Suspended Animation

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Evening all

No man is an island, except the Isle of Man. Most of the time there’s just me and Rich in the little world of Gwen, but since we’ve been on this particular island for what is now a month (Rich’s job has run over by quite a lot, so we’re still in the marina in Lanzarote) the bubble has stretched to include a host of other souls.

There’s Mike and Kate, who we run into everywhere. We met them in the Spanish rias, and again in Mallorca, and again in Gibraltar. They’re in this marina, as are Mattis and Mo, a couple called Adrian and Sam on their long keeled double ender, a solo sailor called Lewis who is waiting for repairs to his boat and a Mallorcan environmentalist called Jorge who arrived from Holland on one boat and will be leaving on another for Gambia, Brazil and New Zealand. We bump in to some or all of them every evening after work, when the marina’s Asian restaurant serves half priced beers between 5 and 6.30.

These fine friendly people share with us a wealth of sailing experiences, from in depth knowledge of particular hardware or cruising locations to strange and silly stories of the things that can happen on board. They provide expert sounding boards for our plans or problems with Gwen, and share anecdotes that console us that we’re not the only sods who encounter frustrating or gross situations, cry, grumble, can’t hear what each other is saying or drop their mobile phones in the sea. We laugh and drink and talk non stop, grabbing that last round at 6.29 before heading home to our dinners.

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A lunchtime doodle

It’s fantastic, but it’s dangerous for me. A couple of weeks ago the combination of increased social interactions and increased alcohol consumption, compounded by working from the dark belly of home and living with a partner who was starting to get impatient to move on, provided all the ingredients necessary to kick life into my dormant anxiety. Rich would be terse in his lunch break and I’d react with more upset than he expected, making him feel angry and me, guilty. When out for drinks I’d feel guilty for smoking at a table where nobody else did, or smelling bad after a day of work festering in the stuffy saloon at my computer. I’d feel guilty for talking too much, asking too few questions, saying the wrong thing, laughing in the wrong place. We’d get home from visiting other boats or bars and I’d shake and cry, exhausted from having smiled through the hyper aware state where reactions from anyone else are overanalysed and ground into personal shame. I’d make unconscious selections from a long list of other things I could fret about and get to work on them overnight. Rich gave me hugs and reminded me that it always ends. He’s never been wrong about that.

This lasted for over a week, during which my mum visited, providing me with glorious distraction and a bit of outdoors. She and I visited the pretty town of Teguise, and she joined us both at the Arrecife En Vivo festival (which has been running every Friday at stages around the town) until a bloody awful metal band drove us away. Later that evening, after Rich and I had had a little rest, we watched Asian Dub Foundation playing on the stage in the marina, booming heavy beats into our feet, and I danced all of that day’s worries out in a sweaty, bouncing abandon.

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Teguise. Possibly slightly inaccurate. Don’t remember the guy with the shrunken head.

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Best drumming troupe we’ve seen in a year in Spain. They rehearse near the marina so there’s often a beat to plod home by.

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Me with the festival’s Elvis(h) icon. Photo from arrecifeenvivo.com

The marina wifi continues to give opportunities to connect with friends and family, and with the news, which heaps awful upon more awful and leaves you fury fatigued at the Trumps and Weinsteins of this world and their apologists. I’ve done three week’s illustration work for a communicative, creative client in the US and look forward to working with her more in the future. A wealth of administration tasks from insurance to tax returns have been progressed, and no small amount of television and film has been streamed.

Gwen has had her own journey, tethered though she remains. Rich bandaged a few injuries on Fanny and Bob, and used the spare epoxy to fix a chip he’d noticed on deck. We talked through a way to fix a new forestay that will mean our bowsprit still has support even when we bring in the foresails, and Rich went up and looped it round our mast a few days ago. He’s also bought enough dyneema to make extra lower backstays to better support the mast when we have plenty of wind behind us. We’re hoping we will.

We went up the mast yesterday and gave her rigging a good oil. I went first, strapped on by the chest and bum, hoisting myself on the main halliard with a safety topsail line hauled by Rich. I approached the spreaders, cautiously squeezing myself and the jollop bucket on my hip through the various ropes that shoot out from the mast. At the highest point Rich tied both my line and the safety off below. The release from the burden of managing my own weight shed all my fears and allowed me to bounce joyfully from one side of the boat to the other. Over the next hour or so I worked my way down painting all the wires, relishing my duty, trying not to splash oily goo on the deck below while Rich moved tarpaulin around to protect it from the flourish of my brush strokes.

Our time spent moored here, and our time spent chatting with our fantastic neighbours, has given me time to reflect and project. Over the last five years of Gwen life I have basked in inspiration from Richard, watching him make all of this happen. He hasn’t done it alone (trust me, it’s plenty of work supporting and collaborating on this thing), but he has maintained a singular determination without which we would never have made it close to this far. It makes him damn annoying sometimes, but maybe you need to be determined and annoying to get anything done. I am mulling over and preparing my own ways to annoy with every spare moment, including trying to find an animation course, and trying out stop motion and Flash tutorials in the meantime.

