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Three Years, One Question

As April 2018 fades away, so does the three-year anniversary of my decision to chart a new course by pursuing a life of traveling, sailing, and volunteering, and leaving a successful career in corporate finance behind.

It was April 15, 2015, when I walked out of my office in downtown San Francisco. 

Although I had done some personal financial analysis and made a to-do list, I didn’t have an exact plan when I turned off my computer and handed in my badge.  As I took the elevator to the ground floor, I wondered whether the five-floor descent was a symbolic representation of what I was doing with my life – returning to the ground floor, giving up everything I’d worked so hard for during the last 15 years.  

I’ve come to realize the *actual* symbol appeared when those elevator doors opened:  I had the whole world in front of me and, more importantly, I was free to explore it.  No PTO to record.  No emails to answer.  No deadlines to worry about.  

It’s been three extraordinary years, punctuated by high points and low points, proud moments and doubtful moments. 

I’ve traveled deep not wide, spending more time in fewer countries rather than less time in more countries.  My trips are measured in months, not days or weeks.  I’ve lived with local families, helping them with their daily lives and giving back to the community I’m visiting.  

I’ve sailed across oceans and advanced my sailing certifications.  I now get paid to teach sailing, which makes me smile every time I think about it.  Soon, with a Captain’s license in hand, I might expand this “side hustle” to include skippering vacation charters or crewing on yacht deliveries.

Many people have said, “Dan, you’re living the dream.”  That’s not entirely accurate.  I am living a dream.  My dream.  

But, to be clear, it’s not all sunshine and roses; there are nightmarish moments in my dream.  I’ve been assaulted and robbed.  I’ve slept in some run-down hotels, met some oddball Airbnb hosts, and survived some crazy taxi (and tuk-tuk) rides.  I’ve been lost many times; lonely a few times.  I’ve faced “first world problems” of sacrificing expensive activities like sports events, concerts, and City dinners that'd I'd grown accustomed to attending without a second thought.  (I now meticulously track every dollar I spend - more on that in a subsequent post.)

What began as a trial period of 6-12 months has now become a way of life for me.  I don’t plan on going back to an office environment, or the long hours, politics, and stress that inevitably come with it.  I certainly miss the routine, the paycheck, and the social and intellectual aspects of the office, but I'm slowly figuring out alternative sources for these comforts.  

I may not have everything figured out, but who does anyway?  

 

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One Day at a Time

In February, I posted a general outline of my plan for 2018.  A couple of months have quietly and quickly passed by.  I guess it’s time I provide an update!

The short version is, I’m on track.

In March, I completed the USCG Master 100-Ton License course at Columbia Pacific Maritime in Portland, Oregon.  The course spanned 10 consecutive days and included several written exams covering Navigation, General Deck, Rules of the Road, and Safety.  I also took two auxiliary exams to earn my Sailing endorsement and Towing endorsement.  The CPM school and its instructors were fabulous and come with my highest recommendation!

Now that I have passed the exams, the last major obstacle between me and the USCG Master License is time on the water, or “sea service.”  I need 360 days.  I’m at 280. 

So, I flew home to San Francisco in mid-March with one thing in mind:  sailing as much as possible this summer.  Not a bad to-do list, right?

Working with the OCSC Sailing School, I’ve expanded my scope as Sailing Instructor (I’m now qualified to teach both Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising courses) enabling me to load up my schedule – teaching about four days a week.  I’ve already accumulated over 20 days since mid-March.  If I can teach about 15 days a month, I should be easily to reach 360 total days by the end of summer.

In September, I’m committed to skippering the 13-day sailing vacation in Croatia – so that will be the icing on the cake.  I’ll come back in the Fall and file my paperwork with the U.S. Coast Guard.

So, the plan remains as I outlined in February.  I’m slowly making progress against it, one day at a time, one sail at a time. 

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So... What's Next?

A lot of people have asked me "What's next?"  I will share the answer in this post; but before I do, let's take a quick trip down memory lane.  It will help set the stage for what's next.

I started sailing seriously about 5 years ago, in the Spring of 2013.  I quickly fell in love with the sport and dreamed about building a career in sailing – as a sailing instructor, charter skipper, or yacht deliverer.  Or a combination of all three.

By the Spring of 2015, I assessed my professional, personal, and financial situation and decided to focus on making my dream a reality.  To the surprise of friends, family, and colleagues, I quit my  job in corporate finance and charted a new course for my life.  I built a financial plan and figured out a way to minimize my expenses and maximize my experiences, focusing on what makes me happy:  sailing, volunteering, and traveling.

At a macro level, my schedule revolved around sailing in San Francisco during the summer (when wind and weather is favorable) and volunteering in foreign countries in the winter (especially countries in the tropics or Southern Hemisphere).  Season to season, my cost of living and my daily routine swing wildly from one extreme to the other; but on an annualized basis, the lifestyle has proven to be manageable and affordable.

The volunteering and traveling is strictly for fun; I don’t have any master plan other than to explore cultures and help communities.  Sailing, however, is a different story.  I do a plan, or at least the dream, of making a career out of it.  So, I’ve been structured and disciplined in my efforts. 

Over the last several years, I’ve taken multiple courses from the OCSC Sailing School, earned certifications with U.S. Sailing, and chartered a variety of boats on the San Francisco Bay.  Thanks to a former instructor, and now good friend, I have also had the opportunity to complete over 60 days of blue-water ocean sailing, including four ocean crossings.

In January of 2017, I returned to the OCSC Sailing School and applied to be a Sailing Instructor.  After interviews, written exams, and on-the-water evaluations (by both OCSC and U.S. Sailing), I accomplished the first part of my three-part career in sailing:  I began work as a Sailing Instructor!

That’s the recap of my journey thus far.  So, now, “What’s next?" you ask.

My goal in 2018 is to apply for (and hopefully earn) a Captain’s License with the U.S. Coast Guard.  The license will facilitate, but by no means guarantee, accomplishing the second and third parts of my dream - skippering charters and delivering yachts (and, importantly, getting paid to do so).

Currently, I’m perfectly qualified to take any friends or guests out on a sailboat for the day, the night, or an extended period of time.  However, I’m not legally able to be paid for it (unless I’m working for an organization like OCSC Sailing School).  With my Captain’s License, I can be paid directly as an individual skipper.  Thus, I could buy a boat and offer to take people out on charter tours in the San Francisco Bay or elsewhere.  

The Captain’s License will also add further credibility to my Maritime CV.  This, in turn, will hopefully make me more noticeable and marketable to experienced yacht deliverers, who may be more likely to offer me work as Crew or First Mate.  Such experience ultimately might lead to skippering my own yacht deliveries.

So the Captain’s License is an important step in building my career as a sailing instructor, charter skipper, and yacht deliverer. 

So, how do I get a Captain’s License?  Well, it’s quite a process which I’ll outline at the bottom of this post.  The short answer is I need to log a lot of time on the water, and I need to pass a lot of exams.  This means I'll have to put a hold on my travels, for the most part.  

To complete the required 360 days of “sea service” as required by the U.S. Coast Guard, I will be staying put in the Bay Area, and teaching Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising classes as much as possible at the OCSC Sailing School.  I’ve lined up an apartment in San Carlos as home base.

In March, I’ll head to Portland, Oregon, where I’ve enrolled in a highly-reputable and intensive 10-day “Captain’s License Course” to study and prepare myself for the written exams.

In September, I’ll head to Croatia where I’ll skipper another 2-week charter in the Adriatic Sea, similar to what I did in 2015 except this time I’m skippering a catamaran!  This will be a good  addition to my sea service as it counts toward more near-coastal and 50-ton experience.

By the end of the calendar year, I hope to have all of the documents, exams, and sea service required for submission to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Then I'll wait for the USCG to review and approve.  Or not.   

If all goes well, I'll begin 2019 as Captain Dan, less than four years after I hung up my hat as Corporate Dan.   It will a tough year of work, study, and discipline, but I feel good about the path, the process, and the prospects for the future.  


For those interested, here’s a brief description of and requirements for a Captain’s License, which is a type of “Merchant Mariner Credential” with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Application, Fee, and Oath

I submit an application, pay a fee, and repeat an oath to the U.S. Coast Guard.  With my application, I submit proof of all of the following:

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

I need to apply for this credential, which is a very straightforward process including an online application, a fee, and an in-person appointment for fingerprinting.

Physical Exams

As you might expect, I’ll have to pass multiple physical tests to prove I’m physically capable of operating a vessel.   These include drug test, eye test, hearing test, and strength/balance test in additional to routine physical exam.

Written Exams

These cover a variety of topics like Rules of Road, Navigation, Deck Safety, and Deck General.  Since I want to be a captain on sailboats, I’ll also need to pass the Sailing exam, which is another series of questions.  There is no “practical exam” or “driving test” for the credential.  I guess the USCG assumes you can drive a boat if you’ve achieved your sea service time.

First Aid and CPR Training

Although I’m already certified, I have to re-certify so that my certification is within one year of my application to the U.S. Coast Guard.

California Boater Card

This is a new requirement rolling out in 2018 in California.  It requires an online course that takes several hours. It seems to target motorboat and jet ski operators, but it has useful rules-of-the-road information for sailors, too.

Character References

I’ll be searching for three people who are willing to submit brief, notarized statements declaring that I’m a responsible, capable person. 

Sea Service Form

I have to submit paper records documenting at least 360 days of “sea service” time.   This is why I’ve been keeping a logbook!  This is tough though.  A “day” is 4 hours.  But so is 8 hours or even 24 hours!  Even a 10-day passage from New Zealand to Fiji (sailing 24 hours a day for 10 days) is only 10 days despite being 240 hours!  This makes the accumulation much more time consuming.  Even days in San Francisco where I’ve done a day sail with one group, and a night sail with another group, is still only 1 day of sea time.  I’m approaching 300 days now, targeting to get to 360 by the end of the calendar year.


After gathering all of the above, I then submit the package to the U.S. Coast Guard.  They will review, and if all goes well, they’ll issue me a Merchant Mariner Credential

The specific type of credential I'm applying for is the Boat Captain Credential, and even that credential has a few subcategories.  The two big ones are:

  • Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel

This refers to a basic license I could get that would enable me to carry up to 6 paying passengers on a vessel.  So even on a 10-person boat, I can only carry 6-paying passengers.  This license is commonly referred to as “6-pack” and is typical for skippers driving a water taxi or launch. Not bad, but I ultimately would want to upgrade to “Master” which enables me to carry any number of paying passengers, up to the vessel’s capacity.

  • Master Credential

The Master credential will remove the “paying passenger” restriction.  There are multiple variations of the Master credential based on Range (Inland, Near Coastal, Ocean) and Tonnage (25-, 50-, or 100-Ton).  These will be determined by the experience (called “sea service”) that I submit, which documents the vessels and locations that I have sailed.  I will initially qualify for Inland, 25-Ton, or maybe 50-Ton.  I'm ultimately targeting Near Coastal, 50-Ton. 

So that's it.  That's my plan for 2018.  It will be a year of focus and discipline to advance my career and enhance my future!  Like I've said, there is no guarantee but I'm going for it.

 Aboard SV Avalon, somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.

Aboard SV Avalon, somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.

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A Chile Wrap

Here's a final wrap on my trip to Chile.  (It's really just some notes for myself about what I did this last week, because I was completely lazy and just wandered around some smaller towns.  If I didn't write anything, I know I'd look back and think, "What the heck did I do for a week?")

I’ve been to Chile several times before, so my focus on this particular trip has been volunteering, not exploring.  But I couldn’t spend two months in any country without taking a little time to see new (or favorite) places.

So, after 7 weeks of volunteering on Isla Tenglo, I bid farewell to my host family, my neighbors, and my new friends, and I boarded a bus headed north.

I would stop at Concepcion and Chillan before heading to Santiago for my flight home.

