Reflections……

The creaking of the bridge mingles with the sound of our window wipers as they smear away the spitting rain that has punctuated the pre-dawn darkness along with electric bursts of iridescent forked lightening. I had watched the thundery squall approach on our radar screen, the yellow mass which signified it’s presence had progressed towards us since the start of my watch at 4am, it’s intensity acutley notable on the screen. On our port side lies Cannes, famous for it’s Film Festival, the 66th edition of which is taking place as we sit at anchor. To our starboard side lies Isle Sainte-Marguarite, it’s ancient fort still watches over the city of Cannes across the water. The storm of the last few days has brought some swell, a small left hand point is breaking on the NW tip of the island, their form teasing me as I glance at them while helping guests from the yacht into our 30ft Chase tender.
The greying dawn reveals a small boat crossing our bow, towards the island. 5 small figures hunch over in the cold dawn. They must be half a mile away but something catches my attention, surfers. I can’t explain how I new it, I caouldn’t see a any boards and at half a mile away they are mere specks. Sure enough however they stop a little out from the break, boards appear and they paddle into the lineup. I am intensley jelous as I watch them with our binoculars, all riding longboards which are perfect for the small surf.
Since joining the yacht at the end of January I haven’t been able to surf, exept one day on the Paddle board when there was a small swell running in Mallorca. I have been wakeboarding a lot, even bought a board and am now landing wake to wake grabs, 180s etc. Somehow, however, it’s not the same. It is fun, adrenaline packed and full of laughs with friends but somehow the soul of waveriding eludes this spin off sport.

DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO
As much as I miss surfing I am very grateful to be at sea again, to have the chance to see Big Blue every time I look outside. Since leaving Mallorca in mid May we have clocked around 1500 nauticak miles between the Balearics, Gibraltar, Costa del Sol and now France’s Cote d’ Azur. True to her nature Big Blue as shown all here faces, from calms so still that it seems an impossibility to force 10 full gales whilst on passage. That gale was one to remember as 8 to 10m seas hurled themselves against our bows, sending spray skywards as green water cascaded over the foredeck. I also had the privelage of seeing one of the best dolphin sightings I have ever had asd two bottlenosed dolphins corkscrewd endlessly under our bow for an eternity. Off Cadiz we saw whales breaching repetedly in the distance and a flock of flourescent pink flamingos passed us yesterday as we sat at anchor in Sainte Tropez. I find comfort in my enjoyment of such simple pleasures, as I would hate to be polluted by the vanity, wealth and idiosincracies that seem to go hand in hand with the superyacht industry, especially on an 80m Motor Yacht like this. Again, it seems sadly bereft of the purity of sailing much like wakeboarding and surfing.
I know that it is a means to an end, part of my long term plan to buy my own sail boat. I am gaining new skills on a daily basis and making good friends and seeing new places in the process. Life is very strange, how things work out. I certainly would not have thought that I would be sat at anchor in Sainte Tropez 12 months ago…..and I am not complaining!

The Basil Plant Incident….

Well, I have been aboard my new home for five days now. It has been a huge change, from sleeping on sofa beds and even floors over the last few months I am now aboard an 80m supeyacht where I hope to remain working for the foreseeable future. As usual with the yachting fraternity it seems to be a work hard – play hard atmosphere but the vibe is good and hopefully this summer travels will take us far far afield throughout the mediterranean.
As I lay in my bunk last night, the gentle roll of the ship rocking me into slumber I remembered another an incident that started in my bunk a few years ago……NO!! it’s not what you are thinking!!
We were pretty much slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic, en-route from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay on the Caribbean island of St. lucia. So far the journey had been fine, pretty un-eventful in fact apart from the general wear and tear of gear and watch-keeping duties. I was sailing as mate aboard the Lagoon 440 ‘Tucanon’ which eventually crossed in just over 17 days.
The trade winds were blowing at a steady 15 knots but in the frequent squalls that sped by, cartwheeling off past us, brought gusty conditions up to 30-35 knots. During the day they lined the horizon from time to time, a dark smear on an otherwise impossibly blue palette. At night however they were harder to spot, showing as green smudges on our radar screen. It was one such squall that occurred on the night in question. Our watch system was on a rotational basis and at that particular moment the Skipper’s wife was on watch, the rest of the four crew, including myself, rested in our bunks. I don’t remember the time exactly but it was well after midnight when we where awakened by cries from Irene and the horn sounding. The motion of the boat was awkward and lurching, Tucanon was not a happy ship. I stumbled in the darkness, fumbling with my life jacket and harness whilst running up toward the deck with Chris on my heels. Lightening fell around us, its brilliant flashes illuminating a wild sea, the white wave crests reflecting the flashes as they tumbled toward their troughs. The sound was deafening as the wind howled through the rigging, the waves crashed on our stern and the sail flapped in anguish. We were flying a ‘Parasailor’ a downwind sail similar to a spinnaker but with a wing inserted 2/3 of the way to the sail head. I glanced at the instrument repeater in the navigation station as I rushed forward, it was reading a steady 43 knots, far too much wind for a Parasailor.

 

Dick, the owner and skipper, took Irene below for safety whilst Chris and I fought with the guys and sheets of the sail, finally managing to snuff it, thus easing the motion of the boat. We unfurled a small, tiny even, piece of genoa on the bow to keep the boat headed down wind. Even with this scrap of cloth we raced along at 8 knots.
Rain lashed down from the heavens, the wind continued to scream like a banshee through the rigging and the lightening lit the chaotic scene in a eerie spark of light. It also lit something else, something that made me start to laugh….. Chris and I were both huddled behind the wheel in nothing but harness and boxer shorts, neither of us having bothered to put anything else on in our hurry. It was probably more nerves than anything but we both laughed out loud.
The tension eased but not for long. The squall peaked at 52 knots, making it hard to stand let alone do anything else. It was then that we noticed the main sail…. It had been dropped into a stackpack on the boom but this stackpack had no closure system…… The wind, now dead aft, was filling the sail and starting to lift it up the mast track. It was already a metre up. If the sail raised and filled more we would be in serious danger of losing the mast, if not worse. There was nothing else for it, we had to lash the sail down. I grabbed a spare line from the locker, clipped into the jackstay (safety tether) on the saloon roof and inched out to the mast. Lightening continued to fall, making the job even more dangerous… As you can imagine our mast was the highest thing for hundreds of miles….and made of aluminum alloy. Chris pointed this out to me but what choice did we have? The sail was continuing to lift, the danger was real. Dropping the mast steps I inched up to the boom, one arm clinging to the mast as the ship swayed. Bit by bit I managed to lash the sail down along the boom from end to end. Putting on a downhaul attached to the head of the sail for good measure.
We both collapsed onto the helm station seat, taking in the apocalyptic scene around us. It really is breathtaking of the sea can change from one moment to the next, and eve with this show of force it was incredible. Slowly the wind eased over the next two hours or so as we told jokes and stories to ease our nerves. By morning the sea was a gentle rolling swell from the North East, pushed along by the ever-present trade winds.
We all talked about the incident over breakfast, making light of the incident whilst learning from our mistakes. Irene thought we should commemorate the moment with a photo. Initially it was supposed to be just boxer shorts but somehow, over much laughter, we ended up naked apart from our harness and covering our modesty with our ships Basil Plants…. You know what they say…What happens at sea…..goes on the blog!!

The basil plant incident in full swing... L-R: Dick, Chris and me.

The greatest gift?

I am sat on a lay-over in Barcelona airport, mid way on my trip from Tenerife to Palma Mallorca and a new job working aboard an 80m superyacht, all part of my 5 year plan. As I hunch over my laptop and type I feel a tightness in my shoulders and back, my skin feels like the texture of crispy chicken and whenever I walk I feel the rubbing in my deck shoe of a cut I sustained surfing yesterday. I don’t care, they are the physical memories of a magic surf session. That will likely be my last for a while as Mallorca is not known for it’s surf. I will be living aboard the yacht though and this summer my goal is to add another string to my waterman’s bow and learn to Kitesurf, in my bag my swim fins are packed too on the off chance some bodysurfing is possible. The yacht also has windsurf equipment and a wakeboat so I can do some wakeboarding too. Non of that could compare to yesterday’s session though.

