In the Namibian Bush

Our ride

Our ride

That, folks, is a huge off-road, diesel, 4×4, Mercedes truck.  The inside of which has been converted into a condo (think bed, sink, shower, toilet, table, fridge, etc).  It’s a massive thing that you can take almost anywhere.

And then it’s time for lunch.  We head back to the bakery, where we are treated (again) to an excellent meal – hell, they even had our names on our placemats.

The crew at lunch

The crew at lunch

After lunch, we’re on the road – heading to the campsite.  It’s not as remote as many of the places we have planned later in the trip – but it’s cozy and convenient. We spent two nights here and then moved.

In the shade

Setting up camp was so difficult, we took a break

Here are some pictures over those two days/nights.  Some of these pics are Cristelles, some ours, some Joep’s.

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

Zebra fights

Zebra fights

Water hole

Water hole

Smallest antelope in Namibia

Smallest antelope in Namibia

Baby giraffe

Baby giraffe

Momma giraffe

Momma giraffe

Esquillo

Esquillo

Zebra

Fat Zebra

Oryx

Oryx

Elephants!

Elephants!

Don't drink this stuff

Don’t drink this stuff

Dinner and drinks

Dinner and drinks

Colors

Colors

Sundowners on the deck

Sundowners on the deck

Sundowners, again

Sundowners, again

One of those days we took off for a game-drive (some pics above).  Excellent stuff.  Ana and I were riding on the top of the big truck drinking beer/cider and taking pictures of all of the wild and weird animals.  Elephant, zebra, giraffe, oryx, springbok, wildebeest, etc.  Fun times.  A  privilege to be treated so well by our many hosts.  This was the day that Ana and I saw a very rare animal – the hyena.  It was too quick for a picture – but it was very, very cool.

Kudu

Kudu

More giraffe

More giraffe

This one (below) is a favorite, though the quality clearly sucks.  Zebras moved into our camp one night and we got close enough to take these pictures.  If you’re from the South, you might think this is like cow-tipping, but Zebras.

Zebra-tipping

Zebra-tipping

The morning following the game drive, we woke up very early.  I was freezing and had a bit of a headache, but I made it.  A light breakfast and we began taking down camp.  We were on the road early and we were heading to a different type of terrain in Namibia:  the rocky desert.  So we drove and drove and eventually pulled up at a cool campsite, nestled into some sizable boulders.  On top of many of the boulders baboons sat guard and screamed at us when we came close.

That day was a rest day.  We took a break and drank and ate and visited the pool.  Yes, that’s a pool overlooking the bush in the middle of Namibia.  We were spoiled.

Pool over the desert

Pool over the desert

And that makes this a good spot for a break.  Cheers!

Caipirinha's all around!

Caipirinha’s all around!

Afreeeka!

Getting to Namibia

So I had to get from Bocas to Namibia.  And I’m on a budget.  So I’m not renting a private jet for this transatlantic crossing.  Bummer.  That means long flights, long layovers.  All of that with large people spilling over into my seat, screaming infants, ridiculous climate controls, and BO.  Oh – and airport security.  Sweet.

I love flying  (as a mode of travel) because it’s fast.  I hate flying for all other reasons.  Enough said.

Here’s how this all came to be:

  1. Get the boat ready to leave (easier written than done)
  2. Pay the marina (ouch)
  3. Flight from Bocas to Panama City
  4. Overnight at a hotel in Panama City.  Booked on LMT, so I didn’t know it was the infamous Wyndam (think hooker-central)
  5. Fly from PTY to MIA.  Flight delayed, book another connecting flight.
  6. Fly from MIA to London (a looooong flight).  Note to self:  London Heathrow is a zoo, the animals are pasty-white folks and their children
  7. Long layover in London.  Kick feet up, take shoes off, get my Netflix on.  Computer dies and I realize I need a converter to charge everything… What a dummy.
  8. Fly from London to Johannesburg.  Godawful long, screaming infants (plural) next to me. Get through security, realize wallet isn’t in my pocket.  No big deal, it just has 90% of my cash and three of four credit cards in it.  Good news:  I have a stash of cash and a spare card in a different spot.  I’ll probably survive.
  9. Finally find someone to talk to about lost wallet.  Inform them of said wallet misplaced by said numbskull.  Jaco and Cristelle (our hosts) find me, I tell them the wallet-news.  They suggest we drink coffee.  I agree.  We drink coffee.
  10. Ana surprises us all by showing up when we’re done with our coffee.  This leads us to buy a bottle of wine (early in the morning), much to the waiter’s surprise.  Which brings back the memories of sailing in Cuba where our coffee mugs were often replaced by cups containing some (alcoholic) treat.  The wine (not the cheapest and excellent) costs $6 for the bottle.  In an airport.  Good God, I’m in love.
  11. We take separate flights from  Johannesburg to Windhoek, Namibia.  While boarding my plane, a girl from Virgin Atlantic smiles and says:  “I’ve been looking for a guy with a beard and long blonde hair.  I guess that’s you.  Nathan Niehuus?”  She was smiling and didn’t appear to be law-enforcement, so I acknowledged.  She handed me my wallet (with all my cash/cards in it).  I gave her a $20 bill.  She had no idea how much money that was – neither did I (they use the Rand, not the dollar).  The only thing I knew was how much a bottle of wine cost… I told her it was about 5 bottles of decent wine.  We were both very happy.
  12. I arrive first in Windhoek, I get a taxi and head to the Puccini Guest House (Jaco and Cristelle are part owners) where I had a room waiting.  On the way I see baboons on the side of the road and it sinks in:  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Cool.

