Winter, the sailor and a tale of two voyages.

Gott nytt år, as they say here in the north of Sweden. A time to reflect…

In 2006 I cut my ties with what passes as normal in today’s world. I sold everything I owned and raised my middle finger to the managers in my work place; they couldn’t believe their luck to finally remove another irritant from the workforce. Phase two in this descent into madness consisted of buying and living on a boat, trusting everything to fate and leaping over the metaphorical cliff into the abyss – and what a deep hole it was; I didn’t stop falling until two years later, and some would say that I’ve yet to hit the bottom. Who knows? I certainly don’t. What I do know is that this Saga consists of more life in eleven years than in most of my previous existence.


A frozen live-aboard on the Thames in England 2009.

Many folk have a highly romantic vision of the life of a single-handed, live-aboard sailor. To be fair it does have a highly enchanting component, but a great deal of it is tough, unrelenting and downright dangerous; the sea is a savage mistress for her minions. There are very few sailors who really understand this, as most have homes and use their vessels for recreational periods in summer and the occasional jaunt in early spring and late autumn. From my experience I would estimate that the majority sail the counter in their club’s bar and talk sea miles. I don’t claim to be the world’ greatest sailor but I have had a lot of water under my keel these past ten years. There can never be a substitute for experience and no amount of crewing with others or collecting certificates from sailing schools can alter this. A single-handed sailor is just that – alone.

Rügen Storm

You just have to take the rough with the smooth.

Up here in Scandinavia, there is no option to live afloat in winter unless you have a highly expensive, well insulated craft and a huge amount of money for fuel. I have experienced three savage winters in Amsterdam and England where I lived aboard for the whole winter in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The temperatures dropped to minus twelve and although it was a grim battle to stay warm, it did finally end; however, up here in Northern Sweden temperatures often drop as low as minus 35°. This is a completely different scenario, not only for physical discomfort, but the solitude in a culture that hibernates around its family hearths leaving very little social life outside of the main festivals. It is a time requiring true mental toughness and stability. Poor old Free is just not up to the task, despite her strength and resilience in rough weather and reliable, faithful seaworthiness.


Winter in Colchester, England 2011. It took some spleen to get through it!

My experience these past eleven years has been that a live-aboard sailor’s life consists of two voyages: External – the one revealed to the interested party – and an internal version deep into the realm of the psyche, almost impossible to share unless your reader has been there. Sometimes a meeting of two experienced solo-saiIors involves periods of contented silence over a few beers. No words are needed.

I have had conversations with those who want to live this life, and have tended to avoid this part because one’s adult development into a worthy human being depends on the ability to take full responsibility for life, which in these days of ‘health and safety’, litigation and freeloading off the state, seem to be almost non-existent. One may as well be speaking in another language.

Mid Ionian, no wind!

It’s not always hard! Mediterranean 2007

To conclude, if one has the strength of character to exist on the periphery of modern ‘society’ and become highly integrated on an elemental level, then the life of a live-aboard sailor is worthwhile and highly satisfying. On reflection I feel so fortunate and privileged to have weathered the physical and psychological storms of this life. I would not have swapped it for the world of comfort and illusory security, even during the worst moments. I have witness so much procrastination and quiet, polite despair in this modern world; folk drowning in self-delusion.

When my time comes, whether on my deathbed or out there in the ‘Big blue’, I will know that I have lived life to the full as a viking would have.

How many can say that?

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Now is the winter of my content.

I love winter; it gives value to the other seasons. The North is my passion with its constant change and fusion into panoramic hues. The fjords are a wonderful contrast of deciduous silver birch with their surrendering foliage and the resilient, lush spruce. I can only stand in blissful awe of Odin’s sylvan palette.

OneThe sweltering, tropical heat with its predictable sunset curfew, plunging all into darkness is not for me, neither are the sudden, violent storms and a barometer that hardly seems to move at all.

Many of my Swedish friends have been disappointed by a somewhat temperamental summer, which is understandable, considering the prolonged darkness of the normal Scandinavian winter; but for me it has been like a typical northern British summer and some lovely coastal sailing on the Jungfrukusten (Maiden’s Coast).


I have sailed just over three hundred and fifty nautical miles this year, in challenging, gusty conditions with delightful sojourns in Hudiksvall and Söderhamn; a pleasing balance of solitude and conviviality with friends and complete strangers.


I could not have asked for more as the eleventh year of my Saga ends.

Winter will soon soon cast her cloak upon the land and Free shall lie on her cradle to slumber until the sun returns next year. Now a new challenge awaits me with a Swedish winter in the village; a small apartment above my friend Micke’s house.


