Thursday, 31 January 2019

Sailing to Kalkan and Kastellorizo

Almost six years ago, my wife and I sailed with friends along the Turkish coast from Göcek to Cold Water Bay, Kalkan and the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

This journey was an important factor in creating my new book, The Batavian, which to a large extent is set in these waters. Off
the Turkish coastal town of Kalkan, the protagonist Mark Schouten rescues a group of Syrian refugees from the sea, after their leaking boat has failed. The book moves slowly, but inexorably towards that moment, which will prove to be a turning point in Mark's life.

During our trip in 2013 I made video, from which a selection has appeared on YouTube. The first one shown below pictures Cold Water Bay, the deserted Greek town of Livissi and the journey from there to Kalkan.

The second video (below) shows the journey from Kalkan to Kastellorizo, during which the drama in the book takes place.

The other videos of this series, six altogether, can be found on my YouTube channel. 

Friday, 25 January 2019


In my book The Batavian I describe how the protagonist encounters dolphins at sea and later meets with a sperm whale. Those images are drawn from my own memory: dolphins drawing glowing tracks at night in a shining sea, and a sperm whale appearing just ahead of my ship, then diving deep, showing its enormous black tail fin.

Dolphins are often seen at sea, but in Dutch coastal waters I have never met them. Porpoises (also known as 'sea pigs'), are common though, often seen in the distance, showing their backs above the surface. But once I saw them close by. A few years ago my wife and I sailed on the Grevelingen, a former estuary closed off by a sea wall, on our way from Brouwershaven to Bruinisse, eventually bound for Antwerp. We had just departed from Brouwershaven, when I heard something snorting alongside and saw a large, streamlined black shape appear.

It turned out to be three porpoises, coming to play on the bow wave of our sailboat. I could also observe how they breathe, dive deep and emerge again. The first thing you notice is a dark shadow underwater and a bubble path indicating exhaled air. Then they pop up and the inhalation is heard as a short snorting sound, made with the nostril in the top of the head. Sometimes they remain on the surface for a moment, but usually they disappear at once.


It was almost an encounter with an alien creature, a 'close encounter of the third kind', at least a glimpse of a completely different world for which we normally do not get the chance.

Monday, 21 January 2019


The Moon is a funny customer. Its weight is 1.23% of Earth and it revolves round us in 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes and 11.5 seconds. It originated about 4.5 billion years ago, not long after Earth, and always turns the same face towards us. Its distance to the center of Earth varies between roughly 350,000 and 400,000 kilometers. 

Due to its gravity forces the Moon is the prime mover of marine tides on our planet, so I have experienced the Moon’s influence for a large part of my life. In the past we occasionally used the Moon in celestial navigation at sea. Occasionally, because the arithmetic involved is more complex.

When you look at the sky, you see the Moon tracing its way more slowly from east to west than the Sun. Starting from a new Moon, it drops behind day by day and after a little over 13 days it stands right opposite the Sun - a full Moon.

But unlike the Sun, which travels a neat course through the sky and reaches its highest and lowest position every summer and winter, the Moon staggers over the expanse
like a drunken sailor. In two weeks time, the largest angle it makes with the equator changes from north to south or vice versa. Now it is almost above your head, then again low above the horizon.

Depending on the light of the Sun shining on the Moon we see it either as a full moon, a part moon or not at all. When the Moon is facing the Sun, it is full. When it is almost in line with the Sun, we can hardly see it (new moon). So when the Sun sets and the Moon rises on the opposite side at the same time, it is full. If it sets shortly after the Sun, we hardly see it, apart perhaps from a narrow sickle.

Lunar eclipse
Earth casts a shadow cone in space, which the Moon passes through occasionally due to its apparently erratic course. The shadow of Earth on the Moon obscures the light of the Sun. Now it is full, and a while later it has partly or completely gone. The last complete lunar eclipse was early this morning, January 21, 2019. I filmed it.

The reddish sheen is due to the red light from the Sun being deflected in Earth's atmosphere and striking the Moon's surface.

Lectures and presentations

My new book The Batavian will be published in Dutch as De Batavier, on March 16, 2019. Meanwhile the book has been announced on the publisher's website (Palmslag Publishers, based in Groningen).

