Monday, 27 December 2010

Happy Easter!!!

You know what sucks about being as smart as me? You write the meaning of life, Panic, Rage, Internet, Money and it comes to bite you on the ass. One day before we left Saint Maarten for an intensive two weeks of whoring ourselves out for charter the internet fell over. This meant the tales of our huge rockstar weekend in Saint Maarten were not published. It also caused a lot of panic and rage. Thankfully we are now in Saint Barths surrounded by billions of dollars worth of money. The internet is now working but I missed writing a Christmas message. I have had such a mental year that I will not be able to write a complete New Years message on time. I mean, look at all of the places I have been.

Prague
Verona
Malta
Egypt
Maldives
New Zealand
Tapora
Nice
Genova
All over the Cote d'Azur
Fucking Toulon
Biarittz
Paris
London
Barcelona
Ibiza
Zaragossa
Leon
Vigo
Florence
Milan
Tenerife
Various Caribbean islands

NOT SO SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE TIME

I expect you will have a happy Easter without this message and you will probably have forgotten about this message by then but have a happy Easter anyway.


Anyway, don't worry I will be back. Bigger and badder in 2011. The world does not end until I say so.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Antigua

Forenote (i have gone quite wild with parenthesis in this post. This could be a new fad or an annoying (b)racket)

Leaving St Thomas and the discarded toenail of America behind was a good feeling. As much as I love quality baseball caps, all you can eat meal deals and Radio shack. St Thomas feels a bit off, a bit forced and a bit ugly if you are not in the thin coastal strip that surrounds the scarier part.

Antigua promised to be more of the real Caribbean whatever that was. Sadly about two hours into our passage I discovered my Granny had passed away. This was a shock, as discussed earlier and I could not wait to see land.

Antigua has a chequered history. If you play Pirates! extensively you discover Pirates were forever attacking and overthrowing Antigua along with the French, English, Spanish and Dutch.

The history started at the end of our gangway , we tied up in Nelsons dockyard. That’s right Admiral Nelson of the British navy was stationed here for a couple of years, you might have heard of him.|

What did we do in Antigua? Well there was a boat show to get ready for so we did a lot of cleaning and detailing and other work stuff. The boat show was a big drinking swill fest and junket for a whole bunch of Charter brokers. I think I have shared my musings on brokers before. I do not have much more to say about them other than it would be a wise idea to run a hot air balloon festival here at the same time given the vast amounts of heated gas heading skyward every second.

Photographic evidence of how awesome brokers are.

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(if you can not read that. His name is Splinter Fangman. Who the hell calls themselves Splinter Fangman?)

On our first day in Antigua Anna and I ventured out to do some provisioning(shopping) . We had what was to be the first of many very eccentric taxi rides. If I was to sum up Antigua it would not be the 360+ beach Island (which it is) it would be the island of many vivacious and extraordinary taxi drivers. Our first taxi driver was a self styled island ambassador. He knew everyone on the island and was happy to stop frequently to chat with them. He was also quite fond of singing and freestyle rapping. I do have 24 seconds of his freestylin which may or may not make it online at some point.

After talking with some of the people who have decided to make Antigua home I have come up with the conclusion that Antigua is a magnet for the disenfranchised and skewed. A refuge for the daringly different as it were.

On our first Sunday here we went up a hill with an eccentric taxi driver to a place called Shirley Heights. Situated in a national park on a Sunday night you can have a BBQ, listen to live Reggae and Calypso music and generally have a great time. They also had some devilish rum punch which may have had some added witchdoctor spices.

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Once the charter show started there was not a lot of time for sightseeing. I have been very restrained since coming to the Caribbean with regards to partying. I have a self enforced curfew of 12am and I have a few rules for going out.

If the DJ plays the same song twice I leave.
If there is any Karaoke I leave.
If there are any simulated sexual acts with a donkey I leave.

These rules have served me well and I am happy to say I felt positively super human all week during the charter show and into about two hours of our Sunday adventure.

The Super Sunday Sailing Adventure

Late last week James(James is quite a character and rest assured his personality and history will be explored in a crew profile soon), the other deckhand and I decided that we should hire a sailboat for our day off. Dedicated readers will know that my last sail boat excursion was not particularly memorable or in fact clever. I was determined to see things right.

On Sunday morning half of our motley crew assembled in the mess to go sailing! All of the crew except for Anna and I were in various states of drunkenness and hangover. We corralled everyone into a group and marched them to the next marina along where we would collect our sailing yacht. The safety briefing was quite simple and a bit shocking. There were three pertinent points. One of which would haunt us, The gearbox bilge was leaking.

With our briefing out of the way we were soon motoring into the wind on the way to Green Island. Our hope was to sail home with a favourable wind and live the WAFI dream. James was a very good instructor and was soon telling us important information and showing us how to drive a sailboat with our feet and look the part.

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Foot steering.

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Beer holding and sunglass modelling.

It took us about two hours of motoring to get near Green Island. We had to go quite close to some reefs and James decided to slow the engine down. We then had engine failure and learned how to sail a boat very fast. It is amazing how quickly you can learn how to sail when you have drunk a few Gin & Tonics and there is a reef close by. Any scientists that want to pick up that hypothesis I am happy to float some evidence your way.

