A requiem for the Whitby men.

I feel moved to write mainly due to the fusion of great seafaring culture that haunts Whitby’s ancient streets. I doubt whether there are more places with a greater maritime heritage than Whitby and forces unseen are clawing at me to write their story. Night brings vivid dreams as the wind howls around the hostel’s windows. The cry of gulls reminds me that I am in my element, like my ancestors before me.


Captain James Cook’s statue surveys the ‘big blue’ above the town of Whitby.

Whitby is famous for one of the world’s greatest explorers, Captain James Cook (More) who was apprenticed in the town as a young man, although a native of Marlton, now Middlesborough. I am also put in mind of a dear friend of mine from my Mediterranean sailing days, Mike Gardner (‘Ishtar Mike’, for those who have read my autobiography) who followed many of the great man’s voyages around the world on his boat ‘Ishtar’ which he registered in Whitby in honour of the Captain. I know Mike will be reading this, so blessings to you kidda over there in Madagascar!

'Ishtar Mike'

‘Taking five’ with Mike on his beautiful Whitby registered yacht, Ishtar, back in Turkey, 2007. He was a great influence in my life.

Since I have been in Whitby, my very soul was brought to the attention of another remnant of history that is not as positive as the exploits of the Captain Cook. It has lurked in the shadows of the great man’s navigational genius. In fact, many are not even aware of Whitby’s dark past until coming across the gruesome reminder, the ‘whalebone arch’, made from the jawbones of a whale. This was a dubious gift from Alaska, to celebrate a shadowy partnership in slaughter between the two nations.


The gruesome whalebone arch, a reminder to the Whitby whaling men.

For me, however, it is not quite as simple as condemning the whalers out of hand, for were they not skilled, courageous sailors as well? They ventured far into the ‘big blue’ in pursuit of their prey, in great peril to themselves. Often they landed on remote islands yet to be discovered and named, and many were lost, leaving families behind them to starve in poverty. As with most things in this world there are always shadows of grey, and although I can never condone whaling, especially the modern version – which to my mind is cowardly, vicious, industrialised slaughter – the undoubted courage of the old sailing men cannot be questioned.

These days money has become the raison d’être for a system that will eventually choke in its own greed; but for the whaling men of Whitby, their way of life was far more elemental than their modern day contemporaries. In fact I would term it an insult to make a comparison.

As I stood alone late at night next to the whalebone arch, I felt a huge connection across the years and was moved to pen a poem and offer a healing prayer to those brave men, caught in a situation beyond their making, and to those beautiful, graceful creatures which I have come to love…


Contemplating the abyss,

Uncharted oceans, giant beasts,

water vast, almost meaningless,

but not for the Whitby men,

with blood running through scuppers,

savage contest in the void.

For them fear is no option,

dimmed memories of loved ones left behind,

just silhouetted cameos.

Hoping to see again, love’s light.

But that was then,

for Whitby’s whaling men.

Storms, blood and blubber lie before them.

Candles flicker in cottage windows…

In memoriam.

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Small is beautiful… Or is it?

After all these years of writing I have an article published, something which pays me a paltry fifty pounds.

It feels surreal to see it on the page of one of Britain’s leading sailing publications, Yachting Monthly. Is that really my work? Maybe it’s a dream, because despite being encouraged to create all through one’s school years, the negativity often encountered when stepping into the breach is often shocking. Where now the encouragement?


Fame at last? Hardly… But maybe something will develop from it.

Years ago, I was a serious poet and writer and had no doubt that it was my reason for being on this planet. Slowly over time, confidence drains away, especially in these days of celebrity where it seems any empty-headed, vacuous bimbo can have a biography ghost-written and sold immediately, because, ‘That is what people are interested in’.

We live in a hugely competitive times where gigantic egos vie with each other for that mighty success story and if one is connected then half the battle is won. London buses carry massive adverts for sensationally named novels, which on inspection are unimpressive and eminently forgettable; nevertheless, a well connected writer is almost there before their manuscript is completed.


