Pitufa’s crew consists of Birgit, Christian and Leeloo, the ship’s cat. When we first set out sailing towards the horizon aboard Pitufa, we were surprised to discover more crew members on board. The first one to mention is our untiring helmsman Wayne Vaney (the hydrovane wind pilot), who holds a steady course through night, rain and storm. Also worth mentioning, despite his smelly and sometimes explosive nature, Berti the Bertschi kerosene oven is an indispensable partner in the galley.
Birgit Hackl (born in 1978 in Linz, Austria) took her first steps on her parent’s small motorboat in the summer of ’79. During her childhood she always spent her summer holidays on boats, first on Lago di Garda and later on the Adriatic sea. Her love for the sea, for boats and the freedom they bring, originates from that time.
Christian Feldbauer (born in 1976 in Grieskirchen, Austria) had a predominately dry, or at least boat-free childhood. As a teenager he was already interested in technical stuff and accordingly chose an education and career as an engineer. Thus he acquired technical knowledge and skills that would later on prove to be very useful while repairing and upgrading a second-hand yacht.
In 1995 we got to know and love each other, moved to Graz (in the south of Austria) to study and discovered many leisure activities and interests together: motorbikes, diving and getting to know foreign (and preferably “exotic”) cultures as backpackers.
In 2000 Leeloo the cat joined the family, accompanied us to Sweden in 2006 and later on to England, and spontaneously turned into a ship’s cat when a new centre of interest started to dominate our lives in 2008: sailing. Even though she enjoys spending time in the garden catching mice, she adjusts easily to living on a boat, as the most important thing for her is having us around 24 hours a day. Particularly night watches are fun for her.
We had never been particularly interested in sailing as a sport and never even been on a sailing yacht (apart from Christian’s one week sailing course on a lake in the Austrian Alps while still at high school) when it suddenly occurred to us – while (illegally) drinking beer on a beach in Hawaii – that so many islands were out there on the ocean, only waiting to be discovered. Especially sparsely populated, exotic islands without other tourists were of particular interest. On the other hand these islands tend to have the disadvantage of being rather inaccessible (hence the desired lack of tourists), but a solution for this problem was found quickly: a sailing boat.
After the return to rainy England, the idea slowly turned into an obsession. The shelves of our flat started filling up with literature on sailing and only two years later we found the ideal blue water yacht, bought her and then set out to sail her from Mallorca, Spain, to her new harbour in Pula, Croatia – it was our very first sailing trip, just the two of us and (of course) Leeloo.
During these three weeks we started converting our theoretical knowledge into practical seamanship. Due to the lack of time there was little time for rest. We experienced the daily routine on a cruising yacht, went through a storm, faced the tiring night watches and some technical problems.
But when we arrived after three weeks, the decision had been made: we would leave secure little Austria – at least temporarily – and sail around the world aboard Pitufa.
Christian had studied electrical engineering at Graz University of Technology (TUG) and worked after his PhD as an assistant professor at the Signal Processing and Speech Communication Lab at TUG. The end of the contract with the university in February 2011 seemed like the right time to start a new chapter of life.
Birgit worked as a language trainer for adults with various institutions after studying Spanish, History, English and German as a foreign language at Karl-Franzens University Graz. This highly flexible job would probably prove useful to fill up the cruising kitty, or at least the language skills should help when dealing with bureaucratic port authorities.