Title photograph : Inanda, west Solent UK
This is the first of a series of slightly more thoughtful posts which i will be working on during the recovery period after my knee surgery. Most of this series of posts is already written and it’s mainly the editing and ‘tarting-up’ that i have left for this period. Alongside these posts i will be working on ‘live’ posts most days and those are going off in a completely different direction as per the other ‘first post’
Several months ago i was kicking around a thought exercise : essentially whether or not it was a viable idea to take the little Hunter Liberty on a transocean voyage and this series of posts follows along similar lines. There are 2 threads that i have in mind to follow here , one is the detail or practical stuff, for example of which boat, what gear and so on, the other is the ‘why’ and that’s a lot harder to write. As father Ted puts it….a bit of navel-gazing.
It’s really tempting to write along my usual lines which is to take the small practical problems and develop a post around those, there will be some of that because ocean sailing in small boats does present a step up in problem solving. Along those lines i intend to post about subjects such as managing water, food and stores, keeping myself and the boat in good order and basic ocean seamanship.
Alongside those i intend to use this down-time to explore the why of long distance sailing and the internal journey of longer voyages and long term cruising. The great thing for me in the context of this blog is that it’s yet another side of voyaging that i haven’t done yet, and yes i have sailed around the world and in high latitudes already but haven’t spent much time on my own or with just my partner, in a small sailing boat. In a way this series is a ‘what next’ set of posts : what i want to do next with my sailing life, why i want to do that, how i plan to do it and so on. The second side to that is talking about the experiences of those who have done it and written about it. Coming soon in the series is a post about one of my all time hero’s Commander Bill King.
Today, when i was thinking about these posts for the first time i was trying not to just deal with the how and where but the why and when. Let me explain that a little in the context of things i have done so far. In my early 20’s i suddenly discovered sailing for the first time and via the unusual route of seeing a documentary film about an early Whitbread race featuring skipper Clare Francis and her boat ADC Accutrac. I was immediately grabbed by a single minded purpose that right then i wanted to sail around the world, without at that time, any relevant experience. Anyone who i had talked about that just thought it was stupidly pretentious because i wasn’t even a particularly competent or tough offshore sailor. That desire and drive stayed with me throughout the years of uncomfortable and often miserable offshore racing until around 1989, it hadn’t worked out by then and you could say that the dream was fading and i was being sensible and trying to be a career intensive care charge nurse. The desire came back overwhelmingly when the chance to take part in the race came about completely unexpectedly. To say that it and the circumnavigation we did the following year was life changing is way short of the mark. I was completely fulfilled in ocean sailing just as long as that form of sailing had meaning and purpose. I would say now that i had a peak experience and then a huge come-down afterwards. The moment that it stopped being fulfilling, essentially the moment that i became an ocean taxi-driver for an owner and whingeing guests. Instead of it being meaningful and enjoyable it rapidly just became a tedious, uncomfortable and low paid job. I once described it as running a cheap B&B for whiny guests…….. that i could never get away from. It didn’t help that i’m not exactly a social person either. That time has given me a stack of experience though and a reserve fund of sea stories…..some of which are even true !
After those good and bad experiences it became harder to find other peak experiences to have in sailing, or at least to work towards so i actually stopped sailing for a while and went off on other adventures, long distance hiking for example and canoeing/sea-kayaking. I don’t really talk about any of that here even though we had many great adventures, unfortunately they are all before the time i had a digital camera so it’s really hard to illustrate those trips with photography.
French pass. New Zealand
A friend of mine in sailing who has done not one but 3 Whitbread races, the first 2 Jules Verne challenges and so on described his own ‘post-experience’ feeling as being a ‘lost soul’ and somewhat purposeless. I had that too but when i came back to sailing it was out of a simple desire to be on the sea again and nothing to do with another major race or big trip. One thing to come out of my canoe and bushcraft years was the enjoyment of micro-adventures. My first love is still the sea though and its hard to explain but its almost as if i am a born sailor ! and don’t really belong on the land and in the culture that i have around me. Putting out to sea for the first time aboard my Frances 26 with the windpilot doing the work of steering re-kindled all of that desire to leave land behind again : going to sea ‘solo’ was a total revelation in my sailing life. My sailing for the last few years has been more along the lines of escaping the continuous life noise that we all seem to have to live with and just for short periods so that i don’t just say ‘shed-it’ in my ‘normal’ life. I have often had the strange sense that i have been part of a tribe of sea-going people where i have a greater shared life experience with a bunch of sailing oddballs rather than say the people i have to work with. Another friend, with a military background says the same of his comrades and talks about a similar disconnection from ‘normal’ life. Its actually quite hard for me to get this across properly which is why i am going to use this time to explore these thoughts further. Up until recently i would have found this all a bit pretentious and navel-gazing except that the life within it has seemed far more rich and meaningful but i don’t have my own words for it worked out yet…… Something along the lines of a quote from French sailing mystic Bernard Moitessier ”
“I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth, a nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats, which is immense and without borders, where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea.