Stompin' on the Terra

"And he said, 'Stomp upon the Terra.'" – Lord Buckley (via Hunter Thompson)

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Location: Plum Island, Massachusetts

31 May 2011

Good Morning, Lerwick

While lying in my bunk early this morning, I heard what sounded like the water pumps, indicating that someone was taking a shower on the boat. "That's weird," I thought. "We all showered at the boat club last night." Must have been a dream, it seemed, because not long thereafter, I heard what sounded like a woman's voice on a loudspeaker, issuing orders in some bizarre tongue. "That must be it; I'm dreaming." Thing was: I've had some odd dreams in my life, but I couldn't quite figure this one out. So I finally woke and went topside, only to find we had some company on the wharf...and with that company, the source of the water-pump noise (the Fram's engines as it docked) and the voice was revealed...

(And as you can see, it's another crackin' day here in the Shetlands: blue sky, puffy clouds and nice breezes out of the west.)

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30 May 2011

One More From the Road

One image from my time in Newcastle since I've been importing photos to my computer here in port. The view from my seat for the Newcastle United-West Brom match.

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Scenes from the Shetlands

A few quickie images after a delightful day in Lerwick. A short motorsailing cruise around the area occupied the morning, while the afternoon, after the guests had departed, was spent cleaning the boat from stem to stern. Evening meant showers (Ahh! Hot water!) at the local boating club followed by dinner -- our second truly spectacular meal in two nights...and I cannot overestimate the quality of the meals I've enjoyed in this small town the last two days -- which included a long, entertaining post-meal discussion with the Norwegian sailors at the next table over...all of which took place under the blue skies of a long, high-latitude summer day. Spectacular. Simply spectacular. This place is definitely on the "to do more of in the future" list. More details tomorrow; now...sleep.

The impossibly picturesque village of Lerwick, Shetland

Local kids powering through an afternoon rowing practice -- side by side, no sliding seats, no thin rowing shell...tough stuff

The (fuzzy) view north from Lerwick Harbor at 11:45pm on Memorial Day 2011

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Dateline: Shetland Islands, UK

29 May 2011
1730 hours, local

Landfall in the Shetland Islands

We're currently motorsailing along the eastern shore of the main Shetland Island. It's rainy and windy out, with coast guard warnings of a force 9 gale imminent (thankfully, from the west so the island will provide some protection), followed by a force 10 gale in the not-too-distant future. We're about an hour and a half from the port of Lerwick, where we'll tie up for the night.

As an aside: we're at just about the latitude of Anchorage (and Bergen, Norway, just a couple of hundred miles to the east) and the island scenery recalls that of the Aleutians Islands back in Alaska: treeless, green, windswept and rainy.

It's been an interesting two days' journey from Newcastle -- not least of all because this journey has implications that past trips haven't. In the past, I hadn't sold my home, my car and most worldly possessions; I was just out for a temporary sojourn. In the past, I wasn't contemplating a season in close quarters with complete strangers (foreigners to my Yankee sensibility, no less); I was just out for a few days with people of like interest. In the past, I wasn't hoping to learn the lion's share of what remains in my nautical knowledge with an eye toward possibly moving aboard for the foreseeable future; I was just out to learn a bit more on that quest and have a good time in the process.

So there's been a lot going on inside my head the last 48 hours.

I broke with tradition this trip and didn't throw up the first evening's dinner. That might have been because I napped through the meal but who's counting. On the whole, I've felt better than I usually do first day out -- gratifying since I haven't been aboard in more than a year. I did feed the fish at the end of my 12-3am watch, but it was no big deal and nothing too troubling.

I've been doing a lot of sleeping during my off-watch times, which is par for the course for many as one settles into life at sea. I find it's not so much a case of getting one's sea legs, but rather, a case of getting one's sea head or sea stomach. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs here but it's a distinction that fits, I believe: I find that it's my head that takes adjusting (hold the jokes, please) rather than my legs. My balance and ability to move on board a boat comes back quite rapidly; a clear mind and visual focus (when belowdecks, especially) takes a bit longer. I cooked dinner for the boat last night (chicken curry, and "cooking" is giving it too much was more "mixing jars together") and am typing this belowdecks right now, so it appears that my mind is adapting to the marine environment.

