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Søren Larsen voyage #5 - through the Panamá Canal and to the Pacific 

Hi friends,

It's a pleasure to be writing from Shetland, there's nowhere like home, especially after 7 months of covid-enforced exile. And I've decided to continue the story of my first voyage aboard Søren Larsen today, and take us through the Panamá Canal from Limon Bay to Balboa on the Pacific side.

Stay safe and best wishes,



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5am - and darkness surrounded Søren Larsen, save for the anchor lights of ships.  The peace of the night gave way to excited whispers that grew in volume as more and more people appeared on deck.  Suddenly there was a hiss of air, and a bang, and the main engine thumped into life; the whispers grew to murmurs, and I noticed a faint band of twilight above the eastern horizon.  All hands had been called  to prepare for today's passage through the Panamá Canal. 

I had no trouble finding crew to help raise the anchor.  Windlass-driver, chain-flaker, messenger, bell-ringer, cable-washer; we had the lot in place before I had asked.  We headed forward and took the cover off the windlass motor.  Rob wound the handle, flicked the decompression lever and the single-cylinder Lister engine kicked in.  Mary at the top of the forward companionway reported that Troy was ready below decks; she would relay communications to me as he ensured the anchor chain was stowed in neat flakes in the locker below.  Charlie arrived with the deck hose ready to blast the Limon Bay mud back into the sea as the cable came in; Monica was in position by the ship’s bell ready to ring off the shackles.

Soon the anchor was home, the cable locker was secured, and Søren Larsen was steaming towards the pilot station with a dim grey light beginning to reveal the silhouettes of the ships behind the anchor lights that surrounded us. 

At the boarding area, Lucy swung the gate open as the launch drew alongside us, and the pilot stepped across onto Søren Larsen’s deck.

“One-Eight-Zero, Captain!” he shouted as he strode aft.  “Full ahead!” 

The pilot was a small man with a serious expression and sunglasses on before dawn. By the wheel, as we motored towards the canal approaches, he explained his strategy to Colin.      

“We will head for the Gatun Locks first.  The lock master will tell me when we are clear to enter the lock. We will be sharing the lock with a larger ship.  The canal have agreed that you will not use the mules; your line handlers are good, sir?”  Colin nodded. 

Larger ships passing through the Panama Canal are dragged through the locks by mechanical locomotives known as ‘mules’.  Søren Larsen’s timber hull could easily be damaged by the forces these mules can exert, so we had requested to handle our lines manually.  This meant that our crew would have to be very sharp, taking in slack promptly as the ship rose with the water level. 

I arranged the eight crew designated to me at the aft mooring stations: four on port, and four on starboard, an experienced hand at the front on each line to ensure they were handled safely.

(Here's the port team: Crispin, Rob, Chris - and Andrew looking very ready with his moustache neatly trimmed!)

Soon, we were motoring into the first of the Gatun Locks. Four Panamá Canal line handlers threw their heaving lines to our deck; we made them fast to our mooring lines, and they were heaved up and looped over the bollards on the lock sides. The lock gate closed behind us, the water started to rush in, and soon our mooring teams were heaving in slack hand over hand. 

Once we reached the height of the lock walls we were able to view the countryside beyond; but before there was time to rest, the gates opened and we motored into a second lock where this was repeated. There was a third lock, and our line handlers began to sweat, grinning through the exertion and the growing heat of the tropical day.  Emerging from this third lock, we motored out and into the Gatun Lakes, the man-made lake that forms the central part of the Panama Canal.  

The canal route follows a buoyed channel for 24 miles through the Gatun Lakes, with vivid green rainforest growing densely right down to the water’s edge and beyond; the tops of trees that were growing before the valleys were flooded still protrude from beneath the water, giving the lake a slightly unnatural feel.  The rainforest is crucial to the canal’s existence however, and is strictly protected; without the trees, the water would soon dry up and drain away, and the sea route would be lost. 

Past small islands, bursting with tree life (actually the remnants of hills, poking their summits through the surface) we glided along, through the mud-brown water of the lakes. I climbed to the topgallant yard; the view was superb, the red and green buoys dotted out our path ahead, dense canopy cloaked the countryside in deep, primal green.

