Friday, August 31, 2012

Button Box Buskers

We have rarely seen any panhandling in Turkey.

In Baltimore, as in many cities, it has become common for people to beg at intersections. The perfunctory cardboard signs, always tattered, are fun to read, just to see what particular note the beggars are playing.

Is it a religious one with “God Bless?” Or is a socio-political one with “Unemployed?” Particularly disingenuous, I find the ones that state, “Hard worker. Please help.” In Baltimore, we saw the hard workers looking for day labor. They mingled on the corner of a convenience store right next to the entrance of Home Depot.

We saw one guy who hobbled down the row of stopped cars at the red light. Then once traffic flowing again, he walked normally back to the light again.

Not in Turkey. Not that begging doesn’t happen. It’s just not the plain “gimme” request. It’s cloaked in more honorable decorums.

The most common form of asking for alms comes in the guise of selling packages of tissues. Men and women wander the streets or sit on the sidewalk, always with no more than one or two packages in hand. They will work the outdoor restaurant tables – a practice that is tolerated by waiters. I find a certain humanity to this form of begging in a country that, although doing well financially, is still poorer than most western countries and has high unemployment.

I am surprised by the number of people who buy tissues. And the cultural spread. Many young people buy tissues and hand over the one Lira coin. About 55 cents.

Another form of eking out a desperate living is busking. I don’t know why, but in Izmir there seems to be a disproportionately high number of accordion buskers.

Accordion player on the streets of Izmir.
Usually they are kids. I feel doubly for them, as is intended in the whole scheme. I feel for them because they are already assigned to the streets at that age, but more so because they must surely have to hand over the money at home.

This is the only busker who didn't get a Lira from me, because he was too far away. I shot this from a pedestrian bridge.
I am torn between wondering if they are being exploited by their parents or if this indeed the best means of income. What if the answer to my cynicism is worse than I have thought: What if they have no parents and are homeless?

This kid had such an earnest expression.
Here's a close up of his sad little accordion.
Some of the explanation of their plight lies in discerning their heritage. Most buskers are not of western Turkey. The lines around their eyes, their facial features hint at a heritage of the eastern mountains. Kurdish, Armenian, perhaps from bordering eastern block countries. They are the least likely to find work in areas where they have few family members and possibly even less employable skills.

Busking with the family. She's having fun. So is the boy with his fat smile.
This was supposed to be a light-hearted entry of a few photographs as a tribute to my friend, Doc, who is a button box sailor but, as is typical with me, I can’t keep the commentary to myself.

Doc, by the way, has a great blog. He is a wonderful writer. He is wry, witty and humble. He writes about more than just the latest anchoring fiasco. It's a true tavel journal. A delight to read.

I've added him to my list of favorite blogs, but you can just click here: Loafing Aboard.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cape Dory 25 For Sale

Sunset has been sold. I leave this posted here because of my little story as a testimony to the stabilty and performance of these wonderful boats. If you are looking for a "first keel boat" then a CD25 is a great choice.

Cape Dory 25 for sale. Sunset is a fine girl who needs a new home.

It is with a heavy heart that I must sell Sunset. I've had her for nine years, but I'm struggling to justify the costs of keeping her.

She is as fine a sloop as was ever made in her size. And sailing in her is as safe as sitting in your living room wing-back chair.

I remember once, sailing with two loved ones on a breezy, gusty day. We were sailing sweet Sunset hard and she was loving it. We weren’t just riding the rail, we were burying it. Within seconds, a gust got the best of us and Sunset healed hard, further, further, we scrambled to the windward gunwale and now sat there as we watched the starboard spreader dip into the water as the boat came to a standstill. We were broached. Still too full of fun adrenaline to panic, I watched as Sunset rested, catching her breath, for the count of perhaps five, then simply rose straight up again and turned into the wind, giving us a chance to burst into laughter and clean up tangled lines and set off again.

No other small sloop of her size has such stability, such nice lines, such smooth movement through the water.

Here is the general information:

Cape Dory 25
Year: 1976
LOA: 25 ft 0 in
Beam: 7 ft 3 in
LWL: 18 ft 0 in
Minimum Draft: 3 feet
Displacement: 4,000 lbs

Main sail
Small Jib

6 hp Tohatsu outboard. Four-stroke. Exhaust through prop, eliminating smoke in engine lazarette. Alternator in outboard to charge house battery.

