Friday, April 28, 2023

Hilton Head Island: a hard death; my last day on the job

I am a reluctant Mid-westerner.  I had no control over being born and raised there, but I have now lived there off and on for the past seventeen years.  Much more off than on now.  But many of the Americans I most admire were from the Midwest.  Lincoln.  Truman.  Grant.  Twain.

I just finished reading GRANT AND TWAIN by Mark Perry which is subtitled ‘The Story of a Friendship that Changed America.’  The book is mostly about the last year of Grant’s life, 1884-85.  

I have read biographies of both men, much of Mark Twain’s fiction and Grant’s MEMOIRS, so I knew the story, but not in such detail.

In the summer of 1884 Grant complained of a sore throat, but didn’t go to a doctor until the fall when he learned that he had incurable throat cancer, probably caused by his omnipresent cigars.  He died agonizingly less than a year later at age 63.

A few months before Grant’s first symptoms, an investment firm founded by Grant’s son and Ferdinand Ward went bankrupt when it was revealed that Ward was engaging in what now would be called a Ponzi scheme.  Grant had invested in the firm and was himself suddenly in deep debt.  There was then no pension for ex-Presidents.  When he learned he was dying he determined to write his memoirs in the hope that the book would provide for his wife.  

Samuel Clemens and Grant had known one another for several years.  Now Clemens/Twain came to Grant’s aid by agreeing to publish his memoirs on terms of great generosity to Grant.

Grant wrote while suffering immensely. The doctors could do nothing for him but attempt to  reduce his pain with cocaine injections, not always with success.  At times he could not breathe.  At times he could not swallow.  At times he hemorrhaged.  One of the doctors expected that ultimately he would die by drowning in his own blood.  In fact, unable to eat toward the end, the cause of his death was malnutrition.  He starved to death.

He finished the two volume MEMOIRS and died five days later.

Samuel Clemens had the books sold door to door.  They were a huge critical and commercial success.  Ultimately Julia Grant received $450,000 in royalties, the equivalent of more than $13,000,000 today.

The subtitle of Perry’s book is his contention that the greatest works of America fiction and non-fiction were published almost simultaneously, those being HUCKLEBERRY FINN and Grant’s MEMOIRS.  I consider HUCKLEBERRY FINN to be three quarters a great novel.  When Huck and Jim are on the river it is sublime.  The last quarter of the book when Tom Sawyer makes his appearance is ridiculous. 

Grant’s MEMOIRS are certainly the best book ever written by a President of the United States.  I admired them greatly when I read them and intend doing so again.

Mark Perry’s rendition of the conditions under which they were written is compelling.

Today is my last day on the job and you didn’t even know I had one.  Actually I don’t, it has just felt that way this week when a crew of four young men have been here to film what is presumably going to be an eight to ten minute video about me.  I have been on locations ranging from GANNET’s interior, to the back yard of the house in which they are staying, to the beach, to riding my bicycle to the marina.  This afternoon I return to be filmed again on GANNET and back in the condo having a sunset drink.  Why I wonder do they think my having a drink is significant?

They are very nice young men.  Young to me being thirtiesh.  They are punctual, widely experienced, and professional.  It has been interesting to see them work.  They shoot extensively and find interesting angles and creative images.  

They and Carol both fly away tomorrow and I return to my customary solitude and silence.

I am curious to see how they reduce six circumnavigations, seven books, hundreds of articles, twenty or thirty poems, and a number of women to ten minutes, but then they are professionals.

Another crew filmed me a month ago, also intending a short video.

I think the world may soon have more of Webb Chiles than it needs or wants.

When something actually appears—assuming something eventually will—I will let you know.


Retired geriatric model


Friday, April 21, 2023

Hilton Head Island: another health benefit; disproportionate; ‘Anchor Song’


I thank Larry for a link to an article about research that indicates playing and even listening to music may reduce the progress toward dementia.  Personally I don’t think rap music counts, but that may be a personal bias.

If you haven’t listened to music today, I suggest this which I just listened to and watched on our screened porch with a glass of New Zealand, of course, sauvignon blanc at hand, as the sun is setting behind Pickney Island.  I thank James for the link.

Bach and sunsets may save me and you, too. 

