Category Archives: PORTS & OTHER TRAVEL

BARGE PLANTERS & KEY WEST

POSTED: Oct  21

Yes, you read correctly. Sometimes I write about meaningful things, and sometimes I write about …well…. planters.

But before I get to planters you have to understand how this relates to Key West. For those of you who have not been it’s a bit of a special place.

It is located a three and half our drive south of Miami and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. At one time there were regular ferry crossings to Cuba, and the birthplace of PanAmerican Air lines was in Key West as they flew what look like pretty rickety bits of mischief from KW to Havana.

The drive down is a really interesting one as you have the Atlantic on your left and the Gulf Of Mexico on your right and mainly just palm trees, bridges, causeways and little islands (Keys) all along the drive. The upper keys are “cottage country” for some from Miami as far down as Key Largo. As you get further down to Marathon and Islamorada the big focus is fishing.

The Florida Keys

 

As you drive from Miami to Key West over more than three hours, you also have a sense that you are shedding the real world as you go, paring down to a more basic life. That is largely true.

This little two by four mile island is only about sixteen feet above sea level so its really flat. If you have a three-speed bike you have two, too many. For Americans especially, as the southernmost point in the continental U.S. it also feels a bit like the end of the world or at least the end of of the line. The highway US 1, starts here at Mile 0 and the various keys north of Key West are marked at their mile markers from this point. Marathon for example is at mile marker 50.

Key West Aerial by Rob O’Neal

As a result, a lot of the people who live in Key West have chosen it as an alternative to living a more conventional life. This has been the case for a long time. The people of this little island thought that prohibition was an ill conceived notion so during those years (1920 -1933) they largely ignored the restrictions. Similarly the gay community found they could live in relative peace long before their rights began to be protected in the rest of the country.

So the collection of writers, musicians and various misfits from around the globe interact on this little island where everyone walks or rides a bike, and most cars sit parked most of the time.

Ibis and chickens run wild in the streets, and there are lots of iguanas but unlike the chickens they tend to avoid the crowds.

Much of the housing on the island was built in the late 1800’s with various small houses brought intact from the Bahamas (that’s where a lot of the sand was also barged in from) or built by ship carpenters.

The social conventions in most “civilized” places keep people from decorating the outside of their houses to the full extent of their imaginations, but in a place where alternative is the norm, and conformity is rare, its not uncommon for people to paint their houses pink and aqua and yellow. So a logical extension is that decoration and ornamentation runs the full range. Most houses in the world are clothed. The ones in Key West also have jewelry. So exterior ceiling fans and baskets and hanging fixtures with orchids and marine paraphernalia, and painted up old bikes, and the odd skeleton from Halloweens past are pretty common sights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how does all of this relate to barges Django? Well, for those of you who have been paying attention, the use of barge accommodations during my days with Amy and Justin and Sven was pretty important. If you have not read any of those early posts you might want to go back to the archives  to the ones from the end of 2016 and into early 2017.

Now Jim is pretty taken by barges, my boat, and almost anything that you can live on that floats. He and Janice have had six houses, a ski place, a cottage and their place in Key West and while Jim thinks they might have a barge in the future, I think that Janice is going to keep them a bit more anchored to shore than that. She already has the challenge of keeping him anchored to reality.  We will see how that one pans out, but in the meantime Jim got it in his head a while back, to do a decoration for the front of their place in Key West that would be a wooden planter shaped like a Dutch live-aboard barge.

He made it out of ten layers of  2 x 14 cm (1 x 6 in) poplar, and then did some carving and shaping and some folk art painting. So today that sits at their place in Key West on the front porch when they are home and on the back deck by the pool, or inside when they are not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So fast forward to last (2019) summer. When Jade and Jason were visiting their folks in KW in the winter  of 2019 they saw the barge that Jim had done and they thought that it would be nice to work with their dad and make one each. So the two barges they made were  a bit shorter in length and not constructed of the laminated  poplar but instead of 14 x 14 cm (6 x 6 inch) clear cedar and are fully carved other than the roof on the top. Jason is still working on the folk art painting on his so I will update this note when that’s done but Jade only has a bit more painting to do on hers.

I think they look great.

Jades Barge Planter

 

Jason’s Barge Planter

These days as we all try to self isolate, and are holed up in our homes everyone seems to be baking, painting, sewing, woodworking and generally doing all those things they have either been meaning to do (take up the cello) or get back to doing (making bread) so I thought I would share this little palette cleanser between my heavier posts.

