Tag: Larnaca

A step in my own self-awareness.

But the most important step I have ever taken.

In yesterday’s post I wrote:

It was the fickle finger of fate that led me to the arms, metaphorically speaking, of a core process psychotherapist back in Devon in the first half of 2007. That counselling relationship that revealed a deeply hidden aspect of my consciousness: a fear of rejection that I had had since December, 1956. That finger of fate that took me to Mexico for Christmas 2007 and me meeting Jean and all her dogs. That finger of fate that pointed me to the happiest years of my life and a love between Jeannie and me that I could previously never ever have imagined.

Here’s the full account. (But this is quite a long post and has the potential to cause some pain. Of course, I don’t intend that. But it’s best to mention that now.)

First we need to go back to that evening of December 19th, 1956. I had turned 12 on November, 8th and had just completed my first term at a nearby Grammar School. Then the family, as in Mum, Dad, me and my younger sister Elizabeth, were living comfortably in a detached house in Toley Avenue, a road off the main street that comprises Preston Road.

Preston Road is one of the outer suburbs of London to the North-West, sandwiched between Wembley, closer in to London, and Harrow, a little further out.

Anyway, on that evening of the 19th my mother came into my bedroom, located at the front of the house and next to Mum and Dad’s bedroom, at the usual time to say ‘Good night’ to me.

But while it was the usual time for Mum to be saying goodnight to me, clearly something was different this particular evening.

Mum sat down on the edge of my bed, just where my knees were, looked at me, and said, with pain in her voice: “Paul, you do know your father isn’t very well. He may not live for much longer.”

To be honest, all these many years later, I have no recollection as to whether or not I was aware that my father wasn’t very well.

Mum then leaned over to me, gave me my goodnight kiss, got up, and went out of my bedroom switching off the room light as she closed the door. As she always did and no different to any other evening.

Likewise, as with any other evening, I went off to sleep within a few minutes.

However, when I awoke the following morning, the morning of December 20th,  it was clear that something terrible had happened during the night. Let me explain that my father had had two daughters with his first wife, prior to meeting Mum, and I loved them both and saw them as elder sisters. The eldest was Rhona and she was a registered nurse (SRN). (My other ‘sister’ was Corinne.) Of course, Rhona was helping Mum care for Dad.

I got up and went downstairs. There was Rhona in the kitchen. Rhona came up to me and held me very tightly and then quietly told me that our father had died during the night. Rhona went on to add that Mum had thought it best not to wake me and Elizabeth and somehow arranged not only for the doctor to come in to certify Dad’s death but also for our father’s body to be removed from the home. Elizabeth and I had slept through it all!

I don’t recall having any emotional reaction to Rhona’s news; not even crying. It was if it was all just too unreal to take in.

A few days later, Mum, very clearly in her own mind doing her best to protect me and Elizabeth from pain, subsequently thought it wise that we didn’t go to our father’s funeral and cremation.

Now I have not the slightest doubt that many, if not all, of you will have cringed on reading the above.

Once back at school for the first term of 1957, I soon became aware of being the target of a degree of bullying, presumably because I was showing my grief through my behaviour and attitude, that my academic performance rapidly fell apart leading on to me leaving school before I went on to the Sixth Form.

The other thing that I was aware of in 1957, and for every December 20th thereafter, that this day was always a tough one. A day when I remembered with a degree of sadness and emotional pain that fateful night and morning in 1956.

Nevertheless, my adult life really was (is!) a wonderful journey for me. It included a period working as a freelance journalist out in Australia in the late 1960s, becoming an Office Products salesman for IBM UK after returning from Australia to England and then in 1978 starting my own company, Dataview Ltd., in the early days of the personal computer revolution. Then after eight whirlwind years with Dataview growing in leaps and bounds each year, being approached in 1986 by a group of investors who wished to buy me out: I said “Yes”. That resulted in me going to live on a yacht, Songbird of Kent, a Tradewind 33, out in Cyprus (Larnaca Marina).

Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent. My home for five years.

While in Cyprus I got to know really well the wonderful, inspiring Les Powells, a three-times solo circumnavigator on his yacht Solitaire, and that thanks directly to Les offering me some very good advice, me experiencing the beauty, and the fear, of solo sailing out in The Atlantic and returning to Plymouth, in Devon, England, via Horta in The Azores, on the 16th June, 1994.

But! But! But!

But there was another part of my adult life that wasn’t such a wonderful journey. My relationships with the opposite sex! Culminating in my third wife, Julie, announcing on the day of the 50th anniversary of my father’s death, as in December 20th, 2006, that she was leaving me. (The reality of what she did to me was not pretty but I will spare you the details.)

Let me explain a little more.

After I had returned to England, sailing into Plymouth, in 1994, I subsequently sold Songbird of Kent and purchased a small house in the little village of Harberton, just a few miles out of Totnes, in South Devon. An easy decision to stay in South Devon because both Rhona and Corinne had their family homes close to Totnes.

Upper Barn, My home in Harberton.

I quickly became involved in the local business community undertaking a variety of coaching roles under the umbrella of Sales and Marketing; I was then a Chartered Member of the Institute of Marketing. In turn, Julie and I met each other and we became married.

In the Autumn of 2006, a Core Process Psychotherapist came to me seeking some business advice.  ‘J’ had had many years of coaching individuals one-to-one but had the idea, the good idea to my mind, of coaching the directors of companies in the whole process of listening to their employees and offering advice and guidance whenever there was the potential of conflict. If the employees worked more effectively together then ‘J’ believed the company as a whole would be more effective in reaching their goals.

‘J’ had no idea how companies worked, for want of a better term, and my role was teach ‘J’ the  fundamentals of operating the sort of company that was common to South Devon.

That’s what I was doing up to that fateful day of December 20th, 2006.

Because upon hearing the news that my then wife was leaving me, I simply blew apart emotionally. In the most terrible manner that I had never experienced before.

