Monday, February 27, 2023

Hilton Head Island: Amundsen and me; a yellow haze; a modest plan

I started writing this last evening with seven topics.  I am now down to three.

Two nights ago I watched a movie on Amazon Prime, AMUNDSEN:  THE GREATEST EXPEDITION.  Despite the hyperbole in the title, I enjoyed it.

In 1966-67 I lived in Oakland,California.  I bought my first boat then and taught myself to sail on San Francisco Bay.  The woman then in my life and I often drove across the bridge and rented bicycles and rode through Golden Gate Park.  There were live bison in a fenced field in the park and you could feed them slices of bread.  They were quite gentle and had thick black pebbly tongues.

At the west end of the park, just before it ends near the Pacific Ocean, there were incongruously a windmill and a large wood boat sitting in a patch of sand.  She was about 60’-70’.  I wondered about the boat.  Most people I asked had no idea.  Finally I learned that it was the GJOA, the boat in which Amundsen and five companions made the first transit of the Northwest Passage in 1903-06.  He left GJOA in San Francisco, where she sat forgotten, until sometime after I saw her she was returned to Norway.

That voyage made Amundsen famous.  He became even more so by subsequently becoming the first to reach the South Pole.

He died at age 55 trying to rescue another polar explorer.

AMUNDSEN:  THE GREATEST EXPEDITION is not a documentary.  I hope it is historically accurate.

While watching I noted the following dialogue:

Amundsen was preparing an expedition to reach the North Pole, but after learning that Richard Perry had already done so says, “The newspapers will no longer be interested.  No one will finance our expedition.”

Is the interest of newspapers, or now the media, the true test of whether an action is worthwhile?  And is outside finance, sponsorship, essential to greatness?  I know of a sailor who completed a solo circumnavigation and knew he had set a world record and never held a press conference or contacted Guinness.  To him it was enough that he knew, that he had proven himself to himself.  Guinness ultimately contacted him.  Who in this age when masses seek instant attention online:  Look at me.  Look at me.  Please look at me.  would understand that?

Another quote from the film:  I planned the South Pole so well, I made it look easy.  That was my biggest mistake.

Some of you may recall that I have quoted Amundsen as saying, Adventures are the result of bad planning.  I read that long after I had reached the same conclusion and wrote:  Amateurs seek adventures; professionals seek to avoid them.

And of a friend to Amundsen:  Most people give up on their dreams, but you don’t, and you dream bigger than anyone.

I know a sailor who in old age said, I may or may not have lived an epic life, but I had the nerve to dream big.

And in the movie Amundsen quotes Fridtjof Nansen who upon starting what became the first successful crossing of Greenland as saying:  The west coast of Greenland or death.

Some of you know that the second part of STORM PASSAGE begins:  Victory or death.

I would not now say ‘victory’.  I know we don’t conquer oceans or mountains or deserts or ice, we merely transit them.  So now, if I said anything at all, it would be merely ‘Completion or death.’  But the commitment would be the same.  

Hilton Head is covered in an ever renewing film of yellow dust.  Wipe it off a surface and an hour layer it is covered again.  It is pollen.  I have not lived here long so I wondered pollen from what and googled and discovered it is from pine trees.  There are no pines in the immediate vicinity of our condo, only live oaks and a few small palmetto palms, but there are many tall pine trees on this island and on Pickney Island on the other side of Skull Creek.  I searched further and learned that pine trees produce both male and female cones.  The males secrete pollen to be carried by the wind to fertilize female cones.  Perhaps you knew that, but I did not.  

GANNET is almost ready to go for a sail.  When I was circumnavigating and spending most of my time living on board, I knew that everything necessary to go to sea was there and needed only to top up on water and provisions.  Now I am finding that some equipment is in the dock box, some in the condo.  I have been biking regularly to supermarkets and nearby liquor stores and my preparations are almost complete.  I still have some things to carry down to GANNET.  I am presently charging the Yellowbrick and a GoPro here in the condo.  

