Catastrophizing at Sea

I’m currently visiting my friends for 40+ years in northeastern Italy, in a little town called Budoia. At the very foot of the Dolomites (a portion of the Alps), I first came here while stationed at Aviano Air Base in 1976.

The front of the house and the church
Budoia, (PN) in NE Italy.

Last night, while returning relatively late, it turned out, in spite of having all the keys to the doors, the shutters were also inadvertently locked. Now, these shutters are not the dainty kind we see on so many houses to give them that “homey” feel.

No, these shutters, like the house, were built in the 1800’s to keep the brigands out and to withstand a siege. So, the one door that I knew was kept unbolted at night and that I had the key for, was behind the brigand proof shutters. I know, I tried, not even a millimeter of give on those shutters.

I had already tried the other two doors, one in front, one in back, all bolted. I had even tried the door that is not used. Upon unlocking it, it seemed to give a millimeter or so, but is was clear that either the furniture in front of it was completing blocking it or it too was bolted. In any case, I quickly gave up and returned once more to the shutters.

The shutter when closed

Was it possible there was something I was not understanding in their opening? The matriarch of the house, knew I was coming back at this hour and had acknowledged not to lock me out, so I wondered what I was missing?

It was cold, already, 28° or -2°C. I couldn’t sleep in the car. My cell phone was dead, but I did have car charger and cable, I plugged it in and called the house. No answer.

I then tried her mobile number and minutes later after I successfully completed the “who is this? (It’s me) and why are you calling me at this hour? (the shutters are locked)” interrogation, I saw her coming down the stairs.

A half hour later, warm and cozy in my bed, was I ever so grateful to be in bed and to not have had to implement contingency plan number XYZ. But that got me to thinking, what was XYZ?

Normally open

In my ten minutes of trying to solve the problem, trying every door a couple of times, even the windows, trying all sorts of key like objects in the lock of the shutters, all the while not thinking of the cold and me with no overcoat, (since I came from Vietnam). I realized never spent any time on “what if I can’t get in?”

What if I could not rouse the occupant? What if; then what?

No, I was totally focused on solving the problem.

While it’s impossible to cross an ocean in a small boat and not have some issues, in my two plus ocean passages, I’ve only had one problem that could have been, more than an inconvenience. That was when I burst the hydraulic line 1,000 miles from land in the middle of the Atlantic in 10 to 15-foot seas.

The hose that broke feed the hydraulic ram for the rudder. Without this hose, no steering and no autopilot. My Kadey Krogen does have an emergency tiller that attached to the top of the rudder post thru an opening in the deck, with a 6-foot lever arm. But this would mean standing, sitting, suffering on the aft deck for 7 straight days and nights.

I shudder even now just thinking about it.

As mariner’s who motor instead of sail know, a boat at constant rudder angle, will not go in a straight line. Wave action pushes the bow a little bit each time and the boat will be noticeably turning within 30 seconds in any kind of seas, thus requiring constant rudder adjustments. The primary reason an autopilot, to maintain a constant heading, is much required. More than likely Dauntless would arrive in Martinique minus any human crew, as we would have decided that swimming was better.

When this hose broke, my first thought wasn’t how we would now get to Martinique, it was how to solve the immediate problem. Just like last night, I didn’t spend any time on “what-ifs”. Oh, over the years I have some very general contingency plans, such as, engine stops, and I can’t get it going again for whatever reason, the prevailing winds will eventually blow the boat to land (as this wouldn’t happen in the Southern Ocean, that’s another reason not to go there!). Therefore, we have enough canned goods, water and peanut butter to last for months.

Many people have asked me what makes me able to cross oceans while other far more experienced sailors don’t. As I was reminded last night, one of the keys is the ability to focus on the problem at hand and not to catastrophize the problem. Don’t think of more problems when as you try to fix one.

When my helm wheel went slack in my hands in the middle of the Atlantic, I allowed myself one indulgence, I cursed at myself for being so stupid, but then it was to the task on hand. Let’s not spend any time on what-if I can’t fix it, let’s just fix it.

