Sunday, December 30, 2007

Port de Nice

Courchevel December 2007

Oh before I begin, hold the presses! I found a spot in France where gravity breaks the law of physics! Driving back to Nice from Monaco the other day (shopping for a new Bentley, didn’t have the color I wanted though.) I was in rush hour traffic on the scenic road running along the coast. I brought the car to a stop on an incline, took my foot off the break and slowly began rolling UPHILL!! I know, I know. You’re thinking, ‘DJ, get off the drugs’, but I’m not kidding and I had Glenn in the car as a witness! Should I inform the International Society of Eggheads, can I repeat the experiment, who knows, who cares! Sad, huh. It might be the one single spot in the entire universe where this singular event can take place possibly giving some scientist’s brain an insight into the biggest mystery of the universe and it will be overlooked and forgotten almost as soon as it happened. Well, I’ve put the observation down in writing now and wash my hands of it. Run with it, if you will, I’ll send you the location on google maps. (I will however accept part of the Nobel Prize money though! Fair is fair)

Back to my holiday: Well it is a bit of an epic journey to get up to Courchevel from Nice via the train. You have to go way out of the way to Lyon and change trains to back track to Courchevel. Part of the way is along the Mediterranean coast so there is something to look at and the trains are reasonably comfortable so it’s easy to just sit back and have a read.

I arrived at my destination of Moutiers Salins de Bains with only one event of interest to report. Well, two. 1) Lyon was cold as a witche’s tit! At this point I’m still thin skinned and shivering which may or may not have led to the other point of interest. 2) I got picked up by the cops in the train station! Hilarious really, even in a foreign country. Well maybe not in a third world country because you never know what they’ll shake you down for in the corrupt areas of the world. But in Europe and knowing I had my passport and nothing else (illegal) it was rather amusing plus it was much warmer in the train station’s Police office. After my ‘Je ne parle pa le France!’ he informed me in English that he would like me to come with him so they could “control my identity”. Maybe someone had changed my name without my awareness and they were going to help me straighten it out. Maybe the voice in my head had finally managed to usurp control and my identity did need some controlling?! Well I have always thought I had fairly good control over my identity, but I wasn’t going to argue.

I don’t know if it is a question of translation or not, but they had no interest in my identity whatsoever. They didn’t even look at my passport. They did however ask me if I was carrying anything “dangerous”. When he clarified this as meaning ‘are you carrying cannabis?’ I almost burst out laughing. “Do you want to know if I’m carrying anything “dangerous” or do you want to know if I’m carrying any “pot”? Again, maybe a translation thing. Unfortunately, we all know that is not the case! But don’t get me started!

So he searched my pockets and my bag and fortunately didn’t get overzealous and want to check any other possible trafficking areas of my person. It definitely pays to smile and cooperate in this type of situation. They were friendly and even asked me about my book. Now if I had been carrying a large quantity they would have found it. Of course, if I was carrying a large quantity they would have smelled it. And of course if I was carrying a large quantity I sure as hell wouldn’t be taking the train. But all that is moot. The point I would like to make is that if I had been carrying a personal stash, in this case at least, they wouldn’t have found it. Not that I would and not that I’m condoning that, just an observation.

So I was picked up at the train station by Rachael who has moved on from the boat and is now up in Courchevel managing a Chalet. It was about a 40 minute drive up the mountain until we arrived at Hotel Courcheneige. It is not your typical warm bright hotel reception. You pull up to a fairly nondescript garage door, ring the buzzer and drive into an underground garage. I grabbed my bag and walked up the ‘tunnel’ which reminded me of a cross between a mine shaft tunnel and a trip through a stadium to the locker rooms. I grabbed the elevator and made it to the lobby where Lara and Hotel manager Robert were there to greet me. Robert had stayed up to greet me which was completely unnecessary, but Neil did tell them to take care of me so perhaps he felt he had to. Then again he is gay and I’m sure he was more than a bit curious about this 'DJ guy' he had heard so much about.

I thought I might be stuck in the staff quarters, but since the hotel hadn’t any real guests yet I was pleasantly surprised by a very nice sized room complete with my own snow encrusted porch. Only one real drawback. No shower curtain! God, I don’t remember the last time I took a bath! And I didn’t bring my rubber ducky!

On Tuesday Robert invited me out with the heads of departments for a pre-opening celebration. I tried to decline, not wanting to impose, but he insisted. Twelve of us grabbed a cab van and drove down the mountain to “Piggy’s Piano Bar” A cozy, sophisticated place with fine furniture, expensive drinks and a DJ spinning American music in lieu of a ‘Piano Man’.

We were served finger foods and the gorgeous hostess kept our champagne glasses filled with some top notch bubbly. I’m not really into champagne, but this was exquisite and I’m sure just one of the three huge bottles would have blown my drink budget for the year.

Next we were off to dinner at a fondue restaurant. I had already eaten dinner so I kept it light and started off with a cheese ravioli in a mushroom cream sauce. It’s hard to remember having any better. For my main plate I got a selection of hard cheeses to munch on while the others shared sizzling fondue pots, dipping their raw meat and breads. The gentlemen across from me had what looked like a 10lb block of cheese slowly melted by a portable table furnace which I think may have cooked the guy across from me as much as the cheese. He looked at least two shades tanner after dinner!

Now they all speak a least a little bit of English and many speak a fair bit. Still it’s not their preference and that is partly why I didn’t want to come along and impose. Although I did have a few little conversations, the group did of course carry on mostly in French although never long enough to alienate me. But the bottom line is that I really did enjoy the dinner, thoroughly, regardless of the language barrier.

After dinner, the smart ones excused themselves and went home. The rest of us went to the disco. I decided not to embarrass the French by showing them up on the dance floor (or myself), but sufficed with sipping some more champagne and chatting up the bartender from “Piggy’s”. We exchanged numbers and I may not ever here from her, but she will be in San Trope this summer and I’m sure I will be to, so you never know?

Of course I did have some fun in the snow too. I have been snowboarding for the longest time now, but I decided to give skiing a try again this time. It didn’t snow the entire week I was there, but there was already plenty of snow around and it was good. There are ‘Tres Vallees’ in the area to ski, but that is a bit overkill unless you are going to race around like a bat out of hell attacking everything you can ski to so I just got the pass for Courchevel Valley. I surprised myself really. Of course, I was a little rusty, but I only fell a couple of times and even more surprising was that the expected intense soreness in the days after never materialized. Late in the day I did however make a little mistake. While trying to explore more territory I wound up taking a wrong time and found myself in another valley, Merribel. Fortunately it wasn’t like Vermont when I went off trail and had to hike back in the dark. This time I just paid six more Euros and got the lift back to where I should have stayed.

So after two days I was confident that I wasn’t going to be crippled by muscle soreness and I hit the slopes again. This day I actually started to get the real flow going again. I went faster, looked for the bumps and flew off of jumps. Well, maybe not flew, more like barely got off the ground and not so smoothly at that, but I was making progress. I think I will actually stick with skiing as opposed to snowboarding. You can generate you own speed, get through flat spots, really attack moguls, and you don’t have to do that annoying skateboarding maneuver that you do on snowboards. From now on if I board there will be a wave underneath me and I’ll never trade in my surfboard for waterskis!!

The staff were all really great. I didn’t get really close to any of them though. I don’t think they wanted to. A. I’m not one of them even if we do all work for the same owners. B. They are much younger. C. Language barrier. D. I might be a spy. (they knew who I was and how close I am to the owners so….) But I did talk with Laura a bit. She had worked on Jazz for a while when it was in Italy and is working on the mountain for this season so a familiar face was a nice surprise for both of us. And of course it helps that English is both our native tongue even though she does pretty well with French and I’m sure by the end of the season she will have it well in hand.

So at the end of the week I got a ride back to the train from one the hotels drivers and he happened to be a guitarist. We talked music all the way to the train station which gave me pause to think. I really should try to find a floating studio! I wished him ‘bon musique’ and he said farewell ‘DJ Jazz” and I got ready for the 9 hour train back to Nice. Since I only had 30 minutes between trains I avoided the interior of the train station just in case I have one of those faces that French Police can’t resist ‘indentity controlling’!

I’m back in Nice now and New Year’s is just around the corner. The year has flown by. I have no special plans, but the thought just occurred that maybe this year I’ll flip things around. Get drunk on the 30th so I’m good and hungover for New Year’s Eve. Then on the 1st I’ll be fresh as a daisy. Maybe, maybe not.

