Water is on my mind.
We live on a boat so that’s reasonable. As we cruise along the waterways of Europe the banks are testament to civilization’s relationship with water. There are mills and weirs and locks and places to scoop up water into the kitchens of 13th century buildings.
There are irrigation works crisscrossing the landscape. (I am reminded of the incredible ancient irrigation tunnels in Afghanistan which carry water often many meters underground for many kilometers to otherwise parched landscapes). There are nuclear power stations which need massive amounts of cooling water. There are plastic bottles that held drinking water or fizzy water or various sugar flavoured concoctions. There are taps and hoses from which we fill our tank for our daily showers and washing activities. At the moment in 34°C we have cold showers several times a day and drink that bottled fizzy water. We bucket water from the river or canal onto the decks to keep them cool. On our Wifi internet coverage we follow other parts of the world suffering from extremes of water. Droughts and floods, Tsunamis and torrential storms. Fire is the natural balance to water and where water is scarce, fire rages. The west coast of North America is on fire. Our home province of BC has drought and massive forest fires; and even the rain forest is burning. It is impossible to even imagine some of the temperatures across the Middle East. In places the combination of high temperature and high humidity make human life impossible.
Sometimes I wonder at our collective Nero like approach to Climate Change. (I capitalize as it seems important enough to rate capitals). Undoubtedly many of the extreme weather events that we experience are rooted in our changing climate; and our changing climate is rooted in our addiction to fossil fuels. 2015 however somehow seems different. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ is perhaps a sign of this. No longer Nero but facing the facts straight on and pulling no punches. Most of the governments of Europe and much of the rest of the world are making strong statements and commitments that indicate a serious wish to confront Climate Change and minimize its impacts. All somewhat too late but perhaps some part of human civilization can continue (for better or worse) if massive action is taken very quickly. I feel somewhat ashamed that noticeably absent from this thrust is the leadership of the English speaking world. I am mostly sure that it is not totally from stupidity. (There are exceptions to this especially in the insanity that is politics in the USA). Obviously, as Laudato si’ makes clear money and greed are the rulers there. In the UK, Canada and Australia Climate Change is not part of the leaders consciousness. In fact in Canada and Australia the prime ministers are out and out climate change deniers. Heads firmly buried in the sand and scientists muzzled from speaking truth.
And so I come to our life aboard Skookum. Grey hair, retirement, some income and some significant skill sets make it possible. The history of the places that we travel through is what pulled me in initially. Buildings and landscape modifications that go back hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years. In British Columbia the First Nation history is as long and in fact with stories and legends is undoubtedly as rich. As an architect however I love the expressions of cultures and power and even strife that are evident in the buildings of stone and mortar. How, in medieval times were such beautiful expressions of power and devotion constructed. Other than the cathedrals and castles medieval towns are so human scaled. Designed for people not cars right off the top. The industry and supply chains were all local. They seem somehow to portent our future.
I often tell the story of our first barge holiday in 2008. A week on Bill Wolfestan’s Linquenda on the canal de Nivernais. One day we staked up to the side of the canal and I walked into a village for wine and cheese and bread as one does in France. It was like walking back into the 13th century. Nothing seemed to have changed. I was sold on more of those kinds of experiences and I have not been disappointed. In fact we just left Moret sur Loing which was a favourite of impressionist Alfred Sisley. My first walk over the famous bridge had me speechless at its beauty.
Sometimes I do feel momentarily Neroesque. I am so conscious of how our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels is destroying the very fabric of what keeps us alive and yet here I am using approximately €1000 of fuel a year to live aboard Skookum. And then of course there is flying. Can I justify this to my inner soul? Environmental campaigners run into this all the time. ‘How can you fly to a global conference on climate change knowing that your very flight is contributing to the problem?’ trumpets the also flying Press who are saved for being hypocrites by espousing no values at all. It’s a bit like not going to the hospital for treatment when you are working for a better health care system.
This is our fourth year on Skookum and we can see the possibility of selling perhaps as soon as next year. It was hard to leave Victoria in the summer time as it also is so beautiful. We eventually managed to break out of ‘the velvet rut’ as Victoria is affectionately known, for life on the canals of Europe. It has been a great experience with much to recommend it. If you are reading this you have probably got some sense of what it has been like from Barbara’s writings. I had thought that I would read and drink more g&ts than we have. The days however filled up with travel and exploration and the wine (and Champagne for a month around Reims and Epernay) was the libation of choice. They change from region to region and some have reached the sublime.
Skookum (a BC Chinook jargon word meaning strong, powerful, right for the job) has performed well. The first year I spent a fair bit of time in the basement becoming familiar with all the systems. This year hardly at all. She is a 12.5m Altena Dutch steel cruiser that I call ‘a Dutch Chevy RV’. She (tradition still demands that Skookum be a ‘she’) is a style of boat owned by seemingly everyone in Holland, hence ‘Chevy’ and she is an RV on the water. I wanted a boat which was easy to buy and easy to sell. The romantic notion of a barge was all very nice but the investment in money, commitment and psychic energy was way too high for me. Also staying below 15m is important in terms of regulations in some jurisdictions. So perhaps this is an announcement of intent to sell. However she will be a hard boat to let slip away and I am sure we will do at least one more year. If you have any interest let me know. Several people have also expressed an interest in a share. We have met several boats owned by groups that seem to work quite well.
As many of you may have read I have been following a path as we travel. As a mediator I have been researching conflict and its management especially using concentrated and conscious empathy. This year I attended four days of presentations on mediation from all over the world in Berlin which enabled me to once again visit the amazing history of the city we sailed into two years ago.
We also spent a few weeks in the UK visiting Barbara’s mum and her family in Wisbech close to King’s Lynn where Captain Vancouver hails from. I spent a few days with my sister in Twickenham and we had some beautiful walks along the Thames watching the boats and looking at riverside houses that she would like to move to.
Paris had some highlights and it was pretty special to be moored at the Bastille and to cruise past the Eiffel tower and the Louvre. It was however also a big hot city full of summer tourists (like us) and our most expensive moorage ever at €50 a night. We were glad to leave and get back into the rural scene and smaller towns.
So there you have my idiosyncratic contribution to our blog.