Under James’s tutelage and gentle coaxing we soon had an anchor down and were enjoying the pristine waters of the Caribbean and not worrying about our engine at all. James rigged up a swing out of some rope and we were soon swinging into the water with wild abandon. Sailboats are full of rope and wild abandon

A tender came out to see us from a handily close restaurant and we decided to jetison our sailboat and go to a fancy restaurant.

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This is something guests do all of the time so it was nice to do it on a slightly less grandiose scale. The restaurant was memorable, it had an infinity pool.

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Very stylised photo of said infinity pool.

Fed, watered and a bottle of wined we retreated back to our sailboat we had abandoned to engage in some more swimming, drinking and a bit of snorkelling. Our engine was now working and we would be able to motor past the reef and sail home. We soon discovered that although our engine was now working our gearbox was not and we could only manage a lazy reverse. After some phone calls to our hireage company it was decided we would try and sail home without any engine. We then found that our anchor winch was not working. Hauling up an anchor for a 40 foot sailboat by hand is not something I would recommend after quite a lot of Gin & Tonic, some prawns, chorizo, steak and apple pie. Oo and two glasses of wine and a coffee to wash it down. We succeeded in hauling the anchor. I then made a substantial impromptue offering to Neptune.

The sail home was short lived. By now James had discovered that his crew were getting a bit tired and his commands were not being met with the same snap as before. Quite a few of his orders were being miss heard, or not done at all. We turned around and went back to our anchorage. We would radio for help. It turns our our radio was only a one way radio. This is not desirable in a minor emergency. James got on the phone again and the hire company promised to send a rescue party.

Another sailboat sent a tender to check up on us. He had been watching our antics and was very impressed by our sailing off and doubling back and knowledgeable looking crew. He also had a very wry smile. After some more anchor hauling and a bit of a push we had the Sailboat in a better position to abandon. Hopefully help was on its way.

Help did come and we were soon in a taxi heading home as the sun set. Not quite the way we envisaged our trip home but we did get to sensibly abandon that problematic sailboat and had a great laugh as well. There is some huge cataclysmic irony in that the two times I have set foot on a sailboat I gone from incredibly sober to incredibly unsober and vice versa.

We have now left Antigua and are heading towards the promised land, Saint Martin. Saint Martin is a fantastic place to be if you are a Super Yacht or crew member in the Caribbean.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sombre Notes

I got word that my Granny passed away yesterday. We were underway heading to Antigua. Within a world of instant communication I have never felt so far away from home before. 
There is little time to grieve on the sea, even less at a boat show where we are now. There is always time to write however and that is what I will do.

My earliest memories of my Granny are her and Grandad coming to the farm to visit. They always had a car loaded up with food , presents and at least one pineapple. I had quite the pineapple addiction when I was younger and Granny never missed a beat.

She made a point of visiting me each night and telling me fantastic stories from the foot of my bed. Thinking back there were plenty of tales involving island living, boats and adventures.

We took Granny on holiday to Australia in 1988. The expo was on  and Granny was  (I think) the 1 millionth visitor to the Nepal pavilion. The Nepalese were very happy to have a New Zealander as the 1 millionth visitor and Granny was very gracious with her sudden celebrity status.

Granny loved her family and made time for everybody in her life. We were lucky to see her on our last whirlwind trip home. She was very happy to receive a Christmas card from us last year. I was to have sent her another one from Antigua this week.

I have never cried so much writing something.

Rest in Peace Granny McConnell 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Deckhands Log #12 The Nightwatchman, Sharks, Vampiric Affliction and Zombification

It has been a while since I have written a Deckhands log. Recently new few found working conditions have been a trifling  stifling for creative endeavours but in the past week  I unearthed a fantastic opportunity.

Being  the Nightwatchman!

A further testament to the evolutionary organisation of this vessel. During charters we have a dedicated person who works throughout the night. An automaton who is rarely seen or heard.

Having spent many a night seeking pleasure the actual mechanics of working through the night promised to be a wholly new exciting experience. The night watch started at 10pm and was supposed to work through till 12 in the mid day.

With no body to talk to and glorious moonlight draped vistas surrounding me what revelations did I glean?

Firstly the Caribbean sea is absolutely full of underwater creatures. The underwater lighting that most yachts have attract them like New Yorkers to a hot dog stand.

Previously Dolphins  have danced in front of me. With new animals cavorting around I began to think of myself as a modern day Dr Doolittle who had marine animals to talk to throughout the night. Some of them looked a bit like Dolphins, a closer inspection was warranted. These Dolphins did not seem to be breathing much…… E Gads Dr Doolittle these Dolphins are in fact Sharks! Big ones small ones Sharks of every description preying on the smaller fish and Nightwatchmen who might fall into the water.

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With my hopes dashed I left my water bound friends and began to gaze at the heavens. On our second night we had a full moon. This gave some illumination and let me spy upon WAFIs. What are WAFIs?My Captain was only to proud to inform me what they were when he briefed me on anchor watch.

Large tangent…..

When I first heard about anchor watches I thought it meant sitting on the bow with a torch watching the anchor chain for hours at a time. I do not think they have ever been this rudimentary.  With modern day technology, we can use Radar, GPS and Radio technology to make sure other vessels and the weather do not harm our homes.

A WAFI is a Wind Assisted Fucking Idiot. They are everywhere, usually drunk and do not obey the rules of the sea. One evening I actually saw a sailboat sailing very fast with no lights and with a serious lack of clues. It only takes a couple WAFI’s sailing around and you get instant trouble.