Now where did I put that cello….

Django

GABRIELLE: META & METAPHOR

POSTED: Sept  1, 2020

The evening started simply enough.  Over these months in a little marina bubble, I had been getting to know both Martha and Malcolm over our various encounters when the very private Gabrielle and Gerhardt asked if there would be a way for us to mix things up a bit and all have dinner together on shore. While we had experienced dinner “together” a couple of times before it had been on the boat dock and we were at a distance both physically and more significantly on sharing thoughts. I had not been stressed by this – I have known a lot of people who are just very private, but when the idea of dining together was raised by Gabrielle I must have looked shocked as she asked me with her pleasant German accent “shoe di call da cardiologist?”

Gerhardt was in charge of the fire pit, Gabrielle and Ciara organized the dinner plates and cutlery and cleaned the picnic table, I prepared and cooked the dinner and Martha and Malcolm brought the wine and wisdom.

Without getting too far off track here let me tell you a bit about the meal.  I love to work away on my own recipes but sometimes I will come across a dish by someone else that I might tweak a bit but it is so damn good I just find it hard to improve upon.

Because we were going to have this nice fire in a fire-pit, and I did not have a lot of lead time I did a recipe by Jamie Oliver that is a real crowd pleaser. This lad nails it so often and this is one of his best, simple, fast meals that never fails to please. It is also one cooked in foil so it lends itself to cooking on an open fire, gas grill etc. if you are outside. I love the fact that you can do all the prep ahead and then just be with everyone else enjoying the conversation and when its ready you just unwrap it, serve it, and that’s it.

The recipe that follows is straight up Jamie, not Django and my variation is there as well. I have put in the directions for using a regular oven as my “fire pit 200 c (400 f)” may be different than yours!

————————————————-

SALMON ON GREEN BEANS IN FOIL

Salmon on Green Beans in Foil

You will need whatever number of nice-looking salmon pieces for individual servings and a lot of green beans. By a lot what I mean is that the main dish here consists of green beans and a piece of salmon so a good single handful of green beans for each person. Wash the green beans well, cut off and discard the stems, and set aside to dry. If you are doing this with a range instead of a fire pit preheat your oven to 200 c (400f) if you are going to be cooking them right away.

Pull out about two thirds of a meter (yard) of foil and fold it over to double the thickness. Place a nice handful of green beans for an individual serving – not organized like a haystack or Boris Johnsons hair, but like logs ready for the mill, side by side, and a few rows high. Place a piece of salmon across the beans (skin down) then put on a good dollop of basil pesto. If you are well equipped and in the mood you can make up your own pesto with basil, roasted pine nuts, olive oil but for most of us, a high quality store-bought pesto can do the job. The squeeze of a lemon, some salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil on top and you can fold up that foil container and repeat for the next one.

Salmon in Foil Prep

It does not take very much time at all to put these together. Put those in the fridge for cooking later if you’re not cooking them right away. This is uncooked salmon and it would be a terrible thing to die during a pandemic of something other than Covid 19.

So that is probably the best place to introduce Django’s Kitchen Rule #4.  With a dinner that would need to be carried a distance to the fire pit and where we would be sitting, and Gabrielle’s desire to open up to us a bit I did not want to miss any of the conversation running back and forth to my little galley kitchen. It was those factors that led to the choice of the salmon on green beans that could be prepared ahead, easily executed without much effort and then platted right at the firepit meant that I could do a more elaborate starter, again all ahead.

Django’s Kitchen rule #4: TIME MANAGEMENT IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE INGREDIENTS.

My situation cooking on a boat where I am trying to minimize the heat from the stove and where I am working with only one stove of course and only limited counter space has me usually scribbling down a little time-line ahead. The other key component is to convert everything that is to be cooked to a standard cooking temperature. With that done it is simply a matter of working back from when it is to all come out of the oven at the end. So for example I might set a timer for forty five minutes if that is the time for the component that cooks the longest (eg. Meat or root vegetables), and then at various points over that forty-five minutes you will put in other foods that take less time. It is not perfect and sometimes you will need to take one component out a little early as it is ready and just keep it warm but for the most part this technique works well for small one range kitchens.

