Luís Octávio Costa
June 15, 2019, 12:12
Circumnavigation is a sea voyage around a place, which can be an island, a continent or the whole Earth. What Wikipedia and other compendiums do not tell us is that it is possible to circumnavigate Europe – or a good part of it – by river. Five hundred years after Fernão Magalhães (circumnavigated the globe from 1519 to 1522), this new adventure is halfway through. A Portuguese woman, an English man and a lifeboat.
Hamish Campbell, 55, had been writing reports on climate change and other environmental issues for 20 years. “It’s a disaster and we’re not doing anything to change,” he says in a video conference with Fugas after docking his Fassmer CLR-C (7.2mx 2.89m; 3200Kg) alongside a “rusty barge” in Galati, Romania . He met his traveling companion in a bar three and a half years ago. “Ana was looking for an adventurer and I invited her to meet my boat,” he smiles. Ana Reis, 44, is an architect from Porto. She has been working for a dozen years in London offices (with a two year interregnum at an NGO in Cape Verde)
Their boat was bought seven years ago “more or less as a joke, more or less in desperation,” says Hamish, who wanted to live on a boat and did not want to live in London. “I thought ‘what’s the best way to get away from London? I could have bought a narrow boat that would allow me to sail on English canals, but I could not escape the country. Instead, I searched and found a lifeboat from an oil rig in Scotland. And I started to change it so I could live in it. It was a boat designed for 61 people. It came with 61 seats and 61 lifejackets. “
Now the vessel has a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, a woodburner in the middle, solar panels and a windmill for electricity in the winter – and many, many tools. And on the roof a garden perfect for two vegetarians who stop more or less every other day to buy fresh vegetables, milk, bread and some croissants. The lifeboat, that looks like a machine out of the science fiction series Thunderbirds, was standing still. It never came to be used for its original function. “When the platform exploded,” his commander fictionalizes, “the lifeboat, with 61 people and oxygen reserves, would cross the blazing sea for twenty minutes. He could be submerged and return to the surface. It is designed to survive everything. You can survive the end of the world for a couple of hours. It’s an unsinkable boat. “
Before buying the boat, Hamish saw in a map that the planned circumnavigation was possible. “We want to prove it,” Ana says. They left London (from the Limehouse marina) to the small seaside town of Ramsgate. We followed the crossing to Calais via the English Channel (which normally takes 30 minutes on a ferry). It took us eight hours. “It’s a slow, safe and reliable boat,” says Hamish, who got seasick – Ana drove.
The first part of the journey, from London to the Black Sea, is completed. Calais, Paris, Montceau-les-Mines and Strasbourg (France), Frankfurt (Germany), Linz and Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary), Novi Sad and Belgrade (Serbia), Constanţa (Romania). It took them three years to reach halfway – 501 locks (the deepest of 30 meters), six tunnels (one of them six kilometers in an hour), eight rivers, 18 channels and nine highest point at 406 meters of altitude). There were 5 thousand kilometers in 15 months distributed over three years. They took this time because they hibernate. When winter comes, they return to London (to work, which is like someone who says to return to “real life”), and the boat is in a dry dock waiting for the crew ( happened in France, Austria and Romania) “We go back, we work and we earn some money, it’s all about finding a balance.” On return there are always small problems to solve, “they say, sitting in front of a webcam in the last EU country, already very close to the Black Sea ( they will now descend the Danube to Sulina).
It will take “at least” another two years to get back to the starting point. They follow along the coast to Odessa and from there Europe. Kiev (Ukraine), Brest (Belarus), Warsaw (Poland), Berlin and Hannover (Germany), Holland, Belgium and France. “It’s incredible,” Ana sums up. “Everyone waves and smiles along the way.” When they do not have to stop, they try to anchor. And live the river. “We search for a place far from the stream or a tributary, we launch the anchor and sit surrounded by beautiful nature, forests and trees, many birds. No Internet [Fugas had tried the interview a few days before, but nature won]. Beautiful. When there is little current and a good day of sun one can swim. The water is clear many times. But Ana is not swiming because the fish are very big and she is afraid. We’re in the middle of nowhere, “sighs Hamish.
To the traditional question “why are you doing this?” He often says, “why are you going to the office every day?” “When we wake up in the morning we do not know where we’ll be at the end of the day,” Ana explains. “Go with the flow.” In the most literal sense of the expression. She says, “Find your balance.” He: “Live your life!”
In Serbia, Hamish established contact through binoculars with one person. They waved and ended up staying for a month. “We meet a lot of nice people along the way,” says Hamish, who coordinates online projects and teaches storytelling with the smartphone. Registering everything along the way for a future documentary. “We can search for information about rivers and canals on the Internet, but the only reliable information available is the word of mouth. The information does not exist. “Day-to-day life also depends on the” generosity of strangers “(like the friend of the friend who is an engineer and only a few moments ago came around and said that the engine is good). “In the world of boats we have to be friendly with everyone. We have to help everyone because we need help often. This is a very generous open community. It’s a bit like the world should be, “points out Hamish, who used to hitchake around the world.
In the first half of the epic adventure, they found “some German adventurers” and “couples of retired Englishmen” (“everyone voted for Brexit, everyone travels abroad “) who also travel by boat through the rivers. “I was the second to have such a boat in London,” recalls Hamish. “There’s about 20 now.” a dignt of changing times, maybe. Within a few years, predicts the captain of the lifeboat, there will be many more. “Move to a hill or a mountain or live in a boat. Either one or the other. “There will be no return.