Sailing my life away, part 21



In these days, when the world in which we used to live is disintegrating at lightning speed, many are seeking to escape in one way or another, as Mrs Raft once pointed out.

I offer this article as a way of reminding ourselves of what I hope people will recognise were more innocent and happier days and thereby help them to escape horrid current events, if only for a short time.


I may have missed some comments on part 19 because I had even poorer internet access in East Anglia than I did in Cambridgeshire.     I am now back at home  but with lots to do after 6 weeks away and this Part 21 still to finish.    Nevertheless, here are some rather hurried responses to comments on both 19 and 20.

Jimmy SP and Bassman both remarked on the popularity of You Tube videos as a medium for long distance sailors to relate their experiences to others. Yes, that has definitely been an increasing trend and yes, as Bassman correctly says, some use that technique to raise funds to pay for the lifestyle, becoming quasi-professionals by doing so.    Perhaps that method will completely displace written accounts illustrated with photos in a similar way to that in which movies and TV have largely supplanted books.    A moving picture with sounds can certainly convey sensations more vividly than a written account but I can only offer the latter and think there is still room for one person to share their experiences with others in that amateur way.

Angus Day asked whether the photos I’ve used were shot on Kodachrome so I’ll say a few words about my illustrations and how I’ve produced them.   There are essentially three sources – from the internet where I have copied and pasted digital images and sometimes adapted them using Photoshop to add text and geometric entities like lines, circles, arrows etc. These have mostly been low-resolution images suitable for screen display.

Most of the others used in articles that have so far appeared originated in the days before I had a digital camera – roughly between 1996 and 2004 – when I used a Minolta Vectis APS camera which had a pretty good lens. (The APS format was introduced in 1996 and made loading film into the camera much easier than it had been hitherto but died out when digital photography really got going a few years later).       I sometimes used Kodachrome but usually preferred AGFA or Fujifilm – I thought they had a more natural and less “brassy” look. These films were professionally developed and printed by a local photography shop that has since gone out of business.  Of course, that meant I couldn’t influence the image composition or its exposure after a shot had been taken, and didn’t usually see the print until weeks or months after the event. That in turn resulted in a high reject rate from the spool, sometimes resulting in only 5 or 6 prints from an entire roll being worth keeping. I used to take the best prints for each image I wanted to keep and stuck them into the journals adjacent to the text they illustrated.

I have prepared the versions used in these GP articles by scanning the prints in my journals to digitise them, using a 600 dpi resolution portable Canon scanner and then played around with them using Photoshop. That has enabled me to adjust the composition by cropping the images where necessary and refining the exposure or light settings. I have also had to rotate some images a bit and occasionally use the “shake-elimination” facility when the boat or my hands were moving about and the horizon wasn’t level in the original, or the image was a little blurred. That process usually results in an image size a good bit larger than SB and WordPress like so the final step has been to reduce the file size, usually to somewhere between 500 and 700 Kb.

My first digital camera was a Pentax Optio that I bought in 2004 and from then on I kept digital files of shots taken with that and its successors – an Olympus 790 SW – a Nikon D70S and a Panasonic DMC-GF 5. The photo of Alchemi in the Seychelles included in part 19 was taken with the Nikon using a telephoto lens, and the ones of King’s College and Ely Cathedral in part 20 were taken with the Panasonic that’s a lot smaller and lighter to carry around when cycling. I think all the rest of my own photos have been produced from digitised copies of prints from my journals.

In reply to Endeavour’s fishing expedition I thank him for his information on Kingston harbour approaches and enquiry about Antigua.     Life seems to be a sequence of priority choices in practically everything we do.      In 2001 my priority was to get north of Cape Hatteras by the middle of May whilst seeing as much of the North Western Caribbean and Eastern US seaboard as possible in the same year.  That precluded calling at places in Southern Jamaica because I particulaly wanted to spend a couple of months in Cuba and was also constrained by my insurance policy and common sense desire to be outside the hurricane belt between June and November.

I also decided I’d like to continue up the US coast as far as I could before turning south again to escape autumnal and winter storms and re-enter the Caribbean at the start of the next sailing season in the tropics.      In the event I went as far north as Cape Cod, returning via Bermuda to visit Puerto Rico, the Spanish, American and British Virgin Islands and all others in the East Caribbean, that I had not called at in 1999 after crossing the Atlantic that year.     My objective for early April 2002 was to again leave Alchemi in Trinidad during that year’s hurricane season .      During the return voyage I did call at Antigua but didn’t get to visit the ‘Tot Club’.

Several people commented on Jamaica’s reputation for trouble and difficult relations with other Caribbean Islands.      I may get far enough with my Piracy embedments to write a bit more about Jamaica in the 16th and 17th centuries but in the context of remarks on part 20 its more relevant to pen a few words about the de-colonisation period after WW II.

Several countries including Britain, France, and Holland were still sovereign in many Caribbean islands at this time but it was apparent to all that European Colonialism was coming to an end and the US Empire was expanding.       In 1947 Britain proposed independence be granted en-bloc to most if not all of its colonies in the region by creating a new Nation to be known as The West Indies Federation.    Talks dragged on for about four years but came to nothing.     There were many economic similarities between the islands with most except Trinidad being dominated by agricultural work.     But there was no history of independent unified Government linking different islands beyond the common experience of being colonies of the European Powers.    Trinidad was different from the volcanically formed islands because it is geologically part of the South American continent, separated from it by the Gulf of Paria created by rising sea levels in the distant past.    As a consequence it is rich in deposits of oil and gas as well as having plantations like the other islands..

Trinidad was also different because the Allies created a Naval Base on its west coast at Chaguaramus from which to fight U-Boats during the 1941-1945 Battle of the Caribbean.    As an aside, the existence of those facilities  with a workforce skilled in using them, in a hurricane-free part of the Caribbean, are the reasons Trinidad was able to become the main location in the region for the storage and maintenance of yachts and other leisure boats.

Around 1950, the populations of Jamaica and Trinidad were very roughly 1,500,000 and 600,000 respectively.    There were about 250,000 people in Barbados, 80,000 in St Lucia, 75,000 in Grenada, 45,000 in Antigua and so on.        The smaller islands didn’t want to end up being ruled by the larger ones and Jamaicans and Trinidadians couldn’t agree with one another on a form of Government for the proposed Federation.   That killed off the idea altogether and all remained colonies for a few years as a result.       Independence was given a big push when the USA pulled the plug on British, French and Israeli efforts to reclaim control of the Suez canal in 1956 and finally arrived in highly fragmented form between the early 1960’s and early 1980’s.        Almost every island was given sovereignty over its own territory during this period thus giving a significant boost to the number of members in the United Nations.

Some islands were judged to be too small to be capable of self-government and that’s why Tobago, the southernmost volcanic island was placed in the same nation as its larger neighbour Trinidad.        Montserrat with a population of about 5,000 people had no nearby large neighbour with which it could be grouped and is still a British Overseas Territory.

Incidentally, Alchemi has anchored at two islands with active volcanoes – Montserrat in the Caribbean and Tanna in the Pacific.      The latter was far more visually dramatic with a molten lava pool in its crater spitting red-hot rocks towards visitors on the rim but it didn’t deposit ash brought down onto the yacht’s decks by night-time rain, as Montserrat’s did.    To complete the story of Alchemi’s geological misadventures I should perhaps also mention she was once shaken about pretty vigorously when anchored off Pico in the Azores Islands as the seabed moved hither and thither due to a large earthquake whose epicentre was some 40-50 miles away north west of Faial.

I hope this brief account explains why I don’t think its just that other people in the Caribbean dislike the Jamaicans but more that none of them likes any one else very much (except when they can unite as the Windies in sports like cricket in which they compete successfully with other teams around the world).


Hello to new readers and welcome back to time-travellers who have just visited Jamaica in 2001. You are entering a world in which sailing was still more of a new experience for me and thankfully one with fewer shocking surprises.

You are boarding Alchemi again, part way through her first long coastal cruise in 1997 and have already crossed the North Sea to Denmark, poked your nose into the Baltic, sailed up the Swedish west coast from Copenhagen to Oslo, braved the narrows in the Blindleia on Norway’s south coast and enjoyed ice-cream and beer in Kristiansand.

As a reminder, here again is the contemporary diagram I used to plan this leg of the voyage.

1997 Voyage – Leg 4

I have to warn you that I have made extensive use of my journal in preparing this article and my accounts and descriptions were accurate in 1997 but a modern visitor might now find villages and towns are much changed, though I expect the natural geography and landscape remain very similar.

The character of the land changed as we left Kristiansand from low-lying farmland behind tree-clad small islands to high mountains with bare rock reaching down towards the sea.

We looked into Avik, mentioned in Norway’s pilot book, “Den Norske Los”, as a good spot at which to stay before rounding the southern cape of Lindesnaes. The Pilot book’s anchorage advice may have been sound for fishing vessels but all we could see were many cars parked around a shallow, stone-walled harbour with no facilities for yachts.