And that mind has, as I mentioned, been doing a lot of thinking over the last 48 hours. As I did last spring en route from St. Maarten to New England, my initial thoughts were quite full of doubt: "I can't do this full-time because it takes me too long to recalibrate to life at sea" and "There's no way I can sail singlehandedly: I like to sleep too much."

Those feelings have waned, particularly in the last day. Racing along at sunrise before 25 knots of wind with porpoises tagging along us in the moderate seas can lighten one's mood. Being able to actually see the minute gusts-within-gusts manifested in the ripples on the water's surface as you look into the sun rising over the sea to the east makes the very air seem like a palpable, conscious entity. It's as if you can talk to the wind -- and expect a reply. The reply, of course, is when you feel the sail grab the gust: the boat accelerates before the increased force, heels a bit and then you feel the wheel tug against your hands. Throw in an hour of accompanying ballet courtesy of the porpoises and those are the connections you seek when you come out here to sea.

And there's no feeling that can compare to landfall after time at sea. Whether it's your home port (or region, in the case of last spring's sail from the Caribbean) or a place you've never seen before, there's something special about doing the work and spending the time to reach a place on your own. Landing on an airliner just doesn't compare. Quicker? Easier? Certainly. And maybe just as exciting. But it's not as gratifying. Or as welcoming.

So thus far, two days in, Summer Tour 2011 is off to a good start. Not without its bumps; more on those later as we're nearing Lerwick so it's time to head on deck and prepare for arrival. And no, we're not just putting our seat backs and tray tables in their full, upright position...

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27 May 2011

A Friday's Sail

Sitting aboard Polar Bear in the tidal River Tyne, about a mile so upstream from the North Sea. Yesterday we brought the boat through the lock separating the marina from the river and did final preparations; last night two guests arrived from London; and around midday today we'll put to sea, turn left and head north to the Shetland Islands.

I'm quite looking forward to hitting the road, so to speak. It's been a fun if disjointed week here in Newcastle. Boat preparations have been frenetic, with (to be honest) a few too many chiefs. Balancing conflicting project plans frustrates the hell out of me, whether that's on a boat or in an office. The simplicty that will come from being offshore, with one skipper to follow, will bring welcome clarity.

It's also been a fun week here in the land of the Geordies. I got to catch a Premier League match between the local squad, Newcastle United, and West Bromwich Albion. They played to a thrilling (if disappointing for the home fans) 3-3 tie in my first-ever Prem League match. I may definitely head back to this little island come October to catch a few more matches.

I also wandered the city a bit one day, taking in sights and sounds of this foreign (to me) culture. Seeing structures that date back to triple digits AD...way impressive. 

On a less-impressive front: if America has an obesity epidemic then England is already lost. Oh. My. God. The U.S. is full of Olympians compared to the local populace here in Newcastle. I'm sorry if that offends anyone local's a fact.

Anyway, back to sea today and not a moment too soon. Yes, we're flying in the face of the superstition about Friday departures but the risks are outweighed by the potential benefits. Next stop (and hopefully an update): Lerwick, Shetland Islands.

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17 May 2011

The Renaissance Begins

Written: 16 May
36,000 feet over the Atlantic, midway between Boston and Nova Scotia

Just departed Logan Airport in a nor'easter tempestuous enough to prompt my mother to ask if I ever got nervous flying in such weather. I don't. In fact, I dig flying in almost any weather, no matter how bumpy (maybe that's why I got my pilot's license a few years ago). But this flight has already been different -- and we're just half an hour into it.

