Trinidad to Greece

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 1 Oct 2004 13:07
What a difference a day makes.

In late August I found myself sitting at anchor around the corner from Chagaramos, Trinidad waiting out the hurricane season. I have to confess life was getting a bit dull. My days consisted of progressing the never-ending list of boat maintenance chores, visiting a few yachtie mates for a chinwag and, of an evening, maybe having a few beers with some of my friends. I visited town a couple of times, the highlight of which was the Cathedral and a second hand book sale I found in a park with tables of school books on sale for the new term. Trying to add a little intellectual rigor and solve some issues in my life I purchased a couple of tomes on sociology and one on economics. Is this desperate or what!

My plans had been to cruise Venezuela with some other yachts that were heading that way but fate intervened and on a Thursday late in August I had a call from some friends off the catamaran Deva, Danny and Coco (aka Kaja). But now they were on a different catamaran, a flash new Dolphin 46 that they were delivering from Brazil to Annapolis. They had diverted to Trinidad to avoid a nasty hurricane on a collision course with them. Hurricanes rarely get this far south but this time Trinidad was put on storm watch and Grenada, a mere 70 miles to our north was devastated. But it’s an ill wind etc., it was great to catch up with Danny and Coco and after an hours conversation the idea came up of me joining them to help out with the delivery, given the time of year Coco thought having another experienced crew on board would be a definite bonus. Well this seemed to beat moping aimlessly around Trinidad, or Venezuela for that matter, so I agreed on the basis that I would not be out of pocket, i.e. all expenses paid including a return airfare. A quick phone call to Annapolis had the OK from the broker and a couple of phone calls from my end determined that a visa to the States could be arranged the next day, that I could find a home for the cat and that Sylph could be hauled out and stored while I was away for a month or so.

So I came to be a crewmember on the good ship Rhythm along with skipper Danny, his partner Coco and a very amiable Brazilian named Babalu. For those concerned over the fate of Bridge, my Caribbean cat from St Martin, rest assured he has found an excellent home. I am in correspondence with his new pettees and I am told he has taken the joint over, including two cats and a dog, he is much loved and now goes by the alias of Martin, perhaps covering up the tracks of his humble beginnings.

Several hurricanes brewed up along our way to Annapolis, a couple of which we had to monitor closely and in one case take avoiding action by securing to some mangroves in a bay in Saint Thomas called Hurricane Hole (seemed a likely spot to hide from a hurricane), the trip to Annapolis was pretty straight forward and uneventful. The only issue became the increasingly tight schedule as we had a deadline to make the Annapolis boat show. Hurricanes and deadlines definitely do not mix! One hurricane in particular, Jeanne, toyed with us for quite a while, having created havoc with Haiti it then decided to do a few loops out near Bermuda before committing to path of mayhem and destruction in Florida.

We made it to Annapolis with two days to spare. Here we met the broker, Phil Berman and the owner Jay Clark. The pressure was now really on Phil who had to get the boat ready for the show and there was still quite a bit of work that needed to be completed before then, including the installation of a radar, air conditioning, an entertainment system and a satellite stereo system. This last is an interesting concept for us antipodeans, a relatively new concept in radio; it is subscription based, commercial free and broadcasts on 120 stations from three satellites in geo-synchronous orbit over the United States. The company’s name is Sirius Radio and Jay is its Executive Vice President. Jay presents as relatively quiet, unassuming, and very personable. He must be a real wheeler and dealer however as while I was in Annapolis he signed on America’s most renowned radio personality, Howard Stern, for some absurd sum of money. For those of us who have never heard of the guy I guess he can best be likened to Australia’s Doug Mulray when he was in is prime, outrageous, provocative, funny, and at times obscene. Anyway this is what I gleaned from the papers, as I have never heard him myself. Talking to various people it seems Howard certainly cuts across several demographics so signing him up was seen as a real coup for Jay.

