Tag: Les Powles

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.

ooOOoo

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 book! Part Four: The importance of hope.

The night is always darkest before the dawn.

That very well-know saying rings in my ears the word: hope. Hope! What a short, little word that carries on its back, so to speak, so much promise, so many reasons for staying with it, whatever ‘it’ might mean at any particular moment.

For countless times for countless numbers of people, the importance of hope has been incalculable! But first let’s dip into the dictionary as a way of clearly understanding the word.

Hope: as a noun, in part: “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”; as a verb, in part: “to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence”.

Yes, there are other definitions of the word ‘hope’; both as a noun and an adjective. But I selected the two above because they resonated with me and past experiences. Or more accurately, a past experience. My prelude to another story from my past that seemed an appropriate way of opening this chapter; this chapter on hope.

In 1986 I had the opportunity to take a few years off. Off from the 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, 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 from a man who had just come up from the cabin caught my attention. He had spotted me looking at the yacht.

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 Songbird 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.
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 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.

Thus 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 was 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 our hands, 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) 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 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 from 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!

It’s OK readers, I haven’t forgotten I was promising you an anecdote on the subject of hope! Stay with me a little longer; it’s coming!

At one point, Les 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?”, Les asked.

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 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.

Years later, with Les’ words still ringing in my ears, I set out from Gibraltar for the Westward crossing of the Atlantic and lived the truth of Les’ prediction.

Sorry if that turned into a longer trip down memory lane than you were anticipating. However, I knew of no better way of telling you about how I learned the real meaning of hope, courtesy of dear Les.

Now a purely anecdotal tale on gaining the meaning of hope would be no way to end this chapter. We need to seek a professional view as well.

Scott Barry Kaufman is the Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. (See footnote)

Back in December of 2011 he was the author of an essay published in the journal Psychology Today. The essay was called: The Will and Ways of Hope, with the subheading: Hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.

It opened:

Talent, skill, ability — whatever you want to call it — will not get you there. Sure, it helps. But a wealth of psychological research over the past few decades shows loud and clear that it’s the psychological vehicles that really get you there. You can have the best engine in the world, but if you can’t be bothered to drive it, you won’t get anywhere.

Psychologists have proposed lots of different vehicles over the years. Grit, Conscientiousness, self-efficacy, optimism, passion, inspiration, etc. They are all important. One vehicle, however, is particularly undervalued and underappreciated in psychology and society. That’s hope.

Professor Kaufman went on to say that, “Put simply: hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.” It struck me that those words seemed to resonate strongly with the multi-stage process of change that was covered in the previous chapter: The process of change.

The good Professor then adding:

Why is hope important? Well, life is difficult. There are many obstacles. Having goals is not enough. One has to keep getting closer to those goals, amidst all the inevitable twists and turns of life. Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals.

Thus what Professor Kaufman seemed to be saying, well to my ears anyway, was that hope was not some wishy-washy emotion, some vaguely defined way of giving oneself a good talking to but “a dynamic cognitive motivational system” to use his words. That people who have clear goals in their lives, especially goals that demand learning, that in themselves are related positively to success, whatever success means specifically to an individual, that those goals are critically dependent on hope.

More from Kaufman:

Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track.

While reading Professor Kaufman’s essay, I found myself quietly wondering about where hope fitted in with other psychological attitudes, such as optimism and self-confidence. I didn’t have to wonder for much longer because, towards the end of the Professor’s essay, he specifically addresses my wonderings:

Hope can be distinguished from other psychological vehicles, such as self-efficacy and optimism. Self-efficacy refers to your belief that you can master a domain. Optimism refers to a general expectation that it’ll all just ‘be alright’. Hope, self-efficacy, and optimism are all incredibly important expectancies and contribute to the attainment of goals. Even though they all involve expectations about the future, they are subtly, and importantly, different from each other. People with self-efficacy expect that they will master a domain. Optimism involves a positive expectancy for future outcomes without regard for one’s personal control over the outcome. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have both the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals.

For the first time in many decades of reflection and introspection into aspects of success, motivation and achievement, I saw the sense of seeing hope in a two-dimensional manner: the will and the ways! Fascinating!

Reinforced so clearly in Professor Kaufman’s closing words:

We like to think that current ability is the best predictor of future success. We’ve built up the importance of existing ability because the testing and gating mechanisms are so well established to suit this belief. Important psychological studies show that ability is important, but it’s the vehicles that actually get people where they want to go. Oftentimes, the vehicles even help you build up that ability you never thought you had. And hope — with its will and ways — is one of the most important vehicles of them all.

Is there a connection between learning the “first three days are the worst’ from dear Les Powles and the academic eminence of Professor Scott Barry Kaufman?

I think so. For one could interpret Les’ advice about working through that initial three days at sea as containing both the Will – I am determined to keep going through those transitional days – and the Way – one can only achieve the peace of mind of being alone at sea by sailing onwards for three or four days.

I cannot close this better than by quoting Aristotle, “Hope is a waking dream.”

2,361 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

—–

Footnote: Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Kaufman investigates the development and measurement of imagination, and the many paths to greatness. He has six books, including Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and The Philosophy of Creativity(with Elliot Samuel Paul). Kaufman is also co-founder of The Creativity Post. Kaufman completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009 and received his masters degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

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! 😉

oooo

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.

ooOOoo

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.

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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.

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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

ooOOoo

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