On our trip from Sardinia back to Spain we brought along our friends Elena and Ryan. They have a fabulous YouTube channel called Sailing Kittiwake. They made this great video of our trip together.
We’ll be leaving soon for another Atlantic crossing, destination Caribbean. We’ve been in Europe for not quite two and a half years.
It was a good change for us. We’d essentially been in the tropics (mostly Mexico) since 2009, and I had kept Star Path based in Vallarta since 2002. We were ready to do something different. While we do love Mexico, central and S. America, it does all sort of begin to feel the same after enough years. Our time on the E. coast was also mostly great, Portsmouth, VA being a notable exception. Newfoundland was also a real highlight.
In fact, we’ve decided that we’re going to base Rocket Science on the E. coast for a few more years-we really want to explore Newfoundland some more, and also have a trip to Greenland in our sights. So, it’s most likely that we’ll sail out of Rhode Island or Maine for a few summers before bringing the boat over to the W. coast. When we’re not doing that, the plan is to live somewhere N. of Seattle. I can report that Jenny has been enjoying shopping for houses. Me too, actually. Change is good.
Anyway, our view of Europe from a cruising perspective is mixed. We really liked our glimpse of Ireland and our winter in England a lot. We did end up in more marinas than we would have liked, but that’s ok. Being dockside does come with a lot of perks.
Our trip last summer from the UK to Gibraltar was also great, particularly the rias in NW Spain. That was really an unexpected treat. I wish we would have had more time to enjoy the place.
Portugal was just a short stop for us, with a brief visit to Cascais, and a couple of weeks in Portimao.
I’ve already reported on Gibraltar, nothing further needs to be said there.
Cruising in the Med? I’ll say it-we thought it sucked. Hot, crowded (10,000 boats at Mallorca alone, or something like that), expensive, and generally not very friendly either. Also, the old adage of there being too little or too much wind is pretty close to the mark. I think that if we’d gone further E, like to Greece or Croatia, it may have been a little better, but Sardinia was far enough for us. There’s a lot more that we’d both like to see in the region, but going by boat is a drag, at least during the high season. If we’d had the opportunity to cruise in May/June or September/October, I suspect we’d feel differently.
In retrospect, we should have spent another season in N. Europe, particularly Scotland and Norway. I’m sorry to have traded the Med for missing that. But, we’d been sailing in cold conditions for a couple of years, so some warmth was attractive.
I’m writing this from about 900 miles NW of Seattle. We’re bringing the Constellation down for her annual maintenance, then I’ll be jumping on a plane to get RS out of the water for some annual maintenance of her own. We’ll then spend Christmas in Germany, and shortly after shove off for the 2800 mile passage to the islands. It’ll be our longest trip together so far. Hopefully we can maintain a 200 mile/day average and knock it off in a couple of weeks.
We spent last winter in Gibraltar. We knew little about the place, except that it was a big rock with some famous apes, and British.
Of course, we also knew that it was outside the EU, and outside of the Schengen zone, and both were needed to keep me and Rocket Science from getting sideways with the authorities. So, we had the good fortune to find a spot in one of the two marinas.
It’s important to understand a couple of key things about the place. First, being outside of the EU, it is an attractive place to folks looking to find some tax advantages in banking, properties, and such. Also, being a low-tax zone, it also attracts people for whom cheap booze and smokes are a major selling point. Turns out, the latter is a little more problematic in daily life.
We arrived in our slip, a little surprised that our neighbors took no interest in our arrival, nor did they offer to lend a hand, adjust their fenders (when med-mooring, all the boats are in contact with each other most of the time, so you need to mind that your fenders are actually doing something), or even really offer a friendly word after we got all tied up. No matter-we had by then become rather used to aloof Europeans. We didn’t mind.
However, it turns out these folks, we’ll call them Klaus and Kunnigunde, were firmly in the booze and smokes camp. The party raged until the wee hours, glasses clinking, raucous laughter, smoke billowing into our cabin. We said nothing, and hoped we just arrived on a special occasion.
The next night, we discovered this was our new normal. How awful. The marina has a ‘quiet after 2300’ policy (as does all of Gib, incidentally), but this mattered nothing to these folks and their buddies from down the dock. Finally, at 0130, Jenny respectfully asked if they could just please take it inside? 30 minutes later, after turning off the music, but still smoking, laughing, and yelling, she popped back out to ask a little more forcefully to please show some respect to the marina rules and us. This was met with some seriously furious anger, and a suggestion to put in ear plugs. Great. This was supposed to be our spot for 6 months, and the marina was completely full, so we couldn’t find another spot. What a nightmare.
Of course, Klaus and co. were pretty overtly hostile any time we saw them for quite a while after. They did tone it down, but it was never comfortable there. Fortunately, we weren’t there the whole time, and the cooler weather kept the outdoor partying to a minimum as the fall wore on, but it still sucked.
Of course, the terrible surge and damage to the boat did little to enamor us to the place as well. RS still bears some nasty scars from our winter in Gib.
Anyway, we made the best of our time there, taking every chance to hike up to the top of the rock. It was always a welcome reprieve to get around the back side of the rock, and away from the constant noise and bustle of the place. We were also happy to be able to get some proper British goods at the local supermarket, and we had a fine Indian restaurant nearby, and even some decent Thai and delivery pizza.
But, the place is really chaotic. The traffic’s a nightmare, with cars and especially scooters blasting around like mad. A bike ride was always a roll of the dice, one which Jenny had the misfortune to lose one one occasion. She got hit by one of the nutty drivers in a roundabout, pitching her off her bike and onto the pavement. There were only minor injuries to her, but she was definitely shaken up. Shortly after the accident, a cop rode up and asked if she needed to go to the hospital, and when it was determined that she didn’t, he rode off. No reports, no ticket for the driver. Just another cyclist run over, no biggie.
Ultimately, we didn’t make it the whole winter. Gib has a limit of 6 months before taxes are due. You just have to go to Spain with the boat for 5 minutes to reset the clock, so during my week home in March, we set about getting this done, booking a slip for a couple of nights just across the border in La Linea. We had a nice T-head, and a view of something other than concrete and the hulls of the boats on either side of us. We had already booked our stay in Gib, though, so we were planning to head back.
In the end, Jenny quietly let me know that the thought of going back to Gib was just too much to bear. So, with great relief, we stayed in La Linea, settling in to our new digs contentedly. For about 12 minutes.
On minute 13, Baxter saw a dog on the quay behind the boat, and let out a single bark. Immediately, a very hostile, tattooed Brit popped his head out, and said: “In all seriousness, am I going to have to listen to that shit all day? I come down here for quiet, and I don’t want to hear your damn dog barking!” He muttered some more pleasantries, and went down below.
For god’s sake, out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I decided to nip this one in the bud. I stood outside his boat, and told him rather loudly and sharply that he really ought to come out and introduce himself properly, and civilly. We did manage to become friendly-we assured him that we were responsible dog owners, and while little B would never be absolutely silent, we wouldn’t just let him run amok. He informed us that he was á miserable bastard´and on those grounds he turned out to be pretty ok in the end.
In the end, it was a necessary stop, but not really the greatest experience for us. Compared to N. Europe, and our delightful winter in England the year prior, we did find the place a little bit of a disappointment. But, the beauty of cruising is that one can always toss the lines and sail off to greener pastures. For our part, we were pretty happy to leave the rock in our wake.
After our welcome foray into the mountains, we returned to sweltering Cartagena to handle a few small maintenance items before the last 900 or so miles to the islands. The plan was to make this run with just a single stop in Gibraltar.
First, though, we had one last bit of business to take care of while in Europe- Barcelona! I’d never been there, and Jenny had only been there once as a teen, so it was high time for both of us to head over there.
Joining us there were Bob and Cheri, another Alaskan fishing couple. I’ve known Bob for 25 years or so, and he’s a valued ally on the fishing grounds, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to spend time outside of a work setting. Nice.
Barcelona was great. We hit as many of the highlights as we could in the couple of days we were there. We had planned to spend 3 nights there, but only managed 2-Westerlies were expected to fill in our our route to Gib, so we had to cut it a bit short to avoid that. Such is the life of a sailor.
Next up was the 275 mile trip to Gib. The 4 of us had a fine time of it, even managing an 8 hour uninterrupted spinnaker run, which is pretty rare in the fickle Med. Good stuff. We motored the rest of the time, of course. The trip took a little under a day and a half.
We had a couple of days with our amigos in Gib, Jenny spent one day hiking up to the top of the rock with them-13 miles and 1400′ of vertical gain. I stayed home with B, and after seeing them drag themselves back home, I was pretty happy to have been nominated babysitter.
The following day was a little trip to Cadiz, which mostly involved a little walk around and lunch in this ancient city. It’s reckoned to be the place that’s been continuously inhabited for longer than about anyplace in Europe, so it’s well worth a visit if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
Finally, we bade Bob and Cheri farewell, and enjoyed a couple of quiet weeks aboard before our passage to the islands. Finally, the weather looked light but favorable, and we chucked the lines for the 600 mile ride to the islands. The first 24 hours were basically windless, contrary to the forecast, leaving us motoring uncomfortably in a big swell. Finally a bit of breeze filled in, and we had some really spectacular, fast sailing. It was nice to be back out in a proper ocean swell again, surfing away on our trusty ride. Jenny hit 16 a couple of times while I was snoozing at 3am. I came up for my watch to find her grinning away, claiming to have been nervous during the fastest runs. I’m not so sure, it looked like she’d been having a ball to me.
So, thanks to our little speedy part in the middle, we arrived in Lanzarote in just a few hours over the 3 day mark. We’re settled in here now until the hurricanes stop blowing, and the winter trades get established, and then we’ll head for the Caribbean via the Cape Verde islands.
We’re back in the heat of Spain after a nice, cool break in the Alps. Yesterday was a particularly hot, windless day, with the temp in the cabin at a rather oppressive 94F. Baxter was pretty unhappy about it, panting and lethargic.
