Tag: Tradewind 33

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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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.

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.”

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.

Göbekli Tepe

The most amazing ancient site, possibly in the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A scene from Gobekli Tepe

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

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

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

[my italics]

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

Anyway, enjoy this video,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sort of puts the history of man into perspective!

Being at sea!

A discovery of some writing from the past triggers memories.

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

So first here’s that earlier post from 2009.

A personal reflection on this rather strange way of travelling!

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

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

Songbird of Kent
Tradewind 33 - Songbird of Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

at sea

By Paul Handover

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

Being at Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting sun ahead of a night on the ocean.

Copyright © 2008 Paul Handover