The first leg was Puerto Montt to Concepcion.  I booked a $38 ticket for a premium cama (fully reclining) seat for the 8-hour trip.  Ironically, I actually didn’t sleep much, but rather just thoughtfully peered out the window enjoying the view of countryside and volcanos. 

About midway, I noticed dark smoke (not clouds) billowing above the mountains on the horizon. My first thought was a volcano had erupted.  But as we got closer, I could see it was a wildfire spreading through the dry farmland, with fire trucks and crews racing to control the blaze.  They diverted our bus to a detour route, once which would end up increasing our travel time by 2 hours. 

Finally in Concepcion, I took a cab to my Hotel Alborada.  The hotel had received good reviews online.  My experience, though, was a bit disappointing.  After an extended bus trip, I just wanted a long, hot shower.  No luck; no hot water.  The disappointment was partially offset by the breakfast buffet and central location.

The next day, I took a walk along the river front (Concepcion is located along the Biobio River) which has a bike path and a few small parks and memorials.  Then I headed toward the main plaza, weaving my way through the bustling streets.

For dinner, I spoiled myself and grabbed a table at Quijote, one of the best restaurants in town, located right on the Plaza de Independencia.  I ordered a huge steak, mashed potatoes, tomato and avocado salad, and two glasses of wine for $40 USD.  Not bad.

After dinner, I wandered down to Plaza Peru where there were quite a few cafés and bar with both indoor and outdoor seating.  I enjoyed my first official “michelada” (lager with lime juice and salted rim) before heading back to the hotel.  If I'd been traveling with friends, this might have been a cool spot to spend the evening out and about.

In the morning, after another breakfast buffet, I took a taxi back to the bus station for the next leg of my trip – a 2-hour bus ride to Chillan.  I had visited Chillan back in 2008, and had fond memories of it.

Arriving at the bus station in Chillan, just off Avenida Ecuador, I walked a few blocks back down Avenida O’Higgins to my hotel, Hotel Diego de Almargo.  (Conveniently, the bus had passed by the hotel on the way to the station, so I was able to spot it and navigate my way back on foot.)  The 10-story hotel appeared to be newly built, and offered modern amenities like a pool, sauna, and gym.  More importantly, though, the hotel had lots of hot water, and was easy walking distance to the bus station, the train station, and the main plaza.

After checking in, I headed out to the Plaza de Armas.  I was surprised to see the quaint, shady park covered in tents and kiosks.  As it turned out, there was a National Folklore and Craft Beer festival going on this weekend!  So much for eating healthy and getting rest.

I sat in the park and nibbled on kebabs, choripan, and beer, watching people and listening to music.  I walked through the shopping district and central market as well, but was quickly drawn back to the park.

In the morning, I enjoyed an even better breakfast buffet.  Satiated, I laced up my boots and walked around town, perusing the stalls and mini-restaurants in the “mercado.”  I ended up in the park again, washing down a choripan with a fruit smoothie and hoping they cancel each other out.

I remember in 2008, I had walked all the way down Avenida O’Higgins to Chillan Viejo.  I didn’t do that this time, but I remember it being a nice walk and a good way to spend the afternoon.  Something for next time.

I stopped by the train station in hopes of buying my ticket to Santiago for tomorrow morning, but the station was closed.  I headed back to the park for the evening and for more healthy eating of grilled meats and French fries.

In the morning, I was up early for breakfast at 7:00am, and headed to the train station with my bags at 7:45.  At 8:00am, the ticket office opened, only to inform me that the train was fully booked.  Damn!  I had been looking forward to the nice train ride.  (Most of the trains in Chile have been put out of service; this was one of the last remaining trains in operation, as I understand.)

I noticed a taxi loitering outside, so I hopped in and asked him to take me to the main bus terminal, where I would book a bus to Santiago.  I found one operated by EME that was leaving momentarily, with semi-cama seats available for $20 USD. Great!  I loaded my bag and hopped on – buying my ticket once we were moving.  I was in the far back corner, a window, which seemed like a good spot to be (other than having to awkwardly crawl over the man in the aisle seat).  Once I was in, great, footrest and recline….until the man in front of me reclined his seat almost onto my lap!  Ugh, I could barely raise my knees and felt very claustrophobic, especially when the air conditioning seemed to only work every 30 minutes or so.  I focused on watching the landscape and surfing the web – yes, the bus had WIFI thankfully (though no power supply).

I arrived in Santiago at 1:30pm, and again took a cab to my hotel.  I checked into the Hotel Sommelier Boutique, on Avenida Merced, and was pleasantly surprised.  The hotel was very nice, quaint, and definitely boutique.  It was centrally-located in Belle Arts, with a grocery store across the street. After settling in to my room on the “Sauvignon Blanc” floor, I took a walk to Plaza de Armas, through the mural-lined Barrio Bellevista to the café/bar lined of Avenida Pio Nono.  I enjoyed a curbside beer and “Thai Pollo” at a restaurant along the popular street.  Then I went back to the hotel and decided to just lounge in my room to watch the Super Bowl.  I ordered a salmon and avocado salad to go from a restaurant around the corner, but had difficulty eating it without a fork and difficulty tasting it without dressing (which I’d forgotten at the restaurant). 

The next morning, I enjoyed yet another breakfast buffet.  The buffet at this boutique hotel was a bit fancier than I need, offering gourmet pastries and dessert items.  I stuck to cereal, eggs, juices, and coffee. 

I spent the day and evening poking along the streets of Lastarria, Belle Arts, and Bellevista again, just enjoying my time in this large, international city.  I returned to the hotel early to pack my bags.  Tomorrow I return to the U.S.

On the morning of February 6th, I enjoyed my final breakfast buffet (and late checkout).  After a second coffee at the rooftop café in the hotel (which I forgot to mention is a cool feature), I ventured out for a final meal – I chose the “menu del dia” at the Utopia Restaurante on Lastarria.  It was good food at reasonable prices, good WIFI, and good street-scene (passers-by, vendors, etc.).

At 5:00pm, I went back to the hotel to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, grabbed my backpack, and headed to the airport for my own take-off.  Although I wasn't headed to outer space, I did have second thoughts for a minute as we descended over the $5 billion donut-shaped, space-age headquarters in Cupertino, California.

(By the way, side note, the donuts in Chile are phenomenal.  Who would have guessed?  Granted, you should probably exercise caution before eating too many of these super-sweet, high fat-calorie delights.)

The week of exploring was just what I needed.  It was actually less about exploring, and more about just resting and reflecting on my time in Chile.  And what a good time it was.  All 8 weeks of it.  Thanks to everyone who was involved in hosting me, entertaining me, and helping me on Isla Tenglo.  I’ll miss you, but I know I’ll be back!

 I'll miss waking up to this view on Isla Tenglo.

I'll miss waking up to this view on Isla Tenglo.

 Bus trip to Concepcion was extended by 2 hours, as we detoured around a wildfire.

Bus trip to Concepcion was extended by 2 hours, as we detoured around a wildfire.

 The crews fought vigorously to control the fire.

The crews fought vigorously to control the fire.

 Fire endangered this small town.

Fire endangered this small town.

 Having made it to Concepcion, I walk along the boardwalk and enjoyed the view of Biobio River.

Having made it to Concepcion, I walk along the boardwalk and enjoyed the view of Biobio River.

 Coincidentally, there was a folklore and craft beer festival on the same weekend as my visit to Chillan.

Coincidentally, there was a folklore and craft beer festival on the same weekend as my visit to Chillan.

 The mini-restaurants in the 'mercado' in Chillan.

The mini-restaurants in the 'mercado' in Chillan.

 A staple food in Chillan - a choripan with all the trimmings.

A staple food in Chillan - a choripan with all the trimmings.

 Live performances of music and dance at the National Folklore Festival in Chillan.

Live performances of music and dance at the National Folklore Festival in Chillan.

 Admiring the mural-lined streets of Barrio Bellevista in Santiago.

Admiring the mural-lined streets of Barrio Bellevista in Santiago.

 Donuts in Chile.

Donuts in Chile.

 The cool new Apple headquarters looks like a silver donut... or flying saucer?

The cool new Apple headquarters looks like a silver donut... or flying saucer?

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Time's Up on Tenglo

Since my last post, up through the end of January, I have continued with my duties on Isla Tenglo providing water taxi service for the B&B guests and tending to the lawns and gardens.

The weather has been outstanding – sunny and warm, with an occasionally southerly breeze or brief rainstorm to cool things off.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with Christian and his extended family who live on and/or visit the island.

After 7 weeks on the island, I’m also now recognized by and friendly with the locals – whether it’s the staff at Club Nautico Reloncavi (where I eat lunch every day), the other water taxi skippers (who take me back and forth to get the little boat I skipper), the shop owners (where I buy my staples), or random island residents (whom I pass on the path to/from work).  Everyone says “Hola” or “Buenas tardes” with a big smile.

It reminds me why I like this style of travel – staying put in one community for an extended period of time.  I’m not just interacting with people who are paid to be nice to me; I’m interacting with local people as they carry out their daily lives.   And I’m helping my host family run their business and care for their house, trying to make their lives a little easier for a few weeks. 

Because believe me, life isn’t exactly a vacation on Isla Tenglo.  It’s tough living, not resort living.

There is no front office, no security station, no guest services desk, no business center, and no health and wellness fitness room.  There aren’t really any community services like police or fire departments. There is a church, and I believe a school as well.  In general, residents and visitors alike must be self-reliant, resourceful, and resilient. 

I can’t speak for the few hundred people who live here full time, nor the few hundred more who come visit, but I know that for me, the tradeoff is that with the tough living also comes a raw beauty, tranquility, and isolation that is very appealing – as well as the satisfaction of ‘making it’ on your own.  (It’s similar to the appeal of sailing.)

Back home in San Francisco, I never even think about whether I’ll have hot water, WIFI, or heat. On Isla Tenglo, it’s different.  We don’t take these luxuries for granted.  They require constant monitoring and care.  Do we have enough propane in the tank to heat the water?  Is the water pump itself in good working order?  Do we have dry wood for the wood-burning stove?  Do we have too many appliances turned on at once?  (This only happened once, when we had two space heaters, a toaster, and microwave all going at once – the draw on power was too much and the circuit breaker shut off.  Easy to reset, but reminded us we need to be careful.) 

We are lucky that Casa Roja and Punta Piedras are only steps from the beach.  We only have to walk a short distance with heavy grocery or garbage bags.  Many families have to haul their groceries and garbage up and down the hill – mostly by hand or wheelbarrow, as there are only a couple of 4-wheel drive trucks I’ve seen on the island.

We plan our activities around the tides and weather.  High tide means a shorter walk to the house, as the 10-15 foot tidal change can add an extra 30 meters to your walk (across a slippery rocky beach).  Low tide is a good time to inspect boat mooring lines anchored to the seabed, to collect shellfish among the rocks, or to pick up garbage from the beach that washed ashore at high tide.  

The weather here at the north end of Patagonia is unpredictable, and changes rapidly.  Numerous times I’ve had to take a break from my mowing, pruning, or composting to let a small rainstorm pass overhead.  A few times I’ve suspended my ‘taxi service’ because of the high winds and choppy waves.  One day it rained, then hailed, and then was sunny – all within a span of 30 minutes!  I’ve learned to always carry by waterproof jacket and pants, an extra upper layer, and my fleece hat in my backpack wherever I go… just in case.  That south wind is cold!

The weather can get pretty nasty, with gusty wind in particular.  We had a power line go down in December because of the high winds breaking a large tree branch.  Another day we had a tree fall onto the deck, with only the lighter-weight branches hitting the house.  Either event could have been a lot worse!  (A side benefit of the tree falling down was we ended up with a lot of firewood that will be dry by this winter, hopefully.) 

There are a couple of small stores on the island.  I use the term ‘store’ loosely.  These generally take the form of a storage shed in someone’s front yard, stocked with a small selection of canned and dry goods, bottled beverages, and some fresh local vegetables and eggs.  I walk up to the house, ring the doorbell, and whoever answers then escorts me over to the shed where I do my shopping.  The inventory is hit or miss, as are the operating hours.  Several times, I’ve tried to go shopping, but no one is home.  Other times I’ve gone only to find key staples (fresh vegetables, pasta, or beer) are out of stock.  