Then, I hit upon a brilliant idea! The freezer didn’t have anything in it yet, and it happens to be just the right size for B to fit in. He likes small spaces, and he likes cool, so why not give it a go?
So, we gently lowered him down into our top-loader, and he immediately pressed up against one of the cold plates and gave us this contented look.
10 minutes later, properly cooled, he asked to come back out. He wanders over there every couple of hours now during the hottest part of the day and requests a session is his personal cooling chamber.
Jenny would like to note to all who might find this to be a little gross that we’ll be thoroughly cleaning the freezer out before we put any food in there.
I finally got home from my epic stint at work during the first week of July, rejoining Jenny and RS in Gibraltar. On tap was a mini-cruise of the W. Med. A few stops in the Islas Balaeres, then some cruising in Corsica and Sardinia.
We had been warned by those who had gone before us that July and August were pretty awful in the more popular areas. Boats crewed by folks of little to no skill, chaotic anchoring, heat, and super high costs for marinas were all mentioned.
But, how bad could it really be? We certainly weren’t going to be going to Ibiza or Palma de Mallorca in July, but we figured that we could get off the beaten path enough that it would be pretty much ok. In most cases, we did ok.
So, we slipped the lines and headed East shortly after getting RS stocked up with provisions. Our first stop was Cartagena, Spain. We spent a few days in this attractive town. This is a really popular place for folks to winter on board, and it’s easy to see why.
So far so good! We enjoyed our time in Cartagena, but were sad to say goodbye to our dear friends Judith and Poppy on Just Browsing. They had been our across the dock neighbors in Gibraltar and we had been very happy to see them again in Cartagena.
Next up were a few days in Alicante. This was our first taste of the marina pricing we’d been warned about-about 140 USD per night. It’s a nice town, and a pleasant place to visit, but headwinds kept us there for longer than we would have liked at that price.
Then, we sailed direct to Menorca, the least crowded of the Balearics. On the way there we were enjoying a good, fast sail with our Code 0. The wind was gradually increasing. Just as we were discussing that the sail was loaded up and maybe it was time to furl it there was a tremendous bang. We both watched in mild annoyance as the top of the sail flew down wind into the water. We hove to, fished the sail out and discovered that the halyard shackle had broken right in half.
We looked initially for a place to anchor, but found anyplace that looked good totally packed with boats. I wasn’t too happy to try to wedge in, so we went dockside in Mahon for a few days. They have some floating pontoons out in the harbor, and we used one of these.
We liked Mahon a lot. The dinghy saw a lot of use, Baxter found a great beach to hang out on, and the town itself was a treat.
Finally, it was time to go, and we sailed direct for Cagliari, Sardinia.
This is a port of entry, and we understood from the cruising guide that we needed to register with the maritime authorities. Having duly performed this duty, we did some shopping and got out of there as soon as we could The marina we stayed in was really a dump, and we weren’t digging it that much. It seems to be a place where boats go to die-a big portion of them were in a seriously derelict state.
Leaving Cagliari, we headed back SW to sample some of the anchorages. Our first stop was Pula. It’s a bit of a rolly anchorage most of the time (as most seem to be on that coast), with a long beach behind. We’d gone there mostly to meet Ryan and Elena from SV Kittiwake. They’re planning to join us on our upcoming Atlantic crossing, so we wanted to meet up and get to know them a bit.
We had our first clue that all was not well in Pula shortly after we arrived. We took the dink off to an unoccupied corner way off at the end of the beach, and we were promptly surrounded by glaring Italians. We pulled the dink up the sand, and took B for a little walk on a trail back away from the beach. Upon our return, a new set of hostiles surrounded us and kept staring daggers at us until we were nearly back to the boat.
What the heck was going on? We made sure we landed well away from anybody-just like we’ve done on beaches in many parts of the world without anybody taking issue with it. There were no makers, no buoys, no signs-we didn’t get it.
Anyway, we figured we must be doing something wrong, so the next time we went ashore, we went about 1/4 mile from where we could find anyone, landing through the small surf onto a rocky beach. This was better.
The next day, we got together with the crews of 2 other boats, Kittiwake and Songbird, and took 2 dinks in to the beach on the other end of the bay from where we’d been anchored. We had seen dozens of dinghies going ashore by this point, motoring right up to the shore, leaving them on the beach while the crews were in town or in a restaurant. We figured that we were fine to do the same. Wrong.
Anyway, we motored slowly, relatively close to shore, and then shut down our engines and paddled in the last bit, as there were folks on the beach. As soon as we got ashore, a couple of local cops were there, ticket books in hand. Fortunately, Elena’s Italian, so we could at least figure out what was going on. Turns out that every single one of the dinks that we’d seen were operating illegally. We just happened to show up at just the wrong place at the wrong time. When we pointed out that we were operating more responsibly than anyone we’d seen, it didn’t matter a bit. We had to head back to the boat in one dink while teenagers threw rocks at the other one to retrieve passports and boat papers, and then received a summons to the police station for the following day. We were really pretty gobsmacked by it all-even with our native Italian researching the rules, we couldn’t find any rules published-there was simply no way to find them.
But, you can’t really fight city hall, and we turned up at the appointed hour to face the music. 160 euros lighter, the matter was settled. The cops were pretty apologetic, really. We also learned that it was illegal to put your dinghy ashore, if you want to go to a restaurant on the beach, for example, the dink needs to be anchored 200m from shore, and then you can swim in. Dogs weren’t allowed anywhere on the beach we couldn’t even carry him across without risking a fine of 500 Euros.
Wow. Time to get out of Pula.
Together with Kittiwake we visited a couple of other anchorages which were a little more remote, and they were fine.
But, during all this, we came to a realization. We were in the least congested part of Sardinia, and we were already feeling like it was too crowded. Further north? Chaos. Everyone we had contact with further north was pretty traumatized. One boat had a superyacht anchor right on top of them, and then had the same yacht wind their chain up in its propeller, causing extensive damage to their boat. The national park was stuffed, no moorings available. The marinas? Huge money-if you could even get in. It really didn’t sound like a lot of fun.
The solution? The Alps!
We decided that we’d bag our little cruise a couple weeks early, head back to Spain, and enjoy some time in the blissfully cool mountains.
I’m writing this from Chamonix, and it’s GLORIOUS up here. We’re going to spend 10 days or 2 weeks up in the Alps, then will resume cruising after Europe’s vacation time is mostly over. Most experienced Med cruisers tend to hide for July and August, and we now understand why.
This isn’t to say that it’s all been horrible, but we both felt like our time would be better spent doing something completely different than sweltering with the masses during the high season. So far, it’s been great.
As most of you know, we’re planning a westbound transat this winter. For only the 2nd time since 1992, I’ll be someplace other than at sea in Alaska in the middle of winter, preferring to spend a couple of months in the Caribbean on our way to Seattle instead.
I’m not sure if I’m going to have enough time off to bring RS to Seattle on her own bottom, so trucking her may be something that we undertake.
Put it all together, and it’s going to be an expensive proposition any way we do it. So, I’m working more this year-a lot more, as a matter of fact.
I left home on January 2 this year, and have been home precisely 6 days since then, having undertaken a short stint running the 210′ ‘Northern Glacier’, in addition to my normal schedule on the Constellation.
All work and no play isn’t much fun. But, that’ll come later. In the meantime, the fishing continues!
Jenny and I are both really looking forward to a Med mini-cruise this summer, though. I have it on pretty good authority that she likes having me around.
Occasionally, we encounter folks on the dock who seem just a touch resentful that we can go world cruising at our relatively young ages. It always makes me smile just a little. I guess nobody gets to see the effort that goes into making it all happen.
Kudos to Jenny for keeping everything together on the home front during my extended absence, too.
Home is where the heart is, they say. Funny, because occasionally I catch myself talking about home, sometimes referring to Rocket Science, or to Aachen, Germany, or to Seattle. Which leads me to today’s topic – the realities of ‘living the dream’ you don’t hear about so much.
When the freezer broke the other day someone pulled out the oldie but goldie quote ‘cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places’. Well, you better hope that your boat is nice enough to hold it together until you get to a less exotic place, because it’s much easier to get them fixed in civilization. Of course if your husband is closely related to MacGyver you will have a much easier time, but still, locating spares, or help if needed can be a challenge.
We recently met a very nice German couple in Spain. They are now in Morocco with engine problems, and two different mechanics have diagnosed two different problems. One of them was unfixable in Morocco, the other one could get a quick fix so that maybe they could make it to Lanzarote to the actual mechanic.
Or, you are one day into your Atlantic crossing and you discover that the sliding bracket for the alternator has broken. And then you are lucky if your engine is as easily accessible as ours is, and you don’t have to be in the middle of the ocean, upside down, swearing and sweating.
Or, you have a new crew member. She tells you she is VERY experienced, you leave her alone for 30 minutes and she manages to clog up the head, which you then have to fix, angry as hell, poo everywhere, while she is insisting on sticking around to ‘help’ while you don’t need help and just want some privacy for dealing with the poo.
Living the dream yet?
Okay, I will admit this: the more things break on your boat the better you get at fixing things, and the more you learn about your systems. So here’s an upside!
Rocket Science, however, has been solid as a rock. Yes, things happen, but all in all she’s been amazingly reliable. Of course when things happen, TJ is never home. He claims that things do happen when he’s home, I just don’t remember because it’s never a big deal. There might be some truth to that. However, I’m almost an expert at fixing the head, the fridge and the heater. The most important things when in port.
Ah, yes, I still owe you the freezer story. I woke up in the morning and the freezer temperature was at 29 degrees Fahrenheit. I was surprised, because that was way too high. The set point was still set at 20. Something had to be wrong. I climbed in by where the unit is. Sure enough the red indicator light gives 3 flashes. The fan is running, the compressor won’t turn on. I downloaded the troubleshooting pdf sheet from SeaFrost, and it immediately became obvious that the only possibility here was a broken module. At this point I’m mildly annoyed. I reserve total freakouts for heater breakdowns in November in Rhode Island, or a clogged up head full of poo.
