Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black and White Photo Challenge -- El Galeon

I got tagged in the black and white photo challenge that was going around Facebook last month. The rules were simple: 7 days, 7 black and white photos of everyday life. No people, no pets, no explanations.

I had a bit of an unfair advantage in that challenge. After all, on the Galeon I live in a target-rich environment. There's almost nowhere you can point a camera and not have an option for a unique picture. The black and white got me thinking about the details and textures of the things in my life, and I'm really glad to have had the motivation to see my world through a different lens (no pun intended), as black and white is all about detail and silhouette and texture.  At the same time, I'm more of a writer than a photographer, and the restriction against explanations really chafed! So I'm republishing the photos here, this time with captions.

In the old days the ship's bell was used to signal danger, or all hands on deck, or mark the passage of time or end of watch. Now, it's used to signal that the food is ready for lunch or dinner. We take the clapper out when we're open for deck tours, or every kid who comes aboard would want to ring it -- and it's loud. Coming into port, we often ring it as our way of acknowledging the welcome of towns we visit. Sometimes that was my job. Coming into Bay City 2 years ago, it took us 45 minutes to travel upriver to the dock near dusk, and almost the entire way was lined with cheering crowds. I was very enthusiastic in my ringing, so enthusiastic in fact, that my forearms were sore for most of the following week! 

One of 12 replica cannons on board. Dan loves giving the kids on tour a chance to hold a real cannonball and feel its weight.

The mainsail is so big, I could only fit half of it in the camera!

Ship has over 10 kilometers (6 miles) of rope rigging.

There's such wonderful attention to detail throughout the ship -- this latch is on a supply closet on the gun deck. I opened it almost every morning to get the mop and broom to clean the deck before visitors arrived.

Publicity photo with 6 of our 7 sails flying

When we're docked, we illuminate the ship at night (free advertising). This lovely geometric display is what I saw lying on my back on the foredeck one night after closing.

So much to love about the stern of the ship! Tall and narrow because we are always going downwind, modern non-nautical visitors confuse the shape and assume this is the front. The gorgeous large lantern on top, on the poop deck, was used to communicate between ships of the same fleet (although now ours is lit with LEDs instead of oil lamp). I've forgotten part of the story of the saint painted there -- she's actually an artistic combination of two saints, one the patron saint of sailors, the other the protector of Spain. But my favourite is the balcony. On our 2nd year voyage, on one long passage we played a hilarious "murder" game. Each person had a random "victim," another member of the crew. To "murder" your victim, you had to get him/her alone in a part of the ship assigned to you by chance, and have in hand your unlikely "murder weapon." Long before I managed to lure my "victim" to the water tank on the lower deck, Pablo tricked Dan into coming out here while armed with the trash can lid. Doing that inconspicuously was the genius move of the voyage, since there was no legitimate reason for him to have been out there at all, much less with a trash can lid!

The wonderful intricate sculpture and rope work of the tabla jarcia (rigging table). This is the forward one; the aft one is also our diving platform for swim call at sea.

Not the Downsizing Post I Thought I Was Going To Write

It's a 24-karat-gold-plated model race car, symbolic of his vast collection. Obsession? Flamoboyant consumerism as flashy as the car itself? It was one of many, many oddities we uncovered. Ultimately we bought it from the estate, as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Can you stand one more post from me about downsizing, minimalism, and a surfeit of possessions? Because I really need to process this.

A friend's brother had died unexpectedly last summer while we were touring with the Galeon and she was left to clean his apartment and put it on the market for sale. He had lived just a few hours drive from us so we went over to help. The brother had been an extreme hoarder and even  though friend and her husband and son had already spent weeks working on cleaning the place before we arrived, it was still crammed with possessions. I mean, extreme television-show-hoarders/shopping-addicts level of crammed.

The things someone chooses to surround themselves with always give a window into the person. Some of the sad possessions were aspirational -- a fruit juicer and cookbook, still in its packaging, may have hinted at hopes of healthier eating. There was an extensive collection of NASCAR memorabilia, and lots of creature comforts for car camping, obviously a hobby he enjoyed. There were far too many televisions a single person in a two-bedroom apartment. And there were some things that made no sense -- two space heaters and a humidifier, in south Florida?

