Saturday, January 27, 2024

Hilton Head Island: castaways; pathfinders; Einstein; glad it isn’t me

 Almost all of this entry comes from others. 

First, I thank David for providing me with links to the story of six teen-aged Tongan boys who were castaways on a tiny uninhabited island for fifteen months.  They wanted to get away from their boarding school and stole a 24’ boat.  While anchored, the rode broke and they drifted from the main Tongan island, Tongatapu, almost ninety miles southwest to ‘Ata, where they survived in a real life complete opposite to William Golding’s novel, LORD OF THE FLIES.

Here are links to a Wikipedia article and twenty-one minute film about their experience, both of which I find fascinating and you may too.

I am reading PATHFINDERS:  A GLOBAL HISTORY OF EXPLORATION by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto.  

Fernandez-Armesto’s thesis is that the history of our species is divided into two parts:  divergence and convergence.  The first began when some of us left Africa between 60,000 and 90,000 years ago and spread over the world being changed by climate and isolation.  The second, the coming back together through land and sea routes and modern technology, he dates back about 10,000 years from our present.

I have found that there is scientific disagreement about these dates and even about when our species first evolved, but whatever the dates, the concept seems to me sound and the book interesting.  Of the four hundred pages, the last three hundred are about the last five or six hundred years.

One fact Fernandez-Armesto points out and that I knew without understanding is that except in the Indian Ocean which has a 180 º seasonal wind shift from northeast in the northern winter to southwest in the northern summer, the early voyages of exploration were made to windward.  I knew that this was true in the Pacific Ocean but had not thought it through.  Fernandez-Armesto states they sailed into the complete unknown to windward because if they found nothing or encountered difficulties, they could turn down wind and have a good chance at making their way back home.

Some of his information seems to me to be wrong.  He claims strong currents from the west made it difficult for ships to leave the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar.  I have sailed that strait five times in three different boats without noticing significant currents.  I have the sense that Fernandez-Armesto is a fine scholar, but not likely a sailor.

Here are some quotes he uses in the book.  I have not finished it and so there may be more.

I have long known that calling our species homo sapiens is a cosmic joke.  The latin means ‘wise’ or ‘knowing’ man.  Really?  What passes for the news and history prove otherwise.  We are homo insipiens, foolish man.  Another better choice than sapiens would be homo narcissus, narcissistic man, who not only named himself ‘wise’ but who until a few centuries ago thought the entire universe revolved around him and this small, obscure planet.  Carl Linnaeus is responsible for naming us homo sapiens.  He really should have known better.

This is preface to an amusing if tragic quote from Albert Einstein.  I thank Larry for sending it to me.  I have googled and it seems that Albert did say this or something close.

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

I thank Alan for the photo taken by one of his neighbors who owns a Moore 24 at a Moore regatta on Huntington Lake two years ago.  Were I to provide a caption it would be:  I am glad it isn’t me.  Those who race Moores push the great little boats’ limits in different ways than I do.  I have put GANNET’s masthead in the water three or four times, but never to windward, and I fervently hope never to do so.

For myself I am enjoying days of perfect weather.  Highs around 70F/21C.  Lows in the high 50sF/14-15C.  I am living mostly outside.  Writing this in early afternoon on the screened porch.  My sunset drinks the past two nights have been on deck and will be again this evening.  My breakfast uncooked oatmeal eaten here on the porch.  I am feeling quite well.  I biked several miles this morning and when I do my resistance band workout later this afternoon will have worked out five of the last six days.  COVID ain’t what it used to be.  At least for those of us who are vaccinated,

To life.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Hilton Head Island: an interview; negative; clarification

Paul Trammell invited me to be interviewed on his Offshore Sailing and Cruising Podcast.  I agreed and we did a Zoom interview Wednesday.  Paul, who lives on board his Cartwright 40 presently in Panama, asked some original questions and I enjoyed talking with him.  If you can stand an hour of me, the interview can be seen at:

or heard at:

I thank Paul for the invitation.

I have been taking a COVID test every other day.  On Friday morning the second line was very faint, which caused me to believe that the virus was weakening.  I felt well enough that day to do my full workout for the first time in two weeks.  I thought I might have difficulty breathing, but I didn’t.  This morning the test was negative.  Excellent.  I’ll take another in two days and if it too is negative I will declare myself cured.

A couple of friends have written asking if the yahoo email address is now my primary email.  It is not.  I set that up to be the contact email for my main site after the former contact email address there ceased to function.  Like most of us I have multiple email accounts for different purposes.  One personal.  One for businesses.  And now one for the main site contact.  If you have been emailing me, you can continue to use the address you have been using.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Hilton Head Island: Bali: sixteen shades of darkness and intimation of mortality


I recently had reason to reread part of THE OCEAN WAITS, here are two sections I particularly like.

The first was written the night I approached Bali on the thousand mile passage from Darwin, Australia.

The second describes a cremation Suzanne and I saw there now more than forty years ago.  That boy is now likely a father who has held his own sons on his shoulders to look into the flames.

The photo is of gujungs, local one man fishing boats, which I followed through the pass into Benoa Harbor.

And here is a photo taken during the cremation and a forgotten one of me rarely unmustached.

For the present, while I do not feel ill, my full energy has not returned and I am still testing positive for COVID.

On a moonless night I found sixteen shades of darkness. 

Six were in the sky: an overall blackness of the heavens; a diffuse gray to the west, although the sun had set hours earlier; the pinpricks of the stars; a few scattered shadows that were clouds; the flow of the Milky Way; and sporadic flashes of lightning far to the north. 

The sea revealed even less than the sky. It seemed to have turned in upon itself and to be studying its own depths for hidden memories. It breathed with deep, low respirations, in rhythm to a long, low swell from the south. The waves, only inches high and from the east, were a lighter gray than the swell, or—rather—than the back of the swell, for it was not visible until it had passed. The shadows of clouds, shadows of shadows, were impenetrably dark. And there were a few flashes of phosphorescence as Chidiock Tichborne ghosted forward. 

On Chidiock could be found six more shades. The featureless triangle of the mainsail undulated above me. Around me was an indistinct cockpit. A solid black line marked the teak gunwale's absorption of all light. And there were the vaguely golden columns of the varnished masts; lumps of bags; and my own form, clad in foul weather gear. 

The foul weather gear was worn in this instance not in anticipation of bad weather, but because everything was covered with evening dampness. For me, on even the best of nights, foul weather gear serves as pajamas. I wondered about the impressionist tenet that all shadows have color.

In all that I saw, only a few stars, the masts, and the foul weather gear revealed even subdued color, hidden as though beneath a thousand years of soot. Yet perhaps more color was there.

When I had exhausted these permutations of darkness, my mind moved outward. 

We sat waiting on the steps of the temple. The sun was very hot, and others sat beneath palm trees or beside the houses along a track leading away from the village. From time to time we had to move aside for women going up or down the steps or for girls selling cold drinks or clothing, which they carried tied in bundles on their heads.

Everyone waited patiently, although even in the shade sweat ran. For the first hour most of the people in the crowd were tourists. I found myself watching a beautiful, tall, blond girl in a purple sari with metallic threads that flashed in sunlight when she moved, and a German who kept making adjustments to a movie camera on a tripod. After a while, though, the crowd began to swell with villagers.

Just before noon a man climbed the stone steps of the temple and began beating out a slow rhythm on a gong.

As soon as the gong stopped, men burst from the compound and ran to a bamboo tower. The tower was ten feet tall and covered with white and gold paper and with streamers of every color. It was tapered and capped by a gold canopy over a narrow pallet. With a grunt, the men lifted the tower and carried it around to the entrance of the temple.

Women filed silently down the steps and began shuffling along the road. Over their heads, they held a long train of white cloth. From a distance they looked like the legs of a giant centipede.

A bamboo ladder was positioned against the tower, and the body, itself wrapped in white cloth, was brought out of the temple. This was a heavy bundle, and the men strained as they handed it up the ladder.

One man remained on one side of the tower and tied the body to the pallet with bamboo lashings, while another placed offerings of clothing and food and cups and ornaments in the tower. Two live birds were tied to the corner of the canopy.

When everything was in place, curtains were drawn around the pallet until only the end of the bundle could be seen.

