Tuesday, February 18, 2020

San Diego: abeyance; selling GANNET; go east

I awoke this morning expecting to get my Torqeedo batteries back and have a replacement stern deck running light delivered by Amazon.  The batteries—the Torqeedo only uses one, but I have a spare—were recalled for inspection because some are not properly sealed and if water gets inside can explode and/or catch fire.  Not exactly what you want hanging off your stern.  My batteries passed inspection.  I planned to fit them and test the Torqeedo today and to install the replacement running light.  However, as Robbie Burns observed plans ‘aft gang a-gley.’

At 8:30 I got a telephone call from the inspection shop apologizing that they had sent me the wrong batteries and would I please refuse the order.  I took this message up to the marina office, explaining that the shipment would be two large boxes.  I don’t know if they have yet arrived and if so if they have been refused.  I do know that the replacement deck light from Amazon was refused.  So now I have no plans and no idea when I will get my batteries.

Instead I walked three miles to a supermarket.  I needed berries, trail mix, grapefruit juice, tequila, and the exercise.  I also bought paper towels, yoghurt for lunch and a turkey salad for dinner.

I have been thinking of selling GANNET.  There, I knew that would get your attention.  To put your fevered mind at ease, I am not going to, but I was slightly tempted.  

I have long admired a class of boats known as Aphrodite 101s, which are in many ways a longer Moore 24, and I happened upon one for sale on the East Coast with an asking price of $15.000.  

I do not know what it will cost to have GANNET towed from San Diego to South Carolina, but I expect I could sell the little boat here and buy the Aphrodite with that amount plus what is saved by not having the tow.  But then I realized why would I want to do that?  I have put a lot of time and money into having GANNET the way I want her.  She is a great boat.  She suits me.  And I don’t want to start over again converting a day/short course racer into an ocean voyager.  So I won’t.

However, I am giving consideration to the possibility that the next time I return to San Diego it will be to send the little boat east.   I have always liked being in San Diego, but it is a city.  As I write these words an airplane just having taken off from Lindbergh Field is flying over, and I no longer want to be urban.  Plus of course there are few places to sail to in California where I can anchor in solitude.  Perhaps none.  There is reason to hope that the long delayed condo renovation may soon be underway.  GANNET’s future is anchoring with alligators.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

San Diego: GANNET rising; neighbors

A beautiful day and about time.  San Diego is in a desert and not supposed to be dank.  I was about to file a complaint, though I don’t know with whom.

I got in the dinghy and scrubbed the waterline.  There is still some black slim not easily removed, but the bottom was in better condition than I expected with the little boat just sitting here for months and bottom paint a year and 7,000 miles old.

As I scrubbed and you can see in the above photo GANNET is at least two inches higher in the water than usual.  I have removed a lot of weight from her.  There are only two gallons of fresh water on her, easily refilled at the hose on the dock, rather than more than twenty.  The Torqeedo batteries are not on board.  I am down to my last fifty freeze dry dinners, some of which  date from New Zealand four years ago, rather than often more than one hundred and fifty.  The dinghy was not on board.  All this adds up to more than two hundred pounds or about 10% of the little boat’s total displacement.

After scrubbing I rowed out and around the bait barge.  It was just before noon and everyone was quiet and most were sleeping.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

San Diego: a shared email

(I reread this many times wondering if I should post it.  That you are reading it shows my decision.)

A little after 8 PM.  Rain is pattering on the deck.  A pleasant sound, though today has been dank.  I have spent the day sitting here at Central, reading, listening to music, watching an enjoyable first episode of a four part Netflix series, FOUR SEASONS IN HAVANA.  I only stepped on the dock once to invert the Avon.  I have a sleeping bag as a lap robe and as you might expect a glass of warming Laphroaig at hand.

Some have written that they want the unadulterated Webb Chiles.  Well, I promise you you don’t and although we live in a weird time when every burp and sneeze seem to need to be shared that is not going to happen.  However I sent an email to Carol yesterday that I am going to share part of with you.  Perhaps it is more Webb Chiles than anyone wants or needs, but I am in the dying part of my life and owe no one anything, except you the truth with omissions and Carol my love, and I am going to put some things on the record for my future probably nonexistent biographers to find.