In this case I had decided to add some nice little (golf ball size) roasted potatoes around the edge of the plate so I washed them up, let them dry, cut them in half and mixed them with some olive oil and fresh cut rosemary and some thyme, and seasoned them with salt and pepper, and they all went into a foil packet as well. If doing it in an oven I would have put this not in a packet but just in a flat pan or baking sheet into the oven during my preheating process as small potatoes you have not blanched will need a bit more time than the salmon.

So if you are doing this in the oven, get that pan with your potatoes in there, start to preheat to 200c (400F) and when your range gets to temperature pop in those salmon and green bean packets for fifteen minutes if the salmon pieces are thin and about twenty minutes if they are thick. At about the half way mark turn those potatoes over with a spatula or if doing them in an aluminum packet on the outdoor grill or spit, turn the packet over but leave the salmon packets upright. Another little tip – if you are cooking on a fire pit, its not a bad idea to move your pieces around a bit just so they get cooked evenly. After the fifteen or twenty minutes get them off the heat and let them sit for a couple of minutes, then pull apart those packets and plate it up.

But the really simple thing here is prep what you can earlier in the day. Clean up your kitchen and your tools and it will set you up nicely for the main event.

And I told you at the beginning of this piece about the variation I like to do. Some people are not salmon fans so for them and without adding too much complexity to my prep I will use a meaty white fish like Mahi. For people who are not fish fans, its not flakey or oily and has a density closer to lobster than most fish. I match that with not the traditional basil pesto but with a tomato pesto and still on that nice bed of green beans. I don’t have good image to put in here but will come back and put one in the next time I make this dish.

And if I have any vegetarians in the group, the salmon is replaced with a couple of big, thick slices of Portobello mushrooms, with no pesto but a little pat of butter on top. Sometimes to liven that up and make the vegetarian meal have more flavors I will also put a several grape tomatoes mixed into the green beans and give the whole thing a heavier drizzle of olive oil. There have been many a time someone presented with the salmon will clearly have a look of “damb, I should have had the vegetarian option!”

For most dinners when it is not a big entertaining thing, I usually put most of my efforts into the main course and will often not have a starter or just do a simple green salad or caprese salad. This night I was actually planning on doing a simple caprese salad with my fresh tomatoes and Basil from my little deck potted herb garden and making some nice bread sticks with it, but decided because I had the time and had purchased some local beets and the arugula in my little herb garden pots, on the deck had gone from baby to full size to monster I changed course and went to a beet salad instead.

To prepare a simple beet salad, the only real exercise is cooking those beats. You will need one large beet for each diner. Cut off any tails, give the beets a fast wash, put them in a pot with them completely covered in water and get it to boiling. Then turn it down to a little rolling boil and leave it for about half an hour or forty-five minutes. Then drain off most of the water leaving about 2cm (3/4 inch) of water in the bottom and transfer to a stove at 70 – 100 c (160-200f) for an hour or so. The test is when the beets can be pierced easily with a fork. Then drain the water off and scrape the outer layer of the beets off with a knife or spoon.

Beet Salad

It will come off really easily but best not to be wearing your chef whites when executing this!  With the beets done they can be put in the fridge for later when you are assembling the salad. Much like the salmon packets you can do this messy step ahead and just pull out the beats close to the time you are going to have dinner.

For assembly, simply cut each beat in slices about one cm or ½ inch thick. Place on an individual plate for each diner, throw on some washed arugula, some feta cheese and crushed walnuts. Drizzle on some reduced balsamic or if you don’t have any, just some olive oil and balsamic, give it some salt and pepper and you are good to go.

The idea of the breadsticks had slipped my mind so some nice toasted rye bread was the substitute. One day I will set out the breadstick recipe but for now, I need to get back to my story.

—————————————————

It turns out that Gabrielle, in addition to being Gerhardt’s life partner and business partner in their jam business is also something of a crazy artist. Now I have known a few artists and they come in the full range of types of people and there is a full spectrum of artistic mediums for them to explore. One day I will do a piece on Janice’s work which is a pretty cool, hard edge, sort of Victor Vasarely style. You can see her work in the Links We Love.

Gabrielle’s work is influenced by her background in art and industrial design, and is full of mental twists and the art is the starting point for discussion. The piece that triggered this part of the conversation that night is one that I had seen her working on for a couple of weeks.

