2011 in Review

Gudrun V
Axel Busch
Sat 31 Dec 2011 00:16
2011-12-31 00:10

What an exiting year, so much happened politically as well as economically. But even though the events of this year have changed the global community, they felt like reports from a different universe to us. In our current disconnected universe of sailing and travelling together 24/7 everything revolves around peak gusts, whether the anchor and lines hold, drinking water supplies, battery charge, finding wifi, bugdeting, and getting along with each other. This is a month by month review of our year.

We start the year in New Zealand. Both of our families get together to celebrate New Year at Liz' parents house. It is a wonderful party, until Liz is hit by fireworks. For a week we visit the hospital every evening for burn treatment. It is kind of funny but then it is not. Hardly anyone sniggers. We visit beaches and go on a fishing trip and catch 58 huge red snappers, which we distribute amongst friends and family. Unfortunately my big camera falls into the sea at one point and I have to buy a new one. Then the Busch family tours the north island by car. In Wellington Mum trips over a curb and ends up in the hospital as well, with a cracked arm and a bloody nose. But a day later she is laughing again, and at least now we know that the New Zealand health care system is working well and that the nurses are friendly and competent. After returning from New Zealand, Axel and Liz fly to Las Palmas to work on Gudrun V and prepare her for the Atlantic crossing.

Liz reads everything about cooking on a boat and equips Gudrun V's galley with tools and food, while Axel works on the solar panels and rigging. When the boat is finally ready (enough) on February 3rd Axel throws a big Bon Voyage party for all his Las Palmas friends before he leaves the next morning. Only, the next morning his hang-over is too big to do anything except drink water, so the departure is delayed for another day. February 5th Axel finally leaves Las Palmas after 7 months of repairs and upgrades, and then spents the following 21 days and 4 hours sailing alone to St. Martin in the Caribbean. The first week is nothing but bad weather, trouble, and damages. The second week the weather is better and only the furler and tiller break. The third week is very pleasant. In the meantime Liz cleans up her apartment in Berlin, sells her furniture, and says goodbye to her friends over lunches. When Axel arrives in St. Martin everybody (including himself) is very relieved that all went well. His friend Henk, who he met in Las Palmas, greets him in the bay and together they go to eat a big Burger each!

Axel is at anchor in the Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin. He edits the movie from the crossing and repairs Gudrun V's damages in anticipation of Liz' arrival. Most importantly the head (=toilet). Then Axel flies to Berlin to pick up Liz and to get a US tourist visa, which is required when entering US territory by private yacht. Liz says a final good bye to Berlin and flies with two big bags of clothes and books to St. Martin to live on the boat and sail with Axel. Only we don't sail much in March at all, but spent our time shopping, swimming, and adjusting to living on a boat together. Axel upgrades the wind generator to keep up with the significantly higher drain on the batteries. Liz plays the guitar in the cockpit and learns how to drive a dinghy and loves the speed. Then we run out of fuel and have to row the dinghy a mile across the lagoon to the gas station. It takes a long time.

We decide to stay in St. Martin until Liesbet's and Mark's wedding, friends we made since arriving. Liz is still settling into the boating life, and starts writing a book. In the mornings we swim to shore for pilates and Taekown-Do exercises. When Axel is not working on the boat he is diving, preparing for a Rescue Diver certification. We take a first aid course. In the evenings we usually meet up with Liesbet, Mark, Rosie, Sim, Jon, Sam, Matt, Denise, John, or Tony. It's a nice little community, bbqing, drinking beers and trading stories. Half-way through April Harald, a sailor we met in Las Palmas, arrives with his Katamaran. Together we install a new furler system for his boat and shoot a movie for Dwarf8. The wedding comes and Axel is busy as the wedding photographer.

Liz faces her great fear and goes on a shark dive with Axel and Ocean Explorers dive center. Nobody gets bitten. Then we leave St. Martin and sail to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's Liz first offshore sail. The winds are light and Liz doesn't get seasick. During the day we hide from the sun. At night we lie on deck and watch the stars and talk. After two very nice days together on the boat we arrive in Puerto Rico and go sightseeing across the island. In between tours Axel works on the boat. He removes the traveller from the cockpit and replaces it with a double main-sheet system. Now we can stretch out our legs and don't have to climb over the traveller all the time. We sail on from San Juan, heading for Cuba. The winds are light, and we only make it to Arecibo, where we stay at anchor for two days waiting for wind. We don't leave the boat. Liz plays plants vs Zombie on the Nintendo DS and Axel plays Galaxy on Fire II on the iPad. We feel like huge geeks. When the wind picks up again we leave the port, but need the engine soon again. In the afternoon the oil cooler breaks and we have to stop in Aguadilla for repairs. Only there are no spare parts and we have to improvise. We meet Nancy and Louis and his brothers and end up staying a week. We loose trust in the engine and decide not to sail to Cuba because we don't want to get stuck there. Instead we will head for Colombia and out of the hurricane zone for the quickly approaching season.