If I’m not providing my own taxi service, I use the local (professional) boat taxi service – but they only operate during daytime, so we plan our outings to the mainland accordingly.  No late nights out in Puerto Montt, or we’re sleeping on the docks!  Actually, we are fortunate to have the friendly staff of Club Nautico Reloncavi who will take us to the island as a last resort if the boat taxis have stopped running.  And Christian’s Beneteau 44 sailing yacht is at the dock; I slept on the boat a few times for convenience if I’m providing late-night or early-morning crossings for guests on the little boat.

My gardening responsibilities are seemingly endless.  It’s summer now and things are growing like crazy.  I can barely keep up.  Just when I finish mowing the expansive lawn at one of the houses, it’s time to mow the lawn at the other house.  I’ve been trying to compost the grass cuttings, but even the compost piles are getting overrun by grass cuttings.  I need more ‘brown’ stuff, but nothing in Patagonia is brown right now – it’s green, green, green. 

Life on Tengo Island teaches you to be resourceful. You have to improvise sometimes, and make things work until you can get to the mainland again.  In this regard, it’s like sailing.  You have to be self-reliant and use what you have around you.

The other day, a neighbor invited me in for coffee.  I watched her make shrimp empanadas.  She used an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin, and a small plate on its side as a dough cutter.  I watched another neighbor use a huge piece of styrafoam as a dinghy to paddle to his boat anchored offshore. 

Reduce, reuse, and recycle.  These words have never been more true when you live on a small island. 

So it is not easy living – but the rewards are worth the effort.

On Isla Tenglo, you are immersed in nature.   The plant life is all encompassing -- from bright green ferns to towering trees, from colorful flowers to ripening berries and apples.  There is playful marine life, like sea lions and penguins, and traditional livestock like cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens.  And as I’ve mentioned, the weather and tides are part of daily life that you can’t ignore.

The community is welcoming, friendly, and supportive. Everyone I walk by on the island says “Hola” or “Buenos dias.”  People help each other.  We gave a neighbor a ride to the mainland the other day.  A gentleman repositioned the boat for me as the tide receded faster than I’d anticipated.  A neighbor invited me to sit out on her front lawn the other day to enjoy the view overlooking the channel.

The feeling of separation, even isolation, from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Montt is quite unique.  Life is stripped down to what's necessary.  Luxuries may not be material things, but natural things, like a sunny day that dries your laundry quickly or a gentle breeze that dries the sweat from your brow.  It’s a bit like stepping back in time, or at least slowing down time. 

Unfortunately, though, time keeps going, and my time on Tenglo Island is up.  I’ve been here 7 weeks, and have enjoyed my time with fantastic people on this amazing little island.  But I have to get back to my own life in San Francisco.  So, after a couple of tasty farewell dinners (homemade gnocchi and traditional asado - gracias!), I'm headed north to Santiago by bus, taking about a week to poke along a few smaller towns before catching my flight home.

I’ll miss Tenglo, but I’m comforted by knowing I’ll be back again someday.  Hasta lluego!

 Taking a stroll along one of the roads on Isla Tenglo.

Taking a stroll along one of the roads on Isla Tenglo.

 Beach walk at low tide.

Beach walk at low tide.

 Beach walk at low tide.

Beach walk at low tide.

 Up on the ridge, overlooking the south side of Isla Tenglo.

Up on the ridge, overlooking the south side of Isla Tenglo.

 Relaxing at Club Nautico Reloncavi (on the mainland), waiting for guests to arrive.  This part of the job isn't very tough.  

Relaxing at Club Nautico Reloncavi (on the mainland), waiting for guests to arrive.  This part of the job isn't very tough.  

 On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

 On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

 Christian preparing the barbecue in his front yard.

Christian preparing the barbecue in his front yard.

 Christian grilling all kinds of meats!

Christian grilling all kinds of meats!

 The view from my little room in Casa Roja.  I'll miss it!

The view from my little room in Casa Roja.  I'll miss it!

 

 

 

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Back and Forth I Go

Not a ton to report this week.  I’ve fallen into a routine of providing the water taxi service as needed throughout the day, followed by restful evenings on the deck or in the living room at Casa Roja.  

If I have a long break in between channel crossings, I’ll try to do some yardwork around the house – checking the boat every 30-60 minutes to make sure the ebbing tide hasn’t left the boat stranded on the beach.  I admit, one day this happened and I was very embarrassed!  I had forgotten to set my timer and the time slipped away from me.  About 90 minutes had passed before I raced down to the beach, only to find the boat stuck on dry land! It took three of us to get her back into the water.

Although the week has been sort of ‘routine’, it has been far from slow.  The last week has seen a flurry of activity, driven not only by a rotation of guests in both Bed & Breakfast locations, but also by preparation for the upcoming Chiloe Regatta 2018. 

For the Bed & Breakfast business, these means welcoming guests at the yacht club, taking them across the channel, and escorting them to either Punta Piedras or Casa Roja.  I help them with their luggage too.  I’ve been amazed at some of the large suitcases I’ve had to lug up and down the beach!  Tomas says that a lot of Argentinians come to Chile for shopping, because it’s cheaper.  That might explain some of these oversized bags.  The B&B business has been good, so that means a lot of back and forth with guests.  But it also means a lot of back and forth with groceries and garbage!  (I haven't gotten a boot-full of water this week, so I must be getting better at this gig.  The bummer is I found out the boat is too small in length to qualify as a proper vessel for my sea service log that I will submit to the US Coast Guard this year.)

In addition, the Chiloe Regatta 2018 is coming at the end of the month.  I’ve heard about 100 boats are participating.  The yacht club and marina has seen a lot of activity as the boats and crew get ready.  There is an after-race party at the yacht club, as well as some private viewing-parties aboard local yachts.  I’ve helped with some of the stocking-up of the yacht club kitchen and storage room with the necessary supplies.  I’m sure I’ll be helping with the event at the yacht club (or on the boats) in some fashion.  We’ll see.

On Sunday, after an early morning taxi run across the channel, I took the rest of the day off. I had planned to go sailing on Christian’s Beneteau 44, but decided my body needed to rest.  I took the local bus into town, walked along the promenade, and ate a huge lunch of Lomo a lo Pobre (steak, eggs, fries).  I came back to Isla Tenglo and hung out with some neighbors and friends in their yard.  It was a beautiful, warm, summer day!

 Taxi anyone?

Taxi anyone?

 Along the promenade in Puerto Montt.  That's Isla Tenglo in the background.

Along the promenade in Puerto Montt.  That's Isla Tenglo in the background.

 The promenade in Puerto Montt.

The promenade in Puerto Montt.

 Lomo a lo Pobre (steak, eggs, fries).  Yes, I ate it all.  

Lomo a lo Pobre (steak, eggs, fries).  Yes, I ate it all.  

 A typical evening after work.  Pasta, wine, internet, and a fantastic view of the garden and bay.

A typical evening after work.  Pasta, wine, internet, and a fantastic view of the garden and bay.

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Did Someone Call a Taxi?

The Casa Roja Bed & Breakfast is in full swing. We’ve had a house full of guests, including the owner of the house, for the last week.  I’ve been sleeping on Christian’s sailboat to make room for the guests.

Due to the rain last week, my grass-cutting responsibility has been on hold.  But early this week, the sun came out and I spent two days cutting the grass and pruning the bushes at both houses.  The properties look great.  I wish I had been able to finish before the guests arrived to provide a great first impression … but not much I can do about the crazy unpredictable weather around here!

My primary responsibility, though, is transferring the guests to and from the island in the 12-foot aluminum motor boat.  I also take Christian and the rest of our staff (consisting of Christian’s wife, son, and son’s girlfriend) back and forth.  In both cases, there is usually quite a bit of cargo as well – either suitcases for guests, or groceries and garbage for the staff. 

The transfer itself is not so difficult.  Yes, there can be a lot of wind and chop, and there is a lot of boat traffic – fishing boats, tug boats, sail boats, and other taxi boats.  We have some marine life to watch out for too – penguins casually swimming about, and sea lions playing in the water or napping on the large, flat-topped mooring buoys.  Coming from windy, busy San Francisco Bay, I’m used to most of this – except for the penguins.

Even the docking at the marina is straightforward.  We generally have a reserved space, alongside one of the dock fingers.  Because of the regatta happening at the end of the month, the marina is quickly filling with boats though, and we are likely to lose our prime spot.  But still, it’s not difficult to dock this little motorboat.

The trickiest part of the transfer is the landing on the island itself.  We don’t have a dock or pier.  We land directly on the rocky beach.  We have 3 or 4 different landing spots depending on the tides and wind.  It took me a while (and a few boots-full of water) before I mastered the beach landing – approaching the beach at the right speed and angle so that I can cut the engine and raise it out of the water before the propeller hits the shallow rocky bottom, and still have enough speed so that the bow just gently glides up onto the beach.  A few times I’ve stopped short and either rowed to shore or stepped off into deeper water than I’d anticipated (hence the boots full of water comment). 

On the approach, I also have to watch out for submerged boulders and lines.  There are a bunch of other boats tied up at the beach with lines running out to buoys offshore.  These lines can be at varying depths depending on the tide, so it’s not just a matter of knowing where they are, but also knowing approximately how deep they are at a given time.

The most time-consuming (and nerve-wracking) task though is managing the anchoring of the boat once I’m on the island.  For example, once I land with the guests, I’ll anchor the boat and help them with their luggage to either Punta Piedras or Casa Roja.  I might then stick around one of the houses and do some work in the yard.  But, because of the big tidal change here – anywhere from 10 to 15 feet – I have to constantly go down to the beach and check on the boat anchor.  (I go check every 30-60 minutes depending on tide height, wind, etc.)

If the tide is coming in, I have to make sure I have enough line between the anchor and bow, and enough line running from the anchor up the beach.  If the tide is going out, I have to make sure I keep resetting the anchoring further and further out so that the boat doesn’t get beached.  (I’ll see if I can post a video of the anchoring process.) 

Now, with my sailing background, I’ve been trained on calculations to help with all of this.  But, I still feel uneasy given the nature of conditions around here.  I’m still getting familiar with the slope of the beach, and the location of boulders and lines.  If I’m not careful I could easily anchor the boat in what seems to be a safe spot at high tide, only to realize I’m boxed in by lines or boulders as the tide goes out. 

I also have to pay attention to wind shifts.  On several occasions, the wind has shifted, so I’ve had to move the boat to a different anchorage midday.

As you might imagine, this becomes difficult when I’m simultaneously trying to mow the lawn, or do other work around the house – and then my 30- or 60-minute alarm goes off and I walk down the hill to check on the boat, always with that slight worry of seeing the boat stuck high up on the beach, or worse, drifting down the channel on its own.

But, so far so good.  From time to time, I’ll take a break and take the boat back to the yacht club, where I can enjoy the fast WIFI, tasty lunch, and pleasant view of the marina.  Here, I can dock the boat worry-free and just relax.

Apart from working in the garden and running the boat taxi service, I’ve been spending my time chatting with guests and staff, enjoying evening barbecues on the deck at Casa Roja, and taking casual strolls along the beach and hillside.

 The little motorboat I'm using for the taxi service, along with the wooden ramp I put out to help guests board without getting their feet wet.  And life vests on board for everyone!

The little motorboat I'm using for the taxi service, along with the wooden ramp I put out to help guests board without getting their feet wet.  And life vests on board for everyone!

 The beach at low tide.  I took a few pictures of landing spots to study the location of hazards like submerged boulders and lines at higher tides.

The beach at low tide.  I took a few pictures of landing spots to study the location of hazards like submerged boulders and lines at higher tides.

 Here you can see a mooring line that, at higher tide, would be submerged and hazardous to our propeller!

Here you can see a mooring line that, at higher tide, would be submerged and hazardous to our propeller!