Another way to look at is Optimist versus Pessimist. The optimist sees possibilities, the pessimist sees barriers.

Not may pessimists cross oceans, maybe not even in planes!

You can check out my post about this here: Crisis in the Mid- Atlantic

 

 

 

 

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A Few Pictures of the famous town of Budoia

The Apls above Budoia
The Apls above Budoia
My little Via Pozzi in Budoia
My little Via Pozzi in Budoia
The church of Budoia
The church of Budoia
The Garden behind the Wall
The Garden behind the Wall
Another View of Via Pozzi
Another View of Via Pozzi
I drove to Sacile this morning and yesterday too. I do have responsibilities you know!
The Garden the Day After

It’s tough life; but someone has to do it.

Another View from Budoia on a Cloudy Day
Another View from Budoia on a Cloudy Day

Climate Change, Immigration & Peter Pan

Peter Pan, yes, the story of someone who did not want to grow up. Having reached that magical age of awareness, he/she was now perfectly content to freeze that reality forever.

"Rene" the Bar in Budoia
“Rene” the Bar in Budoia.  The only changes in 40+ years are the owners.

These days, as I walk around my small little village of Budoia, population 2500, it is as it was when I first moved here to Italy 40 years ago, so I am reminded how things change and how they remain the same.

Nowadays, even in the smallest villages, it is not uncommon to see Africans and Chinese, here and there going about their daily business.  The Chinese are running many of the bars, where Italians get their coffee, newspapers, aperitif, etc. during the day, from dawn till late into the night.  Probably why the Chinese prosper, as the long hours no longer seem to appeal to the younger European generation. There are also Romanians and others from the Balkans, but Africans and Chinese stand out for obvious reasons.

With all the angst of the refugee crisis and immigration in general, I realize that for the 40 years I have been coming to Italy, I have always seen Africans here, even in small towns like Budoia. Chinese are a more recent phenomenon, first appearing in the outdoor markets 20 years ago and now in significant numbers in the bar business.  I have heard no complaints about the quality of their coffee and at least here, there is an acceptance that speaks to human migration.

Now, let’s rewind a bit.

From reading this blog, many of you know that Dauntless was docked right next to the Viking Tower in Waterford.

Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city and was founded by the Vikings (actually Danes) in the 9th century. It was taken over by the Anglo-Norman invaders in the 12th century and was one of the most important ports in Ireland until just recently due to its deep water port.

Waterford is the only town in Ireland that kept it’s Viking name.  A few hundred years after its founding, The Anglo-Normans came to Waterford to kick the Vikings out, who in turn had dislodged the few Celts who lived there.

Who were these Anglo-Normans?  The Anglos were made up of Saxons, originally from Saxony in Northern Germany and Engels (from whence we get the name “English” and the language), who came from the area of northern Germany, Denmark (from where the Vikings came from) and a bit of Friesland Northern islands north of Germany and Holland). The Normans of course were from Normandy, the NW corner of France.

So, these groups of people from northern France and Germany, after a stopover in England, decided to kick the Danes/Viking’s out of Ireland or at least Waterford, since it was a good place to be.

Now the Vikings who had settled Waterford, really liked Waterford.  It was much warmer and nicer than where they came from.  So when the English/Normans pushed them out, they didn’t move far, just up the road about 3 miles north of town, to a neighborhood called Ballybeg.  Now, what is interesting about Ballybeg nowadays, is the number of times I was warned about the “that neighborhood”.  I’m guessing that people in Waterford have been talking about “those” people in Ballybeg for the last 900 years. The fact that Waterford kept it’s Viking name, which means large port and the Celts also called it, “Lairge Port” speaks to the fact that even after the Anglo-Normans arrived, the Vikings were more assimilated than replaced.

In fact, a recent issue of the BBC History Magazine talks about how the Vikings may have assimilated as much as raped and pillages over the years, throughout the northern world.  Who knew?

