Happy 10 Years of Sailing!

Happy 10 Years of Sailing!

Today is kind of a big day in my life as a ‘sailor’, although I am very far away from the sailing scene at the moment. Ten years ago, I spent some time in New Zealand with my best friend Johanna, driving our new to us backpacker car – a Nissan Bluebird – exploring the beauty of New Zealand, camping, hiking, meeting lots of fun people and truly having the time of our life.

Isbjorn Offshore: Weather from WRI, going direct to Annapolis!

Isbjorn Offshore: Weather from WRI, going direct to Annapolis!

Since I emailed in this morning, we've received the WX update I was looking for from WRI, and it basically confirmed my analysis of the GRIB forecast I got earlier. They sent a fantastically detailed outlook, which I won't include here, but their conclusion was basically what I'd hoped for earlier.

Friday Column: Extreme Hunting

Heartless Bastards baby! They are rocking my world right now.

Dane had an ‘afternoon with the White Stripes’ in the gym yesterday. He and I were debating the merits of Black Math, a few days prior, a song, which, I might argue, is about as hard as a rock and roll song can get. I listened to it several times out running with the dogs in the forest this week. Gets the juices flowing.

The Secret Band

The village of Morne rests at the top of a mountain in the green interior of St. Lucia. On Sunday, Mia, Suzana and I made an accidental visit there and got to enjoy part of an island culture I had assumed didn't exist here.
Rodney Bay Marina, where more than 200 yachts participating in the 2009 edition of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers are berthed, is typical Caribbean tourism at its worst. Restaurants serve 'western' food at ridiculous prices, taxi drivers continually bark for your business and locals remain virtual slaves to the visiting yachts. Apparently this works for all parties involved - the St. Lucians demand a pretty penny for the services rendered to the yachties, and the yachties get the 'developed' services and facilities they're after. It's just not for me.
On my second day off from working - and after just completing the 2am-8am graveyard shift - my ARC partner Suzana, who is from Portugal, Mia and I took the car and went for a drive. The plan was to have no plan. I was at the helm, Mia riding shotgun and Suzana in the back, and we agreed that if anyone wanted to turn at any time, simply to say so. As driver, I was happy to oblige their whims.
We stopped to buy drinking coconuts not five minutes outside the marina complex. I will never tire of coconut water, which is without a doubt the most refreshing and enjoyable beverage one can experience, and it comes in it's own container. The guy on the street hacked a few open with his machete and Mia and I drowned them in a few large gulps. Then we continued up.
We made a left turn off the main road as soon as we could - another side effect of the influx of tourists and yachties is the incredible traffic on an island where there is only one road leading to anywhere. Only half a century ago an overland journey on St. Lucia could have taken days on foot or horseback. Today it takes about an hour to traverse the island from north to south, and the roads are in amazing condition. Up we went, on a roller coaster of a road. We came to a fork in the road, and Suzana shouted 'Left!' so I went left. The road continued up, passed a few small shops, and turned into dirt. And we found ourselves in Morne.
Little more than a few houses on the hills lining each side of the road, Morne is a family village, and we had stumbled upon a family party. The party was not all that different from the summer pool parties at home. Chicken was roasting on several grills, a man behind a bar that known as the 'No F-ing Credit Bar' was distributing 'Piton' lager beer, and the family was playing music. Incredible music, actually. About a dozen or so St. Lucians - all related - were banging away on metal chairs, bamboo poles, plastic barrels and bongo drums, while another was tooting a conch horn and a woman sang the lyrics in Creole. They called themselves 'The Secret Band,' and I was happy to be in on it.
We were only passing through on our 4-wheel adventure, but they insisted we stay. I had no problems with this request, and was handed a beer. Several generations of the Morne Village family were present, from the smallest baby to old men with no teeth, and everyone was happy. The music continued with new members joining and leaving the band at will. Even the little ones had a go, and it was apparent that these islanders, at least, had music in their blood. 
They would only allow us to pay for one beer each - after that, everything was on the house. We ate grilled curried chicken, fried bread and fish cakes. We drank beer. A teenager opened a dozen coconuts with his machete, and we drank the water, with rum of course. 
The party continued into the afternoon. We were invited by one of the younger guys to go for a trip down to the beach, on the Atlantic side, where he'd show us around to the Carib Indian ruins that lay among the palm trees, the first settlement on St. Lucia. Happily, we obliged.
Once beyond Morne, the dirt road began its descent to the beach. The little Daihatsu bounced along on the rutted and rocky path, but managed well enough. To our right a valley opened up, at the bottom of which stood a small pig and banana farm, a thousand feet below us. To the left, cows and goats grazed on the steep hillsides. This was the St. Lucia that the ARC participants were missing, and I was okay with that.
At the beach, which was volcanic black sand, dwarfed on two sides by enormous cliffs, the Atlantic surf pounded on the sand. Debris from passing ships had washed up on the shore. Bookcases, old bottles, even a telephone pole were strewn about the ground. We hiked beneath the cliff on the southern side along a barely discernible path through a grove of coconut palms. Our de facto guide pointed out the Indian ruins, which became quite obvious after a second glance. Soon the remains of a large Indian 'church' appeared out of the trees. An enormous tree had grown right up through one of its walls, betraying the age of a rather mystical place. 
After our walk, I helped Lloyd (our village guide) load the two bookcases into the back of our car - he was going to fix them up and use them for his house, which I thought was a grand idea. Similarly, the grills back at the village were made from old propane and gas tanks cut in half and hinged, mounted on legs made from rebar. The kettles they boiled their pots on were old car and truck wheels, mounted in a similar fashion as the grills. They waste nothing in the village.
Upon our return to the mountain top and Morne, I expected Lloyd to announce his fee for our afternoon tour. Instead, he called to his two kids, who appeared holding a machete and more coconuts, and he offered us another drink. He was incredibly proud of his family, of the house he built with his own hands, and of the village life where his entire extended family lived close together on the top of that mountain. 
I arrived into Morne with the initial impression that I was an intruder, 'stealing' photographs and somehow tainting an otherwise 'pure'  atmosphere. I wondered to myself if there was anything I could give to those people to make their lives better. 
The villagers at Morne want for nothing. They are quite obviously far happier than any western family I've encountered, my own included. Their happiness comes not from things or money, but from togetherness and passion. Passion for their land, their music and for each other. I left thinking instead how the world might be different, if we all had the same attitude about life.

Cafe Rustica

My back hurts from sitting on the sofa. It was comfortable for the first hour or so, but you can only change positions so many times before you've gone through them all. 
I'm back in Ft. Lauderdale, back at the Cafe Rustica where I spent a lot of afternoons last spring either before work at the River Taxi, or after school at MPT. The same dude is still running the place, the music is still excellent, and the atmosphere stimulating. The only difference is that Mia is sitting across from me, instead of 4000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. This is a good thing.
We arrived in Pompano on Sunday night, after deliriously navigating through the 22nd and final drawbridge of our longest day yet on the ICW. It was only 63 miles, short by comparison, but took an agonizing 14.5 hours of hurry-up-and-wait motoring. Most of the bridges on that southern section of the waterway are restricted, and it's easy to get in sync with their hour and half hour schedules - if you're a powerboat. Arcturus was about half of a knot slow, and we continually arrived at the next bridge exactly as it was closing. We waited the full half-hour four times, adding two hours to our journey's last day, a day when we were tired but excited, a day when all I could think about was that frosty German bier and two pound pork shank waiting for me just behind our new dock. That thought alone, after ten days without meat or alcohol was enough to drag those half-hour waits into infinity. 
But we finally did make it, and Checkers, as it's known, was still open, even though it was 8:30 on a Sunday night. We were the last patrons, but we were without a doubt the most appreciative of the lot that day. The Bavarian music played over the speakers, and that first bier was a waterfall running down my gullet. Mia and I had eaten so little in the previous ten days that I actually couldn't finish the pork leg, a first. I did manage to drown a second liter of bier though, and it was delightful.
We've got the rest of the week to figure out how to stop Arcturus from sinking at the dock - the packing has been leaking so badly as to fill the bilge in little over twelve hours. Without an automatic pump, we resorted to manning the hand-operated pump in the cockpit, pumping nearly 100 strokes per hour underway, an exhaust leak adding to our troubles. On Sunday we fly to St. Lucia for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, where we'll greet the incoming yachts en route from the Canaries, 2800 miles across the ocean.

