Monday, April 22, 2024

Lake Forest: surfers; stuff; the poet’s delusion

You may have seen the above photo taken during a surf competition in Western Australia.  I like to believe all the surfers are feeling the same joy.

Stuff oppresses me.

As is known I have twice lost all my physical possessions.  

When I drove north from Key West in a rental car to buy a boat and try to put my life back together nine months after sinking RESURGAM all I owned then in the world fit in a single duffle bag.

I have long thought that the best size boat for two people is between 35’ and 40’.  I have owned and lived aboard with the then woman in my life on a 26’, a 35’, a 36’, and two 37’.  I have said that if something will not fit on a 37’ boat I don’t need to own it.  Now, by proxy, I own or half own, much that will not fit on a 37’.  

For myself alone I would now say that if it does not fit on GANNET I don’t need to own it.  Part of this is due to technology.  I need books and music and what a few decades ago would have taken up considerable space no longer does.  I have four or five hundred books and seven or eight hundred albums of music on my phone alone.  But I can live ever more simply..

There is too much stuff.

I finished reading the thousand mostly very short poems in AN ANTHOLOGY OF CLASSICAL JAPANESE POETRY.

Here is one.  I have sympathy with Monk Saigyo’s delusion, but I don’t share it.  On the other hand, his words have lasted, however faintly, more than a thousand years.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Lake Forest: Connemara; kissing the moon; beach day; Nero’s deadline


I read LISTENING TO THE WIND, the first volume of Tim Robinson’s Connemara trilogy, the way I drink Laphroaig, sipping slowly, a chapter a day.  This is a book to be savored, not gulped.

Before Colin in Ireland brought Tim Robinson to my attention, for which I thank him, I knew the word Connemara, but I could not have placed it on a map.  Now I can.  An edge of Europe midway up the west coast of Ireland, not far from Galway, about twenty miles/ thirty kilometers of coast and low, but rugged mountains, eternally assaulted by the ocean and the elements.

Tim Robinson was not Irish, but English, raised in Yorkshire and educated at Cambridge.  He and his wife moved to Ireland in 1972, first to the Aran Islands, about which he wrote two books, then to Roundstone on the Irish mainland.

Here is a link to his obituary.  I regret to learn that he, a very physical man, developed Parkinson’s Disease and died of COVID.  It can happen to any of us.

Robinson found his place in western Ireland as I have found my place at sea.  He writes of the geology, the biology, the history—both factual and legendary, of Connemara with a rare style so that I, who have never been to Ireland, feel I know the place.

Here is a sentence I particularly like:  I accept the complication, the obstacle to writing, with gratitude:  it widens the boundary region between established truth and unstable imaginings that is my preferred territory and through which my book prowls to its conclusion.

I finished LISTENING TO THE WIND yesterday with the satisfaction of knowing that the two other books of the trilogy, THE LAST POOL OF DARKNESS and A LITTLE GAELIC KINGDOM, await.

The WALL STREET JOURNAL recently ran an article about the above Winslow Homer painting, Kissing the Moon, which I had not previously seen.  The author points out the mysterious and unanswerable questions:  what are these men doing out there well offshore?  Just sitting?  Just waiting?  For what?  Each looking a different direction.  The man in the stern, who may have been Homer’s favorite nephew,  dressed for hunting, not fishing.  Rough seas with the diagonal wave providing tension as I learned years ago from the chance photo I took from the inflatable of a swamped CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE. 

And the distant moon seemingly so close.

Spring in Chicago is fickle.  Yesterday was almost summer.  73F/23C.  So Carol drove us to the lake front in mid-afternoon for drinks and an early dinner.  Our favorite walk is down there, a mile long loop, starting in the parking lot, climbing the 120 steps up to the top of the bluff, than along it until a road takes us down to lake level and back to the car.  Lately we have been almost alone there.  Yesterday we were not.  A few of the young even ventured knee deep into the still 45F/7C water.  We set up our chairs on a narrow strip of grass and enjoyed looking out at the calm water.  In a few days the low temperatures are forecast again to be near freezing.

