The greatest small boat journey ever made?

Shackleton’s trip to South Georgia Island from Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean. But he has competition –  Bligh’s passage after the mutiny across 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean in an open boat, or Blackburn’s row across the Atlantic after losing his fingers and toes in a blizzard off the Grand banks…..humans have been going to sea in open boats for hundreds of thousands of years, before writing, before history, before legend…what about their journeys? Imagine – navigating an open boat, skin-covered perhaps, along a harsh coast, heavy ice on the upland, great animals, hungry, roaming and looking if they come ashore, forced to find food as they travel, despite danger, facing the cold, the weather, the unknown…..yet still they traveled….and found, and populated, the earth…


Flogging a book

100_4690Now starting the process of flogging a book. This is quite new to me, despite having published another book years ago with a national house, Pocketbooks (Fat Chance 1991). Back then I did nothing, zero, nada, because I had a demanding day job and hated the self promotion thing. Now, more than a quarter century later, approaching ancient-hood, doing it again, but this time trying to do all I can. The jury is absolutely out, for sure, but have started with readings and the social media thing. Have done a couple of bookstore readings, which were a lot of fun, actually. Have been to several retirement communities and have read there, which has absolutely been a treat. The audience is friendly, they always get books for themselves or their children and grandchildren, and most of all in the end their stories are far more interesting than the one I am reading myself. This has been an unexpected pleasure. Plus, I’m making a small start with teenagers, have read at a boys and girls club once and am looking at perhaps reading at juvenile detention facilities which sponsor book club readings and which are filled with ornery kids like my heroine Sarah.

I have, as recommended, emailed and contacted everyone I know, which has been an agony, but so far everyone has been polite and in some cases very positive. Plus, again an unexpected outcome, it’s been nice to get back in contact with people from the very distant past.

One book at a time. That’s the rule, I guess. I am, if nothing else, persistent, and I expect to keep plodding away, in the faint hope something goes viral. “Going viral” is an interesting phrase. In social media-speak, this means taking off, but literally it means spreading a disease. I don’t want to think that this story is a disease, a virus, a sickness, though maybe the force to create stories, is. It feels that way, sometimes. There are two other tales behind this one, already written, one completed (Adrift) and the other nearly so (The Unnamed Lake), and a fourth tale standing beyond, waiting. Of course one of the problems with this flogging thing is it takes time and energy from writing, and now, within short weeks, it will be the start of the hiking season, and dammit, after four years at sea I am going to do some hiking this summer, no matter what.

So, anyway, thanks to all of you who have taken the tale and are now reading it, and thanks to those others who are sending the tale to relatives and ornery youngsters.



Some things never change…..four years ago when I sailed with APL we stood pirate watch all the way from the foot of the Red Sea out northeast toward Oman, going and coming. The situation then was that a ship traveling at 16+ knots was pretty untouchable; it was the slower vessels that were vulnerable. I remember being told, back then, there were dozens of seized ships being held along the Somali coast, for ransom, and that ransom was often paid, with little said about it. Maybe that still happens. By the time I sailed that route they had established lanes, outbound and returning, and some warships were in the area patrolling the lanes in case of attack. But, still, ships are seized, held, and then, as in this story here, released….

Ortho Spiders

When I sailed on an APL ship, 70 day round trip New York to Singapore with lots of stops in between, crossing the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Red and Arabian Seas, Indian Ocean and Straits of Malacca the company produced a one page news summary for the sailors, which was downloaded and printed by the third mate and posted in the mess and common room. One trip the third mate was a young computer savvy kid and he and I stood watch together, way too many hours, and we dreamed up a fake news story for fun. This is what I wrote and then Carl somehow managed to insert into the week’s summary. I think we were somewhere slogging across the Indian Ocean toward Malaysia.

Ortho Spider Alert: Sailors are warned to keep an eye out for a new type of spider that has been reported in Southeast Asia. Apparently these spiders nestle in the valleys between the corrugated sides of containers and then drop onto the ship when loaded into the hold. They prefer dark places and will be found in the bilges, near fluids and grease. First spotted on ships leaving Ho Chi Min City, it is speculated these spiders are a variant of a jungle spider then affected by Agent Orange. They have most recently been reported as far west as the western opening to the Strait of Malacca. These spiders, the size of a small cat, are very fast, gather in groups, and have a paralyzing, agonizing  bite. They prefer exposed skin.

Carl inserted this story on the lower right hand corner of the news sheet and I scattered them about the ship. Soon enough, at mess, talk turned to Ortho Spiders.

“The size of a small cat? Really?”

“They won’t be on this ship, we’re headed toward the Strait, not away.”

“But we were there two months ago. If any got aboard there may be thousands down in the bilges by now.”

I was sitting at the table and I said, “I don’t believe it. This sounds ridiculous. This sounds like a made up story.” I was the guy who wrote the story.

Alex, a Russian AB, good sailor, and definitely Russian, shook his head violently.

“No, Charles, No! These things happen! Believe me!”

Strangely enough, after that none of we sailors wanted to go below to check the voids deep in the ship. Not even me.



You think you have it bad….

On November 30 2016 my wife and I took the Coho ferry from Port Angeles, Washington across the 10-mile wide Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, British Columbia to visit the museum there and a fantastic ice age exhibit. On the way over, and then again the next day coming back, we passed an anchored Hanjin container ship lying about four miles from Victoria, almost in the middle of the Strait, it seemed. The ship was dark, entirely empty of containers, just sitting there. In the late summer of 2016 Hanjin went bankrupt. Its fleet was basically abandoned, owned and leased ships. Some managed to get back to their home port, but others, once discharged of cargo, were placed in limbo. They had crews but no funds, and so they couldn’t berth anywhere accruing charges, no terminal would have them, and all over the world these ships anchored or found a place somewhere to tie up. One of those ships was that ship we saw from the Coho. She had a full crew – 22 people – and they had been on the ship, anchored there, since before the end of last summer, and for all I know she lies there still. She was there Christmas when the crew were delivered some holiday things. The ship they were working on was leased, not owned by Hanjin, and the ship’s owner has been ferrying food to the crew at anchor.

Imagine….you’re on the hook far from land, alone, stores steadily diminishing, fuel being burned for generators, not being paid, unable to get off the ship, with no idea of when you will get home, or get paid, spending each day in deadly routine, chipping rust, repairing, touring the vessel, staying busy, just staying busy. They’ve been there now since early September, and as of Christmas that’s four months, and my guess is the ship is still there, though maybe by now Hanjin has found a godmother to take over the ships and bring them home.

Those poor guys….the Coho doesn’t pass that close to the ship, a few miles away, but I am sure the Coho can be seen from the Hanjin ship, a bright little ferry filled with eager and happy tourists heading somewhere, passing by, probably with no thought or understanding of the prison that anchored ship has become…..

Even MORE Ancient Seafaring..

There is an argument about whether Neanderthals were the same species as we humans, and even more, were they “modern” in that they had art, culture, could talk, used paint, etc? Many believe these people are a separate line that died out or were killed off by modern humans. This article below makes a rather compelling argument that Neanderthals could voyage by boat across the sea a good distance, miles and miles. As a former fisherman and sailor, I am here to tell you that if these people could sail the sea, they were modern in nearly all respects. And if they could sail the sea, they could have traveled anywhere. Think about it…

Neanderthals On A Boat