Courage mateys! Adventures on the Monaco

Have courage matey’s, we’re about to set off on an adventure that does not involve pirates!

“Wait, where did you get the courage to reach out to the Captain of the Monaco to ask if we could go over this morning?  Its so out of the blue!  This is going to be a fun adventure!”  – Ema, to me, when we embarked on our adventures to see the Monaco, land frigate of Burning Man.

Courage is key

When it comes to adventure, one key trait to have or develop is courage.  You are braver than you think, and I believe everyone has all the courage needed to enjoy doing what you want and dare to do!  Ema saw the part where I picked up the phone and called Greg to see if he was around for us to come over.  This, to her, seemed like a big leap into the unknown.  What she hadn’t seen were the baby steps I took before, which resulted in my feeling comfortable enough to make the call.  In a sense, Adventuring is like building muscle.  The more you do, the more you can do, and the more you want to do.  Adventures build upon adventures.  As you gain your Adventure muscles, you gain courage.  With more courage, you’re open to bigger adventures.

But first, what is the Monaco?

The Monaco art car, while normally runs on an RV engine, has sailed under wind power in the open desert (PHOTO: Mark Nixon)

The Monaco is an Art Car built to look like a sailing ship, created from a converted RV.  This legendary Art Car has been driven at Burning Man for almost a decade.  I knew about this immense “land frigate” before I ever went to my first camping event in the desert.  Although motorized, driving the mandated 5MPH while on the desert, the Monaco is able to sail using her real sails and knowledgeable crew.

While at Burning Man, the vast majority of the time anyone can get on and off the ship (when it  stops at different art installations), as long as there is room on deck. There are a few times during the week people are asked to come back another time (usually about 3 hours later). The Monaco participates in art tours for Media Mecca or Artery as a public service ride for people who have signed up for a scheduled ride, on a scheduled day and time. Since space is limited, they do honor the crew and friends (who have helped all the year to make it possible to bring the ship out to the Playa) with spots on deck for that specially coordinated time when they are trying to set a land speed world record for the world’s largest land-sailer!

Here’s more background from a recent fundraiser (sailing the desert takes it’s toll upon the ship, and she needs yearly upkeep and updating):

Captain Greg Barron began dreaming of building a frigate for Burning Man after he had built the Canyou, a BRC outrigger sailing canoe. In 2010, he brought that dream to fruition. After studying various plans from 18th century Royal Navy and American naval frigates from 1770-1799, he ultimately decided to use plans for The Raleigh, a Continental Navy ship laid down in 1776, to design his frigate. He rescaled his design to about 50% of the Raleigh’s size and adjusted the beam to fit the chassis of an RV. From that design, Captain Greg and Crew brought the Monaco to life. She is approximately 60′ bowsprit to taffrail, 42’ rail to rail, with 3 masts, explosive canons, music and lighting, a bar and plenty of room on the deck for both crew and passengers.

My baby steps beforehand

  1. January: My friend Eliza, who has been attending Burning Man longer than I have, alerted me to a podcast called “Into the Fire” where she had been interviewed as part of the leads for our big theme camp, Kostume Kult.  After listening to her interview, I listened to others, including the one called “Into The Fire: The Monaco, Land Frigate of Burning Man”.  During the show, the interviewer suggested that “if someone from Kostume Kult is listening” would they reach out and help Beth (one of the Monaco’s leads) with costumes?  As I was part of my camp’s costume team leads, I was excited, and decided to respond.
  2. February: After my request to join their Facebook group  , Captain Greg sent me a message to make sure I wasn’t a bot.  I took advantage and told him my story, and how I’d like to help them arrange a custom visit to our camp later that summer.  Greg is wonderful and warm, but as the leader of a popular art installation, he was non-committal. After listening to the podcast again, I can understand their hesitancy in hanging out in a hot costume tent.
  3. March: As Spring started up, so did work weekends for the Monaco.  A lot was needed to be done – a whole new paint job and replacing/rebuilding engine parts etc.  Similar to my camp, we call out for volunteers to come help out.  Watching the work/fun posts made me wish I lived out west so I could help too!  When I learned I would be going to the San Francisco area at the end of the month/beginning of April, I connected with Greg to find out if there would be a chance to help out then.  Turned out many from the crew were also attending Burning Man’s Global Leader Conference (GLC), so they put off any formal work.
  4. April: By sheer coincidence the two friends I went with to the GLC booked flights home for the same time I did – Monday afternoon.  The conference ended on Sunday.  Which meant we had Monday morning with nothing planned.  It made sense to me for all of us to go meet Greg and see the Monaco in it’s home port.  Something fun and different we would all enjoy.  Which is how I built up the courage to call the Captain of the Monaco and arrange to go see them.

