The scale of the sea…

Now well over 2000 miles since Ipswich, we have seen some crazy stuff: weather, places, people, etc. But something has surprised me… I don’t take THAT many photos.

Don’t get me wrong, I carry a camera of some sort everywhere and I’m taking a lot of photos – even if it is just for a tweet or Instagram. But hours and hours and hours at sea… is there really nothing to photograph out there?

Before our first “out of sight of land” experience crossing the Thames from the River Orwell to Ramsgate back in December, I had been offshore plenty of times. Most people who travel have, for that matter. Ferries – like the ones I’ve taken from Patmos, Greece, to Bari, Italy; or the one from Hollyhead over to Dublin – certainly go “offshore” and they are far out of the sight of land. And most cruise ships (of which I have done one) hug the coast, but there are times that they pass outside of sight of land.

But these big-boat offshore experiences did not prepare me.

What is out there? A whole lot of nothing. In every direction. And, quite often, it isn’t long that you’re out of sight of land that you’re also out of VHF range, too. Only the scratchy high-power bursts from the area coast guard can be heard. Then, after a little while longer, the only thing you’re able to hear is the occasional chatter from fishing boats that might be just at the horizon. And by “occasional chatter” I mean little transmissions of what sounds like gruff mumbling occasionally laced with punctuations of profanity, often the only words that are actually comprehensible.

But, basically, it is incredible how much nothing there is out there.

Perhaps an example might be in order?

On any given hour offshore, I could sit on the side of the cockpit.


The water directly beside the boat is approximately a four foot drop, but beneath that is anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand meters of water.


To my right…


…and to my left…


…the boat is its own little kingdom. This is all there is. And, if you look really close at the photo of the “to my right” photo above, you’ll actually see the faint darkness in the haze of Cabo Finisterre, the northwest tip of Spain.

But even at a dozen miles offshore, everything is extremely far away. And a “close pass” could be by a mile or more. The AIS warns us of targets within a half-mile radius. But more on that in a moment…

Most of the time, this is what it looks like:

2015_04.28-6655A wide angle shot straight out. Vast openness of sky and sea, water in every direction. The next thing in that direction is the North American continent.

Believe it or not, though, there are actually FIVE fishing vessels “close” in the above photo. Here are three:

2015_04.28-6653Compare the two? See them!? Yeah… it takes a lot of effort out there, too. And, to help you a bit, here is the zoomed in version, overlayed with the wide angle version:

2015_04.28-6655copyOn the map, these boats are within a few miles: I don’t remember exactly, but I’d guess within two or three miles. And these aren’t small boats. They’re, on average, about twice the length of Proteus. The big commercial fishing boats like these weigh in around 80 feet.

Now… just for kicks and giggles, what does a sphincter-puckering close pass look like? This is about a quarter mile pass. (And he’s in the 600 foot range.)


Still not that close, right? Well… you only think “a quarter mile isn’t that close” until it happens in the middle of the night.

But most of the time, it looks like this…


…and seeing something as innocuous as foam on the water dozens or hundreds of miles out at sea with absolutely nothing around makes the mind wander: “Maybe there’s a submarine under us!?” “Maybe the Cracken is coming!?” “Maybe there’s a whale!?”

2015_04.28-6667It is probably just the foam from a boat that passed hours ago.

As the quote says on our homepage, the sea is an amazing liberation from human scale. Compared to the sea, we are always children standing on the beach thinking we can see miles and miles and miles and maybe if you squint a little I bet you could just make out the other side… but, in reality, you’re not even able to get to double digit miles.

Can you understand my difficulty in making photographs on passage? There’s so much out there, how can I even make a photo of it: the vast emptiness that covers most of the world is not able to be captured in an image. And perhaps the handicap is made worse because we make cameras to take photos at the perspective of humans. (That’s why people naturally think wide angle photos are naturally “more interesting”: we normally don’t see that way.) So, to capture anything on the ocean is naturally limited to our inability to wrap our minds around incredible immensitudes.

To comprehend the sea, then, I suppose we have to get outside ourselves, outside the limits of human scale, and look at “close” on the scale of “multiple miles.” Then, almost everything visible is close. Perhaps things just beyond the horizon is still pretty close! And, at that scale, when does “far” begin?

I wonder if this is the secret that needs to be unlocked in order to finally get some peace in this world. When everything is close and nothing is really that far, “us” and “them” starts to get really silly, really small-minded.

I prefer to be big-minded. I prefer to be at the scale of the sea.




