From Scotland we sail to the Isle of Man and then to Cornwall. In “Transition Town” Totnes we meet Earth Lawyer Polly Higgins.
Isle of Islay (GBR)– Falmouth (GBR)
Bye Bye Scotland
High pressure. Sailors love this meteorological phenomenon because it usually brings clear skies and fair winds. For Dutchmen a high-pressure area over Scandinavia is bliss. Sunny weather and easterly winds that allow for smooth sailing along the entire Dutch North-Sea coast.
Being on the Scottish Isle of Islay this weather system means SE wind, exactly our planned direction into the Irish Sea. Of course we can’t complain, after all it’s much better than the westerly flow of low-pressure areas – with their associated storms and rain – that are normal here in this season. But we also hesitate to sail directly against 25 knots of wind, as it is very tiresome. After a few days on the Isle of Islay with SE winds anywhere between 20-30 knots, the wind forecast promises us less wind. It even indicates a temporarily shift to East. As the saying goes “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails”, we leave in the early evening with a reefed mainsail and genua, the mizzen sail and the cutter jib.
When Port Ellen disappears in the distance, we recognize the white lighthouse, the beach and steep cliffs from our hikes. The evening sun lights up the brown-purple hills in a soft orange haze. With around 15 knots of wind, sailing starts smoothly. On a close-to-the wind course we’re just able to keep the white-flashing lighthouse on the Irish island of Rathlin on starboard. When darkness falls, Ivar stays on watch. The wind shifts more easterly, which allows us to steer a direct course into the Irish Sea. But with the shift comes an increase to 25 knots. Add to that our 6 knots of boat speed and 2-3 knots of south-going tide, and the wind speed over deck becomes a constant 30+ knots. Life on board becomes tougher.
The wind changes back to SE the next day and we need to tack our way down, which almost doubles the distance. For Luci this is certainly no problem, but we as crew have a hard time adjusting. This is the first time during our trip that we have to sail so close to the wind, and everything takes extra effort. Simple things like making food or going to the toilet become a complex, acrobatic tour where you need to time every move with the waves to prevent a mess. Normal activities like writing or reading become too much of an effort and it’s more difficult to sleep. The spray water that splashes over deck and into the cockpit finds its way into the cabin via our wet boots and sailing gear. When we finally reach the lee of the Isle of Man, we both feel tired and salty.
Friends and Packages on the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is located in the middle of the Irish Sea between Scotland, Wales and Ireland and on our route south. Our friends Jojanneke and Karl recently moved from Enkhuizen to the Isle of Man and not long after we’re moored up in Peel we enjoy drinks together on-board. They bring big packages – it feels almost like Christmas! One of them contains our solar panels, which had been repaired in the Netherlands. The other one new boots, perfectly timed. Ivar’s are no longer waterproof and Floris’s are only comfortable in warm weather. The new boots are a gift from Sperry, an American brand and inventor of the classic sail shoe. They fit us like gloves and we instantly love them! Many thanks for your generosity!
We enjoy our time with Jojanneke and Karl. Seeing familiar faces abroad makes the place less foreign – we instantly feel at home. We catch up on each others’ experiences abroad, have curry together and go of the island tour in their Land Rover. Driving down the scenic coastal route, some of it off-road, feels like being in a nature documentary. Pastoral greens, heath-covered hills and rugged cliffs dominate the landscape. We also get a chance to replenish our fruit stock when we visit their home in Castletown; the neighbours’ trees are laden with apples, so we pick two bags full. They serve as delicious reminders of a wonderful time on the island. Many thanks guys!
Around Land’s End
When we check the weather forecast, we can’t believe our eyes. Three consecutive days of moderate E wind, in this season, in the Irish Sea! Perfect for sailing south. We leave the next day with plans for Cornwall and possible stopover options in Holyhead and Milford Haven. It goes so smoothly, we decide to pass both of them. The sun is out and we are speeding towards Southern England. And then… could it be? A fin, a jump! Dolphins! From a distance they speed towards the boat, jumping and diving their way through the water. Moments later a group of eight common dolphins surround us. They move like torpedoes, turning, jumping over each other and playing with Luci’s bow wave. They even seem to get a kick out of our cries of joy. Magic!
We watch them until they disappear again into the depth of the sea, as unannounced as they appeared. They have stolen our hearts. Having seen these beautiful creatures up close strengthens our determination to do something to help protect the sea and the environment at large.
Our blue water cruising continues until the lighthouse at Land’s End. This most westerly point of Cornwall marks the start of the final, more strenuous stretch. From here we have to sail eastward against the wind. Without protection from the coast, we tack against the wind and waves towards the nearest port. Luckily we arrive in Penzance just in time to enter the harbour basin at high tide. The harbour master moves a few boats so we can moor alongside two others – the last empty spot. We feel exhilarated to have made it to Cornwall in one go and on our way to the showers we realise that this is the fastest we’ve gone on this trip, with 300 nautical miles in 44 hours.