The waves were not big, but the right hand reef break at Derecha de Fitenia was firing….. Head high, glassy perfection shared with two surfed buddies who I hadn’t seen in a long while. It was coincidence that we met up in the water, another gift from the ocean perhaps. We caught wave after wave, some sets even allowing us to catch two waves a piece, one from the outside peak and the second from the inside bowl. I felt so in touch during that session that I can’t really describe it…. I caught a nice tube on the inside, which finally picked me up, flipping me and my 8 foot mini-mal over the falls and onto the shallow volcanic reef (hence the cut on my foot) but before it did I looked up as the lip curled over me and the sun sparkled through its crystal blue lip. Betting barreled like that is like getting pulled into creation itself, nothing is quite like it. I rode down the line feeling the board in perfect trim, and even made some attempts to hang five on the heavy old board. With my left foot’s toes right on the nose and my center of gravity arched back the feeling of flying with just water infront of you is surreal. I definitely want a longboard in my future board quivers!!

Derecha de Fitenia doing it's thing....

Derecha de Fitenia doing it’s thing….

The board I rode is an 8′ mini-mal by Sunshine Shapes Australia. I call it ‘Big Red’ as the bottom and rails are bright red, a decal on the bottom says ”Ocean Therapy Model”. This could not be any closer to the perfect description as ‘Big Red’ has helped me regain something I had started to lose over he last year. That something is stoke. Stoke is hard to explain, it’s a kind of energy that comes from within and from the Ocean, a sublime happiness, a state of bliss. Surfers talk about it all the time, the Hawaiian’s know it as ‘Mana’. This week I shared some very small, tiny even, waves with my friend Lynn (www.thedigitalsurfschool.com) who works at K-16 surf school in Las Americas (Tenerife). Lynn is the most stoked person I know, by a long way. She is always happy, always smiling and most importantly she has a gift for sharing that passion and feeling with the surf students she teaches. That was obvious by the goofy smiles and whooping coming from her disciples on their first days surf ever.

I was lucky growing up, I had it all. I started surfing at 12 and have been in the Ocean since 5 years old when my parents emigrated to the island of Tenerife. As a kid and later as an adult I would spend every free second in the Ocean, surfing, diving, spearfishing, playing around on boats and generally getting wet and burnt. One key figure in my life, and the lives of many young kids at the time, was Peter. Peter owned the LA (Las Americas) Surf surf shop. It was tiny, and overflowing with wetsuits, leashes, boards etc, in short it as like an Aladdin’s cave. Photos of Peter on trips to Hawaii and Indonesia clung to the walls, amazing feats on surf and windsurf boards alike. I would spend hours there, chatting and soaking up any detail I could. He would give me posters, old magazines and bits and pieces as well as tips in the water. The shop is gone now, part of my past is now an ugly disco smelling of stale urine and smoke. But Peter is still here, giving the gift of stoke. I caught up with him last week as he sat in the back of his van, surrounded by local kids who laughed and joked, full of his infectious stoke. He lends his battered board collection to them so that they can enjoy the Ocean. Some of the boards are yellowed, patched and waterlogged, relics from another time. I was touched by his willingness and selflessness, I saw myself in those kids. It was then that I decided I wanted to help him pass on that gift. I knew I was leaving for Mallorca in a few days and hadn’t decided where to store ‘Big Red’ anyway. When I broached the subject with Peter his eyes lit up, followed by the words ”but you know it would be for the kids, right?”. So now ‘Big Red’ lives on, bringing it’s therapy to what I hope will be the next generation of surf stoked kids under the care and guidance of Peter. As I handed over the board to him I told him of my future plans, my 5 year goal. He laughed and said ”Don’t dream, just live the day and do”, classic Peter.

Handing over 'Big Red' to Peter, hoping to inspire the next generation.

Handing over ‘Big Red’ to Peter (on left), hoping to inspire the next generation.

