Zen and the art of elemental living…

A long, hot summer has graced the north of Sweden, but there are always reminders that the weather can change at any moment into a fusion of elemental pulses. This week have seen two low pressure systems camped over Norway, birthing some wild and unpredictable winds plus some welcome rain.

Changes are rapid up here on the Jungfrukusten (Maiden’s Coast) and one has to adapt with philosophy by preparing the living space of a boat with enough domestic comfort to allay the sudden arrival of damp, challenging climatic conditions.

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My friend Roger Lundqvist and me taking a coffee break in Borka Restaurant while fitting another heating system!

Many of you who have ‘sailed’ with me on the ‘Viking Saga’ over the past few years will be aware of the struggle I have had trying to adapt Free to a heating system that promotes as much comfortable living as is possible on a battered old motor sailer! Much of this may be of interest for potential live-aboard sailors and I would caution you to pay close attention as to how you intend to survive severe conditions before buying an appropriate vessel.

When I bought Free she was equipped with an awful, unreliable Eberspacher hot air blower which barely worked, despite having recently been overhauled, and had the unpleasant habit of trying to gas me every time it started. Solution… watery grave in Marmaris Bay!

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Roger attaches the exhaust from my new Wallas heating system.

Next I tried Harry, the Dutch Heatpol diesel, gravity drip-feed heater, which I had to purchase due to my lovely solid fuel fire, Bilbo (I know, you must be questioning if I am even sane… But I have to talk to someone during my long solo periods afloat!) being out of bounds during a bitterly cold winter in Sixhaven Marina, Amsterdam. Those in command were insistent that diesel fumes are more healthy than wood smoke, so like it or lump it. I needed to spend yet more money for something I never really wanted.

Poor old Harry did his best but alas, burned a huge amount of fuel for very little heat. Now he has been bought by someone down in Gävle thanks to my friend Roger selling him for me.

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No… it isn’t a ‘snake dance’, just the heating pipe for the new heater, which now needs to be threaded around the saloon and front cabin, allowing the warm air access to the living area.

Finally, I decided on a Wallas system that hails from Finland, which has similarities with the Eberspacher, although allegedly much better for marine use. Time will tell, I suppose. Needless to say a new name is needed and what better than Willie, after the great Scottish and Celtic footballer, Willie Wallace? (Wallas… Wallace. Get it? Sorry!)

Hopefully, some of the great man’s  panache will rub off on the chilly nights and warm me up, with great memories of footballing glory! Let’s not consider the alternative…

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The final touches. ‘Willie’ will soon be doing what he should do best… pumping hot air into my living accommodation. Hope he will be as good as his namesake!

Soon the Autumn will arrive. The Rowan tree in Kjell-Arne’s garden is pregnant with berries foretelling of a bitterly cold winter to come. Who knows? A really cold one is due though. Free will hopefully return to her natural element next May and then it really must be time to sail again, but this time south towards Poland, a final departure.

As usual, I will go with the spontaneity of the freedom that is my blessing and whatever comes will be as it should be. I care nothing for the future and very little for the past, except to carry the special, memories of my Scandinavian sojourn in my heart and give thanks for the special folk left in my wake.

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Träbåtens Dag!

Every year in Borka, the harbour is invaded by wooden boats (träbåten). This is a chance for everyone to come together and celebrate, summer and these beautiful traditional craft.

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Here come the wooden boats!

Not only is it a festival of traditional wooden boats, but also a chance for friends and family from all around the area to meet and catch up. Folk set up stalls to sell local crafts, a curious mixture between a car boot sale and a fete.

On a beautiful, hot sunny day, I volunteered to help with selling ‘warmkorvar’ (hot dogs); it was non stop – filling, supplying, and all the other actions associated with keeping a stall going in a busy event.

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Margareta, Ingrid and me just before the ‘big off’!

As with most of my musings there is a philosophical thread, that hopefully weaves itself into the post and in this case I wonder about the nature of community and the need for governments.

With the recent political upheaval in the United Kingdom and the vitriol and sheer spite being thrown around the airwaves and social networking sites, I question the direction that humanity is travelling in. All of the emotion and pure resentment on both sides of the argument is unpleasant enough, but the catalyst to all of this seems to lie firmly at the feet of the media and our so-called leaders (maybe tentacles on the same monster?), most of whom have nothing to do with ordinary folk.

Do we really need these leaders?

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One of the museum’s collection of old engines roars into life!