We moved on to a nearby recommended anchorage at a small place nearby called Svenrig.
Recent developments meant that was unsuitable too and we discovered for the first time a problem we later came across in most other places along the Norwegian coast. This is created by the depth of water until very close to the cliffs and sometimes right up to them.

The pilot book described an anchorage for large vessels not far from Svenrig but with minimum depths around seventeen metres, implying a requirement for a minimum length of anchor cable of around 51 metres and a recommended one of 85 metres! Anchors and their chains are very heavy and to minimise the loss of buoyancy at the bow I had equipped Alchemi with just 30 metres of chain but also had 50 metres of heavy duty 3-ply nylon rope spliced to it. Theoretically we therefore had enough scope but I had never before anchored in water deeper than about 10 meters. I was more than a little nervous of doing so here but after tentatively exploring the area with the depth sounder we did anchor as close to the fjord wall as we could whilst still keeping far enough away to avoid crashing into it if the wind changed.

This turned out to be an idyllic anchorage both that evening and the following morning – no crowds, no noise, just calm water and sunshine in majestic surroundings.

Weather and sea-state were perfect as we rounded Lindesnaes the following day with sunshine and a light breeze of only 10-12 knots. Sailing was correspondingly lazy and enjoyable but slow and we changed our target destination to Kjerkehamn to avoid the need to motor.

Here we discovered another characteristic of this coast. It is often difficult to distinguish from the sea where one island ends and the mainland or another island begins – all have the same high and bare grey-brown rock cliffs towards which one must steer before finding oneself at the mouth of a deep inlet whose shores run more or less parallel to the general coastline.

So it was at Kjerkehamn as you can see in this photo © AM

This little town is well-named because it has a church that looks big enough for a congregation about three times the size of its population (in 1997).

Our next call was at the small but important fishing port of Egersund. Its approaches are again well-protected from the sea but once inside the islands there are extensive wharves and other buildings serving all aspects of fish catching, processing and despatching.

The town is compact but well-served with shops of all kinds including a chandlery where you might meet a friendly man around forty years old. When I met him he was in his late teens and told me in impeccable english that he saw us come in yesterday and waved from his own craft as we passed. If you need help with cooking gas he will willingly explain how you may buy and fit a Norwegian gas bottle complete with regulator and tap and conduct you outside to view the stock he has available. If he has one of the seldom demanded Camping Gaz bottles of the right size he will happily accept your empty one in part-exchange.

What a lovely place Egersund was even though the gas and food cost twice or thrice as much as they would have done in England. Diesel was cheap though.

The next day passed in much the same way with sunshine all day, slow sailing in light winds for as long as we dared and then motoring to arrive at a reasonable time in Tananger. This town is small sister to Norway’s oil capital of Stavanger on the other side of a fragmented peninsula of the mainland.

Tananger and Stavanger are roughly half-way to Bergen from Lindesnaes and there is a break of about twenty miles in the north-south run of the coast just to their north. Here the sea penetrates a considerable distance inland and the coast line becomes indistinct. Many fjords run into this irregularly shaped area that also contains many small islands.

Rather than use hundreds of words here’s another map prepared for this article showing Alchemi’s side-trip to visit the Lysefjord and Stavanger.

Side Trip to the Lysefjord and Stavanger © OpenStreetMap contributors”

I have shown the island of Utsira on this map solely for the benefit of those who’ve heard the BBC’s Shipping forecast and wondered where North Utsira and South Utsira are – now you know they are adjacent to the Norwegian coast north and south of latitude 50° 18′ N.

We veterans of the Blindleia and the Bohuslan entered the maze of narrow channels without undue alarm until reaching the entrance to the Lysefjord at Forsand. I did become a little nervous there when the depth reduced to about 11 metres within just a few feet from where it had been 150 metres or more a few moments ago. This happened as we passed over moraine deposited millenia ago by the ancient glacier that carved out the fjord in the first place. Of course, 11 metres would have seemed like the depths of the abyss if we’d had that much water beneath the keel when rounding south east Zealand in Denmark – it was the sudden change that was alarming rather than the absolute depth.

We were delighted to find a new floating pontoon in a small marina at Bergsvik just beyond Forsand.

Setting off on a cloudy but fine Thursday morning we soon passed under a new road bridge across the fjord. Initially the scenery reminded us of Scotland with water replacing grassy bottomed glens but on a larger and grander scale. Then it narrowed and we soon had a view up the fjord with steep rocky cliffs receding into the distance.

View up the Lysefjord © AM

One cliff rose 2,000 feet sheer and had overhangs; there is a large square-edged and plane-faced section known as The Pulpit. This is a famous viewpoint when reached by a two-mile hike over high ground to the north of the fjord. We could just make out tiny figures at the top who had made such a walk but somewhat to our disappointment none of them turned out to be one of the 2,000 parachutists who are reputed to make the jump each year.