The gods will play in the heavens as the winter spirits dance on the land and I shall witness with reverence, this timeless ecstasy, a blessing to behold.

I would be lying to tell you that this sailing life is easy or always blissful. Of course it isn’t. There have been times when my body flirted with its breaking point, blood running down my hands from flailing ropes under full sail, my back wrenched into agony. And yet, would I have replaced it all?

And the solitude? A singlehanded sailor has to be mentally tough, for there is no one else to blame in those moments of total chaos when life hangs in the balance. But the aloneness becomes integral and percolates through one’s being, liberating the need to seek happiness outside of the self.

There is true unity with the divine this way.




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Sailing is not a life for the squeamish. It’s one thing to relax in a light Mediterranean breeze with a group of friends on your holidays, but a completely different situation to be single-handed in a near gale, heavily reefed up, knowing that a single mistake could be your last.


Finally meeting Per-Olof (Pelle). The epitome of the single-handed sailor.

I was fortunate and privileged to finally meet Per-Olof (Pelle), from Göteborg. He has been sailing alone for years and we became friends on the internet via our blogs. The chances of actually meeting were very small, but it finally happened, right here in Borka!

Pelle has been to some amazing places that I can only dream about visiting, including Shetland and the far north of Norway, Nordkapp itself, the furthest northerly point in Europe. A very impressive portfolio. Pelle’s Blog

Listening to his adventures was a wonderful way to wile away an afternoon, culminating in a kind offer to share an evening meal in the restaurant.


Pelle’s faithful yacht, the conquerer of the northern seas!

I must admit to being enchanted by Pelle’s tales of northern sailing and felt the rumbling of awakening deep within. Dreams of a possible voyage north to Norway? If I’m honest, ten years has been a long time to be sailing alone and I have often considered finally swallowing the anchor, but listening to Pelle’s experiences has made me reflect somewhat.


Pelle up near Nordkapp, way north of the Arctic Circle. He kindly permitted me to use the photograph to demonstrate the quality of polar light.

Is there still time to make an epic voyage up the coast of Norway to the top of Europe? Somehow I doubt it. I’ve had many experiences further south and been close-hauled to potential disaster so often that I am rather enjoying this relaxing time among the good folk of Borka as I enter my sixties. Do I really need anymore adventuring? No one knows what the future brings or where the inspiration comes from. These days, a sense of peace and harmony has descended upon me, detachment from humanity’s apparent fall into madness.


Gentle sailing on the Jungfrukusten, coffee in the restaurant and a chance to relax and chat with wonderful friends, is a sweet way to spend these summer days in the far north, where the air is fresh and the sky clear of chemtrails with the constant drone of aircraft.

Maybe the world is designed for us to find our way to what is true, through adversity, and that happiness is in fact the reason for living.

I’ll settle for that.

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Keeping it free…

Ten years of freedom has left me time to reminisce on my great fortune and grace. I am certain that we are the captain’s of our own destiny, if we can only realise it. The more negativity and excuses I hear from folk, the more it convinces me of the truth that freedom has to be a state of mind; if the mind is right then the art of life will surely follow.

Please don’t get the idea, that it is easy to be free and that it means a sort of feckless abandon of all values and boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth.


From an early age, this was my dream…

In fact it is easier to capitulate and remain in a ‘slavery’ mindset than taking the necessary steps to break out and claim your life back from the system that haunts our lives like a psychic vampire, feeding us petty resentment in return for our pure, sacred life force. Modern life appears set up to drill us on the art of resentment and discontent, giving all sorts of excuses to stay enslaved in the festering, stagnant, warm cocoon of grown up infantility and apparent security. It is a total lie. Everywhere one can see it: no thought before speech, noisy, angry, selfish action hiding behind the self importance of tribal blood family bounds, where everyone else can go to hell and so-called community is set up to support us, us, us!


This is not an easy option to the rat race…. it is fraught with danger and easy to die. The question must be, what is the purpose of life – freedom or slavery? Doing what you want to do, is surely the purpose of living, isn’t it? Cowardice is always the easiest option.

We have to change society, not through politics, and angry protest, but quiet, powerful reconnection with the divine. Our minds need to become servants again… servants to our true selves, the consciousness that is who we truly are. Too often the mind is the master, leading us down a road of addiction to thinking and wrong action; It is us who are the creators of the Divine Lila, the cosmic dance of universal consciousness. Just ask the question, ‘Who am I?’ Or maybe, ‘what am I not?’ Are you just a body or are you awareness and consciousness itself?

