Friday, July 29, 2011

The End, for now

Thank you all very much for following this journey. Guizmo is now in storage and my journey, for this summer, is over. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section and I'll try to respond. Wishing you all fair winds and following seas.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


It was a dark and stormy night. It really was. So much so that this ancient city looked like a dreamscape. It was so out of this world, such a mix of modern and ancient, so steampunk in fact, that it reminded me of The City of Lost Children. There was grandeur coupled with decay everywhere. Keep in mind that Genoa probably reached its peak of opulence in the 1600s. So just the "decline" phase of this city, that is, not counting its nascent phase or the phase where it ran its own mini-empire as a city-state, is approximately 2.5 times as long as all of "American History." That alone should garner some respect. (As an aside, American intellectuals have been throwing around the word Empire in the last decade. There should be some unspoken rule about not using the word "Empire" unless you've had that empire for 500 years. Any idiotic nation can expand over a few dozen years. The real test is to have the kind of unifying cultural narrative, and the money flow, to keep that empire going for a few hundred years).

Here are pics from around the Old Port area in Genoa. If this city does not look like the set of the City of Lost Children, I don't know what does.

This boat was used in a movie about the pirate Blackbeard

There is a crescent and star on the flag. Not sure why Blackbeard would have used a crescent.
They're really paying homage to the actual pirates that the Genoese fought

If this isn't steampunk, I don't know what is.

There is a reconstructed Roman ship in the big bubble, but it is inexplicably not lit at night

Modern art, ancient walls

This is a real crane. Not a prop.

These windmill-like things spin and rotate in the wind

Just a street corner

There is a row of awesome buildings
In all this hoopla about the Doria family, I forgot to mention this other fellow from Genoa, who was turned down by the Genoese for being a crazy flake, who later discovered a continent. It turns out the Genoese were partly right: the guy had no idea what he was talking about and thought he hit India when in fact, he had only traveled half the distance there. But it's still kind of a big deal to discover a continent, so now they're trying to patch things up with him, I guess, so they put up his statue in a pretty central location.
What do you do when you kick your son out of your house,
and he comes back years later, having discovered a new continent?
You build a giant statue and pretend you loved him all along.

The next morning, when the weather was nice, I visited Andrea Doria's mansion in Genoa. It was too early for the place to be opened to the public, so all I've got is this picture of his garden.
Nice garden
Maybe if he did less gardening and more seafaring, Andrea Doria would lose fewer naval battles? I don't know. I do know that medieval naval battles are tricky business, with no clear winner. Two sides meet, shoot the hell out of each other, board each others' boats, free some galley slaves (i.e. typically, their own people who were taken prisoner in previous raids), take some people hostage to use as galley slaves themselves, and go their separate ways at night fall. Then they tell everyone back home that they won and receive a hero's welcome. Andrea Doria certainly did a lot of this, even though it's clear that he actually lost conclusively on two different occasions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hauling Out

It was really sad to pack up Guizmo for the summer. 

Mini Sisters, Part 2

Came across minis #126 and #146 in Genoa. Saw them on the train ride, and could only take this picture.

Getting Close to the End

I reached Loano, and the trip needs to come to an end.

This is partly because of some good news back at work that requires my undivided attention for some time, and partly because the boat developed a chainplate problem that needs to be fixed.

Chainplate. Not a terrible problem, but needs a fix.
At the time I purchased the boat, there was some fiberglass repair on one side. I asked the previous owner if the damage that he repaired was structural, and he said it was not. It turns out that he was right: the repair was a superficial coverup for a problem that ran deeper. As a result, the right side shroud (the three wires on the right side that hold the mast up and keep it under compression so it will not buckle) has developed a crack by pulling up on the chainplate. If unchecked, it could cause the rig to collapse. This is why, for the last few days, I had been avoiding using too much sail, relying on the backstay to take the pressure off the shrouds, and generally being cautious. I couldn't put it here in the blog for fear of my mother developing a coronary, but now that I made it across three countries safely, it's time to get it fixed.

I'll haul out the boat in Loano, take the train to Genoa, and fly out. I'll probably resume the voyage next year, with a fixed up chainplate.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I felt like a conqueror going into Loano. For one, I had just done a pretty long passage spanning three countries and covering a substantial chunk of the globe. But more importantly, Loano turns out to be the backyard of the Doria family.