Lysefjord Cliffs and Pulpit Rock © AM

The fjord is about twenty miles long and has such steep sides no one lives there and the water is so deep there is nowhere for a boat to stay except for an indifferent anchorage and an old pier near the head. The few new buildings we saw seemed to be associated with hydro-power schemes and the guide book told us there are two places where power cables are suspended from one side to the other.

Winds are highly unpredictable in such surroundings and we experienced that with sails flapping in a very light breeze most of the time, interspersed with 20 knot bursts that could come from any direction. But it was an interesting expedition we completed by going back to Bergsvik for another night and then on to Stavanger the next day.


An account of our stay at Stavanger and the passage to Bergen will have to wait for another article as I need the space remaining in this one for a contribution to the ongoing debate amongst commentators about the shape of the earth. I have produced this section of part 21 by slightly adapting one first published as a post on a Blog I started for the benefit of my family and other yachties around 2013.

I wrote that one because I was concerned even quite experienced amateur sailors I met relied very heavily on their GPS readings and electronic charts that were merely digital copies of paper ones produced many years before.  No problem arises in busy waterways where modern surveys are available but in more remote places the lat/long datum in old surveys could be very significantly different from those determined by satellite systems.   Alchemi’s track as shown on my electronic chart display quite often went over land for considerable distances if I didn’t know the datum correction factors needed or hadn’t bothered to enter them in the electronics.  That happened because Latitude and Longitude are mathematical ideas rather than physical properties and complaints that “The charts are inaccurate” revealed the ignorance of the speaker more than they said about the accuracy of the original surveys.

The earth is a very irregularly shaped body and defining a position on its surface accurately would require a data-bank of positions beyond the capacity of even the largest modern computer.   Doing so for practical purposes requires a mathematical idealisation of the shape and ideas on how to do that have changed many times over several millenia. The following notes summarise the history and describe the current status of these matters.

Until about 600BC most people thought the earth was flat but doubts arose when travellers climbed mountains and went to distant places and noticed apparently changing vistas and star patterns. Pythagoras, or one of his contemporaries, suggested a spherical shape rather than a planar one would be more consistent with these observations.

Around 200BC Eratosthenes confirmed that hypothesis by measuring the length of the shadow cast by a vertical stick in Alexandria at noon on the day the sun reached its most northerly position and was vertically overhead at a place near modern Aswan.     He came to the remarkably accurate conclusion the earth’s circumference must be about 25,000 miles by having a confederate or slave pace out the distance from Alexandria to a place on what we now call the Tropic of Cancer – by all accounts he knew the sun was vertically overhead there because water in a deep well was only illuminated briefly, and only at that time, on that day of the year.

Before the middle of the 17th century most scientists continued to think the earth was spherical (many church and lay people still thought it was flat) but the work of Newton and Huygens showed that was not the case because the East-West axis was larger than the North-South one, so the shape was closer to an ellipsoid than a sphere.

Later astronomers and mathematicians refined that work to obtain more accurate estimates of the parameters and recognised that an ellipsoid flattened a bit at the poles was more representative still.

In the modern age the shape has been determined more accurately than ever before by using observations from satellites, but it is still modelled by an oblate ellipsoid for the purposes of calculating an estimated position on its surface. The parameters keep changing as more observations become available, but for the present, data obtained after 1984 are usually disregarded in daily life because that was when agreement was reached on the World Geodetic Standard (WGS84) used by the present GPS system (at least the publicly available one).

The significance of these developments is of course that we tend to describe our position on the earth’s surface by two angles (latitude and longitude), together with altitude and sea level, that are all related to mathematical models rather than to actual observations of position. This is convenient because  we can calculate relative positions mathematically, rather than having to compile and use an infinitely large data bank describing all possible positions on the surface. But it is important to keep in mind they are only estimates of position rather than precise definitions.

Over the periods these theoretical developments were taking place people were of course also thinking about and developing tools for the measurement of relative positions.

As with so many other things the Greeks led the way with their invention of the astrolabe. This remained the principal surveying instrument until development of the quadrant in the early 18th century and the sextant about 25 years later.   Nowadays the sextant has in turn been superseded by the use of electromagnetic signals (radio, radar, lasers etc) but many of the data on which existing maps and nautical charts are based were obtained using observations made with earlier instruments and techniques.

