8 things you learn sailing on General Patton’s yacht

This past Sunday, I was delighted to make my debut in my other hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing about my journey from Marquette to Duluth aboard the When and If, the yacht belonging to General George S. Patton. Click here to see the PDF and get all the history on this amazing boat, the oldest and most authentic to visit Tall Ships Duluth.

1. Making friends is easier when your boat is famous. Everywhere we went, from, people wanted to ask about the boat, talk about old Blood ‘n’ Guts, find out where we’d been, and learn our stories.

2. It helps to have a professional photographer on board. I wish I could have Emma Louise Wyn-Jones with me all the time! Check out more of her amazing photos on her Facebook page.

3. Even in August, swimming in the middle of Lake Superior is colder than you could possibly imagine, even when you’re diving headfirst from the legendary Black Rocks in the Upper Peninsula capital of Marquette.

4. A boat is the only way to get around the wild, unspoiled, and gorgeous Apostle Islands (which, despite living mere hours away, I had never visited before this summer).

5. Being a crewmember (even a guest one) at a Tall Ships Festival is like being a gorilla in a zoo (and I mean that in the best possible way). Luckily, we had intern Ben Shaiman (Official Blogger of Tall Ships America) onboard to show us the way.

7. Lake Superior is not to be taken for granted. The Edmund Fitzgerald is just for starters of shipwrecks.

8. Pasties are delicious for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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6 times the ocean left me speechless

Happy World Oceans Day! As a Mermaid-American, I have been drawn to the ocean for as long as I can remember, and the more I travel, whether by sail or by land, the more I realize how much it means to me. Here are 6 times in my travels the ocean left me speechless. Let’s preserve our oceans so generations to come can experience its power and beauty.

 

 

Diving off the pier into the phosphorescent harbor of Ascension Island and feeling the blackfish nibble my feet.

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Snorkeling (and kissing!) friendly wild stingrays off the reef in the Cayman Islands.

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Climbing the mast of the Oosterschelde after 30 days at sea and seeing the entire Atlantic spread out before me like a shimmering blue carpet. I felt like time had stopped we now lived in a flooded world.

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Releasing a baby sea turtle into the ocean off Baja, California at sunset, watching it crawl down the beach and get swept up by the waves, to happily live the rest of its life at sea.

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The first time I stood in the bow of a schooner in rough weather, and felt the boat lift off the surface of the water. When I jumped, it was like leaving the earth for a while.

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Racing a pod of joyful pod of hourglass dolphins off the Falkland Islands.

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What’s your all-time favorite ocean experience?

There’s a guy in Anguilla building robot boats, and it may revolutionize sailing for women

 Vincent Cate and his three sons have dubbed themselves the Island Boys. They sound like a boy band, but they’re actually a father-son team of boat designers living on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, and they may just change how we sail. Inspired by the Dashews, the supercouple of boat designers, he’s on a mission to build a better boat.
Vincent recently came to me for advice about why more women aren’t into sailing and if maybe a better designed boat might help?
My answer? Absolutely!
Let’s face it, as much as we talk about the romance of the sea, sailboats are just horrible to live in most of the time. Toilets you can’t flush properly and a frequent lack of hot showers; lack of laundry facilities, and getting really, really, really hot. When I’m on a smaller boat, I tend to feel like I’m constantly in the way of someone or something. My dream is to live on a boat full-time, but the more cramped the quarters are, the less appealing it is.
Women like adventure as much as men, and we aren’t complainers. For me, personally, I don’t like feeling useless or like I’m in the way, and on a small, cramped boat, that happens all the time.
Seasickness is a big issue too, especially on monohulls. (No, it doesn’t effect women more than men–women are just less likely to put up with it). Catamarans are much better, but even they’re not perfect. Vincent says he has a solution: a solar-powered robotic boat, that people will be able to live on full-time for next to nothing. Yes, please!
The read model on the Island Boys website shows the basic idea. There are 4 floats in the corners that are shaped so waves you can around them, which makes for even more stable boat than a catamaran.
Here is video showing model and some future ideas: 

I had to ask him a few questions about this (not so) farfetched plan, and what it’s like to work with those four charming sons of his.

What gave you the idea to start designing solar boats?

When I was around 12 I had a little electric boat. I took out the 2 AA batteries and connected a small solar panel up with alegator clips. It went fine across the pool. I said, some day I will build a big solar boat.
So I have been thinking about it for a long time. I am 52 now.

How did the boys get involved?

The boys like doing something interesting and this is interesting. The older two are home schooled, so the programming of this was a home school assignment really.

What’s the appeal of this kind of boat? How does it improve on current designs?

I think it will sell because solar does not cost anything to operate (so much cheaper than power boat) and is simple to operate (does not require the skill level that sailing does).
The boat will be very roomy and stable. It can be roomy because we are above the water so space is sort of easier. Having the right shape floats spaced far apart makes for a very gentle motion. This makes the boat safer and less trouble with seasickness.
I think with lots of electricity we won’t worry about running the watermaker or water heater and with lots of room we can have a real shower. Real beds, real fridge, laundry, etc.
I really think it will feel closer to a regular home than to a normal sailboat. So I think women can feel like “nesting” and not “camping”.
Many people when sailing like to take a break in a hotel. With this boat I don’t think there would be much desire to switch to a hotel.
I live on a Caribbean island, Anguilla. A nice house next to the ocean costs a lot. If I can make floating houses that cost less, I think I can sell them. A boat gets a great view. Also, you don’t have to pay property tax. So if we can get the stability and costs, it should be good.
Not only will these boats be comfortable, roomy, and technologically advanced, but they’ll also be cheap to operate! Sounds like a win to me.
Cate has a crowdfunding campaign going on now, and adds in recent years there’s been a rush to snatch up the “.ai” domains assigned to Anguilla. Whether these are actually Artificial Intelligence researchers or just sci-fi nerds, it’s putting money in Cate’s pocket, which means these solar boats may become a reality sooner than later. And then I’m moving in.

Ile a Vache, Haiti: The Caribbean Paradise Where Poverty and Luxury Collide

Île-à-Vache (literally “Cow Island”) is a roughly eight-mile island off the southwest coast of Haiti. Its pirate credentials are solid, having once been a hideout for Captain Morgan (yes, that Captain Morgan), and it’s difficult to get to. It’s home to at least two luxury hotels, plenty of shipwrecks, a few small lodgings, sailboat cruisers, charities and most importantly, lots of brave people with an enterprising spirit who are just looking for a chance after a ton of bad luck.

It was here where I joined the crew of the cruising yacht Tandemeer, who, in partnership with the International Rescue Group (IRG), had already spent a month in Haiti delivering goods and supplies to the people of Île-à-Vache and the surrounding regions in partnership with a number of aid organizations in the area. I’ll detail some of the trip in future posts and articles, but I wanted to get this post out here now and describe the nature of the work we were doing and what the organization has accomplished, as well as my impressions on my first trip to a Third World country.

The four-hour bus ride from Port-au-Prince to the port city of Les Cayes (the jumping off point to Île-à-Vache) takes you over some of the most stunning rolling landscapes in the interior of Haiti. Marinated goat, rice and peas, and pickled vegetables served at a pit stop was some of the best — and cheapest — food I ate in Haiti. Seemingly on every corner along the way were New York lottery ticket stands — evidence of the country’s big dreams, if few of them are ever likely to pan out.

I wasn’t alone for this journey, thankfully. My guide to Île-à-Vache, Fedrique Tarjette, is living proof of what these organizations can do. Now 33, he was burned in an accident as a child and transported for treatment to the United States, where he was raised in various foster homes throughout his teenage years before returning to his family in Haiti, whom he had to had to get to know all over again. He’s basically raised himself, and his competence shows. He now works as a guide on Île-à-Vache and knows every trail (and goat, and place to buy Prestige beer) on the island.

He also speaks flawless English and has the talent to draw out the truth from people (even if they don’t necessarily want to share it). Within an hour of meeting him, I was sharing my deepest hopes, dreams and desires, including my fears about what to expect on the upcoming trip, diving (as I always do) in the unknown headfirst. He asked me: “If you could have anything without worrying about money, what would you want?” Coming from a Haitian, this question seemed to take on a whole new meaning.

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When the bus let us off at Les Cayes, Fedrique led me past the sea of enterprising cabbies and we hopped onto the back of a speeding moto-taxi — I’d never gripped harder onto the back of a guy who I’d only met mere moments before. But the primitive motorboats available to take you to the island are even more precarious. We got there late so we were afraid we were out of luck. Thanks to Fedrique, we were able to catch the last boat speeding across the channel. The captain passed out a tarp that we all joined together in holding up to shield ourselves from the spray, along with a handful of other hardy souls (including a new friend with Urkel glasses who passed out caramels to everybody in the boat to welcome us.)

“Is he an old friend of yours?” I asked Freddy after they’d been engaged in conversation in Creole for 15 minutes.

“Nope, we just met,” he said with a laugh.

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We arrived in absolute darkness — the island has no electricity and is lit only with occasional solar lights. This is a resort island? I wondered as we groped our way up the hill to Port Morgan. I spent the night at the Port Morgan Hotel, which will also get a separate post. The hotel’s French-born proprietor, Didier Boulard, a spry and wiry man in his 70s, moved to Île-à-Vache decades ago after falling in love with the place. He and his black Lab warmly welcomed me into Room 1, then later to the elegant palapa-roofed patio to enjoy a meal of gigantic prawns by the swimming pool. He told me it was high season at the hotel, but there weren’t too many guests. Given the challenges of transportation, it’s not hard to see why.

 

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Later that night, I met the crew of the boat I’d be sailing on for the next two weeks. Tandemeer is a 57-foot cruiser whose well-weathered captain, Sequoia Sun, has been coming to Haiti since 2010. He’s noticed a lot of changes on the island — from a completely rural backwater to the beginnings of a viable tourist industry, both of which seem to have made an uneasy peace. When he first came, the island had neither electricity nor any motorized transportation to speak of. In the rural areas, people still get around on donkey and horseback. I was later given an ATV tour of the interior of the island, but even these ATVs didn’t exist when he first came.

