Wednesday, 21 October 2020

A Little Iberian Victory!

Sunday evening on the Praia do Norte.

 Thank God for a most productive sally to Nazaré, - not that I caught any fish this evening, but the energy of the sea was thrilling enough. Here's a view behind the beach:-

    Such recent memories are very precious these daysWe oldies in Ireland are going to be under house arrest again for a while, until hopefully being let out to spend some money in December. It's not that I mind too much, for there is plenty to attend to here at home in the line of kitchen/heating refurbishment, and not to mention the little matter of my prostate cancer. Still the principle is appalling, especially if it comes to fines being dished out, 'good citizens' maybe reporting the 'irresponsible' etc. What will things be looking like come February? I'm all for taking due care, but personal responsibility is not something that can be imposed, and a clumsey regime of fear will be resisted by anyone with any spirit!

    Anyway we had a productive time as well as an enjoyable one away. The main thing was to fabricate a new set of steel floors, which hold the keel and the hull together:- 
Finally they were all despatched to be shot-blasted at Nuno's fantastic work-shop in the back of beyond. He promised us the steel back in a day or two, but it still hasn't come. Maybe he can see that it is better to wait till the present wet weather has blown through, while even maybe enjoying having one of those gringo types hopping up and down. Being used to 'the English' giving off about 'the Irish', I'm wise to that syndrome. We Irish have a foot in both camps, that of the 'efficient' northener who knows what needs to be done and the 'lazy' southerner who frequently winds up doing the dirty part of it; it's one of our secret strengths!

    Patience was also called for on account of the Citroen. Ominous sounds starting coming from the gearbox on the journey out, which became chronic once we arrived in Nazaré; it sounded as if I were towing a tin can along the road. At that stage we only had two weeks, and a Citroen garage that I went to had no time to even look at it till after we were due to leave. Mario, at whose restaurant we ate most evenings,                  

Chez Mario, with Dad at right and on the wall.
recommended a guy up the road who worked in a little garage at the back of his house, and who was also willing to lend us a Renault van for our local running about. Somewhat amazingly, he had the gearbox out and back in working order in time for our sailing, which was then cancelled because of Storm Alec. Thank you Stevie for taking this in your stride!

    We were delighted to find that we now have neighbours, Damien and James, who are also doing an ambitious renovation, of a huge and famous catamaran, the Commodore Explorer; what's more, they have kindly undertaken to get some epoxy primer on those floors whenever they show up. The big job next trip will be to install them, whenever we will manage that. Stevie fitted one new plank, but there are still a couple more to go; then we shall at least have a strong and stable hull, to which Stevie recommends we apply an epoxy skin, - so hopefully this will be managed in the Spring! 


However, the highlight of the trip was getting part of Alec's prototype motor in place. I think it will be a positively elegant and very effective set-up, and am very much looking forward to seeing it in action. Hopefully

Alec will be able to start installation once the floors are in. It is great to have the space to install it, complete with built-in flywheel, directly on the shaft, a concept that could be applied, it seems to me, in very much bigger craft, and with considerable advantages over, for instance, saildrives. I was looking at the set-up that Dan and Kika have on the Uma. Their videos are excellent, informative and great entertainment on a wet and windy winter's evening, but Alec comments on their drive:-

'ridiculously low regen... at 6 knots 300 watts... at 48 volts... amps times volts equals watts, that means 6 ampere/hour... and they were 200 ampere/hour at some points of motor test... that means they're going to have to sail 34 hours to get back what they use in an hour! Also, they're running the motor much faster than the prop. Crazy, so much noise and so many losses in the reduction gears.'

Anyway, hats off to Kika and Dan  for what they have achieved and those great Sailing Uma videos, which combine information and entertainment very well. Dan's t-shirt announces that he's 'in no hurry to go anywhere'. Some talent! I wish we hadn't had to rush home across Spain, over the plain, past those venerable old cities, Ciudad Rodrigo (with Stevie filling us in on the siege during the Peninsula War), Valladolid, Salamanca, Burgos.

    And here's to the day when the ferry home doesn't have to belch all that smoke!

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Three Likely Lads


Sitting in an airy room looking down on the Praia do Norte, with work on the Anna M under way again at last, it may be an easier place than most to feel hopeful at this time; but anyway life is not worth living when it is ruled by fear. Covid, climate change, nuclear weapons, financial collapse, there is plenty to challenge hope, especially when one happens to be nearly 74 and with 'a serious and potentially lethal' cancer that the medical establishment doesn't seem to have time to attend to, as also with Fiona and her 'acute' need for a new hip. Yet the fact is I feel both well and hopeful. How is that?

     I would specify two factors that certainly help a great deal, - the Catholic faith and homoeopathy. No doubt many readers will conclude that this definitely indicates that I live in cloud cuckoo land, and some will say in particular that I have no business lumping the two together. I reply, see how 'like cures like' - that supreme case of evil apparently triumphant, the crucifixion of Jesus, provides us with the 'remedy for sin', the Eucharist, which is also the remedy for fear and despair. It may be barmy, but how many people have been surprised to find that this particular remedy does work, even in the worst of circumstances?

     Along with the Eucharist, and intensive treatment for cancer which consists of regular doses of water in which a microscope will not reveal anything although they have been supposedly'energised' with various dodgy substances, I am also taking an homoeopathic prophylactic for Covid-19. So now, O righteous and scientifically enlightened folk, you can mock me on three counts; and I will add even a fourth. I still think that I am going to fix this old schooner here in Nazaré, the Anna M.

