Hi. I’m Mark. Thanks for coming to our site. I sincerely hope you enjoy following our travels.
A little bit about me. Where do I begin? I guess I will start with how I became interested in sailing as it’s a pretty funny story. I am a South African born British bloke and moved to America when I was about 20 years old. All of my education and childhood was in England. Throughout Europe, sailing is a big sport. At one point, a long time ago, I read that in France the highest paid athletes were sailors. I doubt if that is true today. It is probably football players now. But, this gives you the idea sailing is a pretty serious sport. When I was twelve, my local school in Kesgrave was looking for new members to join the school sailing team. Now, I was not the best student and if trouble was around, there was a pretty good chance it had something to do with me.
One of my friends, Steven Hall, told me the people on the sailing team could get every other Wednesday afternoon off school to practice sailing. Well, that’s all I needed to hear. Sign me up! My school had a small fleet of boats. They were very basic and didn’t even have any jam cleats. This meant someone would have to continually hold the jib sheet and main sheet. Wet ropes on a cold day can be brutal on the hands. If I remember rightly, the school fleet were Wayfarers.
The boats were maintained by the woodshop teacher, Mr. Constantine, and our chemistry teacher, Mr. Lake, taught the sailing. Mr. Lake set up the dates for me and 4 others to “tryout”. On the assigned Wednesday, I received the map and proceeded to ride my bicycle the 4 miles from Kesgrave to the River Deben in Woodbridge. I was so happy to have the afternoon off school. And to this day, I can still remember the weather being warm and sunny with a light breeze. Those were very different times back then. I cannot imagine today a school giving a 12 year old a map and telling him to ride his bike, along main roads with instructions for all of to meet up in 30 minutes, or so, by the river.
We met at the shed containing the boats and gear. I was handed a life jacket and helped carry one of the boats to the river’s edge. We were given a quick tutorial of what to do and what not to do by Mr. Lake. Next thing I knew, we were sailing on the river. Mr. Lake gave each of us a chance at the helm. From the very first time I took the helm of the boat, I knew I was hooked. I can’t explain why. The motion of the boat, the wind on my face, the creaking of the wood and ropes, I just knew sailing was going to be a part of my life. I’m not sure what Mr. Lake saw in me, but we both knew being a part of the sailing team was something I wanted. I made the cut and over the next few years won races for the school. I was a natural. Who would have guessed?
My friend Steven Hall’s parents belonged to Shotley Sailing Club. Steven had been sailing much longer than I had and his parents bought him his own boat. The Hall family was on the opposite side of the tracks from us. They were not rich but, we were very poor. His boat was a 13’ Enterprise (dinghy) painted bright yellow and called “Nutshell”. On Sunday mornings, Steven’s dad, Peter, would pick me up and drive Steven and myself to Shotley where we would spend our Sundays sailing in regattas on the river Stour. The memories of these Sundays are still vivid to me today and perhaps the happiest part of my childhood. As I stated earlier, I was not the best, most well behaved kid. Most of my friends were like me, hoodlums. I truly believe the influence of the Hall family and my friend Steven changed the direction of my life. They sparked a passion I had no idea existed. The Headmaster at Kesgrave High School told my mother I would not amount to much in life. Can you believe that? What a great thing for a school to tell a parent! However, it would have been very easy for me to wind up as just another wayward lost soul from a broken family. I found something I loved to do and was encouraged to excel by the Hall family. When I misbehaved, a simple look or side comment from Steven would get me back on the right path. The passion for sailing was carried into my adulthood.