 

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Madame Bernard’s is the only market on the island, and was unfortunately closed when I was there, but the crew was able to buy products from local farmers, including coconut macaroons that I was lucky enough to sample — the local way, according to crew member Sanne, is to boil them with coffee grounds and lots and lots of sugar.  Tandemeer’s first mate Anne Ostlund encountered one of the most wizened old women I’ve ever seen, and gave her jellybeans when she asked for food. “What are these?” she asked in Creole. Apparently jellybeans don’t count as food in Haiti. Do they anywhere?

There is enterprise on the island, including a fish farm and a sailmaking business which was founded with the help of Sequoia Sun’s longtime colleague Bruce Leeming, another cruiser who’s a veteran of Île-à-Vache.

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The produce is abundant and rich, but the lack of a functioning economy makes the locals unable to really glean any income from it, unfortunately. During mango season, “everybody sells mangoes to everybody else,” said Sequoia.

 

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Thanks to the Haitian tourist board, I was taken by ATV for a tour of Sister Flora’s orphanage on Île-à-Vache, where Tandemeer distributed medical supplies and sporting goods. There, I was greeted by Sister Flora and three dedicated nuns. The sister was a tiny little person with a big, big heart, who gave me a kiss on the cheek and, through a translator, explained how the corruption of the failed Haitian government has unfortunately screwed over their organization again and again.

Every year politicians arrive, take photo ops and make promises they don’t keep. Sister Flora has been here since the 1970s, dedicating her life to the least, the last and the lost. The Tandemeer was able to deliver badly needed medical supplies for the disabled children who call the orphanage home. The knowledge that there are people out there who eat, sleep and breathe charity was truly humbling, and I was wiping tears from my eyes as we sped away to the next portion of our journey.

The children were all fascinated by technology and eager to have their pictures taken, especially to turn the camera around and see how they turned out! One particularly friendly little girl named Beatrice was a real camera hog. Some of the shyer kids hung back, and having been a shy kid myself, I would have loved to get to know them better, but as it turned out, the orphanage had a “no pictures” policy so I had to shut it down.

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Conditions here are stark for such a beautiful place, but the French-Canadian nuns never wavered from their work, especially with the constant attention demanded by the special-needs children. In the U.S. children with special needs are educated in public schools right alongside typical kids, but we forget that for kids in poorer countries, that option isn’t there — and most of the time, their parents can’t afford to care for them, either. So they end up in places like this. I couldn’t stay here long because of the bleakness, with children housed in a single room with two overworked caretakers. It did hearten me that most of the wheelchairs, changing tables and other equipment were in good condition, which means that donations were eventually getting there, no matter how sporadic their arrival.

During my whirlwind Polaris ATV journey, courtesy of the Haitian tourist board that is doing what it can to promote this lovely place, locals paused on the side of the road to watch us with interest. Many children waved eagerly; women stared suspiciously. I could tell they weren’t sure what to make me of me, frantically snapping pictures with my camera phone, but a smile and wave seemed to warm things up, as it does everywhere.

At last, it was time to meet the boat. The Tandemeer’s dinghy, operated by young crewman Cal Dodge, who’d been on the boat since it left New England months ago, picked me up on the beach in front of the hotel, and we sped over the shockingly clear water to the boat anchored in the harbor. There, I met Sanne van der Meusen, an adventurous, effusive and outgoing Dutch backpacker and ship’s cook who would be my cabin mate for the next few weeks. Has there ever been a Dutch seafarer I didn’t like? She’d already been in Haiti for weeks and had been awed by the connection she’d made with the locals, talking about the amazing moment she’d made with a little girl in the orphanage. She was moved and sad that she’d had to leave so soon, though she’d gotten to know the locals intimately. She’d love to come back to Haiti and engage in even more intense charity work.

 

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It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this island — whether for sailing, snorkeling, beaches or cultural tourism. But it’s going to be a challenge. The island is also building an airport to try to attract more tourists, an idea that Sequoia thinks is probably premature. “The locals don’t have clean drinking water,” he said. How does anyone expect to get water for airports, luxury hotels and golf courses?

A few years ago, the government drilled wells to help provide water to residents — which were soon made useless when another large hotel on the island (one I didn’t stay in) actually diverted the water for its own use, illustrating the precarious push-pull between survival and progress in this place.

When people donate money to charity organizations, the organizations can buy supplies they need, but the supplies still need to get there. Due to the limited infrastructure in Haiti (which was further damaged by the 2010 earthquake) that’s not always an easy proposition. We forget that not everywhere has a FedEx and USPS that can deliver anything, anywhere in a limited time. That’s where small cruisers like Tandemeer, working with IRG, can come in and help.

Sanne in particular, given that she was in the country longer than I was, told me she’d grown disillusioned with charity work after learning that funds don’t often go where they’re intended and charity doesn’t always benefit who it’s supposed to.

But this illustrates the importance of IRG’s work — when boats can deliver supplies to these organizations directly, they can bypass a lot of the red tape, corruption and monetary costs that it takes to ship supplies.

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Before our departure from Ile a Vache, the crew gave me a briefing on some of the work they had done prior to my arrival and that donations helped fund.

They brought a large cargo of supplies to the city of Deschapelles: books for the new library being built there in French and Creole, musical instruments for the band, tennis rackets, balls and strings for the tennis program. The crew played tennis with them each morning, ping pong at night and attended the grand opening dedication ceremony of the new library being built their thanks to philanthropist Jennifer Grant, who grew up in Haiti and now works with the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which was founded by her mother Gwen Grant Mellon.

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Their second stop in Haiti was the small fishing village of Soulette on Ile a Vache, where they unloaded donated sails for local boats, soccer balls and shoes for the organization run by Pastor Raymond Bideaux and his Islander Evangelic Ministries, then onto Ka Kok (Caille Coq) where they unloaded 22 boxes of medical supplies for the Citi Lumiere hospital there, plus shoes, clothes, soccer balls and jugs of water along with more sails.

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In the port city of Les Cayes, where you catch the boat to Ile a Vache, the boat unloaded many large boxes bound for Little Footprints, Big Steps (LFBS) brought from Florida and hand delivered to LFBS Director Morgan Weinberg.

LFBS, as the director explained to me, is not an orphanage but rather an organization dedicated to getting kids off the streets, putting them in school, and reuniting them with their families, if possible. The equipment they are using to give these kids extracurricular activities–the kind we take for granted in the U.S.–will really help enrich these kids in ways we can’t imagine.

On the boat, Sanne introduced me to Samedy Louisson (Haitians have the wildest, most mellifluous names ever), a local woodworker with an infectious smile, whose skills refitting the Tandemeer earned money for his family and possible future employment with other cruisers, thanks to a recommendation letter from Sequoia, safely put in one of my two-gallon plastic bags for safekeeping (glad I could help!) Since we were departing that day, he seemed sad to see us leave. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch, even though he’d known Sanne for weeks and me for only minutes. When you make a lifelong friend in 10 minutes, that says something about a place, don’t you think?

 

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My last glimpse of Louisson was as he paddled off to shore on his brand-new stand-up paddleboard — which could have been ours to enjoy on the boat if we hadn’t donated it to him. Nuts! But of course, we only wanted it to have fun — he needed it to make a living, and that’s all that matters.

My introduction to the unique island of Île-à-Vache and the people we met there in particular — their friendliness, their openness and bravery — will stay with me for a long time. This is the first trip I’ve ever done that was even remotely like this — I’m an anxious and cautious person, but here, I threw caution to the wind and went for it. The rewards I reaped will stay with me always.

As you all know I partially crowdfunded the volunteer fee for this trip, and these photos and tales illustrate that your help is not in vain. Merci, merci beaucoup à tout!

Also thanks to Sequoia Sun for providing some of the photos for this post.

It’s been almost two years, and I miss it every single day (VIDEO)

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Dutch TV has now aired four different video installments of the Oosterschelde’s round-the-world voyage of 2014, which I’ve been watching with awe and a little trepidation. I’ve seen most of the videos, so I figured it wouldn’t be that earth-shattering. But I was a delighted to see that a lot of this astonishing footage–of dolphin pods, of hauling lines in gales, of the beautiful sun-hardened faces of the crew–was new to me, too.

In particular, I recommend watching the last one. Not all of these people I met in person–my leg of the voyage unfortunately isn’t featured at all, because two months straight at sea proved too much for even the most intrepid documentarian. The focus here is on the shorter Antarctic  journeys and the Cape Horn voyage that took place before I boarded, as well as the trip from the Azores (where I got off) to Rotterdam. However you will see many of the crew members who were onboard my leg.

It’s also a chance for you to see some extremely familiar faces to me (without naming any names of course).

But I’m just going to say it–going back can be painful. The other day, the longing to go back was almost unbearable. Images flit through my brain: as if I were back sitting on the wooden deck box, the rain pattering on my face on midnight watch. Watching the sun rise out of the gray mist, the drowned world reformed anew each day.  Unfiltered sunlight on weathered rope. The flip of the tail of an Ascension blackfish. The drunken ecstasy of dancing in the middle of the world with people who, for that moment, at least, are beautiful, inside and out , and who think you are beautiful, too. I felt…blessed. And even though some of those good feelings eventually crumbled, as they always do, our community of pirates has dispersed and moved on, our connections broken or lost, their etchings remain on me, unerasable.

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What I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere has only scratched the surface of what it was really like. So few people get a chance to experience something that is so far removed from everday existence that it’s like almost literally traveling to another universe. I look around my house now and I have to pinch myself to remind me that it was actually real. How do you ever move on after that? How do you engage yourself in the normal rhythms of 21st century life? Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured it out. I’m not the same person as I was before that trip, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

This isn’t “an oh, wasn’t that a great trip.” It’s so far beyond that it scares me–the fact that it’s almost two years later and this longing is as powerful as ever. And the knowledge that I will never get that feeling back–and I may never do anything in my life that makes me feel that way again– sometimes scares me.  I can try to recreate it (I have tried to recreate it) but it would never be the same. I don’t want it to be the same.