Since Borka Brygga became my home harbour I have witnessed a union of very capable folk who come together so solve all manner of problems and yet centralised government and corporate capitalism draws away the youth of these communities to the big city. They leave for the same reasons young people have always left, but is it possible that if local communities provided a sense of purpose and a cultural vibrancy away from the television and dreams of celebrity, the need for centralised government would slowly fade away, encouraging young folk to stay? Maybe giving time can replace giving money, after all what is the most valuable commodity in our lives? Money is really only solid energy, and we labour our whole lives away to obtain this energy, only to have no time left to enjoy it.

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Let the festivities begin!

 The big cities provide a magnet to suck away all of the youthful vigour necessary to allow small communities to thrive. Time and time again we witness what happens when production techniques allow over exploitation, whether of people or produce. One only needs to sail up the Swedish Coast to witness the death of the fishing industry, and the growth of holiday homes. What if we only took what we needed? Would fishing communities still exist? This can be applied to many different small settlements. Why can’t small be beautiful?
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Small is beautiful! Just like Borka!

 Borka is small and beautiful, but its young people face the same challenges of capitalist expansion. They must leave, because the community is trying to play by corporate rules, imagining that if they do so, something will come along in the future to save them…
It won’t. The whole of this part of Sweden is dependant on the Iggesund Mill, in a nearby village, and if that closes… then what? Modern communities are built on sand and financed by big business and to imagine that they care one iota is a modern, sad illusion.
When one witnesses the amazing ability and IT intelligence of our young folk, there is no excuse not to harness it for a more humane, compassionate society.
Maybe I am a dreamer, but am I the only one?

 

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Glad midsommar

This year Sweden celebrated her most important festival on Friday the 24th of June three days after the celestial midsummer’s eve.

Obviously,  this was because the working week ended inconveniently after the most sacred of feasts. I suppose this has me considering, how seriously we all take work these days. Nothing ever stops for the ‘big machine’.

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Midnight in Borka.

We do it all for the few, and then we grasp desperately at every moment we can, to forget; to celebrate something – anything, to take our weary hearts and minds away from it all. This brings me conveniently to the recent Brexit (what a foul word) referendum, which saw an Elitist British establishment throw we gladiators into the arena, to fight amongst ourselves, when in reality the rich will keep power whatever happens, with the paltry droppings of ‘false democracy’ to fool us into thinking we really have a say in the ugliness of global capitalism. Simple, humble ordinary folk, the kind who have been cannon fodder for countless wars, voted for their ‘country’ back and won the vote; but did they really achieve it, or is it yet another game within a game?

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The morning after and the party continues!

Here in Sweden, I have to admit to feeling curiously alone right now, with no one to talk to about what has happened; but hey… what is really going to change? Has anything ever changed? Truly?

Always we return to same old thing… the world is perfect as it is – and until one can see through the miasma, that perverts our vision – we see a lie and believe it. Last night I sat watching the sun playing amongst the clouds and felt the silence of perfection all around me.

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This is all there is…Love it.

This bliss is our birthright if only we can see through the fog of deception. We all have the awareness to truly connect with the ‘now’, and it is good news! Just realise that every story is just that… a story, a thought, an emotion, a this , a that… and it will pass. It always has.

Let it flow through, observe it, play with it even… but don’t buy into it. Life is fun, but taken seriously at one’s peril.

So, a happy mid summer to you all and may the shortening days remove the suffering that our ‘masters’ have inflicted upon us and remember that ‘we’ are the only real masters of our hearts.

Remember the immortal words of Oscar Wilde…

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Birthday Boots!

My sea boots are ten years old today!

Now, this is a really strange post I grant, but I feel a terrible sadness at the idea that they will soon be condemned to the deep… Yes, I shall sink them with some rusty, old anchor chain when I finally sail from Borka, into the deep Baltic.

I decided to write a poem in the form of a eulogy.

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These boots are meant for sailing, and that’s just what they’ve done!

Eulogy for sea-boots

From Djibouti to Lapland you have carried me…

In winter’s Eastern Mediterranean and Suez Canal, down exotic Red Sea, kissing volcanoes and coral reefs… Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, places from school atlases brought alive.

The Aegean, with its bad-tempered Meltemis that slash down from Asia Minor, turning the placid summer sea into a raging monster… You were there.

Feckless Ionian so tempting and yet ruthless with fools, to the tricky Straits of Messina, brooding whirlpools that thwarted Odysseus.The moody Tyrrhenian with its Italian lee-shore and rocky island paradises, Procida, Capri, Ponza – names from legends… nowhere to run.

