Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Goop of Kindness

This morning I woke up in a small dirty back room on a tiny tourist island (43.128077,5.750238). I loaded up my boat and set out just as the old man who helped me the night before paddled up to the island in his own kayak. He's a kayak commuter.

I had seen the day before that today would have a 30 km/hr wind against me, slowing me tremendously, but nothing I couldn't handle.

I asked the man for a weather update as he was asking me about my gear. He didn't speak a word of English. I understood from him that it would rain and there would be an eastern wind. There was a misunderstanding about the force of the wind. On the water, I quickly realized that the wind was stronger then what he told me, or at least, what I thought he told me.

I could paddle to the captains office, and take a look at the weather, but that would be a delay. 'Dov', I told myself, 'A responsible paddler always checks the weather, every day.'

My answer was easy, 'Ha, Shows how much you know! I'm not a responsible paddler.'

Despite the inherent logic in my point, it somehow failed to convince me. 'Besides, I did check the weather. I asked the old man.'

'Who may, or may not have been talking about the same thing you were. And this is no small wind.' I wasn't paddling into anything dangerous yet, but it was something.

So I went to the captain’s office and checked the weather. There would be force nine winds in the afternoon. For those of you who are not familiar with the Beaufort Scale, a wind force rating of nine usually comes with the following description “Heavy winds creating three meter or more waves and frequent white caps. Sails should not be taken down on smaller boats and on land, babies should be stapled down to keep them from blowing away.”

There would be no paddling today. I asked if I could leave my boat in the port overnight. No problem. I got back in the boat to work on my rolls for a while, knowing that as soon as I was done a warm shower awaited me in the port’s shower house. I had been given the entry code by the wonderful receptionist.

I paddled around the port at a good clip. When I was done a heavyset, mostly bald, flannel clad elderly mariner was waiting for me. “Would you sleep in my boat this night?” He asked. I was really dizzy from all the rolling. I had water in my ears and was still blinking the salt out of my eyes. I was standing, but barely. And the news was too good to be true.

“What?” I asked. He thought his English wasn't good enough and didn't know how to ask any other way.

“You'll have to excuse me a moment, I'm a bit dizzy.” The world slowly began to hold onto itself and the water drained out of one of my ears. In another moment I was ready and got him to try again. Yes, it was good. He invited me to stay in his rather large sailboat.

I paddled around and met him there. With two large hulls and the center of the boat between them, I got my own tiny room and an opportunity to use the boat’s shower.

Later in the day he got a friend of his to lend me some goop to fix the chips in my boat's hull. The first layer is drying now and I'll put on another layer tomorrow.

I'm Not Gilligan

I had spent a fine Sabbath in Marseilles. Sunday was too windy.

Day 24:

I got directions to my bus stop from the hostel receptionist, only they were a little off. After looking for a while for my bus stop I walked back to the hostel to get better directions. I missed the 11:30 bus by a few minutes and had to wait an hour.

The bus ride itself through the mountains was really nice. The forests and rocky peaks we traveled along were marred in their perfection only by the giant highway which conveyed me to my kayak.

I paddled to Bandol. I saw a storm off to the west, but the wind had been blowing east so I thought it would miss me. I asked some men working on a fishing boat, and they told me the storm would hit tomorrow.

I approached Bandol as the day’s last light was leaving. I had seen there was a big harbor, and I could see red and green approach lights both to my right and left as I entered what appeared to be a big bay. The ones on the right, though small, were a little but closer.

I pulled in to a small marina with maybe 30 or so empty spots and two boats. I had never seen anything like it. Around the marina were pleasantly painted French houses and stone buildings that may have been closed restaurants and hotels. The small harbor was so Frenchly picturesque and quaint that it almost seemed to be a quality Disney Land imitation Europe rather than the real thing.

There were statues of giant naked babies dealing in one way or another with even larger fish.

There were none of the usual fishermen about, fishermen I’d seen in every port.

I got out of my boat to have a look around the empty place. I soon found an open building with a light on. It was a diving club, with an old man in the back room painting a wall. I called out to him.
He didn't speak a word of English, but with only a look at me he understood that I was a kayaker. He walked with me to my boat, and showed me that the captain’s offices was on the other side of the harbor. He asked me were I would sleep tonight “Dormay.”

I pointed to one of a few benches in the area.

“No” he told me. That wouldn't do. He walked me into a building with an empty room. Empty except for lots of dust and a few odd things. He was worried it was too dirty, but it would protect me from the elements, so it was heaven and I thanked him profusely.

He left and appeared again a few minutes later with some odd blankets and sheets that he said I should put under my sleeping bag so that the floor would be softer. I have a mattress, but that didn't make his efforts any less kind. He also helped me move my boat away from the water next to the room I would be sleeping in, presumably to help prevent theft.

Old, but strong and lean as a wolf.

I only have one pot’s worth of rice and lentils left so I went to find a market and maybe a wifi cafe to make this post. I walked in one direction and found myself at the sea so I went back and found a different way. Again I was at the sea. I tried yet another path, only to learn that without a doubt, I was on an island. A few hotels, restaurants, and small houses, a lovely quaint tourist place. Empty of all but two souls in the cold. I could see the mainland stretch out before me, with its lights and mountains drawing the eye far away.

The next morning as I pulled out in my kayak I saw my friend from the night before pull up to the island in his.
last nights parking spot:  43.127995,5.751413

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Monster and the Eagle

Thursday night I slept on a bench next to a church.  Every hour the church bell would ring the number of the hour, and every half hour just once.  The church bell was very loud and I'm sure could be heard from miles away, though I wouldn't know since I was right next to it.  It was a long night.

Day 23:

Friday morning was cold.  Once out and about, it was very cold.  As I sponged yesterday’s water out of my boat, water ran through my fingers leaving them numb.  I had checked the weather forecast the night before and there was a 35 km/hr northwest wind scheduled.  The marina posted its own weather forecast for the day and it showed category 6, 7, or 8 winds.  Category eight winds are too rough for solo paddling, or any sort for that matter, in areas with cliffs.  Category seven are a fine excuse not to go out, and category six are a rough day.  On the upside, the wind would move me in the direction that I was going.

I went to the marina's office to get permission to leave my boat there over the weekend.  Currently it sat next to a bunch of very fast looking row boats.  The woman at the desk was happy to let me keep my boat there for the weekend, and gave me a slip of paper describing the costs I would have to pay.

“But it's a kayak, and these costs are for big boats.”

“Oui.”  she nodded and smiled.  I would still have to pay.

“But my boat isn't even on the water, it's in an out of the way place.”

“Oui.”  she nodded and smiled.  I would still have to pay.

“There's not a single other marina between here and Barcelona that has made me pay.”

“Oui.”  she nodded and smiled.  I would still have to pay.

“Merci, Ourevoi.”  I said.

There was another port only a few miles to the south east.  I would paddle there, away from this evil thing that took the form of a smiling receptionist.  Perhaps she wasn't the real receptionist but some dark spawn of the storm from the night before.

I found a public restroom where I did my mourning duty and brought my wetsuit to gear up.  In France and Spain there is a sort of public restroom that advertises that it sanitizes itself.  A small cube of a room, the light turns on when you enter and the metallic toilet, one of only two breaks in the cube, flushes behind you when you leave.  The other break in the cube is a stainless steel hole in the wall that dispenses water, soap, and hot air depending on where in it you hold your hands.  The door to the room is automatically locked when you are inside and can only be opened by pressing a red button on the wall before leaving.  Poorly lit, it's the sort of rest room that one might expect to find in Nineteen Eighty Four.

I was sitting reading my book, minding my own business, when somebody inserted a key into the other side of the door and opened it.  Presumably he was a janitor, and not a very bright one at that.  He was startled and embarrassed to find me in the locked bathroom that automatically locks itself when ever anybody is in it.  He let out a stream of French that I didn't understand at all as he shut the door.

The bathrooms mechanical mind now understood that I had left and the room was empty.  The toilet flushed, cleaning water was sprayed onto my back from the wall behind me aimed for the top of the seat, and a sprinkler of disinfectants covered me and the room in a layer of sterility.  I squawked rather loudly and, looking for a safe place, moved through the room with all the speed I could muster given that my pants were around my ankles.

One needs to be careful when traveling abroad.

Back outside and having changed into my wetsuit, I had no pockets and my hands got very cold.  Too cold in fact to close my hatches so I had to go back into the marina's offices to let them warm up.

Finally, I was on the water.

The wind picked up in speed as I pulled farther away from the marina.  Cruising along beautiful humongous red cliffs, gashed by chasms and all manner of time-forged shapes, I made battle with the wind and the water.  When a paddle blade was up it was frequently caught by the wind as a kite might be and I had to wrestle it into place.  Sometimes the wind would come in an especially strong gust so I would put my paddle down against the boat and wait for it to pass.  It was a position that left me ready to sweep and skull on the upwave side if I needed to.

Moving as fast as I was, I would pass the business end of the paddle through the water to feel almost no resistance, as though I was paddling against air and maybe  a few hovering feathers.

The wave behind me would choose that moment to break and I would use a rudder stroke on the down wave side to stabilize my boat, only to have to switch to a heavy duty skull as the wave passed beneath me and I fell off the backside of it.

All the work needed to stay upright and away from the cliffs was leaving me a little stressed.  Waves were breaking all over as far as I could see.  I found some inner calm.  I was moving at a good clip and that was nice.  Damn, I lost my inner calm.  Then I found it again.