The Monday morning Adventure on the Monaco

The view of the Monaco from Greg’s side yard
Pretending I’m the Captain – only for a minute! This would be quite the challenge to drive, and very few are allowed the honor. Captain Greg is a Navy man, and the art car’s design is modeled after a historic old Navy frigate.
The dashboard has an inspiring message
The Monaco badges of honor – art car passes since 2010
below decks of the Monaco. I remembered these tight quarters when a Monaco campmate said it’s rare anyone is allowed below decks…one wrong move on the commode and everyone suffers!
The three masts being stored as the rest of the craft was being worked on. On site at Burning Man they have cranes to help them set the masts on the ship.
Surprise! We learned that Greg makes high wheel bikes (aka penny farthings), a business he took over from his father. He also has hives and gave each of us a jar of honey!
It was a great adventure getting to know Greg better, and to seeing the Monaco at her home port!

An evening desert sail Adventure on the Monaco

It seemed, to me, destiny that I would be able to sail with the Monaco crew at the Burn later that summer.  Our camps were located near-ish, I saw Captain Greg drive by a few times, and discussed with Marcus, another driver (another captain, but not the Captain) when would be a good time to come by to join them for a sail.  While not able to find the type of costume Beth was thinking about, I did come across a collection of cute white sailor hats to give her and the crew.  There was one night that worked well with our schedules, and we thought theirs too. Throwing the bag of costume sailor hats into my bike basket, we headed over.  Lady luck was on our side! 

We joined in for some wonderful barbecue before heading off for an evening sail.  This was a special event, as it was specifically for one of their sponsors.  Normally art cars allow people to hop on and off at stops when they are out and about.  But this time, they were not taking on passengers. (As they said before, it’s a rare event. Normally the Monaco allows anyone to get on as long as there’s room on deck. I often heard the Captain offer compassionately that the attendees -aka ‘burners’ – can come aboard in a few hours)  It truly felt like a real sailboat where you set off, watch the sun set, and slowly return to home base.  A highlight for me was sitting near one of the Burning Man founders, Danger Ranger.  He is a delightful story teller, and we were graced with his story of how the Rangers of Black Rock City were first formed.  We also discovered more about how they were able to take the ship out to the open desert where wind powered their speeds, and their desire to set a world record (going much faster than they’re allowed to drive within BRC limits for sure!)

I learned much later that people in the camp had a lot of laughs wearing the sailor caps!

I caught a photo of the Monaco behind my first art piece, a NYC taxi/wooden bench.
My friends and I sat up front, where we were delighted to see the Captain and his friend shooting the water cannons into the dusty crowds, as we made our way from base camp to playa to see all the art
The bar on the Monaco at Burning Man. I knew from our previous visit what small spaces lay below deck!
While I took a bunch of photos of me, my friends and all aboard the ship – I’ll share this one. I’m excited to be here, and you can’t see so well how dusty we all are!
Kostume Kult, my camp (and one of the larger theme camps on the main street called Esplanade) as seen from the Monaco. Our frontage has a NYC theme.
One of my favorite photos from the night – Captain Greg and Ranger Danger. Such wonderful people
After the three hour tour I managed to remember to get a photo of the Monaco back at base camp. She’s all lit up and getting ready to head out for full night of fun!

What’s next?

Who knows when I will connect again with the Monaco and her crew?  I know I would like to participate in their build weekends.  I know I’d love to take another sail.  When it comes to courage – I’d love to be brave enough to join them as crew, up on the rigging!  The biggest adventure would be to participate in one of their open-desert sails testing their speeds.  For now, I will wonder at how far I’ve come, one baby step and one adventure at a time.

The Monaco driving by my Adventure Taxis art installation during a dust storm at Burning Man in 2018. I’m sure I will see this crew again! (Photo: Neil Girling)

Are you inspired to tap into your courage? What adventure would you like to have, that right now seems like a huge leap away?  Tell me in the comments below!

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