     In which respect however, credibility has taken a huge step forward by the fact that Stephen Morris has entered the fray. He is one brilliant ship-wright, who has come a very long way since we first met when he was travelling in Ireland, soon after finishing an apprenticeship in Auckland. He has been kind enough to take some time out from building magic replicas of Dublin Bay dayboats in Kilrush. At this moment he and Ger Kavanagh are working at new steel floors, which as usual, turns out to be a considerably bigger job than I had imagined. This steel work is what holds the hull, with all its new ribs, to the keel, and like the ribs, many of the floors have had to be replaced. One does have to be somewhat masochistic to undertake this kind of a job! Yet the fact is there is immense satisfaction in rescuing a beautiful old artifact like that boat, and turning what was in danger of becoming a heap of firewood into a sea-going vessel again.

     Still, the question arises, where do I think she will be going? And who in the fairly near future, when I myself will possibly be crocked, will sail her up and down the Gannetsway? I am in fact thinking it is time to see if the whole project could fly without me. Steve with friends above in County Clare run a beautiful, and newly built, open traditional boat with a club or sailing association, Seol Sionna. I am wondering if this way of operating could fly with Anna M. This would be a rather more challenging project. Why would anyone want to undertake the trouble and expense of running a fifty year-old wooden boat?

        Allow me to set down what I imagine to be the objectives of such an association - not necessarily in order of importance. There is the simple fact of restoring a fifty year old wooden boat, a survivor from the era of such craft at the peak of their development. We are preserving a piece of maritime heritage. A bonus is the fact that she was built as an Anglo-French project; it is good to recall that they can do beautiful things together when they put their minds to it! It is a bonus because part of our agenda is, in a little grass-roots way, to grow solidarity and connection along the Gannetsway, from Scotland to the south of Spain, not exclusively of course, and although with a particular emphasis on Ireland and Portugal.
Our primary interest however would simply be providing the opportunity for members to sail the Gannetsway, with all the joy this gives, getting to know the sea and the wonderful creatures that inhabit it, along with the coastal nations, their languages and cultures, and especially other sea-farers. The sea provides true education, and much more healthily than universities! Then there is the massive challenge we all face of renewing society on a sustainable basis, and a prominent feature of our effort has to be the development and demonstration of technology that is not dependent on oil. This to me means generating power by wind (the sails driving the propellor for electricity as well as the boat), by solar panels and whatever we can manage with hydrogen.

     A patent danger with all the renewable stuff is that it merely works out as toys for the super-rich. This tendency is bad enough with cars, and even worse with boats. However it need not be the case. An electric motor for example is a much simpler bit of kit that a diesel one, and it should be much cheaper to use electric power than oil. However it needs a huge and conscious effort to make the technology available, affordable and practical, which is what we shall be trying to do.

     It is of a piece with the global challenge of these Covid times. People desperately need to get out of the crowded cities and into the wide open spaces that still exist on Earth. We also need to leave behind the illusion of self-sufficiency that goes with 'modern' city living, and replace it with a more genuine self-sufficiency that goes with acknowledging our dependence on nature, not to mention God, while seeking to use His gifts with care and understanding; not in being mere 'consumers' totally dependent on technology which is beyond our active comprehension, while we leave big business to provide it. It is by acting, in whatever little way, that we may overcome the contemporary anxieties, and when we really participate in life that we appreciate its mysteries!

      It is about taking responsibility, while 'Admit no liability' is about the first commandment these days. If one finds oneself very ill as a result of some vaccination, it is highly unlikely that one will succeed in pinning liability on whatever pharmaceutical company produced it. At least I know that the homoeopathic prophylactic which I take will do me no harm, and it is very likely to have a much better chance of success than the lousy 30-50% rate which is considered good enough for a vaccine. But oh horror, it will make no money for big pharma! Meanwhile there is a lot we can do to keep safe, with a bit of common sense; staying away from crowds, big cities and airports for a start. But a life ruled by fear is not worth living.

      A case in point is the notion that some vaccine is going to provide the solution to the Covid crisis. I'm afraid I don't buy it. We have had a neat warning in Ireland, from the threatened 'swine flu' pandemic a decade ago. A Ms Bennett managed to bring a case alleging that the vaccine they dished out to school kids had left her with narcolepsy (along with an estimated 100,000 other Europeans); at least she was eventually awarded costs. According to the Irish Times of 19th November, 2019, Glaxo Smith Klyne had taken the precaution of insisting that the Government indemnify it 'against any costs that might arise from people alleging damage'. This proved very handy, as 'The multi-million euro legal and other costs of the case were to be met by the Minister for Health and the HSE.' 'Neat capitalism' I call it - GSK takes the profit, the taxpayer picks up the bills!

     Our journey to Nazaré by road and ferry, from Rosslare to Bilbao, felt very safe, and indeed was a pleasure. There were not many passengers on the ship and we practically had the upper deck to ourselves, enjoying a lovely calm autumn day in Biscay and two good nights' sleep in the smooth, quiet ship, the Kerry. Landing at 0830, it is fine open motorway, free across Spain, all the way, and we arrived at the Zulla Surf Hostel about 1700. 

     The big job this trip is to stitch our new laminated frames to the keel, which we have to do the cheap way, with steel floors. That's what was done the first day, and some of them are still good, so no doubt they will see the old boat out. They will be shot-blasted and painted with a few coats of epoxy primer. The purists of this world would be casting them in bronze, and a lovely job it would be, but apart from not having the time, money or facilities to do it, I have long given up such aspirations to perfection. Just give me a boat that will float as long as I am around! And after all, after all the work, the best of boats sometimes get wrecked after a couple of years. Half an hour, and they are matchwood. Alas, I once saw it happen to a fine wooden trawler. I am content to be, in the context of boats, a poor man!