I could tell that I would soon be arriving at my destination by the lay of the land.  Then there was a small break in the cliffs, and about 100 yards in, there was a beach.  I would get off the water now.  I turned, struggling to make it between the massive red walls and not get rushed past.

I made it.  There was a woman with her dog sitting on the pebble beach.  In the rocky corridor, though it was much better then outside, I still had to struggle.  As I paddled towards the beach the wind would frequently change directions.  One moment I would be fighting to stay away from one wall, and the next moment, the other.  Finally I found a concrete dock just off to the side a small ways away from the beach, and got out.  Pulling my boat up off the rough water was a trick, but I managed and hopefully didn't scratch it too much.

I climbed up a rock path and was soon at the beach.  The woman was shocked when I said hello.  She had missed the epic end to my morning’s ordeal.  Her dog was the same kind as mine, but a lot fatter.  She spoke to me for a bit in French, even though I told her I didn't speak it.

“Le Figaro,” she told me.

“Oui” I said politely.  She had already told me that the place next to the beach was a hotel which is what I needed to know.

“Eagle.”  She said in English.  I looked to where she was pointing.  The giant rock above me was shaped like the head of an eagle.  It was cool.


The hotel was closed for the season and a grounds worker was happy to let me leave my boat there for the weekend.

My mother mentioned to me in reference to Thursday night’s storm that maybe I need to find a better way to get the weather.  Two points:  I am learning to understand the French weather bulletins that all marina’s post every morning outside their offices.  The story about the storm was a victory, with the advantage of experience, I saw it coming and was off the water before the bad part of it was upon me.  Lightning storms of that sort are described here as “Scattered showers.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fleeing a Storm

Last night I couch surfed. After I met my host, I got a pleasant tour around the center of town. The tour included the one thing I had to contribute: a look at my boat. It was not as I expected.

My booties were in it! I had lost them a few days earlier and now they had found their way back home.

This morning I inspected my boat as I frequently do and found hull damage. Towards the front some fiberglass the size of a fingerprint had chipped away revealing the Kevlar honey comb beneath. It must have happened when I was using the side of the harbor to dip myself as part of a technique a couple of days earlier. Bad. I decided I would probably be OK moving forward anyway. Tomorrow I'll tape it over with some tape I picked up in a hardware store in Barcelona.

Day 22:

The weather was good, so I paddled south from Marseilles along the coast, continuing my journey to the the Near East. There are a lot of great islands around Marseilles, in addition to the Chateau Diff, there are old fortress-like buildings on other members of the archipelago, and a walled stone town that seems left over from another age.

I stopped at the northern most end of Marseilles for a brief lunch break. Since I had not made my rice and lentils this morning, I picked up a baguette.

Back on the water, I was too cold without my neoprene jacket but too warm with it. I rolled up my sleeves and took off my gloves and hat to stay comfortable. My glasses are attached to my hat, so they had to go as well, but I can see OK without them.

The port I had hoped to arrive at for the evening was such a distance that I expected to get there about an hour after dark. Also, cutting straight across rather then sticking to the shore, my route took me a few miles away from the increasingly mountainous coast. For now, I'm getting closer to the Alps, and around me are their children.

It started getting dark. I turned around as I often do to check the waters behind me; I could see a storm in the distance. It was still far away. I didn't know if I would make it to safe harbor before the weather caught up with me.

I put all my clothing back on and increased my pace slightly. A bay to my left revealed a lighthouse and a town. No marina was marked there on my map. The storm was closer. Heading towards land would essentially be going backwards since I would put myself off of the direct line to my intended port, and by several miles.

Most people would have headed for port right away. I had to think about it for a moment. With the coming storm my priorities moved away from making miles towards getting off the water ASAP. Especially with the recent lightning hail monster so fresh in my memory.

I paddled towards land. The sky was now cloudy above me, and with the setting sun it was getting dark so I lit my lights and donned my head lamp.

Behind me I could see a red light not far off. It looked as though a boat was approaching, though it was strange sort of light and lacked a green counterpart to say the vessel was headed towards me. There was a fog so I blew my whistle to let the seaman know I was there. But it was in vain, no seaman. The setting sun was playing tricks on me through the strangeness of the storm.

The rain began, at first a drizzle. I passed between a set of four or five boats without any lights in the night. I don't know what they were doing out there, but I was close enough to make out standing people on them. Eerily in the darkness they watched me paddle past.

Occasionally the night would be illuminated by a distant flash of lightning. The thunder would rumble unnaturally long, moving around the mountains warning of the coming onslaught. The rain worsened and the wind moved my boat towards the harbor with the angry speed of the storm.

I could make out the red and green lights that marked the entrance to a marina. Not far from them, somebody in the marina aimed a spotlight at me. I called them on the radio and told them to quit it. I was safe.

A fisherman helped me get my boat out of the water. A guy in the captains office told me I could keep my boat there overnight. I went into the bathroom to change.

I turned on the heater and as I was getting dressed. I threw my shirt on it so that I would be able to put a warm shirt on. I like my shirt, it had my logo on it, fit me well, and had gone through a lot with me. That's why it saddened me so much when it caught on fire. It was ruined.


Finished with the changing room, I stepped outside. The storm had caught up with me. The cloudy madness threw lightning and hail stones down on the streets.

Friends in Marseilles

When shopping for a camera I found myself in a large electronic gadget store. One of the huge televisions on display featured a gorgeous woman in a bikini shaking the water out of her hair. There were a couple of odd glasses set up on a stand in front of the woman and a man was looking through them watching her. Finally he pulled away with a grin from ear to ear and an enthusiastic comment in French. I looked through the glasses at the bikini woman.

Suddenly she wasn't an image on a television but shaking the water off her hair at me in three dimensions.

Holy cow.

I once heard that the first film ever shown in a theater was that of a train rushing towards the camera. As the film progressed, people fled the theater.

I'm staying at a hostel. Every night I check in for another day and get charged 23 euro.

“Last night I payed 19 Euro.” I say.

“Oh, you did? Let me fix that for you.” And sure enough, I pay only 19 again.

One night the receptionist had to call the boss. On another, the receptionist told me that he can't call the boss right now, so I would pay 19 Euro, and if the boss didn't give permission I would have to pay the remainder of the money the next day.

“Scout's honor.” I said.

Today I saw two more cathedrals. One was on a mountain above the city from where I could see the Chateau D'if, the prison in which Edmond Dante was held in The Count of Monte Cristo.* On one of the walls of the cathedral there were a bunch of paintings of sailboats.

The other cathedral was big. The vaulted ceilings were high. The side chapels could have been churches in their own rights. The floor of the entire building was covered with intricate mosaic patterns.

My friends and I also went to a building that had for the last 300 years been a home to the homeless in one form or another. It was originally built because the royalty of the city at the time decided to jail all those who wouldn't leave on their own. The building was a massive three story rectangle surrounding a great courtyard. The double doors to the many rooms were onto balconies that were open to the courtyard, separated by a low wall supporting arched columns leading to the balcony above.

Taking up the courtyard was another three hundred year old structure with a giant dome and lots of marble and columns on the inside. It had been filled with Greek statues that stood naked of both clothing and limbs.


My camera had run out of batteries early on in the day, so I asked one of the people who I had met in the hostel, David Walker, to take pictures for me. He had a big camera and spoke about things like light and filters. I thought he would be a good choice. He was happy to oblige and asked only that I give credit where credit is due.

In the evening I tried to interview myself next to my boat using a funny voice to ask myself questions which I then answered with my regular voice. The wind was so loud that neither of my voices could really be heard on the video after. My new friends from the hostel helped me make a new video which will hopefully be available for your viewing pleasure soon.

* A very fine novel I gave to Dov for his 12th (14th? Not sure, now that I think about it.) birthday. ~ ed.


Good News and Bad News

*This morning I did a number of errands which included buying a new
camera.  I was ready to be on the water by 12:00, but the wind was too
rough.  It will be rough all week.

While suiting up I realized that I didn't know where my booties were.
This was upsetting, I need them to keep my feet warm.  I guess I left
them  in the marinas shower when I was washing down yesterday.  I
doubt I'll ever see them again.  So sad.

I went out and paddled around the marina for a while.  I did some work
on my technique.  There was a girl watching me, so I asked her to take
my picture.  She kindly obliged.

I took out and put my stuff away.  I may be in Marseilles until the end
of the week if the weather doesn't lighten up.

* Received this a few days ago, apologies for the delay. ~ ed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hail Fishing

Day 21:

I had to find a bus stop, and then take the bus.  I got off a stop early so I had to walk a ways.  In other words, it was a late start.  The Good Man at the docks who had given me permission to leave my boat there over the Sabbath came to say goodbye.  He asked me if I was
sure I wanted to leave today, as though I might have a good reason not to.

I had looked up the weather and it said “Showers.”

I set out (43.359494,5.295614).  I hoped to make it to a port at the other end of Marseilles, or at least the one in the center of town.  I remembered from some internet maps of the city that I had seen that there might be a route along the edge of the city within the safety of the sea walls.   That is to say, on perfectly flat water no matter the weather.

The weather was rough.  A storm was coming from the west with an abundance of lightning.  I still had time though.  I was paddling from one port to another within the safety of the harbor when I got to a dead end (43.354884,5.326567) and had to turn back.  That was annoying.

I was then out on the open sea.  The water was extremely choppy.  The lightning strikes were still to the west, but getting closer.

Occasionally there would be rain for a few minutes, and then pass.  I was anxious to get back into the harbor’s safety if at all possible.  In order to get away from the lightning I would need to stay near the seawall, but the already choppy water was even rougher there.

I found what I thought looked like the path I had seen on the map (43.347589,5.318896  My own chart lacked the necessary detail.)  I asked some fishermen if there was an opening on the other side near Marseilles' center of town port.  Or did the way ahead of me just lead to another dead end that I would regret.

There were three fisherman.  One said he thought it would go through, but he wasn't sure.  The other two were sure it did not.  With great chagrin I was back out on the choppy waves.  There were some big swells, but mostly the water was just really rough.

And there was the approaching lightning.

I made my way along the seawall.  The rain got worse.  There was a lightning bolt ahead of me, in the mountains behind Marseilles.  Another one struck a few minutes later a some miles to my left.  Then it was pouring.  Then it wasn't rain, it was hail.  And lots of lightning.

I imagine getting hit by lightening would be similar to spending a few hours in a microwave.  Except that it would be over instantly.  There were ladders every couple hundred yards or so along the seawall.  I began thinking about using them.  I passed beneath a control tower, it would be good to establish contact, and maybe find out how far before there would be a way into the harbor on the other side of the wall.  I could see cruise ships over the wall.

“This is Kayak Dov.  Tower located at [GPS position] do you hear me?”

There was no response.  I had heard chatter on my radio earlier, so if they did respond I would hear them.

The hail bounced off of me and my deck.  I tried again.

“This is Kayak Dov.  Tower located at [GPS position] do you hear me?”

No luck.  I tried “Chanel 16 radio check.”  I waited.  Nothing.  Again “Chanel 16 radio check.”  Nothing.

I continued paddling.  Eventually, the storm passed.  The lightning and hail moved on to the north and I made my way to the port in the center of Marseilles.  Once things calmed down a little I put my lure Josh in the water.

I was promised by Jean Pierre who had given him to me that he would attract fish.  Before long the cork line reel was yanked from the bungees in front of me, held on to them by its own string.

I had caught something!  I began to reel it in, but there was no pressure on the line.  Finally I finished.  Their was nothing on the end of the line, not even a lure.

Josh was giving some big fish somewhere indigestion.  It was his first time out, and he didn't last
very long.

I arrived at the port (43.294153,5.363388).  Could I leave my boat there overnight?  No problem.  Let's check my radio.  It worked fine.

Still in Marseilles tomorrow I hope to give another shot at some of my errands.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sad Eye Please

Day 20:

On Friday I paddled the remaining ten nautical miles to Port Oust in Marseilles.

The weather was the warmest it had been in a long time.  Since the Gulf de Fos the sea has become exceptionally clear, making it possible to see the bottom when near the shore.  And the coast had changed from relatively dull flatlands to jagged and mountainous.

Cliffs once again began to claw out from the sea and were colored green by thick forests.  The rocks took on many colors, one that I saw in the distance was almost white covered bye a wood of tall thin leafless trees, as though it were an old man with thinning hair.

I saw another kayaker, the first in a long time.  Coming towards me, he was wearing a t-shirt and riding an extremely thin 15 foot  boat that looked like a lot of fun.  Working his Greenland paddles like a master, we said “bonjeur” to each other at the same moment, smiled, and without another word, admired each others rides as we cruised past.

Since the day before I could make out the rugged peaks just behind Marseilles in the distance.  What I had read about the weather had nothing to do with what it did, and with a slight tailwind, I made great time.

I told myself I ought to practice my roll once I got to port.  It was warm out and I would dry off in no time.

On the other hand, I didn't need to practice my roll since I was getting so much combat experience.  I didn't want to flip myself over on purpose.  Why should I risk the embarrassing experience of a possible screw up.

If there's a chance you could screw up, then you definitely need to practice.

The water is getting colder every day, I don't like to be cold.

You won't be cold, that's why you have a wet suit.  And besides, if it does make you cold, then you need to acclimate, you sissy.

Call my a sissy,  will you?!

I got to the port and rolled on my strong side.  I came up better then ever, it was great.  I did a bunch more on both sides and they went wonderfully.  I wasn't wearing my wet suit jacket so some water went down the back of my neoprene overalls and filled up my shoes.

After a little searching I had a warm shower and permission to leave my boat in the port.

It was especially exciting to be in Marseilles.  Not only is this my first major city since leaving Barcelona, I'm off of my original map and would need to buy a new one.

I had gotten the number of a chabad rabbi who might be willing to host me.  I called him and got his address.  In the middle of the conversation my phone ran out of credits, but that was OK, I should show up.

I was cutting it a little close to the sabbath, but I had time.  He was on the opposite side of the city, so I took a bus from the port to the center of the town with his address programmed into my GPS, which could give me a birds flight direction and distance.

Once off the bus I saw that with about an hour and a half of jogging I could make it to
his house with twenty minutes to spare.

I began to jog.  I jogged up a mountain, to find a great view and a cliff in front of me, I would have to go back down the mountain and find a way around.  I got to a huge marina, and had to go around that too, once most of the way around I decided that I should have swam from the get go and I would have been across much faster.

I ran through some lovely neighborhoods.  I jumped over lots of fences and went
through backyards, some of fancy mansions.  I only hurt myself a little when attacked by a tree branch on the way down a particularly tall one.  I got to a river, and needed to find a way over it.  It looked too unclean to swim.

I looked at the distance I had left and saw that I would no longer make it before the Sabbath.  I found a hostel that was nice and went to sleep, for a long time.

The Sabbath:

The next morning I went to a huge synagogue.  The guard at the door insisted that I could not enter without a passport.  I tried to explain to him that his request was unfair, since it is forbidden by god to carry a passport on the Sabbath.  However, my efforts were futile since we didn't share a common language.  Another Jew overheard
this, and spoke to me with a little Hebrew.

He then told the guard that I was ok and could come in to pray.

The gorgeous chapel was one of the largest I had ever been in and apparently  designed to resemble some of the great cathedrals of Europe.  While it was really nice, there's no way it could imitate the lifetimes of slave labor without just that, or falling desperately short.

The rabbi, with a hint, invited me to his home for the Sabbath meal.

They served yummy French food that was new to me.

Saturday night I went to do some errands.  I needed a chart, a stove or gas for my other stove, a new sim card, a battery for my watch, and a baguette for dinner.  The chart was the most important.  A number of marine stores did not have the Imray series which is the waterproof one.  Since I keep my chart on my deck, waterproof is necessary.

Finally I was referred to, and found a store that had the chart I needed.  They were closing, the last few customers were leaving and the door was locked.  It was pouring down rain, which was a good thing since it made me look that much more pathetic when I stood outside and made my sad eye face.

It took a while and a bunch of gestures from the clerk that they were closed and their was no way I would be allowed in, but finally they unlocked the door for me.  The next day, Sunday, they would be closed and I didn't want to paddle without a chart.

This was the first time my sad eye “Please” face has worked for anything on this trip, that was a great victory, not just for me, but for the forces of good everywhere.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

French Gold

Day 19:

This morning I woke up in the middle of a swamp (43.364961,4.584661).

Ok, to be fair I wasn't in the middle.

After my morning chores I walked from the lighthouse to my boat, maybe a five minute walk that involved getting my feet wet a number of times.

I had a new addition to my deck.  The day before, Jean Pierre had
given me a lure of his that he assured me would catch fish.  When I
had asked him what its name was, he told me what kind of lure it was.
I named it Josh.

I put my boat on the little shallow beach bay that came from a break in the rock wall facing the sea.  As I sat there ready to pull out, I watched extremely challenging surf, with one ferocious breaking wave after another hurtling towards the shallow hole in the wall I occupied, to collapse into nothing just a few feet from me.

I pulled out into it.  There were some tricky moments, when a strong hip snap saved me.  At other times, while trying to get through it, I would kiss my deck to reduce the force pushing me back as the water rushed over me, and when it had passed I would try to make some progress with desperate pulls forward before I would have to kiss my deck again to pass beneath the next collapsing wall.  Finally I was free.

The last wave was behind me and I had kept on paddling for another 50 yards or so.  I had managed to make it through without going over once, which was good.  (It's nice to be able to roll, a good kayaker never has to.)  Josh had left the secure place on
my deck that I had left him, with his hooks in the cork reel and held down by bungees, and secured a solid grasp on my spray skirt.  I tried to unhook him from my skirt.  While his need to be closer to me in the wild rush of the wave was touching, it was not appreciated.  Finally I gave up and tore him free, the damage to my skirt was minor.

A big wave was coming and breaking.  I grabbed my paddle just in time to give myself  the necessary support skull, only my paddle hit the water at a bad angle, and I went over.  I came back up with an offside upwave roll, annoyed that my successful launch in the rough surf was marred.

The beach faced the west, and the surf was so rough because there was a strong west wind.  Which was a wonderful tailwind the whole way.

I had found on Google maps a port just on the other side of the Gulf de Fos which was a good distance and about 10 miles from Marseilles. I had been warned about the mouth of a particular river I’d be passing.  I was told it was dangerous.  When I approached I attached my emergency quick grab bag to me instead of the inside of my cockpit, and turned my radio on just in case I needed to call for help in a hurry.