I added a couple of pics to the ‘Port de Nice’ gallery experimenting with stitching photos together for a panoramic view and also my very first picture quiz.

Happy New Year, Bon Annee’

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Xmas, Santa, Jesus and South Park

Alternate title: Sun of God or Son of God??

Merry Christmas or Merry Xmas or Happy Birthday Sun (not Son)

I watched a Xmas episode of South Park on Christmas Eve which caused me to lay up thinking. All that high brow intellectual cartoon stimulation has a way of kicking my brain into gear causing me to lay awake late. Which probably caused Santa to skip me this year because of his peculiar shyness, or maybe Buddha was protecting me?! Anyway…..

Like most episodes of South Park they take a reverse psychology approach to pointing out some flaw or folly in our society. Last night Santa was shot down over Baghdad trying to bring Xmas cheer and shameless commercialism to Iraqis. Jesus was called in to save Santa because Jesus can save anyone and he went in to Baghdad weighed down with AK47s. He saved Santa, but was killed in the process. “You Bastards!!” Santa winds up forcing Xmas cheer onto the Iraqis, but what this scenario would do to Easter rituals god only knows?! In the end, Santa gives a speech stating that from now on instead of being celebrated purely on the basis of commercialism, Xmas will be “celebrated as the day that Jesus gave his life to save me!”

So what is Xmas? Bear in mind that my opinions are contrived from things I’ve heard or read or maybe just invented in my head. All that follows you may already be familiar with. If not, it should be noted that this not been thoroughly fact checked by myself although you can find plenty of both supporting and contradictory information on the internet. I leave it up to you to sift through the sources and decided on which ‘truth’ you accept.
What we know:
1) There is absolutely no conclusive evidence that December 25 was the day Jesus of Nazareth was born.
2) Dec. 25 is (according to the calendar in use at the time) the day of the Winter Solstice.
3) Paganism was very popular at the time Constantinople decided to deify Jesus and impose the religion on the kingdom.
4) The winter solstice would obviously be a day of celebration for any Pagan believer.

So was December 25th chosen as Jesus’s Birthday based on honest attempts to truly determine his birthdate or was it chosen to usurp the power of the Pagan celebration. I don’t think I need to inform anyone of this skeptic’s opinion here. Historically speaking there is a lot here to be hot about and there could be much finger pointing. But in this day and age does it make any difference? I don’t think so. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re into going to Midnight Mass, just enjoy giving and getting presents, or favor the Pagan celebration of getting naked and worshipping the Sun. Although, I do wonder why this last option isn’t still alive and strong. How did midnight mass ever get more popular than orgies??

Like everything manifested in the universe, this day, all days in fact, have dualistic qualities inherent in them. A good and a bad, if you choose to look at things from that type of perspective. Of course, I would say the terms, a plus side and a negative side are more appropriate, but even this has relative connotations which could come across as… uhm… ‘bad’….er….. ‘negative’…. ah Hell!! You know what I mean. Things have sides, this one or that one. (But they also have that middle point.) (Meditation is so much easier than preaching! All you have to do is maintain your balance in the middle of both sides and not worry about what to call them!)

The point is that it all really only depends on how you look at it and what you do with it. A knife can harm someone or cut them free. So in this respect Xmas is really the same as any other day.

So I shall say not Bah Hum Bug, nor Happy Birthday to the ‘Sun’, nor Happy Birthday to the ‘Son’, but that I look forward to the days becoming sunnier and I wish all a ‘Wonderful Day’ no matter why or if you are celebrating today.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Corisca to Nice

I’ll pick off where I left off in Corsica: The next morning we had a diver cut the line from the prop and throughout the day the wind abated. In the early afternoon I took a walk to pay the 300 euro diver’s fee and to get some cash for the boat. However, the ATM machine wasn’t working and the next closest one was 20 miles away. I wonder what they do in Corsica for cash in times like these. Perhaps they still accept seashells at the seashore!?

On the way back I arranged a taxi for Brenda, our chef. She ran out of time and had to fly back to Antibe to pack up her things and fly to Palm Beach for her next gig. We had a window of opportunity so we were stuffing Brenda into her cab while at the same time setting up a line for a local fisherman to assist pulling us off the dock lest we catch another of the underwater lines.

With Brenda away we cast the lines away and with the little tow we were up, up and away or out, out and away. All in all, the ordeal caused some damage, but it could have been worse. There is a small patch of fiberglass which got scraped up and the terry cloth fender covers, all ten of them, were a complete loss, but nothing serious. There was still a fair bit of swell rolling about, but nothing the boat and its stabilizers couldn’t handle so we chugged away towards Nice. Late in the evening/early morning we pulled along shore of Cap Ferret and dropped anchor for the evening.

In the morning we weighed anchor and cruised for a few miles to Port de Nice where I had a chance to get a feel for the boat while driving via the remote controls on the flybridge. As soon as they were awake in the port we entered and backed into our spot. Ah, at last we were home, at least our temporary home.

Neil had arranged for a couple of Russian guys to show up and clean the boat so I got them started on the wash down and went about other business. The next few days were spent cleaning up the boat and doing various boat things. On Saturday night I actually got to go to a party which Brenda had invited me to. Sort of a going away for her at a pizza joint in Antibe. So I hopped into the crew car and made the trip down there. I had a little trouble finding the place because google maps had me trying to drive down streets barely wide enough for a donkey to travel which is what I’m sure they were originally made for. Eventually I ditched the car and made my way on foot. Brenda introduced me to her friends, we ate pizza, drank wine, danced a little, took some photos and it was a nice evening.

At this point I’m aching for some time off, but I still have a few more days to grind out. Paul, the new captain starts on Wednesday so I stick around to get him orientated. The major concern for the week, at least from the owners’s point of view is to remedy the carpet situation. They went with a very expensive natural fiber in off white. Well when I pealed back all the protective covering on the carpet I found a huge stain and a few smaller ones too. So now we have to find a better carpet choice, but unfortunately there aren’t any “Stainmaster” dealers in Europe and of course the owner is stuck on the white color. Funny thing. The owner brought over a lady to take a look at the carpet samples and get her opinion. They opened a bottle of Port Wine. Well needless to say some of it is now dotted on the carpet. Not your traditional way of christening a boat. Maybe that will make him consider a different color carpet, perhaps Port?

So I work through the week and get Paul up to speed and the owners have offered a free stay at their hotel in the French Alps so on Saturday I’m set to hop on the train and go. Only I didn’t get any sleep Friday night because of the headaches caused by the stress in my back. And into the morning I felt horrible so I postponed the trip. But on Sunday I felt better I was making my way to the train.

So its off to Courchevel for some fun in the snow……

Monday, December 10, 2007

Das (Italian) Boot

Well we finally left Fano! The weeks leading up to our departure left me completely Knackered. Neil (owner) took off for two weeks and Rachael (Neil’s assistant) also left for about a week. That left Glenn (engineer) and I on the boat to take care of business and I certainly had my plate full!

Neil wants the boat to be idiot proof so it was my job to learn all the bridge equipment and write up “cheat sheets” for each piece so that in a pinch anyone could operate the helm’s electronics.

I also was in charge of putting together the passage plan for the trip which entailed charting electronically, making a list of ports we could duck into, determine the times we would need to fuel up and locate suitable fuel stations, updating the paper charts and double checking the computer charts against them as well as get all the necessary bits and pieces together that we would need for the trip. Fano doesn’t have much in the way of shopping choices so some things are impossible to get a hold of.

Additionally I had my “Mate” duties of working on the boat, but luckily Neil hasn’t been really concerned about the state of the exterior because there simply wasn’t enough time to keep up with that end of things.

Then there was the challenge of working with the contractors. Typically not the easiest group of people to work with, however I must say that this group of guys were all very pleasant. The problem of course is getting across explicit instructions in a foreign language. A great challenge, but somehow we managed.

I also was put in charge of determining the manning and certification requirements for our vessel. Neil has promised to get me some more certifications as well as himself since he also holds a Yachtmaster ticket, but the trick is sifting through all the information, sometimes conflicting and figuring out exactly what certifications we need and where to get them.

