An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — December 2007

Sea Legs

I worked for the Grand Canyon Railway for about 10 years, at least 4 of those years were actually on the train. When everyday you are carrying cokes up and down the aisle you develop what we call “train legs”. I’m not exactly sure how Webster puts it but I’m imagine it’s something like:

train legs. plural noun
1. the ability to walk naturally on a train that is in motion without falling, pouring or dropping something into the lap of an elderly lady trying to enjoy her ride.

Train legs. And if I can say so without sounding immodest I had a pretty good pair. However… while similar, train legs are NOT sea legs. Let’s be honest- 33 feet of fiberglass floating on 6 foot swells is not easy to walk on. And when comparing Dan’s ability to swiftly move up and down the deck to my ability to step, pause, wait for wave to drop, step… and so on, it’s easy to find the guy with OUT sea legs.

Occasionally, I’ll come crashing into something to which Dan simply replies, “Light feet, Derek, light feet.” Right, right-light feet, I know. Well one particular day, when the swells were particularly large, I had to get something from underneath. So in I go. Step-pause. Step-pause. You know the drill. Anyway, I get whatever it was I was getting and am heading back when I forget either to step or to pause. I’m not totally sure which, but the boat dips and ol’ twinkle-toes Derek comes smashing into a table. A table that Dan spent hours making out of a sentimental map of his hometown Seattle. Dan peeks in… Glance-pause. Glance-pause. Then finally musters out, “The important thing is that you didn’t get hurt…” AKA: “Why did I EVER invite you to come? Next time you fall make sure it’s off the boat…” “No, I’m ok… thanks.” I reply.

Well the table gets fixed, but a few days later on a cloudy-uncomfortable day, Dan comes out of the boat as I’m steering and says, “Let’s practice some man overboard drills.” Now I’m not saying it’s related, but when you see a ship mate pirouette body slam himself into a table, there maybe some concern for your own safety. Whatever the reason, I have to admit it’s not a bad idea.

Dan goes first. He throws a cushion into the sea. “Man OVERBOARD!!!” My heart starts pounding as if this cushion’s life was about to be lost. Dan releases the sails, turns into the wind, pulls in the genoa (sail), starts the engine and steers toward the “man” overboard. “That took longer than it should,” says Dan. “Your turn.” Nice.

Dan tosses the cushion and I, voice cracking like a prepubescent teen, yell “MAN OVERBOARD!”. Ok… let’s see. Release the sail. Turn into the wind… no INTO the wind. Pull in the genoa. Start the engine. Oh yeah find the guy who drowning and steer the boat next to him… miss him, circle around… repeat, miss, repeat… aaaaaand TIME CHECK! Wow. Dan and I both agree there is sufficient need to practice again. We do and after I finally get it down, Dan suggests that maybe we try it while I’m in the boat. Hmmm wonder where that came from?

The good news is, without breaking anything else I bravely scrambled to deck, pulled sail, found and saved the poor cushion. And hopefully, we all slept a little more sound that night. I know I had no trouble, mystery bruises and all. Now let’s just hope I never have actually use that skill.

December 31, 2007   2 Comments

See the World. Change the World

Seth, one of my best friends, and I sat down for lunch at our favorite sandwich shop in Flagstaff. It was time for me to make a decision: take a job in Portland/ sail around the world. We tossed the pros and cons back and forth. Sailing around the world would be the adventure of a lifetime, but I’ve always had this burning in the shadows of my soul to do something more, something humanly worthwhile. It’s the voice that asks after a long day of work, while you lie in the quiet of your bed unable to sleep, “What have you done? What really matters…”

I explain this to Seth as one of the cons to sailing. To get involved as we move along. Stop somewhere, build a house, school, whatever. Seth, who understands I know as much of carpentry as I do of sailing, logically responds something to the effect of, “ So stop somewhere and help do something they know much more about than you?” Kind of like me helping Dan sail. The reality is it takes Dan more time to stop and try to teach me what it means to sail, then how to sail, before I can ever be of help. Good point.

Still the decision to sail the world was a decision to follow my dreams. I have two significant dreams: 1. See the world. 2. Change the world. 1, as it turns out, is easier than 2. But hopefully one will lead to the other. So when my friend and I were designing theworldbysea.com, the idea came to me: What if as people follow along and as we stop to do something worthwhile they can give to the cause? They’ll be able to not only give, but to see exactly what they are giving to. To watch their very dollar work. And I can blog about every step.

That’s why one of the first things you see when you sign onto theworldbysea.com is a “Donate” button. Before I left, I approached another friend who started a nonprofit company, Lampstand, so he could do that very thing: know where his donations were going. We opened an account specifically for theworldbysea.com, so every dollar that is donated by people will go not to me, or Dan, or sailing, but to helping people along the way. And not only that, since it goes through Lampstand, Lampstand writes a receipt and it’s tax deductible! Every dollar you give we will use for a cause along the way, and you can write it off. We just have to find the right place to give.

