Dank u wel Intertoys! The American Part II

So, what on earth have I been waiting for? Or is it all a big farce, so I don't have to cross the Atlantic? Actually, no. I've been patiently (rather, impatiently!) waiting on two solar panels (yes, two!) and a regulator to arrive from Hamburg, courtesy of the very generous Andre, from 'AJ van der Weiden thodn Intertoys De Symfonie', in Nieuw Vennep, Netherlands. Yes, truly, a Dutch toy store is helping me out! We discussed the options, and while a boatload of toys would have definitely kept me occupied on my crossing, what I really needed was some way to generate energy (other than with the engine) to keep things running on my long passage. Remember, I have an enormous home entertainment system, including Playstation, Desktop PC and 82inch plasma TV onboard - 'August the mighty Yanmar' simply couldn't keep up with it all... But seriously, generosity out of nowhere astounds yet again. While I am actually waiting for the panels to arrive (for some reason they're still in Madrid...), you can see it's all been for a good reason, and I'm very humbled for the generous assistance from Andre, who approached me and has been very fun to deal with. For the boat sticker, we decided to make something a little different. Remember, the tag-line of the website is 'Bigoceans, Tiny Boat'? - So we made a modified version:

If you're in Holland, be sure to stop by and say hello to Andre in his store, and don't forget to say hi from me! Thanks Andre.

I also had the opportunity to to put an Autosystems sticker on the hull, which was long overdue - Their support has been instrumental from the very beginning of my trip, and still continues today - Thank you so much!

Other than hanging off of the side of my boat trying to put decals on in strong winds (not recommended), my days have been passing rather quickly. I've been swimming a lot, and spending time with 'Pirata Paul' and friends (Sabrina in the middle, Hector on the right)

Paul has been at the core of making sure I don't die of starvation, regularly inviting me over for breakfast and dinner. If he's not being called Pirata (Pirate) Paul, he is otherwise known as 'Master Chef', and always manages to produce a veritable feast of home cooked food. Our conversations have also morphed into a very strange combination of languages. Beceause Paul is half German, and therefore speaks the language, we mix everything up to converse. So, with my limited German, and the (very) few Spanish words I know, we converse in a rather curious manner, where a sentence may be linguistically confused in three different languages. As an example, "I would like the boat in the corner" may become "Ich möchte (German) the (English) barco (Spanish) in the (English) ecke (German)". I'm often the let-down in languages, and of course that sentence is actually broken in every language, but we still manage to communicate by all means necessary! Thanks Captain Paul!

Several days ago I met The American again. Remember him, the guy with the cargo ship which is used as a private vessel? Well, he invited me for dinner, and of course, I jumped at the invitation - Not only because it meant home cooked food, but because I knew it was going to be a night with many a stories to remember.

To begin with, I got the grand tour of his cargo ship. Inside was what one would consider a 'normal' kitchen. It was full of standard appliances - Microwave, fridges, freezers, gas oven and cooktop, including a large sink, bench and pantry. Coming from a boat where I can't stand up, the kitchen alone was worth a visit... The captains room was of course... Just like a normal room, but instead of seeing trees when you woke up, you see a great expanse of ocean, or in this case (being in a commercial harbour) enormous tankers and ferries, only metres away. Down below in the engine room, was a 400 horsepower Detroit Diesel, large battery bank and hydraulic system to run the crane, all in a space larger than my entire ship. Inside the forepeak of the vessel, lay a full workshop, with plasma cutters, welding equipment, air compressors, workbenches and a three phase diesel generator. As you moved forward on the port side, there was an entrance into the cavernous cargo hold. As you descend the railed stairs, the enormous hold opens up, full of boxes and shelves, with what must have been a years supply of food. It actually looked like a mini-market, with rows and rows of tinned cans, and 20 litre containers of sugar and flour. At the very rear of the cargo hold, lay a Ford Fiesta, which is craned out on suitable occasions. Next to the Fiesta was a Ducati motorcycle, and a four wheel motorbike, surrounded by ten brand new washing machines, five sewing machines, boxes of boots, TV's and other assorted appliances. It was phenomenal, and I was mostly speechless.

Basically, The American is a rogue trader. There is apparently a limited supply of whitegoods to the Cape Verde islands, and he takes advantage of the situation by importing these items on his own, which in turn funds the operation of his ship (the fuel alone costs 200euros/day). Wherever he is, if he sees a bargain, he'll buy everything in bulk, with the possibility of selling it sometime in the future. While taking all this in, the water was on the boil in the kitchen, and we moved back up the maze of ladders, where he prepared bolognese sauce from scratch, and told me of his adventures.

As we finished the dinner, he had some 'things' he wanted to show me. After a brief minute, The American returned with an enormous stainless steel machete, and what looked like a black pistol. Excuse my French, but holy shit, for a brief second, I wondered if I was going into the huge deep freezer directly behind me. He took the machete out of the sheathe, handing it to me while commenting on the quality of the stainless blade. I was as you can imagine, somewhat taken aback; I'd just helped this guy feed dough through a hand-cranked pasta machine, and now there was a machete and a pistol on the table. After looking at the machete and agreeing it was nice stainless (actually, I have no idea what constitutes nice stainless... But I wasn't exactly going to argue), he handed me the pistol. Now, I've shot .45 and 9mm handguns in a shooting gallery before, and this black pistol had the markings of a Beretta and was well built and heavy in the hand. The weight of a weapon is always what strikes you first, and this thing had all the hallmarks of a real gun. I was relieved to find out, after requesting to see the ammunition, that it was a 'Luftpistol', made in Germany to exact Beretta specifications and dimensions. In essence, it was an air powered BB gun. Relieved that I would live another day, his next 'thing' was a book of photos, which I thought would be a much calmer show-and-tell, full of photos of his former sailboats and dogs.

As the picture of his Dobermans on the next page showed up, he grabbed my upper arm with great strength, to which I nearly fell off the chair. Unsure of what on earth he was doing, he began explaining how a Doberman bites. As I relaxed my shoulder, he grabbed it again, scaring the crap out of me. Apparently, this second demonstration was to show that Dobermans were smart, and after biting the first time, wait until the victim relaxes before continuing their assault. Thankfully the Doberman experiment ended rather quickly, as I redirected the conversation to a pretty picture of a boat in his photo album.

Still with the pistol on the table, and the photos finished, he turned around and showed me a scar the shape of a small circle on his neck. "What do you think that is?" He asked... I said it looked like a bullet hole, which is exactly what it turned out to be. An attempt to rob The American in Bolivia, had resulted in him being without a doubt, the luckiest man alive. A headshot had smashed through his teeth, and continued on through the back of his neck, missing both his jaw and anything vital.

In normal circumstances, I would have thought he was pulling my leg. But there is no doubt in my mind, that The American was truly shot in the head by Bolivian muggers, and is by all rights the most insane individual I've ever had the pleasure (fear) of meeting.