I knew that I had arrived at the place when a clear heavily rippling line of demarcation ran across the sea, coming from an outlet in the shore.  After the line the sea was mostly flat with occasional giant humps of waves moving across the flat surface in different directions.

A couple of them hit me but I was pushed along not vary far and then they had passed beneath me. After that I was crossing the bay.  There was heavy shipping so I
pressed the broadcast button on my radio.  “Securitay, Securitay, Securitay” I began in a slow clear voice.  “Single kayak crossing the Gulf of Fos from West to East.  Estimated crossing time: three hours. Repeat ...” I said it again and ended with an “End message.”

I managed not to get run over by any of the tankers.

Finally, as the sun began to set, I pulled into the port I had hoped for.  I pulled my kayak up on the dock and went about my business. Someone noticed that I kept jumping over the dock's fence so they unlocked it for me to save me the trouble.

I found myself in a very small town, Carro, with no internet cafe that anybody knew of.

I was a little desperate to connect to the world because I was hoping a friend of mine could get me a place to stay for the Sabbath in Marseilles.  I was told there would be a place in the next town over, and while there were no buses, maybe I could hitchhike.

As I walked along trying to get a ride, my computer was open and eventually I found a weak connection. I got great news from my friend Shani, her parents had made her a
little brother, which was very exciting since I'm close with the family.

Later, I found a shower, but there was no soap.  The bathroom was next to an RV site (43.330438,5.039699), so I knocked on a couple of the doors of RV's and both times the conversation went exactly the same.

“Parlez-vous anglais?”


“Shampoo?”  I would rub my hair to make sure they understood.  They did.

“No.”  This came with an ugly face that said they would rather I stank, and somewhere else If I don't mind.

Jean Pierre had told me that people were nice and that all I need to to was to ask.  He told me that I should have asked if I could sleep on his boat the first of the two nights I was in the marina also, instead of just the second.

These people couldn't lend a guy some shampoo.  I don't know if I would let somebody I didn't know sleep in my home, but I would certainly be willing to give shampoo out at my door to anybody who asked.

Maybe in France shampoo is really expensive.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mud Flats

Last night I scored an invitation from Sean Pierre (forgive the spelling if it’s bad, Sean, or possibly Jean) who lives on a motor boat near where I had parked my kayak.  He was super nice insisting that I join him for dinner and having me sleep on the comfortable couch in one of the two rooms on his boat.  We chatted pleasantly for a time and he warned me about the mouth of an upcoming river where I would have to be extra careful.  I showed him my paddle and he said that he would fix it in the morning.  I also took the opportunity to soak my stove in warm water because the insides had gotten so gummed up with salt it no longer worked.

Day 18:

Sure enough, the next day he found something the right size to put in the hollow of my paddle and with a little tape, it's a good deal better then a broken paddle.  We also tried to use WD40 and a wrench to fix my stove, but no luck.  Using Sean's stove I made a couple portions of rice and lentils and bought a loaf of bread and some cheese a couple days worth of rations.

I had a late start and a spare paddle.  I went to cut straight across the bay, and though I couldn't see the other side, some work with my compass had be heading at a 45 degree angle away from land.  At about 10 miles it would be a long crossing.  Their was a 17 km/hr west wind
forecast which never came through, the wind was sometimes a little helpful and sometimes moderately harmful.  As I crossed I recalled moments from The Gods Must Be Crazy and sang booap de doo tunes that took me every where except for the land of pleasant sounding things.
I wished that I had somebody to sing with.  Somebody specific?  Yah, but no, I won't tell you who.

After a time I could make out a pin of a horizontal line on the horizon at exactly my bearing.  Easier to head for that then be checking the compass all the time, the pin was now my destination only checking occasionally with the compass to make sure that as I got closer it didn't slip off to one side or another.  Eventually it resolved itself into a lighthouse.  And some time after that, as I could begin to make out other things on the slowly appearing coast, a really big lighthouse.

Eventually, I got there.  I didn't have my watch but it seemed to be mid afternoon.  Maybe two or three hours of light left.

The lighthouse was a tall stone tower with small windows up the height of it and solar panels at the top just below the glass dome that sheltered a huge red light.  Just next to it was an old two story French looking building that might have been the house of the keepers.  Everything else was marsh and mud flats forever.

Then there was the last beach.  After the beach, for as far as I could make out, there was a rock wall along the shore.  If I didn't make it a good distance then I might be left with nowhere to take off the water.  I decided to check out the lighthouse, maybe I would find a good shelter there for the night.

I was just past the last beach, so I would need to cut back at an angle in order to take out.  As I pulled in, suddenly I was being pushed forward towards the rocks very quickly by a breaking wave.  And my bow had been moved so that I was now facing the wrong direction.  I tried a move called a stern rudder to turn sharply while I was moving forward, and slow down in the

Those of you who kayak surf know what happened to me next.  I was surfing the wave, moving at its crest towards the rocks extremely quickly.  With about two meters to go, I put my all into turning, and went over.

When I rolled back up I was facing the right direction, and sprinted the short distance to the  beach with a fire up my rear so as not to get caught in the next breaking wave.

The lighthouse was farther from the beach than it had appeared from sea.  I began to walk across the mud flats and finally made my way there.  The ground was more solid and there were some rugged hunched-over old trees.  There were steps that led up to the tower's locked

The windows and doors of the old house had been sealed with concrete, but a low wall around the house offered shelter from the wind.  Nothing special, it was probably the best shelter for miles.

As I walked back to my boat I looked at the water running through the flats and though I might be able to paddle my boat much closer to the light house than it was.

I tried, it didn't go well and there was a lot of towing my boat through the mud with glopping sounds coming from beneath my feet.

While failing to do anything productive at all, and working very hard at it, I saw somebody else walking in the distance.

By the time I had my boat back to the beach where I started, he was closer, so I went to talk with the hiker.  He had his pants pulled way up so he could walk through the mud and shallow water.  Binoculars hung from a string around his neck.  I chatted with him for a bit and he quickly volunteered to show me his map of the area, which was much more detailed then my nautical charts.  The map confirmed what I had suspected about the length of the sea wall.

I  tried to get him to come up with the idea that he should invite me over rather then leave me to sleep here in the swamp.  But he didn't.

I finally made camp next to the old French house just as it was getting dark.

Cheese and bread for dinner.  Good night world.

Batman Conspiracy

Batman Conspiracy*

Day 17:
Today I had read there would be a 40km/hr west wind and two meter waves. A look at the terrain ahead of me showed beaches the whole way with countless piles of stones arranged to reduce the surf on the beach. My day would be rough, but I had an opportunity to make some great headway.

Before I could turn west with the wind I had to head south for a couple of hours with great waves coming at me from the side. I found a path between crashing waves farther out and crashing waves closer to the beach and enjoyed relatively pleasant paddling. As I moved along a breaking wave came over me, maybe chin high, and left me upside down as it passed. I rolled back up with only a little trouble.

As I continued on I reflected on the trouble. I hadn't snapped my hips hard enough and tried to compensate by leaning back and swinging over the aft deck. Recently I had been practicing a different technique that I had seen on Youtube and this was the source of the trouble I had had on Friday and experienced again just now. I was combining the two techniques so that neither one worked.

Fortunately I soon had another unplanned chance to redeem myself. When knocked over again by a breaking wave just a little bit higher than my head I rolled back up perfectly. Once up I examined my deck in a typical sort of way and noticed that one of the two halves of my spare paddle had come partially free of its cords. While it was still attached to my boat at one end, the paddle blade floated on the water.  In the meantime I had been pushed so that I was now facing into the surf with the back of my boat only a few feet from the beach. This close to the beach the surf wasn't too high, but still made it a little tricky to maneuver. The best thing to do would be to pull the boat up parallel to the beach in shallow water and get out to fix the situation.

As I began to turn a wave pushed the paddle down into the sand while it was still held by a bungee and a moment later I needed to snap my hips to keep the boat stable in another breaking wave.

A cracking sound from behind me was not good. The right hand shaft of my spare paddle had broken in two.

It seemed like a good time to stop for lunch.

I collected the floating paddle blade and made a fine beach landing.  Lunch was good, though now that I had stopped paddling I quickly got cold. Soon enough I was back on my way. Shortly after I made the turn and had the forecast west wind at my back moving me along, the wind switched to an unforecast northeaster. It pushed me out to sea and slowed me down. I tried to compensate for being pushed out to sea by staying close enough to shore so that the wave coming in would counter the wind pushing me out.

At around 2:20 pm I heard a large explosion out to sea, but could see nothing. I went to check what time it was and my watch had reverted to 12:00am January first. A few hours later it stopped working all together, flashing on and off with the backlight and displaying crossed out 0's. I am not a conspiracy theorist.

Occasionally I would see large breaking waves in one area or another, which I would negotiate carefully. I was making bad time. To my left there was the beach and beyond that, miles of uninhabited swamp and flamingos. I thought flamingos were a Florida thing.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a wall of blue flash and become a wall of white. SLAM! In a second the wave had broken, exploding over me. I have no idea how tall it was since I couldn't see its top, but I was very much underwater and being tumbled and churned. Finally I was upside down and my boat made its way to what I could see was the surface, already wound for the roll, I swept my paddle out and came up. BAM! I wasn't up for more then a second when a second giant wave tossed me like a doll. The second one I saw; it was smaller then the first but at least seven or eight feet high.