Formal launch of De Batavier will take place in the Public Library, Nieuwstraat 4, Leiden, on 23 March 2019 at 2pm. Applications to HT-C Communicatie en Marketing.

Following that, a lecture and signing session has been arranged at De Kler Booksellers, Breestraat 161, Leiden, on 13 April at 2pm. Applications once again to HT-C Communicatie en Marketing.

During the presentation I will give a short talk on the subject of my book and my authorship. Following that I am available to answer questions, exchange views and sign copies of the book.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Publishing is hard work

Writing is fun, but publishing is hard work! My new book De Batavier is now approaching its final stage. Months ago, most of the correction work was done by my agent (HT-C Communicatie), who also found the publisher (Palmslag publishers) for me.

Before Christmas I got final printing corrections from the publisher on the manuscript. Inevitably this caused a lot of work. In part this was related to spelling changes in which seafaring slang had been altered to what is known as 'preferred Dutch spelling'. These changes had to be reversed as they were detrimental to the atmosphere of the book.

Apart from this and despite the extensive earlier editing, we still found some flaws and stylistic errors, which I always make during writing. Like all authors, I am blind to my own style errors. You can re-read your text a hundred times and they pass unnoticed. The book in print will number about 290 pages, rather more than I envisaged.

The nice idea shown above which I had for the cover design, of a two-master such as the Batavier against the Turkish coast, as expected was rejected by the publisher. The resolution of the design wasn’t enough for a cover. They came up with a different design - an aerial photograph of a sailboat in an immense expanse of water, which expresses the lonely voyage of the protagonist on his way to the Mediterranean Sea. Although the photo shows a small boat of maybe 8 meters with a second crew member on the front deck I found the idea so attractive that I accepted it almost immediately.

Meanwhile we are also looking for a location for the 'launching' of the book (it is like a moon rocket) in my home town of Leiden. This can either be in a bookshop or in a public library. The first contacts have already been made. In addition, I have developed various activities on the internet, such as this blog and films that I made five years ago in Turkey and Kastellorizo. You will find the link to my Youtube channel at the top right of this page.

Publishing and promoting a book, even for the author it seems, slowly turns into a full working day...

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Ode to a hummingbird

For 28 years I sailed marine ply boats, first an 18-footer, and later a 23-footer. These boats were delivered as a kit of parts, from the 1960s up to the 1980s. Of the 18-footer over 900 were made, and the 23-footer lagged badly behind with only 80 boats tasting the waters. They were marketed under the brand 'Kolibri', which translates as 'Hummingbird'. In the late 1980s and 1990s the yard produced several types of boat of a more modern design, but I never owned one of those.

My first boat was acquired soon after I had to quit my seafaring career for health reasons in 1979. I simply couldn't quit the sea and it must have been in '82 that I bought the 18-footer, a dainty little boat which I named 'Shipshape'. This was sailed in the estuaries and coastal waters of the south, and eventually my wife-to-be and I sailed her to England and back, coast-hopping along the Belgian and French coast and crossing to Dover and Ramsgate.

The little boat had no more than sitting headroom and cramped accommodation for two and was exchanged for a bigger one in 1995, as we wanted to take our kids sailing. This was a 23-footer, a true family boat with (as we thought at the time) lots of space, and the same excellent sailing qualities as the previous one. For obvious reasons, having three young mutineers on board, we named her 'Muiterij', which translates as 'Mutiny'.

The 23-footer was used for many long family holidays, mainly in Dutch waters, and on short coast hops. Her seagoing qualities were excellent as we never shipped any water - the marine ply hull simply was very lightweight and floated like a cork. The down side of this was her liveliness in rough conditions.

Even so, sailing and navigating this little boat was great fun, and I still remember her with joy and not a little emotion. We anchored in the lee of sandbanks, reefed down in a blow and she took us everywhere without complaining. With a little juggling, the cabin contained two adults and three growing boys, and later we had a cockpit tent made so we could chuck the luggage outside under the tent when we needed to sleep.

Each spring and autumn I sailed her between the winter storage and the summer berth in the north of the country - a two- or three-day solo trip in often inclement weather which I treated as a short break. On one such occasion in 2005 I made a video, which can be found here:

Finally, with much regret, in 2010 we exchanged her for a bigger 32-foot GRP boat which we still sail today.