Phil was also a very interesting character. A world titles catamaran sailor in his youth, he has traveled quite a bit, including Australia. He has degrees in comparative religion and was at one stage clearly something of a philosopher. Now he appears to have gravitated to the very pragmatic goal of making lots of money through selling expensive multi-hulls and seems to be doing very nicely.

While on passage to Annapolis Danny had mentioned the possibility of me joining him to crew on a Swan 65 from Greece to Brazil. The deal would again be all expenses paid plus a bit of pocket money. Well I am thoroughly fed up with this single handing lark, I had only ever intended to single hand from Christmas Island to Cape Town for a few months until my wife (now ex) re-joined me - that was well over two years ago. So again I thought, “Why not?”.

Thus it was that I ended up in Annapolis helping Phil out with the boat show and helping Jay get a few of the systems together on his nice new catamaran. I had planned on only staying in Annapolis for a week but when I was booking an air ticket on the internet I punched a wrong button and ended up booking a ticket a week later than I had intended. As it was a restricted ticket there was nothing I could do about it, as a few phone calls revealed. Well when there’s nothing you can do about something one just has to release the stress and go with the flow. And sometimes I have to admit I really feel like these moments are the work of the great Interventionist, guiding us where we otherwise would not have gone. At other times I think I am just being delusional and it’s just a glitch, the chaos, noise and static of the universe.

And thus it came about that I spent a couple of weeks in the States. I had an excellent time, most of it spent in Annapolis looking after Rhythm. All the people I met were great and I was privileged to make a few more friends. I even got a personal guided tour of the Naval Academy from the Woman’s Track and Field Coach, who was the cousin of a sailing friend I had made in Trinidad. I ended up staying with Phil and his family in Philadelphia for a couple of nights, then caught a train to New York where I got to stay with Jay for a night in downtown Manhattan. Jay gave me a tour of Sirius Radio up on the 36th floor of a building on the Avenue of Americas. Looking out onto the vast megalopolis of New York thoughts of the Matrix came to mind, this sea of humanity in great four-dimensional honeycombs, all tied up in the web of life, all interconnected and heading who knows where. And up above us somewhere satellites were being controlled from the room next door, scores of cubicles around me chattered out into the ether delivering the business of America, entertainment. One could now travel all over the United States and not even have to change a radio station, yet alone a point of view.

An interesting moment in Jay’s office was meeting Grand Master Flash, the originator of ‘scratching’, or so I understand. Jay introduced me as one of the crew who had delivered his boat through the turgid hurricane season, and GMF seemed genuinely impressed. I guess we all have a place to be, now-here, shift the dash and you get no-where, its all attitude, a point of view, a way of looking at things.

My now-here in the USA was all too soon over and a short flight over the North Atlantic brought me to my next stop, London. Here I wanted to catch up with several friends I had made in my travels, including Craig, a crazy young Australian I had met in Mauritius who was sailing around the world in a modified Hood 23, a 23 foot harbour sailor. “Was” being the operative word, because now old Sea Cow is at the bottom of the same bit of ocean I had very pleasantly flown over. Craig had left Canada a little late in the season, got caught in a storm, things went wrong and he was obliged to abandon ship in favour of a somewhat sturdier container vessel. We hired a car together and used the friends I had made in my travels as a basis for touring the immediate countryside. Consequently we went to Folkestone, a little seaside town where I met Andy, a one-time single-hander I had first met in Cape Town, sailing Koonya East, another Alan Payne designed boat like Sylph. In the university town of Cambridge we met Ilse, a young doctor/dancer from South Africa and the most beautiful woman I have ever set eyes upon. I could sit and look at her for hours, like resting one’s eyes on luscious green grass after a fresh summer shower (can’t help but wax lyrical whenever I think of her, and now being pretty much an old bastard I give myself permission to say what I think - hopefully without offense). Thence to Bath to meet Helen, a nurse, tall ship sailor and one-time crew of Andy, and finally to Reading to meet Sarah, a cute and vivacious ski-babe, an acquaintance I had made in Mauritius and now studying to become a social worker. Then it was back to the place where Craig was staying, the next morning up early, a drive to Heathrow, return the hire car and a few hours later I was once again airborne, now winging my way to Rhodes to join Tangaroa