She had taken an obsolete laptop and with her Dremel tool had cut out those pesky electronic components to create a space for a conventional paper notebook and pen. So the laptop becomes a briefcase of sorts for the low tech paper and pen. She claims it will never have a virus. It is a bit of a response to back to simple tools in a time when everything is anything but simple, and it is also something of a withdrawal from, or response to, the technologies that dominate our lives.

Minimalist MacBook

And yes, that is a wireless mouse in the picture.

Laptop with Pad, Pencil, Delete Device & Wireless Mouse

Over the course of the evening Malcolm made various trips back to his boat to get more wine and as the evening wore on, we learned more of Gerhardt and Gabrielle and why they were in this little harbour with us.

It seems that many years ago Gabrielle had cancer, beat it, and then it came back in a different form, and she beat it again. She is a very tall woman in her fifties and is hopelessly fit – she runs, she swims, she works out, she does yoga.  But the various bouts with cancer and the associated therapies and chemical cocktails have taken their toll. They sold the jam business and were on a bit of a meandering world sail when Covid hit.

Like most of us at this marina, they had been moored off the little island of Gozo, or the even smaller island of Comino where the water is clear, the seclusion is conducive to naked swimming and the beaches are nice. But Comino has very few facilities and while Gozo is a pretty complete little place on its own there are more resources on the main island of Malta. In our case only the main island had a good source of methanol for our generator that powers En Plein Air.  So like us, when hunkering down for an undisclosed period of time a better equipped location was on the big island. By the way, Comino is the location of The Blue Lagoon, the Crystal Lagoon and a variety of interesting caves. It is a great destination anytime other than during the summer crowds.

Rudder

Over the evening she also showed us another project that I had also seen her working on. It was an old rotted out wooden rudder that was left at the marina, from some small sailboat – probably about a three or four meter (12-16 ft) dingy format.  She had fabricated a new laminated rudder in mahogany and maple to match the old dimensions and fittings. It has no current purpose, other than as a decoration on the wall as a nice object, but true to her other art pieces it is a metaphor – you can’t do much on the water or in life with a broken rudder. 

This post is pretty long so I wont detail the discussion flowing from a question raised by Martha but actively engaged in by Gabrielle and Ciera, about whether waterproof glue or conventional glue had been used for the wood fabrication. The gist of it is whether she (the rudder) would hope to see the water again (requiring a waterproof glue) or whether her new life with regular glue, and hung on a wall,  she would be satisfied as an admired object, but with her sailing adventures relegated to her past. After the first ten minutes or so it was clear the glue was only the catalyst for this discussion and Malcolm, Gerhardt and I  just sat back, drank wine and listened.

Related to this, Malcolm and Martha shared a story about a recreational carpenter friend who keeps an old level that has lost its liquid (so no longer finds balance) and also keeps an old steel square that is bent. He does so because these tools, hung prominently in his workshop, remind him that we all need the right tools in life. The carpenter also has them around to keep him humble. I need to spend more time with Martha and Malcolm. Between the two of them, with their knowledge and experience, there is not a lot else to know.

At about midnight, after too many smores and just about the right amount of wine, Gabrielle told us of her more ambitious and ongoing art project.

Gabrielle has a real expectation that while she is “remission”, she only has a fixed amount of time left on the planet. For some people that idea triggers them getting out to do all those things they have always wanted to do. For others, its more a matter of trying to firm up the memory of what they have experienced over their life.

Gabrielle seems to be in both camps, so this stop in Malta, because of Covid, is part of their “big adventure sail”, while she tries to document her life with Gerhardt and their two boys.

For most people that amounts to putting together a scrapbook or USB drive with images from our past. Not Gabrielle. At one point in Berlin where they lived for a while, she had gone back to art and industrial design school, and had held in the back of her mind an idea of how to record your life but had not acted on it until recently.

Pinoccina 2

It had been an extension of seeing some art while on a university trip to Budapest. She had gone to an art show of recent graduates at an art college there and was inspired by one young artists work.

This young Hungarian student from Pec had found at a fair, an old life- size moveable marionette who looked much like herself. She made some modifications and changed its hair and made the marionette up to look like herself and then put it in all sorts of situations she would usually be in – having coffee, watching tv,  on her bike, in a hammock.

Now here is the crazy first coincidence. That art show and that artists work I had seen the final project when I was visiting Hungary in September 2009 as well. It was called Friss, (Fresh) 2009.