I ordered a new battery for my GoPro 10.  GoPro shipped it almost instantly.  It arrived a few minutes ago.  There is the battery.  There is the box it was shipped in.

Having finished IDYLLS OF THE KING I sought other Western poetry to read and am skimming through Kipling, whose complete works I bought for $2.99 in a Kindle Edition.  There is some very good Kipling.  There is some doggerel Kipling.  He believed in the British Empire, which was I consider historically as audacious an act as any.  A few small islands with a small population setting out and for a while ruling a quarter of the world.  Well, the Portuguese with an even smaller population setting out to become by their own true claim ‘first in all oceans’ may be the equal.  As may the Polynesians settling half the Pacific Ocean.  While I do not admire the Empire.  I do admire the audacity.

Yesterday I read Kipling’s ‘Anchor Song’.  Not a great poem and he did write some, but a poem for a seaman and I like it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Hilton Head Island: the first man on the moon; IDYLLS OF THE KING; Moving Half the Mountain; compassed


6:30 pm.  I am on the screened porch.  A good day.  I seldom have bad days, but some are better than others.  The weather here continues perfect.  Today was the hottest so far.  82ºF/28C, but the humidity was low and it was not oppressive.  I biked early to a supermarket and nearby liquor store, which tragically was out of Laphroaig.  After I regained control of myself I bought a bottle of tequila, and then sushi and Cherries Garcia ice cream at the supermarket, which have comprised my consolation dinner.  The sushi will make two dinners for me, which along with a store bought salad will carry me through until Carol arrives on Saturday.  The glass in the photo holds my second and last tequila and tonic.

My GoPro rail mount broke, so I bought a new one through Amazon.  It is simpler, stronger, and less expensive than the GoPro mount.  I decided to test it on my bicycle today and made a video of part of my ride which I may upload.  If I do, I’ll let you know.

This afternoon I was feeling strong as I passed 30 on my first set of push-ups and so went on to the 100 level, where I increase every set of the routine.  I hope to do this at least once a month and thus far this year I have.

I paused and took a sip of my drink and looked up.  You see above what I see.  It is quiet and beautiful here.

I thank James for a link to a BBC repeat of the last thirteen minutes of the flight ending in the first human landing on the moon.  It is as dramatic now almost fifty years later.  I did not remember that they had less than thirty seconds of fuel left when they touched down.  I do remember listening to those communications as they happened.  I was in the cabin of my first sailboat, an Excalibur 26, which I never named, at Seaforth Marina in Mission Bay’s Quivera Basin, from which I left in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE on my second circumnavigation and on GANNET on my sixth.

It was so long ago that I had forgotten that wanting to be the first man on the moon was my earliest childhood ambition.

Some of you may remember Colliers magazine, once popular but long defunct.  They ran a series of articles with illustrations of potential space stations and craft by a man I believe called Willi Lea.  I am not sure of the spelling and in googling find no record of him.  So the best you can do is set your own standards and live up to them.  This would have been about 1950.  Whatever his name, they were great illustrations, and I knew we would go to the moon and wanted to be the man.

That was a forlorn hope on many levels.  I was born too late.  I was born too blind.  And as I later learned from reading THE RIGHT STUFF, even if I had possessed all the other essential qualifications, I grew to be too tall.  Because of limitations within the capsules, the first astronauts could be no taller than 5’11”.  I am 6’1”.  So I learned to seek other goals which I could accomplish by myself without anyone else’s permission.

We now are preparing to send after a lapse of decades another team to the moon.  Those who might have gone in between were on the wrong side of time.  When that happens, some will find ways to bend time to their wills.

I finished Tennyson’s IDYLLS OF THE KING today and I am stunned as I have been continually while reading the poem.  It is a work of almost incomparable imagination and poetry and tragedy.  There are plot twists and detail upon detail that are exquisite.  What a loss that I had not read it before.  Given time I will certainly read it again.

One reader wrote that the Amazon link to the free version did not work for him.  It did for me, but it is only a copy of the free version at Gutenberg.

You have probably seen the movie BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI.

Last evening I watched a one hour documentary about the reality behind the building of that railroad by POWs during WW2, MOVING HALF THE MOUNTAIN.

The film was made in 2013 when a few survivors, both British prisoners and Japanese guards, were still alive, and consists of archival footage and mostly of interviews with those men.  The differences of what the prisoners remember and what the guards remember is illuminating.

That railway has been called the Death Railway.  Around 400 miles long, at one point the documentary observes that a man died for every railway tie.  120,000 in all if I recall correctly.

At another point comes confirmation from both British and Japanese of the justification of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The British prisoners watched machine guns being set up to slaughter them before they could be liberated by approaching Allied forces.  The dropping of the bombs prevented that happening.   And one of the Japanese guards said that had the bombs not been dropped the Japanese would have fought until they all were dead.  What happened on Iwo Jima and Okinawa is proof that is true.

Well worth an hour of your time if you have Amazon Prime and worth seeking elsewhere if you do not.

I have been known to get frustrated, and then recover and try again.  So it is with the cockpit bulkhead compass.  

I bought plastic discs to cover the hole, but I think the compass looks better in place than will the discs, so I went down to GANNET yesterday and removed the backing plate on the compass, which could only be done by destroying it, and now can attack the leak from the inside as well  as outside.

I carefully inspected the outside rim.  Saw two tiny spots that might provide a way for water to leak in.  Sealed them.  Then from the inside applied sealant all around the edge of the compass.

With no backing plate, if there still is a leak I may be able to see it.

There is much to be said for persistence.

The last sip in my glass.


Saturday, April 15, 2023

Hilton Head Island: your health; May sail


Among my many public services, I am good for your health.  Who knew?  I most certainly did not and never aspired to be, yet I accept my unintended contribution.

I thank Larry for this link to the value of observing sunsets.  You may get tired of my posting photos of them, which are an essential part of living in this condo, but if you follow the link you will learn that they are good for your health.  I will in any case continue to post them for your good and mine.

Here is a link to another:

Carol flies here a week today and will spend a week, following which I will go sailing in May.  I have a possible destination in mind, but it has no great or even significant meaning to me.  That has been my problem ever since I completed my sixth circumnavigation.  The redemption is my five year plan.  It does have meaning for me.  It entails hardship and risk which may be essential for me, but I am taking pleasure in not rushing into it.  If I am still alive and healthy when I am 85 I will push limits again without consideration or respect of what anyone else at that age has done.  In the meantime I will keep GANNET ready, myself as strong as possible, enjoy the beauty and serenity of this place and my life with Carol, and from time to time a glass of claret on the porch, one of which I presently have beside me.

The sun is lowering over Pickney Island.  It may be spectacular.  If so, I will share it.  You can’t have too many beautiful sunsets.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Hilton Head Island: lessons from fire ants

A friend’s dog was bitten by a fire ant and had to be taken to the vet.  So I googled fire ants and learned that I hope personally never to make their acquaintance.  I also learned that ants are among the most successful of life forms, having been around for about 150 million years and consisting of 15,000 species.  

I was astonished to read the following in Wikipedia:

Fire ants are resilient and can survive floods. During Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017, clumps of fire ants, known as rafts, were seen clumped together on the surface of the water. Each clump had as many as 100,000 individual ants, which formed a temporary structure until finding a new permanent home. Ants so clumped, recognize different fluid flow conditions and adapt their behavior accordingly to preserve the raft's stability.

There is so much in that paragraph that is all but incredible, but Wikipedia provides references.  What prompts them to clump together?  How do they recognize different flow conditions?  How did they learn to adapt to them? 

Life clings to life with extraordinary tenacity.

We make life so complicated.  It isn’t.

Adaptability.  Perseverance.  Sex.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Hilton Head Island: a near sister ship; my people; epic poem

 This entry is written by others.  I am merely the middle man.

I thank Eric for a link to a video about a near sister ship to GANNET.  Along with the link Eric wrote:  ‘I think I’m behind my time.  I thought it was insane but impressive that a boat came with a washing machine or a trash compactor but now you shouldn’t be impressed to see a dishwasher or a boat fully controlled by buttons and even by a smart phone, but what bothered me most was a heated toilet.’

The only real difference I see is that the Hallberg Rassy 50 costs around $1,500,000.

(This to Eric:  I tried to respond to your email twice and twice the email was rejected because “recipient’s mailbox is full.)

I thank Larry for a link to my people, found at last, but predictably not people. 

