Sailed down South to Ashkelon with Felix, who will be part of our crew for the next two months. He’s a friend of Andrew’s who also made aliyah and served in the army here. We left smoothly at 3:40 p.m. and were soon sailing with a nice backwind. There are military areas in the water down the coast, so we had to skirt around these. (You may have noticed the position on the SPOT was farther offshore than would otherwise make sense.)

We coked our first meal on Tocayo – pasta with red bell peppers. Felix started cooking but was soon laid low by motion sickness. For the rest of the trip, he was lying down or sleeping, sometimes inside, sometimes out. It was a shame, since it as an otherwise pleasant sail. Felix wakes up and starts being a part of the crew again when we get near Askelon.

Andrew and I are combing the shoreline for the beacon to the marina; a green light that flashes twice every five seconds. We can’t see it. It’s decidedly dark at this point and the lights of the city are blinding. We know from our GPS that we’re getting close. We find a blinking white light and fllow that for a while, but then decide to trust the GPS. (I found scanning the horizon with binoculars surprisingly pleasant – no nausea or eye weariness.) We have the motor on at this point. We’re homing in on the coordinates when we see a sea wall in front of us. We turn around and call the shipyard owner, Eran.

He eventually spots us from his house and guides us in. The green light? Broken. As we pass by it, in its place at the end of the aforementioned seawall, we see it pulse weakly. Not twice in five seconds, just a flicker every now and then. We finally make it into the quite large and commodious marina and tie up. We’re all a bit exhausted by the mental strain of the last half hour.

The marina in Ashkelon is nice and new. We hit up one of the several bar/restaurants that line one side of it. It seems this might be the happening place to go to in Ashkelon, which is not known to be much of a city. They do have beer and food though, so we were satisfied.

Ashkelon, Day 2
We wake at 7 to move the boat to the shipyard. Put it in the slip and Eran comes with the big-ass crane. The crane is a squarish, steel contraption from which hang two giant belts. The Belts are lowered into the water in front of the boat while the whole crane rolls forward (aft on the boat) on its six-foot diameter wheels. Once the boat is properly cradled, the belts are drawn up and it’s hoo hey and up she rises.

We are here to get the seal on our propeller shaft replaced. For some, seemingly quite stupid reason, the old seal was designed, designed I tell you, to leak. If any pressure was put on the shaft laterally, say, if someone were to step on it while the hatch was open, instant flooding would occur. It’s a very disquieting design. So, we wanted to have it replaced with a cool, new Volvo seal which doesn’t leak and won’t let a million gallons of rushing death into the cabin by accident.

It should be a very simple job, done in a couple of hours. This is taking place on a boat, so it’s not. The guy who did the old seal did it funky. Eran tells us it is also vibrating loose. What happens if the shaft comes loose, Andrew asks him. Eran makes the hand gesture of a building exploding or a vase shattering. First, he says, the propeller will fly off into the rudder, probably causing problems there. Then the shaft will fall out. Which, of course, will lead to the rushing ocean problem.

A note on Eran. the shipyard owner. He’s a young looking guy with long curly hair. In his baseball cap and sunglasses, we found it hard to believe he had been running the shipyard for 15 years. He looked like a surfer who had just showed up for the day. He was an expert, though, and spent the whole day working hard on fixing the boat. He later told us stories over espresso in his office – “the best in the marina” – of crossing the Atlantic in orgiastic style and saving his wife from a burning boat. As he was working and sweating with the engine in or non-air-conditioned boat, I noticed that hi mane of curly hair continued into a patch of neck hair quite obviously growing down his back in a thatch like alfalfa sprouts or carpets from the 70s.

Eran toiled for hours before he managed to fix everything he started out on. Then we lowered the boat back into the water. We were actually on it as they moved the crane back out over the water – space-shippy! We started up the engine and tested the seal by putting it into forward and reverse gears alternatively. It seemed okay at first, but then began to leak. Eran was crestfallen. After checking that there really was a problem, we docked again (in the water this time). He thought it could be a couple of things that were wrong. The first, that our prop shaft was “bented”. This would require staying in Ashkelon for days while they rebalanced it and machined it to the proper specifications. That was very bad news. One day in Ashkelon was enough, even without our looming departure date. Then, he thought of some other possible fixes and decided to try those out. Over the next couple of hours he tears open the engine compartment again and gets back at it.

He lowers the engine on its mounts, he reinforces the connection on the seal, then, he reinforces the reinforcement. Finally, after much nail biting, we try her out again.

Great success!

No more leak. Just some minor dripping from some other source that seems to be exacerbated by sudden motions in reverse. No biggie. We can all go home. Hooray.

We have some coffee with him and celebrate the successful completion. Then we go have dinner in one of the marina’s restaurants.

Felix had already left by this point, but we were joined by Adam, a juggler who was to accompany us on the first leg of the voyage. He had been hanging out and waiting with us the whole day as the repair happened. We had met him through a friend in the marina and had a brief interview with him before Andrew decided to let him on the trip. We knew from that that he was something of a, well, I’ll say hippie, I guess, but I mean in the modern-day European mold of hippiedom. He had a shaved head with a shock of three, short dreadlocks in the back. And did I mention he was a juggler? Yeah, he was going to a Circus convention in Spain right after he sailed with us. Andrew overlooked the fact that he was obviously way out to the left politically. He figured that he would be a good addition to the crew, so why worry about th politics?

Well, because Adam couldn’t keep his mouth shut about them. Over dinner that nigh in Ashkelon he started this conversation that grew into a discussion which grew into a debate. By the end of it, he had totally pissed Andrew off and called everyone from the left to the right in Israel “fascists”. We both tried to hint that he should let the issue rest, but he wouldn’t stop. He plowed on until Andrew had to say, “Listen, this discussion is over and I never want to talk about it on the boat.” After that, Adam only had to make one more point.

Well, Andrew was upset – the guy had basically insulted him. There’s a reason you don’t talk about politics with strangers. The dinner continued in a tense air. We went back to the boat and Adam apologized to Andrew at some point.

Ashkelon, Day 3
We had decided to stay the night since it was late and the wind was against us. In the morning we set off for Tel Aviv again. Not a great sail because we had to motor it after a while. The tension with Adam still hung in the air although everyone was being polite, even friendly. When we got back, Adam said goodbye and I knew it was the last time we’d see him. Andrew had decided to disinvite him from the trip.

Now, it may seem a bit harsh to give someone the boot because of their political philosophy and maybe it is. But you have to realize a few things to get this situation in perspective. One, the guy’s views were pretty extreme. Two, the boat is Andrew’s home; he is willing to share it with people, especially if they lend a hand, but he wants to feel comfortable there. Three, the guy is getting the advantage of going on the trip, which counts for days he’d need for an international license, without really paying anything, just the shared expenses of food and fuel. Four, we could have overlooked a lot of differences in opinion and/or personality if he’d just kept his big mouth shut; this shows a tactlessness that can’t be good for crew morale. Five, he’s a juggler.

So, he was off the trip and then there were four, Zohar, Felix, Andrew and me.  We set sail in three days.

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