Here it is, my first published article. It is deliberately obscured for copyright reasons.

Who said life was fair?

It isn’t and nor is it meant to be. If one is unconnected, then a singular strength is required to push through, in the manner of the incredible JK Rowling, that Edinburgh mum who never doubted she would make it. I love her success story for it is the stuff of faery, real magic… Cinderella with a happy ending , if you will.

The irony of leading a ‘life less travelled’ hasn’t been lost on me. I’ve had my share of minor celebrity status in Scandinavia, but other people have made money off it! Journalists mainly. Not a bean to show for it except for a sack of wood dropped on my foredeck one day. Thanks for that…

Even my article, was offered originally at £200 for one thousand words, but eventually bottomed out at £50! However, they did throw in two free copies of Yachting Monthly. Thanks, I know the magazine has rising costs, and this sailor is probably padding out the magazine’s final spare page… Northern Baltic not sexy enough for you? Ironically, I’ve never yet met another single-handed female sailor, but I am informed they are around. They are definitely not up in the Northern Latitudes; nevertheless, this sailor’s life is not considered the stuff of yachting publications. No club, no sexy sailing boat and no certificates, make for a very ordinary seafarer, despite being 20,000 solo nautical miles in. I do have some Musto waterproofs but they rotted years ago. Now it’s commercial gear from a fuel station in Amsterdam at an eighth of the price.

Front page and centre spread for this one…. and a radio interview.

This is a lesson to be learned for any aspiring writer. There’s no substitute for hard graft; yours truly, has never been an exponent of the effort needed to succeed in a writer’s profession. She loves sailing and the call of the wind’ being out there rather than close-hauled on the nearest marina bar, shooting the breeze with all the weekenders (I prefer cafes with non sailor folk! The sight of a sailory beard and I’m out of there!)

The time and dedication needed for one unconnected in the business is huge, as JK Rowling proved. Rejection after rejection and yet she never gave up… a truly remarkable spirit.

So there you have it! My autobiography remains ‘self-published’ on an obscure website, going nowhere. If it were splashed on the side of London buses, maybe I’d have a chance;

Yes, and Free sails faster than the Cutty Sark!

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Disappearing Liverpool

I step down from the train as it finally grinds to a halt in Lime Street and traverse the station concourse with a huge smile on my face. I am back in Liverpool, a city which is slowly staking a claim to the wandering soul of this old Viking sailor. The sun vainly attempts to warm through a bitterly frigid, winter’s afternoon and the wheeling seagulls call a sailor’s song, reminding those who feel, memories of Liverpool’s great seafaring past.


A modern sailor stands in front of a memorial to all the old sailors. A real honour…

I stand for a moment in front of the ornamental gateway that marks the spot of the original Liverpool sailor’s home. I thrill at the thought of how many sailors of all nationalities have passed through this amazing sea port whose origins stretch back to the Vikings and beyond. I am truly humbled.

For sure, Liverpool has a murky past, with much of its money acquired from the slave trade, but how many modern cities can actually claim any purity? Quite simply, the human race has a vicious, violent past –  all of it. No country stands without bloody hands, including those that were the recipients of the dreadful ‘Atlantic Triangle’. Even today, Arab slavers operate on the African continent and one has no need to look further than the outrageously decadent rich of Knightsbridge and Chelsea to find domestic slaves from poverty-stricken parts of the planet. Quite simply, humanity is brutal, beautiful, violent, humane, impossibly cruel and unbelievably compassionate. We are all things.


Disappearing Liverpool…

The old warehouses are slowly being claimed by rapacious developers as the the new era of Mammon establishes itself in England’s ‘green and pleasant land’, and the whole city has exploded into a property ‘free for all’. Every time I return, something else has vanished to be replaced by ‘new build’ mushrooms that cater for the thousands of students and new tiny businesses that are filling the vacuum left by the collapse of the old manufacturing industries.


