Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Death to the Teetotaling Sailor!

"Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk". - Sir Francis Chichester

When I first subscribed to SAIL magazine, I thought the editors wrote against drinking-while-sailing simply because that's what editors of a mainstream magazine are supposed to say. I didn't realize they were serious.

Now I've discovered that there are many sailors who abstain from drinking while under way. Take, for example, some recent stick-up-the-butt comments made in response to one of my posts:
"the fact that there was booze on the boat bespeaks for the quality of the captain and crew. i would never venture offshore with anyone who couldn't wait until docking to have a cold one."

"a glass of wine or beer with dinner is fine, but no one should 'drink and drive'. The captain and at least one resonsible crew member should stay sober."

(both anonymous, of course)
This is laughable considering that sailboats rarely move more than 7.5 knots (8.6 MPH) so the "drinking & driving" argument is a horrible analogy. Sailing drunk rarely harms anyone outside the hangovers experienced by the sailors themselves (I can't say the same for stinkpotters).

Something about sailing just makes you want alcohol. I'll never forget the time earlier this spring when I was coincidentally sailing at the same time in different parts of Maryland as my buddy, Matlow Toldmie. Matlow was on his sunfish without drink, while we were into our second Coors Light at 10:30AM. The call came through and --- on a dry boat --- he simply wanted us to descibe how the cold can felt, looked, smelled and tasted. For five minutes we described that can of beer in laborious detail and his mood was lifted.

And some of the greatest sailors in history have been three sheets to the wind during their finest hours. The first man to sail solo non-stop around the world (1968), Robin Knox-Johnston, was no fan of teetotalers (I've talked to him about it). Here's a typical dispatch during the recent Velux round-the-world race: "Whisky in tea at 0400 on a dark and wet night is the nearest to nectar I can imagine." Knox-Johnston was even sponsored by Old Puteney scotch. And christ, the British Navy only forbade liquor rations as recently as the 1970s.

I don't trust a sailor who doesn't drink while sailing. These modern-age teetotaling sailors are the same uptight fuckwads who make their children hate sailing and never want to sail past age 16 --- dudes who'll think less of you if you accidentally wrap the jib sheet the wrong way around a winch. Really, who fucking cares.

I've been all over the world, and by far the USA is the most uptight country when it comes to safety, and this anal retentiveness has translated into one of the most laid-back sports we have.

I want no part of that.

Granted, there are times (like during a storm) when as captain, I will call a moratorium on alcohol. And drugs are not allowed on my vessels (I once had someone jump overboard during a storm after smoking marijuana).

But otherwise, let's get drunk, people. Wind and saltwater alone aren't enough to keep my blood flowing.

Your captain, as a living middle finger to sober sailors:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sailing with a Female Turns Me Into a Lubberly Blunderer

(a post by Matlow Toldmie)

I wanted to show my wife the thrill of hiking out inches above the water on my Sunfish, Pinkie, so despite a storied history of sailors' advice against it, I organized an outing with a female.

Before we even hit the water on my neighborhood lake, the problems began to mount --- stuff that never happens when I'm alone or with a male First Mate.

To start, I somehow hoisted the sail upside down and backwards. First impressions were shot. After I fixed that, the day's mounting list of embarrassments were worthy of being written about in Sailing for Dummies.

The light wind that day was fickler than the finger of fate, and kept backing the sail a full 180 degrees. This caused the boom to repeatedly rake over my wife's head, and once we were moving, it would swing around again, stopping us for more punishment. My poor wife politely kept smiling as her head popped up and down like a whack-a-mole.

Then my daggerboard nailed a god damn submerged dead tree. We were coasting along --- me explaining the beautiful art of sailing to my interested wife --- when a loud BANG accompanied a sudden halt. Even when moving two miles per hour, hitting an invisible object scares the shit out of you and knocks you hard forward. My wife yelled her first, "What the hell was that!?!?". I have sailed that spot often and have never hit that mysterious tree, and haven't seen it since. Who knows if it was really a tree!

Shortly thereafter, my daggerboard snagged a trolling fisherman's line. Luckily, I managed to change course and bring Pinkie alongside, taking the tension off his line, which was snagged on my daggerboard. He probably wasn't sure what had happened because he was one of the typical slack-jawed fisherhicks who often haunt the lake. This is not a description born from spite: his mouth really was hanging open as if silently singing a very deep note, and he was obviously feeble-minded for not moving a muscle during the situation save his foot on the electric motor. I said something like, "Sorry, didn't see your line", but he just gave me an eerie vacant stare while drifting away like something out of Deliverance.

You're going to think I'm kidding, but then my rudder broke! The fishing line manoeuver put force on the rudder bracket and popped a screw out of its water-rotted hull, killing the boat's steerage. This caused my wife to yell for the second time, "What the hell was that!?!?!" Thankfully, we were downwind of our launch site, so knowing the rest of the day was shot, I grudgingly pointed Pinkie in the right direction and let the wind push us home.

On the way back, I nearly capsized an Asian family in an inflatable kayak. Rudderless and with hardly a breeze, I was on a collision course with them. It was a bright yellow kayak with the dad holding a canoe paddle in the middle. Seated in front and behind him were no fewer than FIVE small Asian children of various sizes, none with life vests. My attempts to communicate with him that I couldn't turn were thwarted by my lack of Mandarin. Using every tool available to turn, including one hand, both feet, various appendages belonging to my wife, and the actual daggerboard --- which I had pulled out to use as a paddle --- we missed them by inches.

In avoiding that situation, I turned Pinkie towards land. But just as I did, a puff of wind gave us a kick and the landing spot nature chose for us was a massive overhanging briar patch. The day's conclusion was a wrestling match between my wife, me, the boat's rigging, and a thorny tangle of branches and flapping sails --- played out in front of the entire park's picnic area as an audience.

I'm usually not a superstitious person, but this list of mishaps accompanied the single time I took my woman sailing. As opposed to many other sports, sailing always puts you in your place, beating down rising egos. But this day was ridiculous. Honestly, I'm a decent sailor; maybe there is something to be said for old sailing superstitions ...

Friday, August 17, 2007

I bet you can't guess what this man is holding.

Clue #1: it is not a seashell (not even close).

Clue #2: It cost $200 (US dollars) in one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Laos by Four-Wheel Drive: My New Respect for Ford Trucks

I've traveled across the lands of foreign countries in various ways, but heading out in a four-wheel drive diesel truck navigating with a crappy map and road signs in a non-Roman alphabet is the most liberating I've done.

I'm in Laos visiting my friend Ian who's a cartographer for an NGO that removes landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that was dropped by US planes back in the 60s and 70s. He's done this type of work in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and now Laos, where he lives in Vientiane with his wife, mother in-law and an extended family of non-English speakers and three-year-olds.

Ian and I got drunk with this Maori dude in a rooftop bar overlooking the Mekong and decided to head out the next day with hangovers after renting a 4X4 Ford Ranger diesel stick shift pickup truck.

I had a pocket compass that I bought off a Chinese street vendor in Saigon and Ian had a map copied from a fax machine that we scored from the local ecotourism company. (Suckers!)

I drove that whore of a truck through 450 miles of Lao highway, sloppy muddy roads and flowing creeks --- often at high speeds and in darkness, swerving to miss sleeping dogs, herds of cattle, herds of goats, packs of children, motorbikes without lights, huge freight trucks, ox carts, motorbike carts, and passed out drunk dudes (yes, on the highway).

Our destination was Kong Lor cave (no wiki link) that's navigable only by boat through 4.5 miles where at times the ceiling is 100 meters. But since it's the rainy season in southeast Asia, the cave entrance was flooded so we just explored the muddier parts with the truck.

We'd drive down the main road, see a muddy side road, put it in low gear 4WD, and go balls out. Backpackers glorify ripping off the locals by haggling down to the last dime, and think that taking 44-hour bus rides is the pinnacle of getting in touch with the locals. But those type of budgets prevent you from experiencing the wilds of Asia as it was meant to be seen: with the windshield wipers on full blast, bouncing with your head almost hitting the ceiling, a wave of brown water coming at the windshield, the roar of a diesel motor, steam coming off the manifold, and being covered in mud up to your eyeballs after digging out the truck with half a dozen rice farmers.

This is what it looks like:

Behind the truck is what I just drove through. That's our Maori friend scouting out the trail for a way back:

Taking a beer break while we decide how to proceed. Despite being in a 4X4, the truck still had street tires which only plowed through mud at high speeds. Stopping would mean certainly getting stuck in the middle of freaking nowhere. We would've had to get towed out by water buffalo:

We decided to turn around at this point. Notice the water buffalo grazing up ahead on the road:

We stopped in a village for a Beerlao:

Beerlao and mud:

Since it's the rainy season, this is a regular sight --- roads that are completely washed out by rivers or creeks. We didn't try to cross this, but went through more shallow ones. Next time I will rent a truck with mud tires, a winch, and a snorkel for the air intake.

The mountains of Laos:

Everything got covered in mud:

Friday, August 03, 2007

Fashion TV Gets Me Through Those Long Asian Nights ... Thinking About "Yachts"

I never knew FTV existed 'til I got to Asia. But every television set here has the FTV option no matter how remote the village --- even 10 miles from the Cambodian border, for christ's sake.

It's a channel of G-rated porn parading in front of you 24/7. When it's not lanky women in weird-ass Karl Lagerfeld costumes sashaying down runways, you watch giggly, skinny girls swilling champagne at motor yacht parties.

Makes me feel like a real jet-setter ... alone in my hotel room ...

Got me thinking about the term "yacht", and its perversion over the last 100 years. At this point, the word "yacht" is synonymous with a multi-thousand horsepower vessel that's taller than your house owned by a multi-billionaire, packed with models and Crystal bottles. But this wasn't always the case, and as sailors, we should take the term BACK.

"Yachtsman" and "yacht" are noble terms --- respectful titles --- denoting more than just minimal ability to push a throttle or get a sailing vessel moving forward. The length and price of such vessels or salaries of people on these boats is irrelevant.

Despite eight years of sailing I still wouldn't call myself a yachtsman. It's like calling oneself an artist or a poet: to do so is to call yourself an asshole.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Eating What the Locals Eat" Sometimes Sucks Ass

Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite people, but he over-glorifies the value of eating "local food" in far-off countries.

Case in point: the cage of rats (right) at a restaurant here in the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. I saw this spectacle in several restaurants down here, and some even tout rat as their specialty.

Often, the restaurants off the tourist trail are packed full of foods that would offend most western palates and even political sensibilities. After not seeing white people for several days, I've gotten used to restaurants being mini zoos, where all the creeping, crawling, and slithering beasts are on display for the eating public to choose from.

I'm now starting to believe that "Americanized" Asian foods served in the west are far better than what hits plates over here in countries like Vietnam. Below are a few examples, and remember, all these pictures were taken AT RESTAURANTS.

Here's some "Snake Wine", which claims to cure all kinds of shit like Rheumatism. I believe this bottle is marketed to tourists, but it has some basis in local food/drink. It's a bottle of wine, including ginsing and a cobra holding a scorpion in its mouth.

Here's me and a big ass snake pulled from a trash can of about 50 big ass snakes:

Sea Turtle, in a tank, waiting to end up on your plate:

Our waiter:

They only had one crocodile on hand:

I think these are baby sharks:

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