It might have been different if we hadn’t been so ingenious as to install two separate units for the fridge and freezer. Okay, TJ was so ingenious. With him by my side I only need to show the ocassional flash or brilliance.
Anyways, we talked it over and decided to get a new unit since this one is a complete PoS which we have hated every minute of every day since we’ve had it.
I walked up to Prodomestics, the local refrigeration shop. I explained to them what the problem was and mentioned that I would like to replace the unit. They suggest that the unit might be fixed. I said: ‘Look, I know the unit can’t be fixed, but I don’t want to fix it because it’s a PoS!’ The guy said they’d send someone down to take a look.
The next morning a very friendly guy showed up. I explained the situation to him, and he was quite surprised to learn that I wanted a new unit. He told me I needed to send an email to the office, tell them what I have and what I want, because they told him to come here and fix the old unit. After I had explicitly said I didn’t want to fix it. Grrrrrrrrr!
That was the first time something like this has ever happened to me. It sucked though. I might not be an expert, but I’m not stupid either.
So – be prepared to get down and dirty, sweaty and make sure you have an adequate inventory of swear words if you are planning on living the dream!
Let’s talk about the weather. You are probably thinking about beautiful tropical locations, palm trees and clear blue water when you think about ‘living the dream’. Well, we’ve been to those locations, and it’s fantastic (though remember that those locations do oftentimes attract hurricanes). But after 5 years in the tropics I was ready to experience the seasons again. Especially fall, which is my very favorite season.
We made it through those 5 years with very little incidents on the weather front. Actually, I don’t think there were any. We did have two tsunami scares, but nothing too spooky.
Sometimes people ask us what’s the worst weather we’ve ever experienced at sea. The answer is, we look at the forecast and if it looks gnarly we don’t leave port. That might not be the sensational story some are looking for, but that’s why we are still here living the dream.
There were two occasions where the dream was rather nightmarish for me. TJ was gone for both. The first time I was in Sausalito, California. They had the worst October storm in 50 years. It blew 60 knots sustained. I ran out every 10 minutes to check the lines, getting soaked by the rain. I almost shit myself, and I seriously questioned if living on a boat was such a good idea.
The other incident occurred this week. We are in Gibraltar and the forecast was for Easterlies, 35 knots with gusts up to 56. Here at Queensway Quay Marina we weren’t too worried. Easterlies mean the Rock blocks most of it. At this point I’d like to quote a lovely gentleman who captains a big power boat and lives on the same dock: ‘I thought I was going to have a quiet Sunday’ he said. ‘It was supposed to blow easterly, but I forgot that this is Gibraltar, and easterly means it’s blowing from all f…g directions!’ It’s true. I’ll go for a run and have a head wind the whole time. I get to the half way mark, turn around to run back and I also have a head wind. Gibraltar is funny that way.
Anyways, he was right of course. The wind switched often, and it was ugly. The swell inside the marina was terrible. The wind wasn’t even that bad. The motion of the boat was so violent, I was seriously afraid she’d be ripped apart. Or at least we’d rip out a cleat.
I’m not a fan of med mooring, mostly because it doesn’t seem that safe, and you are even closer to your neighbors than you are when you are at a finger pier. But in this storm I was very uncomfortable with the docking situation. Not to mention that neighbor A (sailboat) wasn’t around, so I had to look after his boat as well, because if something happened to his boat something would inevitably happen to mine. Neighbor B (powerboat) didn’t bother to come outside more than once to check on his lines and fenders (I ended up adjusting the fenders) and after the storm was over complained to me that his boat got damaged bu his other neighbor who wasn’t around. Well, you should have come out and taken some responsibility, eh?
So that sucked. And it lasted for 3 days. Nobody in Gib slept much during that time. I wasn’t scared shitless like I was during the storm in California, but it was not good. Making an attempt to not sound too negative here: it’s all a good experience. Not an actual good experience, but you go through these things and if you managed to get out on the other end more or less unscathed you have learned a lot and become stronger. Because you know you can live through something awful like that and be okay.
This brings me to the last, and the most painful part. This storm and the fact that it was immediately followed by a broken freezer was especially hard on me. Baxter has been sick since November. After a lot of back and forth to the vet, and several tests he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. This is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. That means his body overproduces cortisol, which leads to a number of symptoms. Most prominent is the excessive drinking. For a dog it is normal to drink between 20 and 100 ml of water per kilogram of body weight. Baxter should drink a maximum of 1.6 liters (that’s a bit less than one gallon). But he was drinking up to 4 liters, which led to him having to go out to pee several times every night. While TJ was home that was annoying but doable, since we could share the duty, but when he was gone it was all on me. He has since been on medication for diabetes insipidus (the body’s inability to retain water) which helps.
The problem is now that the medication he has to take is very aggressive, and it is hard on the liver and kidneys. 3 weeks ago his liver failed and he had to spend 4 days in the hospital, off his Cushing’s medication, to try and restore the liver. While it has gotten a lot better it looks huge in the ultrasound. I do not know what the implications of this are – the vet said it’s because it failed. But he has to go in again for testing tomorrow, and he will most likely need a higher dose of the meds, and that will be even worse for his liver.