     The Catholic Church is quite right to constantly remind us that we are sinners, in dire need of God's mercy. 'The root of every spiritual error is believing ourselves to be righteous. To consider ourselves righteous is to leave God, the only righteous one, out in the cold.' tweeted Pope Francis lately. That self-righteousness is of a piece with GSK admitting no liability. At least, in a small sailing boat on the sea, or wrestling with stubborn matter to put together that wonderful artefact which a sound boat is, one knows one's inadequacy, weakness and vulnerability. Therein we can find real strength, as St Paul explained so well. Not that one has to be a Christian to appreciate a project like this, belonging as it does, as Hilaire Belloc put it, to the 'common sacrament of Man', the sea. However, if the world is to weather this coming storm, we will all need to rediscover our absolute need for God's mercy.

Another face of  Nazaré:-  


Sunday, 23 August 2020

Hope and History Rhyme?

 "History says,
Don’t hope on this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme”

                           -Seamus Heaney quoted by Joe Biden in his acceptance speech, 21/08/20 

The last time it looked possible that ‘hope and history’ might do some significant rhyming was in the ‘60s, what with the Second Vatican Council, President Kennedy, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, flower power, etc. Is it possible that, with another 50 years under our collective belt, we might make a better fist of it this time around?

Right up there in the '60s buzz were nuclear disarmament, the anti-war movement, empowering and regenerating communities, cooperatives, ‘Small is Beautiful’, rebuilding our relationship with Nature, winding down dependence on fossil fuels, organic farming, alternative therapies, self-sufficiency, ‘Deschooling Society’, goats, rediscovering crafts and artisanal methods…. Hallo 2020, are we getting there again, with somewhat less naivety and more realism and wisdom?

Conscious of the critique, by 1967, that we were just privileged bourgeois dreamers, Fiona and I got stuck into the rough underbelly of Liverpool, helping to run the Simon Community for the homeless drug-addicts, alcoholics and so on. I then got a job teaching in a secondary school on the Scotland Rd.  It was clearly hopeless trying to bash my lowest stream, last year boys into the exam system, and I tried giving them their heads, merely supporting and guiding them as best I could while they floundered around trying to find a way for themselves. I believe that I was getting somewhere too, but this wasn’t to last long. Our flower power had not developed the necessary root-system.

Unable to live with the dead wood of the English set-up, with ‘the writing peeling off the walls’, we came to the West of  Ireland in 1973, and more by God’s providence than anything else, have had a great life here, for all its ups and downs. There is an account of it scattered through this blog, until I came too close to the present for writing history. How will things work out now? Dare we take up again the longed-for hope?

Knowing how often hopes have been raised and dashed in Ireland gives one pause, and yet life has made progress. Passionately fond as I have become of this land and people, I realise that a great deal of trouble has been caused by opting to invest our hopes in the very inadequate vehicle of nationalism. Unfortunately English nationalism seems likely to inflict yet another round of serious damage upon us, but this is not a time for opposing like with like. For their own sakes also, I wish an extreme Brexit could be avoided, but at this stage it is quite hard to see how. 

That appalling Government which they have installed will have to go sooner or later. Whether we can all sit it out to the end of its normal life is open to question. Still, it would be a good start if we get rid of the Duckie this autumn, and to look on the bright side of Covid19, it has already surely opened a lot of eyes to the true nature of the wave of right-wing populism, and given a great shove in the direction of rejecting it.

In fact if, in the light of Covid, you take another look at my outline of our aspirations in the ‘60s, it is quite uncanny how they answer to our present predicaments. It seems we were on to something after all! So let’s hear less neurotic moaning about Covid, climate and so on, and a more proactive response, and good luck to Joe Biden!

Meanwhile, one can feel the climate changing more dramatically than ever, and as early storms sweep in to batter our garden, I can only say that I am glad not to be in the Carribean right now. At least I have never known Horseshoe Bay so pleasant to swim in, during those calm warm days before the storms; I am hoping there will be some more of them before I head for Portugal in September!

Sunday, 9 August 2020


It's now over a month since I posted on this blog. It has been a busy time, with good weather and family members coming to visit; one appreciates how lucky we are to be able to enjoy it all, with loads of lovely vegetables in the garden to boot.

It is a time of year when one needs to take a break from the Spring work, stand back, and reflect on where one is going. There's much to be said for the New Year starting, like the academic one, in September! I am booked to go on the ferry to Spain in that month, with my dear shipwright friend Steve Morris, for a big effort to get things moving on the Anna M  in Nazaré, Portugal.

I have additional cause for reflection, since I have been diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer, and am generally feeling my age. I am told that I will be dead within five years if I don't do something about it. Hopefully we shall do so, but at least it is yet another reason to make the best of whatever time is left.

The times are reinforcing the conviction that I formed over 50 years ago along these lines:-  our politics and way of life will go from bad to worse as long as we think that the interplay of market and state actors is capable of building a worthwhile future, but unfortunately the only way they may be put back in their place is by drastic upheaval; the antidote goes by way of a renewed sense of community and respect both for others and for nature; this will only be again discovered with the realisation that their existence is not futile, but has an immortal destiny.

