Let go


A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.

Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

Zen and the art of bringing the scale back to zero

I’ve survived a two days zen retreat last weekend. Being a beginner I had no clue how hard and disciplined a retreat in a Zen monastry can be. My longest sitting has always been 1h30minutes once a week and being in a meditative modality for two entire days it was like climbing a mountain without an adequate training. But I did it! Thanks to the perfect leadership of the Zen Providence Center’s staff, to the pure energy of the Teacher Nancy and to the presence of many beginners like me I survived this hard test.

I bring home countless insights and a renewed energy from the retreat and also a very beautiful image that has the power to describe exactly the effect that Zen meditation has on me.

In one of the rare breaks during the retreat I started to read a book of Zen Master Seung Sahn. It was about the letters he exchanged with many students in the years of his teaching. In one of these he uses a wonderful metaphor. Seung Sahn says to a student that we are like a scale that has a natural balance in the zero, the end of the scale. When we weigh an object the needle reaches the position corresponding to the weight of the object. When we remove the object from the scale the needle returns to zero. Zero is the position of peace and perfect balance before thinking, that is, when we are free from delusions, situations and suffering. Whenever we go through a situation, an event, an emotion the pointer moves to indicate the weight. If other thoughts and emotions are added before we unload the scale may break. Practicing meditation helps to go back to this state so we are able to face new challenges and hassles without breaking down.

Discovering Panamà

Panamà is a small country. But for a strange reason in its 75,515 km2there are several and different interesting sites to visit and live. I took the advantage of a break in Andiamo’s schedule part of the country.

When you leave Panama City you have the impression there’s nothing out of it. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Milan, where you can’t notice many differences in landscape while driving out of the city. Italy is over constructed and over populated and Panama is (for the moment) kind of virgin land out of the capital city.

At one hour and fifteen minutes (Panamanian time) by bus you arrive in San Carlos, the capital of  omonimous district. I decided to take some surf lessons here in El Palmar, one of the last free beaches in the Area (big resorts all over) and perfect spot for beginners like me, due to reasonable dimensioned waves and for the perfect sandy bottom with no dangerous obstacles. I never been on a surf board before and always thought surf is for lazy californian teenager (or lazy young-looking adults). But if you live on the sea like me you should know how to use the resources (wind, waves & similar..) to have fun and do your workouts. Everyday there’s a lot and nothing to do at the same time.

El Palmar, San Carlos, Panamà
El Palmar, San Carlos

I booked two classes with Flor Villareal, owner of Panama Surf School that was recommended to me by Andiamo’s guest Mariano that also learned surf in El Palmar. The first day I was taught by Nino, San Carlos native instructor working with Flor for more than 5 yrs. I started with a long soft board, practicing stand ups and wave catching and helped by Nino for timing and pushing. When I kept practicing alone I was not able to catch one single wave and really exhausted. Surf is for sure funny but is also damned hard work! I had all my muscles hurting and abrasions on knees for board friction but the sensation of control when I rode my first wave was so exciting that I’m motivated to go further in this activity. Next day I was with Flor on the other side of the beach, this one with more stones but nothing dramatical. After sun salutation to warm up the body I worked with her on timing and paddling. I did some progresses and started to think about turning as well. In the afternoon I practiced alone and rode three waves and that gave me lots of satisfaction.

El Valle de Antòn, Panamà

Friday was really bad for waves so I decided to take a bus to El Valle de Antòn, a town that sits in the crater of a dormant volcano. Before going I knew that was a good site for hiking and thermal baths and also a very fertile land. Once I was on the road to the village I started noticing some characteristics: wood and flowers, green all around, water.

La India Dormida, El Valle de Antòn, Panamà

And water on ground and from the sky,  heavy rain all over me while visiting the surroundings, climbing small mountains, visiting waterfalls, slipping from muddy rocks. I rented a bicycle just to go faster in between sites and to run in the middle of the lovely village now sadly littered only with rich people mansions while the locals moved up in the mountains due to the increasing cost of land. I visited la India Dormida Mountain (with the profile of a lying  indian woman), bathed in thermal waters an climbed up to a mirador (but really poor visibility).

Pozos Termales @ El Valle de Antòn, Panamà
Pizza @ La Casa de Juan

Exhausted after cycling and hiking when I get back to La Casa de Juan (cheap and warm hostel) I was involved in the pizza baking for dinner. All the guests of the house gave a strong hand for the preparation, a nice way to know each other and enjoy good food under the sight of Juan (hostel director) who promoted the event with genuine generosity.