Portrait of Andrea Doria.
How pompous an admiral do you have to be
to pose as Neptune, with a trident in hand?
Why is the Doria family so important? Well, it turns out that the biggest threat my favorite people, the Pirates of the Barbary Coast, faced was from a fellow named Andrea Doria. He's regarded as one of the best admirals and statesmen of all time. This is a fellow who, at different times, served France, Spain and allied forces of the Pope, all with distinction. We can look over the fact that in the two major battles that mattered, where he tried to put an end to the westward expansion of the Ottoman Empire, he was squarely defeated, once by Barbaros Hayreddin, and later, by Barbaros Hayreddin's protégé Dragut. So he's kind of like a weaker version of Darth Vader, who lost badly to Obi Wan Kenobe and then again to Luke, without being able to kill Obi Wan in between. But it is nevertheless a remarkable accomplishment to have served as the kind of roadbump the way he did. Sure, he lost, badly, but he was a brilliant strategist and clearly a very effective commander; he was just unlucky enough to have faced people way better than himself. He was lucky enough to survive these battles, and managed to become one of the main people behind the rise of Genoa as a city-state as well as a political and cultural center.

The Doria family has some other notable folks in it. Most importantly, Andrea Giovanni Doria (AGD), AD's nephew, inherited all of his uncle's estate and ships, and played a huge role in Lepanto, when the Pope's alliance put an end to the westward expansion of the Ottoman Navy. AGD's specific role in that battle is still up for some discussion, as apparently, he was told to hold the south end of the line, and when the fighting got rough, he took all of his ships and headed even further south and away from the battle. The rest of the admirals later admonished him for being a coward and running away from the main fight. And it was quite an uneven fight: apparently, the Ottoman fleet was so underprepared that they ran out of gunpowder and started flinging oranges at the enemy. And the guy calling AGD a coward is none other than a member of the Gonzaga family -- I've been to the Gonzaga summer palace, and based on the orgiastic frescoes and various monuments to favorite horses, I can conclusively state that that family consist of a bunch of uneducated perverts. It's not just me saying this now, but also people who lived at the same time and with the same cultural standards as the Gonzagas. Who should we believe in the infighting between the animalistic Gonzaga from the south and rich educated nephew from the north?AGD, in his defense, claimed that some of the Ottoman boats were trying to encircle the alliance's line, and that he had to head south to cut off a pincer attack. In the end, I suspect there is a bit of truth to the claims from both sides, as the southern wing of the Ottoman fleet did try to encircle the alliance, and as well, AGD was generally an ineffective and cowardly commander in other battles. But the bottom line is that the Doria family had a huge role in history. Without them, it's not clear that Italy would look like a boot today -- perhaps a shorter work shoe at best. There would certainly be no Genoa.

Loano is the Doria family's backyard. Though Andrea Doria's main mansion is in Genoa, the family had a summer palace in Loano, along with a church across the street.

The locals have added LED lights to the main piazza
How is this a historically accurate restoration?
Doria summer palace
Church across the street. Andrea Doria must have prayed here often enough to have had his life spared
in the various naval battles he lost
For a small chapel, the place looks pretty fancy, done up in a classical style, back when gold trim was very much in style. I imagine that both AD and AGD prayed really hard in here, to have faced the enemy they faced and to have come out alive.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mini Sisters

Came across not just one, but four  different minitransats in Loano.

#600 is the prettiest of them all. The cabin has windows! I didn't think it was even possible to fit a window someplace, but clearly it's totally doable. And it would be a welcome addition to Guizmo. I might get this done.

The cabin top is also higher in #600, so much so that I would be able to stand up properly inside #600. In Guizmo, my head hits the ceiling and I need to hunch over slightly, which gets tiring after a while.

This boat lacks a canting keel, so the inside looks very roomy, but the downside is that (a) it has no canting keel, and (b) the boom is much higher than it needs to be.

# 408 looks like it's a nice Pogo. This is a boat produced in "series," that is, they come out of a mold and are industrially produced in batches.

#538 also looked nice. Note high cabin top and hatch, which are nice features, but also note lack of canards and canting keel.

All these boats have a rotating spinnaker pole that's about 2m or so. Guizmo's spinnaker pole is a whopping 3.20 meters. I'll have to check the regulations to figure out why there is a difference; for now, I just get to boast about its length.

Living in a Mini

Some people have asked what it's like to live in a minitransat, and I realized that I don't have that many pictures of the inside. So here's one, taken from the area in the bow sleeping area, looking towards the cockpit hatch.

Inside the mini
You can see the bulkhead just past my cozy sleeping bag, then there is the mast and the canards, followed by the the canting keel assembly and the famous keelbox with its 6:1 purchase pulley system. On larger boats, the canting is done by a hydraulic system; on my mini, it's done by attaching one of those yellow lines to a winch and cranking on it. The keelbox is open to the ocean, and despite my worries, not a single drop of water has come into the cabin through the keelbox.

