I had been away more than a year on the big boat and among the many things I had learnt was, a bigger boat doesnât make you happier, but it cost more not only to build but also in upkeep. It is also more difficult to manoeuvre and find a place for in harbour. It shore has many advantages like speed and carrying capacity and prestige but they did not mean much for me, so weighing it al together as one has to do I understood that my values and my heart favoured the small one.
I lived in the attic of my motherâs house. Mother was glad to see me back. I told her I wanted to build a small ocean going boat and asked if I could do it in the back yard. It is always interesting to see you doing constructive work she said. The neighbours who had been a bit surprised that the good for nothing son next door had crossed the
To get shelter from the weather I put up some tarpaulins between the apple trees. It did not take long before the city planner was there asking me if I had permission.
âI shall only build a small boat, then I take down the tarpaulins and go sailingâ I answered.
âHave you been thinking about what would happen if everyone did like you?â He asked.
âWhat would happen if everyone was a town plannerâ I said.
That made him indignant. He forced me to take down the tarpaulins. In the evening when mother came home and heard about it she got mad.
âSvenâ she said âMake the boat a bit smaller, clean out the cellar and build her there. Then in the spring we dig her outâ
The cellar was not very big but neither was I or my needs. The biggest problem was that the house was very old and rested on a solid foundation of good Swedish granite stones, three feet thick. The cellar was four feet underground.
From the outside there was steps leading down to a small door. It was through that door the boat would have to be taken out. So one of the fundamental design requirements was how to draw an ocean going yacht small enough to go through that small non-flexible door.
Finally I had worked out that the bout would be
On the 21 of June 1971, I started to build her. It was the lightest day of the whole year and is widely celebrated throughout
I named the boat Bris which is Swedish for breeze also similar in German, French, Spanish and other languages, making it simple to explain. I had gotten tired of explaining the name of my previous boat.
As usual when building a boat everything takes much longer than estimated. Much of this was due to my limited economy. Autumn passed but before Christmas Alan was back. He had sold the steam launch in
In the beginning of October the big day finally arrived. The boats superstructure was unscrewed. The door and its frame were removed. One of the granite stones supporting the house sticking out a bit more than the others was chopped of. A man with an excavator working nearby was given a kilo coffee to remove the steps leading down to the cellar and digging a canal a bit out into the back yard. With the help of friends we succeeded in squeezing out the boat.
To my horror there was a leek around the centreboard. It was very late in the season but after all the work I did not want to experience another Swedish winter. This time I planned to sail by way of
A windy day with a cold northerly day I left
I had now realised that I had to do something about my problems. Some friendly people let me keep Bris in their barn so that I could work on her, but I was depressed and disappointed and instead of working on the boat spent more and more time with Jannike. One day when we walked around in a big bookstore I suddenly felt very dizzy. I began to sway. I put out a hand to steady myself but was to week I fainted and dropped to the floor. When I came to after a few moments there were a lot of people around me including Jannike and a nurse taking my pulse; timing it, I noted curiously, despite my weakness with a miniature sandglass. Jannike told me excitedly that an ambulance were on its way. I protested weekly but Jannike would not hear of it. Soon we were on your way to her room. The ambulance men carried me to her bed on a stretcher. Now Jannike took over and nursed me back to health. Soon I was strong enough to make love; her other boyfriend was forgotten.
Of course the situation was untenable I had to do something about the boat. By selling some unnecessary and heavy equipment like the anchor winch and some chain I got some money. I said goodbye to Jannike and hitch hiked back to
I was very tired when I was back in
I had spent the winter in
Bris was relaunched. This time no water came in, not even enough to wet a postage stamp.
Jannike had given up her sociological studies in
âOutward bound, in the old days on the sailing ships, we always went north of
Finally a day in the beginning of June 1973 we were ready to sails to sail north. The weather was bad, grey rainy skies with strong winds, but the winds were southerly and we were eager to get going, I because the long delay, Jannike because it was to be her first sail. We warped the boat along the docks pilings to its head were I hoisted the sails. Jannike were holding on to a pile. I went back to the steering position and told Jannike to let go. At the same time an intense squall hit us. The boat shot off like a rocket. I was not in complete control after the many profound changes which had been done to the boat, but managed get us out through the narrow harbour entrance after first hitting a number of dock pilings. Our course lies downwind and in sleeting rain we tore along at hull speed. Jannike clung on to the boat for dear life. Neither of us had any lifelines and of course Bris had no guardrail. The wind continued with the same strength for hour after hour. In the afternoon we tied up in the well protected harbour Marstrand.
âNow what do you think of this rough sailing?â I asked Jannike.
âRough?â She asked in surprise.
âIs it not always like thisâ She continued.
When she had told friends of her intention to go sailing with me in my small homemade boat, they for fear of loosing her had all warned her of the terrible storms at sea and having herself never put a foot on a she of course knew nothing. Her vivid imagination had done the rest. She was prepared for the worst.