Now the exciting part. As we were letting everyone know of our adventure, we heard from a friend that we both knew from college who lives in the Dominican Republic. At the time, Dan and I didn’t know our route, but when we realized we would be close to the D.R. we asked our friend Jessi, where she lived. Turns out she’s just a few miles from the coast and works with at risk children through an organization known as “Kids Alive International” (kidsalive.org). We sent Jessi an email asking what they were doing and if there were things they needed, clothes, dental hygiene things, etc.? Jessi responded as follows:

We are doing loads of construction for new classrooms and bathrooms and furnishing them with desks and supplies, etc. We’re good on dental products but could use hygiene products, especially spray deodorant, soap, etc…but again, with money those things could be bought here. Let me know anything else I can help you with. When are you thinking about being here? Can’t wait!

Dan and I both agree it’s better to not just throw money at a need, so instead we will take money donated and purchase the supplies they need first hand. It’s a vision Dan and I shared from day one, and one we daydream about daily. We just never imagined it would happen so soon! And now the goal: Dan sat across from me composing his “proposal” to all of his contacts. “What should we shoot for?” he asked. “What $500? $1,000? Let’s do a $1,000!” So there it is. We’ll get to the Dominican Republic probably the second week of January, giving us about a month. Ambitious, I know. Especially for the first “go round”. But if you’re gonna change the world, you gotta shoot for the stars.

It’s always strange to ask for money, so I think I’m just going to tell you what we are up to. If you feel inclined, you can give and I’ll blog about everything we do. Meanwhile, Lampstand will send you receipt if you want to claim it on your taxes.

I have no idea how much we will make. Dan thinks people will give more cause it’s Christmas, which sounds good to me. Either way if it’s $10, $100, or $1,000, we will take what we have and buy some supplies for this orphanage in the Dominican Republic. At very least, we’ll get our hands a little dirty. Whatever happens, it’s a step. Even as I write this I have a smile on my face. As one friend put it, “Ripples. You’re making ripples.”

Please feel free to email with any questions you might have about our ideas, Lampstand, Kids Alive International, anything. Drop us a note and we’ll get back with you. If you want to give, just click on the “Donate” button to the right. Anything helps and EVERYTHING will go toward the “cause”. We won’t take a penny for ourselves. That’s a promise. If you want to give specifically to Dan or I (as has been asked), drop us an email and we’ll talk. Frankly though, I think we’d both assume you just donate to the cause. Unless you have a dinghy that doesn’t leak air… we’ll take that for ourselves. :-)

Thanks, and we’ll keep you posted.

December 11, 2007   1 Comment

Sharks: In Three Acts

You just mention the word “shark” and suddenly that’s all people talk about. Well, as commenter “J-money” once said, “Give the people what they want!” So sharks it is. There are a few stories, so I’ve split this entry into 3 Acts.

Act I.

We arrived the Bahamas at sunrise. Docked. Checked in. Got the passports stamped and set out immediately to do some spear fishing. I should explain just what I mean by “spear fishing”, because if you are like me you imagine Tom Hanks standing on a rock next to a blue lagoon effortlessly stabbing unsuspecting trophy winners. While that may happen in real life, our version is a little bit different.

First you have a spear. A 4-5 foot pole with a sharp tip on one end and an elastic loop on the other. Holding onto the elastic tubing you slide your hand up the pole as far as you can, grip and upon release the sharp tipped end shoots toward your respective dinner. Furthermore, you are not standing on a rock waiting for fish. Nay, to catch a fish you must become a fish. Swim among them, dive with them, see eye to eye with them.

Day one. Dan says to the crew, “We must live like the people. We don’t catch—we don’t eat.” Yes… live like the people. We nod agreeably, snorkel up and get in. Bear in mind there are a LOT of fish in the ocean. Some you eat, some you don’t eat. Some you spear, some you don’t spear. I studied a sheet of “gamefishes of the Atlantic” before getting in, but you learn quickly that unless it’s Nemo or a jellyfish, they all kind of look the same when you’re in the water.

So there I was. Take a breath, dive down about 10-15 feet, look around and come back up for air. I see the ledge of a sand bar where the sea grass drops off to a deeper ocean floor. Perfect for prey. Gasp and dive. Bit by bit I inch closer to the suspecting ledge. Noticing an overhang, I swim towards it. Locked and loaded, I see an opening, walled with a gray flesh. My heart speeds. “Oh man, this is a massive fish! Live as the people live!!!” As I approach, heart beating, I am thinking through that list of nondescript fishes… I stretch my spear-hand forward toward the victim. I pause, hesitate, run out of air. Better pass on this one.

Good call. Dan later asks if we saw the shark. That evening we are reading a popular sailors book advising there are only a couple places a man can effectively spear a shark, otherwise it will be provoked and then… THEN you are in trouble.  LIVE as the people live, not die as the people die!

Act II.

Dive number two. Due to the poor return of our last dive, we dinghy to different location further from shore. Deeper means bigger, so we find a coral lift in a deeper section off shore. Snorkels on, masks down, in we go. Unfortunately, this location had less fish than the last. One curious barracuda trailed a steady 20 feet behind us as we bobbed a long the reef line. But he was more inquisitive than imposing, so we kept moving. We swam along never seeing anything worth preparing a spear for. Well after a short time of seeing only little guys, I bore and turn my eyes toward the sub horizon. It takes 2 seconds for my eyes to adjust and 1/2 second to spot a solid 8-12 foot shark (8-12 because underwater you can’t really tell…but it was longer than I was). “Hoh Crap!” bubble I through my snorkel. Surface and yell “shark, SHARK!” to the other two.

Rob, the friend joining us for a week, later admitted he initially doubted my claim, until seeing the great fish moments later. I know he saw it however, because even though he had 1/2 the fins Dan and I had, he was first to the dinghy. Dan casually swam still looking for fish, and later told Rob and I, the shark was a “nursing” shark, which he claims has a very distinct look.

I can tell you one thing, Rob and I both agreed: shark = shark. And teeth or no teeth I’ll have no shark “nursing” on my leg.

Act III.

I’ll go ahead and calm your precious pittering hearts by telling you in advance this next act contains NO close shark encounters (at least that I know of). After a couple more successful dives and no seen shark, Rob had to catch his plane back home. We sailed back to the Bimini dock and anchored just off a canal. This time we swam with a different objective: lobster. Most of the water was 3-5 feet deep, the canal was about 20.

One sweet thing about the Bahamas is that the lobsters have no pinchers. The plan was to float along the canal wall looking for the antennae poking out. When you spot a lobster, you swim up current to the antennae, then quickly reach in and grab the shellfish before it has a chance to hunker down.  We spent 45 minutes drifting down the wall and eventually we (Rob and Dan) catch a couple lobsters. I use the term lightly because our “catch” looked more like the offspring of a lobster who fell in love with a crawfish, spawning what we would call dinner.  Another term I use lightly.

The next morning we drop Rob off and as Dan and I walked the streets looking for a new snorkel to replace the one I somehow lost after our first dive, we bump into a young guy who works for the “shark lab”. Turns out the very area we were bobbin for lobbies the day before is a breeding area for Lemon Shark, who stick around for 6-9 years before moving on. We also learned from our local expert there were some bull shark (most aggressive) in the area, though not usually there and that the place to be most cautious are around the reefs while spear fishing… Nice. Nursing shark my butt! I have a feeling that sea monster we spotted days before would have loved a long tender piece of white meat. To which I fit the description beautifully. Long. Tender. And very white.

December 9, 2007   1 Comment

Introduction to Sailing

The transition from life on land to life at sea is a sudden one. Having no sailing experience, and having never seen the vessel to which my life would be tied for the next 6 plus months, I really had no idea what I was getting into. There a few things I learned quickly.

The first thing I noticed, were the tight quarters. I knew the boat was 33’ long. I did not know exactly what that meant. The first night I arrived things seemed a little… well things just seemed little. The cabin (if I’m using that term correctly) has a small kitchen (stove and sink), a small table and bench seating, and in the bow of the boat there are sleeping quarters. “Quarters” is a good term because it’s about 1/4 the size of normal sleeping arrangement. Furthermore, there is no shower. However there is a toilet and while it’s not exactly roomy, it is sufficient. Still I have already begun to adjust to the space.

Then we set sail. While I was still in US waters, I might as well have been in another country. It doesn’t take long to realize just how little you know. One of my faults in life is that I’m not bilingual. I was reminded of that again as soon as those handsome sails were raised. “Hoist the main.” “Tighten the spinnaker.” “Give it a bowline.” “Pull in the sheets.” What’s funny is I’m not even sure those are right. I’ve got so much to learn and I can’t help but think Capitan Dan is wondering just what he got himself into as he says something to me and Shipmate Derek stares blankly back as though he were mute.

Third lesson-speed sailing. I need to apologize for that last post in which I dramatically stated the boat would sail at 7 miles an hour. There are times I tend to exaggerate and this was one. 7 miles is about twice our average speed when traveling from Florida to the Bahamas. We left at about 4:30 pm from Florida, sailed all night and arrived at the Bahamas 15 hours later. In case you’re wondering we covered 50 miles. Nice. That seems like a long time and it is, but it is even longer when you are standing at the tiller (I just had to ask Dan what the “thing” is you hold to steer the boat) with everyone sleeping around you and the dark sea is knocking. Meanwhile every time the bow of lifts or dips a little more than average, I am fairly certain I’m going to capsize the Capitan’s baby.

Obviously, I didn’t. We made it to the Bahamas and already have had some real “life” moments. The sunrise and sunsets at sea are amazing. I think they will be a daily inspiration. The first day we anchored just offshore an uninhabited island. We’ve been spear fishing three times and lobster grabbing once. “We” have only come back empty handed the first time… I have yet to get anything. Which is good because it gives the boys some comic relief for the evenings.

I realize now there are so many things to write about. Nearly spearing a lengthy shark, which I could only see parts of its fins out of the side of the sand bar I was swimming over. The shipwreck we anchored at, to spearfish and ended up swimming with sting rays. The dolphins jumping just inches from our boat as we sailed (at 3 miles an our) in turquoise waters. I’ll try to write more often and post smaller entries when we dock. Sorry this is a bit long. But it is the first chapter. The first of many, many more.

December 4, 2007   6 Comments