All I can hope is that someday I’ll be able to do something again that will mean as much to me as this trip did, that I’ll be embraced by a group of people in the same way I was embraced by them. I had hopes that it would continue, that this could somehow be the new normal. But I was naive. But if it’s possible for anyone to simply run away to sea forever and never come back, I’ve yet to meet them. There are always obligations, always yokes, always links to land.

As 2015 comes to a close, I’m feeling reflective. The readers of this blog have helped me along the journey, and I am thankful for you, too! The chance to share my adventures with you is a true gift. I hope there are lot more adventures ahead of me, no matter what they may be, and I hope you’re along to experience them, too.

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In the New Year, I have big plans for this blog. The number one question I get when I tell people about my adventures is, how? How did you sail on a tall ship? And how can I do it too?

In 2016, I hope to do a post, or series of posts, that answers that question.

And still I keep dreaming.

Josje Leyten, Gypsy Pirate: An Interview

I have a boat-crush on S/V Delos. The photogenic crew of this 53-foot Amel Super Maramu has been island hopping around the Pacific since 2009, and recently crossed the Indian Ocean from Asia to Africa, where they’re now cruising the coast. Their videos are full of endless tropical sunsets, brisk winds, idyllic beaches, and frequent laughter. I know how intoxicating life onboard a boat can be, and the nonstop fun they seem to have is enough to make you want to double-click on the “Buy us a Beer” icon on the website repeatedly, hoping if you do it enough they’ll let you come onboard and stay for a year or two…

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But to everyone’s surprise, just this year, Josje Leyten, Gypsy Pirate, lifelong sailor and Dutch Kiwi who joined up with Delos five years ago and became a regular face in the videos, made the announcement that, after the Indian Ocean journey, she was chucking it all and flying home from Madagascar to New Zealand to begin a landlubber’s life. So long, Delos! What could possibly prompt someone to give up paradise at sea?

Why art, of course. On a long passage over the Indian Ocean, Josje had a moment of clarity, as tends to happen when we lie on deck and look at the stars. Her new venture, Ramatree, embodies its name by including many branches, including photography, fashion design and jewelry. I had to see some of it: wow! She is seriously talented.

In her work, she incorporates vibrant oceanic colors, the textures of shells and driftwood, exotic cultures from her travels, and the hypnotic rhythms of waves:

And the bravery that she demonstrates by giving up her life at sea for an uncertain future truly embodies the pirate, no-quarter-given spirit I try to cultivate in my own life.

I had to find out more, so I asked Josje some questions, which she was kind enough to answer! Part 1 of her answers runs today:

Q: Does your time at sea influence your work, and if so how?

A: My whole tree of life has grown from inspiration that sailing across the oceans has given me. Wide-open spaces, time to think, to breathe, to reflect, to dream. Cultures to experience, different ways of being and living, absorbing vibes and experiencing different tribes have all been catalysts to planting this little seed that has formed my tree of life. I like my jewellery pieces unique, one off and handmade, from old treasures and hand picked collectibles.

The clothing I am designing is gypsy inspired from my nomadic wanders and sailing adventures. And I try to keep my creative writing as authentic and from the heart as possible, just the way nature intended. So yeah, I guess my time at sea has influenced me in huge ways, perhaps not necessarily so easy to explain, but in a more abstract way.

But mostly, the sea has taught me respect, authenticity and integrity. I want this inspiration to shine through my work and my being, because my time at sea has taught me that there is nothing you can pretend to be, the only thing you can do is be you and be real.

Q: What was one moment from your travels that influenced you most?

A: I guess it was sailing across the Indian Ocean this year and one specific place we visited, the Andaman Islands. It lies in the Bay of Bengal, half way between Thailand and mainland India; it is a chain of islands governed by India and it’s absolutely beautiful. The amazing fabrics, colour and styles blew me away over there. It was sort of where the whole thing started, I don’t know why but I just felt like I had to go and explore this creativity that was beginning to shine through. It was definitely the beginning of Ramatree.

Another huge influence was another creative soul, Frida, who joined Delos for the Indian Ocean crossing. She has an amazing gift of seeing people for their authentic self, of seeing the light, guiding them and allowing them to draw it out of themselves, and in turn, showing them their true potential. So she was a huge influence and inspiration for Ramatree as well.

Q: Which piece of art that you’ve made are you most proud of, and why?

A: Ohhh this is difficult, because the seed was only planted around 6 months ago, so my real life creations are limited, however my creations in my mind are big and ready to explode and radiate outwards! But I guess I’m most proud of visualizing and creating my figurative Tree of Life. I know its nothing I can show you, that you can touch, see or feel, but you can read about it, learn about it and understand it. I’m also extremely proud of my website which, with a little help, I built to share with the world. To be honest, I’m pretty proud of every creation I’ve made so far, whether its earrings, cuffs, necklaces, artwork, designs, or pieces of writing. I just love creating it all and for allowing myself to go through these transitions of life in order to do what I love, for that I am most proud

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Josje, and post any comments below!