 Making my landing at high tide, still having to navigate around the lines from other boats.

Making my landing at high tide, still having to navigate around the lines from other boats.

 Again navigating my way up to the rocky beach, avoiding the mooring lines from neighboring boats.  

Again navigating my way up to the rocky beach, avoiding the mooring lines from neighboring boats.  

 Here we are at the dock at Club Nautico Reloncavi on the mainland.

Here we are at the dock at Club Nautico Reloncavi on the mainland.

 One morning I went with David to help on this beautiful Swan 82.  We were going to rig the headsails and fill up with fuel.  But there was too much wind to hoist the sails at the dock.  And the fuel dock was closed for repairs.  0-2.  Bummer.

One morning I went with David to help on this beautiful Swan 82.  We were going to rig the headsails and fill up with fuel.  But there was too much wind to hoist the sails at the dock.  And the fuel dock was closed for repairs.  0-2.  Bummer.

 The beach in front of Casa Roja at sunset.

The beach in front of Casa Roja at sunset.

 Cruising back to the Marina at sunset.

Cruising back to the Marina at sunset.

 I live by this tide chart now, monitoring the timing of high and low tides, and the change in height of tide.  Using the rule of twelfths just like I was taught! Thanks #0CSC.

I live by this tide chart now, monitoring the timing of high and low tides, and the change in height of tide.  Using the rule of twelfths just like I was taught! Thanks #0CSC.

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Open for Business!

The new year has started, and so have the Bed & Breakfast services at Casa Roja!  We have spent the week getting the house ready... after welcoming in 2018, that is.

The week kicked off with a New Year’s Eve party at Casa Roja. Several friends and extended family of Tomas arrived with arms full of food and drink.  Since the boat taxi doesn’t run past 9:00pm, guests brought sleeping bags or made other sleeping arrangements on Isla Tenglo. 

The party was an all-night affair complete with barbecued steak, sausages, and vegetables; seafood pasta; and all kinds of appetizers, salads, and desserts.  Food was complemented with wine, beer, and a local favorite “piscola” (Pisco and Coke). 

It was a chilly night but most of the party took place on the front deck, overlooking the channel full of ship lights reflecting off the dark water.  At midnight, instead of watching fireworks, we watched the slow burn of red flares launched from around the marina across the channel.

In the morning, I was the first person awake (probably because I was one of the first to go to bed), so I spent an hour or two clearing up and washing the dishes.  Due to my limited cooking skills, my role in the kitchen is usually washing dishes.  I don’t mind; I even find it somewhat therapeutic.

The rest of the day was sort of lost; we just took it easy, lounging around the house on the comfortable sofas or outside deck.  We knew that January was going to be a busy month – Casa Roja was opening as a Bed & breakfast! 

Christian has already been running a Bed & Breakfast service at his house (utilizing his two backyard cabanas) called “Punta Piedras.”  As the local manager for Casa Roja (the owner is based in England, and is only here part-time during the summer), Christian has also set up this house for Bed & Breakfast service, using AirBnb and Booking for reservations.  Look us up!

We already have guests lined up for a few weeks in January, starting this first week.  So, after a day of recovery from NYE, we began some serious preparation.

We cleaned the bedrooms and bathrooms, setting them up with fresh linens and basic supplies.  We organized the kitchen, making sure the guest-dedicated dishes were clean and ready.  We talked about roles and responsibilities, guest expectations, complementary services (e.g., breakfast) and premium services (e.g., lunch, dinner, excursions). 

Island life is not easy.  Simple tasks – like going to the grocery store for supplies – take more time and energy than normal.  When Tomas and I went grocery shopping, it took nearly half a day because of logistics like crossing the channel to/from the mainland and walking from the beach up to the house while managing a grocery load of 10-15 bags!  Remember, we don’t have cars on the island! 

We don’t have garbage service, either.  So yes, every few days, we haul 2-3 trash bags from the two houses, across the channel, and to the dumpsters at the yacht club. 

Frequently, we have to plan our activities around the weather. That may be less about life on an island and more about life in Patagonia.  The weather changes constantly!  It rained a lot this week, which confined us to indoor chores. 

But, during the short breaks in the rain, I was able to head outside and tackle a few jobs.  The biggest job was pruning the hydrangeas and clearing the pathway to the red cabana. (The Casa Roja “estate” really has 3 buildings:  the main house, with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms; the red cabana, with 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom; and what I call “the barn,” or storage shed, which has a dormitory-style room above it with 3 beds and a half-bath.)  Side benefits of this job included getting fresh-cut flowers for the house, as well as more material for my composting efforts.

I also gathered the chopped wood from the tree that had fallen on the house, and moved it to the covered wood shed at the side of the barn.  It would hopefully be dry in time for the winter months later this year.

The lawn needed cutting again, but with the heavy rains the last 3-4 days, the lawn was too wet.  As much as I wanted to have it neatly cut for the guests, I'd have to wait another day or two.

As part of the preparation for the guests, I moved my stuff out of Casa Roja and onto Christian’s 42-foot sailboat at the yacht club marina.  I would sleep on the boat for the next few weeks, to make room for the paying guests at the house.  Also, this would facilitate my key responsibility: running the boat taxi service using Christian’s 12-foot motor boat (also housed at the yacht club).  By staying on Christian’s sailboat, I’d be ready to take the little boat over to the island anytime a guest needed to come to the mainland, and vice versa – when they arrive at the club, I’m right there ready to greet them and take them to the island.  As a side benefit, the club has hot showers, fast WIFI, and tasty lunch service).

The first guests were actually staying at Punta Piedras, not at Casa Roja.  They were a family of 4 living in northern Chile.  I ferried them back and forth to the mainland a few times, but the biggest adventure was taking the father, Carl, on a 3-hour fishing expedition around the other side of Isla Tenglo!  We didn’t catch anything but we had great weather and calm seas, and we saw a lot of seals, pelicans, and penguins.

Our first guests at Casa Roja arrived Saturday, all the way from Montreal, Canada, and stayed for a couple of nights.  Tomas had returned to Santiago for a few days to work on a music recording, so Blanca and I took care of the guest services.

At this point, the weather was starting to improve and the house was really looking good.  We were quite literally open for business – a good thing because we have two more reservations coming up next week!

We also have a very special guest arriving Sunday – the owner of Casa Roja!  Jasmin, and her friend Polly, will be joining us for the month!

 The "breakfast" part of Bed & Breakfast.  (The bread and coffee are on the counter behind me, in case you're analyzing what's missing.  Eggs and fresh juice are also available as premium options.)

The "breakfast" part of Bed & Breakfast.  (The bread and coffee are on the counter behind me, in case you're analyzing what's missing.  Eggs and fresh juice are also available as premium options.)

 The "bed" part of Bed & Breakfast.  Nice view!

The "bed" part of Bed & Breakfast.  Nice view!

 Preparing seafood pasta for New Year's Eve!

Preparing seafood pasta for New Year's Eve!

 Before trimming the hydrangeas.

Before trimming the hydrangeas.

 After trimming the hydrangeas.  Showing the path to the cabana.

After trimming the hydrangeas.  Showing the path to the cabana.

 Skippering the fishing expedition around the other side of Isla Tenglo.

Skippering the fishing expedition around the other side of Isla Tenglo.

 Hard at work.

Hard at work.

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Sail and Deliver!

The highlight of my second week on Isla Tenglo was actually getting *off* the island and helping Christian’s son-in-law, David, with a yacht delivery.  (David works at the shipyard at Club Nautico Reloncavi as marine engineer / mechanic / boat manager / general handyman.  If you have a boat problem, David is your guy to fix it.)

On this occasion, the owner of a new 58-foot Beneteau wanted his yacht moved from Marina del Sur in Puerto Montt down to the city of Castro, on the island of Chiloe.  It was about a 100-nautical mile passage. 

From Castro, the owner and his guests would join the boat and sail further south for a couple of weeks – with David staying onboard as skipper/navigator/engineer.  Unfortunately, the rest of the delivery crew – me, Tomas, and Blanca – had to disembark at Castro and drive the owner’s minivan back to Puerto Montt.

We left Casa Roja on Monday morning, December 25.  Yes, Christmas day.  We met David at Christian’s house, and took a boat taxi to the mainland.  At the Club Nautico Reloncavi, we picked up David’s sailing gear from his boat, “Catch the Wind”, and drove up the road to Marina del Sur.

There, we boarded the Beneteau, “Homero II.”  As far as Beneteaus go, she was a beauty.  Sleek and modern, with all the bells and whistles, including electric winches, two headsails, dual helms, bow thruster, bluetooth stereo with Bose speakers, and a television and wet bar that rise out of the cupboards with a push of a button.  She was probably more an island cruiser instead of an open blue water boat; but for this deliver, that was just fine.  There was also a separate “crew quarters” (with 2 berths and a head) in the bow.  This is where David would sleep during the longer passage, while the owner and guests would enjoy the 3 bedrooms, 3 heads, and huge salon and galley. 

We stowed our gear, removed sail and instrument covers, topped off the water supply, and pretty quickly cast off the lines, with the help of a few guys from the marina.  David manages this boat, and sails these waters regularly, so he didn’t need the prep time that I might need if I was chartering this boat for the same passage.

Our first day was going to be a short 4-hour sail down to the island of Puluqui, where Christian’s family owns a small cottage.  (I spent a lot of time here two years ago helping them insulate, sand, and paint the house.)

With 20 knots of wind behind us, we unfurled the large genoa headsail and sailed along at 7-8 knots.  We didn’t even hoist the mainsail.  (Or, actually, the proper term would be “unfurl the mainsail” since this boat had an in-mast furling mainsail.  Not my favorite setup.)

As we approached Puluqui, we had to keep a sharp lookout for chorito (mussel) farms which consist of a lot of floats and buoys, as well as underwater lines.   The entrance to the cove on Puluqui was especially difficult since we arrived just after low tide, and there was a shallow line strung across the entrance of the cove, from the beach to an offshore chorito farm.  We took 3-4 approaches to make sure we got it just right and didn’t snag our propeller on the line.  Well done David!

We then coasted up to one of the mooring balls.  David stopped the boat, while Tomas and I picked up the mooring ball and ran our bowline through the splice.  We tied off the bowline, shut off the engine, and we were set.  We enjoyed a beer as a small rain storm passed overhead.  Then we splashed the dinghy, packed up food for a barbecue, and headed ashore.

We took a quick tour of the cottage, which was pretty much just as I remembered it – but David has now laid concrete and piping for the bathroom that is in-progress.  Then we headed out back to the “quincho” – a small structure with a vented roof and big barbecue pit in the center of the floor.

We lit a fire, cleaned the grill, and had a traditional “asado” with different kinds of meat, supplemented with cold beer, red wine, and some pisco.  It was such a great setting to have the lawn and trees outside, rain and wind blowing, and yet we were tucked away in the quincho toasting by the fire, enjoying the food and beverages.

We headed back to the boat later that night for sleeping.  (The cottage isn’t yet ready for accommodation.)

The next morning came early.  We had a long transit ahead of us – nearly 80 nautical miles – so David wanted to start early.  I missed my alarm, but awoke when David fired up the engine at 6:30am.  By the time I had dressed, he’d already cast off the bowline line from the mooring ball.  I helped guide us out of the cove, around the chorito farms again.

David and I stood watch, enjoying some hot coffee and the sunrise, while Tomas and Blanca continued to sleep.

There was absolutely no wind, so we motored the entire day.  That was kind of a bummer, but the Beneteau’s engine is pretty quiet so it wasn’t that bad.  If anything, it made it easy to sit back and enjoy the scenery as we weaved our way in-between islands and waved to boats we passed.

At one point, a small pod of dolphins swam alongside us, playing in our bow wake.  By the time I got my GoPro out, they had pretty much had enough. 

Tomas and Blanca cooked some great meals that day – breakfast of eggs, ham, and toast; lunch of build-your-own tacos, using leftovers from yesterday’s barbecue. 

