Thursday, December 24, 2009

Breakfast in Malta, Lunch in Spain, Dinner in Belgium….

This is one of the reasons why I LOVE Europe! Only in Europe can you leave your destination after breakfast, have a quick bite to eat while waiting to catch your next flight to your final destination. And in the process have eaten three meals in three very different countries. Refitting an old sailboat is what brought the 12 volunteers together. But together we are experiencing and learning so much more than any of us could have ever imagined. A costly injustice occurred to some of my fellow jet-setting counterparts this past trip. Let me explain...

I flew from Malta to Girona, Spain on my way home to Brussels Belgium for the holidays. In Girona, I waited through what seemed to be an endless layover of seven hours. To pass the time I decided to take a bus into the city center and walk around. I attempted to drop off my carry-on luggage which if anyone from Ryanair asks weighed exactly 10kg, but in reality, weighed damn near 20kilos. Having no success in finding a storage locker I was forced to lug around this inhumanely heavy backpack pushing the limits of Samsonite’s structural integrity. You will all be happy to know that my posterior-sack (aka backpack to the laymen & women) held up and passed with flying colors, I have become a staunch supporter of Samsonite’s product line. However, Samsonite is not (yet) sponsoring this blog or the boat so I will not dwell completely on their superior merchandise and I will move on accordingly.

At the airport in Girona, I saw something I have never seen before and if I see ever again in all my remaining years on this planet will still be too soon. My flight from Spain to Belgium was initially delayed, the gate was switched, and finally was cleared for embarkation when it happened. The delay and last minute gate changes would not even throw off a novice globe trekker. What I saw threw me through a loop and its continuation as an act left me flabbergasted and in utter disbelief. The Ryanair employee who worked the counter collecting boarding passes did something so extraordinarily out of the ordinary I could barely contain myself. The flight from Spain to Belgium was full and the pre-boarding ticket line was as it should be, a well mannered relatively single file swarm of eager-to-return-travelers. The Ryanair employee then dragged over the small sign and frame that gives the airlines suggested dimension and weight of an acceptable piece of carryon luggage. Everyone who has ever flown before knows it is exactly that, a “suggested weight and dimension.” This employee then proceeded to stand watch and stare down each and every passenger as they placed their carryon bag into said frame. I have never with my own eyes witnessed such an unadulterated breach of unwritten airline etiquette. Frequent fliers know what I am talking about, the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt sneak on thy own heaviest most awkwardly shaped objects and it shall be accepted as a carry-on satchel (Genesis: 10”x12”x20”).

The airline will get you every time with checked luggage, there remains little wiggle room in this category. The only way we the travelers can level the playing field is by bringing AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE onto the plane and classifying it as part of our “carry-on”. If it fits into, can be connected with, or held up next to our actual carry-on bag, it always has been and always should be considered one object. It is as simple as that. This smoke and mirrors charade is done in many different ways by the many different types of traveler. One thing is universal, once a traveler has a trick that works for him it becomes commonplace to push the envelope that much further the next flight.

For those of you readers who are a bit green to travel by aeronautics, the general strategy is quite simple and straight forward. The traveler (you) attempts to bring as much as possible while making it appear to the trained eye (airline employee) as being almost nothing at all. This can be done by wearing as much clothing as possible, splitting your objects between one large carryon and a well chosen selection of smaller bags (e.g., purses, plastic bags, paper bags, maybe all three), tying accessories onto the bag itself rather than putting them in, holding objects in and under a coat of some sort as to make it seem as if it does not exist.

This cat and mouse game has been around since the beginning of flight. It started when Orville Wright snuck his lunch onto the Kitty Hawk without telling Wilbur beforehand. Beating the system in this way is to flying as the seventh inning stretch is to baseball. So to deny us this right as travelers is immoral and unethical to the core. What is next? The airline will make us pay for our drinks? Oh wait, they do that. I mean our food? Oh, they do that too…. They will stop handing out salted peanuts because a select few have chosen to be allergic and ruin it for the rest of us? Oh man, they do that too. Pay a fuel tax and a check-in fee even though we do it online? Check, check and check. This carry-on luggage thing in actuality is the last thing we have left. Join me in my fight to win this one for the little man (the one with a lot of extra $h*t to carry on).

Sunday, November 29, 2009


If anyone has ever been to Malta and done a load of laundry they will have their own opinion on this subject. However, here is mine:

So we have a washing machine that can fit little more than a single set of sheets or a large towel. This washing machine is not only minuscule compared to the Goliath like machines we are use to in the USA but it is temperamental too. I think the French are onto something when they put a feminine article before this particular noun. ("la machine à laver") Everything is going great, you are clicking and making all the right moves and then out of nowhere, all of a sudden BAM, without so much as a hint disaster strikes and I walk away confused and frustrated having accomplished nothing.

Our washing machine is stubborn and proving most difficult to master. Every load of laundry is a battle of wits, water, and soap. Laundry use to be a task I enjoyed completing and checking off my list. Now it has quickly become a constant and reoccurring nag. It is unpleasant for two reasons... 1.) The machine is tiny and fits almost nothing, because of this I have to fight the laundry battle more frequently and 2.) It recently churned out a set of whites a beautiful shade of pink.

I know what you are all thinking. There is this saying, "Real men wear pink." Ok, I can agree with you to an extent. Wearing pink takes a set of real kahuna's. Wearing pink to class or to a party is one thing. However, my current situation is different. In my working conditions wearing pink is flat out unacceptable. I am working in an environments that is so highly testosterone charged and estrogen absent that it could be mistaken for the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge. Could you imagine me showing up to work wearing a newly died pink shirt, with pink boxer briefs, and matching pink socks?! Could you, really? Do you know how long even the manliest of men would last on a dry dock wearing the outfit I just described? About as long as a freshly baked chocolate cake at fat camp. NOT LONG!

On top of every human characteristic our washing machine has chosen to embody, it is hands down the most unforgiving machine I have ever used. On the rare occasion that I do find the washing machine not in use, I begin strategically planning my advance. Do I clean work clothes, sheets, my towel, dress shirts? Once I have chosen my offerings I approach the machine with great caution. I do not want to startle it and get it upset before I even begin to unload my presents into its inner-most bowels aka no mans land. Theoretically, my next step is add soap and flip a switch or turn a knob and sit back to watch the magic that is modern appliances hard at work, so I don't have to be. In the US it is as simple as that. In Malta, it is not that easy. There are 3 knobs and 2 buttons that mean equally little to anyone but a rocket scientist. One ranging with numbers from 1000-0, one that has a bucket/half a bucket, one that has letters from A-L, and the final knob has yet another set of numbers ranging from 30-90 with an Astrix thrown in just for fun (in case it wasn't confusing enough already).

Finally, once you have endured all of these twists and turns the washing machine inevitably has the last laugh 99% of the time. This is the ringer, the final straw that snapped the camel's back. When the laundry do'er retraces his/her steps back to their room (or hallway in my case) you almost always stumble upon a sock, or pair of boxers, maybe even a T-shirt that decided halfway through the journey to break ranks and abandon the rest of its comrades and find a safe hiding spot. So most of you are thinking no problem, it is a minor set back and can be easily corrected. And again I say to you, in the US yes this is true.. However, we here in Malta have learned that this is a catastrophe. For once the laundry do'er starts the cycle the washing machine locks instantly. For what reason I have no idea, but there is no way come hell or high water that you will be physically capable of opening the hatch to throw in the deserter that you discovered after the fact. Nothing works, not stopping it, unplugging it, clicking all the buttons, rotating all the dials NOTHING! It starts and it doesn't finish until IT decides it is done. (I can't even begin to go into attempting to guess how long a load of laundry takes the variation is an indecipherable mathematical equation that only that same rocket scientist can figure out.)

This was me venting and airing out my dirty laundry. I apologize for the pun but it was a necessary evil. So next time you do laundry wherever you find yourself on God's green earth be thankful that it is not with a Maltese washing machine. If you are one of my friends here in Malta, I want you to know that I feel your pain and completely understand when I am over and see an unusually large pile of dirty laundry in the corner of your room.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hall of Fame...

Today I was wandering around Vittoriosa, Malta and was struck by an interesting revelation. For the record, I can assure you that I had many very interesting thoughts to choose from to blog about. But this one stood out like Eminem at the BET Awards.
Recently, I was watching a short video where Michael Jordan explains why he did not initially embrace his induction into the NBA Hall of Fame. His airness, "was not ready for it now." He feels like he still has so much to do. "Don't put me out grazing yet." MJ. This is the way Mir (our boat) is feeling. Let me explain.

