Michael Gatti's Family Tree

Seven Ukrainians, One Russian and
One Irish-Colombian-American
Sail to Hawaii

By Victor Jorge Lopez

A brief note from Michael: Victor Jorge Lopez is the husband of Alicia Gatti Lopez. He's as unique of an individual as you will ever meet. He has a wide variety of hobbies and interests, and pursues every one of them with more energy and enthusiasm than you can imagine. As a matter of fact, he approaches everything he does, whether it's cooking dinner, touring a historical site or joining the crew of a tall ship on a voyage to Hawaii. This story is the tale of just such a voyage told in Victor's own words as only Victor could tell it.

I will say a few words about each of the crew members that sailed 18 June 2003 from Dana Point, California, arriving 4 July 2003 in Lahaina, Maui, aboard the Bat'kivshchyna. Each was given a nickname (in parentheses) by consensus after a couple of weeks at sea together. In addition, I will give the readers some juicy tales of many of the happy and funny incidents that occurred. So let us begin.

Victor & Dima

To me, Captain Dmytro Biriukovych (Dima) is truly a giant among men. He built the Bat'kivshchyna and is going around the globe, doing this because he wants to tell the world about the beauty and culture of his country, Ukraine. It has indeed been to me a great joy not only to have met such a man, but to sail with him to Hawaii. We followed in the wake of the immortal Harry Pidgeon, of San Pedro, California, who also went to Hawaii and single-handedly circumnavigated the globe. Harry, one of my heroes, left Los Angeles 18 Nov 1921 and returned to Los Angeles 31 Oct 1925. This self-taught sailor had few charts and no motor on his boat and, for ballast, used nuts and bolts from the San Pedro shipyard, which were later traded for food, coconuts, and other items for his voyage, with sand used to replace the ballast. Back to Dima, to see him in action was in itself exciting. As the Bat'kivshchyna moved through the Pacific Ocean, he would shout using a bullhorn and give orders to the crew. Suddenly you heard the throat halyard hoist the gaff, saw the parrals move up, watched the peak halyard correct the angle of the gaff, and while the crew made sure the topping lift held the boom horizontally! Many times I tried to help, but not knowing what the Captain said in Ukrainian, I would grab the wrong line only to be told to back off and let the real sailors do their job.

NinaDmytro, the Captain, was in command but the Admiral was actually his wife, Nina. When she gave him orders, he would obey, sometimes. I will never forget the day during my first trip on the Bat'kivshchyna (10 to 23 Sep 2002, Los Angeles to San Diego and back) when Ken Kling, an American crew member, and I laughed as we watched the Captain scrubbing a pot that probably had not been cleaned since the schooner left Kiev. As we approached cautiously, I suggested I would be happy to clean the pot. The captain said “Nina wants me to clean the pot, so I must do it!” Nina is a wonderful cook, and we all looked forward to tasting her great Ukrainian borsch. She always took great care making sure that all the correct ingredients were used. To find these items was always difficult because we actually had three cooks on board: Nina, Viacheslav Voitko and me. Every time one of us cooked, we would change the order of the items in the galley, and so it was a job for Sherlock Holmes to find the red wine vinegar, peppercorns, allspice berries and bay leaves. To make matters more difficult, Nina would speak to me in Ukrainian, which I do not understand, and I would answer in English, which she does not know.

StarwatcherThe sea itself tempts seafarers to become irrational. Before the days of the compass and the shipping forecast, the sea was indeed wildly unpredictable and dangerous. It is still terrifying and awesomely powerful, even with today's satellite positioning and sonar. To frightened, suggestible sailors, an inquisitive dolphin frolicking in the bow-wave must have seemed like a messenger from the gods. On 19 June at sunset we saw hundreds of dolphins playing, leaping, twisting and jumping in groups of four and five! Unfortunately, this moment did not last long and the sea that evening turned with a vengeance.

First Mate Alaxsandr Kostyukov (Comrade Star Watcher) was standing on the chart table behind the compass helping adjust the boom when he slipped and crashed on the steel side railing. Naturally, we all worried and hoped that he had not broken any ribs. He was carefully moved a short distance into the pilot's cabin. Fortunately, I had Vicodin pain pills for my kidney stones which he immediately took and was able to sleep. The following day he was still in the pilot's cabin, and still taking my Vicodin. A few days later he was moved to his cabin below and slowly day by day he recovered. Because of my help, Alaxsandr later gave me one of his magnificent folk art pieces that he made of straw, wheat, rye and oats. On the back he wrote, “Ukrainian Cossack, to my Bat'kivshchyna friend Victor from Dana Point to Lahaina, 1 July 2003, Alaxsandr Kostyukov.” When he felt much better he showed me many photos of his comfortable apartment in Kiev. With great pride he showed me a magnificent large bed that he built for his bedroom. On this bed was one of his many young beautiful girlfriends! He gave me this photo as a gift and told me I would be able to stay in his apartment and sleep in the famous bed the day I visit Kiev.


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