The elsewhere

A boundless passion for the sea

1 FEBRUARY 2017,
The boat Altrove after reaching Polinesia
The boat Altrove after reaching Polinesia

There are people who at some time in their lives go away. Alone. Some, as did Michele, take the ways of water.

In order to explore the deserted areas of the heart and make them fertile lands, I go cycling or swimming. Every day, for hours. Compared to Michele exploits, I keep on turning around my home. I do not go to those great navigators’ elsewhere. In my tracks the danger is its minimum though often car drivers invest elderly people especially while crossing the street on crosswalks. They go. They go fast like the wind. And the faster they go, the blinder they become. They are always in a hurry. They do not see traffic lights, they do not see the pedestrian crossing and especially they do not see me.

My elsewhere perhaps lies in the writing and in the other places of art. That's where I put myself at risk. I dialogue with limited spaces, so if I get in a boat I immediately get seasick. Perhaps here comes my boundless admiration for sailors, especially for those who leave in order to sail alone. Nevertheless even if I stand looking at the sky from my studio then lower my head to write, we share the solitude necessary to become explorers of ourselves, wayfarers of unknown places. And here the similarities between me and the sailors end.

What moves me of these people is the silence that comes from the spirit call. They chose, in fact, the mystical sense of silence, full of sounds and the nearly emptiness of small jobs necessary for survival. They have abandoned the unnecessary things of the world in order to create models of spiritual life. In their souls, they feed the desire for a shared solitude with the birds’ flights, the fish dances, the starry skies and moons and suns and winds and endless oceans. They find themselves in the contemplation of the primordial breath of creation.

This was the great experience of Michele Piancastelli. I met Michele a few days ago in a Sicilian pasticceria in Piazza San Francesco, one of the most beautiful squares of Italy and consequently of the world. There was the biological fresh fruits and vegetables market . Of course I did heavy shopping - twice as necessary. We remember that afternoon for the big chill. I was born before the recording devices, so as he recounted his journey I took hand written notes. He will add what is left in the pen.

Michele

"My story starts in 2004 when I was diagnosed with leukemia. During hospitalization I decided to fulfill the dream of travel around the world solo. Very probably this powerful desire helped to heal myself. I made a conscious decision that took a very long time to mature. As a matter of fact, transplantation and convalescence lasted a few years so during those long months I felt the need, if I came out of it alive, to bring about my old dream. After two years of medical checks, I finally got permission from the Bologna hospital doctors. So in 2006 I bought a boat from friend of mine. It's a steel sailing boat built in 1938 at the Riva Sarnico shipyard of Iseo lake, Italy. I equipped the boat to fulfill a long range navigation. I kept saying: 'I'm going to leave, and I’ll go there' and 'The Elsewhere' is the name of my boat.

On July the first of 2009 I left from the Ravenna Yacht Club. On that day only three people came to greet me: my dad, my mom and my son. By the way of water I went down to Sicily then I tacked to Sardinia, the Balearic Islands and the Strait of Gibraltar. Here I am in front of the Pillars of Hercules. In the classical world they indicated the extreme limit of the known world and also expressed the concept of the limit of knowledge. Crossing these columns is still a thrill today: I was in the Atlantic Ocean. 'I am a very framed person'. I indulged in my passion but I was conscious that sailing was not a joke. I went from Gibraltar to the Canary and from that point on I had the awareness of 'going beyond’. A week after my departure, between Crotone and the Gulf of Squillace for a strong gust of wind I had to arm the storm jib and I said to myself: 'What a start!'.

Our world is wide but we do not realize it because the means of transportation we use to visit it are fast. The sailboat is the ideal way to travel the world; you understand the distances. My trip was a praise of slowness and of that essential quality of living, that nothing which is the root of all things. In this spirit, I turned 40,000 miles (almost two laps of the earth), eighty percent of them solo. During navigation I acquired new habits. My actions were scanned following the metamorphosis of time. So instead of a long sleep, I took only micro - rests. In the oceans the day is punctuated by navigation control, food preparation (of course I caught and ate raw fish) and reading; I am an avid reader and I had to lighten the burden of books by replacing them with an eBook and contemplation.

I followed the course of the sun, I saw the coming rain, winds and calms. And finally at night I saw the rising of fiery red moons. And if no moon appeared, I could catch another show: the stars and constellations. See, what annihilates me are the great outdoors and the company of what we commonly call silence. I used to talk to the boat, to the elements of nature, to fishes and birds and used to think aloud. I lived a very crowded loneliness but I felt alone, on the ground, in New Zealand, in the midst of people I knew. Considering the seven years of sailing, the tense moments have been four, maybe five. You need to be lucky when you are in the middle of the waters! The ocean crossings were the most beautiful and most peaceful.

I had strange encounters - the reef shark and the only volcano in the world that breathes – also I got scared when I risked tipping the boat. I lived stressful moments: rains, cold, quick changings of the sails, engine problems. I lived critical and disheartening moments. I remember the time when I departed from Thailand to get to the Chagos, off Sumatra and I found myself for a week in a dead calm (calms are more terrible than storms). On that occasion I turned back. To turn back was an obvious choice because I risked, if calm persisted, to remain without fuel or food. I wonder if this experience has changed me. I’ve always preferred simplicity and ‘the elsewhere’ is essential for that. I felt the need of new experiences, of visiting unknown places and almost primitive peoples. I had to do it before my life would end. I wanted this trip, I fully fulfilled it but it had to come to an end. A circle has ended."

Michele told me about his journey with apparent ease. Sailors meet dead calms, storms, wind, fishes, migratory birds and constellations and large spaces. So where does the difference lie? It's a matter of measure. Michele in this experience has embraced all the known pathways and the unknown ones. The elsewhere of Michele does not provide for external, redundant events; In his gestures resonate responsibility and tenacity of a powerful inner grip. There's more: the boundless passion for the sea and for all the water of the oceans.

Translation by Renzo Pasini