Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do you believe in synchronicity?

Whether or not you believe that certain things “are meant to be”, human beings are pattern seekers and there’s a strange sort of comfort in discovering links among apparently random occurrences. Who was it who said, “there are no coincidences?”

So make of this “coincidence” what you will:

One essential piece of equipment for the voyage to Labrador is a good camera. I decided to buy it now so that I can practise and get familiar using it before I get too busy while preparing “Kuan Yin” next spring or, heaven forbid, only open the instruction book once we’re underway.

The camera I chose is the Canon Rebel XTi. Highly recommended and the best I can afford. It’s wonderful. I managed to take a couple of shots of the Great Wall of China from 37,000 feet while flying from Vancouver to Beijing – see my November newsletter on my website at

My boat is named “Kuan Yin” after the Chinese goddess of compassion. She’s revered by Buddhists throughout Asia, especially by fishermen and seafarers for having mercy on them and bringing them safely home. What better protector could one wish for? The goddess, or more properly a bodhisattva, has slightly different names in different countries, for example Kwanseum Posal in Korea, Guan Im in Thailand, Quan Am in Vietnam. In Japan, she is called Kannon.

Imagine my amazement and a wondrous sense of connection when I read that Mr. Goro Yoshida, co-founder of the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory, named the camera he invented (the first 35mm focal-plane shutter camera in Japan) the Kwanon – later anglicised to Canon – in honour of the goddess Kuan Yin.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

and the winner is...

Getting any project "mapped out" - ie writing down all the elements that need to be taken care of - is essential if everything is to come together on departure day and beyond. One tool I've found quite useful is mind mapping software. Though I'm a writer, I'm also a very visual person - what's out of sight quickly becomes out of mind. So in order to keep all the elements of the Labrador project in mind it's been a useful exercise to map out everything that needs to be done. This way, hopefully, I won't become too obsessed with one part while completely forgetting about another.

At the same time, a mind map records my latest thoughts, research etc. about each aspect. For example, there's quite a lot of new equipment needed. Keeping the list displayed on the mind map allows me to keep in mind what needs to be acquired while at the same time letting me add whatever research I've been able to do. In this way, I can come back to something after a few weeks and not have to repeat all the deliberations I've already gone through (and forgotten about).

I tried various mind mapping programs. Freemind was good but seemed unstable - and I just can't take the risk of suddenly losing weeks of work. The best program I've found is Xmind - a really powerful, graphically-sharp and fairly easy to use software. It's not cheap (the pro is $200) but fortunately I was able to work out a deal to do some work for the developers in Beijing in change for a license key. If you're serious about using mind mapping, I can recommend Xmind. (No, they didn't pay me or insist I write a favourable review!)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sleeping like a baby

The rain had stopped. The city streets were covered in fallen leaves but the wind had dropped, so that by the time I reached the channel where Kuan Yin was moored, I was fairly confident that everything would be okay. The boatyard was closed and locked for the night but I was quite ready to climb along the steel fence along the waterfront to reach my boat if I had to.

Fortunately, that was not necessary. She was laying happily, as if asleep, with only a lazy movement from side to side as if to indicate a desire for company. I watched her for a while, counting the eight mooring lines I'd put out in the morning, to make sure none had chafed through. Then I departed, confident that no harm would come to her.

To write of Kuan Yin in this way seems perfectly natural as I write these words. Yet I'm also aware that to speak of a steel boat as being somehow "alive" is odd, if not slightly bizarre. All sailors tend to speak of their vessels like this. It's more than just convention. Boats do seem to have a personality. May it's only the outward projection of the sailor's innermost thoughts. I don't know. What I do know is that to think or speak of a boat with the same detachment as a toaster, for example, would be even more bizarre.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Maybe not such a great day

The boat was due to come out of the water on Monday but once I arrived at the boatyard, the boss said they didn't have time to take down both masts and haul the boat out, as arranged, so "Kuan Yin" had to be left until Thursday. I tied her up behind a large steel barge for protection from westerly winds and waves. But not well enough.

This morning at 11.15 am I got a call from the boatyard that the wind had picked up, the waves were strong and that I might want to come down. I hurried down to discover she had already struck the steel barge in front of her, tearing the pulpit (the railing around the bowsprit) from the wooden bowsprit.

She was dancing up and down, up and down in the short waves - so much so that just to get aboard I had to watch the rhythm and then jump. An hour later, I'd doubled up all the lines and added another stern line to a tug boat moored behind.

Several lessons here. 1) don't accept what anyone else says or does, but always make my own appraisal of the situation (I'd thought she was tied too close to the barge in the beginning), 2) do everything that can be done and don't imagine that the worst can't happen, (I'd thought about doubling the lines but it seemed like overkill. 3) buy another 300 foot 5/8 inch line. 4) get a couple of big fenders, the marina fenders will be useless in a gale in Labrador. 5) The boat needs at least 10 leather strips to use as chafe guards.

All the time I was on the boat this morning, I kept thinking about conditions in Labrador and how I might deal with them. I don't have much experience with winds over 15-20 knots and I can expect a lot more than that in the Labrador.

Tonight, in Toronto, winds are forecast to gush up to 50 miles/hour until the morning. I'm going now to see that her lines are secure and haven't chafed through.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What Aristotle said about purpose

In my August newsletter (see my website I wrote about the power of purpose; specifically what Viktor Frankl had to say about its effect in our lives. When an inmate in Nazi death camps, he observed that those without purpose quickly died and that those with purpose, however, small, could overcome extraordinary obstacles and hardships.

More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle was giving his own advice about purpose. He said:

“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective.

Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods.

Third, adjust all your means to that end.”

Mine is voyaging up the coast of the Labrador. What's yours?