For a moment another world of wild white froth followed by the silence underwater. I rolled back up, there were more, but nothing of the caliber of the two monsters that had just train wrecked me. I stayed up and allowed the surf to push me out of the wild zone I had stumbled into.

I continued against the wind. The sun set and I was able to turn on my lights by reaching the paddle to the front and back of the boat and using it press the large buttons. I wasn't far from the port that I had intended to make it to, and I could make out its green and red navigational lights not too far off. I don't remember the name of this port. There are so many.

I had hoped to make it in before 6:00 thinking that the captain’s offices might still be open, but at 6:15 pm I saw that it had closed two hours earlier. I walked around and found an open door in the back where a woman told me that they were closed. I asked for permission to leave my kayak here overnight, and when she finally understood what I wanted, she was happy to assent.

* Possibly a reference to a particular plot *ahem* device in Dark Knight Returns?  I’m not sure myself. ~ ed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thug Ha Ha

Scaring Old Ladies:
While looking for the synagogue Saturday morning I found an elderly Jewish woman who was on her way. She saw me approaching her to ask for directions and cowered away from me with a look on her face that said “Please don't mug me. I'm old and small.”

After an awkward moment, I spoke to her in Hebrew. Though she didn't speak it, she recognized the language and told me to follow her.

Just a Joke(?):
Today my host and I did some more sightseeing. Among other sights we saw our second cathedral; cathedrals are amazing and speak to me of the greatness of man.
I have been asked to post pictures on the blog of the people I meet. So my host gave a man his phone to take a picture of the two of us. Another man, in a black leather jacket, took the phone from the first and began to run.

My host jogs 40 minutes a day. I'm not a slow runner and have some experience with martial arts. In a heartbeat both of us were sprinting after the man with the phone. He was going to take a beating. Before we could pound him, he turned around and returned it. It was all a joke. Ha ha, ha ha. So funny. My host shook his hand.

Our picture was taken by the first man and we continued our sightseeing.


The Old Man and the Sea Guide to Fishing for Cephalopods

David, the friendly guy from the sailboat, had told me a couple of interesting things. If I poke jellyfish in the night with my paddle they will glow. As it happens, my host is a biophysicist studying bioluminescence, he installs the Jelly fish glow switch in other organisms and then sees how their glow responds to stuff.  I don't think he pokes them with a kayak paddle.

The other thing that David told me was that his previous sailboat did not have a cabin, so when he would sail from port to port he would sleep in unoccupied cabins of other boats in port. Much as I had done with permission in L'Estartit. While David's idea intrigued me, I have an expensive bivi sack and an OK sleeping bag, so for now I'll manage to contain myself from trespassing on fancy vacant yachts.

Day 16:
On Friday I paddled from Palavas Les Flots (43.523674,3.934798) to Port Camargue (43.520607,4.126161). I had a late start because I was staying with some very friendly scientists in Montpellier (not the one in VT.)

Cutting straight across the bay using my compass to direct me to land and a port I could not see, I made great time with a strong tailwind.

As I overheated I went to roll, and I had trouble coming back up. I worked it out, but it wasn't as easy as it should have been. In the wind there were waves, and the rule is to always come up on the side of the boat the waves are coming from. I rolled again, this time on the appropriate side, and it was much easier. Back in America I had practiced in some heavy surf up on Lake Champlain, but they were lots of waves close together, not ocean swells. I would need to practice more when I got to my destination.

The tailwind and waves moved me fast. But some amount of nervousness from all the surf had me on edge with poor paddling style, so my arms were getting tired and I had to concentrate to paddle better. Not as easy as it sounds. Paddling should not make one’s arms tired.  Paddling correctly relies almost completely on core strength body rotation.

I arrived in port to see a party of kite surfers doing some pretty neat looking tricks off of the nicely sized waves. There were maybe 50 of them. I found a section of the beach that was a little less occupied and began to work on my rolls in the surf. All of my attempts on the upwind side were successful.

On the downwind side, Ip got one, then missed one, try two, try three, wet exit. I was floating next to my boat in the waves, the beach about a hundred feet away. I would get back into my boat upside down on the correct side and complete the roll. I swam under the boat and tried to get back in; there was something wrong. I couldn't get my feet into the cockpit. Maybe there was to much stuff in there? I tried pulling out the pump and the quick grab bag, but I only felt the back of the seat. That was odd, why was the back of my seat there, it was as though I was trying to get into my boat backwards? I was. I turned around, and got back into my boat the correct way.

There was fishing line along my arm, not a good sign, but no time to deal with that now. I completed the roll, but with my cockpit having taken on water and on the side of a heavy wave I began to go back over the down wave side. I gave a support skull which started to set me right, but it wasn't enough and with my winged paddle I couldn't swing the paddle back again to finish the correction, and I was upside down again. I went to roll up on the correct side, but between the heavy angled sweep stroke I used, and all the surf the direction of my boat had switched and I was trying again to right myself on the down wave side. My lung capacity almost exhausted, I made a wet exit and found myself standing in the shallow water, the waves breaking around me.

I pulled my boat ashore and began the length task of getting my fishing line out of everything. My lure was right there in the cockpit with me, and for once I was thankful that I couldn't seem to hook anything at all.

Ready to go back out, I would not pull into port until I was satisfied with my handling of the surf. I made for an upwind roll, but my boat again turned in the attempt and I was sweeping against the waves and the on the down wave side. Damn, I made to switch the side of the boat I was trying to roll on, but shifting the boat’s underwater center of gravity with the waves hammering it from above was extremely slow going. I finally wet exit. This time the reentry and roll went smoothly, and a few more practice rolls went well as well.

I was exhausted, so I pulled into port thinking that with the cold weather I had lost a little bit of skill, but now properly attired I would dedicate myself to setting it right.
A fellow in the port noticed my lure and asked me if I was fishing for squids. I said that I wasn't. I guess I bought the wrong kind of lure.


The next port I could have left my boat in was another 19 nautical miles. Their was no way I could make it in time. The people at Port Camargue were extremely friendly, offering me both a shower and the option of leaving my boat in a garage of theirs for the weekend.

For the Sabbath I stayed with the scientist couple again, and had a really nice time. Host-man was a friend of my brother’s twenty years ago and pleasure to talk to as an English speaker and somebody who shared my love for math and all things nerdy.
I went to the local synagogue for services Saturday morning (I was cutting it too close Friday night). The synagogue was a great high vaulted ceiling and artificially engraved wood around the walls. Marred slightly by blue florescent Jewish stars up above a beautiful wooden ark, as though they were selling Jewish star pizza right out of the holy ark. After services some people spoke to me, but I was unable to score an invitation for lunch, so I made my way back to were I was staying.

In the afternoon my host gave me a guided tour around the lovely old city here in Montpellier. There's a canal running through the city and on the canal we saw a bunch of kid kayakers next to a club. One of them had fallen out of his boat, and I would have told him how to get back in, would that I could speak French. Instead I watched him struggle with a cowboy like reentry to almost succeed at one point only to be pushed back in by a pier. Eventually he became cold and made his way a few feet to the side of the river and climbed out.

A Literary Moment:

Back at the apartment I decided that I needed to get serious about my fishing, so I read an introduction to fishing by Ernest Hemingway. In his book Mr. Hemingway described how he went 84 days without catching a fish. Then, he caught a really big one only to have it eaten by sharks. I can obviously learn a lot from this.

I had planned to be back on the water on Sunday, but another small craft advisory, together with the wind blowing in the opposite direction are keeping me off the water. A member of the chabad community in Barcelona had suggested that all my troubles that were keeping me there were God's way of forcing me to be with a community for the high holidays. I wonder what he was say about the fact that almost every Sunday so far has had bad weather.

One Last Note:

A friend of mine who I hold in highest esteem has in the comments of this blog innocently wondered how some of my actions correlate to my long held religious traditions. My editor and another friend of mine chewed him out. Please, all of you, play nice.*

* I didn’t chew him out.  (a) Nutella is kosher, and (b) you are in charge of your own diet.  I apologize for chewing, which was not intended but may have been inferred.  Mea culpa. Nobody messes with my brothers but me, and my fraternal instinct may have interfered with my forbearance. ~ ed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rocket Man

I took the train from Perpignan to Sete. On the way, I began organizing my stuff. Putting things into dry bags and getting batteries into equipment. I tested my radio. And before I was even remotely done, I had arrived in Sete. I was unable to get the batteries into my headlamp.

In Sete I began the walk through the port area to my kayak. I made my way into a marine store. Now that I had enough dry bags, I picked up some flares and orange smoke cans I could use in an emergency.

I talked to the friendly guy running the store and got him to help me with the headlamp. At first he was as confounded as I was, but then hesitantly began unscrewing the screws in the back. It all worked out and we got the batteries in.

I continued on to my boat, grabbing a baguette dinner that was taken with Nutella that had just been returned to me. I got to my boat, made camp nearby, and slept.

Day 15:

In the morning I was up early and went back to organizing my gear. I fastened lights to the front, red-green, and back, white, of my boat. I set up the compasses. I tied up my new lure, organized my things into dry-bags, and finally donned my brand new wetsuit.

I had a grab dry bag with me in my cockpit containing emergency gear. The bag has a rope with a loop and a quick clip tied to it so that if something were to go wrong at sea I could grab the bag and attach it to myself.

You may have, at this time, a couple of questions, so I'll try to nip them in the bud.