His life, full of possessions, was exactly the opposite end of the spectrum from our necessarily sparse one.  Maximum to minimum. A quiet, perhaps somewhat sad and lonely, homebody surrounded by his "stuff," rarely traveling further than the couple hours' drive to Daytona for the races; and my crazy-busy tumbleweed life, crammed with adventures and friends and travel but almost no "stuff" by modern American standards. In fact, we joke that we can always recognize former cruisers, even when they move back on land, because their apartments or houses are always sparsely furnished, mostly with new furnishings, because they sold everything and don't have the accumulated clutter of a lifetime that people of that age would normally have.

It's become a truism in the liveaboard community that first you have to get rid of all your possessions in order to move onto a boat. Almost every boat blogger I know has written on the topic, the weird relationship we have to our "things," and how they can weigh you down. I know I have been one of those writers, racking up a total of 15 posts on one aspect or another, tagged "organizing/downsizing." And I thought that the process of helping clean up my friend's brother's apartment was going to be another example of the same thing, decrying the impulse to acquire that is, in fact, built into us by our evolution; in prehistoric times it would have been an advantage. Obviously, in the case of hoarding that impulse has run amok, though that doesn't necessarily mean that acquiring, itself, is always an unmitigated evil.

But that's not the direction the story went. We gathered all the NASCAR memorabilia and consigned it with a collectibles store in Daytona. We commented on the irony that it was entirely possible, given the location, that he had first purchased some of these items from this same store, and they were coming full circle -- ah, the waste of materialism.  But maybe, maybe not. Getting rid of possessions and living a life of freedom on a boat or RV or housesitting or traveling is one way to have a good life, but certainly not the only way. There is nothing wrong with hanging out at home and surrounding yourself with things that make you comfortable, or are useful, or that spark happy memories or that you think beautiful. It's just another way to make a life that works. Different, but no less valid. Would it be ironic if this collection had gone full circle? Yes, ironic, but that does necessarily make the collecting itself necessarily futile. On their circular journey, these things stopped along the way, to make someone happy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

"Puesta del sol" describes that moment when the sun just touches the horizon

As we traveled port to port in Canada, we offered the opportunity for people to buy passage with us, as trainees or as simple passengers. I was initially somewhat skeptical of the idea, though of course the extra income for the Foundation was welcome. I was concerned that although they seemed to be pleasant enough people, we didn't show them the best time.

We got off to a bad start (literally) when we had trouble with engine oil pressure and had to return to the dock overnight on our departure, while the engineers worked deep into the night. Next morning we made a weirdly slow exit from the dock, just to make sure everything was okay (it was). We deployed the sails, but a block burst spectacularly while we were hoisting the mizzen sail. I learned a few new Spanish words: "chapuza" kind of a half-assed fix or lazy jury-rig; and "gafe," or jinx.

I coached those who wished to learn to steer, and other crew took our more athletic trainees for a climb up the rigging.  All with photos for their social media, of course. Conversations aboard became trilingual. You could hear "good morning," "buenas dias," and "bonjour" in the galley every morning. Still, it was hard to remember all the little things they needed to know to fit in. I remember coming on watch one evening and discovered the trainees had commandeered both sets of binoculars for whale watching, leaving nothing on the bridge for, you know, actually using to identify other ships or potential obstacles near us. Not really their fault; no one had remembered to tell them that the binoculars were not allowed to be taken off the bridge.

One enthusiastic guest convinced Captain Pablo to steer close to shore as we passed her tiny hometown in the dusk so her family could see the ship. (I had visions of a Costa Concordia-style disaster  (the Italian cruise ship that ran aground and sank when its captain showed off by sailing too close to shore) but no worries, our Captain Pablo was better than that. And the guest also wanted to ring the ship's bell as we passed, which of course would wake the poor off watch if she rang it loud enough to be heard on shore. I was frustrated -- somehow the whole cruise felt like we needed a bit of adult supervision.

But Captain Pablo said to cut her some slack, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her, growing up in the tiny fogbound coastal town. And we later saw, with the care she spent collecting memories of her short time with us, that he was right -- even to her begging signatures from the entire crew on her souvenir (book? t-shirt? I don't remember nor was it important.) My resentment lessened as I told Pablo he was right -- our life aboard this ship is really extraordinary. The things we take for granted are unique -- we are the only Spanish galleon sailing the seas today -- and sometimes it takes the fresh eyes of our visitors to remind us how incredibly lucky we are to be here.

Ship's bell photo by Karen Gajate

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Photo Dump: Quebec City

Quebec City was a favourite. It really was like visiting Europe, without the bother of an Atlantic crossing. Gaspe and Rimouski both had a French feel, but this city was the real deal. And it was a perfect time of year to be a tourist here. Many of the crew had arranged for their parents to visit them here as well. It brought me up short a couple of times. I was intellectually aware, of course, that we were older than our shipmates, but I'd gotten used to thinking of them as our team and the difference melted away. But now I was meeting their families and being reminded that not only was I older than my crew mates, in many cases I was as old or older than their parents!