The procession was a parade.

The men sweated and strained as they carried the tower through the village, but they were happy, not solemn.

Traffic piled up behind us, but when the drivers saw the reason for the delay, they did not lean on their horns.

People came from the shanty shops to join us, crossing the drainage ditch beside the road on planks of wood, as though crossing a moat.

At the crossroads in the middle of the village, the tower was turned in a circle three times. The crowd cheered at the completion of each revolution and each time the tower was successfully tilted to clear over head power lines. Once, the tower leaned over so far it seemed certain to fall, but men rushed from the crowd to help and the body did not touch the earth.

Our way, even after we left the narrow paved road for an even narrower path beside a rice paddy, was always bordered by walls: walls hundreds of years old, hidden beneath thick layers of dirt and green-black mold; ruined walls, carved with crumbling gods; new walls of cinder block or brick; walls so high we could not see over them; walls so low they were mere suggestions of ownership; well cared for walls, covered with fresh paint; forgotten walls, reclaimed by the jungle.

I had not realized before that Bali is so much a place of walls, but after that day, I saw them everywhere. On so small and so crowded an island, walls are a necessity.

Thousands jammed the cremation grounds. The heat and smell became stifling as we jostled and swayed against one another. Bamboo towers rose like islands from the sea of people. Some were shaped like animals; some, like mythological beasts; some, like flesh-consuming gods. Three held bodies.

The body we had followed was placed inside a giant white paper cow, along with the offerings of food and clothing, but not the live birds. The squawking birds were tossed like a bridal bouquet into the clamoring hands of the men who had carried the tower through the village.

It seemed to take much longer to transfer the offerings from the tower than it had taken to place them there. The crowd sagged as people began to faint. Finally the back of the cow was lowered.

A cloud of smoke drifted down on us. Then there was smoke everywhere and flames shot up into the sky as all the towers were lit.

The white cow crumbled in a wave of sparks. Beside me a small boy sat on his father's shoulders. His eyes were huge, as though he was seeing himself, someday, there in the flames.

Ashes. Filled the sky. Covered the ground. Caught in our hair and eyes. We breathed shallowly behind our hands.

The smoke had dispersed the crowd. Low flames licked at the frames of charred towers.

As we made our way from the grounds, the smoke thickened, then swirled and thinned to reveal a monstrous face, a mask somehow untouched by the fire, striped red and black and white, its great mouth turned upward in a hideous grin.

I wondered if it was a vision of death. Or a symbol of life renewed beyond the ashes. Or just a final, appropriately ambivalent image for Bali.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Hilton Head Island: working without a net and an implied health bulletin

A reader recently emailed asking if I had a VHF radio on CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE.

I did not.

A current member of the famous high wire family, The Flying Wallendas, said that he regretted having to wear a safely harness to perform one of his feats as demanded by the network that was televising it and paying him millions and did not want to chance a live audience watching him fall to his death.  I did not see it and don’t recall what it was.  I believe him.  There is a seismic difference in working without a net.  He knew that.  I do too.  However he overcame his scruples and wore the harness and took the millions.

No one offered me millions, but for my first three circumnavigations I worked without a net.  I still work essentially without one and I regret that I could call for help with my Yellowbrick.  I do not carry it for that purpose, but to let Carol know where I am and if I could disable the SOS button I would.  I went to sea alone and with no way to call for help. I thought that just.  I went out there on my own and I had no right to expect the society I had chosen to leave behind to save me from trouble of my own making.  I don’t know that anyone else will understand that.  It is so at variance with current standards.  I do know that it is possible to be in a hurricane at sea and not call for either god or man to save you.  I’ve been there eight times and never did.  I don’t know that anyone else will understand that either. 

On my fourth I did have a handheld VHF radio after being troubled by South African port authorities for not communicating with them as I entered harbors.  So I could then have called for help if anyone was within seven or eight miles, as almost no one ever was.  There was then and as far as I know now no international regulation that a private sailing vessel carry any radio at all, but I gave in and bought a handheld VHF and have found that it does make dealing with authorities as I enter a foreign port easier.