Baxter is on borrowed time. That in itself is heartbreaking. He’s been our little buddy since we rescued him from certain death a little over a decade ago. Then there’s the uncertainty that goes along with this. He can be fine today and his kidneys could fail tomorrow. Or his liver. I’m watching him with eagle eyes all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night to see if he’s still breathing. It’s wearing me down.
And this is where the hardest part of cruising life comes into play. You don’t have your friends and family around when you need them. If you have been gone for long you are lucky if your friends haven’t forgotten all about you. Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes you just grow apart, because land life and sailing life are so different, you might find that you don’t have much in common anymore.
It is heartbreaking. I’m lucky enough to still be sort of in touch with a very few of my friends back home in Germany. I’m lucky enough that one of them still makes an effort to really keep up the friendship and not just talk on a fairly regular basis, but also comes to visit me sometimes (love you Natascha!). But many are gone, and I miss the times when I had the luxury of knowing there were many people around me at an easy distance who loved me.
The other part of this are the people you meet while cruising. You meet, you spend some time, you grow close, and then you leave. Or they leave. Or everybody leaves and goes in different directions. And while you may stay in touch via social media or email, it’s just not the same. Sometimes you meet again, and it’s a joyous occasion. But a lot of the time you never see them again, and that can also be difficult.
Again, you learn a lot. You learn to be self sufficient, and you learn to like your own company, and that’s all good. But even though I still love the boat, and I still love to travel and to go on adventures I have grown increasingly tired of the missing foundation that a place to call home and friends provide. And on that note, we are going to take a little break from full time cruising. We are taking Rocket Science back to Seattle and will spend some time there and messing around in the beautiful pacific North West.
Now don’t give up on us just yet! There are still things we want to do, our sailing life isn’t over. But, there’s a time and a place for everything, and this is the time to go home. We’ve spend the last 10 years cruising, and it’s been an amazing time. We’ll hopefully get a liveaboard slip at our old favorite marina and hang out there until it’s time for more cruising adventures.
I don’t exactly remember how my obsession with mountaineering books started. It was one of those things that slowly creep up on you. Before I knew it I had read a ton of them. I’m aware of the fact that I’m not physically capable of being an actual mountaineer, and let’s be honest, isn’t it enough to have one hobby where you frequently suffer (sailing)?
However, you don’t have to be a climber to go spend some time in the mountains. Somehow the dream of doing the Mount Everest base camp hike manifested itself within me. As if it was meant to be we met Molly, Baxter and Kala the dog this summer in La Coruna. Molly and Baxter had done that trek for their honeymoon. Baxter decided to go back and climb Mount Everest! I was in awe and even more excited and determined than before. Those 3 are pretty cool, by the way, check out their blog:
Since I have zero experience in the mountains we decided to start off easy and, at the same time, kick another item off the bucket list: Machu Picchu. Now there are different options on hiking there. Of course there’s the Inka trail, but 500 (!!!) people walk that trail EVERY DAY! Can you imagine? That sounded just awful. The Salkantay trail sounded a bit too advanced for little beginner me, so we chose the Lares trek.
The Lares trek is very remote. It leads through two villages deep in the mountains, where you have the chance to meet the locals and experience how they live. That sounded right up our alley.
We decided to book the 4 day/3 night tour with Alpaca Expeditions out of Cusco. The choice was somewhat random. There are roughly a million tour operators in Cusco. Alpaca Expeditions had some good reviews, and when I sent an inquiry I got an answer within a few hours. Good communication is an important point!
Since we did this as part of an extended vacation there was a lot of traveling involved and we arrived in Cusco only the afternoon before we started the trek. It is recommended that you arrive 2 days early to acclimatize, but it was hard to fit all the pieces of the trip together as it was, and all of it last minute as usual, so much acclimatization wasn’t in the cards. We spent the day before in Quito though, so that helped.
Anyway, we arrived in Cusco after a rather dramatic almost plane crash in Lima and were happy we made it there in one piece.
That evening we had a briefing at Alpaca Expeditions. First we were told that we were going to be in a group of 6 total. That seemed like a fine group size. After a few minutes (and some confusion) it turned out that the other 4 people had booked a private tour and weren’t going to be with us. Meaning? We also got a private tour!
The details here are funny. The other 4 people were Canadian family, father, mother, a 13 year old girl and an 11 year old boy. They had had a travel agent book all of it for them, since they had also been traveling for a while and all over the place. The travel agent booked the private tour and they had no idea. We ended up meeting anyway, because we were going the same route at the same time, and even though all of us tried to convince our teams that we could just go together we didn’t get to.
The next morning our guide Manuel picked us up at the hotel bright and early at 5 am. We drove through the Sacred Valley to the Lares Hot Spings, where we got to take a dip and had breakfast.
Alpaca Expeditions indicated on their website that since you were going to meet the locals it would be a good idea to bring some gifts along – for example school supplies for the children. If you ever get the chance to ask TJ about the story with the tooth brushes in the San Blas Islands please do so, and then you’ll know that we immediately knew school supplies weren’t a good idea. Instead we asked our trusty guide Manuel for recommendations.
