Sunday, January 30, 2022

Hilton Head Island: not a sea for solo sailing; a sad musical; a care package

 Above is a photo taken from space published in today’s NASA Earth Observatory site.

Most of the lights are from 1,600 fishing boats.  Not a place where I would want to solo sail.

On the passage from Auckland, New Zealand to Punta del Este, Uruguay, thirty years ago with Jill in RESURGAM, we were between the Falkland Islands and the mainland of South America when one evening as night fell we saw to the northeast the loom of lights of what appeared a city.  There was no land there.  I had an early GPS unit.  I checked it.  I checked the chart.  I went back on deck and we both stared at the loom of light.  I checked our position again.  We were seemingly seeing the impossible and realized the only explanation was a huge fleet of fishing vessels, which we later learned was the case.  We never saw any of the vessels, but the next day the ocean was cluttered with their cast off debris.

“Tits and Ass.”  I thought of using that as the heading for this post, but did not want to be too startling and they are not my words anyway, but the title and lyrics to a song from THE CHORUS LINE which I rewatched last evening.  It is a good, but deeply sad musical.  So many are called and so few are chosen, and their lives are totally dependent on the decisions of others.

Carol sent me a care package via Amazon yesterday.  Cheese, sausage, nuts, crackers, dried apricots.  Earlier in the day I found the bottles of orange juice and the powdered milk. I am improving and I am in no danger of starvation.  However, were I not flying away this coming Thursday, I would run out of wine and spirits in a couple of weeks, which would provide strong motivation to get well quickly.


Friday, January 28, 2022

Hilton Head Island: gannet cam; butterflies; a rare illness

 After seeing the photo of the diving gannet in my last post, Dan sent me links to two PBS shows.  The first, ANIMALS WITH CAMERAS, is fascinating on many levels, including the ingenuity of designing cameras that can be worn by various species.  To me the highlight is of course the gannets, which come in at about the thirty minute mark, but it is all good.  And I have since watched a second episode which is set in Australia.

The second is a NOVA episode about butterflies.  I have never given any thought about butterflies, but as one of the scientists in the film observes, “Butterflies and moths have solved problems that we have not.” The evolutionary process by which some of their attributes have developed is as astounding as the universe itself.

I thank Dan for the links.

You have not heard from me for a while because I am ill.  Not seriously.  I have only a mild virus. But this is rare.  Legends don’t get colds.  I don’t recall the last time I was ill, and since Carol left after New Year’s, I live in almost complete isolation.  I am around other people for only one half hour a week when I bike to a supermarket and liquor store and I wear N95 masks when I am.  Nevertheless something got from one of you to me.  

Prior to the pandemic I would have just accepted this and let it run its course, but many of my symptoms are the same as COVID.  Runny nose, cough, mild fatigue. I have not run a fever.  So I have taken two at home COVID tests, both of which were negative.  I read that two such tests taken at 24-48 hour intervals are 99% reliable.  However we know that you can’t believe everything you read, unless it is written by me.

Today I coughed, reread Mark Twain’s, LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, and dozed.  Twain journied down the river as a passenger twenty years after he had been a young river pilot.  He was famous by then and charmingly saw a steamboat on the river named THE MARK TWAIN.  He also just reminded me of the Civil War’s Fort Pillow Massacre, an undoubted war crime for which no one was ever punished.

I do not have enough energy to walk down to GANNET, much less to bike four miles to a supermarket.  Neighbors would take me, but I don’t want to subject them to whatever I have.  I am running out of fresh food.  I am going to have to delve into my hurricane/passage supplies, which will last me probably three months, by which time I better be feeling more energetic.  It will be like being on a passage.  However that won’t be necessary.  I am scheduled to fly back to the Midwest this coming Thursday.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Hilton Head Island: ice; perfect design; my immortality; the secret of my success


What looks like broken glass in the above photo is in fact ice.  Yesterday morning the official temperature at the airport three miles away was 28ºF/-2.2C for several hours and rain puddles left on the edge of our deck furniture cover froze.  The temperature rose into the balmy 40s and by early afternoon the water was again liquid.

From Jay comes a link to more serious ice on the Chicago River.  I thank him.

