Sailing and Cruising


“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

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Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

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Gunter and I first landed on Turkey’s shores in the summer of 2007. We confidently left Pacific Bliss “on the hard” in Marmaris Yacht Marina. The following spring, we returned to Turkey for the final leg of our sailing circumnavigation. While touring Istanbul, I was surprised to learn that tulips and St. Nick both originated in that country.

That spring, Istanbul was alive and glowing, in a festive mood. The city was celebrating its annual tulip festival, and colorful blooms were everywhere. Istanbul, with its bridges across the Bosporus Strait, straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. After enjoying the city for two days, my husband Gunter and I took a ferry trip to view the city from the river. It was a sun-splashed Sunday. We spent hours relaxing and chatting about Turkey’s past and its hopes for the future. Much of the conversation centered around the peoples’ love and respect for Atatürk, a charismatic leader, military genius, and celebrated reformer who modernized Turkey. “He made Turkey a secular country,” our said proudly.  “As a result, Turkey will never be like the other Muslim countries; in fact, we look forward to joining the EU.” The future for Turkey looked as rosy as those tulips fronting every landmark from the Blue Mosque to the Aya Sofya.

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We ordered coffees, and while we waited for them, our guide changed to another topic, the legend of St. Nick. “Did you know he came from Turkey?”

“I had no idea!” I replied. “I thought the Saint might have come from Russia. Our own legend is that he and his elves and reindeer live at the North Pole.”

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“I know your popular image is of the big belly, the white beard, and his reindeer, but that depiction came from your Coca-Cola ads in the 1930s.  Here’s the real story: Centuries before the Ottoman Empire, St. Nick got his start as a fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey. He was born a rich man’s son, but he took his inheritance and gave it to the poor, supposedly dropped down chimneys. Poor people in Turkey are very proud; they would not have accepted gifts if he had just handed them to him.”

We all take a sip of our Turkish coffees while we listen intently. “Mainly, St. Nicolas helped the children and gave them gifts.”

“Where in Turkey did he come from?” Gunter asked.

“There is a statue of him with children in Demre, a town in Southern Turkey, and the old Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas is there.  Lots of Russians go there, but it’s not big on tourism.”

Reportedly, the Islamist government of President Erdogan has worked hard to promote the country’s Ottoman history, but he has repeatedly ignored Turkey’s rightful place in Christian history. I don’t expect the current government to promote the St. Nicholas story.

This Christmas of 2016, I look back on that Turkish Spring of eight years ago. And I fear for Turkey’s future. Turkey is overwhelmed with problems—frequent terror attacks, huge populations of Syrian refugees, and mass arrests and incarcerations after a failed coup. All this makes the country dangerous and drives tourists away. I don’t know whether I’ll ever visit Turkey again, but the country and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.

A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

I’m sitting on the top deck of the Ariana while the sun shines on the rippled but peaceful Danube River below. Controlled by numerous dams and locks, the medieval wildness of the Danube has been tamed centuries ago. We began our trip in Passau, Germany; we’ll reach the delta of the Black Sea before turning around to head back.

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The view from our cabin while traveling through Germany to our first destination in Austria

Called the King of Rivers by Napoleon, the Danube is really the Prince. The King title belongs to the Volga, the great River in Russia that drains into the Caspian Sea and is 500 miles longer than the Danube. And even though the Danube is the second longest in Europe, it is only the 25th longest in the world. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and ends on the Romanian and Ukrainian shores, in the delta region of the Black Sea, 1777 miles away.

While sailing, I’m reading “The Danube, a Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie.” He relates the stories of empires that have risen and fallen along the Danube, from Macedonians, to Romans, to the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, to the Nazis, and most recently, the countries that have shrugged off the yoke of Communist Socialism.

I wondered how such a river affecting so many countries could be governed. The book covers this in its last chapter. In 1946 a council of European foreign ministers announced the creation of the International Danube Commission, with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. At first, only the Eastern bloc countries, along with Yugoslavia, formed this new body; then Austria joined in 1960. Germany did not join until after the  fall of communism. With the break-up of the Balkans in the 1990s, the commission rose to ten countries, with Slovakia succeeding Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Croatia succeeding Yugoslavia, and Moldova and Ukraine succeeding the USSR. There is probably no other river in the world whose navigable length is of such international complexity!

During this trip, we will see a panoply of flags displayed on the boats that ply this river. Just as during our world sailing circumnavigation on Pacific Bliss, it doesn’t matter much what one’s nationality is. In this river, we are all Mariners.

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Those who know me understand why I thought of our 43-foot catamaran as a person. And yes, she has a “voice.” Here is one of her sailors’ tales, written on the 6th day of a passage from the Maldives to Salalah, Oman. Position: 14º17´N, 59º23´E

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I’m Pacific Bliss, and I have my own story to tell. I wasn’t too happy last night. I droned along—as blissful as can be on a glassy sea—giving my wings a rest. My navigator was busy at the nav station entering comments into the logbook about the three fishing boats at the horizon to my port. “3-4 miles off,” she wrote. She could see that horizon under the light of a half-moon, beaming a silvery path right to the port helm seat. My able-bodied seaman Chris had just gone off watch. And my Captain was sawing logs, storing up energy for the dogleg watch.

All of a sudden, I was trapped like a hunted prey, my engine gasping for breath. And I’m a huge whale of prey, at 12 tons. My daggerboards were trapped at one side of a huge black net, and both my hulls were wrapped at the stern. I was helpless! I must say; my crew rose to the occasion. Lois ran to the helm. Chris was out of his bunk like a flash and shut off the engine. Gunter heard the commotion breaking through his dreams and arrived topsides, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. My crew does take care of me. I’m important—and they know it.

Even so, it took them awhile to get me out of this predicament. First, they took down my sails so I couldn’t press forward. Then they raised both daggerboards all the way up to free the forward side of the net. But it was still wrapped around my stern—on both sides. White floats held the net, and one big float, the bitter end I think, was bobbing at the port side, trying to sneak underneath.

My crew used every hook on board to try to get that net free, to no avail. They discussed going down below me, into that deep dark sea, but no-one wanted to do that at night. I don’t blame them; that net was heavy and still attached to a fishing boat over four miles away.

As Lois and Chris peered over the port side, they heard the blow of a whale coming for air— three times to be exact. I wonder what happens to one of those whales caught in a net like that. I know what happens to dolphins and sea turtles; they struggle and drown. Poor things!

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Well, Chris managed to push that big float underneath me with that big hook we have on board. The float slid underneath me, past the rudder and sail drive, and out into the sea. That left only a small section of the net at my starboard stern. He pushed that down with the same hook and finally we were free. My engines started again, and we continued motoring to our destination.

Later on Captain Gunter’s watch, another fisherman hailed us on the VHF. He didn’t speak English well, but he gave his position. “Is that your net or your boat position?” Lois asked him three times. (She was still up after her watch, keeping Gunter company, “teaming up,” they call it.) Finally, the man gave her two lats and longs, one for the boat and another for the net. Turns out his net was 10 kilometers long (that’s about 6 miles for you Americans who still do not understand the metric system). We had to deviate course for some time.

Frankly friends, I’m relieved to hear that we have only 350 miles to go to Salalah. I’m tired of these Indian Ocean fishing nets, tired of sailing, and quite ready for a rest!

“Clear the decks,” the captain would bark when I was sailing around the world in our 43-foot yacht, Pacific Bliss. This expression originated in naval warfare of the 1800s, when it described how a crew would prepare for battle by removing or fastening down all loose objects on the ship’s decks.

On our boat, our crew would scurry about, stowing any pans on the stove that could slide off, clearing anything personal from the galley and salon area so that all surfaces could be used for charts and navigation tools, fastening latches on the cupboards and lockers, and battening down the hatches.

