In December 2020, a theatre troupe commanded my attention while they were on stage at the oldest house in Miami, Florida.
In December 2020, a theatre troupe commanded my attention while they were on stage at the oldest house in Miami, Florida. This Equal Play Production called Quickies was written and produced by my friend and crew member, Tracey Jane. Tracey captured her memories of a summer sail with a pencil on paper. From there, the real magic started. Quickies is a concept of four short plays with the same four actors. In reality, the idea is brilliant, and it works. The plays were named Save the Pets, Build a BOB, The Morning Menage, and Saving Sapphire. Sapphire, as in Aquatramps floating abode, was the centerpiece of my excitement. This performance was about the resilience of the crew during a week-long summer sail in 2020. Just like a lot of things in 2020, the trip did not go at all as planned. The words personified the ups and downs, like the crowns and troughs of waves. For this humbled Captain, it was a relief that the actors showed humor and warmth on stage. Opposite the stage sat the audience, where other crew members of that trip watched and even laughed at the inside jokes we all share. I overheard a stranger in the audience say, ” the writer has spent time on a boat!” Some things are difficult to describe about the follies of sailing unless you’ve spent time on deck.
After the show, I met up with the crew at a local outside Pub. We drank, stretched our memories, and realized that we share a bond of those days out on the water. Agua es Vida – Water is Life
The sun peeked through the portholes and started waking the crew. We wolfed down breakfast before finishing the final preps. The moment was upon us to bugout of Ft Pierce and sail back to Miami.
In early December, we untied the dock lines then pointed the bow toward warmer weather. The course from Ft Pierce to Miami kept us within sight of land for the multiple-day voyage. Omar and Derek joined me for a mini-adventure. We packed the catamaran with food and supplies for the nonstop trip. A few parts that were already broken had us on our toes even before we started. Plus, a weather front changed at the last minute for a return to port. After we were finally making-way, we reflected on the earlier decision we had made as a collective to stay put. That little extra time gave us room for a sail repair and relaxation after the beating we received from the weather the night before.
Game Time- Derek received points for reaching top speed. Omar received points for being Omar. I received points for baking the lasagna.
Miami welcomed us with a beautiful skyline and colorful sunset. With the anchor firmly set, we crashed. We slept hard and apologized to our boat neighbors for the deep sleep snoring coming from all three cabins. So generous of sleep I barely even noticed the rain shower pass in the middle of the night. The sun cracked the dawn like an egg. With smiles and a pang of hunger, we headed to town to find breakfast in the city that Sapphire calls her home port. Welcome to Miami- Bienvenido a Miami Rise and Shine.
The choice is thick or thin. Families have been at stalemate for centuries with knife and fork in hand.
The thing to know about pizza is that there is no middle ground for thick or thin. As you read this, you already know your favorite style. Unless God forbid, you are a carb counting, card-carrying, cauliflower crust loving Karen! If that’s you, go ahead and stop reading now.
For the rest of us, we want flavor. We like cheese, especially for Americans; we want every topping, including the kitchen sink on our pizza. I mean, can you really be a Fun-guy without mushrooms? For me, I’ve always favored thick crust, double mozzarella, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, and dare I say it… pineapple. Yep there it is. Perfection.
During a recent trip up North, I started daydreaming about pizza. I messaged friends who I know live or have lived in Chicago, asking for authentic deep-dish pizza location recommendations. They all messaged back with the name Lou Malnati’s. With an honorable mention, they named Giordanos as their second choice. From where I was in Michigan, I charted my course to the Windy City. It was three states and two hours away. With a full tank of gas and an address plugged into my GPS, I was on my way.
Chicago signage has a sense of nostalgia. Maybe it reminded me of the way Hollywood portrays the strong economic era before the 2nd World War. Strong, confident, and welcoming. The sign to Malnati’s is no different. It beckoned me from across the street as soon as I saw it.
I was that guy. I was the hungry guy who followed my nose through the front door. My timing was perfect. It was that sweet spot between lunch and dinner. Lucky me, they had a table at their rollup glass garage door. On a 1-10 level of food excitement, I was a 10. So excited that I ordered two pizzas. I wanted to experience all of it.
The uniqueness of Lou’s is the Butter Crust. It coats your fingers and prepares your tastebuds for the boldness of the pie. I chose “The Malnati.” The sausage had a little kick that made my nose run before I finished my first slice; thats a good thing. Along with the vine tomato sauce and extra cheese, it would be hard to beat. My second pizza choice was “The Lou,” named after the founder. In my opinion, this is an excellent complement to the first pie. The three kinds of cheese bridged the void from the plate to my mouth. Add the flavor of spinach, garlic, basil, onion, mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes!!! Yes, please. I washed everything down with an Italian beer and took in the moment. I was sitting in Chicago and happy in a food coma on deep-dish pizza.