So to look at it as dispassionately as possible, as we go back in time, when did migration/immigration start? Yesterday? Last year? 10 years ago? 100? 1000? 10,000? With Columbus? With …? Get the picture?

Immigrants are so labeled by those who migrated before them. Humans have been moving to find better climates, better food, better jobs, better lives, for at least 200,000 years.

Now related to all those humans, is that this week 190 countries have “struck a deal over that weekend that ushers in a broad, new international effort to wind down the fossil fuel era to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

Being an Atmospheric Scientist myself, I marvel at the thought that mankind thinks we are so powerful.  Much like Prometheus bringing fire to humans. But with that fire, we also got evils.

Clearly, the planet is warming.  Mankind’s activities have clearly warmed the planet over the last 10,000 years.  We are presently about 2 degrees above the Ice Age temperatures.  And that’s my big rub, had humans not existed, what would the temperature be now?  Probably close to Ice Age temperatures, probably colder, as the inter-glacial period would have been ending, thus ushering in a new, 5th Ice Age.

Now, everyone of course, knows that 56 million years ago, the planet was 5 degrees warmer than today and there were no ice caps, with forests extending from the farthest north to Antarctica.

My point being that the planet has been far warmer and far colder.

Humans are a part of the environment, just as the whales or birds in the sky. With the rise of agriculture and industrialization, the planet has warmed and will continue to do so; without it, we could not have supported the population the world now has.

We also may have averted the 5th Ice Age.

No matter.

We can all sit back and marvel at the hubris of people today.  For having warmed Earth, the two degrees necessary for life to be successful; we now want to stop the planet warming and further interfere with the climatic processes that have been going on for over 4 billion years.

That’s hubris.

We want industrialization with only its benefits and not the disadvantages.  A warmer planet with more CO2 in the air will grow more food crops, but for those who are not hungry, that’s not a consideration.

Why do we differentiate between a political and economic refugee?  Evidently, we as a society have already decided that starving to death is a better outcome than being thrown in jail for one’s beliefs?

Migration was OK until it wasn’t. We can’t allow further migration because we, who have already migrated, are happy with the status quo.

The climate has always been changing, but now we must stop it. Why, because we like it just so.

I wish our society were debating these issues.

We can’t see the forest for the trees. So let’s cut them down.

But then, now, having re-read this countless times before posting; I see a third option:

We tackle those subjects we have no control over because it diverts attention from the true everyday tragedies that we do control and cause. Like Bread & Circuses. 

If we concentrate on changing the temperature 100 years from now, nobody pays attention to the hundreds dying every day from being denied basic human rights!

WOW. That’s too cynical for even I. So let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt.

We have chosen this moment to freeze in time.  Just like Peter Pan.

 

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Dauntless 2015

2015 starts for me like a blast from the past.  Meaning, for the first time in a very long time, I don’t have this tremendous weight pressing on me.  The challenges of the last 15 years have been overcome, and the fact that I am writing this while in Ireland, on Dauntless, means we have been successful.

Only in the last week however has this really sunk in, though maybe sunk is not the best term.

Since the end of our Atlantic Passage, the last four months have been a blur of activity.  Since September, I have traveled to and around:

  1. England,
  2. the Netherlands,
  3. driven up and down the coast of the United States, from NYC to Florida and back, then
  4. flew to Denver, then
  5. Seattle and Mt. Rainier, returning to
  6. NYC for a day, before
  7. flying back to Ireland for a day before
  8. flying to Italy for three weeks.

And I’m not even a Medallion on Delta Airlines anymore for the first time in 25 years!

Finally, by the third week in Italy, under the loving care of long of friends wo are more than even family, I was able to decompress and appreciate just how much we have done in the past few years.

