Maiden Voyage: Introduction

In the winter of 2011, I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. It had been a dream of mine to take my blog about cooking and gardening and make it something real, to bring some professionalism and authenticity to the posts that I was writing and restaurant critiques I was making at the time. It wasn’t lightly that I decided to move back to the United State from Bulgaria and become a student at 32, in the most demanding and prestigious culinary school in the world. The Culinary Institute is located along the iconic and scenic Hudson River. The school sat on the river banks and is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever had the opportunity to visit.

Gabe at The Culinary Institute of America in December 2016

The idea was that I would leave my family from January to March, and then they would come for two weeks during the spring break, then return to Bulgaria till May and we would spend the entire summer in upstate New York, in a house that we purchased as an investment to refurbish and flip. It was during this time, spent close to the Hudson, that Angel, my husband began thinking about boats.

Anyone from a major metropolitan area can attest to the insanity of traffic, but in New York and the five boroughs of New York City, it is another level. There is no rush hour. Just nonstop traffic. Angel, having no boating experience, but a wealth of traffic experience, thought that if we bought a small boat, we could just ride down the Hudson and avoid all the congestion. My parents and family live in the Rockaway area of Queens, so parking a boat and walking to their house was a real possibility.

On the weekend, we would visit parks along the water and my husband would look at boats in the marina. He even started checking out prices of boats on Craigslist, to see if anything feasible popped out, but no, he did not find his boat nor did we ever ride down the Hudson.

At the end of summer 2011, once I had completed my first year of the CIA program, we returned to Bulgaria, and boats were now firmly on his mind. He began watching videos about boats and reading articles about sailing around the world on a dime and thus his passion was born. He wants to sail the world in a catamaran. He had encouraged me to follow my dreams, so I fully supported him.

He figured out quite early that boating and boats are not cheap, aside from buying a boat, you need to store, maintain and insure the boat, much like a car or other mode of transportation. Since he had time, the necessary skillset and the desire to learn or figure out the rest, he would build a boat. It seemed like the cheapest and quickest way to get started in boating. He had done many months of research and reading before he finally decided on the boat design and purchased the plans online for a Richard Woods “Sango”. That year for Christmas, I ordered him marine grade plywood from France, as Bulgaria doesn’t offer much selection in boating or boat building, strange, I thought considering the proximity to the Black Sea.

He worked on the boat on and off for years, and he managed to complete the two hulls out of wood, but life, time, and financial resources were now an obstacle, plus some bureaucratic issues. The Bulgarian authorities have no official mechanism in place to register a self-made boat. He became disheartened when he realized that in the end, he couldn’t make the boat legal, so sailing outside the lakes of Bulgaria was not going to be a reality unless he came up with an alternative.

While the boat sat in his workshop, he continued to scan through boating websites, looking at used boats for sale, dreaming about one day owning his own. In the meantime, he applied for his captain’s license and succeeded in passing the exam. Now all he needed was a boat.

As luck would have it, in May 2015, a friend of ours was planning on sailing their yacht from Sicily to Sozopol in Bulgaria. She knew that Angel was looking to get out to sea, so she offered him a chance to help them move the boat. His expenses were paid, in exchange for his time. He spent a few weeks on his sailing adventure and learning and experiencing things firsthand. He realized despite, having a captain’s license, there is still so much to learn.

In 2018, Angel had his eye on a boat in the Netherlands, a Balaton 24 (7.45m) sailboat, built-in 1974 called “Honder”. It was only 3,000 Euros and the boat was seaworthy. He became slightly obsessed with the boat and justified to me all the ways that we could benefit from this boat. Maybe, we could switch the registration of Honder with the catamaran, as a way around the Bulgarian rules. The old boat had all the elements that we will need for the catamaran, so we could use Hondor for parts. It was cheap-ish, as boats go. I told him to go to the Netherlands, hook up with his friend Gijs and check it out. Well, the trip was a success and on May 5, 2018, we became owners of a boat in the Netherlands.

The boat was located in the north of the Netherlands in a marina near the Lauwersoog lake in the Lunagat Marina. After the initial trip to purchase the boat, Angel planned a trip with his friend to get the boat ready for me. I was really hesitant about the boat. He likened it to camping or being in a camper, which is something that I don’t find pleasurable in the least. I am OK with camping in a tent, but campers and RV’s put me off. Maybe the reason has to do with our height. I am 6’ (182cm) and Angel is 6’4” (194cm) and the idea of small, cramped spaces, where we need to duck and crouch to avoid hitting our heads or other random body parts sounds awful and as I understood it, the boat with tiny on the inside. Another thought was the long days and nights I spent in a camper while working at the film studio in Sofia, Bulgaria. The stars had big, beautiful buses, but the lower echelons had the shitty campers. My boss was given a trailer, which he rarely used, except for napping and the occasional meeting, but it was my office during production. It was old, rundown, and rather dirty/skeezy with a small camping toilet. I never enjoyed my time inside. Growing up, my family wasn’t into camping, so that could be another element.

We had been planning this trip for over a year, since I first found out that he bought a boat. The idea was to buy this cheap boat and bring it back to Greece, so we could use it on the weekends with the kids. But as things usually go, life got in the way; time and money were scarce. Angel took a few trips back and forth to the Netherlands, first one was to see the boat, the second and third were to get it ready for our big voyage. The initial thought was that we were going to sail along the Atlantic, pass through the straight of Gibraltar and enter the Mediterranean sea that way, but after a bit of research we discovered that it was possible to navigate through the rivers and canals of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France and come to the Mediterranean through a calmer passing. While Angel has had his captains license for 4 years, he had had limited experience sailing, so the idea of us on the Atlantic straight out of the gate seemed a bit daunting, not only for me.

The idea of this first leg of the trip would be to sail from Dokkum to Marseille, France. Then find a marina near Marseille to overwinter. We would lower to boom, so we can navigate through all the low bridges and tunnels, then travel by motor. Once we get to the Mediterranean, we will properly sail, but until then, we are on engine power. The entirety of the trip is almost 1600km, which means we need to travel about 10 hours per day to make it to Marseille on October 2nd, which is when our flight back to Sofia departs. This leaves very little room for error.

I will continue posting about our journey every week. Please let me know what you think.


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