Do not for a second think I was wandering the decks peering into the sea and at the horizon for hours at a time. I was working furiously. With a task list that changed every night, I spent most of the time working through my lists and timing myself. Did you know it takes half an hour to clean a six metre tender? Half an hour to rinse and chamois half a deck passageway? With facts mounting like this my brain was swelling to unheard of sizes. With no human interaction between the hours of 10pm and 6am I began to reacquaint myself with myself. People pay money to experience life changing events like these!

The ramifications of staying up all night with no close friends other than coffee and engaging in physical labour are interesting. A curious thing happens with sun rise. A smart Vampire is climbing into his or her coffin. Only a stupid one stays to watch the sun.

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I call the two hours after the sunrise the Vampiric affliction period. You know you should be in bed but you foolishly think you are ok. Two hours in something really interesting happens. You start to become a Zombie! Communication is best done with one syllable words or grunts. It is best to only do the simplest of tasks, like holding a bucket. I also noticed if I had to write something on the white board some of my letters would be back to front. Perplexing? Certainly. Time seems to slow down and you are soon shuffling around looking undead !

That said I did try to find cures for the curses of Vampires and Zombies. In fact on the very last day of our charter I had this recipe concocted and in action.

Though out the night
Liberal doses of coffee,
Coca cola
Muesli

When the sun comes up
Nurofen
Polarised sun glasses
Water
More coffee
Bacon
Eggs
A shower

At 8:30 am I was pretty much ready for everything. Well almost anything. I was sent to bed!!!! Then instead of getting my usual 10 hours rest. I got three hours and then had to get up again. When I arose I really looked like a dead Vampire/Zombie. People have been telling me I look tired a lot recently. This is just a  nice way of saying you look like shit.

Thankfully I did get to sleep eventually and we had the next day off. A Monday even. I had myself a magic Monday.

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The sinister news. The next charter I will be……….

The Daywatchman!     

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Virgin Islands, British and American

Firstly let me begin  with an amendment. It appears working in general gets in the way of regular blog posts. This is why I was very excited to have a whole half day off yesterday to write at my own leisure on these wonderful islands that I have been discovering. 

Sadly I leisurely discovered a fantastic cocktail bar and after acquainting myself quite thoroughly with a wide range of rum infused cocktails I retired to a hotel room promptly fell asleep and woke up at 12:30am with a splitting head ache and quite possibly unfit to operate heavy machinery, or in my case a laptop.

Today I have been solemnly working hard and reflecting as best I can on the last week in this neck of the woods. Perhaps a good place to start is with a map.


My god this map hurts my eyes. I must furiously type so it will disappear off the top of my screen. If you look in the middle right you will see the red writing denoting the US & British Virgin Islands.

If I remember correctly these islands were last Virgin in about 1620<-- Piratical knowledge.

General Observations

The weather here is very invigorating. It is very warm, it rains at least once a day and there is always an afternoon breeze.

Rum tastes far far better in the Caribbean.

Reggae sounds far far better in the Caribbean.

Caribbean people sound so awesome.

This was one of my first interactions with some locals. Our yacht is quite large and there was only 10 or so meters clearance between us and a section of the marina. A boat went past behind us and this is what we heard. My best phonetic typing.

Whered jooo b wonting da oool moooan?

Excuse me?  

Whered jooo b wonting da oool moooan?

At this point I worked out he was talking about a hole and we started to look for our second mate.

It turned out they were just taking the piss about putting a hole in our stern.

Lovely :D

The traffic walk lights are green men moonwalking. Perhaps they are martians?

Confusingly people drive on the left side of the road in left hand drive cars.

There are a lot of Catamarans here. Catamarans are the most commonly chartered boat here. I have already started scheming a small bare boat charter with a few of the crew. It could be a devilishly good time.  

With the Catamarans there are a lot of Captain Rons.



America America America

We are now in America. The US Virgin Islands. There are the foundations of America here. We have K-Mart, Radio Shack, Hooters and a lot of large cars driving on quite a small island.

There is a French quarter here. Having spent a bit of time in France I think a quarter is a manageable amount of French for a city, any more and it gets out of control. My ideal city would be a quarter French, a quarter Italian, a quarter Spanish and a quarter New Zealand. 

The Americans I have met here fall into three very broad categories.

Cruise ship customers. Passing through, wide eyed and often advanced in years

Long time island residents, look a bit craggy have large eyebrows

Recent island life stylers, still very American but probably will start getting craggy and vague quite rapidly.

We get very busy here tomorrow until Sunday but I will make some notes as we go and will see what comes about.

Ciao!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Trans Atlantic

An extended period at sea has given me plenty of time to ponder many topical subjects that have entered, mutated and vacated my mind tropically.

My first thoughts have been that whilst the rocking motion of the ocean is a calming influence it is completely crap for writing upon. Time and time again I have picked up my laptop to finish and start various  tomes only to be distracted by the mountainous DVD library aboard or the mountains of unfinished ice cream. For this I offer condolences, please click the Google ads to help pay for my blogs funeral.

Given the nature of this voyage this passage will boldly jump tenses so I apologise to all of my English teachers past and present.

Now my clever worded public service announcement is out of the way let us get on with the very exciting business which was my first Atlantic crossing.