I've become a pretty jaded traveler over the years (OK, jaded about a lot more than just traveling, but let's stay on-topic here). But over the course of the past hour or so, I've actually giggled a couple of times and I wear the smile of someone who is truly relaxed. Why? Just one step into the plane and I was already hearing that Irish lilt -- and being spoken by a female speaker no less, which creates something so subtly intoxicating about the medium, no matter how mundane the message. A few moments later, upon taking my seat, I listened to the French being spoken in the row behind me. And it hit me: for the first time in more than 20 years I was flying to a different continent, to a place where English (or least American English) isn't the primary language. I was headed to places where the provincialism engendered by having a large ocean on each side of our country is not possible; where different languages and different cultures and different ways of dealing with life are encountered every single moment, whether one likes it or not. And that's kinda cool, in a humbling sorta way.

INTERRUPTION: Wow! The full moon just came into view between the starboard wing tip and the overcast below. Meanwhile the sun shines brightly off the port side. Can you tell I'm just a wee bit excited?!

Anyway, listening to the various languages being spoken in the terminal and on the plane, and realizing how long gone my abilities with French and German were, reminded me of the old joke:
Q: What do you call someone who speaks more than two languages?
A: A polyglot.
Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual.
Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
A: An American

I'm not knocking my homeland. I'm an American through-and-through. But sometimes our my-way-or-the-highway attitude is just plain embarrassing. And I'm excited about getting out of my comfort zone and into some situations where I can practice a little humility, learn new ways of seeing and expand my horizons just a bit further.

16 May 2011

A New Path

It's been an interesting year since leaving gainful employment in San Diego. And in that time, there's been a steady theme rolling through my head: a steady flow of cliches, famous sayings and all-too-real stories of life. You've heard 'em before:

"Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all."
-- Helen Keller

"Twenty years from now you will more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
-- Mark Twain

"There is magic in boldness."
-- Goethe
(Never mind that research indicates that most of these platitudes are incorrectly attributed; they're still good sentiments.)

Throw in images of other lives abruptly interrupted by tsunamis, earthquakes and things such as diagnoses of illnesses, then mix in a year of living in friends' and sibling's guest rooms and out of storage units while trying to figure out which career path to pursue, and you get a heady stew with an aroma that bubbles up long-dormant dreams from the subconscious.

So into this mindset comes an interesting Tuesday in early April. On the same day that I received an offer letter for an intriguing job in Anchorage, I received a solid offer on my not-listed-for-sale home, also in Anchorage. The couple who made the offer had seen the house back in the fall when it was listed but were waiting on the sale of their condo; well, that condo was now in contract and they just wanted to take a look and see if they still liked the place. At the same time all this was going on, I'd been in contact with my friends Boogie and Marlies, owners of the Swan 51 sailboat Star Chaser; I'd sailed aboard Star Chaser from St. Maarten to Newport, R.I., in May and had a thoroughly awesome time -- and now, in 2011, my friends were going to be operating the Challenge 72 yacht, Polar Bear, and wanted to know if I'd like to crew for the season. Hoo boy…what to do?

I've had two big dreams in my life: Alaska and sailing away. And while I pondered during that week in April, I kept hearing those great speakers, kept seeing people whose lives were ripped apart by a wall of water they never saw coming, wondered what the hell was happening with the economy (and with the value of my home in particular) and realized: wait a second. The house offer, the sailing opportunity…the universe was offering me the chance to pursue that second dream. I had hoped to be able to do so while also keeping my house in Anchorage, but liquidating in this economy wasn't a bad alternative. And in the course of the coming year, I could work on my writing a bit, right? (OK, a lot.)

So after the hardest decision of my life, I chose to take the plunge. In a whirlwind over the next month, I sold my home, my car and three-quarters of my belongings. I shipped the other quarter of my stuff to my folks' place in Massachusetts and used my remaining Alaska Airlines miles to get a free ride to Boston (as opposed to driving six-plus days).