So we stopped at a local market and bought a bunch of little round breads, oranges, coca leaves, cute little hair ties and ginormous over sized safety pins.
Back in the van and off we went to finally start the trek. The first stretch wasn’t too far, maybe 2 hours or so and then we stopped for lunch. The scenery was already stunning, and I had a slight altitude headache. I drank tons of water and coca tea and it went away. I also had a power nap after lunch on a plastic tarp in the sun.
Off we went again, and now the trail started ascending, not too gently.
After another maybe 3 hours we arrived at our campsite just over 4000 meters. It was a stunning site at a lake. Our team had been ahead of us and had already put up our tent. I’m not sure why, but the entrance was about 3 feet from the edge to a good drop down to the lake. I was idly wondering if I’d just break an arm or maybe even my neck if I got up at night to pee and forgot about it.
(Spoiler alert: nobody fell into the lake).
The campsite was right by a small village. Two little girls were eyeballing us. The locals there speak the old Inka languages and mostly very little Spanish. Manuel grew up in the mountains and is thus familiar with those languages. He called the girls over and we gave them bread and oranges. Here we found out why Manuel made those choices for us, too. Up there the locals have a little bit of agriculture, but they mostly grow potatoes, so they mostly eat potatoes. The bread and oranges were a welcome sight.
Before dinner Manuel took us to visit one lady in her house. The kitchen and the living/bedroom were two separate houses. We were invited into the kitchen, and Manuel and the lady went right to work, trying to stuff TJ into a traditional outfit. I had a good laugh, until it was my turn, and then TJ was the one laughing. All the while we were watched suspiciously by a bunch of guinea pigs. For those of you who don’t know, they eat guinea pigs in Peru. We were wondering if they got to live in the kitchen so that one could be grabbed and roasted at random when hungry? Manuel grabbed one, and handed it to TJ saying ‘Look, this one is friendly’. The guinea pigs looked rather horrified, and TJ wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do with the poor thing.
We each took a Diamox for altitude sickness before bed, just in case. I slept really well, opposed to the first night in Cusco where I woke up gasping for air.
The next day the real fun began. Before we took off Manuel announced a team meeting. We all stood in a circle, feeling slightly awkward, and he had the guys introduce themselves to us. TJ then introduced us to them in Spanish. They didn’t speak any English. They seemed to appreciate that. I have the sinking feeling that not everyone makes an effort to connect with members of their team aside from the guide.
We started our ascend to Condor Pass after breakfast around 7 am. Within 3 hours we hiked from just over 4000 meters to 4680. It was steep and challenging, and I loved every minute of it. It wouldn’t be fun without at least a little bit of suffering now would it?
The scenery was stunning. The weather not so much. We had everything from rain to snow and hail and finally a little bit of sunshine revealed some stunning glaciers.
At about 4500 meters I started to feel my fingers going numb, then my arm, my cheeks. I suppose that was due to altitude sickness, too.
On the summit we were joined by the Canadian family and their team (the teams included one master chef, one assistant chef, one porter and the guide). We celebrated with hot coca tea and an assisted head stand.
On the descend we all walked at our own pace, and we spend some time with the Canadians which was nice. After another 3 hours we arrived at our camp site. We were all pretty tired.
After a short rest Manuel took us into the village to say hello to the villagers. We brought gifts and were well received everywhere. It was interesting to see how the people live there. Its’ a very simple life. In the first village Manuel told us they had gotten electricity just 3 years prior. Meaning they have light in the evenings, but they were still cooking on a fire.
During that night I woke up because it was raining. I was somewhat distraught because I didn’t want to have to hike in the rain the next day. But in the morning it was still raining. We were, however, greeted by a fine white dusting on the surrounding mountains which was beautiful.
The rain conveniently stopped right after breakfast. Breakfast that morning started with a cake. Not any cake, no, a seriously fancy cake that Adolfo, our fine master chef, had just spent 2 hours cooking on a camping stove. I was impressed. That was a serious piece of art, that cake.
With a very full belly we took off for the last stretch. Manuel must have figured we had graduated from hiking school for beginners and moved right along. The weather was inconsistent and we had some rain, but never for long and not too much. The 3 hour hike down to the end point was interesting. The change in vegetation and landscape was rapid. I learned that Peru has 80 micro climate zones!
We got to the site of our last meal with the team before the team arrived. We were all proud of ourselves and decided that meant we were finally acclimatized. Since we had been too fast and had some time to kill Manuel wanted to take us for a walk. Right around the corner we bumped into our mini van which was just arriving. Instead of a walk we went for a ride.
It was shocking to be back in civilization. I had relished the quiet time in the mountains. I really enjoyed being around the team, too. Everybody was just so easy going and relaxed. I made sure I figured out how to say to Adolfo in Spanish that I was extremely impressed by his superior cooking skills, too. The food was always good and there were tons of it. We had a nagging suspicion that they made extra large amounts to be able to give the leftovers away to the village people, but really, that made us love them even more.