Back to the city next day I was surpised how fast I got back to the apartment  (2hrs and a half in total, with 2 buses change and 1 taxi). I’m sure this combo is perfect for weekends and days off, quick and effective, and two destinations  to see for any travellers in Panamà.

Toad Waterfall
Pueblo El Valle from top

On the way to San Blas #2

After Berlin underground crossing it’s time of U.S. in a trip that since its starting was very long and became even longer.
Landed in Miami on July 21st I stayed in Fabi’s house in Ft. Lauderdale for one night to be ready to leave for Panama on Friday night. Fabi is my boss’s friend, a friendly and nice woman who helped me a lot in Ft. Lauderdale.
After an entire day visiting around to wait for my late flight already checked in and already at the gate I received the bad news from the airline: plane had mechanical problems so is not leaving
General panic and fights always ready to start  between passengers and staff and between passengers! I used all the skills trained in italian post offices to conquer one of the first places so I got quickly my hotel room and my ticket for next day. One more day in Florida that passed by taking advantage of the comforts of my hotel room and going out for dinner with Fabi.
I have few and confused images of me in a car with Mitzy, the boat manager, and his brother driving through the incredible buildings of Panama City. Not more than three hours in the apartment and I’m
on a 4×4 that carries Kunas and their provisions from the city to the “Comarca de Kuna Yala”. The road is a tarmoil ribbon that flows trough the jungle and I ignore completely where I am only noticed I am stuffed in a vehicle that is collecting people all around. Finally I get to the “embarcadero” and jump on a lancha that takes me to the SV Andiamo, my new experience, in the unknown surrounding of San Blas Islands.

On the way to San Blas

First step is saying goodbye to family and friend. Has never been so hard before, can’t understand why but that’s it.
I’m leaving Milan heading for Berlin, city that I love but this time I’m only crossing it underground S to N to catch the flight that tomorrow is going to take me to the US. Another night in Fort Lauderdale and finally on friday I’m hopefully landing in Panama where the yacht manager pick me up.

Transatlantic crossing: Curaçao to Cagliari

The checkings on Eclipse continue, last update the radar dome is not oscillating because they mounted it fixed to the mast. Genious at work!!

Finally we have a schedule. Leaving on saturday 28th May for the first leg up to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, almost 380 miles. With a crew of three, me, the owner Furio and the outsider Carlos Andres, we’re supposed to be there monday in the afternoon.

There we have time to have some fresh fruit and vegetables, to welcome onboard Annetta, the most experienced of the four (and definetely the best cook) and to collect informations to decide our course and when to leave.

The last two days in Curaçao are dedicated to last small works, provisioning, fuel and to get the boat ready for sailing.

With a little fear in the heart but great hope we’re leaving soon! BYE

Checking a boat for an Ocean crossing

Welcome to a potentially endless post. Relax, I’m too busy for a long writing so I’ll try to condensate the experience of checking and preparing a just bought boat for a delivery trip from Caribbean to Europe.

By the way the problem is that the new owner of Eclipse, a lovely Beneteau Idylle 15.50 (German Frers’ design), want to go to Cagliari and even worst that I accepted to go with him. So now we’re busy with a general survey of the yacht, because for both is unknown. Ok, but what would you check on a sailing yacht to know if is ready to an ocean crossing?

The first suggestion I can give is the following: if you decide to buy a boat in a place but you wanto to sail her somewhere else consider to have a minimum of one month in a botayard to be sure you can fix most of the problems and buy all that you need for a long sailing. Inspecting a boat requires time, patience and several trials, expecially when the past owner disappears after the sale as usually does. Not all boat owners are good sailors so they could not be able to answer to all of your questions.

Safety is probably the most important matter for life at sea and it begins with a reliable and strong boat. Be sure the rigging, mast, hull and seacocks, bulkheads, sails and ropes, engine and electrical systems are in perfect conditions. There’s no point to go out with a liferaft, EPIRB and all the rescue stuff if the boat has some structural problems.

Another thing to test is that everything on deck is waterproof. Hatches, portholes, deck’s core, fittings and plates, each single hole thru the deck has to be completely sealed. Sailing when down below is wet is terrible especially for long time. Water coming from the sky or the sea has to drain off the deck and not inside. Be sure you can dry the bilge with both electrical and manual devices (bilge pumps, electrical and manual, bucket and sponge, everything) and all the electrical system and electronics stay dry. A dry cockpit is a plus that would make you enjoy even bad weather but the minimum of a safe and dry interior is required. Have almost one head full woking (both toilet and shower) and don’t forget the quality of your sailing often comes from the galley, so make it work!

