Story – My Obsessive Perspective.

At this point in my life I want to be free. I have a single ambition to live and work from an ocean-going sailing yacht. This weaves three strands into a braid that both scares and thrills me. Serafina is a strong and seaworthy sailing boat and I want to cross oceans and visit faraway places. Putting my skin in the sustainable living game is a duty, but a splendid one. Intentional stories impact minds, I want to tell them with video, it’s a privilege.

These are things matter to me. Sailing is the last freedom. When heading offshore in a small boat the skipper is totally responsible for any accompanying souls. Knowing every piece of equipment and taking the means of repair or redundancy are part of this. Freedom is proportional to the responsibility you take on.

Confronting your perspectives with those of other people is part of growing, and the recent adoption of solar energy has changed so much for me. I take a lead in mindset from Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujika, a former freedom fighter and then president of Uruguay. He set a moderate example that shamed other premieres, so they called him poor. His thing was frugality and he lived adequately without the pomp and self-aggrandisement of most political leaders. They just don’t understand Mujika’s approach, which is probably why we humans have such a terrible effect on the planet. Freedom is proportional to the frugality of your consumption and possessions.

Learning to find and tell great intentional stories is a life’s work. Without knowing it explicitly, I have always been drawn to this type of story.

I’ve read books and seen films that blew me away. But I can’t remember how well or badly the films were shot, nor how good the editing was. All I remember was being totally absorbed in the story.

Pride and Prejudice, Lord of The Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brief Encounter, The Pelican Brief, Casablanca, When Harry Met Sally, Legally Blonde. Amongst others, they had me spellbound. I was drawn into a world where people with strong desires were confronted by an obstacle, a conflict. How would that work out? They went on a journey to a resolution that was either a good or bad success or failure…

The magic of the films is their story. Beautiful photography and great sound seamlessly woven by gifted creators all help. But if the story is weak, forget it.

So, I was drawn to study story and its telling. When I worked in TV, I thought I knew how to make stories. But my completing education came in 2000 when a company I worked for went pop. Like many DotComs it did not deliver any real value and so disappeared, tearing up a paper fortune as it faded into old news. I started a novel about it, but what exactly is a story? I didn’t know. That was a rabbit-hole! I researched story theory and found much that was of little help. Heroes’ Journeys are one special case, no more. Story is both as deep and wide as it is misunderstood. But I also found Dramatica Theory – a scientific theory of story. Freedom is proportional to the power of your storytelling.

For a while, and until my mother developed dementia, I started a production company. The work we were asked to do was mostly just the basic stuff; a conference highlights video that nobody would watch. A wedding like all the rest – bride prep, groom nerves, arrival at the Lych gate in a Rolls Royce etc etc. Although on the way to better stuff it was mostly predictable and boring work! Some people think they want a video. Smart people know they need what a video can do.

So what is a story? There are several species such as anecdote, fable, allegory, myth, parable and others. The most powerful is an intentional story.

Intentional stories make an argument for the solution to a problem. Pride and Prejudice makes Austen’s argument for how to marry well. Sicko makes Moore’s argument for better healthcare systems in the US. When we see a personable character with a strong desire who runs into a conflict we wonder what happens. How does it turn out? If we are taken on a well structured journey where the character sets out to resolve the issue then we fall deeply into the story. We are transported into the story world.

Plenty of science has been done on story; amongst other work, studies of the neurotransmitters involved and testing audience responses to true and fictional stories. Humans apparently process stories in the same way as they process experience. Intentional stories can change perspectives.

As my mother became more dependent I had to stop working. As phones became ubiquitous, they developed into far more capable tools that could shoot, edit and upload media. This changed things for me. It became clear that a powerful story that was made within the limitations of a smartphone was a better thing than a beautifully shot directionless anecdote.

So I began to use my phone and simplified the process using what I had learned from Dramatica Theory. This produced pithy little pieces that were easy to make and publish in a short time. This is one of my early efforts:

There is a belief that you need expensive cameras, operators and post-production paraphernalia for any sort of serious video. Feature films and television demands them. But consider ‘Unsane’, Steven Soderbergh shot a feature film on iPhone 7s. Then he made ‘High Flying Bird’ for Netflix the same way. He plans to do more work like this. So, simple technology should be no impediment to organisations needing to become regular media organisations – and that’s just about all of them.