I honestly cannot think of a greater gift that I can give than to share that passion which infects me. This week I also took my 65 year old mother (www.islandmomma.wordpress.com) out on a tandem stand up paddle board (SUP) session, taking us into some small beach break waves. She started off scared as the board rolled and accelerated, but after the first few waves the stoke was clear, almost visibly dripping from her like the salt water. After our last wave deposited us the beach she cried ‘wow! I could hear the wave really roaring behind us’ as a smile shaped her face.I am proud of her for facing her fear of water and happy to have had the opportunity to give back to someone who has given so much to my brother and I. Later that day I took my best friend, Miguel Angel, out on his first session too on the SUP. He doesn’t surf, not ever, yet he managed to catch his first waves as the sun set around us, bathing the whole scene in orange, auburn and yellow hues. Again the stoke was clear to see, despite the many falls and tumbles, radiating from us both as we paddled back to the safety of the small harbor entrance, guided by the lights of the town.

I will miss all those experiences, those people and my home breaks waves. I carry their images in my mind and in my pocket a small smooth pebble from the shore of La Fitenia……

SUP session at El Médano

SUP session at El Médano

Racing the sun

The alarm started it’s increasing chime at 6:30, no light penetrating under the shutters yet. I am pretty good at waking up, looking forward to the challenges of a new day. I train most mornings, a legacy from my triathlon days perhaps but now I just enjoy it. I also find that being fit helps me feel good and makes me better at work, whether it be sailing or lifeguarding.

Today it’s a bit harder though, the chill of a clear night still lingering, trying to poke in under my blanket. I was up from 3 till 5am on the phone, a friend of mine who needed a friend in a crisis. I hit snooz,e thinking I will run this afternoon, after all we have a water rescue training session this morning. Then I realize I am not that tired and in complete autopilot I roll out of my camp bed, head for the bathroom, flicking on the coffee maker as I pass.

Twenty minutes later I am running, stumbling occasionally on one of the loose rocks that litter the shoreline, obscured by the inky blackness. A cool breeze washes over me as I slowly feel my coffee kick in and the shrouds of sleep fall away. I veer left and start up the track which winds up and away from the ocean through sparse desert scrub. What was an almost imperceptible glow on the horizon is now transforming into light, the island of Gran Canaria’s hulking silhouette outlined against it.

The path winds for a while, passing the solar power station and then forks right sharply and up. The going really gets tough here, loose volcanic shale and what seems like a vertical climb. The lactic acid builds in my thighs and claves, the burn feels good, making me feel alive. All of a sudden I am up on the rim of the small crater or Montaña Pelada, fingers of red, yellow and electric orange flashed across the clouds. With my heart pounding still and my lungs searing I descend around the craters rim, picking up the pace. It’s hard going as I try to concentrate on the terrain and not natures light show which is gaining momentum. Montaña Pelada sticks out into the sea, it’s yellow rock contrasts deeply with the sapphire blue of the Atlantic. Half way around I am at the bottom of the rim track, hidden away in a small gully which falls away into a tiny hidden sandy beach. There is no wind down here although I can still hear the whirr of the wind farm nearby, everything is still. Despite my momentum I stop, I can’t help it. The vista is just too good to pass by….. Small waves break on the secret beach, as the water recedes it leaves a thin film of liquid gold, which reflects the ever growing palette of colours thrown into the sky. I linger for a few moments, wishing I could stay, even drop down onto the sand, strip of my shoes and shirt and run headlong into the surf. I breathe deeply…… drinking it in and trying to imprint this scene on the canvas of my mind. I don’t think it could be anymore perfect.

Back to reality, my shift at the station starts at nine and it is already 7:35. I start back up the rocky trail, hoping from rock to rock until I am at the top, above the beach at Montaña Pelada where I have enjoyed so many surf sessions in summer, making the most of the frothy beach break. Looking back I see the sun is not quite up. I pick up the pace again, racing the sun now, I wonder if I can make it home before it is fully risen?

