Category Archives: 2020 archive



Most people can remember where they were when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the associated ones at the Pentagon. Most of the citizens of Europe and the certainly the U.K.  also know where they were when the London tube and various other locations were the subject of terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005.  That was fifteen years ago today.  Janice and Jim certainly know that second one well. They were on one of the bombed trains close to Kings Cross, two cars back from the bombing and had to walk out of the tube and then through the chaos, up to ground level. They were a bit dazed and confused (well that’s not unusual for Jim)  and once out of the tube station walked a long way until they could get a cab for a luncheon with chef Jamie Oliver at his Fifteen restaurant. They were on their way to see the place, meet Jamie and to run a crazy idea by him. That lunch occurred, and the rest of this piece is the story of what led up to it and what happened after.

When people retire, especially if they retire young, they are “full of piss and vinegar” to quote my aunt. For the first time they don’t have to worry about paying the rent, or mortgage but still have the energy to do things and often have a pent up demand to pursue some interests.

On Jims 48th birthday, January 24, 2002 he retired. Yeah, how rude is that. He did not retire wealthy, but was able to retire at that age and had a lot of things he wanted to do. One of the long list he had was going back to school – cooking college. While the college was known mainly for turning out chefs, him main interest was not actual cooking classes but the investment side of the restaurant business. He wanted to understand why restaurant businesses fail at an even higher rate than most small businesses do.

What he learned was that there are essentially five reasons restaurants fail. The section THE CHEF UPSTAIRS details these elements. His goal with this food based business was to solve for each of these variables and design a business that would reduce these five risks.

So in 2004 Jim set out to find a building to buy to renovate the second floor for this purpose. He found one on Mt. Pleasant in Toronto, bought it,  designed the space, designed the website, designed the logo, put together the business plan and the design for a two storey addition to accommodate the needs of the operation. This also involved the renovation of the ground floor for a second user in the building to pay rent to reduce overhead, and securing  the permits and approvals. And of course – building it.

During this time he and Janice also went touring around to see various chefs to run the concept by them. One such outing was to London to see Jamie Oliver, which I referenced at the beginning of this piece. Jamie was a little startled about the crazy morning they had experienced with the bombing but was very gracious and they had an exceptional lunch and conversation.

Jamie, Janice & Jim, July 7, 2005 London

The trip sounds extravagant to just go for lunch with Jamie Oliver but it was actually part of a trip to visit their son Jason who was doing summer studies at the University of Edinburgh and at Trinity College Dublin. So the trip was a bit of business but also visiting Jason in his last days at Edinburgh then traveling around Ireland and linking up with him again in Dublin to take him and a a friend out for another dinner.

As most things in their lives Janice was an important part of the design, and execution of The Chef Upstairs, but on this one Jim used the opportunity to teach Jade Autocad for the design work, and worked with Jason on part of the construction.  By spring 2006 they were opened.

So from 2006 to 2008 Jim ran it with a chef and tweaked the operation. Some events were as small as two people for a wedding proposal dinner, but more often the events were regular demonstration style cooking classes on various themes, sometimes corporate dinners where privacy was a  key feature, and often hybrids of this where the cooking class participants would be shown  the preparation of  a multi course meal and get to dine at the same time.

A big attraction was that because the space was only for the group that day or night, the tablecloths, napkin folds, music, and décor could be tailored to the group. There was also orchestration in the schedule where a group for example might work out a plan with the chef to have champagne and canapes on arrival, then have a little gap when someone would give a speech, then a first course followed by a presentation etc. For family get togethers the chef would duplicate grandmas famous chicken pot pie, or her apple crumble as best he could and do it in one of her dishes to make the whole thing a great alternative to having an event at home.

By 2007 it was successful, but by 2008 it was turning into a job, in contrast to a fun challenge, so Jim bought another building to do a second location on Queen Street in Toronto and found a buyer for the operation so he could build out locations for the new owners and rent them the space. Nice plan, but then the 2008 financial meltdown occurred. The new owners, were able to continue with the first location but could not expand.

Fast forward twelve years to 2020 and the business still continues under the skillful hands of the brother and sister team of Greg Heller and Lori Heller, who were the buyers at that time, and they have added a hands- on second location for cooking classes.  You can check out the current operation at:

Ah but before I leave you there is a bit of a corollary to the Jamie Oliver story. While it had always been hoped that Jamie would fly over to Toronto one day to teach a class at The Chef Upstairs, that did not happen. What did occur however was that he did a book launch at the facility. Good on ya, Jamie. A couple images follow.

Jamie at TCU 1

Jamie at TCU 2










So that’s the story of what happened to Janice and Jim fifteen years ago today on July 7, 2005 and an introduction to The Chef Upstairs. I am working on that little section of the website to detail it a bit more than this as it was a big part of Jims life for a few years. Look for it in the next couple of months.