Video works best when published frequently, but this gets expensive if made traditionally by hiring a production company. However, the literacies of shooting and editing are not hard to acquire and the equipment for both activities is cheap. You can see the evidence of this on YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine. The other truth you’ll find is that savvy communicators develop huge followings, enough of them sustain a good living. There are many excellent sources of free creator training on YouTube.

Author, Flannery O’Connor once remarked “Everyone knows what a story is until they sit down to write one”. And you can see the truth of this everywhere media is published. Storytelling is a specific skill.

One thing lead to another, and my mother died just before C-19 hit. So, I was released back into the wilds of my own life again. Lockdown meant work was not possible in a traditional form but options emerged from need. I did some innovative storytelling courses, which led to some experimentation of my own. I steered one or two people towards free online training for phone camera and editing apps. I helped them with story development that they shot and edited.

Traditional production mandates that the lion’s share of time is spent on filming and editing. Building in some front-loaded pre-production made it possible to be far more intentional with what to shoot. No more trying to find the story in the edit. Knowing the story before shooting saves masses of wasted time on stuff that will never make it into the final film. It also makes editing much easier.

I am developing a service that delivers cost effective self-production to clients. First, explain an overall production process and how it can apply to them. Then a lead them to some excellent free training on YouTube to give them the basic skills they need. Third will be a mentoring service. But most importantly, I’ll help them to find the most powerful intentional stories to fulfill their communication objectives.

This is a sustainable creative partnership where they make the physical content they need and I facilitate things remotely and at very much lower cost to them than hiring a production company. My service has its own area on this site.

So, as Serafina and I come out of refit and start to cruise seriously, I aim at helping marine environmental innovators to find the most useful story they can tell given their objectives. I’ll be the Story Fiinder, they’ll get a story that makes an argument for their solution to a problem confronted by their target audience. This is so much better than the all too common “We’re great, buy our sh*t!” assertion. It is a strategic approach to communication with video. Pretty much the same thing works for podcasts etc.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.


Sea Trials Begin…

I missed the sea. The last twenty years or so have been spent on land. I missed the simplicity. So I bought a boat, moved onto it, and then Covid hit and nothing happened. It turns out that life on a boat is low risk and lockdown was good for whittling plans. The plans slowly turned into a refit.

Refits thrust you into a frustrating immobile state. A boat is designed to move but it can’t because everything is in pieces and tools are everywhere. Eventually, you finally emerge blinking into the lightness of being on a thing that could actually start going places, just not quite yet. That is yet to come.

I like heading west and south best. It feels good to be heading to where the butter melts. The first sea trial was to be a simple run taking advantage of two beautiful days. Very light winds were forecast so we’d not be going far or doing much sailing. But it would be a good test of things. The new off-grid electric cooking system and, well, everything could be tested.

I’ve planned to get rid of gas for two reasons. It is becoming very expensive and there are no international gas cylinders that can be filled everywhere. So a refill means buying a cylinder and trying to get rid of the empty. A third reason might be that it’s a bit of a carbon size ten, and so not very green.

Most of successful voyaging is down to diligent preparation. Things break unexpectedly, inconveniently, and often far from land. There is nobody to rely on but yourself. So it’s vital that the refit is comprehensive and fit for the purpose you intend for the boat. A coastal cruising regime is quite different from crossing oceans.

Serafina on her berth

The crew, Eddie, joined at Southampton in the late morning. We did a quick shop to ensure there would be stuff aboard that he had chosen too. Fewer complaints get lodged against the galley that way. Stores were packed away and suddenly the engine was running and the mooring lines were simplified. Other boat people here always turn out to help with departures and arrivals.

Chains, so the metaphor says, break at the weakest link; identifying and beefing up that link is the fastest way to make the whole chain stronger. This is an iterative process that keeps the chain as strong as it can be with the resources available. It might be great to have a macerating electric loo but far more important to have reliable skin fittings. It’s the same with additions and improvements too.

Leaving the dock can be worrisome. I can’t remember a time when I slipped the lines without a frisson of fear and a spurt of adrenaline. This is what keeps me safe at sea. Bad things can happen out there. It’s a bit like living ashore, but not quite so dangerous.

There is a downside to fear, though. Even just the prospect of it can be limiting. It keeps you in a state of preparation, which is safe because you are doing something useful without actually having to face the thing you fear. But when the purpose is to actually go to sea, you risk just going from job to job, doing things that may be needed but are not critical. A lot of maintenance can be done under way or in the next port. Boats are pretty resilient and so long as the essentials are in place there is no reason not to make DIY part of the gig.