                                       The view from the topgallant yard as Søre Larsen forges through the green waters of the Gatun Lakes


Lunchtime came; the crew were fed in shifts, taking turns to steer, keep lookout, and watch the shipping traffic move through the lakes.  The wind picked up steadily until soon we had thirty knots blowing from the east. 

The passage became tense as we approached the Pedro Miguel locks; the strong wind was reducing our options, making it difficult to slow down, and our pilot became engaged in a heated conversation over his VHF radio. 

“ETA at the lock is 5 minutes” he called in initially to the Pedro Miguel lock master; the reply came back that the lock gate could not be opened for 10 minutes. 

“I am making minimum speed” our pilot replied, “You must open the gate now!” 

“I cannot open it!  The lock is not yet full!” was the reply.  

We were still making 4 knots toward the closed gate, unable to reduce speed any further.  A 30,000 tonne bulk carrier, the 'Crimson Galaxy', was following us, a little over two hundred metres astern, and would be sharing our lock; Colin looked worried.  

We breathed again when we saw the gate begin to open, just in time to admit us.  As we tied up at the far end of the lock, the bulker moved in, dragged by the bright yellow mules until her huge flared bow towered over us at almost the height of our lower topsail yard. 

                                        The bulk carrier 'Crimson Galaxy' approaches from astern in Pedro Miguel locks.


Our line handling teams had an easier job now that we were dropping down through the locks; easing out steadily was easier than heaving up slack, keeping our ship central in the lock as the water level fell.  We passed through the two locks at Pedro Miguel, and into the three-stage drop at Miraflores.  The midday heat was fading into evening, there were only three more locks to negotiate, and the Pacific Ocean was tantalisingly close.  But this tense day had one more piece of drama for us. 

“We have to be quick, leaving this lock” the pilot explained to Colin in the last lock.  “There is a current, where the fresh water in the lock mixes with the sea.  I am going to keep ahead of this current.”  I saw Colin nod uncertainly, however when the lock gates opened and our lines were let go, and we begun to move ahead, the ship took a slew to port. 

“Hard-a-starboard” the pilot ordered the helmsman.  Still the ship turned to port.  “Half ahead the engine.  Full ahead…!”  But it was no good – the swing was uncheckable.  

The width of the Panama Canal is only slightly more the waterline length of Søren Larsen; I felt the ship judder as her stem hit the left side of the canal.  Luckily the canal sides were low, and the vulnerable jibboom, bowsprit and head rig extended far over the concrete and grass; the sturdy stem, built from a massive piece of solid Danish oak fifty years previously took the brunt of the collision. 

Nothing happened for a second or two, then Colin’s voice boomed, “Get some bloody lines ashore!” 

The shocked-looking canal linesmen took our lines, we made fast, and Colin manoeuvred using the lines to straighten the ship up.  Sally returned aft from a hasty inspection, reporting no damage.  “Just a bit of chipped paint...."

Round the next bend to port, we saw the Bridge of the Americas crossing the canal, the sea widening to a glittering horizon underneath.  We slowed just before the bridge to allow a pilot boat to come alongside; our pilot stepped off and we pointed the bow for the bridge, passing under and gaining our admission to the Pacific Ocean. 

                                        The Bridge of the Americas, gateway to the Pacific


We anchored by 1800 off the Balboa Yacht Club, and as the last sunlight faded all hands enjoyed a well-earned drink after a long day; I felt that Captain Colin’s glass of rum must have tasted sweet after the trials of the canal.

Music studies resume! ...and a bike trip through the Trossachs. 

Hi friends, I hope you're well and managing to navigate a route through these uncertain times.

Today I seem to have found my way into the Press and Journal, among other newspapers… all connected to the course I am studying, a BA in Applied Music with the University of the Highlands and Islands, and a fascinating opportunity I was given recently to work with and learn from Score Draw Music and OnMusic over in Belfast.

This week is the first back at the studies - and right now I'm very glad to have this outlet, source of inspiration and motivation, as well as some exciting projects to focus on through the autumn and winter.