Sunrise over El Cabezo beach, just between home and Montaña Pelada. Foto: Island Momma

Sunrise over El Cabezo beach, just between home and Montaña Pelada. Foto: Island Momma

Happy New Year!!!

Well, once again we find ourselves at the dawn of a New Year. Quite why at the strike of a clock things should magically change, people stop smoking, lose kilos, take up skydiving I will never understand. But hey, if that’s what makes you happy then rock on.

I am not a big New Years fan, don’t get me wrong. I love a cold beer or good whisky as much as the next guy but I hate the excesses that seem to follow the hype of New Years. To me, waking up with a hangover and penniless is not a good way to start the year. I have worked a number of New Years on a professional or volunteer basis with the ambulance service but every now and then I try to do something special.

At the dawn of the now forgotten millennium I was working as an instructor at Aqua-Marina dive centre. At around 8pm we did the last dive of the millenium. It was just a shore dive right in front of the centre, down to 8m with staff and some loyal clients. At 5 metres we knelt on the sandy bottom in a tight circle as we passed around a bottle of champagne, each taking a symbolic swig. As the bottle is pressurised due to the gas the sea water stays out, as long as you press your thumb over the hole.

After that we had a quick dinner and then I pulled my wetsuit on again, this time my surfing shortie and grabbed my board. Both where festooned with glow sticks and a strobe light as where those of my brother, Guy, and our friends. You see, I had read in the November 1999 issue of Transworld Surf Magazine an article about ”joining the two millenniums with a wave”. I seemed like a special way to mark the occasion, one that fully stated who I was and one that I would always remember and cherish. It was also totally wacky, we loved it! At 23:30h we paddled out from the rocky shore at La Fitenia, our local break, to the applause of well over a hundred people. This was a huge surprise as we had expected something a little more intimate, what we hadn’t counted on was the fact that the hotel that backs onto the break has one of the biggest firework displays in the area at New Years…… We where extremely stoked, we kind of felt like rock stars I guess and at 18 years old it was awesome. The waves weren’t great but that wasn’t the point,  chest high chop was all that was on offer. We laughed as we paddled into the dark sets, feeling more than seeing the waves as they picked us up and hurled us, javelin like, towards the shore. As the gongs sounded at midnight a set rolled in and we all caught a wave, one that joined two millenia in a short frothy 10 second ride. Fireworks exploded overhead, painting the sea green, red and blue as the sparks fell earthward. Reading this you might think it is all fiction. or at least embellished but it is not, that is the way we saw in the year 2000. Just to prove it isn’t all good, I should mention that on getting out of the water I stood on a sea-urchin and had 3 spines in my foot for days!!

This year my best friend and I planned to climb ”El Teide”, the 3718m high monolith that sits at the centre of the island of Tenerife. It just happens to be the highest mountain in Spain and has one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage sight and the set for movies such as the original Planet of the Apes or the 2011 Wrath of Titans. In winter it is often tipped with snow and at night temperatures drop to well below freezing.

I worked my shift at the lifeguard station, had my last session in the ocean for 2012 (a quick 30 minutes of bodysurfing as that was all the waves were up to and the wind was too fickle to sail). Not long after I was swathed in thermals and mountaineering gear, a santa hat on my head and trudging up the Montaña Blanca trail head. Our eyes concentrated on the terrain in front, our worlds reduced to a pool of light just a few feet wide. Sadly, we set of late and even after pushing hard and getting from 2000m to 3200m in just 1 hour and 50 minutes we decided to stop there. The plan had been to hit the peak, see in the New Year with the few other nut jobs who had the same plan and then hit the trail again as I was on a full shift on New Years day (no rest for the wicked). We arrived at the AltaVista mountain hut at 3200m just after 23:00h and decided to stay there rather than carry on and be in the middle of no-where as the bells chimed.