We motor down the western shore of Puerto Rico, stopping in Mayaguez and Boqueron. The flies are eating us alive. We check out of Puerto Rico as fast as possible and head south-west across the Caribbean basin to Colombia. At first we have a lot of wind and Liz gets her first salt-water shower courtesy of a wave. We celebrate with rum punch. After two days the wind stops. Axel tries to start the engine to motor the last 40nm, but it doesn't start. The starter motor is broken. We drift for four days, becalmed during the day and beset by thunderstorms at night. We are scared. Then we finally make it to Santa Marta, Colombia, slowly sailing into the bay at 1.5kn. The marina sends a tug to tow us in, very kind of them. We are happy to have arrived and get off the boat. We spent the first two nights in Colombia in a hotel. Then we adjust to Colombia. This is clearly not the Caribbean anymore, this is South America. People are incredibly friendly and helpful, but everything is somehow different. There is more paperwork, people a shorter, dress more formal, listen to music with lots of accordeon in it, and the food is very basic - rice, meat, and tomatoes. And honestly, not that great. Except for the food from David's and Melissa's Cafe Lulo, which quickly becomes our favorite spot. Axel repairs the starter motor. Then we fly to Cuba on a regular tourist plane like we were sane people.

We travel through Cuba. Naturally it's different from anywhere else. Not quite lost in the past and not quite arrived in the present, drifting somewhere, somehow, in a timeless state. Only the buildings are slowly crumbling, and the people are learning about the world outside of their small island and want change. Axel asks Liz whether she wants to marry him. This wasn't planned, but he feels the time has come to ask the question, so why wait. She thinks about it for a minute then says yes. Hooray! We travel some more and make friends. Then we leave again on our tourist plane and fly back to the boat and Colombia. In the meantime it got hot there, really hot. Stifling heat during the day and thunderstorms at night. The south Caribbean is no place to be in the summer. Axel's friend Andre arrives with his boat and family. Axel and Andre met when both started on their voyage in December 2009 in France, and both are very exited to meet up again. As July comes to an end we prepare the boat and lock her up and fly away again, to Germany. We hear that the summer's been horrible in Germany so far, but we bring Colombias sun with us and are happy to be back home for a while. Friends come over for Axel's birthday and it's like we've never been away.

We're back in Axel's apartment in Ulm. We buy engagement rings and throw a party for Axel's relatives. Liz' parents are joining over skype. We borrow Karin's car and start on a road-trip towards Belgrade, where friends are getting married. On the way we visit Liz' uncle Ian in Slovakia and spent two nights, drinking his home-made wine and playing pool in the garage. Then we drive on to Budapest and go sightseeing: old buildings and tourists with cameras. On the way to Belgrade we pick up hitchhikers. We arrive in Belgrade and fall in love with this city which is half Europe and half Balkan. So much energy, passion, lust for life, happy people, and fantastic vegetables. The wedding is great, and Axel takes a lot of photographs. It's Liz birthday as well and she gets a big birthday cake from Nebo and Jovana. We drive back via Zagreb and Pulst, Austria, where our friend Harald lives. We stay two days and he tells many stories about growing up in Austria in the 50s.

We return to Ulm and then pack our suitcases again for another round of travelling and visiting friends. First we fly to Copenhagen to visit Pippin and Rilla, Liz' friends from grad school. We watch Pippin finish writing a browser game which makes headlines across the world shortly afterwards. Axel is in awe and inspired. From Copenhagen we fly to Puerto Sherry for a week to visit Antonio, who Axel met on his way to the Canary islands. Antonio shows us around Cadiz and Tarifa and we fall in love with Andalucia. We spent a day in Seville before flying on to Las Palmas where Axel wants to sell his first boat, Vespina. The sale is sucesfull and as we walk back to the hotel we talk about how easy it is to travel by plane and how nice it is to sleep in a real bed and have a comfortable bathroom and showers just next door, instead of hundreds of meters across the marina. We decide that voyaging on a boat isn't really for us and that we'll sell Gudrun V as well when we get back to Colombia. Instead we will move to Spain and work with Dwarf8 or start a new software company, maybe learning games. On the way from Las Palmas to Germany we stop over in Marrakech for four days. We are amazed at the friendliness of the people as well as their cunning and opportunism when it comes to making money. Not a culture we feel close to. We ride in a hot air balloon and Axel takes many photographs while Liz enjoys the view. Back in Ulm we clean out the apartment and put everything into boxes ready for pick-up and shipment to New Zealand. Whe throw a last party and sell what we don't want to take and donate the returns to Avaaz and wikipedia. We find the perfect tenant for the apartment and then board a plane to New York.

We rent an apartment in the east village, 7th and C. Axel takes a lot of photography classes and makes many new friends. Liz takes sewing classes and continues writing her book. Together we take a pizza class at Pizza A Casa and make friends with Mark and Jenny. We meet up with Liz' brother Alex and old friends from high school. Axel rents a car to chase the fall colors and takes many more photographs. We are in love with New York and think about staying for a year before we move to New Zealand. Liz looks for wedding venues near Auckland and we book a venue on Waiheke island for January 2013. We also find a photographer and a band, although our preferred choice is already booked for the date, incredible. Axel's friend Klaus comes to visit and we go sightseeing and to a Jazz club - more photographs. Liz's sister Elaine comes to visit and together with Liz' friends Renee and Tom we all dress up as a flock of penguins for Halloween. Snow falls and the power is out in many neighborhoods for days. We go to a Halloween party and in the early morning hours to a diner and eat until we hate ourselves. When we get back to Tom's and Renee's house the power is still out and it's fricking cold. We sleep under all the blankets we can find.

More New York. The snow melts, but the damage is done. The central park is closed until the fallen trees and broken branches are cleared up. We regularly meet up with new and old friends. Axel takes a few less photographs and starts writing Android and iOS apps instead. Liz is writing a lot. Axel's brother Ralf and mother Karin come to visit for a week. Then Liz' mother comes to visit as well. The days are full with shopping and sightseeing. Axel meets other entrepreneurs and business ideas are taking shape. In the meantime it's gotten cold. We decide that maybe New York in the winter isn't so great after all and that we should move to Buenos Aires instead. End of the month we pack our bags, leave the apartment, and fly back to Colombia with the intent to sell Gudrun V. We arrive and are relieved that the boat is still floating. But four months unattended in the humid climate have left their marks - dust and mold and funny smells. But fortunately no damages or cockroaches or other vermin. We empty the boat and start cleaning.

We're still cleaning the boat and catching up on four months of missed maintenance. Axel looks at the bills and finds out that two months in New York cost more than a whole year of sailing. But we're getting used to boat life again, including a small fridge, no freezer, and long walks to the showers. We think over the selling-the-boat-and-starting-a-new-business plan and discover that we're not yet ready to end the trip. Life on the boat is incredibly inconvenient, but it would be a shame not to complete the voyage now that we're at it. And looking at the current boat prices it would also be a very bad return on the investment. We decide to sail on to New Zealand after all and make a detailed plan for the next months. Mark and Liesbet arrive and together we visit Tayrona National Park and have dinners and drinks in the evenings. After a week they sail on to Cartagena. For Christmas we fly to Buenos Aires and then down south to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Axel wants to check out the location for a possible visit by boat one day in the far future. We spent Christmas eve unceremoniously half in the plane and half at the hotel bar with burgers and a beer. We go on day trips by Landrover and boat and take many photos. Axel goes hiking in the national park and diving in the cold Beagle Channel while Liz writes on her book. For New Year's Eve we stop over in Buenos Aires on the way back to the boat. We arrive late and just manage to toast the new year with Champagne and Ferrero Rocher from the mini bar. We're happy to be together.

Writing it out like this makes it obvious that we've kept ourselves very busy but did little, if anything, of consequence. But if our impact on the world in this year of travelling, cruising, and following our passions was very little, the impact of the world on us was the bigger for it. We learned a lot, about our passions, the world, ourselves, and each other. I've stopped wondering who is the braver of us two: me, who sailed across the atlantic alone pretty much knowing what to expect. Or Liz, who gave up her beloved city and her independence for a life on the boat. With no love for the sea, no previous experience sailing, no idea what to expect, and little power over her environment. Or maybe we're just both a little bit crazy ;-).

Despite all our plans to the contrary it looks very much like the craziness is going to continue in 2012. There is an awful lot of sea area to cross between Colombia and New Zealand, and west of the Galapagos nobody speaks Spanish any more. So at the very least we'll learn some french, although I expect that life has some more lessons in store for us. Here's hoping that they're joyful ones.