Quebec City was a busy stop in many ways. The entire tall ship fleet was reunited here, after they had scattered to various ports around eastern Canada for the previous three weeks. No city was big enough to host everyone at once until now. So there were lots of crowds and lots of events both public and private. There were cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes, croissants and crepes and wonderful scenery. It was also a city of steep hills perched on the ancient granite. On one day off, my tracker told me we had walked 11 km. What it neglected to measure was that those kilometers were all vertical. Another of those days when we were eager to get back to work because having days off and wanting to cram too many experiences into too few hours was exhausting.

Love this wavy pavement pattern

Street scene

Sorry, I didn't get an explanation of why this area was preserved and not developed. But the scene around it certainly looks more Europe than North America!

Streets are insanely steep, as you can see here the road carved into the granite. Several streets are closed in winter due to their pitch.

My first thought on this photo is that it would be easy to forget we're in the Western Hemisphere

Mural on the side of a building

Overlooking the city, from the boardwalk. Were were told there was a funicular railway to get to this point. We kept walking but never found it. Finally, after a breathless steep climb, we found ... the top endpoint.  Obviously by the it was too late!

Le Château Frontenac iconic hotel and boardwalk. From the photos on their website it is just as dramatic on the inside. 

Continuing to climb up to the old fort/citadel

Flowers in window boxes. Not too far from here, we got into a conversation with a security guard who welcomed us to Quebec. He suggested several possible walking tours of various lengths and told us we were especially lucky to be visiting this particular weekend because, although any time was a lovely time to explore his city, this weekend the tall ships were in town. It was quite the chuckle when we explained we were crew on one of them.

Another random side street. Love the simplicity of yellow shutters and blond stone.

The view from our ship of crowds waiting to get into the festival. Yes, those are giant inflatable jellyfish providing entertainment while they stand in line.

The roofs have steep pitch to shed snow and ice in winter, but do be careful if you are standing directly below!

Public sculpture

Bar in an old catacomb. C'mon, it wouldn't be my blog if there wasn't at least one bar/beer picture in almost every post! 


There is no such thing in English as a single shenanigan or hijink -- these things, like pants and scissors, only exist in plural. ("Travesuras" in Spanish) We are generally a work-hard-play-hard crew.

Carlos, Marie, Yesson, and (?) Adelie (?) sharing limited seating in Rimouski

Fernando having fun in the bosun's chair after hours
Hawaiian shirt themed dock party for crew only, in Quebec City

Conga Line! The 4-8 watch was nicknamed the "Sunshine Watch" partly for their dispositions and partly because, given the long summer days this far north, it was often already beginning to get light when they came on watch in the morning, and was still light when they came off watch in the evening. They saw every sunrise and sunset. When the 8-12 watch relieved them, they sometimes formed a conga line to march off the quarterdeck, down the stairs, and into the galley, to much hilarity.

A quiet beer in a sidewalk cafe in Quebec City. 

A local pirate crewe in Quebec City came aboard for a photo shoot at the end of one day. 

In mild conditions underway, the tajamar (cutwater deck) was the preferred place for jam sessions. In rough or cold conditions they'd play belowdecks in the cargo hold. Ryan and Victor on guitar, Jemima on cellphone. Sorry, I can't quite make out who is sitting on the drum box.

I'm not exactly sure how we went from shrink-wrapping the mast, to shrink-wrapping Alba. Surely this isn't a normal part of gaining officer experience!

Not really a "shenanigan;" engineer Carlos trading the engine room on the lowest deck, for his first climb to the crow's nest.

The gang, at the bar in Gaspe where the waitress helped me translate my tour into French. Fortunately that translation happened before too much beer was poured.

Later that same afternoon... Ultimately, we spent almost 8 hours in that place. Every time we got ready to leave, a new group of crew members showed up, and we stayed with them for "just one beer."

Photo Dump: Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse, Rimouski, Quebec

I've written before about the symbolic importance of lighthouses to sailors. Really, though, I just like to be up high and see the view. On our day off in Rimouski we visited the Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse. It was built in 1909, the third to be built on the site, and was important in the history of navigation on the St. Lawrence River. Relevant to me, it is also the second tallest in Canada. I enjoyed the view and had fun playing with its geometry for photos.