Weather makes a difference. The next day it was an ideal sailing breeze with nice worm sunshine. We continued happily among the many islands which gave complete protection from sea swell and offered a large number of natural harbours and all went very well. One day we were at the
I however was brooding. I knew that the passage north of
I tried to explain, and I told her as gentle as possible that she had to leave. I followed her to the bus station and told her that I would write when I came to
Without Jannike the boat felt unfriendly and cold. I felt lonely and wondered if I had made the right decision, but Jannike was gone and I had to fight on like a man. I continued to the southwesternmost point in
Wanting to leave the coastal traffic and fishing boats behind me as soon as possible, I took advantage of an easterly gale.
After tacking out of the long narrow entrance to the fjord where I had spent the night, banging into the seas, I could soon turn round a headland, lay my course and ease the sheets.
I wanted plenty of speed so I carried a lot of sail. My biggest jib was boomed out and Bris surfaced down the waves. Sometimes she heeled over a bit too much and the jib touched the water. But as I had built a strong boat I carried on. Suddenly the jib dug deeper into the water, there was a bang and the jib boom exploded into three pieces, the middle one quickly floating away, the two other pieces hanging on to their fittings. This, only a few hours after leaving the mainland was not a good start; but I carried on. Not yet knowing her well and able to balance her, I hove to a bit after darkness this my first night out, to tired to continue. I had no selfsteering.
Next day brought good weather; in fact I was in a high pressure area with light winds. Bris has always been able to move quickly in such conditions. Now with the sea calmer and the boat not so overburdened I was able to get her to steer herself by jamming my heavy walking shoes upside down under the steering wheel.
After not too many days of good weather I could see Fair Isle, a little island between Orkney and
The sky was becoming a bit grey as dusk fell and
The next day it was drizzling and the wind was against me and getting stronger. Not wanting to have the
Now followed three weeks of nearly continuous gales which took me up to 62* north, near
Another time on a dark night I was on deck to reef the already small trysail, standing close to the mast with the boat going downwind to get a dryer deck. No one at the helm of course. I was facing aft when I saw and heard the breaker of a big sea coming fast toward me. There was no time to run back to the tiller, so I did the only thing possible. I sat down on deck knotted my legs and arms around the mast, held on for dear life and hoped for the best. The breaker caught up with the boat and Bris, riding the breaker, started surfing down the face of a very steep wave. The speed and noise were tremendous. Each moment there was the danger of broaching to. Luck was with me and I arrived at the bottom of the wave in one piece, still holding on to the mast, hundreds of feet of white foam behind me. I completed the reef, turned the boat to windward again and went below to my bunk. Pain in my back made me realize how hard I had held onto the mast.
There were times when the rough conditions tempted me to take the easy way and turn around and run with the wind to stop the endless brutal banging into the waves caused by the necessary hard driving, but the easy way out seldom leads to success and I already had one failed start behind me.
I had also problems with food. Conveniently, a supermarket in GĂ¶teborg caught fire a few days before my departure and the company sold everything that had been close to the fire for half the price. I bought forty cans of Swedish meatballs. But after three weeks of in severe gale conditions and meatballs every day I began to have second thoughts about my favourite food.
Unbelievable to me at first, but finally after having been driven up to 62* north near
As I came south, sweater after sweater came of, but it was not before I reached the latitude of northern
Some more miles had to be run but eventually the high
Though very tired I was too excited to sleep long. I was early up cleared customs, changed some money and quickly made for the market with all its beautiful tropical fruits. The reader needs no great imagination to realise how lovely they tasted after weeks of fire damaged Swedish meatballs.
At the post office I met Gabi and Jurg two young German backpackers who had been camping up in the mountain, following the lavadas a network of beautiful irrigation channels. We compared experiences and they came with me to the harbour to have a look at my boat. When they left Gabi said Jurg is leaving tomorrow, but I am staying on for some time I hope to see you again. I surely did not want to get mixed up with another mans girlfriend. Embarrassed I said nothing. After they left I thought it was strange that they did not leave together. Maybe they had been quarrelling I thought but also that seemed strange as they had been very nice to each other.
A few days later when I came back to my boat from the market I found Gabi waiting for me at the steps of the pier where I kept my inflatable dingy. She was curios about my boat and way of travel she said so we went aboard. When I queered her about her boy friend she told me that it was her brother but they were very good friends and spent much time together. Before I had mostly talked with him but now I found out that she was much into mathematics I fact she was doing her Ph. D. at GĂ¶ttingen. It surprised me because very few girls are interested in mathematics and she was blond and beautiful and only nineteen years old. But mathematics is a subject for young people.
She thought it was fantastic that I could travel all over the world in my little boat with just the help of the wind and my oar. She realised it was quite clean and healthy life.
