August 28, 2016 in Postings from the Mountain
No, we have not turned our backs to the sea! Quite to the contrary we are engaging it from a new perspective.
Even after the events that lead to the loss of our s/v Sean Seamour II, after our unsuccessful attempt to return to the water with Seanee’ III and IV, we knew neither of us could stray far from the Sea. In theory at least it’s line of sight proximity from our mountain retreat might allow for some form of contemplative existentialism, instead a certain frustration prevailed which was either due to lack of will or perhaps it was simply a case of cabin fever. For certain something reset our drive for adventure.
Then one might ask what led us to Sicily? To answer that question we need to revisit our coast-to-coast and back motorhome journey across America two winters ago.
Shoving off from Tampa Florida we hugged the coast on a westerly course to New Orleans, then beyond through the never-ending landlocked continental expanses that nurtured to not say doped our need to reach the Pacific. “Go West young man” were dear friend Andrew’s words of prodding as we became complacent with the beauty of Arizona.
We never reached our San Francisco destination-waypoint, though barely two hours further away, our progress was stalled by our “big love” discovery: Big Sur California.
As we headed north on Highway 1 the majestuous range emerged, Mayke was becoming fidgety, evermore as her camera lens locked-in upon the Esalen Institute she had courted years before: we dropped a waypoint with a promise to return. We continued climbing the enamoring redwood-clad mountain range overlooking the Pacific. We both simultaneously fell in love with the beauty of these mountains as they plunge into the depths of the Pacific ocean; we knew we had reached our destination, wished we could drive a claim-stake. We began to scaffold dreams as we had years before upon discovering Oriental North Carolina, by another similar happenstance.
We had no desire to go forward, with the Pacific before us there was no need. After a day-venture north to Carmel, our attraction to the area confirmed, we headed back up the hills to where we would hold out until that ineluctable return trip – “go east” discovered new meaning as we laid
Cartesian inspired waypoints for our course back to Florida. Once there we planned to sell our Airstream Land-yacht. With but a few landmark exceptions the path forward was indeed designed with the shortest distance in mind.
Reluctant to leave Big Sur we finally set off across the range and down the Valley through an uninterrupted sea of vineyards interspersed with mountain flanks of solar panels, we fled Bakersfield due East towards the Continental Divide, took night’s refuge along the waters of the Colorado River, in shirtsleeves, unaware a winter storm would soon engulf us barring the stopover in Santa Fe I had promised Mayke. Instead we trudged-on through Texas ice reefs as cars and trucks spun off the roadbed fore and aft; in silent shock after living so many years under the ocean-soothed climate of western Europe, I had forgotten the sheer brutality of weather systems rolling across the continent.
The Big Sur California Dream eluded us but not the realization that that our respective attractions to the sea lay in parallel : to Mayke’ awe and need for contemplation there is my need for communion with this force of nature. The attraction was real but the mechanics of uprooting to move to another side of the world proved more complex than simply releasing the lines in quest of another safe harbor.
If our American motorhome journey initially instilled the notion that the grass could be greener on the other side of the fence, we came to better appreciate our unique mountain retreat overlooking the Mediterranean. We realized our conundrum was not change, it was indeed cabin fever and somewhere a nagging nostalgia for seafaring.
The solution was in plain sight – we needed the freedom to lock the door and explore new horizons without the burden of planning, packing and scheduling constraints, hence the key lesson-learned from our American journey was discovering that a motorhome, hmmm, after a sailboat, was the best way to unbridled travel, that we could supplant wild anchorages with wilderness camping, that we needed another “land-yacht” to freely explore Europe and perhaps roam beyond.
The new conundrum was how for we had been spoiled with our thirty foot or 9 meter Airstream. Though mid-sized in the US such a monster on the European road network conveyed all the impediments of hotel travel for those who refuse the constraint of the organized campgrounds we shun, too often like sardines aligned in a can. It also had to be small enough to navigate the oft single carriage country roads, the tight streets of European towns and villages while sufficiently discreet to mingle into “quaint” areas of predilection such as fishing harbors where overnight parking is barely tolerated, where motorhomes are often persona non-grata. Most of all it needed to blend into the bucolic settings of wilderness campings near aqueous expanses without sacrificing creature comforts we were accustomed to.
We considered the new Airstream Land-Yacht series built on the MB commercial van platform soon to realize the size constraint of a conversion van for two and the dog, well, was just too tight. We needed to push the walls just so much without reaching the white elephant bloat, our quest led us to a smaller motorhome or camper builder in Germany: La Strada.
Most of their range consisted of quality outfitted vans very similar to the Airstream albeit with similar tightness, but on second look we discovered their flagship, just that much larger and longer to fit our needs ad a comfortable stretch – perhaps they had shared our frustration with a build-out from within, deciding to emancipate themselves building a hull to “outfit” the truck chassis.
They call it the Nova. Barely wider that the commercial van, granted a bit taller, a height that determined the choice between two and the four wheel drive version that stole an extra 20cm of overhead clearance already just under three meters, built on a MB chassis that could turn on a dime – we had found our motorhome.
Finally late last summer Land/Vessel Sean Seamour V was launched to become our latest Seanee – with our delivery run destined to become the maiden voyage. With only two dealerships in France, one landlocked in Strasbourg and the other in Britany, our choice was obviously to not say naturally in favor the latter, but a few “cordées” from La Rochelle where the replica of Lafayette’s Hermione was berthed and where she was finishing her sea trials before crossing the Atlantic, once again.