I found myself in 2016 playing enough music to feel it was a viable means of supporting myself. Wanting to give this new direction the best chance I could, and having promised myself since age 16 that I would one day properly dedicate some significant time to my music, I looked for courses. The UHI one quickly became the obvious choice - I was often touring in the UK and Europe with Wire and Wool and Tildon Krautz, and was envisioning some tall ship skippering aboard Lady of Avenel; (Sessions and Sail was an idea yet to fully take form!). The distance learning arrangement of the course meant I could log into lectures and work on coursework whether I was in Shetland, at sea or abroad, and I could incorporate many of my musical activities into my coursework.

I'm now starting my 4th year and I haven't regretted a moment of it, even if my direction has continued to evolve. Being a full-time student has motivated me to give music the time and energy that I wanted to dedicate to it, introduced me to a host of great people and musicians, and taught me loads about what I want to get out of music and life.

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To help me get back in the studying frame of mind, last weekend was an opportunity to do some cycling - starting out in Balloch, I made my way along the Rob Roy trail, reaching Killin by beer o clock on Sunday...

I learned the following from the trip:

(1). Taking off on a bicycle laden with tent, sleeping bag, waterproofs, camping stove and food is great fun!

(2). Mountain bike trails are great fun.

(3). (1) and (2) together can be pretty tough!

I've named my slightly rickety bike 'La Poderosa' after Ernesto and Alberto's questionable mount; but what a brilliant way to explore Scotland, and I can't wait to go off and do some more.

I'm hoping to have a lot of new music to reveal to you in the near future, both related to and independent from my studies; I'll also return soon to the next section of the Søren Larsen tale.

Till then, take care, don't panic, much love,


Søren Larsen voyage #4 - towards the Panamá Canal 

Dear friends! 

It's now September, and it still feels as though we’re making life up as we go along – there’s still no sailing, no gigs, and it seems to be a case of adapting day to day, finding a way to survive and then rewriting it all as the situation changes.  

I’m used to having a sense of purpose, generally having several projects on the go, a mix of musical and maritime, at all times; and I’m struggling a bit with having these taken away.  

In lieu of any sailing adventures or such excitement this year, it’s been nice to recall some of my past voyages in this blog. I’m going to try to up my output to a weekly post – let’s say every Wednesday!  

It’s also been good to have a musical focus so I’m planning to keep the weekly videos coming on Youtube. If there’s any requests – or if anyone wants to collaborate on a video or on some music – get in touch. Otherwise it’s really encouraging when folk subscribe to my Youtube channel!  

Anyhow, here’s the next instalment of my Søren Larsen voyage account!  

Cheers, Barry  

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Sailing through the Caribbean was about as good as it sounds. The north-east trade winds drove us west to the Venezuelan islands of Margarita and Los Roques.  

In Margarita eight of us piled into an impossibly battered Dodge and were driven up dusty roads to La Ascunción, a 16th Century Spanish town in the dry interior of the island. We were back aboard the ship by the time the Sunday night parties kicked off, and the sounds of Latin beats were still drifting across the water to our anchorage as I kept my 2-4am watch.  

Terri and Jim were both veterans of the last time the ship had come this way, and told a hair-raising story of their visit to Los Roques. With the 1992 coup recent and the 1993 elections happening, partisan armed police had arrested the ship and held the crew at gunpoint; the story of their midnight escape might be better told by Jim Pearson, if we can persuade him…  

Bearing this story in mind, we made a careful, short stop at these stunning islands and were thankful to see no armed police, sailing on by nightfall.  

Bonaire, our next stop, is a Dutch colony, and seemed very ordered and neat after the Venezuelan islands; we did our best to remedy this.  

The ship was safely tied alongside the pier; the water sheltered, the wind still, and I had a night clear of the watch bill. Knocking off at 6pm, I walked up the pier and got as far as the first pub, where Daphne and Dave, just back from a jaunt round the island, called me over for a drink. Soon, Sally Anne, Jim and Troy arrived; there was a round of rums. A brief chat at the bar with the crew of a large motor yacht, all dressed in matching polo shirts, made us glad to be tall-ship sailors on a ‘proper voyage’.  

More crew members arrived; more rums were bought. Nick was telling hilarious stories; our First Mate Sal, his sister, chipped in with a few of her own. Soon we were all there, with the exception of Captain Colin, who had taken the evening watch; and Lucy and Andrew, who both had watches in the early hours. Nine full-time crew, 22 voyage crew, and a liberal supply of rum.  