I believe that the appropriate tool has been given in the Catholic Faith, but of course we cannot sit back and wait for people to find that out. We have to respect and work with everyone 'of good will', in other words, those who are prepared to work with us. Our respect must be genuine, for all those other precious insights that may well illumine truths we do not see ourselves. If our faith is indeed the 'real deal', then it will eventually become clear; meanwhile it is up to us to demonstrate that it works in our own lives.

For too long Catholics tended to withdraw into their spiritual fortress. I came of age as we were challenged by Vatican II to get out of it; I have found a great deal of difficulty and frustration in doing so, yet patience must be the name of the game. Much has been learned in this past half century; now at last we may seriously apply it, for the times are imperatively clamouring for the renewal of community, of sense of purpose and the faith that they depend on.

It is becoming ever more apparent that the kind of  Brave New World on offer these days, where a tiny minority of the Uber-rich pull the strings, while the mass of humanity falls into ever deeper desperation and misery, has to be decisively rejected before it kills us all. It is not just the obvious culprits we must contend with, the Duckies and Johnsons of the world; with the best of intentions neither politicians nor anyone working within the present paradigms will turn things round. The battle has to be joined on all sorts of fronts, but especially in our own minds and hearts, in our communities and the way we live.

The more we can meet our basic human needs from the resources of our own communities, the better, but we also need that community of communities, a renewed Catholic Church. We are most fortunate, who live on the western seaboard of Europe; the ancient stones may be scattered, but they are nevertheless at hand; and as the saying goes, how beautiful they still are!

West Cork shepherd.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

True British Resourcefulness - A Birthday Card For Alec.

Photo by Stephan.
If you happen to need to move your boat, all 24 tons of her, and you are a real West Country man, it's simple enough. You just get your hands on an old motorway sign-post gantry at the scrap yard up the road, along with a few old wheels and jacks, and you make a trailer. Then you just have to get your hands on a big lump of a tractor, which you do by swopping it for a fine compressor that you had picked up cheap.

The particular specimen of that disappearing race to whom I refer happens to have wound up in Portugal, and he is none other than our one and only Alec. The poor old 'Whirled', that he built himself 15 years ago in Brittany, has for the moment been sadly reduced to his caravan, a somewhat unwieldy one it has to be said, which he is moving to a cheaper site. We are also in the process of moving all his kit into the new HQ, Yellow Windows. He is conscious that his time as an all-purpose marine Mr Fixit is coming to an end; together we are setting up a business that will enable him to use his head more and his limbs and muscles less, as befits his 54 years, and to do our bit to save the World while we are at it!

So many people in this world would have freaked out at the prospect of just making a trailer like that. They would have wanted some kind of engineer on the job, who had done all sorts of sums and drawings. Well I've nothing at all against engineers, but I do love that solid West Country approach of just doing it. It is however curious how the cobbling, make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach lets the English down when it comes to politics and the country's leadership.

Nebulous incoherence is by no means limited to the present incumbent of No.10 Downing St. For instance I have always been puzzled as to how all those subjects of Her Majesty suddenly started calling themselves citizens. There was no such nonsense back in the day when I had a fine dark blue passport, with a great big coat of arms on the front and something about Her Majesty's Government requesting and requiring that I be allowed to pass without let or hindrance on the inside. Did I miss something while my back was turned?

It sounds like a revolution in toothpaste to me, that's the kind we generally can rise to these days, but if there was some kind of serious revolution back in the 70s or 80s while I was totally immersed in fishing and rearing children, it evidently didn't satisfy the present crop of rabid revolutionaries. I was forced back into taking an interest in British politics by the Brexit vote, and found to my amazement that the nice vicar's daughter who had just become P.M. was full of fiery revolution in her speech at the time, to the Conservative Party Conference of all things! 'The roots of the revolution run deep', she averred, 'Yet within our society today, we see division and unfairness all around'.

For some reason, under her inspired leadership, The Referendum, like 'the Revolution', has acquired some kind of quasi royal authority. The people have spoken, albeit by a slim majority in a flawed campaign, and their will must be done. Never mind that the issues have become so much clearer since; in this version of democracy, debate is a waste of time; there is no such thing as gradually finding one's way and painfully building a consensus, taking a shared responsibility. That's surely real citizenship, but evidently the sort of thing that  may be left to those misguided Europeans!

However, if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.’ What would Mrs May have us 'rootless cosmopolitans' be, cabbages? Actually, human beings come equipped with feet, for moving around, but let’s allow also, like monkeys, for climbing in trees. Then at least we would know where to look for roots. Let us imagine we are sitting on a branch of the great Tree of Life. It would for a start be wise not to cut off the branch that we are sitting on. Then we could go downwards, and find where our branch becomes part of a bigger one, and that one turns into the trunk, and then we may find some decent roots.

Mrs May prattles on about her desire to 'unite the country', while in fact it is becoming ever more divided under her leadership. 'Struth, Mr Junker's nebulous is too kind a word, but she is looking in the wrong direction for unity - at the clouds maybe? Never mind, the Tories are going to fix it, and apparently it all depends on Brexit! ‘Britain – the Britain we build after Brexit – is going to be a Global Britain.’ Meanwhile, everyone with a smidgen of coherence, from the Pope and the Secretary General of the UN, via David Attenborough and most scientists downwards, are telling us that we shall be very lucky if the Globe has not gone into catastrophic decline a few short years hence.

