The plan was that, during the summer of 1999, we would be cruising in the Baltic and Northern Europe. Then we would cross the Atlantic with ARC in November of 1999. We would spend the rest of that winter in the Carribean. The early summer of year 2000 we would start up the east coast of the United States, going as far north as Maine.
This Wasn't How Things Turned Out
Ben arrived in Tallinn in May, 1999. He had had a retirement party, at Compaq's (formerly Digital's) Spitbrook plant, where he had been working as a contract programmer for the previous three years.
Ben and Gretchen had given away all their non-critical furniture and clothes, sold the car, put the house in Peterborough, New Hampshire on the market, and moved in with Gretchen's parents. Life, as we had known it, had come to an end in preparation for the life of a cruising family: the boat is the home.
The family arrived in Tallinn early July to find Ben living in an apartment in one of the Soviet-times development for Russian workers in Estonia--Lasnemea. The boat interior looked only about half done, but the contractor assured us all that it would be ready by the end of August. Gretchen, Thomas, and Kristen joined Ben in Lasnemea. Every day, Ben went down to Pirita Sadama, where the boat was tied up, and the crew worked away, 12 hours a day. The rest of the family enjoyed an unusually pleasant summer at the beachs and in Tallinn.
The Harbor (Sadama Pirita)Remember the Summer Olympic games the U.S. boycotted because of Russia's invasion in Afghanistan? Twenty years ago the Olympic sailing races were held in this harbor. The torch, scoreboard and hotel built for Olympiads remain a symbol of those grand times for Pirita. Rein Ottoson, coach of Estonian Olympic medalists, operates today Estonia's only private sailing school. Rein begins working with ten-year-old children who commit to eleven months of training, including workouts in the Olympiakeskus pool. He is also called upon for a month at a time to work with the racing teams from Finland and Japan. Rein's brother, Ein was one of the electricians for our boat.
Sailing the Estonian IslandsOne day, after a few weeks, a large (25 meter) steel schooner came in to port. It was a charter boat, the Johanna Hendrika from the Netherlands, but she had only a crew of two and no passengers. We couldn't sail on Mother of Perl, but we might be able to still enjoy a little summer sailing on Johanna Hendrika. We signed up for a week sailing among the Islands of Estonia and down to Parnu, Estonia.
The owner and skipper, Tjeerd, is the curator for the Architecture
Institute in Amsterdam. His crewman, Aryen is a recent graduate in
chemical engineering. Our week with them taught us about The
Netherlands, about the newness of Baltic Harbors, and about what we
did and didn't build in to our boat. From decrepit fishing villages
with half-sunk abandoned steel boats left by the Soviets, to the folk
culture of Kihnu where women are daily in traditional Estonian dress
and men drive motorcycles with sidecars; we are struck with the
contrast of the simultaneous old and the new times.
The Doors of ParnuWe ended our sail in this resort city, famous for it's spas and mudbaths. A delightfully colorful town, Tjeerd and Aryen dressed the boat for the occasion (Ben's birthday!). Ben and I ventured out early that morning to find some celebrative pastries and we couldn't resist capturing some of the shop doors on our camera.
Boris the Boat BuilderUpon our return we were able to see great progress on Mother of Perl. Fifty liters of acetone and many, many hours of hand labor had stripped the deck of the paint-of-the-wrong-kind that had been used in Riga, Latvia. The interior was taking shape, as Gretchen's cabin was complete with drawers and doors and a settee. We marvel at the craftsmanship led by our builder, Boris. Almost daily we discover fascinating pieces of his life. His reputation is for building Russia's America's Cup racer of carbon fiber. The boat (and the Soviet Union) never raced because of the economy of the times. Meantime, he coached speed skiing in Southern Estonia, an event in which his son competed in the 1994 Olympics. Much to Boris's surprise, one day he opened the newspaper to find that his daughter had won the competition for Miss Universe Beauty Pageant as Miss Soviet Union. Little did he know what all that makeup was leading to! In his home are many pieces of his work in wood; mahogany doorways, teak cupboards. I asked if he'd built any of the furniture and when told no, I asked if these were passed down from his family. He showed me the only inheritance from his grandfather, a small silver shotglass-sized cup. As the brother-in-law to the first President of Estonia, his grandfather was sent to Siberia. When Boris's father returned to Estonia the cup was the only family possession remaining.
