13 March 2011
Several months have passed since Charlie's death, and I would like to thank all those who have sent kind wishes and been a support not only to me but to all who cared about him.
We can celebrate the reality that after so many unhappy years, the last part of his life was joyful. Though I miss him every moment, I am so profoundly grateful for the time I had with this exceptional man. It was amazing that he thought himself lucky to be with me, as I was with him.
Charlie would have appreciated the many acts of kindness in the months since his death.
My e-mail address for anyone who wishes to be in contact is email@example.com
With love to all who cared about Charlie,
05 August 2010 | Milford Haven
Charlie died on board our yacht, Dark Star, moored about 500m from the village of Portmagee, on the beautiful West Coast of Ireland, on Friday July 23rd. He'd recorded the nautical position as 51 53' 332' N, 10 22' 402 W when we arrived there on the Tuesday afternoon. We stayed for two more days, sheltering from winds up to force 7. Charlie continued his attempts to catch fish (see photo, which was taken the day before he died) while we waited, and I threatened to re-name the record of our voyage "Around Ireland, and Not a Single Fish Harmed."
Sailing around Ireland was a dream come true for Charlie, and he was immensely happy. We'd left Wales a month earlier, and were heading around the whole of Ireland - clockwise. We reached about a third of the way. This blog entry is the remembrance of Charlie which I read at his funeral.
Charlie had decided to re-name our boat Dark Star earlier this year. He chose the name based on an obscure sci-fi film, and a song from the seventies. He loved sailing, and he loved the boat - and he also loved science fiction, and music and movies...., and astronomy and geology and cooking and observing cloud formations and mathematics and music and splicing ropes and woodturning and photography and cars and fixing things and reading and learning and he really liked the Simpsons and chocolate and cricket and cats. And a lot more
He had a nearly perfect memory, and coupled with this rich tapestry of interests, he was a walking reference on nearly everything. He learned long ago to conceal this attribute, as he said 'no one likes a know-it all', but in response to any genuine enquiry he would blossom with information and interest and could explain the most complicated things in a way that made them come alive, without making you feel at all inept.
He could explain to me the mathematical basis of the Mandelbrot set, and the implications of that for the growth patterns of sea shells and trees, and the formation of waves on the sea. As we sailed into Bantry, two weeks ago, he looked at the many small islands dotting the bay around us around, and said with a look resembling religious rapture: 'I suppose these are glacial till, how fantastic that we get to see them together'. Needless to say, he was not conventionally romantic.
Away from science and the natural world, Charlie was far less comfortable dealing with people. He had great difficulty 'reading' people, picking up on social clues or interpreting body language. He also struggled to understand his own emotions, and he described this quality in himself as 'Aspergoid'. With his huge intelligence, he tried to compensate by analysing logically. On one occasion, he tried to understand a difficult relationship issue using the metaphor designed to illustrate the inherent inconsistencies within Einstein's theory of quantum mechanics. Somehow, this mathematical thought experiment, known as Schrodinger's cat, gave him a framework to understand human relationships.
As well as being brilliant, Charlie was also a brilliantly funny man. He had a sparkling wit, a precise turn of phrase, and the ability to perfectly mimic accents and characters ranging from Hannibal Lechter to Father Ted. He made me laugh every single day we were together.
He was the funniest man I ever knew, the most brilliant and logical, and the most informed. It was like living with Jim Carey, Mr Spock and the on-line version of Encyclopaedia Britannica, combined. He was the perfect man for me, and I told him so every day. He said I was the perfect woman for him - though the time he said that with most enthusiastiasm was when he discovered that I was interested in tanks and submarines!
He wasn't necessarily perfect in other ways, though. He would never willingly throw out old clothes, no matter how far gone. He couldn't dance. He was a really picky eater. He would swear at people who drove too fast, and he loved to make fun of people who mis-used the term 'literally'. As in: My heart was literally in my mouth. As a radiologist, he developed the well known medical condition "Consultant-itis", and could be grumpy and rude. But at home with me, he was completely gentle, and though we disagreed about plenty of things, we never had a cross word between us.
A few years ago, Charlie ran into a very difficult time in his life. He made some bad choices, and always regretted the hurt they caused to his family, friends and colleagues. He came to feel quite worthless and pushed people away. It's a tribute to the those here today, as well as to Charlie, that people stood by him. Even those of you he wasn't in touch with, he spoke about frequently and with affection, and he really did appreciate every single attempt to contact him, even if he couldn't express his thanks. Among the constants in his life, his daughters were the twin stars in his sky. Even before I met these two fine young women, I'd heard all about their intelligence, their beauty and their wit. He always loved to see you, A & C, he loved you and he knew you loved him.