Earlier today I replaced the spinnaker pole topping lift.  This might seem odd considering that I have not set a spinnaker pole for decades, but GANNET’s new mast came with one and I have thought it might be useful as jurying rigging if the rig sustains damage.  The cover on the old topping lift had frayed.  Replacing it with a piece of high-tech line I already had was easy.

 I don’t know when I will leave.  I only began looking at long term weather this morning.  I have no destination.  The plan is simply to go offshore and put the wind on or aft of the beam and hopefully enjoy good sailing for several days, maybe longer, and then work my way back.  I would like to enter the monastery of the sea.  I don’t know that will happen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Hilton Head Island: south; spectacular; clean

Above SPARTINA and Steve Earley heading south yesterday morning.  They crossed the Savanna River this morning and are now in Georgia.

Last evening I glanced up and saw this.  Unedited.  Just the way it came from my iPhone.  They aren’t all like this, but when one is you are going to have to endure a photo.

Yesterday a diver was supposed to clean GANNET’s bottom.  I walked down this morning.  He had.  Bottom cleaning, like boat insurance, is many times more expensive in Hilton Head than it was in San Diego.  Insurance for GANNET in California cost $160 per year.  Last year here it was $760 for the same coverage from the same company.  Obviously California does not have hurricane risks.  Yet.  In San Diego I paid $40 or $50 to have GANNET’s bottom cleaned.  I don’t yet know what yesterday’s diver will charge, but he has a $140 minimum, and the last diver charged $240.  Perhaps this is alligator hazard pay.  We have seen gators in marina waters, but very infrequently and I have never heard of a diver being eaten.

While on the little boat I did an inventory of stores and found that I probably have enough on board to cross an ocean, with some exceptions.  I disposed of two boxes of soggy crackers and a container of fossilized dates.  I’ll top up on juice, crackers, cheese, chocolate, cookies, dried fruit, and a few other items.  And the liquor locker is presently empty.  GANNET has never been and will never be a dry boat in any respect.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Hilton Head Island: two well traveled boats and crew


Steve Earley has paused his winter cruise for a few days in Hilton Head and today we briefly had SPARTINA and GANNET docked beside one another.  Steve took all of the above photos, some by cleverly setting up his iPhone on the next dock and having it shoot continuously at four second intervals.  I thank him for permission to share them with you and wish him a continuing interesting and pleasurable sail to Florida.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Hilton Head Island: a not so brief introduction to Webb Chiles

I recently had reason to prepare a list of sources of information about myself as though I were doing so for someone who knew little or nothing about me.  Amazingly there are some.  I intended the list to be shorter, but it isn’t.

Thinking that some of you might be interested, here it is.


home page


on the articles page

Cape Horn


Adrift 1, 2, 3

Acceptance Speech

Why I Sail

The End of Being

lines page

poetry page

lists page

on the photographs page

the boats

Webb Chiles

journal posts

videos at:

Ithaca, Illinois

GANNET in the Indian Ocean 2,4,7,11,12,13,14,15

GANNET Durban to St. Helena 6,12,19

GANNET St. Lucia to Marathon 5

GANNET Marathon to Hilton Head Island 3,4,

The End of Being 1 and 2

Balboa, Panama, to San Diego, California           2,4,7,9,10,13,15,21,22,24

Beginnings 1 and 2

Goodbye to San Diego

To St. Mary’s and Back 4

A State of Grace

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Hilton Head Island: popular demand; in praise of live oaks; one tough woman

Due to overwhelming popular demand—well, one person asked.  I am easily overwhelmed—above is a photo of me wearing my Akubra hat.  It was taken in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2001.  Neither the hat nor I have changed since then.  At least the hat hasn’t.

