Characters of the Island

Did I say I wanted to leave on the 10th of February? Intrepid readers should know by now, that like wave height estimation, whatever is said on the sea in terms of dates, should be doubled in time, and wave heights always halved. If someone says they'll leave in five days, that means probably ten, and if the waves were five metres they were actually two and a half. That being said, I always have really good reasons for my delays (and my wave estimations are always 100% correct), and of course my reasons for this delay are great! But, that folks, is my story hook - I'm not saying another word! Maybe doubling the time is a little over the top, but I think the 10th is a little ambitious at this stage. Life on the tiny island has been interesting, to say the least. Last week when I mentioned I was well on my way to going stone broke, I hadn't quite expected it to become the understatement of the century. The following day, I thought to myself "how broke am I exactly, and surely I can almost double whatever I have in Euros to make myself wealthy in US dollars!'" Wealthy is of course a relative term, and in relation to me, it means being able to afford two minute noodles that come with two different flavouring sachets, instead of just one. Or maybe even the ones with the little dried shrimp in one packet, and the MSG, sorry, I mean, seafood flavouring in the other? As my online statement came up, I grabbed my heart in utter shock, almost careening out of my chair in complete disbelief, looking at what appeared to be exactly one million Euros in my account! No, really, there was a negative statement, the one million dollars was a typo... So there I was, numbers in red, with a negative symbol in front of them. How did this happen? It seems three and a half weeks of transactions were backlogged, and here I was thinking I was doing ok. This isn't a cry for money (that will come later, I've been talking to this Nigerian guy, and we have an idea...), I still think I can scrape together enough cash to provision the boat from my tax haven account in the Caymans, but things are really on the wire yet again...

I know you all come here for my seafaring stories, but since I am stuck on land for the next little while, my stories of strange encounters will have to do for now. I hope that's ok with everybody, and don't worry, I've met enough strange characters to keep this blog active for the rest of my trip, should Constellation decide she likes relaxing in the sun more than sailing.

So I'm sitting in the Sailors Bar, and a young guy comes up to me with a big backpack, and asks me if I speak German. Well! Naturally, yes, I was living in Berlin for a year, of course I can speak German! Blah blah blah blah blah blah La Palma. That's what he sounded like. All I could understand was La Palma. Ok, so I can't speak German, other than to order Wurst and large beers, so we will have to switch to English. It turns out this young German wishes to get a lift to La Palma (another Island). I thought about this for awhile, and then I said, "No, but maybe La Gomera." He wasn't interested in La Gomera, and I wasn't interested in La Palma, so then he asked if he could sleep on my boat. As you know my boat is only 26metres long (sorry, I mean feet), but I agreed he could stay for one night.

Later that day, a girl walked briskly into the Sailors Bar with a big backpack, and then disappeared again down the street. I thought it was a rather curious act, but ignored it and went back to drinking my tap water and surfing the web, leaving just before dark for a swim. As I was returning to the boat, I saw this same girl on the beach, and asked her what she was doing. She said she was French, and waiting for a ferry to another island. I asked her when the ferry left, and she said "tomorrow". At which point it was ascertained, she was intending on sleeping on the beach. So I asked her what she thought of Germans, and she seemed pretty non-chalant about them, so I said she could sleep on my boat if she didn't mind sharing the rather small space with myself and a German backpacker, because it was safer than the beach. Now... I know what you're thinking: You're thinking "gosh Nick is SO GENEROUS asking French girls to sleep on his boat" ... ! My next door neighbour (his name is Paul) later told me he uses a similar line with Spanish girls, something along the lines of "it's not safe to sleep at home, I have a catamaran!". But truly, as this girl tells me she will be sleeping on the beach, all I could think of was my Portuguese friends and all the other generous people on my trip. My boat is hardly the Hilton, and the cupboards are only stacked with Pasta, but it seemed it was the least I could do. Besides, I wanted to write some jokes down that started with "What do you get when an Australian, a German and a French..." etc.

That night, I made International Pasta (it's the same pasta I normally make, but in company it has a more exotic name), and raised the French, German and Pirate flags on the port spreader, to indicate I was no longer singlehanding in the marina - The Pirate flag was to indicate to the rest of the pontoon that we were not to be messed with. The French girl quite aptly took Croissants and Wine out of her backpack, and the German guy quite strangely pulled out a bag of mung beans. So we're sitting there with Croissants, Wine, Pasta and mung beans, and I can't think of a damn joke. Or maybe that is the joke? Anyway, it was Carnival night too, and trucks were going past the marina with Drag Queens dangling off the back. Is this story becoming surreal, or what? In the end, the French girl left the following day for her Ferry, and later in the evening Paul invited me and The German over for a drink, and then said it was a Sunday night, and that he and his friends would drive through the mountains for something to do (Paul is from Gran Canaria). The German then packs a sleeping bag, and asks if he can leave his big backpack on my boat for a bit. I agreed, and then he asked me to sprout his mung beans while he was away. Sure, why not, it's not like I have anything else to do... Later in the evening, after a hair raising drive through the mountains, The German walks off into the woods without a torch, holding a rolled cigarette filled with what appeared to be grey, dried flower petals (he was a health nut).

My Spanish friends said 'LOCO', and we left him there, and drove back down the mountain stopping at a quaint little Hamburger place for provisions. My Spanish friends kept saying "Nick, your friend is really really crazy, LOCO LOCO", to which I responded "yes, he is German, this is what they do", because really, it wasn't such a big deal for me to be dropping this kid off in the middle of nowhere... In fact, it seems like yesterday that I was curled up on the side of a road in Sweden! Thinking back though, I don't recall trying to smoke flower petals... Having said all that, he did seem quite resilient , and it's not as if it's Northern Europe here anyway, so the worst that could happen is he returns with a chill and an empty stomach.

After The German fiasco, I was back at the Sailors Bar to check my email, and met an American. I wanted to ask him if he'd sailed to Bermuda, to which he told me he had sailed from America via Greenland. Wow! What an amazing trip to do in a sail boat! Then he started telling me about how expensive fuel was... Now, I know fuel can be an issue, but really, a sailing boat doesn't use that much diesel. Later in the conversation The American starts complaining that he burns one ton of fuel every two days. ONE TON OF FUEL? What kind of sailing boat does this guy have? Or maybe he forgot to launch the sails? Later it becomes apparent that he actually has a small Coaster, or for the uninitiated, he actually owns a 30+metre diesel cargo ship, built in Norway. The American was using a cargo ship as a pleasure vessel, and had a crane, two cars and a Ducati onboard. He 'sailed' to Morocco, craned the Ducati off the boat, and then toured the continent! He makes money hauling cargo around the country (no, not that kind of cargo), and is unique in that his boat only has a small draft (meaning it can go in relatively shallow waters) with the ability to go up river and along the coast. I couldn't really fathom how this was possible from a bureaucratic standpoint - Surely you can't just buy a large boat and start hauling goods? To which he replied "No, in 1st world countries, what I do is not possible". Prior to here, he'd spent two winters and one summer, stuck in Belgium because they couldn't quite understand what a single American with such a big ship was doing in their waters...

So the point of the story is, if you have a big enough boat, it sounds as if plying up and down the African coast with legitimate cargo might be a profitable business. Which is why I'm going to use that one million Euros I have, to buy a fleet of those really sketchy looking Greek tankers you see everywhere... Maybe I can haul mung beans?

I promise my next post will be more nautical, and involve Atlantic preparation themes... And I know you'll want to hear about what happened to The German, so as soon as he shows up, I'll get the low-down on his Nature Adventures too.