Well Tangaroa was actually on the island of Kastellorizo, so I ended up staying two nights in a cruddy hotel being eaten by mosquitoes in Rodos, but it was definitely worth it. The old town of Rodos is awesome. A huge medieval walled city, built on layer upon layer of history going back to the Romans, the Greeks, and prehistory. As I walked about the narrow cobbled streets surrounded by shops touting food, beverages and wares, I thought perhaps things had not changed that much over the many centuries, this city has always been a mercantile center and in its various heydays these same spaces would have been full of people doing much the same thing, carrying on the business of life, commerce.

And in the museum I was struck with the beauty of the marble carvings. In one piece the sensitivity of a long forgotten sculptor had captured the emotion of a daughter grieving for her lost mother. Released from the cold hard stone were soft flimsy garments revealing the beautiful feminine form and the compassion between two human beings from two and a half millennia ago, an inextinguishable link to our common heritage through space and time. And exquisite vases paid homage to warriors from the age of heroes. Anyone read the Iliad? Homer makes Quentin Tarrantino movies look like children’s bedtime stories.

Two days later I caught a ferry to Kastellorizo, a classic Greek island where I joined Tangaroa. Kastellorizo is only two miles from the coast of Turkey and has a strong but reasonably subtle military presence. The place was pretty much flattened during World War II but many of the dwellings have re-emerged from the rubble. Interestingly there is a strong link between the island and Australia as many Greeks from here migrated to Australia, and now quite a few young Australians have returned, either permanently or on a periodic basis. Consequently I met quite a few Australians for such a small population and even managed to get a small supply of vegemite in.

The crew of Tangaroa is Danny the skipper; Alfred, the first mate/engineer; Bruno, the chef; and now me, general dog’s-body. Stephano, an Italian American, is co-owner of Tangaroa with his brother and is a very easy going fellow. He is generous and includes the crew in most everything, so we were always invited to join he and his wife and friends in dinners and other activities, which is very relaxed and pleasant. A highlight of my stay was learning to wakeboard, skimming over the crystal clear waters of the Aegean is a lot of fun.

After several days in Kastellorizo it was time to start our move to Rome. First stop was back to Rhodes where we stayed a couple of days and I managed to visit another archaeological site at Lindos.

Now we find our passage interrupted by a gearbox problem and have diverted to a small port called Pylos in the Peloponnese. Facilities are very limited in Pylos so progress on the gearbox has been limited and now we are stuck waiting for a favorable weather window, so it is uncertain when we will be underway again (maybe tomorrow). Of course I could not forgo the opportunity of making the most of the stop and two days ago took a rental car to Athens. The trip was spontaneous and consequently completely unplanned. I had use of the car from late in the afternoon and despite Greek road signs got to Athens in the early evening. (This has perhaps been one of the more practical uses I have put my high school maths and physics to, all those gammas, lamdas, thetas, pis etc.) I parked up a side street and upon asking directions I found I had ended up near a train station only 70 cents by train from the Acropolis. I had eaten on the road, so I killed a couple of hours in a café reading a book over a beer, then bunked down in the car for the night.

The next day fortuitously was a Sunday and meant the city continued slumbering while I arose early and got to the entrance to the Acropolis just as it was opening, and a bonus this day it was free. I managed to take in most of the historic sites of Athens; the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the theatre of Adonis, the Odeum of Herod, the Agora, and the museum. It was a whirlwind tour but well worth the effort and the discomfort of cramping in a car overnight. Late that afternoon I fare welled the ghosts of Athena, a world of long ago but perhaps, with a little imagination, a place in the human condition not very far away at all, and drove back to Pylos.

Now we sit and wait for a fair wind, as Odysseus in the age of heroes must have done.

Life is good.