Posted: July 1, 2020

It is a bit strange that I am busier than ever when not allowed to do anything, but that seems to be the case. Jim has me working on the TorontoART section for this website and getting my input on the “shopping cart” that he keeps assuring me he is working on for the website as well.

I have also been collaborating with him on a course he designed when he and Janice had the cooking school The Chef Upstairs. It was called College Survival and it was an introductory cooking course for young people. I have had several emails asking me to do something like that as many people are cooped up inside and it’s a good time to move forward on personal pursuits.

So all that business is in the works and I am playing hooky from all of it to write a quick post on Covid Comfort food. I just thought I would put down a few thoughts from a meal I made for the little group I am now cooking for every day.

It has turned into a pretty good routine. A couple just down the dock I don’t think have ever cooked before. They are wealthy Germans.  Their routine before Covid 19 was to just go out to lunch, go out to dinner and much of the time go to a local bakery and coffee place for breakfast. The only appliance I have seen them use in their huge trawler is the fridge and the corkscrew but they told me they recently bought a coffee maker. They seem like nice folks but are just coming from a very different world. So they have an online grocery delivery service that they order online what I tell them we need. The grocery service buys the stuff, puts it all in a pull cart and brings to the dock to En Plein Air and I put away the food components other than some breakfast things and things like toilet paper and the two other couples just take away their respective bits.  The German couple pay for all of it and I make the breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Ciara and me, this older couple Malcolm and Martha and this German couple.

Malcolm and Martha order and pay for a case of wine each week and four bottles come our way and to the other couple each week and Malcolm and Martha have the last four. So our food costs are covered, our wine is supplied and all I have to do is the cooking – suits me!

A couple of times we have all eaten together while social distancing but most of the time Cierra just drops off the meals and we all eat separately.  I don’t know if I will ever really get to know the Germans, Gerhard and Gabrielle as they are pretty quiet and even more private. About all I know is they own, or once owned, a jam company and are generous.

In contrast I am really getting to know Malcolm and Martha and they are pretty cool Americans. They have a few more miles on them than I but they have been miles that have not been wasted. That may be the trick to life. I am rambling a bit here but you will see  their names come up again as  for me at sixty six, to spend time with someone like Malcolm who is almost old enough to be my dad  and not just my chronological senior but still able to be (by a far margin) my mental senior – well that’s something.


Now “comfort food” means a lot of different things and its really whatever meals or tastes we have in our memories from when we were kids for the most part. A safe time in a safe place with our folks who made simple, easy to prepare, and often inexpensive dishes usually from rote, and always adapted for the tastes of the various members of the family. Depending on what their cultural origin, those meals were usually ones that had been passed down from their parents and adapted to current tastes.

The French are damb good at it – all bistro food is comfort food. Steak frites, cassoulet, or the French Canadian tortiere – the list goes on and the mouth waters. But the French version of comfort food to do well still takes more effort than the average person is willing to muster.

The Italians are the ones who just do it without thinking. Almost every fancy Italian recipe has a simple rustic version that takes little skill, and as long as the ingredients are fresh can hold up against the most sophisticated dishes.  I will come back to fresh in a minute.

But for some of us, while we love all sorts of comfort food, the Brits have it nailed in their pub grub. Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, well you get the idea. Now for those of you who have not been to the U.K. in the last couple of decades the real trend is the GastroPub. These are the places that the likes of Jamie Oliver got their start. They typically will do a modern take on a traditional dish.  I was in Scotland about ten years ago and in one pub the most popular thing on the menu was a Grand Marnier infused Haggis. Now if you can take on Haggis and win popularity you deserve to have a museum named after you.

So comfort food at a time like this is not only appropriate because it is a familiar thing in unfamiliar times but it also often uses food products that are readily available and ones that are easy to keep in a cold cellar for a long period of time. Just a nod to you hoarders out there.

Today many of us are returning to locally grown (200 km or 100 mile) produce. That means in most cases seasonally produced produce.

This is probably the place to introduce DJANGOS KITCHEN RULE # 3. SHOP FRESH, LOCAL & SEASONAL.

So the shopping fresh part everyone gets. The most basic of meals when made with super fresh ingredients blow away something that has “ripened” in the back of a truck over a longer period of time.

The shopping local is a good goal and one I try to live by, but it is tough, particularly if you are in a northern climate.  A few generations ago, if you were living in Europe or the northern half of North America no one thought of having bananas in the winter. It is even more extreme for those who live in even more northern climates – for those who have not noticed, the banana growing season in Norway is REALLY SHORT.   LOL.

So before refrigeration and inexpensive transportation were popular, if you were eating locally grown, it meant you were eating seasonally grown food and you start with the first harvest or unheated greenhouse harvest in the spring, gorge away all summer and put a few extra kilos on your gut and by fall would be preserving like mad and putting away root vegetables to survive on through the winter. So in winter you would have marmalade but no oranges and jam but no strawberries.  Most of us were not keen on the food habits of farmers in Victorian times so these ideas, while good ones to try to adhere to, are not realistic for most of us who value a good, well balanced, nutritionally correct diet today. So we buy fresh when we can, local when we available and buy the other imported bits as needed.

I have found that Covid 19 has made me think a bit more about these issues, partially because of shopping less often to reduce our exposure. Now that we have the arrangement  with the German couple it doesn’t matter as much but before that I was pretty spooked about the way we had to shop – flying through the store with a mask and gloves and not looking at whether the tomato was ripe or wizened and then trying to eat the fresh, very perishable produce first, and the longer life produce later in the week. It is the same with people who head off for an across the ocean sail – you can’t order a pizza when mid-Atlantic.

So If you are shopping every eight or ten or twelve days what does that look like?

Well, you buy some yellow bananas for now, some green bananas for later and some apples for the last few days of it.  Similarly, on veggies it’s the fresh green beans or French beans for the next few days, the broccoli after that and the Brussels sprouts, and potatoes for the last few days of the period. The wine you drink all the way through.

So back to comfort food.

The dinner I just made is my version of the British pub meal: Bangers and Mash. For those who don’t know it, the dish is simply bangers (sausages) with mashed potatoes. Like most dishes of this kind they would often have some other bits added based on what the cook had on hand around the kitchen.

There are essentially five things you will be working on with this dish – the sausages, mash, caramelized onions, and two other veggies.

I am going to break down how I do them in a small space on a boat, using very few pots and utensils as I know from experience many of my readers here are in the same boat, well not actually the same boat or they would be here with me but in a small kitchen space at least.

Sausages – I like to just put a little olive oil in a big pot, and after heating it up get some color going on the sausages. This is all about the visual, not about cooking them. Once we get some colour on them so they look like a sausage should, we can put them aside. We will actually cook them later.

Mash – Traditionally this was mashed potatoes of course. Most of us have eaten enough mashed potatoes in our lifetime that we don’t want to go back there. So here are the variations to consider.

The first, is a little more rustic a version – smashed potatoes. Just clean up some potatoes (brush under running water) then rough cut them up into pieces. Don’t peal the skins. Use whatever you have – russets, Yukon gold, baking etc.) Put them in the pot you just used for the sausages with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. When they are soft enough that they are getting close to falling apart, drain them and with them back in the same pot mash them up with a big spoon or fork or whatever you have for the job. Add some chives, parsley, lemon thyme or other herbs you have with some salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and see how it tastes. You might want to add some butter, or more olive oil or more pepper etc. Some will also like to add some garlic.

Now I don’t do this smashed potato thing often. I will usually do the same approach but use sweet potatoes instead.  Sometimes I will leave the skins on but more often I will peal them when using sweet potatoes before cutting them up and throwing them in the pot to boil. With the sweet potatoes I also really like to focus my herb additions on just chopped rosemary and butter and olive oil as it just comes together as such a nice mash and mashup of flavours.

But last night I didn’t do either of these things for the mash. I occasionally visit Janice and Jim and on those occasions, we drink a lot and cook a lot and one dish that blew me away that Janice just nails is what she calls rutabaga puff. She works from a pretty precise recipe and likes to use a mixer to really get the rutabaga nice and puffy – not as much as a mouse but in that direction. I don’t have the room for a mixer so used a little hand blender so what I am setting out here is my “street version” of her “white tablecloth” dish.

Start with a large rutabaga, wherever you shop just get one of the big ones (about 1.5 kilo or 3 pounds)– use a peeler to get that waxy skin off then cut it up into chunks that are two or three centimetre cubes (one inch) and then give them the same boiling treatment as I described for their potato and sweet potato cousins.  Then after draining, do your mashing, or blending routine to try to get this down to a nice fine consistency and add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted to butter,  a little salt, pepper, olive oil etc. to taste.  If you find it still has too much rutabaga attitude in taste then you need to add some maple syrup if you have it and brown sugar if you don’t. Something like a tablespoon or two.

If you have the time and interest a small handful of walnuts in a pan with low heat  with some brown sugar, or maple syrup to put on top of that rutabaga mixture when serving will really amp up this humble little root vegetable.