Larry wrote with the link:  ‘Webb, the bot agrees with you.’   The reference is to my short story, ‘Last Born’ which you should read if you haven’t.

And I thank anonymous for a comment to a previous post which included a link to a poem, ‘Epic’, by Patrick Kavanagh, which I did know and am glad I now do.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Hilton Head Island: another definition of epic; how; no club


(I wrote this last night, but waited until I reread it today to decide whether to post it.  Sometimes a third glass cannot be trusted.)

I try to stick to my two glass limit, but it is 8 PM here and above is my third glass.  I have already had two martinis.  You will agree that it is a small glass.  It is now filled with my favorite liquid.

I have had an indoor day and am restless.

The front that has crossed this country passed here today.  As is usual it was much less than forecast.  We are under a gale warning, but I have not seen ten knots on Skull Creek.  Rain has fallen intermittently, but not much.  As I have noted here before, in my experience meteorologists all over the world do not give their most accurate forecasts, but the most extreme possible.  Were I a meteorologist I would do the same.  Predict severe weather and it does not happen, no one will care.  Do not predict severe weather that does happen and you will get all kinds of grief. For myself I would like the most realistic forecasts, but then I do not have any social media accounts.

I watched parts of several soccer games and part of one baseball game.  Of course I listened to some Bach and read some poetry, ancient Chinese and more of Tennyson’s IDYLLS OF THE KING.  I listened to more music than Bach.  I beat my computer three games out of four at dominos.  I did my resistance band workout, which I have been neglecting and should not.  I could feel that it uses different muscles than my other workouts do.  This was a rare week when I worked out six days in row.  I take Sundays off, but have been taking Saturdays off too, which is resistance band day.

Odd that I feel more confined in this condo when I can’t go outside than I do when sailing in the infinitely smaller space of GANNET.  

I have said and perhaps written that I like this condo because it is almost like living on a boat.  But only ‘almost’.  On GANNET, even when confined to the Great Cabin during a gale, I am closer to the sea and the natural world.

I come in personal contact with our species much less than most.  I prefer contacts through reading and listening to music created by other original minds.  But sometimes I have selective personal contacts that are enlightening.

Such happened last weekend to which I have already made reference in being asked about an epic life which caused me to consider what I meant.

In subsequent emails, Win, the man who asked the question, provided a very good answer.  I quote with his permission:

‘If epic, etymologically, is a poem sung, a poem worth singing and passing along, and the root word of poem is ‘work’, then perhaps an epic life is one that is ‘a thing made or created’ with purpose.

Last weekend I was also told by a man that in talking about me to many of his friends who are lawyers, they expressed a longing to have lived my life and wondered how I had.

The simple answer is that I was born to.  

I was born in the middle of the American middle class.  This is in fact a huge step up from where most of our species have been born.  So I had opportunities that most homo sapiens never had.  But I found my own way by not accepting social norms and values, and as a sailor not accepting traditional beliefs of what is needed to sail oceans.

I have written that the only two things I think I know are that consciousness resists unconsciousness and that DNA seems to impose an imperative that it be projected blindly into the future.  So if you have passed yours on and been a good parent you have done your job.

From childhood I have thought my job was different.  I thought I was meant to live and write as I have. I knew negatively what a good parent should be and I knew I could not be a good parent and live as I needed to live.  So the family neuroses end with me.  In an end-means continuum some must be ends.

But I also have been able to be free and live as I have because I can get by on so little.

Forty years ago an English journalist wrote:  “Perhaps no one in the history of seafaring has done so much with so little as Webb Chiles.”  That was during the interval between CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE 2, and long before GANNET.

I am unexpectedly in my old age financially comfortable because of Carol’s success.

I have already written that I did not marry her for her money and that when we married I had more than she.  I never even considered money when we met.  It was lust that become love.  

The photo was taken in the Azores in 2001, seven years after we met.  I run it with Carol’s reluctant permission.

I am careful with words and some, such as ‘soul’ and ‘love’, cause me pause.  I now define ‘love’ as what I feel for Carol, though that may not be of much use to others.

But know this.  I live in this condo because Carol can afford it. I could not.  But if I had never met her and if I were now still alive I would be living at least as meaningful a life on $9,000 GANNET on the other side of the world, and I would be doing my job there as I am here.

