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Being at sea!

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A discovery of some writing from the past triggers memories.

Way back on the 15th November, 2009, I wrote a post about single-handed sailing and how it caused me much disquiet.  Rather than just leave you with a link to that reflection, I’m going to include the post again, below.  The reason is that a few days ago, in looking through some of my earlier writings in conjunction with a writing group that Jean and I belong to, I came across a piece that I wrote following a solo voyage from Larnaca in Cyprus, west along the Mediterranean Sea and then out over the Atlantic from Gibraltar to Horta on the  island of Faial in the Azores.  That last leg was a little over 1,100 nautical miles (1,300 land miles) and took me eight days.

So first here’s that earlier post from 2009.

A personal reflection on this rather strange way of travelling!

The recent Post about young Jessica Watson sailing alone around the world raised a few comments but also reminded me of my own experiences of solo sailing.

Some years ago, having successfully sold my own IT company, I warmed to the idea of being a full-time yachtie! A second-hand Tradewind 33 was discovered on the Island of Corfu.  (Now here’s a surprise!  I was just browsing the web looking for a picture of a Tradewind and came across my old yacht currently up for sale.  Her name is Songbird of Kent! Picture below.)

Songbird of Kent

Tradewind 33 - Songbird of Kent

Anyway, the deal was done and having sold my house in England I flew out to Corfu to collect Songbird of Kent. Inevitably it was a number of months before the boat was ready to head out into the Mediterranean but in early Spring 1988 it was time to explore the long coastlines of Greece and Turkey.

After a fantastic summer cruising from one idyllic anchorage to another mostly with friends or family on board, it was time to find a winter haven.  Many recommended Larnaca Marina in Cyprus.  Thus it was late in the summer of 1988 that I said goodbye to friends and set out on my own to cross from Antalya in Turkey to Cyprus and along the South coast of Cyprus to Larnaca, on the SE side of the island.

That sea crossing, a little over 200 nautical miles, was to become a regular solo experience at the start and end of each summer season. Impossible to do in a single day thus it always included a night at sea and rarely, if things didn’t go well with the weather, a couple of nights. I hated it! Maybe it was the sudden transition from coastal sailing to a deep water crossing, often going from having friends on board to being alone, but whatever it was I never enjoyed my time on my own and knew that long-distance solo sailing was never going to be my scene.

Anyway, I ended up spending several very happy winters in Larnaca.

One time, there was news of a Frenchman who had come into Larnaca on his way home to France having nearly completed a circumnavigation of the world. He was on his own!

I was astounded to hear how someone could do this and made a point of calling round to his berth. The boat was a beautiful, solid steel yacht, the very epitome of a craft that could challenge the oceans. The owner’s name was Pierre (it would be!). Pierre invited me aboard and we went down to his saloon to drink a hot coffee – real French coffee!

Inevitably the conversation turned to the challenges of sailing alone. Pierre said that the big cargo ships at sea moved quickly relative to the speed of a yacht so at night he set an alarm for every 15 minutes. That was the time that a ship could go from being hull down over the horizon to being close enough to be a hazard. Thus while at sea Pierre got up briefly every 15 minutes during the night to avoid being run down! It sounded totally exhausting.

Then Pierre asked me about the sailing I had done and whether I had sailed on my own. I declared my trivial journeys back and forth from Cyprus to Turkey and revealed that being on my own made me very, very unhappy. Pierre was surprised to hear that as he admitted that being at sea alone was one of the most tranquil and peaceful experiences ever. Pierre asked how long these solo journeys took. I replied, two or three days.

Ah!”, he said, “That is the problem.” “I, too, hate the three days. It is always a period where you adjust and it is terrible.

My friend, you must find a way to be alone for more than three days. You will see that it is very different.

It was some years before that opportunity came about but, in the end, I did undertake a solo journey of 8 days. Pierre was right. The first three days were hell, the rest were heaven!

Thank you, Songbird of Kent, you gave me some fabulous memories!

at sea

By Paul Handover

Now on to my writings about being out at sea alone on a small yacht.

Being at Sea

Going to sea in a small vessel is a profound experience.

In harbour we build up a reliance on things external. We have no need to worry if there is insufficient food on board, we can plug into the dockside power supply, sleep through the night undisturbed and we can wander off and enjoy the company of others if the boat feels a little claustrophobic.

Then slowly, imperceptibly, but with huge force, arrives the need to move on.  The realisation that our cosy life connected to the busy, bustling and self-obsessed world of shoreside is not fulfilling our search for adventure and for the truths that lay over the horizon.  It is time to leave.