 I am an old freak of nature.  I was a young freak of nature, but it is more obvious now.

I have long acted as though my luck were average.  That is very wise when you expose yourself to survival conditions.  But I have come to believe that in fact I have been extraordinarily fortunate, both genetically and by chance, particularly in meeting you in the only brief moment our lives could have come together.  I don’t know if that was better for me than for you.  I hope it was equal.

I have understood my life as I lived it as very few have theirs.  I understand it now that I am moving toward my death.  Whatever my life meant in words, voyages, love, has mostly already been set, yet almost incredibly I am not yet used up.  There is no precedent for me to follow.  There never was.  I am one of the cutting edges of our species and knew as I wrote more than forty years ago that almost all such original experiments are failures.  I have fulfilled my destiny, and I expect that I am a failed experiment, particularly now when people become rich and famous by posting videos of themselves over eating.  Yet this freak body goes on and I will too.  I really have no choice.

You have overheard me say when I have drunk too much, ‘Die Webb’.  

I would in fact like to outlive you, though that is highly unlikely considering the difference in our ages, just to be there to help you across the threshold at the end.  

You among others have observed that I am among the best read people you have known and from that reading I believe that I have been out here alone on the edge as long as anyone who has ever lived.  Those who have lived with the intensity I have burn out and die young.  Yet through a combination of an exceptional body, an even more exceptional animal instinct to survive, intelligence, and luck, I have grown old.   I almost said that I am tired.  Well I  sometimes am, tired of being me, but I will push on into the unknown.  I am captive of myself.  Who knows what joy I might yet find, what words I might yet string together, what unimagined voyages I might yet make.  

I hope I have been a good husband to you.  I have tried to be.  As I have often written but don’t know if you have read, you are the great grace of my life.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

San Diego: once around the basin; my garden; to a young man

I had considered doing something radical today like going sailing, but the Torqeedo batteries are being recalled for inspection.  The shipping boxes arrived yesterday and were too large to remain long on GANNET, so I packed up the batteries and sent them on their way.  The Torqeedo only requires one battery, but I have a spare.  It is easy to sail off this dock, not so easy to sail back on, particularly when there is no wind, so I pumped up the Avon and rowed a circuit of Quivira Basin on this lovely afternoon.  I haven’t rowed for a long time, too long.

While in the dinghy I noted that GANNET’s bottom is cleaner than I expected after she has been sitting at the dock for so long.  I will scrub the waterline tomorrow.  I also noted three or four nicks in the paint on the starboard side where uncoordinated and/or oblivious kayakers have run into the little boat.

This morning while filling my water bottles as seen above I saw that a garden is growing beside GANNET.  The tenacity of life is impressive.

For two days I have not been following my advice to listen to some Bach every day.  Instead inspired by an article in the NY TIMES by a woman who listened to all sixteen of the Beethoven String Quartets while on the subway in New York and walking to work and by my friend Tim who is a serial listener to all of the works of various composers, I have been listening to the Beethoven String Quartets in performances by the Lindsay String Quartet.  Like many, I prefer the Late Quartets and usually just listen to them.  Hearing all in succession is illuminating and enjoyable.  Not Bach, but close enough.  

 I have been reading some poetry every day.  Even occasionally my own.  But presently I am reading Thomas Hardy and Pablo Neruda.  This morning I came across a poem by Hardy titled ’A Young Man’s Exhortation’.  The last lines are:

                               If I have seen one thing
                            It is the passing preciousness of dreams;
                            That aspects are within us; and who seems
                                Most kingly is the King.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

San Diego: joy and Steve Earley

Just before I left Evanston I received a link from Peter to a YouTube video titled ‘Ballon Art and the Mysterious Nature of Joy‘.  I thank him. 

I watched the video just before I went to the airport. I am glad I did because videos are beyond the limited Internet on GANNET.

Some of you may recall that I have written that our lives are as brief as a butterfly’s cough and that I believe they are redeemed by moments of joy.

