Friday, September 29, 2023

Hilton Head Island: Guinness and Reinhold Messner and me; remnants of the MONITOR

If you do not know, Reinhold Messner is as extreme a human who has ever lived.  He is a mountain climber.  Although he is still alive and three years younger than I, ‘was’ is more accurate than ‘is’.  What he did requires physical abilities that deteriorate sooner than those required by what I do.

It would take more space here to list his accomplishments than I want to use, but he set many, many records, including climbing Everest solo and without oxygen.  I don’t even know how that is possible.

I write of him now because in this last week Guinness has put an asterisk by some of his achievements due to studies done by someone who should have spent his time better that indicate that on some of Messner’s  climbs unintentionally he might not have actually reached the summit of mountains.  Missing by a matter of a few feet.  

He is contesting this.

I have a better solution.

When I completed my first circumnavigation, I knew I had set a world record for the fastest circumnavigation in a monohull, beating Francis Chichester’s time by more than three weeks in a much smaller boat that I bought myself.  Chichester’s was given to him by a newspaper.

I did not hold a press conference.  I did not contact Guinness.  I did not need validation from anyone else.  I had needed to prove to Webb Chiles that he was what since childhood he thought he was.  I had and I have steadily added to it now for a half century.

I am a writer and so I wrote about the circumnavigation and after a while Guinness in the form of Nobby Clarke, who then kept the sailing records for them, contacted me.

So I have advice for Reinhold, though he will never learn of it.  Forget about Guinness.  You know what you are.  That is all that matters.

As a side to this, a friend has commented that I am too modest when I say I may have led an epic life but that it is a matter of opinion.

I have been concerned over the years that I was too brash in STORM PASSAGE, though hardly so compared to what is today accepted behavior, and I may be overcompensating.  

So while it might be a matter of opinion, my opinion is that I have led an epic life, quantifiably provable, a life that I expect will be forgotten by the tribe to the tribe’s loss. 

I have also written that debts are chains.

I have an unsought debt to the species in that through its genetic lottery it gave me exceptional gifts at birth.  Obviously I did not seek these anymore than I sought to be born about as far from the sea as possible.  But it is a debt I have felt and it is a debt that I believe I have repayed.

To go back to Guinness.

If you have been here a while, you know that I have a five year plan.  So assuming I am still alive in 2026-7 and still healthy, I will set off on another voyage that might set world records for age.  I promise you that I will never google to see if that is true, and I will be very disappointed if you do and tell me.  So please don’t.  I do not believe that records of age, young or old, by a few days or months, say anything worthwhile about the human spirit, particularly those of the young who were given their boats.  I may have written this in the journal before.  If I am still alive and healthy enough I will sail when I will sail not to impress others, but because it fits the rhythm of my life.

I am not immune to praise or approval.  I confess to being pleased that ‘legend’ is routinely applied to my name.  But I believe one must live to be true to him or herself, not to impress others.

I am trying to figure out how to become Kent and Audrey’s grandson.  The difficulty is that I am a generation older than they, and grandchildren are traditionally expected to be younger than their grandparents.  People lack imagination. 

Kent and Audrey are about Carol’s age and they have a granddaughter who has already been on boats on the water at I do not know exactly what age—a year, maybe two—but certainly more than twenty years younger than I was.

Most recently she and they toured the salvaged parts of the MONITOR at the Mariner’s Museum.  I did not know that parts of that truly epoch changing boat had been recovered.  I envy the replica of the captain’s cabin, which is considerably bigger than the captain’s cabin on GANNET.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Hilton Head Island: 1939; increase in production

I just finished reading 1939:  THE WORLD WE LEFT BEHIND in which British journalist, Richard Kee, relates the events of that year through what was printed at the time in newspapers, mostly in Europe and the United States.  

The book was unexpectedly interesting, largely because the year began and ended with illusions and delusions, although they were not the same illusions and delusions in December as they were in January.  Almost no one had any idea what was happening at the beginning of the year, at the end, or in between, which is probably the usual human condition.  During the year two countries, Czechoslovakia and Poland, ceased to exist and what is called World War 2 began, though I contend, as do many historians, that the World Wars were one war interrupted by a twenty-one year cease fire while the bleed out combatants grew a new generation of cannon fodder.