The equipment has to be adeguate for a month of autonomy at sea. That means enough power in the batteries and adeguate charge system (solar, wind and engine, plus charge contoller). A Watermaker is really helpful but in our case we are considering some traditional remedies as collecting rain, cooking with sea water offshore and storing lots of drinkable water in addition to our generous water tanks.

All the sails and ropes (plus shackles, jammers, blocks) have to be checked. Even if we’re not really sophisticated we changed 70% of the ropes and hardware on board, just for  safety. Another important thing is to have few day sailing with the boat and then come back to fix the things that are not working. It’s better to customize everything is possible according to your needs and ability as people sail the same boat in different ways.

Paranoia is the master you’ll follow when preparing a transatlantic crossing, and helps you to keep the attention high about spare parts (carry almost everything!), safety gear and devices, and tools to make emergency fixes on board (a generator should help you with 220v). It will also keep you aware of weather conditions so try to equip the boat with the necessary communication devices to get your forecast (SSB radio, Sat phone, Internet/fax connection). Be sure you have everything and know how to prepare the boat for storm conditions (storm sails, drogues)

But don’t let paranoia absorb you completely or you’ll forget that sailing is for fun and crossing the ocean without pleasure is boring and sad. Try to provision the galley with the best food and drinks (fish cooked on a BBQ is defintely the best!), carry some fishing gears, good books or movies for your time off. A nice coffee and breakfast in the morning or a hot and tasty meal in cold and wet weather keeps the moral of the crew at the right point. Consider cooking as an important part of seamanship.

That’s probably the 12% of what you need to know about this subject, but I have to go back to my work and really don’t have all the answers. I posted these questions on LinkedIn groups and received a huge quantity of answers that helped me to write this partial guide. My thanks go to all the users that replied to my post helping me to have a better frame about what I’m doing to check this lovely boat. One week of last details and if nothing unexpected happens we’ll be heading north to Dominican Republic an then  up in the Atlantic, destination Azores and Europe. Go Eclipse!

Christoffel National Park Curaçao

To escape from the uncessant work of a boat refitting I decided to visit the National Park of Curaçao. In a cloudy saturday morning I took the road that leaves the city of Willemstad and the pollution of oil refineries heading Westpunkt, the extreme west of the island. By the way I stopped to buy some fruit in a common house of locals guided by the signal “Fruta Barata” (cheap fruit). Just before reaching the point where the island disappear into the sea you meet the sharp pyramidal edge  of Christoffel Mountain. It is 375m high and completely covered by vegetations up to the rocky top.

I entered the Park reception with the tiny Suzuky Samurai I rented from Pedro, the carpenter of the Marina and I paid 19,5 guilders (about 12 $) for the entrance plus the car ticket. The park is divided in two sides. The one that goes up to north is the marine side, a wide area with the rocky cliffs of Boka Grandi, a big lagoon where you can see Flamingos and Eagles, a small cave with some indian paintings and some other routes in the nature. Going south you approach the mountain and the area of disused plantations and mines. I went directly to the mountain as I was a little late. You can visit the entire park with the car through a small stripe of tarmoil that infiltrate the cactus and the small trees.

The first stop was not exciting, an ancient plantation not used anymore. I saw fully coloured birds and a huge iguana that ran away immediately. After this stop I decided to go directly to the hiking route that takes you to the top. From the parking they say it’s one hour to go up and the same to get back. I did it in 40 mins, close to noon but protected by the shade of the cloudy sky. It was really hard even if short and the heat is not a help. I’m not in a good physical condition due to the continuos work on the boat that is definetely not an aerobic activity and I suffered the climb that starts sweet but becomes very steep close to the peak, with some easy climbing passages on the rock. From the top you have a complete view of the island, from Westpunkt to Willemstad but the sky was not so clear and so the visibility. But at least I was not getting burned by the violent sun of noon and I enjoyed the bunch of grape I bought in the morning. Once I got back to the car I decided to visit the marine side, I didn’t know why but I was in a hurry.

The vegetation of the marine side changes with the influence of the wind that blows NE and bring salty air.  The trees almost disappear and cactuses predonimate the landscape. Compared to the busy Willemstad this corner of the island is really savage and quite, perfect for meditation and relax.

The marine side has also few caves once inhabited by indians. The caves have paintings on their walls and when I entered I felt like it was a home and I have to escape from fierce animals (I’m not sure if here in Curaçao they even had one in the whole history, probably not).

I enjoyed the journey, it’s defintely not a unique and impressive natural environment, but I always like natural sites with few people where breath fresh air and the noises all come from the wind, small birds singing or waterfalls. I love the western part of Curacao!