The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Postcards From Voyaging #1

Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while might have noticed that I can be quite, shall we say, focused…OK, obsessive.

But over the years of voyaging to places that were outside my comfort zone—a lot of them, since I am by no stretch of the imagination any sort of hard man—I have also learned to manage my fears so that I can stay functional and even be happy.

One of those strategies I had to learn was to research the risk I was dealing with properly but then leave it alone before I veered off into obsessive behaviour that would adversely affect my ability to function.

A good example is doing a decent analysis of the weather in say half an hour once or, at the most, twice a day, but not checking every hour, as is tempting when things are going to get nasty.

A few days ago I realized that the research that I was doing to understand enough about COVID-19 to manage the risks sensibly for Phyllis and me was taking me to a bad place.

So I sat myself down and thought about what I needed to know and, more importantly, what I didn’t.

The result is that I’m reading less online in the evenings, because most of my usual sources are clogged with information I just don’t need to know, and so I have a bit of extra time—in case you are wondering, we don’t have a TV or watch movies much.

So I’m thinking that a good use of that time would be to share some pictures and short stories from our years of voyaging to at least remind myself, and hopefully you, that this too shall pass and there will once again be a wonderful world out there to explore in the best way possible: offshore voyaging in small boats.

Here goes:
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

I took the above photo at Ilulissat, Greenland in 2006, while serving as guide on a superyacht. A bunch of ice from the Ilulissat Icefjord that’s fed by Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world and located just a few miles away, had drifted into the harbour

The skipper and I were trying to keep a couple of growlers from banging into the boat, but every time we pushed them off they would drift back. We were just discussing putting the RIB over to push them further away, a big hassle at 10 at night, when these two fishing skiffs turned up and did the job for us.

Took them a good 15 minutes, and who knows how much expensive fuel, to get it done. When finished they sped back into the inner harbour without a glance or a word our way. Just helping out fellow mariners without expecting even a thank you.

I took the above on the same voyage, also in Ilulissat. I call it Waiting for Winter. To me it tells the whole story of the hard life that Greenland sled dogs lead. Chained out all summer with a rock for a pillow, with their working winter represented by the ice in the bay and the handles of the sled that they will pull.

The photo makes me sad for their hard life but also because hunting with dogs is a way of life threatened by climate change—I know, I am being inconsistent.

Anyway, it’s one of my favourites of all the thousands of photographs I have taken over the years, perhaps because it invokes real emotion, at least in me.

I took this a few years earlier in 2003, when Phyllis and I were cruising in Iceland on our way back from three years in Europe. We had stopped for the night and gone ashore for a hike on a small island off the north coast (the name escapes me).

As we chatted on our way back to the boat, I looked up and saw this set up. I only got one shot before the birds took off—this was in the days of film, no “spray and pray”.

The humour of the birds, two behaving and looking into the shot and one not, with the out-of-focus barn (long lens) and the wildflowers, really works for me. But most of all the shot reminds me of a wonderful afternoon with the woman I love, in a beautiful place that we, as a team, had reached in our own boat.

That will do for tonight. If the spirit moves me, and if readers enjoy the concept, perhaps there will be more of these. If nothing else, they will keep me away from too much bad news! And maybe they will provide a pleasant diversion for you, if only for a moment.

If you are wondering how I selected those three photographs, we have a large electronic picture frame on the wall across from where I sit in the evening (see the photo at the top of the post). It’s loaded with several hundred of my photographs that change every 10 minutes. So I just wrote about the shots that came up. And tomorrow morning I will get them out of my stock and insert them in the post.

Good night.

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William Koppe

Thank you John,
Enjoying both the photos and the comments.

Frank Mulholland

Yes, a great idea to lift the spirits.
I enjoyed your series on the apps which you both use to manage boat maintenance. Perhaps an article on how you manage your stock of photographs while sailing and the apps you use for that? I am a bit undisciplined in culling and editing mine and have never been happy with the standard (free) Apple apps.
Stay safe.