The act of casting off is always exciting as it heralds a new adventure. But it also carries feelings of loss and apprehension as one lets go of the bonds of a previous certainty.  The first few hours are filled with the workload of getting one’s craft shipshape and battened down for the unknown seas. Then gradually comes the realisation that the land is now less the dominating visual feature than the vastness of the seascape that is ahead.  But with the land in sight, albeit a distant horizon behind one, you can still sense the life you are leaving.

Now all that surrounds you is the sea.  You are now truly disconnected from the land.  It is often at this point that despondency and uncertainty play with your mind; after all this new life is still very unfamiliar compared to the warmth of that island home that still resonates in your heart. Time to remind yourself of why you wanted to take this voyage.

A small boat is very fragile.  Just a centimetre of hull separating you from the unimaginable depths of the ocean beneath your keel. Not until the end of your voyage, when you draw your boat up, metaphorically on to that beach, will you ever stop feeling how close fate is, how it rides on your shoulder night and day. That, of course, is why we go to sea. It is the place where we taste life, where we savour each moment of the present because the future seems too bound up in the mystery, the uncertainty of the ocean. You are in charge of your tiny craft. Your survival depends on how you manage your small ship, how you navigate these seas, how you read the weather ahead and avoid the storms.

Soon your life on the ocean becomes everything to you. You have time to reflect on so much that is left behind. The distance seems to dissolve all the nuisances, bring into focus all the things that are important to you. There is no certainty with the ocean apart from the knowledge that you are very small and very, very vulnerable and yet, in a sense, also so strong.

In the end, we have to break away from our insecurities and our emotional dependencies on external people and situations because, without that, we are never able to command our own life and the destiny that flows from that captaincy.  There is a real strength in knowing ourselves as we would know our own boat.  If we really know every spar, sail, rope and fitting, if we have real understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our small vessel then we are able to know when to breast the waves or when to turn and run before the storm.  We are secure that our small craft will protect us day and night.

Thus self-knowledge gives us the same freedom to manage our lives, to know when to fight and when to turn away.  And just as after every long voyage the boat will need hours of careful maintenance so our own souls need regular love and caring from our spiritual keeper.

The setting sun ahead of a night on the ocean.

Copyright © 2008 Paul Handover

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Jessica is Home!

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Young Australian, Jessica Watson, is home safe and sound.

(Circumstances required that I had to prepare this Post well ahead of the confirmation that Jessica is back and as it happens, the chances are that when Jessica made it past the Sydney Heads finish line I was onboard a flight from Los Angeles to London.)

05-May-2010

The youngest person to sail around the world solo, non-stop and unassisted, 16 year old Australian Jessica Watson, is expected to complete her historic voyage, arriving back in Sydney to a hero’s welcome on Saturday 15 May.

Jessica left Sydney on 18 October 2009 and has so far overcome every challenge that Mother Nature has thrown at her to achieve her goal.

Jessica needs to cross the finish line at Sydney Heads to officially complete her voyage.  She will then cruise down Sydney Harbour before disembarking at Sydney Opera House.

It is anticipated that Jessica will cross the finish line at approximately 11:30am and arrive at the Sydney Opera House around 12.30pm, the first time she will have set foot on land in almost seven months.

Readers of Learning from Dogs will know that we recognised Jessica’s brave and courageous voyage in a Post published on November 12th, 2009.

Soon memories such as this:

With the drogue trailing behind Ella's Pink Lady shaking off one wave with the next 10m monster coming up behind!

will be a thing of the past!

Our Post of last November is re-published below.

Read the original Post

Written by Paul Handover

May 15, 2010 at 00:00

The rights of the child

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A reminder of the United Nations (UNICEF) Convention and a second view from yours truly.

On November 12th I was the author of a Post called Our next generation featuring the young Jessica Watson from Australia who is on course to try and win the record for the youngest person to sail, solo, unassisted, non-stop around the World.  Here’s a part of what was said:

Jessica Watson2

Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson is a teenager.  She is hoping to break the record for the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the World.  Whatever modern materials and technology can do to make sailing easier, sailing solo for weeks on end is grindingly tough at any age.  She’s a wonderful example of the next generation!

Jessica left Sydney Harbour on October 18, 2009 sailing her sloop Ella’s Pink Lady. Her course is an estimated 23,000 nautical miles requiring her to be roughly 230 days at sea.

You can see that the tone of the Post was supportive.

However the comments that the Post attracted were critical of the pressures and influences that may have been brought to bear on this child.  For at 16 ‘child’ is what Jessica is.  One of our regular contributors pointed out that under the terms of the UNICEF Convention:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not.

(My underlining)

Read the rest of this Post

Written by Paul Handover

November 23, 2009 at 09:00

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