Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

That looks better! Some new paint! The front platform and the keel repaired!


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After towing Sparrow out of the water and cleaing her with high pressure water a lot of old antifouling is to be seen.

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As I am writing, many of the Sparrow’s crew are making their way back to Jarna, where everything started for Oasis Armada, to participate in Initiative Forum 2013. This re-union and return to our project’s birth-place comes at an interesting time for all of the crew, as well as the project itself, not least because we are now nearing spring-time and the boating season once again.

In this article I want to share some reflections on what we experienced, as well as give an idea of where the project and the initial crew might be headed in the future. I had initially wanted to write a clear and concise evaluation of the project; what worked and what didn’t, etc., but the more I have reflected, the more I realize that it’s not quite that simple. However, some aspects of the evaluation process and responses from the project survey will be mentioned here. And just in case it’s not already clear, we are all still processing our experiences, so this is not intended to be in any way an objective or factual article, just a way to keep all those who have followed our progress informed a little about how things are going.

By the time we arrived in Rostock early October last year, it was clear that we all needed a good break from the project, and probably from each other as well. So we went away in our different directions to work, study and travel, allowing ourselves time and space to start reflecting on our short but very intense few months working with Oasis Armada. As the winter drew in, murmurings started to make their way through the grapevine that most of the original crew wanted to follow other paths this coming year, rather than continue with the project. We were very clear from the beginning that we wanted the project to be very organic and that people should come and go when they wanted, rather than commit to the project for a certain period of time, so it was no great surprise that people were moving on to other things. We felt that for the project to be healthy, people needed to really want to be involved, rather than do so out of obligation, as this often leads to resentment in the long run.

Another thing that became very clear, even before we reached Rostock, was that most, if not all of our expectations and goals needed to be revised, both personally and in regards to the project. As we were a very raw and inexperienced group to begin with, almost every day we had been learning new things about ourselves, the boat, life on the water, and the practicalities of running a project and managing all of these factors together. Generally, I think it is safe to say that we over-estimated what we could achieve in relation to every aspect that has been mentioned. The closest we got to achieving one of our project goals was in our efforts to live for free (or from donations, bin-diving and nature). In regards to our food and lodging, we can definitely give ourselves a pass mark, however, as we suspected, keeping the boat going without money was not possible, even with all the amazing luck and generosity we received along the way. So, in order to help us develop our understanding of what needed to change, I created a simple evaluation questionnaire for both crew and project followers/supporters.

The main things which stood out from peoples reflections, both crew and supporters, was that on a personal level we had far surpassed expectations, however, on a project level, we had fallen well short. As individuals, we had learned a huge amount in a very short period of time, overcame many fears and challenging situations, learned from our mistakes, and shown a great deal of passion and creativity in making the project succeed to the level that it did. When we looking at the project’s goals though in terms of our effect on the wider community and environment, it is no secret that our actions didn’t match up, for many reasons. Our lack of finances, lack of experience and on the water preparation, late departure date, lack of clear roles, and lack of a qualified captain/leader/project manager all counted against us in some ways. In terms of successes as a project, we were very happy to be able to support Ognareskogan while on Gotland Island, to  show how much food is wasted by our bin-diving efforts, and to cover such a significant distance, and overcome many unforeseen obstacles, while maintaining our strong friendships and levels of communication. Generally though, we were aware (to some extent, anyway) of the challenges when we started, but were counting on our creative solutions, the generosity of strangers, and a huge dose of luck, all of which we used to their utmost during the trip. As already mentioned, it is clear that we relied too heavily on creativity and luck, and too little on preparation and knowledge. However, I can say with a great deal of certainty that there is not an ounce of regret among the team about the decision to go for it, even though we knew the odds were severely against us from the start!

At this point looking back, it is tempting to go ahead and say what we should have done differently. That we should have had more money, we should have had a more experienced skipper, we should have had more structure and a clearer plan, etc.. However, I feel that even though things weren’t always easy, or didn’t always go to plan, the project is perfect as it is. It is the challenges in life that bring out the best in us, and without these challenges, we wouldn’t learn the vital skills which will help us continue to learn and grow in the future. So, at least while we’re still young(ish), I think I can safely speak for the rest of us in saying that we want to be able to say ‘let’s go for it!’ many more times, even when we know the odds are heavily stacked against me. I think the saying ‘no risk, no reward’ sums it up perfectly. However, don’t take it the wrong way, we have all certainly been very humbled by our experience, and our respect and dedication to mother nature has been significantly strengthened because of it. Here is a fitting quote from a very special man, Sir Peter Blake, who is a huge inspiration to us: “At the end of the project, we should all be able to look ourselves in the eye…in the mirror…and honestly say I gave it my very best shot…”

We certainly did! So after all that, what now for Oasis Armada? Is it really the end?