The video is just under thirteen minutes long, entertaining and wise.  I doubt you will do anything else today better than view it.

My friend, Steve Earley has posted an excellent entry in his Log of SPARTINA that his last day on the job as a news photographer is tomorrow. 

 Steve and I correspond frequently and I knew this was coming as part of the apparently unstoppable decline in print newspapers.  He has been fortunate to have been born when he was and have this happen when he is ready for retirement.  Among other things, his spring and fall cruises in SPARTINA will be longer.  They might even meld together into one.

As soon as I read the entry I thought of the above photograph, which I ran here some years ago.  Fortunately Steve also runs it today so I didn’t have to search.  Steve is too modest when he says he is not a great photographer because that is a great photograph and only one of many he has shot.

I noticed in the comments that someone expressed the hope that Steve might now write a book about eating his way around the Chesapeake.  Personally I hope he does something better than that.  

I wish him joy.  

I wish all of you joy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

San Diego: GANNET as I found her

Pusillanimously abandoning Carol to face winter alone—remember that I have never claimed to be brave—I flew to San Diego and GANNET yesterday.  To my surprise above is the little boat as I found her with decks so clean they don’t need to be scrubbed, so obviously the birds have not been roosting on her, and a dock so clean that obviously sea lions have not been basking there in my absence.  In fact there are only a few sea lions around and they are uncommonly quiet.  Perhaps the loud ones have gone elsewhere for the winter.

Inside the cabin was not so pristine.  There was mold, heavier toward the bow, and I found my sleeping bags to be wet.  They were not under a hatch and I wondered if GANNET had a leak of which I was unaware.  Not wanting to sleep in clammy sleeping bags unnecessarily I took them up and washed and dried them.  You may recall that I use a three part sleeping bag system given to me by Tom of Baby the Sea Beagle fame in which one bag zips inside the other and a Goretex cover snaps over both.  I am glad I did.  The temperature dropped to 39º during the night and I was at times cool inside both bags.  The coming lows are forecast to be higher, but I unpacked a third sleeping bag that I may use as an extra quilt tonight and/or start sleeping in my silk long underwear.

To my profound disappointment and disgust at myself I found that I had left only a finger of tequila on board.  I will not do that again.  I rectified this disaster this morning by walking 3.5 miles to the nearest BevMor, my favorite local liquor store, where I bought two bottles of Laphroaig and two of Plymouth gin.  They only had Navy strength which is 114 proof and must be diluted. I can do that and have.

I also went to a nearby supermarket for berries, a roast beef/cheddar cheese sandwich, half of which I ate for lunch, the other half I will eat for dinner, and some bite size brownies.

Ubering back to the marina, I ate lunch and then spent almost three hours removing mold.  In the bow forward of the v-berth condensation on the inside of GANNET’s uninsulated hull caused by the difference in air temperature inside versus outside was dripping like a rain forest.  That, not a leak, was what soaked the sleeping bags.  While I was working the temperature inside the cabin was a comfortable 72º with the hatches open.  Outside was 59º.

It is great to be at sea level, to be on the water, to feel the little boat constantly if slightly moving.  I love Carol, but I am a creature of the sea.  And it is due to snow 6” in Chicago.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Evanston: bow wave

From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

 Like a ship plowing through cosmic seas, runaway star Zeta Ophiuchi produces the arcing interstellar bow wave or bow shock seen in this stunning infrared portrait. In the false-color view, bluish Zeta Oph, a star about 20 times more massive than the Sun, lies near the center of the frame, moving toward the left at 24 kilometers per second. Its strong stellar wind precedes it, compressing and heating the dusty interstellar materiaand shaping the curved shock front. What set this star in motion? Zeta Oph was likely once a member of a binary star system, its companion star was more massive and hence shorter lived. When the companion exploded as a supernova catastrophically losing mass, Zeta Oph was flung out of the system. About 460 light-years away, Zeta Oph is 65,000 times more luminous than the Sun and would be one of the brighter stars in the sky if it weren't surrounded by obscuring dust. The image spans about 1.5 degrees or 12 light-years at the estimated distance of Zeta Ophiuchi. Last week, NASA placed the Spitzer Space Telescope in safe
mode, ending its 16 successful years of studying our universe.   