And later this afternoon I'll board an Aer Lingus flight to Edinburgh, Scotland (with a stop in Dublin, Ireland). I'll then take a train south to Newcastle, England, where I'll join Boogie and Marlies and the yacht Polar Bear. We'll set sail with a gaggle of guests next Sunday, May 22, for Scotland and points north, for a series of cruises to places I've always dreamed of exploring: the Shetland Islands, Norway and the Lofoten Islands, Jan Mayen Island (at about 71 degrees north latitude), Iceland and Greenland. Sailing, high-latitude summer, mountain fun…it's all on the agenda. After that kind of a summer (with a return to New England in July for my buddy Tom McLaughlin's wedding), we'll head back south to Scotland and on to Ireland, Madeira and the Canary Islands, where we'll take a month off in October and November, before prepping for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers "race" across the pond to St. Lucia. At that point, it'll be Christmastime with my folks back at Plum Island…and time for a next step, one that is still TBD at this point in time.

The bottom line (and here comes another cliche) is that I'd rather regret doing something than regret NOT doing something. So here we go. Stay tuned…

06 May 2011

We Love It!

An Anchorage limosine

People who live in Anchorage are used to being the butt of jokes made by those who consider themselves "real" Alaskans. You've heard the dings ("Anchorage isn't Alaska...but you can see it from there") and the derogatory nicknames ("Anchoragua") and so on, but here's the thing: Anchorage enables those who love it to have their cake and eat it too.

No, Anchorage is not the fulfillment of some Hollywood-cliche Alaskana -- we residents (what ARE we called? Anchorites? Anchoraguans? Anchorage-ites?) don't mush dogs from our log cabins to check the trapline -- but not many of those who actually live out in the Bush have lives like that either (I don't recall many mentions of snowmachines or Gore-Tex in "Call of the Wild," folks). But by living here in Alaska's version of the big city, we get to enjoy most of the perks of modern life (little things like, oh, medicine, income, culture and such) and still have a lot of the Alaska cliches like moose in the front yard, fresh salmon in the creeks and so on. Sure, there are some (let's call them) interesting characters here in town, and the fact that it's a city means Anchorage has some of the negative aspects of any other metropolis. But the bottom line is that Randy Newman was right when he sang "I love L.A.!" It's just that he meant Los Anchorage, not some smog-choked, paved-over desert in SoCal.

So now as I prepare to hit the road for a spell, let me answer the question: "How do I love Anchorage? Let me count the ways…" with the following, VERY incomplete list in no particular order...

* The view from Flattop on a clear day: mountains from Iliamna through Redoubt, Spurr, Susitna and on to the great peaks of the Alaska Range: Foraker, Hunter and Denali; the lowlands of the Kenai Peninsula; the waters of Cook Inlet; the Chugach Mountains to the east
* Evening alpenglow on the Chugach
* Morning aplenglow on the Tordrillos
* Morning and evening alpenglow on Denali...120-ish miles away
* The honk of returning geese each April
* Seeing the flash of white backs as beluga whales cruise Cook Inlet
* Boarding the plane in Seattle
* That feeling as the plane emerges over the edge of the Chugach and descends steeply into the Anchorage Bowl…and you know you're home
* Running into someone you know every time you pass through the airport...and also in SeaTac a lot of the time, too
* Awesome sushi at several different places, especially Ronnie's and Peter's Sushi Spot
* Moose's Tooth pizza and beer
* First Tap concerts at the Moose's Tooth
* Moose, bear (black and brown) and other assorted mega-fauna within city limits
* Seeing outdoor hockey rinks at pretty much every school and realizing that Anchorage is a hockey culture not unlike those in New England and the Upper Midwest…it's just still developing
* Catching a salmon in the morning and then gathering a bushel of mountain blueberries in the afternoon -- and enjoying them both on your dinner table that evening
* Seeing urban streams such as Campbell Creek and Chester Creek as the ice breaks up -- and knowing that in a couple of months those creeks will be chock full of salmon
* The drive from town to Girdwood along Turnagain Arm on a sunny day
* Cross-country skiing under the lights at Kincaid Park
* Watching snowline creep down from the Summit of Sleeping Lady (Mt. Susitna) in the fall
* Termination dust in the Chugach on a sunny September day

Feel free to add your own faves. This post will be ongoing...

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