I handed the wheel to Eddie as soon as we had cleared the marina. That way he’d get a feel for the boat quickly and become confident about steering decisions. Very soon, we were at Dock Head and hurtling across the channel to track down just outside of the red buoys marking Southampton Water. The mild SW wind gave us an opportunity to fly the Genoa and turn off the engine.

Planning a voyage is about research and imagination. While the crew imagines sunny days, clear nights and new ports, the skipper is tormented by the prospect of potential catastrophes. Things break, people make mistakes, lightning can strike, large ships can have poor watch-keeping, weather and tides can turn out not as predicted. The skipper’s mind is full of these a long time before the engine starts and the mooring is slipped. Identifying likely failure modes and devising action plans are what will reduce the chances of disaster. However, sometimes bad stuff happens and you have to be prepared for when it becomes a thing.

Just as we neared Calshot Spit, a vast cruise liner chased us into the narrow gap between Castle Point, Black Jack and the Calshot Spit Lanby and the shallow spit. These are buoys that mark the Thorn Channel. The bellowing hooter repeated five short blasts to remind the world that they were, well, boss.

At sea is where the proof of the refit pudding is seen, or you fail fast, head somewhere safe, fix the problem and learn from it. If you stop learning then you really should stop sailing. Sea trials ought to stress various functions of boat and crew. Not all at once, of course because that could channel a disaster. A good refit will be unlikely to produce any serious issues, however!

The Solent became less fussy and we turned west to face the light wind and make our way down the western arm of the Solent. Eddie really did seem to enjoy steering and was better at it than the autopilot, which kept flipping out of ‘Auto’ to ‘No Pilot’. So as the afternoon slowly turned into evening we began looking for a good place to anchor at Hurst Castle. The gap between the Isle of Wight and the Hurst Spit is narrow so the tides get to rip through the Needles Channel. A well-set anchor is a must, I set the anchor app so it would warn me if we moved out of a 50m circle.

Unless you propose mostly single handing then assembling and managing a crew is a significant task. Without a permanent crew I am going to have to become good at putting ad hoc crews together. There are a number of websites to facilitate this. Members like Eddie who pay to join a crew finding site are likely to be really committed, so good choices.

Many of our political class miss a fundamental component of leadership. I like the notion of the Arthurian Bargain. A leader can only expect allegiance from those they lead if they provide protection. This means ensuring the necessary skills and knowledge exist in the crew so that they can learn and then be unleashed on the job.

Dinner was fine and enjoyable. It was just like being alongside and resulted in washing up – like always. This done, it was soon time to go to bed. From ten till three all went well. I slept peacefully. And then the anchor app started howling. It was the time of the horns, the pre-dawn half light. I leapt from my bunk and checked to see if this was going to be a problem. It wasn’t. But by the time I felt comfortable it was just beginning to get light. And it was doing this in a way that just had to be photographed. So I stayed up for a few hours and enjoyed recording the spectacle before going back to bed for a few more precious moments of sleep.

Short voyages are much easier to manage. Day sailing in good conditions delivers well to crews and passengers alike. On longer voyages, those over one or more nights, someone has to be on watch at all times. They take on serious responsibilities for the safety of the others, which can be quite overwhelming at first. The most successful watch system I have known uses three watches. Four hours on and eight off with a dog watch of two two-hour stints from 16:00 to 18:00 and 18:00 to 20:00. This ensures that the watches rotate through the day and everyone gets variety. The incoming watch makes a drink for the outgoing watch and for themselves. Listing everyone’s preferences for tea, coffee and sugar etc means that they get what they prefer. At night, some snacks are left for when people get hungry.

A good sailor accepts the biblical admonishment to look out for everyone else. Loving your neighbour makes for a happy and inclusive crew. At some point, it is not uncommon for someone to need to ground their static. They must be given room to do this. Falling out is never much fun so avoiding it is key.

I’m acutely aware that although it’s my boat, it’s the crew’s home while they are aboard. Whilst the final decision is mine, I prefer a collaborative style where everyone has a voice in exploring the possibilities. A shouty alpha captain may work on a race yacht but where the objective is the voyage itself that does not work so well. It’s like peril for the sake of it.

Staying within the ability of the boat to harvest energy from sun, wind and motion minimises reliance on diesel and therefore the carbon hoofprint. When taking on stores, making sensible choices of fresh and preserved foods helps ensure that the diet will be healthy. If energy harvesting permits then a freezer will keep meat for ages; and pre-prepared meals for night watches, for bad weather and for later on a long voyage when the fresh veg is getting low.

