8 Months Away From Home: A Sailor’s Life

240 days a year on the road. Constant travels. Racing through marinas and airports at lightning speed. Practicing on different waters. Competing on all continents and re-packing one’s bags over and over again. That is a sailor’s season for you But apart from fatigue, travels give you something you would otherwise never get. Paweł Tarnowski tells a story of his travels during an exhausting season.

I have been a member of the national sailing team for quite a few years now. First as a junior, and for the last four years as a senior. I have represented Poland in championship-level, World Cup, and European Cup sailing competitions. I also take part in the Olympic training program scheduled for the four-year period between the Olympic games.

I usually train abroad, although in summer I enjoy sailing in Poland the most. You could say that windsurfing is quite an exotic sport, yet it has been gaining in popularity. In Poland, the season lasts for just a little longer than 4 months, but if you aim for top level competition, you need to train all the time. To boost my performance, I need to travel a lot. From my point of view, travels mean a lot of hassle with the surfing gear and the focus of the entire coaching staff. The purpose of our trips is to practice so we often lack the time for sightseeing. For this reason, I have admired most of the places I have been to while doing my training. I have only seen the famous Brazilian beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema from the ocean. I have passed through busy Italian towns and vast French vineyards on a bike, or while doing my running practice. Whenever I go to Egypt, Turkey, or the Canaries, it is not to laze around and gorge myself on hotel food – it is to carry out a comprehensive training plan. I usually see such big cities as London, Dubai, Paris or Shanghai from airplane windows, and when I eventually get there, it is only to find the right gate at the airport and board another plane.

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Despite my hectic lifestyle, I still have time for discovering exciting places, meeting fascinating people, and getting to know local cultures. With each travel come new experiences that shape my worldview and teach me to take an unbiased approach. They inspire humility and respect for the forces of nature and all the things which are simply beyond our control. As I travel around the world, I find answers to many questions that have been bothering me. Last year alone was enough to prove the point. Right after the 2015 Sailing World Championship in Oman and my December training in Brazil, I started the racing season with the Sailing World Cup Miami in January. In February, I took part in the Sailing World Championship in Israel, and then headed to the events in France, Mallorca, Rio de Janeiro, and Finland. In the meanwhile, I was training in Poland, too. The contrast between Oman and Brazil alone made me realize the world’s enormous diversity.

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Oman is an absolute monarchy with a legal system based on the Sharia law and strictly observed Islamic cultural practices. The monotonous landscape is mostly composed of endless deserts. The rain (or rather drizzle) falls only 20 days a year, and in October, temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius. In spite of this, women wear chadors and burqas at all times. The black floor-length attire covers their bodies entirely to the point you cannot even see their eyes.

Men in Oman normally have more than one wife. This stems from the fact that there are way more women than men in the country, and it is a man’s duty to take more than one wife if only he has sufficient financial resources. Indeed, many men are wealthy enough to provide for multiple wives, and can afford to have more than one house and car, not to mention having more children by each of the wives than you would normally see in Europe, where the most popular family structure is parents + a kid, or a couple + a dog. Under their black robes, Omani women wear expensive brand clothes, hand-made footwear and precious jewellery. They raise children by themselves, while their husbands do their best to visit each of their homes at least once a week to stay the night and spend some time during the day with their wife and kids. Young men who cannot yet afford to take a wife spend much of their time in the hotels for international tourists. Alcohol is banned in Oman because drinking alcohol is prohibited under the religious law, so you can only buy alcoholic beverages in hotel bars. Allah cannot see people drinking indoors, so Omani men in white robes and colourful headpieces stay in the bars until late at night, drinking and having fun. No Muslim will marry a woman who has been touched by another man. In theory, the rule seems righteous, but it is not so in practice. What local patrons of the bar in the hotel in which I was staying found most attractive was, apart from alcohol, live performances of half-naked female singers who were there for their looks rather than their signing.

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Brazil, or Rio de Janeiro to be specific, is on the opposite end of the cultural scale. The second largest city in the land of coffee, it is a patchwork of skyscrapers and favelas interspersed with jungle. It is quite common to see monkeys, boas, or giant spiders on the outskirts of the city. The relative humidity here is much higher than in Oman, and in the rainy season, sudden downpours paralyze the city several times a day. In contrast to the beaches in Muscat, where all you can see are camels, fishermen, and little black-clad girls playing with sticks, Brazil is overtaken by body cult. Lots of people hang out on the beach all day long. Covered in self-tanners, they play beach ball, sunbathe and build muscle mass. The only socially unacceptable thing is topless sunbathing, but then again, Brazilian bikinis are made up of just a few thin thongs.

It is perfectly normal for a muscular man to walk down the street wearing nothing but swimming trunks. The city comes alive with music every evening. People dance and have fun in the streets, on the beaches and in the clubs every night of the week, 365 days a year. The fun culminates in the great Carnival of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro looks amazing from a distance, but reveals its striking contrasts as soon as you take a walk in the centre. During lunch breaks, corporate workers spill out of modern skyscrapers onto the same street in which the homeless sleep. Serious-looking men in business suits mingle with beggars and barefoot kids. After work, senior executives hop on their helicopters and fly to their estates, while lower-ranking staff cycle or walk to the favelas where they live in houses which look as if they were about to crumble. Gang wars, soaring crime rates, and drug dealing are commonplace there, so it is best to steer clear of Rio’s favelas.

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Staying at the two locations opened my eyes to the world’s cultural diversity. In Muscat, no man would ever touch a thing that does not belong to him, nor would a woman ever look at you more than once, because according to the local culture, she would make the first step towards adultery if she did. In Rio de Janeiro, you should take off your watch and jewellery before going out, and you should avoid walking alone: robberies, kidnappings and rapes definitely discourage you from sightseeing. All this makes me realize even more that I love my home, and that there is no other place in the world I would rather live in :)

Paweł Tarnowski – Young though he may be, he is one of the top Polish sailing medalists in the RS:X class. His achievements include a gold medal at the European Championship in 2015, a gold medal at the Youth European Championship in 2014, and a silver medal at the Youth World Championship in 2014. He also competed to represent Poland at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, but lost by a slim margin to another member of the national windsurfing team.