The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Sunday Outing

Ana and I drove 15 km to Baleal for a change of scenery.
(Does driving from one beach town to another beach town count as a change in scenery? Sometimes I'm awed by my "logical" thinking! I really do have a degree in Philosophy, honest.)

Baleal, Peniche and the whole Silver Coast region is becoming Portugal's surf hotspot and and a mecca for board riders from around Europe and beyond. Surfing is now "the sport" around here, and surf schools and surf hostels are popping up everywhere.
Surfing in Baleal
Two surfers for every wave instead of the Beach Boys' anthem of "two girls for every boy"

It was a perfect sunny afternoon for wandering around the narrow streets and for visiting the uninhabited part of the island (it used to be an island, at least at high tide).

A long time ago, before recorded history and probably even before my very remote ancestors had any interest in inhabiting this part of the world, let alone surfing, a tremendously powerful convulsion jolted the rock strata upward forming this dramatic landscape and the island.
Rocks in Baleal

I assure you that it looks a hell of a lot more incredible when seen in person rather than through my mediocre camera. Not only that, but compared with the adventures featured on so many action-packed blogs that nearly leap out of your computer screen to grab your attention, this little trip doesn't sound one bit exciting...but that's the difference between reading about it and BEING THERE.

Anyway, after that short sidetrip I'm now deep into translation work again.

I got an email from the office saying that they need a report translated by next's very important and absolutely necessary.

I'm the hired gun on this mission impossible. That's right, I'm the fireman, the ambulance driver, the saviour commissioned to handle fast complex jobs. Lucky me!

I'm like Horatio - from the detective series that I've never watched - hot on a mission. The difference is that I'm the REAL Horatio on a boring mision...not too exciting but real.

Once again, life gets pushed into the backseat. I dive deep into the work like a whale torpedoing toward the black depths hunting for giant squid. Somebody has to do it, right?

I will week!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rutland Wind Generator Retires

Today was my boat day.

Although I hadn't planned on taking the wind generator down yet, when I arrived at the marina I couldn't bear to have a stuffed rooster on a pole. It just sat there refusing to spin.

I quickly devised a plan. I'd remove it from the pole, take it to Fernando, the marine electrician, and see what happened. No sense on getting a new one yet just to sit in the marina for some time to come.

So I disconnected the wires, loosened the two bolts holding the stub shaft in the pole, pushed up and nothing - it wouldn't budge. Heaved, pushed, wacked it and nothing...just a lot of wasted groaning.

After taking the pole and generator down, managed to pull the shaft out about an inch, no more. Pulled and tugged some more in vain. Damn it, I was getting frustrated and decided to make lunch.
Rutland about to be beheaded

After lunch, I placed the one-legged generator on the pontoon and began pulling on the pipe back and forth while bracing the generator with my foot. Finally it parted when I broke the splice connecting the generator's wires to the wires going into the boat.

I think I'll get an electric battery charger like everyone else.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday at the marina

I parked the jeep at the marina under a velvety blue sky. It was 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon and I was on a mission: to clean the heat exchanger.

Peniche marina on a Sunday afternoon
I felt so good about the balmy weather, blue sky and my mission that I took a couple of pictures.

Port of Peniche
I felt tempted to go for a calm sail in the gentle breeze. But not today, I had a mission that I should have completed 11 years ago back in Port Dover, Canada.

Eleven years ago the raw water impeller half disintegrated and the missing rubber pieces were never retrieved. That means they're in the heat exchanger restricting water flow and causing the exhaust to steam. The engine has never overheated because I don't motor at over 2,000 rpm.

As you can see, this was a special day, regardless of the perfect weather. And that's what I like about a sailboat, it's an insatiable high maintenance mistress that keeps you on a leash in exchange for occasional moments of ecstasy.

But as I was walking down the pontoon, Ryker popped out of his fishing boat and we leaned against a motorboat talking about the Euro Zone, economics, real estate and a Dutch sailor's sexy wife who walked by pushing a bicycle. Just as we were getting ready to wrap up the conversation, Luis walked up with an electric heater under his arm and something to say, followed by another sailor with a book in hand and ideas on his mind and lastly, another friend just killing time. A regular convention on the pontoon.

Whatever happened to socializing on Facebook, instead of spending half the afternoon yakking with real people.

By the time I got to the boat the sun was already sliding down the steep curve toward the horizon.

In the cockpit, what do I immediately notice? My Rutland 913 wind generator isn't spinning. After 11 years of enduring high winds, rain, being jerked so hard in a storm I thought it would jolt itself to pieces, after all this time baking under the Portuguese sun, it suddenly stopped. Rest in peace 913. You'll probably sit on that post like a stuffed rooster for quite some time before you are added to the "missions to be accomplished" agenda.

Rutland 913, no longer spinning
Zero accomplishment. Are you kidding, I had a great time, got home just in time to light the fireplace followed by dinner and a couple glasses of red wine. Damn it, it's good to have a mistress.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Death of a Writer

Hack translator kills writer for money!!!