Contemplating Prison in Grenada

After three hours in the Immigration Office in Grenada, I'd finally resigned myself to the fact that I actually would be spending the night in prison. 
The Caribbean is a wonderfully friendly smattering of nations and cultures, where it's almost too easy to cross borders and travel freely. Especially by sailboat. Even our most recent passage, a relatively long one by comparison between Union Island and Grenada was an easy one, just a long day sail of 50 miles or so. Since coming down from St. Martin over the previous three weeks, our teenage crew had covered a lot of ground, and we'd gotten quite adept at handling the customs and immigrations procedures along the way. In my backpack, safely wrapped in plastic, were 13 passports and the boat papers,  and it was only a matter of filling out some forms and smiling to the friendly government people, and we were off, free to explore another country.
It's also very easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency, to fall victim to 'tropical stupor,' that lazy, languid state of mind created by balmy weather and easy-going, where you 'just can't seem to get anything done.' 
My brush with the Grenada officials came about due to a combination of the factors above, with the additional stress of playing both captain and psychologist for a boat-full of teenage emotions. One particularly rebellious student had finally crossed the line in the Grenadines - we booked him on the first flight out of Grenada the following morning, a scheduled 6:30am departure. My first mate Mia (who also happens to be my fiance), woke before the dawn at 4:00 to accompany the student to the airport, meeting the taxi at the St. George's Yacht Club. 
I realized something was afoot when I went to clear customs that afternoon. The head Immigration Officer seemed to know who I was before even introducing myself, and gave me a wry smile when I asked to be cleared into the country. 
'Have a seat, Captain,' he said, emphasizing the word, almost taunting me for my apparent mis-step. The bottom line, he explained, was that I'd illegally disembarked a crewmember without first clearing him into the country. By his logic, he had no idea if I'd disembarked him at all, going so far as to suggest I could have thrown him overboard 5 miles offshore. 
After 10 minutes, I realized the situation was quite serious, despite the officers friendly demeanor. I remained seated, while he towered over me, staring at me through the corner of his eyes as his head gazed off in the other direction.
'Andrew, Andrew,  Andrew, I hope you can come up with brilliant idea to help me decide what to do with you...'
Brilliant idea? Was he talking about a bribe? I had no idea how to handle myself, and decided to just answer his questions honestly, and hope he'd let me go on account of my responsibility to the kids (who were sitting outside, waiting for me to emerge, which was starting to seem increasingly unlikely). He called Mia in after an hour or so, asking her if she was capable of sailing the boat onward to Trinidad while I lingered in the local jail, awaiting my trial and potential $10,000.00 fine. Though she would have been quite capable to do so, leaving me behind was not an option. The walls were closing in, the room was getting hot, and I was getting desperate. I had only myself to blame - my innocent slip-up was about to put me in the biggest trouble in my young life. Forget the principals office - jail in a foreign, third-world country suddenly seemed tangibly real, and each minute that passed was another minute to contemplate my fate. I'd quickly sobered up from my bout of 'tropical stupor.'
As the third hour came and went, so did my hopes of sleeping aboard that night. The officer assured me that I'd be taken care of - a private cell, a hot meal and a shower. By then I was simply grasping for bright spots, and the idea of a real shower after 25 days actually sounded pretty good. 
'Do you know what this means, Captain?' he asked me, handing me a sheet of paper, completely out of the blue. I looked at what appeared to be my clearance, both into and out of the country, and I gave the officer a puzzled look. 
'Does this mean you're letting me go?' I nervously replied. 
'Yes. But only because you have ten young lives to look after, and you seem like a good man. Now go.'
Dumbfounded, I stood on wobbly legs, walking out of the office without even thanking him, corralled the kids and walked - practically floated on air actually - to the dinghy dock, where freedom was instantly manifested in the form of a small rubber inflatable. 
The lesson, of course, is to simply take customs and immigration as seriously as it really is. Clear in immediately upon dropping your hook - this must be a priority. If you can't, fly your yellow 'Q' flag and do not let anyone go ashore until the skipper has completed his responsibilities. Once cleared, fly the courtesy flag of the country your in from your starboard spreaders while you're in their waters. It makes you legal, but more than that, it lets people know you respect not only the law of the land, but more importantly, the laws of the sea.
It's so easy to take this for granted - the Caribbean is so laid-back and friendly, that clearing in and out becomes formality, routine. But what if the tables were turned? Imagine a Grenadan boat disembarking a crewmember in New York City, where he subsequently boarded a plane en route to a foreign country, without first going through customs. The skipper in that case most certainly would be in prison, no questions asked. 
In the end, the officials in Grenada remained friendly and polite throughout the ordeal, as was every other customs official I encountered throughout the whole of the island chain. I was scared stupid not of them, but of my waiting prison cell.  
Back at the boat, dinner never tasted so good. The kids wanted to know word for word what had happened. I obliged with a stupid smile plastered on my face, breathing in the air of a free man, acutely aware how wonderful it was to be sitting in the cockpit of a sailing boat and not behind bars. 


"But I'm here for a reason, and with luck I'll pass my test and eventually find my way to the waterside where hopefully docks full of sailboats will await my exploration."
So much for that. 
The color blindness test yesterday proved, well, that I'm colorblind. I can't easily distinguish between green and white, though red shows up just fine. This is the most frustrating failure I've ever experienced. I don't fail. I've never failed anything that I've put my mind to, yet this time it was completely out of my control. No amount of studying, of hard work was going to help my eyes see color better. 
I wanted to punch the wall yesterday when i walked out of the MCA office. I cursed bloody Southampton and everything British, and just wandered aimlessly around the city, finally finding that marina I was looking for. I actually was invited to go racing on Xtrovert, an X-Yachts 37-footer last evening, but simply was not in the mood to be around boats, so I took the train home to Romsey, staring out the window for the duration of the short ride.
Clint was home, and I went running. I needed to run, and it did me good. Behind Clint's house is a path that leads along an ancient canal, with forest bordering one side, and open meadows on the other. Meadow is really the only description for the landscape, appropriately British. It's beautiful. I trotted along the footpath, as it's called. The sun shone down through the branches of the tress that formed a sort of tunnel over the path, and bugs flitted about in front of me. Four ducks waddled down the path, anxious to get out of my way, but friendly enough not to fly off in a flurry. They were content to plop themselves headfirst into the canal, and gave a nod as I passed. 
I ran the anger and frustration out of me. 20 minutes into my journey I sped up, because I had a realization. I can run. I can run as far as I want to, and no one can stop me. I can sail. I can sail my own boat around the world as many times as I please. I can climb Mt. Everest, I can write a thousand books, I can compete in a thousand races. Why waste my time worrying about what I can't do? I realized that to focus on what I can do and not waste any time not doing it is foolish. 
Clint, Ally, Matt and I went last night to the hotel where I'm sitting now and drank beer and tequila. The conversation grew livelier with each shot and each glass of beer, and I enjoyed the company of my friends. 

In Southampton

The train ride was only 15 minutes, so I got into town much earlier than expected, and far earlier than I needed to be. My eye exam is at 1pm, and it's only 10 past 10am at the moment. My search for wireless internet was fruitless, so I'm sitting now in a pub, writing, having already finished my first coffee. I'll save the second for the pub that actually has wireless internet.


The town of Romsey is wonderful. The centre has a very medieval feel to it, and was walkable from Clint's house. A great abbey stands watch over the town from the top of the hill. Surrounding this is countryside, as far as you can see, and in the springtime warmth, it's beautiful. Clint and I ran yesterday, down along the canal on a dirt footpath, over several small wooden bridges, through swampy wooded areas and along flat grassy fields. We only ran for about 30 minutes, but it felt much longer, for there was so much to see, so much to smell. The birds sang louder than my iPod and the warm air require the removal of my shirt. I was at home.