Home-ish.  At last.

That night we had a meal at a Soccer Club with Jaco and Cristelle’s friends.  Which is kind of a pub, with a strong leaning toward (you guessed it) – Soccer!  I had a (1 pound) T-Bone and fries and a salad and we spilt many a bottle of wine around the table.  All-in it cost me a bit over $10 at the end of the night.  Wonderful.  And I will say this:  Namibians know their meats. Their steak competes favorably with our steak in Texas.

Up Next…

The next day we wake up early, which is not my specialty.  We are busy – provisioning for our upcoming trips to the bush.  Over the next week we’re doing a bit of camping, seeing the countryside, looking for weird (and tasty) animals.

We provision.  Per usual, the bigger decisions were about what wines to bring along.  I love these kinds of tough decisions.  We decided well.  Meat and veg and everything else.  Biltong, which is like our jerky back home (sometimes better).  They eat it like candy here.  Really they eat it much, much more than candy.

Dinner with family

Dinner with family

Then we drive to Outju, where some of Cristelle’s family lives.  There we have are introduced all-around and we are treated like family.  We’re given a place to stay with Cristelle’s family and eat at their bakery.  Life is good. That night we have a big cookout with Cristelle’s family, where we are introduced to her father and mother.  Her father is a retired conservation expert, a biologist.  He has great stories, has lived a fascinating life and he likes white wine.  We had great wines and smoked a couple good cigars and ate fine meats.  Africa is a tough country.

Learning from the grill-master

Learning from the grill-master

For the next three weeks:  the running joke is that pork and chicken (white meats) are counted as vegetables in Namibia.  It’s only funny because it’s true.

We make it back to our beds tired and full and a little drunk.  And we are happy.

Up ‘Til Now

Me and my girls

Me and my girls

NOMAD in The Hobbies

NOMAD in The Hobbies

NOMAD, trapped

NOMAD, trapped

The Hobbies

The Hobbies

Hobbies

Hobbies

Ze Hobbies

Ze Hobbies

San Andres.  Meh.

So there we were in San Andres, Colombia.  It’s a small island off of the coast of Nicaragua – almost due West (a long ways) from mainland Colombia. Mike and Laura on Gilana (from San Blas) were there and I was very happy for their company.  They were enamored with San Andres.  Me?  Meh.

It was, certainly, our first touch with civilization for many months (excluding Cayman).  To that end, we were quite happy to have access to Chinese takeout, good beer, Internet access, etc.  The issue is that San Andres is a tourist trap.  The kind of place that drives me insane after a couple of weeks.   The antidote was Providencia – a smaller and more local island just North of San Andres.

The largest issue, though, was the lack of computer (two had taken a soaking, leaving me with none).  There was a shop in San Andres and none in Providencia.  That kept us in San Andres.  So we dropped off both computers at a shop in San Andres.  They told me it would be 4 days.  To avoid boring you with the back and forth – allow me to shorten the computer story:  nearly a month later I was still without a working computer.  True story.

For a month we were in a constant state of limbo:  it was possible we were leaving that day, possibly not.  All depending upon the computer.  To use a Texan expression – the computer repair shop was as useless as tits on a boar hog.

