Passing of a true friend

It is with great sadness that I type these words, at the passing this morning of a great friend of mine, my big black cat Fred. His passing was sudden, with no apparent sickness, no dimming of faculties, no warning. He was here, then he was not.

He was a British Shorthair, a breed known for their ability to get along with most any creature, even dogs. He was true to the breed, calm, quiet, unruffled. With certain exceptions. When friends of his (other cats) were being threatened by other cats or animals, then he was fierce, oh my yes. Even as a kitten, he sent a large mean tabby cat from next door flying when that feline threatened his buddy Squirt, a very old calico that had been declawed and was thus defenseless. To that same old calico he was unendingly patient and kind, never threatened her, never snarled or hissed to assert dominance, just sat calmly as she beat him about the head with her cotton ball paws, then sat just as calmly as she sauntered away as if she had won the day.

He was a bruiser, weighing in at about 16lbs (7.25kilos) and used his weight wisely. As a kitten, when his siblings became too rambunctious he would simply sit on top of them until they cried ‘uncle’. As an adult cat he was so heavy that more than once I thought someone was in the house when he thumped down the stairs.

Patient he was, oh yes. When wanting food or to be let out, he would simply come to you, give you a head butt, then turn around to walk away, looking back to see if you were following. If you didn’t, he’d head butt you again until you did.

He was my constant companion when I moved to England. I have never made friends easily, did not there. The neighbors were distant and shop owners are never really friends with someone who is their customer. But I could always depend on Fred to be there, thumping down the stairs and head butting me for treats when I got home.

He was not a lap cat, no. Did not particularly like being picked up. He would tolerate it for about three seconds, then want down, yet he would stay with me, following me like a puppy when I did yard work or worked in my shop or hammered away at my typewriter, curled up nearby from where he could keep me in sight. That was a pity, for he had the thickest, softest fur that fairly begged to be stroked. I still look for him coming around corners, his great bushy tail standing straight up like a waving flag, looking at me to make sure I was still there.

I am still here. My great buddy boy is not. For fifteen years he was a major part of my life, now not. A great heart gone that leaves a great hole in mine.



Back in the saddle again …

It has been entirely too long since I’ve posted here. My only excuse is that for a while I’ve been overcome by life events. There are more such events on the horizon, but now whilst there’s a period of relative calm, I thought I’d write a quick thank you note to those who still come to visit. I also thought I’d indulge in shameless copying, I guess I should say ‘reposting’, of a white paper I saw some time ago with ten universal wisdoms associated with writing.

How to Write Good

1 – Avoid alliteration. Always.
2 – Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3 – Avoid cliches like the plague. They’re old hat.
4 – Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
5 – Be more or less specific.
6 – Writers should never generalize.
Seven – Be consistent
8 – Don’t be redundant; Don’t use more words than necessary, it’s highly superfluous.
9 – Who needs rhetorical questions?
10 – Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

Now that you are privy to the deepest ten secrets of the writing trade, I’ll get back to work. I am working on a new book called Watersong and hope to have the first rough draft finished by the first of the year. After the first draft, it’s editing for story and character arcs, character voices, etc. As Mitchener said, good books are not written, they are rewritten. That gives me hope as I slog through the doldrums of writing where the magic gestates before it blooms in the fully fledged story line. Hmm. Guess I need to take my own advice.
take care,

When the guns fell silent …

Ninety eight years ago tomorrow, on the 11th hour of the 11th month of the 11th day of 1918, the guns of the Great War fell silent. Here in America it used to be known as Armistice Day, but now it’s known as Veteran’s Day. In England it’s known as Remembrance Day.