We arrived in Castro about 5:30pm, and anchored just off the center of town.  We packed up our stuff, cleaned the boat, enjoyed a cold beer while we waited for the owner to arrive.  Upon the owner’s arrival on shore, David shuttled us to shore, and then shuttled the owner and guests onto the boat.  I watched with a bit of envy as the 8 or 9 guests dinghied back to the big boat.  They were in for a fun adventure the next couple of weeks!  And David too!

Tomas, Blanca, and I had made a reservation at a local Airbnb for the night, since we knew it would be too late to head all the way back to Puerto Montt.  We packed our bags into the van, and drove off, in search of our Airbnb.  It was a “palafito” or "home on stilts," so we knew it was nearby.  As it turns out, it was literally 3 houses down from where we had landed ashore and picked up the minivan.  We did a double-take as we drove right by the house – so we did a quick U-turn and parked right back where we had started and walked to the house.

Violeta showed us the nicely-equipped and centrally-located palafito.  From the balcony, overlooking the water, we could actually see Homero II.  We texted David, and waved to him, laughing that we were so close.

That night we had a delicious dinner at a restaurant nearby, called Mercadito.  I had a big bowl of choritos, which seemed appropriate having spent the last 2 days sailing by so many mussel farms.

The following day, we packed up and made the 3-hour drive back to Puerto Montt.  We stopped in town to do some grocery shopping, and then headed back to the yacht club where we parked the van and took the water taxi back to Isla Tenglo and Casa Roja. 

It was great to be back on the island, but I couldn’t help but wonder how David was doing on the trip south through the islands.  It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to do part-time.

The next few days, we stayed around Casa Roja, catching up on projects like weed-whacking, stirring the compost pile, and general house cleaning. 

We did have one other bit of excitement when one windy evening a large tree from the neighbor’s house blew over, and crashed into the side of Casa Roja!  Some of the top branches and leaves actually hit my bedroom window.  Nothing broke, thankfully.  The next day Tomas had to go to the neighbor to arrange for clean-up.   Sure enough, a guy came by with a chainsaw a few hours later and cut away the tree.  We were left with some new firewood – well, it won’t be dry for a few months I guess.

Tomas and Blanca continued with their great cooking.  The highlight this week was some tasty lamb ribs and lentil stew.  Gracias! 

The coming week will be quite active.  We host a New Year's Eve party at Casa Roja.  Then (after cleaning of course) we convert the house into a Bed & Breakfast and welcome several guests over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned!

 Excited for a yacht delivery in Patagonia!

Excited for a yacht delivery in Patagonia!

 Pretty much brand new 58-foot Beneteau, Homero II.  The enclosed cockpit is very useful when sailing in Patagonia, where there is a lot of rain and cold wind.

Pretty much brand new 58-foot Beneteau, Homero II.  The enclosed cockpit is very useful when sailing in Patagonia, where there is a lot of rain and cold wind.

 Spacious interior!

Spacious interior!

 Big galley.

Big galley.

 First day sailing in 20 knots of wind from behind us, so we unfurled the genoa.

First day sailing in 20 knots of wind from behind us, so we unfurled the genoa.

 Moored at Isla Puluqui.

Moored at Isla Puluqui.

 The quincho where we had a barbecue brewing inside.

The quincho where we had a barbecue brewing inside.

 The blue cottage.  I helped insulate, sand, and paint this house two years ago!

The blue cottage.  I helped insulate, sand, and paint this house two years ago!

 Getting the grill ready inside the quincho.  Also drying my foul weather gear in the background.

Getting the grill ready inside the quincho.  Also drying my foul weather gear in the background.

 Grilling different kinds of meat.

Grilling different kinds of meat.

 Skipper and delivery crew.

Skipper and delivery crew.

 Finishing up with some Pisco.

Finishing up with some Pisco.

 Underway early on Day 2.

Underway early on Day 2.

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 We made it to Castro.  Anchored off the main promenade.

We made it to Castro.  Anchored off the main promenade.

 The view from our palafito (house on stilts).  We could see Homero!

The view from our palafito (house on stilts).  We could see Homero!

 Showing part of our track on day 1 to Isla Puluqui.

Showing part of our track on day 1 to Isla Puluqui.

 Showing part of our track on Day 2 up to Castro.

Showing part of our track on Day 2 up to Castro.

 Anchored in Castro, saying goodbye!

Anchored in Castro, saying goodbye!

 Mmm ceviche at Mercadito.

Mmm ceviche at Mercadito.

 A bowl of choritos (mussels).

A bowl of choritos (mussels).

 Back at Casa Roja later that week, Tomas and Blanca fixed a nice meal - lamb ribs and lentil stew.

Back at Casa Roja later that week, Tomas and Blanca fixed a nice meal - lamb ribs and lentil stew.

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Off to a Strong Start, Almost...

My first week at on Isla Tenglo has been a bit of roller coaster, with one big up and then one big down.  Perhaps I was a little over zealous and wore myself out, as I tend to do.

I arrived on Friday, December 15, which happened to be the night of the yacht club’s Staff Holiday Party.  Excited, I dropped my bags off on Christian’s sailboat and immediately started helping with the setup, moving sofas and chairs, setting the tables, and testing the cold beer.

After a couple of hours, though, I realized how tired I was, having traveled over 24 hours without sleeping.  I used my better judgment and bowed out of the party before it started (and before those fresh mussels and empanadas were ready for sampling).  I picked up my bags, took the water taxi over to Isla Tenglo, and let myself into Casa Roja.  It was only 7pm, but I had no problem falling asleep!

Saturday was a quiet day.  The rain came and went, then came again.  It reminded me how quickly the weather can change here in Patagonia.  It actually hailed for a bit in the morning, and then within 20 minutes, the sun was shining and the front deck was dry!  Amazing.

I took the day to unpack and get re-acquainted with the area.  I took the water taxi over to the mainland and bought some basic supplies from the little store next to the yacht club.  On my way home, I was lucky that friends Veronica and Bernard were on their way to the island with a lot of leftovers from the party.  I helped them with their boxes and bags, in exchange for a free ride over to the island.  We made it just before the rain set in.

Sunday morning, relaxing in the living room at Casa Roja with a cup of tea, I was greeted by Christian’s son, Tomas, who had made the bus trip down from Santiago.  He would be staying here a few weeks with me.  Fantastic!  It would be great to have company. 

The weather cooperated Sunday, with bright sunny skies.  Tomas and I immediately got to work. Things grow quickly here in Patagonia and the spacious yard of Casa Roja needed some attention.

I mowed the massive lawn, while Tomas built a handrail along the pathway leading up to the house. We hoped the handrail would help prop-up the beautiful Calla Lilies that once lined the path, but that now lay ON the path due to damage from recent frost and/or hail.  But no luck. 

We ended up making the decision to prune back the long stretch of flowery plants.  We saved a handful of the flowers, and made arrangements for a few of the rooms in the house.

I continued with some other pruning around the yard while Tomas started prepping for dinner.  We were hosting an election dinner tonight!  Yes, it was Chile’s presidential election. 

Tomas did all the work on dinner, preparing a feast of small dishes – mussels, salmon, meatballs, salad.  My most important contribution was defrosting the homemade pisco sour mix, and serving the frothy, icy drinks around the room.  In typical fashion, since I rarely do the cooking, I managed the clean-up and dish-washing process. 

The election itself was quite interesting – especially how the votes were counted manually and read aloud, one by one, all 6 million of them.   The phone call between candidates was televised, and the concession/victory speeches were made side-by-side; both different than in the US elections.

As if the election wasn’t exciting enough, toward the end of the evening the wind picked up a bit and then… crash!  A tree branch broke, fell on a power line!  The power line snapped and fell to the ground.  We still had power and no one was hurt, thankfully.  Nothing could be done now, this late in the evening.  But we called the power company and the next day a team came out to fix it.

Over the next couple of days, we tackled a few more projects around the house.  I was focused on removing the ivy from the wall of Casa Roja.  It took me a day and a half, with some precarious balancing and creative use of tools, but I did it.  That ivy is tough!  We will have to sand and repaint the wall, but Christian said that’s ok – he’d rather do that than have the ivy provide a potential nesting place for rats and spiders.  (I didn’t see any rats but I certainly came face to face with a few spiders!) 

Tomas was constantly busy too, but my favorite accomplishment was his making/baking two fantastic loaves of bread!  Gracias Tomas!

Those first days were fantastic. It was great to be back here on Isla Tenglo working outside.  The weather was beautiful!  Not winter this time!  (See my entries from 2015. Cold.)

Then, just when I felt we were really on a roll, on Tuesday evening I started feeling a little ill.  I went to bed early hoping it would pass, but Wednesday morning I woke up and hit the wall.  My nose was stuffy and I felt horrible. 

I stayed in bed the next 3 days, surviving on hot tea with lemon and honey, canned peaches and peas, and pasta with olive oil and oregano - and sleeping 18 hours a day.  Christian and Lali brought me some medicine that helped, too.

It’s now Saturday morning and I think I’m on the road to recovery.  I'm feeling much better.  I went outside today for the first time in 3 days.  We had to haul our garbage off the island.  If that doesn't cure me, I don't know what will! :-)  Hey, that's island life.  

Stay tuned for next week... I'm scheduled to help deliver a yacht down the coast!  

Happy holidays everyone!

 Before moving the lawn.

Before moving the lawn.

 After.

After.

 Before cutting back the Calla Lilies.

Before cutting back the Calla Lilies.

 After.

After.

 Before ivy removal.

Before ivy removal.

 After.

After.

 We put some of the flowers to good use around the house. :-)

We put some of the flowers to good use around the house. :-)

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Flying South for the Winter

I'm sitting at the San Francisco International Airport, awaiting my flight down to Chile.  It's going to be a long trek.  San Francisco to Dallas, 3 hour layover.  Dallas to Santiago, 3 hour layover.  Santiago to Puerto Montt, taxi and boat to the island community of Isla Tenglo.  It will take about 28-30 hours, I imagine.

I'm looking forward to returning to Isla Tenglo and la Casa Roja.  I was here in 2015, on my first major trip after resigning from the corporate world.  I've timed my trip a bit better this year.  In 2015, I visited in late winter / early spring, and it was cold!  This time, I'm coming at the beginning of summer!  Yes!

Back home in San Carlos, I've had a crazy last 24 hours.  Even a crazy last week or so.  Here's a quick summary.

After my previous renters moved out, I made some minor repairs and touch-ups around the house.  I re-organized my offsite storage unit, and then paid movers to move the rest of my furniture into the storage unit.  It's fair to say my storage unit is FULL now, as is my backyard shed and my garage.  I'll look forward to this summer when I'm in the SF Bay Area teaching sailing, but can also spend some time sorting through (and throwing out) a portion of my belongings.

So now, with a nice clean house, I have been trying to rent it.  But no luck. People seem too busy with the Holidays to be in the rental market.  So I resorted to hiring a real estate agent to handle the process while I'm traveling.  

Unfortunately she'll be handling a few other things I wasn't able to take care of.  I wasn't able to sell my kitchen table and chairs.  We'll leave it for the next renter, or my agent will have to dispose of it somehow.  Worse, the night before leaving, I realized one of the bathroom sinks wasn't draining properly.  No problem, I thought.  I removed the "P" or "U" pipe below the sink and cleaned it out.  Hmmm, still wasn't draining properly.  The plug was further downstream.  Not the end of the world.  But then, when I tried to put the "P" or "U" pipe back, THAT started leaking.  Ugh.  Now I really need a plumber.  It's not that big a deal, just a nuisance since I'll be out of the country, without cell service, trying to coordinate repairs.  Hopefully my agent can help a bit wit the logistics.  