The Food Pirates stole my journal. Time for a fresh start on our culinary journey.
Last month my travel journal fell into the hands of food pirates. Wait, you have never heard of them? Seriously, they are real. You may not realize it yet, but I bet you have been a victim of them at some point.
Think about it. Have you ever looked at your dinner plate and said, “there is no way I ate all that.” Or maybe your best friend had already ordered her third margarita when you didn’t see her pound the second one. And let’s not forget about the late nights you are standing in front of an open refrigerator, staring at the old cheese beside a half-empty White Claw. Yep, it’s all because of those sneaky Food Pirate bastards stealing things off our plates and tables, robbing us of the things we love most. Maybe a better term would be “Pie Rats”.
You may have seen glimpses of my travel journal on older Facebook posts. During my travels, I’d jot down notes of things I was seeing, hearing, smelling. Lots of times, I would even try to draw out the moments. They are great memories. I guess it was time to retire that book.
The best things in the world happen at a dinner table, and I believe every meal has a story. Here’s a toast to the next year full of recipes and new friends. Let’s start.
A look at the last 24 months of this Catamaran project, and self reflection.
This catamaran project has taken 24 months so far to date and has been chicken soup for my soul. Not the watered-down generic type, but the proper homemade style with hearty bits. Technically I had been homeless for over a year by my own design since I had sold my last sailboat in St Augustine, Florida. I was sleeping in everything from fancy hotels, my truck, friends’ spare rooms, and even under a bridge once to see what it was like. I knew my next boat would be a catamaran, and I searched until the right one came along, and it did. I was on the beach in Bora Bora when I received the email stating that my offer was accepted.
Rebuilding a damaged vessel is, in a sense, building a relationship with yourself. There are options. Do you take the cheap and easy route on this project to finish fast? Or do you realize that you must pay now or pay later? The 20-year-old me would have not known where to start and abandoned the idea quickly to chase the nearest skirt. The 30-year-old me would have taken on the project to prove that he could. And then there’s the 44-year-old me who has learned from his previous three sailboat rebuilds and slowed down to attempt to do it correctly. As they say, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
The Websters dictionary says love is: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.
Can we choose what hobbies we love? If we can, are we good at selecting the right ones for ourselves? Do we decide on things that come from natural talent and easy? Or something we are interested in but have to try really hard with the learning curve? Recently on a trip to Washington DC, I had dinner with a longtime Chef friend of mine. We chatted about why the deviled eggs on the appetizer menu only came in odd numbers. Where is the other half of the last egg?
During the meal, we noted that Captains and Chefs have a similar character. Both careers have people’s happiness and safety in our hands. Also, both professions can have a dark side that rears it’self in high-stress situations. We like to think we are the smartest person on the ship or in the kitchen. We keep the tricks we’ve learned close to our vest, and we thrive on seeing the looks of enjoyment. Over the summer, I had a Hell’s Kitchen moment in what I perceived as a stressful maneuver. The look of disappointment from the crew, and the immediate feeling in my heart will haunt me.
I travel, therefore I am. I also like to eat, learn, build, and dance when I think no one is looking. However, this blog is about the journey. The journey of rebuilding an abandoned burnt-out catamaran and where this vessel takes me and the connections made with the people along the way. On the two year mark of this project, I ask myself:
Have I been building a better boat? Or have I been building a better Gary?
The loud thump came from the space I had just occupied on the island trail. Before I knew what was happening I heard an army of Coconut crabs running across the tropical floor to feast on the coconut pulled to earth by gravity.
Tahiti, Bora Bora
My travel buddy landed in Tahiti 45 minutes before I did. We would be staying in French Polynesia for just over two weeks and visiting five different islands.
As I walked from the flight line into the Faa’a International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti, I heard music from a band playing local music. I watched dancers swaying in what I, as an American, thought of as hula dancing. The line to customs and immigration curved back and forth through the night time tropic humidity. It seemed forever, and my anticipation to see my partner was making me excited. Here I was, in French Polynesia, I could not believe I had been able to arrive in one of my dream locations. My travel partner at the time was my then French girlfriend, with her first language being French, it made for more accessible communication with the locals. We had pre-planned our destinations and bought our local island-hop flights from Air Tahiti in advance. On day two, we flew to Bora Bora.
Bora freaking Bora!!! The pearl of the Pacific. I was warned to skip this island because travelers told me it was too touristy. But on the contrary, it was terrific. The season was between “tourist seasons.”
The Mai Tai Hotel was what I expected. The property was right out of a travel magazine; two restaurants, two bars, bungalows on stilts out on the water, and rooms on the mountain with a view. The temperature was perfect, and it felt like we had the dream destination to ourselves. We ate, snorkeled, drank Mai Tai’s, and played topless on the beach. Note to self, always pack dark sunglasses to reduce the chance of blatantly getting caught looking at other naked beachgoers. One night we made the opportunity to make reservations at the Bora Bora Yacht Club for dinner. We were seated at an outside table on the dock, and our timing was perfect. The sun was slowly setting as we had a few pre-dinner drinks and admired the catamarans on anchor.