After 17 years of working as a freelance translator, I've butchered any hope of becoming a writer.

I stopped writing a long time ago when a nagging voice began hinting that I would never be published. Over time that feeble voice became downright aggressive and, in the end, violent. "Stop dreaming and start living!" it shouted in my face.

That's what I did.
And so I became a farmer, a greenhouse builder, a student (for the second time), a tree planter, a Kerouac impersonator, a steel worker, a delivery driver, a lazy lay-around bohemian, an English teacher and, lastly, a translator.

Looking back, I now see that I would never have made it as a writer, ever. Simply because all I did was daydream about a writer's freedom to roam the world. It was my way of counteracting a teenager's frustration of being chained to a life of never-ending chores on a vegetable farm.

And I wanted to be a writer because during the frozen winter months I read books that stoked my imagination beyond repair. Yes, beyond repair. This is not a metaphor, I really crossed the border into a territory where roads never end and you never reach your destination. "Destination" is where the palm trees are perfect and naked girls cling to your legs as you walk along a golden beach.


But those dreams took me places and lured me into adventures and misadventures, wonderful times and nightmarish experiences. And here I am in's 10:40 a.m. and I'm writing this after having walked 6 km along the cliff-side road to the fort of Paimogo as the sun came up. It could have been worse.
Walking destination

Portuguese have a habit of saying "neither 8 nor 80." Why didn't somebody tell me this when I was growing up on the farm back in Canada.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bonding and desert islands

Lonesome People

I usually get up at 6:30 a.m. to exercise for 30 minutes in the attic. I've been able to maintain this habit because I keep telling myself that it's essential...and it is.

Yesterday, I was up there working up a sweat when a thought popped into my head: what is the single most important thing in life, besides our very basic necessities?

Later, after showering and breakfast, and since there were no urgent translations on the agenda, I began listing things I could live without. You know, the objects today's trendy minimalists are disdaining such as television, cars, gadgets, clutter and so on. But that got tedious pretty quick.

Then an idea struck me! Why not just wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. In other words, instead of eliminating "things" why not ask the essential question, "what's the one thing that I could not possibly live without?"

It only took a few seconds to root out a firm answer: people.

Just imagine waking up one day and finding yourself on a desert island, forever. Not a very appealing predicament, more like a nightmare. 

Although that's a weird and completely unrealistic scenario, it led me straight to what I was looking for.

People! That's so obvious, even a gaming-addicted teenager could tell you that.

So I dug deeper and concluded that we need to engage with people. That's what we do at work, with salespeople and taxi drivers. But engagement has to go deeper than that, otherwise it's mere fluff.

What we need is friends. Whew, I'm a master at coming to obvious conclusions. How do you think I got a Philosophy Degree? Come on, dig deeper.

What we really need, what is absolutely essential, are persons with whom we can share our life experience. Now that sounds a bit more philosophical.

And what's "life experience?" It's that magical quality that makes every individual unique, unexplainable and incomparable...those little nuances that can evoke all kinds of emotions in others, some good some bad. Oh yes, I'm on a roll now.

Real living starts when we begin to bond and share. Without it, we are doomed to trod along a desolate and meaningless path going nowhere. Jackpot!

You know all this, just like you know that exercising every day is essential.

So, what's the moral of the story?

Think about the small (big) things that really matter in your life. Focus on and repeat them to yourself and they will eventually come true.

Take action!

I remember someone saying that "if you know something but don't act on it, it's the same as not knowing it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


It's a grey rainy day and I'm feeling lethargic. The energy boost from this morning's exercise session has completely worn off.

I'm in the mood for daydreaming about being somewhere else, such as anchored in the river below.

Anchored in Alcoutim, Guadiana River, in August 2011
"Going somewhere else" can be one of the ultimate pleasures of cruising on a sailboat. Raise the anchor and your escape plan is immediately placed in motion. Escapism, you say. Perhaps, but there's no need to psychoanalyze your childhood or to theorize about your real motives.

If Nietzsche, Sartre and other such sages had viewed the world from an anchored boat they would have been more keenly aware of our primal needs. What do we need? Practically nothing beyond our basic necessities, social interaction and feeling content.

Then why am I blogging? Because Jakatar is at the marina, I'm in a static house on a rainy day and expressing myself is a basic tribal need.

Why don't I just sail off? Because I can't tell you the whole truth. Remember, this is a confessional. People don't lie in a confessional, they simply omit the nasty stuff.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Live Off Your Passion

I'm a great admirer of Leo Babauta who runs the "Zen Habits" blog.  

Nevertheless, I just read a guest post on his blog written by a "snake oil blogger."

What's a snake oil blogger? It's a self-acclaimed "expert" offering a magic formula that promises to revolutionize your life. There are, I suspect, hundreds or probably thousands of snake oil bloggers, each with a scheme up their sleeve to sell you fulfillment, happiness, empowerment...whatever you desire, whatever you're missing in life.