This morning Carol, who is about thirty miles north of downtown Chicago, reported snow and wind chill temperatures of 0F/-18C.  In my official capacity I authorized her to take a snow day and work from home.  I, of course, have no official capacity, but it seems a good idea.

From Erik comes this photo of an elegant bird named after my boat.  What a marvelously efficient and graceful design, both for motion above and below water.  I thank him.

As long time readers know I like to quantify things.  I always have.  In childhood I quantified my ambitions:  I wanted to write something that would last a thousand years, having concluded that if it lasted that long, it would last more or less forever, and I wanted to be loved by one woman.  Well, of the woman I continue to delude myself that I have been loved by more than one.  Or at least liked.  For a while.  Briefly.

Whether I have written anything that will last a thousand years is unlikely, but as I have noted before, ten of my words are going to outlive me.  Does not seem like much for eighty years of struggle and joy and despair, but there you are.  Or rather I am.

Two further examples have appeared this past week.

From Steve Earley.

I wrote back to Steve that I should have copywrited those words, but then if people had to pay to use them they probably wouldn’t.  At least they gave me attribution.  

When I reread what I wrote before sending it I found that autofill had changed ‘attribution’ to ‘retribution’.  Is it possible that algorithms have a sense of humor?

And yesterday Google Alerts notified me that I have been included in ‘75 Ocean Quotes’ in Parade.

This seems to be a descendent of Parade Magazine which was a standard supplement to the Sunday newspaper when I was young.  I did not know it still existed.

As I have observed elsewhere I cling to the remote hope that from time to time in the future someone will read those words and wonder who Webb Chiles was and find and read some of my other words. 

A friend who is about to sail his Bristol 40 from Grenada to Panama recently emailed me.  He mentioned the pressure of time which brings us to the secret of my success which I know has been the cause of wonder to many and is uppermost in your mind.

Of course one might question that I have any success.  By most contemporary social measures: wealth, number of friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, etc.  I have had none.  Carol is an American success story.  I am proud of her.  I am an actual living example of a myth to which Americans give lip service, but in which they believe no more than they do the Easter Bunny.

However, let us ignore reality just as if we were politicians and pretend I am a success.  As I realized when reading my friend’s email, and have often realized before, the secret to my success is that I haven’t done much.  That might seem counter intuitive when considering six circumnavigations, six marriages, and all those published words during the past fifty years.  But I did all those things because of what I didn’t do.  I didn’t have children.  I didn’t have a ‘real’ job.  I didn’t have debts.  I didn’t own a lot of stuff.  And all my time since November 2, 1974–except for the two weeks I was falsely locked up as a spy in Saudi Arabia—has been mine to do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it.

So there you have it.  The best advice you are likely to read today.  Or tomorrow.

Go out and do less.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Hilton Head Island: 41,000”: paradise?; governments; a change of emotions; a poem


I thank my friend, Chad, who pilots private jets, for this photo of my home taken at 41,000’ as he flew over on a flight to Palm Beach.  Looking closely I can make out the marina near the right hand side of the landward side of the island.  I cannot make out GANNET.  Maybe I need a bigger boat.

I watch some of the local TV news from Savannah in the early evenings.  Partly for the weather report; partly because this is still foreign territory to me and I am curious about it.  Last night I learned of two shootings over the weekend.  Made me feel right at home as though I were back in Chicago.  And I learned that another cold front is coming in a few days with temperatures again at or below freezing.  It was 34ºF/1ºC this morning and our heating system is still broken.  I have what is called emergency heat, but even without it low temperatures on Hilton Head Island are not life threatening.  But I also learned that the coming front may bring a wintery mix of ice and snow.  Horrors.  What kind of paradise is this?

From recent entries in THE ASSASSIN’S CLOAK.  First Lord Byron on governments, with which I mostly agree.  Then three entries from Scott’s diary as he neared and reached the South Pole.  And the worst was yet to come.

And last, from the BEING HUMAN anthology a poem with a startlingly vivid and good last line.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Hilton Head Island: tsunami; white-caps

You have probably already seen this image of the underwater volcano explosion near Tonga a few days go.  I know those waters.  I have sailed to Tonga many times and to me this image is astounding.  That cloud for lack of a better word is almost two hundred nautical miles in diameter and when the image was taken still expanding.  

