Liberty or Death

Wir sind Menschen. Wir machen Götter und kämpfen mit ihnen und sie segnen uns.
(We are humans. We create our gods and struggle with them, and they bless us.)
Hermann Hesse

The year's winter break consisted of a couple of weeks on the hard in little Gran Tarajal, and two months afloat in the marina, working and preparing for the mildly daunting venture of moving my home to a new continent and hemisphere. An affordable gym, a billiard bar full of Columbians, and pleasing encounters with fellow boatists rounded off this well-deserved break from my usual nomadic modus operandi. I revived the outboard I had sunk with Richard off Papagaios beach that summer with Bob and the legendary Crazy Pete, notorious for spending weeks in the rolly anchorage outside port. I'm sure rumours that he had sold his passport in Morocco are entirely unfounded.

My fellow adventurists started trundling in as early as October, when Kyle made a first appearance on the islands. We did a bottom paint job and put boaty back in the water together. Finally my friend Timo, veteran of the 2011 Southbound operation, and the charming Cecilie landed. Another frantic few weeks of fitting new solar panels, changing batteries, and making and installing a keg-a-cue (bbq made from a beer barrel) followed. Fuerteventura's December nights were cold enough to warrant jeans or a sweater at night, a fantastic reason to sail south-by-south-east, to the Cape Verde Islands and thus - the tropics.

We set off on the 905 nautical mile passage on Christmas day, an auspicious date for departure if you give any credence to certain primeval tales, and immediately ran into a "yachtsman's gale", 6-7 bf with big swell from the Gran Canaria acceleration zone. I later received news that a friend of a friend's boat sank not far from us that very day. I had just done the washing up and was feeling pleased with myself when I looked up to see a big valley of water behind the sea we had just slid down, the mizzen gybing, the foot of its boom parting with an impressive bang and aluminium shards flying around. We all scrambled to get the sail down and secure the boom.

Even though a ketch has two masts and hence two booms, and the mizzen is anything but essential, we were all a bit traumatised by this event. The weather had also been a harsh intro to ocean sailing for the relatively inexperienced sailor Cecilie. While most people start with a few day trips around the Baltic sea, the brave Cecilie went straight for the week-long offshore passage in the mid-Atlantic, impressively insisting on standing her watches in spite of her nausea. Luckily our neighbour in Gran Tarajal, Werner, had taught us how to bake bread in a pan, and Timo produced some every day.

Which was great for morale. On ocean passages I often wonder why I do this to myself time and again when I could be insert random vision of decadence. On the third night, however, the winds calmed down to a much more reasonable 4-5 bf, and, while gliding across the moonlit, nearly flat silver sea, I felt rewarded and pleased with the world and actually had the words of a poem coming on. Something about moons and nights. And perhaps horses. Yes. Horses. Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? It soon occurred to me that the words were actually Goethe's rather than my own, and I went back to docking lager fantasies.

We settled into a fairly comfortable routine of 4 hours on, 12 off, which gave us plenty of time for a bit of fishing, even though the only beast we had on board was a suicidal flying fish that conveniently landed on deck by its own volition. I wish tuna did that too. My father was giving us weather routing information via my newest toy, the satphone, which I just had to answer by saying "Dr. Evil speaking" for some reason. On day five, he notified us that the winds were due to pick up again. I discovered that the genoa had also been damaged during our early accidental gybe, meaning that I couldn't reef it properly, leaving us overcanvassed.

On day six, the genoa forestay parted after 12 hours of strong wind during Timo's watch. We spent the afternoon trying to secure the sail and stay in some fashion. Our team had by then become a well-oiled crisis management machine. I for my part had become fairly blasé by this time, I was relaxed about being at sea and just wanted to keep the show on the road. We managed a reasonable speed with our two remaining sails, the tiny working jib and main sail, not exactly an optimal setup for downwind sailing. We reached the Tropic of Cancer (23N) later that night.