Now, as a landlubber, “clearing the decks” means “get ready for action.” I must finish dealing with what I am doing so that I can focus on something far more important. My priority for 2015 is to complete writing the trilogy “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” But to accomplish that, I’d feel better with my research and files organized and easily accessible. That means getting my personal stuff and records (2014 tax files, etc.) out of the way and stowing the “history,” (the research and drafts of the already-published first two books in the series).

Clearing my desk clears my head. Does that make sense?

So I’ve swept the surface of my desk clean of extraneous stuff, put my journals and ship’s logbooks all in order (15 of them covering the last four years of our circumnavigation) and my two writing muses from the Austrian Alps are sitting on my reference shelf ready to encourage me by yodeling when I get stuck.

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Yodelers, my writing muses.

I’m interested in hearing from my followers. What process do you use to begin the New Year or a new project? How do you clear the deck?

I’m reminded that spring is here when I hear the birds chirping outside my bedroom. A pair of house wrens have a made a nest in my trumpet vine, protected under the eaves. They have only two babies to feed this year. Another couple perch on the balcony railing, chatting away—probably deciding where to build their own nest—until the new parents screech and chase them off. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

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Spring is often the birth of new beginnings for Gunter and me as well. During the eight years of our circumnavigation, spring often brought the sailing season. It was during the spring of 2002 that we embarked on our longest voyage, from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands—twenty-one days at sea. “This will be a voyage of risk, of that I am sure, but I suspect it will also be one of renewal and reward,” I wrote.  I knew that we would never regret taking off to sea in our 43-foot catamaran, because I believed that we would eventually achieve our mission to sail around the world. And we did. It took us eight long, but rewarding, years.

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“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams,” said John Barrymore. Continuing to fulfill our dreams after retiring is what keeps us young.

Accomplishing much, whether it’s sailing around the world or something else, takes planning… and courage…and dreams. So I don’t fault the Kaufmans for wanting to achieve their dreams. But great gain also involves great risk. How much risk is too much is a question only they can answer. They had to suffer the setback of being rescued and sinking their sail boat, their home for eight years. That’s enough already. I wish them well.

You’ve probably heard of “slow travel” but not of “slow cruising.” Previously, I thought of slow travel as being the type of travel we did when we traveled inland on trains, planes and caravans through Australia. And slow cruising was sailing our catamaran Pacific Bliss. During our recent Mexican Riviera Cruise, however, my husband Gunter and I created our own version of slow cruising, but on a Cruise Ship, no less.

For my birthday last January, Gunter wanted to take me away on a trip. But he knew I’d be working on my book, so he asked me how we could accomplish both goals. “Let’s just do something that doesn’t involve flying, changing time zones, or packing for different climates,” I suggested.

Gunter chose a Mexican Riviera Cruise on the Veendam. We’d cruised on around South America two years ago on board this smaller-size Holland-America ship (See that blog at https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/bigbucketcruise/). “This cruise has three sea days for you to write, lounging on our veranda deck while the ocean passes by,” he cajoled. “And only one of the three ports-of-call—Mazlatlan—will be a port where we have not visited together before. Should be easy and relaxing, only seven days.

Perfect!

We found that taking a vacation along with 1300 passengers need not be stressful. During the process, we developed a few guidelines for slow cruising:

  • Don’t sign up for shore excursions. Do your own thing, so that you can leave and return to the ship when you want. Avoid standing in long lines and crowding into packed elevators by departing after the tour groups have gone.
  • Do take advantage of the pool and Jacuzzi deck when it’s quiet—with most of the passengers off touring. Enjoy those hamburgers and drinks brought right to your lounge chair on deck.
  • Don’t dress for those pictures and formal nights each time they are offered. You can always go upstairs for casual dining.
  • Only mad dogs and Englishmen tour in the heat of the day. After your trip to shore, do come back to the ship to enjoy a well-deserved siesta in your air-conditioned room.
  • Get off the grid for as many days as you can. You’ll avoid roaming charges on your cell phone and you’ll escape the pressures of waiting in lines at internet cafes or paying per- minute fees on board for satellite connections.

Slow cruising can be an easy, pressure-free way to take a relaxing break. Remember, adversity is inevitable; stress is optional!

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