And even take a breath.  Getting back to Dauntless this past Saturday at 3:30 a.m. and finding her in the exact same mess I left her in so suddenly weeks earlier, was a relief.  Just as I tried not to worry about the consequence of an engine failure in the middle of the Atlantic, I also tried not to worry about the Boat, while I was thousands of miles away and there was nothing to be done in any case.

It worked, but as the Dublin to Waterford bus got ever closer in a windy, rain storm, my imagination did start to become hyper active.  So it was with great relief to find her, all as I left her, with no vagrants living aboard, still afloat and the lights still on (signifying the fridge and freezer were getting power).

As I was flogging my little rental car driving from Budoia to Bergamo for my late evening flight, I thought about the last months and all we have accomplished.  A real feeling of contentment came over me.  Knowing that even getting all of the traveling done this past fall, now allows me to concentrate on the projects that need to get done in the coming months.  Maybe I’ll even put away the crap that has been in the second cabin since before we left the U.S.!  That’s the real reason we have guests on board, it forces me to clean and organize.

It’s now Monday morning, 12 January 2015, and as I write this one of my projects is already done.  I replaced my 120v radio with an automotive one of 12 volts.  This stereo system was the last thing that was demanding I run the power inverter, to turn my 12 volt battery power to 120 v household current.  Since the radio only used about 1 amp, but the inverter used 3 amps, it constantly irked my sense of efficiency.

And with every project completion, I learn a little more about the boat and every time I think I understand something, I learn a bit more.  I have become a far more resourceful person in the last few years.  In large part due to the Trawler Forum and Cruisers Forum; on Trawler Forum in particular, I have learned so much, but one of the most important lessons is there is seldom one right answer.  If I were to ask an innocuous question like, “While tied to the dock this winter, should I start the engine periodically?”  The answers would range from: “What, you have an engine” to “What, you turned off your engine?”  But this range of responses is helpful in helping me see there are always many solutions to any particular issue.  It helps my open minded brain be even more open minded.

But I still find I do many things two or even three times before getting it just right. For example, yesterday, I pulled two cables thru the boat, from the engine room to the pilot house, quite pleased with myself, until I realized that I had a three wire cable I should have used.  So after ruminating about that for an hour, I decided to replace one of the wires with the new one, and leave the one unused for now. Finally getting into my cozy bed at midnight, I realized that I needed to change the on/off power source, which I did promptly this morning, but not before moving the wrong wire at first and wondering why nothing was working.

I’m quite entertaining at times.

Another Witch Bites the Dust

You have to marvel at a culture that while is one of the hearts of Christianity, celebrates such a pagan custom in such a big way, Pan e Vin, as it is called in the Veneto.  This was one of probably 5,000 fires (falò) last night throughout Northern Italy.

Falò di Dardago
Falò di Dardago

It’s what I’ve always loved about Italy and the Italians, their ability to bow to the institutions, while living their lives as they see fit.  Thus the lowest birth rate in Europe.

As America becomes ever more about rules, the fight to whom writes those rules and intolerance for those who break them, Europe and Italy in particular, are still about life.  Life as we have always lived it, for thousands of years, well before the church or various political institutions came into being and decided they know better how we should live.  They tolerate those institutions and yes, even give respect to the new gods, yet know better than to clutter their lives with the minutiae of this and that, and understand that just as the old gods were replaced, so will be the new.

This tolerance is what first attracted me to Italy almost 40 years ago and as America has become more intolerant to virtually everything, except for lawyers, Italy and Europe continue living life as they have always, and thus the witch got burned last night, so we are safe for another year.

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Falò di Dardago
Falò di Dardago

Italy, Germans, the Euro, the Lire and the Road to Moscow*

*Al Stewart’s haunting song about the last time the Germans were in charge. Now you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Dauntless and how are events from 75 years ago applicable to today.  Having Dauntless in Europe, gives me the freedom to visit my friends in Italy at a more leisurely pace than any time in the past.  Besides drinking Prosecco, I have the time to think and observe.  It’s quite nice really, but I’m seeing many disquieting signs and the fact that I am at this moment, sitting on the couch, writing this while wearing a tee shirt, a turtle neck, a sweater and a vest, while wondering if I could type with gloves on, says more than I could ever explain about the anemic Italian economy.