Well, in many ways, that is up to you. For those of us that are moving on to other things, we will all carry the spirit of Oasis Armada with us in what ever we do, whether it be on land or sea. However, Onja and his boat Sparrow are still in northern Germany waiting for what the warm weather will bring. I know that Onja is planning on having the boat in the water and sailing in the Baltic during the summer, but is not committing to anything other than having more great adventures, increasing his time on the water, and meeting like-minded people interested in joining him. In a more general sense, we who initiated it have always seen Oasis Armada as something to create to give away. In that spirit we warmly welcome anyone individual or group who is interested in taking on the challenge of joining with their own boat, of creating a land team, of continuing building a network of boats with similar interests around the world, or of carrying things forward in any way. We were recently offered another boat for the Armada, however that offer expires very shortly, and as far as I know, currently no one has taken the bait and dived into life at sea, so maybe this is your chance! Also, If anyone is passionate about maintaining the website then get in touch, otherwise it could well stay idle until the next wave of enthusiasm hits these shores.

In the meantime, thanks for following our progress, and don’t forget, whether you are on land on sea, there are many people carrying the impulse of Oasis Armada in their hearts. As we say in the sailing world, fair winds and following seas to you all.

Thomas, over and out.

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Leaves and temperatures are falling, and the days are getting shorter. Sparrow is resting in the North of Germany, and her crew are spread throughout Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Turkey and France. We are taking the winter to rest, explore, and re-think the future of Oasis Armada. Please join us in shaping her future!

It’s been almost two months since our last post, and over a month since Sparrow was safely docked in Northern Germany for the winter season. After some much needed time to rest, we have finally found time to sit down and share some of our experiences and reflections of the last month or so, with you all. We will also be outlining how you can help us to develop Oasis Armada going forward. First though, we will start where we left off, in Visby, Gotland.

Although it was so still we almost had to drift out of the harbour, we left Visby feeling rejuvenated and excited about our adventures to come, after being inspired and feeding off the energy of the Ognareskogan campaign. After a bitterly cold 48 hour sail from Visby, we tied up in the small town of Hällevik. Our spirits were mixed upon arrival; we were very pleased to have had a chance to sail non-stop for a longer period of time, with wonderful winds and without anything going wrong; we were also excited to have made significant progress on our journey; however, we were also facing the departure of two of our crew, who were leaving to meet loved ones on yonder shores. For Thomas and Onja, who were staying onboard and continuing on with the project, this provided an exciting opportunity, but also a challenge which they were wary not to under-estimate. We had always wanted Oasis Armada as a project to be flexible, living, able to move and respond to each situation, and to not be bound by a certain group of people. However, as organisers of the project, we undoubtedly felt a strong attachment to it, and more of the original crew moving on was challenging for us to see.

Autumn became a time of extremes, pulling and pushing us from ecstatic hope and excitement, to thoughts of failure and giving up. Every time there were a few days of amazing sailing, we felt as if we could conquer the world. However, for every good day, there were more and more of the wet, stormy, and freezing days that had us shivering, soaking, without dry clothes, and tempted to leave Sparrow for a warm room on dry, stable land. On those dark days there were sometimes spots of light. For example in Ystad when two brothers lent us a portable heater, not only warming our clothes, cabin and bodies, but also our hearts. Or the time in Åhus when the youth hostel close to the harbour let us use their kitchen to dry out and cook a warm meal, and the harbour master let us stay for free.

There were many other things that lifted our spirits as well. Such as when we posted on couchsurfing that we were low on crew, and about twenty people responded positively with interest in joining and support for our project. Another time was when friend of the project, Nuno Antunes (who we had met through Lunatronics when we were looking at buying an SSB radio), traveled over 100 kilometers to meet us and bring spare parts for our faulty motor, as well as share with us some of his great sailing stories. (As an aside, we are very happy to announce that finally we have both engine’s running reliably again…for the time being anyway).
As for the Oasis Armada project, we felt a huge amount of pressure to live up to the image and idea that we had created. However, we couldn’t forget the importance Edgard Gouveia (one of the originators of the Oasis Game, and one of our main inspirations for the project) put on the fact that a project without fun is simply not sustainable. Like we said in our previous post, we were using every waking hour and every ounce of energy towards, sailing, maintaining and repairing the boat, finding food, and daily living. The projects that we had been so focused on before our departure had fallen by the wayside, and simply surviving had become our only task. The decision whether or not to winter the boat essentially came down to the realization that while the boat and crew were in the state of needing to be nursed along somewhat, the season demanded that we push hard to get south as soon as possible, to avoid the worst of the cold and the wild weather that comes with it.