The introductory sales pitch starts with an attention-grabbing hook such as "Live Off Your Passion."  In other words, make money doing something you love. Wow! I'm interested, who isn't?

Next, they build momentum through hyped optimism while vaguely outlining a plan that is a sure-fire solution for revolutionizing your life. All you have to do is buy their e-book or an online step-by-step course. It's easy!

And you can't deny the fact that a small percentage of individuals in this world are, in fact, living a charmed life. That's proof that it can be done. If they can do it, why can't you? All you need is a positive mindset and a 29-dollar e-book packed with a proven step-by-step program.

The TRICK here is that you'll be helping snake oil bloggers "Live Off Their Passion" while wasting your time and money!

If you want to improve your life - or at least give it a go - then buy the book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." This book has amazing insights and is the bible from which most of these hawkers draw their inspiration.

If that doesn't work, you can always read this blog to while away your time, and it's free!

What's wrong with being a beautiful loser with something to say?

Rattling transmision

I drove out to the boat in the early morning along the coastal road as the blazing sun rose from the distant Montejunto mountain. After a 3 km drive to the fort and coastguard outpost perched on the cliff, I turned inland heading for the main road to Peniche.

Driving east, I squinted into the low sun glaring off the windshield and concentrated on the narrow road winding through cabbage fields for another 2 km.

This early in the morning, the streets of Peniche and the marina were nearly deserted.
At the boat, I installed the freshly-painted panels on the ceiling and cupboard.
Shiny white panels
Then I climbed out into the cockpit for a look around and spotted the Dutch guy hosing down his 57-foot steel cutter made in Vietnam, painted in military camouflage green. I went over and we talked for a while until his wife said something from below, after which he glanced at his watch.

"Gotta adjust my transmission before lunch," I said, excused myself and left.

Back at the boat, I readjusted the transmission gear cable, fired up the engine and shifted into forward and reverse a number of times. It always engaged but slipped and rattled at low revs in forward.

So now I'm undecided on whether to replace the old Hurth with a PRM 120 or to risk another trip to the Algarve this coming summer. Oh, the life of a boat owner.

I've made 5 euros this week after a long stretch of continuous work. Hope the stream of translations doesn't run dry. Oh, the life of a translator.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Translation madness

I've been pounding the keyboard like a gaucho's thirsty horse galloping for the nearest waterhole. Whew! I was almost frothing at the mouth by the time I completed the first version of a 56-page translation. Teka, the cat, slept right through all the action, as usual.
Lazy Cat

It was Tuesday afternoon and the translation was due the following Monday. That left me with plenty of time for the revision and final reading, and also some free time to do something worth doing.

It was too late in the day to go anywhere. I decided to update the confessional (blog), but it didn't take long to realize that my mind was drained and drifting. That's when a random unrelated thought popped into my head: Jakatar's Hurth transmission has lost that sweet "clunk" sound when shifting into forward. In fact, it has already given me a few "=/&$#, I'm screwed" moments while maneuvering in the marina.

That got me thinking about a 37-foot sailboat that lost its steering while exiting the marina and then rammed Jakatar (my boat).  His boat, with a blue hull is on the left, Jakatar is on the right facing this way. This is how the owner described the situation on the phone:

Accident scene

"I motored ahead and by the time I realized I had no steering, I was almost on the rocks. So I put it in reverse, but it began to go sideways before colliding with your boat. My God, your boat is built like a tanker, I barely scratched the gelcoat with the anchor. Anyway, you better come down and have a look."

Yeah, right! He forgot to mention that his anchor locked horns with my Voyager windvane, leaving it bent and cracked, before it proceeded to plow a nice long gouge in the gelcoat. Ouch!!!

Let his boat insurance take care of it.
I didn't want to inflict that sort of damage on any other boat, or my own, because of a faulty transmission.
Instead of meditating or going for a walk, I started thinking about my transmission woes.
Where the hell was I going to get a transmission in Portugal, and for a decent price even if I did manage to find one. It was time to saddle up the computer again and cruise UK sites for boat transmissions.

These are the times when I wish I was back in North America where you can get anyting you want, when you want and without hassles. Sure, I could order one through the Internet, but I'm through with importing equipment from anywhere outside the EU: the customs authorities crucify you with absurd import taxes and paperwork. You learn to take the path of least resistance.

Next Morning
So this morning I got up early as usual, around 6:30, exercised in the attic for 30 minutes, performed the morning rituals and plopped myself down onto the saddle to start revising the translation.

Just about fell off the chair when I opened the folder containing the original file and realised I had to translate five files.  How could I forget something like that? No wonder I was doing so well.

Some days I wish I could be a cat and sleep the day away.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Translation Blues

From my office window I watch the sunset while plugging away at another large translation. Zero Life on a short leash.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cleavage Meets Desire - Apartment Sold

My home for 7 years, and it all began like this.