The explosion caused tsunami warnings to be issued throughout the Pacific.  I have seen pictures of boats damaged as far away as Japan, and this morning Zane in New Zealand sent me a link to damage at Tutukaka Marina not far south of the Bay of Islands.  I thank him.

I have often anchored at Tutakaka, though I have never gone into the marina.  The entrance to the harbor is extremely narrow.  I would have thought that once inside a boat would be safe.  Obviously I was wrong.  I surmise that enough energy made it into the harbor and there constrained, magnified.

I am sitting as I often do by our bedroom window, looking out on Skull Creek where there are rare white-caps but less than 1’/.3 meter wavelets.  Hilton Head is on the edge of a winter storm.  Rain has been falling steadily since last night, but according to the radar should soon be moving away.  Unfortunately it will move north where it will still be over land rather than out to sea.  A hundred miles inland it is causing snow and ice in places where they seldom happen.  A gale warning for near coastal waters is in place and I have seen buoy reports of gusts above 30 knots.  As usual we do not have nearly that much wind on this side of the island.  I expect perhaps gusts in the low 20s, which are enough to be making a humming sound and  to dance the Spanish moss into a frenzy.  

I checked out the Eagle cam where I found the eaglets huddled together for warmth.  The tree is being shaken.  I wonder what they are thinking about this world into which they so recently hatched.  Probably:  When is somebody going to feed me?

Friday, January 14, 2022

Hilton Head Island: another sunset too beautiful not to share


Two posts in one day are rare, but a while ago I was sitting in our TV area watching the local news which I find less reprehensible than the combination of Entertainment Tonight and the National Enquirer that poses as the national news, when I glanced up and saw the above, which even by Skull Creek standards is exceptional.  The photo was taken with my iPad Pro and is unedited. 

I recall the story told of the Boston matron more than a hundred years ago—and perhaps you need to know that Boston calls itself the Hub of the Universe—when asked if she had ever gone to Europe, replied, “No.  Why should I travel?  I’m already there.”  I will again seek the monastery of the sea, but so am I.

Hilton Head Island: Cyclone Cody; DEATH TO 2021; GERONIMO; masked again

Every morning I check the Earth Wind Map.

During hurricane season I am particularly looking for tight spirals such as you see above in a screen shot taken this morning. When our hurricane season ends, the cyclone season begins on the better side of the Equator.  It seems the typhoon season never really ends.  I don’t know why.

I have seen this storm for several days.  It is named Cody.  You probably know what I think of naming storms, but sadly I am not in charge of these things.  It caused flooding and some damage in Fiji and is now on its way toward New Zealand.  The latest track shows that it will pass just east of the North Island, but close enough to cause rain, wind and big waves.  Cyclones weaken as they move south in that hemisphere into cooler water.  With the oceans warming they may become a more frequent problem for my Kiwi friends.

I don’t expect everyone will enjoy the Netflix original, DEATH TO 2021, a satirical review of the year’s news, particularly Trump supporters, but I watched it last night and I did.  You might too.

I also watched on Netflix last night the 1993 movie, GERONIMO, starring Wes Studi in the title role, and Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, and Matt Damon.  I found it an enjoyable movie shot in front of spectacularly beautiful scenery.  I found myself wondering why Geronimo surrendered rather than die fighting.  Perhaps he just got too old and tired.  But I thought also that he would not have had the benefit of reading history and so might have thought governments keep their word.  Apparently Geronimo thought so too.  From Wikipedia:

Geronimo as a U.S. prisoner in 1905


In February 1909, Geronimo was thrown from his horse while riding home, and had to lie in the cold all night until a friend found him extremely ill.[34] He died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909, as a prisoner of the United States at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.[74] On his deathbed, he confessed to his nephew that he regretted his decision to surrender.[34] His last words were reported to be said to his nephew, "I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive."[75] He was buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in the Beef Creek Apache Cemetery.[76]

I also rewatched my zoom San Francisco Single Handed Sailing Society video and immodestly I enjoyed that too.

