Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

How Big is Your Escape Pod?
July 15, 2006

Folks are curious about how big an “escape pod” they need – an escape pod being anything that’ll take them on their dream journey. They often ask me “How long a boat do you recommend for ocean sailing?” or “How big (or many) a horse(s) do I need to go on a long distance ride?”

The answer, these days, seems to be “REALY BIG”. The average length of a new cruising sailboat has stretched to 40-something feet, up 10 feet from 25 years ago. I have to leap a little harder to hurdle onto the average horse these days and it’s not because the springs in my legs are rusting.

Here’s the danger in over-sizing, though. The bigger your escape pod, the less likely it’ll take you anywhere.

Then there’s Craig Philipson.

Craig’s boat Sea Cow – Darwin, Australia – 2002

I met Craig of Townsville, Australia, in Darwin, Australia as I was preparing Sea Bird to sail across the Indian Ocean. He was traveling aboard Sea Cow, a Hood 23. The Hood’s a small cruiser, that, technically, is a week-ender sailer. It was never designed for sailing thousands of miles across oceans.

But it’s what Craig had. He bought her because he figured it was better to see the world in his twenties, in a small boat, then wait another 40 years to see it in one that was 20 feet longer.

Because she was so small, she was easily repaired. When he had to replace the centerboard in Darwin, he just cut a new one out of plate steel and bolted it into place.

Then he put back to sea.

Craig and Sea Cow Cape Town bound

Craig and I left Australia in our respective boats and headed across the Indian Ocean for Africa. We caught up on the island of Rodrigues.

I was impressed by his mettle – how, when his GPS failed, he taught himself celestial navigation – on passage – with no manual. It was as though Sea Cow’s frailty and small size endowed him with an energy never found in Big-Boat sailors.

In Cape Town, we caught up again. He’d sailed non-stop around the Cape of Good Hope – the only person I’d met to do so. Most folks port-hopped around that tip of ill repute.

Then I crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town, South Africa to St. Thomas, USVI – 65 days. “Good” I gloated, “Craig won’t match that. I’m sure he’ll have to stop in St. Helena for supplies.”

Later I got a message from him to the effect of “Ha ha, Bernie. Beat you by two days…!” Craig had taken 67 days to sail across the South Atlantic Ocean in his 23-footer. From the reports, he’d had a whopping good time.

Up the mast

Craig’s back in Australia now. We still communicate regularly. Recently, I sent him a copy of my “65 Days Alone at Sea” DVD and he had this to say:

… when people ask me what it is like to be out at sea for such a long time I play them the DVD. From becalmings to the majesty of the watery universe this DVD will show you just why we do it.

His reply reminded me of how we need to consider the size of our escape pod. I can’t tell you what size boat or horse to buy. Just remember that going smaller plunges you into living, much, much sooner.

Thanks Craig, for the reminder!

To see a video clip of why Craig and I put to sea, and to remember what kind of escape pod you’re working toward, click here to watch some amazing footage…


Posted Saturday July 15, 2006 by Bernie
July 9, 2006

Bob Sundown with mule Woody – Deming, New Mexico

I met Bob Sundown in Deming, New Mexico when I rode Woody and Maggie across America. It was December 2004. The weather was icy, the days nearing their shortest.

Bob lived in a tarp-coverd sheepherders wagon, more yurt than prairie schooner. Summers, his donkeys pulled his wagon north. Winters, he returned to southern New Mexico where it was warmer.

Bob didn’t have much. But he had a lamp.

A real, honest to god screw-in light bulb light that scared away the light as only direct current can.

At the time, I was living out of a tipi my pack pony Maggie carried on her back. I used a small flashlight for illumination, and when the batteries died, I would build a fire in my tiny wood stove and prop the door open.

Just enough light escaped from the door that I could write in my journal.

Bob sitting under his light

But Bob was way ahead of me in the light department. Ok, his light was a clobbered-together afffair that hung from the ridge pole – a piece of wood that ran the length of his wagon. It was more alligator clips and frayed wire than lumens.

But it worked.

He ran the tiny bulb off an automotive battery tossed into the corner of his wagon. When the glow failed, he carried the battery to Steve’s house. Steve owned the small plot of land Bob occupied outside Deming.

Close-up of the light in Bob’s sheepherder wagon

When it came time to rig the Lost Sea wagon with a reading light, I figured I’d outdo Bob. I dashed out, bought a small lamp and a car battery. I wired it all into place in the Lost Sea wagon – no alligator clips.

Then it dawned on me. Bob’s neighbor Steve put the amps back into Bob’s battery when they trickled out.

But for me, that was out. The Lost Sea wagon would travel for days on end, from one town to the next.

So just how was I going to keep that battery charged?


Posted Sunday July 9, 2006 by Bernie

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