Why am I going on this voyage?


My plan is to sail in May from Plymouth to Galway, leaving Coral on a mooring; to return in July to explore the coast of Connemara and the Aran Islands; and to return again in the later summer to sail to Oban in Scotland, where I will leave Coral ashore for the winter. I have people joining me for different parts of the trip, who I will introduce as this blog of the voyage unfolds. The voyage is well paced, and I won’t be sailing on my own, but nevertheless sitting here at my computer if feels like a big undertaking.

There are times when I wonder what on earth I am up to.  I look back at the tiredness, the loneliness, the discomfort of my last long trip, and wonder why I don’t stay in the comfort of home.  I think of all the details of planning—leaving my mooring in Plymouth, making sure all is properly set up for a long trip, finding places to leave the Coral safely. And all the hassles of getting to and fro to Ireland by public transport without flying, finding out if I can do it in a day, alternatively finding places to stay along the way that are not too expensive. Finally, finding a place for Coral to stay in Oban, and all the problems of over-wintering and preparing for the next season at a distance.

Then I remember why I am doing this. Of course, it is because I want an adventure, maybe a last big sailing trip before I hang up my waterproofs. I also want to see the rugged coastline of Ireland and Scotland close up again. And being a sailor-writer has become part of my identity, part of how I introduce and talk about myself.

But there is a deeper meaning in this sailing voyage. A while ago I described it as a deep-ecology homage to these islands. Deep ecology starts from the premise that the well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have intrinsic value, value in themselves independent of their usefulness for human purposes. From this perspective the purpose of the voyage is not to gawp at the landscape for my own amusement only, but to approach with reverence, to make contact with the world based in a deeper sense of being part of the whole.

Another way of seeing the voyage is from a Buddhist perspective, as a retreat in which whatever merit I accumulate is an offering for the benefit of all beings. I felt a little frisson of excitement as I wrote those words. I can experience them as magical, sending a thrill up my spine. There is a sense of worthwhileness in an adventure that has wider benefit. Then I look at them again and wonder at the potential ego- or spiritual-inflation they might represent. A certain delicacy is required: I want to acknowledge the wider purpose of my voyage without claiming more than is justifiable. By going on this voyage, by writing about my experiences in a way that is attractive and accessible, I am exploring and articulating a way of being in the world different from everyday life in consumerist society. I hope to show how we can live in the world with appreciation of beauty and fragility and an awareness that we are part of a wider whole. But more than that, it is not just about the outcome. The experience and practice and honouring have value in themselves in bringing a different way of being into the world.

But this is so very different from my comfortable retired existence here in my home in Bath. For while I write almost everyday, and I write something that is about the ecology around me and how this links to larger patterns, I do this from a place of comfort, from a place well nestled into the consumerist lifestyle of the Western world—cars, catalogues, the daily paper, shopping, cooking wonderful food.

So there is a sense of going into the desert, going away from these comforts, going away from the everyday, going away from Elizabeth and the intimacy and itches of 40 years together. Going away not just for my own sake, but for the sake of all beings, for the sake of what I can give back. It feels really important to hold onto this wider sense of purpose.


  1. Thank you for welcoming me aboard. I forget how much I miss the sea. I spent the first fifteen years of my life living next to the sea: the Solway Firth, the Mediterranean and then the Solent where I sailed, precariously messing about in boats as a teenager. It all seems so long ago and I regret not having spent more time on the sea. So sail away and I will live precariously again for awhile following your journey. And well done for getting up and going. We all need adventures!

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