I am reading an interesting and well written book:  SIX FRIGATES:  THE EPIC HISTORY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE U.S. NAVY by Ian W. Toll.  This is not the navy of the revolution, which, with the exception of John Paul Jones, was all but annihilated, but the true founding of the navy in the 1790s after we became an independent nation.  I am learning a great deal about that part of our history and of shipbuilding.

At the time of course the British Navy ruled the waves and the world.  Basically they used three classes of ships:  ships of the line which carried at least 74 guns and were the equivalent of battleships; frigates, which were smaller, lighter, faster, and usually carried between 28-38 guns; and a class of still smaller and generally faster, non rated sloops and brigs.

A Philadelphia shipbuilder, Joshua Humphreys, who was put in charge of the building of the first American frigates, came up with the brilliant idea of building exceptionally large, heavily armed and fast sailing frigates, which could out gun any existing European frigate and out sail any ship of the line and thus not have to face overwhelming fire power.  Naturally as with any original idea there was opposition, but Humphreys had his way, resulting in among others the USS CONSTITUTION.

Essential to the construction of the ships were the trees just outside my windows.  I continually admire their beauty, tenacity, and obvious strength, but after reading the following paen to them yesterday in SIX FRIGATES, I admire them even more.

In reading SIX FRIGATES I found myself wondering how Philadelphia more than a hundred difficult miles from the open ocean became a major seaport.  So I googled and found this, which is well worth reading, especially the section ‘Women At Sea.’

Friday, February 10, 2023

Hilton Head Island: Gabrielle; blocked; Australiana; Laphroaig; back

Zane, who lives in Auckland and whose parent’s home was partially flooded in that city’s recent record rainfall, emailed me about what has now become cyclone Gabrielle which is predicted by all models to make landfall in northern New Zealand in the next few days.  As you can see from the screen shot of this morning’s earth wind map Gabrielle is presently off the Queensland coast.  It a category three storm.  It is expected to weaken some as it moves out of the tropics and over cooler waters, but is still forecast to be a serious storm that will drop considerable more unneeded rain over the north of New Zealand.  It is being called by some sensationalists ‘the storm of the century’.  Get serious.  The century is not even a quarter over and it is far too early to be talking about anything being ‘the…..of the century’.  

My thoughts are with all of those who will have to endure another deluge.

A friend sent me a link to a movie about Mike Plant, an American sailor who died at sea in 1992. I knew of him, but I never thought he did anything significant or original.  However, I tried to watch the movie.  I only made it to the second minute when someone claimed “Mike Plant is American’s greatest solo sailor.’

There are two men who have legitimate claims to being America’s greatest solo sailor.  One is Joshua Slocum and the other is not Mike Plant.

I decided to google him to see if he had ever done anything I missed.   At Wikipedia I found that he didn’t.  

There is a statement there that says he was at the time of his death one of only five men to have made three solo circumnavigations.  In 1992 that may have been true, but is no longer.  Among I expect several others, I have made three solo circumnavigations:  my first, fifth and sixth.

Being at Wikipedia I went to the bare bones article about myself which someone kindly created.  I decided to try to upload the chart of my circumnavigations and some photos and clicked on the edit button and got this:

I have never before tried to submit anything to Wikipedia.  Our Internet comes through T-Mobile Internet.  We have been with them only a few months.  They provide the router, which seems to be new.  So I have no idea why this appears and at present don’t feel like reading through their FAQ and too numerous rules.  

Australia, as well as New Zealand, has recently been very much on my mind.

I have received several emails from readers there.

I just finished reading Patrick White’s THE VIVISECTOR, a novel about a painter who lived in Sydney, which remains my favorite big city in the world.  I have spent a total of three years there on various voyages.

An album by the late Aboriginal singer, Gurrumul, came up on one of my playlists.

And I wore my Akubra hat on the flights back from Chicago.  For American readers, Akubra is perhaps the best known Australian hat brand, similar to our Stetson.  I am gradually moving more clothing from Lake Forest to Hilton Head prior to the final move next year.  I realized that hat is almost forty years old.  I bought it during 1986-87 when Jill and I lived aboard RESURGAM for a year on a mooring in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay.  Akubras really do last forever.  Too bad I don’t have anyone to will it to.