Q: Dov, is it true that you look like a super hero in your wet suit?
A: Yes.
Q: Is that a rocket between your legs?
A: What kind of sick weirdo did your mother raise? As it happens, I do keep my rocket flares  between my legs. Grow up.

By 11:00 I was on the water. The first thing I did was to play. All of my things were in dry bags, if water got in my boat my computer would not be at risk. I was wearing a wet suit, and a splash top above that, I would not get cold. I rolled and rolled my boat. I did extended skulls. A fish returned to water, I had a good time. My cockpit took on a bit of water since I still had a lousy spray skirt, but nothing I couldn't pump out.

I was in a small bay of sorts with beach on three sides. I got out for a moment to admire the view, by which I mean, use nature’s facilities, and when I turned around my boat had begun floating off, perhaps on a whim. My first thought was to swim after it, but it wasn't going far, only to the other side of the bay, a practical joke between good friends. I walked around as somebody on the other side got a handle on it for me.

“Nice boat.” He said.

“Thanks, do you kayak?”

“Only on rivers.” We talked some more and then I was saddled up and going away. I had a thought, I asked a woman on the beach to take my picture with my camera. At first she didn't understand me, but eventually figured out what I wanted and accepted the mission. Except my camera didn't work and the woman left quickly. I was suddenly a social pariah.

The new battery hadn't fixed my camera after all. Since then the problem has gotten worse, it no longer turns on, even when fully charged. Above are the last pictures you may see for a while.

I paddled northeast along the coast. It was a holiday so there were lots of people on the beaches, including for a while some drummers that gave a rhythm to my paddling.

My new seat and leg peg positions, accommodating my not very good spray skirt, made for my most ergonomic ride yet. With my new clothing it was my most comfortable in a few weeks. Whenever I would begin to overheat, I would roll and be nice and cool again. I had a great day.

As the sun set and I pulled into a harbor near Montpellier, a sailboat passed me and the French people on board cheered to see a kayaker pulling into the harbor. It was too late in the day for me to roll; I would be cold as soon as I stopped paddling, even in my suit. Showing off, I rolled for them.

I walked into the marina office to ask for permission to leave my boat there. In full kayaking regalia, all of the pretty young ladies in the office stopped their group chat and stared at me. My ego wouldn't let me take it as anything other then a compliment.

I parked my boat next to a racing sailboat. The fellow on the deck, David, was staying on his boat for the weekend and was happy to talk to me. He showed me to a Wi-Fi cafe and we spoke of canals that might be short cuts, the weather, places I had seen, sailboat racing (he's a racer), and other sea people stuff. He treated me to my hot chocolate and offered to let me stay in his boat and out of the rain for the night.

I had already accepted another offer from a friend of my brother who lives in the area. Life had never been so good, two invitations for one night. Good lord, kayaking is awesome.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lost and Found

I picked up a new lure, this one is very colorful. I honor DB with the privilege of naming him. (Why him and not her? I don't have much luck with women.)
Also, I'm posting this from the same Internet cafe that I stopped in Monday night. When I walked in they were excited to see me so that they could return my lost Nutella.

Love From Home

Tuesday night I got an email from my parents that told me that I needed to “Go to Perpignan RIGHT NOW.” The reason was because they had received word that my winter clothing and navigational equipment would be arriving there the next day. It was to arrive at the house of a Chabad family that had agreed to help us out with this. Someone would need to sign for it when it arrived, some time between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm exactly, and my parents didn't want to require of the nice family that they wait until it come.

It was late at night and I was to have my first couch surfing experience so I decided I would go in the morning. The woman who hosted me lived towards the center of town. It was an hour walk from my boat. On the way I picked up some cookies for a gift and a baguette and container of Nutella for dinner. I met my pleasant host and we chatted.

She asked me if I was crazy.

“Everybody has to follow his dreams, and this is where mine have taken me.” I thought I sounded wise.

She was nice, offered me dinner though I had already eaten, and after a shower I slept on a comfortable couch. The next morning she gave me a ride to my boat since it was on her way to work. She teaches severely learning disabled children.

The marina snakes through part of the town with apartment buildings and shops on either side of the water. I needed to get to my boat because I had parked it there without permission. I found a sailing club near my spot and told the man opening it the short version of my story.

He showed me a place to leave my boat and said it would be no trouble, except that the club would be closed tomorrow so how would I get bye the locked gate?

“I'm good at gates. Not to worry.”

Not quite sure he brought me down to the water and showed me a rock only about a foot deep that I could step off of to get around the gate and onto the dock.

From my boat I assembled a few basic items, and began the walk to the train station. I noticed on the way that I had lost my Nutella somewhere, odd. It took me a little over an hour to get to the station. As I walked into the train station I thought about the rabbi and his family that I would be traveling back to. I would need to remember to return to him his tefilin* that he had lent me a week earlier, as a pair that belonged to my grandpa would be arriving with the package. I would need to return to him the tefilin that was in my boat. I turned around and went back to get them.
I was finally on the train by about 1:00 pm. The Rabbi and his wife have four children, all ages four and under, so I was fairly confident that somebody would be home. Still, my parents had used their fiery wrath tone in telling me to be there, so I had wanted to get there early.

I got there at about 3:00 pm and my package hadn't arrived yet. Yes, somebody had been home all day. 6:00 pm came and went. No package, they invited me to stay the night.

A man in the community had passed away leaving nobody behind. In his will he bequeathed all of his things to the land of Israel and the rabbi had been asked to deal with it. I accompanied the rabbi to the man's house to try to make some order of his possessions. Those possessions included a Gore-Tex shell and a multi tool that we decided could go to the land of Israel on my boat, score. It was sad going through his things and trying to decide what to do with them.

For the rest of the evening I did nerdy stuff on my computer.

This morning I continued to wait for my package to come. A letter came from the post people. It said that my package was being held up in customs on account of missing documentation. I was fairly certain the problem had already been solved. The letter also had the wrong address on it, a very wrong address. It had arrived to the right place thanks to a good mailman and sheer luck. It was unlikely that my package, if similarly addressed, would ever come.


As I worried and we attempted to contact post people my package arrived.

It had my winter clothing, it had my tefilin, it had the pieces we thought I would need tofix my camera, it had lights, all sorts of other things, and above all, love from home.

Thanks mom and dad!

*tefilin: A small but expensive Jewish ritual item used as a part of the morning prayer session.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Two Old Men in a Boat for One

Yesterday, while waiting for the weather I sat in the marina’s clubhouse and spoke with friends and family on my computer.

When the last of the folk left the clubhouse, one of them told me to follow him. He opened up for me the diving clubhouse that was next door: a room with some tables, chairs, fliers about diving, and a heater. On a cold windy day, it was a place to think and rest and be happy. The man never came back to ask me to leave or lock it behind me so I slept there overnight.

Instead of having to wake up to every night sound in the forest to defend myself against a boar wanting its bed back, I had to wake up to every creak of the wind in case the man remembered that he never locked the room, and unwittingly tried to lock me in.

So it was a relatively good night’s sleep, clean, private, and under a roof with a heater.

Day 14:

The next morning I stepped outside and it was cold. Trips between my kayak and my shelter were hurried. I have a problem with my splash top; water dripping down from my paddle pools in my sleeve. Every 20 minutes or so I have to stop paddling, open up the Velcro fastener near the wrist, and let out all the water. It's annoying.

I keep thinking that I could store the water in my water bottle and see how much I have at the end of the day. Then I would send it to the manufacturer. But if I did that, I wouldn't have anywhere to keep my lunch. Today I had a solution, I rolled my jacket sleeve above my elbows, it was a tight fit and a little uncomfortable, but it would be better then having a pool of water in my sleeve.

Under the jacket I was wearing my T shirt and the fleece vest I had been given on the night of the swamp walk. I was also wearing bathing suit shorts (I add here the word shorts because Pigeon had wondered if “bathing suit” might mean speedos.)

The rule with kayaking is “Dress for submersion.” I was not. It was cold out. I had more clothing, but it was designated dry clothing and would not leave my hatches until I was safely on land. By this time of year I should be wearing a wet suit, but the good people of the French office of customs have decided to deprive me of my wet suit for the time being. So I paddled my coldest day yet.

I cut straight across to Agde. Or at least I wanted to. As I pulled out of the harbor from Narbonne Plage I could make out in the distance something in the distant misty sea that might have been a mountain and it might have been a cruise ship. Like a mountain, it was big, but so are cruise ships. It seemed a little bit more mountain-like than ship-like, but it's front and back sloped down towards each other in a uniquely ship-like fashion.

After dodging under a fishing line with a shout of surprise, I called out to the awakened fisherman and asked “Agde?” pointing my paddle in the direction of the distant shade. I don't know what he told me, but I'm fairly certain it had to do with his line which he didn't realize I was now safely past. I tried a few more times pronouncing it differently.

Finally he stopped talking about his fishing line, listened to what I was trying to ask him, and understood. He answered excitedly yes and told me how far it was. Though I still wasn't certain if he was talking about the distant shade, or just the general northerly direction.

There was a west breeze so I set my course for a place between what I thought might be Agde, and what I could recognize as land. It took a while to clear up enough for me to be sure, and I kept repeating the same thoughts in my head. “That's where Agde should be, I think.” and “The front and back slope in, it has to be a cruise ship. You'll call yourself stupid when you get there and it's a cruise ship.”