So if you have learned anything here it is that you can make a mash with whatever root vegetables you have – parsnips, turnips, carrots etc. These are all things that you can easily and inexpensively buy, and readily store for a long while. By a long while I mean find some cold dark place in your home and they will keep pretty well for months if needed.  Not a bad staple for your pandemic pantry.


Caramelized onions

On a cruise ship I worked on I went for an extended period of time being the guy who (with a few other tasks) just caramelized onions. You might think it is because I was pretty good at it. Wrong – I had inadvertently attracted the attention of a server who had not entirely completed her relationship with the chef I reported to. Cutting up twenty or thirty onions in a big pot at a time is a something I still cry over.

So get a couple of medium size yellow onions or cooking onions or ideally nice sweet Vidalia’s, pull off their skin, cut them in half and cut off the stem. I like to cut them on the length to get long stringy bits, and this is rustic cutting – big pieces, not little chopping. Then throw them in the pot that the mash was in, as you have transferred the mash to another container and cleaned the pot. Put in a glug of olive oil and sprinkle with some pepper and crank up the heat and start stirring to keep those onions moving.

After a couple of minutes when the onions are looking a bit translucent but also getting some color from the heat and the stirring, cover, turn down the heat and watch them and give them a stir pretty regularly. You are trying to get to something that is beyond translucent, has a nice bit of juice and softness, and brown colour but is not burned.

It is at about this point when you taste them that you realize you should have done this with four onions, they are so good!

Transfer to something to keep them warm in.


If you have button mushroom just do them whole but if they are ones with a diameter bigger than three or four centimeters (1.5 to 2 inches) cut on the length through the stem then cut in half through the stem as well so you have quartered them. Some people are in the camp of just brushing mushrooms but because I worked on a ship the protocol was to always really wash things well, and then wash them again, so that’s what I do. The sautéing process with mushrooms is easy. A couple little dabs of butter (15 ml) in the pot and some gentle heat for a while will do the job. After they are colouring and softening and the pot is not looking as wet with the moisture that has come out of the mushrooms, add a small puddle of white wine and swish around while they continue to sauté on very low heat.

Green Beans/ Broccoli/ Brussels Sprouts

You need to have something green on the plate for the visuals and in your stomach for all sorts of reasons, so clean up one of  the pots you have been using, chose a couple of these vegetable options and get your steamer pot going to add something green to the plate. Sometimes its nice to do fancier veggies but with sausages and mash and caramelized onions on the plate you need to keep the green component simple here.

Putting it all together.

At one point you will need to come back to your sausages. They look great but they have not really been cooked so you should now put just a pencil  or markers thickness of water in another pot – yes oh my god a second pot,  and bring that to a simmer and poach those sausages. No one likes a dry sausage so poaching them after giving them some colour is a great way to go. If on the other hand you have some pretty fat-laden sausages and you just like to grill them, particularly if you have an outdoor grill, then go for it.

Plate up your rutabaga or other mash, and if you have it – that walnut and brown sugar mixture on top, put a sausage on the plate with lots of caramelized onions on top, get those mushrooms and your green steamed vegetables  to accompany them on the plate and tuck in.


Vegetarian Option

If you have any vegetarians in your group this is a great dish. Replace the button mushrooms with a second green vegetable and substitute sautéed large slices of portobello mushrooms for the sausages. Just remember with those big portobellos that before cutting them into generous slices (2cm or ¾ inch) to spoon out those little brown “gills” or fuzz, then wash and sauté as above. I find it pretty cool that large beefy mushrooms like portobellos have a lot of protein, almost as much as chicken.

I think eventually we will all be vegetarians. Some of us still like our meat and poultry and seafood but I am really cutting back on the portion those products make up on the plate.


So that’s it. I often double the size of the recipe of the sausages, mash, onions and mushrooms and on the second day just steam more green vegetables for a fast second meal.

See I told you this would be a more happy post!

I am going to try to always post on the first of the month, starting today so people will know that even if I have done other posts one will appear then. Wow – am I getting organized!


P.S. the image below is a sample of the masks Janice has been making for their local hospital. She had a goal of taking them a lot each week but I think about half have made it off to friends. I just received three for me and three smaller ones for Ciara this week. Now I’m stylin.


POSTED: June 21, 2020

I am by many accounts an old guy. I am sixty-six, which certainly puts me in the last third of the race at best, and more realistically in the last quarter or less. This is also the age of a lot of friends of mine. To younger people we are viewed as old, and certainly not seen as kids, but many of us are still children to our even older parents.

Before Covid 19 the passing of a friend’s parents was an unfortunate but regular occurrence. But today, as we age further, and with this pandemic, the rapid pace of our parents passing has moved into another dimension. What is also disturbing of course is that we often can not say goodbye, or be with them at the end of the program for all the practical medical reasons during this pandemic, so the closure has to be found in other ways.