A month in limbo

So what does one do when in limbo?  We drank. We ate.  We provisioned.  We picked up small things for the boat.  We battled the watermaker and the freezer and the batteries and the lack of freshwater. We overpaid to have our clothes washed.  We ate.  We ate.  We ate.  We played lots of chess, averaging about three games a day.  To blow off some steam we took a boat-break and took advantage of hotwater showers and good WiFi in a couple of hotels.

We made up games to play.  One of them we called The Unicorn Hunt.  Ana and I would spend a good part of the day drinking and people watching – the goal being to find a good-looking member of the opposite sex.  Surprisingly it was pretty difficult in San Andres.  Whereas in Cartagena, Colombia… well… I will say that Ana made a good point – apparently good-looking male Colombians are in shorter supply.  The biggest issue in San Andres is that freediving is a challenge.  Being that freediving is my recreation and my exercise – this was more than a minor inconvenience.

Eventually, after all of the delays and fighting and waiting and frustration with the computer – I just decided to head to Bocas and skip Providencia altogether.  In Bocas life would be a lot easier, though more expensive.  I could put the boat in a marina and relax for a bit.  In Bocas I could surf and have some semblance of a social life. There were beaches to explore.  There were bars to become regulars at.  New friends to make, long nights to begin.

Eventually we got one computer partially repaired and got a refund for the other and loaded everything and took off on what we knew would be a crap sail.

The trip to Bocas

Very little to say. We knew we would have about 1/2 the trip motoring.  I hate motoring.  But since I’d had a month in limbo in San Andres – I knew exactly what we were getting into.  Well.  It was much the same as far as squalls.

So I was up most of the time, avoiding and managing squalls.  The other part of the time I was up paying attention to the mechanical boatstuff (which is part of the gig when you motor long distances).  Eventually Bocas came into view.  I was so happy.

We had a reservation at Bocas Marina.  So I anchored just off of the marina, went in and cleared everything, and then tied the boat up at the dock.  Now, this is the first time I have ever (willingly) put NOMAD in a marina.  Marinas are for softies or for storing your boat.  The kind of sailing/cruising I like to do is a polar opposite from what you see in the marinas.  But all of that said – marinas are comfortable.  They have hot water and plenty of it.  They have WiFi and electricity and people that can work on your boat.  In a marina you have neighbors (for better or worse).  It’s kind of a boat-neighborhood.

Even with all of the positives of a marina, they really aren’t my cup of tea.  Nonetheless I chose a marina.  I chose the marina because I was tired.  Tired of fighting everything. Tired of fixing everything.  Tired of crap crossings.  Tired of squalls.  Just f*cking tired.

And this relates to the lack of posting here as well. The truth is, I needed a break.  Living this kind of life is challenging for even a strong-willed couple.  Living this kind of life, and being responsible for so much, as a solo-sailor is an entirely different beast.  Those moments of terror and those periods of negativity weigh more.  Especially as a younger sailor.  I would say the average age of the cruising crowd is between 50 and 60.  Nearly twice my age.  Not a huge problem – but I’ve been doing this for over two years, full time.  All of this wears on you.  Add in the constant drain on your bank account (the water-based money-pit we call “boats”)…  Well, it was just time for a break.

Bocas Del Toro

Bocas is a rad place. A cool surf town.  It’s got enough gringo to make things easier (and more expensive), but not so much that you feel like you’ve transplanted from one American beach town to another.  I like it.  That said, there is no real spearfishing.  That’s a deal-killer, no matter how much I try to replace “spearfishing” with other things like surfing, kiting, etc.

BocasBocas

Bocas

Ana was on her way out.  She had a job on a boat in San Blas.  I was ready for a long Netflix marathon only broken up by surfing and eating.  We did a bit of cleaning up.  We did a bit of provisioning.  I repaired a few things.  And then Ana left and I started my Netflix/surfing/eating marathon. It was glorious and far too short.

Mas Bocas

Mas Bocas

In Bocas Marina there are three Lagoon 380’s, including the boat directly behind me on the dock.  Interestingly enough the one behind me is owned by a young Israeli guy.  My age, great surfer.  I know freediving, he knows surfing – and shortly there was one of those “I teach you X, you teach me Y” pacts.

Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro

Possibly more importantly, I recognized that the folks on the Israeli boat probably know a bit about hummus.  And when I say “a bit” I mean “a lot.”  I love hummus.  So I agreed to make a special dish for them if they’d come over and teach me hummus.  All was agreed and set and I got my hummus lesson. There was much to improve upon, apparently.  They have hummus down to an art.  A very tasty art.