And then there is the MCA, Maritime Coast Guard Agency. It’s an international organization which regulates boating. It’s highly regulated and this is one of the first boats of its size to be MCA compliant. I’m still looking into whether or not we have to fill out forms when we go to the bathroom! It’s pretty bad. Up until recently yachts enjoyed complete freedom from regulations, but in the last few years that has changed. Now the bigger boats have to do everything by the book and it’s trickling down to boats our size now. Unfortunately, the regulations are still mostly geared to the bigger boats, cargo ships, cruise liners, yachts 500 gt and up (we are 194 gross tons) and there are encyclopedias of regulations to sift through. So I’m tackling that and hating every minute of it!! It is a good education though and will help me in the long run if I move up to bigger boats.

So add all that up plus a few runs back and forth to the airport and it equates to 12-14 hr days, 7 days a week. I can’t wait to get to Nice for some R and R! Monaco will have to wait for a while. We are on the list for a permanent berth there, but as of now there aren’t any available. It pretty amazing but even though it’s winter there just aren’t any berths available in the Med. We did however manage to get a hold of one in Nice, which isn’t far away at all. We will hunker down there until our Monaco berth opens up.

But the good news is we are ready to get out of Dodge. The boat’s snag list has been whittled down from around 600 items to about 20 and we can live with that. We will get the rest done in France or Monaco and the truth is that on these yachts the snag list never completely goes away.

So Neil has arranged for a Salty Dog of a Captain (John) to fly in from the UK to bring the boat around. He has his own sea school so you know everything will be by the book. It should be educational. Carlo (Captain) and Francesco (Engineer) are also on loan from Benetti for the trip. We’ve got Chef Brenda in the galley after we let Chef Gary go before we left. He was a talky drama queen who would have driven all of us mad. And finally, at the last minute we flew in Paul for a two day interview for the Skipper’s position while in route. With Glenn, Neil and myself the crew roster rounds out at 8 persons. That will come in handy though since if we get good weather we will be running 24hrs/day along the 1100nm route.

We were delayed for a day because of potentially bad whether and then delayed a few more hours because we had to have a MCA representative come check out the boat before we left. But at 9:30 am on Thursday we were loose and away while not quite sure how far we would get because of the sketchy weather reports.

It looked like we would have to put in to port in Brindisi (SE Italy), but the weather fooled the forecasters as it often does and we were able to continue cruising. We thought again as we passed the “heel” of Italy that we might need to find shelter because of bad weather coupled with the fact that there are no safe ports after the heel for a long way until you get to the “sole” of the Italy’s “boot”. But once again we pressed on. As we tickled the toes of the boot we ducked into Reggio for fuel and hot croissants. After bunkering 7000 liters of diesel we were off again.

Leaving Reggio we were smack dab in the Straits of Messina. This is a very short and narrow strait separating Italy and Sicily and it can be downright scary as hell! It can be swarming with cruise ships, cargo ships, yachts, fishing boats and ferries zig zagging all over the place. The ferries are all high speed and ignore the traffic separation scheme (water highway) and fly through it perpendicularly. And then there are the legally insane and suicidal individuals fishing in 14 ft. boats just ripe for getting squeezed. I think you really have to be a masochist to attempt to go through the strait at night. Lucky for us things were fairly tame when we went through. It is interesting to note that the delivery Captain, master of the vessel, was down in the crew mess eating while he left Neil and I to drive through the high traffic area. What the F**K! The reality is Carlo did most of the technical driving and Neil and I did more than the Salty Dog! I don’t really know why we hired him? Se la Vie.

Well at this point we were getting consistent reports of severe weather for the last leg of our route. We had been really lucky so far and although we were all hoping for the best we all knew that it was doubtful that we would get around this storm. As we approached Corsica in French waters we checked the weather once again and with no good news in the report we decided to put in to port in Cap Corse (Cape Corsica). In the dark we approached the marina channel and crept through the channel with less than 3 feet under our props. We were unable to make contact with the dock master so it was up to us to find a suitable berth and tie up.

There was a nice long open key so we spun the boat around and tied up our lines just as the wind started to kick up. A local Italian offered some advice. He suggested we get off the key and move to another across the marina due to the wind. We thanked him and decided to follow his advice. Removing the lines we started to pull away, but didn’t get very far. We caught a line in the prop and were going no where in a hurry. A mistake, but it happens and I could easily see it happening to me since I’m not from ‘dees here parts. However, I was a little surprised these local Mediterranean guys didn’t see it coming. We tied up parallel to the key when it’s actually set up for, not surprisingly, Mediterranean style docking. That is, you drop your anchor and then back the stern up the key and just tie off the stern so you are perpendicular to the dock. Whether or not they realized this I don’t know, maybe they did, but didn’t expect there to be lines under water running perpendicular to the key to assist the Med. style docking.

In any case the starboard prop had seized up. It’s really is amazing how a relatively thin line in the water can seize up an 1100 hp shaft like kryptonite stopping superman. It happened to us before on Gloria’s Sun and Pierre and I free dove each about a dozen times to cut the line away. That was in daylight in warm Bahamian water. Now I would happily have dove in and saved the day here, but not in these conditions without any of the necessary implements of destruction at my disposal. The water is cold, it’s pitch black out and we don’t have wetsuits, an under water light, scuba gear, fins or even a snorkel. Weeks ago I did recommended getting this gear for just this occasion, but it didn’t happen. Not because they didn’t want to spend the money, but because they just didn’t think something like this would happen before getting back to the Med. where we could get some really good gear. I’ve learned to trust my intuitions and maybe I should have been more forceful regarding this one. In the future I’m not getting on a yacht if it doesn’t have this gear. These type of things happen, they actually happen quite often and it’s not worth the risk or the inconvenience.

Well Carlo was a little upset with himself, but Neil didn’t blame him and everyone seemed to be happy and in good spirits. For myself I was apprehensive and couldn’t help but make it known. The key was very low and we were forecasted to get really heavy winds and they were going to be right on our beam pushing us into the key. I saw trouble a brewing, especially if the tide rose in tune with a wind generated tidal surge, but no one else seemed to worry about it. It was decided to leave one person on watch and the rest would go to bed.

I went ashore with Brenda and had a couple of beers at Les Isles. I got back around midnight and relieved Captain John of the watch. By now the wind had picked up considerably and I would go out every 15-20 minutes or so to check on things. Well since the key was so low the movement of the boat was slowly working the fenders out from between the boat and the key. By timing it right, waiting for the boat to bounce away and placing all my weight to bear upon the fender I was able to get them back into place.

As the wind picked up so did the speed with which the fenders would pop out, but it was still manageable around 2am when Glenn appeared to relieve me. So I went down to my bunk and around 3am he came down to rouse me. He was losing the battle which was fast becoming a very large scaleWhack a Mole game and needed help. We have 8 hotdog shaped fenders and 2 large ball fenders. The balls were taking the brunt of the force, but as the hotdogs popped up with greater frequency we were in danger of the balls popping up also and that would have spelled disaster. I didn’t see that we had any choice and decided to loosen up the stern line so that the next time the boat bounced away from the key we could stomp the ball fenders back in to place. I did just that and Glenn got the ball fender back in to place followed by me using the windlass to tighten the stern line back taut. It was a success!

However, the success didn’t last long. I went back down to bed and an hour later Glenn was rousing me again. The “moles” were popping up faster now and he was losing the battle. We repeated the aforementioned process, but it was clear that the winds were getting stronger and I decided to bring in reinforcements. I went down and woke Neil, Carlo and Francesco. With there help we adjusted the fenders and lines and set out an additional line. Then Glenn and I tagged out and left the relief team in place to man the situation. Through all this we were battling 45-55 knot winds.

When I awoke a few hours later a found all three guys wearing their immersion suits and sitting with there weight on the fenders to keep them in place. Francesco signaled to me to get a hacksaw since his words were lost in the howling winds. As I rounded the corner of the deck I was nearly knocked back over by the wind. It was one of the situations were you could literally put your weight at a 45 degree angle and not fall over. I retrieved the hacksaw from the engine room and Francesco hacked off a rusty piece of metal that was in danger of gouging the boat. Then we adjust the lines some more and although the winds were even stronger we had managed to get the fenders and lines set up to where things were more manageable.

They all agreed that they could keep going for another hour so I went back down for another bit of sleep. The fact that I could sleep through all this is a gauge of how tired I was. Upon awakening I gulped down a cup of coffee and some breakfast quiche, donned my immersion suit and went to relieve one of the guys. Glenn joined me shortly and we took over. Before I went out I checked out the wind speed and saw that it was 50-60 knots and we had a max reading of 69 knots. Knots are faster than miles per hour. 63 knots is hurricane strength!!