We spent the whole day together. In the evening I walked her back to her hotel. Next morning when I woke up I saw that she was sitting at steps to the pier. Now she had her small rucksack with her. I rowed over to pick her up. Sven she said.
âIt is stupid that I spend the little money I have at the Hotel. If you let me sleep in the boat we could use it to buy some food from the market and take cheap local buses for day trips and I could show you some beautiful places up the mountains. When your girl friend comes I go back to
I thought that as Jannike was a free modern girl and did think that jealousy was a bourgeois invention and had forced me to accept that she had a boy friend besides me when we met in
So I told Gabi that she was welcome aboard. Time passed even more quickly now with Gabi aboard and one night when we had our evening meal there was a knock on the hull and when I opened the hatch there was a fisherman there in his rowing boat and on the back seat there was Jannike very happy to see me. She climbed aboard with her rucksack. When she came into the boat and did see Gabi she was not so happy of course. But the girls were polite to each other and it was decided it was too late for Gabi to try to find a hotel. There was only one bunk aboard Bris and it was only three and a half feet wide; a tight fit. We decided that we would sort things out tomorrow.
Next morning Gabi said:
âOK when I moved aboard I promised to leave when Jannike came, but then I did not know what I now know. Now I have become attached to Sven and Bris and this free life in a small boat. Now I am dreaming of the big oceans and the far countries and all the exciting things Sven have been telling me about. I do not want to go back to the bourgeois society in
One man with two girl friends on a small boat like Bris was definitely too much, but sometimes fate arranges constellations beyond your control. When Gabi mowed aboard for a few days I did not know that it would change her dreams. Now I felt responsible for her.
I felt responsible for Jannike too. True she was a brave modern girl with no faith in traditional relationships, but I felt that this was a bit much even for her. On the other hand once out on the ocean wave maybe seasickness would force her to leave the boat anyway. After much deliberation we decided to give it a try. The girls went to the market and bought food. I dived into the water and cleaned the hull and started to make the boat ready for the sea after her long stay in port. When everything was stowed away we went to the customs and cleared for the
Everything went well. To my surprise Jannike seemed to have found her sea legs. With two crews the boat could keep a better outlook and I did not have to worry when crossing shipping lanes. I had two hours watches alone followed of a four hours rest below with one of the girls while the other one kept watch in the steering hatch.
At sea the arrangement had worked fine. We reached port in fine form with every one happy, but there disaster struck. A letter was waiting for Gabi. Her conventional parents had let her out on a backpacking tour watched over by her older brother. When he had come back alone telling them she would follow in a weekâs time they had started to worry. After all she was only nineteen and at that time doing her Ph. D. in mathematics the pride of the family. When her letter arrived telling them that she had given up her research and was on her way to
Although she did not say so I realised that Jannike was pleased to not have to share me with another girl. As the passage from
We left in the middle of October against advice by some people who told us that the hurricane season was not jet over. Cocky, with a smile in my moustache I told them that I had built the boat myself and that we were bound for Cap Horn and hurricanes did not worry me.
Slowly during three days we drifted out of the wind shadow behind the high Canaries. The northeast trades gradually picked us up, taking Bris west of
As the winds got stronger Jannike got seasick. With iron will she must have suppressed the nausea between
About this time I started to find small animals on my body and in my hair, first one, then a few days later more and more until it was nearly a full time job to keep my head overpopulated by lice, which do multiply rapidly. As we did not have any insecticides each animal had to be killed by hand. I felt ashamed that the animals were only on me.
I kept asking Jannike if she had any lice, but she always said no. Finally she asked me to look in her hair as there was something itching. Needless to say I found an unbelievable amount of lice and their eggs; her scalp was almost black with little things moving around. Thousands were thrown into the
We had now settled down to life at see. Land and civilisation seemed fare, fare away. We were content in our little independent world. We had a small transistor radio with shortwave band but did not bother to listen to the news and of course we had no way to communicate with the outside world. The boat was simple we did not even have electric light. Our life was very concrete and simple. After a week or two at sea, without modern life bombarding us with information we began to feel like the dregs of our culture had settled at the bottom of our brains. Life was concrete and present. The horizon of time was not longer than yesterday and tomorrow. Here in the trade wind, history seemed to have stopped.
The equatorial doldrums were very hot, but we came through the three hundred mile stretch in good time, then Bris had to be hard on the wind as we met the southeast trades, not to miss the corner of
But soon we made very good progress, hundred ten to hundred twenty miles a day. We passed Bahia de Salvador and continued another thousand miles down to
The Rio Yacht Club is just to the left after the entrance to
We did some socialising and sightseeing –
Our original intention had been to continue to
The weather was good and Jannike did not get seasick as she had bought some pills Dramamine. We made good southerly progress. One evening after having rounded Punta del Este in Uruguay, when we were on our way across the large estuary of Rio de
A few days of bad visibility followed as we were getting closer and closer. Finally we had only a few miles left according to my calculations. Yet we saw no sign of land. I shot the sun every hour with the same results. Suddenly Jannike said: I hear cars. I thought she had gone nuts; but listened. Sure enough; there was a loud unmistakably sound of traffic. Now this was confusing. Had we both gone nuts. But then suddenly the haze parted before us and in the gap appeared two giant skyscrapers with a four line traffic way in front of them. Below were beaches with thousands of people. A bit further south we saw the breakwater and know where to head.