UPDATE: Part 2 of our interview has been posted!

I need your votes!

Big news, guys! I’m a finalist in the Time Out New York “Win the Ultimate New York Life” blogging contest. I didn’t know a life was something you could win, but I stand corrected! I have a one in 15 chance of getting a rent-free six-month stay in NYC and a chance to blog for the magazine! You know what that means: Broadway shows, subway flashers, the Peking…

But YOU–yes YOU–need to vote #8 to win! Vote early, vote often, and spread the word! Tell your friends and send me to New York!

11 ways to experience the maritime tradition on a trip to the Netherlands, part 2

During June and July, I finally made my first visit to the country whose strong maritime tradition resulted in my ocean voyage of last year. The first half of my post on the Netherlands can be found here.

7. HOORN

Henry Hudson's historic Half-Moon.

Henry Hudson’s historic Half-Moon.

I was astonished when I learned that this coastal village 30 km north of Amsterdam had given its name to the place that has struck fear in the hearts of generations of sailors. to the point where they get tattoos to commemorate their rounding of the cape off South America–if they survive at all.

In 1616, Willem Corneliszoon Schouten  first rounded the southernmost tip of South America. He named it Kaap Hoorn, aka Cape Horn. During the Dutch Golden Age, this was also the center of the Dutch East India company and the center of trade–basically, it was the crossroads of the world, long before other ports usurped it. This is a wooden ship lover’s paradise–you could walk around here for hours. The sheer number, and the uniqueness of the vessels on display, is just so far beyond anything you would find in the U.S. Here, a schooner incites awe wherever she goes, but this is just par for the course every day in Hoorn, where there people who actually live in schooners permanently anchored, and dinghy into work each day.

Oh Captain and I met some friendly sailors just hanging out on the quay, offering us a ride on their water taxi, which gives you a canal’s-eyes view of the Hoorn waterfront, and some champagne. Although we didn’t have time for the taxi, one of them also happened to be one of the crew members of the replica square-rigger Half Moon (Dutch: Halve Maen). This was the ship under command of Anglo-Dutch explorer Henry Hudson when he sailed into New York Harbor in 1639. It’s now on display in Hoorn as a partnership between Albany, New York’s New Netherland Museum and the Westfries Museum, and is available for public tour. Inside, it’s tricked out to look historical, with bear and beaver furs, sacks of grain, and replica cannons (but no gunpowder, which as our friend is explained, is illegal in the Netherlands, though not in the U.S.).

To get to Hoorn, there’s a bus route that runs back and forth from Amsterdam Central Station roughly every ten minutes, so it’s an easy side trip if you’re in the capital.

8. See Amsterdam Canal Tour 

The view from the canal--another canal tour!

The view from the canal–another canal tour!

This is sort of a no-brainer, but worth it, especially if you have an engaging–and cute!–tour guide. He, of ourse, was actually the same guy who offered me champagne in the marina in Hoorn (he told me which boat he’d be on the next day, and where). It’s a hop-on, hop-off tour–pay 22 Euros for a 24-hour pass and you can get off at the Anne Frank house, wait in line for the three hours it generally takes to get through the queue, and then get on again to continue your trip. You can also get off or on at Central Station, Leidsestraat, Museum District, and City Hall. I ended up stayed on for almost three go-rounds–by the time I was finished, the guide was handing me the mic and letting me give the tour!

For me, the highlights were the view of the curch steeple where the ladies used to watch for their young men who went to sea (swoon, so romantic!) and the hundreds of canal boats that used to haul cargo on the waterways, but that have now been converted to the most popular real estate in Amsterdam.

9. Scheveningen, The Hague

The world championships of beach volleyball were going on while i was there.

The world championships of beach volleyball were going on while i was there.

This may not be the end of the world, but it feels like the end of the Netherlands. A former fishing village turned Belle Epoque bathing resort, it’s technically a district of The Hague. There’s also a popular piano bar on the beach there, Crazy Pianos, though unfortunately, we didn’t get there in time to see the pianist. But luckily, on a beautiful summer night in late June, you can watch beach volleyball players and surfers–yes, surfers! in Holland!–and feel like you’re somewhere very far away from home indeed.

Of course, my friend and I had to test the water, which was, of course, freezing–shattering my illusions that I had magically been transported back to the South Atlantic. But you can still enjoy a beer or five and a fresh seafood meal, and delight in the knowledge that you’re enjoying this country at its summery best.

The Hague (like every Dutch city) is delightfully compact, so it’s not hard to get to from wherever you’re staying–just walk toward the water, look for the Grand Hotel, and you’re bound to find it.

10. PANORAMA MESDAG, The Hague 

One angle of the Panorama Mesdag.

One angle of the Panorama Mesdag.

