Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Glimpse Of Our First Month

To all of you animal lovers out there, a very happy World Animal Day's Eve to you.

The last time that I was under the weight of maintaining a blog I was in Peru, Planet Earth, and now that I am in Malta, Planet Earth I am finding it to be as difficult as ever to whittle out a little piece of time to reflect, organize and share my experiences on a computer screen.  This is the first day since arriving in Malta one month ago that I have had a day off and not been hungover (don't worry mom, it's only my fifth day off, and sometimes hitting the town is a spiritual necessity when you're working six days a week...), so I thought I had better take advantage of the time and clarity and finally get down to writing about month one of this grand adventure.

Our boat Mir, named for the Russian Space Station, is currently sitting on a dry dock at the Bezzina Shipyard in Malta.  The boat was formerly known as Marilou, and at this point we still lovingly refer to her as Marilou at least half the time, because in the state she's currently in, which I'll get to shortly, she is still very much in a transitional phase from her old self, to her new incarnation of Mir.  One could go so far as to say Marilou is a caterpillar, the dry dock a heavy coating of chrysalis, our crew an eager team of metamorphosis catalyzers, and shortly a mammoth butterfly by the name of Mir will emerge to float and glide across the seas.  One could go so far as to say all of that, but that would be silly.  But assuming I was willing to entertain such a metaphor I would continue it with: for now, the chrysalis is quite thick, and Mir is still very much dormant within her cocoon.

We pulled Mir-ilou out of the water and put her on the dry dock three and a half weeks ago.  If you don't know what a dry dock is, or how it works, I will quickly explain it: The shipyard has a few gigantic concrete structures that have approximately 20 foot high walls on two sides, and are open on the other two sides.  The length of the dry dock is 200 plus feet.  The entire structure is hollow, and using pumps can either be filled with water, or emptied so that it is full of air only, which makes it buoyant.  Following me so far?  So three and a half weeks ago they filled one of these dry docks with water, and it sunk beneath the surface of the harbor, and we pulled our boat over the submerged platform where she was secured to a bunch of metal towers and then the water was pumped back out of the dry dock, and she came back up above the surface of the harbor, where she now sits, completely out of the water, and about five feet up in the air, so that we can work on the inside and outside of her hull.  Here's a photo to help you visualize:

Make more sense now?  All of the water you can still see drained off, and she is now resting just above that dry platform.

Here is how she currently looks on the dry dock with scaffolding built all around her.

Our goal was to be on dry dock for no more than three weeks, but week three came and went last Wednesday, and now according to the shipyard workers we will be back in the water on October 17th at the earliest.  It is quite expensive to rent the space on a dry dock, so we were all well prepared for a lot of very hard work once she was up to get her back in the water as fast as possible.  And hard work it has certainly been, and unfortunately it is out of our control when she gets back in the water because the steel work, sand blasting and painting that still needs to happen on dry dock is not ours, but the shipyard's to do, and we are now very impatiently waiting on them. 

Marilou is in very rough shape, but she is also extremely charming and beautiful, and her potential shines right on through the rust, holes, corrosion and rot.  The first three weeks of work were almost entirely dedicated to getting all of the old concrete out of the hull.  So there we were, hunkered down in the belly of the boat day in and day out, chipping ancient concrete from between the steel ribs of Marilou.  Hammers, chisels, jackhammers, air chisels, needle guns...Clean, clean clean...More chipping.  As we got down through more and more layers I began expecting that I would come across some old clay pots, or trilobite fossils.  Once all of the steel in the hull was exposed we could see what needed to be cut out and replaced, and for the past week plus the shipyard workers have been cutting huge holes in our poor Marilou.  So basically this entire first month has been almost exclusively demolition (not only concrete removal, but walls, old tanks, pipes, refrigeration, an old, broken, two-ton Rolls-Royce Diesel engine, and more), but we are just now finally standing on the cusp of building her back up, which I imagine will do wonders for our group morale, to finally see progress and improvement.

Malta is a very strange place.  A little speck of a country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea (I can finally spell Mediterranean correctly on my first try just about every time now), that has a tremendously long and complex history, so is covered in old buildings, forts and ancient temples, but is also very much trying to keep up with the rest of the world, so for every old stone structure there is a huge crane erecting a new high-rise hotel.  It is very often ugly; dirty, overdeveloped, smoggy, but then suddenly surprises you with a spectacular moment of beauty; an old stone church, a harbor full of brightly painted fishing boats, or a walkway spangled with nice restaurants and cafe's overlooking the Mediterranean (got it again!) Sea.  Nothing happens quickly in Malta, which oftentimes is an endearing quality in a place, but when your boat is on dry dock and it's costing a fortune to keep it there it is far from cute when it takes a week to service a power-tool, and even longer to find an open market to buy vegetables to feed the crew.  In many ways Malta reminds me of Mexico, in that it is very unorganized, but somehow there is order in the chaos, and everything takes just a little (or a LOT) longer than it necessarily needs to.  Our latest example of Malta being Malta was when a very long awaited for pallet of paint arrived from Singapore, which just the waiting process for this particular pallet is a story in itself, but once it finally made it to Malta, and we were informed of its arrival, and greatly relieved to finally have our paint, we were then told that we could not retrieve our goods because in the same container as our paint was discovered an illegal shipment of cigarettes.  We then had to wait many many more days to get our paint because the Maltese customs office was...We have no idea.  Searching through our paint cans for cigarettes?  Huffing our paint thinner while smoking the illegal cigarettes?  Who knows, but it sure was the icing on a very frustrating and comical Maltese Cake, because when in Malta you are forced to have your cake, and eat the whole damn thing, whether you like it or not, meaning you are at the mercy of the Maltese pace, and that's all there is to it.  Adapt, or have a frustration-induced brain aneurysm.  Oh, and it's also covered in extremely easy to pronounce names such as: Marsaxlokk, Mqabba and Ta'xbiex, which is helpful with navigation.  

There is so much to say, as there always is when every single piece of life is new and unusual, but geez, this has already been a really long blog update.  I didn't even mention the people who are my new apartment mates, co-workers and family.  Just know that they are a wonderful bunch.  That's all for this one, but hopefully now that I have gotten this thing somewhat up to date I can do a better job of keeping up with it, and not allow myself to get buried again and again beneath weeks of noteworthy experiences.


  1. Oh Sambo I do love you so. It is easy to forget that you are on this amazing adventure, and reading your words and seeing your photos just filled my mind with wonderful sea smells, the din of the shipyards, the exhaustion of a long days work, and the joy of adventure. More from my quarter soon, for now just oodles of love.

  2. Sam, greetings from the Sierra Institute and Humboldt State University. It is a pleasure to read your posts and see (sea?) photos of the adventures. I'll be looking forward to the next update. In the meantime, happy sailing (or more precisely, while Mir-ilou is in dry dock, happy DREAMS of sailing!)
    Ward Angles

  3. Dear Sam

    You have all my mental support and positive vibes from Singapore !! Yves