The Great War had many firsts: It was the first war fought in the air in a significant way. It saw the first general use of machine guns in more than sporatic fashion, much to the sadness of the troops, for the tactics used were of the 18th century whereas the weapons were of the modern age. Frontal assaults upon deeply dug trenches, well-defended positions equipped with machine guns, was madness, but the generals didn’t see that, didn’t understand until much too late. And the slaughter was at a level truly unimaginable, running into the millions, no one really knows how many. And not just soldiers. In Verdun alone there is an ossuary adjacent to the ruins of Fort Douaumont that contains the bones of over 200,000 civilians, stacked rather than buried because the body parts were so scattered that the bodies could not be put back together after they’d been plucked from the mud. And Douaumont itself? See for yourself in the photos below, before and after. Obliterated. Obliterated like the nine towns in France that were lost completely and could never be rebuilt. Entire towns pounded to flat rubble by artillery. French farmers die every year when they plow their fields and detonate old unexploded shells that had been fired almost a century before. I’ve walked over the ground. Even now, the ground still has deep overlapping shell holes as far as the eye can see. The French government posts the land, for the unexploded ordnance is still dangerous to the unsuspecting tourist.



The US lost roughly (all of the casualty numbers are ‘rough’, as many men just disappeared in the rain of hell known as artillery barrages) 100,000 men. Compare that if you will to the losses of the first day of the Somme, when the Brits alone lost over 56,000 men. In one day. Let me repeat that. In … one … day. It’s a number unimaginable. I used to work at a shipyard and I remember shift change when hundreds of people would walk in and out when the steam whistles screamed. At that time there were just under 30,000 employees who worked there. When I compared that number to the casualties of the Somme my heart crushed. Almost twice the number of people that worked in that shipyard were lost on the Somme by just the British … in one day. If you’re a student at university, think of every person on campus being slaughtered in one day. The thought, if you have any empathy at all, takes away the power of thought.



This was not glory, though the exploits of individuals like Sargent York were legendary. No, this was carnage, this was industrialized murder, fought all over the world from the muddy fields of Europe to the plains of Africa and beyond. I purposefully avoided posting the most awful photos in my possession, they’re not suitable for general consumption where children could possibly see them. I leave it to your imagination to visualize what happens when a body literally disappears under the blast of an artillery shell.


It was the first truly ‘world’ war, with peoples from all over being drawn into the carnage. It was the dividing line between the end of the old world and the beginning of the new. Old royals and aristocracies fell, to be replaced by republics of various types, the end of the era when the general population trusted their leaders to look out for them. No one was immune, even Theodore Roosevelt lost his son Kermit, killed whilst flying as a fighter pilot. The US still has thousands buried there, in a cemetery at Montfaucon in France, the white marble crosses bear mute testimony to their sacrifice.

You will see the symbol of the poppy used in remembrance. That is because after the carnage, poppies were about the only thing that would grow in the battlefields. I wear my pin every year.

I know this is not a pleasant post. It’s not meant to be. But, like the Holocaust, the Great War is something never to be forgotten, a lesson bought hard by horrible deaths of innocents. If you would, at 11:00 am tomorrow morning, just stop, think, and imagine the thunder of guns falling silent, leaving a ringing stillness in the air.

It’s time to end this post and if I might be allowed to paraphrase the movie ‘Shenandoah’, I think Jimmy Stewart’s character said it best, when he says about war, ‘The politicians praise it, the undertakers win it, and the soldiers just want to go home.’


Anniversary of D-Day Invasion

I know this sounds lazy, and it may very well be, but the post I did last year for the anniversary of D-Day still sounds right to me. I would just like to add that the D-Day invasion was not just or mostly performed by Americans. Brave men from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Poland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands,  and Norway (and I’m certain others that I don’t know about) all faced down the fires of hell for us. So here it is again:


“… I want to tell you what the opening of the second front entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.” Ernie Pyle, June 12, 1944

On June 6th, 1944, Operation Overlord, the start of the invasion of German-occupied France, began. In one night and a day, 175,000 fighting men traversed the one hundred nautical miles of the English Channel and landed upon the beaches of Normandy. Transported with them were 50,000 vehicles on 5,333 ships supported by 11,000 airplanes. Stephen Ambrose states that it was as if the entire cities of Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin were picked up and moved, every man, woman, child and automobile, to the east side of Lake Michigan, in one night. Most were not professional soldiers, they were kids that had signed up after Pearl Harbor or were drafted. They were citizen soldiers, folks like us, personally unacquainted with violent death. That did not last. Company A of the 116th Regiment, the first ashore at Omaha, suffered over 90 percent casualties.


