How to write 100 blog posts in a very long time

cartellonenumero

This is the 100th post of La possibilità di un’isola, and I feel somehow it needs to be celebrated. The name of this blog comes from title of a novel by Michel Houllebecq, the first book of the french novelist I read, a book that I loved. I chose it because it is the perfect explanation of what was happening in my life: in 2009 I was leaving my country and my profession as an organisational psychologist to go live aboard Velero Bicho in the archipelago of Los Roques. The islands were real, this life change was a new possibility for me and this blog a way to keep track of it.

Amongs all the changes during my life time, writing has always been a constant. A variable constant to be fair, as the process is definetely influenced by life events, including periods of drought followed by more prolific ones. I have always loved to write, and I have always being scribbling something, on the pages of notebooks of different size and colors, sometimes on a computer, trying to compose something “serious”.

I think my first real attempt was a short story I wrote for the class journal when I was 12. A short sci-fi novel imagining a scientific expedition to Mars. It’s funny to read it now, but it is also impressive, for the scientific details I was able to introduce at that age. Then I won a the first prize in High School for creative writing, with a short story about the dilemmas of culture and counterculture, seen with the eyes of a high school student. The prize was 100.000 lires (roughly 50 euros, a bit more considering inflation) and a copy of Moby Dick. Who could tell that a dozen years later I bought and refit a sailboat in New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world and the city where Ishmael, the protagonist of Melville’s novel, wakes up in an inn at the beginning of the book.

The university time was a moment in my life when I clearly decided that writing wasn’t going to give me a job and so I hoped that Psychology would. Writing was serving academic purposes, with occasional side projects like articles for self-published magazine with a group of friends, co-writing in a theatrical play, research articles about adult learning with Ariele. When I moved to Torino for work I took a class of creative writing with Marzi at Verba Volant. That’s the only time I invested money in writing, but then I left for the other side of the Atlantic, and things became busy.

This wasn’t the first blog I opened. The first one was a travel blog about a holiday trip to India, a perfect alternative to email to send information to friends an family. Then I took part to a collective blog. With fellows gathered from Ariele’s outskirts we started Leaderlessorg, an intellectual exercise to figure out how the web 2.0 was a revolution in the way people relate to each other, with a focus on the work organisations. None of these blogs were successful or gave me money, they were a new form of communication I was discovering.

Writing takes time and effort, and sometimes I have to sacrifice it from work and other duties. And it’s not always a pleasure. It can be rewarding and excitng when everything flows, but for the most part it’s made of unsatisfying attempts of moving forward, like placing heavy blocks of concrete in order to make a building. The decorative part comes later, once the graceless but solid structure is in place.

This is my 100th post in more than 5 years, not a great average. I write when I can, and when I have something to say, or a content to share. In these last years I moved through different countries and switched the language of my posts from Italian to English, because my public became more and more international, and also because it is a good practice for a non native speaker. I rarely write in italian anymore, a language that I am starting to miss.

Blogging makes writing more and more immediate, fast pace. According to experts, you are required to give fresh content every 2 or 3 days to have a decent traffic, but I have never been able to achieve it. After all nobody is paying me, nor telling me how my life should be lived, but it’s clear how today the competition to get the attention of internet users is very hard. The contents are shortening, videos become the favorite media, everything is compressed to the minimum, up to the 140 characters limit of Twitter and other Social Media, modern haikus for distilled thought. “Reading requires time. No one cares about anything anymore, we have all become frivolous and superficial” a friend of mine told me few days ago, when I asked him why my blog had so few readers.

Over time, I tried to focus on certain topics and genres, but it’s not really how this blog works. When I left for Venezuela, my main interest was to underline the cultural shocks I was living in first person, lustful shocks to be honest. When we left on Tranquility and started cruising, the blog became a logbookwith new blog posts to track our progress. In that situation a lot was happening and I had trouble to keep track of it. Sometimes nothing happens and it’s hard to think about something to write, and I somehow freeze.