If only one could be confident that there was any other, more coherent, leadership on offer in England! It would be nice to forget about the whole circus in Westminster, as well as the violence in France, but the thing is, we none of us can avoid their effects; the world is indeed a global village now, whether we like it or not. Where does this Brexit leave us English people who have moved on, becoming Europeans of one kind or another (though perhaps with a deeper appreciation of England for that)? Sooner rather than later, Messrs Farrage, Johnson, & Co as well as their friends across the Atlantic have to be faced down - we cannot afford to just wait until they die off, or everyone will go with them!

Meanwhile, thank God for the odd Englishman who, precisely because he is firmly planted in physical reality, realises like the birds that there is more to the world than England, and also has the imagination to realise that there are other ways of relating to the rest of it than by mere exploitation or domination!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

A Call to Action - The Nazaré Project

‘We are heading into one of those historical moments when the different facets of life come together – in a time of extreme physical, environmental, technological, social, economic, political, spiritual and, for each one of us, personal turmoil, crisis and transformation. To at once escape denial and to avoid falling into destructive violence or madness, it is imperative to find some way, however small and insignificant it may seem, of responding with creativity and love.’

This is me expressing my current state of  mind, that I hope will find a response in yours too, dear reader. For too long we have tended to keep our inner thoughts and feelings about such matters under wraps, afraid perhaps of raising issues that we just cannot cope with, as we struggle to keep our relationships together, rear our children and generally keep the show on the road.

I am back in Nazaré now, at its bright and sunny best, but I have been at home lately, while Alec and I were communicating closely nonetheless, across the 800 miles or so of this lot:-

The result is that we are ready to go with

The Nazaré Project

The key features of the Project are 3 S’s - sustainability, subsidiarity (local participation) and solidarity. These entail objectives such as meeting the challenge posed by the climate crisis, bringing new life to the entire European project by empowering people within their local communities and redefining the relationship between capital and regular people.
Dependence on oil, besides hastening us to self-destruction, is putting us in the hands of a shadowy and unaccountable elite. Not alone do we require a transition to electric power, but also to ‘power for the people’; and I do not mean merely some probably spurious political power, but the actual ability to participate in powering their own world, indeed to inherit their own lives.
The Project is developing with differing strands. It started in practical terms with the Anna M. Every sailor knows the sense of blessed relief that comes with stopping their engine, when the sails take over and once again the dominant sounds are those of nature and the way of their boat through the water. Now the whole world needs such a moment, leaving dependence on oil and internal combustion engines behind, and indeed this does seem to be coming to pass! Moreover, an ocean-going sailing boat is a very apt ‘entry point’ for addressing the challenge of making our world sustainable. She is a whole life-support and transport system, running on her own power.
Those of you who have followed this blog will also know - and the story is here for all to read - how I myself arrived at this point, aboard such a sailing boat, the 13.6m wooden schooner Anna M.  She was designed by the English designer John Illingworth and built in the South of France, 50 years ago. Fiona and I bought her 20 years ago, at Horta in the Azores.
I had just retired from 26 years as a commercial fisherman. I had embarked on that career partly in order to immerse myself in the problematic relationship between technology, capitalism and nature, in order to try to see the way out of that destructive phase of history that caused me to witness, for example, the reduction of a fine fishing ground off NW Ireland to a fish desert, and whose global consummation we are now about to witness. I meanwhile followed the fortunes of the Glencolmkille Cooperatives in Co. Donegal, and was subsequently Chairman of the West Clare Development Coop at Carrigaholt for several years.
Anna M leaving on IWDG cruise
 to the Cabo Verde Islands. 
I had been brought up sailing, and now wanted a boat big enough to take sailing trips, focussed on dolphin and whale watching. Besides doing so off SW Ireland, I went filming humpback whales with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group in the Cape Verde Islands, and in the course of continuing around the North Atlantic, sailed 40km up the Orinoco River in the Venezuelan rain-forest. Anna M has sailed many, many miles in the company of whales and dolphins, and in a sense I now try to emulate them. It changes one, to look those creatures in the eyes and to hear their haunting songs beneath the waves.
Since 2012, with a welcome pension, Fiona and I have settled down to living on Sherkin Island and cruising the ‘Gannetsway’. This is what I call my ‘home ground’, where the gannets fly, from Scotland to the South of Spain. Anna M spent winters further and further south, and finally on the Rio Guadiana, between the Algarve and Andalusia.
In June 2016, I was sailing north up the Portuguese coast with two friends, but had to take the decision that it was unsafe to proceed, because despite considerable effort at remedy, the 50 year-old boat was leaking too much. I put her on the concrete at Nazaré, and there serious problems were found. Enter a remarkable boat-builder and marine engineer of 30 years’ experience called Alec Lammas.
Alec laminating a frame.
Alec and I soon found much in common, in particular a shared interest in electric drives. We cleaned out Anna M's hull, taking out the engine and fuel tanks, and discovered that many of her frames were cracked and rotten. Since I was now committed to a project way beyond my personal means, I decided we would somehow manage to 'go the whole hog', since the chance was there but would never come again, and fit a self-regenerative electric drive. Alec and I decided to set up a company in order to design, manufacture and install such systems, while Anna M will become a research vessel, test bed and demonstration ambassador for them. We are calling this company:-
Aston-Lammas Electric Propulsion Lda (ALEP).
As such, we have just agreed to rent a premises some 6 km inland from Nazaré in Portugal, just off the A8 motorway. It is in good working condition, with plenty of room for a fully equipped workshop, storage, office and design space and also for accommodation space. It only needs to be cleaned out and then we will be ready to go.
'Yellow Windows' - ALEP's premises.
We have also just submitted an application to the EU's Portugal 2020 scheme for 50% funding of our research and development program, and we have established a relationship with Professor Carlos Fereira of the I.P.L. de Leiria.
The motors will be supplied initially at least by Lynch Electric Motors, for which Alec has the concession for Portugal, Spain, France and Ireland. Our innovation will mainly lie in the systems’ abilities to recharge the vessels’ batteries, using the power generated by their propellers when the boat is sailing with sufficient force through the water.
There are already 3 boat-owners interested, and further installations are being planned, such as purely electric systems for locally built GRP dayboats that will be recharged with shore power. The company’s interests will not be confined to the marine industry, but applied also to transport on land. There is huge scope for the production of simple low-cost electric vehicles, which are essential to the rejuvenation of rural and urban communities alike. Flashy high-end electric vehicles are all very well, but are quite beyond the means of those trying to live simple lives in the country.
There is a beautiful village a little further inland from our premises, with a derelict ceramics factory for sale in it, which we would love to buy and use for our own purposes. Nearby there are several run-down old houses for sale and a closed-down school. It is a story replicated everywhere. With affordable vehicles and their own means of producing power, this community and countless others could be rejuvenated.