On a sunny autumn afternoon in Lisbon I was leaning against a pinkish 8-floor apartment building waiting for the real estate woman with a promising telephone voice.

Earlier in the morning I had driven the Toyota pickup truck to the University Campus, parked in a dusty eucalyptus stand turned into a parking lot, and then took the subway to the Rossio Square. 

Downtown, sitting at one of the colorful outdoor cafés, I watched a two-way stream of faces, bodies and attires that contrasted with the quiet beach town where I had lived for five years. It was like being in a film in which something dramatic is about to happen. Sometimes a young woman shot me a look, but nothing materialized except the fantasies in my head. Being alone in a city is like that.

By the time the waiter took my money, the empty beer glass and the sandwich dish, the big-city novelty was already fading and the faces in the crowd were losing their mystery. I walked down Rua Augusta - a beautifully cobbled wide street for pedestrians lined with upscale shops - until the next intersection where I waited for streetcar 28 going west to Campo de Ourique.

The old streetcar jolted and clanked snaking along narrow streets of old quarters where pedestrians, looking more like villagers that city dwellers, walked the narrow sidewalks hugging old plastered walls trimmed in stone blackened by diesel exhaust. 

Back on the main street, the streetcar picked up speed, then labored up a hill past the parliament building and onto a flat open area. I saw the Jardim da Estrela park to the right and the massive white-stone Basilíca da Estrela church on the other side of the street

It was still early when the streetcar stopped in front of the park, and I got off on impulse.

Here's a link to a video of streetcar 28 to the sound of Fado music.

Estrela Garden in Lisbon
Jardim da Estrela Park
Near the entrance gate there was a glassed café and restaurant. Most of the tables next to the duck pond shaded by large trees were occupied with patrons eating lunch in the company of pigeons and sparrows looking for fallen crumbs and scraps.

Breathing the scent of foliage and flowers, the spring sunshine warming my body, I recalled the real estate woman's voice over the phone as I walked the main path past old people on park benches, teenage couples entwined on the grass, two more gate entrances, another duck pond and back to where I had started. 

I then followed the streetcar tracks leading to Campo de Ourique, which struck me as a picturesque town within a city. Sooner than I thought, I was facing a fairly modern pinkish building with its own square on a street running all the way down to the Tagus riverside. 

I was thirsty by now and drank a mineral water at the counter of the small café on the ground floor. Then I went outside and leaned against the wall in the warm sun.

When a woman pulled into the parking lot in a black Audi A3, glanced in my direction and double parked unhesitatingly, I knew it was her. She walked briskly toward me wearing a knee-length black skirt, matching blazer and a white blouse. As she got closer I noted that she was petite, even in high heels, and her light complexion contrasted appealingly with her wavy black hair.

“Are you Mr. Horacio?” she asked.

I said yes with a quick glance at her push-up bra cleavage that revealed more than what you’d expect from a real estate saleswoman who looked five or six years older than me.

She introduced herself as Julia and we shook hands. After some small talk, we went inside and took the elevator to the third floor. I stood towering over her as she searched for the key in her bag, opened the door and then politely ushered me in with a smile and a sweep of her arm.

First she showed me the small dreary bathroom with an electric water heater bolted onto the wall above the head of the bathtub.

"It's a shame about the bathroom," she said shrugging her shoulders, "otherwise, it's such a lovely apartment."

It didn't take long to see the unfurnished one-bedroom apartment that, in addition to the bathroom, had an unusually large bedroom, a dining/living area and a narrow kitchen leading to the balcony overlooking the square. 

As I looked out the window at the buildings and cars parked everywhere, I began to have second thoughts about this whole Lisbon business. In any case, this was temporary, just another stepping stone on a directionless escapade. The real hesitation was whether I wanted to live in a city at all, even for a short period.

"It's an excellent opportunity for the price, wouldn't you say?" she broke the silence in that upbeat manner salespeople put on to drum up enthusiasm.

"Perhaps," I replied vaguely, looking at a stain of red lipstick on her upper teeth before she closed her lips.

"And as for the bathroom," she went on looking into my eyes, "I can recommend someone who'll do a excellent job for a reasonable price."

"But the water heater over the bathtub, now that's a problem," I said smiling, planning to use it to my advantage.

"Vá lá, there's a solution for everything," she patted me on the arm playfully. "Let's have another look."

We stood in the small dreary bathroom staring at the large water heater bolted over the bathtub.

"Do you prefer to shower or to bathe?" she asked.

"I prefer showering."

"That's perfect. The bathroom needs to be renovated anyway, so you can throw out the tub and divide the space into a shower stall and a heater compartment," she said and ran her fingers lightly over the inside of my lower arm.

"Perhaps," I said, feeling the effect of her touch.

"And you can also use the heater compartment for storage," she added, her voice noticeably huskier, and touched my back just above the waist.

