Martijn Dijkstra - Born to be Free

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“Men used to go to sea to discover the world. Now they go to sea to discover themselves.”

— Captain Michel Duplain

“It’s easy to waste your life.  But it’s harder to take responsibility for an interesting life.”
__ Captain Martijn Dijkstra
The Prinses Mia is 50 feet long, has a 17 ft. beam, and draws about 6 feet of water. The paint job on the sails and the hull is distinctly childlike. The art, completed some time ago, represents work by Mia, who is now a first-year teen at 13. The shear size of the vessel at the town dock becomes a magnet for the eyes of locals, tourists, and sailors, both local and transient.
Once the Dutch captain, Martijn Dijkstra, (pronounced Martin Dykstra in English) makes an appearance, the magnet shifts from being the vessel itself to its captain. Patiently, with cheer, he answers questions of inquiring minds: where are you from; where are you going; who designed or built this boat.
In an interview spanning several days, one learns that Dijkstra, 49, retired at age 30 from a career on cargo ships and tugboats to become free and independent from society’s expectations. He had not by any means amassed a fortune or secured a stock portfolio for his future. He did not have wealthy parents to bankroll his desire to sail the high seas on his own boat, much less give him money to go shopping for a boat of his dreams with all accessories required for sailing the Atlantic Ocean’s blue waters.
Moral support from his family was abundant, as was their labor when he found an affordable boat that could be renovated to suit his needs. He tells of his early desire to be free, not just spiritually and emotionally free, but free every day from people telling him when, where, and how to do what.
He has survived sailing a quarter of a million miles at sea, traveling from continent to continent and islands in-between. In ongoing interviews and conversations with him, he gives away features and facts about his life that expose his ability to be free from needing someone to guide or supervise his every move and decision on a sailboat, in port or at sea. His words also reveal a willingness to accept total responsibility for his decisions and actions.

His mechanical abilities probably exceed those of many full-time marine mechanics. But it is the content of his character, his easy-going manner, his ability to laugh and laugh hard at himself, that strengthen the polarity of the magnet drawing people to him. What is it like to live a life that so many only imagine, of which so many envy, yet a life which so many are not equipped emotionally or technically to seek. The skeptical dismiss this lifestyle as immature or irrelevant for the long term.
But Billy Creech, a retired state representative from Johnston County, NC and former lumber mill owner/operator, admitted that if he were younger, he could see himself following Martijn’s lifestyle.
A sustained dialogue with Martijn reveals that he is disciplined yet affable and approachable. His physical appearance is more likely to portray an extra on the set of a pirate movie, yet that physical appearance combined with an endless supply of exuberance portrays a man who likes to have fun and be sociable. His energy and laughter seem boundless, but he can lay bare his serious nature when a conversation or situation turns serious.
For the fussy pseudo sailors, those who spend more time talking about sailing with their peers than actually sailing, let it be known that this veteran of decades of living and working on the water is the last person who would ever correct someone for calling a fender a bumper or a rope a line.
Therefore, this story does not focus on the techniques of sailing on blue water. It’s not about escapes encountering bad weather at sea. It is not about solving equipment failures on long cruises, nor is it about unexpected encounters with pirates or coast guard authorities from different countries.
Instead, it is Martijn, telling how he became a disciplined sailor who is totally accountable to himself, his parents, and the countless friends with whom he has bonded in port and at sea. He will tell you he appreciates having fun being and doing all things, alone or with a mate. One can conclude that Martijn having fun while working hard is a major component of his being free.
Martijn tells his own story.
People meeting me for the first time will often ask how long has being on the water been a part of my life. The answer is, from the beginning of my time on earth. I was born in 1974 in the village of Bruinisse in Holland.
When I was only a week old, my father, a tugboat captain, became tired of all the visitors coming to the house to see the new baby. So he rented a 30 ft. cabin cruiser and the family took a holiday for a cruise about 30 miles from home. When I was 6 weeks old, he took me for a ride on his tugboat.
My grandfather was a fisherman, trawling mostly for mussels with a sailboat. When I was about 5 years old, he took me with him and tied me to the main mast so I would not wander overboard. Growing up, all I saw was boats and water.
My grandfather began fishing mostly local water all around windmills after the big flood in 1953 when the dikes didn’t hold. Fishing near one windmill, a fishing line from his boat pulled a wing off. It was my favorite story to hear. My grandfather would leave for work on Sunday and be gone until usually Thursday all year long. Now, doing the work each of them did, there are a lot more boats and bigger boats.
My dad, on tugboats, often worked a week on and then a week off. He guided container boats in from the North Sea. Cargo for Germany that comes in from the North Sea goes first to Holland on the way to Germany. It goes on to Germany by either rail or ships.