Nazaré itself provides a splendid opportunity for the application of electric vehicles. Near our workshop there is a new industrial estate that the local authority is currently equipping with services and access roads. It would be an ideal place to provide a ‘charge and ride’ facility, where drivers could pull in off the motorway and leave their car to be charged, preferably with solar panels that would also provide shade, while being left into Nazaré, thus relieving it of the traffic that gridlocks its narrow streets in busy times.

Immediately speaking, in the New Year, we intend to be able to provide accommodation and food to helpers, as we get the new workshop organised, complete with office and living quarters. Down the line, there will be opportunities to participate both at sea and on land, and your input on business or technical matters, as well as physical help, will be much appreciated. You will be able to follow what is happening on this blog. Email to join our mailing list.

Our organisation is still very much in its infancy, and it should be emphasized that this is a personal blog rather than a mission statement. However, I think it best to be up front about where I am coming from. Of all things I deplore hidden agendas, that motivate people while they avoid engaging in honest, meaningful and robust ways with issues as they arise. However, it is not just that I am an old man in a hurry. Heaven knows it should be obvious by now that the Planet needs our haste. Sound and deeply rooted motivation is required if we are going to turn around this present, destructive way of going on, in which the usual flannel most often peddled by politicians and the media is proving woefully inadequate.

Unfortunately we cannot afford to delay in raising funds. We suddenly found that our application to Portugal 2020 had to be in by the end of November, or we would miss the chance to apply for a Research and Development grant for another whole year. It only went ahead thanks to a friend's generosity and that of Mierlog Consulting, who are still owed Eur2500. We also need to spend some money on rent and kitting out the new premises, though this will be done as simply and cheaply as possible. When we get an office to work in, we'll have some chance of organising ourselves properly.

Eventually your contributions will become formal shares in ALEPlda. If you let us know what you are most interested in, this will help us to shape our priorities. Of course you can always make smaller contributions too, and you do not need to be a shareholder to follow and participate.

Please lodge funds with the Gannetsway account -

The Madonna is for me right at the heart and foundation of European civilisation, and for my part, the Project is under the patronage of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré*. I count myself answerable to the ethos and values of the Catholic Church, without however excluding anyone for holding to a different tradition. Alec for instance is a Vegan. In the end we believe all genuine traditions and values point in one universal direction, whereof the implications for today are best worked out in practice. It is by working together that we learn to trust each other!

Joe Aston.


Friday, 23 November 2018

In... Out.... Time for an Overview.

It was well over two years ago now, on the 16th July 2016 to be precise, that having, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, given off yards about ‘that extraordinary act of vandalism, self-harm and misplaced anger’, I wrote that I would ‘take a break from all that nonsense’ as far as commenting in this blog is concerned. I more or less kept to my word, yet it turned out to be a compelling psychodrama for anyone in any way tuned in. You will not have been short of reading material about it, nor discussion if you are any way so inclined, though it has become more and more difficult to communicate with those on the other side of the argument, if such it may be termed. Now that the process is theoretically coming to an end, I will attempt an overview.

What rational debate there has been has been mainly confined to the economic sphere. This has largely been a matter of rustling up whatever plausible arguments that one can muster to reinforce one’s own point of view; it is obvious that economics is very far from an exact science. For what it’s worth, I would have thought the economic factors overwhelmingly point to staying in, but since they are rehearsed ad nauseam elsewhere, by people who should be better qualified than me, I won’t bother with them here. Mind you, some of the leading Brexiteers seem to me totally in cloud cuckoo land as far as economics are concerned. One must seek to understand their motivation elsewhere.

If one should delve in very different spheres, and allude for example to the obvious parallel between Brexit and the English Reformation, again, the chances of deriving enlightenment are slim. Frankly most people have only the vaguest notions about history, prior to 1914, bar the odd raid in a film or something that imparts no meaningful context. Good King Harry and plucky Francis Drake no doubt contributed hugely to the sub-plot of Brave England standing up to them forriners, but again, one is really back to one’s own point of view. What dark paranoia led to Catholic priests being savagely butchered in the market squares of England is hard to fathom.

