W is for Wanderlust

This post is a bit more mystic, in that it covers a singular aspect of why people sail. This is not so much for power boats. I’ve heard it said (and it rings true for me) that folks who go on powerboats go with the intent of going somewhere or doing something in particular, whether it’s fishing or trawling or skiing. Sailors go with the intent of enjoying the going, not the getting somewhere. I believe that feeling is the edge of wanderlust, the simple desire to move.

a to z - wanderlust drama_adventuresinparadise_1

The first time I can remember feeling wanderlust was as a five year old child, watching the television show ‘Adventures in Paradise.’ The waving palm trees, the schooner Tiki, and the adventures of Captain Troy were all I needed to light the spark.

The term ‘wanderlust’ has its origins from the German words wander (to hike) and Lust (desire). According to Wikipedia, in modern German the use of the word Wanderlust is less common, having been replaced by Fernweh (literally ‘farsickness’), coined as an antonym to Heimweh (homesickness). I rather like that as a definition for wanderlust. ‘Farsickness’, for to me the longing feels like a sickness of sorts, similar to the ripped heart of lovesickness, but a longing for what is beyond the horizon literal and figurative.

Wanderlust is universal, it seems. Many people, disillusioned with the greed sickness of the modern commercial world, have taken off to parts unknown, many of them single-handed. There is a book by Richard Henderson, ‘Singlehanded Sailing’, that covers the techniques of handling a sailboat on your own. How to set up self-steering, various rigs, anchoring, etc are but a few of the subjects, but the opening chapters cover the huge number of people who have faced the sea alone. The reasons for singlehanding are various. From Henderson’s book, actual answers are “I proved to myself I could do it alone”, “I simply had to”, “Restlessness was nagging me”, “The best way to find peace” and my personal favorite, “Because I bloody well wanted to.”

a to z - blackburn_howard_sitting

A man named Howard Blackburn is one of the most remarkable of all singlehanders, because the man had no fingers. He lost them to the sea when fishing in a dory as a young man from a Glouscester schooner in a blinding snow storm. He lost his mittens and his fingers were frozen stiff, but before he lost all feeling, he formed them into cupped sockets so he could still row. He could not reach the mother vessel, so he struck out for Newfoundland. He was 5 days at sea in that dory, lost all his fingers, many toes and half of each thumb. After all that, he still went to sea as a singlehander and went transatlantic twice. There had to be more in his soul than just ‘Oh I’ll see if I can make it’. Wanderlust had to be part of the very fiber of his being. And speaking of transatlantic, I’m reminded of Helen Tew, an 88-year old grandmother who sailed eight thousand miles in a 26 foot gaff cutter (not alone, her sons were with her), proof positive that wanderlust is not limited to the young. Sir Francis Chichester and Sir Alex Rose were 66 and 60, respectively, when they completed their circumnavigations. I take heart from them, knowing from that that it’s never too late to start an adventure. But for me, the one to take the cake for pure wanderlust is Harry Pigeon.


1986.0034 pidgeon islander

Harry Pigeon was a landsman until relatively late in life. He was 48 when he yielded to his yearning to visit the South Seas so he built his own boat, the Islander, and studied navigation in the local public library. His first circumnavigation took four years, his second took five years. The thing is, he didn’t do it as a test of bravery, or a publicity stunt. He did it because he wanted to see more of the world. At the end of his book, he wrote: “My voyage was not undertaken for the joy of sailing alone. It was my way of seeing some interesting part of the world … any landsman who builds his own vessel and sails it alone around the world will certainly meet with some adventures, so I shall offer no apology for my own voyage. Those days were the freest and the happiest of my life.”

So perhaps that’s what wanderlust is really about, freedom. When Bernard Moitessier abandoned the around the world race when he had the thing won, his communique to his Sunday Times contact read: “Dear Robert: The Horn was rounded February 5, and today is March 18. I am continuing non-stop towards the Pacific Islands because I am happy at sea, and perhaps also to save my soul.”

The literal, physical act of going is freedom, of ever seeing new things, meeting new people, breathing deep of what the world has to give, up to the last moment when we shuffle off this mortal coil, the absolute refusal to die before our time.


“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

(Dylan Thomas)


So wanderlust, distilled to its core, is lust for freedom and the deeply branded belief that it’s never too late for wonders. May we all, in our own way, be thoroughly infected by it.



10 thoughts on “W is for Wanderlust

  1. Reblogged this on beyondtheflow and commented:
    I have to confess to a bit of wanderlust myself. A great post and I love the Dylan Thomas poem. It could very well be the song of my heart. I’m certainly not leaving this world without a fight xx Rowena

    • Oh I feel the same way, thank you. I’m down on the Outer Banks of North Carolina right now and the storm that came through both made me thrill at the wonder of storms and glad I’m not at sea right now. I guess self-preservation is still strong within me. xoxo Bob

      • Yesw, I also value self preservation. One of my best friends from school had her father go missing at sea about a week after he retired. He was a Qantas Captain and he and a friend were sailing on a yacht from Fiji to Australia and disappeared in a storm off the Queensland coast. Lost without a trace.
        Reminding me of your post on Navigation, we got lost going to his memorial service. My friend’s daughter put the wrong street into the GPS. Humph!!

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