Just a bit more Bocas

Just a bit more Bocas

I made a typical Nate-blunder when it was my turn to cook for them.  You see, I have an aversion to religion and all of the things that come along with it (divisiveness, strange hats worn for obscure purposes, food-rules established many thousands of years ago, early mornings, ritualistic cannibalism, etc).

And my special dish, which I was preparing for the Israelis, is a Filipino dish called Pork Adobo.  Right.  They are Israelis and I planned on cooking them pork and I didn’t, even for a moment, consider that some people don’t eat pork for religious reasons.   The reasoning is simple:  that’s a sacrifice I can’t imagine making.  Not eat bacon?  No pork chops?  Insanity.

In Asia they eat dogs, but in America dogs are treated better than many humans in other countries.  Nothing is safer than a pig in Jerusalem.  In India, they’ll starve and let the cows live with them like Gods.  The world is a strange place.

Needless to say, my pork dish didn’t go over so well with the Israelis.  Having spent so much time in the Middle East – you would think that little hiccup would have been more obvious to me…

Onward.

A Real Boat-Break

We’ve established that I needed a boat-break. Something, anything, off of the boat and without the daily fights and worries and challenges that come with managing and living (full-time) on a large boat in foreign countries.

The elixir came in the form of an invite from some very-good friends of mine, met in San Blas.  We also cruised with them extensively, and often exclusively, in Cuba.  Great people from a tiny and not-so-well-known country:  Namibia.

You see, Jaco and Cristelle (said friends), were going home (Namibia) for awhile.  I’ve always wanted to see Africa, but the real Africa. Not some organized tour-group the takes you between Radisson hotels and exclusive lodges.  I want to meet the real people and travel the country in a real way.  I want to see the challenges.  I want to shop in the local supermarkets.  I want to eat what the locals eat.  Do what the locals do.   I want to take an shot at really understanding some of Africa.  Which is what Jaco and Cristelle’s invite offered.

Eventually, after playing with some budgets, I managed to squeeze water from a rock:  enough dinero for the trip.  Tickets were booked.  I was flying halfway across the world to hang out with friends in their homeland.  An exotic place, surely.

I’m here now.  I’m in Namibia.  In Africa.  It’s both what I expected and not.  Stark contradictions.  A tough land that makes people tough.  Namibia is not as “settled” as other countries and in this is it’s beauty.

I know, I know…

The Route

Leaving the Caymans was tricky. We needed a specific weather pattern, apparently an abnormal one for this time of year.  We got it one day, but we were hungover from a little sailor get-together that was supposed to be “just one drink.”  There is very little worse than starting a passage with little sleep and a hangover.  We waited.

Then we were gifted the right weather.

And then we left.

To The Hobbies

What can I say about this passage?  It was a rough one.  For a relatively short passage – it kicked my ass. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as the next one.  Before we get too far down this road – here’s a screenshot that illustrates why AIS is a good investment.

AIS

AIS

Onward.

We pulled out anchor around 2000 hours.  We motored for a couple of hours.  Then we caught the wind and we were off.  That night we were surrounded by squalls.  We had to keep a reef in the mainsail the entire time – which dramatically decreased our power when we didn’t have a squall pounding us.  We were averaging a little under 6 knots, which is  a horrible average for NOMAD.  But low speed and rough weather and lightning and big waves and crazy wind aren’t the issue.

The issue is that because of all of those things, when we’re getting smashed by squalls, I can’t sleep.  There’s only one person who sits in the captain’s chair when all hell breaks loose.  It’s a fact of life, and not one that I mind – assuming that it’s not day-in-day-out.  Of course, this was day-in-day-out.

There was a silver lining.  I was looking for it.  When you’re soaking wet and exhausted and on edge and hungry and cold you look for those silver linings.  The silver lining was that the waves hadn’t had enough time to grow to any incredible size.  They were staying between the two and three meter mark, with the occasional 3.5 M (11 ft) sneaker.  That’s doable.  They were a little steep, and on the passage I wasn’t happy about how steep they were – but I would learn on our next movement what “steep” really meant.

When the sun finally rose I was too tired to even let the fishing lines out.  I just heated up coffee and tried to read a little.  This was, to date, the most intense situation in which I had re-read Huckleberry Finn. I did, however, relate very keenly to Jim and Huck’s struggles on the river with weather and darkness and other boats.

Ana came up and we ate and she took a shift at the wheel.  I laid down in the cockpit and tried to catch a nap.

And then it was getting dark again and I could see squalls building on the horizon.  I flipped on the radar and quickly saw it was going to be another one of those rough nights.  It was.  Shocking.

