A Life Changing Odyssey

2cac9d6d5b3309f676fe655baa5b58543ad6525a-thumbThirty years ago I quit my job in science and engineering. Even in my late 20’s I was tired and disgruntled with the world and my place in it. I wanted to get off the treadmill, and experience the beauty of Planet Earth, or at least my little corner of it.

With my partner at that time, Jill Brown, we looked to the world of sailing for travel and adventure. We sold our home, built a small Polynesian-style catamaran and moved to the ocean. We struggled to make a living in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful counties in the British Isles. I built boats and wrote books and magazine articles. It took a few years but the dream eventually became reality and culminated in an extraordinary voyage around the west coast of Britain in the summer of 1990.

Suilven’s Travels: A Life Changing Celtic Odyssey is my account of this 3 month cruise which was packed with adventure and challenge. Suilven II departed Plymouth in July and headed to the Hebrides, stopping in Scilly, Wales, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. The story brings to life the landscape and culture of western Britain and in particular Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. It also shows what is possible on a minimal budget if the desire to succeed is strong enough. I was alone for most of the outbound trip, giving me plenty of time to reflect on the world and my place in it. Jill Brown was with me on the demanding return trip when we struggled against gales and rough seas and came close to losing our small boat on a couple of occasions.

Looking back nearly 25 years it’s obvious there has been dramatic change in our world – especially in technology. But the human spirit and the search for meaning in life is growing stronger as more of us realize it is becoming impossible to thrive in a system which essentially alienates us from our Earth, and our true selves. Suilven’s Travels was written to inspire others to step outside the box and live closer to the Earth. It is available for $3.99 as an eBook on Amazon, Smashwords and many other outlets.

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Calling CQ

I have been an amateur radio operator for many years and of all my interests, this one is the hardest to fathom. Why in an age of instant global communication would anyone want to play around with good old fashioned and not too reliable radio? “Ham” radio, as it is widely known, undoubtedly has many facets and technical challenges but I’m also discovering it satisfies a deeper need.

I’m almost obsessive about it. I’m either fixing up 30-year-old radios or building antennas from scrap or plumbing supplies from the local hardware store. With the exception of a Chinese handheld VHF radio I have never bought anything new. Some enthusiasts spend thousands on radios but unless you have a good antenna you’re wasting your time.

With this in mind, my latest antenna project grew out of 100’ of chicken wire and scrap aluminum tubing from my decommissioned swimming pool. In fact, the whole contraption sits over what used to be the pool. The structure is anchored by a huge electrical insulator and rises to a giddy vertical 45’. Thankfully it is slim and tidy enough to be barely visible to neighbours. After several weeks of head scratching and tinkering it now works like a charm.

Living in a relatively sparsely populated corner of North America, I find it difficult to be heard above my southern neighbours. Like the vehicles they drive, their stations tend to be rather large and consume huge amounts of energy. When an exotic call wafts in from another continent, a chorus of replies reverberates through the aether shaking the planet to its very core as one station tries to outgun another. I don’t have an amplifier and put out no more power than it takes to run a light bulb so my chances of being heard are very, very slim.

For instance, the other evening I heard a Spanish station calling CQ – the term is a hang over from the days of Morse Code that is an invitation for a response. Before I could even pick up the microphone “Carlos” was being pounced on. The exchanges are so predictable. “Fine business Carlos!  Great signal into Kansas my good friend!” A typical exchange lasts about 30 seconds, a new call sign gets added to a log book and they’re off to find another victim.

So I’m learning to poke around the short-wave bands and sniff-out the weaker, interesting stuff that get’s passed over by the big guns. I twirled the tuning dial and came across a quiet spot in the band. Through the gentle hiss came a faint voice. “CQ, CQ, CQ, this is Golf Three Oscar Mike Golf pedestrian mobile.”

“Pedestrian mobile from the UK? Wow!

I called him and to my surprise he immediately answered.  After the obligatory exchange of names and signal reports I ask, “So where the hell are you?”

“Actually I’m on Blackpool Beach and I’m running fifty watts from my backpack rig into a fifteen foot whip antenna.”

“Wow that’s incredible…and what’s the weather doing?”

“Oh it’s cold and just starting to rain.”

I smiled to myself; as much as I still love my homeland I’m glad I’m in the sunny BC Okanagan. This is really awesome I thought, we’re five-thousand miles apart and we are talking with a few hundred dollars of electronics and in my case, repurposed swimming pool hardware.

After a few minutes we end our chat and I wish him “Seven three and good DX” and really hope he makes lots more contacts.

One thing I am learning in life is that the loudest voices often have little of interest to say. It also dawned on me that my obsession with antennas and radio has a deeper meaning. Maybe it is a reflection of a desire not only to communicate my humanity to others but also to listen for that most important voice of all – the small quiet one within. Like the short wave bands, there’s so much noise in my head that I need to find a quiet spot and just listen.