Right at this very moment, one can step outside the agreement of society and take back the power that is our birthright. We weren’t born to be slaves.

We were born to be free!


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A lazy limbo.

The devil plays with the best made plans…

Seafaring is dependent on so many things, not only the weather and sea conditions, but the financial and external situations, often way beyond one’s control.

My plan this year had been to leave Sweden and head south towards Poland, aiming to winter somewhere near the Rhineland, Netherlands border. After a year of inactivity due to business back in the UK, I find myself suffering from the results some months later, culminating in the drying up of one of my main sources of income.


Free… All ready and dressed up with nowhere to go…

The skullduggery of modern financial practices looks like it has soiled my next few years of sailing and has seriously challenged my desire to remain free. Ah well, such is life. I’ve had ten years, how could I not be eternally grateful for that? The generosity of this wonderful club here in Borka, allows me some leeway and a chance to remain in a more passive capacity. Sailing if possible must be confined to the local Jungfrukusten (Maiden’s Coast).

The nature of time is somewhat meaningless for a live-aboard sailor. Can it really be ten years already, since I first left the land? Thousands of miles later and an endless spectrum of amazing folk, leaves me in a timeless wonderland that is devoid of rigidity and mindless rules. I am truly thankful for that. On my winter returns to the United Kingdom, I am struck by the polarity of the country and the divide that exists after voting to leave the European Community. Folk appear quick to anger and keen to spew vitriol over all and asunder – and pity for those that have a middle of the road response to the decline of the nation. Their way is of course is bound to be the right way…. God help us all.


The lovely folk in Borka, who have always made me feel so welcome. Micke, Sofi and Robin in the wonderful restaurant, an oasis of community.

I dread the thought of having to live in Britain again after the freedom of movement I have been used to; any restriction of travel can never benefit the free thinker, and lover of freedom. Instead, the narrow-minded, contraction of an old Empire that still tries to punch above its weight, and punishes its poor people with a diet of propaganda and ridiculous austerity measures, seems to running at full speed towards a period of sheer dreadfulness, not experienced since the Thatcher years.


Birthday treat! A free Hälsingland cheesecake from Micke!

My sixtieth birthday came as a real surprise this year and reminded me why I love this small corner of Sweden so much. My dear friends Kjell-Arne and Margareta, surprised me with an afternoon tea and flowers, and the restaurant added to a perfect day with some lovely gestures. It is lovely to feel wanted at times, especially for a vagabond such as myself. My own family was hardly the place to feel valued and Borka sometimes feels the closest to a family I have ever had. So many wonderful folk have graced my travels. You all know who you are.

So, the sad demise of the links between the United Kingdom and Sweden will be felt by many of us, who’ve come to love it here. Oh yes, knowledgable British pro-Brexit, folk will remind me of all the good reasons for leaving and I do agree with some of them, but I fear more the sordid, little bunch of incestuous, greedy, mean-spirited people who will replace the chaotic, rather silly Brussels government. I suppose the question is, what is the lesser of two evils? Having already stolen our pensions, in the name of austerity, to reinvest the money in their pro-American, military shenanigans, and other clandestine activities, I cannot see any kind of future that is worth returning for.


Free, from a helicopter… Why would you want to leave this?

Now I am entering ostrich mode… attempting to pretend that everything will remain the same and that I won’t need to leave; but I know that this is just an illusion and that the clock is running down.

How fortunate I have been to have experienced the sweet freedom and yes the universe is always changing, but you never know…

You never know.

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Romancing the fear.

I will always love Scandinavia….Viking genes are there in my DNA, my ancestors settling in the West of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it is that very spirit that calls to me now.

The preparations are underway; so much to do with food supplies and the inevitable maintenance necessary to keep a sea-going vessel ship-shape and Bristol fashion! Thinking about it produces a mental mountain, seemingly impossible to scale, but it will be done, one step at a time.


On an evening like this, anything seems possible.

The weather is crazy in Sweden at this time of the year not unlike the United Kingdom, but amplified massively. It is easy to be caught out in the Baltic as I have found out to my cost. There is only so much one can prepare for, and I suppose that applies to life in general. How much security is there? Some? Little? Or none. I’d go with the latter.

Here comes the storm...

Free is about to get whacked by a freak storm just off Piteå in the northern Baltic back in 2014. There really is little or no security for a sailor.

It still surprises me when folk ask if my life is dangerous, and ‘are you afraid?’ I can’t help a rueful smile as I see their own fear manifesting itself within their own eyes, applying the uncertainty of modern life to my own. My reply remains consistent. ‘Of course I am.’