There’s not much better after weeks at sea than a good crew in a bar ashore on a night off in a secure harbour; we’d already bonded through rough weather, long days and night watches so we enjoyed ours, talking of other voyages and ships, places we’d travelled or wanted to, laughing with the bar staff, telling stories and doing our best to exhaust the rum supply.  

We left the pier under sail at 0700 the next morning, doing our best to wake the whole town with our shanty as we hoisted the main sail fifty metres off the pier, our ship already gathering way towards Curaçao. By the time we rounded the south of Klein Bonaire, we were under full sail and any hangovers were left far behind.  

At Curaçao we loaded stores, embarked a new voyage crew and set off on our passage west for the Panamá Canal. Motoring past the pastel buildings of Punda, through the floating Emmasbrug bridge and back out into the open sea, we found a rising trade wind and, soon, a rising sea.  

By 25th January we were hurtling along at ten knots, deep blue waves the colour of precious stones rearing up astern, foam-tipped and chasing us as thirty knots of wind filled our sails. Flying fish skitted off to both sides as our bow ploughed into the seas ahead with a constant surge of white foam.  The morning skies were clear, dotted with small fluffy cumulus clouds that would develop and grow to become huge, towering cumulonimbus by afternoon.  

Afternoon squalls became part of our daily routine. When the imposing clouds approached from windward, their undersides dark and heavy with rain, we would call for extra hands on deck to shorten sail. The rain made a menacing hiss before it arrived, a growing, definite line of white on the sea surface; we raced round the deck, hauling on topgallant clews and buntlines, upper topsail and outer jib downhauls, securing the lines around the deck as the wind increased with a rush and the torrent poured over us, tropical rain drenching our hair and shorts.  

This superb sail took us to Colón, on the Atlantic side of the Panamá Canal, well ahead of schedule; we covered the 725 miles from Curaçao in just over five days. As we drew closer to the port, the traffic grew more and more dense as container ships, tankers and cargo ships of all sizes converged from ports in Europe, Africa and the Americas, all queuing to use this slender gateway to the Pacific.   

We picked our way through the multitude of anchored vessels to our designated spot in Limón Bay and dropped an anchor. Here we would sit for the next three days.

Tall Ships, Music - and Eye of the Wind. 

I joined Søren Larsen with a fiddle, having had a familiar decision to make - which instrument to bring to a ship. The fiddle usually won - it's common to find a guitar already on board a ship, but much less often a fiddle! But it always felt a shame to have to make such a compromise.

I was pleased to find that there was a decent ship's guitar aboard Søren, and was soon even more pleased to find that she was a ship full of music. From the first week aboard, in Cornwall in the pouring rain, Terri often taught us a variety of shanties as we gathered on deck after a long day's work: 'Paddy, lay back'; 'Spanish Ladies'; Tony Goodenugh's 'Pump Shanty; Fielding + Dyer's 'Whale Song'.

During a window of calm weather on our passage to Madeira, we gathered the crew on the foredeck and played tunes and sang songs. John, one of our guests who was a master mariner and pilot at Seaham Harbour proved to have an excellent voice, treating us to songs such as 'Skibbereen' and 'What will I do with my Herrin's Head'. Lucy, our sailmaker, played tin whistle; and I was able to supply some guitar backing and a few tunes on the fiddle.With a moody night sky above us, we sailed towards a dark horizon, enjoying the music and the respite.

On the Atlantic crossing, the heavy mainsail was lowered and raised several times, as well as the only-slightly-less heavy upper topsail. Terri was our shantyman, and led the song; the remaining crew on the peak and throat haliards roaring the chorus line. It was good to hear shanties as they are meant to be sung - by a ship's crew while working hard. Sixteen voices in stereo - eight on port, eight on starboard - singing while hoisting three-quarters of a tonne of douglas fir and canvas up the mast by hand is a fine thing to witness, and it doesn't matter if the pitching isn't perfect!

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A combination of music and sailing had taken us to the Caribbean, where Bequia island felt like paradise. Steel bands played by the waterfront at the Frangipani; and the path led over the saddle of the island, through soft scented trees to the isolated beach at Spring Bay; walking back in the dark, glowing fireflies hung laziily under the trees.

In the Windward Islands we crossed paths with an old friend - the brigantine 'Eye of the Wind'. (Pictured).