Sailing and traveling are a big part of my life, but this blog is not about sailing, or about traveling. It is more like my mind, it constantly wanders through different terrains. I recently figured out that it is a perfect way to capture and deal with daydreaming. Instead of starting the project of building a boat using natural fibers, I write about it. It may or may not happen in real life, but writing about it will make something out of simple speculation. Hopefully pointless speculations can be of some interest for readers.

 The 100th post is not an important goal per se. It gave me the opportunity to retrace my steps so far, and to notice how this virtual notebook mutated through time and space, a slow and laborious path which continues after many years and, thanks to the support of you readers, it has never been so alive.

Building sustainable boats with agrocomposites

Boats had been built for millennia using biodegradable and sustainable materials. Most of the time it was wood or bark, like the canoes of the North American Indians, or even animal skin. In the last 100 years however wood started to become less available and more expensive for boat building. Meanwhile progress in the industrial manifacturing of metal made it possible to build metal hulls. Big ships needed a solid structure due to their size but also pleasure yachts started to use the same technology, and  steel and aluminum are broadly utilized. Finally reinforced plastic (fiberglass) appeared as a convenient technology to build boats that were cheaper, lighter, and strong, due to the elasticity of this material that makes it so forgiving. Yacht design in recent years started to look into new syntethic fibers, like carbon fiber and Kevlar, to build lighter and stiffer boat, expecially racing sailboats.

Natural fiber reinforces

Flax_flowers

There is a new and revolutionary technology that uses fibers from agriculture such as Flax and Jute to build boats. Flax in particular seems to be an interesting alternative to synthetic fibers as a reinforcement material in composites instead of fiberglass or carbon fiber. This fiber was used by the Romans to make the sails of their ships two millennia ago, and its relative stiffness and durability make it an interesting ingredient for sustainable boat building.

Beside the ecological advantage in carbon emission over synthetic fibers, natural fibers have a low specific weight and very good insulating properties. They also tend to absorb water and that’s a concern when it comes to boat building. Manufacturers are trying different technologies to create a fiber that will  not absorb water, including innovative waiving and coating. Also, the use of resin such as polyester or epoxy and the adoption of synthetic fibers with different ratios have proved to be good solutions in sealing the fibers and preventing water absorbtion.

At the beginning of this pioneering method sport canoes were the favorite prototypes because of their low cost production, but after the first encouraging results somebody moved the bar a little bit higher. The great challenge lied in achieving the high mechanical resistance required for sailing, and it seems that this is not only possible, it is a reality.

The revolution of agrocomposites sailboats speaks French, and I wish I did too because a lot of videos and references available online are in French. However I will try my best to introduce some pivotal characters in this story, and present sailboats that were not only made with biocomposites, but that also achieved important results.

Tara Tari Shipyard and Watever

Watever is a NGO that aims to assist the population in Bangladesh with floating solutions. One of the first project was to build floating-ambulances and that’s where the collaboration between Yves Marre and Marc Van Peteghem started. Marre sailed to Bangladesh on a river barge in 1994 and then decided to live there and help the local population founding a floating hospital. Van Peteghem is an acclaimed naval architect who designed some of the fastest boats that ever sailed, including the class MOD70 trimarans and BMW Oracle trimaran.

The two frenchmen started to collaborate in a local shipyard, Tara Tari Shipyard, managed by Marre, where they build “optimised, safe and sustainable boats, combining traditional knowledge and modern technologies“. Offering safe and affordable boat to the coastal communities of Bangladesh means also to bring modern boatbuilding into tradition, and that means fiberglass, one of the most common way of building boats all over the world. But then in 2009 a young engineer started to work at Tara Tari Shipyard, and he rapidly thought of replacing fiberglass with jute fiber, which is grown locally.

Gold of Bengal

Corentin is an innovative engineer, and you can bet he is from France. Life in Bangladesh opened his eyes on a resource that is very important for the local economy, and that is in danger: jute. He started to develop an idea and then a mission: to build sustainable sailboats, without the use of fiberglass, but only natural materials and in particular the jute fiber.