Treviso
Treviso

Driving from my friend’s house on the outskirts of Treviso to the little mountain village of Budoia, is a route I have taken countless times in the last 38 years.  It’s a route that provides a lot of variety, from the large factories, stores and shops along the main Venezia to Pordenone state road to the road that skirts the mountains from just north of Conegliano and passes through towns, each with its town center and stores common to almost every town.

This trip however has been an eye opener:   shuttered factories, vacant parking lots, closed stores.  During the last 20 years, I have probably come to Italy almost 20 times and seen the same towns  and roads.  By not living here, it is easier to see the gradual changes that have taken place.  Even in a Province like Treviso, probably one of the richest in the country, one sees vacant stores and prices that hare far higher for virtually everything than one would pay in Germany or the Netherlands.

This annual snapshot  shows a continual decline, only stopped at times with a leveling, a plateau, but not real growth. The advent of the Euro has locked in this decline, but the last few years have seen an acceleration of this decline.

Oh my friends are hopeful, yes, things are tight, but they will get better… it’s a refrain I hear every year.

I on the other hand, see a picture, not so bright and getting even darker.  I’ve never seen so many vacant shops as I see today, but in those vacant shops and factories, I also see the Euro and its impact on the places south of the Alps.  The refrain throughout Europe is the Germans, that altruistic lot; do not mind paying large subsidizes to help their less fortunate neighbors.  But in those vacant places, I see the real motive; whatever Germany must pay to keep the southern littoral in the Euro is worth it, as it eliminates European competition.

Budoia Rooftops
Budoia Rooftops

Having close friends in Germany also, and visiting there only a bit less than Italy, I see another side of the story.  I wonder why prices are actually lower in Germany and the Netherlands, yet their average salaries are much higher than in Italy.  In the old days, I did most of my shopping in Italy, with Germany second and the Netherlands third, and that was based on price.  While the quality of goods was a bit better in Germany, especially clothes, the prices were significantly higher.

With the advent of the Euro, everything got turned on its head.  I have not done any significant shopping in Italy in 15 years.  Prices are totally out of whack; whatever it is, I know I will find it cheaper in Holland or now, Ireland.  Italy is also flooded with items made in China.  It’s become the Wal-Mart of Europe. So now the land is flooded with LED light bulbs that inexplicitly, turn off for a second or two every couple of hours.  Houses are heated or not, to an ever lower temperature.  Every few years I must add an extra layer.  Soon I’ll be as tasty as a 6 layer cake.

Here is a little story I first heard on CNBC’s Squawk Box I think it’s worth repeating:

 Michelle Caruso-Cabrera recounted the comments made by Margaret Thatcher  in the 1990’s. Ms. Thatcher was saying how she had asked the Italian Prime Minister why he thought joining the Euro zone was going to help Italy? He responded that it was the only way for Italians to have any fiscal discipline.

I had not planned on recounting this story until one of my Italian friends used the Euro as the same excuse. But I wonder, what fiscal discipline have the Italians shown in the last 15 years?

In fact, to a certain extent, the Italian bond market certainly does not reflect the coming train wreck and has contributed to spending that cannot be sustained, well, it can be as long as the Germans are there to help!

This brings us full circle back to Al Stewart’s haunting song, Road to Moscow. The last time the Germans were calling the shots, the Italians lost an entire division of Alpini on the eastern front, never to be seen again. In this region of Italy, the Veneto, it’s not been forgotten.  Who knows if the Italians will ever have the discipline to cut the waste and fat that so many in this society benefit from, but one thing I have figured out in my life, it’s far better to suffer the consequences of one’s own mistakes, than those of others.

So, let’s see if the Italians can be their own masters and become competitive again, while they won’t be cannon fodder, they will be Euro fodder.