Mixed emotions as the end draws near

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Fixing a boom breaker line that had parted during a storm in the Norwegian Sean

Entering UK territorial waters bought a comfort similar to a favourite blanket – even the place names on the Shetland Islands conjured a soothing familiarity – Sullom Voe, Muckle Flugga, Lerwick. No more grappling with unpronounceable Russian or tongue-twisting Norwegian (even though some of the names in the Hebrides may have Viking origins). I am past the Shetlands
now, south of them that is and past Fair Isle. The Orkneys are on my right, below the horizon. I am closer to London than some northern UK dwellers. That kind of abstract thought raises morale not that morale needs too much feeding with the third day of following winds which are set to continue driving me south at a good lick.

Last night I spoke to the coastguard on the Shetlands. I needed sleep – could they tell me what shipping was in the area? I’d spotted three trawlers and two ships during the day. Not every vessel showed up on Radar they said – I stayed awake through the night. It was a good time to think. My thoughts and feelings are changing, morphing as the end nears. I sail the boat, attend to routine maintenance but my mind is more occupied with the sensation of change. A hugely important chapter in my life is drawing towards its end and with it comes a peculiar juxtaposition – a rising euphoria set against the ebb of impending loss. The euphoria is easy to understand, the loss less so. Perhaps it’s the ending of this profound experience that I have shared with Barrabas or the ending of that special relationship which can only ever be manifested out on the open sea. Sir
Francis Chichester apparently hated Gipsy Moth IV. Perhaps. It’s difficult to know how a boat which has carried a man around the earth cannot then own a part of his essence, for that ownership to be willingly handed over with a dollop of love and gratitude. I wonder how Chichester or indeed Sir Robin Knox-Johnston or Sir Chay Blyth or the grandfather of single-handed circumnavigations Joshua Slocum felt as they approached home, only days away from stepping ashore? Similar feelings I suspect, a kaleidoscope of competing emotion. These men and others were true pioneers, stepping into what was then the unknown in terms of human isolation and endurance. Today there is inevitably less opportunity for such discovery but Barrabas has carved her own unique track around the world. Perhaps that is where my sense of loss originates, in stopping doing what no-one else has ever done before.

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BACK IN UK TERRITORY

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Adrian leaving the Norwegian Sea

A number of noteworthy occurrences today – since departing UK shores, I heard my first British weather broadcast courtesy of Shetland Island coastguard at 6.00pm. I figured Barrabas would have to travel 30,000 nautical miles from the Hamble River to the bottom of the world round Cape Horn then all the way up the Pacific Ocean and over the top of the world through Russia’s Northern Sea Route to get me back. This afternoon at 9 minutes and 13 seconds past two o’clock, the log clicked onto 30,000. It read 30,041 when I sighted British land once more – an hour ago, in the pink tinged dusk I saw Unst, northernmost of the Shetland Islands some 20 miles west – my first sighting of UK territory from the deck since the Cornish coast faded behind me in the mist on a drizzly November morning in 2005. 700 miles is all that remains for Barrabas to complete her vertical circumnavigation. But this is no gimme. I expected heavy weather on Saturday evening but the storm’s severity exceeded my worst fears. The winds were not overly strong, touching 40 knots at times, but somehow the collusion of wind and water conjured a monstrous demonstration of raw, unbridled power. I shortened sail to second reef – most boats would be down to storm sails, but I wanted to generate good boat speed as a defence. The light dimmed to a grey so resonant that it appeared blue. A bizarre band of pink striped the gunmetal sky. Barrabas ripped into the feast, insatiable it seemed. Green water spumed over her decks as waves bayoneted by her prow collapsed. She took some truly jaw-shuddering impacts. This storm certainly ranked in the worst five we’ve experienced on the entire voyage but again, Barrabas performed magnificently. Our reward has been to enter a high pressure system providing gentle following winds, blue skies and warmth – exactly what I wanted and needed to pass over the 200m contour line from the deep, deep water of the Norwegian Sea onto the shallow North Sea plateau. My plan is to make for Kinnaird Head then hug the east coast of England and when I’ve hugged it all I can, I will get off my boat and kiss the ground – that’s the plan.