The collaboration with Watever brought to the building 2010 of Tara Tari (Designed by Van Peteghem), a traditional sailing boat built using a mix of fiberglass and jute. This design literally blows my mind. She follows the traditional lines of the sanpams (fishing boats) of the Bangladesh delta, but the use of jute and random parts from the local ship breaking industry (plus Plastimo and Harken as sponsors) give her the look of a steampunk apocalyptic sailboat.taratari With a LOA of 29.5 ft (9 meters) Tara Tari, which means “quick”, is built with 25% of jute in the hull, 45% in the bulkheads and 65% in the deck. Once the boat was ready, Corentin started a long voyage of 9,000 miles, mostly singlehanded, from Bangladesh to La Ciotat, France, where he was warmly greeted by friends and media. After this exploit Corentin became quite famous in his home country, winning the 2011 Prix Bernard Moitessier and writing a book  about his adventure. This sudden attention from the media gave him the opportunity to raise money and to go back to Bangladesh to start a new ambitious project.

taratari1

But Tara Tari was not left alone because in the meanwhile she found a new skipper, the 28 years old french Capucine Trochet, who took the boat across the Atlantic, from France to the Caribbean. During the trip she had to fight with winter, a leak (then fixed in Gibraltar), and winds up to 45kts, that knocked the boat down a couple of times. This chapter of Capucine’s life is a little part of her beautiful sea story. I like this picture of her and Tara Tari in the Atlantic, it’s from this picture that my interest for boats built with natural fibers began.

capuch

Back in Bangladesh Corentin founded his own NGO, Gold of Bengal, a name that symbolize the jute, which has a golden brown color and it’s also an economical resource for Bangladesh. In 2013 he built “Gold of Bengal” this time made 100% with jute. He set sails for seven months, first solo, then with agroup of friends, from Bangladesh to Malaysia, through the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with an onboard tropical greenhouse, two chickens and manual water maker. With the aim of being self sufficient Corentin did not bring any money.

In 2014, as a mature attempt to build a bigger and more complex hull, Gold of Bengal gathers with Watever and Roland Jourdain for a new prototype: a 50 foot catamaran built entirely from agro-composites (jute and flax fibers). This boat will be the support for the next program of Gold of Bengal association: the “Nomade des mers” expedition, a floating laboratory that will sail the Indian and Pacific Ocean to experiment low-tech solutions: homemade wind turbine, comestible insect farming, hydroponics greenhouse, solar desalinization system… The aim of the project is to create an autonomous boat that will support the crew without needs for restocking.

A fast trimaran sailing the South Pacific

Roland Jourdain is a star in the gotha of sailing, and he is French of course. Beside being a celebrated solo sailor he is also  involved in making the world a better place to live. And he likes to play with biocomposites too.

Gwalaz is a 23.5ft trimaran built with flax fibers and cellulose, cork and balsa wood. The project was meant to build “a cleaner, sustainably developed boat, but also to remove reliance on fossil fuels and think about recycling right from the product’s design”. They idea came from Kairos group, an association lead by Roland Jourdain, with the financial support of the Brittany Region. This boat sailed in Bretagne, France for a trial before being transported into a container in the Pacific Ocean for the film project “Lost in the Swell“.

 

Araldite, a mini 6.50 prototype

But not only humanitarian dreamers and ecologists are building boat with composites. Even an industrial giant as Huntsman Advanced Materials sponsored a boat building project involving flax fibers. The mini 6.50 class is once again the perfect environment for testing new ideas and tecnhologies. Araldite, was built in France (oh, really?) using 50% of special coated flax fiber ( supplied by Lineo, a Belgium company) and 50% carbon fiber. The combination made for a very light boat. Araldite competed in 2011 Mini Transat, a solo transatlantic race that starts in France and ends in Brazil, in 15th place, a tough test for any boat.

The future is now

Biocomposites are quickly becoming a viable option for composite building. Every country is experimenting with the ready available and cheaper crops, flax for Europe, kenaf for the USA and jute for Bangladesh. In the sailing world France is once again the leader, with shipyard and professionals already utilizing this cutting edge technology, and producing boats capable to stand the fatigue of an ocean crossing. This revolution has already started on different industrial and craft products such as speakers, tennis rackets and bicycles but boat building represent the most challenging frontier, as the risult would have to stand high standards of mechanical stiffness and resistance. Now we are in the beta version era but the results are encouraging and it seems that soon natural fibers could replace syntethic one, or at least work together in the composite building. It’s fascinating because it’s not only an exercise in eco-friendly style, but a sustainable alternative way to build boats.