There is no shame in fear for it is healthy and indeed necessary for our very survival. How one uses it though is the key to a fulfilling, happy life. Fear is the fuel that produces action in its positive sense; however, it is all too easy to succumb to apathy and terror, causing eventual paralysis of body and spirit. Before long, one finds an overwhelming sense of helplessness and eventually depression as the fear corrodes all that makes us human. reducing us to cowards and slaves.

Time to face the fear, that alchemical catalyst.

I know my life must appear terrifying to some and I cannot deny there are moments when I call out to the Gods for protection, but the same limitations are there for everyone, no matter what they do.

Can you see a way through it? Will there ever be an end to the uncertainty of life with all the terrorism, dangerous environments and constant threats from banks, governments and those that we trust; even our own families and friends?

There will never be security… life never has been, nor ever will be a touchy, feely new-age paradise. It is what it is… a tough universe.

'Alone with you'

There will always be small oases of peace and relief in the eye of the storm. Here I am in the Stockholm Archipelago during the long voyage north in 2013.

I love to live this life knowing that each day could be my last. It hones the mind and swells the heart into a massive, and boundless source of joy, the sense of a life well lived for a’ that.

Welcome to the Lila the cosmic dance of the Hindus. They understood that we are all parts of this vast and terrifying beauty.

Take your partners please!!!

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The fog on the Tyne was all mine…

Yes it was, once upon a time.

And suddenly I am sixty years old…

This is a shocking revelation for someone who still sees themselves as thirty-four and yet there is no way to sugarcoat it.

I have pulled together my thoughts over this past month – since leaving the North East again – in an attempt to close the cycle and complete the healing of an emotionally charged childhood.


Return of the native… South Shields, my home town.

I had delayed my return over and over again since my last time way back during my teacher training in Scotland. Then it was a visit to my last known surviving relative, my Aunty Dolly, but she didn’t recognise me. How can your roots be so thin, like a desert shrub, gripping to the sands of time? What a lesson in how transient we are, no matter what we believe; not that this was a required reminder for me for I suppose I have always felt it… Here is the root of my wandering life, slowly becoming an ancient mariner; never able to cut the cord of the eternal voyage.


Hawthorn Leslie, my Grandpa’s shipyard, back when the Tyne was a working River. This is how I remember it.

So when I arrived at South Shields Metro Station, a feeling of nostalgia flooded through me, quite expecting to see my Grandma, waiting in her old maroon coat like she used to do after school. The ghosts were whispering all the way down to street level but there was nothing but the brisk, chilly easterly wind blowing up King Street from the Ocean Road.


The Big River today, a ghost of its former self… Looking west towards Tyne Dock, Jarrow and Wallsend. Where did all the ships go? Gone also the smoke and the fog. 🎶I can remember when/ for I was just a child of ten…🎵

What happened to my river, the mighty, coaly Tyne? I sought the answer over the next few days, retreading my footsteps, past my old school St Gregory’s RC, through Harton Cemetery where I used to talk to the graves, imagining an underground city where all the dead were in fact still alive.

The sun graced me with her presence nearly everyday during my nostalgic ramblings, and the indulgent ghosts walked side by side with me around the town and out onto the Coast road that runs down through Whitburn to Sunderland. Was that rambling old Restaurant the ‘Marsden Grotto’ still open, where my father used to take me for ice cream on Sundays when he returned?


A childhood icon… the Marsden Grotto Restaurant.

However, like everything else, it seemed to have become jaded, a memory of something that once was… and now isn’t.

Perhaps the only real solace came in the form of something that will never really change here, and that is the magnificent North Sea Coast, a survivor of the endless battering from the freezing, violent seas that have sustained South Shields and yet taken so many lives on her fishing boats and Merchant ships.


Marsden Bay, typifies the magnificent Coastline of the North East.

How many masses were said for the fathers’ of my childhood schoolmates after they were lost to its brutal cruelty? We children were brothers and sisters in tragedy.

The beauty and power of this coast fashioned me into the person I have become. The rawness and self-belief, which often pushes folk away from me; the tenderness from witnessing the suffering of Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies, and the sheer bloody-mindedness from being told I was never good enough.


Farewell to the Tyne…

Standing on the beach that afternoon, I spat into the wind with the belligerence of a viking that would rather die than be a slave, and then walked back towards the Metro to catch the train back to my hostel in Newcastle. The following morning, crossing back over the Tyne bridge and heading south towards Liverpool, I said my final farewell to the past, leaving the ghosts waving goodbye on the platform.

I could almost here them say: “Farewell hinnie… do wor family proud.”

I hope I have… truly, I do.

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