Take 2 on superyacht life

The month of probation onboard is over, favorably I might add. I now have a well paying and interesting job I love until at least September. We are still in pre-season with no guests aboard and just a skeleton crew. The job list shrinks and grows like a living being but slowly we are getting through it. The last few weeks have seen me sanding and re-paiting our Tigé wakeboarding boats engine. At 1.85m I am not the smallest ”deckie” out there and getting into the boats engine bay involved some rather interesting contortions of the human body. Sanding and fairing on our other tenders is on the list at the moment too. The weather has started to smile at last, despite a dark hail storm that rolled in from the North one afternoon, leaving the deck festooned with pea sized hail. The next day the decks at morning briefing were still frozen in places yet just days later the temperature soared upwards into the early twenties as the sweat rolled down and the shorts came out.

I still really miss surfing and wave riding but here I am gaining new skills and a career I love so all is far from lost. Many will tell you that the Mediterranean is wavless, a watery desert for the wave riding inclined. This is not so. Granted it is not full of glassy point breaks, in fact here in Mallorca it is just full of jellyfish, but there are waves. You just have to adapt, being a true waterman and having the skills to enjoy the ocean whatever the conditions. This week after work I spotted what looked like a rideable wave breaking across the bay from us. It looked sketchy at best but after a month and a half here it was worth a shot. As soon as we finished out working day I felt my excitement climb as I almost sprinted down the crew corridor to my cabin to grab my wetsuit (3mm shortie and a long sleeved rashvest). It’s amazing but the feeling was the same as any pre surf session, butterflys and a knot in my stomach, as I grabbed the 6’6” thruster that I found on board and my new GoPro Hero3 camera and sprinted across the dock to jump in and take my first strokes toward the waves. It was cold, very cold, numbingly cold  . Not only that, I could see dozens of jellyfish in the water around me. Such was my surf lust, my need to be in the water, that I just paddled on. The result after an hour was a half dozen stings on my lower legs which were, at least temporarily, offset by my numb feet. It tried to paddle into the small, closeout sets but it just wasn’t happening. The wave broke in ankle deep water over a jagged, boulder strewn rock bottom. Even so I spent an hour paddling up and down, trying to find a sweet spot that would alow me just one wave. I think surfers are unique like that, even when we KNOW that the are no or un-surfable waves we still try it on. Just to be in the water, to feel the power of the sea breaking over me, the stoke rose inside me and it wasn’t until I got out after running the jellyfish gauntlet again that I realised how numb my feet were.

Saturday is SUP day for us, fun paddling with friends, laughing and spalshing for a couple of hours. Check the video below:

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.

Mitch who??

My Dad lifeguarding at Blackpool beach in the late 1950's

My Dad (2nd from right) lifeguarding at Blackpool beach in the late 1950’s

Christmas day at work. El Médano, Tenerife. 2012. I am on the right.

Christmas day at work. El Médano, Tenerife. 2012. I am on the right.

At the moment I am working part-time as a lifeguard at El Médano in Tenerife. I have worked on and off as a lifeguard, mostly as supervisor, for 7 years now. When not working I have been volunteering or assisting on courses. It is a job I enjoy, one might say I am passionate about (although if it’s around the ocean that is a given for me). It remains a job that is greatly misunderstood by many. The series ”Baywatch” brought to light the work carried out by lifeguards for decades, only it did so ”a lá hollywood”. The series has been off air for a good while and only yesterday as I patrolled the beach I heard a comment from a German tourist that ended in ”Mitch Buchannan”. I smile, I carry on. You see the thing is, no one appreciates or even likes a lifeguard until you need us. When that rip current pulls you away from shore and safety, when your child is lost or when your grandmother drops from heat exhaustion. People hate us as they think we are policing and spoiling their fun. Simply we are doing our job. Trying to ensure that the beach is a safe and fun environment for EVERYONE. Most think it is either a glamorous job full of tanned bodies, beach parties and sand or others think we get paid too much and spend all day working on our tans. I can’t say that there isn’t a minority who fall into these categories. All jobs are the same, there will always be bad apples. What I am sure about is that it is a hard job, harder than most will appreciate. First of all the sun. Whoopy do!! Not really…. we hate it. You try sitting in 35ºC heat for 8-10 hours in summer. Sweat trickles down your spine in a milky rivulet as the factor 50 sunscreen washes away. Your uniform was plastered to you since you put it on and will stay that way until you get home. You have pretty much resigned to the fact that skin cancer will be a given, despite wearing you hat, sunglasses and pasting yourself in sunscreen. By the time you get home your head is baked like a potato and you just want to go to bed. But you close your eyes and the sun’s reflection from the water is seared into your retina so much so that you might as well leave the light on. Then we have the tension, yes tension. On a good day it is OK. You watch the water, patrol, chat with beach goers. On a bad day though….. you have a knot in you stomach all day, it eats away at you leaving you drained. It doesn’t even have to be a day with currents or rough seas. It os almost like a sixth sense, from our primeval lizard brain. You just get that gut feeling that something is going to happen. When it does it is almost a relief. Then there is the really bad side. One of the first rules of lifeguarding….not everyone makes it. You try to do everything right. You put up warnings, talk to risk users such as elderly people or children, your eyes never stray from the water. Even after all this some people end up in trouble. Sometimes, you do it all right, you do all you can and on rare occasions it isn’t enough. Those days are harder than you can imagine, it is something you take home with you for a long time. On of my overriding memories, one from 7 years ago, is of a little elderly gentleman trying to give us a tip after pulling his wife from the surf and performing CPR for over an hour. She died. He came on holiday for a little break with the woman he loved and now he was all alone. Yet still the next day he came to see us offering 50 euros as a thank you. I have never felt so frustrated in all my life I think..I just wanted to hug him. Even today I can still see him trudging up the beach all alone. Of course there are good calls too. We saw her swimming about 70m offshore, starting to tire. We reached her just as her head slipped forward into the wavelets and in no time at all we were performing assisted breathing with oxygen. By the time the ambulance arrived she was breathing on her own, although still unconscious. Three days later she was back, and far from the pale grey look of death she was tanned and smiling and carrying a box of chocolates. So you see, it isn’t about sunbathing and tan lines. It is an honest job, one where when called for we willingly put our lives on the line for what is a very low wage. We love it, be it Christmas day or the height of summer we are there 365. We get to be with the ocean all day, watch children play, couples chase each other, people get their adrenaline kick in the surf…… I don’t think you can put a price on that.