I am rereading the collected poems of one of my favorite poets the Greek, C.P. Cavafy.  Here is one.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Lake Forest: anniversary year; unlicensed; another thought on 65 years

I thank Zane in New Zealand for reminding me that next month will mark the tenth anniversary of the beginning of GANNET’s circumnavigation.  In the midst of clearing out Carol’s apartment and moving full time to Hilton Head I had not thought of that.  Zane even considerately provided the link to what I wrote the night before I set sail.  I had not read it for years.  Perhaps not since I wrote it and I enjoyed doing so again.  Perhaps you might too.

The next morning I got up, pushed GANNET out of her slip and left.

I have not forgotten two other anniversaries that will occur this year.  In August Carol and I will have been married thirty years, and November will mark fifty years since I sailed on my first attempt at Cape Horn and the beginning of what I have called the being part of my life.

2024 is going to be more memorable than I expected.

GANNET’s insurance is due for renewal.  In South Carolina the cost is four times what it was in Illinois and California, though not as expensive as it was in Florida.  As I have mentioned here before I asked if this is due to the hurricane season and was told only partly.  Florida in particular is a high claim state due to incompetent power boaters often under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  So I decided to shop around and get other quotes.  I started with Progressive’s website because we have other insurance with them and could bundle.  I filled out their form online which asked questions about me and the boat one of which was for my driver’s license number.  I checked the box unlicensed.  After I completed the form a message appeared that they would not provide me with a quote because I do not have a driver’s license.

Somewhat irritated I telephoned them and was told the same thing.  I hung up more irritated.

I do not like insurance or insurance companies generally.  If you work for one I don’t apologize.  That is just the way it is.  I have never had insurance on an ocean voyage and only have it in port because marinas require it.  I work by choice without a net and take full responsibility for myself including losses. 

Progressive never asked why I don’t have a driver’s license.  Just:  no vehicle driver’s license.  No quote.  

One might question if my vision is so poor that I don’t want to drive a car, then isn’t it so poor I can’t sail a boat?  Other than that this is demonstrably not true, the difference is that cars are two ton projectiles often moving at 70 miles per hour in close proximity with many other such projectiles.  GANNET is a one ton projectile usually moving at 6 or 7 miles per hour with few or no other such projectiles  anywhere near or even in sight.

I gave up seeking alternatives and am just going to renew with BOAT US which to their credit never asked if I have a driver’s license.

I have several friends and a wife all of whom are or will soon be 66 years old and realized that photos of them taken 65 years apart would show considerably greater change than did mine.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Lake Forest: 65 years and other photographs


That is what sixty-five years will do.

The top picture was taken in 1959.  I ran the hurdles in track in high school.  It is the only photo I have of me under age 30.  I have twice lost all my physical possessions and don’t hang onto the past except for some words.  The photo comes from a high school year book and was sent to me several years ago by a classmate.  I did not keep the yearbook myself.

The second photo was taken a month ago by Steve Earley while we were enjoying drinks on the screened porch in Hilton Head.

Age 17 and age 82.

I came across the top photo while looking for ones of the Jordan Drogue to send to Colin in Ireland who is making his own drogue.

That is the drogue in its deployment bag, which folded up looks like this.

Two parts of the drogue are missing:  the bridle which is shackled to the eye at the end of the drogue to the right and the weight which is shackled to the eye at the end at the left.

The bridle is massive as are the shackles.  Far larger than anything else on GANNET, indicative of the strain expected on them when the drogue pulls tight when the boat is caught by breaking waves.  The weight at the aft end of the drogue is fifteen pounds/6.8 kilos.  I use a length of heavy chain.

With all three components connected, the drogue is heavy and awkward to move and would be difficult to attach to the plates bolted through the hull in the extreme conditions in which I would want to use it.  GANNET has been through two 55 knot gales in which I was not tempted to deploy the drogue.  In the second, off Durban, South Africa, the met service said the waves were 6 meters/20’ and the little boat safely lay ahull, so I would not expect to use the drogue in less than Force 12.  I think it would already have to be in place for me to do so.  Set up and connected ready to deploy probably before leaving port.  On GANNET this is complicated by not wanting to block solar panels or the cockpit drains.  I have not yet come up with a solution.

And I also came across this photo.

I am sailing GANNET out the Mission Bay Channel.  I think Carol must have taken it, but neither of us remember her doing so.  I am using the tiller extension so I can handle the jib sheets while short tacking.  