Naturally once we had decided to winter the boat, our thoughts turned to the future. While there was some disappointment at not sticking to our original plan, this decision provided us with a great opportunity to reflect and evaluate the projects achievements to date. We knew that if we looked closely at what we had learned so far during the planning, preparation and execution of the project, we could make significant improvements for the future.

So this winter, we are peeling back the layers, and offering for anyone who is interested in helping to shape the future of Oasis Armada in any way, to join us and get involved. There are several stages and methods in which you might be interested in getting involved. Firstly, we have created an evaluation form to be answered before 30th November, which you can find on our website and facebook page, and would love to have as many people as possible share their thoughts about the project using this method. Secondly, after the evaluation is completed, we will announce a Skype call, and invite anyone who is interested in helping directly with the project as an organizer, land or sea crew, etc. to join us as we discuss the results of the evaluation, and the next steps for Oasis Armada. Finally, we are always open to any questions, comments, suggestions, etc. via our contacts page or email (oasisarmada[at]

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In undertaking the Oasis Armada project, we are trying to show how one can have a positive impact on the world in a fast, free and fun way. We were also trying to show that things don’t have to be planned to the very last detail to make them a success, that in fact stubbornly sticking to a plan is only one perception of what success looks like. Finally, we wanted to show that anybody can go out and achieve their dreams, it takes only a little preparation, a lot of courage, teamwork and a lot of humility along the way.

In our previous blog post we outlined both the challenges and rewards we have been experiencing onboard Sparrow in the past weeks, as well as the challenge of how to move forward with the project, as well as our lives, in a way that is healthy, balanced and fulfilling.

We know that finding a balance is not easy, and may well take many lifetimes to perfect. However, we want to take an active step towards finding a balance, by asking both ourselves, and those of you who support us in your many different ways, some questions about the project. With your valuable feedback, we will gain a broader perspective of how best to move forward.

Please be as honest as possible, we very much appreciate constructive criticism!

Click here to help us with our Evaluation before 30th November.

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Every day we have challenges which arise, leading to questions of how we can adapt to work through them. We search high and low for an answer… Sometimes the universe sends a sign, and we are so in tune with our surroundings that we pick it up immediately. We understand the sign, adapt to how it is telling us to be, and move on harmoniously with our life. Other times, however, things don’t go quite so smoothly…and in the spirit of transparency, we want to share our experiences, both good and bad, with you all.

Here follows the significant (and painful to recollect) damage report so far, followed by some recent reflections and realisations we have made from the front line, as well as some suggestions of where these observations might lead us in the future. (The tone starts negative, as I use ‘damage’ in the wider sense of the word, however it improves significantly, so please persevere!).

I guess the damage started with us having to push our leaving date back almost a week in order to properly prepare, and then ending up leaving without being properly prepared anyway. The list of things to do (which are still not all check off) include scrubbing algae off the hull, repairing damage from our first run-aground during a local trip, painting the hull, and more.

We move on to our first venture out into open waters, where in the space of a few short hours we not only lost our companionway doors and unattached nameplate overboard, but we also had 75% of the crew seasick and/or functioning in a very limited capacity, and therefore decided to turn back and seek shelter until the crew, vessel and weather were in a more suitable condition to continue.

The next event was when we were at anchor in an only somewhat sheltered bay on, and either by miscalculation or due to the anchor dragging, we ended up bouncing up and down on some rocks after the wind swung around and pushed us closer towards the shore.

A few days later we were heading for civilization, and just as we were in the final stretches, lost concentration, backwinded the jib and pushed ourselves sideways over another submerged rock.

We then had a few days of beautiful, uneventful sailing (other than having to deal with a short squall bringing gale force winds in the middle of the night, during which with a 10th of our normal sail area flying, we were reaching very close to our previous top speed!) as we made our way out into the open Baltic Sea once again.

The next day we were heading off again, when one of the crew who was practicing throwing a lifeline forgot to hold onto the ‘secured end’, and the whole line went overboard and sunk before we could return to pick it up. (Some people throw pennies into the water for good luck, but it seems in Belgium they throw a whole line.)