Comes with trailer.

Other features:
Brand new standing rigging.
Autopilot arm for tiller
Unique, custom grounding system for lighting strikes
Solar-powered fan in hatch keeps boat dry
Powerful radar reflector (can be seen on aft stay in photo above)
Plumbed head with direct and tank discharge options 
VHF radio
Optional cockpit fitting for salon table
Permanently affixed aft boarding ladder.
Custom anchor bracket on bow pulpit with 25-pound Bruce
Mounted stern anchor

Price: $7,500

Custom anchor bracket on Cape Dory 25 bow pulpit.
Auto pilot on tiller arm of Cape Dory 25.
Solar-powered hatch fan, and vent in companionway hatch keep boat dry in your absence.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Measuring Charges

Some problems were resolved yesterday. I was able to reset the battery meter and get that working again. I was also able to establish that the batteries are indeed holding a charge. They measured 12.5 volts.

Still unresolved is why the warning tones don't sound when I turn the key or shut off the engine. The sender is the likely suspect.  The yard back in Baltimore installed four (five?) of them until they got one that worked. So maybe it worked just for a bit and then failed? This connects back to my rant on quality production.

With the battery issues resolved, the voyage now officially begins again.

In other matters, a friend asked me to consider taking down the post about how we got our boat off the ship. For reasons that are more involved than I want to address here, I have granted that request -- but not before we got a passionate response to that post and in response to our post about being on a hero's journey. You can read that response in the comment section of "How Do Heros Handle Extortion" posted on August 18. The writer urged to consider the poem of Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy.

It is a beautiful poem indeed. (There are at least half a dozen translations. I read them all and each has slightly different nuances. Without too much comparison, I've chosen the following.)


When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.

Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be when
with what pleasure, what joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time.
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragances you can find.
To many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Charges - Of All Kinds

One of the tension-filled moments during the last few days was this one:

Phoenix was in the slings, being off-loaded from the freighter. Now the freighter had eased her into the water. It was time to start the engine before the crane relaxed the slings and set Phoenix free.

I turned the starter battery switch on and turned the ignition key. My heart immediately began to race. Normally I hate that high-pitched beeeeeeeeeeeep every time the key is on but the motor is not running, but this time I sorely missed its torture. It meant the starter battery was dead.

I hit the starter button. Nothing.

This was bad. Imagine the cost of being hauled back on deck, or worse: slamming up against the freighter until a tow-boat arrived.

With an extra boost of adrenaline, I turned on the house-bank of batteries and the switch which combines both house and start batteries. Still no beeping.

I hit the starter button. A heart-stopping delay, then a sputter and the engine coughed its way to life.

Never was a “whew” wiped off my brow with more relief.

We motored over to the customs dock, where Phoenix was metaphorically handcuffed to the dock until we completed paperwork the next day.

But before I left the boat, I wanted to check the batteries again. My battery meter was giving me mysterious numbers. Not good. We had ran the engine for about twenty or thirty minutes now. Perhaps not enough to charge the batteries, but surely enough to make some sort of difference?

I turned the ignition key. Nothing. No beeping of the warning systems.

The next day (yesterday or Wednesday) we went to our customs agent. We had been spending the last four days going to ATMS every day to collect enough cash to pay them. They wouldn’t accept credit cards. Nor would the port, they said. Nor the customs. Nor the third-party cargo company that did the unloading. Nor the “widows and orphans” fund to which Jennifer and I had already contributed on the day of unloading and to which we were sure we were contributing again.

Anyway, we gave them a lot of bills and then told to wait around all day while the agent went off to visit various colleagues, chat and drink chai, distribute our bills, and collect papers with stamps on them.

In an anticlimactic moment, we were invited to follow him back to the dock where we were given said stamped papers, wished good luck and allowed to take off.

It was six o’clock and we had about an hour-long ride ahead of us to get to the only marina here in this bay. A small operation with perhaps two dozen boats.

I boarded Phoenix, clicked on both battery switches and turned they key. Nothing.

I pushed the starter button. Brave Phoenix. She summoned all she had left and chugged to a start.

Once in the marina, after an hour-long drive, I shut down the engine and begged to hear the once-annoying beep. Nada.

The battery meter still displayed numbers in tongues.

We kept the apartment while we are setting up the boat. So today we will go down to the marina and try to figure out what’s what. And set up our home. And wash off the corrosive layer of salt which has encased poor Phoenix.

