Winter has descended. Rainy days and the River Exe racing to the sea, staying within its grassy banks…for now. Dry days, like today, the air crisp and chilling. I spent Friday on the beach in Lyme Regis with my first year Geography undergrads, encouraging them to think about how people live with the sea, about the meaning of value and the meaning of cost, about conviviality and rising sea levels. Some of them looked at me strangely!
I find myself, at this time of year, looking back and looking forward. Because of my teaching commitments at Exeter we have moved off Carina for the winter and into a house on a hill. Carina, our beautiful Westerly, draws too much water for the shallow harbours and estuaries in south Devon, so we have left her in Plymouth for the winter. Almost daily Katie moans ‘I miss Carina’ and ‘When can we go to Carina?’ for which I am grateful, because if she didn’t miss Carina I would be sad. I miss Carina too. I miss the practicality of her, I miss how quiet she is.
We’re living in a rented new-build house. It’s a small house, and we don’t own many possessions. But having grown accustomed to Carina’s nooks and crannies and ingenious storage spaces, I struggle to know what to do with our stuff. On Carina, we can tidy everything away, ship shape, but in the house, there are no built in cupboards or hidden storage spaces. The rooms are echoey boxes devoid of character. In Carina, wood panelling and confined spaces mute our sounds, and Carina rocks gently in the dimness of evening, as we read by lamplight or hatch plans after the girls have gone to bed.
Our house is harshly lit and we are coccooned from the elements. A few weekends ago, when Julian was on board Carina, and the girls and I were alone in the house, a knock came to the door. It was 11pm and the girls were asleep. I tentatively opened the door to find a policewoman standing on my doorstep. A car had crashed into our garage, but the house is so sound-proofed I never heard the crash. And the weekend before last, southern Britain experienced what was reported to be ‘the worst storm in 26 years’. I never heard a thing on Sunday night, and as I walked to work on Monday morning was surprised to see leaves and branches on the streets, and to hear the stories of destruction.
We are not meant to live so sheltered and coccooned and separate from the Earth. On Carina the sky is our ceiling, and our rhythms follow the movement of the sun across the sky. We wake early and retire early, sunlight dictating what we can do and when we can do it. We dress for the weather. We get sun burned and rained upon, we are comfortably warm, or hot or cold. Sometimes we are scared – a sudden storm, a torn sail, a broken engine. Then we only have each other and Carina to rely on, and we have to get on with the job of fixing, or persevering, or improvising. The rest of the time, whether we are far out to sea, out of sight of land, or tucked up in a busy marina, we get on with the pleasant job of living – playing with and teaching our children, cooking, cleaning, learning, exploring, reading, writing. We breathe in the fresh air and become so accustomed to the constant rocking of Carina that we are disorientated and dizzy when we step back on land.
I really do miss Carina. But spring will inevitably return, and we will once again move home. And, all going to plan, this time it will be for good. But for now, we have to resign ourselves to occasional weekend visits and sleepovers, to reassure her that she hasn’t been abandoned.