The next item on the list could have been very costly when lost, had we not had a backup, as the conditions were quite unforgiving at the time… We decided to venture out of our sheltered anchorage on a very windy day, after sensing the wind was dropping off, and feeling the pull of our next destination beckoning. Even as we left the bay we realized the wind had not lessened much if at all, but thought we would still give it a go, after all, we figured we could always turn back if it was too challenging. That is eventually what we did, and everything was going fine until we were hit beam-on by a 3meter breaking wave. The boat actually handled the significant force with relative ease, but a minute or so later I suddenly felt the tiller become incredibly light, and the rudder which it attaches to wobbling around a lot. I asked one of the crew to check tighten the bolts I thought were lose, but when they went to do so they reported that the bolts were fine, although the rudder had snapped off about an inch below the water (which in hindsight, explains much more clearly the sudden light wobbly feeling on the tiller). Thankfully, quick thinking and a backup rudder, to which we attached an oar handle as a tiller, meant that that particular potential crises was quickly and safely averted, and we made it back to anchor without any further crisis.

The next loss was a loss we had expected for a while, but that didn’t make it much easier to accept, and crew moral definitely suffered for a while afterwards. Though it had been cramped, we had grown very fond of our 5th crew. However, for AJ, the worldly anarchist from down under, it was time to move again, so we bid him farewell, knowing we would cross paths again soon.

It’s hard to say whether this next issue can truly be considered a loss, as to lose something, you have to be sure you had it in the first place, and in the case of a working engine, it could be a lengthy debate. However, when we left Jarna we did have one working engine, and since then have had both going, though after reaching Gotland, we without doubt had neither of them in working order (though thankfully we now have our trusty outboard running better than ever, and have ordered the spare parts we hope will solve the mystery of our antique inboard too).

Next we lost another crew, although thankfully only for a night, so the damage was only temporary. Three of the crew had gone on a bin-diving mission to a nearby town, but only two returned, Noemi having decided that she would change things up a bit, and meet us in our next destination via hitch-hiking.

The next damage we sustained was when loosening the backstay to put in mast-step supports we had made in Jarna. The loosening the stay via the turnbuckle was unusually difficult, and once we loosened it enough to see the previously hidden thread we saw why. The thread had been almost stripped bare, though luckily there was still enough for the stay to be firmly secure for the mean time (we now have a replacement turnbuckle for peace of mind).

One of the most significant and sad areas of damage has been to the crew’s zest for life, and I will go further into this below. Suffice to say, however, that we have endured a great deal of stress, bleary and itchy exhaustion-suffered red-eyes, and sacrificing of much physical and mental relaxation during the preparation and realisation of our ‘dream’. And while we are still able to find energy to keep the project and boat functioning to the basic but safe level required, our personal relationships certainly reflect the strain we are under as individuals. We often forget to ask each other how we are, or offer to lend an ear to our crew-mates problems, however we will always check whether the latest task has been completed, or chastize each other for being too smelly, lazy or slack with a task. However, to everyone’s credit, for the most part we still manage to keep the group functioning amazingly well, all things considered, and I am for ever grateful for being surrounded by such champion human beings!

Finally, this list would not be complete without mention of the damage to the Skipper’s fingers and toes, and consequently our band-aid supply. It seems not a day goes by when someone points out to Onja that he’s dripping blood on something again, after which he applies a band-aid followed by some tape, after which invariably the dressing soon falls off and again and what ever is touched is blessed with his unique red trade-mark once again. We used to complain, though we have now just taken to laughing and shaking our heads in amazement.

As much as I hate popular trends, I have noticed people labeling many day to day complaints lately as ‘first world problems’, and all these challenges we face, being obviously self-inflicted, could easily be bracketed as such. However, I sincerely believe that while, yes, the individual challenges are generally not too serious in nature, the compounding effect of them on our health is in fact something to be carefully considered. Both in our circumstances, and those of anyone suffering for any reason anywhere, the challenges obviously reduce our ability to live in a way that contributes to our community, and therefore our impact will likely instead be detrimental. We do not want to blow these obstacles out of proportion, as we know that much of life’s struggles can be either exacerbated or decreased by our mental strength. However, at the same time, we do not want to belittle them either.

Now as I suggested, what is noted above is fairly negative in focus, and as Noemi already alluded to in her article, Oasis Armada Setting Sail, we certainly have a lot to be thankful for. Here is a list of some of the things we are grateful, in an attempt to balance the score somewhat.

