The ecstasy and the agony

Seafaring is a dangerous life…An obvious statement of fact but painfully true. When you are in your element you also stand on the edge of hell, as was revealed off the island of Iggön on the evening of the twenty-seventh of June.

Helgoland was the last episode of misfortune where I found an uncharted rock in the Sudhafen back in 2013. Since then there has been an unblemished, glorious accumulation of sea miles amongst Archipelagos from the south of Sweden, up into the waters of Lapland and then down the scary, rock-infested coast of Finland.

My nemesis in the harbour at Helgoland.

Always in the back of any sailor’s mind is the thought that this time may be the last, for who knows what lurks beneath the surface? Make no mistake, humility comes with experience, for armchair yacht masters are always lecturing on what should and should not be done from their bar stools. The reality is somewhat different, of course.

My good fortune finally ran out after two days of wonderful light-wind sailing from the island of Agön in the Enångersfjärden, southward to Iggön just north of Gävle. One moment of madness, a fatal lapse of concentration and that was that – taking the ground in the anchorage. I missed the transit marks to take me safely into the center of the anchorage for the first time in five years and… well, just that.

Painful rest knowing that Free is wounded. I wait for the morning…

It is so difficult to rest on the anchor while your friend is wounded below the waterline, not knowing how much water she will take in during the night. Such beauty above and such hell below. I will always remember this fateful night as one of extreme beauty; a pristine full moon and a glorious sunset. Isn’t that the nature of things? The ecstasy and the agony. All of this at the end of thirty miles of pure sailing, a memorable dance with a tricky light breeze, harnassing her the best way I could – pulling out all of the tricks of my lifetime’s experience. All of this concluded with a disastrous lapse of concentration. Oh if only time could be reversed for ten mad seconds.

 

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The end of another battle: alongside in Gävle after a hell of a fight from Iggön.

 

The following day I had to run the gauntlet in a powerful sou’ westerly, in an attempt to reach Gävle, where I knew there were facilities to examine the damage. This town lies in the awkward southwestern enclave of the notorious Gävle Bight, capable of some really rough stuff.

This was a good time to be reunited with Roger Lundqvist, an old friend who has helped me so many times. He knows all there is to know about this area, especially boatyards with technical facilities. He knows the right people, for such an affair. If I had to choose a location for impact then it would have to be here – truly fortuitous.

 

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Roger Lundqvist, ‘The Angel of Gävle’. 

 

Roger and the local guys are all related to the local boat yard Fliskär, just outside of the town, and it was here that I took Free the following day. This is the perfect place in this part of Sweden to haul a boat out of the water without having to find a local crane driver and then the wood, plus carpenter to complete the task. Within an hour of arriving, the yard had my poor old sister out of the water and out onto steel supports.

 

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Out at Fliskär boatyard.

The prognosis was as bad as I thought. The keel had taken a real wallop and cracked in several places. Ironically, it seems as if this incident has revealed further previous damage as the keel’s cement filling appears to be waterlogged, possibly the result of my intimate meeting with a reef of the coast of Ithaca in Western Greece back in 2007. Of course, it might have been even before I bought her in 2006 – who knows?

 

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The cruel sea…

So what’s next?

What can I say?

Perhaps Roger and the guys can work a temporary miracle. Maybe Free can continue her voyage south, in the twilight of her life. Seafaring is unpredictable by nature and no sailor can tell when their last voyage will be. There are times when I feel so tired of this life and yet, the feel of a gentle reach and fair breeze with the sun sparkling in the wake, makes this better than anything else that the world can offer.

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And so it goes…

How the years have flown…

This was the fifth time that Free has been lowered into the Gulf of Bothnia in as many years. How time has flown since 2013 when I crossed the northern sixty-degree parallel, venturing into waters so rarely visited by British sailors. I have never been interested in long ocean passages, or tropical paradises, rather the northerly reaches of our continent. How much is missed by those who follow the yacht highway to the south and west, Mediterranean and Caribbean? If only they knew what they were missing! And I’m in no hurry tell them, not that they’d take any notice of this old Viking and her unorthodox methods. Sure, I’ll never be able to teach anyone to sail like a Yachtmaster.

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As north as it gets… Törehamn in the northern Gulf of Bothnia, 65º 40′ North.

Travelling is like a fine wine to savour, not the thrash and bang of modern ways with all the jet planes, hotels, and crowded tourism, but like it once must have been. Up here one can almost fade into the eternal, lose the sense of self and enter that infinite realm of the gods. Unfortunately, the return into teeming civilisation hits hard and my heart cries out once again for the call of solitude. Gods abide in the silence.

I know enough about life to realise that nothing lasts forever and that should this all become normality, it would surely detract from its glory. No, the time is approaching when a southerly voyage is probable, for the sake of a sacred memory of this wonderful saga. Can I pull myself away?