I finally sighted land on the 8th day. São Vicente and neighbouring Santo Antão, two huge rocks of desert and the first bits of dirt I had seen since Fuerteventura, looked unreal in the haze. I shouted "land ho" into the direction of the sleeping crew, which technically means I'm excused from paying my share of the docking lagers.

The newly expanded marina at Mindelo yielded a couple of most well-deserved Strelas, and we were all euphoric and pleased to have made it. The port is full of fellow aspiring transatlantic adventurists, and we quickly made friends. We will be spending a few weeks attending to our issues here before we push off for Brazil.

Le Manège enchanté

Wir träumen von freiheit und sind doch sklaven unserer gewohnheiten
(We dream of liberty, yet we are but slaves to our habits)
Sowiso [Aachen drinking hole] toilet graffiti

I had set out on a trip around the Canaries on a bit of a magic roundabout. Going round in circles seems to be more of a day sailor's outing, and I hadn't really done any courses with an N for North in it since Belgium. But this was to be my holiday, the culmination of two years of fixing the boat in exotic locations, which some regard to be the essence of cruising a sailing vessel, and partying my not particularly godfearing backside off all over Europe.

Our elite + minimalist team consisting of Aaron and Anna got blasted from La Gomera to Gran Canaria by the vicious funnels around Teide. The blue crests of the 3 metre seas were almost transparent in bits, and we were all pleased to arrive in the blistering, windless heat of southern Puerto Rico. This was to be the setting for Arron's lunatic goodbye party after three months and a thousand miles on the Republic, and the arrival of my childhood friend Natalie and a brief visit of my friends Stuart and Jenny J from Gran Canaria. We managed to get kicked out of Puerto Rico by the harbour master, an abject creature, deeply fond exercising what little authority life has in stall for him. Arron's goodbye party was just a little bit too much for this trashy beach resort. We swiftly moved along to posh Pasito Blanco down the road.

In our defence, I might add that I feel hedonism is not just the nihilistic pursuit of fun; rather, and contrary to popular wisdom, it has the power to foster the elevation of mankind, since the pursuit of pleasure is deeply incompatible with coercion, and all the wrongdoing that stems from making the human mammal behave contrary to its own nature. That's why religious entities and the proponents thereof have always feared the earthly delights of sexual freedom without procreation. And what's wrong with enjoying oneself anyway? Even if it does involve horrors such as "swimming in the harbour, being drunk, and playing loud music until dawn" in a marina on the outskirts of the touristy heart of darkness that is southern Gran Canaria.

Keith, an experienced sailor and professional photographer, joined us here, and we motored back up to Las Palmas up the east coast of Gran Canaria. The only issue with the roundabout concept is that the trade winds tend to blow from one direction only: North. Heeding the traditional dictum that gentlemen don't sail to windward, this entailed a fair bit of motoring. We stopped over in an abandoned industrial port on the Eastern coast of the island, went on (back) up to Las Palmas, and spent a week celebrating our arrival and survival in the company of new arrival Hannah, a charming teacher with an excellent sense of humour. This involved a sushi orgy and disco outing in the company of residents Stuart and Jenny J, as well as our local party guides Ylenia and Isis.

Las Palmas is full of classic boat gypsies, and I rarely get out hang out with peers. In fact, boatists don't really have a peer group, rather, and much like backpackers, they tend to conglomerate in herds at bottlenecks of the traditional routes, while still insisting on their delusions of autonomous travel. I spotted the former Berlin Express, now owned by a reggae fanatic Frenchie, and two other Libertalias around the harbour. There was also some fiddling to be done. Your poor old narrator, formerly an office warrior, veteran of a glorious three month stint as a consultant in central London, had to acquire a number of real-world skills in the course of The Project, one of them being the fixing of shit pumps. Yep, the innocently named 'black water pump' had packed up, and I spent most of the week taking it apart and putting it back together again. I even opened its cousin, the shit tank, and had a good look around its contents. Lovely stuff.