This was 1987 or 88.  South Africa was on a war footing, having sent land forces north to Angola to try to intervene in a civil war and all ports and lighthouses were staffed by the military.

Jill and I sailed north from South Africa, which then governed what is now Namibia. The main port in Namibia is Walvis Bay.  I seldom enter harbors after dark but we approached the entrance to the harbor at 11 PM on a full moon night.  This was before GPS but I could see that if I followed a certain depth I would safely round the point and could steer directly for the docks where I would anchor and wait until dawn.  This I did.

At about 6 am I woke and called the Port Captain on my handheld VHF. 

In a strong South African accent he asked, “What time did you anchor?”

I said, “About midnight.”

He said, “When I came on duty an hour ago I called Pelican Point Light and asked ‘What time did the yacht pass?’  And they said, ‘What yacht?’  And I said to myself ‘So much for our defense forces.’

I just watched an interesting documentary on Amazon Prime, THE BECKONING SILENCE, about the deaths in the 1930s of climbers trying to be the first to scale the north face of the Eiger.  What is interesting is the story of how those climbers died, particularly the last of them after enduring all but inhuman struggle and suffering.  What is regrettable is that the narrator, who himself became famous by almost dying, calls climbing a game and admits that he has lost his passion.  Both are probably related and both prove that he is not real.  

I have never thought of pushing beyond limits as a game.  I have always known that our species needs a few such individuals and that it is what I was genetically designed to do.  And as an old man I know that, unless weakened by injury or health beyond your control, if you lose your passion it was not real.

That I am writing this is proof that I am feeling better.  I could not have written it yesterday.

Thus far I would class my COVID as less than a case of the flu.  I have a chest cough.  A runny nose.  But the main symptom has been fatigue.  Yesterday and the day before I had almost no energy.  Just getting out of bed was a struggle.  I slept intermittently for eleven hours last night and woke feeling much better today.  Not my usual self, but moving that way.  This is not a controlled experiment.  There is no way of knowing how the virus would have affected me had I not been vaccinated, including the most recent boosters.

I read that the uptake of the most recent boosters has been low.  Maybe only 7% of those eligible to receive them have done so.  I am starting to expect that we are all going to get COVID sooner or later, just as we all get flu sooner or later, and more than once.  If you die unvaccinated you get no sympathy from me.  You have self-selected yourself out.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Hilton Head Island: people are hazardous to your health

I am usually not much around people, but last Friday I flew to Charlotte and returned Sunday and so was around a lot of people on planes and in airports.  Yesterday morning I woke with a moderately sore throat and a cough and was tired all day.  I didn’t even consider doing my scheduled workout.  So I took a COVID test and it is definitely positive.  I am of course fully vaccinated.  Thus far I don’t feel very ill, not even as much as a routine head cold.  No aches.  No pains.  No fever.  However I am usually outrageously healthy.  I don’t recall the last time I was ill.  Years ago.  And I don’t like it.

I have cancelled two routine medical and dental appointments scheduled later this week.

I had been planning on going sailing next week weather permitting and have just had a diver clean GANNET’s bottom.  I didn’t know where.  Maybe out to sea.  Maybe up to Charleston.  Maybe both.  Now that seems unlikely to happen.

In the more immediate future a strong front is approaching and we have a gale warning and a tornado watch for this afternoon.  The wind is already gusting 28 knots at the airport three miles away and is forecast to go above 40 knots later.

I look out on gray and green.  Complete low misty overcast.  Intermittent rain.  Spanish moss and live oaks dancing wildly.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Hilton Head Island: changeless

You will of course recognize the above as the image on the home page of my main site.  It was taken during the last passage of GANNET's circumnavigation.  It is now fixed in time, as is the entire site.  I thank Rich and Sheldon for enabling two final changes to be made.  One to the note at the top of the Introduction page


One providing a new email address on the contact page.


You may not recall that this was the original home page image.

That is looking west from an anchorage just inside the pass into Bora-Bora.  We were anchored in about 18' of water so clear the boat seemed to be floating in air.

My sailing life has encompassed both.

The main site was created in August 2006.  Most of what my life has been or ever will be is there.  The rest will be here and in YouTube.

