Thursday, 27 March 2014

The boat seller blues

We’ve only been home for one week and already I feel like a caged animal, looking desperately for escape routes.  Part of this is surely the weather, but a good deal of it is also feeling trapped between not having sold Spray and not having found a new boat to love. 

For Sale sign: had to make a new one after 1 month of rain and wind blasting.

On selling Spray:  We’ve reduced the price to reflect more reason and less sentiment.  Curiously, this has attracted a spate of tall men recently, all of whom seem genuinely interested in Spray even after they are forced to tilt their heads at uncomfortable angles in the 1.85 meter (~ 6 ft) clearance in the saloon.  But in the sober light of dawn, they realize that it’s not a good choice for them and never call back for that promised follow-up visit.  I can’t blame them, but I think I’m going to start the guided tour inside the boat rather than waste time extolling Spray’s exterior virtues.

On finding a new (used) boat to love:  I’ve come to accept that there is no such thing as the perfect boat and the real challenge is to balance reality with opportunity.  Experience of others has shown that a successful cruising adventure is rarely dependent on the boat.  So after much soul-searching, I now admit publicly that we will not (likely) be rounding the Horn anytime soon, and that, in fact, our cruising plans for the medium term are no more ambitious than those of many sailors to whom the French boat market is targeted.  I have decided to take a “when in Rome” approach, stop being a boat snob, and take a serious look at the Bens, Jens, Dufours and Bavarias that make up the majority of offers in France.  Current favourites (although it’s still difficult for me to consider any of these a favourite) are:  Oceanis 393 Clipper, Bavaria 38 Cruiser, Dufour Grand Large 385, Sun Odyssey 39.  Cue music:  If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

To make myself feel like our project is advancing, I spend 1 hour each day studying Spanish from the most excellent “Spanish for Cruisers” by Kathy Parsons and another few hours reading Lin and Larry Pardey’s “Storm Tactics Handbook” and Rod Heikell’s “Mediterranean Cruising.”  This is followed by a couple of hours of scanning the web for boats and reviews, thus giving me the impression of a full work day.  Next week, weather willing, we will start getting Spray ready for launch: a good scrub-down, a few minor repair jobs, loading and connecting the batteries from their winter storage unit, 2 layers of anti-fouling bottom paint, and then “re-arming” her with her sails.   

Once launched, the plan will be to sail locally until mid-May, and if she hasn’t sold by then, we’ll head down to the northwest coast of Spain (Galice) and Portugal for the summer, heading back in September or October.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll decide that Spray isn’t so ill-adapted for a couple of middle-aged old farts and their Mediterranean project after all.  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Not-so-opposite of Winter Cruising

In the southwest corner of Morocco close to the Algerian boarder, the Erg Chebbi dunes area gets rain only 7 days a year.  Omar, our camel driver, was thrilled for us that we were there to experience one of these rare days.  Hmmm.

There were only a few drops really, but they were accompanied by a very cool wind that sent us scrambling for polar fleece and turbans with veils to shield our eyes from the blasting sand.  The fabulous sunset and sunrise over the Sahara we had been dreaming of were simply not to be seen through the milky sky, and we headed back to the guest house base camp just after dark to dance away the blues to the rhythm of Berber drums.

Our ships of the desert. We named them Modestine (mine) and Makes-tracks-with-chocolate (his).

Omar and Patrick sharing some camel humor.  Omar loves silly riddles and had us in stitches.

Breton Berber dancing.

Berber clapping lessons.
Despite having carried the Breton weather with us all the way to Morocco, our land cruise has filled our heads with enough new sights and insights to keep us reminiscing enthusiastically for years.  One unexpected outcome of our land cruise, however, is that we learned some things about ourselves that have implications for our sailing life.

1.  Even though land cruises allow you to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time compared to sailing, the lifestyle doesn’t suit us.  Staying in hotels and eating in restaurants every day got old very fast.  One can only eat couscous, tajines, or grilled brochettes for so long before pleading for spaghetti.  We sorely missed the ability to shop in the markets and make our own food on board Spray.  And we won’t mention the 27 days without beer or wine…

2.  Even though we covered a lot of ground, the car did most of the work while we slowly atrophied.  We did walk a lot while visiting various sites, but on the whole, the lifestyle was far too static for us.  On the boat, there’s always something to do and down-time is minimal.  I particularly missed my folding bike that we use in port to explore new areas.

3.  Patrick is one cool cucumber.  I already knew that, but it’s always nice to see this quality confirmed in a variety of circumstances.  He drove more than 2600 km through crowded markets, busy cities, a sand storm, rain showers with useless windshield wipers, and over the Tizi-n-Test pass with spring wash-outs along the “road”, all without raising his voice, clenching his jaw, or tightening his butt cheeks a single time.  I, on the other hand, was doing all three simultaneously on a regular basis. 

4. What we liked the best was the changing scenery while driving and meeting locals and fellow travelers in the guest houses.  The imperial cities and UNESCO World Heritage sites are spectacular, but what we enjoyed most were the things that most resemble sea cruising:  being on the move, changing scenery, and encounters with interesting people.

5.  We won’t give up land cruising, but we have a new appreciation for sea cruising that we didn’t have before.  I’ve been frustrated that we haven’t gone further / faster with our sea cruising and thought a good dose of land cruising would make me feel better. Instead, I now appreciate the quality of life that sea cruising brings, even if the cost is a slower pace.

And now for a few miscellaneous photos from some of our favorite spots:

Palm oasis at Skoura

Palm oasis at Skoura

Enough iron-oxide in the Saharan sands and hills to bring on an ice age? (For the more curious readers, see the latest Science Daily article from the lab of my friend and former classmate Danny Sigman.)

A depression in the Atlantic kept the Essaouira fishermen in port for 7 days.

Roman ruins at Volubilis (where we bumped into our next-door neighbors from Brittany).

Road through the Todgha Gorge.

Road through the Dades Gorge.

Market in Meknes.  (Hint: WASH the dates thoroughly before eating...).
Sugar and spice and everything nice.

...quickly followed by the not-so-nice bits...

...and more not-so-nice bits...