We arrived the evening before New Years Eve, having spent Christmas at sea. Inside the breakwater a school of sea lions met us. Some kids in a powerboat told us the way to the Club Nautico.
We got showers and went to the different port authorities. The one guarding the customs office put a rifle in my stomach making sure to have his finger on the trigger. When I told him that we liked to clear customs he decided that I was not to be shot and let me in.
Of the few foreign yachts that came to
TV, radio and newspapers talked about âUna Cascara De Nuezâ â a nutshell often adding âCon Amoreâ referring to my crew and our unmarried status. This was 1974.
Before long nearly everyone in the city seemed to know us and there were many invitations from friendly people. One day when we came back two the boat two cases of corned beef waited at the dock containing forty eight cans. A fishing company donated canned fish. A friend in
It was Jannike who spoke first:
âSven now we are in heavenâ She said.
Confused I answered:
âWhat do you mean?â
âSvenâ she said âdo you not hear the angels plyingâ
As I collected myself and listened I heard in fact how the boat was filled with the most beautiful sacral Bach music. It did however not take me long to find the tape recorder who had hit the roof with the on button and who was the source of this astounding euphony.
âBack to earth Jannikeâ I said âthere is much work to do. We have to act fastâ
During the short time the boat had been upside down much water had poured in through four ventilators and three hatches. Jannike who did not always listen to her Captain had not closed the tool hatch. A jerry can with water had broken loose to smash one of the barometers. My books that I had taken such good care of for so many years had fallen right up to the overhead and dented the insulation with their back; giving me a souvenir of the blow. Now they were thrown all round the boat, wet with saltwater.
I was quickly on deck to see what damage had been done. To my relief nothing except the vang was broken, though the mainsheet had ripped out. The sails came down quickly. Two truck tires on a long rope were thrown out from the stern as a sea anchor, which.
The rest of the day we were busy getting the salt water out. It seemed to have penetrated everything. We changed the wet bedding. We dried our irreplaceable canned food so that rust would not damage them. By the time darkness fell we had done a fair job of it. The gale also started to blow itself out.
Next day I made seals for the hatches and ventilators. I kept stowing and lashing all gear much better. Finally the boat was as ship-shape I could make her under the conditions.
A week later it was time for another go. This time the wind hit us like a hammer. That did at first not worry me so much because âsoon come soon goneâ I thought, but when half an hour had gone and the wind incredible just kept on increasing I realised that I was in for something I never before had experienced. I had already gotten all the sails down. The two truck tires was again streamed on a long line from the boats stern acting as a sea anchor, and like before they held Bris rear end nicely to the wind. I had done all I could. I went below into my bunk and started to read: Physics for the enquiring mind: The methods, nature and philosophy of physical science. By Eric M. Rogers, a large heavy book of 778 pages.
After four hours we were pitch pooled, that is the boat was turned stern over bow. But now the problem was solved. The lashings held and the seals prevented much water from coming in. Bris remained relatively dry and shipshape.
Toward evening I was sitting in the doghouse looking out. Then I saw a big breaker nearly over my head. Here we go again was my thought, but somehow Bris did a snakey movement with her tail and managed ride out the assault. The storm kept blowing full strength through the night. As there was no moon it was pitch dark and we could only hear the roar of the breakers increasing as they came nearer, and feel the tremendous acceleration when they hit. By four oâclock in the mourning the storm had moderated to gale force.
The weather was heavy; but not in the way I had imagined. Apart from that the boat capsized and pitch-pooled now and then I did not complain. The storms were edifying. They complemented my theoretical knowledge. They gave me personal experiences. I got new ideas. I prudently drew a new boat and decided to make a new try. True it was a long way from present position, near
On the pilot-chart, the one with weather statistics, I saw a little dot in the middle of the immense ocean. It was Tristan da Cuhna. The most isolated island in the world. I had heard that there was an active volcano their and that all the people had been evacuated. I did not know if there was anyone living there now or if there was water. It was a long shot, but we were in a bit of a fix and Tristan would give us a chance.
A decision was made. I changed our course. I eased our sheets and started making speed driven by the roaring west wind eastward. At long last after having navigating the stormy waters for two months I made a final series of shots of the sun with my sextant. I calculated them and told Jannike that tomorrow we would see the island. As we had been westbound around Cape-Horn I had no charts of this part of the world but in Bowditch. American Practical Navigator. H.O. Pub. No. 9 Appendix S Maritime positions. Islands of the
Apprehensive I was up at sunrise. A most beautiful sight met me. The weather was perfect. There was an infinite visibility. I was just in time to see how the rising sun projected the
The wind was light and we had about ninety miles left so we did not reach the island before sunset.