None of the above provides anything like an adequate narrative for Mrs May's 'different' England. A big part of our problem today is that we have been trying to manage on a very inadequate one; that of the Enlightenment, Progress and Democracy, with a purely individual idea of fulfilment allegedly empowered by technological wizardry, and it is finally proving inadequate, indeed unseaworthy, under present conditions. In their dismay, populists are trying to take us back to national myths, though these failed so catastrophically in the last century. When we consider the EU, to my mind it is in danger of falling apart because it has largely failed to have the courage of its own roots, settling instead for the EnDem narrative with all its limitations.

Just as Brexit clearly relates to the English Reformation, the EU, while it may not like to admit it, relates to the Roman Empire and its successor, the Holy Roman Empire, and finally the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover its symbol is the crown of twelve stars with which Mary was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth in the book of the Apocalypse, and many of its founding fathers were Roman Catholics. It is based on catholic values of universality, solidarity, subsidiarity, community and dialogue rather than brute power. I do not wish at all to imply that such values are the prerogative of Catholics, nor to deny that all too frequently we have failed to live up to them. I note however that having been effectively taught all down the ages, they were particularly elaborated in the Second Vatican Council, around the time when the EU was taking off. The shock of the ensuing gale, that blew in when the gates and windows of the ‘fortress Church’ were opened, caused such havoc that it may go some way to explaining what to me is the bizarre reactionary stance of some Catholics, who are mostly of the post Vatican II generation, such as Messrs Bannon and Rees-Mogg.

A real catholic narrative has anyway to be rooted in that older narrative which Protestants share. One of the best stories in it is one of the oldest; I mean that of the Tower of Babel. Just a few lines in the Book of Genesis, when men tried to build themselves ‘a tower reaching to heaven’, but the Lord ‘confused their language so that they could not understand each other’, and that was the end of that! Here we still are, trying to secure Heaven on our own terms, finding ourselves at odds with each other, and rejecting the very idea that our only chance of peace on earth and a transcendent fulfilment lies in paying attention to God.

Immediately people will be jumping down my throat to ridicule this idea. How can I say such things after all the violence committed ‘in the name of God’? To which I can only reply that mankind has been violent ever since Cain killed Abel, but who has been showing us the way to peace? Who has even managed to find peace in their own hearts and families, and how do they do so? But to do so, we surely have to try to come to some kind of terms with the rest of the world. I have found that I cannot sit back and see out my days in peace, as best I may, unless I also do what I may to build harmony in the world.

When people argue about climate change, they frequently seem to think that the issue stands by itself. It doesn’t; it is merely one symptom of a massive collision between our contemporary technological version of civilisation and the natural order. Anyone who is at all close to nature realises that this is being rapidly degraded in multiple ways. That climate change is a very clear example of the imperative to achieve a new solidarity among the nations and humility too is presumably why the Duckie and his mates deny it and also loath the EU. At least they thereby acknowledge that the two of them are related.

Where do we begin? How can we make an effective contribution to ensuring that our grandchildren inherit a blessing from us? When all is said and done, is this not one deep desire that we all share? And yet, is there anyone who has a plausible and coherent strategy? It simply cannot happen without a compelling vision of human destiny, of where we are trying to go.

To elaborate such a vision is the business of religion, and as long as we start from the view that religion is hogwash, and mankind’s spiritual journey has proven to be a dead end, then clearly we havn’t the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of doing so. In practice all the great religions point in pretty much the same direction, although it seems to me that there is one preeminently thorough and effective expression of it. The narrative goes something like this:-

In our quest for knowledge and power, we became locked into our egos, unhinged and separated from our fellows and from nature. This condition is known as being in a state of original sin, and is inherently destructive. The only way to break out is through personal love; anything less cannot suffice, for to give oneself over to anything less than another person makes us into something less than a person.

Our quest remains that of the New Jerusalem, the City of God. Christ uniquely offers his very body as the locus of that City, continually, dynamically and presently. He is powerfully helped by his mother, who makes it abundantly clear that her son does not come into the world in power as the world understands it, but by humble attention to God’s Word, while the whole business is rooted in physical as well as spiritual reality.

Now, as has been repeatedly pointed out, the whole world has reached a pass where we must either break through into a new solidarity or perish. None of our efforts will be adequate, and sometimes they will be counterproductive and destructive. If their flaws are indeed such that we cannot overcome them, well that is a time of out. Like the rhythm of the seasons, the drumbeat of life goes yes... no..., in... out.... But our last word, if we are not to be finally cast out, must be yes, in, be it done unto me according to thy word!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Getting Going at Seventy-two?

Emile Ratelband, the 69-year-old Dutchman who has caused a stir by going to law in order to 'become' 20 years younger, is surely raising many smiles, not to say laughs, all around the world. We know that, whatever the Dutch court may decide (and despite the tendency of the law-courts and others these days not to let mere physical facts stand in the way of their decisions), de heer Ratelband will clock up the magic 'three score and ten' years shortly. That according to ancient if unfashionable authority is the time allotted us.

     After that, it is time for us to realise that life is a gift and a privilege even more than a right! Yet who among us oldies has not sometimes wished to be 20 years younger? I sometimes certainly have  done so myself lately, as I find myself launching into a project that has the potential to go far beyond me. What a pity it didn't happen 20 years ago! Meanwhile, I cannot but ask myself - why bother, and have I the energy for this?

     "There you go, you're on a whole new journey now!", said the lady in the social security office when I finalised my pension. "Yes, thank you,"  I replied, "with a one-way ticket!" Having one's basic cost of living handed out by the state is presumably an advantage of age that our Dutch friend can afford to do without. However I see it as a huge privilege, which has freed me up no end to give time to occupations that I rather enjoy, like working on my old wooden boat and writing this blog; but also, darn it,  look where it is all bringing me now!