Eddie wanted to see the Needles, but breakfast came first and then squaring away the beds etc. Motor on and the new electric winch pulled up the anchor and with it a glob of sticky mud. The deck wash cleared that off. There was no way that we had drifted during the night. The alarm was most likely due to the enormous amount of chain that we had laid out unravelling from a pile.

The tide was flooding so progress was slow. After we reached the Warden buoy it was clear that this would take a very long time. So we turned around and headed sadly East and a bit North towards Calshot.

Routine! I hate the word. It has been defined as the thief of time. But, it is vital to ensure that certain things are done so that problems do not take the boat by surprise. So routine checking of things like the rigging, the batteries, fresh water reserves and growth on the hull etc should be done regularly. The Sailing Britican website has a bundle of checklists that are born of hard won experience and I found to be worth the investment.

The wind was very light and with the tide under us the sails would barely fill. So it was going to be motoring before turning up Southampton Water. Rounding Calshot meant the Genoa could go up again and we wafted gently back to Dock Head. Eddie and I steered and the autopilot botched the job whenever it was given the task.

Not pushing cost into the future is a fundamental aspect of sustainability. There are no overdrafts with batteries or fuel tanks. I chose coppercoat for the antifouling. This will last a long time and will require maintenance, just not much more than cleaning. The underwater hull cleaner I bought was expensive but equivalent to the cost of a single haul out. So over the life of the coppercoat it’s going to be a win; there will be far fewer haul outs. Another benefit is that the osmotic blisters are all carved out and repaired. The hard epoxy of the antifouling will keep things tight for years.

The trip back to the marina was uneventful and when we got back there were boat people ready to take our lines, I switched the engine off and suddenly it was all over. Not the most exhilarating sail but Serafina did everything right and there were no dramas. Eddie was great crew – success!

For me, this was a taste of life to be lived. I am becoming a sea-beastie again, which is very very good. There will be many challenges ahead and much work to do to get Serafina ship shape for ocean passages. I am so looking forward to that moment when land disappears under the horizon and the days and nights become simple with possibility again.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.

Solar Power

With the help of Justin Richardson from Transporter Energy, I put lots of solar-fed Lithium on my boat. I was expecting energy independence, but what I was not expecting was a complete change in my attitude to energy.

There is plenty of credible evidence from competent and informed sources that a primary cause of increased climate woe is very much down to humanity. We discovered huge reserves of energy in the form of oil, coal and gas that took millions of years to form. In geological terms, we are setting it all off at once. Bang! Dirty fuels like these are capital assets yet we have been using them like they are income.

In the process, our cities are polluted, our atmosphere is becoming an efficient greenhouse and the amount of energy in the atmosphere is causing more and stronger storms, droughts and floods, depending upon where you live.

For a long time, we have been told that it is our behaviour that is causing all this. We are profligate with energy even to the ludicrous extent of Christmas lights, patio heaters and Las Vegas. I have been wanting to do something about this for a long time. But living in a city makes solutions expensive and difficult. It requires a complete change.

I’ve also been wanting to return to live-aboard sailing, something I did a lot of in the 90s. Luckily, this gives me an opportunity to start on the journey to a reduced carbon footprint. So I bought a strongly built boat from the 1970s, a 41-foot ocean-going ketch. All the carbon produced in the construction of the boat has been produced. I can do nothing about that, but I can choose not to build a new boat.

Having the boat is a partial approach to the problem. Making her into a low impact home is another. I could hop from port to port and hook into marina power as I go. I’d still need gas to cook, which rather defeats my objective.

The answer has to be in copying those who are taking their lives off-grid, so far as is possible. It has never been easier to find local solutions to energy problems

One answer is to generate small amounts of power yourself. Microgeneration comes in a variety of forms, both for static and mobile lifestyles.

After some research, it transpires that solar power gives the greatest return on investment. I intend spending a lot of time around the equator, where it’s warm. This produces the highest energy density from the sun. Solar panels are becoming much more efficient while dropping in price. Battery technology is also increasing in energy density and longevity.

But I think we have to consider the ensuite pachyderm. It’s not just about the financial or operational carbon cost. There is a carbon cost associated with manufacture, ore extraction, logistics etc etc. The lifecycle inventory adds up for all the stages involved in production. This is something of a problem in that adding the costs of producing and operating the machinery involved in production are hard to evaluate.