Having resolved this minor hiccup, I got half a ton of diesel for the onward journey, and set off for a 12 hour sail to Fuerteventura with Hannah and Keith. Morro Jable, at the bottom of Fuerteventura, turned out to be another tourist resort, this time packed out with Germans. They are mainly packed up in the so-called Robinson Club, a chain of beach resorts run by TUI or some such carrier. Their poolside animation is nothing short of hilarious. We spent a few days playing guess-a-tourist, which involves declaring the likely nationality of an oncoming tourist by their clothing and gait; the riddle is resolved by eavesdropping on their conversation or chatting them up in the most likely-looking language. Amusing as that may have been, we quickly got bored and motored up Costa Calma to Gran Tarajal, a pretty town and surprising oasis of Spanishness around the islands. I quickly fell in love with this place, its Italian ice cream, affordable gym, fantastic internet cafe, and last but not least, a Dominican bar named Brasil.

Modern human mythology has it that piling up humans in big cities leads to some sort of crowd intelligence effect, as is the case with ant colonies. Humans are a strange species of monkey; alienated from their true nature and indeed needs, and suffering of a god complex, ie. the tendency to overestimate our intellectual prowess. I contend that the exact opposite to the insect effect occurs: As is commonly known, we are mammals and tend to form herds, with all the well-documented effects on intelligence and decision-making. The long and short of it being: I like small communities, and we celebrated my discovery of this year's likely winter hideout in the company of new arrival Julien, a musician, photographer, and artist from Switzerland, in the aforementioned bar Brasil. And the village disco. And then some. We left Keith at the mercy of Terry, an English eccentric expatriate, and, somewhat amusingly, professional builder of sandcastles. I spent days humming the thematically related Hendrix song after that.

Our way to the northern end of Lanzarote was interrupted by a stopover in a tiny marina in a touristy setting (this time mainly English dominated) for weather reasons. Catherine, an experienced sailor and party animal, joined us here. We had a round of dingy lessons for the less experienced among us. Hannah, technically one of the more experienced, quickly earned herself the nick "Captain Capsize" on account of her talent of tipping tiny Minime time and again. She was heroically rescued by Julien and Catherine - twice. We befriended some locals, went to the gym, and witnessed Keith's impressive Karaoke talent.

Next up was a stopover at the barely inhabited Isla de Lobos. We were now entering my former stomping ground in the Canaries, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, and I felt right at home. We spent two days at anchor, did lots of snorkelling, some dingy sailing, and walks around the island. My friend Marky v R came down from Corralejos to greet me; he left Belgium on his boat a few months ago, and seeing him down here was nothing short of historical. Sharing the euphoria that comes from doing stupid things with a lot of enthusiasm was rather pleasing.

On we went to Corralejos for more reunions with old friends, a silly bit of partying, as well as beach days at the pretty dunes of Coralejos. And on to the Lanzarote beach of Papagaios for another two days at anchor. And on to Puerto Calero, my port of entry to the Canaries, back to square one. Sadly Keith and Catherine evaporated at this stage. Humans are beings of habit, and we like dwelling on proven recipes.

I'm actually getting good at the non-touristy tour of touristy Lanzarote: We visited the spot next to the Mirador del Rio where you get to see La Graciosa without paying the extortionate entry fee, did the forbidden Cueva de los siete lagos again, a one hour all you can drink with billiard contest, and enjoyed a octopus Sam shot for us near the port. Julien left, not without nearly killing the leftovers by insisting on two goodbye party nights. He was substituted by Hannah's mother Margaret, who immediately washed my favourite doesn't-need-washing starbuck's cup, and whose extensive sailing skills were really put to waste during the latter end of the month of motoring.

We're currently at anchor off La Graciosa, perhaps the prettiest of what my local friend calls "islas desiertas en el medio del mar" [desert islands in the middle of the ocean]. I will be having another crew change, and get ready for a little holiday from my holiday. Festivities are due to recommence in mid-October. That's all.

Official Almeria - Canaries Tour Video

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.
George Eliot

Official tour video - thanks Arron!