During a regatta one day when Steven and I were racing together (I do not recall exactly where), it was so windy that we placed only because we manage to stay upright the entire first heat of three for the race. Steven and I sailed to the extremes but rarely capsized. There were times where I remember being scared shitless as the boat screamed out of control and we just hung on for dear life. We were fearless kids. What else would you expect? Between races we were taking a break in the clubhouse and watched as another boat hit “Nutshell” and put a hole in her. We were out of the race. Steven’s brother, John (now goes by Josh), was racing his Mirror dinghy that day. As I said, it was very windy. John did not have very much experience and did not want to take his boat out in the high winds. Steven and I never missed an opportunity to sail, especially if there was a good chance we could capsize. Excitement! So, we borrowed John’s boat and entered into the race with his Mirror. John retired after sailing the first leg. We entered late and joined the second leg. We sailed two legs in his boat. We placed in both. We placed simply because we were use to sailing a little larger boat and the wind was not a threat to our experience. I am not sure how everything was calculated but all I remember is we placed in two races that were taking place at the same time in two different classes. Quite a feat, indeed. Our accomplishment was announced the following Monday at our high school assembly meeting.
Now, here comes the best part of this story. Steven’s brother who now goes by Josh Hall and who I remember as being unsure of his ability to sail that day grew up to be world class yachtsman. He sailed solo in the grueling 2000-2001 Vendée Globe round the world race. Yes. You read that right. Solo and around the world. That takes a lot of guts. Well done Josh!
Steven and I sailed together for the remaining 3 years I was in Kesgrave. When my mother remarried, I was fifteen. We moved to the Oxford area and sailing was no longer an option in my childhood. But, the passion stayed wth me, always.
Now let’s fast forward quite a few years. I moved to America with my mother and stepfather. I met a girl named Cindy in Texas, at 24 years old got married, had a career, blah blah blah. We both worked hard so we could make enough money to go sailing (see “The Plan” ). Oh wait a minute. There is something you need to know about Cindy. She grew up with a motor boating family – not that there is anything wrong with that. When we were dating, unprompted by me, Cindy said,” I’ve always wanted to learn how to sail.” My response, “I love you!” We owned our first boat together before we were married. As a matter of fact, it was her boat. Banana Split was bright yellow 18’ Hoby Cat. Cindy moved in with me so she could pay for it. You gotta love this woman! Right? Cindy has a real adventurous spirit but remains the cautious one of our partnership. I tend to be a little fearless of natures elements and Cindy is the balance keeping us both safe.
You’ll notice I skipped over the whole career part. For me, working was nothing more than a way to provide a lifestyle. That’s all. It was not an identity. It could have been at one point. I once drank the company Kool-Aid. I was gently grounded by Cindy.
One of my pet peeves in live is when you meet a person and they ask you “what do you do” within the first few minutes of a conversation. I believe strongly a person should not be judged on the career they have chosen which is usually where that question is headed, judgment. If someone answers they are a doctor for example, this is responded with “Oh, really”. Like this makes them a better person. Just because they are a doctor doesn’t mean they aren’t a real jerk. If someone says they are a telemarketer collection agent or work at Wal-Mart, well, see how quickly that conversation ends. I admire people who take pride in their work. It doesn’t matter what they “do”.
When we were first married, I would say that I would get down on my hands and knees and shovel dog shit for $100K per year. Little did I know at the time, that is what I wound up doing (not really – just seemed like it some days). I really did not care what type of work, just so long as it paid well and was mentally stimulating. When contemplating positions and promotions with a company, the key decision making factors were always; how is this going to affect the long–term plan of early retirement and will it improve our standard of living in the interim. If the answer to either one of these questions was not positive, I passed on the job. I guess what I am trying to say here is my identity is not defined by a job, a degree or a society position etc.
My joy in life is to meet others, learn new ways, hear opposing opinions, help people in need along the way and try to understand this very diverse world on which we live but have so little time. I have a strong desire to travel and do all of these things. My identity is such that I want to be able to sit old and withered in a rocking chair one day and look back knowing I have seen the world, met and respected the people of our world and enjoyed their company. If I can accomplish that, I will feel I will have lived my life. Selling my soul to a company for a job and a career was never for me. It was nothing more than a way to obtain the bigger picture. Cindy and I have already traveled more than most. Although I must say, being limited to a couple of weeks a year by a company was very challenging.
My hope in writing this was to give a little insight about who I am and what makes me tick. Cindy said it best one day when she said something needs to make people get up in the morning, put two feet on the ground and stand up. For me that represents the loves in life, Cindy, sailing, traveling and solidifying a mutual respect of people along the way.