As darkness fell we saw some lights shining on the shore, our first sign of civilisation in fifty eight days. Now we know that the island was after all populated.
We had no charts therefore our approach during the night had to be very careful. At sunrise we were close enough to see a few houses gathered together into a little settlement and even some early rising people walking around. We tacked Bris closer to the shore and hove to near the thick kelp surrounding the island to get our bearings. After some time a dingy came out with three men. We asked if there was a harbour. They said: No, there is no harbour but a landing place with a breakwater. They said they used it for their longboats, but due to the rough conditions they could not be left in the water but had to be beached at once. They said breakers may come rolling in at any time.
No boat from the outside world had landed on the island they said. But on the other hand they had never seen such a small boat as ours.
âAre you shipwrecked?â they asked curiously.
âI am not shipwreckedâ I answered. âI am a philosopher looking for the uttermost parts of the world and this is my girl friendâ I said and pointed at Jannike.
âThen you certainly have come to right placeâ they said and laughed.
âYour boat is much smaller than even our longboats so we can easily land herâ they said.
They said we were lucky to have chosen such good weather because the swell often caused breakers so big that it was impossible to use the landing place. The year before they had only been able to use it sixty eight days
They tied us to the kelp which they said was stronger than an anchor. Then they told us to take down the mast while they went back to arrange the lifting out. They said they would be back when the tide was right.
I lowered the mast and they were soon back. One of the local helmsmen came aboard Bris to take the tiller. The other in the dingy towed us. At the breakwater was an islander watching for a favourable moment between the swells, signalling to us to come in at the right moment. Later we learned that that job was the most prestigious of all as a mistake could mean the difference between life and death.
When we had rounded the breakwater we saw that there was plenty of people to watch the historical moment of a boat from the outside world to land on Tristan, the men at the landing place helping, the women up on the hill watching and knitting; all in good order.
Being so small Bris was easily lifted ashore and placed in a safe corner of the landing place.
Due to the heavy weather and change of destination the voyage had taken far longer than we ever had expected and we had gotten far less mileage out of our drinking water. Water had been rationed for some time. The first thing we did was to drink our fill of the excellent Tristan water. Then bit by bit we began to learn about our present habitat.
Tristan was discovered 1506 by Tristao da Cuhna. To prevent the French from using the islands as a base for a rescue operation to free Napoleon from his prison on
Despite the stormy seas its remoteness and inaccessibility the island was a delightful place of residence a blest island. Five men decided to stay. The only problem was lack women but it was solved by a passing ship whose Captain took pity on the men and brought five sound and healthy women from
The cruel sea was a different matter; it demanded constantly its tribute in the form of men. But it also gave. Shipwrecked sailors married the islands widows giving fresh blood to new generations. And so life went on that small island fare out in the immense sea.
There are three islands in the group lying at the corners of a triangle about twenty five miles from each other. Tristan is the youngest one million years old. The two others Nightingale and Inaccessible are both 15 million years old.
When we arrived there were 292 inhabitants and a few expatriates from
From Nightingale they were taken to
On Tristan there existed only a limited number of items. Everyone knew what Georgeâs knife looked like. If an Alan was out walking and feeling hot he took of his jacket and left it on the path, putting a stone on it that the wind would not steel it. No one could steel Alanâs jacket.
On Tristan not only were things limited. There were only 293 persons if one died there were 292. As one Tristan man put it: âin
After two years it was reported that the volcano was no longer active and the British government reluctantly let the islanders return.
If the islanders had met with abundance anonymity crime and diseases I encountered the opposite. I did not need to lock the boat. No one could get away with steeling my camera for example as there was only one camera on the island like it. Everyone greeted me and I soon learned to great everyone. When one evening on my way to an invitation I got confused as to which house I was invited to I reasoned that as everyone on the island know everyone else I could just knock on any door to get directions I did not realise that I was also familiar with everyone. So to my surprise when the door opened the man smiled and said âhello Sven what can I do for you.â
One might think that on a little isolated island like Tristan with no commercial entertainers life would be dull with nothing ever happening. The above invitation was not the only one. With an population of 292 people there was almost birthday every day. The fact was that more exciting things happened on Tristan than on any other place I visited. Besides social events like birthdays funerals and marriages there where special Tristan events like Ratting Day when the whole community would be divided into teams which tried to kill as many rats as possible. In the evening there was a dance and prices given to the team with the biggest number of tails and to the team with the longest tail.
Twice a year a South African research ship on its way
There is also a pub of sorts it is split into two rooms with the bartender in the middle keeping men and women apart.
Men and women on Tristan are separated as they used to be centuries ago here.
On the birthdays the men sit in the living room talking, with the women in the kitchen talking and knitting with tremendous speed. There is much to talk about and much wool to knit.