Our Atlantic crossing was undertaken in three sections. The first section was from Barcelona to Gibraltar. I was quite happy to see the backside of Barcelona. It is a city of crime, and drunken sailors are an easy target. I do believe we had four phones miss-placed in Barcelona.

From Barcelona we sailed perilously close past the island of sirens Ibiza, sadly no mermaids swam out to waylay us. I think I saw the faint glow of a million inert disco balls.

I am not sure what I expected of Gibraltar but what greeted us was not it. Surely there was a big rock and the fuel was tax free so why did I feel short changed?

Leaving Gibraltar for Tenerife we were incredibly lucky to have a fantastic omen. A huge pod of dolphins swam in the wake of our bow for half an hour or so. Sadly I did not take any footage, but the memory is a very pleasant one. Atlantic ocean dolphins are very large and splendid animals.

It is here that I can share one of my extra responsibilities for this voyage. With my freshly gained engineering qualification I have been doing an engine room watch in conjunction with my navigation duties. Now, being me, I am the first to admit my mechanical knowledge is somewhat limited. What I do have is an innate ability to sound knowledgeable on almost any topic, very useful in an engine room.  Luckily my engine room duties just require me to be vigilant, read some gauges and help out where I can. I am learning a great deal and it is making time go a bit faster on our journey.

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Here is an awesome photo of me with the twin awesome Caterpillar D399 engines. Notice I am not wearing shoes like all great McConnell engineers. I am however wearing ear muffs.

Tucked in off the coast of Africa are the Spanish Canary islands. They are volcanic and if they were erupting it would be handy to have a canary in a cage. We pulled in to Tenerife on a Saturday night with the promise of more fuel in the morning. The crew were very thirsty. I had the nervous twitching associated with a heroin addict in withdrawal. I had not had internet for two days.

With the crew safely watering at a bar I ventured into deepest darkest Tenerife in search of an Internet cafe. I did not find any. What I did find was a gambling den with one of the most frightening sights i have ever seen.

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Image censored in accordance with homeland security ordnance 5.1.45

With this ghastly patrons visage burned into my retinas I took solace in five or so gin and tonics. On our way back to the boat we were dismayed to find the entrance to the port locked. What followed was a very safe, quiet and mad cap adventure. I can not stress how safe and law abiding it was. Thanks Captain Jack. (more about him at a later date)

Leaving Tenerife we started the real grind of our trip. Nine days at sea towards the Caribbean. More so than any other trip I have been gobsmacked by the enormity of the sea and how terrifyingly empty it can be. I have to do deck rounds in the middle of the night and I constantly think if I was to Fall or jump that would be the end of me.

Morose? Probably not as morose as the ghost we have on board!! Boats are by nature noisy things.  If you are wandering them jn the middle of the night you could be forgiven for hearing a few odd noises. That is why I was mildly startled to discover our Captain believes we have a ghost living with us. Good to know I guess. Luckily he is a friendly ghost, believe me you would not want an unfriendly ghost sharing a cabin with you.

Hmmm what else? Well I have to say I am rather fond of the crew. We are all a happy bunch. I am making mental notes and will do some crew profiles as soon as time and people permit.

One of our pre departure drills is a stow away check. Stowaways are a very real part of shipping and an opportunistic person seeking asylum or adventure might get a free ride to another country. We have had two stowaways so far. One was a garden variety bird who stopped a night and flew away. The second was an ocean going sea bird with a gammy leg. He stayed a couple of days and vanished in the night after refusing to eat a flying fish I found on deck for him. I was hereafter named the bird murderer who probably threw the bird off in the middle of the night. I did not, knowingly kill the bird.

Photo of Birdy bird(I named him that). Flash off as to not disturb his rest.

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A few days later and all of the crew are starting to pine for land. The daily grind at sea is becoming more than a grind. We have not seen another vessel for days. Thankfully our ice cream stores are being replenished.

It is here I must comment on the stand out cooking of our two Chefs who have been rotating an excellent arsenal of food for us to eat. Meal times are something to look forward to. In the last week I have eaten, tuna steaks, beef wellington, prawns, chocolate fondant, cheese cake, tiramisu, chocolate brownies, berry muffins, chocolate mousse cake, a  berry crumble and a cooked breakfast every day.

The middle of the Atlantic is an incredibly large cloud factory. You can actually see large columns of water being sucked up into the sky, muddled about and viola clouds everywhere. Sadly again I did not have time to take many photos. Too busy being cool. 

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Want more? Well the last two days of our trip were very painful for me. Let me tally the pain.

One torn toe nail.
Two skinned knees treated with acid and akali
Varnish fragment in right thumb
Three acid holes in left hand
Skinned big toe

This was all bought about by scrubbing the decks. There is nothing romantic about swabbing or scrubbing decks, especially when the boat is moving in the sea. Can you hear that noise? It is an ambulance with a siren that sounds like a violin.

We are in the British Virgin Islands now. First impressions; it is very hot and there is a lot of reggae, sun and smiling people. Choice.

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Thursday, 4 November 2010

Adios Winter

Our last escape from Winter was left far too late. It is pretty hard to write around the cold hard fact of Snow. I hate Snow. The mere thought of it triggers terror and memory loss as I have written about how much I hate Snow before.

It is therefore most excellent to know we are travelling directly away from Winter. Bearing 210 degrees South South West at a speed of 14 knots. If we were not about to lose internet access very soon I would be about as happy as I can be on the ocean. 
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The next time I write it will be warm. It is clear that the lull in my writing has been my fingers seizing up from the cold. A curious fact, most people who enjoy Winter do not work outside in it.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rediscovering the Americas

My sincerest apologies for the long break between drinks. As you can probably imagine, integrating into a new boat with new people and new ways of doing things has been a bit more full on than traveling Europe for two months writing at my own leisure. The good news is that the crew is lovely, the boat very seaworthy and everything is going great.

We leave Barcelona tomorrow for Gibraltar. We will stop for fuel  before heading to Tenerife and more fuel. From there it is non stop to the British Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. This will be my  first Atlantic crossing. Yipee. From there on in it will be busy busy busy until New Years.

We will lose internet access soon after Tenerife but I am hoping this will give me some time to finish the slowly rising mountain of stuff that needs to be finished. Expect an avalanche,

Anyway keep reading and to borrow a Smurfs words.

“I shall soon be going where no Smurf has gone before”



Well at least not this one.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Worst Rental Car Ever

Authors starting grid flag wave

This post is littered with bad car turns of phrase. Please wear a seatbelt.

Quite what drove us to rent the worst rental car ever is quite a story. The actual mechanics of getting a B1B2 visa are complicated and will be explained in detail at a later date. The middle stage of this perilous journey required us to travel from Antibes, France to Florence, Italy.

France is gripped in rolling industrial strikes at the moment. The French people I have spoken to the strikes about are unreservedly apologetic about them. They are also 100% behind the need to strike and the wonderful tradition that striking in France is.

Like most liberal leaning Kiwis who do not pay tax I support the strikes as well, so long as they do not hinder my ability to get more tax free income. Therefore I was quite dismayed on Saturday when we found out there were no trains planned for Sunday.

This sparked a furious bout of retroactive contingency planning. We found out we could take three buses to Ventimiglia and then catch a ten hour train with one change to Florence. This was not particularly appetizing with 80 kilos of luggage. We decided to rent a car.
Given the tenuous state of any transport in France we decided that we would bite the bullet and do a one way rental to Italy. Europcar allow you to do this. We had not rented a car from Europcar before.

It now is blindingly apparent that a lot of the modern world had decided to do the same. This explains the simply dismal car that greeted us.

Feeling a bit flirty I had splashed out and hired a sportish small car, a Peugeots 207 would be quite a nice drive I figured.

At first glance the Peugeot Teepee is fucking ugly. It is uncomfortably tall and appears to have the aerodynamics of a block of slightly used butter.




This feeling continues as you step inside. A dysfunctional interior greets you and you start to wonder if you have had a cruel joke played on you.

An uneasy growl starts with the engine, as you drive away you find that the block of butter analogy is quiet apt. The performance is pathetic. The engine clearly belongs in a smaller vehicle. Maybe a largish diesel powered ride on lawnmower.

We drove this abomination for 5 hours. We had to stop at regular intervals to console ourselves with the incredible roadside coffee that Italy has on offer.

I began to think what is the desired purpose of this car. It has a tiny boot for its size, bad performance, a roof rack and a lot of headroom.

It came to me after a particularly strong espresso. If you had a fancy dress party you needed to go to(maybe a mad hatters party) with a group of people you did not really care for and some of your costumes were so elaborate that they would only fit on the roof rack. This car is probably for you.

Or not.

Authors Pit Stop


Europcar held onto a 1 thousand euro deposit after we had returned the teepee. This caused a minor panic session when we tried to leave Florence and get to Milano. After some questioning we found out that they can hold the deposit for up to two weeks. It pays to read the small print, even when it is in French.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Backlog

I thought it would be prudent to write about all of the writing I have yet to write.

Trans Espanic Part Tres

The final part of the self acclaimed trilogy, sees our heroes enter Vigo and the most recent meeting with El Fuerte. 

The worst rental car ever

The rolling strikes of France causing the worst rental of a car ever and the after shocks of this incredibly bad decision. 

Firenze and Milano

Some musings about the cities we have visited

B1B2 Visas for dummies 

The fool proof way to get an American B1B2 Visa, the lengths we went through and a very long rant about the lack of quality information and subsequent need for this concise guide.

We are holed up in Milano at the moment. We are going out for dinner with one of Anna’s guests from a charter she had. It probably sounds more glamorous than it will be. In saying that, it is not a bad effort for a Tuesday night.

We join our new boat tomorrow, I hope I will have a desk or at least a good amount of space by my bunk bed for my laptop. I am snowed under and it is not even snowing

Ciao!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Impressive

Be careful of what you plan for.

With the internet shockwaves just fading after my last plan was published we had some very good news on Thursday night.
We have got our next job. There are quite a few good things about this job. Let me list them in bullet points.

  • We will be working together.
  • The Boat is made in the Netherlands. The Dutch make fantastic Trance DJ’s, orange clothing and Motor Yachts.
  • The Yacht is not for sale, a first for me.
  • We will not have a management company, everyone knows if employees are doing their jobs correctly you do not need management.
  • We have an awesome itinerary, not only will we get to the Caribbean, there are plans to discover South America and be in New York for spring.
  • By all accounts the owner likes to look after his crew, this is a good incentive to stay put. It will be nice to have some stability.
This is all really positive and we are both very excited and feel very lucky. To be honest, I have been putting on a brave face over the last couple of weeks as our futures have been a bit uncertain.

Where to from here?

Well we are driving from Antibes to Florence tomorrow. We will be applying for American Visas in the American consulate on Monday . If Uncle Sam is reading. I love your country and look forward to discovering your many wonderful inventions and sharing them with the world.

From there we will catch a train to Milano and soak up Italian minimalism. I also want some new sun glasses.

We will then fly to Barcelona and join our new home.

I am really looking forward to unpacking all of my stuff and putting down my anchors. 

In closing I was playing on my phone before and was quite stoked when I saw this map of places where I have taken photos since June.

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Not bad for a freelance writer.

Trans Espanic Part Dos

Leaving mythical Zaragoza behind we were soon on the highway heading north east towards our next stop Leon. 

My wonderment at Spain pitched up a level with the increasing profusion of wind farms. The Spanish are quite proud of their wind farms. Why else would they have so many?

The prevailing strong winds which sweep across the huge plateaus are used cleverly and in a Salvador Dali inspired moment I began to imagine we were in fact flying on a giant earthen airship.

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Wouldn’t that be cool?

There was by now increasing frequencies of vegetation and water. We were nearing Leon. In fact directly after we took the off ramp for Leon I got very excited.

We saw Cows! We had not seen any Cows since leaving New Zealand. We actually miss Cows so much we bought this little cup in Barcelona.

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It is our medicine cup. Some of my readers will grasp the hidden meaning of this. It is unfortunate that Fanta here is a yellow colour but it works just the same, with a little sorcery.

Leon was well, Leon. We were not exactly excited to be there at first and with a couple of cracker places behind us and the heavenly Vigo ahead it seemed a bit disappointing.  
  
We were hungry though and we ventured out to see what was on offer.

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The shops were deathly quiet, so were the streets away from the high street. By now I was feeling quite assured that I was the tallest man in all of Spain. This was reaffirmed by this photo opportunity.


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That is my best Filip impersonation.

As is the way with most places in Spain there was an impressive Church.

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Shortly after the Church we found where the people of Leon had been hiding. Not since the fevered dance floors of Ibiza and festivals of London had I felt so much humanity around me. People were very well dressed and celebrating some Celtic,Gypsy,Spanish holiday.

Witness the evidence.

 

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Thar be Bag Pipes!

Feeling full of culture and very hungry we  began to get a bit frustrated with the lack of anything being open. There was a huge open air food market with roasting carcasses and other sweet treats but,

No hablo Mucho Epsanol…….yet

We retreated back to our hotel to find out…..

Restaurants don’t open till 9:30pm.

I am sure much has been written about the Mediterranean way of eating late into the evening. Probably by half starved gringos like me.

We did find food in after much walking around. We did not have to resort to a Kebab. Kebab shops are open all of the time.
 
I came away from that evening thinking that Leon did not have many visitors who were not from Spain.

We were now officially special.

With full stomachs and dreams in our minds we rested. The next day we would be in Vigo. 

Thursday, 14 October 2010

A New Plan, Spell, Whatever

By now my plans, spells, whatever have legendary status in both the practical planning and arcane realms. Sometimes the sequence is wrong and the timing out of kilter. But for the most part they are stunning successes. Take for example my Spanish domination plan written back in June.

It is pretty much what happened, minus a couple of destinations and being completely backwards. I blame this on the long time spent with Swedes in Biarritz. More about Swedes later.

Conjuring up a plan for the next six months is actually overwhelming. So overwhelming that I am going to write a three headed plan which is probably going to take a couple of years to complete. Each section of this plan may spawn sub plans and subsequent rewrites.

Sword in Stone stuff

Anna and I did not marry to spend vast amounts of the year apart. If we can not work on the same boat we will take winter jobs somewhere like Palma and have a groovy apartment that I will fill up with gadgets and trinkets and then be really screwed when we need to move somewhere else.

Plan 1

Apart from the completely disappointing Notting Hill festival that I could not summon up any passion to write about we have not yet experienced anything Caribbean. I did actually write up a plan for myself including the Caribbean a long time ago. Knowing now what I know about yachts and the Caribbean this is probably a ten year plan that might not be completed in this dimension. Long time readers might remember my finding nemo plan, quite where I am going to fit in finding a fictional character in Cuba in this plan boggles my cranium.

By now you are starting to experience the huge centrifugal forces which populate my mind.

Anyway…..

We would like to do a transatlantic crossing and spend the Northern Winter in the Caribbean, tripping around and seeing things, working hard and earning good money.

Maybe some serious Apple computer shopping at the end of the season.

Plan 2

Head somewhere warmer and start working on a boat

Not really that fussed about where.

As long as we are there.

Thailand, Sri Lanka, Seychelles are all possible suitors.

Plan 3

We did plan on finishing yachting in New Zealand,

but if the option to work in the Pacific came up and we could be home for Christmas then so be it.

So yeah that is about it. I feel better for getting that off my head.



What about those Swedes?

Well we are back in Antibes at the moment looking for the perfect job. I am also doing an engine course which is awesome. I get to wear overalls and carry a tool box around, photo forthcoming.