Clint took me to his village in the evening to meet Glenn for a pint. I haven't seen Glenn in two and half years, since leaving Christchurch on that morning the boys never returned from the pub. Nothing has changed, except Glenn has a beard now. It was great to see him, and the three of us relived the old times over a few glasses of beer in the village where they grew up. Clint complains of the village, but to me it was idyllic. The pub was white with wooden beams, and situated at the bottom of a small valley, the center of the small town surrounded by quaint and humble homes. Beside that, it was more farmland and countryside, rolling hills punctuated with brilliant yellow fields of rapeseed. The landscape was more fertile and blossoming than any I can remember. Maybe I'm here at the right time of year with the right weather, but I could have stayed in that village forever.


Southampton is not like any of that. Southampton is a city, but not a big one, and seems to be a large commercial port. Loads of cranes and trains lined the tracks coming into the central station. The city seems hastily put together, lacking the character of Romsey, the countryside of the village, and apparently the technology of wireless internet. But I'm here for a reason, and with luck I'll pass my test and eventually find my way to the waterside where hopefully docks full of sailboats will await my exploration.

Romsey, England

I left Stockholm Tuesday morning at 11am, looking forward to a leisurely trip southward, expecting to arrive at Clint's around 5-6pm England time, which is one hour behind Sweden time. I arrived at 11:30pm, after nearly 13 hours of traveling by bike, bus, car, airplane, bus, train, and car again. Clint and I drank two Foster's pounders in his living room. They were much needed.
My 'Tunnelbana' card had run out of stamps, so I biked to the central station in Stockholm. Mia was supposed to pick up my bike after school, so I locked it outside of O'leary's pub near the main station entrance. I think i biked through some fresh street paint - my feet, in flip-flops, were speckled with white paint, and each tire had white marks on them.
Usually I am adept at planning travel, but in my experience I must have grown pretty lax. I nearly missed the bus to take me to Vasteras, where Mia's older sister Frida was to pick me up for the last short leg to the airport. Once on the bus, I ended up paying double what I should have paid for a ticket, had I booked it in advance. This was not the end of my traveling troubles on this long day.
The flight was the easiest part of the trip, and Ryanair takes after the Aussies (or maybe vice versa), and boards their planes from both the front and the rear, foregoing the jetway for the old-school walk on the tarmac. This made for 25-minute turn-arounds for the planes, and the entire operation was incredibly efficient.
Once at Stansted, the 'other' airport in London, I had to make my way to the South Coast of England. All I had was an address of Clint's house, and a phone number which was unreachable to me, for I didn't have a phone, nor any British money to use the pay phone. 
In a lovely British accent, the info desk lady offered her assistance: "You must take the bus to Victoria Station, transfer to a bus or train for Southampton, and transfer again to the local train for Romsey. Cheers!"
I didn't know that Victoria station was in central London. We fought incredible traffic and wound our way through a city much bigger and exponentially more crowded than I'd ever imagined, finally disembarking 90 minutes later near Buckingham Palace. The central station at Victoria was bustling with people at 5pm. My foggy mind was spinning. I purchased a train ticket for Southampton which was to leave in about 40 minutes, so went and found some sailing magazines and a coffee and tried in vain to find a quiet spot away from the crowds. 
Once aboard, I settled into my train routine, wrote a bit in my journal and daydreamed while i watched the scenery go by, becoming increasingly rural the further from London we traveled. I was absolutely enchanted by the English countryside - in the fading daylight, the rolling hills and meadows glowed with a warmth you could feel. On a hillside in the distance a castle stood silhouetted against the backlit horizon, and though you couldn't quite see it in the darkness, the enormous flag flying from the ramparts was unmistakably British. 
The serenity of my rail journey was abruptly halted when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that someone had decided to jump in front of another train further down the tracks, forcing us to divert. We would not be going to Southampton after all, and I'd have to find another way down.
For some reason I had only emailed Clint with my expected arrival time of around 5-6pm. It was then 9pm, and he had no word of me, I had no clue where he lived or how to get there, and it was dark outside. I've grown quite experienced traveling on my own without plans, but my complacency was now costing me considerable headache.
The Brits, I learned almost immediately, are incredibly friendly. Linda, a mother from the South Coast let me borrow her cell phone to call Clint, and a man named Clive joined in the conversation as we brainstormed how exactly I was going to get to my friend. Linda consulted her rail map while Clive called the train service, and together they were an unstoppable force, determined to see my safely to my destination, and my fascination with all things British grew.
Linda bid us adieu at Havant, while Clive and I slogged ever onward, for he was headed to Southampton as well. We were a team now, but he was the unquestioned leader, jumping from train to train at each new platform, planning the route on his map and cell phone, timing everything to perfection and offering precise driving directions to Clint on the phone when we finally found a near-enough station for him to pick me up. Clive was invincible, was made to help foreign strangers like me, and seemed to positively glow with joy when I finally reached my last stop. Good on ya Clive.
My reunion with Clint was subdued only by the fact that I just saw him in Stockholm in September, but it's always great to see an old friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation in the car on the way to his house, as we drove on the wrong side of the road, me in the driver's seat but without a wheel. It was 1130pm by the time we reached his place, but the beer was still cold, the welcoming friendship warm, and I was finally comfortable.

More Thoughts on Adventure

I've figured it out. It's taken me two glasses of wine and an evening listening to "Music for the Open Minded" on iTunes radio, but I have an idea about adventure, and how to use it in a meaningful way.

