc camera is pointed at them.

I next informed Leentje the worst thing for sailing is wind from the front, closely followed by wind right on the stern. She innocently asked 'what about no wind?', which turned out to be somewhat prophetic: We promptly ran out of wind. I do sometimes wonder what travellers on this ancient mode of global transportation did before one Rudolf Diesel came to our aid. In this case, instead of motoring or sitting around with slapping sails, I elected to just take the night off. I turned off all equipment and closed the hatches, setting boaty adrift in the equatorial current, 2 knots north-by-north-west. We spent most of our little break in the middle of nowhere talking shit about our craziest and loveliest former partners (you know who you are!), the stupidity of the human race, and our weird offshore dreams.

Yes, strange dreams of acquaintances from past lives seem standard when living in social isolation, and one morning brought a particularly strong memory back to life. I had spent weeks of a summer gone by exchanging glances with a particularly delightful creature. Her family was spending the summer on one of the sprawling campsites of the Dutch coast. Her name escapes me; for some reason they were all called Steffi or Chantal so it was probably either one of those. Yet when I finally found myself sitting next to her at the pool, which I used to gatecrash regularly, I found I had nothing to say to her, for our lives were too different. Her doll-like face haunted me for years.

There were big shoals of young tuna around, jumping to impressive heights. We couldn't quite decide if they were hunting or being hunted; either way, they certainly didn't feel like biting on any of our trawling setup. We also spotted quite a few Portuguese man-of-wars, a fellow, albeit ultra-toxic downwind sailor of the ocean winds and currents. One night a big ship without nav lights passed with something that looked like an illuminated runway on top. The navy never turn on their running lights, I thought, it must be an aircraft carrier, probably from the US, most likely off on some brave mission massacring civilians from a safe height. The trip took place on a receding moon, which was also rising very late, around dawn. The resulting moonless nights offered spectacular stargazing and endless shooting stars. Fede professed to having run out of wishes. I also had two, which I sent silently on a just in case basis, much like I used to pray for a bicycle as a child just in case my atheist instincts were wrong.

Before entering the river at Kouru, we anchored at Ile Royale for two days, one of the Iles du Salut, thus named by the monks who fled the pestilence on the mainland. Later on, the French had a penal facility here, setting of the famous (supposedly autobiographical) novel and film Papillon. Coming in from the oceanic desert, we were most pleased with the flora and fauna of the relatively untouched rainforest here. After ten days at sea, even a relatively plump French tourist looks like heaven incarnate. Or one's first lager. Even if it's a Heineken.

Equatorial weather at sea can be bad enough, as our 10 day, length-wise trip along the intertropical convergence zone showed. However, there are actually a couple of countries in this unenviable location. The one we had landed at, French Guyana, isn't a real country, it's a French overseas department, the modern and polite term for a colony. Not that there are any contenders for the crown here: this place is just what I imagine the Amazon (the southern half is actually part of Amazônia) or Pantanal, that most fabled of eco-tourist destinations, to be like: an insect-ridden swamp, with a year-round rainy season. Fantastic, if you're a plant or a fresh-water fish, that is. We quickly disbanded our l'Armée pour la Libération de la Guyane Française for lack of anything worth fighting for.

On the plus side, there were French food, lots of pristine flora and fauna, as well as a rare assortment of boat gypsies up the river at Kouru. One of them told me that the French moved an entire village of jungle inhabitants straight into social housing in this not particularly attractive town so as to make space for the European intergalactic project. Yes, this is where the Ariane rockets are launched. Whitey's on the moon comes to mind. Other than that, there's no real economy, a bit of illegal gold mining, and plenty of motherland Frenchies down for a légère, conveniently francophonic tropical adventure, without ever leaving la patrie or getting your passport soiled by foreign stamps, all under the watchful eyes of the all-white Gendarmerie of course.

Most of the locals look like Brazilians. In fact, some of them are. The remainder were brought here from Africa to perform a bit of pro bono labour on the sugar and rubber plantations back in the day; nowadays, their descendants appear to be sitting around on enormous social housing estates, enjoying the supposedly highest quality of life in South America. I hear the colonial overlords had to make some concessions following a case of let's burn down the local authorities office rioting last year. I also met B here again, an acquaintance from Fuerteventura, whose wife and child had left the boat to return to dirt-based living. He wasn't looking too clever, in fact I didn't recognise him until his approaching me. His manic eyes suggested crack, the drug of choice around here I am told. El cóctel perfecto, as il professore quite aptly put it.

As you can see, this place didn't exactly win our hearts and minds. Leandro went back down to Brazil, Leentje joined another boat to visit neighbouring Suriname, formerly Dutch version of FG, and I left for a quick 600 nm run to Tobago with Fede. Soon enough, the water returned to its glorious salty nivea blue, and the endless squalls ceased as we made some northing. The trip wasn't particularly eventful, bar for a mega-pod (dear urbanites: this is not an appletosh product) of tiny dolphins and a visit by worse-for-wear Polly the land bird. No idea what the poor bugger was doing hundreds of kilometres off the Venezuelan coast in the first place. He probably felt just the same about us.

Sleep deprivation can be a bit of a psychedelic experience. On day 5, with Tobago already in sight, I caught myself idly wondering whether flying fish come in flocks or shoals. Or perhaps swarms? It's like the age-old question of whether a fox is closer to a cat or a dog. Genetically and.. well.. spiritually? You get the idea anyway. A few hours later, we dropped anchor at the wonderfully named Pirate Bay at the easternmost tip of Tobago. We will spend a few weeks exploring the island's many bays in celebration of this year's tour (4,500 nautical miles), which had us drawing a giant V into the Atlantic, due to a little detour for the Brazilian Carnival. I will then go on the hard to prepare boaty for the next episode.