An amusing anecdote in the book is when A.P. Herbert, a member of Parliament, ridiculed practitioners of officialese by paraphrasing Lord Nelson’s famous signal to the fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar:  England expects that every man will do his duty, into government speak:  England anticipates that as regards the current emergency, personnel will face up to the issues and exercise appropriately the functions allocated to their respective occupation groups.

Richard Kee also wrote a similar book, 1945:  THE WORLD WE FOUGHT FOR.  I bought it and look forward to reading it soon.

Productivity is generally thought to be good, but all isn’t.

I was chopped again Monday.  This a growth on the shin of my right leg.  I have an appointment with the beautiful skin cancer specialist in Chicago early next March, but this appeared a few weeks ago and grew quickly and could not wait.  So I again have stitches and can’t do my workouts for a while, which is a nuisance, though I did bike to and from the doctor’s office.  That part of my leg does not flex while pedaling.

I checked my calendar.  I was also chopped in early August.  I do hope this is not going to become a monthly occurrence.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Hilton Head Island: Ordinary Men; broken; shot; written on water

I watched ORDINARY MEN, an extremely disturbing documentary on Netflix the other evening and highly recommend that you do, too.  In fact if I could I would make viewing compulsory for everyone everywhere.

The documentary is about how and why Germans in special units murdered more than a million Jews.  The Nazis murdered at least six times more than that, but the documentary is only about those police units.  It is disturbing for the footage showing some of the mass murders and because as the title states most of the murderers were not fanatical Nazis or sadistic killers.  They were ordinary men such as are in the majority of every society I have experienced in person or have read about.

I increasingly believe our extreme summer heat has broken.  Long before climate change, the Low Country was too damn hot in the summer.  The marsh has now been pleasant for several days.  I am routinely breakfasting on the screened porch and having a drink there or on the deck in the evening.  High temperatures have been in the high 70s and low 80s F/ mid-20s C.  It is no longer necessary to engage in outdoor activities only in the early morning.  I went for a walk today starting at noon and hardly broke a sweat.  Two weeks ago I would never have even considered a walk at noon.  The marsh is again becoming paradise.

I have two slightly sore arms.  Yesterday I biked four miles to a Walgreens and got the latest COVID and flu shots.  My appointment was at 10:30.  That, too, meant biking later in the day than I would have wanted to not long ago.  

I am not certain how many COVID shots I have had.  Four or maybe five.  Whatever the number I am not susceptible to conspiracy theories and will keep on getting them whenever advised to do so by the CDC.

My main site is back online.  That loud sound you hear is the world’s collective sigh of relief.

It was down for four days.  I was told by various members of the webhost’s support team that a server became corrupted—I expect by spending too much time on social media—and that all the data on it had to be transferred to another server.  In doing so they messed up the connection to mine. After several futile phone calls, eventually I reached a man named Roger who fixed it.  I thank him.

I have the site on an old laptop that I keep just for that purpose, but uploading it presents technical difficulties that are not of much interest.

There is a lot of me in that site.  Perhaps more than any other single place.  And I realize how dependent it is on factors beyond my control.  I have been thinking about what to do about that.

When I was in Fremantle, Australia, now more than twenty years ago during my fifth circumnavigation, some Buddhist monks went to the shore at low tide and drew elaborate and beautiful designs in the sand, knowing they would be erased in a few hours as the tide rose.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Hilton Head Island: Webb Chiles: the movie; down

The day you have so eagerly been waiting for is here.  Safe Harbor released the first episode of their Storytellers series this morning.  If you can endure nine minutes of me, you can view it here.

In the unlikely event you have tried to go to my main site

since yesterday, you will have seen only an error message.  The company hosting the site has a server failure.  They tell me that hopefully the problem will be resolved and the site will be back online later today.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Hilton Head: starring Webb Chiles; still too hot

Not words I ever expected to write, much less see, but it has happened. It only took eighty-one years, but I have been discovered.

I do not recall how many times during those eighty-one years I have been approached by someone with a project.  Books, translations, audiobooks, films.  I have learned that most of these vanish as quickly as a bottle of Laphroaig, and with less satisfaction.  Three men have started to make short films about me.  One has not been heard from for years.  The jury is still out on one.  And one has actually created a film.  Carol and I saw the final version last Thursday.  It is due to be released this coming Friday.