Very early on in January, 2007 I felt that I was descending into some bottomless pit of despair. In desperation I rang ‘J’ and explained what had happened on the 20th. ‘J’ listened and then said, quite properly, that he couldn’t see me as his client because we already had a working relationship. I pleaded and pleaded with ‘J’ to allow me to be his psychotherapy client. Finally, ‘J’ agreed but on the very strict condition that if he thought the counselling relationship wasn’t working then we would terminate it. He asked, and received, my understanding and agreement to that condition.

It wasn’t long thereafter before ‘J’ was asking me a little of my early experiences and I recounted that night of December 19th-20th and how I had not been able to say ‘Goodbye’ to my father.

‘J’ was quiet for a few minutes and then said:

“Paul, you have a son don’t you?”

I silently nodded.

“How do you think Alex would react if your death was handled for him in the same manner as your mother handled it for you?”

I gasped, conscious of how much I loved Alex, and Maija my daughter, and could hardly get the words out of my mouth: “He, he, … he would think he had been emotionally rejected ….”, continuing, “Oh my goodness! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh, my sainted aunt! That’s it! I interpreted what happened back then when father died as rejection. That I wasn’t important to my father. So that’s what I have been experiencing all my adult life – a fear of rejection! But until now that fear has been completely submerged in my subconscious! Wow!”

That is the reason why, not to sound too immodest, I have been successful in all matters to do with my working life: I did everything to be accepted by my customers, my managers, my associates, and so on.

But it was also the reason why I had been so unsuccessful in my many, many relationships with women. Why I was unfaithful to my first wife. Why I could never say “No” to an emotional relationship with a woman, whether or not that woman had the potential to be a good long-term companion. Because I behaved in ways that minimised the chances of that woman rejecting me. That was why my last wife, Julie, before I met Jean, so gravely affected me when she chose, quite deliberately, to tell me she was leaving me on the 50th anniversary of my father’s death.

So that’s how ‘J’ held my hand, metaphorically speaking, and walked me into the light of how the past had affected me.

Dear, dear reader of Learning from Dogs, I do hope this makes sense and possibly in some small way this post holds out a hand to you.

I will close with this. Heard on a film that Jean and I recently watched.

Unless you understand yourself, can you be truthful to yourself?

The journey inwards is the most important and rewarding journey we can take!

The mists of the mind

Those inner voices inside our heads!

The photograph below is the yacht that I lived on for 5 years, from 1987 though to 1992. My base was Larnaca Marina in the Greek ‘sector’ of the Island of Cyprus although I cruised over much of the Mediterranean during the warm summer months. (Long-term readers, you poor souls, will realise that this isn’t the first time I have spoken of sailing and Tradewinds…)

Songbird of Kent
Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent

As I explain over on my ‘author’s’ blog:

During this period Paul became much more aware of the importance of marketing strategy, becoming a Chartered Member of the British Institute of Marketing, and the raft of competencies that deliver entrepreneurial success. In 1986, Paul accepted an offer to sell the Dataview group of companies. (Regrettably, this period also saw the failure of Paul’s marriage to Britta and their subsequent divorce.)

Again, chance intervened in that an Autumn vacation in 1986 to Larnaca in Cyprus resulted in Paul meeting a couple who wanted to sell their yacht, a Tradewind 33, and return to England. Thus very early in 1987, Paul left Essex and became a full-time ‘yachtie’ living on that Tradewind Songbird of Kent in Larnaca marina. Paul was then exposed to the life of an ocean-going sailor returning to Plymouth, Devon via The Azores onboard Songbird of Kent in 1992.

I purchased this Tradewind 33, designed by Englishman John Rock by the way, because somewhere in my soul was a dream to do some solo ocean sailing. Probably inspired by reading too many books written by famous British solo yacht-persons. Such as Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blyth, Naomi James, Ellen MacArthur, Pete Goss and the king of them all: Sir Francis Chichester who was the first person ever to sail around the world single-handed.

But it remained a dream for almost all those 5 years. Reason? Because at the start of the summer cruising period each year I slipped out of Larnaca and sailed along the southern coast of Cyprus, up the Western coast and then the open sea crossing to a nearby Turkish harbour, such as Anamur or Alanya. At the end of the summer I would repeat the solo trip in reverse. But I still haven’t said what the core reason was for not being braver and planning a solo ocean voyage.

Because that sailing voyage twice a year, that took me about four days to accomplish, and was undertaken alone, really scared me. I mean scared with a capital ‘S’! For it was impossible to accomplish without many hours of solo sailing at night!

Fast forward a number of years and one day, when I was living on Songbird at Larnaca Marina into the vacant berth next to me came a new visitor to Cyprus. His name was Les Powells and he very quickly explained that he was on his way back to England on his third solo circumnavigation of the world!

imagesInevitably Les and I got chatting over a couple of beers during our evenings together and Les asked me about my sailing ambitions noting that I lived on a yacht that most people purchased for ocean sailing purposes.

I explained my miserable experiences each year going to and fro between Cyprus and Turkey.

Les heard me out and then threw his head back and roared with laughter.

“Paul, what you are experiencing is the adjustment from a land-based life, as in living here in Larnaca, to a water-based life.

I suffer just the same adjustment stress as you have detailed.”

My face conveyed both my amazement and my yearning to learn more.

“Yes, Paul, every time I go to sea solo the first three or four days are hell! I hate them! I only stick with it because there is always a point, (Les really emphasised the word always) usually under a glorious night sky, when I truly become attuned to the life of a solo yachtsman far out from the nearest land and wouldn’t swap it for anything”

“You have to trust this and set out on a solo voyage of more than, preferably much more than, four days sailing.”

Thus in time that’s what happened.

In the Autumn of 1972 I returned to Plymouth in England, via the Azores, sailing solo on Songbird of Kent. Indeed, I was going to republish an article about lighthouses in Oregon but I’m changing tack in mid-stream; so to speak!

I am going to close today’s post by republishing an experience of being alone on the Atlantic Ocean that first graced these blog pages in October 2015. Lighthouses will have to wait.

ooOOoo

There is a place in my mind to which I can so easily travel; a memory of a dark night out in the Atlantic. But first let me set the scene from almost fifty years ago.