Things weren’t pleasant, but at least we weren’t out at sea at this time. After a while the winds abated just a little and we had managed to fine tune things so that once again one man could keep things under control.

Well, I’m gonna break it off here and post this much. I’ve actually made it to Nice and I’ll pick up where I left off shortly…….

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Ship Without a Captain

A ship without a captain

Ok. So Pierre has left the boat and that leaves Glen the engineer and myself. So the question in everyone’s mind is “will DJ get the skipper position now??” The answer is maybe, kinda, sorta!! Allow me to explain.

In the short term the answer is more or less, minus driving the boat. In the long term the answer is, maybe in the not too distant future. You see it all comes down to the driving experience. I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a ton of wheel time. However, I do have wheel time and the time I have had behind the wheel of Gloria’s Sun is significant because it was some of the most technical and challenging driving you will ever really get. And I mean anywhere in the world. Sure I haven’t had the unpleasant experience of motoring through the perfect storm, but the reality is from a technical side that anytime you are in open water the biggest challenge is keeping your eyes and ears open for other vessels and rogue waves. You might also get caught in a situation where you have to dock during really bad wind and current conditions. That in my opinion is the biggest concern and challenge, but of course if you keep yourself appraised of the weather you can for the most part avoid that all together.

I was lucky. I was First Mate for Pierre and he wanted me to take over Gloria’s Sun so he let me drive as much as possible. I was also lucky in that the boat was based in Ft. Lauderdale and cruised the Bahamas quite a bit. Now if you compare cruising in the Bahamas and cruising in the Mediterranean it’s like comparing Calculus to Algebra. Algebra is moderately difficult for a lot of people, but Calculus leaves most people with smoke billowing from their ears. In the Bahamas you have significant tidal swings, currents and super shallow depths with reefs everywhere. This necessitates using all your captaining skills and using them well. In the Mediterranean you have negligible tides and currents, nothing in the way of reefs and until you get within a mile of shore Aquaman would have a hard time finding the bottom.

But it’s the experience I received driving in Ft. Lauderdale’s canals, ICW (Intercoastal Waterway) and most importantly the New River which I think was worth its weight in gold. The New River is a winding river which rarely has less than a 2 knot current and sometimes it can be 4-5 knots. Now you normally would travel the river at a tick above idle, 6-8 knots. So if your facing a 5 knot current you are barely moving and if that kind of current is on your stern and your not tied up to the dock you’ve made a huge mistake. Normally you would navigate it during slack tide when there isn’t any current. Unfortunately for Gloria’s Sun it was docked down a shallow canal and we had no choice but to enter and exit the canal at mid tide when the current is fastest. So after backing out of the long and narrow canal, yes backing out, we would reach the New River at about the worst possible time with regards to current.

The New River is also a very narrow river,’ we ain’t talkin’ no Mississippi!’ There are only 3 places along it that are wide enough to turn a 90-100 foot boat around. At those points it’s about 200 ft. wide. The rest of it of course varies but for the most part it’s about 60-100 ft. wide with boats docked all along either side. It also has a lot of traffic on it including the World Famous “Jungle Queen” site-seeing paddle boat which takes up quite a lot of room and is constantly cruising up and down the river. I can’t forget to mention the hordes of small boaters many of whom have never heard of the rules of the road. And then you have the occasional tugs tied up to the bow and stern of superyachts. That’s because 110 ft. is about the limit for negotiating the New River under your own power and control. If you’re larger than that and decide to go for it and get into trouble no one is going to be surprised and I bet the insurance company would just laugh at the claim. Lastly I should mention the 3 draw bridges which sometimes require you to hold your position at zero speed, sometimes with other boats ahead and behind you, until they are raised. And as some cruel joke there happens to be at one of these bridge holding areas a water pipe which shoots out 1000’s of gallons of water sporadically without warning and can easily push the unaware into the far bulk heading.

Then there is Port Everglades. Ft. Lauderdale’s main inlet which is also busy with all kinds of vessels including Cruise ships, cargo ships and during the air and sea show even huge Navy ships which of course you can’t get anywhere near without a warning shot across your bow. The whole point of this is that like New York if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. That’s the point I intend to make with Jazz’s owner, Neil, as soon as I can have a sit down with him when next he returns. From the start, for the trip to Monaco, Carlo a Benetti captain was slated to come along. Neil is also planning on finding a delivery captain to make the trip. There is the possibility of an MCA teacher coming along to give us a course on GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress Signal System). So with himself and I that would make 5 captains for the trip. That’s a lot of stripes!

So where does that leave me? Well I hope to have a better idea of that after my sit down with Neil. We haven’t yet discussed my drive time and experience so I think maybe he thinks I have none. That will be rectified. Whether or not he will give me the skipper position this winter I don’t know. He has said that he wants to get me drive time and a skipper’s position whether it’s on this boat or another. He is also giving me the opportunity to become “indispensable” as he put it. Essentially being the captain for the time being on all accounts except actually driving the boat. However he has put out the help wanted sign for another captain, but maybe I can convince him to give me the whole enchilada. We will see. For now I’m buried under an avalanche of work between learning all the systems, preparing for the trip to Monaco, interacting with contractors who don’t speak English and schooling myself on all the MCA regulations for the boat. But I’ll bore you with those details in my next blog. For now we are planning on making the trip to Monaco in less than two weeks so I better get back to work on the passage plan…….

Captain (sort of for Jazz) DJ

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Jazz Weekly

The Jazz Weekly

Well we have made our maiden voyage! Originally we were going to go down to Dubrovnik, Croatia the “jewel of Croatia”. That would have been about 250 nautical miles. That was scrapped for a cruise to Split, Croatia and so we began our voyage with our sites set there, but it would not be our destiny. Since it was our maiden voyage, Benetti sent along for the ride Carlo, their company Captain and Frederico, a Benetti engineer. About an hour into the journey one of them suggested a different destination a little closer to home. As this journey was really just to try the boat out and not for pleasure it was agreed that a shorter trip would be perfectly acceptable. So we changed our heading for Losinj, Croatia a cool 80 nm from Fano, Italy.

The weather and sea conditions were fine that day so it was a pleasant trip. We got an early start rising out of bed at 4:45am and arrived in Losinj around 2:30 in the afternoon. I guess they aren’t frequented very often by pleasure yachts as evident by the lack of ease with which we were received. As we came into port we contacted the Port Authority and they informed us that we would have to anchor out in port and take a tender ashore to clear customs. A bit of a pain in the ass! Luckily the conditions were dead calm so it was not necessary to drop the anchor, we simply left Neil (owner with captain’s license) behind the wheel to keep her in postion.

The difficulty lay in the fact that the tender is kept in the Lazzerette (the rear of the yacht, akin to your car’s trunk). To remove it we have to put the transom (the very aft wall of the boat) down into the water. It was calm so that in itself isn’t a big deal although it does mean that I have to wash it down afterwards. The problem was that the owners decided that the tender which was to come with the yacht wasn’t big enough so they bought a bigger one to stuff into the “garage”. Of course the yacht wasn’t designed for this new bigger tender so it’s a very tight shoe horn fit which requires some modifications to the Lazzerette in order to take it in and out safely and easily. Modifications which are still being finalized. The short of it is, as I said, it was a pain in the ass. However, we wrestled it out, Pierre jumped in with our passports and I drove him to the customs office.

The customs officer spoke English so all went well and after handing over some “dosh” (English slang for cash) we followed Jazz to our berthing for the evening. With the Benetti guys on aboard lending a hand we had plenty of hands to help with the docking and in no time we were situated. We fit the tender back in its home, I washed down the transom and Pierre gave me a hand rinsing off some of the salt we acquired on our trip over. I had just enough time to snap a few pics of the town as the sun was setting. Unfortunately I missed the good light thus the dark photos. We had a nice dinner in town and a little walk around which didn’t take long.

The next morning we began our journey back to Fano. The conditions for the trip back weren’t as nice. It started out at 2-3’ and got progressively worse throughout the trip. It was about 5-7’ and rainy as we approached Fano and we contemplated heading farther south to Ancona to put in. Fano has a very small inlet and often the fishing fleet will make its way down to the much more protected entrance of Ancona in bad conditions rather than chance Fano. It would mean a long day, so it was decided to get closer to Fano and check it out. In the end it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected and although we were prepared for the worst we had no trouble getting in. We did however take a transient slip instead of trying to squeeze into our tight assigned slip. So all in all the trip was a success.

The next day we did have a sad event as the owner decided to let Pierre go. It wasn’t really unexpected and for days Pierre was telling me that he really didn’t want to stay so in the end it’s all for the best. He told me that he was happy for me to stay and make the best I could out of the situation and that is what I’m going to do. So I’ve said goodbye to my captain and friend and in the next blog I’ll delve into what that means for me…….

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Jazzy Week

A Jazzy Week

Well this week has pretty much been a blur. We have all been working long hours putting the finishing touches on the boat. I don’t want to bore anyone with all the details so I’ll just touch on the highlights. Fano is nice, but there really isn’t much going on here. At least, not at this time of the year. The weather seems to have definitely changed over. The first half of the week we had cool mornings, warm days and again cool evenings, but the second half of the week has gotten cold and windy. In fact the 50 knot winds the other night created a trying time. Earlier in the day we received the enclosure for the top deck (canvas with see thru vinyl) and the top rail to hold it in place was installed. The bottom, however, was not secured. So when the gale force winds kicked up we had 300 sq. meters of canvas whipping around. At first we tried to secure it with bunghi cords, but they were overpowered. So we had no other option than to remove them while enjoying nature’s light show with a thunder clapping soundtrack. No easy task in the wind, rain and hail. To complicate matters earlier in the day we had also received the chairs and cushions for the top deck. These had to be stowed and secured before removing the enclosure or else they would have been blown to Roma. The bright spot was that we got to try out our foul weather gear and it provided some insight into what was necessary to be prepared for the next storm.

So I worked a week straight and got this weekend off. Neil’s six year old son Alex is here for a visit since the kids in Europe are all on mid-term break. An English Engineer, Glen, has joined the boat for a three month stint to get everything labeled, organized and in ship shape. Yesterday, Chef Mike, another Brit came on board for a week to organize the galley. So slowly, but surely things are coming together. We were planning on going for a sea trial this Monday, but it doesn’t look like the weather is going to cooperate. We are keeping our fingers crossed that things will calm down because we are also planning on making our first trip at the end of the week. We will be crossing the Adriatic and making our way to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Or will we…..

Saturday, October 20, 2007

So I'm off on my next adventure. This time to Italy for my next ride.

The flights were fine. I watched “Fantastic Four- Rise of the Silver Surfer” and then “Oceans Thirteen hundred”. I was just trying to get some shuteye when the lights came on for the pre-landing coffee and tea service. I had about a two and half hour layover in Milan, but I didn’t dare fall asleep lest the muted Italian boarding announcement fail to catch my attention. So I tried to listen in on other peoples “converzasiones” to little avail so I moved on to the local giornale (newspaper) and had better luck. At least I could get the point of many of the articles.

So I waited at the gate which really isn’t a gate at all, at least not your typical airport gate. It was actually just the place where you get on a bus that would take us to our twin prop A’itilia plane. So it was a quick 200 meter bus ride and then a short plane ride of about an hour and a half until I arrived in Ancona about half way down the east coast of Italia. Of course they made me sweat a little by making mine the last bag to arrive. Having your bags lost is always a nightmare. Having your bags lost and not knowing the native tongue, priceless! At least, most would pay almost anything to avoid that. But it showed up and I nonchalantly started to walk past the customs officer. I didn’t really know if I should say I was a “turista” or tell the truth about coming to work. Actually I really wasn’t trying to avoid customs I just didn’t realize he was a customs officer! It’s a small airport and there isn’t a customs booth or line or area. Just a senori standing by the exit! Anyway, I lied. Si, turista. Gratzie, Ciao. It turns out that I don’t need a working visa, at least as far as Italia is concerned because I’m working on a British flagged vessel.

So I was greeted for the first time at the airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it. No chauffeur in a suit and cap though. Just an Aussie bloke by the name of Brad. The boyfriend of the Laura who is the daughter of one of the owners’ friends. (For all you Soap Opera lovers). So we chatted about music and travels for the hour ride to Fano, Italy. To be exact, Port di Fano not to be confused with Port di Fino, a gorgeous Mediterranean spot I’m sure they don’t mind being confused with. I don’t know enough of Italy to say with any confidence, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a typical coastal town. The original “Old Towne” is surrounded by tall and thick medieval brick walls with shops and a town square inside where folks meander in packs. The marina is a launching point for new Pershings, Wallys and Benneti yachts and has high sea walls that the locals enjoy taking strolls along.

Thus I arrived at my new home and workplace, a brand new 30 meter Benetti Tradition christened “Jazz of Monaco”. It was to be simply “Jazz”, but it was already taken so “of Monaco” was added. A quick hello with Pierre and then an introduction to one of the boats owners, Neil and his right hand gal, Rachael. Rachael is an English lass and Neil is Australian although he climbed up from down under quite some time ago.

First impressions: Pierre, well you can’t really have a first impression with someone you’ve known for almost two years, so moving on: the boat is pretty with all the latest gadgets to play with and learn, it’s going to be nice to have Brad giving me a hand (actually two hands), Laura is sweet and no doubt will competently handle the interior work for the time we have her onboard, Rachael is a whiz on the office end and as a laison, and Neil is a work-a-holic with an intense attention to detail. I mean that in a good way though. He’s a hoot and a great guy. He's is determined to do this right and I’m instantly at home with him, love his attitude and his way of thinking. I have the upmost confidence that he will manage this whole affair the highest degree of excellence. All in all I think it is going to be a very happy boat. Although, it will be sometime before the final crew is all together. As far permanent crew it’s once again just Pierre and I. Neil, Rachael, Laura and Brad are all on loan so to speak. Of course Neil I suspect will be on board quite regularly, but we probably won’t be fully crewed until summer approaches. Sometime in January we will hopefully take on a full time engineer and then as the boat starts to see some real use we will get a fulltime chef and stew onboard.

And so it begins......

Monday, September 24, 2007

Summer in LBI

I’m Back!! I picked up a second job for the summer working with LBI Parasail and Watersports. The owner Mark needed someone to run his other boat. He takes people parasailing while I whip people around on a 10 person raft off of Barnegat Light. I was skeptical that people would pay to be towed around on a raft for fifteen minutes, but they really have a great time. Many say they’ll skip the parasailing the next time and just do the “Banana Raft”. Shows ya what I know.

Earlier in the summer the guys got together for a “Boys night out”. We got a limo and headed down to Atlantic City. We didn’t go to gamble. We went to see the ballet. No tu-tus. Lot’s of long legs though.

The beginning of August saw another get together thanks to our buddy Mark. It was actually more like a small high school reunion. He works for Virgin Mobile and was able to get us all together down in Baltimore for the Virgin Festival. I finally got to see The Police Live and they played a really good show and a 4 song encore. Also there was: Incubus, Ben Harper, Wu Tang Clan, Velvet Revolver, The Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Bad Brains, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more. It was a fun show. We even got to check out Velvet Revolver and the Pumpkins from the side of the stage and made it to the VIP after party.

The rest of the summer has been pretty chill, surfing a little now and then and waiting for some fun fall swells to hit. In the meantime I’ve begun doing some deliveries for HMY/Viking. I met Capt. Tom while preparing Capt. Dennis’s boat for delivery. It turns out that we flew down to FL to early as the boat still needed some work finished up. However, not long after getting back to NJ Tom called on me to do a delivery with him from Atlantic City down to Riviera Beach, FL. It was a 64’ Viking just like Dennis’ “Bac in Five” only it didn’t have a top or enclosure yet. Just a piece of scratched up plexiglass jury rigged in place to give us some protection from the wind and spray generated at 35 knots! The seas weren’t the greatest for the trip so we were glad for some protection, but we still got wet. And if it rains forget about it!

Well we knocked out that delivery in nearly record time, 2 & 2/3 days and docked next to “Bac in Five” which Dennis and Mate Nick were going to bring up the coast to NJ starting the next morning. So we all went to dinner and the next morning I was retracing my tracks heading back up north again in another 64’ Viking, only this time it was enclosed and a much more pleasant cruising condition. We ran for a bit after dark on the third day and tried out the night vision, but unless there is a temperature gradient for it to lock on to it looks about the same as with your own two eyes. It got late so we put in to Cape May and the next morning Dennis and Nick dropped me off at Trump Marina so I could hop on a 54’ Viking and do the trip one more, this time heading south again.