Monday, April 8, 2024

Lake Forest: better tasting martinis; absurb

Because I am a cyclops which seriously effects depth perception out to twenty feet, which if you are sailing a 24’ boat is your entire world, for some years I have avoided using stemmed glasses which I knock over too easily.  We don’t have any stemmed martini glasses at Hilton Head, but we do here, and the past few weeks I have dared to use them.  I have been very careful and thus far I have successfully consumed my drinks without spillage.  I do not claim this is science, but I find martinis taste better when drunk from a martini glass.  They certainly look better.

I went and stood not long ago by the windows looking out over the street.  I stretched my arms and said, “It is absurd.  I am eighty-two years old and I still feel strength that wants to be used.”

Carol came over and put her arms around me and said, “Use it.”

Friday, April 5, 2024

Lake Forest: “dry wood on the water with a sail”; contemplating a limpet; three weeks


I have finished rereading Camoes THE LUSIADS during much of which Vasco de Gama relates the history of Portuguese military prowess to rulers in Malindi, a port north of Mombasa in present day Kenya where his small fleet was welcomed, and in Calicut on the southwest coast of India where they ultimately fulfilled the purpose of the voyage.  In addition to describing the voyage itself, there are two other unusual episodes, one when on the return they are brought by Venus to the Isle of Love where they are entertained—to use a polite word—by beautiful nereids, and another much earlier when just as they are to depart from Lisbon an old man standing on the shore disparages the enterprise in total contrast to the heroic tenor of the rest of the poem.

I am fairly certain that I have quoted the line about ‘dry wood on the water with a sail’ before in this journal, but I find the entire tirade so ironically pleasing that I want to share it with you.

J.M.W. Turner is one of my favorite painters, but I came across a reference this morning to one of his paintings I had not seen, ‘The Exile and The Rock Limpet’.  It was described as ludicrous and it is.  Even the greatest artists make mistakes.  It is meant to depict Napoleon on a beach in St. Helena contemplating a rock limpet, presumably impressed by its ability to hang on and persevere.

That there is no such beach in St. Helena—I have been there and Turner never was; the island doesn’t have a harbor and just falls into the sea—and that Napoleon was short not tall, and kept in a large house in the hills well away from the coast to prevent any escape attempt, are perhaps irrelevant.  An artist is entitled to his vision, but Napoleon and the limpet is romantic nonsense.

Carol advised me last evening that we are leaving this place on April 26.  That is three weeks from today.  She has made reservations for that night at a nearby hotel just off the Interstate so I believe she is serious although this place is still full of stuff.  The two day drive will see me looking at Skull Creek and GANNET on Sunday, April 28.  Excellent.  I feel like a prisoner with an indeterminate sentence who has just been given a release date.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Lake Forest: desire among the Japanese

I am halfway through AN ANTHOLOGY OF CLASSICAL JAPANESE POETRY which includes one thousand poems composed between the sixth and thirteenth centuries.  Most are in a form known as tanka of only five lines so I easily read twenty-five a day.

The subjects vary.  A significant number are about desire.  I considered titling this ‘love among the Japanese’, but I believe desire is more accurate.  Even lust would be.  Though Christianity has given lust a bad name, including it in the seven deadly sins, the definition is:  very strong sexual desire, which does not sound bad to me and is the essential means by which DNA projects itself mindlessly into the future.  

Many of the Japanese poems are about unfulfilled desire through indifference, duty, custom.  At one time women of the higher classes were not allowed to speak to any man in public who was not a family member.  Prohibition led as always to subterfuge.

So here on a dismal day of rain due to turn to snow are a few poems of Japanese desire.  

Friday, March 29, 2024

Lake Forest: more gannets and no more alarms; Daniel Kahneman; Luis de Camoes


Gannets rule.  But you already knew that.  The photo above won first prize in the World Nature Photography competition.  It was taken off Scotland by Tracy Lund who was out on a small boat when gannets started diving.  She lowered her camera in a waterproof housing over the side. 

While we probably will set alarms again from time to time, this is Carol’s last day of work and she will never again set an alarm to wake up to go to the office.  This is momentous.  A life changing experience that some of you have had and most of you will and I have not.  I last held what is called a ‘real job’ fifty years ago and can attest that having control of your own time is wonderful, if you can fill it purposely and enjoyably.  Carol is ending a successful forty year career as an architect.  She tells me she is ready, but that she feels this morning as though she is stepping off a cliff.  I will help her fall with grace and land safely.