My grandfather would also make small wooden sail boats out of wooden shoes. When I was small, I wore wooden shoes all the time. After a while, they get quite comfortable. And quite useful. You can drink beer from them, and if you have to, hit people with them.
When I went out on my dad’s tugboat with him, he was letting me start the engines by the time I was 5 years old. Most of the tugs had a crew of 5. Things were much more casual on the boats then. My dad would take me to the pilot house and let me steer occasionally, especially on holidays. My mother and I would go and be on the tugboat for a whole week sometimes. The crew members had fun and drank beer on the boat when they were not on duty. I grew up close to my parents and I contact them now on the internet every day I can.

My dad is retired now and he and my mother are collecting traditional Dutch clothing and other artifacts from their village and the villages around them. Their house is now a museum and looks like one to all who visit them. Every village is different and the things that make up the heritage of different villages are different.
From the time I was 5, my dad had a sailboat, The first one I remember was built in 1904. Later, when it needed it, I completely restored her.
Unlike the schools in America, when I finished public school at 18, I had been trained to be a mate and engineer on a 200 ft. container ship. When I had time off, I would go sailing. I worked on those cargo boats for 6 years. It was hard to build up a pension because there would be long periods of time off. I then worked on tugboats for 6 years, continuing to sail on my time off.
On cargo boats, I had an awesome time visiting a lot of ports. I had a small motor bike so when I had time off in port, I would ramble about the countryside or about port towns. I have some really good memories of that time.
On tugboats, at first, crews would socialize after a watch and have a beer. But that changed. Crews became grumpy and sour. Tugboats could sometimes give you five months off out of a whole year; I used that time for sailing around home and saving money instead of spending money. It was time on tugboats that created my desire for this lifestyle.
The truth is, I wanted freedom more than I wanted a pension. My dad worked 50 years, and now, with the economy in Europe, his pension gets less each year and there is nothing he can do about it. So I have learned to live on very little.
I managed to get a steel hull sailboat with a wooden cabin. I removed that cabin and replaced it with steel. I sailed to northern Spain and spent the winter there. Not long after I set sail, when anyone would ask me if I found the freedom I wanted, I would say, “Ya.”
I sailed to Spain with that first boat and met people going to Portugal and the Canary Islands. I had dreamed about sailing there so I decided to just keep going. That was exercising my freedom. From the Canary Islands, I sailed on to the Caribbean. That was 19 years ago, 2005.
At sea, you don’t meet people. I thought the Caribbean would be fun, socializing with people from a lot of different places. I discovered later that people in America are more friendly than those in the Caribbean. After you visit there for a short time, people seem stuck where they are; they get grumpy. I would get work there making mechanical repairs, but generally, I didn’t find a lot of socializing among the sailors. They just seemed to sit inside their boats. They would spend a fortune getting there, but they didn’t mingle with people once they got there.
I would knock on doors. I learned they may or may not come out. Here in America, people come out, walk around onshore, talk to you and share experiences.
I have never been really afraid of anything happening to me on the water that would leave me stranded. This boat is made of steel and she is really sea worthy. I have a sewing machine on board to repair sails and a lot of tools so I can rebuild an engine if I have to.
I cut my hand once when I was at sea. The cut was deep and I was about 6 hours from any land mass with a doctor. I simply sewed it up myself. I try to be careful and don’t do dangerous or hard things at night.
Once, I was in Maine after sailing a hundred thousand miles on that first boat. I went home to learn that the Prinses Mia was available but it was going to need a lot of work. When my dad offered to help me with labor, I couldn’t say no. She had been originally launched in 1979.