When Oh Captain first told me about this; I had no idea what I was about to see. When I arrived, the guide gave me a free audio tour and told me to hang around in the lobby long enough for the big group that just went up to see the panorma to disperse. Downstairs, the museum is a remarkable introduction to 19th-century The Hague school of painting, which was founded by Hendrik Mesdag. He specialized in moody, dark-toned scenes of rumpled fishermen and their wind-powered vessels, which had to be towed upon to the beach by horses (more of these paintings can be viewed in the Rijksmuseum (below), and reveal a bygone way of life. Sadly, none of these boats seem to exist anymore–except for the ones converted into houseboats in Amsterdam.

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An example of a Hague School painting.

As I made my way up the rickety wooden staircase, I noticed light filtering in from the canvas, changing the view depending on what the weather is like outside. Sanding inside, turning around in this 360-degree canvas, which Mesdag completed with the help of his wife, in 1881, you genuinely feel like you’ve trudged up a sand dune and emerged in 1881. It’s like seeing all of Scheveningen laid out before you–bathing machines on one side, fishing boats on the other, evoking a bygone time.

11. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Prins Willem, who sailed from Middelburg to the East Indies in 1651.

The Prins Willem, who sailed from Middelburg to the East Indies in 1651.

After you see the Night’s Watch, the cavernous Rijksmusem holds numerous treasures for the ship geek. I was staying only a few blocks away from the Museum District with another friend (ship friends are more valuable then you could ever imagine!). I enjoyed seeing the ship’s model of the Prins Willem, and treasures from the Dutch colonial period.

The hats of the unfortunate frozen whalers.

The hats of the unfortunate frozen whalers.

Most poignant was the rather grisly display of knit caps that were worn by a 17th-century whaling crew who froze to death in Spitsbergen, identified only by the patterns thereon–both in life and in death. Like the “weeping tower,” it reminds me constantly that unlike today, sailing wasn’t all fun and games. The jolly bold sailors of the past (and their women) paid a steep price for following the wind and earning their coin. But they did it anyway, and that’s why we love them.

11 ways to experience the maritime tradition on a trip to the Netherlands, part 1

By the time I debarked from my two-month tall ship journey, not only did I know how to belay, sew sails, and polish brass, I had a healthy curiosity about the Dutch–this strange, tall seafaring race that taught me how to do all of that stuff. It was weird that I’d spent two months learning about this culture, but had never actually visited the country.

Last month, I remedied that. Word somehow got around that I was in the country, and my trip was soon full with reunions with shipmates-turned-friends-for-life, beer and gossip flowing, and (just like on the ship) plenty of tears (long story, but what can I say? The sea, even the memory of the sea, makes me emotional). Oh Captain, My Captain was on hand to squire me around, introduce me to virtually everyone in the country ever associated with ships, and show me a few spots I never would have found on my own.

That aside, if you’re just there to take in the sights (probably a safer option), you don’t have to go far–from the canals to the museum art, the sea is never far.

1. THE NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, Amsterdam

Exterior of the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvartmuseum).

Exterior of the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvartmuseum), with the ship Amsterdam visible.

Of the two maritime museums I visited in the Netherlands, this was my favorite. Het Scheepvartmuseum, as it’s known, is located in a formal naval storehouse constructed in 1636, and you can tour the replica of the 18th-century East Indiaman Amsterdam. The audio tours are free!

It also has a first edition of Maximilian Transylvanus’ work, De Moluccis Insulis, which described Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage around the world.

My favorite was the starlit navigation room, which had old-fashioned astrolabes and compasses, and reminded me of long, cloudless nights at sea, searching for constellations like Scorpio and the Southern Cross.

2. MUSEUMHAVEN, Amsterdam

One of the Museumhaven's grand dames.

One of the Museumhaven’s grand dames.

If you’re traveling with a kid, you might be on your way to the science museum Nemo, a truly astonishing feat of engineering sticking out from the Oosterdok area. But on the way, you can check out the Museumhaven, a little piece of (free!) ship geek heaven. Long gone are the days when sailing ships transported freight along the inland waterways, and if you travel the canals, you can see what happened to a lot of them. But the ships here still have their masts attached and give you a glimpse of the way things used to be, as they wait to be restored to their former glory. You can stop and read the placards about all of them.

3. THE FERRY, Amsterdam

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The view of Amsterdam across the river IJ, with cruise ship.

Another awesome free way to get a sailor’s-eye view of Amsterdam. The ferries are free and leave frequently just north of Central Station, are often packed with pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikes. There’s not a whole lot to see in Noord, separated as it is from the rest of Amsterdam by the river IJ. But what more do you need than to sit on the bench, admire the Amsterdam skyline, and watch the ships go by? When I was there, a gigantic passenger ship was blocking part of the view–just a sign that Amsterdam is regaining its place as a cruise destination. There’s a conveniently placed bar there, too–you’re never too far from a place to drink a beer in Amsterdam.

4. MARITIME MUSEUM, Rotterdam

The view from the museum harbor.

The view from the museum harbor.