This evening the pattern became pretty predictable:  we would be sailing in 10-15 knots of wind, surrounded by squalls and crumbling waves.  Then the wind would die, the sails would flap. Then I would get ready for some shit – usually just reef the headsail.  Then I would be in the shit.  Like a switch was flipped, the wind would increase to 30-35 knots from the direction of the squall.  I would run NOMAD in front of it until I got an idea of windspeed and then (assuming all was well) correct course, put on some clear glasses, and ride out the storm.

This.  Over and over and over.  It was very similar to my combat experience: long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  Then the adrenaline fades and exhaustion kicks in until your next shot of adrenaline.

Then it was morning.  Finally.  And I could see The Hobbies.  I could also see hella storms all around us. Our stop in The Hobbies was supposed to be a relaxing time to regroup, do some epic diving, fill up on fish, etc.  But as we approached (with no real charts) it looked incredibly uninviting.   I knew by speaking with other sailors (and thanks to ActiveCaptain) the general area of the opening in the reef, but that was all.  I didn’t know where the wrecks were and I didn’t know where the coral heads were.  Not something you want to navigate when a storm is nipping at your heels and you don’t have light to see the reefs.  But that is what we did. And we made it to anchor.

We spent nearly three days in The Hobbies, which was the end of our weather information.  We did a bit of diving and took a couple of fish for the freezer.  Here I saw a Black Grouper that was big enough to scare me – certainly the largest I’ve ever seen.  And I managed to put a spear in him, but he managed to remove that spear after pretzeling it.  We also saw a massive Leatherback Turtle.  Other than that, the time there wasn’t super-remarkable.  If we had better weather info we certainly would have stayed longer and seen more.  It was beautiful.  It was remote.  And it was cool.  I lost the pictures taken here… Major bummer.  Here’s a picture from S/V Gypsea Heart that shows what the main island looks like:  It’s just lobster/fish traps.

Hobbies

Hobbies

And here was where I get to use my first long-time-since-I-posted excuse (barring the we-were-sailing-in-remote-areas excuse).  I left a hatch open during a sunny day in The Hobbies when we went diving.  Beneath this hatch was my computer.  Within an hour a storm blew in and soaked said computer.  As you probably realize, there are no Mac Stores in The Hobbies.  As a matter of fact, there are no stores.  There are no people.  There are no houses.  There is absolutely nothing.  Except birds and a bunch of fish traps.  Normally, this is the kind of place I like – but without a computer?  Not as cool.

To San Andres

Again, we were off.  We pulled anchor early (1700 hours) because I simply didn’t trust the area (remember I had no charts and came in with no light).  Naturally the wind was blowing 25 knots in our face as we left.  But once we got out that wind was on our quarter and it was damn near perfect sailing.  The waves were plenty large but we were moving nicely.

Then the wind dropped.  At this point, I knew what that meant (admittedly, I also saw the squall on radar).  And so the familiar routine began again. The first night wasn’t so bad.  I was well-rested and well-fed and knew what was coming.  I can also say that I’d had a bit of experience with the all-night squall-after-squall scenario.  So, we bumped and bounced and bashed and lurched toward San Andres.

The next day I rested a little and then later in the day we ended up turning on an engine as the wind gave out.

That night was the roughest sailing I’ve ever done.  That night was a real test.  They say calm seas do not good sailors make.  I hope there’s something to this.  Otherwise it was just the ocean testing the limits of my sanity.  After doing this for a couple of years, you get a feeling for most of the stuff.  Engines breaking when the wind is beating you in the face and the reef is behind you – check.  Autopilot failing while you’re singlehanding and trying to replace a fan-belt in the engine room – check.  The boom falling off while sailing – check.  The dinghy falling off in the middle of a crossing while you’re getting pounded by waves – check.  The list goes on.

But nothing (except similar experience) prepares you for taking a sound thrashing by the ocean.  You just have to live through it.

What made this night so shitty was something I recognized while planning our route, but didn’t quite understand the scope of.  Our route from The Hobbies to San Andres took us over a long, shallow shelf (much of it less than 15M/45ft).  Because of the strength of the weather previously – the waves had built and built and built in the deeper water.  And then when they came across this bank, they stood up straight and started crumbling.  What were 3M/9ft-4M/13ft, long-period waves in the deeper water were now larger, short period waves with faces resembling walls and tops that were breaking.

Here’s the bank, obviously the route is oversimplified again.  I didn’t go crashing through the islands.