The inside helm of the Prinses Mia.
Of the places I can easily remember, Prinses Mia and I have now sailed from Holland to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, the USA, Portugal, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Maine, and down the coast to Oriental. I have been on this boat for about 150,000 miles over the last 13 years. One of my recent modifications has been a new bow sprit. I found a broken mast from a sunken sailboat in the Caribbean and made it into a 22 ft. bowsprit. After hurricanes, there are a lot of sunken boats in the Caribbean where you can find all kinds of supplies.

Stephanie is my new mate, been with me 5 months. She was in Germany when we chatted on the internet. She flew to Portugal in January and I interviewed her for the mate’s position. I gave her an intensive line of questioning before she could go on a long cruise. I have to know all there is to know about a prospective mate to see if she will be happy at sea, with the boat and with me.
Before the interview, I gave Stephanie a drink and then let her get drunk. When a person is drunk, they will open up and tell you all about themselves, all the things you need to know if they are the right person to sail across an ocean with you.
Author’s note: When Stephanie was asked about this interview process, with her eyes rolling from side to side, she replied, “It lasted for a long time.”

I keep my boat mechanically maintained by visiting salvage yards instead of expensive marine supply stores. I don’t shop at fancy boat stores. When we visited Bermuda on the way here, I picked up a small diesel engine that had been thrown away. It had been used on a cement truck. I took it onboard, went through it, and now I use it to pull my anchor. I hand start this little diesel, something some people have never seen before, but there is no starter for this engine.
I always have enough money for my basic needs, food and beer.
In the beginning, I was using cooking oil I collected from restaurants for fuel. I had my own way of filtering it and making it run in diesel engines. Now, instead of giving that oil away to get rid of it, restaurants sell it. So I started locating old heating oil and diesel fuel that people wanted to get rid of. I filter it and do what I have to so it will run in a diesel engine.
A lot of people go cruising based on how much they think it will cost. I have my own way of doing things. That way means sailing without spending all that money. You don’t have to be a millionaire to go sailing.
So many people don’t understand this lifestyle. Once when I had an attractive mate, I was told that I should settle down, get a house, marry, raise a family, and do what normal people do. I would prefer to die rather than be constrained by a house all the time. And, old friends sort of chastise me now. “If you had kept your job, you would be a tug captain now.” They don’t understand I would not trade places with a tug captain.
What do you do; what do you have to look forward to when you live in a house all the time? Watch the walls, clean out the garage, mow the grass?
On a boat, I know what I’m going to do, even if at sea it’s just watching the days and the waves go by. I don’t like to be told what to do. I love the freedom and responsibilities that come with living free.  Its easy to waste your life, but it’s very hard to to take responsibility for an interesting life.
I am responsible for keeping this boat going, mechanically and otherwise. Sure it takes some money, but with the right skills and attitude, there’s always a way to get by. I don’t have parents bankrolling my adventures: I send money back to them when I have a little extra because I basically have no need for a lot of money.
Out for days and weeks at sea, you can get irritated about little things. But a drink in the evenings, a beer or two, the right person will open up and talk it out. Stephanie and I have had nothing but fun the last 5 months. We laugh all day. We have not had one single argument this whole time she has been on the Prinses Mia.

You never know how long your life will be. Someone my age had a brain tumor, so it’s important to live life to the fullest every day. So many people realize that when it’s too late.
Does a man who basically worked for 12 years, then retired to spend life at sea on the adventure of a lifetime, make valuable contributions to society, to himself, and to others?
Tom Lathrop, a retired electrical engineer, is a most accomplished boat builder and sailor living in Oriental, NC. He has known Martijn from his visits to this village on the Intra-coastal Waterway over the last 13 years. Tom observed, “A man like Martin makes contributions that largely go unseen.”
Neal Whicher, after retirement from a career in the electronics industry, sailed up and down the East Coast many times. Now 88, he lives on his boat docked in Oriental. He said, “Any man who brings a smile to another person’s face is making a great contribution to humanity.” Has Martijn Dijkstra demonstrated through his observations about having fun and socializing with others an ongoing effort to bring smiles to the faces of others?
As for the question of living a responsible life, look to the late president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. During a time of turmoil during his administration, he observed, “Equal rights require equal responsibilities.” Has Martijn Dijkstra demonstrated the assumption of total responsibility for the right to live a free life that fulfills his dreams?