Safe Harbor, which now owns the Skull Creek Marina, as well as more than one hundred other marinas, has decided to produce a series of short films under the title, Storytellers, about people who keep their boats in one of their marinas.  I believe they asked dock masters for recommendations and Ben, who was then the dock master at Skull Creek, submitted me.  I did not seek this and was not aware of it until Safe Harbor decided to begin the series with me and emailed asking if I would be willing to participate.  I agreed, not to promote myself, but because as a writer I care about my words—I know that is inconsistent, but some writers do—and I hope that some who see the film will be interested enough to explore further and read some of my words who otherwise would not have.

So in April Johnny Harrington, who happens to live in Ocean Beach, California, less than a mile from where I docked GANNET in Mission Bay, and three other young men came to Hilton Head and filmed and interviewed me for parts of four days. They are very good at their jobs and I enjoyed observing them work.

The final film is just under nine minutes long.  While naturally there are omissions in reducing eighty-one years, six circumnavigations, seven books, six marriages, another million or so words, and some other relationships, to nine minutes, both Carol and I like the film very much.  I do not believe that I could be portrayed better in that length of time.

There are a few errors in the film.  I did not have the opportunity to fact check it.  Only one of the errors is of much significance and that is where in the opening title sequence it is written of me:  ‘six time solo circumnavigator.’   As some of you know, while I have circumnavigated six times, only three of those voyages have been completely solo—the first, fifth, and sixth.  Jill sailed with me a thousand miles of the second, much of the third, and part of the fourth.  Carol sailed 10,000 miles with me on the fourth.  I have always tried to avoid exaggeration or hyperbole believing that if you do it right, the plain truth is enough.  So if someone comments that Webb Chiles has not made six solo circumnavigations, tell them Webb Chiles agrees.

As I said, the other errors are minor.  A photo of THE HAWKE OF TUONELA is said to be RESURGAM and when that photo is shown RESURGAM is spelled RESERGAM.

I have notified Johnny of the errors, but it is probably too late for them to be corrected.

The film was premiered last Friday at a film festival at Newport, R.I.  I am told that it received a standing ovation.  I am pleased for Johnny and perhaps a little for myself, too.  While it is my life, it is his film and he deserves all the credit for that.

There is a trailer on a Safe Harbor site:

I’ll post a link to the film after Safe Harbor releases it Friday.

I was paid for my starring role somewhat less than the more than $100,000,000 Tom Cruise has reportedly been paid for his starring role in TOP GUN:  MAVERICK.  I was paid my usual nothing.  But then that helps keep my taxes simpler than Tom’s.

Carol flew back to Chicago yesterday.  

I biked down to do some minor chores on GANNET this morning.  I went down before 8 a.m.  The temperature was a reasonable 78F, but with the humidity and no wind, I was soon drowning in sweat.  I wore work clothes, which was a very good idea, because on my return after an hour to the blessedly air-conditioned condo, everything was soaked and is now out in the sun on our deck drying out.

Usually the extreme heat moderates here this month, but it hasn’t yet.  The marsh is still broiling.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Hilton Head Island: GANNET; two disasters; two poems

Carol and I walked to GANNET Sunday morning and found the little boat as I had left her except for some water in the bilge which I pumped and sponged out.  As you may recall GANNET has no through hull fittings, but some water inevitably makes its way from above through two holes where the backstay enters and exits the deck and a leak in the bow I have not been able to locate for more than a decade.  There were not even any bird droppings on the deck.  Good.

I have now spoken to several people who were here during the passing of Idalia all of whom say it was just a windy, rainy day.  Fred, the former dock master of Skull Creek Marina who lives aboard his 31’ sloop, said that the highest gust he saw on his wind instrument was 52 knots, but the the wind was generally in the 30-40 knot range for six hours.  He said that three boats in the marina broke loose.  All because of inadequate dock lines.  Too old or too small or both.

Here is the link to a long, but I found interesting article about the greatest peacetime disaster in the history of the United States Navy.  I knew of this, but not the details.

I was among those who thought ‘dead reckoning’ had evolved from ‘deduced reckoning’.  Wikipedia says otherwise:

Contrary to myth, the term "dead reckoning" was not originally used to abbreviate "deduced reckoning," nor is it a misspelling of the term "ded reckoning." The use of "ded" or "deduced reckoning" is not known to have appeared earlier than 1931, much later in history than "dead reckoning" appearing as early as 1613 in the Oxford English Dictionary. The original intention of "dead" in the term is generally assumed to mean using a stationary object that is "dead in the water" as a basis for calculations. Additionally, at the time the first appearance of "dead reckoning," "ded" was considered a common misspelling of "dead." This potentially led to later confusion of the origin of the term.