The beaches bristled with obstacles, mines, mortars, machine guns and artillery like the dreaded 88mm cannon that had been adapted to almost every conceivable use from shelling infantry positions to antiaircraft fire. Rommel had  designed the defenses and he did his job well.

I have stood on Omaha beach. It is broad and flat and the idea of stumbling ashore weighted down with gear, bullets whizzing by like bumblebees, blood splattering the air and soaking the water, and people screaming all around is beyond my poor ability to comprehend and I have a pretty good imagination. I have stood at Pointe du Hoc and wondered just how in the world the Rangers climbed that vertical cliff face under fire. I have stood in front of the monument to the missing at Omaha, seen my own name carved in the stone and wondered what happened to my namesake.

It is beyond imagining.

So as the 6th passes by, please take a moment to remember. Remember the terrible sacrifices of very brave men for the simple principle of freedom, the ability to speak your mind and go where you choose. It is good that we are reminded from time to time of just how important that is.



Post A to Z follow up

I’d like to take this post to expressly thank everyone who read my little scribblings. When I’m safe and secure in my little writer’s garret my ideas feel great, but out in the open where the light of reality shines bright I’m afraid they’ll wilt like an orchid stuck in the Sahara. Roweee, a lovely blogger at, suggested that I follow up the challenge by listing my a-to-z posts so folks, especially new visitors I guess, can have a synopsis of the subjects I’ve covered. I think this is a great idea, so here goes:

A – A is for Anchor (or how to keep things in one place without really trying)

B – B is for Boat (a hole in the water in which you pour money, or ‘I really need this gadget for the boat, I really do!’)

C – C is for Circumnavigation (or round and round we go,  no matter how old we are)

D – D is for Dinghy (or the biggest little dinghy in the Navy)

E – E is for Engine (or how I make this damn thing go faster?)

F – F is for Fire and Fire Extinguishing (or how do I put this damn thing out?)

G – G is for Grog (or how else are we going to keep our spirits up?)

H – H is for Hulls (or you too can make it float)

I – I is for Inox (or the Swiss get it right)

J – J is for Jib (or what is that sail on the pointy end of the boat?)

K – K is for Ketch (not kvetch, it’s Ketch!)

L – L is for Lifeboat/Liferaft (or what to do when the big boat goes away)

M – M is for Multihull (or how many of these things do we need?)

N – N is for Navigation (or where the hell are we?)

O – O is for Oar (or how to pry your boat through the water in one easy lesson)

P – P is for Paint (or how did I get more on me than on the boat?)

Q – Q is for Q-ship (or deception is the order of the day)

R – R is for Rope (no way I’d feed you a line)

S – S is for Seasickness (Bleh and I do mean bleh)

T – T is for Tallow (the little-dab-will-do-yah for boats)

U – U is for U-boat (Aaahhh-oooo-gah, Dive, Dive!)

V – V is for Varnish (an art in itself)

W – W is for Wanderlust (not all who wander are lost)

X – X is for X Marks the Spot (or all things arrrghhhh)

Y – Y is for Yard or Yardarm (What is this strange wooden thing we hang sails and sailors from?)

Z – Z is for Zulu (or how do you spell that?)

I have more block in blog posts than I thought I would have, The last week in June I’ll be going down to the Outer Banks for another writer’s retreat, so you can expect more scribblings/photos of nautical sorts of things whilst I’m there, also posts that relate to ongoing research for the new book ‘Suzy and Dodge.’

Thanks for reading.

