torstai 11. syyskuuta 2008

The salty diary of an absolute beginner

The way it happened, as I recall it now from my cozy life of central heating, shower, toilet and sleeping until noon, is that it was just supposed to be a short interview and maybe helping Estelle setting themselves up at Den Helder. How it ended up, was 2 weeks aboard the ship. I guess I could blame the cook, who asked me “do I want to go sailing?” I said yes, merrily forgetting all the other obligations I had for work for the next few weeks.
I didn’t know anything about sailing, not that I would know much more now, but having all the muscles in my body aching and my hands feeling like sandpaper, it should follow that at least something had happened.

We all got going quite fast, and it was easy to get to do something aboard Estelle. Mainly because there was always something to do, especially after she had spent a week on sea.
After spending a few “lazy” days in Den Helder, diving to the sea and enjoying the sauna, we set sail towards Amsterdam. It was then, around 50 minutes later while still in close view of the coastline, I got my first impression of sea sickness. How it came up was mostly just this feeling of “oh, that feels a bit funny”, and the next 6 hours were spent in half suicidal thoughts of jumping overboard to spare the pain. Sleep came with help of medication, and I think the only part I woke up was the crash of the mainsail coming down somewhere in the evening. Still happily medicated, I just slept through most of the incident, apart from coming up to the deck and greeting Poseidon with what used to be Lunch.

The next morning, I felt like I had slept a bit too much. Like a few centuries or so. A bomb dropped somewhere, wiping out most of humanity, leaving the few remnants that remained living on old rusty boats and along the coastlines on shacks and old run-down schoolhouses.
We were docked to a platform adorned with pots and plantings of various breeds of cannabis. Everywhere you looked, you could see rusty oilcans, broken cars, shacks built of improvised materials, rusty metal ships and some sailships here and there. There was no-one around apart from the crew. Not until later at least, somewhere around noon, when people started to wake up from their morning coma to come and greet us. Some life finally came to the place, filling the air with the happy joyful smell of gas from welding flames and the banging of metal as the squatters started setting up gadgets and toys for the upcoming festival. We had a warm welcome from a nice lady, the owner of a ship a just bit to the right from us, “The Papillon”, and nice tour around the place. Turned out I hadn’t slept for centuries, and there was no bomb. It was the squatted piece of land called ADM, including a dockyard on which the local harbor authorities had no rights. I remember it being called “occupied territory.” Slightly militaristic, but just looking at the place gave the impression that even this was an understatment.

Smelling of vomit, oil and s**t from the compost in the back of the boat, we got the impression of being a bit smelly, along with the ship. And what do you do when you’re smelly? That’s right. You wash up. For the following 3 days, mopping, cleaning, painting, scarping away rust and all these kind of things. And setting up a cinema in the cargo hold. Of course, I’ve never set up a screen on a ship using only ropes, so this was an improvised moment of hanging from extended objects and trying to do some precision work. I think in the end it turned out quite nice.

Unfortunately, the festival itself was way too interesting to attract a lot of people to the movie hold. I sneaked out only a few times, but these times were dazzling. Catapults shooting flaming rocks 50 meters away to the sea over a midnight sky, dancers hanging from suspended action wires from the roof, homemade flamethrowers shooting fire 6 meter high from an ex-extinguisher bottle, not to mention the carousel made from plates of steel and old car tires, welded, tied and probably even glued together. These people had it all. But my personal favourite was seeing a dance performance on a rooftop. A lady in a black dress dancing to a saxophone tune, while the setting sun in the background acted as a scenery for probably the best impression of “the blues” I’ve ever seen. At night, Estelle’s sails became alive with projected shapes and moving thingies. It just all felt natural, like we were really a part of that place for that short period of time. And people did come. Not in masses, of course, but they did come.

All in all, it was amazing to see these people setting it in a few days, and then taking it down just as fast as it had come up. Too bad the things onboard Estelle kept everybody quite busy, so we didn’t really get the chance to get to know the place better. After this, everything was silent again. Back to the nuclear holocaust.

I started to notice a lot of people of the ship’s crew getting really tired after the festival, so I just decided to volunteer for some night watches. A few reasons for this. I like doing dishes and I like staying up late. There was something about those nights and the following mornings. Staying up, listening to the music as the afterparty of the festival drifted on and on. Watching the sun come up from behind huge industrial buildings looming over water. Something apocalyptic and permanent. I sat on the highest object I could find and watched the morning come.

The morning after I was awakened by a tuba, accordeon and a violin. It was the squatters, including the enchanting woman who lived in the ship a bit to the right, saying farewell. By playing music on the dock.
And I heard later that the same people followed Estelle for a while on another ship, still playing along. Of course, we heard nothing.

By the time we got out of the local canals, it was obvious that this was going to be quite windy. The 2 extra people who were supposed to sail with us from Amsterdam to Rotterdam decided to get off as soon as possible. I decided to be safe and popped a pill for travel sickness. Not that it worked. It was getting quite shaky so I decided to get some rest for the night.

A familiar slam woke me up before the shift started. The main didn’t come down this time, it only had a 2-meter crack in the middle. It was pitch black and this was rolling like I’ve never seen before. I just remember grabbing a rope and pulling the boom up, trying not to throw up. And 5 minutes later my one-hour shift with the reel started. It was certainly an experience to keep a steady course while the sea and the stars kept changing from the left side to the right side and up was where left or right should have normally been. Throwing up out of the side door every now and then, I got through this one hour while keeping the course at least close towards the direction it should have been, and drifted back to sleep while shaking with cold sweat.

The next morning we were still out at sea, doing a dazzling 5 knot speed with no sails. Even the front sail had came down somewhere during the night.

We eventually made port in Rotterdam, where I was the happiest person ever to go for a night time walk in the city, having one beer, a decent salad and finding a very nice and clean toilet. This made me suddenly realize how much I missed my home in Amsterdam.

All in all, I don’t think anyone, from an absolute beginner to some salt-crusted, one eyed, peg-legged sailor could deal with these things, wonderful and enchanting as they are, without an idea of a home. Some people who are happy to see you when you get back. A place to go back to. You kind of think about those things, and they keep you going when the shit hits the fan. Which it does. Usually quite frequently. And it gives you the ability to take it easy, to make it less serious than it could be.

But I am hoping that I might “accidentally” be unemployed next summer so that I could run off again.

By the way, the Papillon, owned by the cute lade who was docked just a bit to the right from us, is for sale. Want a sailship? 99k and it’s yours!

To everyone from the ship who was with me on these days, I felt like I was really welcomed and the whole place seemed like home from the beginning. Lots of love.