Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Malignant Narcisissim

So, for now at least, I'm finally done with this self-indulgent and narcissistic sequence of ramblings.

Most of it is dross and hot air, but if you like that sort of thing, I'd point at the following episodes. 

And besides, there's nothing else on the internet. The internet is shit. You've already checked your email, the BBC confirms that nothing relevant to you has happened anywhere in the world, and all your friends on Facebook are so full of shit that you really can't take any more of that today.

Rounding Cape Horn:
The monkey opens his envelope
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

Sailing The Falklands: Believed to be clear of mines
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17

Climbing Uruguay:
Sometimes you live, and sometimes you die
1 | 2

Fearing Uruguay: The Return of Michael Myers

Farming Uruguay: My dad says, never kill anything unless you're gonna eat it

Escaping Paraguay: I know now why you cry
12 | 3 | 4 | 5-1 | 5-2 | 6

Cycling Down, then Climbing Back Up Bolivia:
Come on! I want to see two mwore! two mwore!
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Crashing into Peru: Nah, I touched the front brake

Ascending Peru: Fucking Incas

Hallucinating Ecuador: Don't drink the water. Don't drink the hallucinogenic jungle acid 
1 | 2-1 | 2-2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Eating America: Let him eat!
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Surviving Spain, and bits of Morocco:
He says, you risked your life for the manoeuvre
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 910
11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16


or 'Stevie Miranda' on Facebook

Facebook Policy: I have two groups of friends. There are those with whom I drink loads of beer and there are those with whom beer drinking is not geographically practical. Facebook connection is only for the latter group, however, I will respond to beer drinking invitations through that channel.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Back Home Again

On my way out of the bank, I was asked if I had wanted the option of being 'redeployed' elsewhere within the bank, as opposed to taking garden leave and huge pile of tax-free cash.

"From: Steven Miranda [...]
Sent: 12 November 2011 16:50
To: ~ HR Programme Office
Subject: Steven Miranda - Redeployment Opt Out

Hello Emily,
 I spoke to Rob briefly on Friday. I gather that all I need to do ahead of the 21st is confirm my redeployment option.

As the old boys in the shop would crudely, but aptly put it, I'd rather stick my nb in a beehive. But, thank you for the offer. Form attached.

I'm out on "annual leave" from next monday, for 11 days. I'll take care of the compromise agreement on my return in early december. For the next two weeks, I'll be galavanting about the seven seas, so will have infrequent access to this email address.

Many thanks

Employee ID: 7849665"

Now, I'm back in The Beehive - the Wetherpoons pub at Gatwick airport - which I'm pleasantly surprised to find is now Cask Marque'd, whereas previously only The Flying Horse pub inside of duty free was so honoured.

Unfortunatley, I suspect I'm going to have to resign to the idea of sticking my nob back in the old beehive.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Run to the Hills

Yesterday, I'd been told that Jean-Pierre decided that this was Valentina's last stop. Certainly in present condition. The remainder of the journey to Gran Canaria is another fourty-eight hours, but with the engine as it is and distrurbing noises from the steering cables, he didn't believed we could go any further. Thomas, on the other hand, is still hell bent on finishing his delivery.

With the exception of those few moments of excruciating recklessness, and the brutally irresponsible lack of safety gear, I've absolutely enjoyed this adventure. After five years in front a computer for eleven hours a day, I've found all the hands-dirty adventure and sexy danger that I could possibly have hoped for. But, logic is prevailing. I'd promised myself after Asilah that if we crash landed into Casablanca to refuel, as anticipated, I would cut and run. I didn't get the chance then, but at least it's over now.

But apparently, it's not over. Apparently, Thomas has convinced our French skipper to finish the job, leaving today.

I'm walking into the central marina with David. I'm insisting that I'm not going any further, and desperately hunting for another boat to sail with. He's trying to convince me otherwise. I want him to convince me. It's only forty-eight hours, it's true, in theory, but just two days ago we were only four hours away from here. As much as I want to stay with my beloved crew, the reality is a titanic, colossal affront to logic. There's only so long that I can fly in the face of glaring common sense.