Eye of the Wind and Søren Larsen had history together - they had sailed in company around Cape Horn in 1993. The following year, when I was sixteen and a slightly frustrated and aimless sixth-year student at the Anderson High School in Shetland, an opportunity was advertised for youths aged sixteen in Scotland to be sponsored to join her for an Atlantic crossing. I applied immediately, and got the place.

I had all the highers I needed, or so I thought; and was just killing time at school, looking likely to fail Geography and sixth year studies Chemistry. So it was with great pleasure that I asked my teachers to sign my leaver's form, slipping in the fact at the end that I was leaving to sail across the Atlantic.

The six-week voyage from Boston, Massachusetts to Gloucester, England changed the way I saw life completely.

I was a keen trainee who could not get enough of climbing. Day or night, when there was aloft work to be done, I wanted to be first up the mast. We kept watches, fished, and steered; the 25-day crossing had its share of boredom, of course, but I was positive and happy to be onboard. The crew spoke about the world and travel in ways that seemed new, and yet made perfect sense; and they seemed to respect my own comments and opinions. From Captain Tony 'Tiger' Timbs, who seemed to me upstanding and wise, and yet humble and open, to base-jumping Australian engineer John; ex-Soviet solder Igor to deck hand Marian who could beat a sail into shape while 40 feet above a rolling deck more effectively than any male sailor I knew, I was inspired. I learned a huge amount about the ship, the sea, and the weather; but most of all, I think I learned how it felt to be part of a team I could really believe in. I had my horizons widened, and believed there could be a place for me in that world.

The following six years on oil tankers were tough, and I often wonder if I would have stuck it out had I not had that experience aboard Eye of the Wind. So it was emotional to see her now.

We spent Christmas Day together anchored off beach at Bequia; raced between the islands, swapping crews by day, and stories in the evenings; and ranged through the Windward Islands from Saint Vincent to Grenada. We became good friends with the crew of the 'Eye', and it was a sad parting when we went our separate ways; they cruised past, raising sail as they headed south towards Trinidad, exchanging three cheers with our crew; we would raise our own anchor that evening and head west, towards the Western Caribbean and the Panamá Canal.

                                         Søren Larsen, anchored off Granada.





Søren Larsen voyage #2 

The sail from England to the Canaries had been, for me, a case of holding on tight, trying to learn everything I needed to know as second mate in a short space of time, hoping it would be enough if anything went wrong.

As we set out across the Atlantic, the frantic pace of learning seemeed to slow down a little, and I had time to get a handle on the ship, my duties, and the crew, who were already beginning to feel like friends for life.

In four days alongside in Tenerife, we had changed over several of the sails, stowing the newer canvas below decks and bending on older sails that would bear the more benign winds (but harsher ultraviolet) that we would experience as we approached the tropics. This work had given me a much better knowledge of the rig, knowledge that I would be thankful of when once more at sea, on watch, and trying to visualise every force, chafe point and potential weak spot.

Some sort of routine became possible now as we motored south trying to pick up the Trade WInds - the steady easterlies that have brought ships from Europe and West Africa for hundreds of years.

I was growing to love the 12-4 watch, traditional domain of the second mate. Waking at 1000 was something I found very palatable; with decks already scrubbed, and breakfast cleared away, there were two hours to work on maintenance jobs. With the weather improving, this often involved painting or varnishing or - the job the crew all clamoured for - working in the rig with the Bosun.

Then, after some lunch, four hours of watch. Navigation under motor was something I was very familiar with; and I was becoming much more comfortable with being in charge of up to 650 square metres of sail. This was the time of day when most of the other watchkeepers went below for their afternoon rest, which lent a wonderful feeling of autonomy. With two of the deck crew, and eight of our voyage crew guests, we kept lookout for other ships; rotated everyone through half-hour stints on the wheel, giving guidance on steering a 300-tonne ship where necessary; made hourly rounds throughout the ship; and tended the steadying sails, all the while looking out for that favourable breeze that would signal that we'd found the trade winds.

After watch there would be another hour or two of maintenance work; then, after dinner, we would go below for a rest; we would be woken shortly before midnight for watch once more and, on a good night, our watch of eleven would have the decks to ourselves again, exchanging stories, taking turns on the wheel and lookout, and watching our track creep across the chart. The approach of 4am - and blessed bedtime - would be heralded by the smell of fresh bread that two of our watch would bake every night for the cooks to serve the following day.

