Wednesday, 20 January 2016

In the Cradle

We pulled Mareda out of the water yesterday for 3 months of drying out on a tall cradle designed for lifting keels.  We were surprised at how clean the bottom was after 7 months in the water, and there were only a few spots where the paint showed signs of “close encounters”, mostly on the underside of the keel.

I was also reminded of an important fact of underwater optics:  dive masks magnify things underwater.  Several months ago, the keel hit the tidal gate leaving Guernsey in the English Channel Islands.  The tidal gate has 2 meters of water over it when the traffic light turns green.  I saw green lights, and conditioned to believe that green means go, we headed out.  “Bonk !” went the not-so-gentle reminded that our draft is 2.25 not 2 meters.  Apparently, sometimes green means maybe.  The keel did what it was designed to do; it just lifted up and slid over the barrier and then dropped back down into place.  Later I dove down to look at the damage and reported an impressive golf-ball sized chunk missing from the leading edge of the swing keel.  Now that we can see the damage with our own eyes and without the magnifying effect of the dive mask, the real damage is only about thumb-sized.  Nice surprise!  

The mechanic came over and winterized the motor and our only nasty surprise was a huge crack in one of the blades of the water pump impeller.  If it had disintegrated, the bits could have blocked the cooling system and caused lots of trouble. The impeller was new 6 months ago and we only had about 160 hours of motoring this season.  A bit disturbing.

After a good scrub of the hull with the high-pressure hose, we’re ready to leave Mareda high and dry until mid April.  In the meantime, I’m studying the charts, pilot books and blogs to plan our cruise around the Iberian peninsula, through Gibraltar and into the Med.  It’s going to be challenging (fog, fishing nets and pots, tiny fishing ports with few facilities, nice but very expensive ports, interesting mooring situations, capricious weather, language barriers, etc.) but we’re eager for the adventure to begin! 

Addendum:  forgot to mention that I got the chance to try out the emergency rope ladder in the transom yesterday.  Since our cradle is really high to allow the lifting keel to almost fully descend, our ladder was just a tad short so I used the emergency rope ladder to climb the rest of the way up.  I learned 3 things during this exercise: 1) I hope I never have to use it in an emergency, 2) I really need to work on my upper body strength, and 3) we absolutely need to have a robust block-and-tackle system that we can attach to the arch to help haul up someone who has fallen overboard.  We do have 2 small tackles on the arch to haul up the dinghy but I doubt those would be strong enough to do the job of hauling up a wet crew member (or skipper !).  

And now, off to find some snow…

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Update 2: A Year of Reading the Med

Update 1 of this adventure highlighted some real gems of Mediterranean literature.  Round 2, however, was more of a mixed bag, which is a polite way of saying I slogged through some stinkers so that you don't have to. 

ISRAEL: A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev  ** ½
Winner of the Brenner Prize (Israel) and several other European awards from an internationally-acclaimed author.  With all due respect to the author and to the literary establishment that heaped glowing reviews onto this book, I need to tell you from the get-go that it’s going to be hard for me to describe this book without sniggering.  I do agree with one professional reviewer who call the book “unforgettable”.  Spoiler alert in effect as from this point.  Yair is a short dark muscular boy born into a tall blonde family, and we suspect something is amiss from the beginning.  Written from the view point of Yair as an adult in the throes of his own marital turmoil, our attention is focused on the story of a pigeon handler during Israel’s war of independence, who is (queue menacing music… dah! dah! dah!) a short dark muscular boy.  All that remains is to figure out how his mother met the pigeon boy, and what could be more straightforward than a pigeon boy meeting (drum roll, cymbal clash and pregnant pause…) a pigeon girl!  The pigeon boy decides they will not have sex before he goes off to war because of his belief that he would not return alive if they did.  But hang on a minute … we know from the beginning of the story that the pigeon boy dies in battle, torn to shreds by snipers’ bullets.  How could the boy possibly be Yair’s father, you wonder?  Well you have clearly forgotten about the pigeons, my friends.  As the boy lies dying alone in a small monastery, he manages to… well, er, uh… expel and collect his sperm in a small glass vial that he attaches to the leg of his champion carrier pigeon.  The pigeon manages to lift off with its precious burden and flies bravely between whizzing bullets to the pigeon girl at the zoo, who understands immediately that the bird’s return means that a) the pigeon boy is dead and b) that the vial contains his sperm.  (As an aside, does this remind anyone else of the Monty Python sketch, “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”) Scrambling madly through the zoo lab in search for a spoon and a syringe, she flops on her back and inseminates herself.  The rest of the story unfolds with relative ease.  It’s too bad, really, since the book is otherwise well written, the story lines are interesting, and the characters are vibrant and engaging.  I had intended to give it a 3-star rating up until this (dare-I-say-it?) seminal moment in the story.  Alas, after such revelations, I found it hard to take seriously anymore. 