I've explained to Thomas and the gang that I'm leaving  for the need to get back to London sooner than later to get a job before end of year budgets slam shut. That's true, but the more pertinent actuality is that I don't want lose a finger and have to learn to play guitar left-handed. Granted, Tony Iommi manages just fine, but I don't fancy it.

I wander up from the marina and quietly watch Valentina sail out of sight. I'm still scared and seriously concerned for their safety.

Hoping to feel better about my decision, I start scrawling a list on my arm of all of the broken and missing parts on Valentina.


main sheet (replaced)
main sail (torn, replaced, torn, abandoned)
fuel tank (rusted & contaminated)
-fresh water pump (repaired)
-salt water pump (repaired)
-fuel pump (repaired)
-oil leak (largely repaired)
-various (repaired, broken, repaired)
alternator (live wire)  (repaired)
left gas hob
mast winch
port quarter winch
jib sheet (repaired)
door latches
ceiling (leaking)
nav lights
windvane light
spinnaker boom
bilge pump
front head seacock
starboard quarter fairlead
swim ladder & rear frame (crushed)
port-side cockpit frame
top deck-window seals

(Tenuously functional:)

steering cables
wheel (helm)
radio (tried once, no answer)


jackstays + teathers
dan buoy
hinged cooker or holders
cockpit light
cockpit electronics - wind, speed, course

Brilliant. A brilliant fucking death trap, but brilliant.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Live Wire

It's Four or Five in the morning. Jean-Pierre and I are on shift. There's still not a sniff of wind. We're in swimming distance of land, but we've no engine, so no steering. We're each laid out flat on either side of cockpit staring at the stars as Valentina listlessly twirls through slow circles.

Come Nine-Thirty, given just a little wind, we've finally made way close to a workable marina, Puerto Del Carmen. Jean-Pierre kick starts the engine. We don't know how long she'll hold, but we don't need her for long.

I make the leap onto a sturdy floating pontoon and we're finally tied to dry land. I should be very pleased, but I'm more concerned with making a quick walk-come-canter down the long concrete pier to find the toilets. I can't speak for the continentals, but I'm English, and I don't shit in a bucket.

Having tested our time limit, I've got messages both from Dug and Vidal who are considering sending for the coastguard or Liam Neeson, but I'm pleased to confirm it's not necessary.

By evening, Manu, David and I are settled in a bar. Manu tells me that I missed one the conversations of the engine's state a day or two ago. He's reluctant to even pass it on, but I assure him I want to know. He tells me that whilst in the engine cave, Jean-Pierre had found a detached and loose wire resting on a pipe near the floor. He goes on to explain that it was a live wire from the alternator that recharged the battery from the natural motion of the turning the prop. He says that had the wire touched the floor of the engine room, it would, most likely, have ignited the various flammables that have been constantly leaking from various crooked engine parts. For lack of the automatic fire extinguisher fitted to most new boats, unabated, that fire might soon have burned hot enough to ignite both the feeder diesel tank and the contents of the rusty three-hundred litre main tank. Then the boat would have exploded quite magnificently and we'd all have died.

You can only laugh.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Don't Stop Me Now

Land ho! We've finally got the islands in sight. Even with the binoculars, it's hard to find the distant lump of slightly different tone from the sky, but it's there. It's a relief because for the past few days, Jean-Pierre has been calling "Two-forty, Two-forty" in his thick French, thick smokers accent each time he's felt Valentina waiver slightly from that course. Moreover, the thirty-five year old steel compass never quite matches the reading from the handheld GPS.

The fishing line turns up a fine afternoon snack, and the boys and I finally seem to have the feeling that we'll survive this trip. It's just a case of laying about the boat and soaking up the sun now.

Every so often, a turtle drifts by us. A tiny bird lands at the stern and hops between the fuels tanks and assorted crap to evade a pair of significantly larger birds. He's lucked out to find us way out here. His chest is visibly pounding and there's fear in his eyes. He wouldn't have lasted much longer and the hunters are continuing to circle. He's with us for a good twenty minutes before they get bored and he makes an escape.

As more islands appear and grow large, the ocean is all but perfectly still. As the sun starts making it's way down to set behind the islands, the water reflects like a mirror of liquid mercury. It's incredible to see in comparison to the horrors of previous nights. With no wind, we've fired up the engine and are noisily chugging across the otherwise serene setting.