You were there too.

Off Langeroog – Version 2

Boots Ahoy!

The howling Bonifacio Strait, where gales rage betwixt Corsica and Sardinia then northwards through the Ligurian Sea and the sly Gulf of Genova, brooding under mountain storms. And all the while there under my feet.

Even when I slept standing up…

Through endless rivers and canals, from Marseilles to Dunkirk, from London to Abingdon, into the heart of Albion. Even on bicycle through sloshing winter rain into Walton on Thames,

to sit with housewives and new friends…

in trendy cafes.

Surreptitiously placing under coffee table so as not to offend…

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Boots Aloft!

To the East Anglian Coast and the Netherlands with her waterways and huge skies, stomping Amsterdam, through freezing snow-filled streets, beside fragrant cafes that have no coffee.

Romancing Helgoland and the Elbe, oil-soaked from damaged gearbox, and yet true, never slipping, never feeling the wet of a sea coming on board.

And onward, Kiel Canal and the mighty Baltic with her angry steep waves and endless rocky shoals, where the Vikings left and plundered south. Miles of tiny anchorages, littered among the islands, rarely a craft to be seen.

Those are the places, we’ve been…

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Adieu to my Viking sister…

We never know…

This world is beautiful, messy and bloody with no way of avoiding what is coming. We have so little time to take it by the horns and live it with dignity, courage and humour.

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Caroline Van Ewijk, my friend, my viking sister and an example of just how well life can be lived.

My viking sister, Caroline Van Ewijk was one of those who did, before her life was cruelly taken in the Dutch port of Hoorn, two days ago.

Carro, you welcomed me into your life in that freezing cold Amsterdam winter, where I had no refuge on my old boat with her limited heating. With Swedish hospitality ‘Happy Six’ became almost a second home and you taught me about the Baltic and connected me with your uncle Micke at Borka up in the north of Sweden.  How many bitterly cold winter evenings did you ply me with hot tea and great food? It would have been so easy to play the ‘polite – oh you must pop round sometime’ response when we met in the washroom at Sixhaven, Amsterdam  back in the winter of 2012…

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Down below with Dan and Caroline on their boat ‘Happy Six’.

But that wasn’t your style Carro, not at all.

You had it all… handsome husband, beautiful good looks and a character to light up any room. Men adored you and women loved your company. Your optimism, and ‘go for it’ courage activated the dullest of folk; and yet despite all this you had a sweet humility and acceptance of anybody who approached you. You could have turned away when meeting this scruffy old Geordie sailor, but you didn’t, you became my dear friend.

As I sailed north during 2013, you were always at the end of a phone for a text, or sitting in my inbox with a positive message.

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With Carro on the Amsterdam Grachten.

Now my world seems painfully empty on this bleak, rainy day up here in the north of Sweden. I sit alone sharing the moment with your memory, just me and you; for every one of your friends and family will also have their silent time with their broken hearts, trying to grasp what life will be like without you.

You have left behind so much love and linked us all together to reflect on a life so well lived.

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Typical Carro… enjoying the Koningsdag in Amsterdam. Fun was never far away when she was around!

I wanted to write a poem for you, but just couldn’t bear it because the words could never capture the essence of who you were.

How lucky am I to have known you.

Goodbye my dear friend…

Gone but never forgotten.

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And then there was one…

The north of Sweden has been basking in a heatwave with temperatures here in Hälsingland as high as twenty five degrees celsius. I understand that it is far less than the United Kingdom, although we are a long way further north here. Local folk are baffled and rather pleased for such a bonus after a mercifully mild, Scandinavian winter!

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.Another day, it’s going to be a hot one!

Saturday was the grand refloating day here in Borka, with the remainder of the boats returning to their watery abode for the summer – all except for dear old Free. This is another part of living aboard that many folk don’t realise; it costs money to run a boat and sometimes it just isn’t available! I can’t complain though, this is my tenth year of freedom with twenty thousand nautical miles of adventuring. One year of relative inactivity won’t do us (Free and me) any harm, in fact what better way to give her a thorough drying out?

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All alone but happy enough!

‘The show must go on’, as they say… and so it does! Plenty of opportunities for ‘Baby’ to sail me around the locality, frisking in the joyous zephyrs and contributing generally to the total bliss of pure freedom!

This early taste of summer has raised local spirits, adding to a general feeling of well-being throughout the village. Camper vans have arrived early too, adding to the ambience, chasing away any residual feelings of winter.