 

Pinnoccina

Artist Gajcsi Blanca relaxing with Pinoccina, Budapest, Sept 2009

 

So inspired by this artists’ project, Gabrielle, who had just recovered from her first bout with cancer, had hired a sculptor to make molds of all of her body pieces, had them reproduced in carbon fiber so they would be light and strong, and then created the engineered joints using a 3D printer to make this mannequin a duplicate of her. Did I mention she was German! LOL. The project was completed over several years and after her most recent medical challenges she completed the “doll” and brought it on their epic cruise.

She dresses up the mannequin and has been taking pictures of this copy of her in some cases doing things she is not prepared to risk -hanging off the Eifel tower in Paris for example. But this has a bit of weird twist as well – she has taken pictures of Elle, that’s the mannequins name, in bed with Gerhart, with some really garish makeup and outfits etc. She is kind of acting out with this character. Gerhart is a pretty good sport with all of it and is just happy to see her engaged in a project and not focused on the nasty nature of the term “remission”. It’s also a way for her to start to distance herself from her body, as in recent times her body has let her down.

So that’s the second coincidence here. When Jim and I met again after all those years in that neurologists’ office (for those who have only come to this website recently, check out the ABOUT section), it became pretty clear that we each became the others mannequin – both trying act a bit like the other without either of us committing to go to far, but just far enough to manage our mental health, to feel connected, and perhaps to live a little longer.

Malcom put it pretty well that night: “We all want to be loved and we all want to be remembered.” I told you he and Martha brought the wine and the wisdom.

It was a great night and Ciera and I  learned a lot about Martha, Malcolm,  Gerhardt and Gabrielle, Elle, and ourselves.

Django

P.S. Gabrielle is pretty private about her Elle project so while she was prepared to share it that night and let me talk about it here, as well as letting let me include pictures of her laptop and her rudder projects,  she did not want to share pictures of Elle.

Also, the images earlier about the art of Gajcsi Blanka are mine, but please, if you are reproducing them, reference the artist. Check out her current art at: gajcsiblanka.hu

KAYAK

POSTED: March 1, 2020

For many of us, even the word KAYAK creates a sense of being alone with nature. Kayaks have been part of my life from as early as I can remember. My mom, being from Quebec, had both canoes and Kayaks as part of her heritage and life growing up. I keep two on En Plein Air for the getting out on the water. It may seem a strange notion for a person who lives on the water to want to get “on the water” but there is something very personal about being in a small craft with almost no displacement, sitting on, and in, the water and the freedom to move quietly into little shallow areas without disturbing nature that is very therapeutic.

There are some things that have just become universal in acceptance and we hardly think about their origins or heritage but they just fit in our lifestyle – pizza, the sandwich, bicycle, umbrella and I would put the Kayak in this group as well. Unlike the pizza pie from Naples or the sandwich from the Earl of Sandwich in England, the kayak was not from a specific place but the northern regions of the northern hemisphere and the indigenous peoples of what we know today as Greenland, Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Alaska. They all used the vessel not really as much as a boat but almost an extension of themselves for hunting and fishing on the water. They were made not to a plan or set dimensions but to the size and shape of the user.

Perhaps that’s why even today they feel so personal and even when made of poly formed materials still create a sense of being a calm extension of ourselves.

Ok, so why are you rambling on about kayaks Django? Well, let me tell you.

Jim is a bit of a kayak nut. No, he is not out on the water every day but he and Janice keep four kayaks in their garage and live about a dozen doors from Lake Ontario so they go often. For him, like a lot of people, it is both the experience as well as the notion of the kayak that is important. In a busy competitive, efficient world it is a simple, calm, activity and one that just slows down the synapses that are usually firing away too quickly. It is also the link to nature that most of us need a regular hit of to keep from drowning in the modern world.

I have put in a couple of pictures Jim took when out kayaking with Janice one day. They live in the east end of Toronto in an area called The Beach and sometimes he goes kayaking there but more often does his kayaking down around the Toronto Islands which sit right off the downtown area. One day when kayaking with his son Jason an otter came up beside Jason’s boat. Now Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America and to be able to be out with the cranes and other birds, the big five-foot carp fish and various water mammals like lake otter, muskrats, and beavers is very special.

In Copenhagen, they have a really neat kayaking programme. You can use a kayak for free for two hours but the kayak comes with a little basket and the deal is that you get to use the kayak for free but are to pick up anything in the water that doesn’t belong there. Damb those Danes have their act together!