Adventure is about the unknown, and the fears, excitement, adrenaline and ultimately satisfaction that come from experiencing it. Anything in life can be an adventure, whether it's selling your car or jumping off a bridge, both of which I've experienced as such. The common thread is the excited fear of the unknown and the anticipation of how it will play out. True adventure forces you to live in the moment, creates a zen-like experience whether you consciously want one or not, from traveling without a destination to walking through a rainforest. Bungee jumping in New Zealand was the single most terrifying experience of my life, but looking back, that 8 seconds of freefall I experienced over a gorge near Queenstown was the longest 8 seconds of my life - it was eternity, followed by the most amazing, indescribably feeling of euphoria that one can imagine. It's impossible to describe. It was dying, and coming back from the dead in a little over 8 seconds. 

Adventure Travel, therefore, adheres to the same idea of the unknown, fear and timelessness, with the added implication being that the event take place outside one's home area. I was struggling with how to declare 4x4 driving as truly adventurous under my definition of the word, until I realized it, as is every other "adventure" experience, is uniquely personal based on one's previous experience and their simple gut feeling. My goal then, as a writer, is to create that gut feeling, the fear of the unknown, and to foster the excitement and uncertainty as it relates to each experience - to give that one person who has never left their garage the temptation to try something new and adventurous, even if to me, it's completely mundane.

My Bill Simmons-esque Running Diary of Amtrak Train #91

1:38 PM: Welcome to the past…I feel delightfully old-school riding the rails, this the longest journey of my US travel history. It's much bumpier than I imagined (though Mia warned me of this – she is, after all, experienced in the ways of the Unites States' railway system). We're already an hour in, which means only 27 more to go! That big bag of pistachios Kaitie got me will be long gone by then.

1:41 PM: I'm sitting in the lounge car, having staked out a two-seater table on the starboard side of the train. It's got a cushioned seat, ample legroom, a panoramic window view and a plug for my computer. My golf clubs are securely checked in the belly of this iron beast of yore, my backpack is filled with books and food, and I just loaded up my iPod with 10 cd's worth of new music. I'm in for the long haul. Travel does not get any better than this.

1:42 PM: The couple to my left just finished eating something that did not look edible. They purchased it from the lounge snack bar, which I can see half a car-length in front of me. In fact, the woman is back at the bar, though for what reason I cannot imagine after smelling their lunch. The man is seated facing backwards, wears smart-looking square, frameless glasses and has a very long ponytail, yet is balding in his forehead region. A stupid grin is plastered on his face, though I imagine that is what I looked like when I first boarded. I love the train.

1:47 PM: There is a woman seated at the table directly in front of me, another two seater on my side of the train. Oddly, she is facing backwards. She's old but not old, and is drinking a glass of orange juice. She's seated alone. Is she traveling alone? She seems much too agreeable to be traveling alone. Maybe she's meeting someone? Her thick-framed glasses suggest that perhaps she is a librarian. Perhaps not.

1:51 PM: We've just emerged from a long stone tunnel and are now passing another train that is going very slow on our right. I'm not sure where we are. The sun is lower now, and the overcast grey of this morning has been replaced by blue sky, puffy clouds and apparently some wind, as the ripples on the river indicated. The train is stopped now, presumably at a station in Delaware, though I cannot be certain. It just occurred to me that I will never be able to keep this writing pace up for 26 ½ hours.

1:56 PM: Holy shit, we're in Baltimore already?! That went fast.

2:33 PM: In DC now. Only two hours outside of Philly? Impressive. They are stopped now, and changing the electric engine over to diesel – which means my computer just lost power – so much for this thought.

3:45 PM: We're rolling on diesel power now. The café is back open, and the train is buzzing with activity. People are up and moving about, drinking coffee, drinking beer, talking with their families. Women discuss whatever women discuss in the booth next to me. The sun is shining through the café windows, and just now were floating over a narrow bridge, surrounded on all sides by water. What a marked difference to the lifeless monotony of an airplane flight. Though I would be in sunny, warm Florida by now, I would have missed the journey. Right now, I'm enjoying it.

4:14 PM: The train is lively, indeed, and it's also assumed a very "colorful" vibe. The café car is full now, and I'm engrossed in Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers, which I can't yet pass judgement on – just the other day I denounced it and thought I'd never read it, yet today I'm again intrigued. There is an elderly gent sitting at a table for four. He's alone, reading the paper.

4:55 PM: We're deep into the South now, literally rolling down mainstreet of an unknown Virginia town. Large white houses with pillared verandas stand tucked in the trees. I cannot emphasize enough the irony of the two black women in front of me gawking at the very houses their ancestors probably toiled for.

5:04 PM: Richmond, Virginia. A designated "smoker's stop." I will not partake.

5:34 PM: The line at the café is growing longer again, after the initial wave of early-diners subsided for a while. I'm increasingly convinced that train travel is something entirely different from air travel, or even traveling in one's own car. Flying or driving somewhere is truly about getting from point A to point B. While I have this romantic notion that train travel actually might be about the journey itself, I get the impression that the others on this trip might just think so as well.

            People are talking to one another, meeting one another. Earlier a middle-aged couple sat and chatted for a good hour to a silver-haired elderly man, each party very much enjoying themselves. Just now, a young hippie-type wearing a red and yellow beanie on the top of his wiry framed body snapped a photo for a couple women seated next to me of foreign origins. There is a communal atmosphere aboard the train, like were riding along in one big hostel, and I'm at the center of the action, the lounge car, soaking it up.

