Sunday, February 14, 2010

Man on the River

Even though we've never met, I feel a special kinship to Giacomo De Stefano. The two of us have developed an on-line friendship spurred by our mutual love of faerings and faering-inspired boats.

Giacomo lives on a boat in Venice. A few years ago he rowed and sailed up the Po River, Italy's largest river, in a Ness Yawl, a boat similar to the one I'm building. He did it "by using only the resources donated to us during the voyage. Its purpose was to make people aware of this river that is dying, and of how to live in a way that is both light and slow."

Now he is engaged in an even more grand project. This time he will go from London to Istanbul by oar and sail with the goal of zero environmental impact. This new journey will be more than 3,200 miles starting in London, going down the River Thames, along the southeastern coast of England, across the English Channel to Calais, through French canals to the Rhine and then the Danube to the Black Sea and then to Istanbul. Giacomo plans to leave London in April 2010 visiting England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldavia, Ukraine and Turkey in about six months.

"There will only be the wind and a sail," he says on his Web site. "All of this not for a sporting achievement but to build a new relationship with nature, water and rivers." And, no doubt, the people he will meet him and help him along the way.

Giacomo views himself as more than just an environmentalist. He defines himself as a “new world traveler.” Like an environmental missionary setting out without purse or script, he will use the “gift economy” and rely on the food and other items given to him to complete his journey. He plans to live aboard his open boat, sleeping under a cotton canvas tent and cooking on board with a small stove made from a used beer keg. He will have a small solar panel on board to charge his telephone and radio. His budget for the trip is 0 Euros.

His 19-foot Ness Yawl is under construction now in Italy in a company's waiting room. Upon its completion, he has an arrangement with a shipping company to have the boat sent to London when the courier has room on a regular run to keep his carbon debt as small as he can.

“I wanted to show that it's possible to travel and have a good time, while respecting nature and helping the local economies," Giacomo said in a Watercraft magazine article. "In 1999, I began to study the way mass tourism is destroying many parts of the planet. There must be a way, I told myself, to travel like Bruce Chatwin, Henry David Thoreau and other interesting people did in the past; a way to move without polluting too much. It's possible to have wonderful holidays, travelling slowly by bicycle, on foot and by boat, meeting people, tasting the local food and following the local customs.”

Giacomo is a great inspiration to me. I think of journeys I can take in Ravn that will build a new relationship with nature and the ocean and inspire me and others. More immediately, Giacomo's pending adventure and his encouragement of my building project has helped me recently as my family experienced some heart ache and as I faced some difficult tasks building Ravn.

Giacomo figures it will take him about a million oar strokes to complete his journey. I wish I could join him for all, or at least part, of that. My thoughts will go out to him each mile of his quest.

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