Four days of calms were followed by twenty days of trade winds; we tended our sails, kept watch, ate bread at 4am, got used to being barefoot 24 hours a day, played cards, gave lectures on navigation and meteorology, sang shanties and, a few days before Christmas, raised the Grenadines, dropping anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia.

This proximity to an island seemed wonderfully exotic after three weeks in our own self-contained world.  I sat on the hatch with Terri, our purser, an experienced sailor and our de facto shantyman, as she pointed out several landmarks on shore that she knew well.  “That’s the Frangipani Bar over there,” she said.  “It only truly sinks in that you’ve arrived in the Caribbean when you drink your first rum in the Frangipani”.  I looked forward to the Frangipani and an evening ashore, but for now a glass of rum with my shipmates on the deck of Søren Larsen seemed like an arrival in itself.



Søren Larsen voyage, #1 

With all my sailing now sadly cancelled for this year, I may as well, as promised, begin to tell more of the story of my first trip aboard the Søren Larsen.

On passage from the Mediterranean to the Falklands as 3rd Mate on an oil tanker - the Maersk Gannet -  I had hand-written thirty-six letters applying for work aboard various tall ships. I also applied to Strathclyde Uni to study a BA in Applied Music; I was clearly pretty keen to leave the tankers behind one way or the other! I stashed all the letters in my luggage, ready to post when I next reached shore.

In one real fork-in-the-road week, when back home on leave, I was turned down for the uni course, offered a job aboard the brigantine Soren Larsen, then called by Strathclyde to say there was a place for me on the course after all. By this time I had accepted the sailing job, so the decision was made!

I boarded Søren Larsen in Charlestown, Cornwall in September 2000, and was soon in the thick of the refit. Working with the engineer, I helped strip the old B+W Alpha engine right down while the deck crew prepared the main mast for removal. I was amazed how much work got done in a month - a new main topmast made from douglas fir; new galvanised steel shrouds and stays made up for mainmast and topmast, all parcelled, served and tarred; both anchors off; the windlass lifted ashore.

The work days got longer and our one-day-off a week disappeared as departure day approached.

It was the wettest month on record in Cornwall, and when it wasn't raining, water dripped and ran off the stone harbour walls. Even in my bunk, with the wooden deck 18 inches above my nose, the sound of the dripping rain above permeated my dreams; but, rain or no rain, it felt wonderful to be aboard this ship. The long days, and the occasional pint of Conish Ale, soon forged us into a team and I looked forward to going to sea with my new shipmates.

Somehow we got the work complete in time; our first voyage-crew group of paying guests joined us with a terrible forecast in the offing - a proper equinoctial storm system with force 10 southerlies. We sheltered it out in Falmouth Harbour, sailing at first light once the front had passed and the wind swung round to the north.

The passage south went by in a blur, with little sleep and the steepest learning curve I have ever gone through. Night watches especially were an experience, barreling along before the wind in five metre swells with swathes of rain and spray coursing across us as I and the six others on my watch huddled by the wheel.

I would 'wake' for watch, if you could call lying in a dark bunk in the heaving forecastle, lifting off the bunk weightless over some of the larger swells, holding on tight as we rolled, and going over in my head every scenario I could consider that may go wrong, sleeping. It was generally a relief to be called just before midnight and to stagger up into the blackness on deck, trying not to spill a coffee, and be given a concise but reassuring handover by Tony, the Captain and owner of Søren Larsen.

Four days of tumbling crashing waves and following gales gave way at last to calms, sei whales, sunsets and the chance to spread a bit more canvas; a further week of varied north-atlantic conditions, and one more gale, brought us to an anchorage at Funchal, Madeira.

The daylight was a little too bright for my eyes as I looked up at the mountain; tired but inspired, I felt like an initiation ceremony was over.


Søren Larsen at Madeira, November 2000.



Isolating at home 

Horizons have closed in yet further; we have not left the flat for a week as our flatmate, a care home worker, has tested positive for Covid-19. She is recovering and no-one else has any symptoms, so we're hopeful that we can contain it.

We have segregated the flat; my space is the kitchen, where thankfully I am able to compose and record music as well as doing my best to keep life varied for all of us through food, whilst trying to live as cheaply as possible. We have found out exactly who can come through with deliveries - local butchers, good; wholesale food suppliers, good; Southside self-isolation supporters group, massive thumbs-up! All the major supermarkets - not so good.

And of course this week I should have been sailing out of Oban aboard the tall ship Lady of Avenel with the Sessions and Sail voyage. When this is all over we will all be dying for some outdoor time, as well as tunes and music in good company.

I hope everyone is staying well and staying optimistic; take care.





Sailing to the Pacific 

I was recently sent this picture by my good friend and shipmate Jim Anderson from Fremantle, and it's taken me right back to sailing the Pacific!

I've always made this site primarily about my music, but it's nice to tell a story now and again. Especially right now, when all this being cooped up is really making me - and no doubt others - dream about travel and widening our horizons once again.

I signed on the tall ship Soren Larsen as 2nd Mate in September 2000 - I'd guess the pic above will be from 2000 or early 2001. I'd been working at sea as a cadet and 3rd/2nd mate aboard oil tankers, but my heart wasn't in it. I was looking for two things - music, and adventure. I recall night watches on the deck of a tanker when my head would be bursting with musical ideas that I was desperate to put together, and the agony of having no outlet for them. I was also driven mad sailing past shores that fascinated me; I promised myself that soon I would travel properly; and that I would give the music a chance.

So, I resigned from Maersk Tankers in July 2000; my last tanker was based at Ascension Island, where I learned the stories that later inspired me to write the song Comfortless Cove.

By September I was aboard Soren Larsen in Charlestown, Cornwall, preparing for a 13-month trip to New Zealand; intimidated by the ship and the challenge, but more excited than I'd ever been when starting out on anything. Here she is - the Soren Larsen. Maybe I'll tell more of this story if it's interesting...

Stay well,


Desert Wind - Live Video. Missing going out! 

I've recorded a little live video this afternoon - at home, performing the song 'Desert Wind'. I'm really missing playing music in company, and playing gigs; but sending some of these songs out there helps. I hope it helps you through this as well!

I wrote Desert Wind a couple of years ago, it's based on my travels in Australia and South East Asia. It was inspired by all sorts of reflective, mystical thoughts about the experiences we have, and where they go... 

It was also an attempt to describe the wind that blew over the Australian desert - there was something that seemed very strange about it to me, maybe it was just so different from the wind I know well, a wind that always has something to say about the sea. The sound of that wind seemed to capture somehow the concept I was trying to get across! 

I hope you enjoy the song. 

I am also considering, inspired by friends who are doing the same thing, to tell some of the stories from my travels, both by sea and by land. Let me know if you'd like to hear some of these! 

Take care of each other, and stay healthy! With love, 






Music, Skype conversations, Isolation - sound familiar? 

It would be interesting to hear people's take on isolation, and how it's changed your lifestyle. I bet a lot of it would be very familiar to many of us. Feel free to add a comment on how you're living or how you're getting by!

For me, I'm trying to put this strange time to good use, mostly through writing and composing music; I'm fortunate in that I have a recording set-up in the flat here. (As soon as I produce something I'm happy with, you'll be the first to know!) But, working at my desk with a microphone, a keyboard, a guitar and a fiddle availale to me - well, it could be worse.

Exercise is important; it seems very clinical now - I'm aware that I'm going out for the good of my physical and mental health, and try to make sure I do it once a day. My bike is my saviour, and there is a great feeling of freedom in cycling through streets and parks of Glasgow (At a suitable distance from others of course!)I'm concerned about anyone who's struggling financially right now - I seem to be scraping by despite all gigs and work being cancelled, and am hopeful that I'll be able to claim a living through the job protection scheme until I can get back to work. So I'm one of the lucky ones. Those working in the health service I thin kof particularly - a hard job at the best of times.

It's really nice to be able to keep up with family through Skype or online platforms. My folks, brother and sister in law in Shetland; Sister and her partner in London. We're chatting, having drinks together and playing quizzes; but we're also really hoping we get to see each other again very soon. Till then, this is the best contact we get.


I hope everyone's surviving and remaining healthy; please take care and look after yourselves.