5:44 PM: The silver-haired elderly gent has attracted another middle-aged couple, and just like the last, the man is the only one doing the talking, because the old dude is quite deaf. Inadvertently, the entire lounge car is now involved in the conversation, at least passively. It would make an interesting social experiment, to sit at a large table in a crowded, public place, just to see who sits next to you.

5:50 PM: My train-bound community theory has taken root in the table to my left. The aforementioned foreign women (now confirmed to be Brazilian), have accepted a slim black man as their tablemate who reminds me of Shorty, wearing an Obama inauguration t-shirt. They speak, the women in thick Portugese accents, and are very jovial.

5:52 PM: It's nearly dark outside, but out my window in the lounge car, I can see the last orange glow of daylight melding into the deep blue of a clear night on the western horizon.

5:53  PM: The black guy ("Boogie") with the Obama t-shirt on is sipping a Heineken and has just popped the top of a mini-bottle of Tanqueray.

5:54 PM: Holy moly. "Boogie" is apparently the base-player of Parliament Funkadelic. This is a strange train ride.

6:13 PM: I'm much more comfortable now, with my half-bottle of merlot from the lounge car snack bar. Listening to Boogie trying to talk with these Brazilian women is an indescribable exercise in unintentional comedy.

6:41 PM: "George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars Paint the Whitehouse Black 2009." The back of "Boogies" t-shirt. More on my lengthy, bizarre conversation with the man will come later.

7:43 PM: 20 hours to go…Boogie is still in the lounge car, now enjoying a Bud Lite and another Tanqueray. Amazing. I'm back in my windowless bulkhead seat with the fat family pushing on my seatback. After that half-bottle of merlot, these things are starting to irritate me. Braveheart is now showing on a laptop near me.

8:51 AM: Sunday. We're in Florida now, which means I successfully slept through two entire states. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to Savannah, though it was probably 2AM when we rolled in, and I was oblivious. I sacked out in the lounge car, able to fully stretch out on a too-narrow vinyl seat. This after altering the alignment of my spine while trying to snooze in my actual seat. I was amazed that no one else had thought to stretch out in that ideal little spot that I found – when I woke up though, 2 others had joined me. And I woke up often – always to the bright "mood" lights on the ceiling of what appeared to be, in older times, the smokers lounge on Amtrak #91, but which now might reasonably be dubbed the loungers lounge. After the fifth or sixth wakeup call, I felt reasonably rested, and reached for my phone pleading with it to be past 6AM – it was, so I rose. And found a seat at the table with that aforementioned old deaf dude, and we enjoyed a coffee together, the first early risers enjoying the empty café.

9:50 AM: Winter Park, Florida. I know nothing of the place…

10:00 AM: "Ten minutes to Orlando, ten minutes!" Unfortunately, we're  heading west to Tampa after this stop, not south to where I need to go. I'm sleepy, my head hurts and bit. 20 hours down, 7 to go.

1:04 PM: Lunch of more leftovers and another avocado. I stepped off the train in Orlando at the "Designated Smoking Stop" to stretch my legs for the first time in over 24 hours. Orlando's station is old, white, and reminiscent of a Spanish villa circa 1880. Napped for a while, which is a good thing, because I needed it badly.

2:26 PM: An elderly gent (another one) has joined me in the lounge car to charge his iPod on my computer, which I'm more than happy to do. I'm busy editing the latest Spinsheet article for the March issue. I think it's good. 2 ½ hours and counting.






Hong Kong

I did it again. Back at that crossroads where I feel like every next decision is going to make or break the rest of my life.
I left the Woodwind winter maintenance job on Saturday, with regret. I've worked there now for the past three years, on and off, and I credit my current aspirations to what I've learned there over that time. But for whatever reason, my brain raced every evening as I froze my ass off in the cabin of my boat trying to sleep, and I realized that just wasn't it. 
So what is it? I'm getting closer to figuring that out, I hope. I'm stuck between doing exactly what I want to do and doing something that might be good for my so-called 'career.' If I could do anything right now, I'd return to Sweden and figure it all out from there. Instead, I feel stuck, obligated to so many people, so many friends and family.
I always said that if I didn't have the family that I have I'd be off on some adventure like that dude from 'Into the Wild' - just hopefully not dead. But because of, not in spite of my family, I've had the opportunities to see a lot of the world while being able to return to people who care about me and my well-being. It's a double-edged sword really. It's almost too easy to come home. And it's too difficult to leave. But I'd never give that up either. Can I have both?
Tomorrow starts the countdown of my final two weeks working for Woodwind, maybe forever. I will always return to Annapolis, that's for sure. But in two weeks, I'm off again, for bigger and better adventure, to save my soul, to find myself...? 
I've got one option already. I had an interview today for an adventure travel company in Hong Kong, to lead a program for kids for six weeks starting in February. It's a short contract, I fit the bill for instructor pretty ideally, and it's a chance to see a part of the world I may have otherwise never even considered. Then there's the dozen or so TEFL jobs I've applied for in the past two days...waiting to hear about what happens with that.
The crossroads I'm at is whether I want to have a 'career' in something, or whether I want to continue trying to figure out how to pay for myself while doing what I really want to do. I went to Prague last year to get that TEFL certificate, and I excelled at it. I liked it. The reason I went there in the first place was because I wanted to sail around the world and teach as I went. Why am I suddenly abandoning that? Forget the idea of crewing on a yacht, I learned long ago at the country club that I don't like kissing ass to rich people. All of my heroes I continue to read about have written not about their 'careers', but about their passions. Why can't I do the same?
I think I will...