When the earth was thought to be flat this was relatively straightforward. Maps could be produced representing on a flat surface at a smaller scale positions that could be measured by walking about. Flat maps could still be produced even after it was realised the earth was more like a sphere. That could be achieved by plotting on a flat surface the points at which an imaginary radius from the centre of the earth intersected an imaginary plane tangent to the earth at the centre of the map. The utility of such maps is limited of course because the distances between points on the map are different from those on the spherical surface the farther one moves away from the centre of the map.

Then, in the middle of the 16th century Mercator hit on the idea of using a tangent cylinder instead of a tangent plane as the surface on which to create corresponding points. His idea was to imagine a radius from the centre of the earth being extended until it met an imaginary cylinder whose axis coincided with the  earth’s own between the poles.  By this method every point on the earth’s sphere (except the two poles) could be made to correspond to a point on the surface of the cylinder that could then be conceptually cut along a generator, unrolled until it was flat, and thus become the type of map most commonly used today.

Whilst distances between points on such a two dimensional map are different from distances between corresponding points on the sphere, Mercator’s projection has the useful properties that Meridians (lines of equal longitude) and Parallels (lines of equal latitude) meet at right angles, a straight line on the chart meets them both at constant angles and the angle between two intersecting lines on the chart is the same as the angle between the corresponding lines on the sphere. Those properties meant sailors could measure the angle between magnetic north as shown on the map and their desired destination knowing that if they could hold a course at that angle they would reach the place they wanted to visit. In fact the title Mercator gave his map was – “New and more complete representation of the terrestrial globe properly adapted for use in navigation”.

Shapes, distances and areas on such a map are still distorted of course but that didn’t and doesn’t matter provided the shapes of continents, countries and regions are still reognisable and places are marked correctly upon them.

After Mercator and the development of more accurate instruments (the sextant and Harrison’s clock used in conjunction with astronomical tables to estimate longitude), navigators could take more reliable observations at sea and use them to prepare nautical charts. They could also use the sextant to estimate the height of objects above sea level and plumb lines to estimate the depth of water.

Crucially, all these data, except longitude, were determined locally. Even the sun or stars’ altitudes were measured by reference to a local horizon, typically less than 10 miles away. Since navigators like Cook, Bligh and their successors were extremely skilful both at taking measurements and preparing charts, the results of their work often remains remarkably accurate even today when interpreted locally through use of bearing and distance instead of latitude and longitude.

However, there are virtually certain to be differences between the Latitudes and Longitudes shown on such charts, or their electronic copies, and those determined by the GPS system.   These are mostly due to changes in the mathematical models, sometimes because physical changes have occurred and occasionally because the survey data or its transcription onto a chart contained inaccuracies.

Interestingly, satellite photographs now provide such a faithful depiction of the earth’s surface they correlate pretty closely with data produced by the similar GPS satellites, even though the latter still use a mathematical model (but this model – viz WGS 84 –  has itself been determined from satellite derived data).

It is for these reasons “My Maps” (using Google) should always be observed in Satellite View. It is also why they do not generally show the latitude and longitude of anchorages that might inadvertently be superimposed on a chart with a different datum.      For the same reason the use of Google’s “Get Directions” tool to derive latitude and longitude from My Maps is not recommended.

Neither photographs nor charts will represent actual relative positions during a yachtsman’s visit if physical changes have taken place between the dates of the photograph or survey and the date of a visit. These might include changes due to – seismic or volcanic activity – landslip or sedimentation – sea level changes from global warming or cooling, flooding, subsidence etc – organic growth (eg weed or coral) – etc, etc.

So, modern technologies may lead us to be confident we think we know where we are and where we are going, but there are many reasons why our confidence could be misplaced. That is why it is advisable to “eyeball” ones surroundings when manouvering at close quarters and not rely exclusively on instruments and charts.

In addition to the intrinsic uncertainties of determining positions and depicting them on a chart or photograph as discussed above there is a further possibility in the case of my maps that I have made mistakes either in my records of anchorage positions or in placing the markers on Google’s Maps.     I have tried to avoid such mistakes but my work has not been independently checked or verified by any-one else.

I add a postscript to my 2013 essay by noting most maps and charts are still representations of position on a plane with a third dimension being indicated in some other way – usually by lines of constant height or depth from a known elevation with most using “sea-level” as a datum.      But sea-level is not universally constant with the same value at the same time in all places around the world  – using the term as though it is turns out to be another convention to help us make some sort of sense of the world around us.    Perhaps maps and charts of the future will provide a new way of representing physical reality using the new mathematical technique of Fractal Geometry made possible by the advent of powerful computers from the 1970’s onwards.

To be continued …………….

© Ancient Mariner 2021

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file