Today is June 21, Fathers Day 2020. I had not planned on this piece really being about Fathers Day but a few weeks ago two friends lost their fathers. Both men were ninety-two. One lived in a long-term care facility for dementia and the other lived at home. One died of Covid-19 the other from natural causes.

In both cases these fathers were very good providers financially and very poor providers emotionally. Not abusive, but just not the supportive parent we all need. In one case the father was not very good at coping with a gay son at a time before it was fashionable to be gay, and when having a gay son, was something of a challenge to a parents own sexuality, and the upbringing they had provided. In the other case I think the fellow may have started out with good intentions but with not great models of how to parent and his own insecurities felt he had to compete with his children, instead of support and nurture them.

I was somewhat surprised at how much their passing affected these two friends of mine. One has not interacted with her father for decades and while the other had reconciled with his father in recent years, they were still not close. So my sense of it is that they both had fathers, but neither of them had a dad, and the mourning they were experiencing was not only the final closure of the relationship but mourning that the dad they had hoped for, never showed up.

About ten years ago, a buddy’s dad passed and then his mum too, and I wrote the poem below. The passing of the second one had an even bigger impact on him, not because he was closer to his mom, in fact I think he took more of his characteristics and sense of self from his dad, but just that there was now no one walking ahead of him holding the light at the cottage in the dark. The light had been passed to him.  It doesn’t matter how old you are…. its never nice being passed the light.



Today I became an orphan,

In my fifties,

Confident and strong.

Weakened by this death.


At a time when inappropriate,

To appropriate,

It feels right to me,

To feel I am an “orphan”.


The loss of the other parent,

Is not a second loss,

But the loss

Of the whole.


Their passing is not

Just the passing of the torch,

Or the passing of the past,

But the passing of the future.


To move from somewhere

On the continuum to the

End point of the line.

Disturbing, relentless, time.





My next post will be a happy, frivolous one – I promise.

As always feel free to copy any of my posts or poetry but just credit me please.



POSTED: APRIL 25, 2020

When I sat down to write this piece it was because I received an email telling me I was a finalist in a poetry competition. I was thrilled. I was also just enjoying the idea that something else might be going on in the world than the Coronavirus. There are little green shoots starting to come up in places where its spring, and people falling in love and poetry contests. If only for a bit of the day its good to get your mind into part of the world that is not virus related or the associated end of the world financially.

So contests – I think they are great. They are a way for an amateur or recreational poet or painter or woodworker or quilter or dwarf rabbit breeder to find out what the world thinks of their work. Yes, our friends and family might tell us they like that crochet piece we did of Elvis riding a unicorn, but when someone who has been deemed to be a judge of a real contest provides some feedback on our work well that’s where we really can learn. Its also what gives us the confidence to continue on with the pursuit.

Many years ago Janice was chosen to be one of two visual artists representing Ontario at the Royal Bank Of Canada’s National Painting Competition.  It was a big deal. She did not win the top prize, but being chosen to be a finalist, the comments of the judges on her work, and the exposure in shows at some of the most significant public art museums and galleries across Canada was amazing for her confidence in moving further with her work and continuing to let her own voice come out. It is probably one of the things that inspired her, many years later to establish a poetry award at the University of Toronto.

The contest I was contacted about was not the only one I have entered. I enter a number of contests a year. Perhaps only about one-tenth of the contests Jim enters but many have entry fees so he can, and some don’t, so I can. This contest was with the Palm Beach Poetry Festival which happens near the end of January each year. The contest is for an ekphrastic poem (poetry about a piece of art) based on one of several pieces of art shown at the Cornell Art Museum in Palm Beach.  Jim had been told about it by a friend of theirs in Key West – Flower Conroy. Now Flower is a poet who Janice and Jim hang with while in KW and take a poetry workshop with each year and is by all accounts a pretty neat creature. Some of her poetry is a bit beyond me but I like it.

Jim sent me the details as he knew that one of the pieces of art I would like. It is called Adhesif and I will get to that in a minute. The artist is Caroline Dechamby a Dutch painter who lives in southern France.   Her work is based on using a historic artist’s style as a starting point or muse for a current piece.

Her homage pieces to Basquiat, Van Gogh and  Rothko are shown below.


Now the young woman in the art is Dechamby herself when she was younger. She is now a more mature age and while some of these pieces were painted some time ago others are recent and it seems she loves to depict herself at a certain age. Many of us think of ourselves this way. We aren’t delusional and know what our actual age is but many of our ideas and our sense of self really gelled at a certain point. I have had many a conversation over many glasses of wine on this very topic when I ask a person not how old they are but how old their psyche is. For me, it’s my late 30’s. By that point in my life I had a good sense of who I was, and a really good fix on who I was not. For some people it is the age they were when their life story turned – beat cancer, a new marriage, leaving a bad career, came out of prison. For others, it is just that point when everything came together and they started feeling comfortable with themselves.