To Life.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Hilton Head Island: workouts, books read, and wrecks


I did my standard workout 118 times last year, which is the second highest number ever, exceeded only by 121 in 2021.  Of those I went to the 100 level 11 times.  I strive to do that once a month, but missed in April.  At the 100 level I increase every part of the workout and end up doing 200 pushups and crunches in sets of 100, 50, 50, instead of at my current age 162 in sets of 82, 40, 40.  I also increase knee bends and side leg raises.

I did my weight workout 52 times.  I use only two ten pound weights but with 30 repetitions of most exercises in three sets of 10 each.  I also do 100 crunches with both weights held on my upper chest.  And two minutes of planks.

I only used the resistance bands 11 times.  Shame on me.

The desired schedule is standard workout Monday-Wednesday-Friday.  Weight workout Tuesday-Thursday.  Resistance bands Saturday.  I take Sundays off.

I lost some days to stitches following skin cancer removal and some to sailing and travel and most to lack of self-discipline.

Still I did workout almost half of the days last year.

Books read July-December

                MODERN TIMES   Paul Johnson

JACOB’S ROOM   Virginia Woolf


I, JAMES McNEILL WHISTLER   Lawrence Williams


WARTIME WRITINGS   Antoine de Saint-Exupery





THE KILL   Emile Zola

JOURNEY   Smithsonian

HUMAN VOICES   Penelope Fitzgerald




CATHAY   Ezra Pound

100 Selected Poems   Robert Frost

1939   Robert Kee

EARLY POEMS   Ezra Pound


WINTER’S TALE   Mark Helprin



1945   Robert Kee

SOLO FACES   James Salter

BISMARCK’S WAR   Rachel Charstil

SHIP OF THE LINE   C.S. Forester


ZEN POETRY edited by Styrk and Ikemoto

THE KING MUST DIE   Mary Renault


RIVER-HORSE   William Least Half-Moon

BEING ALIVE   edited by Neil Astley 

  RISE AND KILL FIRST   Ronan Bergman

Of these the ones I found most interesting are 1939 and 1945 by Robert Kee in which he presents those years before and after WW2 through what was printed in newspapers and said in speeches at the time; LENINGRAD:  SIEGE AND SYMPHONY, about the almost three year siege of the city and Dmitri Shostakovich’s powerful Seventh Symphony written in part about it; WINTER’S TALE by Mark Helprin, a great work of the imagination I read for a second time;  BISMARCK’S WAR, which was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 which unified Germany and was a significant cause of WW1; and all three novels by Emile Zola, of which THE DEBACLE, sometimes translated as THE DOWNFALL, is also about the war of 1870-71 and one of his greatest.

All three Zola novels are part of his epic twenty novel Rougon-Macquart Cycle set during the reign of Napoleon III.  I have read seven of them, some more than once, and, assuming I have time, intend to read one a month until I have read them all.

Some decades ago an editor asked who my favorite novelists are and I replied without needing much thought:  Hardy, Conrad and Zola.  They still are.

I found myself looking at iSailor last evening and my singular eye gravitated to the area around Cape Horn shown on the above screen shot.  I was struck as I expect you will be by the number of indicated wrecks.  Zooming in reveals there are even more than shown in that shot, but I think this is the best over all view.  Note that almost all are in the channels or on the west coast which is perhaps the world’s most dangerous lee shore.  The first man to make it past Cape Horn alone, the Norwegian, Al Hansen, who sailed east to west, died when his boat was driven onto the Chilean coast.

Two more observations about that chart.  You can see that it is possible to stay in the channels, wait for a decent day, duck out, round Horn Island, and then duck back in.  Some do this and call themselves Cape Horners.  They are not by my standards and probably would say they don’t give a damn, but inside they know they have faked it.  Rounding the Horn has traditionally meant going from 50 ºS in one ocean to 50 ºS in the other and still does to the honorable.

The second observation is that I measured the distance from the main Diego Ramirez Island to Horn Island.  On my first passage around Cape Horn I saw the Diego Ramirez but not Horn Island.  I was blown well south of Horn Island by a Force 12 storm.  I had thought the Diego Ramirez about thirty miles from Horn Island, but they measure 58 miles WSW.