LEBANON: An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine  **
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and National Book Award.  The story flows from the memories of 70-year-old Aaliya, an endearing feisty blue-haired heroine who dared to live a modern and independent life in the constrictive society of 1970s civil-war Lebanon.  Her salvation from both the war and the society that condemns her lifestyle is literature.  The novel combines all the ingredients needed to create an appealing story for modern women and lovers of literature and history; me, me, and me.  But I didn’t love it.  After a beautiful start (and I recommended it enthusiastically to a few friends after a promising first quarter), the book gets bogged down in Aaliya’s literary reviews and ponderings to the point that the plot disappears completely and we feel like we’ve accidentally wandered into an academic treatise where the author tries to dazzle us with the breadth and depth of her knowledge.  Towards the end it was simply a painful slog to finish. 

MEDITERRANEAN overview: On the Shores of the Mediterranean by Eric Newby ***
Fans of travel literature should feel their hearts skip a beat with excitement when they see the name Eric Newby, author of the classic works A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and The Last Grain Race.  Newby sailed a 4-masted schooner from the UK to Australia in 1938, climbed the Nuristan mountains of Afghanistan, was a prisoner of war, escaped from his concentration camp and was recaptured, returned later to marry the Slovenian woman who hid him during his escape, and spent some years working with his father in a women’s high-fashion business.  For most of his career, when he wasn’t traveling himself, he served as travel editor of The Observer.  With such credentials, it’s impossible not to be enthralled by his sometimes hysterical recollections of traveling around the Mediterranean basin, clockwise from Naples, in the 1980s.  In the acknowledgements in the front of the book, Newby thanks Colonel Muammar Kaddafi for hosting them during their jaunt through Libya.  While some passages are dry and dip too deeply into the historical landscape for my tastes, the book as a whole is a fantastic read and is an essential companion to the fiction from each country that I’ve been reading.

MEDITERRANEAN overviews, continued:  The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich ****, and The Pillars of Hercules *1/2  by Paul Theroux.

The Middle Sea is essential reading, the bible of all things Mediterranean, and despite the comprehensive historical coverage, very engaging and readable.  After reading Norwich and Newby, The Pillars of Hercules by Theroux struck me as the personal ramblings of an often poorly-informed traveler content to offer up summaries of a place based on meeting a few local characters in a bar.  His goal is to write a book and cover as much ground as possible as quickly as possible.  Perhaps this approach is meant to offer a snapshot in time and many critics loved the book.  I found it annoying and didn’t learn anything useful or interesting about the Med from it.  It’s all about him and his insights. Pass.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Paris by the Sea, Take II

And before we close this chapter of symbols and images of the sea in Paris, here are some scenes from the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the new contemporary art museum designed by Frank Gehry rising out of the Bois de Boulogne in the west of Paris.  It's meant to resemble a sailing vessel with 12 large sails.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Paris by the Sea

Ocean scenes and symbols are not what one typically associates with the city of Paris, but if you can focus your eyes beyond the glitz and glamour, you’ll find the sea all around you.   A river runs through it, and the official seal of this important river trading post features a sailing barque with the motto “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur” or Tossed by the Waves but Never Sunk.  You will find this seal on official government buildings, monuments, museums, metro stations, street drain covers, libraries, swimming fact, once you start looking for it, you’ll see it everywhere you turn.  After the terrorist attacks in 2015, the seal and motto showed up in graffiti as a mark of the city’s resilience.

Graffiti in Paris after the November 2015 terrorist attacks.  Photo from wikipedia.
Lurking among the ever-present sailboat emblems are other sea creatures, used to decorate bridges, buildings, and lamp posts. Paris even boasts a (very expensive) port for motor boats or de-masted sail boats at the Port de l’Arsenal near the Bastille.  

Along with Paris' "permanent exhibits" of ocean culture, the Seine often plays host to temporary expositions worthy of any sea port. Currently docked along the river is the 3-masted sailing goelette La Boudeuse, which is the only vessel of its kind still capable of long expeditions on all oceans.  La Boudeuse is flanked by a life-sized blue whale as part of an educational exhibit along the banks of the Seine.

Paris even boasts a (very expensive) port for motor boats or de-masted sail boats at the Port de l’Arsenal near the Bastille.  

I wonder how many tourists notice the sea around them in Paris?  Oh, okay… I couldn’t write a post about Paris without at least one photo of the Eiffel Tower.  Nice lighthouse, eh?