Post Storm Scribblings


Yes, I have been writing again. That is a good thing and it’s largely due to the efforts of my writing friends (particularly Liz Hein and Noelle Granger) who got me into the A-to-Z challenge. It definitely challenged me to go ahead and put words on the page and pay attention. Once the flow started it continued and I’ve accomplished a great deal, I think, on my new book. As you can see from the above photo, I’m a throw-back to the days of the typewriter (this one is a Smith-Corona Skywriter circa 1951), coffee and fountain pens and I’ve been pounding on the poor thing for a couple of weeks now. I’m down on the Outer Banks of North Carolina doing work on our beach house (mostly done) I’ve also taken the opportunity to do research. Apparently I have a thing for period pieces. Beagle Club is set in the summer of 1936, as you know, but the new one is also period, as it’s set in 1947. The main character Max has come home from the war and settled in a seaside community for a nice quiet life and has purchased an abandoned life saving station house for a song.


The one above is the one that now is just down the road from the house, at Chicamacomico. Yes, you too can pronounce the name, just say ‘Chee-ca’, then ‘ma’, then ‘comic’, then ‘oh’. A lot of the names on this island are old native american names, there Chicamacomico, Kinakeet, and Rodanthe for example. If you want to know exactly where I am, look for Rodanthe. The island is less than a half-mile wide at this point so I can see the inland sounds and the ocean at the same time. Pretty cool. Anyway, wandering around the station and talking to the nice folks here gives me a very good feel for the spaces my main character moves around in. Nothing like being there and smelling the place to make your writing real.

Speaking of real, a tropical storm has just passed me by, thank goodness. It never quite made it to hurricane status because it didn’t hang out around the warm Gulf Stream for very long, so Ana was just a tropical storm. She still brought plenty of rain and wind.


I know the waves don’t look all that high when you look at the left photo, but the winds were very strong and when you look closely at the right photo you can see the beach just sort of fades out in a fog of spray off the water. As a continuing tidbit of nauticalia, when a ship is at sea and the wind is strong enough to atomize the spray into fog it’s called ‘sea smoke’. These were taken in between the large bands of thunderstorms. I tried to get some of those when they came through, but as it was mostly at night with heavy rain, that became problematic. Suffice to say that when the winds hit my house moved around quite a bit. All the houses are elevated on stilts by building code requirements because of the flooding that takes place when the big boy storms like Irene came through. She flooded at the house up to 7 feet and washed the A/C units right off their platform. Quite a mess.

I’ve got to get back to packing, due back home today and there’s still too much to do. Thanks for reading, it’s very much appreciated, more than you know, and I look forward to reading your blogs too.


Z is for Zulu

a to z - p4903_Nautical Alphabet_LRG
This post is a little more modern than a lot of the other posts, but to cut to the chase, Zulu is the phonetic spelling for the letter ‘z’ in marine radio communications. For years, how folks spoke over marine radios was a mystery to me. They’d use these key words and tricky phrases that didn’t seem to be written down any place. When I’d try to spell something out over the phone for some computer guy from Berzerkistan, my phonetic spelling was completely ad-hoc. My name, for example, was ‘B as in Boy, O as in Orangutan, B as in … Bathtub’ but the whole alphabet was beyond me, so this addresses that in a small way. But before I delve too deeply into that, a little background is required.

Even since the advent of sailing craft, communication between vessels has been vital. In earlier days flag and speaking trumpets were the standard but now it’s mainly radio. Marine radios are important especially if you’re going any distance from land, particularly if you’re going out of sight of land. The most common type for recreational boaters is VHF-FM. You can call for help, arrange for a berth at a marina, get weather information, call home or talk with other boaters. This all sounds wonderful but there are a few caveats. FCC regulations state that marine radios are to send and receive information about safety, operations and commerce only. No other type of message is permissible. So, no chit-chat. And a little side note, das ist verboten to use your marine radio whilst you are on land, even whilst your boat is on the trailer. I don’t know what ze punishment vould be, other than fines and/or ostracism, but still it’s against the rules. Now onto a few details of how to use a marine radio.

When you use that radio, there are certain words called Procedure words or PROWORDS that are used in a particular way if you want to be readily understood. Certain PROWORDS and what they mean to the person on the other end are as follows:

OUT-this is the end of my transmission to you, no answer is expected or required.

