70- to 80-hour weeks the norm. And 90- to 100-hour weeks during a trial. It's impossible to keep this up without a breakdown somewhere.
There has to be some relief, a safety valve. For me, it's a sleepy little fishing village on the island of Margarita, just off Venezuela's northern coast.
I learned to windsurf (picture a sail on a surfboard) about 20 years ago, at the urging of a lawyer friend. Balancing yourself on a very tipsy board moving 15 to 30 knots while manipulating a five-square-meter sail can be very frustrating and risky. But after a full summer of falling, cursing and getting back on the board to repeat the process, I caught on.
I recently finished my 15th trip with a few of my windsurfing buds to the island this March, when about 200 other Americans, Canadians and Germans invade the same area. El Yaque beach, on the south side, is a fail-safe place to windsurf--constant high wind, warm water/air, no sharks, good food and cheap beer make it ideal.
The El Yaque daily routine is down to a science. Up at eight, morning jog through the desert, a sumptuous breakfast of local fruit/Venezuelan coffee, reading, sailing noon to five, mucho Banana Mamas on the beach until seven, a little catnap, dinner and asleep by 10. It just doesn't get any better.
Of course, we have had our moments. Ten years ago, my sailing friend Steve was several miles offshore when he was struck by a flying fish. Its spiny dorsal fin stuck in Steve's neck. When he reached back to pull the fish off, he left the spiny fin cartilage in his neck.
By the time Steve reached shore, he was a bloody mess, until he was quickly patched up at the village "clinic," sutured, bathed in antibiotics and out sailing the next day. Locals refer to him as "cabeza pesca"--fish head.
Another buddy, Jim, was sailing one late afternoon several miles offshore when the universal joint connecting his board to the sail exploded from excess stress. Unable to sail and with the sun setting, Jim rolled up his sail and laid on his board (it sinks if you sit /stand on it when it is not moving). With 10 foot ocean swells, Jim had no chance of being spotted by nearby sailors. Knowing the easterly currents would, after a day or two, take him to shore, Jim relaxed, enjoying the incredible show of stars that night. At first light, he was picked up by the Venezuelan Coast Guard, charging him more than $500 for their efforts. He sailed later that day.
I have suffered broken/dislocated toes and fingers and cracked ribs, taken more than 100 stitches from various cuts and scrapes, contracted giardiasis and been detained by the military at the Caracas airport.
But I return every year, and start thinking about going back as soon as the trip ends.
Many lawyers adorn their offices with diplomas, awards and other memorabilia. Opposite my desk are six large, framed pictures of El Yaque. The beach, the desert, the small B&B where we stay, a stray dog that kept me company one year--this is what I look at when I am in a funk about how hard I work.
Besides my wife and family, these pictures are the stress relievers that get me through the year.
Hasta la vista.
PHILIP G. KIRCHER is co-chairman of the commercial litigation department at the law firm of Cozen O'Connor.
June 1, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications