Damien Enright. Quixotic Rocinante tilts at fair harbour in La Gomera

The owners of Rocinante, a 17m long ketch, asking price €50,000, are a rum crew, with a story behind them, writes Damien Enright.

Damien Enright. Quixotic Rocinante tilts at fair harbour in La Gomera

The owners of Rocinante, a 17m long ketch, asking price €50,000, are a rum crew, with a story behind them, writes Damien Enright.

The boat, a slim and pretty ketch, built in Sweden in 1985, sits moored at the harbour wall in Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, along with half a dozen similar-sized boats of character.

About 100m beyond them, a dozen or 20 of the local traditional open-fishing boats, with characteristic high prows for breasting the swells when the weather blows up, ride at anchor. They are not for sale.

Fishing has probably never more profitable in La Gomera, now that the tourists are coming in increasing numbers hunting the sun, laidback days and fresh fish on the plate for dinner. Fish has, in recent years, been lauded as a brain and body food of the discriminating (well, until news of plastic-polluted fish flesh has begun to made headlines, research showing that sea water is full of plastic microparticles that further stuffs fish with every sluice of water through their gills and every gram of food entering their stomachs).

Back to the Rocinante and its Russian compliment. They can’t always have been entirely ‘rum’, in that they managed to sail it from Sweden across the Baltic to Estonia, where they, with their own labour, refurbished it (for it had been moored in dock for some time) and navigated onward from there to the western world.

The crew, at different times, numbered from three to six. They bought it with money saved over three years. I found it unusual to meet ‘alternative’ Russians. The three still with the ship after 40 months in Gomera, are a couple — now expecting a child and temporarily moved to an apartment — and Dmitri, my pal, who lives aboard.

In Tallin, Estonia (an almost Russian city, Dmitri tells me) they did the renovations because, had they taken it into Russia, they would have been charged heavy taxes. After a year’s work, with three crew, none of them very experienced sailors, they left Estonia for the world.

It was Helsinki first, then Holland. There, they had the only unpleasant incident of the voyage, with Dutch police. They had pulled into a harbour to shelter from a storm. However, Dutch policemen arrived, and the senior officer ordered them back to the open sea: Being Russian, they were ‘criminals’ trying to enter Holland illegally. Forced to lift anchor, they sailed into a life-threatening November storm and almost lost their main mast. Beaten back into the port, the police again came but now, seeing the danger, apologised and offered them safe haven.

A total contrast was a small port near Brest, in France, where an elderly man, subscribing his own two boats, had established a foundation to help ‘rehabilitate’ young offenders coming out of gaol. The Rocinante crew contributed their labour and the use of the their boat. The French police really took to them once they got to know them, they helped them with obtaining extended visas, and in every way possible. “The kindest people we met,” Dmitri said.

After a year of service to the foundation, they sailed onward to La Coruna and Lisbon and, after a 2,000km crossing reached La Gomera in the Canaries, and moored in the Valle Gran Rey. Finding it paradise, as have many others, they’ve been here since.

Dmitri says he loves it, and he has found practical work to help him survive. At one stage, he and two other crew (crew come and go) rented Airb&b aboard the boat. Naturally, the novelty attracted clients and the comments on the website all praise the experience. However, eventually, constantly explaining and maintaining the boat’s water and electricity systems to new clients, changing linen, arranging island excursions and so on, proved too much. He took to doing local odd jobs, and making music.

He was always a music-maker. Born and reared in Kurgan, a central Siberian city at the southern end of the Urals, near the Kyrgyzstan border, (his parents were both doctors, biochemists, and first he studied law for five years, then dropped it to go to St Petersburg to study commerce, then dropped that to play music with friends and earn to buy the boat and sail to the sun.

Lowest January temperatures recorded in Kurgan were -47.9C, and record July temperatures, 40.5C. Averages are 19.C below and 14C above. Perhaps Dmitri and I get on well because we both dropped out of respectable degrees (mine was medicine), and here we arrive at this island at the end of the world.

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