Winter ends for me tomorrow.  At least for a while.  I have finished my house work and am leaving the upper flatlands for San Diego, sea level, and GANNET.  

Friday, January 31, 2020

Evanston: 100; 1 septillion

The top photo is the view this morning out one of our glass doors.  Only a light snow.  Cities are mostly ugly, yet a few years ago we passed the point where most of our species lives in them and in thirty more years that percentage is expected to rise to 70%.  As I have observed before cities look best through veils of distance, fog, night or snow which briefly cover the blemishes.

We still have not seen the sun for more than eight days.   This month is the third cloudiest on record in Chicago, but will also be the second warmest, averaging almost 6ºF/3ºC above normal.  That is still for those of you wise enough to live in places with decent climates an atrociously cold mid-30s F.

I have never made new year’s resolutions, but I did enter the year with two goals:  to at least once do 100 push-ups and to have GANNET in Hilton Head before year’s end.  A few of you have written to ask if I do my age in push-ups all at once.  The answer is yes and that number is followed by at least my age in crunches, 60 knee-bends, at least 40 more push-ups, 40 more crunches, 40 knee-bends, at least 40 more push-ups, at least 40 more knee-bends, at least 100 side leg raises each leg, and at least 150 more knee-bends.  The ‘at least’ is because as I have noted I now randomly increase the numbers.   Usually I do a few more push-ups than my age in the first set.  The most I had previously done was 90, but two days ago I was feeling strong and as they say in cricket, I hit a century.  I don’t know when or if I will do 100 again.   That leaves the Hilton Head condo, two of whose virtues are that it is not in a city and the view out the glass doors is beautiful.

The second photo was taken by the Hubble telescope in, I think, 2016.  Each of those dots of light is a galaxy.  If you goggle ‘How many galaxies are there in the universe’ the top answer is likely to be 100 billion.  This along with an enormous amount of other information online, including that drinking bleach is a preventative for the coronavirus, is wrong.  The Hubble telescope has revealed that the number is likely more than two trillion.  If the average galaxy has one hundred billion stars as does our Milky Way, the number of stars in the universe is 1 septillion—that is 1 followed by 24 zeroes—in the American numbering system/1 quadrillion in the European system.  (Why can’t we get together on these things?)

All of these numbers are beyond my comprehension, as is that the estimated diameter of the universe is 93 billion light years, and puts my 100 push-ups in perspective.

I quote myself.  Why not?  Others do.

To Nicholas Copernicus

you did us no kindness
when you proved we are not the center of the universe
easier to believe our lives had meaning then
harder now

it is better
to know
the truth

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Evanston: gloom; albatross surveillance; beer virus

Today is the seventh consecutive day in which Chicago has had no clear sunlight.  The record is nine.  The sky is low solid gray.  The temperature is not cold by Chicago winter standards, hovering around freezing, but the place is dismal.  I walked down to the lake yesterday, hoping I might find something pretty or interesting to photograph.  I did not.  So I am running the old photo above with the caption, “I like boats, but I’m afraid of the water.”

A day or two ago the NY TIMES ran an article about albatross being fitting with radar detectors that are finding ships at sea that have turned off their AIS transponders presumably while fishing illegally.  I was surprised to learn how many vessels do this and by another affirmation that we are being watched all the time everywhere.  Even when we think we are alone in the monastery of the sea, there is a CCTV in the ceiling of our cell.

I had already seen the article, but I thank Lee who emailed me about it.  He was right to think I would be interested.


In a recent exchange of emails Guy mentioned that he will be 50 next year which caused me to remember my 50th birthday and consider where I have been on other ten year birthdays, but before that let me remind you that I have written here before about Guy, who is an architect, photographer/artist, and serious walker.  Guy walks off for days, even on occasion I think weeks, alone through isolated landscapes in the UK and at least once Iceland, taking photographs which he later turns into rare images which he publishes on his site, Tracing Silence, enhanced by quotes with which I am seldom familiar.  I do not claim to understand what he is doing, but I am certain he is an original.  If you have been here a while you know I have no greater praise.  I wrote to him that I don’t believe he is seeking to create beauty, but some of his images are beautiful.  I particularly like ‘exposure/one day, one night/east sussex’

To see for yourself:


On my 50th birthday in November 1991 I was in Auckland, New Zealand, with Jill preparing RESURGAM for a 6,000 mile passage around Cape Horn to Uruguay.