Memories of Liverpool’s powerful past. The elegant St George’s Hall and the North Western Hotel outside Lime Street station. Opposite is the new St John’s Square Development.

Yet despite all this, the ordinary scouser is resilient, humorous and bloody-minded, as well he/she should be, for there’s never been a better time to question what the hell is happening on our precious planet; sometimes it seems as if society has had a ‘apathy implant’.

I am curious and a wee bit worried about the future of this magnificent, crazy and rumbustious city. Will she become emasculated and ‘health and safetyised’ like so many others, or will the true Scouse grit come to the fore and fight back as in the days of yore, during the resistance against Mrs Thatcher?  Maybe she will have a mass invasion of bourgeois foreigners like London’s richest areas, to quaff all the new property with their legally laundered capital during the weak pound’s slumber, adding a massive rent increase nightmare to her native population’s other headaches.


Another Liverpool Christmas… A seagull ‘angel’ soars overhead!

Liverpool is firmly anchored in the present though and her folk bask in an amazing, colourful history, taking great pride in her musical and sporting heritage. One only has to stay in the Youth Hostel here on a weekend to rub shoulders with Liverpool and Everton FC football fans from as far afield as China, Denmark and Ireland, who make the pilgrimage to the hallowed grounds of Anfield, Goodison and the new Cavern club. To say that the weekend entertainment in the city is wild, is a wee understatement, for sure! Noisy, rough and raucous are only a few words to describe her, but there are many others, none of which would make the ‘Thesaurus’!

To end on a supremely optimistic note, it is the fighting spirit and humour of the Scouse themselves that will endure. Liverpool maybe disappearing on the surface but her soul shall never die!

I end with a joke:

An old man who worked on the docks was known as ‘Diesel’ by his mates, and a young apprentice asked why?

‘Well son, he sometimes riffled through the cargo looking for a bonus and was often heard to say: “Dese’ll do!”‘

Happy Solstice to you all!

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Friends that pass in the night…

A few months have passed since the last instalment of the Viking Saga has been written, and to be sure, Lyskväll seems like a lifetime away, a distant memory of my love affair with the north of Scandinavia. Life has interrupted my dreamy existence, where fresh air and tranquility had become the norm and this troubled, flawed and yet beautiful drama that is our world, intervening, as I always knew it would, rocking me on my foundations once more.


Dear Anders Hollmo, a beautiful man and friend.

This has been a year tinged with sadness for me personally, and most of my Swedish friends; with the deaths of Caroline, in the Netherlands, and most recently, Anders, the brother of my dear friend Kjell-Arne, in Sweden.

Anders was a gentle and kind man, with a wonderfully dry sense of humour in the Swedish way. He lived his life with great courage having endured cancer for many years, and his passing has left a huge hole in the lives of his family and friends. I feel so privileged to have known him and indeed to have been befriended by the Hollmo family during my sojourn in these northern latitudes. Without them, I doubt whether my Saga could have continued as long as it has.

The passing of Anders and Caroline has drawn me into reflection on the nature of friendship and its fluctuating quality. Sometimes one makes a friend only to find that they weren’t really there at all, and had an agenda to try and change your nature to fit with their own expectations, despite the fact that it was your very nature that brought them into your life in the first place.


Caroline, taken so tragically…

Alas, this year has seen the termination of two relationships involving such a ‘friendship’, two people whose loyalty I had over estimated, one of whom could have become special, and the other, with a preference to projecting all his bile and poison onto me, someone who only wanted to listen, and help. In the past I have been forgiving, patient and tolerant, but there are times when one has to realise that there are beings who can pray off one’s kindness and grow opulent on compassionate energy, which is abused and tainted.

This sailing life is a little unusual in that I am transient and therefore fiercely independent, as one has to be to survive. When a friendship begins to blossom, there is a tendency to let one’s guard down and allow the heart to entertain all manner of possibilities. To live with courage through the heart, one must trust and take the risks to open up, and even a Viking can be vulnerable at times!