I asked one man why they donât mix more. He told me, âMen like to talk about menâs things and women about womenâs things.â A simple enough explanation!
This does of course not sound to exciting to modern man but being part of it on the worldâs most isolated island was a delight and joy.
One thing which would be exciting even to modern man was their longboats and their trips to Nightingale and Inaccessible. It is a combination of hard work, holidays and races in boats with names like British Flag (length
The first trip to Nightingale starts in the spring with the âegg trip.â Itâs the penguin eggs that the islanders collect. On a good trip they return with thousands of eggs. Later in the summer comes the âguano tripsâ when the fertile guano is collected for their potato fields. Last in the autumn is the âfat tripâ when the Greater Shearwater, a large seabird that breeds only on the Tristan group, is caught. The fat is melted and bottled. The meat is salted down. During my visit six longboats returned with about 20,000 birds for the winter. Not a noticeable depletion as there is an estimated population of five million birds. No potato chips can ever be made as good as with this bird fat.
Obviously before making a thirty mile trip in open canvass boats in the roaring forties the weather has to be perfect. The islanders are very cautious because even if the wind strength and direction are fine swell from distant storms may arrive suddenly and cause very dangerous rollers that may make landing on Nightingale impossible and then it may be too late to return. They have no radio transmitters with them; and what would the use be there is no one for thousands of miles to help them.
There were times when to me conditions seemed ideal, but they went on with their business as if nothing happened.
If asked they would tell you âNo today is not âa dayâ, to much swell on Nightingale,â or that the weather would change in the afternoon. They were always right. Sometimes they have to wait for weeks and may not even be able to make a trip. If too early the eggs are not laid or the birds not fat enough; if to late the eggs too old or the birds gone. Itâs a real gamble, with domestic consequences for a whole season. It puts adventure into their lives.
But when one early morning itâs decided that today is âa dayâ there is great excitement. Everyone is working quickly, and emotions are strong. Itâs like a big battle just before the attack. Five, six maybe seven longboats are launched. They get outside with oars. There they put up their masts and sails. When everyone is ready they take off for Nightingale in a big race.
Once on Nightingale they start their work immediately so as to be able to return quickly if the weather stays good. The saying: ânever waste a fair windâ is nowhere more true than on Tristan.
Most of the cultivable land is near the settlement. But in one valley a bit further down the coast apples grow and on an other wild cattle are kept. When the day for slaughter comes, mailbags, an essential part of their ânatural resourcesâ are borrowed. The animals are killed, butchered and put into the mailbags to be transported back to the settlements in their longboats. The bloody bags are then washed and returned for the outgoing mail. No harm done.
The most important staple food was potatoes. They were grown not far from the settlement. As it was economically and practical impossibility to get new potatoes if a crop should fail three crops were planted with three weeks interval. Should strong winds blow away the tops of one crop another would be on its way before the season ended.
It is no overstatement to say that on rare occasion there was a wind of tremendous force sweeping around the island.
I and Jannike lived in the boat ashore in a corner at the landing place and had a good view from our windows on all the interesting things that happened there. It was a mutual interest. The islanders had great respect for the sea. Many were descendents of shipwrecked sailors most of them had relatives who had been lost at sea. There flourished a number of stories of near disasters as well. The islanders were intrigued by my boat and seamanship. When sailing they found their whereabouts only by the simplest eyeball navigation. They did not even know how to use the compass. Therefore they got lost if the visibility got bad; and much can happen on thirty miles in the southern ocean. At one time a longboat had gotten completely lost. It was only by sheer luck they managed to sight Tristan island again after five days. The crew knew only to well that they were in waters dangerous for an open canvass boat if wind would come up and that there were thousands of miles to nearest land. They and the other islanders got the fright of their life. The incident was caused by one man who had forgotten his rifle on Nightingale. They had returned to pick it up. During that short time Tristan had disappeared in fog. Wise by experience they now never return for forgotten things.
As a friend of knowledge and independence I taught them the compass. It did not take me long to understand that academic learning was not the islanders strong point. I adapted my teaching to circumstances and quickly dropped terms like deviation, variation, magnetic bearing and true bearing. Instead we vent out on a field with a compass. I put up three posts representing Tristan, Inaccessible and Nightingale. I asked one man to stand next to the Tristan post with the compass in his hand. I told him to walk straight and steady towards the post representing Nightingale and at the same time observe the compass. After him I asked the other helmsmen to do the same thing. When after a while they had gotten the idea that a certain number on the compass rose always pointed at the post representing Nightingale I put a blanket over one mans head in such a way that he could see the compass but not the post and told him to use the compass to find the post. The lesson was successful.
I told the men that navigation was based on mathematics and that I had used much time to try to understand it. Many parents donât understand mathematics; still they want their children to learn it. In that way navigation lead to that I became a teacher on Tristan. It was not formal in any way. A parent asked me to help his child after the lesson I was invited for a meal. Another parent wanted another lesson another day. Soon my mornings were filled with lessons and I and Jannike had a free lunch every day.
During the afternoon I walked around talked with the islanders and watched their constructive interesting work, often improvising in surprising ways. The evenings I spent at the pub, having a single glass of fruit drink at cost price, hearing more stories about the island life.
The handful of British expatriates running the island in colonial style did not like that I mixed with the natives getting my fads and fancies into their heads like teaching them navigation and telling them that they could get plenty of energy out of the
One day the long awaited research ship arrived with mail and supplies. The islanders worked hard in their small boats in the heavy swell to unload as quickly as possible. Should bad weather the ship would have to leave even if there were things still left aboard.
Besides outgoing mail Jannike was also aboard the ship when it left. Although she had been very brave more stormy waters waited for Bris and I worried that something might happen to her.
My plan was to sail back to
I decided to sail to
Every conceivable preparation was made as I expected a rough passage. On Monday the 15th of July in the middle of the dark southern winter Bris was put into the water with her mast stepped. Four strong men in a dingy took her in tow and rowed her out of the harbour. Outside the thick kelp the towing rope was cast of. It only took a few minutes to put up the sails. Bris immediately picked up good speed; and after a few hours the snow-covered top of the island started to sink into the water. In the short winter day darkness fell soon and the next day Bris and I were alone with our mailbag heading for
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I knew that the first thousand miles would be bad, but after that I would have good weather because
But the biggest scare I got on the whole trip was during a moonless night. Missing Jannike I dreamt that she was back in my arms. At that moment I was rudely awakened from my sweet dream by a mighty jolt, and Bris was thrown upward then down on her beam. As there was no crashing noise on impact I realised instantly that this was the soft organic mass of a big whale I had hit; one of those big fellows that come up from the Antarctic in the cold season.
The Tristan islanders had warned me about them, giving me advice from their own experiences. As one old man told me: âWhen the whales trouble you, go into shallow water, they will not follow you there.â I was several hundred miles from the nearest land so it was not easy to follow his advice. For the first time I did not know what to do. In fact I was in a panic. I was afraid, running (crawling) back and forth in the boat trying to look out into the pitch dark night seeing nothing. But as minute after minute went by without the whale attacking, the beat of my heart slowly went back to normal. After some more time confirming that I had not sprung a leak, I went back to bed happy with my strong, light, triple laminated cold molded hull trying to recollect my sweet dream.
As one day went into another, progress was made. I was heading a bit east of
Finally one evening just before sunset, I could barely see, as something grey on the horizon, the faint outline of
The next day I was up early, full of excitement. The island was still far away, but I could see her clearly, though grey. It was here Napoleon lived his last years in misery.
About three oâclock in the afternoon I passed the ruins of a fortified headland and was in the
Later, customs, immigration and the harbour master came out. Customs and immigration were quickly completed. The harbour master asked if I was short of money; maybe he thought so because the size of the boat, probably the smallest that had ever anchored there. I confirmed his guess, and he said as I had brought the mail, he would not charge any harbour dues. The mail proved to be a lucky strike. They brought me a bag of potatoes when I left Tristan now when delivering them they freed me of harbour dues. I had gained in both ends.
The islands outstanding historical event was Napoleons imprisonment and death. By chance there was an English film team there making a documentary about him. It did not take long for them to employ me as a man Friday. I got paid two pounds a day plus free food. It was easy work and interesting people. It suited me fine.
After three months on St. Helena I put my boat ashore and antifouled her in preparation for
During the storm I had to do a lot of steering. Now I noticed that my rudder wire had chafed halfway trough. I had a spare one but as it was still some life in the present one and that it would be more comfortable to change it in port I chanced that it would last me to
I made good progress but my steering wire was getting thinner and thinner. I passed
I was back to modern civilisation. I could see other yachts and was able to send my letters by air mail. The main purposes of the visit were to study the French language, the French cruising boats and learn French seamanship. I read a French textbook for half an hour in the morning and evening. I kept my FM radio on the French stations I visited the French yachts and interviewed their crew.
After three and a half month I had made decent progress and as summer was coming I decided to head north, to the
I wanted my bottom clean before going through the Sargasso Sea so being on historic ground, I did what Nelson used to do I careened Bris.
Sailing through the
As I approached
In the evening after passing Castle Hill I tied up at the Goat Island Marina. I knew through the yachting grape wine that it was the finish of the single handed transatlantic race and that its owner Peter Dunning was a friend of all singlehanders. And true enough as soon as I had docked Bris I was sitting having a meal at its pub talking to people I had never seen before who are now my friends, telling them about myself and listening to their stories.