So my night before leaving, I was a bit stressed because of these dilemmas above.  PLUS, the normal stress of trying to figure out what to pack, what not to pack.  For this trip, I opted to pack a bit "heavier" than normal.  I'll be doing some manual labor, so I brought work gloves, work boots, and overalls.  I hope to be doing some sailing, so I also brought my foul weather gear, sailing boots, and my personal flotation device.  I also brought my multi-tool and knife which might be useful for either activity.  And of course I have my GoPro to document things.  I also decided to bring my big Nikon D750, but left the telephoto lens at home, opting only for my 50mm prime lens for this trip, as a way to save a little weight.  It's an experiment.  We'll see.  In Thailand, the Nikon's shutter froze; in Croatia, the Nikon slid off a seat and the telephoto lens shattered.  Both instances reminded me about the risk of bringing big expensive cameras on my type of traveling.  But, I'm going to try one more time.  

That's it for now.  I guess I'd better get to my gate so I can actually make this trip, not just write about it!  

Adios!

 

 

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The Long (and Short) Haul

It's old news at this point, but here is a brief account of our sail from Fiji to New Zealand in November.  

For the fourth time, I joined as crew of the sailing vessel Avalon for her 1,200-mile passage between New Zealand and Fiji.  This brings my total ocean sailing miles to over 5,000!  

This most recent trip began in Port Denerau, Fiji on October 21 when I flew in from San Francisco to meet skipper Tom, his wife Di, and new crew member Nicky. 

We spent about a week cleaning and organizing, planning and preparing.  We took a “shakedown sail” one day to re-familiarize ourselves with the boat operations and to test different systems and procedures, like water-making and reefing. 

We watched the weather diligently, and skipper Tom leveraged many resources to pick a safe weather window for our departure.  Sailing across the ocean is not to be taken lightly, especially in this part of the South Pacific Ocean where low pressure systems spin out of the Tasman Sea on a near-regular basis, bringing with them potential for high winds and turbulent seas.

During our downtime, we enjoyed dockside lunches at Rhum-ba and sunset beers at Traveller’s beach resort.  I stayed at budget hotels most of the week, but the last two nights before departure I splurged and stayed at the Westin.

With a favorable weather window materializing, we checked out of Fiji on Saturday, October 28.  The wind was coming out of the east, and was forecasted to back around to the north, northwest, and eventually southwest over the next week or so.  This rotation worked pretty well for our journey south, although the wind speed was a bit higher than we would have liked (20-25 knots instead of 15-20 knots).  The sea state, too, was likely to be a bit bigger than ideal.  But, the conditions were satisfactory and the skipper made the call:  We cast off the dock lines and set sail!

Per Avalon tradition, we departed to the tune of a carefully selected departure soundtrack, which included a number of relevant and/or motivational tracks (e.g., “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” "Help," etc.), and always ending with “Avalon” by Roxy Music. 

As we motored out of Port Denerau, a big squall formed behind us but we were able to outrun it even as we slowed down a bit to hoist the sails.  We hoped this was a good omen for things to come.

Based on multiple weather resources we used for routing, we chose a course slightly south southwest, to stay clear of some heavy weather that was directly south of Fiji.  This gentle curve worked out pretty well to avoid the bad stuff.  We had a fresh to strong breeze on our beam, which enabled us to keep our speed up as we sliced through the 2-3 meter swells (also on our beam). 

As expected, we nervously skirted around – and sometimes through – the occasional squall in the early or later evenings.  The squalls are tricky, with strong and shifty winds, and frequently thick rain.  For the most part, we lucked out.

On the bright side, literally, we enjoyed several nights of great moonlight, as our passage happened to include the full moon phase.  On some nights, the moon set well before sunrise, so we also enjoyed a couple of crystal clear, starry nights.

The first 5 or 6 days of the passage were pretty intense.  Wind, swells, squalls.  We sailed a lot.  We only turned on the auxiliary engine to charge batteries.  I don’t think we used the main engine at all (other than our initial departure from the marina).   

We kept our meals simple, sticking to pre-made sandwiches and pre-cooked / frozen meat pies and lasagna.  To fend off seasickness, we constantly drank water and nibbled on snacks.

We doubled up on watches – two people at a time – given the relatively intense conditions.  Even if we used auto-pilot, we had two people up at night.  One person to watch auto-pilot, and a second person to watch the first person.  Typically the watches were 3 hours on, 3 hours off, but we varied this a bit depending on the conditions and time of day (night vs. day).

Finally, “Land ho!”  Toward the end of the passage, day 7 and day 8, the wind died down and we turned on the main engine to propel us down the New Zealand coast.  We had been under weather advisory to arrive before the 6th or 7th of November due to another front moving in from the Tasman Sea that would hit New Zealand hard with wind and rain. 

Skipper Tom timed our arrival perfectly – the evening of November 5 – after encountering oru welcome committee of a pod of dolphins surfing our bow wake.  At 11:00pm, we pulled into Marsden Cove in calm seas, light wind, and nearly full moon.  We slowly navigated the channel heading up-river to the marina, using the lighted channel markers as our guide.  We pulled alongside the quarantine dock, secured the boat, and opened up potato chips and cold beers!  

We made it!

(The locked metal gate on the quarantine dock prevented us from going ashore and using the marina facilities. It was midnight anyway, and we were exhausted.  We weren't able to go ashore until the next morning, once the customs/immigration officials came on board to check us into the country.)

We spent about a week at Marsden Cove Marina, cleaning the boat and making notes of things to repair.  We also spent a lot of time eating and resting.   We enjoyed the gracious company of our go-to Airbnb hosts Mike and Jennifer, and their dog Milly.  

After a week, we departed again and set sail for Auckland, about 100 miles south.  We took our time getting there, anchoring at Kawau Island and Rangitoto Island for some day hikes and overnights.  It was a fantastic experience to do some real "cruising" which is fun and relaxing. The long-haul passages across the ocean are much more serious business, almost more like work.  So it was great to take a few days and just cruise around and enjoy the beautiful islands of New Zealand.

Once in Auckland, I packed my bags and moved off the boat into a hotel.  After a great crew dinner, and a day to recover, I headed home to San Francisco grateful for all of my amazing experiences aboard Avalon.

 

 Arrived in Marsden Cove Marina!  (Well, we arrived in the middle of the night.)

Arrived in Marsden Cove Marina!  (Well, we arrived in the middle of the night.)

 Catching up on sleep in the quiet Marsden Cove Marina.

Catching up on sleep in the quiet Marsden Cove Marina.

 Our welcoming committee!

Our welcoming committee!

 Enjoying the final stretch - motoring down the coast of New Zealand in light conditions. 

Enjoying the final stretch - motoring down the coast of New Zealand in light conditions. 

 

 

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Setting Sail South

Just a quick update from Fiji before we set sail for New Zealand.

I flew into Fiji on October 21, where I immediately rendezvoused with Skipper Tom and fellow crew Di and Nikki.  It was 7:00am, so we had a crew breakfast at our favorite spot, Rhum-Ba, overlooking Port Denarau Marina. 

After breakfast, we headed down to the boat, sailing vessel Avalon.  She looked great!  Tom and Di have been cruising Fiji this summer, so the boat was ship-shape.

Nevertheless, we have spent the last week or so cleaning, organizing, testing, checking, planning, etc.  We took Avalon out for a shakedown sail so that Nikki could familiarize herself (and I could re-familiarize myself) with this particular boat’s operations.  Every boat is rigged differently and handles differently.

Meanwhile, Skipper Tom has also been diligently watching the weather – working with multiple sources to identify a favorable weather window for our 1,200-mile sail to New Zealand.  This is tough passage and weather forecasting is super important.

We now seem to have a good window, and Skipper Tom has made the call:  we depart this weekend! 

The exact time will depend on local conditions.  Once we checkout with Fiji Customs, we have to make the tough transit through the outer reefs.  We want to do that in light wind and daylight if possible.   

As always, I’m honored and thrilled to be part of this voyage.  I’m filled with excitement and anticipation.  We hope for the best during the passage; yet, we know we will face challenges along the way.  As a 4-person team, alone in the open ocean, we will work through those challenges and figure it out.  We’ll take care of Avalon and each other. 

That’s it for now.  I have to be focused on the passage, not Facebook or website updates, so this will be my last post before New Zealand.

I’m signing off and setting sail!

 SV Avalon.  She's ready to go, and so are we!

SV Avalon.  She's ready to go, and so are we!

 Up the mast!  What a view!

Up the mast!  What a view!

 Yikes, pretty far up.  (About 60 feet!)

Yikes, pretty far up.  (About 60 feet!)

 Don't let go!  (No, I actually have two harnesses, two halyards, secured with both bowlines and shackles.) 

Don't let go!  (No, I actually have two harnesses, two halyards, secured with both bowlines and shackles.) 

 An evening at our favorite sunset bar, Travellers.  Funny that each table has a dog.

An evening at our favorite sunset bar, Travellers.  Funny that each table has a dog.

 My go-to hotel, the Tropic of Capricorn.  (But the last two nights, I splurged and stayed at the Westin.)

My go-to hotel, the Tropic of Capricorn.  (But the last two nights, I splurged and stayed at the Westin.)

 The last two nights before departure, I splurged and stayed at the Westin.  

The last two nights before departure, I splurged and stayed at the Westin.  

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Adventures in Deutschland

My “summer of reunions” concluded with a 3-week trip to Germany, for a 3-part adventure.  The primary purpose was to rendezvous with Ulf, my business school friend and roommate, to celebrate his birthday with his family and friends.  We supplemented the celebration, though, with a hiking trip and Oktoberfest.

My trip began with a direct flight from San Francisco into Munich.  Arriving at 7pm (about 90 minutes late), I met another friend, Uli, after a highly-coordinated logistical plan including a parked car, a hidden key, and a pre-determined meeting place within the Oktoberfest fairgrounds.  We pulled it off without a hitch, and I just made last call at the wine tent.  As the designated driver that night, I drove us home later to Uli’s house in Berg, about 30 minutes south of Munich. 

The following day we returned to the fairgrounds for a full day of Oktoberfest celebration.  This time, we used the train and taxi services.  But this was all just warm-up before the main event: the birthday part on the island of Sylt.

I flew from Munich to Hamburg, where I met up with Ulf, and another business school friend (from SF), Adam.  Ulf drove us to his home in Neumunster – where we enjoyed an evening barbecue with his family.  The following day, we loaded up the van with luggage and party supplies, and drove north to the island of Sylt.  Getting there was pretty interesting.  We drove for a couple hours on the autobahn, and then we boarded a train – with the van on a flatbed train car – and the train took us the rest of the way to the island, across a marshy wetland.  Uli and his girlfriend Danni would make the trip a day later due to work commitments.

On Sylt, Ulf set us up in his vacation cottage, where we stayed for the next several days during the birthday festivities.  And what a celebration it was!  It was more like a wedding than a birthday party. 

The first night, after an evening beach walk, we had an intimate dinner with good friends at a nearby restaurant on the cliffs above the beach.  We returned to the cottage where we played cards and drank schnapps into the wee hours of the morning. 

The second evening included a buffet dinner at another restaurant, as well as an “open mic” where guests played random instruments and sang (I’m assuming) German folk songs.

The third night was the main event, with a fancy dinner, speeches, and a whole lot of dancing.  I was on photograph duty, so I ran around with a camera and practiced my German, “Excuse me, may I take your picture.”  Later in the evening, it shortened to “Attention! Picture!”  It was a lot of fun and a great way to meet (or re-meet) Ulf’s family and friends.  (I have attended two other milestone birthdays of his during the last decade.)

The next few days and nights were spent in recovery and relax mode, just enjoying our time in the small beach community.  We took a couple of drives to the north and south ends of the narrow island.  We walked along the dam that cuts across the wetland.  We took an ecological tour, with guides, across the wetland.  We poked along the pedestrian-only shopping area.   We feasted on fresh fish dishes at Gosch Market.

After nearly a week of island life, it was time to head back south.  We boarded the train and rode all the way down to the Hamburg airport, where we then boarded a flight back to Munich.

