Exit Britain

13th September to 12th November 2022,

Exeter, England to Porto Santo, Portugal

Approximate route!
Departure point, Dartmouth

I’ve not been feeling inclined to write for a while. Haven’t felt inspired. There didn’t seem to be much to say.

But, in case you have wondered what happened to Henrietta, here’s a brief update. Plus, it’s a good thing if I pause awhile and think of what has happened. It’s not as if life has been totally empty and on hold.

Henrietta left Exeter Canal (SW England) mid-September, accompanied by me and a more-or-less lovely lady, Kimberly, from Florida (the wonders of crew by internet).

It would be nice to tell you that I simply jumped on board, cast off mooring lines and my bad shorebound lifestyle and picked up the wholesome life of a liveaboard sailor. I might have said that I used to do pretty much nothing on land except moan about the state of British decay and behave like a fully-fledged old grumpy whereas now I’m a new man bursting with good humour and fresh salty air. Not true.

In truth it hasn’t been like that at all. Apart from the fact that I didn’t do nothing on land its really been a case of swapping one set of pretty bad habits (the things I do as a landlubber) for another set of pretty bad habits (the things I do as a live aboard sailor). 

Bad habits in a house include watching rubbish on telly, eating excessive loads of cheese, drinking a long way over the limit, biting my fingernails and sleepless nights pondering the nature of Britain’s woes. At sea, bad habits include chronic idleness, daydreaming, looking at waves, singing to dolphins and gannets, listening to Spotify, cursing Brexit and eating sweets, and continuing the sleepless nights but with a different set of preoccupations.

First stop, Camarinas, Spain

Adjusting from one set of bad habits to another takes a few weeks or months. I’m still in the uncomfortable transition zone, a mild maritime purgatory, where I’m a bit lost, don’t know what I’m doing on a boat, make lots of mistakes (couldn’t even get out of a windy marina without cocking it up and being ignominiously towed out backwards!), injure bits of my body I’d forgotten about and adjust to sleep deprivation, queasiness and ceaseless movement.

To get back to the sailing, after leaving Exeter, we popped in to nearby Dartmouth for final bits of new rigging (NB anything to do with sailing boats costs a bomb in Britain, with reliability and quality optional extras – avoid if you can), then sailed over to Northern Spain.

It was the nicest of several Biscay Bay crossings I’ve done: four days of sunshine, moonshine and good winds, stronger near the end, but altogether joyful.

We dabbled in and out of the Spanish Rias, anchored off scenic little islands, took a bus from the pretty village of Muros and milled around with the billions of latter day ‘tourist pilgrims’ who nowadays flock to Santiago de Compostela, feeling happily dwarfed and soothed by the magnificent architecture (and not in the least bit spiritual). 

Anchored in Ria de Muros

and took a bus to Santiago

On to Vigo and pretty islands offshore

Then, on to Vigo, and thence down the Portuguese coast to Viana do Castelo from where I enjoy a day trip to Porto, ticking off yet more of the tourist checklist. And a few days later, from the coastal town of Cascais, enjoy another trip to fascinating, historic and hilly Lisbon – an easy train ride from super swanky Cascais (where, sign of the times, anything a sailor needs such as chandlery or sailmaker has been displaced by worthless shops selling Rolex watches, high-end fashion and perfume).

Another fine vegan meal with Merle
in Cascais

This coastline now has some orcas who’ve taken to ramming small sailing boats, in several cases destroying rudders, even, I’ve been told, sinking one unlucky boat.

Down the coast to Sines
An example of orca damage to a rudder

Why orcas do this is for now a marine mystery, but it does add to the anxieties of coastal sailing trips. Orcas are beautiful, highly intelligent and deservedly protected, but whether for play or war, they have been causing troubles for many sailors. No one really knows what to do. I just crossed my fingers and whispered nice things into the night sky, and all was fine.

By this stage the lady Kimberly from Florida (who works) had been exchanged for a delightful damsel, Merle from Hamburg (who doesn’t, for now). The former introduces me to the trials of internet working on a little boat. The latter is a gorgeous treat who introduces me, among many other things, to the fine cuisine of a dedicated vegan – sadly she was with me just two weeks.

And so once more I’ve found myself in charge of only my own destiny. I’m happy – most of the time.