We settled into a sheltered corner outside the hut, whipped up some hot chocolate on the camping stove and pulled on several layers as the temperature was -2ºC, and with the wind chill the actual sensation was much lower. Miguel put on a small radio to hear the official timing and we prepared our meal. Overhead a billion stars spread a mantle of fairy lights over our us. I spotted Orion, Osa Major but couldn’t make out Casiopea which is my favorite. I was a bit upset by this as I always look out for Casiopea and even talk to her on night watches at sea (yes, sea fever will do that to you…). It crossed my mind that it was ironic that I was seeing in a New Year, one that I hoped would bring new ocean adventures, about as far from the sea as you can get on this island. Seeing the stars hanging there, like old friends, reminded me too that nature is always there and we are always linked to her.

Miguel Angel enjoying hot chocolate fresh off the stove. 3200m, -2ºC and dropping!!

Miguel Angel enjoying hot chocolate fresh off the stove. 3200m, -2ºC and dropping!!

As the final few minutes grew closer we uncorked the miniature bottles of champagne and got our grapes ready (in Spain it is good luck to eat a grape at each strike of the clock, 12 grapes in all). The time came we choked the SEEDED grapes down, hugged, chugged down the champagne, took in the epic view which was by now illuminated by a spectacularly bright moon and pulled on our packs ready to head down.

Only a few  hours later I was back in the beach town of El Médano where I currently live, weaving my way down the street to my buildings door as I dodged the detritus or human society debauchery. Glass bottles, plastic cups, streamers and stinking vomit littered the pavement as the BOOM BOOM of music blasted from the square. Such world apart…… I certainly know where I would rather have been.

Me with a very red nose.... Refugio de Altavista, Mount Teide, Tenerife. 3200m. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Me with a very red nose…. Refugio de Altavista, Mount Teide, Tenerife. 3200m. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

So, 2013 is here and I wish you all the very best. I sincerely hope this year is filled with smiles, happiness and warmth. For those of you who like me crave the ocean I also wish you clean and warm seas, fair winds and good swells.

Just a random day…

It wasn’t a special day, it was just another day today. But, does it have to be a special day to be a great day??

I had breakfast with a good friend as the sun warmed the bay with its first rays, casting auburn tints across the wet sand. The company was great, the coffee hot and strong and the setting idyllic.

I worked from 9am until 1pm (just part-time right now, starting full-time 1st of January!!). It was a very busy day on the beach, thankfully no emergencies. Soooooo stoked to be in January almost and still hitting 27ºC and 20 in the water. Work isn’t all good, Haven’t had a full wage for 3 months, some of the lifeguards haven’t been paid for 4 months…..

At 1 I ran the two minutes  from work to home, stuffed some rice cakes and boiled eggs down my throat, grabbed a SUP board, pulled on a rash vest and paddled out. The waves weren’t incredible but it was warm, the ocean impossibly transparent, the orb of the December sun blazed down as the waves rolled in. The vibe in the water was great, my friend Santi out on his SUP, Penny his chocolate labrador perched on the nose.

Two hours later the predicted wind kicked in and kite and windsurfers started to do their thing as sails and kites whizzed by at dizzying speeds. Bu then my shoulders where like jelly anyway. It was only my third time on a Stand Up Paddleboard and I am still amazed at how hard it is to master. It is like trying to turn a Boeing 747 wing whilst on a rodeo bull travelling at 30km an hour. It is, however, great fun. After surfing for almost 20 years it is refreshing to try something new, make a fool of yourself and feel that stoke that only groms seem to feel.

From there I half carried and half dragged the enormous board back, threw on my running shoes and shorts and hit the coastal trail that follows the coast around Montaña Roja (Red Mountain) for an intense 45 minute run. After thirty minutes my legs felt like lead, lots of exercise and not much food so no surprise there. I kept the momentum up, grinding through as the sun beat down on my back whilst it reflected of the red lava giving an almost electric glow to the landscape.

As I sit here now I have a small treat in front of me, a cold Heineken beer….. I can’t tell you how good it tastes…… Today wasn’t a special day it was just a day but it was good and despite my various problems right now….. I am not sure I would want to have spent it any other way. Anyway, you can’t put a price on something so valuable.

Another day, another....well, maybe we will get paid soon... Montaña Roja in the background at El Médano

Another day, another….well, maybe we will get paid soon… Montaña Roja in the background at El Médano