Interview with Marlena Rozenberg
Veganorigo: When did you start sailing?
Marlena Rozenberg: I never thought about sailing before I started. It really kind of happened to me. I wasn’t looking for it nor had a plan to sail around the world. I met my boyfriend, Gal, in Panama when I was backpacking around Central - America. I was actually getting ready to go to Columbia. He offered me to go sailing with him on a short trip around the Caribbean coast of Panama… we’ve been sailing together since. I had never even thought about sailing as a way of traveling until then. I knew there were sailboats, but sailing seemed as possible to me as going to the moon. It was spontaneous and I'm really happy that it happened.
V: Sailing together since then.
M: Yes, that was two years ago actually. Almost.
V: Can you tell me about the trip? Where have you been? How?
M: As I said, I met Gal on the Caribbean coast of Panama, in a place called Bocas del Toro. It is kind of a hub for backpackers. We sailed together from there to a group of islands between Panama and Colombia, called San Blas. I was actually thinking of doing that trip before we met, but it's usually very expensive and I couldn’t afford it on a backpacker’s budget. This is how our adventure together started. He was going to cross the Pacific Ocean the year we met, but he decided to change his plans and we sailed to Columbia together. After that trip he offered me to cross the ocean with him. We went back to Panama and then we crossed the Panama Canal, then we sailed to Galapagos Islands, and then down to Easter Islands and up to French Polynesia. There are a few archipelagos in French Polynesia, we sailed through many of them, and then we went to the Cook Islands, and Tuen to Tonga. After this we sailed to New Zealand. That's where we've been so far. It has been amazing.
V: How did you learn sailing?
M: When I first got on the boat, I knew nothing about sailing. It was my first boat and it is still the only boat I've ever sailed and lived on. I’ve never had any other experience, so I don’t know if I can say that I learned how to sail and that I could sail any other boat. Gal is a great sailor though, he had been sailing for 3 years before we met, and worked a lot with boats, so I had loads of faith in him. It was like, “I don't know you, but yeah, let's go. I'm going to get on this boat with you and I just put my life in your hands”, because I had no idea what was coming. Anyway, everything I’ve learned about sailing I learned from Gal, I give him all the credit! Sailing is a lot about trial and error; I just kind of had to see how things work. I had to learn the boat and get familiar with it, in order to gain more confidence at sea. I think the most important part about sailing and learning to sail is confidence and common sense, together. Once you know how the boat operates and how it reacts in certain weather conditions, you just feel the wind and you get a hang of it. For me it's still in progress. There’s a big difference between ocean and coastal sailing or island hopping so I still have a lot to learn. But it’s exciting!
V: How do you handle seasickness?
M: I wasn't sure how I was going to handle it, but somehow I hardly ever get seasick, I’m very lucky! I’ve gotten seasick twice but we've been sailing for a year and a half so I think it is a very good score! We’ve had people on the boat that would get seasick immediately. We would be just waving the shore goodbye and they were already getting sick. Gal also doesn't get seasick too much. We mainly just feel a little bit uneasy and our stomachs feel a little tight but it doesn't interfere with our life and usually goes away after a day or two, so it's okay.
V: Tell me a bit about the boat, what it is look like, the size of it, etc.
M: Our boat is 25 feet long, so that's around 7,5 to 8 meters. It is small, but quoting the maker it’s a pocket cruiser so it’s a very good, strong ocean sailing boat. It's a white monohull, it has one main sail and a headsail, it is a sloop. We have a front cabin with a small king size bed. We also have a kitchen and like a lounge/living room. I'm talking about it like it is two separate rooms, but it is actually just one area. We always joke that when you look one way it is a living room, and if you look the other way it is a kitchen. We also have one bed under the cockpit. And there’s also a bathroom with a toilet and a shower. It is very compact but it is good for us. It has been serving us very well, and has everything we need, the basic things. We don't have any fancy equipment.
V: What did you give up at home for travelling? What is your plan? Do you work anything?
M: When I was backpacking around Central America, before I met Gal, my plan was to do one last trip before settling down, finding a job and being a ‘good girl’, spending time with my family and friends. But plans change, obviously, and I haven’t done any of that yet. I decided to continue traveling and sailing. I am not sure what the plan for the future is. We’ve made so many plans, but if there’s one thing that I have learned about sailing life is, that things change all the time, from hour to hour, and there is no point in making specific plans. Our general plan for now is to sail one more season and then think about what is next. We are considering a few options, but we will see what happens when it comes to it. Maybe it is not the best approach, but there are other things we need to figure out first, before making plans for the future.
What I had to give up was the time with my family and friends. It doesn’t matter what you do when you’re on the road, you just don’t have the same contact and quality time with them. But except that, there is nothing that comes to my mind. Whether it is a career or education, I feel like I am still young, and have time to go back and continue my studies or find a 9 to 5 job, if I wanted to. It would definitely be difficult after my current lifestyle, but I could do it! I am sure that one day I will get to a point where I will feel like I’ve had my adventures, and I’ve had enough, but I haven’t quite reached that point yet.
We had enough money saved up for the voyage across the Pacific but it started running low when we got to New Zealand. We knew we would have to get jobs there to get enough funds for the next sailing season. That’s what most people do, they work for a few months and then sail or travel for the rest of the year. But in our case life had come in the way and I didn’t get a working visa in NZ, so work is a sensitive topic right now. Not sensitive in a way that I cannot talk about it, but in a way that we’re currently trying to make some money but without success. The last time we worked was a few months before we left Panama, so we haven’t worked a lot while traveling. We usually just try to enjoy ourselves and make the most of everything on a low budget.
V: What is your next destination?
M: We are going from New Zealand to Fiji. I think that's as far as plans go for now. We definitely want to go to other islands that are around there, but we don't really have an exact plan. We wanted to go to Australia next hurricane season, but we probably can’t, due to visa issues, so we will have to figure it out as we go. Maybe we’ll go back to New Zealand. But we don’t really stress about it, there are many beautiful places around there.
V: That area is on the top of my list as well and I am sure it is amazing, especially if you go around with a boat.
M: Oh yes, it’s incredible! Sailing is a completely different dimension of traveling. I really miss it and the tropics, especially the weather and amazing tropical fruits! We’d spent there eight months before coming to New Zealand. I flew to London for a few of months and I'm enjoying beautiful weather but it’s obviously not a paradise island.
V: How did you meet the idea of veganism?
M: I've been Vegan for 3,5 years. I went vegan because a friend of mine, Sara (who was and still is vegan) was kind of nagging me, but not in a bad way. She just said: “I think you should watch this and that video about veganism, maybe you would like it.” I think I wasn’t ready then and I wanted her to give me a break. But one day, out of the blue, I thought “Okay, what is this vegan thing?” and I watched the videos my friend recommended me. The most appealing benefit to me at the time was the health aspect, and that was my main reason for making a switch. I would hear and read all about the amazing benefits of eating plantbased and I wanted to see if it would work for me. I decided to do it just for three months and to see how it would affect my body, and I never went back, I’ve been vegan ever since. I'm really happy to be living this lifestyle and I think everyone will be ready to make a change at some point too. Now it’s so much more to me than just taking care of my body.
V: What has changed in your life? Mentally, physically, emotionally?
M: There are a few things that have changed. My taste has changed A LOT. I have started appreciating different tastes and foods, which I didn’t like or even didn’t know about before. I’ve started cooking more, but that’s not exactly directly related to going vegan. That’s mainly because Gal is also vegan and we have a lot of time on our hands and eating plays an important part in our lives ha-ha. I feel like the food I eat now is so much more interesting than what I used to eat before! As a vegan, one of many questions I get asked a lot is “So what do you even eat?!” and I never know where to start. There are simply so many options! So in a way I’ve developed a passion for cooking, especially baking. That’s a big change for me!
My values also have changed but it came naturally with doing research on the lifestyle. And my social life’s changed along with it. I’ve met many amazing people through the community and I simply don’t waste time on people whom I don’t share any values with. I don’t mean that all my friends are vegan, because I would never discriminate anyone based on a diet! But even in my old social circle I see many people switching to vegetarianism or becoming more food conscious.
Health wise it’s been great! I’ve never had any big health problems but since going vegan my digestion has improved A LOT and I’ve simply started to feel better about my body. I feel that I treat it well and feed it all the nutrients it needs, and it pays back by being healthy.
V: How do you prepare with food on a longer trip when you are out on the water for days?
M: Preparing food for a long voyage is really not that hard. We just have to think of what we normally eat and then plan how much of it to buy. We realize that we can’t have fresh food (veggies & fruits) all the time, but we’ve got a lot of dry food like beans, lentils, chickpeas and pasta and grains. So what we usually do is think of how much of each thing we eat in a week or two, for example we eat pasta twice a week and rice three times a week, and then we multiply it by how many weeks we’re going sailing for, and then we get a rough idea of how much of each thing we have to buy. We always make sure to get enough food, so we don’t have to worry about it when we get to islands and waste our time provisioning. The only thing we buy is fresh produce. It might seem like a lot of food at first but it really isn’t! Besides, you would be surprised how much space a boat has. It has so many nooks and crannies which you can fit all the stuff in. Our boat is small and we still managed to fit seven months worth of food on it, so it definitely can be done! I was a bit skeptical about it when I saw all the food we’d bought but then I remembered that Gal crossed the Atlantic with a couple of friends, which took them 24 days, and they had enough food and additional 500 liters of water (that’s extra half a ton!!) on board! He said he still had loads of wine and olive oil stocked away and he said it was no problem! It simply takes some planning. I think there’s a stereotype of a sailor eating corned beef and crackers but I strongly believe that there’s no need to eat cans or processed foods while sailing. With a little bit of planning you can have tasty and nutritious foods on a passage; all you need is some time. And time is often one thing you have a lot of when at sea. I think it’s important to have a variety of food because when you don’t see land for days then a good meal can really be a highlight of a day.