I thank Tim for a link to a video about my favorite liquid.

I watched and enjoyed it last evening.  In the background of some scenes I saw a marina I did not know is there.  Tempting.

I confess that I do not find in Laphroaig the citrus and pineapple touches that are claimed in the video, but then I find the language of wine tasting also alien.

Naturally the video resulted in my wanting a sip of the golden pour.  Alas, I had none on hand, and almost constant rain was forecast for today and tomorrow.  Liquor stores aren’t open in South Carolina on Sundays so I was faced with a disconsolate wait until Monday.

I woke this morning to low skies and rain.  However at a little after 9 there was a break and I made a break for the supermarket and nearby liquor store four miles away, pedaling fast.

I made it to the stores in twenty minutes, five minutes faster than usual.  Bought the last two bottles of 10 year Laphroaig at the liquor store; bought berries, grapefruit juice, milk, sushi, a salad, a container of frozen shrimp and sausage gumbo, and another of Cherries Garcia ice cream at the supermarket.  Then pedaled furiously for Skull Creek.  I made it home just before the rain resumed.  My legs are back.  Maybe they weren’t as far gone as I thought, but muscles do return when you use them, even when you are seriously old.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Hilton Head Island: grounds for divorce; Bach’s sea story; rower; legs

I biked down to GANNET Sunday and found her as I left her, except for a few cups of water in the bilge.  Not even any bird droppings on deck.  

The water comes in from above, not below, and not at present from around the hatches.  There are two holes for the back stay which cannot be completely sealed.  One where it goes below deck near the stern, another where the line adjusting it comes back above deck in the mid-cockpit pedestal.  And water comes in somewhere around the bow.  I know not where and I have been searching for years.

GANNET is presently tied stern in.  I was sitting below when a man called to me.  I stood in the companionway and he asked what kind of boat GANNET is.  I told him and we got to talking.  He is I judge to be of what is called retirement age, though a good deal younger than I.  As we talked I came to understand that he is an experienced sailor.  He mentioned Jordan drogues and even once deployed one.  I asked about retrieval.  The boat he was on had several crew and powered winches, which made retrieval slow but not difficult.

At one point he said, “I have only been overdue once” and proceeded to tell the following story which I find interesting enough to share, though it is incomplete and there are details I do not know.

He and three other men, including the owner, went to Hinkley’s boat yard in Maine to take the owner’s boat which was about 50’ to Duxbury, Massachusetts in mid-winter.  This should be only an overnight sail.  Leave one morning and be in before the following evening.  They had what seemed to be a good weather forecast and set out.  But an unexpected storm developed and they were driven offshore.

Unknown to them a crate holding a long and heavy length of chain had been stowed in the stern.  In the rough conditions it rubbed against a through hull fitting and sawed it off.  Water began pouring into the boat from the crew knew not where.  They tried to keep ahead of it, but failed.  Water came up over the floorboards and shorted out the entire electrical system.  They lost the powered bilge pump and any way to call for help.

Sometime during this the sails blew out.

They streamed lines from the stern which were not as efficient as a Jordan drogue, but helped.

One of the crew crawled aft and found the sawed off through hull.  Working in water just above freezing temperature, he managed to block the hole in the hull, but became hypothermic, almost paralyzed from the waist down.  The other men got him out of the stern and wrapped him in a sleeping bag.  

Shortly thereafter the owner of the boat went berserk, running around screaming “We are all going to die!”  The two other men finally held him down, duct taped him in a sleeping bag, and carried him to the forepeak.  They shut the door to quell his screams.

When the storm finally eased, they transformed a bimini into a sail and slowly made their way west.  

As they later learned the Coast Guard had been searching for them without success.