This is all really my own fault. Back in Baltimore, I told Jennifer that the last thing I wanted to do was disconnect the battery cables. But in the rush and commotion of the loading process, I didn’t.

However, I have left Dolphins for many weeks at a time without the batteries draining. So something else must be wrong.

Ok, now it’s time for my Council of Electrically Inclined to chime in. Do you agree that there must be some small drain on the battery, even with battery switches off? These are brand new batteries. We were charging them for about a week before departure.

By the time most of you read this, I will have:

-Measured the voltage at each battery, with engine off.
-Measured voltage with engine at 2,000 RPM idle.
-Measured voltage at back of alternator with engine at 2,000.
-Maybe measure between positive alt pole and positive battery pole, with engine at 2,000 to look for difference.

Monday, August 20, 2012

So Close Yet So Far

“Give me a telephone and I’ll give you the world.”

Those were the words of my uncle, Prosper du Bois Reymond.

Whenever we couldn’t find out something, our family would quote Prosper and reach for the phone.

Those were the days before Google, before the World Wide Web, before computers. In those days, it might take you a dozen different calls or more to finally get the information you wanted, but as he constantly proved, it was just a matter of persistence.

That is a long wind-up to a slow pitch on just how much the world has changed. Today, if I want to know just where the freighter is that is carrying Phoenix, all I have to do is log on.

Here it is as of approximately 0710 UTC. She will be arriving in Izmir in a few hours. (We are UTC+2 here. So she should arrive mid-day.)

Marine AIS has allowed us to track our sailboat shipment throughout the Mediterranean.

Here is another twist of fate: Yesterday was the last day of the month-long Muslim celebration called Ramadan. Last night there was much feasting after sundown. Today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday) all offices are closed. That includes the customs offices we need in order to get our boat released from that port.

Our contract with the shipping agents specified “water to water” delivery. In other words, Phoenix was picked up out of the water, and she was supposed to be delivered back into the water. Certainly not back into that torture rack of a cradle.

But now, that is exactly what will happen. The freighter is not going to wait for Wednesday. The international maw of consumerism does not stop chewing for one minute. The freighter will be unloaded. Our boat will be unloaded.

Without authorization, we cannot enter the port to see if she was damaged in transport. Without authorization, we can’t be there to attend the unloading process.

And to add further financial salt to our wounds, the port assesses all kinds of fees for storage while cargo sits on its dock. And it doesn’t matter if that was due to holidays. It doesn’t matter what our contract says.

Our customs agent says it will take a full day to get all the various stamps and permissions and so it won't be until Thursday that we might to receive Phoenix.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed and mumbling the Muslim response to anything promised or forecast: Inshallah which means, God willing.

From various points in town, we will be able to see the freighter come in. Maybe I’ll shoot a picture of it.

This was shot from the bedroom window of the apartment we are renting. Not sure I could make out our ship from our apartment. We will have to walk down to the water front to do that.
In the meantime, Jennifer and I are feeling better and can almost sense some inkling of what it will be like to finally be sailing the Aegean.

It helped to get a metaphorical slap yesterday from a good friend who is facing far greater challenges than we are. And she is doing it with vim, vigor and good spirits.

So, let me be clear: We constantly remind ourselves of how lucky we are. We know that our problems are the problems for which most of the world would love to exchange theirs.

But as I learned when studying fiction: It doesn’t make for a great story if I say we all went to the beach and had a great time. It’s a story if I say, “Oh my god, you won’t believe what happened! First Johnny burnt his feet on the sand, and then he stepped on a piece of glass, and he ran into the water to wash it out, but tripped and fell face first into the water almost drowning!”

So, other than some bandaid drama, we are having a great time at the beach.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

How do Heros Handle Extortion?

Major break down starting two days ago.

We were informed by the shipping company (the one that owns the freighter) that they would need a substantial amount of additional money otherwise we would not be getting our boat. It would be off-loaded into custody.

They blamed the shipping agent (the guys who are sort of like the travel agents for freighters.) Because of the agent's neglect, a bad cradle was delivered.  Because a bad trailer was delivered, it took four hours to load our boat, and some unknown extra time to shore it up with props because the cradle was unreliable. I spent a lot of time on the phone with three different people from the shipping company. Their advice: Settle the issue with your agent. The agent should take the financial hit. 

