From Somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean

Expat life in China

For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones to be exact – from my original hometown of Rolla in south-central Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek. Depending on how loosely you define “city”, one could argue that CQ is the world’s largest city. In my quest for a simple life, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th-Floor Homestead. Some would call these articles drivel; I prefer to think of them as words from the future – 13 time zones in the future, at least.



Douglas Adams Was Right

Many years ago, in a burst of prescience, Douglas Adams created his delightful book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In it, he anticipates the vast resources of the internet and updating databases continually and instantaneously. All this was made available in a Kindle-sized device with a cover that said (in soothing letters) Don’t Panic

Indeed, the cover itself was another instance of prescience from Mr. Adams which is particularly relevant to us today, as we deal with the worldwide pandemic of the Covid-19 virus. Its latest permutation is now stirring a blend of panic and precautions around the globe – including right here in CQ, the home city of the 18th-Floor Homestead.

Putting on my writing hat, I am contributing (I hope it is a contribution.) to the precaution side of the early warning system. Perhaps we have become a little too complacent. Without an immediate wolf at the door, we humans tend to stand down from a dangerous situation pretty quickly. Or, as Gary Trudeau wrote about it: The emergency has now become the normal condition. Thus, since it is normal, there is no emergency.

Please allow me to remind you of something you already know. Carelessness and sloppiness can kill you. The covid-19 virus can be seen as a Darwinian IQ test. (Fail this test and you die – but not before you kill lots of people around you.)

Dear readers, let me admonish you briefly: Until we have an official and science-based stand-down order, we need to return to some of the lockdown protocols which we have largely dropped – wash hands THOROUGHLY and FREQUENTLY, wear masks everywhere when outside, don’t touch things other people have touched, keep your hands away from your face, etc. Unless a trip is necessary, stay at home. If you must go out: Get out the spray, Mama, for when we get home. Time to resurrect the first of the Covid-era superheroes, Disinfectant Lady!

P.S. For the benefit of intergalactic tourists, Douglas Adams also wrote a brief description of human beings on Earth: Mostly harmless.

Business and Publishing Updates:

Mind Fleet, Inc. (Perhaps the Inc. stands for Incorrigible.)

Mind Fleet, the new company, edges closer and closer to opening. The website pages are being given their final tweaks. When all the pages are complete, Alex will complete her translation magic so the pages will be in both English and Chinese. (This has to be completed before she goes off to England in September for a very new life in a different time zone. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, she can still perform her translation while working remotely.) Mind Fleet email accounts have been created, QR codes have been issued, and office supplies have been ordered. As a final step, we will conduct website tests and adjustments – then we will be ready to throw open the doors and invite the public to visit our new enterprise.

Courtesy of Randy Green 

Caption: CS and I wearing our Postcards From Space t-shirts.



Kon-Tiki 2 update:

Recently, CS and I enjoyed a unique experience. One day, while we were having lunch in sunny, landlocked CQ, knee-deep in July, we received an email from Torgeir. Written literally a few hours earlier, it described a day quite unlike ours.

I may be old and boring but I sure have interesting friends.

This is the guest blog post we received … from somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean. Written by Torgeir Higraff; it was sent from his sailboat, the Nanoq:




From Somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean

Courtesy of Torgeir Higraff

So I am once again sailing. This time in the North Atlantic Ocean. We came to the Shetland Islands yesterday. Today, we left. So we stayed there only for the night. Not on shore, but in the boat at the harbor. Actually, to be honest, I did not even take a walk in the town, Lerwick. I did not see anything except what I could see from the boat when we were sailing down the coast for the harbor. 

I decided to go to Shetland a week ago. Did not mention it to my wife or anybody; I just wrote an email to a couple of friends, Alexander and Katarina. I have known them for six years. They volunteered to construct the two rafts for the expedition Kon-Tiki2 and for that reason we worked and lived together as a big team in Callao, Peru for two months in 2015. 

So I am sailing again and this feeling I have for sailing is quite extraordinary. Once I am on the ocean in a boat I feel completed, or like 100% myself. And of course, that is a good feeling and I want to stay like this for a long time. But life does not work that way. You need to have a stable income, provide for your kids and be with the family as much as possible, do a lot of normal things – things that are nice and beautiful. But I can’t escape the fact that I feel better when I am sailing. 

I used to be sailing rafts in the Pacific Ocean. Now I have started a new era on a regular sailboat. 