The call of the open ocean

Those first few hours were utterly absorbing as I went through the whole business of clearing the yacht harbour at Gibraltar and heading out to the South-West hugging this unfamiliar coastline of Southern Spain. It was tempting to move out to deeper waters but the almost constant flow of large ships through the Straights of Gibraltar soon quashed that idea. Thankfully, the coastal winds were favourable for me and my single-masted sailing yacht.

After such a long time sailing in the relatively confined waters of the Mediterranean, it was difficult for me to imagine that in a few hours time the southern-most point of Spain would pass me by and the vastness of the Atlantic ocean would be my home for the next few weeks.

Soon the city of Tarifa was past my starboard beam and the Spanish coastline was rapidly disappearing away to the North-West. The horizon ahead of me was already approaching 180 degrees of raw, open ocean.  There was just a flicker of a thought that whispered across my mind: “Oh Paul, what have you gone and done” as slowly but persistently the coastlines of Spain to the North and of Africa to the South became more and more distant and fuzzy.  It was at 15:30 that I made an entry in my yacht’s log: “No land in sight in any direction!

Now was the time to make sure that my bunk was made up, flashlights to hand, and my alarm clock ready and set. Alarm clock? Set to go off every twenty minutes during the night! For this was the only way to protect me and my yacht from being hit by one of those gigantic container ships that seemed to be everywhere. It took at least twenty minutes from the moment a ship’s steaming lights appeared above the horizon to crossing one’s path!

It was in the early hours of my first morning alone at sea, when once again the alarm clock had woken me and I was looking around an ocean without a single ship’s light to be seen that more of Les’ words came to me. I remembered asking Les: “What’s the ­appeal of sailing?” Les replied without a moment’s hesitation: “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.

Yes, I could sense the solitude that was all around me but it was an intellectual sense not an emotional one. That would come later. Inside, I was still afraid of what I had let myself in for.

Remarkably quickly however, the pattern of solo life aboard a thirty-three-foot yacht became my world. Frankly, it staggered me as to how busy were my days. Feeding myself, navigating, trying to forecast the winds, staying in touch with other yachties via the short-wave radio, keeping the boat tidy and a zillion other tasks meant the first few days and nights just slipped by.

But it was a sight on my fourth night at sea that created the memory that would turn out to remain with me for all my life. The memory that I can go to anytime in my mind.

That fourth night I was already well into the routine of waking to the alarm clock, clipping on my harness as I climbed up the three steps that took me from my cabin into the cockpit, scanning the horizon with my eyes, checking that the self-steering had the boat at the correct angle to the wind and then, if no ships’ lights had been seen, slipping back down into my bunk and sleeping for another twenty minutes. Remarkably, I was not suffering from any long-term tiredness during the day.

It was a little after 3am that fourth night when the alarm clock had me back up in the cockpit once again. Then it struck me.

Songbird was sailing beautifully. There was a steady wind of around ten knots from the south-east, almost a swell-free ocean, and everything set perfectly.  Not a sign of any ship in any direction.

Then I lifted my eyes upwards. There was not a cloud in the night sky, not a single wisp of mist to dim a single one of the million or more stars that were above my head. For on this dark, moonless night, so far removed from any shore-based light pollution, the vastness, yet closeness of the heavens above was simply breath-taking. I was transfixed. Utterly unable to make any rational sense of this night splendour that glittered in every direction in which I gazed. This dome that represented a vastness beyond any meaning other than a reminder of the magic of the universe.

This magic of the heavens above me that came down to touch the horizon in all directions. Such a rare sight to see the twinkling of stars almost touching the starkness of the ocean’s horizon at night. A total marriage of this one planet with the vastness of outer space.

I heard the alarm clock go off again and again next to my bunk down below. But I remained transfixed until there was a very soft lightening of the skyline to the east that announced that another dawn was on its way.

I would never again look up at the stars in a night sky without being transported back to that wonderful night and the memory of a lonely sea and sky.

ooOOoo

Dear, dear Les is still alive and still living on his yacht Solitaire in an English marina. A very close mutual friend, Bob Derham, arranges to visit Les on a very regular basis and take him out for shopping trips and a leisurely pub lunch.

Bob follows this blog and I hope will have the chance to read out today’s post to Les. For my closing sentence is directed to Les, and Les alone: “Dear Les, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the gift you gave me. For it is a rare night when here in rural Oregon when I go outside at the end of the evening and above my head is a clear, black night sky, full of stars, that I am not transported back to that night alone in the Atlantic ocean. I am still rendered speechless in awe of such night skies.”

The deep, dark, wonderful mists of the mind!

Writing 101 Day Two

A room with a view.

Here’s what WordPress sent out:

Today’s Prompt: If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

The spaces we inhabit have an influence on our mood, our behavior, and even the way we move and interact with others. Enter a busy train station, and you immediately quicken your step. Step into a majestic cathedral, and you lower your voice and automatically look up. Return to your own room, and your body relaxes.

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image. – Joan Didion

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

Giving your readers a clear sense of the space where your story unfolds will help them plunge deeper into your writing. Whether it’s a room, a house, a town, or something entirely different (a cave? a spaceship?), provide concrete details to set this place apart — and to create a more immersive reading experience.

You can go the hyperrealist route (think the opening four paragraphs of Gustave Flaubert’s A Simple Soul, a masterclass of telling detail). Or focus on how a specific space makes the people in it feel and behave, like blogger Julie Riso did in this visceral recounting of her hike through an Estonian bog.

So here we go!

 The lonely sea and the sky.

The title of my story is taken from that famous poem Sea Fever by John Masefield. Here’s that first stanza of Masefield’s poem:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

There is a place in my mind to which I can so easily travel that resonates perfectly with my chosen title. A memory of a dark night out in the Atlantic ocean one time in the Autumn of 1969.

First let me set the scene of this place in my mind, a scene almost fifty years ago, written from that time.

The call of the open ocean

Those first few hours were utterly absorbing as I went through the whole business of clearing the yacht harbour at Gibraltar and heading out to the South-West hugging this unfamiliar coastline of Southern Spain. It was tempting to move out to deeper waters but the almost constant flow of large ships through the Straights of Gibraltar soon quashed that idea. Thankfully, the coastal winds were favourable for me and my single-masted sailing yacht.

After such a long time sailing in the relatively confined waters of the Mediterranean, it was difficult for me to imagine that in a few hours time the southern-most point of Spain would pass me by and the vastness of the Atlantic ocean would be my home for the next few weeks.

Soon the city of Tarifa was past my starboard beam and the Spanish coastline was rapidly disappearing away to the North-West. The horizon ahead of me was already approaching 180 degrees of raw, open ocean.  There was just a flicker of a thought that whispered across my mind: Oh Paul, what have you gone and done!

Where this crazy adventure had been born.

In 1986 I had the opportunity to take a few years off. Off from a working life, that is. I had started my own company in 1978 after eight years of being a salesman for the Office Products Division of IBM UK. In 1986, the successful sale of my company meant that for a while I could go and play. By chance, that summer I went on a vacation to Larnaca on the Island of Cyprus; Larnaca being on the Greek side of what was a divided island (and still is!) between Greece and Turkey.

Larnaca struck me as a lovely place on a lovely island in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Again, quite by chance, one day during my vacation, when strolling around Larnaca Marina, I noticed a yacht with a For Sale notice on the yacht’s pulpit. The yacht, named Songbird of Kent, was a Tradewind 33, a type that I had heard about previously from reading yachting magazines. I vaguely recalled that the type had been designed in the UK by John Rock, himself an experienced deep-water yachtsman, for the purpose of serious ocean sailing and that many Tradewinds had completed vast ocean crossings.

I was still looking at the yacht, lost in some dream about sailing the seas, when a call brought me back to ground, so to speak. It was a call from a man who had just come on deck from the cabin and had spotted me looking at Songbird.

Hi, my name is Ken and I’m the owner of Songbird. Did you want to come onboard and have a look around?” I couldn’t resist!

It transpired that Ken, and Betty his wife, an English couple, had been living on Songbird for some years, cruising the Mediterranean each Summer, and now wanted to return to England.

It was obvious that the yacht, a single-masted vessel with double head-sails known in the trade as a cutter rig, had been cared for in every possible way and that the yacht was offered for sale in a manner that meant she could become my permanent new home with little or no effort on my behalf. Thus so it was that three hours later Ken and Betty and yours truly had agreed terms for the sale of Songbird of Kent. One of those spur of the moment things that we do in our lives that, so often, make being alive such a reward.

I should explain that as a younger man (I was 42 when I agreed to buy Songbird) I had devoured the books written by such round-the-world solo sailors as Francis Chichester and Joshua Slocum and many others and harboured this silly, naive dream of one day doing a solo transatlantic crossing. Later on in life, when living in Wivenhoe in Essex, I bought my first yacht but never achieved anything more than local coastal sailing and a couple of overnight sailings to Holland; all with others I should hasten to add, never solo! However, I knew for sure that if there was one yacht that was perfect for open ocean sailing it was the Tradewind.

So it wasn’t long before my home in Great Horkesley, near Colchester, had been sold and I was adjusting to a new life as a ‘live aboard yachtie’ out in Cyprus.

I loved living in Larnaca for a whole bundle of reasons that I won’t go into here. Except one! That was that in my years of living and working near Colchester, which was where my business had been based, I had been introduced to gliding and eventually had ended up becoming a gliding instructor. So imagine my delight at finding that there was an active gliding club on a British ex-military airfield thirty minutes away from Larnaca. It was not long before I was fully back to gliding.

One day, I was doing gliding experience flights for some visitors. Early in the afternoon, up came a quietly spoken Englishman who wanted to get an idea of what it was like to fly in a glider. Les, for that was his name, settled himself in. I checked his straps were secure, pointed out the canopy release and jumped into the seat behind him, and within moments we were airborne.

Later on, when back on the ground and sitting to one side of the old runway, Les and I started chatting about our backgrounds and what had brought each of us to Larnaca. I learned that Les was not only Les Powles, the famous solo sailor, but that he was living on board his yacht, Solitaire, right here in Larnaca Marina.

Over the following days, often with a beer or two in hand, I heard Les’ tales about him having been in his 50s when he built Solitaire, with little prior knowledge of boatbuilding. That he had just eight hours of sailing experience when he decided to sail solo around the world. That remarkably, he had made it across the Atlantic, albeit discovering that his navigation skills didn’t quite match up to his boatbuilding abilities. This translating to his first landfall being the coast of Brazil, a 100 miles south of, and a different hemisphere, to the Barbados he had been aiming for!

I listened for hours, in utter rapture of what Les had achieved. This quiet, unpretentious man that had achieved so much. Including how after solo circumnavigation number one, Les ended up completing a further three solo circumnavigations, all of them full of incidents. Particularly, the last one, with Les being given up for dead when he hadn’t been heard of for over four months. When eventually he sailed up the Lymington River in Hampshire, in a skeletal state, his arrival caused a media frenzy. Lymington Marina subsequently gave him a free berth for life. Les’ boat had been damaged in a storm, he had lost all communications and had virtually run out of food by the time he made it back to England. Oh, and Les was 70 at the time!

At one point in me listening to Les he asked me about my own sailing ambitions. I remarked that I had this tired old idea of a solo sailing across the Atlantic.

Have you done any solo sailing before?”, Les asked me.

I replied, “At the start of most Summers, I sail alone from Larnaca across to the Turkish coast to meet up with family and friends who want to cruise along with me.

Continuing, “Generally I head for Alanya or a little further along the Turkish coast; to Antalya. It takes me two or three days to get there non-stop, most often with me going west-about Cyprus, and then straight up to Turkey. But I am embarrassed to admit that I hate both that trip, and the return solo trip at the end of the Summer. Detest would be a better word than hate.

Pausing before adding a moment later, “If I can’t stomach solo sailing for three days then there’s no chance, no chance at all, that I could sail solo across the Atlantic ocean.

It was then that Les said something both profound and deeply inspiring.

Paul, guess what! The first three days of being alone at sea are just as terrible for me, too. Indeed, I have never met a solo sailor who doesn’t say the same. Those early days of adjusting to your new world, your new world of being alone out on the ocean, are the worst. But never lose hope that from some point around the third or fourth day, you will have worked through that transition and found an unbelievable state of mind; a freedom of mind that has no equal.