I first met Charlie in 1977, and we fell in love. But we were very different people - he was a conservative medical student and at the time interested in joining the armed forces, and I was a feminist peacenick pinko. In later years, Charlie and I never regretted not pursuing a relationship back then, we both knew it would have ended badly. Our lives went their different ways, he settled in Wales and I went to Canada. We stayed in touch in a Christmas card and occasional e-mail kind of a way. We met again in 2008, and the moment that I saw him, my world turned upside down - or, I think now, it really turned right way up.
In 2009, I moved back to Wales to be with Charlie, and we were brilliantly happy together. We sailed and cooked, and laughed, and went back and forth between our home in Pembroke and Amsterdam, where I often work. A friend asked Charlie how we reconciled our different opinions these days. In typical Charlie style he said: I respect Jo's right to have her own opinion, and she respects my right to be wrong.
In the longer term, we spoke about sailing to Italy, and buying a place there. In 2008, he wrote to me: "I keep my eyes on that little house in Calabria or Puglia with a vine and a couple of Olive trees. I'll plant some veg for you as well, maybe some peppers, chilis & aubergines, that's all one really needs for a kick-off. "
Charlie was finding happiness again in his life. He had the spring back in his step, he was making new friends, and slowly renewing old friendships. He felt loved, and most importantly he could love himself again, at least a bit. Sailing round Ireland was a dream come true for Charlie, and we thought that our future stretched beyond the horizon. About half an hour before he died, Charlie wrote in his log book, in his beautiful handwriting: Weather Forecast OK 07.00. Wind now 0! Later NW 2-3. GPS 736 Log 0.00. Engine 121.3. Way Point for Dingle is DL. Let's go.
I'd like to express my profound appreciation to Charlie's long term best friend, Kit and fiancee Jen, who dropped everything to rush to Ireland after hearing the news of Charlie's death. And to the people of Portmagee, and the coastguard and emergency services of Knightstown, Caherciveen and further afield. They did everything that could be hoped for, and so much more.
22 July 2010 | Portmagee, Co Kerry
The wind blew hard all night, causing ends of ropes to dance about over the deck, making scurrying noises into the cabin. Wavy Gravy (the wind generator) alternately roared or made noises like the Transporter on the Enterprise. It was not a peaceful night.
We weren't surprised by the 10am sea area forecast, nor the reading on the anemometer, which showed that even in our sheltered location tucked between Valentia Island and the mainland, winds were touching force 7 at times. The forecast suggested things may settle down later, but so far this hasn't happened, and the wind continues North-East, which is precisely the wrong direction for us!
On deck, it's actually very nice and warm - even hot at times - as long as the spray hood shelters us from the wind. We have a fine view over Portmagee, with its strikingly beautiful sweep of hills behind. The wind is blowing the long grass flat, and the sun glints on it, making silver-green streams that shift constantly. In the foreground, a cloud of seagulls hovers over the little fishing boats as they come in.
Charlie tried his hand at fishing again, and caught an exceptionally fine piece of sea-weed. I think he's getting better at it, I really do. I did offer to take a turn at it, in a supportive way of course, but somehow he seemed reluctant....... I've been reading and enjoying the view. It seems unlikely that we'll leave here tonight, hope for better weather tomorrow. The only consolation is that Wavy is generating enough electricity to power the fridge AND the computer.
21 July 2010
Jo and Charlie
The evening had all the makings of a classic tourist experience. The pub offered "Irish Night" on Tuesday (presumably it's Albanian night on Monday, then?). We found a seat in the corner, while someone at the microphone encouraged the crowd to sing along to "Que Sera, Sera". "We haf this song in Germany too" said the blonde woman sitting next to me. She actually looked rather like Doris Day, in a Hausfrau type of way.
But the bar was pleasant, the beer was good and we'd just puttered across the bay in the dinghy to get there, so we took off our lifejackets and wellies, and settled in. Over the heads of the crowds we couldn't see the children demonstrating various traditional dances, but the music wasn't bad, and some of the 'open mike' singers were enjoyable.
I'd read about this pub on the internet - one web site said they had set dancing on Tuesdays and Fridays, but when I phoned over, the publicity manager (a very friendly Helen) explained that in the summer, Tuesdays are a mixture of music and singing, with dance demonstrations. "But perhaps we can manage some dancing for you", she said, "find me when you get here".
And indeed, Helen found me a partner to dance a ceili dance with, another partner for a series of waltzes, and even managed to get seven other people to dance some of the Connemara Set with me.
But what eventually became clear was that this wasn't really a tourist experience. The crowd consisted mostly of locals, and if "Arms of an Angel" is a pop song, rather than an Irish ballad - so what? The young woman singing did a fine job, and clearly had the support of a home crowd who enjoyed the song in an entirely traditional way.