"Is it wide enough?" I asked, really feeling it now as we stood very close.

"Of course it is." she said and quickly glanced down at me.

"Maybe it would be large enough for you, but I don't know about me," I said and felt her arm brush mine as we seemed to lean toward each other.

"Can I step into the bathtub just to get an idea?" I asked, no longer concerned with my growing condition.

"Of course, please do."

I stepped into the bathtub with a chuckle. "I'll pretend I'm showering," I said playfully and went through the motions.

"You'll get your clothes all wet," she laughed.

"It will probably be a little tight," I said, "It's hard to tell without a real wall."

"I'll be the wall," she volunteered, kicked off her shoes and stepped into the bathtub laughing embarrassed.

She positioned herself like a partition close to the heater, facing me. Her chest heaved slightly when she said "Now try it."

And I did.

Julia showed me the apartment two more times before I bought it. We also went for dinner a few times, until it became clear that a divorced woman with two children and a wannabe writer live in very distinct realms.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This Old Boat

Today was a boat day. That means I translate on the boat, make my famous vegetable stew and, if I'm lucky, do a bit of boat work.

Got the large translation done before lunch, way ahead of schedule. That's because I work like a maniac before boat days to get ahead. Translating at high intensity can distort your face...not to speak of your mind, as proven in the photograph below.

The pain of wrestling with words in the Toshiba
After lunch I took a relaxed walk through the marina to ventilate my spleen. Then I put another layer of white paint on the panels I had started to paint the other day and finished just Before Luis showed up.

Luis came to look at the gelcoat damage in order to write up an estimate for the insurance company.

Two weeks ago a 37 foot hunter lost its steering and rammed Jakatar (that's my boat) with its Delta anchor which then got tangled with my windvane. The skipper gunned the engine and now my Voyager windvane is toast. The other guy's insurance is paying the bill, let's hope.

Luis runs a boat shop and also owns a sailboat. We sat in the cockpit looking at this character boat that had sailed in yesterday.
Boat going to paradise

"Some guys are smarter than others," said Luis looking at the boat. "Some people work years and years to buy an expensive boat and these two [referring to the youngish hippie-like couple] probably paid next to nothing for the boat and here they are, going places we only dream of."

Although a lot of people would kill to be sitting on a sailboat on a beautiful sunny day, our minds were fixated on loftier goals. But don't worry, I won't start cackling about "living the life", since that topic has already been talked and written about to much so, that it has become mere pulp fiction populated by faceless souls despairing about their personal doldrums. If you're reading this you must already know the score. Unfortunately, I know it all too well.

Welcome to Zero, it's time to find our Zen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Translation Blues - Formula 1 Deadlines

I shouldn't be anywhere near the confessional (blog).

I have a 16,000-word translation that was originally due next Monday. Now they called me and asked, implored, demanded that it be finished on Thursday.

This is why I'm living in Zero Land to the sound of the clock ticking, ticking, ticking away.

Instead of singing that glorious Janis Joplin song "Oh Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" I'd rather croak "Oh Lord won't you give me some freedom".

Just so you know, I got rid of my Mercedes 190 D about 6 months ago. Nevertheless, it was the damned best car I ever had.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Boat maintenance

Owning an old sailboat can be a curse or a blessing, depending on your personality, your mood at any given moment and on how many things need fixing, varnishing or just plain head scratching.

I've come to the conclusion that if you strive for perfection buy a new boat, otherwise you're likely to become crankier than an old Hurth transmission.

Having finished a fairly large translation on Wednesday, I drove to the marina Thursday morning to do a little maintenance. I could call it "Zen and the art of boat maintenance", but that would be about as kitsch as a flock of pink flamingos on my lawn. Nevertheless, boat maintenance can become a spiritual and liberating experience, to me anyway.

Today I decided to try some interior painting. The bare panel in the picture below has been bugging me far too long. It's also sagging and needs trim to hold the edges firmly in place.
Boat ceiling
Sagging panel with light fixture

While I was at it, why not paint the panel on the portside over the stove and, to get more mileage out of the brush, may as well paint the bare plywood in the pots and pans cupboard.
If anybody is looking for painting tips - forget it. I took the panels down, sanded them with 220 and slopped paint over them, one coat in the morning the other in the afternoon.
Painting a boat interior
First coat
In the interval I made a tomato, pepper, onion, sweet corn and tuna concoction that would have tasted even better if I hadn't forgotten the wine. I also ran the engine for a while in reverse and forward to confuse the barnacles camping on the propeller. Amazing creatures, they could stick to a spinning propeller from here to China and arrive just as sane and healthy as if they had been sitting still all their lives.

That was enough "Zen maintenance" for the day. On the way home, I fed our vacationing friends' 7 cats and took this picture of the coastline.
Cabo Carvoeiro
Coastline view. Click on the picture and you'll see the "Cabo Carvoeiro" cape in the distance and the Berlenga Islands to the left under the cloud formation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Marina visit and a sad story

Sunday 6/11/2011

I drove 15 km to the marina to check on the boat on a typical autumn day in Portugal, under a patchwork of grey clouds splattered onto the sharp blue sky.