Back to reality.

So here I was, Les’ words still ringing in my ears, as slowly but persistently the coastlines of Spain to the North and of Africa to the South became more and more distant and fuzzy.  It was at 15:30 that I made an entry in my yacht’s log: “No land in sight in any direction!

Now was the time to make sure that my bunk was made up, flashlights to hand, and my alarm clock ready and set. Alarm clock? Set to go off every twenty minutes; day and night! For this was the only way to protect me and my yacht from being hit by one of those gigantic container ships that seemed to be everywhere. It took at least twenty minutes from the moment a ship’s steaming lights appearing above the horizon to crossing one’s path!

It was in the early hours of my first morning alone at sea, when once again the alarm clock had woken me and I was looking around an ocean without a single ship’s light to be seen that more of Les’ words came to me. I remembered asking Les: “What’s the ­appeal of sailing?” Les replied without a moment’s hesitation: “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.

Yes, I could sense the solitude that was all around me but it was an intellectual sense not an emotional one. That would come later. Inside I was still afraid of what I had let myself in for.

Remarkably quickly however, the pattern of solo life aboard a thirty-three-foot yacht became my world. Frankly, it staggered me as to how busy were my days. Feeding myself, navigating, trying to forecast the winds, staying in touch with other yachties via the short-wave radio, keeping the boat tidy and a zillion other tasks meant the first few days and nights just slipped by.

But it was a sight on my fourth night at sea that created the memory that would turn out to remain with me for all my life. The memory that I can go to anytime in my mind.

That fourth night I was already well into the routine of waking to the alarm clock, clipping on my harness as I climbed up the three steps that took me from my cabin into the cockpit, scanning the horizon with my eyes, checking that the self-steering had the boat at the correct angle to the wind and then, if no ships’ lights had been seen slipping back down into my bunk and sleeping for another twenty minutes. Remarkably, I was not suffering from any long-term tiredness during the day.

It was a little after 3am that fourth night when the alarm clock had me back up in the cockpit once again. Then it struck me.

Songbird was sailing beautifully. There was a steady wind of around ten knots from the south-east, almost a swell-free ocean, and everything set perfectly.  Not a sign of any ship in any direction.

Then I lifted my eyes upwards. There was not a cloud in the night sky, not a single wisp of mist to dim a single one of the million or more stars that were above my head. For on this dark, moonless night, so far removed from any shore-based light pollution, the vastness, yet closeness of the heavens above was simply breath-taking. I was transfixed. Utterly unable to make any rational sense of this night splendour that glittered in every direction in which I gazed. This dome that represented a vastness beyond any meaning other than a reminder of the magic of the universe.

This magic of the heavens above me that came down to touch the horizon in all directions. Such a rare sight to see the twinkling of stars almost touching the starkness of the ocean’s horizon at night. A total marriage of this one planet with the vastness of outer space.

I heard the alarm clock go off again and again next to my bunk down below. But I remained transfixed until there was a very soft lightening of the skyline to the east that announced that another dawn was on its way.

I would never again look up at the stars in a night sky without being transported back to that wonderful night and the memory of a lonely sea and sky.

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As dear Les said, “… a freedom of mind that has no equal.

That place in my mind, that dark, stupendous night out in the Atlantic, still has the power to remind me of that freedom!

I know it will be one of my last thoughts when my time is up.

The nature of delusions.

Sometimes the truth isn’t so obvious!

Yesterday, I wrote a post under the title of Running on empty!  I listed just a few recent items that had left me feeling very dispirited.  Trust me, not a familiar place!

I also raised the question ……

All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.

But do you know what really puzzles me?

It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.

…… then didn’t expand on what was puzzling me!

Let me come at this again; in full!

But do you know what really puzzles me?  It is the terrible lethargy across so many societies. The lack of any substantial social and political force for change. Especially, when so many scientists involved in climate research are warning we are leaving it dangerously late.

I’m no psychologist; far from it. But I want to recount a true story that gave me an insight into one of my own delusions.  Please stay with me because it does have a message at the end of it! 😉

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Many years ago, I spent 5 years living on a boat in Larnaca in Cyprus.  My boat was a wonderful heavy-displacement ocean-going yacht.  A type known as a Tradewind 33.  Here is a picture of my boat.

Tradewind 33 - Songbird of Kent.
Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent.

For years I had devoured all the books written by the great yacht sailors who had sailed the oceans, many of them completing solo circumnavigations of the world.  Part of me wanted to sail the oceans.

Living on a boat close to me was Les Powles.  Many will not have heard of Les but this quiet, softly-spoken man knows a thing or two about solo ocean sailing. As an article in The Guardian newspaper explained (in part):

In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his ­circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the ­appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.”

Three times around the world – solo!

Thus getting to know Les was a great inspiration in getting me over the hurdle of can I really do this!  (Les once said to me “the first three days are the worst!”)

Thus it came about that I departed Larnaca and worked my way Westwards along the Mediterranean, eventually arriving in Gibraltar.  After a few days getting ‘Songbird’ ready for my first ocean leg, Gibraltar to the Azores, I took a deep breath and headed West out into the Atlantic Ocean. Frankly, I was a tad too late to be starting out but the thought of spending a Winter in and around Gibraltar was too much to contemplate and, anyway, it was only 8 or 9 days sailing to the Azores; a distance of 1,125 land miles or 980 nautical miles.

Fewer than 48-hours before my estimate of coming into Horta Marina on the Azores island of Faial, Songbird of Kent was struck by an early, fierce Winter gale.  I seem to recall it was touching Force 10 Beaufort Scale (54 – 63 mph or 48 – 55 knots).

Anyway, it just about finished me off: literally as well as psychologically! I was so frightened, so utterly scared that I could think of nothing else other than getting to Horta and never going sailing again.

It revealed my delusion!

It proved that I had been in love with the courageousness of those many ocean sailors that I had read about. In love with the idea of a solo Atlantic crossing and being seen as a courageous hero. But, in truth, utterly in denial about what ocean sailing was really about!