Photo: David Lustenberger
We're doing well, about four hours from coming alongside Lanzarote, and enjoying it. Then, without warning, the constant whirring of the old Renault cuts out. It's not the first time, so no great surprise. Usually Jean-Pierre will disappear into the engine cave for twenty minutes and kick start her somehow. Not this time though. Apparently, she's finally given up the ghost. We're now estimating something closer to twelve windless hours to Lanzarote.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Black Velvet

Photo: David Lustenberger
For the past two-hundred-and-forty-odd miles we're been trailing a fifty metre fishing line with varying plastic or metal lures. Today, in the afternoon, I've woken up from my afternoon nap to find we've finally caught something. I don't know what exactly she is, but she's a shiny pretty thing of worthwhile size.

She tastes fantastic. Thomas gutted her and Jean-Pierre left her best bits in little more than lemon for an hour or two.

Photo: David Lustenberger
It's a clear night and Thomas and I are on deck for the midnight shift. We're just two or three of miles from what looks like a big coastal town. So much so, Thomas is getting a little tetchy each time I let Valentina slip ever so slightly off course.

The sea is jet black and seems to be trying to move in all directions at once, which makes for a rich and thick texture in the surface of the swells. Along the streaming line of moonlight across the sea directly behind us, the accentuated detail of the texture looks almost like we're sailing on a fluid layer of velvet.

Over little more than five minutes, the wind has kicked up from a casual ten or fifteen knots or so, to something closer to thirty - we're not equipped with electronic nor mechanical measure of wind speed. All of a sudden, Valentina is being thrown all about the sea like a rag doll. I'm fighting as hard as I can to hold our course with the compass and the moon behind us. By both measures, we're being heaved and spun through thirty degrees either side with each motion of the water and wind. This isn't good.

With each gust, our genoa sounds a discomforting and disconcerting clap. The sea is looking deeply menacing. I'm vividly imagining Neptune's hand rising up out of the waves to take me. Thomas hasn't said anything. When I look at him hopefully for some reassurance, he doesn't so much as look back at me. By my amatuerish expectation, if this wind gets much more fierce, then either something will break, or we'll capsize.

We both know the genoa has to come down. We also both know, that crawling out onto bow to bring it down is terrifying. We've got no jackstays, no tethers, nor lifejackets. If someone goes over, they'll die. In my mind, I want to go out there and pull that bastard sail down, because I know I have to. But, I'm not brave enough to volunteer.

I'm still doing my best to hold the course and waiting quietly for instruction. Thomas and I still haven't made eye contact, much less said a word to each other. There's only the quiet exclamation of "shit" as we stare at the suffering genoa.

Before we're forced to make the horrible decision, we granted mercy by both the wind and sea. It settles as quickly as it started and neither of us mention that twenty minutes again.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Black Night

There's no moon this evening, no stars, and no coastline in sight. The only light is from the saloon hatch and the red light of my head torch, which we've Scotch-taped to the cockpit roof so we can see the compass.

David has dinner in motion, but the wind has finally come around from behind us, so our goosewing construction has to come down before we can eat. There's a little turbulence in the water. It's certainly more than enough for me to be holding on damn tight as David and I edge out to the bow without any safety gear whatsoever.

We've gotten the genoa off from the end of the twelve foot spinnaker pole - a pole pivoted on the mast and rigged to hold the farthest tip of the genoa out in the widest position. I'm out front-centre, crouched down, so as to minimise the chances of being thrown off the boat by a rogue wave. I'm waiting for the pole to be eased down so I can catch it and help pin it in place, up against the mast.

I must have lost concentration for a second, because there's a shout, and I look up to catch sight of the twelve foot steel pole swinging wildly across the bow, around the mast, making a beeline for my head. With about a foot between my face and the spinnaker's business end, I duck my head to narrowly avoid the swipe. It passes back over me to port and comes back under control. As we steady ourselves and move to catch the pole, it's had enough, breaks clean off at the mount and comes crashing down.

When David and I return to the cockpit, Jean-Pierre is at the helm and jokes something in French. Manu translates: "He says, you risked your life for the manouevure."