Back at Uli’s house, we changed gear – ditching our party outfits and packing our hiking outfits.  We loaded up Uli’s car and drove 90 minutes to the Tegernsee region where we would spend the next three days on two day-long hikes.  There were 5 guys total:  me, Adam, Ulf, Uli, and Olaf.  Our usual 6th, Bernd, had to cancel at the last minute due to work commitments.  We missed him!

The first hike was a long one.  We covered over 20 kilometers and 1,500 meters of elevation.  It took all day.  The highlight was summiting two peaks, and walking along a narrow ridge between the two peaks. 

The second hike was much shorter, but much steeper.  We climbed nearly 1,000 meters in only 3 kilometers of distance, including scaling a rock wall wired with sturdy cables. We were rewarded with a cold beer and hot snack at the Tegernsee Hutte, nestled in the cliffs above, affording us a magnificent view of the Alps.  We weaved our way back down a different route that was much longer (and therefore flatter).  After one final ascent toward the end, which surprised our tired legs, we finally found our way back to our hotel.  The total hike ended up being about 13 kilometers.

Although I couldn’t bring my new trekking poles from San Francisco (they wouldn’t fit in my luggage, and I’m not allowed to carry them onto the plane), Uli was nice enough to let me use his.  They really help.  I’m impressed that Uli was able to complete the two days of hiking with legs only!  Next time I’ll ship my poles ahead of time to his house.

As in Sylt, we spent the evenings in Tegernsee playing cards and sipping schnapps.  The German guys did a great job speaking English, and being patient with Adam and me as we tried to learn a few more German phrases.  I’ve been visiting Ulf and his friends for over 15 years; I really should learn German. 

Exhausted and sore after the two big hikes, we headed back to Munich.  We drove to Uli’s house to regroup and prepare for our third adventure:  Oktoberfest.  For three days straight, we headed off to the fairgrounds to meet with different groups of friends and eat/drink at different tents.  It was a fun time, but as usual, back-to-back days at Oktoberfest is pretty tough.  But “that’s Wiesn,” as we say.   

I spent my final day on a nice walk around Lake Starnberg with Uli.  We walked into town and enjoyed a final beer lakeside, at the Orange Beach Club, reminiscing about our wild 3-week adventure and loosely planning our next outing in 2018 or 2019. 

It was an action-packed, fun-filled vacation.  I enjoyed seeing my German friends again, and I’m grateful for their amazing, generous hospitality.  Uli and Ulf are such gracious hosts, they really make me feel at home.  I look forward to their visits to the USA sometime so I can return the royal treatment!

For now, I’m back in San Francisco to complete a U.S. Sailing Instructor Certification course.  (Update:  I passed!) 

And in a few days, I turn around and fly the other direction – west, and south – to Fiji where I’ll join the crew of Avalon for another sailing adventure…

 Strange to board a train, IN YOUR CAR, and take the train to an island.   

Strange to board a train, IN YOUR CAR, and take the train to an island.

 

 At the beach on the island of Sylt!

At the beach on the island of Sylt!

 Practicing slack line!

Practicing slack line!

 Walking to dinner along the curvy paths in the beach community on Sylt.

Walking to dinner along the curvy paths in the beach community on Sylt.

 Dinner tables set up for the main event - Ulf's birthday!

Dinner tables set up for the main event - Ulf's birthday!

 Making the ascent on one of our hikes in the Tegernsee Region in southern Germany.

Making the ascent on one of our hikes in the Tegernsee Region in southern Germany.

 At the summit!  We made it!

At the summit!  We made it!

 Looking back along the ridge that we hiked.

Looking back along the ridge that we hiked.

 Heading down to the Tegernsee Hutte for a cold beer and hot soup.

Heading down to the Tegernsee Hutte for a cold beer and hot soup.

 Signing the guest book at one of the summits.

Signing the guest book at one of the summits.

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Summer Reunions

It’s been a busy summer. 

Now, that may sound funny coming from me.  I don’t have a full-time job.  I don’t have weekend outings with the wife and kids.  I don’t have a dog to walk or a backyard to manage.

So, what am I doing?  Well, let me tell you.

First, as I’ve mentioned, I do have a part-time job as a sailing instructor with OCSC Sailing School.  The normal schedule for an instructor like me might be a couple of weekends a month.  But, because I’m trying to accumulate “sea time” to qualify for my U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s License, I’m pushing the envelope and asking OCSC for as much work as possible.  I’ve averaged about 4 days a week this summer, so it’s almost a full-time job!  I’m really loving the work, as I knew I would.  I still can’t believe they’re paying me to sail on the Bay and share my passion with others, while I also reap the reward of helping people achieve their own goals.

Second, I’ve traveled up and down the West Coast of the United States for a series of reunions.

In early August, I drove 400 miles south to Los Angeles, for my high school reunion.  On Friday night, I met a couple of high school friends for dinner in small, more intimate setting.  Then, on Saturday night, I met a slightly larger group of friends for dinner before we headed to the main event, which was held at the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas.  Over 100 people showed up.  It was a fantastic evening filled with stories, smiles, and selfies.  Thanks to the organizers, as well as to everyone who traveled long distances and/or took time off from their normal lives to attend.  It was great to see everyone.  New friendships formed, and old ones rekindled.

In mid-August, I flew north to Portland, Oregon for our annual family reunion at my parents' beach house in Manzanita.  We filled the weekend with beach walks, jigsaw puzzles, board games, and home-cooked meals. The weather, as usual, was hit or miss – a couple days of sun, one day of rain.

Also in August, I attended a *monthly* reunion with some of my best Bay Area friends.  I started this tradition over two and a half years ago with a particular group of local guys, as we were all getting pretty busy with jobs, spouses, kids, and travel.  I suggested we try to commit to one evening a month, when we can get together for a couple of hours.  It’s sort of like a “boys’ night,” but without the sports talk and debauchery you might be envisioning.   We meet in the Financial District of downtown San Francisco (the neighborhood that seems most central to offices and train stations) at a different bar every month, to catch up on personal and professional life.  We minimize the scheduling hassle by just picking a date and whoever makes it, makes it, for however long they can stay.   If someone misses one month, we hope they make it the next month.  I don’t know about the other guys, but I look forward to it every month when I’m in town.  And when I’m out of town, they *claim* to continue the tradition in my honor.  :-)

As September approaches, I’m continuing my teaching at full speed ahead, logging 3-4 days a week, targeting to reach the required 360 days on the water in 2018 sometime, at which point I’ll test for my Captain’s License.

I’ll take a break in mid-September, when I head to Germany for yet another reunion.  This time it will be with my classmate and roommate from business school, Ulf, who hails from a small town in northern Germany.  I try to visit Ulf every other year for a week of hiking or snowboarding with him and his friends (whom have also become my friends by now).  This year, we're going hiking; and as often happens, we've timed the trip to sync with Ulf's birthday as well as Oktoberfest.   

That reminds me, I need to start training for the hiking trip.  Those German guys are in shape and they walk FAST!  And they use trekking poles!  After so many trips over there, I have finally purchased my own pair of trekking poles, so this year I’ll at least look the part when hiking the Alps.  But when my friends don their elaborately-embroidered lederhosen, shirts, and socks for Oktoberfest... well, forget about me trying to look the part.  I just can't compete.  I'll wear jeans.

 

 Playing in the sand dunes on the Oregon Coast.

Playing in the sand dunes on the Oregon Coast.

 #OregonCoast

#OregonCoast

 Family reunion activities ... puzzles and board games.  (Plus beach walks and hikes, of course!)

Family reunion activities ... puzzles and board games.  (Plus beach walks and hikes, of course!)

 Sailing on the San Francisco Bay at sunset, and continuing to rack up sea time for my logbook.

Sailing on the San Francisco Bay at sunset, and continuing to rack up sea time for my logbook.

 Wait, I get paid for this?! :-)

Wait, I get paid for this?! :-)

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Back at the Office

After completing the ocean crossing from New Zealand to Fiji, I'm now back in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’m settling in for the summer.  I've been here about 3 weeks, and will be here (for the most part) until the end of October.  More on that later.  

I’ll spend most of my time on the water, working as a sailing instructor for the OCSC Sailing School in Berkeley.   I’m really enjoying the job so far.  It’s fun meeting people and helping them pursue their sailing goals.  It's also challenging though, as my typical student has NO sailing experience - so there is a lot of material to cover (from terminology to boat set-up to maneuvers to crew-overboard recovery).   And we teach in some pretty difficult sailing conditions in terms of wind, currents, and traffic.  But I love it.  So much better than my old cube…

The rest of my time I’ll spend in San Carlos, where I’m renting a room in a friend’s two-bed, two-bath apartment.  He travels for work almost constantly, so it’s perfect.  I am thrilled to have a home base, not to mention a kitchen and a closet! 

In my limited downtime these past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed catching up with a few groups of friends over evening happy hours, punctuated with stories about kids, vacations, and careers.

As occasionally happens, I have also encountered a little excitement that I wasn’t looking for.  While I was at dinner one night at Skates on the Bay Restaurant in Berkeley, a deranged man crashed through the glass door and entered the restaurant wielding large shards of glass in each hand.  He had a crazed, determined look in his eyes.  Sitting at the end of the bar, I was just 20 feet away from him.

Everything happened in slow motion, as he slowly advanced toward me and the other guests.  No one really knew what was going on, or what he was going to do.  But we didn’t stick around to find out.  We all got up and quickly headed for the back door.  The bartenders and staff stayed behind to make sure all the guests were safe.  Within minutes, the Berkeley Police Department arrived as well.   Somehow they subdued the man with no major injuries to anyone.   

Within 20 minutes, we were allowed back into the restaurant.  It was a weird scene as drink/dinner service continued, even as staff were sweeping up broken glass and mopping up blood and as police were taking crime scene photos.  I can’t imagine what people coming in for 7pm reservations thought upon arrival! 

That random violent event aside, I’m hoping the next couple of months will be pretty mellow.  I’m focused on becoming the best sailing instructor I can be, constantly practicing my skills and incorporating feedback from students and fellow instructors.  The hardest part is the commute from San Carlos to Berkeley, which is about an hour each direction.  But the way I look at, the commute is the “work” part of my job, the rest is ALL fun! 

I’ll provide a few updates during the summer.  But my next big adventure will be in September 2017 when I head to Germany for a hiking trip, a birthday party, and Oktoberfest!   I'll then return to finish up the sailing season here in San Francisco, and then head south for the winter... somewhere.

 I'm just posing for a picture here, as we head back to the marina.  Teaching is a bit more involved than this...    

I'm just posing for a picture here, as we head back to the marina.  Teaching is a bit more involved than this... 

 

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Land Ho! Bula Fiji!

After three weeks of waiting for favorable weather, we finally departed Marsden Cove Marina, New Zealand, on Saturday, May 27.   We gently backed out of the slip and slowly motored out of the marina.  The gurgling purr of our vessel’s 75-horsepower engine was drowned out by our carefully-selected “departure soundtrack” blasting from the stereo, including hits like “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”  We waved goodbye to onlookers as the three of us headed out to sea. 

We hoisted our sails as we passed Bream Head on our port side.  When we were clear of the magnificent rocky point, we turned to port and headed north, hoping to sail as close to our rhumb line of 007T degrees as possible for the next 7-9 days.

As we expected, a stiff breeze and heavy swells greeted us immediately, forcing us to put on our ‘sea legs’ quickly.   We hunkered down and weathered the weather, establishing a routine watch schedule (e.g., 3 hours on, 6 hours off).  We stayed hydrated and nibbled on simple things hot soup and pre-made sandwiches to stave off seasickness.

Several other cruising boats left the same time we did.  (The delay in good weather had created a bit of a back-log of cruisers waiting to head to the islands.)  The first day or two it was fun to see the other boats off in the distance, either ahead, behind, or beside us.  We passed a couple of boats, one in day time, one at night time, so that was a morale boost.  As we sailed north, distances became greater, and we kept a close eye on AIS (an automated identification system that vessels at sea use to identify and avoid each other) to maintain safe distances.