So with the theme of delusion in your head, have a read of a recent post by George Monbiot. The post is called Are We Bothered? It is republished with the kind permission of George.

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Are We Bothered?

May 16, 2014

The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 9th May 2014

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did. A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

GM1

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend? And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (copied from the website of the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

GM2

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of Western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the Chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

“I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.”

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

GM3

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

GM4

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Tomorrow I will offer my own reflection on all of this – and finish off the story of me and ocean sailing!

The long heist!

Suddenly, it all makes sense!

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” –Paulo Freire

Dear neighbours, Dordie and Bill, lent us a documentary video to watch on Sunday night.  It was called “HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream?

As the film’s website explains:

HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? is stunning audiences across the globe as it traces the worldwide economic collapse to a 1971 secret memo entitled Attack on American Free Enterprise System. Written over 40 years ago by the future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, at the behest of the US Chamber of Commerce, the 6-page memo, a free-market utopian treatise, called for a money fueled big business makeover of government through corporate control of the media, academia, the pulpit, arts and sciences and destruction of organized labor and consumer protection groups.

But Powell’s real “end game” was business control of law and politics. HEIST’s step by step detail exposes the systemic implementation of Powell’s memo by BOTH U.S. political parties culminating in the deregulation of industry, outsourcing of jobs and regressive taxation. All of which led us to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the continued dismantling of the American middle class. Today, politics is the playground of the rich and powerful, with no thought given to the hopes and dreams of ordinary Americans. No other film goes as deeply as HEIST in explaining the greatest wealth transfer of our time. Moving beyond the white noise of today’s polarizing media, HEIST provides viewers with a clear, concise and fact- based explanation of how we got into this mess, and what we need to do to restore our representative democracy.

It’s an incredibly interesting film, but more of that later.  For me, what was stunningly enlightening was at last understanding the powerful forces at work since Lewis Powell published ‘the memo’ back on August 23, 1971.  Because for me over in Britain, the era of the ’70s’ and ’80s’ were incredibly fulfilling.  First, as a salesman for IBM UK – Office Products Division, from 1970 through to 1978, and then forming and managing my own company through to 1986 when I succumbed to an attractive purchase offer.  Then, when my company was sold, taking a few years off cruising a sailboat in the Mediterranean; based out of Larnaca, Cyprus.

Thus I was immune to the global money and power plays, albeit enjoying rising house prices!  Only Lady Luck protected me from the collapse of 2008 in that I had sold my Devon home in early 2007 and was renting.  Then Lady Luck arranging for me to meet Jean in Mexico, Christmas 2007 (we were born 23 miles apart in London) and subsequently moving out to Mexico with Pharaoh in September, 2008, to be with Jean and all her dogs.  Lady Luck’s magic continued in that we came to Merlin, Oregon because we were able to take advantage of a bank-owned property; moving there in October, 2012.

Of course, the scale of the downturn was obvious and there were many instances of people that I knew losing jobs or homes, or both, and generally having a very rough time.

So back to the film.  Here’s the official trailer.

Uploaded on Feb 17, 2012

Please watch the newly updated trailer for “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?,” the new, explosive documentary from Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher exposing the roots of the American economic crisis and the destruction of the American dream. Visit www.Heist-TheMovie.com for more information on how to see the feature film and how to Take Action in restoring democracy and economic justice in the United States.

But here’s another thing that now makes sense: The legitimate anger of so many people, especially those who have some insight into what had been taking place.  No, amend that!  What is still taking place!

Just one example of that legitimate anger, that of Patrice Ayme. Just go across and read his blog post of two days ago: American Circus.

My strong recommendation is that you take an evening off and watch the film. Here’s another preview:

Frances Causey, Co-producer & co-director-Heist & Donald Goldmacher, Co-producer & co-director-Heist join Thom Hartmann. Corporate America is the biggest Welfare reciepient in the country – but that wasn’t always the case. The makers of Heist will tell you how organized money has been able to pull off the biggest “Heist” of the American Dream!

The film also concludes by offering many ways in which individuals can take back control of their lives, reinvigorate local communities, actively show that people-power is unstoppable. As it always has been and always will be.

This post started with a quote and I’m going to close with another.

The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Finding one’s true self.

A personal journey

In some ways, it is surprising that I haven’t written about my own counselling experiences before.  Perhaps it has never felt like the right moment.

But the guest post from Peter Bloch that I had the honour of publishing yesterday so strongly resonated with the ‘Fergus’ inside me that I was compelled to offer my own journey.  So if you are not into bouts of personal introspection, look away and come back tomorrow! 😉

The fickle finger of fate

I was born in Acton, North London, just 6 months before the end of World War II.  Nothing remarkable about that.  Just another one of the millions of soon-to-be post-war babies.  My father was an architect; my mother a teacher.  Indeed, at the age of 93 my mother is still teaching music!

In 1956 when my father was 55 years-old he developed lung cancer.  I and my sister were blissfully unaware of our father’s terminal condition until the evening of December 19th, 1956.  That evening Mum came into my bedroom and said that father was very ill and may not live for very much longer.  To be honest, it didn’t really register and off I went to sleep.  I was 12 and looking forward to Christmas in 5 days time.

My father died in the night hours of December 19th/20th.  I had slept through not even wakening when his body was removed from the house.  On the morning of the 20th he was just gone!

It was felt by the family doctor, who had been attending my father, that it would be too upsetting for me and my younger sister to attend the funeral.  That funeral was a cremation and therefore no grave.

The good and the not so good.

The only obvious effect of the trauma of my father’s death was that I bombed out at school.  I had passed my ’11+’ exams at my primary school and in September, 1956, become a pupil at Preston Manor County Grammar School near Preston Road, Wembley where we were living; Wembley Stadium could be seen from the back windows of the 2nd floor of our house.

I struggled with schooling, the victim of much bullying as I recall, sat 8 ‘O-level’ exams, passed 2, struggled to get another couple of ‘O-levels’ but it was clear that a University place was not going to be for me.

From then on, in stark contrast, I enjoyed a wonderfully varied life, working as a business salesman, freelance journalist and ending up starting my own company in Colchester in 1978 which became surprisingly successful.