There is an outstanding article in the WALL STREET JOURNAL about Daniel Kahneman, the Noble Prize winning economist who recently died.  I did not know of him, but he re-enforces some of my own observations.  I read WSJ through my subscription to Apple News+ and so cannot give you the link.  I checked and the WSJ site will not let you read the article without a subscription, but here are two key segments.

Before the pioneering work done by Kahneman and his research partner, Amos Tversky, who died in 1996, economists had assumed that people were “rational”, meaning we are self-interested, use all available information to make unbiased decisions, and our preferences are consistent.  Kahneman and Tversky showed that’s nonsense.

In other words we are not homo sapiens.

Danny also insisted that studying the pitfalls and paradoxes of the human mind didn’t make him any better at problem solving than anybody else:  ‘‘I’m just better at recognizing my mistakes after I make them.’’  

For all his knowledge of how foolish investors can be, Danny didn’t try to outsmart the market.  “I don’t try to be clever at all,”  he told me.  Most of his money was in index funds.  (So is ours.)  “All of us would be better investors if we just made fewer decisions.”

An intelligent and interesting man.  Read the article or about him if you can.

A worthwhile result of my being cabin bound is that I have been reading even more than usual.  A few days ago I finished the BEING ALIVE anthology and so needed to find another book of Western poetry.  I decided to reread Luis de Camoes THE LUSIADS for what will be my third or fourth time.  It was a fortunate choice. 

The poem relates Vasco de Gama’s voyage to India and a reader benefits from knowing some Portuguese history which I do.

Camoes was himself in India and China for seventeen years, perhaps banished after a duel.  His return from The East took almost three years and included his leaping from a sinking ship with nothing but the manuscript of what would become THE LUSIADS.

He finally made it back to Lisbon in 1570.  THE LUSIADS was published two years later and he was given a tiny royal pension for ‘the adequacy of the book he wrote on foreign matters’.

He died in poverty in 1580 at age 55 or 56.  The exact date of his birth is not known

My Kindle edition translated by Landeg White is very readable and is bringing me great pleasure.  My aged spirit still thirsts for the epic.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Lake Forest: thanks; under the weather; three poems


I am sure that on your daily visit to the main site you have noticed that the line and photograph I recently I wrote I would add to that site if I could are now there.  For that I thank Rich, a sailor who follows this journal and read that entry and contacted his friend, Sheldon, who is a computer professional who can access my site and make changes.  I thank them both.  

I have been thinking about this and will not often take advantage of Sheldon’s gracious generosity.  I don’t know how long the main site will outlive me, but almost all of what I will ever write or do is already there.  Unless I am struck by some unexpected inspiration, I believe I will only want to include the completion of my five year plan, if completed it is, and my death.

In the meantime I will continue to write here and sail when the spirit moves me.

I have been under the weather.  Not in the usual meaning.  I am not ill, though as is also usual my latest slice is healing slowly.  For some years I have noticed that I heal much more slowly than I did when younger.  But under the weather in that the weather has been oppressing me.  Snow last Friday.  A few flurries Saturday.  A bit warmer Monday and Tuesday, but with rain and gale force winds.  All of which have been keeping me inside and less active than my aged body wants to be.  I have been doing my workouts, but workouts are not enough.  I need to get out.  The sun has just partially broken through after an absence for days, but the temperature is 32F/0C.  It is 70F/21//C in Hilton Head.  I found the above in my photos to remind me of what is waiting for me to return to, though probably not for another month.

Three poems.  The first two Japanese written a thousand years ago.  The last written by an American still living.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Lake Forest: a slice of life

A snowy day.  The weather is changeable in this part of the country at this time of year and not unusual.  I walked to a nearby drugstore to get a few things for Carol who is not feeling well.  I have winter clothes and it was not unpleasant.  Almost no cars on the streets and only two other pedestrians, one of whom, probably in his 60s, was having a ball.  He approached me smiling.  We shared ‘good-mornings’.  I was out running an errand.  He was out enjoying himself.  Good for him.