Along the way we always found a secluded anchorages to hole up for the night, here a buttonhole among the sea of pines that crowd the Landes region of southwestern France or there though rarely in this region rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean, most often a sandy secluded beachfront or bay of quiet waters such as in Cap Ferret below.
As we turned our backs to the ocean making way to the Gorges du Tarn and Gardens of Albi we continued to avoid the beaten path hopping from hilly vista to slumbering village on country roads.
Weaving our way through Albi’s network of small streets grandfathered-in from centuries prior we came to appreciate Seanee’ true potential. We could now begin to plot a course to Sicily when the cold of winter months settled over our mountains pushing us towards warmer climes.
Sicily and Apulia – our first big adventure.
We waited impatiently for the cold winter rains to abscond with Seanee on a southerly course. Our objective was to explore the entire Sicilian coastline before laying a course home through the boot of Italy to reach the heel, better known as Apulia on the southeastern coast. Plotting our trip we realized that reaching Messina by road would add more than 1200km to an already challenging circuit of close to 4500km. The distance did not frighten us, after all on our journey through the US we had clocked somewhere over ten thousand, but we wanting to enjoy Sicily at a quiet pace – we explored the idea of taking a ferry from Genoa to Palermo. Mayke was reticent, she had lived a few years in Turkey with nightmarish memories of ferry crossings, but the tradeoff of a bad night’s crossing was in our favor and we had weathered worse in our sailing days. The crossing went smoothly confirming our oft confirmed experience of the Med: either too little or too much wind.
The torrential rains that had accompanied us on board, so typical of the Gulf of Genoa from which easterlies bellow upon the Provence had becalmed the sea and dispersed overnight. I would have been worried for Seanee down in the hold had the storm broken loose for the Mediterranean can be a most treacherous sea. I often describe it as a series of juxtaposed teacups, within each a different and often unexpected brew. If weather systems change gradually in the Atlantic here they can reverse in minutes: it is not uncommon to be sailing along with a southeasterly flow of fifteen to twenty knots and within minutes have a northwesterly Mistral come in at forty. Such is the Mediterranean where weather systems, like its history are created by the interaction of diversity, here the topographies on its periphery: alternately from east to west of old and new mountain ranges, deep and shallow plains and at times disruption from the south with a Sirocco: the hot breath of the desert filling a temporary lull with its red dust of baked laterite stone. All these forces fight for predominance. Similarly the Mediterranean is the binder of many millennia of a complex history of invading cultures and trade, Styx for some or the entombed history of others.
The quiet seas allowed us to reach Palermo at 19:00, an hour ahead of schedule but sundown had preceded leaving us in quandary – where would we hole-up for the night. I initially thought that we would find a relatively quiet square allowing us to explore the city the next morning before heading west.
My hope turned to illusion in this bustling city where navigating requires weaving one’s way amongst shoals of parked and semi abandoned vehicles, at times four abreast, offering little hope for Seanee’s six and a half meters clearance. Between stops for red lights and traffic jams I explore the map in quest of an exit strategy to this latin chaos, and as such make little headway until I understand “when in Palermo do as the palermitani and palermitana” : best to stay stuck behind a vehicle temporarily abandoned for sake of a visit to the corner greengrocer, I knew I would have ten minutes or more to devise a path forward.
The westerly route out of the city appeared to pass through a canyon, beyond which the map showed another mountain bordering the sea in an area shaded in green, as I zoomed further in a small harbor appeared in lieu of urban density – I laid a waypoint to pilot us in and headed west blindly following orders. I began to despair with the unceasing urban sprawl that accompanied our progress – it was down to gut: do I take the left turn? Betsy, our generic name for GPS navigators, is urging me on towards the right, quandary until I look up at the cliffs and know I need to keep them to port (on my left). It is a tight single carriageway, if its a dead end it means backing all the way out, it would be murder. At the end of the anxiety-stretched street we can see a portico and darkness beyond. Its a crapshoot.
As we inched through the stone portico we found the sea, a vigil and my fear he would have us turning about. The negotiation began between to people that did not share a language, hands were of little use so I decided to hedge our fate on the still untested Speak and Translate intermediary app I had downloaded to our iPhone. Success, we would be tolerated for the night at Capo Gallo for a small ten Euro fee.
As a needle in the haystack it was another of our miraculous finds. The night promised to be savory with the gentle seas breaking against the rocks. A few cars quietly sneaked by as if unwilling to disturb us, my curiosity tainted by the apprehension of foreign lands settled while walking Bastine before turning-in : I realized we were occupying the best parking spot along lover’s lane. We would share many a spot like this throughout southern Italy where the automobile had supplanted the traditional pasodoble in which opposite sidewalks on a Saturday evening segregate the genders, courting as each side eyes and walks in opposite directions.
After the hustle and bustle discovered while landing in Palermo we had seen enough. Its was not only the chaotic traffic but the city was dirty, noisy and unwelcoming for the rural dwellers we are. We headed west with no destination in mind, no objective other than to hug as closely possible the land and sea divide.
to be continued – I hope before our next adventure to Portugal this winter.