The Bank

The Bank

The squalls had picked up in intensity, so much so that I was having to sail with the main double-reefed.  That kept our speed down to about 5 knots outside of the squalls(when we weren’t skiing down the face of waves while being pushed by 45 knots of wind).  The night was black. Very, very black.  Fairly regularly, though, lighting struck near us and illuminated our situation for a moment.  Just long enough to raise your heartbeat.  When the lighting struck it became apparent how tiny our little boat was and how big the ocean around us was and how little control we really had over the situation.

It was, literally, walls of water breaking all around us (and on us). There was nowhere to run.  When we were in the trough of the waves the next wave would be much higher that the arch my solar panels are on – way over my head.  And then they would crumble onto us.  I was wearing foul-weather gear, but at some point it doesn’t really matter.  After a few waves break over you – you’re soaking wet and just holding on and hoping for the best.

At the height of it all I said some words to the ocean, something that would have passed for a prayer when I was a religious person.  I remember that moment clearly now.  We had two reefs in the main, two reefs in the headsail, and the radar was orange and yellow all around us.  The rain was stinging.  I was wearing glasses to see through the water.  I was soaked to my bones and the lighting struck in regular intervals around us.  I noticed we couldn’t hear most of the thunder because of the sound of the waves smashing into us.  It was a hell of a deal.  The sound alone is incredible.  You can’t hear anything but the wind and the waves booming as they break on/over the boat.  It’s completely black and you’re pitching, then lightning strikes and you see white water on top of black walls everywhere – and then it’s all gone again in a second.

The wind went from about 8 knots to about 45 knots.

I was OK up to about 40 knots with both sails double reefed.  But 45 knots scared me a little and so I ran NOMAD front of it.  Even running in front of it, as we were surfing down the waves we were consistently doing over 11 knots.  The waves were breaking over us when we were in the troughs and all I could do was to hope.

We made it through it, mostly unscathed.  The boat can always take more than it’s inhabitants

Eventually my adrenaline washed away and I was exhausted.  I realized the next morning that my jaw was sore:  I’d been clenching my teeth all night. As we came into the deeper water everything smoothed out (but it was still very rough) and I could hear San Andres Port Authority telling everyone the conditions were “Red” and that all small boats should seek shelter.  That was very much our plan.  Much to my surprise there were fishermen (in tiny pangas) out in that mess with us.  I was impressed.  Some of these local guys are excellent watermen.  Some.  Others are just insane.

We eventually pulled into San Andres, where we saw Mike and Laura on Gilana.  It was nice to see a familiar boat and some familiar faces.

 

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Awesome Crew Wanted

Want to be crew? Cool.   I’m usually looking for awesome people to do awesome things with – somewhere, at some time. Read on, carefully…

Reality Check

One other truth about cruising on a small boat across big oceans is that it’s much like a roommate situation, without having any previous experience with your roommates. Except it’s a small space, and you can’t just walk out the door to the nearest coffee shop when you need your space.

That is to say – it can be challenging.

Add in the occasional moment of terror, rough weather, the nature of sailing (some things need to be done right now), things are always breaking, varying levels of experience, expectations, and a large variance in personalities…

Needless to say, sailing this way isn’t for everyone.

Sailing, this way, isn’t a vacation. It’s not always relaxing, you won’t have people serving you, and you’ll have responsibilities onboard. If you want a sailing vacation, with people serving you and minimal responsibilities – you need to charter a catamaran. I do that too, but it’s very different and much more costly (10-15X).

If you are willing to work hard when required, are proactive, and can handle (with grace) the authority of the captain – maybe you’re a candidate.

You also need to keep in mind that I accept crew in order to make my life easier – so if you don’t do that or, God forbid, you add to the inherent challenges onboard: you’ll find yourself dockside with your luggage booking a last-minute flight. That’s not cool for anyone. I hate it, they hate it, we hate it.  That has happened, and in order for everyone to avoid that – please keep everything you read here in mind.

Think about this like camping, for extended periods of time, with strangers, sometimes in stressful situations. Good news: it’s usually in very beautiful places.

