July to October 2021
In July, in a little boatyard in Totnes, a few miles upriver from Dartmouth (England), Henrietta was hauled out of the water (she needed some work). I went to live in my house (I needed some work).
It felt very strange to live in a house. Too strange.
And so, after a few weeks seeing friends and family, I got back on my boat and went back to sea. Just for a while, for some end-of-season sailing – into autumn at least.
It was a mixed few weeks of late-summer English sailing: the novelty of fog, wildly varying wind and weather, gales and calms, warm sunshine and merciless rainfall. But the sea remained warm for swimming and blackberries were bountiful. We flittered east to Cowes and back west to Falmouth once more, before coming to rest a few days ago on the Exeter Canal just a few miles from home.
I was delighted to sail again with old friend Andrew, and to meet sister and cousins. And delighted too to sail again with Laura (last seen as crew in Sumatra and Jakarta), this time accompanied by Hendrik; and meet again Thom (last seen off the north Australian coast on his circumnavigation with little yacht Fathom). Then, once home, meet again Jenny and Simon (Fenicia, last seen in Dominica) and Nigel (Juliet, last seen in Portugal).
Ah! the wonderful joy of friends. On land I have few; at sea, many.
Landlubbing now In my house, front door has replaced companionway, bed replaced berth, hot shower in lieu of seawater swim, easy stroll to shop instead of dinghy or kayak ride ashore. All the trappings of normal urban life: traffic noise, council tax, limitless news gloom, unwanted emails, chronic parochialism, sensational headlines, unending junk mail and so on.
Nonetheless, when living on land, it is undeniably good to enjoy a hot shower (even a bubble bath, even a very bubbly bath), plus easy access to shops, reliable communications, unlimited electricity and gas, a big bouncy bed, a washing machine and television. But such things are just cotton wool and padding. They crush one’s vitality. They simply seem to muffle the essence of life.
And whilst it’s true that life on a small boat has elements of discomfort, confinement and inconvenience, plus travelling bureaucracy and endless chores, the awful truth is that for now I feel more at home, more fulfilled, happier and probably healthier on my little boat. When afloat I feel aware, liberated, interested and thoughtful in a way that eludes me with dirt-dwelling, shore-bound life. My comfort zone at sea may often be sleep-deprived, challenging and awkward, but it’s preferable to a comfort zone of risk-limited absurdity, day-to-day trivia and a sense of entrapment.
I’m reminded that at sea I love the closeness of nature and constant awareness of being alive. I know the phase of the moon and every subtle shift of wind and waves. I’m acutely aware of the presence of boundless universe, the warmth of the sun, the harsh power of strong winds, the beauty of clouds and majesty of ocean swell. The joy of seeing birds as they dive and swoop and soar, or just bob peacefully upon the waves; the never-ending delight of dolphins leaping at one’s side; sometimes a whale, and, in warmer waters, the scatty glistening flight of flying fish. A raw rocky coastline, distant clusters of human habitation, the overarching sky and infinite variety of clouds.
It’s only in the great outdoors that we are aware of such things. And nowhere has more of the ‘great outdoors’ than the world’s oceans.
For the past six years of sailing I have felt happiness and fulfilment far outweigh ennui and melancholia. On land for now the reverse is sometimes sadly true. It probably wouldn’t be the same for you. Almost certainly not.
Could be I’m just a freak, a compulsive waterborne nomad. And I am quick to point out that I really do have absolutely nothing to complain about on land, that I live in England’s most enchanting county (Devon), in the country’s best small city (Exeter), in what is perhaps the most civilised continent in the world (Europe), have wonderful neighbours on a friendly street, and do enjoy beautiful local countryside and the easy pleasures of television.
It would be a gross generalisation and simplification to suggest people thrive on a modicum of discomfort and risk, but I suspect that though the human quest for seemingly unlimited and costly comfort, and risk-free life may give us longer lives, bigger bums and fairer skins, it is for the most part really very silly – just another manifestation of Homo Sapiens gone barmy.
But that’s enough of my ramblings! I hear my friends telling me to shut up, and to stay well away from such stuff.
Here are a few photos from the last months of sailing in England.
Here are a few dry facts and figures from the past six years of active sailing with the long suffering and invincible Henrietta.
Year 1 (2015/16): Atlantic Circuit 11,830 nautical miles.
Years 2 – 6 (2016 – 2021) Circumnavigation 45,280 nautical miles.
In total about 2,200 days at sea, 57,100 miles, 720 anchorages, seven ocean crossings, lots of countries (which I’ve not yet added up), many many islands (again, not added up).
I’ve encountered more than 300 boats and their 630+ sailors (I know because I wrote down all boats’ and people’s names). And met hundreds of others in the many places I’ve stopped.
You have given me pleasure, interest and some confidence in our planet’s future.
Thank you for all your friendliness, help and companionship.