The following article was penned by Adam Ziv, a young Israeli musician who hitched a ride with us for the passage from La Gomera to the Cape Verdes.
We always said that we would never take hitch-hikers – but Adam was… Well, he was different. Without exerting any effort at all this young man charmed his way into our lives, so that we actually WANTED to take him sailing!
I can’t pretend that it isn’t also quite nice to have our privacy back – because, as I’ve said before, it’s hard sharing a very small, very untidy space with anyone who isn’t your best beloved next of kin – but during the weeks that he spent with us Adam added greatly to our lives. Having been brought up on a kibbutz he was accustomed to operating as part of a community, and I’m sure that it was his one-for-all-and-all-for-one attitude which enabled him to fit in with this very close-knit family. He coped unbelievably well with the problems entailed in slotting into our life; he pulled his weight, always doing his chores without being asked and often doing other people’s chores too; he didn’t burn the frying pan; he didn’t block the loo; and whether he was cleaning his teeth, washing the dishes, or doing a spot of laundry he used less water than even the economy-obsessed skipper…! Coming from a land which is largely semi-arid he understood all about that sort of thing.
This is Adam’s account of our journey south from the Canaries:
It was on the island of La Gomera in the Canaries, in a very nice village called Valle Gran Rey, that I first met the Schinas family. I had gone there to help Anthony Smith, an 84 year old cousin of a good friend of my grandfather, to build a raft intending to cross the Atlantic ocean. I had heard about this inspiring project while I was busking around Europe and decided to go and have a look. After all, you don’t see an 84 year old man crossing the ocean every day.
So there I was, working on this raft, when suddenly a woman with a camera around her neck and a girl holding a dog and running all over the place came. Everybody knew them and was very happy to see them, I was quite curious.
The girl tied the dog to the raft and gave the crew members a wonderful parrot which she made and named Ester, and then she went on deck and started to climb the rigging. (Until my last day around I thought it was very scary to do so.) The woman was taking a lot of pictures and seemed like an old friend of the raft team.
Immediately after they went I asked the other people who they were. I could feel that they are not normal people at all.
The second time I saw them was at the New Year’s Eve party. By then I’d already discovered that they were part of a family who live on a boat, travelling around the world, and that they are doing home schooling.
The raft team organised a nice barbecue near the raft and of course they were invited.
I asked one of the team members to introduce us and then I learned that the woman’s name was Jill, the girl was Roxanne, the father was Nick and their son was Caesar. I had many questions but I decided to wait until we knew each other better, I had a feeling it was going to happen one way or another.
After a while I took my guitar and started to play near the fire. From all the singing voices I could hear one which was actually in tune. That was Jill. When I stopped she told me “Hey, maybe you want to come over and give Roxanne a guitar lesson”, and I said that I would come at 17:00.
I woke up in the morning with a slight hangover and went for a hike in the mountains. By the time I got to the quay and tried to call them it was already 18:30 and I thought I’ve missed my chance to know these special people, but Roxanne saw me from the boat and rushed over with the dinghy.
I climbed down the ladder and asked her if she wanted me to help her row. After all, she is a 13 year old girl. I didn’t know back then that she can row much better then I could ever row in my life, but she knew and she said that it’s ok, and off we went to the boat.
On the boat we had our first guitar lesson, Roxanne, Jill and I, and after a while when we finished Nick offered me a beer and we went inside. We sat at the table and had a nice chat (I had a chance to start to ask all my questions), when suddenly I started to feel very sick. I was dehydrated from the hike, still had my hangover and the boat was rolling, Caesar took me ashore and I thought I would never go on a boat again!
I went to sleep and when I woke up I wanted to go to the boat again and see what it was like.
That day, when they came to visit us at the raft, one of the team members asked me “Why don’t you sail with them to Brasil?”, and I said “Ya…Why not?”.
A few days later they went to Las Palmas to go to England, and we agreed that when they came back we would continue with the guitar lessons, so I gave Roxanne some homework. The days went by, working on the raft, and one day a team member of the raft told me that he had got a mail from Jill asking if I was still interested in sailing with them. Sure I was.
I wrote to Jill saying I would love to come sailing with them, teaching guitar and helping with things I can. She wrote back to me saying that they would teach me about sailing, stars, navigation, weather, sea life and fishing. We had a deal.
When they came back the raft was ready to go, and I had the chance to have a one day sailing trip on the boat to accompany the raft on its big day. And what a day it was. On the way from La Gomera everything was just great; the boat sailed beautifully, we saw dolphins, a turtle, rainbows, played the guitar and flute, waved to the raft crew, took a lot of pictures and had nice cups of tea. Everybody enjoyed themselves and I felt so lucky. But after a few hours we had to go back to the island, and now the wind was just the opposite of what we wanted. That was the first time I heard the terms “Beating” and “Tacking”, and the first time I saw what being sea-sick is really like.