The ideal candidate (onboard NOMAD) possesses the following:

  • a sense of humor
  • honesty, trustworthiness, tact, an understanding of when to speak and when not to
  • a thick skin (ie – when someone yells “grab that line, now!” you don’t take it personally)
  • a keen understanding of your role onboard (e.g. you are welcome to share this experience for a tiny fraction of the cost of chartering or owning your own boat – but that is because you are here to help)
  • the ability to cook well, no problem cleaning up after others
  • some experience in the working world (ie – you are financially stable, you understand how money works, you have experience being a subordinate in stressful situations)
  • zero drama/emotional baggage
  • experience onboard boats, in the ocean, and sailing
  • an adventurous attitude/spirit
  • the ability to be unattached from the outside world for extended periods of time (limited internet, limited phone conversations, etc)
  • low maintenance (no hair dryers, limited 110V, no Starbucks, limited freshwater, no hot water)

In addition to all of that, there are some things, specific to sailing on NOMAD that you should be aware of:

  • in order to support this, I write (and read quite a bit), this is one of my jobs onboard. Often I need peace and quiet and you will need to take care of things by yourself (and entertain yourself)
  • in order to keep food on the table (and provide exercise, recreation) I freedive/spearfish often. That is part of my job, most of my recreation, all of my exercise, and a large reason I am out here, doing this. Helping or taking part in this is very welcome.
  • captains that sail this way are typically strong personalities (obviously… they must be to give up everything, put all of their money in a depreciating asset and a mechanical liability, give up many creature comforts, and put themselves at the mercy of Mother Nature). I am no exception.
  • the captain has a long list of concerns onboard: safety, security, the anchor, weather, boat condition, provisioning, people, schedules, freshwater, electricity, propane, fuel, boat maintenance, parts-sourcing, boat maintenance, weather, weather, weather, money, etc … you don’t have most of those concerns, so give the captain (me) a break from time to time
  • your primary job is cooking and cleaning
  • your secondary job is capturing things via photo/video

If all of this is truly understood, and you’re still interested, there is the money-thing.

The Money-Thing

I do not pay crew to be onboard. That is ridiculous. This is not a professional position, though you can gain some professional skills.

This is a cost-sharing, experience-sharing position.

Simply put, I have no trust fund and so, I cannot support you. Every cent I spend shortens my trip.

The good news is that your habitation, your transportation, your water, your electricity, your gas, and your meals are all paid for onboard – with a daily rate that is typically less than the cost of a hostel alone. As far as traveling and getting to enjoy the ocean – this is a very cost-effective way of doing so (as crew).

Getting to and from the boat (ie flights, shore excursions, etc): your responsibility. Vice (alcohol, tobacco) is your responsibility. Your visas are your responsibility.

The best fits are always people who have spent their lives on the ocean. Salty folks. Surfers, sailors, freedivers, offshore fisherman, etc. Usually in combination with traveling.

The Relationship-Thing

Relationships are funny onboard, and onboard there is a relationship of some type with every person onboard. It’s a small space. Relationships vary with crew and timing and personalities and they can be anything from professional to very good friends to borderline enemies to intimate.  And that can change day-to-day.

Experience is how you figure out where you fit in that, there is no shortcut. Don’t come with any expectations, and you won’t be disappointed.

The Hierarchy

Hierarchies exist everywhere and they do change and you’re not always at the top but you can usually work your way up there, if you’re the right kind of person. You’re welcome for that life-lesson.

I once thought this was self-explanatory.

There is a hierarchy onboard NOMAD. To avoid confusion – the crew with the most experience onboard NOMAD is the person you (the new crew) will be learning from. You start at the bottom.  You can move up.

I’ll teach some things, but most of what you need to know won’t come from me.

No-Go

After much trial and error, I have a list of no-go’s. If any of the following pertain to you, do not apply:

  • Under 25 years of age
  • You have not worked in the “real-world” for a couple of years
  • Limited experience cooking
  • Don’t have some previous experience at sea, with references
  • Your commitment is less than a month
  • Not financially stable
  • Not willing to, or cannot do, a Skype interview
  • Your dates and schedule are not flexible
  • You are applying as a couple
  • You are strongly religious
  • You consider yourself sensitive, in any way
  • You do smoke cigarettes
  • You do not drink alcohol
  • You are in mediocre (or worse) physical condition (we are active)
  • You are a weak swimmer
  • You are not proactive, hardworking
  • You have someone/something “back home” which requires attention/connection
  • You bring negative stuff onboard: drama, emotional baggage, insanity, obscene ignorance, an alligator-mouth-that-overloads-your-humbug-ass, etc

This is a well-thought-out list. It is exacting. If it doesn’t work for you, there is some good news: you can buy/charter your own boat, put in the time and money, and then make up your own lists for crew. Novel, right?

All that said, don’t let it put you off reaching out if you feel you would really be a good fit but you don’t fit one or two criteria.   Nobody is perfect. Especially the captain.