Is the Louvre in Paris to artifacts and paintings what Cooperstown N.Y. is to baseball memorabilia and career stats? A final resting place that adds a "full-stop" to the careers of those that stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries? When a piece of work gets placed into the Louvre is it symbolically the end and the final resting place of that piece of art? Or does it continue to evolve and develop as it would have done so, had it remained where its creator had envisioned and intended it to live.

As I was strolling through the alleyways of Vittoriosa I found myself intrigued by the opportunity to take a tour of the Maritime Museum of Malta. Inside the museum after a futile attempt to finagle a student rate to save 1.50 I bit the bullet and paid the full 5 euro fee. The first room I visited displayed many parts from a sailboat that was 103 years old. Ancient, yes I know. This boat was initially built and seaworthy in 1906. The same year as the first ever airplane flight in Europe, Mount Vesuvius erupted and devastated Naples, and Einstein introduced his Theory of Relativity to the world. I could not bring myself to fully grasp how old these parts of the sailboat really were. Walking around this display I found myself recognizing and understanding more than I should have about the boat. I understood where the pieces fit and had a moment of deja-vu like I had seen all these pieces somewhere before. This feeling can only be compared to the feeling one would get when they meet a sibling of a good friend for the first time and can immediately sense a connection that only a history of friendship could have developed.

I need to take this time to to briefly explain just how little about boats I actually knew before accepting the challenge of refitting our very own sailboat. I didn't know port side from starboard, aft from forward and the difference between a fore-mast, main mast, and a mizzen mast (I didn't even know boats could have 3 separate masts). This sense of familiarity could not have come from my past experience as a "Seaperson" working on boats and I am certain that I had never seen this boat before in my life.

Then it dawned on me... My revelation... All this previous writing was a set up so you too could experience this revelation as I did on that fateful day in November. Technically, I was seeing these particular parts of the boat for the first time. However, in reality I have been working on and with THE EXACT SAME parts of my very own boat. It made complete sense. Mir was first built and ready for its maiden voyage three years after this boat in the Maritime Museum. Being built and in use three years apart of course these boats are going to have uncanny similarities in parts and in construction.

The difference being this boat lay in pieces behind plexiglass and resting on frames built to display and decorate the white space of the museum walls. For this boat the walls and cases of the Maritime Museum are the final chapter in its life. Its future will be as a tool to educate the masses (By masses I mean the 4 people in the entire museum including myself) about the history of maritime practices throughout the ages. Whereas in complete contrast, Mir is undergoing a complete refurbish and is being prepared to set sail once again. Mir is like Michael Jordan.... She is not ready for her inauguration into the Hall of Fame or in this case Malta's Maritime Museum. Mir, arguably, has the best years of her life lying ahead of her. The plans for Mir are full of expeditions, scientific studies, and grand excursions. There are countless sailors, future sailors, and enthusiasts that will be lucky enough get to meet Mir and have her change their life as she has already changed mine. Come April 1st, Mir will be ready to take on and bare the full force of the roughest seas on every corner of our spherical globe. Mir is withstanding the test of time and proving to be capable of outperforming and easily trumping the stats of current hall of famer's that competed with the same seas during the same generation. Mir is coming out the victor and with the completion of each project is raising the bar for future hall of fame hopefuls.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Deodorant.. Optional?!?

Refitting this 100 year old sailboat has taught me more than humility and tested more than my toughness. Much to my surprise I learned that deodorant, yes DEODORANT, what I once believed to be an integral piece to an already limited (acceptable) male grooming puzzle is believed by many, or at least by some, to be unnecessary. If a man could accurately be judged on one activity and one activity alone, I believe his grooming habits and overall hygiene have potential to be the most revealing.

Deodorant usage or lack there of.. became a topic of discussion after four of my coworkers and I went away for our first long weekend (3 days off instead of the usual 1) to an island named Gozo. As fate would have it, we discovered a few hours after our arrival, that none of us remembered to bring soap on our expedition. After joking about having personally taken my quick bath in the bay located a stone's throw away from our front door I said I also applied deodorant (aka a Frenchman's shower). To my utter amazement the ONLY other man present in the group who even bothered to wear deodorant regularly turned out to be French himself. I must take this time to insert a disclaimer here: The results I gathered from my statistical parametric test have a minute possibility of misrepresenting the greater population seeing as the entirety of my immediate test group equaled four, my control group is Maltese, and the line of work I am currently in is atypical.

