I am a sailor. I travel the world in a camper van. I am a mountain biker. I am a vagabond. I do a lot of things, and with 9,000 miles under my keel, two months of living in a van, thousands and thousands of miles spent on two rubber wheels with spokes, nobody could accuse me of anything less. But, I have started to feel that I am not doing all those things with the proper style.
This worry has been nagging me for a while. When people ask us about our trip and I launch into our story, there is always a reaction of disbelief:. “You? Sailors? Really? Hmmm.”
It wasn’t until we arrived in Reefton, that I realized our problem. Reefton is known as “The City of Light.” 1000 citizens strong, then and now, it’s claim to fame is that it was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to provide commercial electricity to its citizens in 1888. It continues to exist in a strange microcosm, preserved almost like a 1880s theme park, and yet operating like a present day, small mining town.
We pull Sister Mary Francis into a campsite and settle her in. Then, we head out for a walk. It’s 5:00 p.m. and I am in search of a happy hour. We walk through town, and we find a place built with dark logs and a patio. Two men eat some food in the corner, but otherwise nothing is going on. We carry on until we pause outside the front door of “Wilson’s Hotel”
Wilson’s Hotel was built in the new electricity era. Carefully preserved, you could imagine women in saloon dresses and feathers in their hair making their way up the narrow wooden stairs in their high button boots. To the left was a bar, currently empty, but with all the potential I wanted. Well used bar stools lined up next to an old, dark bar with low ceilings. The walls free of nicknacks, beer on tap, beer in the fridge and a sparse selection of dusty liquor bottles used only for tourists or when the group wants to “take the piss” out of one of their fellow miner friends with a bad tasting shot. No one has arrived yet, but I can still tell: this is the bar my BAR-dar (Radar for bars) is searching for.
Leslie and I pull up one of the narrow, velvet topped old bar stools and ask for a “pint” pronounced “pouint” here. The bar tender, Jimmy, chats with us about Vegas as he pours our drink. Miner by day, Jimmy owns and operates the hotel and bar by evening. One by one, his friends pull up their own stools as they walk home from their workday. As soon as he sees them coming, he grabs the mug most proper for their drink of choice and starts pouring. For one lad easily in his 70s, Jimmy pours a chilled Sprite. “The usual.” For another man, instead of a “pouint” Jimmy pours an entire pitcher of Speights Ale.
Leslie comments on how Jimmy knows everyone’s drink of choice, and he laughs saying “they drink what I give ‘em and they’ll damn well like it.” Everyone at the bar laughs.
A man dressed in red and black checkered flannel, a thick wooly beanie cap, jeans and work boots joins our crowd and engages us in a debate of what we call American Football. “you call it Grid Iron, don’t you?” Leslie insists we do not.
Finally, my alter ego – a mountain biking pirate - walks in the door. I don’t know how to describe him, so I’m going to make Leslie do it.
Leslie’s description of the mountain biking pirate:
He arrives on a mountain bike, dressed in basic black bike shorts and shirt. His hair is a bit ratty, long enough to be pulled back into a man-bun. He has a well-designed beard, with three day scruff surrounding it. His hands are dirty and leathery, and they are decorated with a variety of random rings. His wrists each have a selection of bracelets, some leather, some with seeds, some metal chains. He also has a series of necklaces, all which seem to be collected from far reaching corners of the world. His eyes are creased in the corner from squinting into the sun. He looks strong, as though he doesn’t have much fat because he must be hiking, mountain biking or otherwise exploring by his own energy most of his time. His skin is sun weathered, and a little bit dirty. He is not wearing a polyester, wrinkle free polo.
Ok, anyway. He looks like a life-long international traveler; and this is how I see myself. Except it is clear to me that no one else sees me that way. When I say that I am a sailor and sailing around the world, I don’t think I look like what they were expecting a sailor to look like. More pirate-ish would be my guess. At the beginning of this trip, I tried. I wanted to grow my beard long enough that I could braid in a rum bottle, but I find facial hair annoying and I looked goofy. I tried to grow my hair out long and pull off a pirate-ish “man bun” type thing, but I have very fine and perfectly straight hair so there was no real shape to it and it was just annoying to deal with. It didn’t fit under my hat any more so it stuck out at odd angles adding to the goofy look. It was a no-go, also. In Bora Bora, I let Crystal shave it off as her going away present and since then, I have stuck with the normal length that I have had for most of my life. Now, I look like the me I know in pictures.
My mode of travel isn’t really on par with the “look” I imagine for myself either. One of our mentors in this sail around the world thing is Bumfuzzle. If you have never heard of them, check them out on their blog www.bumfuzzle.com. They were a couple of young kids who sailed around the world in a catamaran, then raced across the US in a 1960’s Porsche, then traveled around the Americas and Europe in a 1960’s VW bus, then had some kids, bought a beautiful old monohull in Mexico, sold that and bought an old Travco, sold that and now are driving around in a 1970s Suburban. The first vehicle they chose was maybe a late model “plastic fantastic” all white catamaran, but since then they have opted for something old and curvy vs modern and boring even at the cost of a breakdown here and there. I ask myself: WWBFD?
Here in New Zealand, there are all sorts of “hippie” camper vans available with artwork paint jobs in the spray paint graffiti motif. We could have purchased a VW Bus (Kombi) to travel in, but they were running close to $50,000. So, what did I buy? I bought a silver 2000 Toyota Minivan, that looks just like every other minivan in history. Highly functional, but boring, just like short hair.
What is a guy supposed to do? Is it ok to travel around while boring? “Oh, look at that normal looking young man with short hair driving around in his silver minivan, he must be a fascinating chap!”
To be fair, I did spend a bit more money on Sonrisa for the sake of cosmetics. I wanted a Valiant for their sailing style and seaworthiness. Some Valiants have what they call “blisters.” In the late 70s, the manufacturer tried a fire retardant resin that did not work well. It causes bubbles to form all over the boat’s hull above and below the waterline. Blister boats are structurally sound and fully functional for about 50% of the price of a non-blister boat, but the blisters are ugly. We looked at a couple blister era boats, but we picked Sonrisa partially because she was pretty. Sonrisa is blister free and a joy to come home to. She has a lot of beautiful wood trim that had to be kept up, and her inside has more lovely solid wood to it. Pleasing to the eye, inside and out with a very classic boat look to her. So, I have the right boat, but the Captain needs a little work.
We spent some time at Wilson’s googling pirates, not the Hollywood variety, but actual historical pirates. There were eye patches, bandanas, tri-cornered hats, lots of rings, lots of necklaces, large gold hoop ear rings and a few face tattoos. Leslie said that I need to opt out of my polo shirts as a start, but what to replace them with: puffy shirts a-la Seinfeld? I will have to come back to the real world someday, so face tattoos are probably out of the question. Maybe some piercings, those can be taken out once employment raises its head again, but do I really think that I will look more interesting with gold hoop earrings, or will I just look like an ugly girl from the 1990’s?
Although I am not a pirate and don’t really intend to become one, I am a sailor. It is not the clothes that make a sailor a sailor, I would say that it is the sailing. I have sailed 9000 miles across the pacific, 75 days and nights on the high seas and spent a good deal of time in the fabled islands of the South Pacific exploring thru jungles, getting a tattoo and drinking at least my fair share of rum. Maybe it is Hollywood that has the wrong image of a pirate. Maybe the pirates would have opted for quick drying, wrinkle free polo shirts had they been available in the era. Maybe Captain Jack Sparrow will have easily maintained short hair in the next film. But until Hollywood comes to its senses, I will keep an eye open for any shops selling tri-cornered hats and gold hoop earrings.