Many people ask us about fishing. They don’t understand how we can be sailing around the world and not eating fish! Well, we don’t, and we’re still alive. We do have some emergency fishing equipment in case of a life threatening situation. Luckily we haven’t needed to use it yet.
V: Do you have any favorite recipe from the trip?
M: I’m a person that usually gets obsessed with one dish and can eat it forever. We cooked many foods that we both really liked, but I think one of my favorites was a Middle Eastern style soup with couscous and chickpeas. It is so good that there was a time when we would have it every other day. And I still love it! Another one that really stuck in my head is a tomato and mango pasta sauce. I’m salivating just thinking about it. I learned to cook on the trip, I never cooked so much in my life and I really enjoy it! It’s so much fun.
V: Did you have any big storm anytime when you were out on the ocean?
M: Yes, but nothing life threatening. We’ve had a couple of situations when the waves were big or it was raining very heavily, but never anything that we were thinking we were going to die. I think in the beginning many things were a bit scary for me, because I didn't know the boat and didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Once I got used to being on it, and how it behaves at sea I knew I was going to be fine. And one thing I really like about monohulls is that if they do capsize, they're going to go back to normal. I like to believe that whatever happens, I'm going to be okay as long as I tie myself to the boat ha-ha.
V: Do you have any favourite memories?
V: My absolute favorite memory from the trip was swimming with whales. I mean, we've done a lot of amazing things on this trip but swimming with whales was just something out of this world. I've seen those videos (of swimming with whales) so many times and I get goosebumps every time I see them. It was such an amazing experience, especially for me, as I am not a very good swimmer. I’ve never learned how to swim properly. I don't drown, but you wouldn't take me to the swimming pool and tell me to swim five lengths, I get tired very quickly. So before the sailing trip, I never snorkeled in my life. I’d never seen a coral. For me, from not being able to swim to swimming with a huge humpback whale was incredible. We had 4 whales around us that time, and we were alone with them. That was definitely a highlight of the trip. Sometimes it's really hard to choose the best because we go to a place and we have some kind of experience and then I'm like, “Oh my, this is amazing. This is the best of the trip.” And then we go to the next place and something as good or better happens and I feel like that is the best experience. But if I have to pick just one it’s definitely the whales.
V: What was the biggest challenge?
M: To be honest, the biggest challenge during the trip was being in such a small space with one person for such a long time.
V: Yes, that would be my other question: how did it work staying so close for such a long time?
M: We had another person with us, our friend Brisa, from Panama to Gambier in French Polynesia. So there were three of us, and let’s say, there was a bit more variety in a day. It was still difficult, though. But later we were just the two of us, Gal and I, and it was hard because it's such a small space and if you want to have your own space, one person goes to the front cabin and the other goes to the cockpit and we would be still only two meters apart. There's no opportunity to slam the door or get angry or just storm out and go for a walk to cool off if we have an argument. We would be in the middle of the ocean and what could we do?
It's challenging but eventually we started finding the balance, like finding the best way to be around each other and not wanting to kill each other. I'm lucky that the person I’m doing this with, is my boyfriend and our relationship developed around this trip. We are like minded and we care about each other, so we were willing to compromise and eventually we learnt to live with each other in such a small space. I don’t know if I could live on a boat with a stranger.
V: What was the most important lesson you learnt?
M: I’ve learned so much on that trip that it’s hard to pin point one thing. The funniest thing is I’ve realized this when I came to London for a break from my travels! It’s not exactly the most important lesson but I’ve learned to live a simple life without too many possessions. There are a lot of things I used to take for granted, even simple ones like a hot water shower, that I don’t get to have very often when I live on the boat. It really teaches me to appreciate simple things in life and to be more grateful. Another one is a bit of a cliché but I’ve learned it from all my travels, not just this one trip, and I think it’s important for us to realize that if we want something badly enough we can achieve it! It’s only us and excuses we make that stop us from making dreams come true.
V: You told me what is the next step, but do you have any idea for how long are you planning to just sail around? How do you see yourself in 10 years?
M: I don't know exactly how long I'm going to be travelling. We've been talking about potentially selling the boat and starting some kind of a business. We’ve been thinking of going back to Europe for a few years to gain a little bit more of a financial stability and then go sailing again on a bigger boat. We’ve been thinking about it but haven’t decided on anything yet. I’m trying to live from day to day, week to week and not worry too much about the future which is not always easy. We’ll see how things go; we haven’t made any long term plans yet.
V: You can follow Marlena's adventures on Instagram.
Photo credit: Marlena Rozenberg
Riporter: Edit Horvath
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