The silver thread

Is it possible to leave all this behind?

Time and time again I have decided to leave only to be lured back into my Scandinavian dream, but now there is a sense of wanderlust afoot. That old travelling bone is stirring again and I know it so well; this impulse that has run through my veins since being a child, from my hunger for the sailor’s life, through years of drifting around the world –  until now. I have never settled anywhere for very long and been typical for my Scots/Irish ancestors, a veritable wanderer.

The glorious present is a sun-soaked early summer after the long, beautiful harsh Swedish winter. Free appears to have survived it so well, although at times I feared for her condition as she lay under her brutal winter shroud. She never ceases to amaze me, my noble, brave little sailer, how she fights off everything that the elements can throw at her, almost as if Odin, himself was at the helm.

“Come on winter,” she seemed to say, “Show me what you’ve got…”

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“Show me what you’ve got!” My brave friend said to the winter queen.

As the years go by, I find myself losing the ambition of the earlier part of my sailing life. Who cares where I go? Do I, even? One thing that I have learned in this life is it is the journey that matters, not the destination. My reasons for starting this saga was the result of a request from a friend, then it started to grow, despite the many times I have considered putting it to rest. Some wonderful cyber-folk have passed through the comments section and some still remain. If it has inspired one person then surely it was worth it. I have a feeling to sail around mid-June, but how many times before have I said that? Being a creature of spontaneity, I am likely to change my mind every other minute, so in real terms, anything could happen!

Next to Kevin on the Camino de Santiago. Will this be our reunion?

This year may see Kevin, my old friend from the Camino de Santiago, paying a visit. He expressed a desire to learn sailing, so it is possible that he may sail with me, although quite what he thinks he’ll learn, is open to interpretation. For many folks, living in a small, moving, cramped space and having to be ridiculously tidy is too much to cope with. However one never really knows until they try –  and perhaps Kevin will prove to be the exception to the rule.

The hot sunshine smiles down on the awakening land, now fully arisen from her winter slumber, and I am reminded of high summer. What a strange year it is becoming. Could this be a hot, endless summer after one of the coldest Swedish winters in years? Life is sweet with my friends here, Marie Sandin, Kjell-Arne Hollmo and many others who have made me so welcome. Sure, it would be sad to let them go, but the world is my family, and I have been blessed with a lovely one.

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Born under a wandering star.

I remember from my childhood the song from a musical Paint your wagon where Lee Marvin sings the old classic, ‘I was born under a wandering star’. One particular line stands out in my memory and still rings true all these years later: Snow can burn your eyes but only people make you cry.

I was indeed born under a wandering star like my father before me and many sailing great uncles going back generations into the days of tall ships, where they sailed as the famous ‘Wild Geese’, the name given to the old wandering Irish sailors of yore. Their genes are within me and if I close my eyes in contemplation, the sounds and fragrance of the those old days haunts my deepest inner senses.

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In Hudiksvall with my dear friend Marie who has opened the delights of Sweden in so many special ways.

Despite the nomadic nature of my existence, the value of friends has never been more important and I take those relationships very seriously. They are an important lifeline, perhaps even more so for a transitory being than one established within a supportive community with blood family.

The difference between aloneness and loneliness is significant and often confused in a world where many folk cannot bear the silence necessary to invoke healing and spiritual growth. The eternal television and radio noise fills those sustaining moments with an essence of avoidance, or unwillingness to meet the higher self or even each other. The eternal silence is where one meets one’s true self and begins the journey to enlightenment and true connection with God, or cosmic consciousness. A wandering sailor has to master the ability to be alone in the former sense, in complete harmony with the elemental realm; not just for spiritual health, but also to survive the rigours of seafaring with all its perils.

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The importance of human contact is crucial to balance the ethereal nature of wandering alone in an elemental world, enabling a harmonious, balanced existence. I haven’t always been successful in the past, and found the adaption to seafaring life difficult in the early days, while weaning myself away from the surreal, apparent normality of modern existence.

The love of friends provides a safe anchorage for a solitary sailor and the smile and kindness of a human heart in a far off distant land is a priceless gift. Angelic intervention occurs in so many ways, for sure. The smile is a reminder of our common heritage as members of the human family – transcending the duality of the tribal, blood family with its exclusivity. The world is full of lonely, disconnected folk, many of whom need only the recognition that they are loved. Society at times seems to be so focussed on ambition that it forgets the sacred heart… the heart that loves all.

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Mačit and son in Turkey back in 2007, welcomed me into their family.

My gratitude for all those wonderful folk I have met over the years throughout the world is huge. It is possible to live life without the need to fill every moment with stimulation, balancing it with those special gifts of friendship that transcend faith, language and culture.

Just smile at a stranger today and you will never know just how much value it has – but rest assured, the day may come when its reciprocation could save your life.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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Single-handers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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