A plan of action

Hello. I’m Martina Tyrrell. I’m married to Julian, and we have two daughters – Lily is three, and Katie is one and a half. At Easter last year, Julian and I decided to try to make our dreams a reality. For as long as we’ve known each other we’ve been talking about buying a yacht and sailing off into the sunset. We would joke about the idea, and make half-in-jest remarks such as ‘…but when we live on the boat..’ For birthdays and Christmas we’ve often bought each other sailing books. In 2006 we moved from Scotland down to Cambridge, and in 2009 we made the decision to buy a house. We bought a run-down house in the beautiful village of Boxworth in Cambridgeshire. The house was a lot of work, but we easily fit in to village life. But we both felt something was not quite right. Was this what we wanted? A mortgage? Worries about oil tanks and damp walls? The hassles of keeping our car running? I was at home every day with the girls and Julian was becoming increasingly disillusioned with his job. We both wondered – is this it? We’re living up to expectations – settled down with house, steady job, and all the rest. But we both felt a nagging unrest.

On the day before Good Friday last year we came to a decision – to hell with all of this – let’s make our dream a reality. Ten minutes later, our dining room table was buried beneath the world atlas, Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes, Hal Roth’s How To Sail Around The World, and random maps, charts, almanacs, and anything else we owned related to the sea. The laptop came out, and we began to investigate how much a yacht might cost. By the time the Easter holidays were over we knew we were going to do this.

In early June, Julian handed in his notice at work and we put our house on the market. Within days we had received an offer for our asking price. I was sad at the prospect of leaving our lovely home and our wonderful friends and neighbours, and equal parts scared and excited about starting a new life. I worried about things such as how we would earn money and how would we manage to sail a boat on our own. I didn’t worry about the girls (as our families did when we told them about our plans). I knew that so long as we were all together, they would happily come along on the adventure. Too young to know what a ‘normal’ life should be like, as long as we kept them healthy and occupied, they wouldn’t want for anything else.

We spent most weekends over the summer selling our belongings at car boot sales, and keeping only those things that were absolutely necessary or had strong nostalgic value. De-cluttering our home of all the material objects we had never used and didn’t need was genuinely therapeutic, and the more we got rid of the more I realised how little we needed all this stuff. The most difficult things to part with were my beloved books, but I was pleased that they were going to new homes and new readers.

We started to look for a boat and we hatched a plan for the ‘transition’ phase from house to boat. We decided we would both apply for fixed term contract jobs at universities or research institutes located in coastal locations in the UK. Whichever of us got a job first would take it, and the other one would care for the children full time. Living by the sea was to be our first step, and the rest we hoped would fall into place. In the meantime, we made a few forays to the south and south-east coasts over the summer, camping with the girls and viewing boats we’d found online. We looked at around 12 boats over the course of the summer. Some too small, some in need of too much work, many lacking the headroom and sleeping space for 6’2” Julian. We saw boats that we immediately knew we did not want, and boats that we decided that with some imaginative use of space we could live on. We got to know what we wanted in a boat and what we didn’t want. We began to narrow our search, only looking at boats with a deep centre cockpit, internal access to the aft cabin, and ketch rigged. On every boat, Lily would immediately make her way to the aft cabin, proclaiming ‘This is my room and Katie’s room’. We couldn’t put an offer on anything until the house sale was complete. But then, we didn’t see any boat that we truly loved.

Meanwhile, I landed a 9-month teaching contract at the Department of Geography, at University of Exeter, starting September 26th. We travelled down to Devon three weeks before the start of the job and found a bright little flat in Dawlish town centre, less than a 10-minute walk from a lovely beach and a short train journey into Exeter. The night before we left Boxworth I decided to do a quick online search for boats. I found a 36’ Westerly Conway, built in 1979, for sale in Plymouth. We had already seen a Conway that we liked, but she had been in need of too much work. But I took down the broker’s details and decided to make an appointment to view her our first weekend in Devon.

Our move to Dawlish went off without too many hitches, and on the Saturday we made the one-hour trip to Plymouth to view the Westerly. And she was our boat. As soon as we stepped aboard we knew we wanted to own her. She was exactly what we wanted, within our price range, and not in need of too much work. So we put in an offer, which was immediately accepted, and on the first week of November we were handed the keys to our very own boat!! What an exciting moment. I remember that first evening, Carina of York (as she was then called) sitting on the hard at Queen Anne Battery. Julian and the kids had gone back to the car, and I was locking up. I sat in the cockpit for a minute, looking around me, and had a wonderful but indescribable feeling of joy mixed with that anxiety when you embark on a new and unknown adventure in life.

Over the winter, Julian spent each weekend on board the boat. There was lots to do. She needed a complete engine refit, as well as lots and lots of small jobs. But bit by bit, she started to take shape. We changed her name to ‘Carina of Devon’ and then she truly felt like she belonged to us. Throughout winter we also read and studied – Julian teaching himself astral navigation and both of us learning all we could about safe and successful sailing with small children. After a few delays, Carina finally went in the water at the start of March. The first time I saw her in the water I almost cried. She looks so much bigger, so much more capable now that she’s in her own natural environment.

And here we are, about to embark on a sailing adventure. Where shall we go? What shall we do? Well, let’s see….

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11 thoughts on “A plan of action

  1. Thank you for starting your blog and copying me in to news of your adventure. Good on you Martina and Julian, this is something you had to do and I know you will never regret your decision. I’m looking forward to reading about your progress (… may even head out to buy a map of the world and some coloured pins!). Best wishes for safe travels at sea and on shore. Milton

  2. Hi Martina, Julian, Lily and Katie, Congratulations on deciding to make your dream your reality! WOW!!! I think you are very brave and dauntless as well as practical and organized and I’m sure your life as a family afloat will be amazing! I’d suggest you sail to Arviat but not until you’ve got the hang of sailing under tough conditions. If it were me I might try a trip to Holy Island (Off the east coast – or the Welsh one too would probably be nice) or to the Orkneys or Shetland Islands as a first trip. Ujarak and i are very excited for you and will be following your blog avidly. Much love, Elizabeth

  3. A beuatiful boat for a beautiful family. I am so excited for you all. You reminded me that when your on the “right” track there is an inner confirmation..a knowing that brings everything else into focus. Is there anRRS feed on your blog so I can get notified when you add a new post? I think I missed it. all the best. The grumpy old man came home today and I gave him your message. Do you think you could sail the Carina of Devon to Arvait?

  4. When a plan of action is right for you , you just know…some kind of inner conviction and all the fuzziness and indecision fades. All of sudden everything comes into focus. So happy for you all and want to “follow” your adventures. ( the Grumpy old man and I wish you well)

  5. My dear Irish friend, your first blog was so beautifully written, and your new life that is beginning sounds so wonderful, that it brought tears to my eyes… Gord and I wish you every success in your sailing adventures and really hope to see you on the boat at some point – good luck/happy travels to the four of you – we look forward to reading more 🙂

  6. Martina & Julian,
    The boat looks fabulous I had visions of something entirely different !!! This blog is is a great idea – looking forward to hearing about you travels!!!

  7. Good luck Martina & Julian, I know this what you both want and although I’ll be worried about you and my two little girls I wish you all the best. XXX

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