The port’s parking lot was still fenced off because of the recent stormy weather, so I parked the jeep near the fort and walked across the empty cheerless pavement to the marina entrance feeling the breeze that had lost its warmth.

At the boat, I dried the bilges, changed the alarm battery, readjusted the fenders a bit and left. It was one of those days when you don’t have the time or the inclination to start doing any real maintenance work. This, of course, triggered a vague feeling of guilt and sorrow.

On the way out I checked on Ryker, my Dutch buddy who has been living mostly in Peniche for a number of years. I found him sitting in the cabin of his 7 m fishing boat reading a magazine.

“Come with me,” he said, “I want to show you something.”

We walked to the transient dock and stood looking at a beautifully varnished 13 m ketch with wood masts. The lifelines were cluttered with drying clothes, but nobody was aboard.

Ryker told me how the French owner had worked seven years to restore the boat to its current pristine condition, during which time he was consumed with the dream of sailing to the Caribbean with his wife and daughter.

The hiccup was that they got caught in some nasty weather sailing down the coast, and that was it. The wife and daughter were through with sailing! This was the end of the line.

Anyway, the owner wanted my opinion on the best place to leave the boat for the winter. I told Ryker that Nazaré, only 20 miles north, would be my pick. It’s a small sheltered port and the marina is tucked into a corner protected from the wakes of commercial fishing boats. He could also put it on the hard, if he wished.

As we stood there discussing the situation, part of me wandered off into a daydream in which I sailed to the Caribbean, crossed an ocean again and lived carefree in warm foreign anchorages.

Then I though about how the French owner had worked during his spare time for seven years driven by daydreams of embarking on this very voyage that had now shipwrecked at this sorrowful marina. That's when it occurred to me that it was no longer autumn, it was already winter.
Boat Headroom
Checking a lonely boat

Friday, November 4, 2011

Emotional Intelligence

Emotionally intelligent
Does this dude look emotionally intelligent to you?

It’s been a rainy day filled with work. I got up at 6:30 while it was still dark, climbed the spiral staircase to the attic and exercised for 30 minutes. Then I showered, got dressed, had breakfast and continued to translate lawsuit exhibits into English. I got a little ahead and decided to enter the confessional – the blog.

Has blogging become a cult religion?

I initially began this entry by writing “I’ve always been fascinated by emotional intelligence.” But what I really wanted to say was that I’ve always been amazed by people’s lack of emotional intelligence, including my own!

It doesn’t take long to find a brief definition of emotional intelligence on the Internet. This one looks fairly acceptable to me:

1.      Self-awareness – the ability to read one's emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.

2.      Self-management – involves controlling one's emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.

3.      Social awareness – the ability to sense, understand, and react to others' emotions while comprehending social networks.

4.      Relationship management – the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.

Whew! That’s a tall order.

I’m more comfortable with the first two: Self awareness and Self-management.

I definitively need to work on Social awareness and Relationship management.

And I have a gut feeling that I had a propensity for attracting friends and women (relatively speaking) because, in fact, I was reasonably self-aware and self-managed.

So what’s the point to all this egocentric blabbering? Well, it takes us back to the “Zen to Zero” odyssey. Being Zen is being emotionally intelligent…or perhaps “balanced” is the more appropriate adjective.

Remember, I’m still in the confession stage.

Emotional intelligence
Darkness is falling as I write and Ana should be arriving home from school soon.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

From Zen to Zero

My life from Zen to Zero. I can’t get this thought, feeling or regret out of my head...even though it's a slippery path toward a life of sterile wishful thinking! I know I'm not the only person facing this dilema, but knowing that doesn't help one damn bit.

Zen does not reside in my beautiful house, equally amazing garden and ocean view, it’s not in the high-end furniture or in the jeep parked in the tiled garage and it’s not in the 39-foot sailboat at the marina either.  I've slowly driven Zen out of my life and replaced it with junk.

A very instructive blog called "zenhabits" by Leo Babauta will teach you how to develop Zen habits, and it definitively worked for him. I, however, hold a different perspective: sure habits are marvelous, but while habits iron out wrinkles and mold you into a more balanced person, what's really nipping at your heels is the burning desire to take that giddy leap of faith, to burst out like a caged animal.

You've read about it, you've watched it in movies, you've dreamed about it and you crave to be there...and "there" is whatever you truly desire and want out of life.  Perhaps it’s not that clear cut, but that’s how I’ve come to see it.

Zen to Zero is about a voyage in the opposite direction, about building a trap, either slowly or suddenly, the speed doesn’t really matter. And don’t blame it on TV, peer group pressure, social needs, your partner, lack of partner, bad luck or whatever. Blame yourself, like me.

