‘Since the turn of the century, more people have been to the moon than have circumnavigated the world on a Tall Ship’ Andrew Younghusband, Tall Ships Chronicles.

It had been a hard few months, my businesses were floundering in the quagmire of the financial crisis and the spending of our largest clients had dropped to a tenth of the previous year…it was time to cut my losses and move on with my life.

I had met Deb some 7 months beforehand, and although physically separated by some 3,000 kilometres, we had grown very close, chatting up to two hours a day using all the means of communication modern technology afforded.  As time went on we discussed our future, and the closing of the business seemed like a good opportunity to dip my toes in the water of cohabitation. On the 22nd of January 2009 I left my Spanish life behind and headed out en route to Ghana and Deb.

We spent eight great months together, never arguing, but at the same time never experiencing the extreme highs, lows and strong emotions that a solid relationship needs to survive.  We decided that although we got on great, the spark just wasn’t there and that when Deb’s next posting came up, we would go our separate ways.

I felt bad that Deb had chosen Lisbon as the destination for her next posting for me, so that I would be able to work, but she was looking forward to living in the 1st world again, whereas I, on the other hand had fallen in love with Ghana and wanted to stay. So when her posting came to an end we said our tearful goodbyes and she moved to Lisbon alone.

It wasn’t long before I discovered the nightmare that is the Ghanaian administration, and found myself entangled in the web of visa applications, work permits and residency rights.  I learned that without one or indeed any of the above it wasn’t even worth turning up to interviews, and I was informed of this on a regular basis.  What was merely irritating at first evolved swiftly to frustrating, and finally depressing as it became obvious that legal employment was not going to be an option for me - the professional foreigner.

I began to evaluate my options; without marrying a Ghanaian it was going to be impossible for me to stay in Ghana long-term, so what was I going to do? I didn’t want to go back to the UK and I had had enough of Spain for the moment.

It occurred to me that I was single, with no career and no dependents, in some ways a fairly depressing situation at 33 years old, but I decided to make the most of it. Although money was an issue, volunteering for an NGO and travelling around Africa seemed to be the most appropriate way to spend my time until something (or someone) intervened to give my life some kind of direction.  

I remembered a series I had seen on the Travel Channel some years previously which followed an intrepid reporter as he took a round the world trip on a classic Tall Ship (“The Tall Ship Chronicles”, I later discovered). The programme had made a great impact on me… Thank god for Google! I found the name of the boat - The Picton Castle - and within minutes I was on its website, only to find the owners were planning another round the world trip!  It was a few months away, but what better way to spend a sabbatical year than sailing round the world in an old pirate ship (which I discovered was the easiest way to describe it to non-seafaring types), learning about navigation and experiencing situations a normal person would never encounter? Suddenly being single and free of any professional shackles didn’t look so bad; I would never get another opportunity like this! 

I thought of a line from the poem, "Maud Muller" by John Greenleaf Whittier; 'For of all sad words of tongue or pen. The saddest are these 'it might have been'’ I wasn’t going to regret not taking this opportunity!


I thought of all my friends back in Spain and the UK. The ones who didn’t have kids were on an incredibly competitive career ladder that would make anything more than a couple of weeks’ holiday in the South of France professional suicide. Suddenly I didn’t feel depressed…I felt free!

Sure, I would like kids, a dog, a stable relationship, a nice monthly salary, but maybe now wasn’t the time. I further consoled myself with the words of Mary Schmich: “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t”. I thought that summed it up pretty well; only a few years to go before I turn 40 and absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life, but by god I was going to experience the hell out of it in the meantime!
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