On my 60th I was with Carol on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA running before a gale near the Canary Islands on a passage from Gibraltar to Dakar, Senegal.

On my 70th I was here in this condo with a patch over my soon to be blind right eye following retinal repair surgery.

i remember those clearly.  I don’t have specific memory of earlier ten year birthdays, but can deduce that on my 40th I was with Suzanne and my grandmother in Mission Beach, having flown back for the holidays from CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE in Singapore.

On my 30th I would have been living on the first EGREGIOUS, the Ericson 35, at Harbor Island Marina in San Diego, still longing.

On my 20th I would have been a junior in college in Dubuque, Iowa.

On my 10th in grade school in Kirkwood, Missouri.

On my 80th, next year if I last that long, maybe Hilton Head.



Monday, January 27, 2020

Evanston: legacy; the impossibility of stasis; old friends; parasite

Forget the words.  Forget the voyages.  I have come to accept that my eternal fame will be for push-ups.  Well, whatever works.  Yesterday I got an email from Tom, who does my age in push-ups because he is young and his age is not enough, and a few days ago from Bruce who wrote that I have inspired him to try to do his age by the time he reaches 70 in a year and a half.  He is currently at 50 and increasing.  Carol began doing push-ups last year and has increased her output five fold.  Well done to them and to all of you push-upping away.

A related subject is the impossibility of stasis.  Even though I think I know words I often look them up to be certain.  Stasis is defined as inactivity and equilibrium.  Some dictionaries equate that with stagnation.  I agree.  You are either getting stronger or you are getting weaker.  Weaker is probably the natural progression, particularly at my age.  I have no particular desire to be stronger, but I have a strong desire not to become weaker, so as I have mentioned here before I am randomly increasing my workouts, from stair climbing to light weight lifting to push-ups, crunches and walking.  I don’t bike in Evanston winters or in San Diego since my bike was stolen, but living on a boat is a naturally healthy life.  A New Zealand friend just lost 5 kilos/11 pounds on a month cruise from Auckland to the Bay of Islands on his 26’ boat.  

If we ever live in Hilton Head I will be able to add biking and swimming for much of the year. Our development has a pool which is not much used.

For quite some time I have mistakenly sought just to maintain the status quo.  Now I seek to do more.

I am almost finished with IMMORTAL POETS.  Only seven poets out of hundreds still to go.  Along the way I have come to the conclusion that women write better love poems than men, most recently in my reading Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I have smiled to come across old friends that I had forgotten or not read for a while, among them Chidiock Tichborne’s ‘On The Eve of His Execution’ and William Butler Yeats’ ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’.

You can find Tichborne’s poem under ‘quotes used in front of my books’ on the lists page of the main site.

Only part of ‘The Irish Airman’ is there, so I include it in its entirety here.  

I recall that my editor at Times Books wanted me to use something about gathering the flowers of the sea.  I declined and did what I have always done and went my own way.

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above,
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.


We saw the movie PARASITE Saturday.  I went in knowing only that it was named best picture at Cannes, got good reviews which I deliberately did not read, is nominated for best picture at the coming Academy Awards, is South Korean, and was strongly recommended by two friends.  I recommend you see the film and that you go in as unknowing as I did.  

PARASITE is still playing in theaters and will be available to rent from iTunes January 28.

I will say only that it is original, very well done, and disturbing.  It is a film that has remained strongly in my mind and the more I think about it, the more I admire it.

I chanced across the epitaph that the astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote for himself a few months before he died in 1630.

I used to measure the skies, now I measure the shadows of the Earth.  Although my mind was sky-bound, the shadow of my body lies here.

The photo is another old one taken several years ago from THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s mooring off Opua.