So why don't I simply reverse the voyage back to where I started  instead of rattling on about it in a blog? Because, as I already said, we're not simply talking about habits but, rather, about gaining enough momentum to take a substantial leap. At this stage I'm still bleary eyed wondering how the hell I fell into this hole and also realizing that I have to deal with it before it's too late.

Additionally, Zeros are like alcoholics (alcoholics used to be sober and Zeros used to Zen, even if only in their childhook). First, we must admit our condition. We need to look in the mirror and confess it, to say it out loud, “I’m a Zero and I want to be Zen.” Say it a hundred times before you fall asleep, when you're bored or frustrated, say it until you really want it, say it until it’s true.

And what exactly is Zen? It’s the enchanted child inside of you that would rather watch seagulls on the beach than drive a Porsche.

I began writing this blog as my own form of Zen therapy, simply because I want it back.

How does a blog do that? It places my current situation and surroundings into perspective and brings back the focus. Writing is therapy. That's why there are so many bloggers. Just think, Leo stopped being a Zero after he started writing about Zen, not the other way around.

I’m Zero and I want to be Zen, say it with me.

My office, my trap.

View from the terrace. Notice the stormy weather and waves just above the roofs.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stormy weather

I'm pretty much always working on one or various translations at the same time. Right now I have a legal document due on the 11th, a one-page assignment due tomorrow and another that I finished today right after lunch.

Since Windguru is forecasting stiff wind and waves of nearly 8 meters from the west for tonight and tomorrow, I drove the old jeep out to Peniche to add an extra fender and more lines to the boat. Waves that high will leap over the breakwater and wash into the marina causing the boats to strain at the lines and to act like rocking horses.

I was going to work on the boat (translating, not boat work) Thursday, but it doesn't seem very feasible trying to concentrate with the wind whistling off shrouds, halyards slapping against masts, nylon lines groaning against cleats and the constant rocking action.

Weather in Portugal
Here's what it looks like on a bad day.
The picture was taken by someone else from a marina pontoon.

Sinking boat
Here's the unfortunate result. Picture taken from a local newspaper report last year.
pier tetrapods
The same breakwater on a normal day. Note the number of tetrapods for added protection.

Peniche port layout
This aerial view gives you an idea of the port's configuration.

Peniche location
And then there is this google earth shot.

Wooden masts rotting

This big boat has been here for a couple of weeks with lots of young people aboard. I hear the captain discovered that one of his wooden masts is rotting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Zero is Now

I'm back to zero!
I'm standing still again.
I'm watching the parade.

The economic crisis rained on my escape plan. It's not that I'm broke, I've merely been short-changed.

The tide has changed and so has the blog. Forget about my past. Nobody wants to read yesterday's news, even if it's a good story. But if you're still curious about how I got this way, then read the early blog entries. That's all the information you'll need to make sense of this journey.

"Zen to Zero" is a metaphor for what is happening now, for my current predicament after taking that one damn wrong turn. Years of struggling for total freedom wasted like all the hats I've lost at sea.

As of today, I unveil me, right now, right here in Peniche.

Maybe I'll still reminisce about the glory days now and then, but I'm sure you'll forgive me for it.

Corbin 39
Jakatar, my white Corbin 39 pilothouse sailboat in the center. The strange yellow boat was built in a nearby town by a Russian carpenter.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A New Life

After my breakup with Ali and the inheritance conflict, I left town and began another life. I stopped renting rooms, closed down the greenhouses and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Lisbon.

New life abroad
The  new life
In Lisbon, I started writing as I had promised Jordan on that fafetufl night at Grossman's Tavern in Toronto where we pledged to live like writers. I actually began writing a novel but quickly realized I hadn't yet learned the craft of writing.

Instead, I began teaching English and soon thereafter became a freelance translator from Portuguese to English.

English teachers
In the days when I still smoked

I fell under the illusion that being a translator would be the next best thing, a sort of honorable mention for lame ducks. I curse that day and, in fact, have found myself spouting an unhealthy number of curses ever since.

And whereas my writing efforts fizzled and popped like soap bubbles, my translation career took off like a manic rocket. I say manic because it became unstoppable, uncontrollable, frenzied and, by God, meaningless.

The key word here is meaningless, the ruthless march to nowhere, the caffeine-spiked thrashing of success without purpose.

I bought a house, a Mercedes, a jeep, a 39-foot sailboat...I bought myself into what Thoreau called “a life of quiet desperation.” I willingly yoked myself to a heavy cart, doomed to a life of plodding in circles watching life pass me by in slow motion.

But where there is desire, there’s always a means to salvation and mine presented itself in the form of my sailboat. Here was the vessel perfectly designed for immediate escape, the magic carpet that would take me back to the simple life I had betrayed.

For those who have never voyaged on a sailboat, you cannot imagine what it’s like to cast the lines, motor out of the harbor, hoist the sails and quietly, slowly and almost magically cut through the water to the rhythmic splashing of water against the hull.