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AGX home stretch – salute a British sailing hero

Adrian Flanagan set sail in October 2005 to attempt the first vertical (bi-polar) circumnavigation by sea, heading first for Antarctica and Cape Horn, passing into the Pacific. His amazing voyage included Hawaii and Nome, Alaska, before passing throught he Bering Strait and into the Russian Northern Sea Route, the first yachtsman ever to be granted permission to sail this route single-handed. Now he has rounded the Norwegian North Cape and is heading South for home. Having sailed largely beyond sight of land and vessels, Adrian is now about to enter the North Sea and the busiest shipping routes in the world.

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He should arrive in the Hamble during next week. Keep a lookout for his sloop, the shining stainless steel Barrabas.

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29,700 miles sailed with only another 1,000 to go

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I’ve been lucky with the weather so far since departing Mehamn. It’s been said that luck is preparation multiplied by opportunity – who knows. Gary Player, the great South African golfer once said, ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get.’ I hooked onto a band of east winds to ride over the top of northern Norway, then north-easterlies chased me down the coast as far as Vestfjorden. Since then the wind combos have been more or less kind allowing Barrabas to weave a track towards the Shetland Islands. Tomorrow, some big weather will come in from the west. My plan is to get as far west as I can in the next 24 hours so Barrabas can take the big winds on her starboard side and reach south. The other day, we were beating into wind. I had Barrabas up as tight to wind as I could get her, lashing the wheel to help the sails hold her bow to wave. She took some might wallops, Cape Horn quality thumps. My faith in this boat just grows stronger, like a child held in the safe embrace of its father. I can’t sleep on the starboard bunk. The angle of heel is too acute and I slide off (the port bunk is covered with fuel cans). So, at night, I make my bed on the floor at the base of the companionway steps. I feel like an astronaut, looking up at the control panels studded with dials, read-outs, switches, lights. I am cocooned in darkness but for the orange glow of the panel.

At the outset of the expedition, I figured Barrabas would have sailed 30,000 miles to circumnavigate the earth via Cape Horn and the Russian Arctic. As I write, the log has just clicked over to 29,700 miles. I am now less than 1,000 miles from home. It seems like an eternity. Despite over-wintering the boat, time compresses. As I stepped back on board and prepared her for this last leg, it was like I had never been away. The strain returned, the fatigue – a remnant of the past come to life like the phantom pain from an amputated limb. I sleep as much as possible and try not to let my excitement get the better of me.

I had a problem with the heater. Kruger Marine installed the Eberspacher system, and they did it very well. The burner unit was firing then quitting.I couldn’t find the filter. I called Louise. She spoke to Matt Allun at Kruger. Within minutes I had the location of the filter and three minutes later warm air was once more infusing the cabin. Diddums, you might think.No heater. So? A bit of cold never hurt anyone. True enough. But my concern with the heater was not about comfort, but safety. If you get cold, you get tired more quickly. When you are tired, you make more mistakes. Mistakes can be fatal. You get my point. I nearly snuffed it five days out. I don’t want a repeat so close to home.

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Back in the groove

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Position 69.04 N 12.08 E @ 2100UCT

Barrabas is at latitude 69 degrees north, just above Vestfjorden on Norway’s west coast. At present, we are heading due west in anticipation of west winds forecast to arrive at midnight which I can harness to sail south. But relatively shallow water over the Rost Bank off Vestfjorden is not the place to be with the winds driving the seas against the land. My charts are crowded with warnings of dangerous waves, hence my tactic to get out wide.

