Go West Young Man! How I got my act together
In September 1971, I had sailed over from England in my catamaran with Milton and Stephanie along for the ride. When we reached Amsterdam we all began to enjoy the Dutch experience. We found some casual work in a pickle factory, and I biked around the city’s magnificent old streets and canals, and visited a Dutch woman I had met at a hostel in Iceland.
With winter approaching, we sailed to Hoorn, so I can claim I have sailed “around the Hoorn,” then across the the Ijselmeer to enjoy a passage on some tideless flat water. We turned back without much idea of where we were going, but when we landed in Medemblik, I found a low-cost system for laying up boats in a field using a crane and slings.
Again we found some casual work, this time in a boatyard, where we worked until all the boats in their care were hauled out on their slipway. I had my boat lifted out for the winter, and set off for the ferry port back to England. I stopped off in Den Haag to visit a Dutch sailor who had visited the boat during our short inland cruise. As far as I can recall, I was walking around the town center near the Dutch parliament, when a young American woman noticed an English label on my backpack.
She had spent several months in the Netherlands and was happy to chat. It was probably her who suggested we walk around for a while–since I was still too polite to suggest anything like that to a stranger. She was going to a museum show of prints by MC Escher–a Dutch artist whose curious style had made him popular in the USA.
So one thing led to another, and we teamed up to travel back to England. I can’t remember how I managed that at my mother’s house. She had a remarkable effect on me, even daring to ask why I kept sailing when I was sick all the time! After a few days, it was time for her to fly home, leaving me alone in SE London doing substitute teaching and somewhat adrift.
The next spring, in 1972, I sailed the boat back to Sandwich feeling very disillusioned after suffering through my 18th bout of seas sickness. My American friend had pretty much dared me to leave the boat and try flying if I wanted to visit other countries. So I took up her challenge, reluctantly decided to park the boat again, and flew to the USA a month later.
Of course I had the advantage of speaking the language (more or less) when I landed in Chicago in 1972, but it still felt very foreign in many ways. The effect of running headlong into the youth movement in the early 1970’s was so powerful, I cheerfully joined in the exodus from the cities that saw young people heading for the hills “to get their heads together.”
I never did figure out what that meant, but I did find the courage to leave the serious sailing to people who actually enjoyed it. There were still a lot of difficult issues to resolve: to fly home and sell the boat for whatever it would bring, explain to my mother I was going to leave England and seek my fortune in the USA. I painted houses in Winetka/Wilmette all summer, then we drove from Chicago across Canada, to the Pacific Northwest, which I have made my home since 1973.,
Fortunately, I found my way to the west coast and settled easily in the Pacific Northwest. Here, I soon began to drop my very-English world view and take advantage of the opportunities that came my way like working as handyman in the growing suburbs around Portland. After exploring Oregon, Washington and Central America by van. I turned my gaze south and took my well-worn Ford Econoliner to Mexico and Guatemala.
I returned with lots of hand-made souvenirs, contacted an established import shop, and found myself running a booth selling hand crafted clothing at the Portland Saturday Market. I quickly learned to overcome my reticence and develop the persona of an English “barrow boy.” After five years, I had enough money and time to relax and play a little
Alas, by then I had bumped into in a real DIY boat-building circle, and damn it, the bug bit me again. I drew up a 19′ trimaran on an envelope, and built it in 20 weeks early in 1981. I trailered it to Puget Sound, and reached the San Juan Islands that summer. I found a new style of cruising: sailing by day along the sheltered waterways and anchoring safely by night. It had a magical effect on my life, and led me on many coastal voyages for the next decade.
The following winter, I gave a few slide shows that were well received, and people often suggested I start writing about my adventures. I thought it was just my accent that caught their attention, but I gave it a try. I remember I wrote my first stories with a pencil, and did a lot of erasing. But after much trial and error, I succeeded in converting my speaking style into the written word.
In 1982, I spent 100 days making the long journey up the Inland Passage to Alaska and back . I managed to take a sailing trip every summer, including down the coast to the California border, across Lake Superior, and back to SE Alaska. That gave me enough material to produce a story every winter, and see them all published in Multihulls magazine of Boston, Mass.–the bible of the trimaran builders in the 1980’s.
I took up nautical writing professionally in 1988, quickly widening my horizons to include local fishing, tug and barge, ship building etc. learning as I went–and have stuck to it ever since.
A Second Chance
So I became a journalist full-time in 1988, beginning with the twin Portland (Oregon) publications Freshwater News and Oregon Cycling. In the 1990’s, I added several regional and national boating magazines to my list of credits. 1988-2008: I made many visits to builders of pleasure and commercial craft in the NW.
When I turned 50 in 1997, I adopted sea-to-summit climbing as an incentive to challenge myself on more peaks in the Cascade Range without taking excessive risks. I also initiated an annual winter visit to Central and South America with my folding Bike Friday, which gave me a climbing goal and an adventurous vacation. (See my s-t-s page here.)
I also wrote Volume I of the Rubber to the Road Rides Around Portland Guides, published in 1998, selecting and riding 30 scenic routes starting in Portland or nearby. Almost 20,000 copies have been sold, with all proceeds donated to the Community Cycling Center. From 1996 to 2001, on the other end of the business spectrum, I was writing all the public relations copy for the Portland Shipyard–a major industrial facility with hundreds of employees.
My Portable Life
In 2001, after the death of the founder, I began learning to edit and proofread the Portland-based boating paper the Freshwater News, and my own sailing took a back seat to land-based activity. Since 2002, I’ve lived in Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.
In 2007, I organized an assortment of fish-processing equipment and fishboat gear at Pier 39 into the Hanthorn Cannery Museum, preserving the history and lives of the cannery workers. I was soon voted into the position of chairman, and have managed the non-profit organization’s affairs for six years.
In 2013, I achieved one of my long-term goals by witnessing the end of the Vendee Globe solo sailing race around-the-world non-stop. I saw Tanguy de Lamotte finish in 10th place, and nine months later talked to him at the start of the next big event on the Open 60 calendar, the Transat Jacques Vabre.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Bertrand de Broc, and going on board his 60′ boat “Votre Nom Autour du Monde.” (Your Name Around the World) He is the sailor who may have invented crowd-sourcing when he financed his 1996 Vendee Globe by allowing people to sponsor him for a small sum and have their name on the side of his boat while he raced around the world.
I would like to contact these old friends:
Marcus Burroughs–Old Colfeian
Timothy Child of SE London and the Bay Area
Deborah Lang of Kankakee, Illinois