About the time I began GANNET’s circumnavigation a minor publication ran an article with a title something like, ‘The Old Mens Circumnavigator Club’.  A reader of this journal told me about it or I would not have seen it.

The article listed three men:  a rich American who owned a custom Farr design around 52’ long; a Scandinavian who said he was going to make a non-stop solo circumnavigation of Antarctica from Australia in a very small boat, around 10’ or 11’ overall.  I don’t recall the exact details, but the numbers are close enough.  I also believe the Scandinavian said his voyage would be 30,000 miles long.  I wondered at that because the circumference of the planet at the Equator is 21,600 nautical miles and his would be a one hemisphere voyage and considerably shorter.

The rich American started twice and never got past South Africa.  As far as I know the Scandinavian never started at all.

After GANNET and I completed our circumnavigation I emailed the editor of the publication telling him there is no club.

He never responded.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Hilton Head Island: epic; War Sailor; Dante’s Prayer

I have written that I wanted to lead an epic life.  This past weekend I was asked what that means.  As is often the case I used some of my own words and said it is going beyond the edge of human experience and sending back reports.  I also said that one can live an epic life without ever leaving home.

I have time, mostly because I have refused not to have time, and so I have been thinking about what epic means and what an epic life is.  

I have consulted several online dictionaries finding that most provide definitions that are mere tautologies which amount to nothing more than ‘epic is epic’.  

I have not even found agreement on the entomology of the word, though it does seem to go back to an ancient Greek word meaning ‘song’.  The ancient Greek poets allegedly sang their poems.

I have understood the word to mean something grand, heroic, and far beyond the ordinary.  Like many words it has become overused and debased in our time.

I stand by my saying that one can live an epic life without ever leaving home, although for myself I have always thought there is a physical element to epic, of facing great natural forces in ways that no one else ever has.  I believe many great artists have led epic lives without ever much leaving home.  A great scientist would probably now have to leave home, but could lead an epic life without ever going beyond the laboratory.

One word leads to another, so I goggled ‘heroic’ and found references to courage, daring and determination.  I am already on the record as saying I am not courageous, but I like to believe I have shown daring, determination, and what I define as nerve.

As I observed in ‘The End of Being 2’ video, whether I have lived an epic life is a matter of opinion, but whether I did or not, at least I had the nerve to dream big.

Of opinions about whether I have lived an epic life, while I like to be admired, only one opinion really matters to me and that person found sufficient evidence to reach a conclusion some decades ago.

A couple of nights ago I watched on Netflix all three episodes of a Norwegian series based as they say on true events, WAR SAILOR, which though sometimes painful is extraordinarily well done.  It follows two friends who are in the merchant marine and go to sea before Germany invades Norway and brings it into The Second World War.  One is married and has three children, one is single.  The Norwegian Merchant Fleet joined the British and suffered high casualties.  One in nine of their sailors died.

The series portrays not just the two men’s experience at sea, but also the effects of the war on the one man’s family ashore.

It continues to follow them after the war.  Important experiences take place in 1948 and then again on one man’s seventieth birthday.  I am not giving too much away when I tell you that the final shot is of two empty glasses from which the men have had a final drink.  I found it poignant.

If you watch and don’t speak Norwegian, remember to turn on the English option.

I think I may have posted this link before, but if so it was at least a few years ago and Loreena McKennitt’s transcendent ‘Dante’s Prayer’ is worth hearing again.  I think the images are worthy of the music.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Hilton Head Island: tested; casks

Sunday I took GANNET out to test the Pelagic.  We powered from the slip to a windless Port Royal Sound where after I cut the Evo we drifted slowly backwards with the tide.  I waited what seemed a long time, but really wasn’t, for wind before finally restarting the Evo.  Good wind filled in a quarter mile from the dock.  Naturally.  I now know that the Pelagic works in flat calm, even including its remote.

I thank Martin for this link to one of the most profitable investments you can make.  I did not even know that you can buy casks of whisky.  I am pleased to see that Laphroaig has appreciated the most, but probably shouldn’t be if this eventually results in my bottles costing more.

The Low Country is heating up.  80F/26.6C and the air-conditioning is on.