Today, I wobble gently in the twinkling waters of Porto Santo’s little harbour. Porto Santo, in case you haven’t been here, is Madeira’s minuscule neighbour, some 40 miles away. It suits me with its friendly, polite and gentle residents, small mountain peaks and very low key tourism. There are fine sandy beaches and lots of hilly walks; warm winter sunshine too. 

Final approach to Porto Santo

I meet a good assortment of friendly fellow sailors, am more gregarious than ever on land, and slowly, very slowly, get a bit stronger, more barmy, and more wrinkly and happier. It’s a good sort of lifestyle for incurable nomads, people like me, who don’t much care for camels or campervans, and love being close to Mother Nature.

Anchored in Porto Santo

As is often the case, I haven’t a clue where I’m going next, but I guess will gradually move on to the Canary Islands. (I’ve not been spending all those weeks with Duolingo Spanish for nothing.)

……. ………….. …………..

And now for something completely different.

Here’s something that’s been on my mind for a long while: Brexit. Don’t groan, don’t look the other way, don’t have a heart attack, and don’t do anything silly.

And if you are sick and tired of all things Brexit, read no further. Stop right now.

I bring it up, not because it’s a big event in global affairs. Compared to wars, climate change, poverty and such horrors Brexit seems irrelevant. I bring it up because blue water sailing is an international pastime – at least international among most affluent maritime nations, and now I’m in Europe my sailor friends are predominantly from EU countries. I’m asked why Britain left – as if we were all mad. Our decision is seen as equivalent to that of America electing Trump. And as holders of UK passports we are liable to time limits on how long we stay.

I know “the British People” voted to leave the EU. (We’re reminded of the British People’s wishes ad nauseam. [In fact it was well under one third of the population who voted to leave].)

BUT, big BUT, please can someone in the know remind me of the benefits of Brexit. All you folk who voted ‘leave’, many I dare say with daily experiences of EU cost and harm, or with current experiences of the ‘huge benefits’ promised, or buying and cherishing the Telegraph, the Daily Express or other such organs of selective wisdom and halfhearted truth, remind me. I can pass it on whenever I’m asked.

What are or will be or might be the benefits? (And before you mention abstract notions of freedom, sovereignty, independence, opportunity, please think hard and explain precisely what you mean.)

And if your considered response is that it’s ‘early days’ or ‘it may take a while’, please, oh please, tell me how long I must wait. Or must my children wait? (And of course I do not deny the EU has troubles.)

And if you are of a more serious-minded disposition and want to drag me through the reasoned beliefs and your convictions that elevate or benefit an independent little Britain in a globe of giants, please educate me.

I am desperately sad and often pretty angry at being a non-EU European. Now’s your chance to tell me why it’s such a good thing to have self-expelled Britain, why I got it wrong, why you’re right, and why I must open my eyes or be patient for the benefits. 

OR please may you have the good grace or humility to consider you might, you just might have got it wrong.

15 thoughts on “Exit Britain

  1. Lovely to see you sailing again and I greatly enjoyed the post. What is the destination, if any, this time ? Let me know if anyone explains the benefits of Brexit. Cheers, Mike


  2. Lovely to read from you again, Michael. I already knew of your exasperation with Brexit – understandably to be deplored by any nomad. Of course, as a non-English person, I ought not to comment on your question further. Yet, I may have some right as in my childhood I tended towards Anglophilia, as a result of my upbringing – my father was a sailor plying the North Sea from Hook of Holland to Harwich for decades so it was the first foreign country I visited at a young and impressable age. But there is much more, not least the English language and a few very inspiring English professional teachers (in medical entomology). So Brexit was a disappointment for me too – albeit experienced at an age in which one is much better able to handle such emotions. Plus, after having lived and worked for long in several other countries outside Europe, my Anglophilia had waned already. Also reinforced by the rather infuriating habit of quite a few English people to always assume that English achievements naturally would be ‘world-beating and -leading’. Yet at present, seeing how crazy the world is becoming in general, I think: what is the big deal? Compared to, say, the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis and the chance (of approximately 1 in 6 according to biologist Toby Ord (In: The Precipice) and 50-50 according to cosmologist Sir Martin Reese) that humanity as a whole may not survive the twenty-first century? Historian Yuval Noah Harari is also not optimistic, although he is now one of the most inspiring persons warning against it. I don’t think you are really expecting to receive new, insightful explanations to your question about Brexit. And if they came, they are hardly likely to convince you I. We should just say: ‘That ship has sailed’. Especially as being sailors we know that a ship can always alter course and, given luck and some time, sail back.