     Yet this is one of the true advantages of 'living on borrowed time': one can allow oneself the luxury of being 'brought along'. If you delve into the archive of this blog, you may find a reference to a lovely remark that M. le Curé made in the parish newsletter when I was at Le Palais in Belle Isle about a decade ago; he wrote how he enjoyed being with old people 'qui osent, enfin, être eux-mêmes' - 'who dare at last to be themselves'. That saying has stayed with me ever since. It's not however just a matter of 'daring'. The fact is one is much more likely to be free to do it.

Fiona was shocked the other day by a Catholic priest who said in conversation that the idea of celibacy was 'dead in the water'. To both of us, it seems that the main reason for it given by Christ in the Gospels is as valid as ever it was, namely that it is extremely hard to combine following God's will down the road of freedom with the responsibility of rearing a family, 'especially in these end times!'.

There are other reasons besides financial freedom why the broad perspectives of the open road, indeed, I would rather say the open sea, are very likely to open out in one's seventies. Living on borrowed time, one should realise that being alive is more of a privilege than a right. Now is the time, at last, to give up being a control freak, both about oneself and about others. Indeed of course the two go together. But behold, it's when you lose your life that you win it!' Now you can truly let go and let God - let things happen.

'All very well for dreamers and mystics!' you may say. Well, how are the 'people of this world' getting on? Why did the idea of that humungus train rattling down the railroad completely out of control in Australia the other day resonate in the imagination? It made me think of a lot of things, but especially the British Government and its Brexit train. If only they find a way to derail it! I know that will be a mess, but it's likely to be a lot better than careering on to the end of the line. And meanwhile they think that they are 'taking back control'!

So what does 'winning one's life back' involve? Control does have to be in there. We do have to keep to the road, and we so easily deceive ourselves and make mistakes, though hopefully we are less likely to do so precisely insofar as we are able to get our heads around the fact that we are soon going to die anyway. The great thing, and the reason why I sometimes feel more in sympathy with myself as a child than as a 50 year-old man, is to rediscover life as gift. Then we are open to looking around and seeing what's about us.

In a sense this could hardly be worse. Normally sober boffins are telling us that we are destroying the very planet Earth, that if we don't rapidly change in the next 12 years it will become largely uninhabitable, that the oceans and many species of animal are dying, that human fertility itself is in danger of collapse.... Meanwhile people everywhere would rather look at flickering images of reality, with the illusion that they control it, than at the thing itself.

So how do we get to set sail on the sea of freedom, the sea of life? Catch on to any bit of reality, I say, and even if it disappears in your hand, it will have led you onwards into the Mystery! And that is how we are proceeding with O Projeto Nazareno. I sailed into Nazaré with the Anna M very much against my inclination in many ways, though not without asking Our Lady what I should do, and getting a clear reply. Here I find Alec who rips into the old boat, and we discover that, yes, it was a very good thing that we did so.

An old aunt whom I hardly knew died and left me a few quid to enable the work to proceed, but only as far as renovating the hull. Having emptied and cleaned the engine compartment and its filthy bilge, I would much rather not put diesel back in anyway. Alec and I find we have both been thinking about electric drives for boats for years. He looks around at electric motors on the internet, identifies the best one for the job, and finds that it is made just up the road from where he was at the time in his native Devon with his girlfriend. He wanders down there and comes away with the franchise to sell them in Portugal, Spain, France and Ireland.

It just happens that this is the same territory that I called the Gannetsway, when I was looking for a name for my website about 20 years ago, and achieved the freedom to sail it. When I dropped the subscription once, the name was promptly jumped on by some bright-spark in India trying to get money out of me. That's how this blog became gannetswaysailing. It's alright by me. But what prompted me to keep it going, with no commercial basis? Chatting to a wise friend I said, "I wish I could find a way to make money out of it, without resorting to ads or something". He said, "Don't worry about that, just keep writing!"

So now the blog is pretty valuable in giving some credibility for this Nazaré Project. We're applying for big money from the EU under the Portugal 2020 program to revitalise the Portuguese economy, to fund the research and development of regenerative electric drives. The right people to help us along the road seem to be showing up precisely when we need them.

The latest example was when we went looking for a premises yesterday. Alec had identified various places on the internet, and we happened to pull up in a lay-by to consult Google maps. While Alec was looking at his phone I eyed a place across the road, that wasn't advertised at all. I thought it looked the ticket and got out of the van to have a closer look. I was no sooner at the gate than a car pulled up with the owner in it. I asked could the place be rented, was told it could, and soon we were looking around it. It is ideal for our purposes. Now to see if we can put them into effect!

I am as cagey as ever about getting involved with serious financial commitments, and yes, I do wish I was 20 years younger; but it just didn't happen then the way it seems to be happening now. The world itself has changed. Twenty years ago I was that miserable codger going on about doom and gloom, but not so now. Funnily enough, now that the world is more recognizent of the doom and gloom, I am a lot happier in myself, and perhaps more so than I have been since childhood. I am feeling really whole, with all my faculties and gifts functioning together. In absolute terms, no doubt I had a lot more energy 20 years ago, but I wasted so much of it that probably I am able to actually apply more now, even if I am getting a little clapped out in some respects. The gifts of 70 years plus can far outweigh the drawbacks, friend Emile, and being truly positive does not involve any denial of the 'downside' of reality!