Once on an airplane I saw a terrible movie, which featured John Travolta, Tim Allen, and William H. Macy playing suburban dads who rode Harley-Davidsons on weekends. They'd made up matching leather jackets. One day they were pulled over at a bend in the road when a real motorcycle gang rode by – about fifty of them – real meth dealing, bar fighting rebels. One of the suburban dads said, "There they go, boys. That's the real deal."
Even though I'd been circumnavigating for six years, this is how I felt when I met The Road Warrior in Tanzania. I don't think cruiser is the right word for him, and he defies classification within the cruiser archetypes – definitely not a Yacht Club Officer On Tour.
He was originally Swiss, but hadn't been to Switzerland since he was a boy. He'd grown up aboard his family's cruising boat, and had had little formal education. With his mohawk and tattoos he looked like the guy sent by central casting to play a part in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
And his steel fifty-footer was the seagoing version of one of the mutant vehicles. He'd learned to weld in Madagascar, and attacked his boat with a cutting torch, welding rods, and scrap metal. He'd converted the interior to an open plan, and got rid of all that superfluous junk like engine, lights, electronics, batteries, etc. He'd gone back to kerosene lamps and running lights, and the only piece of electronics he had was a cell phone someone had given him. The post-apocalyptic interior was made entirely of metal and animal hides. I approve! It was totally functional and low-maintenance:
He said he was so dyslexic that he couldn't read a GPS or a chart anyway, so he'd done away with all of it and navigated by pure instinct. He made his way back and forth between Madagascar and the East African Coast every year on no fixed schedule, using no electronics, no charts, and no sextant.
When I first met him I'd just made port in Dar Es Salaam and was off to do my paperwork. In the taxi he showed me his GTD, Global Transit Document, which had all of his data, his photo, a Swiss flag, and said "Switzerland Suisse Schweiz Svizzera" across the top. He said it was a new kind of travel document, for people like him who didn't really live in any one country, but migrated from place to place. I'd never heard of such a thing, and still haven't, because it doesn't exist. He'd just made the document on a printer and laminated it, but I guess it passed in Africa.
He'd learned to make sandals out of old tractor tires, so of course I bought a pair. They are among many souvenirs, like that stack of cool bula shirts from Fiji, and those flowy pants from Thailand, that just never seemed quite as cool once I'd brought them home:
His boat's interior sported a good deal of Road Warrior-abilia. He had a workbench aboard, and fabricated medieval weapons:
But there is a softer side to The Road Warrior. He had two young daughters from an ex in Madagascar. They lived with him for the season, and he'd enrolled them in school in Dar:
So among the medieval weapons, skulls, and animal hides were fuzzy toys, dollies, and girls' dresses. The girls' whole bed gimballed to compensate for heeling:
There was also the girls' nanny, another import from Madagascar:
Among other functional improvisations, he'd welded in these rings to hold large plastic bins (which formerly held deadly chemicals) of rice, couscous, flour, and ugali, the cornmeal porridge eaten in East Africa:
I admired these sliding seats at the galley table:
Here the Road Warrior and I ponder the workings of a broken sewing machine:
While we were friends, I sometimes got the feeling he might reach across the table and rip my larynx out just for fun, but my fears proved unfounded.
This guy was an artist with steel. The galley, with counter-weighted, swing-out storage for pots and pans:
At night, with hurricane lamps ablaze:
I met a French sailor on my expedition to Clipperton Island last year. We compared notes and it seemed the Frenchman might have once known the Road Warrior too. I asked, "Do you think it could be the same guy?"
"Of course it is the same guy! Do you think there could be more than one like him?"