The next night we ate at the famous Bloody Mary’s. The choices of freshly caught fish are as big as the list of famous people who have enjoyed dinner there at some point. I did not leave disappointed. The time in Bora Bora set the mood for the rest of the adventure. After a few days, it was time to hop over to the next island on our list.
The flight to Maupiti seemed quick compared to the long trip from LA. Maupiti is the furthest island out in the French Society Islands. The daily flight to the island makes for a pleasant welcome. The landing strip located literally beside the ferry dock was where we were going to meet our boat.
Our quarters for the next few nights were at Le Kuriri, a small Eco-friendly property of four bungalows on the motu of Tiapa’a. Here we relaxed by taking walks on the beach and napping in hammocks. The owners and staff prepared the meals, which were served to guests in a common area, thatched-roof style. The owners joined us for dinner each night. Breakfast was even more casual and served in an elevated lookout with a view of the ocean to envy even the birds perched high in the trees. Everything about this motu was breathtaking, but one thing will always stand out.
One day after breakfast, the owner wanted to take us on a boat ride. We agreed and went to grab our gear. Once in the boat and motoring to a location between the motu and the main island, he stopped and told us of the Manta Rays that seasonally frequent this area. My girlfriend translated his conversation because his English was at the same level as my French. Sadly he said that it was the end of the season, and we probably would not see any manta’s. None the less we were eager to get in and see what was down there. Moments after we were in the water, I hear him making a commotion from the boat and pointing just ahead of us, grabbing a breath I submerged to see the most majestic creature that I’ve ever seen. If her wingspan were less then 12 feet, I’d be surprised. I’m not sure if the manta was a she, but I’m calling it “she” for simplicity. For those moments dancing with a partner who was obviously aware that I’m a lousy dancer was one of the Top 10 things, I’ve ever done. The manta gracefully allowed me those moments before disappearing into the vast Pacific Ocean to catch up with her friends. Those moments are why I travel.
In Part 2, I’ll write about the other islands I visited were the vanilla grow, the pearls develope, and a shark who got a little too friendly.
The Sapphire’s maiden voyage around the coast of Florida
When you are offered the opportunity to be part of a small crew sailing around the east coast of the US, is the answer ever going to be anything but aye aye captain?
Having gone through some personal struggles earlier in the year, I decided the best place to be for some ocean therapy was on a boat. And man am I glad I took the opportunity. Sailing with Captain Gary was an absolutely incredible experience that truly exceeded my expectations. And even has me redefining my life goals.
The initial plan was to leave Florida and head for the Bahamas, but due to several factors (time, money, weather, visas, breakups, and rockets), the plan shifted to stay Stateside. But what a blast it turned out to be. Literally, a supersonic blast!
After a week spent at the marina helping to finalize the boat for her maiden voyage, a group of four of us – the captain, myself, and two people from France (who had never even been on a boat!) – set sail. Yep, on arrival at the marina, I found out that the boat I was joining, the Sapphire, was not the fully staffed luxury charter boat I anticipated but instead was gearing up for her maiden voyage and the four of us were to be the crew. The captain purchased her wholly burnt out from what I can only imagine was an insurance claim related to fire. He completely stripped out the entire boat and rebuilt it. Seeing photos of what the boat looked like when it was first purchased and how far it has come, I felt so incredibly fortunate to have been part of this journey. Part of the captains’ dream. We set sail 18 months to the day after the purchase – 12th June 2019. With a quick toast to Poseidon, we ventured into the big blue.
We sailed from Tampa to Key West and on our first full overnight journey hit a massive electrical storm. The captain’s confidence and skills as we approached the storm put our minds at ease. He was so chilled. We watched as he started lathering up his hair with shampoo in anticipation of the rain. What a legend. He later revealed that was a tactic to keep us calm because he wasn’t sure how the boat would handle the storm. It worked on me, not so sure about the French, though! I took the helm for my two-hour watch when another storm hit. It was midnight. A white wall of rain was all I could see and as I approached, it pounded down on me since the helm was completely out in the open.
The waves and the wind were wild. My speed got up to 14 knots (the boat is ideally designed for 7 to 10 knots), a massive fork of lightning cracked the ocean only 50ft in front of our catamaran and lit up the night sky like the Fourth of July. It. Was. Insane!!! And the craziest thing – I had a goofy smile on my face the whole time. I couldn’t believe this was my life. It was like being in a movie. One that instantly draws you in, and you can’t wait to see what happens next. Snippets of the plot line from The Perfect Storm rushing through my head. How did that one end again?! Luckily, we made it through the Gulf of Mexico without sustaining too much damage, aside from a pane of glass missing from one of the hatches where the wind had literally sucked it right out. After being treated to a beautiful post-storm sunrise, we spent a few days in Key West exploring, regrouping, and showering with more than just a bucket of seawater.