It's Today ... on this website


Today was instituted on January 18, 2024.
Most days, we feature an image to stir an emotional ripple. Viewing images, some don’t react at all; others ponder life, laugh, or choke back a tear. Disappointment swells in the image creator if an image doesn’t elicit at least a ripple, not necessarily a tsunami, but some sensory wave action.
Apologies, been a while since last post. New-monia can do that to an aspiring and elderly photojournalist.

Most humans, in the US and abroad, do not have to migrate thousands of miles on foot, or on wing, to forage for food. But, fortunately, the migratory animal population is generally not impacted by war and pestilence created by mankind. A flock of ibis samples the menu on the grounds of the Pamlico Middle School in Bayboro, NC, on the fringes of their northernmost range from Florida.
Posted by Ben, 2-10-27

Encountering a human with one leg, manners and decency dictate not to jokingly call him/her a mono-pod. Right out of the hound’s mouth , four legged creatures who have just 3 legs because a human in an automobile destroyed one, are not tripods.
Posted by Ben, 2-10-24

Restricted to just walking around the house with walking pneumonia, one looks thru windows hoping to capture an image to accompany deathless prose. In mid-February, firing up the shutter breaks a dry spell of viewing the outside world thru a lens. As for deathless prose, the chair looks as though it is going to take a bite out of winter, based on a rodent’s forecast whose predictions allegedly have a 61% accuracy rate.
Posted by Ben, 2-10-24

When the wind blows, the fence is steered into the wind for take-offs and landings.
Posted by Ben, 2-9-24

Where in North Carolina will one find this scene? Apologies to that great Tideland magazine, Carolina Country.
Posted by Ben, 1-31-24

Were this to be a painting you adored, considered a great work of abstract art by a critically acclaimed international artist, perhaps French, Italian, or Dutch, would you reject it for your parlor because it didn’t go with your draperies? Creditable art critics would advise you to hang the painting and get new draperies. It is however, a photograph of fungi growing on top of a maple stump. If this photograph generates positive feelings in your visual senses and you would like to hang it in your home, but are afraid the room in which you hang it won’t have an aesthetically pleasing feel about it when paired with your draperies, get new draperies.
Posted by Ben, 1-31-24
The optometrist says, ONE

or TWO?

Ben says, in the meta physical senses, whatever that means, life can surely take some twists and turns.
Posted by Ben, 1-31-24

Ground fog is mist clinging to the terrain. If fog is clinging to the water’s surface, is it water fog? Strange, late January, mid afternoon, clear skies, temps in the high 70s, yet there’s “smoke” over the water.”
Posted by Cindy, Friday, 1-26-24

Over Dawson’s Creek, a southwest wind directs a Hercules C-130 to line up for its final approach to MCAS Cherry Point. Up close, one can see the nose gear about to deploy. Cindy’s Nikon was not lining up properly for good exposures; out comes the phone. It is absolute blasphemy and heresy to use a phone to capture images for publication … which explains how old folks like me are set in their ways.
Posted by Cindy, Friday, 1-26-24

The late photojournalist, Henri Cartier Bresson, said, “Capture images, don’t create them.” Many created images are simply not great. My mentor, Milton Rogerson, said, “If it’s not great, trash it. The most important tool in your darkroom is a big trash can.” Forgive me Milton, stubborn, I wanted to post this not necessarily great image, thinking, “If it tastes good, it’s not good for you.” But what if it looks good, not great, like an ornamental cabbage?
Posted by Ben, Friday, 1-26-24

The fall ritual of burning leaves has yielded to lawn mowers mulching leaves for soil enrichment. A remnant of that ritual is burning the insides of ditches to clear them of weeds and debris. Riding a motorcycle upright before going down – really down – inhaling burning-ditch aroma, is the impetus to recall Robert Pirsig’s  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Visually absorbing the scene and breathing that fragrance on a January day is like stopping by a woods on a snowy evening.
Posted by Ben Tuesday, 1-23-24