Marek Nowicki

Good picture stories , thank you…and …I couldn’t help: what is the brand and model of the electronic picture frame? Looks very nice and I am looking for one just like the one you have

Alexander Hubner

Hi John, thank you very much. Thats nice makes me think about nicer things. Here in Spain we just could go to the supermarket or walk the dog a little bit. So of course the boat is off limits.
Keep healthy
Regards Alex

Jane Anderson

Beautiful photos and stories. Thank you for sharing!

Evan Cobb

Thank you. The pictures are beautiful and the story around them are so much more. Cheers!


You clearly are better photographer than an art critic. The sled dawg pict wins hands down over the birds. It is beautiful, unusual and very moving! It tells a different story to all without saying a word… Vern

Michael Hiscock

Please keep these photos coming. They are a great reminder of why we want to voyage.

Marc Dacey

Well said.

Jesse Shumaker

Thanks for sharing the photos and stories! These are a welcome respite from current world events.

Bill Attwood

Hi John
Liked the fotos very much. As I make furniture as a hobby, I was interested in the chairs! They look like they come out out of the Windsor tradition, but I with unusual carving on the back splat. Canadian traditional?
Let’s hope indeed that we shall be able to sail again soon, but I don’t think we shall ever return to “normal ‘, perhaps not a bad thing. Just maybe this pandemic will result in some positive changes to society. I hope so.
Yours aye

Steve Cox

Thank you for the wonderful escape, as well as providing fodder to stimulate future adventures.

Ralph Rogers


Francis Clouston

Hi John,
I add my vote to those of your fellow readers and want to see more.

We’re in lockdown in the muggy Bahamas and looking forward to cooler weather when (eventually) the boat will sail into Nova Scotia and haul out, we hope, in July. I find your pictures wonderfully « refreshing ».

Marc Dacey

Interesting. We are stuck on Lake Ontario until the St. Lawrence Seaway opens to “pleasure craft”, meaning we have to be ready to leave all the time we will be pining away on a Toronto dock. We, too, are scheduled (provisionally) to haul out in Nova Scotia, but I am getting the sense a trans-Atlantic this year is fading from possibility.

Paul Padyk

Hi John,

Thanks for the great pictures and the review of your method for alleviating weather induced anxiety. The pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety and I think you can apply the same weather techniques to managing COVID-19-induced anxiety.

The COVID-19 pandemic exists at two levels which are intertwined but also separable: the population level and the individual level. The population level is extremely dynamic and complex requiring gut-wrenching decisions. The individual level is relatively static and manageable with “weather assessment/planning” discipline. In other words, make a plan and stick to it.

To be safe as an individual, it is important to understand some basics about this virus. First, unlike weather, the virus can’t chase us. Second, the virus is inert and immobile until we do something to move and activate it, namely touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face, inhale a contaminated droplet, or fail to cover our own sneezing and coughing.

With that knowledge in hand, we can protect ourselves and others by following the remarkably stable guidance of washing our hands frequently, avoiding touching our faces, maintaining space between ourselves and humanity, and covering our mouths. Using a mask works wonders to remind us to keep our hands away from our faces and can block droplets from our nose and mouth, both in and out.

It is also important to calm our minds by managing the information to which we expose ourselves. In my emergency medicine practice, I review new information every morning, discuss it with the folks I supervise, develop our plan, and then leave it alone until the next day. As a rule, I never read about COVID-19 before bedtime because good sleep is key to inner calm and right now there is nothing calming about COVID-19 science at the population level.

Finally, having an exciting goal to look forward to is vitally important to good mental health. As the comments in this section indicate, we all enjoy dreaming about well-planned adventures and beautiful places. So, please keep the words and pictures coming to help us envision great adventures when the world opens again.

Robert Hurlow

lovely story and picture. We have landed up in Guam after an adventurous trip across Micronesia. Not the sailing part, but being shut out of various ports and countries, Palau, FSM and realizing our only safe harbor for 1000 miles was Guam. All closed up here but the local YC seems to be functioning ad hoc, Ie beer in the evenings, lots of stories from 6 feet away. Cruising is crazy some times

Matt Emerick

Enjoyed the pics and anecdotes (or is it antidotes?) Keep them coming.