  3. The last few weeks I’ve been installing new electrics and electronics on an old boat we will sail to Guadeloupe before the end of this year. I hope.

    As an old boat (nearly half a century old) there are many overlapping, upgraded, redundant and partly decomissioned systems: two separate 1/0 cables going to the windlass (paralleled, I presume, because the builder didn’t have 3/0 on hand for the long run to the anchor windlass?) but unlabelled and confusing; masses of tangled wires some of which I know the function of, others I know to be dead, and others I have no idea about and lack the time to trace. One fuel tank is no longer connected to anything. Why? Who knows? There is probably some good reason but the original owner has long since left this mortal plane. It is difficult and tedious sorting it all out. Why oh why can’t I just nuke the whole lot and start over?!

    I think Brexit is the same. It will take a lot of untangling, tracing, patience, good intent, communication, patience, more patience and the qualities of angels to negotiate the quagmire of Brexit and achieve a worthwhile outcome. Maybe it would be better to sink the ship and start again, but you cannot do that and this is the course the people have chosen.

    No country ever again will propose a referendum without thinking deeply about Britain. And I will never again volunteer to rewire a boat:-)


    1. Not sure about this analogy! But good luck with the electrics.
      We speak loosely of what “the people have chosen”. Of Britain’s 2016 population of 65.6 million, approximately 17.4 million voted for Brexit i.e. less than a third. (Many of course too young to vote, or couldn’t vote, or didn’t vote)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike Thank you for reinstating Henrietta’s news – and more. It is always good to hear from you. I was perturbed to hear the story of you being towed out of a marina backwards. They must have been pretty unfriendly conditions. Being owed out backwards also sounds to be some kind of ritual used to punish a particular crime. Maybe that is related to the second part of your message, Brexit. In future maybe all British yachts will have to be towed out of European marinas backwards?

    On that second point, Brexit, although I have not been personally as affected as much as you, I find myself in exactly the same place as you. And angry that all those pushing for it have got away with their sabotage and no one is accountable. Those who voted Brexit seem to say that this is not the kind pf Brexit that they voted for. What kind of f***ing Brexit did they expect. I think they envisaged (if they thought about it at all) a cake-and-eat-it variety which is and was totally unrealistic. (as I understand the French say, “they wanted the butter and the money for the butter”.

    Like you I have been waiting to be proved wrong by seeing the £365,000,000 a week flowing into the NHS (as promised on the bus) and to see clear evidence of ‘the Brexit Bonus’. Sadly they can hide behind Covid and say that is the reason we are in the situation we are.

    If I hear any sensible argument for Brexit I shall pass it on to you .(Don’t hold your breath) Equally, if you get a response to your appeal different from mine, please do share it with us.

    Meanwhile, I prepare for a few more grey months sitting in front of my SAD light. and shall enjoy hearing more of your discoveries.

    Beat wishes Richard

    PS I should add that I have recently returned from a couple of weeks in Mauritius where I met up with old friends and spent time with two boys from a family i knew, now grown up. One skippers a 42′ catamaran taking tourists to the islands and the other who manages a scuba diving centre at one of the swish hotels. So I really can’t start complaining yet R


  5. Hi Michael. It was a tonic to see you were under way again. I remember being on a minibus to Tual on Kai Kecil, listening to you and Terry from “Little Dove” debating the merits or otherwise of Brexit in 2018. I wonder whether his opinions on the subject might have changed by now. Take care. I look forward to your next post so I can continue my vicarious journey. Damien (ex Skybird1 (sighs))


  6. Thank you Michael for your excellent blog again I really enjoyed reading it. I agree with all your comments on Brexit. I just can’t understand why people voted to leave. I now can’t sail in Greece for more than three months and what a pain that is I’ve just got to go back to Indonesia.! I saw my ex next door neighbour and she couldn’t understand why I voted to leave Europe. I said why have you voted to leave but she said she wanted the freedom to use a more powerful vacuum cleaner and kettle. Well that’s must’ve hit a hard it is too expensive to use it now.! I thought she was more intelligent


  7. My sentiments entirely Michael. I don’t even have any friends who voted to leave !!! How do you know so many ?? I’m glad you’re feeling at home again on the sea and finding joy in nature despite the orcas. Hope to see you soon


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