So what has triggered my inspiration to post this piece today is that Jade sent me an email with an image of Jim back working on a project he started many years ago but is only back to now.

When they had their cottage up in the Parry Sound area of Georgian Bay, the cottage was a Scandinavian style log building Jim had disassembled and moved a few hundred kilometers and reassembled on a nice waterfront lot on a little lake.

 

The cottage was really small, particularly on rainy days with the kids, so a few years later they built what they called the barn. And just to digress for a moment it was designed by Jim and built by him and his buddy John who is a contractor from Ottawa. John is the husband of Janice’s cousin Dawn and John is more kayak nutty then Jim. At last count John had about a dozen canoes and kayaks. Now to hear Jim tell it they built the building together and to hear John tell it, he built the place and Jim just got in the way. The same was the case for much of the reassembly of the log cottage according to John.

The barn was a one and a half story building with a little living area above where the kids had their own living room, as well as a pool table, ping pong table, and air hockey table.  On the ground floor was the workshop with about a forty foot workbench where they could do crafts and hobbies on rainy days. Janice would work on stained glass, jade would work on various sculptures and painting and Jason would either work on his own woodworking projects or do crafts or help Jim.

 

The Barn, is where Jim started the kayak project he is back to working on now. It is a scale model kayak he designed that is about 50% of an actual kayak so about two meters long. The chines and struts are all pine and the cladding is pine veneer laminated.

So after a couple decades from starting it he is back at it. The grand plan was that once finished he was going to podge on images of the various trips they took as a family.  He has always seen it as a bit of a manifestation of the “life is a journey” metaphor.  There have been lots of interruptions in the completion of the project, so perhaps not finishing it is also a metaphor. Naw, Jims not that wise.

 

So I have been rambling on as I am prone to do but stick with me a bit longer. Janice and others have expressed often to me that there are not enough pictures in these little posts I do so I harassed her and she is tracking down some of a kayaking trip they did when Jade and Jason were visiting a couple of years ago in a conservation area close to their home in Key West. Lemon sharks, and all kinds of fish in the less than meter (39 inches) of water below and lots of cranes, pelicans, cormorants, and Ibis in the trees and skies above.

She also mentioned to let people know that if they are planning a trip to the Florida Keys, and particularly to Key West and want recommendations on where to stay, what to do and the best Kayaking excursion companies just drop me a line at djangobisous@bell.net and I can send you out some notes from Jim and Janice.

Django

CAPTAIN KYLE

Posted: July 1, 2018

I was at a pretty low point when I first bumped into Jim at the hospital in the fall of 2013. I had just learned of this problem I, well we, have and was not looking forward to going back to more of my life in Europe scraping by. So I stayed with Jim and Janice for a bit and got re-energized. I had to go through a series of MRI’s cat scans, bloodwork etc. so it worked out pretty well.

During that time Jim and I got caught up and I got to know Janice. I get why he turned his life around with her.  So after a while, it became clear that Janice was pretty frustrated with my agonizing over my bad life and not doing anything about it. She pointed out the obvious to me – “you have this fabulous boat, and you just rent it out as a Bed and Breakfast? You need to hire a captain and take people out for day trips at least, if not two or three-night excursions and charge accordingly”. So yes this is self-evident but I guess I had needed this observation made by someone real to hit home. Jim and I spent some time on what he called a rudimentary business plan – something new for me. It was really just setting out how I could book things, track them, cost them, etc. We decided the best way for me to manage this would be to make the captain participate in the profits to really get him or her engaged in the process and to not have to pay for a captain when we didn’t have bookings.

When I went back to Croatia where En Plein Air was sitting I had new energy and a new focus. I would find a local captain who would be up for the exercise and cut him or her into the deal. After spending a week chatting with various people I knew it was clear that there were two that I would love to work with, but one would not be available for many months each year based on other commitments   and the other who was keen to join me in this venture could only do so in a few months. She was Irish and I will tell you more about her in a future post. We entered into a deal and I set out to find someone to fill in for the intervening few months.

Who I found was Kyle. He was an American who had flunked out of art school in Lacoste  France. The Savannah School of Art and Design has a program there and he was more interested it seems in the art of French life – food, wine, sex and not nearly as much in the techniques of visual art. So he had bummed around Southern France for a while and eventually made it across Italy and down to where I was. He was making his living doing occasional captains work on local yachts as he had been a competitive sailor when growing up in South Carolina. He had also been a competitive bodybuilder so he and I looked like the “before” and “after” shots from a gym, and also from life.

The good news was that all he wanted was a berth, and to be fed and would be the personality and the captain so we could take groups out for day trips or two to three-day local excursions. At that point, we were based in Cavtat, just south of Dubrovnik so the usual thing was to just take tourists out to either see Dubrovnik at night or to do a few day cruise south to some secluded beaches in Albania, but more often around the islands just north of Dubrovnik and back.

A big challenge for me then, and now was not being able to really advertise and promote as I needed to, and still need to, fly below the radar. The boat I don’t own, so I can’t register it, so I cant get a valid operating license for a business. I am caught in this messy world where I don’t pay tax, don’t pay licensing and registration fees but cant plan anything very far out on the calendar as I may have to move locations. Even my boat insurance is a bit peculiar as there are only a few companies that will give me liability insurance and to keep the costs down I have a big deductible, and no insurance for the boat itself.

Jim is a pretty straight arrow when it comes to taxes and regulations etc. and in a future post, I will tell you how he has me staying “ethically straight” while not paying licensing fees and income taxes.

For the most part, the arrangement with Kyle worked well in the beginning. He was a very personable young guy and when not focused on getting us to where we were going would help out a lot with getting drinks and setting out food etc.

But captain Kyle was nothing like the disciplined Captain Sven I was used to. Kyle drank all the time and would cut his lines through the small islands desperately close to the shoals. Captain Sven used to say that as he grew older he had a healthy respect for “how shoals would grow from when he had seen them last”.  Captain Kyle had no such respect.

And then there were the guests. Yikes. He was a good looking kid and didn’t like wearing a shirt and for the older women on board he was a bit of a novelty, but whenever we took out a group of young women who were on a bachelorette party before a wedding he was in his glory. One at a time to all at once. And then go again. I remember the 70’s and it was much more like serial monogamy than this. And these young women – crazy. They had their own version of the “me too” movement. We had at least three trips out with groups like that. I would come back exhausted and was not even a  participant!

But during that time we started to make some money. For the first time in a long time, I could think about what needed to be repaired or replaced on the boat or buy a new shirt. It was only a few months from learning of my condition and meeting Jim again and now things were looking up.

If Kyle didn’t crash En Plein Air into some shoals and we continued to have bookings then things would really start to work out for me.

P.S. I have put in a few pictures of Cavtat which is just a little port town to the south of Dubrovnik. It has a nice promenade to walk, up above the rocky shore. There are tourists of course but it’s not overrun with them and while the marina has a lot of tourist boats in all the time it is not where the Johnny Depp’s come to hang out. The size of the public marina and the small number of places to stay in town means that it is for the most part just a nice little seaside town.

 

THE 1990’S: DJANGO STARTS TO GET IT TOGETHER

Posted: March 24, 2015

Well, that title is a bit over the top, not totally accurate and a little pretentious to refer to me in the third person, but yes, by the back half of 1990’s things were going better for me.

They did not start out that way. A cruise line that will go un-named decided to make an example to the staff by firing me for a long series of complaints about my behavior. At that time the cruise lines were all trying to fight each other for creating “a whole environment” for the passengers and part of that was to upgrade the staff. Up until then, it had been that if you behaved yourself and you were off duty and were discrete about it you be in the pool or go to one of the bars. No more. The new ships had much nicer kitchens and cafeterias on the lower decks just for the staff and more places to hang out with other staff members but if you were not to be on a deck for a reason as an employee doing something for a passenger (increasingly being called a “guest”)  than you were not to be on a guest deck.

So, it was in this environment that a young crew member had convinced me to go for a jog with her (something I would not characteristically do, so you can appreciate how nice she must have been) on the exercise deck. That was the excuse for getting rid of me. She got off with a warning, but I wasn’t even able to finish the cruise. Just me and my backpack on the dock in Amsterdam.  It was November 1992.