So I kept busy and did 3000 nautical miles in 12 days and got to stop in the various ports: Rudee Intet, VA, Beaufort, NC, Southport, SC, St. Simon, GA and St. Augustine, FL. This week I’ll be getting on a 74’ Viking in AC and bringing it up to Barnegat Light so Dennis’ Boss can check it out. He’s only had his Brand New 64’ two weeks and he’s already looking to move up!! After we show it we’ll bring it down to Florida and from there we may bring another 74’ around Florida and up to Lousianna.

Sometime soon Little Sis will be popping out a baby and having a Bris so between work and snipping the weebeastie I should be kept busy for the rest of Fall before heading down for the Lauderdale Boat Show. Till then just keeping our fingers crossed that the Barnegat house will sell soon……

Sailin’ On, Sailin’ On

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Summer in NJ '07

Hello Everyone. I'm back in NJ for the summer. For the first couple of weeks the weather was cool and pleasant. Now it's getting downright hot. We had a three day heatwave this week. Unfortunately, this heat is doing nothing to warm up the ocean water. We may actually need to put our booties back on if the south winds don't abate and let the warm gulf stream waters creep into shore.

Nothing terribly exciting to report. Surfed a few times, rode some bike trails (pics of the ocean acres land trust posted) and had a family BBQ with the new babies (pics also posted).

The Barnegat house is sold, but can't close because they discovered oil on the property. No, not a geyser, a trickle which leaked out of the old underground tank. Waiting for the clean up to be scheduled and the state to sign off on it. Parents are keeping their fingers crossed to make it up to New Hampshire before Randye has the baby.

Working with LBI Boating Instruction. The boat maintenance schedule is very relaxed so mainly we are just concentrating on instructing the NJ Recreational Boating Safety course in people's homes and at the occasional Fire House or Marina venue.

Well, like I said, nothing really exciting. The Bennies and Shoobies are here in force and summer is in full swing here at the Jersey Shore.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Aye Aye Captain

Securite Securite Securite. All ships. Be advised to keep a good lookout for new navigational hazard in the vicinity of Ft. Lauderdale. Out.

Well it's over. There is a new captain born to this world. Actually there are three, as Yan and Artur also passed. Like there aren't enough captains in the world!? But maybe with Global Warming and melting icecaps, soon everyone will be ferrying around via boat!?

What now? Who knows? But with these new qualifications I had better make up the tuition costs with a higher salary! In any case I am more marketable now.

Well that's it. Back to work. (Actually a relief)

Captain DJ

Monday, April 30, 2007

Yachtmaster Offshore School

So I've keeping pretty busy. Nothing really exciting. We started off this month with a 4 day charter to Miami. After we got back I did some last cramming before starting school for the Yachtmaster Offshore class. Pierre warned me that it would be pretty intense, even loaning me his course materials. I'm thankful he did and that I got a pretty good handle on everything prior to the class start. Our instructor, Bruce, also warned us at the beginning that the course is very challenging, almost to the point where we felt we should all walk out of the class. Nobody walked, but the warnings were right on. The British Royal Yachting Association accredits this course and over there they teach it over a 13 week period. Here that 13 weeks gets fit into 10 days! With 13 weeks to work you can learn the material along the way. With only 5 days of classroom time (the last 5 days are spent in the boat completing the practical part of the course) you need to know what you are doing going into it. No time to figure it out, it's more of a quick prep for the exam.

The challenge level was also evident by the fact that sitting the class were Paco (Spain) and Sam (Texas) who failed the first time around, but would pass on this second round. In addition, along for the ride were; Artur (Russia), David (Mexico), Yan (Britain/Oz) and from Finland, Tatu. That's his nickname, none of us could pronounce his real name. So we slam through course during the day and work on homework into the night. It's evident that some of the class is woefully unprepared.

On Saturday we went in for the exam. Out of the five of us taking the test for the initial time, two passed. Yan and myself. Since then Artur has retaken and passed the exam. David failed on his second attempt and Tatu still has to give another try.

So this week we have been on the M/Y Durabo working through the practical part of the course. Day and night cruises where we work on navigation and piloting. Practicing our dockings in various winds and tides, picking up mooring balls, getting fixes,chartwork, plotting and steering courses as well as Man Overboard Procedures.

Oh I have to mention that we did tear up the boat a little on the first day. While pulling away from the dock one of the lines got caught on the dock, jumped out of the fairlead and when it tensioned up bent up a stanchion. Nothing major, but not a very promising start and a little uncomfortable.

So I've got one more day of practical and then we take our final practical exam which will hopefully be early this week. It's a fair amount of weight hanging on my back which I don't mind saying will be a significant relief when it's removed.

Yan gave me a heads up that a big beautiful yacht is looking for crew to do a crossing over to the Med. in three weeks. I'd really like to give that a go, but it just doesn't fit in the schedule now. So now I'm just going to finish up with school, work a few more weeks here and if the plan doesn't change head up to Jersey at the beginning of June. That's all for now.....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me/ Happy conception to my Sis

Happy Birthday to Me/ Happy conception to my Sis

Well we just finished another succesful Bahamas charter with the Johnson Family from Connecticut?? We started and ended in Nassau and did our usual cruise up and down the Exumas. The pictures are posted. Familar places, different faces.

No sooner had we waved goodbye to the Johnsons' when MJP's friend and Ex NFL player Mo Williams came aboard with a few friends who were still lingering around from a bachelor party. It's spring break so it's a busy time here. No shortage of intoxicated young ones roaming around.

The weather was decent, but a little on the windy side. In fact we should be back in Lauderdale already, but when we tried to leave on Tuesday we got hit with 10+ ft. swells and had to turn around.

It's now Friday and it looks like I'll be working on my b-day since MJP took the opportunity to invite a couple of friends to fly over on Sunday and use the boat for a few days since we are here. Actually they're coming to golf and we are providing sleeping accomadations. Not so happy about that. Particularly since 25 knot Northeast winds aren't going to be very conducive to golfing and if they come they may well cause us to miss a window of opportunity to get back before the next windy system comes through. Then again things don't seem to be letting up so there may not be any window anytime soon. Very unusual for this time of the year.

In any case, here we are, at least Pierre and I. Chef Fran flew home. Stew Todd flew to the carribean today to work with Captain John (ex-Gloria's Sun Captain & current manager). Speaking with Captain John last night on the phone he asked me how things were going and I responded that we were a little burnt around the edges. Then he asked when was the last time I got a raise and he said he would talk to MJP about bumping me up. I had just enough time to thank him before the satellite phone cut out. Unfortunately I didn't have time to finish telling him not to bother because I won't be on this boat long enough for it to matter. Yes, my time on Gloria's Sun is winding down. Pierre's also. We both really like MJP, but we just can't take his "miserliness" any longer. So Pierre is going to be leaving in June to head to the Med. to look for another Captain's position with the thought of giving me first dibs on the Mate position.

I'm going to be jumping ship before that. In April I plan on taking a US Coast Guard or MCA Yachtmaster (international) Captain's licensing course, depending on scheduling and availability.It's not likely to lead right away to a Captain's position, at least not on a mega yacht, but it will definately enhance my ability to get a really good Mate position. It will also facillitate my summer plans which require a Captain's license.

What are these plans? Glad you asked. My old friend Captain Dennis Feeley has asked me to join forces with him to help grow his business which besides Captaining, teaching boat handling and boat maintenence, includes teaching the mandatory NJ Recreational Boating Safety Course. Yep, it looks like I'll be home for the summer!

So that's where I'm at. Waiting to get back to Lauderdale and waiting to figure out exactly when I'm heading north. It should be sometime in May.

Be sure to raise one in honor of my 27th birthday. It's not everyday one turns 27. Especially for the second time ;>

Special congrats to my sis for getting knocked up!!!! Raise one up for her too, especially since she won't be able to for 9 months.