In my opinion, there can be three conclusions drawn from this social mini experiment... (And luckily in my blog, my opinion and the opinion of Spartan King Leonidas are the only two that count for anything..)
1.) French Shower's for men do consist of deodorant. HOORAY's & huge sigh's of relief can be heard from Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and if the winds over the English Channel are blowing in a strong NW'ward direction the UK!!

2.) Deodorant is a strategically formulated lie used to control and brainwash the masses into being obedient consumers of unnecessary goods. In turn, filling the pockets of already rich deodorant tycoons who are vying to take over the world one "Pacific Surge" armpit swipe at a time. If this is true, I shake my fist in fury at you money hungry pigs. But at the same time am very appreciative of doing so with the luxury of knowing that my underarm will most certainly be dry and smell fantastic.


3.) I work with people crazy enough to want to build a boat, so why would they need deodorant like your average number crunching, cubical sitting Joe?

This question opened the flood gates that soon rocked my most basic hygienic practices and beliefs to its core. Is it possible that the application of deodorant on a daily basis (what I once believed to be a fundamental responsibility of each member of a close living society) is not really expected of us at all?! With questions like these only two months into my boat building experience, I can't even imagine what future questions will boggle my mind, body, and soul.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Numbers...

9 people + 2 bathrooms = chaos in the morning

7 men + 2 women = a ratio that is worse than Virginia Tech's

9,10,11 people / 8 seats in our van = .7272727% of a seat reserved per person or 0.36363% of a seat per butt cheek

6 day work week - 1 day off = 5 days of work your body didn't get to recover from

1 Night off / 1 Night out = Every Sunday being a LAZY sunday...

114'ft boat / 9 workers = 12.666'ft we are each in charge of getting ready for our trip (sounds easy enough right?)

24 hours in a day - (10 hours at work + 8 hours sleeping) = 6 hours of each day to be used wisely.

Why do we do it, you ask? We can tell you when it's finished... Right now, it isn't so clear.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mir a culous!!!

So where did the name "Mir" originate?

Mir (Russian: Мир; lit. Peace or World) was a Soviet (and later Russian) space station. Additionally, Mira in Sanskrit means ocean or sea. Miras in Latin means (wonderment) and mirari (to wonder), mirar or mirer (to look) in Spanish and French, mirror (to reflect) in English, miru (to watch or look at) in Japanese.

Mir was the world's first consistently inhabited long-term research station in space. Our Mir, will not be the world's first consistently inhabited long-term research boat on the water. But, it very easily could be the first time in many years that French, British, and Americans successfully worked together for a selfless common goal (with help from a pair of Belgians).

Many lucky children are given names that miraculously just seem to fit. Luckier children grow into their names and the two continue to evolve simultaneously. Mir's presence is slowly rising from the rust and rubble that once was Marilou. Nothing has come easy. Every task has had its own set of unique challenges. However, Mir cannot yet be a case study proving Murphy's law to be true. I believe Mir is the correct name for the upcoming stage of our boat's life for many reasons. For example, Mir fits because of the pieces of the world that are represented and will be represented on-board the vessel. More importantly, every port where it docks and every wave it glides past will make its impression on what we see and know to be Mir.

A combined interest in the relationships between various communities and a sense of global conservation drive PCRF leaders Mark Van Thillo (Laser) and Abigail Alling (Gaie). Gaie and Laser are a tireless duo who have managed to put together a team whose skills compliment their own and complete our PCRF family.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Marilou to Mir

Planetary Coral Reef Foundation Bio:

Our Vision is to stop the destruction of the world's coral reefs by 2020 and restore their beauty, health and abundance within this century. The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation (PCRF) was founded in 1991 to address the coral reef crisis. Since its inception, PCRF has pursued an unprecedented global mission to preserve coral reefs through innovative programs in science, education and technology.

A short description of what we are doing here in Malta: The boat we are refitting is a 114'ft, 100 year old classic Dutch yacht. There is ample space for science, diving, film and community outreach programs. The vessel will be based in Singapore during its work throughout Southeast Asia. Once in Southeast Asia, we will use the boat for mapping and monitoring remote coral reefs, marine conservation programs, skill-based training and education-outreach youth leadership programs. Additionally, we will continue work on our two marine conservation projects in Indonesia. One is a long-term program to protect endangered sea turtles and the other is to monitor and protect the coral reefs that lie within Bali's Barat National Park.