Answering the call to sea.

From the greek words “opsi” (late) and “math” (learning), an Opsimath is someone who starts to learn late in life.


Years ago, even before I was born, my sweetheart, Peter, fell in love with the sea. Maybe it was the summer his parents hired a little sailing dinghy for the kids to play around in in North Wales. Maybe it was during those long family walks along the Cornish coasts and swims in brisk English waters, watching boats sailing in and out of harbors and over the horizon. Perhaps it’s a love passed down to him by his maternal grandfather, Ernest Bibby, who was pilot on the Mersey. What I know for sure is this: Peter’s love of the sea and of sailing is strong stuff. When he was a young man, probably all of 18, he wanted to sign up to work on a ship, take to the seas and a life of navigation. But his father, kind and pragmatic, convinced him that life requires safe planning and a solid future. And so began his full and long career as a chartered accountant. The call to the sea would have to wait, there was a family to raise and much to be done.

When we met a few years ago, the deal was sealed for me when he told me of his greatest dream: to buy a sailboat and sail the world. I grew up with a love of the water, but in very different aquatic environs: The Gulf of Mexico, and the many lakes and rivers around my native home, Austin. When boating around Lake Travis wasn’t enough, my parents would load all of us in the Dodge van at any hour of day or night and drive us down to steal a week, or even just a night, in our beloved Port Aransas, Texas. Boating for us was all motorboats, speedboats, fishing boats, water skiing, tubing… and sunburns. Lots and lots of sunburns. Sailing was never part of it. But there is just something about the ocean, about Big Water, that gets me vibrating on just the right wavelength. The pull is strong, and there is no place where I feel happier than on and near Big Water.

Add to that the (known) fact that I am incapable of saying no to grand adventure, and… was it destiny? Well, if we chose to make it so, then destiny it could be! It took us 5 years to get from that moment to acquiring Opsimath, our sturdy and beautiful 2011 Benetteau Oceanis 37. But once we decided it was time, in less than a month she was ours.

Blue star on stilts
“Blue Star” at Bleu Marine

We found her at a wonderful yacht dealer and full-service ship chandler called Bleu Marine in Dunkerque. She was up on stilts in the boatyard, her beautiful petrol-blue hull being buffed and shined. We climbed up on deck, and as soon as I peeked down below, it was love. I could hardly contain myself and play it cool! This was our boat.

Sitting on Blue Star while she was up on stilts – ready to make an offer!

We went and “cooled our heels” over mussels and fries (and white wine!) at a local Brasserie, but we’d both made up our minds. We made an offer, and it was accepted. We had a sailboat… named Blue Star (wa-wa-wa-wahhhhhh). While lying in bed, I asked Peter what he thought would be a good name, because Blue Star was not going to do it. He immediately said “Opsimath.”


It was perfect! There could be no other name. The curious-sounding word had resonance for me and my family back in the States. My maternal grandmother, Esther Philips Williams, an uncompromising, unyielding, one-of-a-kind lady, had dubbed herself the archetypal opsimath decades ago, and touted it as her defining “mot”.

Meanwhile, Peter’s association with the word came from reading Alan Bennet’s marvelous work of fiction, The Uncommon Reader, a story about the Queen Elizabeth II, who discovers her great love of reading when a mobile library comes to town and parks right outside of Windsor Palace. She has an accomplice to her new past time, who helps to keep her supplied in new books, aiding and abetting her all-consuming passion for the written word. After a particularly good read, she calls him in to her quarters and says to him “Norman, do you know what I am? I am an opsimath, and you are my amenuensis.”

An opsimath, from the greek “opsi” (late) and “math” (learning), means someone who starts to learn late in life. It applies perfectly to the pair of us.. Opsimath it was and Opsimath it will be. As for amenuensis, I’ll save that definition for a later post…

And so, our adventure begins in the summer of 2018, sailing out of Dunkirk, exploring a small part of the French coastline, then heading to the UK and The Scilly Isles, via Guernsey. Next year, Spain and the Canary Islands, Capo Verde, and then we catch the Alizés winds to the Caribbean. After that, perhaps the coasts of Central and South America, the Galapagos, and out to the Marquesa Islands, Hiva Oa or bust. And what about west New Zealand? Or back east to Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound, Victoria Island? No end in site, and I plan to write about it all right here.

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