After two days, we’d made progress north and a bit east (to stay well clear of the New Zealand coastline, which could be treacherous if the wind shifted around to the east).

We then encountered a high-pressure ridge that was sitting across the passage route, and brought blue skies, high wispy clouds… and no wind.  We were becalmed!  With absolutely no wind and perfectly glassy water, we dropped the sails and sat adrift for nearly two days.  We played with light-air sail configurations, but also just enjoyed the amazing experience sitting hundreds of miles from anywhere.  

I was tempted to jump in the water and go for a swim, so that I could say I swam in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, in over 10,000 feet of water.  But I knew it was too dangerous; too many things might go wrong.  We did use the calm-water opportunity to take showers on deck, hang laundry on the lifelines, and cook bacon in the oven!  

You may ask, "Why don't you just turn on the engine and motor?"  Well, we only carry enough fuel to motor for about 700 nautical miles.  The passage is over 1,000 nautical miles!  So we have to be prudent on fuel usage - not just how much, but when.  We need to make sure we have plenty of fuel for navigating the reefs in Fiji, for docking, and for emergency situations.  

Eventually, the wind picked up again – a lot – and it was blowing in the right direction!  Delighted, we blasted toward Fiji with the southeast trade winds and rolling swells behind us.  

But then, we encountered another obstacle that caused us to deviate well off course. 

At 3:00 am on a dark, moonless night, I was on watch.  I noticed string of bright lights appearing on the horizon, off both the port bow and starboard bow.  Nothing showed up on AIS.  But something was out there.  Earlier in the week, we had heard reports that three other sailboats making this passage had gotten their propellers tangled up in fishing nets and lines.  I woke the skipper.  Possible danger ahead!

Checking both radar and binoculars, we could see these lights were vessels of some sort.  We hailed them on the VHF radio and, yes, it was a Japanese fishing fleet.  In broken English, they informed us their fleet and equipment stretched across 38 nautical miles – directly in our path!  We knew they weren’t about to haul in their nets to let us through (nor did they advise us of a safe heading to stay clear), so we had to make a drastic (and lengthy) change of course to protect ourselves.

After the detour, we clawed our way back toward Fiji, dodging (or enduring) the occasional squall which brought with it heavy wind and rain.  By Sunday, June 4, we finally arrived outside the shallow reefs of the island nation.  At that point, though, it was nightfall, and the reef was too dangerous to navigate in the dark.  We decided to “hold off” (kind of like pacing back and forth) and waited for morning light.   

So under the rising sun on Monday, June 5, we motor-sailed through the narrow break in the reef and into Nadi Bay.  We docked at Vuda Marina where we checked-in with customs and immigration.  With paperwork done, we headed ashore.  A cold beer and hot shower never felt so good!

Thanks to skipper Tom and admiral Di for trusting me to help them make this passage!  What a memorable and fun adventure, yet again!  

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And We're Off!

After a final weather check this morning, we've decided to cast off the dock lines and set sail today, headed 1,200 miles north to Fiji! 

I know that ocean sailing is not to be taken lightly.  The ocean environment can be wild and unpredictable.  It can foster feelings of loneliness, insignificance, and fear.  And it certainly commands respect. 

Yet, at the same time, it provides an opportunity for us to be completely free, self-reliant, and totally surrounded by Nature.  If we’re lucky, we might sail alongside a sunset bursting with color, or sail under the darkest of night skies accented with twinkling stars and a smiling moon, or sail with puffy white clouds racing us to the horizon. 

I’m thrilled to be back on board the sailing vessel Avalon, as we begin this adventure!  

If all goes well, we plan to arrive in Fiji in 7-8 days... but we are dependent on the wind and waves to help us!  So long!

 The sailing vessel Avalon.  She's a beauty!  And fast!

The sailing vessel Avalon.  She's a beauty!  And fast!

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Until Next Time, New Zealand

UPDATE:  It's Monday morning and, after checking the weather/routing, we've decided NOT to depart.  So - New Zealand - you're stuck with me for another few days.  I've modified the post below to reflect the fact that we aren't leaving yet after all.

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We had spent the last several days in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting for the weather to improve, but also continuing with boat jobs, of course.  As of Sunday night (May 21), we believed a weather window had opened for the coming week, so we planned to depart for Fiji on Monday morning.

BUT, on Monday morning, we checked the weather forecast and routing scenarios and decided to postpone our departure.  Crossing an ocean is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly.  We're making a safe, conservative decision.  We can't enjoy Fiji if we don't make it there safely.

The rest of this post documents what's been going on these last few days of what we thought was final preparation.

This past weekend we here hit with 45 mph winds gusting through the marina, as well as heavy rain at times.  It was pretty nuts.  We could only imagine what the conditions would have been like out in the open sea.  

Two of the boats that had departed on Friday or Saturday (in heavy wind/seas), actually ended up returning to the marina on Sunday - one with engine trouble, one with autopilot issues.  

Apart from boat jobs, gale force winds, and rain, we also enjoyed relaxing in the quiet marina community of Marsden Cove.  The neighborhood houses are very modern; the landscaping is impeccable; and the streets and sidewalks are clean and safe.  We found a great Airbnb with super nice hosts (and a cute dog).  Getting off the boat allowed us to get a few nights of good sleep, and good breakfasts.

I’ve also been spending some time in the only restaurant/cafe in town, Land & Sea.  I’ve tried just about everything on the menu by now, preferring Eggs On Toast for breakfast, Fish Tacos for dinner, and a coffee each morning, noon, and night. 

We've mingled a bit with the other "cruisers" that are here in the marina... maybe 10-15 other boats.  Each group (mostly couples) has great stories of their adventures at sea (and on land) from various places they've sailed.  I enjoy walking the docks and admiring all the boats, too.

Sunday, there was a small farmer’s market at the marina.  Skipper Tom and I roamed around and picked up some freshly-baked bread and a few more fruits/veggies for the passage. 

Oh, our other major activity this weekend was to choose our departure music - a couple of fun (and sailing-relevant) songs to blast as we depart from our slip and bid the marina (and New Zealand) farewell.  Not everyone does this, but we like to.  I'll try to capture it on the GoPro.

After looking at the weather all weekend, we had decided that there was in fact a decent weather window opening for a departure Monday.  So we spent the better part of Sunday (and will continue early Monday morning) making final preparations, including meeting with the customs officer to officially check out of New Zealand.  

But, as I said, then Monday morning came and we decided to postpone our departure.  The models and consulting services we use to analyze the weather are not consistent, and do not agree.  I'll provide another update later this week as we get better information on a new window for departure.

In the meantime, New Zealand has been great to us.  The people here are super friendly and welcoming.  One of these days I'll have to make it to the South Island.  Likewise, though, we are looking forward to the warm smiles and the first "Bula!" from the Fiji people!

Stay tuned!

 A sunrise walk along the marina's edge.

A sunrise walk along the marina's edge.

 Headed to Land & Sea cafe for breakfast.

Headed to Land & Sea cafe for breakfast.

 A few of the big catamarans waiting patiently for the passage to the islands.

A few of the big catamarans waiting patiently for the passage to the islands.

 Farmer's market and fresh baked goods!

Farmer's market and fresh baked goods!

 Skipper Tom making a purchase!

Skipper Tom making a purchase!

 Healthy meal the night before we depart.

Healthy meal the night before we depart.

 Milly, the fox terrier.  

Milly, the fox terrier.  

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Headed to Fiji! (Almost)

On Friday local time (Thursday in the U.S.), if all goes well, we will depart from Marsden Cove Marina on the north island of New Zealand, motor out the channel, hoist the sails, turn to port (left), and head north to Fiji.

I’ve enjoyed participating in the preparation and planning on this, my third passage, between New Zealand and Fiji.  It’s been a tremendous (and fun) learning experience.  Every day I pick up a few more morsels of knowledge from the skipper, the crew, fellow sailors, and local tradesmen.   

I imagine some people wonder how exactly we prepare for an ocean crossing.  I'm not an expert and so I won't go into detail, but I'll share a little from my perspective as 3rd-time crew.

As you might expect, we do a massive amount of boat preparation for a passage like this.  We will be hundreds of miles offshore – far away from any outside help – so we want to make sure everything is in good working order.  The list of "boat jobs" is virtually infinite; I don't think we can ever be (or even feel) totally "done."  I'm learning that staying organized, prioritizing projects, managing others, and multi-tasking are very important skills.  Kind of like an office job, maybe, but way more fun.  

Here are some of our recent activities:  servicing the main and auxiliary engines, like changing fuel and oil filters and inspecting belts and hoses; testing the water-making and refrigeration systems; inspecting the standing rigging, running rigging, and fixtures; drying and cleaning the bilges after a few days of rain; reviewing the charts to familiarize ourselves with distances, hazards, and safe harbors; stocking up on fuel, water, and food; and giving the new dinghy a test run around the marina.

All the while, we had to keep our eye out for a huge leopard seal that has been seen around the marina "playing" with fenders and dinghies.

In the next day or two, we will continue with final preparation.  We'll finalize our route and enter headings and waypoints into both paper notebooks and electronic GPS devices.   We will do a final stow-and-secure effort so that items in the storage lockers and living areas don't shift in the heavy seas.  We'll hook up our lee cloths - which are basically cargo nets that prevent us from falling out of our bunks as the boat heels (leans) from side to side.  We'll have a safety briefing and review the contents of our first-aid kit and ditch bag. 

Again, I'm only citing the highlights, to give you an idea of the types of things we're doing. 

One thing that may not be quite as obvious is the amount of weather analysis that comes into play.  We don’t just say, “Ok, the boat’s ready, let’s go!”  Especially not in this part of the world where low pressure systems spin out of the Tasman Sea every 6-9 days or so, bringing high wind and waves across our desired route.

We review the weather forecasts using computer software and online/radio services to analyze possible routes, conditions, and travel times.  

For our passage from Marsden Cove, New Zealand, to Vuda, Fiji, the distance to cover is about 1,200 miles (1,040 nautical miles).  At an average boat speed of 8 mph (7 knots), we could sail that distance in 6.25 day IF the wind and sea cooperate by allowing us to sail efficiently, smoothly, and safely along the most direct route. 

But that is pretty unlikely.

In reality, the wind and sea are highly dynamic.  We have forecasts, but we don’t *really* know what to expect.  Obviously the forecast for next week is less accurate than the forecast for tomorrow.   And Mother Nature always reserves the right to change her mind.  Thus, the more days we take on the passage, the more we subject ourselves to the less accurate end of the forecast.  We try to sail fast, and get to our destination as quickly as possible within the forecasted weather window.

Remember, you can’t just point a sailboat in a direction and say, “Go that way.”  The direction and speed of the boat are subject to the direction and speed of the wind, and direction and size of the sea state.   Light wind or big swells may slow us down.  Wind in an unfavorable direction may force us off the most direct route.

We analyze a lot of weather data from a variety of sources to piece together a forecast and choose an optimal departure date and route, balancing safety, speed, and comfort - probably in about that order.  I’m pretty sure that anyone who does this passage would say that there is some element of guesswork, and even luck.  

So amidst our boat jobs, we've also been patiently waiting for a favorable weather window.  We hope it's opening toward the end of the week.  I don't mind waiting at all.  Our goal is to arrive in Fiji safely.  Our hope is that safe passage takes 7-8 days. 

We’ll do our best and see how it goes.  

 Giving the new dinghy a spin around the marina.  

Giving the new dinghy a spin around the marina.  

 A screenshot from PredictWind, one of the online services we use.  This picture shows strong 25mph winds coming out of the north, directly in our path (We are the green dot, trying to go north to Fiji).  It also shows high winds (red) in a low pressure system moving toward us from the west side of New Zealand).

A screenshot from PredictWind, one of the online services we use.  This picture shows strong 25mph winds coming out of the north, directly in our path (We are the green dot, trying to go north to Fiji).  It also shows high winds (red) in a low pressure system moving toward us from the west side of New Zealand).

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