A second disaster is imminent actually counting climate change, this is a third.

Sixty years ago a perspicacious college student wrote that throughout our history the mass of homo sapiens provided muscle power and a gene pool neither of which was any longer necessary.  What he postulated in 1960 is obvious now, or if it isn’t to some, it soon will be.

Here is an article stating that in a little over ten years 38%-65% of the jobs in Las Vegas may be automated.  That’s a lot of unemployed bartenders.

I have read that the two most famous Chinese poets are Li Po and Tu Fu.  Both names are Anglicized in various ways.  They lived at the same time and met one another.  During his lifetime Li Po was well known and admired.  Tu Fu was not.  Li Po was born about 701 AD and died in 762.  I have posted some of his poems here in past entries.  Tu Fu was born 712 AD and died in 770.  They met in 744 and remained friends, both writing poems to the other.

Here are two poems written by Tu Fu toward the end of his life.


Saturday, September 2, 2023

Hilton Head Island: capititerraphobia cured


A little after 8 PM here and this is what I am seeing from my chair by our bedroom window while listening to Handel’s ‘Water Music’ and sipping Plymouth gin.  Not exceptional, but beautiful and tranquil.

Last evening Carol and I sipped margaritas—no reason to pretend—and ate lobster rolls and sirloin sliders beside Lake Michigan.  It was pleasant.  

A young boy was playing in the water with a body board.  I am not a good judge of age.  Perhaps he was nine or ten.  He was a skinny kid.  I said to Carol ‘that is me seventy years ago’. I was a skinny, weird kid who has become a skinny, weird old man.

The boy tried unsuccessfully to catch some of the small waves coming ashore.  I could see that he was not judging them correctly.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but then he got it right and caught two and got a few seconds ride in to his joy.  I was happy for him.  Take whatever moments of joy come your way, and even better take whatever moments of joy that would never have existed had you not created them.

I never board surfed.  I body surfed and I caught my last wave a little over two decades ago at age sixty off a small island in Brazil’s Baia da Ilha Grande.  I do not recall the name of the island and it does not matter.  Carol and I had sailed from Rio de Janeiro forty miles or so west and anchored.  

We soon learned that the few buildings on the shore were mostly family homes and a few surfer hostels.  

As we sat drinking our morning coffee in the cockpit we saw locals come from their homes and set up plastic chairs and tables on the beach.  Late in the morning day trip boats with masts but always under power arrived from the mainland a half dozen miles away and disgorged passengers who rushed to the tables and ate and drank, before re-embarking for the trip back.  

Carol and I often joined them, rowing ashore, pulling the Avon up the beach, tying it to a palm tree, and enjoying very inexpensive and good grilled shrimp and cold beers.

Sometimes we followed the surfers over a ridge to the ocean side of the island which had then as beautiful unspoiled beach as I have seen.  I hope it still is. 

That is where I caught my last wave.  The ride remains in my mind.  A long one.  

I will not seek another.  My almost severed supra spinatus cannot be risked being slammed into a seabed.

I do not regret there will never be another body surfing wave.  I have known enough, and unless time and chance destroy me there will be more waves, hopefully with GANNET and me above them.

As we flew from Chicago this morning I thought:  this is probably my last flight from the Midwest.  I will fly back once more next year, but Carol will drive us away.

I have written that some of my countrymen I most admire were Midwesterners:  Lincoln; Grant; Twain: Truman.  But I am perhaps the most misborn Midwesterner ever.  A creature of the open ocean born a thousand miles from the sea.  Inevitably I found my natural element.  All creatures do or die trying, and I often almost did die trying.

I am so—I hesitate for the word—Glad.  Happy.  Yes.  But mostly just content to know that it is likely that for whatever is left of my life only a few weeks will be spent away from the ocean.


I paused.  Night has fallen.  Outside the window all is dark except for a few lights in the marina.  My glass is almost empty.  There is little in the bottle still in the refrigerator.  I think I will drink it going twice beyond the two glass limit.  I reflect upon my life and find that I am still alive and writing this to you at almost age 82 beggars the imagination.  I say that without pride, but with incredulity.  Yet I seem still to be here and seem still to be moving.  I like to think forward.  But who knows.  At least I am moving.