It was Agde, and as the day went on the breeze turned into a southern, then south easter picking up a little more speed all the time. It was nice to finally have a tail wind.

I spoke aloud lines from Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail as I paddled.*

[caption id="attachment_622" align="alignleft" width="171" caption="A picture lated taken in a cathedral in Montpelier."][/caption]

I stopped for lunch at around 1:00 pm on an island just in front of the city. Most of the island was taken up by a castle with walls dropping straight into the sea, but there was a pebbly beach that was nice. Above the beach their was a stone walled courtyard and beyond a heavy portcullis. The courtyard was grassy with wind beaten trees, pleasantly at contrast with the beach.

And it was closed. The castle and the courtyard were fenced off. There were signs with French and a picture of a person with something falling on his** head from above. The picture was not a photograph, I hope. After I stretched and moved my seat back to better suit my spray skirt I was heading on to my final destination for the day, Sete.

“Pronounced 'Set,'” said one of the the old men. I had passed a really small motor boat with what looked like a child size cabin and two old men. They were standing where there was barely enough room for one and talking to each other. By now it was drizzling and the sea had begun to grow a little rough. They encouraged me on “Bon Voyage!” “Au revoir!” I replied.

Unfortunately I had neglected to adjust the location of the foot rest together with my seat, and surf was now too rough to attempt such a feet from within my boat. The settings were only off by a few inches, but my shoulder hurt more and more as the day drew to a close.

The day before I had finally had some luck with couch surfing. In Sete there was a nice lady who had agreed to host me for the night. I pulled into a canal that had a number of docks, locked my boat and grabbed my bag and began looking to meet up with her.

On my way I stopped at a bakery to get a baguette. As I was leaving with a warm roll of bread in hand, a small black dog walked behind the counter from a back room. It proceeded to head out the door just behind me. The dog then peed on the side of the bakery, and went right back inside.

It knew where it was going.

* Just a guess: “Oh, oh, I see, running away then. You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!” ~ ed.

** I use “his” instead of “her” because in stick figure world women don't wear pants. ~ Dov

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day 13: France

Content warning: This one will have the “A” word in it.
10/6/'10 Day 13:
The captain offered me breakfast and got my picture as I took off. I hope he sends it to me. I paddled on glassy water with a light breeze slowing me down. I cut straight across a shallow bay and four hours later I was turning into Narbonne Plage (43.168229, 3.185048). I stopped for lunch and, despite an improvement in the wind’s direction, I decided to try to work out my Sabbath accommodations.  Maybe I would take the train to a nearby Jewish community.
After a lot of walking around and a stop at the supermarket I had plans. I would sleep on the side of a hill in the woods next to the town (43.172912,3.174274). On my way up the path I noticed spots where a boar had torn up the vegetation.
I spoke to the marina captain to ask if I could leave my boat here (I'm writing this at the dock on a curb) for the weekend. He didn't speak any English.
I tried “Kayak” and then a “moi, Barcelona.” Now I was stuck. I went through my French lexicon. Guillotine, corporal, soup deux jour, wait! That was it! “Deux jour!” and I pointed down.
The captain understood that I had kayaked from Barcelona, and that I would like to stay here for two days. I think.  He looked at me like I was crazy for kayaking like that, but then smiled and said that it would be no problem for me to leave my boat here. At least, I hope that's what he said.
I made camp off of an out of the way trail near a pretty lake. The spot I had chosen was one of a few places where there was no significant undergrowth. After a sabbath meal in the quiet woods I was asleep by 7:00pm. I sleep in a sleeping bag in a bivi sack on a pad. While warm and comfy, I can't see very much of what's around me, nor am I free to move my arms. I become giant caterpillar like. Later this became a scary problem.
I woke in the dead of night when a twig snapped very near me. It could have been a chipmunk or a squirrel. Then there was more movement and bushes being pushed aside. If it was a chipmunk, it was a hundred pounds of chipmunk and it was very near coming at me. I assumed it had big tusks and could gore.
I couldn't see it. I didn't want to get the flight or fight mechanism to go wrong, but I needed it to know that I was there. I sat up slowly. The sounds stopped. There was a deep throated growl huff. It was not dog-like, it was, “I can eat you dog” like.
And then it went off in a different direction. It moved through the underbrush with all the finesse of a giant pig.
For the next few hours I had my head and arms outside of my sack to ward off any more monsters in the night.  I wore my whistle and was ready to use it.  All I got for my efforts was a little cold.
The next morning I meant to go about my business, but going to the bathroom without toilet paper in a pine wood is a pain in the ass. (That was it, there will be no more.) I found a porta poty near a construction sight that solved the problem.

I stood for a while and watched fish leap above the surface of the water as the sunlight painted the mist and the water a gold that was prettier then any metal I had ever seen.
I went for a walk in the French countryside. Thick pine woods and dense brush covered rolling hills. Occasionally I saw some kind of nut or a small patch of pretty white flowers. People would occasionally come out of the bush all beaten up but with mushrooms to show for their efforts.
There were hiking paths that went along ravines with views of the sea. There was a marsh with softly colored grasses that seemed to go on forever.
For a while there were hunters also. They had many dogs running through the underbrush and they would call out to them in French. They had shotguns.* I asked one hunter “Is it dangerous for me to be here?” and he said “Oui oui.”
I moved on in a different direction rather quickly.
I passed vineyards with fall colors they stood out in sharp contrast to the coniferous woods.
I passed a farm that was displaying the largest pig I had ever seen. It was a beast that was moving stones with its snout and rooting around in the dirt. I couldn't begin to estimate its weight except to say that it was certainly much heavier then I.

I drank from a hose on the farm, I had been walking for a while.
And then there was a true treat for my eyes. Chateau Laquirou stood over a huge stretch of vineyard. The field had many portions, each in its own glory displaying a different aspect of fall. Standing at the center of the field was an island of ancient trees surrounded by a weathered stone wall.
At the head of this agrarian masterpiece was a small collection of old French houses. There was a steeple and vines up the sides of the cottages.
I felt that this was Europe, this was a thing I had come to see that I had never seen before. It was a fresh sent for my soul and it was good.
Tomorrow their is another small craft warning. The forecast for this week is bad.

* Not the dogs, I don’t think. ~ ed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 12

Day 12:
I began today, again, cutting knots out of Moe's line and retying him. I made breakfast, packed up my stuff, and was on my way just before sunrise. Rather than head out to sea I went upriver, inland.
I felt a tug on Moe's line. This was the first tug I ever felt, and, as it turned out, the last. I pulled Moe in to find that he had picked up some grasses from the bottom of the river.
“You're mocking me, aren't you?”
“You know Mo, you're gonna have to start catching some fish. Otherwise, you're just a drag.” I was too hard on him.
I got to a bridge, and underneath it there was a sign “maximum speed 5 knots” (42.805752,3.03066). In front of the sign there was a fence through the water. The inland water way had been closed at this end. I pulled over, climbed up on the rocks, took my boat out of the water and got back in on the other side. It was a pain in the neck, but I wanted to paddle inland.
The view of the lake and the birds and the mountains was nice. I had assumed in planning this trip that most of my views would be like the New Jersey coast. I am delighted to have been wrong. This area, at least, features occasional villages dotting a vast empty land. Grasses, hills, trees, and nothing more make up most of the scenery. Such was the view inland from the lake. Between the lake and the sea was a tourist town.
My chart was barely adequate, but I managed to find my way. There were lots of canals into the south Florida-like neighborhood to my right that were not marked on it. Still, I managed with some trepidation. (Incidentally, the water level is much lower then it was when the Google maps pictures were taken. There are lots of islands that are neither on Gmaps or on my chart.) So I asked a fisherman if I had the right way. He told me no and sent me climbing over a sand bar with my boat. I paddled for a ways on the other side, until I was convinced that I was going the right way the first time, turned around, climbed back over the sand bar, and was back on my original correct path.
That is, until I got to a dead end (42.838134,3.035327). I saw a man walking his dog on the street above and called out to him. He told me that I would need to go over the road to get back out the the sea. The road was not on my chart.
As I began to try to get my boat up on the road I dropped it on a rock. That was bad. I think the boat was OK, but I still haven't done a good check. Another man walking his dog saw me and offered to help. I gratefully accepted.
The man's dog was medium sized white curly haired dog that looked as though it was bred to live on a pillow.
The man to his dog (translated from French) "Sit.”
The dog (also translated) "Whatever.”
The man said again “Sit.”
The dog sat and the man put down the leash to help me with the boat. The dog got up to come take a closer look. The man said to his dog “Sit.”
And the dog responded “Whatever.”
We crossed the road and put the boat in on the other side. We had to stop twice so that the man could try to do something with his dog.

I only had to climb over one more obstacle before I was back at sea. (42.85588,3.032709)
On my way out I managed to ride the wake of a sailboat for a while. I moved fast. The boat, which I struggled to stay just a meter or so behind, was small and manned by two sailors who spoke no English. I don't know if it seemed odd to them that there was this kayaker paddling just behind them for as long as he could. The sailors and I made a couple unsuccessful attempts at conversation. Once they were out on the open sea I could no longer keep up.
Paddling on the open sea I put Moe back in the water, having taken him out in contempt. Since the first episode he had twice more picked up reeds from the bottom, and not even hinted that he might like to pick up a fish or two.