The bone-marinating cold of the last few days and the pitiless grey of the seascape put me in mind of the Russian Arctic. This morning however was gloriously blue and warmer. My quest to make south is again inspired not only by thoughts of home but by my feet feeling like blocks of ice as they did going around Cape Horn. With the short distance to the English south coast, I am less frugal with onboard power and the heater is not rationed to the same extent as before. A school of large, black porpoises swan around Barrabas at mid-morning and a little way further off plumes of spray betrayed a solitary whale. I am back in the groove of sailing Barrabas with all my onboard routines re-established. The familiarity of it all is strange as if I only left Barrabas on her own for a weekend.

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ABS, RS to work on Arctic LNG ships

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Russian Northern Sea Route near Ostrov Peschanyy

Photo: Adrian Flanagan Alpha Global Expedition

CLASSIFICATION societies ABS and the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) are to jointly develop of classification rules for Arctic LNG Carriers under a wide ranging cooperative agreement between the two IACS members.

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An Appeal To Reason, A Cool Look At Global Warming

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This is an important book, not least because it presents a view for reason which has been censored in many countries. The author begins by saying that his three previous books, in different genre, were published eagerly by British publishers, but that this latest book was flatly rejected by every British publisher even with the promotion of an outstanding literary agent. His experience has been shared by others who have found difficulty in being published on political and economic subjects in Britain, where their unfashionable views and conclusions have later proved to be well-founded. It is therefore fortunate that the author continued his search for a publisher with determination. Peter Mayer, the proprietor of The Overlook Press in New York, is to be thanked for having the courage to stand against a new and intolerant fundamentalist faith by publishing “An Appeal To Reason” through the old-established London publishing house, which he also owns. The Church of Global Warming will undoubtedly rage against a very well-reasoned book and may claim that the father of a television cook is hardly qualified to write on the subject, and that his heretical views should be ignored by all sane people. Of course the author is very well qualified to write on the subject and to hold a view. As an intelligent human he is able to read work from others on the subject, conduct his own research and to form an opinion. He is entitled to ask questions when the Church of Global Warming makes generalized and unsubstantiated claims in the hope that no one will notice their inaccuracies. Nigel Lawson also has other qualifications. He was a journalist before he entered Parliament as a British MP in 1974, and he served with distinction in the Thatcher Government that did so much to turn around a moribund British economy and fight off the forces of intolerant national socialism at home and abroad. That service included a period from 1983 as Chancellor of the Exchequer, turning the British economy from a sad basket case into an expanding and well-structured financial force on the world stage, a skill set sorely lacking in the present Government under “Bottler” Brown. Nigel Lawson was created a Lord in 1992 and has served in the House of Lords with distinction as a member of the Lord’s Select Committee on Economic Affairs, which in 2005 produced a significant report on “The Economics of Climate Change”. All of that experience stands behind his latest book.

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The holiday Adrian was dreaming of

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Adrian with Benji and Gabriel at La Pirogue, Mauritius

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Gabriel’s first sailing lesson

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Gabriel and Louise

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Adrian and Benji in the canoe

In an article published in the Telegraph at the end of last year asking well known adventurers what they were dreaming of having for Christmas, Adrian described the holiday we have just had. www.mauritius.net

I have been staying at La Pirogue in Mauritius every year since December 2005 at the outset of The Alpha Global Expedition. A real ‘Expedition Manager Rookie’ way back then, the hotel did everything to help me. This included the loan of an office, computer and IT support. I can’t write too much about how wonderful this tropical island paradise hotel is or how gracious and welcoming the staff are because otherwise everyone will want to go there. www.lapirogue.com

During our trip this time, Adrian was interviewed by L’Express newspaper (one of the main Mauritian papers) on the coconut palm fringed white sand beach sitting on a sunbed! tinyurl.com/5ondwv (in French).

Now we are back – Adrian has submitted the main body of ‘Over The Top’ to his publisher. He returns to Mehamn to resume and complete the AGX on the 28th April setting sail on the 1st May. The remainder of the journey will hopefully take no more than 4 weeks and he will return home to The Royal Southern Yacht Club at the end of May/Beginning of June.

Louise Flanagan

www.alphaglobal.com

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