But when it came to relationships, that wasn’t so successful.  If I tell you that Jeannie is my 4th wife, you will get the message!

A little more background.

When running my own business back in the 1980s I had a network of overseas distributors.  My US West Coast distributor was Cimarron, a company owned and run by Daniel Gomez out of Los Angeles.  Dan and I became good friends and still are some 35 years later.  I’ll come back to this highly relevant relationship with Dan.

I sold my business in 1986 and went overseas for 5 years, actually living on a boat based in Larnaca, Cyprus.  (The boat was a Tradewind 33 named ‘Songbird of Kent‘.)

In the early 1990s upon returning to England I chose to live in the South Hams area of South Devon, ending up in the small village of Harberton, pop. 300, near Totnes.  Once settled I took up business mentoring.  In previous years, I had gained Chartered Membership of the Institute of Marketing.  In addition, I became a youth mentor with the Prince’s Youth Business Trust, a really fabulous organisation that does so much good for young people.

One of my personal mentees was Jon Lavin, the founder of The People Workshop.  (Yes, and Jon is aware that his website is a tad out-of-date!)

Out of sight, but not out of mind.

In time I became married to wife number three.  Seemingly happy living in a tranquil part of rural Devon, keeping busy, not thinking too much about life.

Pharaoh became an important part of my life in 2003.  At the time, I had no idea how important!

Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.
Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.

On the evening of December 20th, 2006, 50 years to the day that my father died, my wife announced that she had met another man. The implications of this casually delivered bombshell were obvious and catastrophically painful.

I will spare you the details but, trust me, the next few weeks were tough!

High on my priorities were letting close friends know what was happening.  Dan, in characteristic Daniel fashion, said over the phone, “Hey, Handover, you get your arse over to Southern California pronto! Like now!”  I replied that it was much too difficult to do that now but maybe later on in 2007.

Realising that I might need some psychological support, I spoke with Jon Lavin.  However, Jon made it clear that as we already had a working relationship with me as his mentor, he couldn’t now, in turn, be my psychotherapist.  I pleaded with Jon.  He said he would only work with me on the strict understanding that he would terminate the counselling relationship if our past workings interfered.  Of course, I agreed. [See footnote.]

Finding one’s true self after 50 years!

Jon, quite naturally, started into understanding my past experiences. Right back to that fateful day in 1956 when my father died.  And, guess what!

Unbeknownst to me, the lack of time to adjust to my father’s cancer, his sudden death, being unable to ‘say goodbye‘; all had been emotionally interpreted as acute and profound emotional rejection.  Buried deep within me with both strong positive and negative emotional consequences.  Negatively, making me very vulnerable to emotional rejection; positively, causing me to strive for outward success in so many ways.  Those sessions with Jon brought it all to the surface bringing with it deep and peaceful calm.

Yet, the true implications of finding myself were still to come.

In the Summer of 2007, I took up Dan’s offer to ‘get my arse to Southern California!‘  I had a fabulous time with Dan and his dear wife, Cynthia.  It also included a visit to Dan’s sister, Suzann, and her husband, Don, in their home in Los Osos, California.  Su fussed over me restoring my sense of self-worth as Dan and Cynthia had been doing.

One morning over breakfast Suzann said, “Hey Paul, what are you doing for Christmas?

I replied, “Oh, give me a break, Suzann, it’s the middle of June.  Long time before I have to think about dealing with Christmas!

Su then made the offer that was to change my life irrevocably.  “Don and I have a house down in San Carlos, Mexico where we shall be at Christmas.  Why don’t you come and have Christmas with us in Mexico?

And I did.  And it was in San Carlos, Mexico that I met Jean.  Suzann and Jean were great buddies. Jean had been living there since she and her late husband, Ben, had moved there many years ago.  Ben, an American, and Jean had been married for 26 years with Ben, sadly, having died in 2005.

Jean and I spent hundreds of hours chatting and getting to know each other, including the fact that she and I had both been born Londoners within 23 miles of each other.  Jean had been rescuing Mexican feral dogs for years and there were 14 dogs in her house in San Carlos.  So many of those dogs loved me from the start.  It seemed like the most beautiful Christmas I could have wished for.  In such stark contrast to just a year ago.

Mexican sunset! San Carlos, 2nd January, 2008.
Mexican sunset! San Carlos, 2nd January, 2008.

In September, 2008 after selling the house in Devon, I moved out to San Carlos, Mexico.  Just me and Pharaoh who had been such a devoted friend, companion and confidant over the previous months.

In 2010, we moved to Payson in Arizona, some 80 miles NE of Phoenix. On November 20th, 2010 Jean and I were married.

The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.
The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.

Releasing the Fergus in me and all of us.

What Peter Bloch wrote yesterday was so true.  A dog can only be a happy, fulfilled dog, if allowed to be the true dog that is in him or her.  Despite the fact that humans are primates and dogs are canids like wolves, coyotes, and foxes, it still holds as true for us humans as it did for Fergus.

We can only be happy, to put it in the words of Fergus, “happy, energised, purposeful and fulfilled in every way.” if we are given the freedom to be our self.

So if you find that you, like Fergus, suffer from digestive problems, possibly have skin disorders and sometimes behave a little strangely take note – you need to find your healer!

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Footnote

Back in 2008 when Jon Lavin was working with me, I would take Pharaoh and he would lay on the floor behind my seat.  On one occasion Jon was talking about the findings of Dr. David Hawkins and his Scale of Consciousness; from falsehood to truthfulness. (See here and here for more details.)

Anyway that fateful day, Jon mentioned that Dr. Hawkins had measured dogs as being integrous animals.  That notion stayed with me and later I registered the domain name learningfromdogs (dot) com leading to – yes, you guessed it – this blog.  Funny old world.

Sanity anchors.

The importance of staying grounded in the face of the oncoming storm.

A few days ago, I exchanged emails with Jon Lavin.  In the early days of Learning from Dogs, Jon used to write the occasional post, one of which seems highly relevant some three years later.  I will republish it tomorrow.

jon-lavin

Jon and I go back a few years and most who know me know that it was Jon’s counselling back in 2007 that opened my eyes to something that, literally, changed my life.  For the better, I hasten to add!