I have various drybags for storing electronic equipment & clothing, and airtight containers for keeping food. The drybags have never been necessary, but they provide some peace of mind just in case the boat gets knocked down. The airtight containers are just to appease my bug-phobia. And I have an excellent Jetboil stove which can make a nice cup of tea within 4 minutes.
On shore with a dry-bag full of electronics
But I've spent more than 50% of the nights in bed & breakfasts throughout Europe. Even though cruising on a mini is kind of like backpacking through Europe (though with much higher adrenaline and excitement on windy days), I'm too old to rough it out inside the boat and there are some really nice bed & breakfasts along the way. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

French and Italian meteo, I'm onto you

This blog entry started out about weather prediction but turned into a rant on economics, partly because the media is going crazy about the EU debt crisis again and partly because it's hard to pass through multiple countries without subconsciously comparing them, but here goes...

So, I saw the following in France over three consecutive days:

Day 1 French forecast: sunny, calm, Force 2
Day 2 French forecast: sunny, calm, Force 3
Day 1 actual weather: Force 6 wind, rain, thunderstorm

Day 2 French forecast: Force 6 wind, rain, thunderstorm, small craft advisory
Day 3 French forecast: sunny, calm, Force 3
Day 2 actual weather: sunny, no wind, but with big waves

Day 3 French forecast: sunny, no wind, but with big waves
Day 4 French forecast: sunny, calm, Force 3
Day 3 actual weather: sunny, with Force 3 winds, no waves

It's easy to tell how the weather prediction system works in France: they simply forecast yesterday's weather for tomorrow, and forecast the seasonal average for all days thereafter. This system must work really well when the weather is not changing drastically every day, and it usually isn't. But when there is a storm passing through, this is the absolute worst forecast strategy.

Perhaps this situation was an anomaly. Perhaps Météo-France does not consist of 3700 idle bureaucrats suckling at the teat of the great French Republic. Perhaps their computers were down, or perhaps they were all on vacation because it was the Bastille Day weekend when I was paying attention to their forecasts.

But the situation was much the same in Italy. They said it would be sunny and nice, and we had Force 7-8 winds with Force 9 gusts. Then they predicted Force 7-8 winds with gusts up to Force 9, and we had calm weather.

Weather prediction in the Med is not really rocket science. Especially in the summer, weather patterns move from the northwest down towards the southeast. You can just pick up the phone to your buddy who lives a few hundred miles northwest of you, say "alo Jean-Michel/Pierre/whatever," ask him how the weather is up there, and forecast that weather for tomorrow. If you're too lazy to make that phone call and forecast your own weather for tomorrow, you're doing it wrong!

To their credit, the Greek forecast is often spot-on. It's time to replace the French and Italian meteo offices with an HTTP redirect to the Greek website. That simple 302-redirect message would save about $1B/year immediately, not even counting savings from the pension plans and retirement packages to come later. There, I just did my part to help fix the great big European debt crisis.

As an aside, there is a lot of stereotyping and criticism of Greeks in the press these days. It's as if the whole world is on the side of the rentiers who loaned money to the Greek government, criticizing Greeks for being lazy, for instituting plans that allow government workers to retire at age 37, for having a large beaurocracy, and so forth. For all these people who are being so critical, I have one observation and one question.

Observation: I traveled through Spain, France and Italy on this trip. I saw absolutely nothing, either culturally or structurally, that would distinguish these countries' work ethics from each other. Frankly, all of Southern Europe seems stagnant, full of beaurocratic barriers and generally non-competitive to me, and, based on previous trips, I think this observation easily covers Northern Europe as well. Young people do not attempt to invent new things; they seem to want to migrate to finance centers to become cogs in the money-shuffling engines, or get slow jobs in the public sector or, if they are tech savvy, become mid-level managers in a tech company where they stop being creative. And everything works at a snail's pace. Try exporting anything out of France, and call me back when you've prepared the necessary paperwork. Or let me know if/when you've fully satisfied the requirements for a "translated document with apostille" required by the EU states (I have a diploma in Latin, and finding a certified Latin translator has been a bit difficult, to say the least). Commodity items whose prices I checked on this trip (e.g. things whose identical duplicates can be purchased elsewhere in the world, from outboard engines and cameras down to wires and electrical connectors) cost roughly 30-100% more in the EU compared to the US, and I can only attribute this to friction within the system. To make it concrete, it costs as much to extract an outboard engine from customs and sell it in Europe as it did to manufacture it from raw metals (WTO ensures that the price differences are not due to tariffs; and the profit margins seem similar in the EU because they seem to lead similar lifestyles as their American counterparts). That's insane. And I had the benefit of having been to India in the middle of this trip. The energy I saw there is just nowhere to be found anywhere else in Old Europe.