If you honestly (please be honest with yourself for the sake of everyone involved) believe you are a good fit: reach out to me via my Facebook page, give me a summary of yourself, your skills, and your dates.

Then relax and be patient – my access to Internet is sporadic.

Let’s say you are the right candidate and you reach out at the right time. In that case, here’s a list of “bring” and “leave at home.”

Bring:

  • An awesome personality attached to an awesome person
  • Cash (more than you’d think)
  • Snorkeling/freediving/spearfishing gear (tell me what you have, I’ll tell you what I have – we’ll meet in the middle)
  • Gloves for sailing/diving
  • Sunscreen
  • A hat and a long-sleeve shirt to shade you (sun protection is important)
  • Lycra or wetsuit to keep from burning while diving
  • Polarized sunglasses (maybe two pair – Flying Fisherman are cheap/decent)
  • A favorite boardgame (we play lots of chess)
  • Any special spice or flavor or food you are fond of
  • Favorite recipes (or a good cookbook)
  • Books (ideally on an iPad, Kindle, etc)
  • Movies and music (have these on a harddrive or thumbstick – no Pandora, or other Internet source, even when you download it beforehand, works out here). BitTorrent is your friend, use a VPN.
  • Possibly a computer – but make sure it has a long-life battery

Leave at home:

  • Shitty, selfish, or unhelpful attitudes
  • Your Internet addiction
  • Your Starbucks addiction (we do drink excellent French-pressed coffee, though)
  • Your shopping addiction
  • Your Facebook addiction
  • Your reliance on fast-food, delivery, or take-out
  • Preconceived notions about this lifestyle or the people in it
  • Expectations
  • Schedules

Survival Tips:

  • don’t piss off the captain, that should be pretty self-explanatory – but since it’s not: I have worked very hard to make my life less complex and more positive.  I have sacrificed more than I care to remember.  To that end I don’t (nor do others) tolerate crew that adversely affects me.  Pretty straightforward, right?
  • resolve conflict by talking calmly, rationally, and at the earliest possible convenience
  • make life onboard more pleasant and you’ll secure a spot for as long as you want and for any time you would like to come back
  • appreciate every day you’re breathing, they all have a silver lining and we all need to be reminded of that

So there it is. That’s it. And if you make it onboard I can promise you three things:

  1. It will not always be pleasant, but sometimes it will approach perfection – we live for those moments
  2. For the right person it is an epic, eye-opening experience
  3. When you are old, you will tell stories about this

The Beginning of the End

Havana Club

Havana Club

I can explain.

Since it’s difficult/expensive to get rum in the first part of our run – we need to have enough rum to last us over a month. When we really started figuring how much rum that would be – well… It’s a lot.

We bought one store out of rum, then started on the second store.

Add in a couple of cheap wines for sangria and some white rum for mixing. Then the mixers. Then a bit of beer. Suddenly you are sleeping with rum bottles surrounding your bed every night.

Anyways, onward. We are leaving as soon as the wind turns East enough, long enough. That looks like a couple of days away. We’re very ready, so sooner is better.

Moving on means getting all the “that can wait, but it needs to happen before the next sail” projects (which have been piling up) out of the way. Replacing the boom topping lift. Fixing the lifelines. New belts on the engines. Check fluid levels. Fill up fuel. Run the watermaker. Get ice, stockpile a bit of fish. Put things away (it’s amazing how everything seems to migrate out of it’s place and begins to slowly cover any horizontal plane). Tighten it all down.

I’ll be happy to be underway.

The first stop (Cayman) isn’t all that far. Then we’ll stop and reprovision and wait on weather. Than a longer hop to the Hobbies, where there is rumored to be excellent fishing. Then a blind (weather) run to Providencia, possibly with the wind in our face. That’s the most worrisome part of the trip – Hobbies to Providencia – as we will have limited access to weather reports (unless I get the SSB working and can pick up Chris Parker – fingers crossed).   But all in all – relatively short passages, relatively close to land. Much more like island-hopping than our crazy ride from Panama direct to Cayman.

Obsessed

Cubera Snapper spearfishing

Cubera Snapper spearfishing

PS – please excuse the disheveled appearance and the constipated look on my face.  It’s hard holding a fish up, when it gets this size.  And I was far too busy chasing this fish to bother with things like shaving, combing my hair, and general life maintenance.

PPS – Oh, and the sail that’s uncovered in the background.  You see, boat maintenance is important, but not as important as dinosaur fish.

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