Wednesday 10 March 2010

‘The uncharted coasts of the human spirit’

A long-awaited copy of William H Longyard’s A Speck on the Sea arrived this morning. With more than 70 accounts of big adventures in small boats I couldn’t resist plunging in immediately. Now on page 40 it is proving to be everything I hoped it would be—well researched with a gripping subject matter.

Being a Mediterranean rowing story the first full account, William Okeley’s 150-mile journey from Algiers to Mallorca in 1644, is easy to relate to. After four years enslavement in North Africa, (No, I couldn’t relate to that bit.) Okeley and several companions built a cloth-covered ‘folding’ rowing boat, which they sneaked out of the city in pieces, assembled on the beach and so escaped from Algiers and slavery.

Heading due north contrary winds hampered their initial progress and when dawn broke on the first day they were still within sight of Algiers. After four days rowing (this is the part that I could relate to) they were exhausted. On the verge of giving up they came upon a sleeping turtle, which they divided among themselves and, so sustained, rowed on to Mallorca, which they reached two days later.

One story that doesn’t appear to feature in A Speck on the Sea is that of Sebastian Näslund. His story is one that I seem to stumble upon every now and then via this tantalisingly short youtube clip.

Näslund is a Swedish sailor and freediver who built a 14ft boat and, in 2004, set sail from Sweden to cross the Atlantic. He then sailed his craft ‘Arrandir’ back to Sweden.

The book of the journey ‘Ensam met havet’ is available in Swedish. According to the website it focuses on the inner journey, the loneliness and the character building that such a voyage provides. Which reminds me of the Webb Chiles line ‘If a sailor doesn’t learn anything more from the sea than how to reef a sail, the voyage wasn’t worth making.’

Multi-talented Näslund appears to major in freediving. He has been down to -74m on one breath. He has written a freediving booklet titled Bloodshift—an approach to expert freediving. From the blurb, ‘It (Bloodshift) assumes that you are in it for the lifestyle, and if you are not, the text tries to give you the tools that are needed to make freediving a way of living, on land as in water.’ It’s sounds as if the manual may have a broader application as inspiration for anyone thinking of exploring their limits. What Webb Chiles (again) called ‘the uncharted coasts of the human spirit’.


Dale said...

There is something about those Swedes I tell you. Many years ago I went to a marine museum in Auckland NZ. It had a whole gallery devoted to long distance rowing and paddling.

On of the features was a section on an almost unknown man, Anders Svedlund, who had emigrated to New Zealand. He had a habit of sneaking off and rowing very long distances on the quiet. No press, no sponsors no fanfare.

He rowed the Pacific and the Indian oceans, returning home unnoticed each time.

A very unusual man

Ben said...

Having just completed the book I've seen that Näslund does actually get a paragraph in the appendix 'other notable voyages'.