OVER-this is the end of my transmission and a response is expected, go ahead and transmit.

ROGER-I got your last transmission ok.

WILCO-Your last message was received, understood and will be complied with.

THIS IS-this transmission is from the station whose name and call sign follows immediately.

FIGURES-figures or numbers to follow. For example, if you’re telling the Coast Guard how long your vessel is so that they know what size of boat to look for, you might say in your transmission ‘Vessel length is FIGURES two three feet’, meaning your boat is twenty three feet long.

SPEAK SLOWER-your transmission was difficult to understand, speak more slowly


WORDS TWICE-it is difficult to understand you, give each phrase twice.

I SPELL-I shall spell the next word phonetically (this is where the ‘z’ for zulu comes in). This is used when a proper name is important in the message. For example, “Boat name is Dora, I SPELL-Delta, Oscar, Romeo, Alpha.”

WAIT-I must pause for a few seconds

WAIT OUT-I must pause for longer than a few seconds, I will call you back.

AFFIRMATIVE-You are correct, what you have transmitted is correct


There is one more PROWORD that I must mention and that is MAYDAY. It is the distress signal that precedes a distress message about a grave and imminent danger and a request for immediate help. MAYDAY comes from the French expression ‘M’aidez’, meaning ‘help me’. It is to be used when your boat is on fire and is getting too big for you to fight, or if you are taking on water and are in imminent danger of sinking. It is not to be used when you run out of beer and/or gasoline within sight of land. A better way to deal with those things is to contact a marine tow service via your marine radio or even cell phone. MAYDAY is for when serious stuff is hitting the fan.

Here’s where ‘zulu’ comes in. Regarding the I SPELL and the subject of this post, the phonetic alphabet is used when signals are weak and/or reception is poor. The phonetic alphabet is as follows, at least for the US. The first meaning is the letter designation, the second is the meaning the flag carries when it is flown as a single signal flag:

A-ALPHA – unable to maneuver, keep clear (also used as diver down flag)

B-BRAVO – dangerous cargo


D-DELTA – keep clear

E-ECHO – altering course to starboard (that’s to the right)

F-FOXTROT – disabled

G-GOLF – want a pilot

H-HOTEL – pilot on board

I-INDIA – altering course to port

J-JULIETT – on fire, keep clear

K-KILO – desire to communicate

L-LIMA – stop instantly

M-MIKE – I am stopped


O-OSCAR – man overboard

P-PAPA – about to sail

Q-QUEBEC – request pratique (clearance granted to proceed into port after compliance with health regulations or quarantine)

R-ROMEO – (no message associated with Romeo at this time)

S-SIERRA – engines going astern

T-TANGO – keep clear

U-UNIFORM – standing into danger

V-VICTOR – require assistance

W-WHISKEY – require medical assistance (I’ve always wondered if they mean ‘need whiskey’)

X-XRAY – stop your intention

Y-YANKEE – am dragging anchor

Z-ZULU – require a tug

There are, of course, a plethora of other signals. There is an entire Corps of the military dedicated to communication and the making of signals, called, strangely enough, the Signal Corps. They are in charge of waving flags around to communicate between ships. Signal flags corresponding to the letters of the alphabet and combinations of those flags signal orders or intentions, especially in military ships. These are all listed in H.O. 102, The International Code of Signals and like we used to read in high school math books, more is left for the ‘serious’ student. Which I’m not.

a to z - EnglandExpects

The most famous signal that I know of is Nelson’s last message at Trafalgar, ‘England Expects Every Man to Do His Duty’ (which conceptually seems a lot like ‘just close your eyes and think of England’ in a way) and just for grins I give it to you here.

I would like to thank all of you who have kept up reading my little scribblings through this month. It’s been a lot of fun and I appreciate everyone giving their time to read. Take care, and just remember like the old charts used to show at the edge of the world, beyond this point there be dragons.

a to z - red-sea-monster-serpent