Only the strong survive,
Only the strong survive
Yeah, you gotta be strong
You better hold on
Because only the strong survive
Naturalist Charles Darwin and singer Jerry Butler colluded to conclude that only the strong survive. After a significant number of nights with sub-freezing temps, why is the cheap pumpkin from a swine focused grocery store still intact while expensive ones purchased from a purveyor of hybrids have folded. As the late Andy Rooney would say on 60 Minutes, “Why is that?”
Posted by Ben, Friday, 1-19-24

Kale is trendy, but I’ve been a collard man for about three-quarters of a century. While growing up in Arapahoe, if I had not liked collards, in many months my diet would have been severely restricted. Not cooked or sauteed in olive oil, but taking advantage of the poor hog that sacrificed his/her life for human consumption, collards were boiled until they were tender. Think about it, a plant that can withstand the inferno of a coastal summer, yet survive all through fall into cool nights dipping into the low twenties or early teens … if they are that strong and resilient, collards are strong enough to keep the ticker ticking despite the fact that hog grease will float on top of the pot likker.
Posted by Ben, Thursday, 1-18-24

Light fog on Camp Creek

The late Bob Simpson described fog as smoke over the water. That’s a poetic description for all the ages.

The fog, or smoke, had lifted by the time the shutter warmed up, but the feeling of the mist was still there.

Open House at a net house,

A vessel hailing from 2 ports.

Pamlico osprey family

Near the mouth of Whitaker Creek, which is near the mouth of the Neuse River, which on clear days is in sight of the Neuse River’s junction with Pamlico Sound, three young osprey are stretching their wings in preparation for a life beyond their nest. They were photographed in the early morning hours of July 4. Common to the area, ospreys are occasionally mistaken to be eagles because of their white head feathers. But they have a dark stripe running from their yellow eyes to the back of their heads. Unlike eagles, ospreys do not have white tail feathers. They are also much smaller than eagles, weighing about 4 pounds.

Sometimes referred to as sea hawks because they are also birds of prey, ospreys dine almost exclusively on fish. Diving to the water from heights as much as 200 feet, they strike the water feet first to snare their prey. This “air fishing” is enhanced by reversible front toes which assist in clutching a slippery fish on the return flight to nests.

Like bald eagles, osprey often use the same nest after refurbishing them each season. Those 3 years or older generally mate for life. The female lays 2 -4 eggs about 3 days apart. The chicks hatch in the sequential order in which the eggs are laid, thus the first hatched grows faster than its siblings. The chicks fledge in about 55 days. The young birds are characterized by bright orange eyes.

A necklace of brown spots across the breast is more pronounced in females. The upper tails on males is dark brown with paler bands. Females have darker heads than males. Males and females share household duties while the eggs are incubating.

Sound People: The book has been released.

Ben Casey explores a threatened way of life in Down East Carteret County, NC

Sound People presents Casey’s interviews with fishermen, boat builders and tradespeople. Families that have lived on Core Sound for generations, and even those that chose to leave. All add to the story in Sound People

Buy the book.

The Poetry of Jazz

Willie E. Atkinson & The Transitional Jazz Quintet

Craven Community College
Exploration of the Arts Series

Willie Atkinson, veteran blues and jazz singer from New Bern, performed in concert at Orringer Auditorium on the Campus of Craven Community College, Friday, February 15, 2019. He was accompanied by the Transitional Jazz Quintet, Stephen Anderson, piano, Phil Owens, guitar, Doug Trammel, bass, Michael Hanson, percussion, and Jeff Bair, saxophone.

In a news release about the concert, reviewers of his work said, “Atkinson uses his talents as a jazz vocalist to provide audiences with a fluid interpretation of jazz and blues standards”

“Whether exploring the syncopated rhythms of a swing tune or telling the story of a lonesome wanting heart, Atkinson offers a fresh approach and seizes every moment in his performance to make the songs his own.”

Atkinson’s vocals were intertwined with several solos from each member of the Transitional Jazz Quintet.

Willie and his wife, Jacquelyn, are noted historians as well as musicians. They teach in the Lifetime Learning Continuing Education Program at Craven Comunity College. Willie is also the archivist for the NC Coastal Heritage Association.

Old fishing boats don't die

They just rust, and piece by piece, flake away …

Left behind