My new friends had phoned the customs, but it was late and no hurry. I could go ashore as long as I did not leave the marina. Next day George Monk the customs man arrived. I was a bit worried. I had only three dollars fifty cents; not much to get started in a new country. George Monk was a friendly man however. Being also the agriculture man he confiscated three oranges I had because they might infect the
Somehow Peter sensed that I had less money than his other customers. He became a bit of a father to me.
âSvenâ he said âThat boat will leave for three weeks. You can stay in that slip until he is backâ
There was a boat which had to be delivered to
I was standing at the far end of the dock painting the boat. It was lunchtime the sun was shining the weather was lovely. Everything was perfect, then came a surprise, I saw George Monk, the custom man coming walking towards me. At the end of the dock I was caught, my first thought was to jump in the water and swim to the other shore, but I realised I would not get far. Trying to keep calm as thousand thought rushed through my head, I kept painting.
When it is lunchtime, the sun is shining and the weather lovely I usually come here watching the seagulls enjoying a bit of piece. He said and sat down and started to eat his food. By focusing on my job I managed not to spill too much paint.
Cruising World one of the biggest yachting magazines was situated in
I told him, that I was a dyslectic problem child and that during all my years in school I had never written anything that was even getting close to be accepted, that I was useless on spelling grammar and punctuation. I told him that my strength was mathematics and engineering, not writing especially not English witch was not even my own language.
Donât worry about that just write the story like if it was a letter to your mother. I am an editor and I take care of spelling grammar and punctuation.
I was not so easily convinced. Its no use I said. They even sent me to a special school for problem children. I have been there for six years and even they had to give up in the end.
He did not give up:
âSvenâ he said. âLets make a deal. You write me an article of fifteen hundred words, not more, I pay you hundred and fifty dollars regardless if its good or so bad that we have to through everything awayâ
Now hundred and fifty dollars was an awful lot of money to me. I had lived on a dollar a day since I had left
I got out my letter paper and a pen and started to string words together. Many things had happened and it did not take long before I had used my allotment of fifteen hundred words and by then I had not gotten further in my story than down to
I walked up to the marina office borrowed Peters telephone and told him that I had a problem.
âYou have to cutâ he said
âI have been considering that, but everything is interesting so I donât know what to cutâ I said
That did not seem to worry him. In a friendly way he said:
âOK, wait a bit, I am coming down. I do a bit of cutting for youâ
This cutting was something our teachers had not told us about. I was a bit curious. It did not take long before he was seated in Bris reading my writing. I was quite letting him concentrate.
âThis is good stuffâ said he after a while and kept reading. Finally he looked up and said: âI think you have future as a writerâ
After all those years in school with teachers telling me that I was no good it was a bit of a surprise. I did not know what to think. So I kept quite. He continued: âCome to our office after lunch, then we will have an editorial meeting and we make your story into a series. Bring any pictures you haveâ
My luck continued at the meeting everybody was happy with what I showed them. It was decided to make it into a series of three articles. On the last one I Bris would be on the cover.
Walking back to the boat I was thinking that everything seemed to be going to easy, that there must be a catch somewhere. When I cashed my first check I began to realise that I was not dreaming. Later I got a letter from
I became well known among the small group of yachting people in
He asked me to come and work for him. I said that it would be very interesting but that I did not have a work permit. He said that he did not think we had to worry about that. Excited and eager it did not take me many seconds to accept his offer and to sail over to the island. It was a summer resort for the rich with harbours, beaches and scenic attractions. Best known for its
Dick being so well known I had expected to come to a big company. Therefore I was surprised to find out that he worked alone in a small room in his house and a shed in his backyard. The boats were built in a garage out in the middle of nowhere by two young men who soon became my friends. Their previous claim to fame was building a boat guaranteed to sink. The one used in the film Jaws.
If the conditions were primitive the concepts and technology were the more advanced. My learning curve took a steep climb upward. I was introduced to epoxy Kevlar and carbon fibre. I learnt how to make plugs, full scale models from which female moulds cold be made. They in their turn were used for the actual composite construction.
Dick soon became my teacher and supporter. He took me sailing in his trimaran; he introduced me to important people, he lent me tools and got me materials to improve my boat with.
I spent the summer, autumn and winter in my boat on the island. During the cold months I heated her with a toaster I had found in a thrift shop. It cost me one dollar. For another dollar got an old projector for slides. I liked it for it was very small and simple. It had no magazine. For each new slide you showed you had to insert a new one. It was two dollars well spent. I have always been a bit of a clown. Now when people had parties they often asked to bring along my pictures and do some talking about my voyages. In that fashion time passed quickly and by then I also had some what I thought good ideas for my next boat. I decided to sail back to my mother who I had not seen for many years and build it in
In the middle I left Marthas Vineyard, sailed out between Nantucket and
Somehow I was very reluctant to break off my voyage in Bris. The closer to
I was glad to see mother. She told me that many newspapers had phoned and was interested in my story, so a few days later I sailed in to town to meet the press.
The year is 1976 and never before or after have sailing been so popular in
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