I am so fucking bold.

I'm riding the rails baby! Bound for Exton en route from NYC, the Big
Apple, Gotham City, The City That Never Sleeps. This is the first time
I've enjoyed travel by train in the good ole USA, and it's a dose of
relief for the ills of the soul...

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Though I hear this sound, the ride is
surprisingly smooth. Sitting near the rear of the train, the sound of
the horn is distant...the horn of a train, the loneliest sound in the

Why am I on this train? Because I had to save my soul. Or because I
sold my car to a Haitian dude named Johnny, while parked in the middle
of W 39th St., about 5 blocks from the Garden and the Empire State
Building. But I needed an adventure, I wanted to sell my car anyway,
and I've accomplished both today in the span of about 3 hours.

Johnny from Haiti first called me last week, responding to an ad on
Craig's List. I will never understand people who buy vehicles off of
this website. This is the second car I've sold via The List of Craig,
and both times the buyers lived quite far from where the car was
listed. Yet both deals went through without a hitch, despite the
distinct feeling I was a drug dealer. ANYWAY, I drove the 3 hours to
NY today after hastily unloading the beast into my childhood bedroom
at home. Originally it was Johnny's idea...I immediately said "no way,
you can come get the damned thing yourself." I reconsidered.

I crave adventure right? Crave the unknown? Suddenly I had the perfect
opportunity to experience both. So fuck it. I went.

It began snowing while I unloaded the last of the crap off my boat
into the basement. A sudden and intense fear struck my gullet, the
fear of wondering "what the hell am I getting myself into?" I've
experienced this fear before...before leaping 450' off a cable car
with a rubberband strapped to my ankles; before hurling myself out the
door of a wonderful airplane, 15,000 feet above New Zealand; before
setting sail in a blizzard last week attempting to leave Oxford; and
before my first big triathlon two summers ago. The outcome? Those were
some of the best experiences of my life, and the sense of dread at the
outset only made the outcome that much better. "Without the bitter,
baby, the sweet ain't as sweet."

I forced myself to get on the highway, put some distance between
myself and my out, before calling anyone to tell them of my plans. By
the time I reached Allentown I was committed, and upon hearing the
news, Dad responded as I expected: "Are you nuts?" Well, yes, I

When I emerged from the darkness of the Lincoln Tunnel, I burst smack
into the center of fucking New York City, with all the lights, tall
buildings, people and traffic wreaking havoc on my driving skills
while filling my senses with awe. I'm a kid in a candy store when you
put me in a big city, especially behind the wheel. It's rather
ridiculous, actually. In the city, I am so far removed from my element
that it's almost a wonder I don't just stand and stare like a
dumbfounded idiot, paralyzed. I drove the Rover around town for a bit,
joyriding for one last go in the last vehicle I hope to own for a very
long time. Actually I was simply trying to find Penn Station, naively
thinking it'd be a nice big train station with a gloriously empty
parking lot in which I would have my choice of wide, cozy spaces in
which to complete this wild deal of mine. Poor country boy I am.

All of the streets in NYC are one-way, of course, and I happened to be
driving on them at precisely 5pm. Perfect. Finally, with a little help
from Nate, who is a much more savvy city-goer, I found Penn Station at
the corner of W 33rd & 8th Ave, which unbeknownst to me, is also the
location of Madison Square Garden. And of course, parking was nowhere
to be found.

I ended up pulled off the side of 8th Ave, in an apparent "commercial
vehicles only" zone, which the not-so-friendly police officer angrily
informed me of, but not before issuing me a $115.00 ticket. We'll see
if I pay that...Me and the beast then made our way to 39th St, which
felt like a seedy back alley, enhancing the feeling that I was here to
deal in the deeds of the ill-willed. I waited in the car for Johnny
from Haiti, regretting that I was alone and didn't have someone like
Dane at my side to protect me from the unsavory characters that roamed
the streets of NYC.

Not long after I parked, making sure I was legally allowed to be
there, a white sedan pulled up behind me, and two dark-skinned,
well-dressed men emerged, followed by a knee-high little boy. His
presence simultaneously made me feel at ease and like I was about to
be shot. Half of me assumed they had brought him along precisely to
make it easier to kill me. "He'll never suspect anything with this
little boy here!"

I had already prepared a hand-written (in pencil!) bill of sale,
signed away the title, and packed up all my things to be ready for a
hasty departure as soon as I saw that $1200.00. For one, it was nigh
on 5:15, and my train was scheduled to leave at 6:30, the last one out
for the day. Moreso, however, I just wanted to take the money and run,
scared of getting stabbed on the way to the station. I got out of the
car and greeted Johnny from Haiti and his incredibly brawny
driver-friend whose name I could not understand, and both men were
very pleasant. Johnny very briefly inspected the car in the waning
daylight (for $1200.00 I'd hoped he wouldn't utter a peep of protest,
and he didn't). I gave him the title, the three keys, retrieved my
cd's from out of the back, and walked as fast as I could toward the
train station. My jacket was now worth $1200.00, for I'd stuffed a
massive wad of twenties in it's inside pocket. The deal was done.

The further I got from W 39th St, the slower my gait became. My
confidence soared after a successful adventure. Almost. I still had to
get home, yet the hard part (the scary part) was over. I descended the
escalator into Penn Station, sauntered over to the Amtrak counter and
picked up my ticket which I'd so thoughtfully reserved in the car on
the way up (I was determined to leave NYC by train. If it came to it,
I was prepared to leave the hulking beast on the side of the road,
remove the plates and leave a nice little note offering the car to
anyone who wished to have it). Ticket in hand, I had an hour to spare,
so I hit the city.