In our recent email exchange, Jon wrote this:

Just started back at work today. A bit of a shock to the old system! Am wondering what to set my sanity sights on for this coming year in the middle of almost total uncertainty.

Of course!  How obvious! The need to ensure that our lives contain anchors of stability, safe places to curl up in, metaphorically speaking, where we can seek refuge from the winds of change.  Otherwise, we run the very real risk of being overcome by the uncertainty of the future.

The resonance with small boats and the sea is obvious, and unavoidable in the case of yours truly.

songbird-of-kent1
Tradewind 33, Songbird of Kent

For five years I lived on and sailed a Tradewind 33, Songbird of Kent; my base being Larnaca on the island of Cyprus at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.  Contrary to the image of the Mediterranean, it wasn’t uncommon to experience some ‘interesting’ weather; there were times when it could turn very nasty!

The comfort, physical and mental, offered by being tucked up in a small bay, listening to the storm about one, while riding securely to your anchor was beyond imagination.

Jon’s comment underscores the incredible importance of each of us knowing what anchors us to a secure place.  So, like any sailor, always keep a weather eye open for those early signs of a storm, and cast your anchor in good time.

Needless to say, having a loving dog or two in one’s life provides a wonderful storm-proof anchor.

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Göbekli Tepe

The most amazing ancient site, possibly in the world.

I know this is a bit of a giant leap from yesterday’s Post but bear with me.  A short while ago, my friend Suzann sent me a link to some information about the archaeological site in Eastern Turkey known as Göbekli Tepe.  Suzann, as many regular readers will know, was the person who caused me to meet Jeannie back in December 2007 when Su invited me to spend Christmas with her and Don, her husband, at their home down in San Carlos, Mexico.

Before I go on to write about Göbekli Tepe let me also muse on another fascinating connection between Suzann and me.  That is that Su and I were sharing the same waters in the Eastern Mediterranean around 1991.  Here’s an extract from a recent email from Su.,

Don’s brother’s boat was Hana Ho.from Honolulu, Hawaii, a Tayana 55…gorgeous thing! They sailed in the Med for years around that time…it is possible you could have run into them…..

When we first flew in to Cyprus June of 1991, Bob’s boat was up on the hard. It took another 5 days to finish, and we had to climb straight up and down a steep, rickety ladder each time we went out, because we slept on the boat every night….was it ever hot and muggy! and no bathroom facilities in use!! But had a lovely time in Cyprus and really got out and saw things there. Delicious food!!

Then we sailed over toward the Turkey/Syrian border area and then gunk-holed west along the coast, ending up at Izmer, after visiting places like Antalya, Kekova Roads,Fethiya and the magnificent Rock Tombs, Marmaris, Bodrum, Kisadasi, Ephesus to name a few….

I, too, was living on a yacht, over-wintering in Cyprus, and cruising the Turkish and Greek coasts during the summer.  Anyway, enough of these musings.

A scene from Gobekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe is old.  I mean seriously old.  For example, I’m very familiar, being an Englishman, with the mystery and antiquity of Stonehenge.  But even the revised estimates of Stonehenge’s age, now believed to be 3,000 B.C., don’t measure up to the age of Göbekli Tepe.

The Smithsonian website explains much in a fascinating article about Gobekli Tepe, (do click on that link as the Smithsonian article is extremely interesting).

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it’s the site of the world’s oldest temple.

[my italics]

Imagine, there are fewer years between today and the building of Stonehenge than there are between the construction of Göbekli Tepe and Stonehenge!  Think about that!

Anyway, enjoy this video,

and if that grabs your interest then there is a longer 25-minute radio broadcast by Klaus Schmidt that is on YouTube, see below:

German archeologist Klaus Schmidt, from the German Archaeological Institute, who has been working as the head archeologist at Göbekli Tepe, a temple site located in southeastern Turkey close to the boarder to Syria. Klaus has been excavating there since 1994 and he joins us to talk about the excavation work, and to give us his impressions and theories about the site and the people who built it and worshiped at this ancient temple site. The temple is believed to have been erected in the 10th millennium BC (about 11,500 years ago). It is believed to be the oldest human-made place of worship, it’s even been called the Garden of Eden. Only about 3-5% of the site has been excavated so far, which has unveiled several stone circle rooms, only one of which has been dug down to the floor. As many as 20 such structures are thought to exist under the ground at the site, these have been detected by radar scans. These stone circles have large T-shaped pillars, some of the heaviest stones weigh up to 50 tons. The monoliths are decorated with carved reliefs of animals, abstract pictograms, sacred symbols and similarities to Neolithic cave paintings have been pointed out. The carefully carved figurative reliefs depict lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and other reptiles, insects, arachnids, and birds, particularly vultures and water fowl. Göbekli Tepe means “Hill with a potbelly” although there already exists other interpretations of the name, connected to the word “Zep Tepi” or “The First Time” a period in beliefs of a mythological golden age when the gods lived amongst humanity together with half-divine offsprings of gods and humans. Is Göbekli Tepe the Garden of Eden? June 24, 2010

If you want more to read then I can do no better than recommend the article that Suzann linked to in her email.  It’s here and it starts thus,

Gobekli Tepe: 12,000 Years Old and Rewriting Human History

“This time what came first was the temple and then the city.”

– Klaus Schmidt, Ph.D., German Archaeological Institute

12,000-year-old circles of limestone columns weighing from 7 to 15 tons or more have been excavated in Gobekli Tepe, Turkey, about 6 miles northeast of Urfa.

Older than Egypt, Sumeria and Stonehenge, 40 standing T-shaped columns have so far been uncovered in four circles 98 feet (30 meters) in diameter. To date, no metal tools have been found since meticulous digging and dating began in 1994. Only 5% of the temple complex in repeating circles has been uncovered.

Ground-penetrating radar surveys indicate there might be at least 250 more standing stones in 18 still-buried circles. Finely honed reliefs and some 3-dimensional sculptures on the limestone columns depict boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes, scorpions, vultures, reptiles, humans and other figures.

You’ll have to read the rest of the article here.

Sort of puts the history of man into perspective!

Being at sea!

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