It’s also interesting how some of us don’t age other people as well. They may age but we still see them as we once did when we met them. I have a high school friend who when in something like grade seven had a crush on Jane Goodall. Well, what’s not to like there when your in grade seven: an attractive scientist and monkeys!  I was speaking to him a couple of years ago and he referenced a current documentary piece on her and I had to ask – “still hot?  And his response “as ever”.

So this is the background to my poem. I hope you like it. The art piece Adhesif is shown first so you have the reference for what the poem is about.




Piet indeed,

No piety here.


Her soft edges layered

On hard edge technique.


Abstraction of abstraction

So representational.


The artist with the art,

in the art, the fiction complete.


The photographic reflection,

One dimension, two dimension,

Three dimension, four.


Primary colours

Primal desires.



Comments by  Judge Stephan Gibson.

“This spare, brief, thirteen-line poem delightfully engages the artwork—and the reader’s ear, with its slant rhyme use used to slant meaning in relating its sly view of Dechamby’s equally sly piece. Right from its opening, “Piet indeed,/No piety here,” (lines 1-2), the slyness and engagement with the artwork happens—and continues, “Her soft edges layered/On hard edge technique” (ll. 3-4)—the abstract objectification of art and the model immediately coming into view, “Abstraction of abstraction/So representational//The artist with the art,/in the art, the fiction complete,” leading the reader to what the eye feels and not only sees, the epiphany, “Primary colours/Primal desires” (ll. 12-13).




So that’s it. To see the other poets pieces check out:


P.S. as always I don’t have a problem with anyone reproducing my poetry or prose but please attribute it to me.


Posted: April 21

This is just a short post to let anyone who cares know that we made it back to Malta, and are now self-Isolating / quarantining for the next couple of weeks. Captain Ciara is in a better state, and we are just hanging out, and eager to start to think about more than sailing for a while. It’s nice to be able to open a bottle of wine. When we were so focused on sailing and going around the clock a nice glass of Amarone was not really in question.

One real positive of this is that Ciara and I have become closer. I don’t know how much of that relates to being side by side in battle with that MSF trip, and how much relates to my trip to Ireland to see her ex but we are kind of functioning like an old married couple who have been together forever.

Thanks to those who sent me emails of encouragement over the last six weeks. I think that I am going to get a chance to get to more of my usual reflective posts on various topics now that I can move beyond the journaling of what was quite a hyper sailing exercise. I forget to remind people that I can be reached at:



POSTED: April 2nd

So why am I writing from Cape Verde? Well, we were less than a day out on “the big sail” when we learned that a Brit with a private plane in Cape Verde could fly our passengers to London and they had secured seats on one of the few commercial flights still going to the U.S. from London.   We turned around and headed back to Cape Verde and well, here we are. Our passengers have headed off to the airport and we are gearing up to sail back to Casablanca and then to back to Malta. We are trying to do this quickly as we don’t know what restrictions there will be and we don’t want to be without a port to wait out this virus. At least we are well stocked and have been well paid for our efforts.

Ciara’s spirits, on the other hand, are a bit frayed. So we have a pretty reflective bit of cruising to do over the next couple of weeks, but other than the first few days will do it mostly as day cruising. Not the crazy twenty-four-hour day-after-day business we have had recently.

By the way, for those of you who read these posts to keep up with what Janice and Jim are up to, I can report that they made the decision to scramble back to Toronto from Key West on March 16th and by March 17th mid-day were on the road and completed the three thousand Kilometer trek in record time (well a record for them) two days later. At this point, they are still in quarantine at home.




Well, that took a bit longer than planned. We made it to Cape Verde on the 29th.  Our sail from Casablanca had started with really tough weather and associated tough sailing but we had some better bits near the end.

The Morgan fellow we were picking up turned out to be a female Morgan so we jumped into a bit of a rethink of the quarters again. Morgan turned out to be pretty resourceful at sourcing food provisions and supplies and methanol and had a good stockpile for us when we met her.

As we set out for the big sail across to The Bahamas, Ciara did her teaching thing but actually had and has,  Alisha doing most of it as we learned from our sail from Casablanca to Cape Verde this Millennial is a quick study and a bit of a natural sailor.

What is a little tougher is that Ciara just received news that her ex-husband committed suicide. It seems that at some point shortly after I was there he went into the barn, swallowed the wedding ring, took off his boots, made some cuts on the soles of his feet and ankles and then while standing on a chair, used zip ties to tie his wrists up to the beams above and then kicked over the chair. This is a very slow way to die and very scary stuff. I have a hard time taking out a splinter so it must take some serious control to cut your own feet and then hang there waiting to bleed out.  It turns out that he died of a heart attack from the blood loss and they don’t know exactly how long the process took.