The boat is named Nanoq. That means polar bear in the Greenlandic languages. I have been to Greenland a few times and plan to explore parts of the enormous coastline of the biggest island in the world in this boat. It is 31 feet long, made of steel. I am now in the tiny bow cabin that is just big enough for me to sleep in, two meters by one meter. Where I have my head on the pillow, there’s only enough room for my shoulders. Underneath me is storage for all our extra sails. 

Anyway, I named the boat Nanoq together with my companion, Endre Kvalheim, who actually did most of the work on this boat. He knows a lot about construction, what materials that can withstand great stress, and how to make things function. The boat was made in Måløy on the west coast of Norway. The little town has a great maritime history (also from the WW2 with Måløyraidet and Shetland-Larsen) and many of the people who live there still make a living from maritime resources. 

Back to what we are doing here. Yesterday, we had a gale coming towards us, straight in our face. Normal people would just turn the boat around and say, “Let’s go back to Norway and our cozy place and do jacuzzi and barbeque and scroll on the smartphone on the couch. But we kept on, kept on, and kept on. Really having a tough time. The bow was plowing down into the ocean when we were riding down the steep, short waves. And then suddenly a new wave is coming when the boat is still plunged down into the sea. The result is complete chaos on deck and inside the cabin. Several times the boat was twisting around, turning around 180 degrees – and all items that are not fastened are flying inside. At the same time, one of us tries to steer the boat with a horizontal salty shower constantly hitting our eyes and body, and one of us tries to get some rest. The boat was a carousel. We did this for 12 hours. The 30 HP Yanmar engine had a hard time. We could smell the diesel all the time. The exhaust came up from the holes in the floor that are actually used for drainage. I never get seasick anymore, but I still can get sick. It is not healthy at all to breathe diesel exhaust. 

When we ran out of diesel fuel, we hoisted sails, tacking and tacking until we could clearly see the details on the green hills of Shetland. We felt very lucky when we finally found a safe place to stop the boat and find more diesel to allow us to continue to the port. 

We were told that we get a quarantine of ten days if we entered the land. After Brexit, Scotland is no longer part of the EU that Norway cooperates with. Instead, they now have very strict rules for tourists trying to enter. You can imagine we were a bit disappointed. But we got time enough to use the windy, warm, and sunny weather to dry everything that was wet before the bureaucracy caught us. From the restaurant, we ordered food. They delivered everything and looked at our boat and us with a warm smile and a look on their face saying “Poor bastards, and what a shame this epidemic is to Shetland, and this is how we meet friendly, tired sailors!”. Other people on the harbor were staring at us with a grim face as if saying “What kind of lunatics are those who are sailing for days to get here when they know they can’t go ashore?”. I don’t know if that is what they were thinking. We could not talk to them because they were standing a safe distance away. During the evening, we felt so tired. I should mention that we ruined the mainsail when tacking in the gale. So we replaced it with a storm sail. There was only a couple of other sailboats in the port. In one of them, a British couple made contact with us and, during our chat with these extremely friendly people, I wished I had the energy to sit down and just talk for hours with them. But I could hardly talk, I was so tired after 48 hours without sleep that my words were few. All I could offer was a smile and “Thank you so much!” for the help we got from them. Katarina, who is a bit more social than I, did most of the talking and also most of the work. Katarina and I went to sleep at 10 PM and slept to 8 AM the next morning when a female member of the Officials arrived to tell us our rights – in other words, “Get the F… out of here!”. 

The way back to Norway was a fantastic reward. Sailing all the way, using almost no diesel. We surfed at speeds of 14 knots. The wind got stronger and stronger, and near the cliffs south of Måløy, our boom broke into two pieces. 

To sum up: We have completed a successful test and feel very good about it. I can now take a lot of boredom and normal life the next few months before I have to do something like this again to feel more “me”. We did this with almost no money. Thousands of people with great expensive sailboats don’t sail far from shore with their boats – maybe for very good reason. You don’t need to be a millionaire to live your life, or to do spectacular things. I know I am fortunate only to be born in Norway at the time we found oil and gas right here where we are sailing now. But, you can get a boat similar to Nanoq for the amount of 10,000 USD. Or you can spend 5,000 USD and spend time fixing it yourself. 

Then at last a special greeting to Randy. We have a few important things in common. One of them is that we are not afraid to leave everything behind and try out something new, see if it is working out, establishing the best thing we like to do, using our skills and imagination. 

[Editor’s note: “Did not mention it to my wife or anybody.” He left on a sea voyage without telling his wife. Now, that’s brave! Stay tuned for updates to see if he survived his sea voyage… and his return home.]

Photo by john Ioannidis

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