The Voyage of the Storm Petrel

I am writing this on Blue Mistress. It’s 1230 on Saturday. There is a constant flow of traffic across Laire Bridge half a mile upstream, and, earlier, someone decided to try out his hovercraft.These must be the noisiest vessels ever invented.
It’s overcast and slightly cold and I am considering lighting the stove. Today is the top of the spring tides and the tide is going down fast. Low tide is around 1430. The mud along the rivers edge is rapidly increasing. Boats nearby are aground. We should have just enough water to float.
There is little wind for sailing. I have cleaned up below and have some jobs on deck to do later. In the meantime, I prefer to write.
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Three years ago I had an email from a Clarissa Vincent commenting on the blog site. I was pleased  she had contacted me because she owned a Folkdancer and had noticed the reference to a Folkboat derivative. Well, at the time, I barely knew what a Folksong was, let alone a Folkdancer (which was why I had set up the blog in the first place). So I appreciated the photograph and learnt about Folkdancers . Clarissa’s boat was called Storm Petrel, which I thought was a great name for a boat.
She also suggested that I start a Folksong Association. Now, it so happens that the last thing I want to do is to start a formal group in anything, but particularly where my boat is concerned. Call me stand-offish if you like, but organising clubs is no longer my scene. People run away to sea to avoid that sort of thing. So, having appreciated Clarissa’s comments, I felt that, if she was intent on forming clubs, then we were going in different directions. That is how blogs go. Some contacts are single comments, some continue for a while, and others result in genuine appreciation and a long-term relationship. But you are aware of where the contacts come from and why – or you think you are . . .
A couple of weeks ago, Bill’s log – (yes, I know), mentioned a book written by the same Clarissa Vincent – The Voyage of Storm Petrel, Britain to Senegal Alone in a Boat. Bill wrote a good review. You can read his account on the link above. I remembered Clarissa’s comments and enthusiasm about Storm Petrel. I bought the book and have been enjoying it ever since – enjoying it and realising that I owe her an apology. Clubby?? Certainly not. I got it wrong, Clarissa. I’m sorry.
– – –
I’ve lit the stove. We have about .5 metre beneath the keel. The tide is slackening but still dropping.
I want to tell you why I like this book.
Between 2002 and 2004, Storm Petrel made a voyage that began in Bristol to sail far enough south to enjoy a climate warm enough for a gecko. Clarissa found her geckos in Portugal and she eventually reached Dakar taking in Spain, Portugal etc. on the way.  When she contacted me in 2006, this was all behind her. I knew nothing of it and was too ‘slow’ to find out.
Somebody once said that everyone has one novel inside them. We all have one great voyage inside us too. A few – very few, have the ken to carry it out. By ‘voyage’ I don’t mean a shiny cruise, I mean a journey. Some people become hooked on travel and are always on the move, but nine times out of ten, just one journey stands out. It has nothing to do with where they go, it is all about the getting there.
Not surprisingly I leap at books that feature boats similar in size to Blue Mistress because I’m interested in what other people do and whether I can use it on the boat. I learnt some technical stuff from this one, but I learnt even more about the people Clarissa met and the places she visited and her insight from the experience. I particularly sympathise with her contrasting Peniche and Castrais in Portugal. I have been to neither but would recognise the difference between the working town and the tourist resort – and which was the more interesting for the single-hander.
Also, her description of the traditional Portuguese working craft. Her comment: “The expression of diverse and extreme forms was largely eradicated from our over-rational and technologically dominated lives.” (p.155) sounds far more formal here than it does in the book but it chimes perfectly with the ‘For love of a boat’ series in this blog.
More than this, in her candour, she has brought out that aspect of single-handed sailing which should be translated as ‘a journey made single-handed’. Yes, there’s the boat and the sea and all the things that have to be joined up to make them work together – sails and rope and navigation and engines and sleep and weather and ports and so on, but amongst all this is a person growing.
“The gecko hunter must have solitude and a delicate process of organisation and problem solving went on in my thoughts whenever I strolled alone. The winding ways of my gecko hunting and sailing were a carefully trodden path, a solitary fairy path of balance between letting go of and holding on to the world. Selfish? – completely. Content? – deeply.” (p. 167)
Clarissa has written the music of her journey. If you listen to the words, you will learn from her book. Mendelsohn wrote that ‘music cannot be expressed in words, not because it is vague  but because it is more precise for words’. Many try, few succeed. This book gets closer than most. That the author plays both saxophone and guitar is no surprise.
In the years since she has moved on – a neglected yacht rescued and turned into a great houseboat . . . Storm Petrel sold, a different sort of trip hinted at. But my guess is that this voyage will always remain special. I wish her well.
– – –
The tide’s turned, we didn’t touch bottom.
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“. . . sailing away in search of paradise will not make one happy and content if one is not already happy and content.” Clarissa Vincent 2003.

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