Most of the music was traditional, though, and the local people genuinely enjoyed it even if it tended to be the kind of numbers one finds on albums by the Dubliners. And as they did, so did we, unbending from any snobbish ideas about 'genuine culture'. It was just a fun evening at the Bridge Bar in Portmagee. The German woman and her husband turned out to be very pleasant, and we introduced him to Murphy's, which rescued him from struggling through heavy pints of Guinness.
About midnight, Helen and partner Gabriel made a point of saying goodbye on their way home, and even had Charlie convinced he could enjoy himself if we came over for their set dancing workshop in May.
Motoring back in the dinghy, the bow wake twinkled with phosphorescent creatures, whole galaxies of them. Above us, in the first clear night sky we've seen on this voyage, the big dipper pointed our way. In the nearly complete darkness, the milky way laced across a million more stars, as we climbed aboard our own Dark Star. Back on deck, Charlie (at my request) created another set of phosphorescent galaxies in the sea, with a stream of filtered Murphy's Ale, delivered over the side and very carefully not into the wind.
Today, though, the wind has prevented us leaving, with gusts at sea up to Force 7. Even in this sheltered location it's too choppy to take the dinghy over to Portmagee for milk, so it's been another quiet catch-up day. Tomorrow, wind permitting, we'll sail on to Dingle, another long day, or if not then at least to Knightstown.
20 July 2010
We slippedout of Lawrence Cove Marina as quietly as we could, about 06.30 this morning, to avoid disturbing the several other visiting yachts there. We'd liked this small family run marina, on the south of Bere Island in Bantry Bay, if had good shelter, good facilities and reasonable prices.
The sea was flat beyond belief as we left, perfectly mirroring the hills and sky, as the sun came up at the far end of Bantry Bay. Our wake created a scimitar of billows in this surface, as we rounded out of Lawrence cove and headed west, the sun warming our backs as we started a long-ish passage.
It was hard to believe the sea area weather forecast we'd heard at 6am, promising winds force 4-5 and mostly rain. Until we reached the mouth of Bantry Bay, that is, where choppy confused seas pushed us up, down and sideways.
Further out to sea, the wave patterns settled somewhat, but the swells grew steadily - by early afternoon we were pushing through waves of 3m or more. Being a sensibly built little boat, Dark Star usually floated up one side and down the other, but we were also twisted from side to side, and occasionally a wave would splash over us. It was sometimes dramatic, as walls of water surrounded us, but boats are built to stay upright and on top of the water, and Dark Star did her job well.
We motor sailed all day to keep momentum - the wind had too much south in it to be ideal, and the tossing of the waves made it hard to keep the wind consistently in the sails. The weather was mostly warm, with quite a lot of sunshine between the clouds.
With the waves, wind and tide not in our favour, we couldn't pass between Dursey Head and Dursey Island, thus losing the opportunity to sail under Ireland's only cable car (it's rated for six humans, or one man and a cow!). Sailing outside Dursey Island, we also had to pass round three huge rocks, named the Calf, the Heifer and the Bull. Each was spectacular in its own way, particularly in these high waves, the Calf has a dramatically ruined old lighthouse, the Heifer and Bull both have caves that pierce the rocks, and which one can - in calmer seas - pass through in a boat.
At about this point, we passed 10 degrees West for the first time, and a little later on, crossing Kenmare River (actually, the wide mouth of another elongated V shaped waterway) had more than 100m of water beneath us - two firsts for this voyage.
The Kenmare river separates the Beara peninsula from the Iveragh Peninsula, site of the famous 'Ring of Kerry' road route. Beause of time constraints, we'd decided not to explore this waterway, but to sail directly to the very Western tip of the Iveragh, past the Skellig Islands, and into Portmagee.
Most pictures of the famous Skelligs are taken from the north-east, the direction that tour boats approach from. But coming from the south, Charlie accurately observed that the ancient and holy island of Skellig Michael looks exactly like the profile of Abe (Grampa) Simpson, lying down! Who knew God was a Matt Groening fan? Nevertheless, these two islands (Little Skellig is slightly lower, longer and completely rocky) are very impressive.
Skellig Michael was the location of Christian monastic retreat from the 6th to 13th century, despite its desperately wild location and circumstances, Viking raids and just the sheer improbability of sustaining life on such a steep, rocky island. These days, a small number of tourists are permitted to land on the island each day, and climb the 600 steps to the 217m summit, where they can see remarkably well preserved remains of beehive huts and other elements of Christian hermit life. We were not among the climbing tourists - nor the eremitic monks!