When living on a sailboat, you don't watch television, you watch for the weather, the stars, the shoreline. You go about your business of maintaining the boat and yourself shipshape. You're not alone because there is a happy sailing community around you, and you're not bored because you discover yourself and, on a rainy day, that's all you need for company.

Damn though, I'm getting ahead of myself and have barely scratched the surface of my past lives. It will all come slowly. Be patient.

Sailing to the Algarve
Sailing to the Algarve

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Seduction and Meaningless Details

A green house
The first house
I awoke to a metal chair rattling over cobblestones. When I raised my head I was facing Ali sitting across the café table motionless with an intent look of hurt.

I licked a spot of dry spittle from the corner of my mouth feeling hot, lightheaded and thirsty. My sensation of disconnectedness was intensified by the oppressive rumbling of waves pounding into the surf and children screaming on the beach.

"I fell asleep," I said hoarsely, my mouth dry as ash.

For the first time since we had met, her face remained expressionless and still.

I felt an urge to explain why I hadn't gone home all night, but then let if fade away. Ali had taught me that explanations are meaningless, that only intent and actions really matter.

Until yesterday afternoon, I was convinced that she was mute. She had never spoken a word to me during the six months I had known her and yet I felt closer to her than to any other woman before. Her obstinate refusal to write messages should have made me suspect something, anything, but it didn't. I quickly became spellbound by her purposeful face and all its subtle expressions that said everything I needed to know. Then there was her living, breathing body, her meaningful touches and the soft moans that I lived for.

"Ali," I said, "I saw you talking on the phone yesterday, in the booth under the pine tree."

She swallowed and blinked rapidly. Her face distorted in a way I don’t care to describe or remember.

"I saw your lips moving,” I continued, surprised by the unfamiliar hollow tone of my voice, “you were speaking with someone."

The mid-morning sun lit up the moisture welling in her eyes, which whe quickly wiped away with her index fingers and, in the same motion, brushed her loose hair back over her shoulders. She smiled faintly and regained her composure.

I met Ali earlier in the year when she came to the big house in the early afternoon looking for a room. I opened the door to a young woman with the lean body of a long-distance traveler, long sun-bleached hair and an endearing freckled face.

"Hi," I said politely and waited for the inevitable question. Instead, she pointed to the "ROOMS" sign, and then softly touched her chest.

"You don't speak English," I said perplexed.

She smiled, nodded and, by signs, let me know that she was mute.

"I see, you don't speak," I replied uncomfortably, not knowing what else to say, "but you speak English," I said and felt foolish for saying it.

She smiled understandingly, nodded again and eyed me expectantly.

I rented four rooms and they were all full. That's what I meant to say. Instead, I recited my usual lowdown on prices and conditions. When I finished, she gave me the thumbs up sign.

"I just got home," I lied. "I'll check if the room is vacant and I'll be back in a few minutes." 

I asked her to sit under the palm tree that was taller than the two-storey house built on a clifftop plateau overlooking clusters of red-tiled roofs, the long beach and ocean.

I rushed to my room. In several trips, I carried all my clothes, books, the small safe and personal belongings into the storage room next to the kitchen and then lugged the heavy Underwood typewriter into the dining room. I did a quick sweep job, opened the window and then fetched a fresh set of sheets and towels from the laundry droom.

I was about to change the bed but changed my mind. Instead I crossed the hall into the bathroom, washed the thin film of sweat off my face, combed my hair, relaxed for a minute and then walked back outside. The whole ordeal had taken little more than ten minutes.

The pebbled yard crunched under my feet as I walk toward the palm tree. "You can see it now, if you like."

She nodded pleased, and I took her bag.

"The sheets haven't been changed yet, " I said as she waltzed into the large room, twirled merrily like a ballerina, leaned out the window, gazed at the ocean view and took a exaggeratedly deep breath. Then she turned to me and gave me a little oriental bow.

Next, I showed her my bathroom across the hall, which we would be sharing. The four guest rooms I rented were upstairs and had their own bathroom.

Then I gave her a tour of the kitchen and dining room and walked her back to "my" room.

"This key is for the room and this larger one if for the front door," I said.

As I handed her the keys, she cupped my hand in hers and looked at me so pleased I could hardly hold myself back from leaning over and kissing her.

"I almost forgot," I said, "I'll need your passport or ID card. Sorry, but it's the rule." I was going to make an exception for her, if I wasn't so curious about her identity.

She unzipped her shoulder bag and cheerfully handed me her passport. I wished her a good stay and walked off to my new quarters.

Inside the crammed storage room, I looked at the passport. She was South African, her name was Allison Maguire and she was twenty-three years old. I then put the passport in the combination safe, which I chained with a padlock to the cot's metal frame. If it weren't for this cot, she'd be looking for another room somewhere else.

As I stood in the storage room crammed with excess furniture, pails, brooms and plenty of useless junk, a thought brought a grin to my face. What happened?