As my day approached its end I paddled along a sandy expanse that was much more then just a beach. It went way back, it's smooth surface was broken occasionally by a stream snaking it's way out to the sea. One giant piece of driftwood, half the trunk of a once great tree, stood above and surveyed it all. Behind the sandy plane the ground rose up sharply into the grassy hills with a small wood here and there giving a sense of space. Atop the ridges were lines of windmills turning each to its own beat.
Along this place, the water was shallow and the waves broke far out and rolled all the way in. It was when I got hit by a particularly big one, and pushed some five meters closer to the shore, that Moe left me.
I had been to hard on him. So he left me. Like he did everything in our time together, without a word. He was gone and my line was slack.
Port La Nouvelle is weird. Two parallel seawalls go way out from the beach to mark its entrance. As I paddled up the corridor, I could make out the huge buildings of industry in the distance. Giant silos along the water, this was no leisure marina. If there were sailboats at all I couldn't make them out. I saw a sign for the captains office and I pulled over.
In my spray skirt and splash top I walked into the office ready for another rejection. I explained to the man at the desk.
“You kayaked from Barcelona?” He asked me.
“Where's your boat?”
I took him to see my boat, just outside his office.
He went to get the captain and asked me to wait outside since I was dripping wet and had already left a puddle on his floor.
As he spoke to the captain in French the captain shook his head and I was sure things were not looking good for me.
The guy from the front desk, Really Awesome Nice Dude (Randy), and the captain, were extremely helpful. The captain told me I could leave my boat in his back yard because his house was on the water. Would I like to shower? I would. Fantastic.
Randy: “You're crazy, aren't you.”
“A little.” I told him.
“We were crazy too once.”
They helped me get my boat off of the water. Randy asked me if he could give me a lift to anywhere in town. I said no thank you, but directions for some errands would be helpful. He was only too happy to oblige.
Was I sure he couldn't give me a ride? Yes, I was sure. I explained to him that one of the purposes of my trip was to encourage people to drive less and use human powered transportation more. Say no more, he understood.
Tonight I sleep on the beach, knowing my stuff is well looked after and not quite as stinky as I usually am. Thank you Randy and Marina Captain for your kindness. While your crazy days may be behind you, I hope you continue to find good in the craziness of others.
current location:  43.023051,3.042161

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 11

Day 11: May I borrow a paper bag, please?

Warning, there's some math in this one.

This morning I was on the water by 10:30 and paddling into a 20 mph north west wind. This was the strongest wind I had gone out in yet, but the waves were small and I was determined to make the next marina, Port Barcaras.
Going north into a 20 mph northwest wind is like going into 14 mph north wind and a 14 mph west wind (If any of my students are reading this, can you prove it?) I had all day in my boat to think about it. The north side slowed me down a lot, but there was nothing I could do about it. The west wind took my boat by the side and pushed me out to sea at an alarming rate. I could take time to paddle back towards the shore, but then the north wind would catch me by my side and I would lose tremendous ground.
For a while, progress was very slow. Then I had an idea. Very close to shore there were waves going towards the beach against the wind. Presumably this happens because they are essentially falling off the sea. By keeping my boat on the line between the waves going towards the beach, and the waves going away from it, I was able to make better progress then I had before. Occasionally I would find myself again far out to sea, or about to land on the beach, but for the most part I managed the balance.
It was still slow going. About 15 feet from the shore I watched an old guy strolling along, smoking a joint, pass me. But I was making progress.
The wind had a magical effect. Little rainbows rushed across the surface of the water towards the beach. They appeared in the tails of spray thrown up by the breaking waves in front of me. Sometimes these breaking waves would hit me, but rushing over my boat they weren't any higher then my chest. Once I was hit by two at the same time coming from orthogonal* directions. It was exciting.
Finally, at around 4:00pm I got to my destination. I needed to buy rice, so I thought I would call it a day. I went into the captain’s office to ask for permission to leave my kayak in the marina, as I had done many times before. “No.” They told me. “There isn't enough room.”
That was a lie. There was lots of room. If anybody has a burning paper bag of poo, please leave it with the good people of Port Barcaras.
After buying some rice in an expensive supermarket I got in my boat and went to leave the marina. While paddling out I noticed that the water was moving the wrong way. That is, the water was leaving the marina and not going into it which was usually the case. I looked at my map and saw that the marina backed up to a small inland waterway along the coast. I paddled up it, found a place to camp, and can look forward to a couple hours of inland paddling tomorrow. It should be nice.

* “pertaining to or involving right angles or perpendiculars” www.dictionary.com ~ ed.
Current Location: 42.798219,3.035746

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dead Chocolate Rat

This morning I went to the 13th century palace at the center of Perpignan. I don't think the people who lived in that palace had toilet paper, but aside from that it was a good life. The palace was built for the king and queen of a country that doesn't exist anymore (I think). Since then, like Perpignan, it had changed hands a number of times between the French and the Spanish and was for 500 consecutive years, until WWII, a military base.
I walked into the palace only to be stopped in front of the gift office because I needed to go in and pay. I parted with the two Euro reluctantly, but in the end was very pleased that I did. It was my first time in a palace, and it was worth every penny (200!).
In the palace there was a modern art exhibit that consisted of paintings of women in bikinis at the beach. I can't say I connected with the art in any deep emotional way.
After the palace I walked some more around the old city. I walked by a chocolate shop (42.698578,2.893181). I wouldn't buy any chocolate, but I would go in to take a look.
Inside I was overwhelmed with the smell of chocolaty goodness. My mouth watered. I would just watch the woman behind the counter make the chocolate that was all around me and overrunning my senses. My mouth continued to water. The woman explained to me that she was making orange flavored chocolate. She had made almost all of the chocolate in the shop.
“What would you recommend?” I heard myself say after I had swallowed the pool of saliva that had collected in my mouth.
“What do you like?”
“Dark. Bitter. Chocolatey.”
No animal fat in anything, the idea was absurd. Probably kosher.
“How about this one.” She broke off a piece from one of the large tablets on the shelves.
“I can try it?” I asked stupidly.  It was too good to be true.
“Yes, of course.”
I tried it. It was as good as I imagined. Chocolate ran through mouth and nearly blew my already overloaded senses.  It was made from a bean that had known the rain and sun and the rich soil of some far away exotic place. And those ingredients had turned into the chocolate that was in my mouth and releasing to my pallete the secrets of the best things in the world.
I might have told the woman a little bit about myself, but I left that store with only one thing on my mind and that was the clump of chocolate that was making its way, one very little bit at a time, onto my tongue.
Later, I realized that I had left my nalgene bottle there. I would have to go back for it since I was using it regularly for all sorts of great purposes. It's the swiss army knife of water bottles. I had found the chocolate shop by wandering randomly through the maze-like corridors of the old city and I was not excited at the prospect of retracing my steps. I went back to the palace and asked myself “Where would I go if I were me?” And so, one intersection at a time, I went after the most colorful or interesting things I could see, until I found the chocolate shop.
“You left your water here!” The woman told me as soon as she saw me.
“I know. Thanks for keeping it. I guess I should get something else in appreciation.” I really appreciated her looking after my water bottle for me.
Again chocolatey goodness. This time the flavor was a little less harsh with a pleasant note that spoke of soft dew drops coming off of the jungle plants above. I know, it sounds dorky, but you try that chocolate and talk like an adult about it afterwards.
The woman told me that hers is the best chocolate in the world. Sure, why not.
I went to a post office armed with my package’s number. I found out that it had not moved beyond the airport in Paris. The post office couldn't help me more then that.
I tried what I thought was a carob from a tree. I had to jump to grab a branch that I shook to free the alleged carob. I ate about half of it, there was definitely a sweet flavor to it, but also something not quite right so I threw the rest away. And then the aftertaste hit. Bahh, it was awful, horrendous, terrible, bad, nasty. As though a week earlier a rat had crawled into my mouth and died. I bought some bread at a local bakery to try to get rid of the taste. Now it was like I had that same rat in my mouth, just in a sandwich. Ewwww.
Moving along.
After talking to my parents who had spoken to, of all places, the French consulate in Washington, they told me to seek out an office of tourism here in Perpignan and ask for help with my missing package.
I did. The pretty young lady at the counter set out to help me. First we called the USPS, and they told us to call US customs with our questions about foreign customs offices. US customs had a message on their machine saying they don't help people with questions about foreign customs offices and that we should call the French consulate. My parents already had called the consulate and they were told that I should go to the local office of tourism in Perpignan. And then I was back to square one. Except that by now, me and the pretty young lady had exchanged a number of smiles.
She did some hunting on the Internet and tried some numbers here in France. Most of them she would hang up on after she was put on hold, which discouraged me. There was one though that she stuck with for about 20 minutes while we talked of shoes and ships and sealing wax.
And then somebody on the other end answered. And they were in the know. And they helped, giving clear and concise instructions on what I needed to do. The problem was solved and the package should arrive here in Perpignan in two or three days. It had been held up for security concerns.
It was six o’clock, closing time at the tourist office.
“So what are you going to do this evening?” I asked the woman who had helped me.
“I'll probably go get some coffee.” She told me.
“Can I treat you?” I asked.
“Sure.” she answered happily.
I then got introduced to the other two people who were coming. The conversation dynamic for the next hour was odd to say the least, the most intimate part of my evening was the few smiles that were already behind me. I didn't pay for her, having been confused about what had happened and what may have been lost in translation.
Tomorrow I hope to paddle away from this place and on to new things.