Tag: Songbird of Kent

The moon

A poem

The Atlantic was smooth under the night sky,

It made a very welcome difference.

Nights were hard on this solo sailor,

A quick scan of the horizon every twenty or thirty minutes and then back down to my bunk.

 

But what was that!

For the first time in ages there was a strange light off the starboard bow.

Impossible to gauge the distance.

Then I had it!

It was no ship’s light,

It was the edge of the rising moon.

 

My bunk below was forgotten in an instant.

The sight of the rising full moon was everything.

It rose seemingly rapidly and now cast its light over the ocean.

My ketch sailed in its golden light.

We seemed to sail on forever.

 

Now that’s coming on for thirty years ago,

But it is still clear in my mind.

Clear as if it was yesterday,

Reminded of it each full moon.

My ketch still sailing in its golden light.

The following is not Songbird but a much more appropriate photograph.

And the poem came to me just the other day. The memory of that full moon out in the Atlantic en-route to Plymouth from Gibraltar in 1991 will be with me for ever.

A Letter to Mr. Neptune

Continuing my series on examining my navel.

Dear Mr. Neptune,

Your oceans of the world are truly breath-taking. The power you can display in the odd wave or million through to the tranquility you so often also display defy rational explanations.

I have had the profound experience of sailing upon your waters, dear Mr. Neptune, over a number of years sailing back and forth between Cyprus and Turkey. Not a long distance but still sufficient to experience being solo on a yacht day and night.

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

Then on my way sailing back to Plymouth, SW England, the magical, almost primeval, feeling of being alone on the Atlantic Ocean. Looking up at the night sky, feeling so insignificant, so infinitesimally minute with 500 miles of open ocean in all directions and those stars above my head.

No question, that practically everything about your oceans is beyond the understanding of us humans. Indeed, I had to look up online how much water there is on Earth to discover there is:

It’s roughly 326 million cubic miles (1.332 billion cubic kilometers), according to a recent study from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Because I simply didn’t have a clue.

And knowing there are approximately 326 million cubic miles of water doesn’t help because I am still left not having a clue as to what that means!

So, thank goodness, Mr. Neptune this is all a ‘walk in the park’ for you!

But I do have a question for you.

What do you make of this?

The image is cropped from the following:

The description of these figures is:

Figure. (upper) Change in global upper-level (0–2000 m) ocean heat content since 1958. Each bar shows the annual mean relative to a 1981–2010 baseline. (lower) Annual mean ocean heat content anomaly in 2017 relative to a 1981–2010 baseline.

And it was taken from research undertaken by Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu and found on the web here.

Ocean Heat Content

Owing to its large heat capacity, the ocean accumulates the warming derived from human activities; indeed, more than 90% of Earth’s residual heat related to global warming is absorbed by the ocean (IPCC, Cheng et al. 2017). As such, the global ocean heat content record robustly represents the signature of global warming and is impacted less by weather-related noise and climate variability such as El Niño and La Niña events (Cheng et al. 2018). On the other hand, ocean thermal expansion due to ocean temperature change contributes substantially (30%~50%) to the sea level change, which can considerably influence human populations in coastal and island regions and marine ecosystems. Therefore, monitoring the OHC changes and understanding its variation are crucial for climate change.

Is it possible, Mr. Neptune, that even you as the master of all our oceans is worried about the future?

I hope not but I do fear your answer.

Sincerely,

Paul

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!

We are of the stars!

I so relate to this item from EarthSky News!

Long-term readers of this place will possibly recall that between April, 1989 and June, 1994 I lived on a Tradewind 33 sailing yacht Songbird of Kent. I have written before about those days.

Songbird of Kent. My home for five years.

When sailing at night when the sky is clear it is impossible not to feel deeply connected to the stars above one’s head.

My logbook for Songbird of Kent reports that at noon on Wednesday, 1st June, 1994, I departed the yacht harbour at Horta in The Azores bound for Plymouth, South-West England. Plymouth was 1,257 nautical miles (2,329km/1,447 statute miles) from Horta.

Horta on Faial Island of the Azores

The logbook has an entry for the 6th June.

