Wild Goose

by Sue McBean

On the loss of 32-year-old son Miles in April 1993, after his 1992 epic voyage through, and round, Russia, Wallace Clark, local sailor and author, wrote that he turned his sorrow into a song. The posthumous book charts a sea shanty tale enacting a childhood dream. A three-month voyage not made by a Westerner since Viking times. 

In a tight window between June ice-melt at the arctic tip of Norway, and September savage storms in the Black Sea, thousands of miles were covered through the White Sea, and Stalin’s Canal, built with slave labour, to the Volga River.  Miles encountered appalling weather and was told even locals would not sail in it.  After horizontal freezing rain he sailed through a city of “irretrievable gloom”, submerged forest and drowned villages without charts and risked his life in rivers toxic with heavy metals.   Passing through the Dardanelles Strait, the yacht was left to overwinter on an island in the Aegean Sea. Wallace and Miles were there next Spring, in March, preparing Wild Goose for the return journey.  Miles flew to England to his writing work, although caught between writer’s block and extreme fatigue.  In April, Wallace described the news brought to him in Greece as the bitterest, bitterest: his son had died after hanging himself. 

Wild Goose was sailed home in 1994, to her mooring on the North Coast of Ireland.  Four years later she sank close by, after grounding on Portstewart beach. Urgently salvaged, she still graces local seas a few decades from her hundredth year.  Yacht specification for the Russian trip was strength, ability to sail in shallow water and appearance not wealthy.  She was exactly right, although short of crew space.  Deck height only one and a half feet above sea level, all leaks were erased.  The epitome of a tight ship! Miles completed one chapter about the journey before his death. He summed up the explorer’s perspective:  Sea and yacht were a combined “frictionless conduit” to a destination, a place that cannot be reached by road or runway, nor even by specific time or course. He wrote that he was interested only in where, and how far, Wild Goose could go.

Poignantly the journalist, biographer, photographer left log entries and photographs to complete his adventure narrative.   In the forward to Wallace’s 1999 account of the Russian venture, family friend and radio presenter Libby Purves wrote “the untimely death of a promising spirit inevitably brings a continuing sense of dislocation and loss”. In 2015 she became involved with charitable work to help people with depression through the medium of visual arts starting with the work of Finn Clark, son of Miles, who also committed suicide. In 2007 Libby wrote another forward to the chronicle of her son Nicholas’s life in “The Silence at the Song’s End”. His life ended by suicide at twenty-three.  He also was a sailor and, shortly before he died, wrote:

 “….I sing as I was told,
inside myself the one wild song, song that whirls
my words around  
until a world unfurls

my ships new sail  
I catch the dew and set
a course amongst the ocean curls

The silence at the song’s end
Before the next
Is the world”

Sue McBean                 written Winter 2019 – Winter 2020