Our first stop in civilization was a little fruit stand by the side of the road. We sampled some strange fruit I’ve never had before. Never even heard of before! Also some strange looking pink drink which was quite tasty. Manuel insisted on us standing behind the fruit stand to take a picture of us. The fruit stand lady was highly amused.
Then we went to an Inka museum, which was interesting, well, if you like museums.
Then we rushed back to the camp site to not be late for Adolfo’s lunch.
I don’t think we ate any guinea pig, by the way. At least I hope not.
After lunch we climbed back into the mini van, off to see the salt panes. When we got close the gentleman at the entrance informed us that it would indeed be a very bad idea to drive down the muddy hill after all that rain. Manuel decided we could take ‘a little walk’. To take a short cut he had us climb down a hill side that was so steep that I thought one wrong step and I’d fall down the hill and be dead. TJ laughed at me when I told him, but it was pretty steep.
The salt panes were way cool. We bought some souvenirs, got a quick tour and then, keeping the pattern, got to take the back entrance which meant balancing on the edge of the salt panes (‘just stretch your hands out, no problemo’, Manuel said). We walked by some locals that looked us up and down, laughed and told Manuel we wouldn’t be able to make it. I’m happy to report that we did indeed make it, without any major incident. Or minor ones, as a matter of fact.
After the ‘little’ 45 minute walk to the salt panes we then got to go on another ‘little’ walk down to the village where our trusty mini van was waiting. No complaints, but we were definitely a bit sore from the day before.
The mini van took us to Ollantaytambo. We took a nice break at a restaurant with hot food and free wifi (gasp) and then hopped on the train to Aguas Calientes.
That was one hell of a train. If you have ever taken a train in Germany, you will understand why I was impressed with this one. First of all, there were ticket and passport controls at the door to the train car. There was assigned seating (at no extra charge). Once we got going we got free drinks and cookies! Never mind the fact that the train was on time, unlike the German ones half the time…
We got to Aguas Calientes late, walked to the hotel, took a real shower and passed out. The next morning we had to get up super early and meet Manuel in the lobby with all our stuff, which we would leave with the hotel for safe keeping. We had a quick breakfast while Manuel told us if we got to the bus station at 5 am we would most likely be at Machu Pichhu woth the first 1000 people. Yep, really. 1000. Horrible.
After the time in the mountains the crowd at Machu Picchu was overwhelming. Manuel gave us a two hour tour, then we were free to roam around for a while, and meet him for lunch back in Aguas Calientes.
What can I say. It was cool, but the grand part of this trip, the amazing, wonderful, ass-kicking, overwhelming one was the day when we hiked up to Condor Pass.
I can see many more mountains in my future.
With our trusty ride parked for the winter, Jenny and I decided to take advantage of the time to cross an item or two off the bucket list. The choice? Macchu Picchu! While we were planning the trip, I recalled one or two times when Jenny had expressed a desire to check out the Galapagos. We’ll likely not visit them on the boat-I’ve sailed there twice, and it’s not really a very good cruising destination. So, we decided to roll a short visit there into our itinerary, since we were going to be in the neighborhood already.
Jenny flew first to Seattle, arriving there on the same day as I did on the Constellation.
Jenny also got to meet Paul Bieker, the mad wizard of boat designing and Rocket Science’s creator for the first time.
After a few days, mostly spent wrapping up the year’s duties on the boat, we departed for Quito.
We had a free day in town, spending in the area around the ‘Mitad del Mundo’, with a little hike to a nearby crater thrown in.
The following day, we left early for the flight to the islands. We were greeted by a genial chap holding up a big sign with the name of our boat, and plastered with 2 stickers to put on our chests to help the folks on the other end identify and shepherd us along efficiently. This was, however, not a surprise.
A note about the Galapagos is in order here. It’s really not like anyplace else that folks commonly travel to. 97% of the land is part of a national park, and it’s forbidden to venture around on your own. A naturalist has to basically guide your every move. It’s a bummer, but it’s also necessary to minimize the impact on the fragile islands. So, you have to be prepared to accept this kind of tight control when you sign up.
But, the folks in charge of all the tourists are generally very good at what they do, so it’s not too bad.
We got a great last-minute deal on one of the newer, more luxurious boats in the trade. The Santa Cruz II is about 200′ long, and holds up to 90 passengers. We had 79 aboard, from all around the world. I was the only American, interestingly. The ship itself is awesome. Clean, great food, a couple of hot tubs, and really good service all around. There are some pretty run down boats in the islands, so we were happy to discover our upscale surroundings.
After getting settled into our cabin, and getting the obligatory safety briefing, we began our mini-cruise.
We spent the next 4 days touring the eastern islands. Each day would consist of an AM and a PM excursion at a different site, with plenty of free time and gourmet meals in between. Excursions were split up into 7 groups, keeping things at least somewhat intimate. I believe the park service requires this, anyway. We had a fine bunch, a couple Australians, some Brits, a couple from Hong Kong, Jenny and me.
We’ll let the pictures tell most of the story on this one.
Next stop, Cusco, Peru and some very thin air!