SaaremaaBoris's parents retired on this island. It is one of Estonia's true treasures. Boris now owns this country house. He drove four hours (back & forth twice) including the ferry to take us there. It reminded me of my summers in Canterbury, CT with my Koch cousins. Fresh air, trees for Thomas to climb, a wood stove for cooking which Ben loved to poke, milk fresh from the neighbor's cow, bicycles with taped tires to ride to the beach, it was relief from the city (and Ben's daily boat visits) that we all needed. We "toured" a trout farm, which intrigued Kristen, a windmill, which ultimately produced that famously dark and grainy bread and spent five days enjoying the solitude and freedom of the countryside.
Other Important People
Ben's sister-in-law, Karin visited for two weeks in July. Tallinn was the birthplace of her mother. She and Gretchen attended the church where her parents were married (possibly). Karin's investigations of family records via various parishes and the Parliament got the ball rolling. She will pursue this and intends to visit Tallin again next summer. She found many treasures that reminded her of her mother's stories and remembrances.
Our interpreter and friend, Malle was a tremendous help to Karin's
pursuits. In May Malle responded to Ben's post for a tutor of
Estonian. She since has escorted Thomas to the doctor for treatment
of an ear infection, found Thomas a second-hand bicycle and introduced
him to the neighborhood gang with whom he plays tag, baseball and
football (soccer). Malle has been our anchor, helping us with the
unexpected or unexplainable. And to boot, her husband is a top-notch
welder whom we've contracted to do some changes to the steelwork on
the boat. Kristen has delved into reading, studying Spanish and
cooking this summer. We will miss her when she returns to the States
August 12th but know she is eager to be with her friends and family in
We Fly to the Canaries
As August approached, Ben realized that his 90 day visitors' visa was about to expire. He attempted to extend it, but found that the Estonian officials (rehires from the Soviet bureocracy), insisted that he leave the country. A trip to Helsinki to visit the Estonian Embassy proved futile and even threatened to make it impossible for him to return to Tallinn. Since Kristen was about to return to the United States in a few weeks for school and it was time to start thinking about alternative plans from living on the boat in the winter, we all agreed that we would leave as soon as possible. Kristen left immediately for the U.S.A., and the rest of cleaned out the apartment and prepared for a quick exit from Estonia.
Christmas 1999 was beautiful (and @70degrees F) with a mixture of old and new traditions. We had a live Christmas tree from Denmark decorated with our own hand-made items, colored blinking lights outlining our rooftop, an Advent wreath and spray that hangs by our front door are both highlighted with red chili peppers! We have been very aware of keeping these symbols live until the more celebrated "Kings Day" on January 5th. In the major towns on the island, the "Three Kings" ride through the streets on live camels, bringing gifts. Families exchange gifts and children are suprised by the multitude of presents brought by The Kings. In contrast, December 25th is a quiet day. People rest from the events of Christmas Eve when the towns have an all-live enactment of Mary on a donkey with Joseph and shepards on their journey to Bethlehem. It culminates with a live baby in a manger to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. Unfortunately we were not able to see this.
A highlight for us was that Bill Forbes (Kristen & Thomas's dad) joined us for the holidays. He spent Christmas Day with us, bearing gifts from afar (ie: the US). He visited the volcanic national park,the parrot park preserves, the oldest Dragon Tree on the island and enjoyed his apartment right in front of one of the nicest stretches of beach on Tenerife,"Playa Jardin". He was truely the embodiment of "Father Christmas."
Our only complaint was a rather nasty virus that took us all by the throat. No one likes being sick but we coped by remembering to appreciate our more frequent good health and good fortune. We are impressed with the medical services, 24hr walk-in readily available to anyone and everyone. For us non-residents the cost is $20 per visit. Wouldn't it be great if the U.S. took care of the basic need for good health, no questions asked!
We said goodbye to Bill on the 3rd of January. School vacation continued until January 10th. By then, we were ready for our regular routines: Thomas and Kristen at school from 9-4pm, Ben working on this Web site in Puerto del La Cruz, Gretchen studying Spanish and practicing violin with instruction in each.
Mother of Perl
Mother of Perl wintered (surviving very cold, icy storms) in Eesti (Estonia). Ben left her there in November after completing a passage to Vastervik, Sweden under power to get her sails and masts. Her very first sail was the trip back to Tallinn. Ben planned to return to her in May to ready her for the family. We planned to move aboard at the end of the school year in July.
In the meantime, we had no EU visas so we needed leave Spain every 90
days. We planned to return to Peterborough, NH during April vacation
for about three weeks. Kristen was particularly eager to return to
Tenerife for the final semester of school when she would be taking her
British GSEE (exams) which will provide a helpful evaluation of her
schooling thus far. Actually, Kristen has taken to Tenerife and
particularly the city of Peurto de la Cruz. She had on her holiday
wish-list to stay right here for a few years.