Eventually they reached land.  I assume they got a tow into port.

When the man relating the story got home—I know his name but am not giving it for reasons or privacy—his wife said, “I thought you were dead.”  And she had even already collected the insurance money.

I said, “That is grounds for divorce.”

He replied, “Yes.  It was.”

He is now traveling with his second wife in a Grand Banks trawler,

I thank Carlton for a link to a reflection he presented on what he calls ‘Bach’s Sea Story’, Bach’s Cantata BWV 92.  I am not sure I hear all that Carlton does in the cantata, but then I have no musical talent.  I find it interesting and know that at least a few of you will too.

Here is a link to a performance of the cantata.

I watched last sunset while sipping a glass of sauvignon blanc on the screened porch, the first time since my return I’ve had a drink out there.  Rather nice for February.

I thank Glenn for bringing Tom Robinson, who is attempting to become the youngest to row across the Pacific, to my attention.  He has reached Penrhyn Island, more than 5,000 nautical miles from his start in Peru.  I am not usually interested in ‘youngest’ records which almost invariably mean that some child has been given a boat.  However, Glenn says that Tom may have built his own.

He was at sea for 160 days.  I calculate that he made good roughly 30-35 miles a day.  Of that part would have come from prevailing wind and currents.  When I was adrift in a 9’ inflatable after CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE pitchpoled we drifted at one knot tied to the swamped CT which certainly slowed us.

Here is a link to his most recent post:

He looks incredibly young to me, but then at my age almost everyone is and does.

And I think him unduly harsh to the woman in Peru and his own family.

But then I am not just old, but a much married monk.

I have lost my legs.  They are still attached to my body, but have become unexpectedly and unacceptably weak.  Carol had a car when she was here over Christmas so we decadently drove everywhere, and when I was with her in Lake Forest, it was too cold to walk much.  I did make it to the lake once and to the Skokie River once, both round trips of more than two miles, and I have done my usual workouts, but I have been too sedentary for too long as was proven yesterday when I biked to the supermarket four miles away and found myself struggling on the way home.  How quickly unused muscles weaken.  So it is bike or walk every day from now on except in pouring rain.  I need to get my legs back before I sail for a few weeks in March and lose them again.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Hilton Head Island: we’re number 1; little known beauty


My flights yesterday were uneventful.  There are no non-stop flights from Chicago to Hilton Head during the winter, so I changed planes in Charlotte.  I arrived on the island under overcast skies and took a taxi to the condo, where I found all as I left it and blessed silence.  Rain this morning ended as forecast around noon and the sun is now shining and Skull Creek sparkling.  However, this version of paradise is doomed.

According to an article from ProPublica I saw online this morning about climate change which lists the counties in the United States at the greatest risk from a combination of threats, Beaufort County, South Carolina, is number one.  That’s us.  It also happens to be one of the counties in the U.S. experiencing the fastest population growth, although from a relatively low base.

I do not expect to be around to experience this, but Carol might.  My thoughts about possibly having lived in the good old days are growing stronger.

I have written several times that the three most beautiful islands I have sailed to are Moorea, Bora-Bora, and Lord Howe.  The first two are well known.  The last much less so, and except for Australians and New Zealanders, probably not at all.  That is to its advantage.  I sailed there twice with Jill on RESURGAM.  David, of whom I have also written, an obstetrician/sailor, who was born in New Zealand and now resides in Australia, recently sailed there on his East Coast 31’ SAPPHIRE BREEZE and sent me the above photos.  I thank David for reminding me of how beautiful the island is and allowing me to share them with you.

When I last visited Lord Howe more than thirty years ago there were government regulations limiting the full time population to 400 and permitting a maximum of 400 visitors on the island at any one time, very wisely I think.

While there David climbed Mt. Gower, 830 meters/2723’.  One of the photos is the spectacular view from the top.  Another of part of the way up.  I, who do not like heights, never even thought of climbing it.

I miss that part of the world.