Mia and I made a pact on the way back from Lake Placid to never again
buy a coffee from Starbucks. This will be an easy pact to adhere to.
Of course, as is the case nearly everywhere else, there is a Starbucks
on every street corner in NYC, but I resisted, wandering further
downtown in search of the local cafe, or at least a charismatic Irish
Pub. That I did find, but passed up in favor of some fancy looking
coffee house that was not a Starbucks, and I sat down and enjoyed a
latte that was finally hot enough for me. The barista certainly earned
his 50 cent tip.

Back on the train now. It's raining outside, but I don't have to worry
about that, because I'm not driving the train. I'm not driving at all.
I'm traveling via my favorite method, enjoying the conclusion of my
adventure, and savoring the notion that I'm now free from the burden
of the automobile. Free from the financial burden, yes, but also free
from the burden it places on my soul. While my life may not be as
convenient after today, it will certainly be more interesting, and
that's exactly what I crave.

The Death of a Dream?

I'm reading the BBC website this morning about the 'invasion of Mumbai', as one author called it. I haven't seen any news of this as yet - too busy with Thanksgiving and football to even watch the news, and what I've seen has been mostly focused on Black Friday and Thanksgiving. 
The front page of the BBC website shows a slideshow of images from the attacks in Mumbai, followed by several articles discussing what's happened/happening. As I looked at the photos, a strange feeling overcame me, a feeling of sadness for what's happened, but in an interesting way. I couldn't quite pinpoint it at first; I kept going back to the photo of the Taj Mahal Hotel billowing smoke from it's top. The Hotel presented a gorgeous site, unmistakeably mid-eastern and exotic, and was framed by a crystal blue sky, not a cloud in site, save for the black smoke pouring from it's windows. And if you covered your thumb over a small fraction of the photo, the Hotel looked perfect, almost inviting.
The feeling that I got was one of loss, almost akin to losing a family member that died when you were too young to appreciate their company, like my grandfather who I never got to meet as an adult. The middle-east is high on the list of places I'd like to visit, maybe even teach in someday, to really experience. And those images of the Hotel intact are the sort of images that draw me into a place like that, with romantic notions of traveling inside a culture, experiencing it from the inside out. 
Mia bought me the Lonely Planet Travel Book last year for my birthday, which lists every country in the world, and includes some incredible photos accompanied by small facts about each place. We look at this book quite often, opening it randomly and reading about a country we may have never thought about. And we plan our travels this way.
Today, when the images of the Taj Mahal Hotel included black smoke and open flames, I felt profound sadness. Sadness for India, sadness for her peoples dreams and expectations, and, selfishly, sadness that I will never be able to visit the India of last week. 
Just like I selfishly wish I could bring back my grandfather to meet him as an adult, listen to his stories, learn about a man I never got to know, I now wish that these terrible things had never happened for the sake of myself as a traveler, and for the other travelers out there who may have lost their dream. The world is no longer an explorers playground; wars are not confined to the military anymore; increased technology and increased security fueled by increased paranoia, real and imagined, has simultaneously created a world in which it's easier than ever to travel, yet nearly impossible to find innocent authenticity once you arrive.

11 More Days in St. Martin

"It goes on and on and on and ooooh!" That's Journey, and that's what's playing on the stereo right now. I'm sitting outside at the 'Pad', Broadreach's little base in Anse Marcel, St Martin. Tonight I'll sleep in an army cot in the 'Loft', Broadreach's idea of staff accommodation. It would not be possible to describe this summer in one entry. I was just re-reading some old posts and realized that yes, my dreams have in fact manifested themselves in ways that I could never have imagined. I've sailed over 1000 miles this summer, spent 48 hours at sea, made lifelong friends from all over the world and have learned more about life and myself than I could have ever imagined or expected. I'll be gone in 11 days. It's going to be exceedingly weird being back in the 'real' world. I haven't had an indoor shower in over two months. Nor have I slept in a bed. I haven't even slept with a real pillow; I've been using my fleece rolled up into a makeshift headrest. But life in this environment is truly living. Living in the most real sense of the word. Time literally has ceased to exist, the days of the week no longer matter, nor does the date. It's just life, in it's simplest, most uncomfortably yet simultaneously enjoyable state. Have I changed? Undoubtedly. Will my life be different from now on? I don't know. I'll return home, and most likely things will go back to normal the minute I set foot on American soil. Life is funny like that...yet deep down I have changed, I know it. As another stage of my life begins, with the great unknown beckoning, I come back to the same question I ask myself in each of these situations...where will I be in a year and what dreams will have manifested themselves by then? The fun part is living it.

Life Aboard at Annapolis' Oldest Boatyard

Again, another article I'll submit for publication, this time to Spinsheet, the magazine about the Chesapeake. As always, wish me luck.
Unfortunately, due to copyright issues I don't want to mess with, I had to remove this post. Look for the real article in Spinsheet magazine, it should be published sometime between April and July 2008. 

Adventure Down Under

With luck, this article will appear in an upcoming issue of Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine. This is not the first time I've published something to my blog only to have an agreement for it to be published elsewhere. We'll see what happens. You saw it here first...

Again, copyright issues are tricky, so look for this article in an upcoming issue of Lats & Atts sometime this summer, 2008.