We have not needed to buy a single item of food since leaving Jarna over three weeks ago, due to both our efforts of bin diving, and the amazing donations we received before and after our departure. We have used only a few litres of fuel for cooking; half of which probably evaporated before we could use it, and half of which we got for free. We have used only a few litres of fuel for the engine, and that has been mostly to check whether it is working. We have spent only around 250 euros (mostly on hardware we need for the vessel long-term). We have been invited for several by people we just met, as well as a cafe we passed by. We have been offered the use of showers, internet and washing machines in most of the places we’ve been. We have been given food to take from several bakeries, and we have had a lot of help and advice with the vessel, our engine troubles, fishing, our route south and more.

I think it is fair to say that the one thing which has kept our spirits up the most, when its cold and wet, the wind is blowing the wrong way, and we struggling to fix the engine, or water pump, or dry our bunks out…is the people we have met along the way! Both those who have been interested and inspired in our project, and wanted to help; as well as those who are doing equally, if not more amazing things, in the same matter-of-fact way. These meetings have always left us walking away with a renewed sense of love for life, for other people, and for our beautiful planet!

As great as these things are, they still do not address a few fundamental problems we see reoccurring quite often.

We are working for the better world our hearts know is possible, but needs and wants, dreams and realities, all present challenges in this quest. We know from our direct experience in the last few weeks, that as suggested above, if one does not have their basic needs met, then it is very difficult to meet the needs of others.

We also know that while our onboard community is more concentrated than most, if we are not able to meet some of our fellow community members needs, then there is no community. There is only a group of people using the same physical (and to a degree emotional and spiritual) space, and certainly not to its greatest potential!

We talk a lot about using gift economy; about being entitled to be happy and healthy in our work, rather than stressed and sick; about experienceing abundance of all resources, including time; and about needing to be flexible, intuitive and mentally, emotionally and physically present in order to succeed…

We offer these ideas to many people we meet…while we run around stressed with time pressure based on fixed ideas, our bodies sore from rushing and bumping against something that we weren’t patient enough to move around, worrying about the donate button not being on the website yet (and therefore missing out on money), or how we haven’t written a blog update recently (and therefore people will stop following our trip, or not understand what we are doing why we aren’t playing more oasis games, making more videos, saving more forests, etc.). These subconscious ‘stories’ we tell ourselves, we remind others not to listen to! Essentially, we have come to the conclusion (albeit rather slowly), that we use an unsustainable model to encourage sustainable lifestyles!

The reality of the situation is that for this crew, on this boat, at this time, we are being pushed to our limits just to survive. That may sound dramatic, but we all feel it is true. We would all love to have time to be organising Oasis Games in London, or doing marketing analysis for a small non-profit in Kopenhagen, or interview the founder of the local eco-village near Visby, or film and produce a short film about all our adventures, or even to blog about them! But who then would fix the engine? Who would wash our clothes? Who would go bin-diving? Who would order new engine parts? Who would check the weather, plot the route for our next trip, and read the guides on the harbors we are headed for? The list goes on… It’s not a coincidence that it’s now 3am, and only now have I found the time to write this, after three days of saying that it would be my main focus for that day, but being too busy.

We are fully aware our lives are extraordinary, however we are saddened by the fact that we are not able to fully experience and enjoy this adventure. We always have an eye on the future, as well as one on the past. We are constantly worrying about how we have failed to meet the expectations we set for ourselves (and stated so loud and proud on the interweb for all to see), and wondering how on earth we will manage to do so in the future.

I must also mention though that there is not only the pressure of doing projects that is pushing us to rush, but also the impending winter to think about. So right now we feel two options sit before us; either to pace ourselves and continue on the planned trip south towards Portugal, albeit probably focusing 90% of our energy on sailing and living (as has been the case up until now); or plan to winter the boat around the English Channel, and focus on land-based initiatives during the winter, then continue with the vessel in Spring. We are tending towards continuing, likely with some crew changes along the way to allow people to get a break and take care of other needs when necessary.

Neither of these ideas fit into exactly what we had in mind, but hey, we are trying to be flexible and step into the reality in which we are entitled to love and enjoy our everyday life, not slave away for for someone else’s (or even our own partially unrealistic) dream.

We wanted to share these thoughts and experiences with you all in the hope that you can relate to the challenges we face, and also to hear your thoughts and reflections on these themes, both in relation to our project, but also in your own lives. We hope this has provided an interesting mirror with which to observe you own experiences. It has certainly been an interesting process for us, that’s for sure!

We would love to hear your thoughts, and wanted to say a huge thanks both to those that have helped us at our stops along the way, and those that have given us such great encouragement and support from afar. You guys are what keep us getting up and doing it again every day! THANK YOU ALL!

By Thomas Burton

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