In the short term, we are both looking forward to moving out of the marina. To be back in an anchorage, able to leap from the boat and explore the rocks and fishes again, is a dream that has been dangled further from us with every delay. I look forward to returning to antisocial seclusion, my only duties being to Gwen, Rich and myself, and my embarrassments viewed only by gulls and bream. I look forward to swimming off a little of the huge beer belly that’s grown over the last month (I didn’t realise quite how firm one would be – I can’t pull up my granny pants and I kick it when I cycle). And I look forward to the sweet rocking of the sea, lapping at our sides as we rest, and how I’ll curse it, and beg it to stop, and laugh.

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Before I go, I have to tell you about this egg mayonnaise and tuna sandwich. The icing is cheese and crab, the swirl is cream cheese with an olive, the outside is mayonnaise and lettuce and the bread is really soft so you have to eat it with a spoon. This sandwich is my favourite thing in Lanzarote. Well, it was. I ate it.

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Lanzaroutine

In Marina Lanzarote there is a shower with a head wider than yours. It releases a thick cascade of warm, uncontaminated water with such generosity that leaving it is an act of unhappy willpower. Outside a persistent wind dries your hair and soothes skin that has already begun to bake, while speakers along the promenade whisper mood music under the ever present hum of a thousand windswept masts. Clean white shops sell clean white clothes while workers wash windows, serve yachties and guide boats in to gaps between finger pontoons.

We’ve been here for four days, the first of which was spent in near silence as Rich and I reconnected with the information superhighway, lifting our heads occasionally to pose a “did you know… ” or a “have you seen… ” or perhaps a “don’t read the comments, you twat”. Normally we have to ration our internet usage more carefully than we do food and water, so its abundance led us to gorge. The tinny timbre of long bookmarked videos played through headphones could be heard beneath our giggles, gasps and grunts. Dinner was a sandwich.

These luxuries become as ordinary as they would be in any first world land life. Rich started work and I’ve done a bit of freelancing: more job hunting than job doing but enough to pay for a few drinks ashore. Rich reminded me today “We’re in the Canaries” and “I’ve just finished work for the morning and come home for lunch” and “that’s weird, isn’t it?” It’s weird because it’s normal, or what we think normal might be because we haven’t got a clue any more.

We spent last week anchored in the small harbour where we first arrived. To get in to Arrecife we would take an anchor in Fanny and drop it not far from the wall that skirts the sea front. We’d climb to town up grotty steps that frequently stank of the piss of the men who use the area for drinking, and tie Fanny’s painter to a loop at the top so we could get her back to row home. On our first trip ashore we saw an incredible giant slug flopping around in the water at the bottom of the steps. By the last, someone had left a huge turd there. People suck.

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A huge sea slug. Turd not photographed.

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A stall selling little recycled oil barrel boats which the kids race in summer.

Arrecife is plain and quiet, kept pretty by building regulations that have slipped up only once in the determent of towering eyesores. We strolled to a modern art museum in a little castle and, equally exciting, a bloody enormous hardware shop that stocked the replacement chain we have long hunted for Geordi. Beyond the town the land is unremittingly black. The peaks and plains are solid statues of the whorls and ripples of the lava that laid them, cracked into chasms and giant bricks along their meandering streams. Empty crop fields are raked with layers of tiny black stones, vines are nestled behind black rock blockades, towns are oases of white oblong houses and palm trees dotted in a barren black dessert. An occasional spattering of lichen or cacti or a reddened hillside are all the colour most of northern Lanzarote contains.

At Cueva de los Verdes, a bus ride away, we got to see the volcanic underworld up close. We treated ourselves to two tours, one of which was beneath the ground in 3,000 year old lava tunnels that had hardened on top while their molten contents continued to the sea. Above us white calcium that had trickled in with water had made fine crystalline patterns, while some walls of the tunnel shone red with oxidised iron. We paced gently through, trailing at the end of our touring party so that we could yabber as we experienced each crouch and turn and spectacle.

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Cave of the Greens. Could be done under trade descriptions.

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Underground adventure

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Difficult to photograph on account of the endless blackness

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At nearby Jameos del Agua we got to see loads of beautiful water…

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…none of which we were allowed to swim in. Not that we’re bitter.

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There was also a very informative volcano museum with 70s sci fi decor and operating systems.

Apart from these landfalls we snorkeled and slept and got stranded on board more than once by winds that we doubted our rowing could beat. At the end of the week Mattis and Mo joined us in the blustery anchorage on their contessa, Jingo. Mattis and Rich worked together in the UK and I met the pair when they brought Jingo to Millbrook, beginning work on her just as we were finishing ours on Gwen. They have sailed down from Portugal for the same job Rich is doing and are now berthed in this marina too.

So we have shore power and water, jobs and amenities, spare time and friends to enjoy it with. We have a life made for us for two weeks, a normal life outside of cruising, in which the boat has gone from primary concern to familiar comfort and exploring is put off until the job is done. We’re indulging in the novelties of schedule and duty, and we’re doing okay so far. Better than okay. Did I mention the showers?