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Yacht Seabird Circumnavigation


   Sunday, December 22, 2002  
From Russia in a Twelve-footer - Darwin, Australia

The Tolstoy-bearded Russian sits on Sea Bird's green settee cushions and explains in Soviet-clipped English how Somalian pirates spared him. "Six man say "Kill him!" Eight man say "No kill him!" So they let me go. Democrazia!!"
He stirs stiffly as though to leave. "My English no very good. We speak later with translator".

The teakettle boils to a whistle on Sea Bird's stove. "No, no!" I reassure him, trying softly to buy time. "Your English is fine". I slide my journal across the cabin table and into my visitor's sun thickened fingers. "Here. Write down your name while I get some coffee ready".

I pour the roiling water into a grey thermos and place jars of ground coffee, powdered milk, and honey in front of my guest. As I sit back down at the varnished trestle table, he slides the opened log toward me. The Cirilic-influenced block script reads: EVGENIY GVOZDEV - SAID. "Yef-ge-ni" he mouths thickly.

"I don't have a coffee pot" I apologize to Evgeniy "So I just put a spoon full of ground coffee into a cup and pour hot water on it. We call it cowboy coffee." I heap a measure of coarse-ground black coffee into each of the chipped mugs and fill the first with hot water from the thermos. "Only this much water for me" he says, pinching thumb and forefinger together to indicate half a cup. We stir the floating grounds in our respective cups, waiting for them to settle before adding milk and honey.

"So after the pirates let you go what happened?" I ask. As the grounds swirl to a stop, he explains how the gunmen completely stripped his seventeen-foot boat "Lena", going as far as relieving him of his old underwear. Then they set him adrift in the Gulf of Adan in his empty shell of a vessel. "They give back 2 old sails. Compass. One chart. 40 litres water". He grabs his crisp blue shirt "One shirt. One pantalon." He pulls down the waistline of his corduroy pants and pinches up the top of his black underwear, smiling. "No this".

I put a spoon each of powdered milk and honey into my coffee cup and push the containers his way. He stirs three spoonfuls of honey into his coffee and licks the rim of the red plastic honey pot. "Then I sail back into Christian country, up the Bosphorus and home to the Caspian Sea".

We swirl the tarnished spoons gently round our coffee cups, coaxing the froth of grounds to settle. It's an art. Stir too slowly and the floating black granules cling to the spoon. Stir too quickly and you raise the coffee sludge at the bottom of the cup. Before we can take the first sip from our mugs, Evgeniy tells me how his first circumnavigation ended and how his second one began.

His first boat ended up in a museum and he soon grew bored back home, "watching television and football. Always television and football." Aged sixty-four he began building his next sailboat, the twelve-foot "Said" that's berthed outside Sea Bird's bronze porthole.

He describes what it's like to build the tiny sailboat in Post-USSR Russia. "Big problem. I am old man. No money. No material. I walk on Russian street. Look wood. Look metal." He unfolds a well-fingered photo of a minute but fully rigged sailboat lashed to the side of an apartment building. "I build hull in cook room and finish on side of house."

Said under construction
(photo courtesy of Evgeniy Gvozdev)

He raises the cracked pink coffee cup to his sea-swollen, bearded lips. With a gentle puff, he blows the few floating grounds to the other side of the mug and takes his first sip from the clearing that results. These are blue eyes used to looking into wind and unfiltered coffee. Here's a man who knows patience.

"From Caspian Sea I sail to Gibraltar. 93 days Las Palmas to Rio de Janerio." He retraces the string of South American ports he visited on his voyage to Patagonia. "Sao Paolo. Montevideo. Matta Platta." He clears the bottom of South America after bucking weeks of gale force head winds in the Strait of Magellan.

The more I hear about the hardships he's endured, the less I worry about the way I've prepared his coffee. He describes what it's like to be at sea 120 days in a vessel that's six inches longer than my dinghy. "For three months no rain. One day. One and one half litre water". He splays thumb and pointer finger as though firing an imaginary finger pistol through Sea Bird's cabin roof. "Is very big problem."

His English flows with the gracefully concentrated, Haiku-style of the non-native speaker. We sail over whales and reefs and drink our coffees down 'til the going gets gritty. Then a gentle tilt of the cup drains the last sip from the exposed black dregs.

posted by Bernie at 5:45 PM

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