The whole city is like a living maritime museum exhibit, given that it was the world’s largest port for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, you won’t see the working port if you stay within the city center. However, you can experience the historical part of it by visiting the Maritime Museum (just don’t go when there’s a birthday party going on, yikes!), which is located just a few blocks from Central Station. The focal point is the museum harbor outside, where you can tour a grain elevator and any other ship that happens to be open at the time–which isn’t always easy to tell.

Grain elevator you can go onboard and tour.

Grain elevator you can go onboard and tour.

5. Offices of Rederij Bark Europa and Oosterschelde, Rotterdam

Of course, this won’t mean as much to someone who, like me, didn’t spend two months on one of these ships, but since I did, it was like visiting an old friend. The ships themselves weren’t there–the Oosterschelde was spending the summer cruising in Norway. But I did get to see sister ship the Helena–which met the Oosterschelde when it returned to Rotterdam from its circumnavigation. Plus, their office is on a boat, and it’s right in the museum harbor, so you don’t have to make another trip.

Knock knock! Anyone home?

Knock knock! Anyone home?

Warning: Don’t bother with buying a water taxi ticket in the museum. I waited in line for 30 minutes only to have my spot taken by a bunch of rowdy schoolkids and their teacher (getting on the boat with hem would have been fairly close to my personal definition of hell, so I didn’t even try). Instead, wait for the other water taxi (below). It won’t take long, promise!

Anchors aweigh.

Anchors aweigh.

6. Water Taxi and Hotel New York, Rotterdam

The view from the Rotterdam water taxi.

The view from the Rotterdam water taxi.

The water taxi delivers you to the very Art Deco Hotel New York. It’s a short ride and the cool breeze of the harbor feels incredible, especially if you happen to be there, like I was, during the biggest heat wave to hit Europe in a long time. No ticket required–you can pay cash to the taxi “driver,” and one leaves just about every few minutes. “You come back, there’s a boat,” as the guy put it .

Enjoying the summer heat wave in front of the hotel.

Enjoying the summer heat wave in front of the hotel.

Plus you get to see the Hotel New York, former HQ of the Holland America Line, which is only accessible this way. Supposedly there’s a great view from the top, but I couldn’t find the way up. I was on my way to Brussels so I had to keep to my schedule, but I would have loved to linger here longer and have a drink. Plenty of others were!

Hotel New York

Hotel New York

To be continued…

The effortless grace and precision…of advertising

Recently, I saw press release from Star Clippers, a company I follow with some interest, given that its owner, Mikael Krafft, has managed to commodify tall ships and turn them into a viable tourist business. They already have a fleet of three, one of which, the Royal Clipper, already holds the distinction of being the largest five-masted ship in the world. Now they’re building one that’s even bigger, complete with 300 staterooms, a watersports complex and a tropical bar for “evening entertainment” that we can assume goes beyond some drunk dude strumming “Sloop John B” on the guitar.

New Building No. 4, as it’s currently being termed.

One thing, though, really gets me about Star Clippers. One of their selling points in the advertising literature to potential passengers is that they can watch the “perfectly harmonious” crew working together in the “effortless grace and precision” that you can only witness in the “timeless art” of tall ship sailing.

[Pardon me for a second.]

BWAHAHAHAH.

The most recent tall ship I sailed on dates back from the early part of the century, when it was a working cargo ship. From the outside, it’s pretty much a hunk of junk. The much-nicer interior has been completely redone, but in an old style. Someone owns it, of course; I think a couple of Dutch businessmen. But it’s more a floating museum than anything; a traveling token of history. People do pay to sail on it, but whatever cash they fork over could never, ever equal the experience they’re getting. Most importantly, onboard, no one’s a passenger. There’s guest crew and professional crew, but we’re all crew. You steer, you haul, you climb. You sail. There’s no science or art about it. Nothing exact, anyway. There are people getting hit in the head by wooden blocks, sails ripping apart, engines malfunctioning, toilets backing up and overflowing, paint cans blowing over and dripping all over the deck. Tacking (sailing into the wind) is such a labored ordeal you have to try it three times to get it right. Believe me, for lack of a better term, you see how the sausage is made.

In fact, if you tried to describe to a professional sailor that anything about what he or she does is “graceful” or “precise,” they’d just laugh in your face. An actual sailor I knew well, when I was frustrated with everybody on board telling me what do, assured me “Most of the guys on this ship don’t know shit about sailing. And neither do we.” (Meaning the professional crew, of course). I felt better after that. Because the fact is, you can sail for decades, but you’re always learning, and there’s always more to learn. That’s the sea.

It makes me kind of sad that the passengers on Star Clippers may debark at their destination and without ever really understanding that.

Meanwhile, some guy in Florida is also building the world’s largest superyacht, one that includes space for two helicopters and your own private submarine (which you have to provide yourself). He’s says $750 million is a “good negotiating point.” (LOL.) There’s room for 50 passengers and 100 crew–huh?

Artist’s rendering, apparently.

When we were in the Azores, walking back to our ship from the pub (you can guess what that means), “the boys,” i.e. the permanent crew, and I were pointing and laughing at the “yachties” who had anchored in nearby slips. One of them stole someone’s expensive sneakers sitting on deck and hurled them over the seawall.

It was almost graceful.