The wind was so strong (Nick said it was gusting about 50 knots), but they kept saying that luckily the sea was very “small”, so I was asking myself “what does a “big” sea look like?”, thinking that we would probably meet one when we sailed for more then one day. Back then I didn’t quite understand how important the wind direction was to the stability of the boat. So the boat was rolling, Nick and Caesar were busy tacking and steering, and Jill was taking care of two of our friends, who came with us as well and were puking every 5 or 10 minutes.
After two hours of beating the roller-furler for the jib broke and we had to take it out of the sea and motor back to the shore. Is that what it’s like to live on a boat? Am I going to stay alive? I went to sleep with these questions in my head.
I woke up to my birthday. In the evening they all came ashore with a cake which Roxanne had baked for me and we had a party with some of the raft team members who were still staying in Gomera. The next day I took my backpack and guitar and moved on to the boat.
After working and living more then a month on the raft (since the friend of my grandfather had gone back to Israel I had been sleeping on the raft) I thought I knew a thing or two about sea life and boats. I was wrong, very wrong.
As I had said in my letter, I wanted to become a helpful crew member and it demanded from the other crew members to explain to me almost every single thing they did, because in the boat everything is just so different from life on shore.
To begin with, yotty people think that it’s a good idea to have their own language. Although the boat is just 50 feet long it has many names for its parts; you can stand in the “cockpit” and walk one step and now you are at the “port side” or at the “starboard side”, then you can walk 3 steps and then you are standing at the “bow” or at the “stern”. If you’ll just look around you could see the “genoa” or the “mizzen”, or the “sailing dinghy” which is “lashed” to the “deck”, which has clear “hatches” to let the air and sunshine into the “cabin”, which also has many parts. For example if you want to cook a meal you’ll be probably working in the “galley” which is just one step from the “heads”, which is one step from the “aft cabin”, and there is also the “main cabin” and the “forepeak”, and let’s not forget “Caesar’s cabin” and surprisingly the “engine room“. Very confusing, and I have only just started!
Apart from the new language I had to learn new habits as well. You can’t leave things just somewhere after you finish with them, you have to put everything back in place behind something which holds it in there, because the boat might roll every minute. (The anchorage in La Gomera was very good for learning and getting used to the boat because it is quite rolly.) If you want to wash up you have to think about every drop of fresh water you use, you don’t leave any lights or computer on if you aren’t using them, and if you want to have a nice shower you just jump into the sea and then rinse yourself with fresh water in the cockpit.
Much more interesting were the mental habits which I had to learn, like the huge attention you give to nature and the environment, and exactly the opposite attention recent news gets. Nick listens to the weather report every morning very carefully, like most people listen to news when something important is happening, but no one is listening to any kind of other news.
Or like the time, that has a very different rhythm. In the beginning I had to remind myself every morning to switch to “boat mode”, change down one gear, relax, and understand that what didn’t happen today might happen tomorrow or the day after. The life on the boat is not as artificial as life ashore. You sail when you are ready, when the wind is right, when it is time to sail.
I had to get used to the different kind of privacy you get, and to the fact that I was living with a family. Besides that, I wanted to know about sailing and how to tie proper knots and about all those wonderful things Jill wrote they will teach me. I was hungry to learn more and more, and I couldn’t find better teachers.
Although I thought we’d leave La Gomera after 3-4 days, we spent almost 3 weeks getting the boat ready, fixing the “roller-furler” that broke the other day, stocking up, going to live performances in Valle Gran Rey music festival, and above all, from my point of view, getting me ready.
I went fishing with Roxanne, Caesar and Nick showed me over and over again how to tie knots and how to row the dinghy, and Jill patiently answered all of my questions. I learned to wash up (dishes and myself), I didn’t feel sea-sick anymore, I started to understand what they were saying when they spoke the Yotty language, and even one day, when it was raining and the sea got too dangerous to stay in the anchorage, and it was decided to go alongside the wall, they let me tie some real knots and help in the operation. I felt like a crew member. Not a very important or useful one but anyway, a crew member, and that was great!
Alongside the wall we had a good chance to fill the water tanks and get the “roller-furler” back up and now we were really ready to leave, and so we did.
We left La Gomera intending to go for a short visit to El Hierro before the trip to Cape Verde. The idea was to start sailing at sunset and get to the port at daylight. We were busy all morning with last important preparations like buying some more wine, beer and condensed milk (I can’t do anything without some sugar in my blood), and by sunset the sails were up, ready to go.
Every time when I think about the feeling you get when you start sailing I’m excited again. It’s like that – you just pull up the anchor, hoist your sails, set them right, and off you go, not depending on any timetables but the nature and your own.
The wind was blowing nicely, north-east force 4-5, we were all up on deck looking at the colourful cliffs with the sunset light on them, and Jill went down to the galley and came back with 5 cups of hot chocolate. A warm feeling of freedom and happiness filled me. I waved goodbye to all my La Gomera adventures and turned my back to it, looking at the unknown island of El Hierro on the horizon.
After Nick and Caesar set the “self steering” we all sat in the cockpit and discussed the “watch” times. We had approximately 12 hours of sailing, so it was a good opportunity to let me do a night watch together with Caesar so he could teach me what to do on it without staying up 6 hours at night. Our watch was between 21:00 and midnight. Caesar showed me how to look for ships and how to see if the steering is OK, and also how to check our position on the chart.