0400 Lat. 43 deg 25 minutes North, Long 22 deg 3 minutes West. Engine Off. Still no wind but must sleep after 19 hours of helming. 840 miles to run. Wind 2 knots from SW. Baro 1027 mb, Viz Good.

The visibility was wonderful and seeing the stars up in the night sky all around me, as in all 360 degrees about me, practically down to the horizon on this moonless night is an image still etched in my mind.

That’s why I want to republish this article that appeared on the blog EarthSky News yesterday.

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We are galaxy stuff

A new study – based on supercomputer simulations – reveals that each one of us may be made in part from matter that passes from one galaxy to another.

This image shows M81 (bottom right) and M82 (upper left), a pair of nearby galaxies where intergalactic transfer – transfer of materials between galaxies – might be happening. Image via Fred Herrmann.

Sagan famously said that we are made of star stuff. He meant the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created inside stars. Yet Sagan’s expression of this idea, which quickly became a cornerstone of popular culture, might not take the concept far enough. According to astrophysicists at Northwestern University, our origins are much less local than previously thought. In fact, according to their analysis – which they say is the first of its kind – we’re not just star stuff. We’re galaxy stuff.

This study is being published on July 26, 2017 (July 27 in the U.K.) by the peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The Northwestern researchers found that up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy may come from distant galaxies. As a result, each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. That is, atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and so on in our bodies may be created not just by stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, but by stars in far-flung galaxies.

They arrived at this conclusion using supercomputer simulations. The study required the equivalent of several million hours of continuous computing.

The simulations show that supernova explosions eject great quantities of gas from galaxies, which causes the atoms made inside stars to be transported from one galaxy to another via powerful galactic winds. According to their statement, intergalactic transfer is a newly identified phenomenon, which, they say, requires supercomputer simulations in order to be understood. According to these astrophysicists, this understanding is critical for knowing how galaxies evolve … and hence for knowing our own place in the universe.

Animation of gas flows around a Milky Way-like galaxy, as seen by the team’s computer simulations.

Daniel Anglés-Alcázar is a postdoctoral fellow in Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). He led the study, and he said:

It is likely that much of the Milky Way’s matter was in other galaxies before it was kicked out by a powerful wind, traveled across intergalactic space and eventually found its new home in the Milky Way.

Given how much of the matter out of which we formed may have come from other galaxies, we could consider ourselves space travelers or extragalactic immigrants.

Space is vast. Galaxies are located at almost inconceivable distances from each other. So, Alcázar and his team said, even though galactic winds propagate at several hundred kilometers per CIERA second, the process of intergalactic transfer occurs over billions of years.

As always, this new research built on earlier studies. Northwestern’s Claude-André Faucher-Giguère and his research group, along with a unique collaboration called Feedback In Realistic Environments (FIRE), had developed numerical simulations that produced realistic 3-D models of galaxies. These simulations followed a galaxy’s formation from just after the Big Bang to the present day.

Anglés-Alcázar then developed state-of-the-art algorithms to mine this wealth of data. In this way, he and his team were able to quantify how galaxies acquire matter from the universe.

The scientists say the prediction of intergalactic transfer can now be tested. The Northwestern team plans to collaborate with observational astronomers who are working with the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories to test the simulation predictions.

Simulated examples of intergalactic winds, shown as green string, in action around galaxies, shown as clusters of yellow dots. The galaxy at the center is ejecting the winds, blowing them toward potential the other galaxies.

Bottom line: Supercomputer simulations suggest that each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. Hence, we are galaxy stuff.

ooOOoo

16th June, 1994

1945 Lat. 50 deg 21 minutes North, Long. 4 deg 10 minutes West. ARRIVED MAYFLOWER MARINA. Wind Nil. Baro 1023 Mb. Viz Good.

LOG CLOSED!

Mayflower Marina is at Plymouth.

Natalie exploring the meaning of peace.

Another delightful travel account from Natalie Derham-Weston.

Albeit perhaps travels of a more inward nature.

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Travel Blog: Installment 3: Living on a boat.

Simple Peace

I fancied an interlude this week to share a morning I enjoyed over the weekend. It isn’t often that the chance arises to enjoy our local surroundings without time limits, overdue deadlines or inconvenient meetings. However, I had a day off Saturday; a concept becoming more and more valued having since started a new full-time job, which is quite demanding on my time. I have requested this high load of hours but after months of travelling and not having regular work, it is taking a while for me to adjust to the mental and physical demands.

Anyway, without going into the irrelevant details, I have been spending my time living on a boat in a marina in Lymington, a small sea side town in the New Forest on the South Coast of England. This means my commute to work is a 2 minute walk and although I do not know the first notion about sailing, I have quickly fallen for the lifestyle of boats and water. I have found it to be extremely sociable and relaxing and I have all I need around me. This includes a bicycle, a car, swimming facilities, work, grocery shops and a very modest yet comfortable boat.

So last Saturday, I woke up early, as I was already in the routine of being awake from my work shifts and saw the sun streaming in through the port hole windows. This immediately buoyed me and I pulled the curtains and opened the hatch to let in the fresh air. I had a few items on a to do list but I certainly didn’t intend on wasting the valuable time I had.

I did have an appointment I couldn’t shirk but made it as quick as possible and on the way back picked up some lunch items. Back on the boat, I had a quick tidy and clean as I firmly believe an orderly workspace leads to a clearer mind.

I pre-empt this by saying I am usually accompanied by my father on the boat but this specific day was the first time I had been left in solo charge and this gave me somewhat of an independent free feeling. So my next mission was to cook some eggs which I did on our very small gas camping stove. I took some cushions out on deck and had my lunch in the warm April sunshine. Our pontoon seems to be quite an active mooring site and there were people constantly wandering along it all day, carrying tools, bags and equipment back and forth. So although I was alone, I did not feel isolated.

I then left everything behind on the boat, including my phone and took my bicycle around the headland on a trail I had never been on before. The channel was extremely clear and I had a wonderful view over to the Isle of Wight and watched the bustle of boats going to and fro. I passed lots of families, dogs, bird watchers and couples but kept going at a steady pace along the gravel track headed towards Keyhaven, the next fishing village along.

There is no specific reason why I enjoyed this so much, just the whole atmosphere and surroundings made for a very encompassing uplifting day. I continued along the path, and had no care as to where I was or where I was going. I was confident enough that I knew I’d always find my way back somehow and so without that pre-conditioned feeling of panic, I cycled on along the back roads and hauled my bicycle over fences and gates.

Two hours later I cycled back in to the marina and abandoned the bike next to the boat. The boat is never locked, another aspect I really appreciate. I don’t think this would be possible everywhere, but it allows for a very open way of life. So I grabbed a cushion and headed to the bow of the boat, lying in the sun, drinking a beer, watching the world go by.

This just proved to me how easy it is to be happy sometimes. We need very little but that day will stay in my memory for a long time as a point in time where I was 100% content.

ooOOoo

I had the great fortune of living on a yacht Songbird of Kent, a Tradewind 33, for five years in the late ’80s early ’90s based out of Larnaca on the Greek side of Cyprus. I can fully vouch for the peace that Natalie has written about.

The utterly incomprehensible

A journey of the mind and the soul.

NB: Regular readers will find that today’s post is rather different to my usual run of things. But I do hope that you end up sharing my feelings of mystery; sharing what seems to me utterly incomprehensible. I am speaking of The Infinite.

Let me start with this quotation:

The infinite has always stirred the emotions of mankind more deeply than any other question.

The infinite has stimulated and fertilised reason as few other ideas have. But also the infinite, more than another other notion, is in need of clarification.

Let me now take you back many years, back to the Autumn of 1969 when I left Gibraltar bound for The Azores on my yacht Songbird of Kent. I was sailing solo.

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

Despite me being very familiar with my boat, and with sailing in general, there was nonetheless a deep sense of trepidation as I headed out into a vast unfamiliar ocean.

On the third or fourth night, I forget which, when some four hundred miles into the Atlantic and therefore far from the light pollution from the land, I came on deck and was emotionally moved in a way that has never ever been surpassed.

For way up in the heavens above me was the Andromeda galaxy, clearly visible with the naked eye.

andromeda-galaxy-josh-blash-7-23-2014-e1473897834535
Josh Blash captured this image of the Andromeda galaxy.

That photograph above and the following are from the EarthSky site.

Although a couple of dozen minor galaxies lie closer to our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy is the closest major galaxy to ours. Excluding the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which can’t be seen from northerly latitudes, the Andromeda galaxy – also known as M31 – is the brightest galaxy in all the heavens. It’s the most distant thing you can see with your unaided eye, at 2.3 million light-years. To the eye, it appears as a smudge of light larger than a full moon.

Not only could I not take my mind off seeing the Andromeda galaxy, I couldn’t easily comprehend seeing the stars come all the way down to the horizon; all 360 degrees about me.  Right down to the edge of my ocean horizon; a swirling blackness out to where it kissed that glorious night sky.

That image of that dome of stars would be forever burnt into my memory. An image that both made no sense, yet made every sense

Fast forward forty-seven years to now!

Recently we have had some beautiful clear nights here in Southern Oregon. Just the other night, before the moon had risen, there up in the night sky just a short distance from the constellation Cassiopeia was Andromeda. Immediately, my memory of that dark night sky out in the Atlantic came rushing back at me

The Andromeda galaxy is 2.3 million light-years away. But how can one possibly comprehend the distance? The fact that light travels at 186,000 miles per second or 671 million miles per hour (the exact value is 299,792,458 metres per second (approximately 3.00×108 m/s) has no meaning whatsoever. Think about it! Light is traveling at the equivalent speed of going around our planet 7.46 times every second!

But if you can’t fathom the distance to the Andromeda galaxy try this!

Back in March, 2016 a new galaxy that has been named GN-z11 was spotted by the Hubble space telescope 13.4 billion light years away. That’s approximately 5,830 times more distant than the Andromeda galaxy!

Now it is starting to become very difficult to comprehend.

Over the last couple of weeks BBC Radio 4 has been airing 10 talks given by Professor Adrian Moore under the heading of A History of the Infinite. They are freely available to be listened to and I so strongly recommend them.

But it was episode eight that made me lose my mind. Just like that night so many years ago on Songbird of Kent.

For that episode was called The Cosmos. You can listen to it here. Please, please do so! This is how that episode is presented:

Does space go on for ever? Are there infinitely many stars? These are some of the questions Adrian Moore explores in the eighth episode in his series about philosophical thought concerning the infinite.

With the help of the theories of the Ancient Greeks through to those of modern cosmologists, Adrian examines the central question of whether our universe is finite or infinite.

For most of us, looking up at the stars gives us a sense of infinity but, as Adrian discovers, there is a strong body of opinion which suggests that space is finite, albeit unbounded. This is a difficult idea to grasp, but by inviting us to think of ourselves as ants, astrophysics professor Jo Dunkley attempts to explain it.

Adrian also tackles the idea of the expanding universe and the logic that leads cosmologists to argue that it all started with a big bang, and may all end with a big crunch.

Finally, we discover from cosmologist John Barrow how the appearance of an infinity in scientists’ calculations sends them straight back to the drawing board. The infinite, which the Ancient Greeks found so troubling, has lost none of its power to disturb.

A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.

If you find that episode compelling beyond belief then all the episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer and may be found here.

I started with a quotation that is the opening of the final episode. It is a quotation from the German mathematician David Hilbert. As Wikipedia explains, in part:

hilbertDavid Hilbert (German: [ˈdaːvɪt ˈhɪlbɐt]; 23 January 1862 – 14 February 1943) was a German mathematician. He is recognized as one of the most influential and universal mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I will return to that first sentence in Hilbert’s quotation:

The infinite has always stirred the emotions of mankind more deeply than any other question.

For me that sight of the Andromeda galaxy and the stars back in 1969 was in every meaning of the word a sight of the infinite and it has forever stirred my emotions very deeply indeed!

More sharing the thoughts of others.

Unexplored waters ahead!

My sub-title comes from personal knowledge of what it feels like to set out on an ocean voyage into waters that one has not sailed before. In my case, leaving Gibraltar bound for The Azores on my yacht Songbird of Kent in the Autumn of 1969.