The departure of l’Hermione…

On journeys like this, one always tends to happen upon things…

2015_04.15-7404There’s a heap of the usual information on the L’Hermione tall ship website ( but she’s out and about right now… so follow her AIS ping on MarineTraffic.


And, for that matter, follow us, too!


“What we need is here…”


Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
~Wendell Berry






Ile-d’Yeu, France

Down blind alleyways, or the place at which the sky and the sea switch…

By: Noah D.

Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to go down dark alleyways? You don’t know what could be lurking behind the next corner!?

2015_03.28-6105So much of cruising like this is made up of coming to terms with the unknown. I don’t care what website you look at for the weather, rarely do they agree and they are often accurate only to +/-5kts of windspeed. “Local conditions may differ.” Indeed.

The closest thing to clairvoyance is the Reed’s Almanac. I will rue the day we get out of its blue and gold reach: a day that is fast approaching with every south-facing passage. Without intending to sound like an advertisement, the Reeds Almanac is the best £64 I’ve spent in a long time… the random little ports and the off-path anchorages are hardly a mystery. Couple Reed’s with updated Navionics and, dang, no place is off limits to Proteus.

Or, rather, we know if the place is off limits to Proteus.


The Raz du Sein (pronounced; “Raah duh Seh”) is one more of those places in the Biscay that imbue it with is alarming reputation. For those who have no knowledge of the Atlantic Coast of France, perhaps it is better that you don’t – especially my friends and family that have misgivings about me sailing 7000 miles – but there is more freaky stuff around here than the Bermuda Triangle. One place, in particular, is the Raz, a tiny strait between the Ile-de-Sein and a promontory on the mainland. The Raz is a boat-eater: one of two, actually, within a few hundred miles of each other off this coast (the other is called the Rochebonne Plateau, a place marked on most charts as “AREA TO BE AVOIDED”).

The lesser of the two scaries is our new friend, The Raz. Less scary, I say, but definitely worthy of respect. The Raz is actually an underwater rock feature in which massive amounts of water bottleneck and run back and forth with each switch of the tide. Occasionally, the tidal current can flow at as much as 6kts to 8kts and throw an extremely confused sea. The ONLY time to cross it safely is the 30 minutes on either side of high or low water: the less-than-one-hour in which the tide is slack. (I should mention, by the way, that it takes about an hour to pass through.) On our first attempt from Brest, the wind was over tide and a swell was running north-south through the gate. Before we got too close, we realized the conditions were horrible and had to turn back east and make for Douarnenez.








For our next attempt, there was practically no storm swell coming in off the deep Atlantic and the wind was blowing across. We timed it within 15 minutes after sailing 18 miles from Douarnenez, made the gateway as if we were flushed down a drain, and parked ourselves at Audierne for a few hours of sleep before continuing south the next morning.





Having now done so many many miles in high latitudes, sailing in Force 5 and Force 6 is becoming somewhat of a norm. Even so, we don’t watch the anemometer hit upper-30’s very often. Squall after squall passed us. At the end of the day, we had a max gust hold at 39kts. It made for an exhilarating downwind run to Belle-Ile. Double reefs in both main and jib while running, Proteus held mid-7’s through the water for most of the day, getting us to Belle-Ile and into the locked basin with minutes to spare.


2015_04.02-6163These are the days that break from any semblance of normalcy the days that – even at sea – are out of the ordinary. Moments when the sky is dark and the sea seems to be illuminating itself from beneath the boat. Moment where 10 foot walls of water approach from behind and gently slide beneath the transom. Moments when birds fly calmly by at eye-level in a perfect V-shape… only this time the wind is sustaining 32kts. Or moments miles out at sea when you can barely make out the top of the sails for all the rain and thick fog: “Is that an engine I hear? Maybe it is the vibration of the hull through the water?” The surreal is only real because it is right there in front of you, but if you were to write it down or interject it into story-time it might seem too fantastic to be true.

The monster of the sea is the sea itself. The stories of beasts in them thar waters, mateee, are cooked because the calm thing you see lapping the warm sand cannot be the same that eats ships without a trace. Of course it must be the Cracken! Of course it must be the Edge of the World! The Raz and its ilk cannot be conquered, only eased by when the monster turns over in his sleep. And upon Mother Earth with all her glorious nesting beasts becoming agitated from time to time, Proteus is making its way quietly along, its presence erased only moments after passing like the dim candle in the hallway held tightly against the draft.