It was a very quiet and dark night and the boat was going almost 6 knots. We sat in the cockpit and I showed Caesar how to play “Let it Be” on the guitar; by this time he had already joined Roxanne’s guitar lessons and did very well.
At midnight we woke Jill up and they decided to take the mainsail down [ed: because we didn’t want to arrive before daybreak], so we did and then we went to sleep. When Roxanne woke me up in the morning we were one mile away from El Hierro and by the time I finished my breakfast everybody was awake and outside. We tied the fenders on and made the boat ready and then motored the last 50 metres into the harbour of La Restinga.
El Hierro is a small volcanic and sunny island. It has a very interesting topography and we did some beautiful walks around it for 3 days, and then we were ready to leave again for our trip to the Cape Verdes.
I had already been on board for three weeks, felt very comfortable with the boat and more importantly with all of the family members, and a journey of 700 miles in the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t a scary thing anymore.
We had lunch, made some last preparations and motored out of the harbour back onto the ocean. The family functioned again like a perfect yacht crew, teaching me things and letting me do the things I knew how to do, and after a few minutes we were sailing with the island of El Hierro at our back.
This time Roxanne, Caesar and I drew a coloured time table with all the watches, the cooking, and the washing up turns; every 5 days you had to make one supper, one lunch and to wash up once. The watches are 3 hours long, so every 12 hours it is your turn to be on watch again. My watch was placed between Nick and Caesar so they could help me to keep a proper one. Anyway for my first two night watches Nick stayed with me all 3 hours, which was from my point of view very nice quality time for chatting and telling stories which you don’t find time and mood to tell except on a long night, just like a pyjama party, a night near the fire on a long hike, a quiet bar, a long ride on the road, or any of these other situations.
For the first two and a half days we had almost no wind and we were averaging approximately 2 knots. By midday of the second day I just couldn’t see El Hierro any more. On the same day Caesar caught in his early morning watch a small fish (Roxanne told me it might be a pomfret) which he cooked for lunch, and Jill saw on her day watch a few dorados around the boat. We tried to catch them and in the end Nick caught one with the spear gun, Roxanne cleaned it and made a delicious supper out of it. By this time the wind was blowing force 4 and the boat was sailing at approximately 5 knots. Everything was happening just right.
Since we started the guitar lessons Roxanne and Caesar had made a huge progress and they were playing long hours, most of the time together on deck, and it was great to feel that I was also giving them something. I started to teach them music theory and as an exchange Nick gave me a sailing theory lesson; at last I really understood the logic behind the boat and the sailing methods.
On the fourth day we had a force 7 wind. The boat was rolling, things were falling and moving, it was wet outside because every few minutes a wave washed the deck and the cockpit, and I felt a little bit sea-sick, but I felt another thing as well: that I fully trusted the captain and the crew of this boat to do everything that needed to be done to keep us completely safe and as comfortable as possible, no matter how bad the weather will be.
Anyway this weather wasn’t really bad or dangerous, we moved fast and nicely through the waves (9 knots at some points), and I spent all day long outside watching the horizon and telling myself that soon I’d feel better.
At night we all stood outside and Jill showed us many shapes in the stars. From this moment on I started to try and recognise them myself every night watch. They have some helpful books on board for this purpose, and I could try and find as much as I wanted, and secretly I made my own shapes as well, and that was even more fun.
The days passed, playing the guitar, drinking wine at sunset, fishing, cooking “jolly good” food as English people say, writing, reading, looking for sea life and doing boat work, and on the seventh day, Roxanne who did the navigation told me that we were going to arrive at the island of Sal tomorrow at about 17:00.
When I had just started to live on the boat I thought that a 700 mile journey would be a big challenge for me, but when I stood on deck watching the land gradually becoming bigger and bigger I didn’t feel any redemption kind of feeling, I just felt that it’s as good as keeping sailing for more time. I’ve learned some of the Mollymawk spirit. Strong wind and fast sailing is just as good as no wind and motion at all. You play with what you get and just try to enjoy yourself.
Roxanne was right, we anchored in the harbour of Palmeira before sunset, just a few metres from a boat which Nick sailed on together with his parents 25 years ago. He waved to Michel, the captain of the boat, and then, after 25 years, the old friends met again. Nice things are happening all the time.
In Palmeira we worked on the boat for almost 3 weeks, mainly painting the deck, but of course we didn’t forget to explore the small village, drink grogue in the fishermen’s bar and on board, go for few hikes along the nice empty seaside or climbing the few hills looking for interesting wildlife, playing in the street with local musicians, swimming, and kayaking.
Although I felt at home on board, or maybe because of that, I have decided not to stay for the crossing to Brazil. The wind has changed for me, and I have just bought my ticket to Europe. My next plan is to hitch-hike from Brussels to Italy and learn how to make and eat as much as ice-cream as I can; after all this is the most important thing in life…
As for the Mollymawks, they will stay nothing else but themselves, being the most honest, interesting, and generous people, and if you’re lucky like me, you might meet them someday somewhere.