Hilton Head Island is strongly Republican, but these are not anti-mask, anti-vaccine Republicans.  Many of them are old and not stupid and don’t want to die.  Early last year Hilton Head had a local ordinance making masks mandatory inside business and public buildings, but the Governor in his wisdom issued a mandate prohibiting such local ordinances.  However, when I biked to the Publix supermarket a week ago, I noticed that many of the customers were again wearing masks.  I took one with me when I biked to Publix this morning and am glad I did.  All of the staff and more than 90% of the customers wore masks.  I only saw three people without them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Hilton Head Island: a welcomed honor; don’t look up; cannibal update; heatless

Kent and Audrey of Armada fame like to name things.  Just naming all the boats in their fleet would have exhausted those less imaginative, but they also name vehicles, even including I think carts and probably trailers and now I learn they even name clamps.  As you can see I have been so honored and I am pleased, even though among those above I am the odd man out.  The others either have their own fleets or are skilled boat builders or both.  I thank Kent and Audrey.  Now if anyone ever says to me, “Webb, get a grip!” I can reply, “I already have.”

I thank Tim for recommending that I watch the Netflix film, DON’T LOOK UP.  Briefly the film is about two astronomers who try to warn humanity that an approaching comet is going to hit the Earth and destroy the planet.  It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep, among others.  It is a satire.  It is mean to be funny and it is.  But it is also an indictment of modern society because it is tragically accurate about social media, television talking heads, politicians, gurus and some businessmen, about power and wealth coming by having no principles beyond self-interest and playing to the biggest possible audience.

If you watch—and I strongly second Tim’s recommendation—don’t miss the sequence that plays out over the end credits. 

By happy chance James sent me a link this morning to a news item that an asteroid is going to pass close to Earth next week.  Perhaps you had better watch DON’T LOOK UP soon.

In THE ASSASSIN’S CLOAK from entries for January 9:

I am leading an heatless life.  A coil has failed on the unit in the attic.  This is not life threatening in Hilton Head’s climate, but it is mildly irritating because we spend thousands of dollars a little more than a year ago having a new system installed and because the wrong part was delivered.  This was supposed to have been fixed several days ago.  Lows the past two nights have been 38ºF/3ºC.  I am using a sleeping bag as an extra blanket and am quite comfortable at night.  In the morning I turn on the electric fireplace which emits some heat. 

When I wrote to a friend about this, autocorrect changed ‘heatless life’ to ‘heartless life.’  I did change it back, but who am I to argue with an algorithm?

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Hilton Head Island: WAR AND PEACH; to survive; similar skeletons


WAR AND PEACH above is not a typo, though originally it was and remains one of my all time favorites.  It occurred in a letter I mailed in 1985 to a man I thought was a friend, but proved merely to be an acquaintance, from Tahiti where surrounded by tropical beauty I was reading for the second or third time Tolstoy’s novel.  The contrast between Russian snows and tropical heat was pleasing.

Last evening I finished watching for the third time the magnificent four part seven hour long 1960s Russian film version of the novel, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, and not just for the colossal battle scenes in which more than 10,000 Russian soldiers took part, but for the human detail of the acting and the direction, often in ironic juxtaposition, such as Napoleon’s army crossing into Russia followed by a scene of the nobility dancing at the same moment at a formal ball.

As I watched I found myself wondering what the lives have been of some of the actors and actresses who were at the time not much older than I and may still be alive in a country that has changed so much.

I am not aware that anyone streams this WAR AND PEACE, but the DVD set is available to buy from Amazon for $19.99.  A bargain for a masterpiece.  

The novel has been filmed several times.  The version to which I refer is that directed and acted in by Sergei Bondarchuk.

Here is a link to a Wikipedia article about the film.

 While I prefer ANNA KARENINA I may have to read WAR AND PEACH one more time, if I have time.

From entries for January 6 in THE ASSASSIN’S CLOAK, one from 1836:

Not a problem for solo sailors.

And from the BEING ALIVE anthology, a poem in part about similar skeletons.

The top photo has no meaning.  I am not reaching for anyone or anything.  Most of it is reflection on our bedroom window where I often sit and am sitting now.  The other night I happened to see my hand there and find the image mysterious.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Hilton Head Island: buffeted; Cape Horn; 80 Days; age and travel


We had a gale warning and then we had a gale.  Winds of more than 40 knots were recorded at numerous sites in this area, both on and offshore.  The highest I saw being 47 knots at an offshore buoy.  I don’t know the wind strength on Skull Creek.  Doubtlessly it was not that high, but it was probably the strongest wind I have experienced here and made an odd humming sound through the live oaks. At about 4 a.m. Carol heard it rip the cover from our deck furniture, so it was all hands on deck to bring in the light furniture before it too blew away.  Carol went back to sleep.  I stayed awake.  About an hour later I looked in on the eagle cam.  The camera operates with infra-red light at night which does not disturb the birds.  The nest was swaying, but secure, and the presumably mother eagle was hunkered down sleeping.

I have not heard of any significant damage in the area.  A few tree limbs blew down and the jib of  a boat beyond GANNET unfurled and was torn.  The remnants are still fluttering in the light breeze this sunny morning.  I always put three additional wraps of the jib sheet around the sail when I furl the jib and tie an extra  line through the clew if I leave the sail up when I am away.  I don’t know why others don’t do the same.

I look in on the eagle cam several times a day.  I read that during the first weeks after eaglets hatch the female is at the nest 90% of the time and the male provides most of the food.  By the fifth week this changes so both parents are equally away and provide equal amounts of food.

Two eaglets hatched last week within a few hours of one another.  By the second day I saw an unpleasant proof of the survival value of bullying as the older and slightly bigger eaglet attacked his younger sibling.  From an article about bald eagle nesting facts:

In the nest the oldest eaglet can act aggressively toward their siblings. The older, and larger eaglet often tries to dominate or even kill its sibling(s).

Mother nature, indeed.

Having intelligent readers one of my functions is to be a conduit of information they bring to my attention to you.

I thank James for a link to an interesting video, THE GHOSTS OF CAPE HORN.  Despite a sometimes overwrought and melodramatic narration, I enjoyed it and am struck by how much human muscle power went into the building of large wooden ships as well as sailing them.

PBS and the BBC are running a new version of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.  The first episode aired in the US last Sunday evening at 8 PM Eastern Time on Masterpiece Theater.  I missed it, but was able to view it online.  It varies considerably from the novel and earlier adaptions, including having a young female reporter along on the journey and a black Passepartout, but I found it entertaining and will watch the rest of the series as it airs.

The 1956 movie starring David Niven, Shirley MacLaine, and Cantinflas is perhaps the favorite of my childhood.  I was 14 years old in a suburb of St. Louis and hadn’t been anywhere much.  Here was the world.  Exciting.  Beautiful.  Varied.  Wondrous.  I wanted to experience it.

As continued conduit, I thank Larry for the quote from Francis Bacon and James, again, for the quote from Mark Twain.

Age appears to be best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read.

--Francis Bacon

Mark Twain in 1912:
In his book 'Innocents Abroad', he stated: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, & narrow-mindedness, & many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men & things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one's lifetime." 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Hilton Head Island: 20,560: books read July-December 2021; life as diary

In 2021 I set a personal record for number of workouts:  121, surpassing the old record of 115. Of these, 20 were what I call 100 level workouts.  The standard workout starts with stretching, then my age in push-ups and crunches, and last year I went one beyond my age for most of the year and did 80 of each, followed by 60 knee bends, then 40 more push-ups, 40 crunches; 40 knee bends; 40 push-ups; 40 crunches; 100 side leg rises each leg; 150 knee bends.  The 100 level is 100 push-ups; 100 crunches; 60 knee bends; 50 push-ups; 50 crunches; 40 knee bends; 50 push-ups; 50 crunches; 110 side leg rises each leg; 200 knee bends.  All done in immediate succession.  I have no specific plan when I go to the 100 level.  I just do so on days I am feeling particularly good, usually deciding after 30 or 40 push-ups in the first set.  Sometimes the first 30 are hard; sometimes easy.  So in 2021 I did a total of 20,560 push-ups and crunches.

I started keeping track of my workouts because I found I was making too many excuses and not doing them as regularly as I should.  Here is the list since record keeping began.

The lowest totals came when I was circumnavigating in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA and GANNET

I recall when giving a talk sometime in my 50s relating that I do my age in push-ups and just think what great shape I will be in when I am 100.  I’m getting there.

It is good to compete only with yourself.  And sometimes history.

Here is the list of books read the past six months.

Some may remember that I started re-reading the anthology of diary entries, THE ASSASSIN’S CLOAK, on July 1, so I have just moved from the end of the book to the beginning.  January begins with this quote from the creator of Petter Pan.

I like to believe that mine has pretty much been as I vowed to make it.