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

Despite me being very familiar with my boat, and with sailing in general, there was nonetheless a sense of trepidation as I headed out into a vast unfamiliar ocean.

Coming to matters closer to hand, there is a sense of trepidation felt by me and countless others as to what world we are heading into if we don’t take seriously the risks that are ‘tapping on our door’.

So hold that in your mind as you read a recent essay published by Patrice Ayme’; an essay that highlights very uncertain times ahead if we, as a global society, don’t get our act together pretty damn quick. Republished here on Learning from Dogs with Patrice’s kind permission.

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Record Heat 2015, Obama Cool

2014 was the warmest year ever recorded. 2015 was even warmer, and by far, by .16 degrees centigrade. The UK (Great Britain) meteorological office announced that the temperature rise is now a full degree C above the pre-industrial average. At this annual rate of increase, we will get to two degrees within six years (as I have predicted was a strong possibility).

What’s going on? Exponentiation. Just as wealth grows faster, the greater the wealth, mechanisms causing more heat are released, the greater the heat. Yes, it could go all the way to tsunamis caused by methane hydrates explosions. This happened in the North Atlantic during the Neolithic, leaving debris of enormous tsunamis all over Scotland.

heat-2015
2015: Not Only Record Heat, But Record Acceleration Of Heat

The Neolithic settlements over what is now the bottom of the North Sea and the Franco-English Channel (then a kind of garden of Eden), probably perished the hard way, under giant waves.

Explosions of methane hydrates have started on the land, in Siberia. No tsunami, so far. But it can, and will happen, any time. The recent North Easter on the East Coast of the USA was an example of the sort of events we will see ever more of: a huge warm, moist Atlantic born air mass, lifted up by a cold front.

Notice that, at the COP 21 in Paris all parties, 195 nations, agreed to try their best to limit warming to 1.5 degree Centigrade. At the present instantaneous rate, that’s less than 4 years away. Even with maximum switching out of fossil fuels, we are, at the minimum, on a three degrees centigrade target, pretty soon.

By the way, if all nations agree, how come the “climate deniers” are still heard of so loudly? Well, plutocrats control Main Stream Media. It’s not just that they want to burn more fossil fuels (as it brings them profit, they are the most established wealth). It’s also that they want to create debates about nothing significant, thus avoiding debates about significant things, such as how much the world is controlled by Dark Pools of money.

Meanwhile, dear Paul Krugman insists in “Bernie, Hillary, Barack, and Change“, that it would be pure evil to see him as a “corrupt crook“, because he believes everything Obama says about change and all that. Says Krugman: “President Obama, in his interview with Glenn Thrush of Politico, essentially supports the Hillary Clinton theory of change over the Bernie Sanders theory:

[Says Obama]: ‘I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives.’”

This is all hogwash. We are not just in a civilization crisis. We are in a biosphere crisis, unequalled in 65 million years. “Real-life differences“, under Obama, have been going down in roughly all ways. His much vaunted “Obamacare” is a big nothing. All people in the know appraise that next year, it will turn to a much worse disaster than it already is (in spite of a few improvements, “co-pays” and other enormous “deductibles” make the ironically named, Affordable Care Act, ACA, unaffordable).

The climate crisis show that there is no more day-to-day routine. At Paris, the only administration which caused problem, at the last-minute, was Obama’s. How is that, for “change”? The USA is not just “leading from behind”, but pulling in the wrong direction. Really, sit down, and think about it: under France’s admirable guidance (!), 194 countries had agreed on a legally enforceable document. Saudi Arabia agreed. The Emirates agreed. Venezuela agreed. Nigeria agreed. Russia agreed. Byelorussia agreed. China, having just made a treaty with France about climate change, actually helped France pass the treaty. Brazil agreed. Zimbabwe agreed. Mongolia agreed. And so on. But, lo and behold, on the last day, Obama did not.

I know Obama’s excuses well; they are just that, excuses. Bill Clinton used exactly the exact same excuses, 20 years ago. Obama is all for Clinton, because, thanks to Clinton, he can just repeat like a parrot what Clinton said, twenty years ago. Who need thinkers, when we have parrots, and they screech?

I sent this (and, admirably, Krugman published it!):

“No doubt Obama wants to follow the Clintons in making a great fortune, 12 months from now. What is there, not to like?

Obama’s rather insignificant activities will just be viewed, in the future, as G. W. Bush third and fourth terms. A janitor cleaning the master’s mess. Complete with colored (“bronze”) apartheid health plan.

What Sanders’ supporters are asking is to break that spiral into ever greater plutocracy (as plutocrat Bloomberg just recognized).”

Several readers approved my sobering message, yet some troll made a comment, accusing me of “racist “slander”. Racist? Yes the “bronze” plan phraseology is racist. I did not make it up. And it is also racist to make a healthcare system which is explicitly dependent upon how much one can afford. Krugman is all for it, but he is not on a “bronze” plan. Introducing apartheid in healthcare? Obama’s signature achievement. So why should we consider Obama as the greatest authority on “progressive change”? Because we are gullible? Because we cannot learn, and we cannot see? Is not that similar to accepting that Hitler was a socialist, simply because he claimed to be one, it had got to be true, and that was proven because a few million deluded characters voted for him?

We are in extreme circumstances, unheard of in 65 million years, they require extreme solutions. They do not require, nor could they stand, Bill Clinton’s Third Term (or would that be G. W. Bush’s fifth term? The mind reels through the possibilities).

“Change we can believe in”: the new boss, same as the old boss, the same exponentiation towards inequality, global warming and catastrophe, the same warm rhetoric of feel-good lies.

As it is, there is a vicious circle of disinformation between the Main Stream Media, and no change in the trajectory towards Armageddon. Yes, Obama was no change. Yes, Obama was the mountain of rhetoric, who gave birth to a mouse. Yes, we need real change, and it requires to start somewhere. And that means, not by revisiting the past.

Patrice Ayme’

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Yes, we do need real change, and every day that we think that this change is the responsibility of someone else then that is another day lost forever. Or in the more proasic words of Mahatma Gandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The changing North Atlantic.

The vastness of the seas and the immensity of their influence over all of us.

This is an introduction, a rather long one I’m warning, to a republication of a recent post by Patrice Ayme. An introduction that offers a deeply personal memory of the Atlantic ocean.

Many years ago, I spent 5 years living on a boat; a wonderful heavy-displacement ocean-going yacht of a type known as a Tradewind 33.

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

There is a place in my mind to which I can so easily travel; a memory of a dark night out in the Atlantic ocean one time in the Autumn of 1969. 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 (see footnote) 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.

I did warn you it would be a long introduction!

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Non-Linear Cold Blob Rising Over North Atlantic

The reason life survived on Earth for so long, and blossomed into animals, and now mind, is that the planet is equipped with homeostatic mechanisms (homeo means similar in Greek, and stasis, standing still). However, those mechanisms tend to be geological.

Human civilization is now having an impact on the biosphere of a violence probably never seen before. The changes are faster than what geology, or even life, can accommodate.

Some will brandish the impact of the Yucatan asteroid, and claim that was worse; however that’s just a theory: the biosphere was clearly under stress at the time from the Deccan Traps eruptions, and had been under that stress for hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions. At its worst, the Asteroid was just the straw which broke the Camel’s back.

2015 will be the warmest year since the end of the Eemian, 115,000 years ago. So why are record low temperatures appearing just south of Iceland? Yes, record lows, lower than ever recorded.

While The Rest Of Planet Is At Record Warmth, Off Iceland, Record Colds Are Achieved!
While The Rest Of Planet Is At Record Warmth, Off Iceland, Record Colds Are Achieved!

That was fully expected, and a demonstration of Non-Linearity of the incipient global warming. A phenomenon is linear when it looks like a line. Global warming is not going up like a line, as some places are warming at a rate ten times higher than the average, and some regions are cooling (and some are cooling spectacularly, off Iceland and some seas around Antarctica, for reasons related to warming).