The agent, of course, said it was the shipping company's fault. The cradle was fine, they claim. Their stance: the shipping company should drop the surcharge.

Bottom line: If we wanted our hostage back, we would have to give in to this extortion.

Frankly, I lost it. I was screaming and swearing in a conference call with agents. If it hadn’t have been for Jennifer, who knows how the conversation would have ended. She took over.

Threatening legal action had little effect.

“Go ahead, we’ve been in situations like these with boats worth millions and I can tell you, we are iron-clad protected.”

Oh really? That’s funny, because when I asked that very same sales agent before we shipped what kind of problems we might encounter; what kind of “unexpected” events sometimes occur, he said that in his fifteen years, he couldn’t remember a single one.

Jennifer and I went into a pretty deep funk. We discussed breaking off the trip. The costs associated with this whole trip have spiraled way beyond what we expected. It is certainly into the realm of irrational. Perhaps into the waters of irresponsible.

This extortion became the straw that was breaking the camel’s back. We added up the money, all the money we have spent in the last two years of preparing for this trip and going on this trip and we fell deeper into depression. I became catatonic, falling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. The next morning, Jennifer had to drag me to the coffee shop. I sat, drank and just couldn’t lift myself out of this deep, dark hole.

So, I’m doing the numbers. It has been almost a year since the fire. What a long, arduous detour on this voyage. We wanted to go on a two-year trip, and so far, out of the past 15 months, we have spent four on the boat. And you can’t really call crossing an ocean comfortable cruising, so deduct those six weeks. That leaves ten weeks of cruising.

It would be better to call the whole thing off now and quit throwing good money into a fire that is still burning from a year ago.

But, I rarely stay depressed for too long. I began having an emergency session with my council. In times like this, I have imaginary conversations with the people I know; the people I trust. My council.

My father ranks pretty highly in the council. My siblings all have seats. Joel, of course. And in second-row seating around the table are other voices. People I have known, who know me, and even if they aren’t in my life actively anymore, I still listen to them.

The council was divided. I was left with digging deeper into myself. And then I started remembering other guiding voices. One, who doesn’t sit at the table, but whose poem hangs on the council room wall, is Rudyard Kipling. His poem “If” has been a guide for me since childhood.

One line in his poem reads:

If you can "watch the things you gave your life to, broken
and stoop and build 'em up again with worn-out tools ..."

The poem concludes that if you can do that, among other things, then “yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

And finally, I thought about my own advice to my daughter, Zoe, who took on her own adventure of spending a year in Germany during her tenth grade.

Voyages and adventures aren’t easy, I told her. But each time we venture beyond our comfort zone, (whether it be a trip, or even trying some new practice in life) we become the quintessential hero. The hero, as Campbell said, “with a thousand faces.”

Jennifer and I are Odysseus right now. We have a long way to go before we return home. We almost chose the short-cut. But then we would have given up. We would have given in to defeat.

Yes, it might be a ridiculous cost. Yes, our cherished boat might have suffered damage in that %$#@* cradle. But this is an adventure we have not completed yet. We are so close to the isles of ancient history we set out to explore. We cannot give up now.

Although, instead of just paying up, I wish I could settle this old-hero style. Run my sword though a couple of agents, then slice the tie-downs holding Phoenix to the freighter deck, kick the stands away, watch Phoenix splash into the Aegean, grab Jennifer around the waist with one arm, catch a crane line with the other, and swing us down onto the deck of Phoenix and sail away.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Black and White of Istanbul

Our favorite cafe in Instanbul is Ara Kafe. We fell “in like” with it last fall when we arrived in Instanbul for the first time. It serves excellent food.

Ara Kafe in Istanbul: Click on the photo to better see Ara Guler's photographs gracing the walls of this cafe.

The Sunday brunches are a delightful offerings of Turkish delicacies: local honey, something close to clotted cream, sliced cherry tomatoes, cheeses, some sliced cold cuts (which almost no one touches), nuts, olives, and various pestos comprised of olives, pistachio and sundried tomatoes. There are various Turkish pastries for desert.

It is surprising to me, as a Westerner to see this reasonable allotments of food displayed, almost as if for a dinner party, and people self-rationing themselves to the just the amount they need to get a taste of this and a nibble of that.

In America, the longest lines are at those eateries which serve the greatest amount of food.