Anyway the first person I spoke to on Monday had that hairy, ethereal quality that flagged him as being possibly Swedish.

He was. It was kind of random and kind of cool. He had got in at 3am and was kind of a bit stunned to have some chirpy Kiwi babbling him at in broken Swedish.

I noticed that this Swede has already found some female on his course to drive him home each night and not be on the bus. Go Sweden!

Other than that? I will write up the rest of Spain this weekend. I have an exam to do on Friday and should be studying for that.

Ciao!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Trans Espanic Part Uno

Leaving the perpetually bustling Barcelona behind we were soon tuned into the very comforting and simultaneously out of place Billy Connolly barking orders on our TomTom. 

Having no preconceptions of what to expect, what followed was fascinating. El Fuerte and Google both agreed the first night  stop over was to be the unique sounding Zaragoza.

About an hour outside of Barcelona we decided to spice up our journey and try to visit a brown sign posted point of interest.

Mainland Europe has decided to sign post interesting things with the very questionable colour brown. Quite why brown was chosen is beyond me, we have missed countless things by the unflattering boringness that is the colour brown.

Billy and the TomTom freaked out for about an hour because of this unscheduled dalliance. Because of this we did not get to the point of interest. We did stop in a very small Spanish town and drank some coffee.

I took a solitary photo,

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Back on the road and with my wife safely asleep I did some clever engineering and got the TomTom back on line. I reset it.

There was a distinct lack of any vehicles on the road. This segued nicely into the changing scenery. We were entering Nevada or New Mexico or some huge desert. This was adventuring!

We actually drove across the section of the world where longitude starts counting west from east. Look at this cleverly placed arch.

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Sadly there are no other photos of this exciting time. My wife thought the scenery very boring and would not take any. I would have loved to stop the car on the Autopista(spanish word for motorway hehehe),walk off into the desert, go delirious from heat exhaustion and find a tumbleweed.

Speaking of which, the tumbleweeds in this part of the world must be tumble rockets. The huge plateau we were now on is a huge funnel for wind, more about this at a later date.

The land started to be come slightly more life sustaining as we entered our first over night stop. Small streams were spotted as was agricultural activity, we were nearing Zaragoza.

Zaragoza’s majesty almost alluded us completely due to a very devious……..

Spanish Invention time!!

The antiroundaboutasection

To be brutally honest the Spanish do not have a very good reputation for driving ability. To counter this they have amazing roads and mind boggling things like this.

Imagine a pefectly good roundabout

Imagine a normal interection

Join them together

Add a few lights and you have the….

antiroundaboutasection

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Artist who is not an artist’s impression 

Can you imagine how confusing this is the first couple of times you use one?

The round about pieces are usually obscured, you go straight through thinking you can turn off either side and then discover you are inside a a trap. You continue to the next intersection to find out it is a round about intersection. You wait for the next intersetion to do a u-turn and find out you are in a antiroundaboutasection. This can go on for months, until you run out of fuel and run off into the desert screaming.

We did find a way out and a hotel eventually. Zaragoza was an incredible place to stop a night. The city has a almost alien worldishness to it.

Enjoy some of our photos.

Keener viewers will notice these photos look better than usual. This is because my wife took them. Eating some humble pie, I regrettably inform you and myself that she is a superior photographer to I.

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There are some benefits to this new arrangement. I get to become a part of more photos.

Here I am modelling my new bag.

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And here I am riding a local horse that I was not afraid of.

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The riverside area of this city deserves special mention, lovely walks and public exercise equipment reminded us of special times in Vietnam and Asia.

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Zaragoza has a population of close to 700,000 and I am not sure where they all live. We could have lived there longer but we had a country to cross. Tune in next time for the next leg. 

Friday, 8 October 2010

España: Barcelona!

Our trip into mainland Spain officially began last Saturday. It has become blindingly apparent that a week here is going to go very quickly. But having already decided we will return to possibly habitate in some form, it is probably best we do not become too attached. Severing the umbilical cord will be hard enough when we leave Vigo.

Our parking ticket for our time in Barcelona tells me we were in Barcelona for 1 day, 13 hours and 59 minutes. It also tells me we were fleeced 68 euros for this. This is the largest amount I have ever paid for a parking ticket, it may have been cheaper to have had our rental car towed and pay for the tow truck. It certainly cost more than our hotel room for a night. However, like great Roman consuls before me I now know waging a campaign in Spain can be expensive without local knowledge.

What did we do in 1 day 13 hours and 59 minutes in Barcelona? Well, quite a lot. I will give you a run down with photographs soon. First some waxing about Barcelona, from someone who did not step a single foot inside a museum, gallery, basilica or any other mind altering land mark.

Barcelona is ripe rich and bursting with life, in parts it is over ripe. The city seems to have been germinated from a magic city bean in very fertile soil. There is decay in parts, but you come away knowing that this decay will lead to more brilliant structures sprouting or even just some nice graffiti.

If you get to walk through the many parks of Barcelona you will notice the ground is very malleable. It actually yearns to be crafted and nurtured. A metaphor for Barcelona? Mayhap.

Without further waffle, let me introduce you to our quick tour of Barcelona.

Barcelona in 1 day, 13 hours and 59 minutes.

8:37 pm

Shrug off that confused look the parking attendant gave you as you told him you would collect your car in a couple of days. You write a successful blog and have legions of rabid fans throughout the universe. Your blog will be floated in the DOW soon and will turn a profit.

8:45 pm

After dragging your whole life for 8 minutes through the streets, check into your very nice and bargain friendly hotel.

Smile with glee as you discover you have working internet in your work.

Jump for joy as you find you have a coffee machine right outside your door.

If you are anything like me you are probably in love with Barcelona and you have not even done anything.

9:17 pm

After a very quick shower and some important pressing matters on the internet, walk out onto the Rambla and soak in the very touristic atmosphere.

Enjoy the very good street performers. Grimace as you feel ashamed for ever giving money to a silver painted man in the past. These ones really know what they are doing.

Exercise self control as the friendly solo beer can salesmen try to palm off plant extracts, herbs, pharmaceuticals and every other vice known to man.

10:00 pm

Walk into one of the many Tapas restaurants and enjoy a very reasonable meal. Live dangerously, live a cliché. Eat the Paella and drink a couple of flagons of Sangria.

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Spanish invention time

I am loving the simplicity of the great Spanish inventions. This one struck me as being perfect. Notice the distance from the bar to the upper bar area. The bar lady and waiter use basic physics ingeniously to serve customers quickly and with the least effort possible.
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clue: look at the out of place pile of drinks

11:00pm

Take a leisurely stroll towards the port until the masts and smell of the sea remind you of your impending job hunt next week.

12:00am

Retire to your now quite salubrious looking hotel with the promise of a whole day exploring Barcelona to come.

7:00am

Wake to the sound of coffee machine; lovely droning machinations that rouse you gently from your slumber.

Check on your downloads that have been beavering throughout the night.

Test your Espanola on the coffee machine and drink three coffees of differing strength, FUERTE.

7:30

Shower, dress and eat a complimentary Croissant con chocolate.

8:00

Pausing only to grab a map from the hotel attendant, leap outside to explore Barcelona.
Ignore your companions at all costs. You are going to show them what you do not know about Barcelona. And then some!

8:15

Take random photos on your way towards the largest green thing on the map. It must be a park.



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9:00

By now you have drifted dangerously close to the commercial port and ferries to Ibiza. The Space closing Fiesta could be going on and you may feel its pull like a death stars tractor beam.

Thankfully rich malodorous sea smells have bought a plague of flies descending on you.

Note: There is nothing remotely aphrodisiac about a Spanish fly.

10:00

Hang on a second, maybe that huge mountain inland a bit is in fact the huge green thing beside the sea on the tourist map.

Pause a moment to curse cartographers who do not use contour lines to denote heights.

10:15

Start climbing the huge green thing to look at the Barcelona Olympic stadium and other treats.

Admire a famous naturalist who appears, and then vanishes into the bushes resplendent with tattooed pants and missing cod piece .

10:45

The walking is arduous, the scenery sublime.
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Just when you begin to loose hope you will find this scrawled on the ground.

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You are on the chosen path.

11:00 am

Stroll and relax on one of the many summits. Take in the sights of the statues.

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Feel slightly miffed as you realise you are in the grounds of a hotel.

12:00 pm

Take in the grandeur that is the Barcelona Olympic stadium.

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Start the long walk down towards the city

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The magical fountain may or may not be working.

Look at your map to find an underground station. It is time for food and a siesta!

1:00pm

Spanish invention time

Having used a few mass transit systems in a few European cities what greeted us in Barcelona was particularly neat. I am not sure if it was our particular stop, but we walked kilometres underground to get to a train. I actually began to think that maybe the Spanish underground is actually a series of tunnels with no trains and strategically placed vending machines.

We did eventually find a train, it was very fast and very clean.

You could even watch projected advertisements on the wall and listen to passable music.

Top marks.

1:30

Sit down and eat the international flavour that is subway with a difference. Drink Tequila from the bar and throw some dolleros at the conveniently adjoining casino .

2:00

Enjoy a well earned siesta. The coffee machine has been turned off by now and you can really relax.

3:00

Rise up from your siesta and begin the hunt for bicycles to rent. Bask in the frustration which are the warren like streets of Barcelona.

3:30

Find a sweet bike and start cycling the many warren like streets taking photographs.

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5:00

By now you have probably reached the 56 hectare water front complex which feels like a living theme park. Weave your way quickly through the throng of pedestrians, be sure to have photographs taken of yourself.
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7:00

You are now ravenously hungry, but you have not bought anything. Somehow end up in a recycled bag shop and buy this humdinger or equivalent.

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7:30

Eat an organic vegetable dinner from a cafe with the fantastic slogan.

Organic is Orgasmic

8:00

Return to your hotel for some much needed down time. You are going to need your best humour when you pay that parking ticket in the morning.

7:00am

Repeat yesterday morning except do not leave your hotel. You have 60 kilograms of luggage to pack.

11:45

You are now leaving Barcelona feeling quite chuffed at what you achieved.

In closing,

Barcelona was great, of course we needed more time but we just did not have it to spare. We had Vigo to visit and the white rabbit was disappearing into the horizon.

Time was the only thing that could have made things different. But in such a flavour bursting city you can walk in any direction and be entertained straight away.

It is worth noting that the shopping precinct was closed as it was a Sunday, we probably got a lot more done because of this. But the shopping from what I saw is right down my alley. If you like rich colours and re-made classics, Barcelona is the place to be.