Totnes in Transition
At the River Dart in Devon lies the 8,000-soul town of Totnes. This is where Rob Hopkins founded the “Transition Town” movement. The idea is that communities can shift from oil dependency to local resilience. Practical actions towards sustainability at a local level would achieve that and strengthen the community. We read Rob’s “Transition Handbook” and are intrigued by the concept. Curious to see how it works in practice, we visit Totnes. Since the E winds make it difficult for us to sail into Totnes, we decide to take a train from Penzance instead.
As we explore Totnes, we notice the large amounts of locally owned shops in High Street, its main shopping area. Many of them feature local and/or organic products and have a sticker on the shop window indicating they accept “Totnes Pounds”, the local currency. There is even a shop named “Not made in China”. There are many small and larger public gardens, which include fruit trees and edible plants. But we also notice the large amount of fossil-fuelled cars that are allowed even in the tiniest streets and take up a lot of space.
Our kind host and “TTT” coordinator Hal Gillmore takes us on a tour. “Although we started the “Transition Town” movement in Totnes and many people come to visit us here, we are by no means transitioned. We’re only ten years into this, and although some initiatives have worked, others not so. Many people still stick to their privately owned cars, for example”. His words of caution are clearly based on experience and try-outs. But that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm. Many initiatives are successful, such as the open eco-house initiative, where people can visit eco-homes in their neighbourhood to get inspired to make their own home more sustainable. Or the “Archimedes Screw”, a hydropower facility in the River Dart. It provides about 20% of Totnes’s electricity needs. Another successful example is the “Re-conomy” project, which encourages local spending to support local jobs. Hal also explains “garden-dating”. “Private gardens owned by busy people, for example a working family with kids, are matched to people with time but no garden to work in. They share the fruit and vegetables, community bonds are strengthened, growing-knowledge is exchanged and preserved, and resources and energy are saved in the food supply-chain.”
It becomes clear to us that a community has a lot of potential to become more sustainable by arranging activities on a local level. Of course not all sustainability challenges can be solved by a local approach, but it’s certainly an important piece of the “sustainability puzzle”. The most obvious activities to focus on at a local level are to grow food, to build more sustainable homes and to produce renewable energy. The “Transition Network” aims to be an “open source toolkit” for other towns to use and adapt how they see fit. And it clearly resonates globally. By now, there are hundreds of towns across all continents that are working on transition projects. We have also made a more detailed article and video about this sustainable solution.
We Need “Ecocide Law”!
Polly Higgins calls herself “Earth Lawyer”. She and her organisation “Eradicating Ecocide” strive to make ecocide – the large-scale destruction of ecosystems – a crime against peace under international law. We’re delighted we get to meet her in Totnes.
She convincingly explains that current environmental law is not effective in protecting the earth’s ecosystems. There are no international laws that make activities such as deforestation and fossil fuel extraction criminal acts, despite the large-scale destruction of ecosystems and the harm to indigenous communities that they cause. While the law protects the private and economic interests of the corporations undertaking these activities, the earth is losing out. Therefore the earth needs rights to correct this imbalance. Sounds radical? Think about the abolition of slavery act in 1833. That piece of legislation was very effective to ban an immoral practice that was considered of significant economic importance at the time. And the feared economic backlash never came because the affected companies were compensated and found alternative ways to do business.
We fully agree with Polly that the legal system urgently needs an update to effectively deal with the 21st century planetary environmental crises. Ecocide law has to be part of the solution toolkit towards a sustainable future. We greatly admire her passion, strength and personality in this heroic crusade. For more information, see a more detailed article and video about this sustainable solution.
Family Holiday in Falmouth
Back on the boat in Penzance we decide that Falmouth is a better place to host Ivar’s brother and his family. They are on their way from the Netherlands to stay with us on the boat during their autumn holiday. While Penzance as a town is very pleasant, the harbour facilities in Falmouth are better suited for a family visit.
Upon our arrival in Falmouth Haven we are welcomed by harbourmaster Anne, who kindly advises us on the local highlights. Kris, Ruth, Jule, Okke and Kato arrive in the afternoon for our first reunion in four months. We hug, kiss, play with the kids, thrilled to see them again. Missing out on birthdays and other events is certainly the flip side of being away on the high seas.
Time flies with a visit to Pendennis Castle, a beach walk as an alternative to a closed swimming pool, card and “kolonisten” (settlers) games, cooking and lots of catch-up chatter. Meeting them abroad, and undertaking new adventures together, feels like the best option to compensate for being away. Saying goodbye we pledge to meet up again in Spain, Barcelona perhaps? We can’t wait to set sail in that direction.