In praise of Public Libraries

Public libraries are the best places in the whole civilized world. You may think I am exaggerating here, but the service they provide is invaluable, and I am very happy to visit public libraries wherever I roam. They have always been a friendly place for me, where I can entertain myself or do some hard work, or simply pass time. In fact, during my travels they serve as refuge and nomadic workplace.

You can really enjoy libraries only if you have spare time, a luxury that few people in the world can afford nowadays. For this reason children and kids are natural inhabitants of public libraries, as well as elder people. Public libraries are one of the few last public spaces in this privatized world, you can walk in even if you have no money, and you are not invited to buy stuff. A wide range of services are available: a collection of media for any use, free access to the internet, toilets, water fountains, comfortable seats warm/cool place to rest. All for free.

Limbiate Public Library
Limbiate Public Library

I experienced libraries from different point of views, throughout my life. As a little kid in Limbiate, my hometown in Italy, I was an avid reader of Game books and mystery novels, expecially the Alfred Hitchcock presents seires, the one with the three little detectives. I clearly remember walking to the library every Saturday morning, listening to my walkman, and swap books. I was a better reader then than I am now. When the wastrel era of adolescence arrived, the library became the perfect spot to meet friends and to squander time that could have been more profitably spent studying. I was quenching my thirst of knowledge wandering around the shelves without a plan, and absorbing what was catching my attention. I have always had this feeling of wonder when facing a wall of books, with my eyes and my legs following the succession of titles. I was also there few years later when studying was not an option anymore and I had to pass exams while attending university. In the library I would feel more concentrated than at home and the presence of peer students with a common destiny reinforced the motivation to study. Finally I also realized one of my dreams: after being an user for many years I had the opportunity to work for Limbiate’s library, and there it’s where I started to deal directly with users.

Brooklyn Public Library in Greenpoint
Brooklyn Public Library in Greenpoint

Because libraries don’t make distinctions of age, race, mental and physical ability, class or income, the users of a public library constitute a rich and heterogeneous group. And that’s where a good librarian has the most arduous task. Managing the human relationship in such a diverse environment is no joke. Sometimes I think that the job of a librarian incorporates the one of a social worker, a cop, a psychiatrist, a nurse. He/she is not only a person who knows how to catalog media and knowledge and where to find what you are looking for (an incarnated Google). Librarians also have to deal with the humanity that finds refuge in this last outpost of public space.

shhLibraries are free public spaces but this doesn’t mean they don’t have rules. The most important rule, which is the fundament of this institution, is to be quiet. I find this truly amazing. You can’t have this in Starbucks or any other secular place. Everywhere else, there’s violent chatter, loud speaking on the phone, blasting music. What’s better than having the right to say <<Shh!>> to people who threaten your concentration and peace?

Beside this very important one any library has its own set of rules, which are often very different. Anyway after reading some of the Rules and regulations found online there are common (and sometimes funny) rules. Sleeping is usually forbidden and enforced by staff (as I witnessed in Savannah, GA at the local library). Now I consider myself lucky that nobody kicked me out for sleeping with my head on a book more than once during my hard study time. It probably makes a difference if you are holding a book or a newspaper, or if you simply crash in an armchair. But there are lucky exceptions. In Boulder, CO Public Libraries, it is forbidden to “down, doze or sleep in any library facility except this rule shall not apply to children“. Rules of Common Decency are requested to all visitors everywhere but some libraries gets very detailed as it happens in New York Public Library “you must wear clothing and shoes in the Library, and your body odor must not be so offensive that it disturbs others.” Lakewood Public Library, OH prohibits “loitering in the Library without making use of its materials is not acceptable. Aimless wandering through the building or anywhere on the grounds is likewise prohibited“. I wandered too without making use of the materials, and more than once, but maybe I looked like I was in search of a book.