Way to go Rifca!!!! Now I'm finally off the hook.... :)

So long from the windy city (of Nassau)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Naarleen, Bonds, and Michael's Cruise

So we just had another trip to the Bahamas. We got the boat back in the water just in time. We took it out to do the bottom paint, but once you get a boat out of the water you find all kinds of things that need attention. For us this meant replacing the shafts because they were pitted and straightening a prop. We complicated this by deciding to upgrade from 3.25" to 3.5" shafts which meant that we had to replace the stuffing boxes also. It also meant a trip up to Jacksonville to bore out the props to the bigger size. This trip took us right through the storm in which several tornado's destroyed a couple of towns. Luckily all we saw were torrential down pours, but the sky sure looked angry. So literally the day before we need to leave we got the boat floating again and prayed everything was in good working order. It's not the optimum situation to do a crossing right after major work, but I consoled myself with the thought that is was better than risking it with worn out shafts which could have become a major headache at any time, even if we were previously unaware of the possible failure.

We fueled up and then did a quick sea trial and all seemed in order. The next morning we were exiting the port when, following behind in the tender, I get the sense that something isn't right. Pierre isn't stopping in our normal spot to hook up the tow rope to the tender. Maybe it's because of the cruise ship maneuvering, perhaps the pilot boat told him to keep moving? Then he pulls over to the side of the inlet channel and stops. Expecting to hear him on the radio telling me to come and tie up I wait. Nothing. I call him. I get a hurried reply "Can't talk, have a problem!" I reply " OK, but you are drifting out of the channel and starting to turn up mud". Well the problem was an inexplicable fuel leak out of the fuel vents. He was trying to figure out what was causing it and more to the point how to stop it and lost track of how he was creeping into shallow water. By the hair of his chinny chin chin he managed to coax the boat from what was very nearly high and dry into deeper waters, but not without dinging the prop which we had just had straightened. He won't forgive himself for that, but it happens. While in deeper water I manage to get the tender tow rope set and climb aboard still not knowing what the situation is.

Our chef tells me we have a fuel leak. Well that is nothing new. We have lots of fuel leaks. Another day, another leak, but they are small and in the engine room. I wasn't prepared to see gallons of fuel pouring out of the vents on deck! Like a fire brigade to catch the fuel we start passing buckets, then garbage cans and start praying that it doesn't come down thermoses and mugs. With three tanks it took a little trial and error to figure out which valve combination would allieve the situation, but we got it to stop. Why it happened is still a mystery. There are no pumps, everything is gravity fed and I heard the vents breathing while we fueled up. The boat has been filled to the brim many times before and nothing happened during the sea trial. The best we can figure is that somehow an air pocket formed in the system even though it doesn't make any sense.

Well that was about all of the excitement on this trip which was for the owner. Michael can live it up, but this trip was for his family (father, sister's + significant others) so I can sum it up with one word: uneventful. Which is fine by me. It was a little ironic though. Usually after a tough charter when you really need a rest, it isn't available. But after an easy one like we just had we were able to rest in standby for two days while we waited for the Gulf Stream to settle down before crossing back to Lauderdale.

We will be heading back to the Bahamas this Wednesday for another charter followed by a couple of days with one of Michael's friends who will be around for a bachelor party. And that about takes care of the month in review, at least work-wise.

Well it's March 1st and that means Black History Month is over, but as Jon Stewart points out, " Black history still continues, almost everyday". In the news this week we learned that the late Senator Strom Thurmond's family held Rev. Al Sharpton's Great Grandfather as a slave. So the nation's news watchers were getting a renewed lesson on just how ugly our very recent past was (glass half empty), how far we've come in 40 years (glass half full) and how far we've yet to go (careful, don't knock the glass over). Afterall, it wasn't too long ago that segregationist Strom ran for President and just recently Reverend Al made his own run. But alas, a person of color has yet to be elected. Coincidentally, even though I wasn't watching the news at the time I received the exact same lesson from a personal tutor. The tutor's name is Gary Bonds. Never heard of him, you say? Maybe if I include his middle name: Uncle Sam. Still not clicking? How about: Gary U.S. Bonds? Rings a bell now, huh? Now for those old enough to know who Gary U.S. Bonds is, you may say, "I didn't know Gary's retired from music and now a teacher?" Well he isn't. He is still a singer, but what you may not know, in fact most people who have never seen him live wouldn't know is that Gary is black. Actually Gary is more of a light mocha, but that's not the point. You wouldn't know Gary was black because they hid him from the public eye all the while he was selling records to white people at a time when our nation's civil rights was just starting to crawl.To get his point of view on the whole thing really brought to the forefront with rare clarity, thoughts of where this country has been, where it is, and where it may be headed.

You read about it in school, talk about it, see it in the movies, but I think it's the first time I ever met anyone who has actually been through the experience and shared it with me, even if it was atypical. I say atypical because his wasn't a typical experience. In fact as Gary put it, " I kind of liked it. I couldn't be seen in public so I would hide out it the hotel suite and all the white acts and managers would bring everything to me!" Of course out in public I'm sure things didn't start off so pleasant, but as you talk to the guy and realize how damn likable he is you know how he would win over the hearts of even the most staunch racist if given a chance.

So to back track for a minute. The reason this meeting came about is that Michael and Gary are great friends from way back. Michael booked Gary before he topped the charts. Michael went to his agent for another act and the manager kept pushing Gary. Over and Over. Michael says "I don't know him, I don't want him, I want so and so". Then Gary came in the office, sat down, they talked and five minutes later Michael says " I'll take him!"

A little later Michael was trying to lure Gary down to Florida to live and gig full time so he bought a house for Gary. He doesn't hear from Gary. Where's Gary? Finally Gary calls and says "You asshole, why haven't you called to congratulate me?" "For what, I've been waiting down here for you in the house I bought ya" "I've got the number one record in the country!" "Bullshit!!" Or so the story goes and the rest is history.

So Gary was in town to do Bowzer's (Sha Na Na) Rock and Roll Party along with Little Peggy March, Leslie Cole and Lou Christie. Incidentally, did you know that Bowzer is a Julliard classically trained pianist? Michael took me to the show and afterward we had some drinks with Gary and his guitarist Mark who is another Jersey Boy from Marlborough! I also had a backstage pass which was exciting for about a minute, until my fantasy of picking up some groupies was smashed when I realized the average age of the fans.

So lately I'm thinking about music because I met one of Mike's managers who used to play keyboards for Rick James, and he has a studio and his son is entertainment director for the Hard Rock Casino and he says his son can put me to work, etc, etc. And now I'm talking with some weathered pros and it gets me thinking some more. But then Mark says something which reminds me of why I'm not pursuing the music anymore. " I've got to fly home tonight to work my day job tomorrow". That money thing. Admittedly, Gary U.S. Bonds isn't selling out any arenas and Mark has a family and an ex, but if someone with his experience needs a day job then the outlook for me isn't so great. I might still buy a small kit for the boat. Hell, if only to give little D'shaun (Mike's soon to be adopted son) drum lessons. He's learning guitar now, but I think he should be on drums. I showed him a couple of things and he's picked them up very quickly. Probably faster than I did, although I can't be sure as my memory is failing me in my old age :)

So to carry on a little bit with Black History Month, I did manage to get down to New Orleans for a 3 day weekend. Interesting, but I can mark it off the list now. Probably a great place to go when raging hormones drive one crazy at the site of bare titties and you enjoy getting shit faced. For me it was more like, " I came here why??" I did get to see some good Jazz and Blues, but most of the music scene is now rock covers. Something I've gotten a few lifetimes worth of by now. However, my first mistake was not packing properly. You'd think after a year of backpacking this trip would be a no brainer. Well a Mensa IQ doesn't preclude one from making stupid mistakes. I figured Narleeens wasn't much farther north than Lauderdale so the weather will be relatively similar. Wrong!! Cold and Wet! Lulled into security by the perpetually warm temps in Lauderdale, I didn't bring a stitch of warm clothing. To be fair, at this point I don't really own any warm clothing. So after checking into the hotel I layered three t-shirts, thanked god I brought a pair of jeans and sneakers, chuckled at my useless baggies and flip flops, and went about finding something warm to wear.

After I bought a sweatshirt I was able to relax and take in Bourbon Street. One of the highlights of the trip was the fact that The Saints were playing in the NFL Conference Championship. They had a piss poor previous season and have never been to the Superbowl so there was much excitement in the air. Though not a Saints fan, I was that day. I was hoping for them to win, not because I care about the team, I was just hoping for an out of control party atmosphere and I figured the town really could use a little lift. But the Chicago Bears had a different idea and the depression that loomed after the game melted perfectly into the stagnant depression of air which has been hanging over New Orleans since the hurricane. The T-shirts for sale are a testament to that: FEMA=Find Every Mexican Available or FEMA Evacuation Plan= Run Bitch Run. The town is still a wreck, but hey the Saints are poised for a great season and there is always next year...