Given this, I have decided that it is likely to be at least a bit cheaper than my part of building, operating and maintaining grid energy infrastructure.

Just to have an electricity grid in place costs power. The whole thing has to be able to produce stable power at a stable frequency. This is managed but having enough capacity at all times of the day means over-generating. The cost of firing up power stations to provide adequate capacity is not insignificant. Again, there have been advances in storing power for peak usage, but a grid takes power to provide before anyone turns on a light or makes a cup of tea.

So I am taking steps to become an energy farmer. First, and most obvious, is harvesting energy from the sun. Next could be wind energy, there have also been significant advances in efficiency. Finally, there is regeneration from the boat’s passage through the water. There are solutions to this and it is possible that one day I might replace the diesel engine with an electric motor/generator. There have been significant advances in this area too.

All of these sources are renewable. Sun and wind are not burned up like fossil fuels but their form is changed. The use of this energy has few, if any adverse products.

The result has to be a smaller carbon footprint for energy used.

What I was not expecting in all of this was how my attitude to energy would change. For a long time, it has been abundant. We could leave lights on and not pay a huge financial price. Now, it is the energy itself that is limited to what can be locally generated. The consequence has to be frugality, which is good. I now plan my energy budget. I can no longer be profligate with energy. I plan cooking, watermaking etc amongst the essentials of nav lights, radar, instruments and autopilot etc.

Being self-sufficient reduces dependence on social infrastructure. I believe this is good in that I have to be a thoughtful consumer.

I can’t have energy on credit, there is no way to use tomorrow’s electricity today. I can only use it after it has been generated. I cannot push costs into the future.

Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is the exact definition of Sustainable Development that the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations arrived at in 1987.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.

Media Crew Member – Rick Deppe

In 2008 the Volvo Ocean Race had a stopover in Boston. I was fortunate to be invited there. One problem the race had is that between stopovers the yachts were racing flat out and nobody had time to create content. So the organisers introduced a new crew category. We made this film about one of the Media Crew Members, Rick Deppe.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.

Erling Matz

A very long time ago (2011) I was crewing as navigator for a friend. We left his boat for a week in St Malo on the north coast of France.  On my return I was introduced to Erling Matz, a journalist living on his boat. We spent most of the afternoon in the yacht club bar and, when thrown out in the late afternoon, repaired to his boat Elise, where there was more to drink. He is such an interesting bloke that I felt it incumbent to interview him drunk though we were. This is one of my early write, shoot, edit and upload jobs on my iPhone 4s. The job took half an hour from end to end, which impressed the heck out of me.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.

Master of Serafina

Heinz Neiman bought, lived aboard and took Serafina across the Atlantic. After sailing around the Caribbean, he brought her back to the UK. Part of this voyage was single-handed. He stopped me from buying an inferior boat and sold his to me. He was kind enough to give me an interview before heading back to Australia.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.

Interview with Dan and Kika of Sailing Uma

Interview with Dan and Kika

In September 2018 Dan and Kika were invited to speak at the Southampton (UK) International Boat Show. They were kind enough to give me an interview.

Dan and Kika from Sailing Uma

The interview was so interesting I don’t have the heart to cut it. In any case, as Kika says, “Done is better than perfect!”.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression: ‘As pretty as an airport.’ — Douglas Adams

Serafina up on bricks, just before I bought her.

So here I am in my 60s. Looking after Mother, overweight and underemployed. Not quite how I had imagined things panning out. So I bought a boat. It’s not the first time, but probably the last. If it all works out then Serafina will eventually be my lifestyle, universe and everything…

It almost didn’t happen. I was looking hard at other boats and had almost decided to buy one, but quite by chance I met the owner of Serafina. Heinz had just sailed her across the Atlantic, partly single-handed. When I showed him the boat I had in mind, he laughed and showed me his. The man has a gift for logic. Now he has my money – but I have his yacht.

The last few years have culminated in a repeat of what I always do when reaching a point in life when it’s not clear what comes next – I reinvent myself. Like Doctor Who at the end of a series, there comes a time when the old personality just will not work any more.

The plan, in this iteration of self, is to reconnect with some of the best parts of my life. Sailing, stories, and being scared witless. With plenty of skin in the game, I am setting out on and documenting this new journey.

Join me.

All comments can be made on Serafina’s Facebook Page.