So the question: It's not as if the folks who loaned money to Portugal, Italy, Greece or Spain went through an anonymizing "microloan" service which masked the name of the loan recipient. They knew perfectly well to whom they loaned their money. They knowingly undertook the risk of not getting paid back. They actively chose to ignore other developing markets, with demographics that are young, eager and willing to work hard, and place their bets on Old Europe instead (yes, I'm looking at Turkey in particular, and every other country on the EU fringe, along with the manufacturing giants in the far east). So why is everyone, and I mean just about every talking head on TV and every idiot who has been granted real estate in newspapers, criticizing the sad-European-country-du-jour (Greece at the moment, but Iceland, Ireland and Spain have all been there recently) for being lazy/not saving enough/not investing well and demanding prompt payback along with severe austerity measures, damn the consequences? Since these noisemakers cannot be receiving kickbacks from the bond holders who actually loaned the cash, I can only assume that they're like the poor underclass in the US who votes Republican out of a desire to identify with the rich and powerful.

Anyhow, I've seen nothing that makes any EU country 'better' than any other. France has a tiny handful of sectors that bring in money; the rest of the country seems to be running a successful wealth redistribution scheme. England is buoyed by the finance sector, and I cannot name a British invention that came after the radar. One could go on and on, so I won't, except to note that economic growth seems to be a function of demographics first and foremost, and it's a pity to see people ignore groups of highly productive people who needed capitalization in favor of people whose only accomplishment was to vote for their neighbors' bad songs in the European song competition, and then get upset at them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Took a side-trip to Albenga, a town built on the ruins of an old encampment where a Roman legion was stationed. The river has filled in the sea with sediment, so the encampment, which must have been on the coast back in the second century, is a bit inland now. It took a $1.80 train ride to get there.

Piazza and tower
The town is laid out on a very regular grid. The Romans apparently loved 90 degree angles.

Piazza in the afternoon sun.
I imagine this is where the legions lined up millenia ago
It's hard to walk around this town and not imagine the ancient legion running around, with their cool helmets and regalia, 2000 years ago. Was the weather the same? (I looked around online, and it's hard to tell but it seems to not have changed much on the average) Did the place look the same with the vegetation? (Quite likely, though it may have been more forested back then) Did they eat the same food? (What did the Italians eat prior to the introduction of the tomato and pasta?). Did they have the same kinds of worries? Also, was that particular legion ever decimated -- a Roman punishment levied against an underperforming legion where everyone lines up on the square and every 10th legionnaire is killed -- and if so, did it happen in that town square?


I think the doorway mentions the year 145

There is an undersea museum which showcases the remains of a Roman merchant vessel that have been dug up from where it sank, a mile offshore and in 42m of water. Certainly worth the 3 euro admission fee.

Countless people must have spent hours in this bathyscaphe
while excavating the ship underwater

Roman anchors were made of two heavy stones conjoined by some heavy wood.
It's an ingenious design.

Amphorae that carried high-quality wine

Scale model of the Roman merchant vessel that sank

Just outside the museum, near a church, came across a large family that had gathered for the baptism of their toddler in a Roman baptistery that dates back to the 5th century, the earliest days of Christianity in the Roman Empire. The river has deposited so much sand that the baptistery is now 10 feet below ground level.
The clergy dress code has not changed much since the 5th century.
But the subjects now support hair gel (on the baby) and tights (on the mother).

Just outside the encampment area, there were a bunch of people selling second-hand goods on the street.

He promises that, with this equipment, you can go very deep and stay there for a long time.

Here's a unique take-off on General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard. It actually said "General Lee" on the  other side of the Vespa.

All in all, Albenga is a quaint town that's definitely worth the side trip for anyone in the region.

Torment in Alassio

There was an insane windstorm in Alassio, which the locals call, aptly, tormenta. Here are some shots from around the marina. I had thought about mooring at anchor at the nearby private island (isolated area, no other boats, no dock, no electricity, just a single anchor), but decided against it because the clouds looked menacing. I felt like a genius for this decision, as the small mini anchor would definitely not have held against this wind.

Even the marina, protected behind a seawall, was full of spray. Every line on every boat was whistling in the wind, and loose canvas, like jib covers, was flapping wildly. Rain came in gusts, but the wind never let up.


Waves look small from this angle, but note the high water mark and remember that the Med has no tides.
Those waves climbed all the way up there.

How it looked from inside the mini.
Note the waves created in a secluded, sheltered port.
Glad to be at a secure port through this storm!

Kiteboarders in Alassio

The Alassio and Albenga areas turn out to be pretty good for kiteboarding and windsurfing. There is a rivermouth that has created a shallow area, and the cape channels the wind to a constant northwesterly. The boarders were ripping it up with a steady 20 knots, with gusts in the 40-50 knot range.
I saw 19 kites flying concurrently