I removed the pressure bandage from my leg today.  I was told to leave it on for a week, but I was also told that if it bothered me too much, particularly if it felt too tight, I should remove it.  It had started to itch excessively, so I did and saw for the first time the incision the doctor made.  It is minimal for what she removed.  So much better than the butchery done to me by doctors in Hilton Head.  She is an artist of doctors.

I have told her of my admiration of her as a doctor.  I have never mentioned my appreciation of her beauty.  Beautiful women know they are beautiful.  That they have won a somewhat conflicted gift—and I hesitate at that word, for most would consider it a gift; some who have received it would not—gift or not, they know the results their physical appearance has on others.

For whatever reasons, many beautiful women have shared part of their lives with me.  This is about them, not me.  I come from nothing.  I invented myself in uncertainty and that some remarkable women responded to me was the first external indication that I might be what I thought I was.  Maybe they all made errors of judgement, but I had the advantages of not being threatened by their intelligence and of being able to make them laugh, and perhaps some others.

Of those women, some exalted in their beauty.  Some simply accepted it and lived on.  An unexpected number were uncertain about themselves, despite their obvious physical beauty and their admirable character.  I have thought about that and perhaps their uncertainty came passed on from their parents, particularly one Filipino I knew long ago.  I wonder how her life evolved.  I wonder how many of their lives evolved.  I hope they knew joy.  Some caused me pain.  It passed.  The memory of the joy they caused me, not just with their bodies, but with their presence, has not.  

Of all of them, Carol is the one who most downplayed her beauty.  It was a detriment to her career. 

Carol has always looked ten years or so younger than she is,  Most would welcome this, but in her work at times in meetings with those who did not know her, she would be thought an assistant, when in fact she was the boss as she made her way as a woman in what even the professional journals acknowledge is a male dominated field. 

I am not being unfaithful to Carol in acknowledging the obvious fact that there were other remarkable women in my life before we by chance came together.  She  was the right woman at the right time and an inexplicable gift.  

So to a great doctor and a beautiful woman who will never know that I admired her beauty, I offer a piece that is on the main site, which I know you visit every day in pursuit of grace and wisdom, but you could do worse than read again.

A Slice of Life


        Once not so long ago there was a sailor who crossed oceans alone in small boats.  He did this for many, many years and became a legend.

        He found purity and joy alone in what he called the monastery of the sea and loved sailing toward the setting sun or toward the dawn.

        When as a young man he departed on his first voyage, three tantalizing sirens kissed him good-bye and waved until he disappeared over the horizon and then, as sirens often do, forgot him.

        He suffered hardships, not eagerly but inevitably.  Sometimes he starved.  Twice he almost died of thirst.    He learned that thirst is much worse than hunger.  Eight times he survived the great storms that are called hurricanes and cyclones.

        People often told him he was brave because he made voyages that not only had no one else ever made, but that no one else had even thought of.

        He did not consider himself brave.  He did not fear the sea and he knew that men do not conquer the sea or mountains, they only transit them.  Still he was at home at sea as few others have ever been.

        He did fear thirst.

        After every voyage he made a pilgrimage to a beautiful sorceress.  Wise men told him he must do this and so he did.

        The sorceress dwelt in a high tower beside a lake so vast some called it an inland sea.  That lake was deceptive, sometimes as turquoise as the Caribbean, sometimes as black as the North Sea in a gale.

        The sorceress had coal black hair, a friendly smile, and a gay laugh. 

        Each time the sailor visited her she sliced small pieces of flesh from him.  Though the pieces were small, they did not grow back and over the decades they added up.  Each time the sailor returned to the sea he was smaller.

        The sailor lived far longer than anyone expected, including himself, and though he grew old he kept crossing oceans.  Sometimes he wondered at this.  He did not believe in the gods and never asked them to protect him. 

        Finally when he was very, very old, he sailed his small boat into port and made his customary way to the sorceress’s lair.

        The sorceress did not age.  She was still beautiful.  Her hair still jet black.  Her smile still friendly.  Her laughter still gay.  She welcomed him and cut the tiny remnant he had become into three pieces and he vanished.

      (I made my biannual visit to my skin cancer specialist, who is a beautiful woman, today and amused myself on the train ride in by writing this in my mind.  I typed it out when I returned home.

        Originally the title was a dull “A Modern Myth”.  Steve Earley in an email called it a slice of life.  Knowing a good thing when I read it, I stole it.  Thanks, Steve.)