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Oh what paradise!!! Sailing ‘baby’ in Borka Brygga.

Despite all of my ‘lotus-eating’, there is a part of me that knows only too well the fickle nature of Scandinavian weather. Like life itself, it succumbs to my favourite saying: “This too, shall pass.” Anything can happen, as I can remember so well while huddling before ‘Bilbo’ my faithful wood-burner, a day before Midsummer’s Eve, two years ago!

This is a salutary warning not to take life so seriously, that every present moment experience becomes a dull struggle to prepare for a future that may never arrive. Take it now… take it now… take it NOW! Grasp every precious moment.

How many folk did I meet years ago, while sailing in the Mediterranean, who were sitting on huge, expensive yachts, unable to sail them due to being too tired and exhausted from the endless struggle to ‘eventually’ be free? There is no ‘eventually’, there is only now.

 

      A soft, teasing kiss from warm sou’easterly,

      caresses unfurrowed brow,

      and in this blissful, fading daylight,

      lies the ever present ‘now’…

 

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Much ado about nothing!

Sometimes nothing is good!

Sometimes I like ‘nothing’.

Some philosophers say that ‘nothing’ is the only truth and that everything else is just an illusion, an ego-construct if you will. Certainly, there is a big sigh of relief to transcend the awful burden of dragging around the heavy weight of ‘our own story’, which of course is far more important than everybody else’s, right? Of course… it wouldn’t be ‘mine’ otherwise!

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Maybe sitting next to the fire up in the wild north is driving me crazy!

But what if it’s true? What if the whole sorry mess is an illusion and that true happiness is just letting our ‘story’ go? Who gives a ha’penny, what ‘you’ or ‘I’ think or ‘do’, when there is so much bliss in just ‘being’.

I recently read an amazing book by an English philosopher, Tony Parsons called ‘The Open Secret’, which I’m going to have to file next to Eckhart Tolle’s incredible life-saving tome, ‘The Power Of Now’. To precis it would be easy:

“Everything is just energy that is happening.”

Now that sounds crazy and the ego rises to argue its corner, spitting and growling… but hold on a minute. Why? Is it because our sense of ‘self’ is terrified of being a fraud – and that really consciousness is all there is? That’s how I reacted… and then suddenly a great wave of peace descended upon me and I started laughing, and laughing, until I could hardly breathe.

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Brrr… cold but beautiful on the ‘road’ to Enånger for some grub!

Living up in these parts certainly enables one a view of the world that is almost ‘media-free’ and when everyday existence becomes primary, the luxury of self-indulgence becomes less apparent. Living off nowt for a long time and keeping warm and making your own hot water without flicking a switch, clears the mind of ‘seeking’ for the meaning of life.

‘What’s it all about?’ becomes, ‘I’m bloody freezing! WTF am I going to do now?’

It’s all good medicine for the endless seeker of meaning!

The sheer experience of being is accentuated by the raw beauty of this majestic part of the world. Everything slows down and no amount of ‘push and shove’ in the cerebral or physical realm is going to make one iota of difference. It will, as it always has been, ‘Be what it is’; if you want to be here, you come on its terms, not yours.

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My front garden! A hail storm wends its way up the fjord.

This year will be a strange one, one of stillness and physical entropy, for the money is not abundant. Changes are afoot in this Pirate’s financial world which means that I must sit this summer out on the beach. Well… in my boat on the beach, if that makes any sense?

Thus, my long suffering friend Free, will stay on her cradle while all her peers are launched back into the wet stuff. Mind you, she’ll still probably travel further than most of the local boats tend to (Sorry guys only joking!) Jesting aside, if it wasn’t for the kind folk of Borka, where would I be? These past few years have accounted for the awful winter life that befits a single-handed sailor… cold, harsh, hungry and lonely.

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My back garden! The storm has gone, time for a lovely cup of tea!

There’s no way of sugar-coating it, that’s the way it is living life on these terms; however the Borka folk have made me so welcome and their hospitality has been exemplary, since arriving from the south back in 2013.

‘The sight of an eagle sweeping overhead’

‘The taste of that first morning cuppa, as it touches your lips’

‘The tang of a salty wind as you come in from the deck’

‘The lonely sigh of the breeze’

And if that doesn’t satisfy you… then what can? The sheer, raw beauty of existence itself, which is all there really is, to be sampled and given gratitude for. This is surely the meaning of life?

So this year will be about nothing, which in most cases is usually quite a lot!

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