And there is always next month and that may be the next time I update the blog. We will be in the Bahamas until, well hopefully we will be back before my birthday. And then there is my birthday, then a recovery period, then I have to piece together what happened (just kidding) and then I'll write again.

Ciao Bellas,

PS. Having problems uploading the pics. I will post them ASAP

Sunday, January 28, 2007

OK, I'm Back.

So to pick up where I left off;

Allowing the Gough family to unwind I poured some very nice champagne for Mom, Dad and the two eldest daughters (16 Logan & 19 Morgan), while the son (14-Connor) and youngest daughter (10 Kendal) sipped sodas as we made our way through Nassau and back to Atlantis Resort and Marina. If they're chartering the boat they are obviously wealthy, but it was apparent that it was "new money" as opposed to "old Money". They were down to earth and a pleasure to work for. Michael just loves boats, so he was happy. Nancy was happy since we had things to keep the kids occupied. The kids were pretty shy for the first half of the week, but by the end had really opened up and wanted us to all come up to Long Island and hang with their friends.

We did all the usual stuff and it's been so long ago now that I really don't have the enthusiasm to go into detail. Roughly, we started in Nassau and headed down through the Exumas and toured Waderick Wells, Samson Cay, Staniel Cay, and Highborn Cay. We toured the Atlantis Aquarium, fed the pigs and the iguanas. Took the boys fishing. Played on the waverunner and snorkeled. During the first snorkel trip I learned that their oldest, Morgan, can walk on water!! Well, more like skip on water, like a skipping rock. We were jumping in for a drift snorkel and no sooner was she wet then she was climbing back into the boat. In fact I don't know if she was even in the water long enough to get wet! A few days later though she did much better when we got them into ThunderBall Cave for another snorkel and fish feed.

With the exception of the aggravation caused by a constant battery battle in the tender it was a very succesful trip. We were a little concerned in the beginning that the quiet areas we were to visit wouldn't keep the kids entertained, but in the end they really all had a great time. Even for New Year's when we were on Highborn Cay whose total population amounts to little more than the guests in the marina, we all enjoyed a pot luck party hosted by the marina complete with DJ and Junkinoo band(a musical local custom akin to Mardi gras street music). We contributed a couple of things to the spread, but the highlight was Chef Fran's chocolate fondu fountain. And before turning in I enjoyed a nice quiet early morning new year's swim without a soul stirring. All in all, according to the guests it was their best family vacation yet. And the tears shed as they departed confirmed their sincerety.

No rest for the weary. Actually we weren't that weary because the family was pretty easy to take care of. The evenings ended fairly early and it's always nice when you don't have to pull all nighters. But minutes after tucking them back into the limo we were pulling away from the dock to return home. Our Stew, Elizabeth stayed behind for another gig so on the way back the watches fell almost entirely on Pierre and I. But we made it home safe and sound even though I did get a little too close for comfort to the Northwest Channel marker. Lessoned learned. Don't count too heavily on the GPS. It's a great tool, but can't replace good old sight navigation.

So we got back and were looking forward to a little time off, but it wasn't to be. One day off and then we thru a Birthday party for Michael's girl, T.C.. Halfway thru the party we got a confirmation for a day charter down in Miami the next day. So around 3 am we said goodbye to the last pary guest and headed south via the Intercoastal. Luckily the two stews we had could stay on for the charter and one of them was a chef also so everything was in place. We arrived down at Sunset Harbour just as the dock master was arriving for the day, tied up and went down for a couple hours of rest. A bit later we were up to clean up the boat and get the provisioning done in time for their noon arrival. It was a large group of Kazikstanis, no relation to Borat;)

They had kids and it was a little bit like chasing tornadoes all day, but they were nice and it wasn't so bad, notwithstanding our exhaustion. So we finished that up and headed back to Lauderdale. Saturday I was enjoying some time off, but wasn't too stoked about the inquiry for another Miami day charter on Monday. As it turns out I didn't have to worry about the charter on Monday because at 10 pm Saturday night I got a call from Pierre saying they wanted to do the charter tomorrow. Oh, sh#t!! I quickly got into gear preparing the boat for imminent departure and awaited Pierre and the stew before casting off the lines and once again heading south, this time to Star Island.

We didn't have time to get a chef so the broker ponied up his girlfriend for the job. We were still putting away the provisions and washing the salt off of the boat when the guests arrived. Another group of Russians, but much smaller group this time, only six guests. No kids and two gorgeous Russian Babes complete with their endearing cute accents. Sorry I don't have any pics of the g-strings:( A nice group, but really not much to comment on except again, the girls. Did someone say Russian Bride?

So rather than risk falling asleep at the wheel, we docked again at Sunset Harbour and headed back north the following day. Pierre flew off to L.A. to meet another Internet honey. I held the fort down while he was away and decided to hold onto the accrued paid days off. Possibly to head with Captain Dennis on a weekend Bahama trip or two. I would love to experience what it's like to cruise at 30 knots and do the trip in 5 hours instead of 16 hours. But alas it wasn't to be. After Pierre got back and we looked at our upcoming schedule it was decided that if I was gonna get my days off it would have to be now. Use it or loose it. So I scrambled to to see what I could find. It came down to San Diego or New Orleans. I figured I might rent a car in S.D. and cross down into Baja Mexico for a short surf safari. In the end though New Orleans was just a lot simpler and that's where I headed.

So I'll fill you all in on that next time......

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More Pigs, Iguanas and Holiday Cheer

We were provisioned and ready to go so we undocked and headed out to Port Everglades to make our way to Nassau. But a stiff wind and high seas forced us back. So we got a slip at Bahia Mar to wait for the conditions to improve. The next day as the winds abated and the seas subsided we set Gloria's Sun free and I went to the tender to follow behind.

Dohh! The heavy rains which worked the tender's bilges overtime drained the batteries and it wouldn't start. Something doesn't want us to get this trip started. But a quick jump start and I was underway to rendevous with the boat and secure the tow line amidst the cruise ships manuevaring in port.

Just outside of the inlet a Coast Guard boat circled around to tell us to turn on a navigation light on the tender as dusk was falling. Not technically a legal obligation, but you really can't say no even if it meant that it would certainly kill the batteries which theoretically could lead to sinking the tender if it took on water during the journey since the bilges wouldn't have the needed juice to run.

So with our fingers crossed and the ever dimming navigation light we made our way to Bimini and after about 8 hours dropped anchor to get a little rest. In the morning we pushed on, after jump starting the dead batteries in the tender and during my watch Fran and I had the privelage of being greeted by the biggest fish I've ever seen in person. A whale! I don't know what kind it was, but it was big, white, had a harpoon sticking out of it and had the intials M.D. tatooted on one fin and "Ahab Sucks" on the other;) It was definately saying hello though as it surfaced crossing our bow about 50 yards fore and playfully waved its fin and swam closely by our port side.

So we got into Nassau and docked at Yacht Haven where I washed the salt off the boat and looked forward to having xmas day off. Well I wound up working about 7 hours on xmas day and didn't even get a glimpse of Santa. No more days off for me, Thank you. And no more days of would I get. Yesterday was the 20 day of work in a row! OK, I did make some coin, but enough is enough!!

The crew did at least get to go out and have a nice xmas dinner at Atlantis which is the Bahamian oasis of ritz and glamour. And after dinner we strolled through the aquarium and spied on all the creatures: sharks, jelly fish, morray eels, sting rays, tuna and even a giant manta ray.

The following day I was riding in the Cadillac Escallade stretch limo to the airport to meet our guests, the Gough family from Longggg Island. I was right on time which turned out to be about 2 hours early due to the weather delays. Understandably, they weren't in the most cheerful mood, but as I uncorked the expensive champagne things instantly relaxed.

To be continued....
I wrote this a week ago and never got to finish. We got busy. And now this evening (1/17/07) I was told that I can (actually: use it or loose it) take my accrued days off, starting tomorrow!!!! So much for planning. I now it's been a while since I checked in so I'll just publish this much while I figure out where the hell I'm going to go to get out of Dodge for a few days. I'll try to pick up shortly where I left off from San Diego, Cancun, Puerto Rico, New Orleans or wherever I end up........ Pics to come.