David Rich 1500 Words
C R E W W A N T E D: P H I L I P P I N E S
Every few months I log onto www.7knots.com to sample who, in the wide wonderful world of warm waters, needs yacht crew. This year my ad of choice said "Crew Wanted: 47 foot (14 meter) sloop Karni in the Philippines". Since I was flying to the Philippines in a month, I instantly emailed Karni, fishing for the exotic in a distinctly different flavor of international travel.
Minutes after I landed at the Dumaguete airport in the Philippines, Yariv Keiniger swung my overweight backpack onto the back of his motorbike and my previous Philippine experience dropped far behind me. Dumaguete is a favorite town for many ex-pats on remote Negros Island where I'd escaped from Angeles, two hours north of Manila. Angeles is the center of the Philippines flesh trade, encircling the former Clark AFB where cut-rate Air Asia flies into from all over Southeast Asia. In Angeles every cutie is an eligible friend for mutually agreeable increments of inexpensive time. These cuties, also known as maids however defined, hire out at $75 a month. One poor ex-pat I met needed five maids to keep his place tidy, one for every day of the week with weekends off. It was refreshingly innocent to be in Dumaguete.
Gradually the story of Captain Yariv (age 44), lovely Iris (age 43) and their son Gul (age 22) emerged, an Israeli family who'd been on the "road" eight years. Nine years ago Captain Yariv not only hadn't the slightest idea how to sail but had never been on a sailboat. In October of 1996 a brilliant idea struck. Jettison the rat race and, based on a stumbled-across story of "ordinary" people sailing around the world, Yariv said to Iris, "We could do that, someday."
Iris had long felt something missing. They were working 13 hour days, 9 am to 10pm. She was schlepping mattresses on her back only to come home, watch TV, catch a few hours sleep and never see the kids. Plus, oy vey, the customers: "If they bought something from you they bought your mother as well and it didn't suit me." So she replied to Yariv, "Why not now?", and they were off to the races, sailing-wise.
Yariv had his own reasons for fleeing the continuing stress of running a business in Israel, entertaining existential questions, like "What do I need this for?" In the year before they left Yariv had spent five weeks in the hospital for high blood pressure, barely age 34, and no pill would bring it down. Iris had dreamed since age 18 of raising goats and making cheese. Yariv craved a place w/o garbage, smoke, buses, electricity, TV or structure. Good luck in the Philippines.
Four months later, Yariv graduated sailing school, got his captain's license and bought Karni (The Sunbeam). After five months of day sailing Yariv, Iris, Gul and his sister (after seven years of sailing she retreated to Eilat, Israel) shoved off in July 1997. Who could know when Yariv and Iris first met in the Army that three days later they'd move in together, build a chain of furniture stores and chuck it all to sail around the world?
When I showed up the Keiniger's had spent 7 years sailing around the world westerly to the Philippines and then spent a full year completely refitting and refurbishing Karni. They'd begun, of course, in Israel, sailing to Cyprus as their friends waved from the shore and confidently predicted Karni would be slinking back to Israel in a heartbeat. Hardly.
After Cyprus they spent an idyllic seven months on Turkey's Turquoise Riviera, where they first experienced the world yachting community. All neighboring boats harbored characters who'd left prestige jobs and money behind, always ready to help fix a problem, repair an alternator, re-sew a sail, find a needed part or relate amazing life stories. The sailing life was full of coffee klatches, finding colorful restaurants, impromptu potlucks on pristine white beaches and bon voyage parties. They found that real yachties consume little, have given up cars and live the simple life, subsisting on local fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood, spending days snorkeling and exploring ashore.
Karni enjoyed this lifestyle in the Greek Islands, on Sicily, off the Italian and Spanish coasts, in Gibraltar to Madeira and the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. After cruising the coast of Venezuela they paused in the San Blas Islands off Panama for three years, operating an onboard B & B for backpackers while spear-fishing an average of six hours a day. It took a full three years before they were able to shove off for Columbia on the way to the Galapagos and idyllic months in the beautiful South Pacific.
Of course, despite an almost unlimited supply of smoked fish, the sailing life hadn't always been perfect. On the leg from Gibraltar to Madeira, Karni hit four interminable days of the almost perfect storm, giving Iris waking nightmares as waves towered over the mast while Karni plunged into troughs like the Grand Canyon and the occasional skyscraper wave would break over the deck, flooding the boat. When Iris would briefly slip exhaustedly into sleep she'd scream herself awake, yelling "Stop the boat!"
Karni was unstoppable, particularly with her new crew in the Philippines, consisting of Ram, an Israeli, Greg the Canadian and me, an American who often morphs into a Canadian in Muslim countries. The crew's pride was Iris, cook extraordinaire, who made her own cheese (cottage, feta and mozzarella), yogurt, whole grain breads and kilos of smoked tuna, marlin and grouper. Instead of a tiny ship's galley, Iris insisted on a kitchen and Yariv provided one with every convenience. We feasted from morn 'til night, mandatory for a crew supervised by a Jewish mother.
We left Bonbonon Bay on the south tip of Negros in smooth seas, off for a remote atoll 70 miles from the closest land, halfway to Palawan Island. Our less than over-worked crew lounged in the cockpit while Karni's autopilot did the work. We tossed down fancy snacks Iris handed up while we told travelers lies of international intrigue. The next morning we negotiated the narrow entrance to Cagayan Atoll, a gorgeous lagoon ranging in color from the palest blue to the deepest turquoise and every shade in between. Perhaps 200 people live in two small villages on the ancient coral of the fringing reef circling less than half of this fifty square mile (130 sq km) atoll. During our week there we never set foot in a village, instead hanging near the edge of the reef, snorkeling extensive coral beds chockablock with game and tropical fish, sharks, giant velvety clams, lion fish and nigh innumerable marvelous sea life. Between strenuous bouts of snorkeling we lounged in the cockpit reading, gorging on seafood and buying the occasional massive octopus from local fishermen.
How did the Keinigers finance their lifestyle, you ask? They invested their furniture store shekels in two apartments in Eilat on Israel's Red Sea, renting them for a modest return of $650 a month, plus snagging occasional paying crew from their ad on www.7knots.com. And what a crew we were: the articulate parrot Gonzo who woke us every morning at 6 am singing "Hola", shrilling a wolf whistle and imitating dropping bombs; the gorgeous Chou dog Doris, ever immaculate while never slobbering, jumping up or loving your leg. Not to mention the basically non-working crew of Ram, Greg and myself who were constantly stepped over by the real working crew of Yariv, Iris and Gul.
Our last stop during my short three weeks was on the westernmost Philippine Island of Palawan where we took a day trip to Sabang's Underground River, a world heritage site. The river winds through a karst limestone cave for 21 Kilometers (13 miles) while only slightly over a mile is accessible by local spider boat, a narrow canoe made stable by long bamboo pontoons. The entry was pitch black, our progress belatedly illuminated by a spotlight cabled to a car battery. We putted through droves of swiftly darting swallows, bats and big boxy flying insects, skirting waterfalls cascading from the ceiling, dimpling the 12 meter (40 feet) wide river, definitely the exotic in a distinctly different flavor of international travel.
If You Crew: Most crew wanted ads require no previous sailing experience. However, beware when answering an ad because sailing vessels, their captains, accommodations and accoutrements vary like topsy. Most charge a daily rate from $20 to much more. Karni was an incredible bargain at $20 a day, among other reasons because Iris forbid the crew from washing a single pot, dish or utensil. For websites other then www.7knots.com seeking crew on sailing vessels enter "Crew Wanted" on Google and stand in awe for wherever you'd like to go in the wide wonderful world of warm waters.