Ciara is more than a little shaken by the whole thing. She is, of course, relieved that her nightmare with him is finally over but equally stressed that my little trip to help her ended up with a resolution that still puts some stress on her. Now in some ways, she will never get away from him, but at least not live in fear.

So as we headed off we envisioned the next few weeks as just days and nights of hard sailing but with four to work the boat and me to cook and keep us organized I was feeling pretty confident. I have heard Captain Ciara say more than once to the group that “this is not November”. What she means is that the tradewinds for this route are ideal for crossing from north Africa to the Caribbean in November or December making that the chosen time that most serious racers or recreational sailors take this trip on – not in March. Well we don’t get to choose our timing for most things in life so why should this be any different?

You probably won’t see anything posted here until we make it to The Bahamas and we are in quarantine there.



POSTED: Casablanca  March 22

It was a real push to Tangier/ Gibraltar and we all took our turns and did it in four days. Aline left us there and we took on a few more provisions and headed to Casablanca. Our trip was quite unnerving as we would hear the news each day and the confirmation of another airline canceling service to the region. Two nights before, Morocco had canceled all flights in and out. A few emergency government-arranged extraction flights, including a Canadian one, happened on Friday the 21st, and on our arrival in Casablanca, two of the doctors who did not make it onto those flights joined us. So at this point, we have gone from a contingency plan to an actual plan for execution.

Earlier today, we set sail again, now with two passengers, heading south toward Dakar, Senegal to pick up two more but learned this afternoon that one is going back to the Gambia, and the other caught one of the last flights from Dakar to Cape Verde to make our sail shorter.  So Cape Verde is our new interim destination and we expect to be there in six days. For those not familiar with the geography of the region, Cape Verde is off the west coast of northern Africa and is both a point to stop and take on provisions, and the last stop do any repairs before crossing to the Americas. It is further south than we would usually go but not as far out of the way as Dakar and does break up that long sail.

We have very good weather and Ciara has started her little class with Alisha and Benji on sailing basics. Alisha is a dietitian by training and Benji is a general practitioner. Benji has done a bit of recreational sailing and Alisha has never been on a sailboat but she is young and very fit.

We have many days on the ocean ahead and on a boat this size with what eventually will be five of us, the provisions are going to get pretty thin if we don’t hit a good pace when we leave Cape Verde. That pace will depend on the weather, which we can’t control, and the discipline of the team, which we can, so Ciara is all over that one right now. She won’t take the time for an overboard drill but will tell them how to do it. As we will always be on the move whether under sail or by power, her “on-deck” protocol is a simple rule – if your anywhere on the deck you are wearing a PFD.

The fellow we are meeting in Cape Verde has our provisions list so he will be sourcing that and we should be in port for only hours.

Wish us luck – the weather forecast is about as bad as it can get within the band of it still being safe to leave.



POSTED: MARCH 15, 2020

Holy crap things are changing fast. Shortly after I got back from Ireland to Malta, Ciara, and En Plein Air everything was locking down with COVID 19.  Borders were closing, airports shutting down and her friend from MSF had been contacted by that organization with a job for us.

The simple plan is that we are to become the “contingency plan” for getting some American MSF doctors home to the U.S. if the commercial flights all get canceled and if any of them miss the emergency flights they expect will be sent by some countries to pick up their nationals from Africa. So the idea is that we sail to Casablanca, which has the largest international airport in the region, to learn if we are getting any of the doctors there, and evaluate what has happened on the flight situation and then potentially sail down to the Western Sahara to pick up three American doctors who are working in and around Senegal for the sailing to North America  – probably the Bahamas or another friendly (non- U.S. port.). We can’t be in U.S. waters. That’s a long story from En Plein Airs’ past.  From there they can make it back to the U.S. with other help.

We are hoping the Americans can make it north to Casablanca or at least to a point along the Western Sahara to meet us as if we are going as far south as Dakar, Senegal it will add another week to what is already a three week trans Atlantic trip, and that’s once we make it to Casablanca. The trick in all of this is that one of the Americans is a recreational sailor and one has done some sailing so Captain Ciara will get some relief. When doing the transatlantic there is no port you’re in each night (duh!) so to make the trip work you are under sail the whole time and that means the bodies on board are all in a cycle for taking their turn.