I thought that I had done alright with my finances at the time but had no idea what life was like when you had to pay for a place to live and for groceries. Living on the ship and being provided food every day was just a way of life for me. While my pay had been acceptable, I would blow most of it when between cruises and when you are only off the ship for a few days you don’t really gear up for buying groceries, preferring to just eat at restaurants or take out. During the previous decade, I had saved a grand total of $3,250.00. I had no idea how bad an achievement this was but I quickly learned that a few thousand dollars will not take you far, especially in Amsterdam.  Within weeks I had moved further north to the port of Harlingen in Friesland province on the coast of the Wadden Sea. While a nice enough historic town and place to summer today, it has a long history as a seaport and still counts fishing and shipping as major employers. As a cook, I was able to find various short-term gigs as the cook on working ships till the spring when I met Marc and Lotte.

Now as a little background, working as a cook in various jobs, particularly around large private yachts is a good gig if the yacht is large enough and if the season is long enough. The boating season in southern Europe, and North Africa or the Caribbean can work year round but getting up into France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the season ends with a thud in mid-September.

The positive part is that like other northern climates the summer gets jambed into about twelve weeks and often the pay can be very good, albeit for a short time. It also gets you out of those southern locations that are so nice in the winter but sweltering in the summer. So that spring I knew that I would need to take the best paying job I could find to start to build up a bit of a cushion for making my way back to the warmer weather when the fall would hit the Netherlands. The job was posted at the posting board near the port as a CHEF/COOK, but when I spoke to them it was very clear that it was a chef and babysitter role.  But Marc and Lotte were nice, the boat was amazing and fifteen euros an hour for 10 hours a day for six days a week could really add up. The math was dampened a bit by having to live at a nearby campground and buy my food for one day or two days a week but otherwise, the money I would save would hold me over for several months down south when the season wrapped up. My life was very much feast and famine at the time. So I took the gig – Chef, and Babysitter!

To say babysitting four kids sounds pretty ominous but the reality is that two were almost 17, twins – a girl and a boy, Luna, and Lars, and the other two were 14 and 13, both girls – Isa and Tess.  They were all pretty good kids and the twins I really didn’t have to do anything for other than feed. We were docked on a large canal in the old town, so there were lots of things to do but unless the younger ones were with me or with their parents or one of the twins they were not allowed to be off the boat. Isa and Tess were good kids but a boat, any size boat, is not big enough for teenagers to spend the whole summer and I spend a lot of time trying to find ways for them to be entertained. Their parents’ boat was a 22 meter (so about 72 foot) power yacht, only about four or five years old and was very well equipped.  While a boat of that size sounds large, once you put a few full-size mammals in it there was not a lot of extra room. They were all large Dutch people. The twins were both taller than me and even Isa and Tess were over 1.75 meters (5′ 9″).

During the middle of the week, we were docked and it was the kids and Lotte and like clockwork, on Thursday night Marc would arrive for three or four day weekends.  The weekends were when I would get some time off. I would prepare some things for them on the Friday or Saturday morning and they would head off for the day and evening and occasionally overnight, and rarely for two days and by Sunday or Monday morning, I would be back on board working on a big breakfast. It was a bit tiring as one of the girls would always be wanting something or me to take her somewhere in town and on my time off, living at a campsite was not ideal. Most people who are camping are off on holiday and cutting loose a bit. It’s not that they are doing anything wrong but for them, every day is a holiday and for me, I would have to be up pretty early to be out on my bicycle to get groceries, load up my panniers and get to the boat. I was also one of the few tents in the campground and the various caravans and trailers were all big looming structures around me.

After the first couple of weeks, however, we discovered that the twins liked the task of taking the car to go to the market to shop for me. After I showed them how to spend time at the market and how to choose produce, fish and meat they were pretty good but would often come to the boat with some off-list items to challenge me or with some pretty dreadful cuts that they thought were a bargain.

The younger girls both liked doing art and seemed to have an endless supply of art equipment and supplies and would work on that and sometimes would go into town with one of their older siblings to buy more supplies, books, and music.

The other big activity I got them onto was cooking. That was a sweet deal. I ended up with two “sous chefs” who seemed pretty keen. One of the things they loved to make for their parents and older sister and brother at the beginning of the summer was homemade pizza. I would make up the dough and they would do the rest. But part way through the summer I showed them how easy it is to make risotto. What is really good about risotto is that it is all happening in slow motion – so no issues of critical timing etc. It also lends itself to doing it several ways. The first couple of times we just did a fairly plain one but by the end of the summer I would just do the clean up while they would do the meal and it would have lots of variations.

I set out to include my recipe for MAKING RISOTTO WITH KIDS here but it was getting a bit long so it will appear as my next post.