Friday, 13 February 2015

Winter Cruise 2015

Our sea-going cruise for 2015 will be testing Mareda around Brittany, England, and the Channel Islands.  While it will be lovely, it will not be hot.  It never is.  Even when the air temperature is warm enough for a swim, the water rarely gets above 19°C (66°F).  It’s like diving head-long into a gin-and-tonic and getting a big ice-cream headache through your whole body. 

For this year’s winter land cruise, we decided to take it easy and to seek out real warmth to stock up for the year ahead. Taking it easy means no complicated treks through developing countries, and warmth means shorts, flip-flops, and wading into water without the need of Lamaze breathing techniques.

I realize that everyone has a different definition of warmth, and I believe that we are all acclimatized in early childhood to a range of temperatures and comfort zones that follow us throughout our lives.  Growing up in Kentucky with its continental climate, our summers were hot (90°F / 32°C) and winters were cold (sub-freezing much of the time with snow that paralyzed the town for at least 1-2 weeks per year).  I love both.  I need both.  I feel cheated in a winter with no snow, or in a summer where I don’t feel the sting of the sun on my skin and the ecstasy of frolicking in water that just cools the skin without tightening the muscles.

Many people are not aware that there is no summer-like weather (>25°C / 77°F) to be found in Europe or even the Mediterranean in the winter.  Much of the southern and far eastern regions of the Med, for example (e.g., Tunisia, Turkey) have the same temperatures as northern Florida this time of year.  It can be very pleasant, but you’re not going to be plunging into the water to cool off very often.

To meet our two criteria of being easy and warm, we've decided to fly to another part of the globe…all without leaving France.  The island of Guadeloupe, “discovered” by Christopher Columbus, has been claimed by Britain, Sweden, and France throughout its turbulent history, with France gaining control after the Napoleonic wars.  I hope to immerse myself in Caribbean history and culture while there, but for now, I’m ashamed to admit that my image of Guadeloupe consists largely of chocolate, coffee, rum, tropical forests, and palm-studded turquoise beaches. 

Staying in the mountains of the national park of Basse-Terre
And as if it knew that we were heading off for a wet and sandy vacation, my poor Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 camera gave up the ghost last week.  After struggling through 4 years of sailing, skiing, and desert trekking, the motor controlling the focus and zoom grinds pitifully, fails to focus, and throws up an “Error” message on a scratched screen.  It also has a scratch on the lens that I’m sure can’t be fixed, either. 

After hours of web surfing, I finally decided to buy an Olympus Stylus TG-3 Tough Camera, made for taking photos whilst sailing, skiing, desert trekking, etc.  It can be taken underwater down to 15 meters (50ft), frozen, dropped from 2 meters (7 ft), and crushed (100 kilos / 220 lbs).  It takes still photos, video, and time-lapse photos, and has an integrated GPS, compass, and barometer, and all this with a full 2-year guarantee.  Let the tests begin !    

Mimosa after the rain, taken with the new TG-3 !!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Enlightenment through Anagrams

In 1982, Jonathan Raban rode out his mid-life crisis by running away to sea on a 32-foot ketch, Gosfield Maid, which he sailed solo around Britain.  I read an excerpt from the resulting book, Coasting, in a Granta travel anthology last week and am eagerly awaiting the delivery of a used copy of the book to arrive by post.

Besides being a good read, Raban’s book has introduced me to a new favourite superstition: the anagram.  When he first saw the Gosfield Maid, he quickly rearranged the letters to see what fate might await him on such a boat.  The exercise quickly revealed Die, dismal fog!  Being an Englishman, he fell in love with her almost immediately.

Having read this, I quickly grabbed paper and pencil to summon the anagram spirits to reveal my destiny with Spray and Mareda.

For Spray, only two words materialized:  prays and raspy

Now, perhaps I’m just being a negative nelly, but “prays on a raspy boat” does, you must admit, describe the last two years of misadventures we've had on Spray.  Maybe if we had interrogated the anagram spirits before we named her, things would have turned out differently.   

