Tales from Crossing the Atlantic....

Like I shared w/most of you in January, my friend and #1 hero Dave headed across the Atlantic by sailboat (the Alexander Von Humboldt)...from Teneriffe to Barbados.  Below is his initial recap (excerpt) of that adventure.  Mind you, Dave does everything and I mean everything -- numerous times up/around/over Everest, Matterhorn, all sorts of sudamerica peaks, jumped naked w/a pacemaker (I heard!),, etc!.   He's 70 (what?! already?!) and "forced" me on many of my own firsts: my first skydive, up my first real mountain (Whitney), and my first real bike 
race (50 miles in Mexico...on a cruiser bike no less).  

As told by Dave:

Well, we made it and the crossing was everything you could hope for . . .a wonderful experience on a beautiful old square rigger. . .I felt like I was sailing in and out of History. The Alexander Von Humboldt had neen retired and was destined for the scrapyard when an enterprising investor and his wife who had also been former crew members decided to save her. She couldn't meet the post 9/11 safety and security regulations for most of Europe and the USA but would be OK in the Bahamas. I was invited along by a friend of the new owners. . . "because you're a bit of a nutter and enjoy doing this kind of crazy shit"!

I joined the "Alex" in Tenerife after she had battered her way from Bremerhaven through the wintry North Sea and the Channel and then south past the Bay of Biscay to the Canaries.

We had a volounteer crew of some very experienced sailors. . .Cape Horners, round the worlders etc. Some had made more than 30 previous trips on the ship and were all basically "Alex Addicts", spending every holiday afloat . . and then there was me. . .the Junior70 year old unpaid, apprentice deckhand . . feeling the apprehension and excitement just like I did when I first saw the Matterhorn all those years ago.

I was the only Brit. . .everybody else was German so for me there was a bit of a language glitch since my basic knowledge of their native tongue was just a few words. . "Achtung". . "Schnell". ."Heil" etc. remembered from schoolboy comic books. They were however a grand set of shipmates and made me most welcome.

The ship has an engine which is used for emergencies and docking but we were under sail as soon as we cast off and clipping along at 10 knots within the hour. There were 25 on board including Captain Harald. . . a 6ft 6in. genial giant with a loud voice. . .When things got a bit exciting and we all had to move quick . .he was yelling his commands and I half expected them to be followed by the sound of a shot! When we had the last sail set. . .the "Spanker" sail at the stern . . .the Captain called everybody to the wheel area and produced a bottle of Bristol Cream Sherry which he opened and celebrated "Bisan Shot An". . .the first drink goes to the Ocean and King Neptune asking for good winds and fair weather. . .the bottle is then passed round ( a bit like the "Puja" ceremony in Everest Base Camp).

There was no self steering gear so the wheel was manned 24 hours a day and the deck duties split between three 'watches" . I was on the 8am til noon and 8pm til midnight which was great. They put me at the front of the ship as lookout for the first hour and on the wheel from 10-11. . .I figured that I spent over 90 hours steering her on a compass course and actually became quite good at it. After going off watch at midnight we had snack and a couple of beers or a glass of wine to wind down before crashing in our bunks. . . very civilized !

The first night was spectacular. . .a glorious sunset followed by an incredibly bright full moon . .I will never forget the view looking back from my watch position at the bow of the ship at the wind filled Emerald green sails highlighted by the moon . The "Alex" was the "Becks Beer" ship and the sails are green in deference to her sponser. We were carrying a few thousand bottles of Becks on board so we were probably the only ship that relied on beer ballast ! She has 25 sails and over 160 control ropes with various names. . clew lines, bunt lines, sheets etc. which I had to learn twice. . .once in English and then in German so that I could understand what everybody was yelling about. Our watch was usually pretty active. . .shortening sail for the night and then packing on everything for the daytime. . .This involved a lot of pulling and letting out of lines, sheets and I had blisters the first couple of days and sore hands for a couple more but now my palms are equal to any Irish Navvy.

Day two we had about 30 Dolphin tagging on to us and giving a two hour performance and later that day a pair of Orca. . .Killer Whales. . .something I never expected to see this far South. . .I thought that they were really large Dolphin at first until the rolled over and revealed the distinctive white underbelly.

On day three we met up with the brand new $20 million "Alexander Von Humboldt 2 " in mid ocean. . .She was built to replace our ship after she was retired . . we launched our lifeboat to take photographs. . Gotta say that our ship. . .the "Old Alex" is the better looking . . .Alex 2 sits higher in the water and has been likened to a "duck with sails". . . which is a bit unkind.

Day 4 was interesting. . .The Captain called a special meeting. . ."Ve haf some good news. . .und ve haf some bad news". . "First ze good news. . . ze vater maker is now fixed so you can all haf a shower". . applause, cheers. . ."Und now ze bad news. . .Ve are sinking". . .Oooops ! The106 year old steel plates covered in generations of paint had sprung a leak and water was pissing into the engine room. Not much of a choice really. . .we had a couple of thousand miles of unpredictable Atlantic to cross to Barbados . . . not a good prospect for a leaky old ship so we were heading for the nearest port in the Cape Verde Islands just off Africa. The leak was fixed in St Lucia harbor with an improvised saucepan lid and a washer cut from a divers neoprene wet suit bolted from the outside and then the inside section was filled with concrete. A Lloyds Surveyor flew in to check the patch and gave us permission for one last voyage to get to a repair facility. . .my home town and future home of the Alex. . .Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.! Now for the "mighty Atlantic "!

We had lost four days so it was "full sail ahead" and we were soon gobbling up the miles. I made my first sorties in the rigging climbing the 100 ft high main mast . . a totally exhilarating experience and not at all like rock climbing. . .rocks don't sway and heel over 20-30 degrees ! A fantastic situation. . .sitting on the very top yard arm of the Skysail with my legs dangling on the front of the sail and one arm wrapped around the windsock. . .my sailing Everest ! This and the top of the foremast soon became my favorite location on the ship.

The weather was generally breezy and fair with day after day of magnificent sunrises and sunsets but we did have our share of bouncy seas. . . .up to 20 ft waves some days with water pouring over the sides which meant clipping in the harnesses and sweating in foul weather gear. We all had our own bunks with wooden flaps that could be raised and bolted to stop you falling out during the wilder weather and I never had a problem falling asleep. As we neared Barbados the winds dropped off and we were crawling along so the Captain had a couple more "Bisan Shot An" sherry drinking episodes which were fun and seemed to produce better winds. The Chef's did their bit as well by serving cabbage on a regular basis to ensure that the crew could also function as a reserve wind by farting into the sails.

We arrived outside Bridgetown Babados on the afternoon of the 25th February and anchored. The next tradition was the "Captains Dinner" to celebrate the sucessful crossing and in this case say goodbye to Capt. Harald and the other crew members who were leaving. The Watch Leaders took over the serving stations and the Chefs produced an imaginative four course meal with various wines.

We docked in the harbor the next day just behind the biggest private yacht I have ever seen. . .a Mega ship belonging to the King of Bahrain. A visit to the Mont Gay Rum Distillery gave everybody a good alcoholic Buzz followed by a swim off the beach and a dinner of flying fish which is the local delicacy. We all stocked up with Rum again for the next and final stage of our journey . . . direct to Freeport.

Captain Ulrich (Uli) took over ( a two time Cape Horner) and we sailed out of Bridgetown on March 2nd to make an uneventful 14 day trip to Freeport heading through the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, along the North coast of Cuba and then into the Gulf Stream which actually pushed us a bit faster than planned so we arrived off Grand Bahama a couple of days early. A major welcome was planned so we had to drift around offshore until the 16th March ( drinking rum) and then entered Freeport Harbor in fine style. . . Everybody was dressed up in German Kreigsmarine Uniforms which was quite amusing . . .especially when all my family and friends saw me. We were escorted into the harbor by my son's boat and two Tugs that were doing a spinning dance with water cannons spraying. The Bahamas Defence Force Rangers Marching Band and the Bahamas Kids Choir greeted us with a rendition of the German and Bahamian National Anthems and then the speeches started followed by a dockside party. I spent that night in my own bed and couldn't sleep. . .I was so used to being rocked to sleep. . . finished up lying on the floor.

I made some really good friends on this trip. . . the sailing experience will never be forgotton and I have become an "Alex Addict". . .falling in love with this grand old ship. I think that one of my proudest moments was being presented with a "Crew" Shirt by the Captain and members of my watch. . apparantly I qualified. I seem to have learned something over the past six weeks and I am working to help train the new totally inexperienced Bahamian crew. . .At least I can show them that a 70 year old ancient can climb the masts and keep up with the best of them. .

We go out to sea for the first time tomorrow with the new crew and will be meeting another (British) Square Rigger the "Tenacious" for a race back to Freeport Harbor. . . should be quite a day.

Dave will be publishing his memoirs soon, and I'll be sure to post the link here. What wild stories he will share!!

Some of our ol' joint adventures below (Mt Whitney & a red baron biplane)...

Quick Shout-out....

I'm back in the red rock playground, so no time to waste on this blog.  Just a few shout-outs from recent travels definitely worth mentioning....

 - Safe travels
 - Wild & crazy dogs
 - Puppies (of same crazy dogs, who happened to be brother & sister...wth?!)
 - Coffee....appreciated all over the world!
 - Asiacell !
 - New pink trainers
 - Good friends who apparently enjoy shoveling snow (gracias!)
 - Javelina tracks in the snow (in March? wth??)

And of course, my favorite day....the first day of Spring!  Bring it!