While its big brother has at least some grass visible, Little Skellig, on the other hand, looks like it's pure rock, heavily dusted in snow. The island is home to over 20,000 breeding pairs of gannets, and multiple other sea birds. The air above the rock was peppered with gannets circling and diving, with their Concord-shaped yellow heads and black wing tips emphasising a span that can reach 2m, but which can be folded to a tight V as they dive from high above into the sea with barely a splash.
Aiming carefully between the Skelligs, we avoided the bird shit from one and the rocks from both, took a turn to the north-east and headed for Portmagee. After being so wave-tossed for so many hours it was a relief to enter the calm waters of the inlet, and without much fuss we picked up a visitors mooring. The village, with its single street of colourful houses, is on the other side of the inlet from us, and we plan to take the dinghy over there later to find some music and dancing at the Moorings Hotel. Perhaps finally I'll get to do some set dancing --- imagine Charlie's excitement after an arduous 10 hour sail today! Still, no one said this voyage was for wimps, and as my cousin Caroline says, it beats a fortnight in the Costa Del Sol.
Dead-Noser - again?
19 July 2010 | Lawrence Cove Marina
Monday evening finds us back W again. Sunday was NOT a good day for sailing, or indeed being outdoors much at all. We were anchored in beautiful Glengarriff Harbour, but could appreciate little of the scenery through the fog and rain, which persisted despite strong winds. The weather forecast for Monday seemed better, and after the adventures of Saturday night prudence dictated a simple course - Shut the Hatch and keep it shut! Dampness prevailed in the end, but we were warm enough in the cabin, the Southerly wind bringing warm air with the rain.
We awoke the next morning to better weather and even glimpses of blue sky amongst the clouds. The wind had eased and gone round to the SW, not optimal for a sail to Bere Island, but not too much to make it impossible. Before we could leave I had 2 important tasks to complete; fix the outboard motor propellor, empty the dinghy of rainwater and get it onto the stern for the trip. Neither of these SHOULD present much difficulty...
So, outboard first, get it off the dinghy and onto the storage bracket at the stern of Dark Star - no problem, remove split pin holding propellor and slide off prop - check, slide out broken shear pin - no pro.. it won't come out - DOH! Get things to push it out, no that won't work, eventually using a hammer and a punch I was able to drive it out. Good job I didn't try that in the rain & dark Saturday night.
Well, that's done, just lift dinghy onto side, water runs out - job done. DOH - can't lift dinghy! There is Sooooo much water in it that I simply can't tip it onto its side. Get bucket, get into dinghy, bail for ever and eventually can tip rest of water out and get dinghy stowed. NOW we can get underway.
The wind is from the S at this time. but not too much of it. Raise the mainsail, and then Jo gets the anchor up (using an electric anchor windlass in case you think I'm exploiting her, dear reader) and we set off out of Glengarriff, seeing the seals hauled out on one of the rocks as we leave. By the time we actually get out into Bantry Bay the wind has gone round to the SW, almost exactly where we want to go, of course. This means tacking down the bay, but it is quite wide and these are long tacks AND the sun is shining - wonderful! After an hour or so the wind gets up a bit more and I realise we have too much sail up, and I haul down one reef in the mainsail and the boat's motion eases. There is quite a bit of wobbly water and some attempts to come aboard, but not seeminglt enough to clean the anchor of its load of Glengarriff mud, which surprisingly DOES smell like other mud. The waves are quite confused and we are being knocked off course quite often despite the autopilot's best efforts, so Jo starts the engine and we motor-sail whilst I hand-steer to get the best from the sails. In the distance we can see a few small fishing boats and one large yacht, making slowish progress under reefed mainsail alone. We later meet the skipper in Lawrence Cove Marina, and learn he has had a boat load of youngsters on an educational trip, and did not want to scare them with a heeling boat. His yacht is called "Mayhem" and was bulit in Florida for Ocean Racing, very nice she looks too, but not a practical boat like Dark Star. But Mayhem is a good name for a boat that ferries teenagers! A fishing boat passed close astern of us, and I forgot I was "fishing" and lost some of my precious lures, OTOH we know that these ones don't catch fish!
As we reach the S shore of Bantry Bay opposite the entrance to Adrigole the wind has backed slightly and we can now sail straight into Berehaven without tacking, what a delight. The seas have also settled a bit, so it's engine off and a great sail on towards Bere Island. Our destination today is the marina at Lawrence Cove, a tiny place with about 20 berths, and as we arrive Yer Man Padraig appears to help us moor at the Diesel Berth for a fill-up and then advises us where to berth for the night, Jo walks round the pontoon to receive lines and soon we're in and settled. Berthing fees here are a very reasonable 20 Euro including electricity, so the batteries can get a really good charge.
That's it for now, Jo is cooking, and after I've posted this I'll be checking the charts for a possible passage towards Dingle tomorrow (Tuesday)