Friends come and go in all our lives, and I am privileged to have some very special ones. A true friend will always be there for you no matter what. They will respect and honour what is sacred, special and unique in you without trying to manipulate and change you. There is never any guarantee about tomorrow but if I have learned one thing in this crazy old life it is this:

Value and cherish your friends for you never know if it may be the last time you ever see them…

The equinox came and went and in the past few days here in Liverpool, the coming Autumn has finally introduced herself with a distinct drop in temperature and cascading leaves, whipped up by the Irish Sea’s sou’ westerlies. Winter is on its way, for sure, and with it my thoughts turn again to dear old Free and Borka in Sweden and the very special folk who live there.

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Lyskväll, a farewell to summer.

Lyskväll, or in English, Light evening, has it’s origins in Finland, where the coast was illuminated by fires and candles, to remember the summer past and long for its return. Winter waits in the wings for his cousin to finally relinquish her merciful warmth, before making his way slowly westwards from the steppes of Russia into Scandinavia, plunging all into icy darkness.


Roger Lundqvist and I light the candles for Lyskväll as Free begins her long winter slumber.

It is not hard to understand why this festival has so much affinity in a part of Europe where winter impinges itself so savagely upon the land and darkness lingers deep into the following year. The folk of northern Sweden, long for the sun’s return and need her healing warmth to rejuvenate body and soul soaking up her light in this beautiful part of the world. I make no apology for my own heathen passion, for as a sailor who is used to living with, and harnessing the elements, the old ways are far more relevant than the theoretical musings of today’s proselytising religious movements.


The last night of summer, and the candles decorate the shore all around the vik.

The following morning, I could really sense that summer had gone and there was a curiously empty, forlorn feeling, augmented by the closed restaurant which I have visited nearly every day while Free has been out of the sea. Seeing Stefan, Micke, Sofi and the other happy young folk so frequently has highlighted a wonderful, lazy summer with a space to write, read and find company.


Stefan, Micke, Sofi and Poppy, at the counter of Borka’s restaurant. I shall miss the laughs and the free coffee! These amazing folk have been wonderful company this summer!

I have always been made so welcome and every day has been relaxed, reflective and throughly enjoyable. Curiously, it is another one of life’s great paradoxes, that the more one basks in such pleasure, the less pleasurable it becomes; I know it is time to sail again and to leave this very special place. It would be such a shame for the magic to be lost amidst indolent complacency and my memories will always be very special and a true reflection of a life well lived.

The day dawned with a ferocious sou’westerly gale blowing through the harbour, adding to that autumnal feeling and the approaching winter, but I have always found that the winds in these northern latitudes usually ease off by nightfall. It would have been such a shame to to spoil this charming festival.


A beautiful but very windy day greets Borka Brygga!

My suspicions were confirmed as the clouds slowly departed to leave a cool, crisp but beautiful evening, and as night fell, the whole shoreline around the vik, slowly revealed the mystical illuminated twinkling of hundreds of candles, so wonderfully pagan. The restaurant began to fill and Stefen and his young crew (even you Micke!!!) began to serve drinks and food, its aroma delightfully drifting around the harbour.


The restaurant fills with folk and the festivities are underway!

This is my third festival since arriving in the north of the Baltic; the first was in Stocka, a small village to the north, but I have to admit that Borka’s celebration was far more impressive, and this year’s the best of all.

The restaurant windows were opened so that the revellers could get a better view of the magnificent firework display and the brygga was full of folk, adding to a splendid spectacle as the night sky erupted into a crescendo of noise and lights. As always the best was saved until last and then all the energy faded away leaving the farewells and reflections on a marvellous Scandinavian summer.


The finale of a wonderful firework display!

The time has come to leave the viking lands, for dear old Free cannot sustain my life in the ferocity of winter, even with the heating that my friend Roger Lundqvist so kindly helped me install.

The nomadic life beckons once again…


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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.


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!


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.


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…


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.


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.


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?


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.


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?

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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