We are moored in Valletta Malta and over the last two days we sourced our provisions for this leg, loaded up, and tomorrow morning with the sunrise will set sail to Gibraltar / Tangier. The big challenge is always finding a good grade of methanol for the hydrogen generator. A lot of the other provisions are pretty straightforward. Ciara and Aline also sourced some medical supplies as they expect there will not be many available when we make it to Casablanca and if we have one or more on the boat who are sick this is going to be one messy trip. It’s been a while since we have done “real” sailing and even the trip to Casablanca will take five days if we are lucky and more realistically seven days.

It’s a bit of a crazy plan and one that is going to take more than a month of sailing from this point to get to The Bahamas.  The part that is as nuts is that all of this is tentative – if they can get commercial flights for the doctors they will, so we may have almost a week of hard sailing only to find that they have been able to get flights out of Dakar or Casablanca. We are dropping Aline, Ciara’s friend in Gibraltar and she will make it north to Lyon France where she is from.

At least we are being well compensated. A donor put a substantial sum in our account just for the leg for us to get to the western coast of Africa to pick them up so even if it is aborted we will have made what we made for all of last year. If we do end up doing the trip across the Atlantic they proposed a very generous fee, so the financial aspect is all working.

The exciting part for me is that the days with Justin, Amy, and Sven were the best of times for me, and this feels like we are back doing something meaningful. So it’s not really like putting the band back together but it has some of those elements. Its also nice in this crazy new world, where we won’t have bookings as its hard to “social distance” on a boat of this size, to be getting paid as I don’t know how we will survive otherwise.

It will also give me a chance to process my experience in Ireland with Ciara’s ex-husband and to try to find a way to explain to her how badly it went. Until then I will just try to hide some of the bruises.

So stay tuned. My posts may be scattered, not well-edited, and short for a while.

Stay safe.




Europe, even southern Europe, is not very hot in winter. The south over the winter is at best, temperate,  and if you are from a northern climate while it is nothing like the extreme cold in Scandinavia or The Baltics, it’s not the season anyone is looking to pay to go out on a rickety old boat in the ocean. So sometimes I use the time to get some things upgraded or repaired on En Plein Air as we did last year in Greece, but other years it’s the time for me to catch up on some things, like going back to Canada, seeing some people, seeing my neurologist and doctor and dentist.  I look for an inexpensive place to moor for the winter season, and now that Captain Ciara is on the scene she is part of the decision making as well.

So my plan for this year is to do that Canada trip in April but right now, as I write this, I am sitting on a train, and using the train’s wifi, on my way to Ireland. Ciara is staying on the boat, which is currently moored in Malta, and she has one of her female doctor friends visiting from Medicins Sans Frontieres.  That’s the organization Ciara worked with for many years when she had to get away from her ex-husband. I don’t know if her friend is more than a friend but they certainly seem close so I hope they have a good time while I am away. Malta is not hot in March, but relative to Europe it’s pretty nice. The temperature when I left was about 17C but sunny so if you are doing anything where you are moving around its short sleeve and shorts weather but not first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the sun goes down.

My trip is to satisfy one of those wishes that “Django the Gennie” agreed to grant Ciara when she agreed to join me as captain. I have referenced before that her ex is a bit of a piece of work. Well, I am not going to detail all of it but from the stories she tells, he was always abusive, and when she “came out” first to herself, then to him, it really got bad. That’s when she left him which was not long after they had married. She has gone her whole adult life since that time trying to function with him ignoring court orders, being physically and verbally abusive to her, and threatening to her friends and family. She left the practice of medicine in Dublin when her mother passed and joined MSF, but still, he would on occasion find her and she would move on. What a way to live.

We all have choices in these matters – fight or flight and Ciara has made a lifetime of flight. Now you might think in this sad story this is the point where there is a turn – a point where our hero/heroine decides to fight – well that’s where you would be wrong. My task in going to Ireland is to lie to the guy and give him back the wedding ring and tell him that she has died just to get him off her trail. It’s not really the underdog winning story we all want but it’s a choice she has made in response to the reality she lives in. So I am off to a little place in southern Ireland where he lives a rural life, does odd jobs as a carpenter, and generally hangs out with others like him.

I am traveling with just a small backpack with some overnight stuff, Ciara’s wedding ring to give back to him, and a bottle of Bourbon – yeah he likes Kentucky Bourbon more than Irish whiskey so you know he is a bit messed up by that alone.

If you surveyed most people who know me, on where I fit on the Macho/ Normal / Wimp measure of fearlessness, most would put me somewhere in the Wimp category unless it is for a cause I believe in, which would push me up into the Normal category. For the task at hand, I have quite a bi-polar perspective – I am mad as hell at this guy and scared as hell as to how my dialogue with him is going to go.

I am going to have lots of free time when I get back to Malta so you should see several posts this winter. I really have a few good ideas for some food-related ones.