From there we sailed through turquoise waters, alongside playful dolphins and sea turtles to Miami where we partied both on and off the boat for a couple of days. Side note: is there anything better than a cucumber mojito and a rooftop pool after days of sailing?
Progress has actually been a lot slower than I anticipated since the wind hasn’t really been in our favour but I haven’t minded. At one point the wind gave up completely and we bobbed around in the ocean for an hour or so – the perfect opportunity to dive off the boat and swim in the middle of the ocean with a dolphin or two. The slow journey allowed for some great thinking time and being completely 360° surrounded by my favourite thing in the world (the ocean) has been exactly what I needed. The more I reflect on the idea of sailing as a mode of transport, it definitely fits with the concept of life being all about the journey, rather than the destination.
While on the boat we experienced the most perfect sunset I’ve ever seen. A crystal clear view of the sun sinking down into the ocean. The hour beforehand, the golden hour, really was magical. No land or other boats in sight. The colours of the sea and sky perfectly blending to form what I envisage as my eutopia. Forever I will now be able to close my eyes and be transported back to the way I felt in those perfect moments.
The beautiful sunset was followed by an incredibly clear night sky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars. Jupiter, the Milky Way, shooting stars and bioluminescence guided us through our night sail towards our next adventure of passing through lock systems, drawbridges and peaceful canals thriving with wildlife.
Laying out on the bow of the boat, gazing up at a sky full of stars, I was reflecting on how perfect the time on the ocean had been only for it to be topped by witnessing one of the coolest things I will ever see – the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch lighting up the night sky in Cape Canaveral. The sound of the sonic boom as the rocket broke the sound barrier. The sky ablaze. You can actually feel it in your chest. I have no words to describe it apart from saying that it was such a f**king cool experience that will stay with me forever!!!!!
Sailing on the Sapphire, gave me the opportunity to be surrounded by the ocean and wildlife, to explore my adventurous side, to witness things I’d only dreamed of and to make lasting connections with some amazing people. I already knew I had a deep love for the ocean, what I didn’t expect was how quickly the sailing lifestyle would capture my heart. I’ve found my happy place and am now making plans to become a full-time Aquatramp! Stay tuned…….
The bus sighed as the transmission geared into neutral and the brakes set. Fellow travelers waited their turn before standing, grabbing overhead bags, and waddled to the door. Each one of us left the bus and immediately started stretching as we waited for the driver to unload the luggage.
I had been sailing on a relatively small sailing yacht for the last five weeks. The guys on the boat, for the most part, had become a functioning unit. To rest in the middle of the ocean, you must hand over your safety to a stranger. Trust builds. Respect earns respect.
Welcome to Lisbon. I was alone in a new country, and desperately in need of a haircut. A Tuk Tuk took me to my hotel, The Lisbon Heritage. Once I was in my chamber, I noticed the nothingness. The silence of the void of my crew was deafening. I needed a walk. Armed with sunglasses, a map of the city, and a few Portuguese words jotted down on a folded piece of notebook paper, I headed off to the main square. The city was active. My head was on a swivel looking at the architecture. Noticeably anyone could tell that a massive party involved the entire city and not been long past. Portugal had won the FIFA World Cup less than 24 hours prior. The country was hungover.
A few hours were spent combing the main square and waterfront before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner. Lisbon is known the world over for the quality of fish served in restaurants. The decision on where to dine took time, and the reservations made. Sacramento do Chiado is a respectable restaurant that is now in what was once the palace stables in the 18th-century — hidden up a stone street and a block away from most eyes. When I say up a street, I mean up a street. The city is vertical, not far from the water.
Once I was seated inside, the room seemed to breathe. Large red curtains draped the walls. An open-air staircase was the artery delivering the dishes from the “cozinha” to the tables, upstairs. Eating solo is not uncomfortable for me. Lots of time, the experience allows me to enjoy the presentation of the meal, the flavors, and the atmosphere.
The meal ordered in three courses arrived separately after I slowly enjoyed bread and wine.
The first plate was Goat Cheese lightly breaded, and Strawberry Jam.
The Main plate was Tuna with local wine.
Followed by Pears seared in vino.
Stop right there. At this point, I must say that this meal was absolutely worth the 10 minutes walk in the wrong direction before realizing I needed to turn around to retrace my steps.
With a full belly, I returned to the hotel and collapsed on what seemed to be the most generous bed(s) ever for the night. The next day I would grab a cab to the airport for another flight to a new country.