The Dryas events were extremely fast and pronounced cooling events which happened several times during the period 10,000 years to 15,000 Before Present. Some lasted around a millennium, others, just a century. They vanished as fast as they came. They are named after a tundra flower, the Dryas. In Scandinavia forests were replaced by tundra graced with Dryas (hence the name). In Britain, average temperature collapsed to minus 5 degree Celsius, and glaciers formed at elevation.

These spastic events of drastic cooling, while, overall, de-glaciation was going on, long remained a mystery. Overall, the great glaciation which had brought glaciers down to New York, was on its way out, the planet was globally, irresistibly warming. So why would temperatures collapse in some places around Greenland by 15 degrees Celsius? The solution to the Dryas events’ spastic glaciation riddle? The same as always! Warming is non-linear.

What’s the theory? The details are uncertain, but we know that the Gulf Stream (aka the North Atlantic “Conveyor”) shorted, literally: analyses of deep sea sediments have shown this. The conveyor sends an enormous current of warm tropical waters northward.

When the warm tropical waters become very cold between Iceland and Spitzbergen, they sink to the bottom of the sea, and head south. This sinking, plus the pushing by trade winds in the tropics, is what provides the energy of the Gulf Stream.

However, if the warm tropical waters are capped by a very cold, but light sweet(er) water lid, they will get cold early, and sink before Iceland. This is what happened in the Dryas events.

And It Is Happening Again, Albeit On A Smaller Scale.
And It Is Happening Again, Albeit On A Smaller Scale.

Was it in response to a sudden influx of fresh water from Lake Agassiz and deglaciation in North America, and Greenland? Sudden freezing there would have removed the freshwater lid, hence the brutal switchback to warming after the brutal cooling. By the way, the sea level rising speed responded quickly, by a factor of three. After the typical Dryas cooling, oceanic rise rebounded to 18 millimeter per year right away (this shows that those who expect a slow rise of sea level rise are deluding themselves, or, more to the point, are trying to delude us!)

Nowadays a Dryas-like mechanism would have to rest on the melting of Greenland alone (that’s the only place with significant ice). This is, of course, insufficient, but summer 2015, cool and rainy over the northern North Atlantic is evidence that the effect is on. Scientific analysis confirms it. See: “Exceptional Twentieth Century Slow Down of Atlantic Ocean Overturning Circulation” (Nature, 23 March, 2015).

The exact nature of what is going on at this point is a matter of debate among experts. What is sure is that something is going on.

The Atlantic Conveyor Is A Subtle Thing, Yet Dominates Glaciation In The Arctic.
The Atlantic Conveyor Is A Subtle Thing, Yet Dominates Glaciation In The Arctic.

A similar situation beckons in Antarctica, where ice shield melting creates a freshwater lid all around which in turn freeze, extending the ice cap in the Austral winter.

When considering nonlinearity, subtlety and surprises are of the essence. This is true in physics, as it is in psychology, history, or politics.

And the morality in all this? The USA has played god. The European Union made a honest to goodness effort to reduce CO2 emission, while the USA, paying lip service to the opposite of what it was doing went right ahead, with its factory, the Plutocratic Republic of China, to use and abuse fossil fuels as never before.

So now what? Is god still American, as usual? At first it seems so: the USA started to frack massively and massive amounts of fossil fuels were extracted from the USA’s generous soil. When American companies tried the same in Poland, it failed: the underground god (Pluto?) did not cooperate: Polish soil is adverse to fracking.

Here comes the punchline: sea level has been rising fast along the Eastern seashore of the USA. Actually, three to four times faster than the world average. That’s more than one centimeter per year.

Why? Imagine a traffic jam. Or rather a crash ahead: things come to a halt, cars, water piles up behind. Maybe the Washington politicians will soon have to learn to swim, and not just against the tide of world public opinion.

The USA is going to be punished with its own instruments. Meanwhile 20 countries formed the V20, a group of twenty countries whose existence is immediately threatened by global warming, although they caused it not.

A Two Degree Celsius rise of temperature is indeed way too much: nonlinearity is upon us. Evil is always nonlinear.

Patrice Ayme’

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Footnote: The Les referred to is Les Powells, the yachtsman who sailed solo three times around the world. He and I became good friends when we met up at Larnaca Marina in Cyprus.

 

Les Powells book

 

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.