Mareda, I thought, will be trickier.  Mareda is already a sort of anagram of my first two names (Patrick’s idea…very sweet, n’est-ce pas?)  It can also be read in a pseudo-etymological sense to mean noble / wealthy / happy daughter (Eda) of the sea (Mar). 

I hovered over the paper nervously as letters appeared and drifted around the page, keenly aware that trying to convince Patrick to rename the boat now because of a bad anagram would require tense and disagreeable negotiation.

Two phrases materialized: a dream and a mad era.  While these things are open to interpretation, of course, I have to say that sailing away on a dream in a mad era is a pretty damn good omen !  In any case, it’s a definite improvement over praying on a raspy boat. 

Say what you will, I’m buying into the anagram superstition until I have proof to the contrary.  It’s got to be as sound as any other maritime superstition and at least it’s a fun one.  (Sure, I can say that now that things have worked out well for Mareda…).

Monday, 2 February 2015

No women at sea

A friend once told us, “There are no women at sea, only sailors of different sizes.”  I quite like this idea and for the most part find it to be true.  Where it is decidedly not true for me is in the sizes of foul weather gear.

When I bought my first set of foulies, we had just started sailing and we weren't willing to shell out a lot of money.  The cheap versions were made of heavy pvc, great for keeping water out, but also great for keeping water in; e.g., not at all breathable and any sweat that formed between you and the pvc stayed and stewed…and then froze.  They also only came in Men’s small, medium, and large.  Even the smallest of these was too big for me and we eventually found something suitable in the “boys” department.

After a short time, we realized that comfort at sea is what makes or breaks many sailing projects, especially in our latitudes where even summer sailing requires foul weather gear much of the time.  We broke down and shelled out for some good foul weather gear adapted specifically for sailing.  Still, we didn't aim for the top of the line, since most of our sailing is done in “la belle saison” from May to October with only the occasional night passage.  While our XM offshore gear was light years ahead of the old pvc versions in terms of comfort and breathability, they still only came in Men’s sizes. 

Trying to work in wet, windy conditions with a vest that is way too large gets tiring fast.

I chose “extra-small” and was still swamped by the large fit.  One can argue, as I did, that it’s good to have room to add layers.  But after awhile I found that trying to move around in all that extra material was needlessly tiring, so much so that I stopped wearing my foul weather gear except in the most extreme circumstances and instead would pull on my light-weight Gore Tex hiking jacket over some polar fleece, which worked beautifully until things got really wet.

While I was in Florida last week visiting family, Patrick announced out-of-the-blue that he had sold his foul weather gear and bought himself a Henri Lloyd Gore Tex jacket that was on sale (-55% !).  Of course they didn’t have anything in my size, but that didn’t stop him from selling my foul weather gear as well.     

Patrick's new Henri Lloyd Freedom Jacket

This time, I knew that a non-negotiable element for me would be finding something made for women.  Over the years, I have been forced to accept that I am not a small man.  All that excess material around the arms, shoulders and torso have to be eliminated.  Several years ago, I tried on a women’s top-of-the-line Musto jacket and was in heaven.  With a $600 price tag, I quickly removed the heavenly jacket and put it gently back on the rack.  But I always remembered that fit and feel.

I’m still not willing to pay that kind of money unless we are going to cross whole oceans, but I am doing (perhaps) the next best thing.  I found a women’s Musto jacket on sale (the 2014 BR2 model) and it has everything I want except Gore Tex.  It is made from a similar textile for water resistance and breathability, though, and for less than half the price of the Gore Tex variety, I’m willing to give it a try. 

My new Women's Musto BR2 Jacket

Who knows?  Maybe once I’m warm, dry, and comfortable I can get back to the business of being just a small sailor again.

Post-script:  Doh !!  The Musto jacket is ENORMOUS despite my careful attention to the sizing chart.  Back to the store with this one.  And of course, they don't have anything smaller...