We have only made brunch there twice. Mostly we are there for lunch. They make great salads and traditional Turkish meals which involve a little meat, grilled vegetables (most often tomatoes and peppers) and eggplant in various ways.

In my relentless survey of numerous eateries in Istanbul over three visits, I can confidently declare that they have the best köfte, which is a chopped-lamb meatball, served in a flattened, oval shape.

In addition to the great food, this cafe is infused with a Bohemian flavor, which stems from its name-sake. The cafe is named after – and an homage to – the photographer Ara Güler.

In this shot above and below, you can see his photographs dominate the walls of the small interior. I imagine Güler would disagree with me on that statement. I imagine he would say: “Istanbul dominates the walls.” If you click on the image, you can also make out that the paper placemats are copies of his photographs.

Ara Guler's imagery stares you in the face, until your food arrives. This is a post food shot with us drinking tea.
I have seen samplings of Turkish photographers and painters of various eras. Most either romanticise Istanbul or sterilize Istanbul. But for Güler, none capture her pain, her passion, her grandeur kneaded with grit.

Discovering Güler, who works almost exclusively in black and white, was as exciting to us as discovering the city itself. Finally we had an ambassador we could direct friends to when we wanted them to see what we see in the city. In some research we found he was colleagues with Henri Cartier-Bresson, and in his day he had “photographing interviews” with the likes of Picasso, Chagall, Ansel Adams and other people who should be remembered for their fascination with life rather than the fame they obtained in it. We bought one of his books. I highly recommend “Ara Guler's Istanbul: 40 Years of Photographs.”

We were particularly tickled to be at the cafe one day and see him there, drinking his tea. We have seen him there since. Jennifer and I would love to have him sign our book, but we are just not those kind of people who would ask for something that seems so materialistic as to have a trivial representation of someone who stands for emotions that run much deeper. What more can his signature say than his images?

In this shot below, you can see where most of cafe life takes place. Not just at this cafe, but in all of Turkey. Most seating is outside. Even in the winter months, when temperatures drop to the fifties Fahrenheit, Turks prefer sitting outside.

Outside seating at Ara Kafe in Istanbul.

And here are shots from another visit during which an rare summer rain storm pummeled the city.

Torrential rain storm in Istanbul.

As soon as it let up, life emerged again in streams of people.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How To Ship A Sailboat

I left so many blogs half-written in Baltimore. I have been waiting to write about more recent events until I catch up with the burgeoning blog backlog. But it is time to consider them jetsam. At some future point, I might try and resuscitate them.

So, for now, while we are waiting here in Istanbul for our boat to arrive in Izmir (about an eight-hour car ride from here) here are some shots of how our boat got loaded onto a freighter.

I am submitting an article on “How to Ship a Sailboat” so I can’t talk too much about the details of our experience here, since the publishing world wants fresh material and not recycled blogs. So for now, let the photos tell a thousand words.

We approached the freighter just before 0800 and stood by while they put the cradle into position on deck.

Once alongside, they lowered a single line for us to use while we continued to standby, and a Jacob's ladder. Just beyond the ladder, you will see an oval bulkhead hatch, which you will see open in photos below.

They modified the container-loader by adding slings to it.

Everyone on deck was curious. You now see hatch open in the side of the hull where we will eventually enter the ship. The slings are weighted with shackles. For this step, we motored away from the ship and approached again, as they lowered the slings into the water. We motored into the slings and began the process of positioning them and securing them with lines.

Loading a sailboat onto a freighter: If you click on this photograph, you'll see we had to add two shackles to the aft straps so the boat would come somewhat close to being level in the slings. A container-loader has no means to individually adjust straps like a marina tavel lift does. So the ability to accommodate cut-away keels is limited. You can see I tied the straps so they wouldn't slip off either end. I also tied the straps to the bow and stern so they wouldn't slide together. 
After A LOT of struggling, our Hans Christian 33 was finally set down into the cradle on the deck of the freighter. Yes, that's me in the foreground, next to the ship's loading supervisor. Neither one of us are happy.

Our Hans Christian 33 sailboat is ready for transatlantic shipping on a freighter.

Phoenix is due to arrive in Izmir sometime around Aug. 16. We are able to track the freighter's process via Marine AIS as it makes it way from port to port throughout the Mediterranean. I've never worried about mailing something as much as this little package.