The first time I fell in love with sailing

Sailing happened to me. It was never something I was inclined to, not even interested. My first love has always been the mountains.

In Italy sailing is thought to be an activity for rich people. It is of course a prejudice, as there are ways to make it more affordable, but on average the costs are pretty high. I too fell into the power of generalization and thought that sailing was an activity exclusive to a group of snobby rich obnoxious people. Of course I was not part of this group and I preferred the cheap and harsh alpine terrain, where I hiked and sometimes skied.

The first time I step on a sailing boat it was ten years ago, aboard Bicho, a Beneteau 51 designed by German Frers, that a friend of mine recently purchased to run charters in Venezuela. Bicho was big, comfortable, elegant, and she was waiting for us on a dock in Higuerote, to take us on a cruise of Los Roques. The owner invited me and other friends to celebrate the recent purchase and the beginning of the charter activities.

Aerial view of Archipielago de Los Roques, in Venezuela

We had an overnight sail offshore in the Caribbean Sea, which during peak season of the trade winds has some serious waves, and you feel them all when they hit you on your beam.

I slept in the forward cabin, rolling left and right and sometimes finding myself in midair. Because I was not sick as other of the passengers, I had to keep the helm for  a little bit, after receiving vague instructions on how to steer a course following the compass.

Once in the protection of the islands we enjoyed a week of island hopping, sailing through flat and crystal clear waters powered by a steady breeze, and surrounded by a wonderful scenario. Sitting on the rail on the windward side of the boat I let my legs dangle off the side while keeping my sight on the liquid horizon, enjoying a sensation of peace that I grew accustomed to during these years, and yet still so hard to describe.

Sailing time aboard Bicho

Back to Good Old Europe, in the gray and busy Pianura Padana, I resumed my job of building and delivering courses for employees and manager of various companies, helping them navigate through the treacherous waters of corporate life.

A year passed by, and I enjoyed the mountains more than the ocean. I realized my dream to take a solo trip to India and explore the Himalayan regions of Kashmir and Ladakh. I also decided to move from Milan to Turin and that put me even closer to the Alps.

A fertile valley in the arid Ladakhi Mountains, in India

Until one day, serendipitously, I left it all behind and moved to sea level, again in Los Roques, where I started a new professional path that I had never thought could be suited for me.

It was only after months there that I realized how those islands were nothing but a series of very high submarine mountains, with their peaks piercing the surface of the ocean, providing beautiful beaches and habitat for marine life and humans engaged in tourism. Once again I could feel that my attraction to mountain peaks

And yet in my mind I was no sailor. I still thought of myself as a manager running a business, until one day during a period of shipyard refit for Bicho in Curaçao, I met a person that challenged this view and planted a seed that would change my life.

I was living on a gutted charter boat in the Tropical heat. Only one cabin, where I slept and kept my belongings, was left untouched. Everything else was dismantled and under reconstruction, covered in dust and grease, and littered with tools and building materials. The project was very ambitious and I was doing my best to keep it underway while the chaos was unraveling around me.

My workplace in Curaçao

In that shipyard I met a young guy who was doing the same thing, only on a smaller boat. He was fit, fun to be around and hard working, and he was outfitting his own boat to sail across the pacific to Polynesia, where he had a seasonal job as crew of a luxury Motor Yacht.

We were the two youngest people living in the yard and we quickly bonded. He had a temper and was very energetic, I am low key and relaxed, so we found a natural way to coexist. For me he was an encyclopedia of boat work and I couldn’t restrain myself from asking him about anything sailing related and observing his work.

He would also share his sea stories with me, on how he sailed that old leaky wooden racing boat, bought sight unseen, straight from Nova Scotia to Saint Martin during the winter, with a couple of backpackers that had never sailed before, or how once he got dismasted in the Caribbean Sea and decided to decline rescue and instead drifted back from where he started to fix his mast and sail again.

His stories were eye opening for a rookie like me that thought boats only meant business and plummeting bills. He also debunked some myths about sailing that I had taken as axioms, first and more important that you need a big boat to sail across oceans.

Sailing lessons underway

I immediately identified with him. He was a young guy enjoying life on a boat on the cheap, and this was a revolutionary idea for me. Beside his long sailing experience, we were not so different.

After few months of hard work in the yard and long night talks he set off solo from Curaçao, to his destiny across the ocean, but before leaving, he gave me a suggestion. He told me that Back in Los Roques there was a good old boat, perfect for me. It was a Rival 32 that his friend was selling for 10.000$. When I got back to Los Roques I quickly found the boat. It was in need of a bit of TLC but that was not so important as visions of a new life afloat were flooding my daydreaming.

There was another option, which I also took from his personal example, that had a similar price tag: to take a professional license and make sailing my new career.

I chose the second option, because I knew that eventually another boat would show up at the right time and in the right place, and I would be better prepared to take on the challenge.

At least this is how I prefer to tell the story.

Transatlantic crossing: first leg Curaçao – Republica Dominicana 400nm

After two false starts (never ever use a Max Prop or similar foldable propeller for very long sailing) we finally left Willemstad for a three days sailing up to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic and we moored in a lovely marina just before some more squalls hit the area.

Willemstad, Curaçao

We had good winds for the first part of the trip and then we had to use the engine for almost half of the time. That was another good test that the old Perkins 4.236 passed with some questions. Is the injection in order? Why is overheating some times and some others not? A good mechanic here in Dominican Republic could be a precious help for these doubts.

We’re still in doubt about our future steps. Everything depends on the boat overall conditions and of course on the meteo.  It is possible that we need three more days in Dominicam Republic to get everything we need for the next leg, the strongest one. From here if the weather will let us we would like to go up to Bermudas and then Azores.

I’ll try to keep a record of the next steps, in the meanwhile I start publishing some pictures of the trip.

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!