There are so many funny rules out there, if you want to read some here is a link.

Today, in the era of Internet and E-books, public libraries are facing difficult times, as some people may think they are becoming obsolete. However there is a great difference between server stored digital media knowledge and libraries. A library exists inside a physical building, often a fine example of architecture. It has bones and muscles, but it also has heart and blood, the real people that keep alive this important institution. We surely can keep studying and reading books even without libraries, using screens instead of book pages. But we would be terribly alone, isolated and lost in a digital void. That’s why, whenever I have a chance, I go to public libraries. We all should support them.

Blue water, green land

It’s been a while now since last time we went cruising. I am lucky enough to go out for quick daysails with James Baldwin on his F27 trimaran in St.Simons Sound. Tranquility is chained to the dock, her interiors are torn apart once again, tools and building materials scattered all over and a rich ecosystem of sea creatures is growing on her hull.

Trimaran

Tranquility tied at the dock
Tranquility tied at the dock

The long-term landlubber world is back with sweet and sour feelings. The awe for huge size fridge and freezer, water and ice dispenser, laundry anytime, full size shower and wide spaces is slowly disappearing and fading behind the curtains of normality and habit.

From this safe and comfortable territory the visions of the open ocean are haunting me. As frequently happens for the process of remembering, which is bounded to the sense of smell, what keeps stalking me is the smell of blue waters. Out there, starting dozen of miles from the coast and extending to thousands, there is a peculiar smell, a smell of fresh air and spindrift, a smell of gliding birds and jumping fishes, a smell of biomass drifting just below the surface busy in their photosynthesis and cellular respiration cycles, a smell of clouds and winds and evaporation and condensation. This is blue water smell.

This is where you find blue water smell
This is where you find blue water smell

When you miss something you start to recognize its value. That’s how I feel now that we have to stay on land for some more time, looking for a future departure that has not a date yet. The comforts of life in the society are not enough to nourish a soul who experienced the blue water. I feel that too much comfort is killing me.

But life on land is not without pleasures. I am enjoying having breakfast in the backyard, in company of a wide range of color and sounds. The squirrels are busy running up the pecan trees, birds are quietly scooting around, flying bugs patrol the weeds. Behind the fence I face while sipping my coffee lays a whole universe of intricate vegetation. This adjacent lot is part of the priopriety but has gone fallow, and when that happen in South Georgia you have to expect a massive uncontrolled growth. And so, among the duties of a busy land life and the never ending boat works, we are fashioning to embark in a new adventure: recapture the jungle and make it livable, ensuring a good level of biodiversity and creating a little and safe niche for human activities.

Safe Backyard facind the jungle © Kate Zidar
Safe backyard facing the jungle © Kate Zidar

The first step of this adventure started cutting the combination lock of the gate with the grinder. Once the access was granted we started the exploration of the jungle and made our own way to the creepy shed buried into the vegetation. Inside the shed we found any kind of treasures, including a couple of chairs to add to the collection of the backyard, more tools for the garden, building materials, a lots of other items all piled in a chaotic way.  After this first incursion, we withdrew behind the safe line of the fence to elaborate a future attack strategy.

Conquering the shed © Kate Zidar
Conquering the shed © Kate Zidar

This gardening adventure is keeping my mood up from the blues of blue water nostalgia as I am elaborating a personal project: I would love to make a place for Zen meditation practice inside the garden. I think it’s a good way to immerse myself in the nature and temporarily substitute the smell of blue water with the smell of a garden. The presence of nature is very important to me, there I find real comfort in this increasingly industrialized and technological society.

Ship of Fools

Albrecht Durer The Ship of Fools of Sebastian Brant, Title Page
Albrecht Durer, The Ship of Fools of Sebastian Brant

“Confined on the ship, from which there is no escape, the madman is delivered to the river with its thousand arms, the sea with its thousand roads, to that great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads. He is the Passenger par excellence: that is, the prisoner of the passage. And the land he will come to is unknown—as is, once he disembarks, the land from which he comes. He has his truth and his homeland only in that fruitless expanse between two countries that cannot belong to him.”
 

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason