Carina upriver

Carina’s been moored upriver of Sanlúcar and Alcoutím since late June. Close to two and a half months now. She spent a few days back on the Alcoutím pontoon in mid-July but, for the most part, she’s been peacefully resting upriver, facing up or downriver as the tide dictates, hills and goats, quince and pomegranate trees for neighbours. She’s not alone. There are other boats moored here too – most unoccupied, but we have a few friends who come and go to their moorings anchorages close by.

I’ve spent more time aboard Carina than anyone else this summer. Lily and Katie were in the UK and Ireland for seven weeks and Julian, because of his job, spent more time in Alcoutím than aboard Carina. I went to Ireland for a couple of weeks, I house-sat for a week, and I sailed to Culatra aboard Sea Warrior. But between all those trips, I returned home to Carina. I’ve spent many days and nights aboard alone. Despite the summer heat – mid-40˚Cs some days – I got to grips with some much needed work. I repaired the floor in the forward heads, thoroughly cleaned Carina’s every nook and cranny, attempted (and mostly failed) to repair the dinghy, and attended to multiple little tasks – sewing, whipping sheets and lines, getting on top of an ant infestation!

Due to the heat, most of my work was carried out early in the morning or late at night. The middle of the day was reserved for sleeping, reading and curing my perspiration by swimming in the river. The joys of being away from the villages are multiple. The silence. The green-brown hills against the sharp blue sky. Birdsong. The night sky awash with stars. The freedom of nakedness!

Last week, with house-sitting done and the girls home from their travels abroad, we settled back into family life aboard Carina. At each low water we row the short distance to the nearest riverbank, to swim and skim stones off a rocky spit. The pleasure of immersing our overheated bodies in the warm river water is beyond words.

There’s entertainment to be had in watching fish leaping high out of the water (one day last week one narrowly avoided landing in the dinghy as we motored downriver), herons on the riverbank, egrets flying overhead at dusk.

I’m hoping to get my hands on another dinghy soon, so that once the girls are back at school Julian and I will have two tenders, allowing us to stay off the pontoon more often, so we can find solace and peace just around the bend in the river.

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Keeping it all going

by Julian

Boat equipment goes wrong all the time, maintainance is a big part of sailing and living aboard. Think of a boat being your home, which includes electricity, plumbing, gas etc. It is also your transport so engines, sails and rigging need to be maintained. It is your security, so general seaworthiness, anchor, flares, radio comms, distress beacons, life jackets, liferaft and many more things besides. As Martina mentioned in a previous blog post several things went wrong just before I went back to England. The outboard motor on our dinghy stopped working, the main diesel engine overheating alarm went off and the foot pump started leaking badly, filling our bilges with water. These things and more needed sorting out before I returned to the UK so that Martina could have a dull uneventful week of peace without me.

First of all I attended to the leak in our fresh drinking water system. I took the foot pump out, water momentarily gushing all around me, and I shoved a couple of wooden bungs in the ends of the pipes, tightening hose clips onto them to stop the leak. This left Martina with only the electric pump, which we don’t like to use when on anchor, with only our 80 W solar panel to keep the systems going, but that was fine because Martina had no intention of being at anchor without me on board. We spotted an opportunity to go alongside the pontoon at Sanlucar a few days earlier than we needed and early in the morning we brought Carina into Spain, just in time to make the 5 minute walk to take the girls to school. Life was beginning to look easier for Martina stuck without me. On the pontoon she could do the shopping, take the girls to school and had limitless water and electricity with Carina plugged into the mains. This meant being able to use the computer and DVD player without limit, DVDs for the girls, a blender for smoothies and even a fast electric kettle, a working fridge and hot running water, pretty good hey!

The next job was the dinghy. I couldn’t leave Martina without the ability to get across the river, go to the Saturday market in Portugal, use the 3 Euro a go washing machine, which includes the powder, and go to the library where she can plug in the computer and use the internet all day long for her writing work. She might even decide to exchange books and look at the art gallery. I suspected the problem with the outboard to be dirt in the carburettor. We have a small, very simple and usually reliable outboard which I think is vital for an idiot like me, miles away from a petrol station or a professional mechanic. So I stripped down the carburettor, couldn’t see the problem but did a few of my magic blows on it and put it back together again, it worked a treat. The next mission was to teach Martina how to use it. “WHAT!” I hear you say, how could she live on the boat and not be able to use the outboard. Well it is a long story, she did use it a couple of times under supervision when we were cruising down here but we spent last winter in a marina and she hadn’t used it since. So I watched as she went off with the laundry, shouting things like “A little more choke!”, “No you’ve flooded it, try rowing straight back at the shore.” Anyway finally she seemed pretty happy and could handle the oars, so she had her complete freedom while the kids went to school.

dinghy

Our Zodiac inflatable dinghy with it’s 2 stroke Mariner 3.3 outboard.

I ordered spare rubber parts for our very good Whale Gusher Galley Mk III foot pump which hadn’t let us down or needed any maintenance in four years of very heavy use. We don’t know how long it was before we bought Carina since any work had been done on it. These parts would arrive at my dad’s house for me to bring back from the UK and I flew out from Seville to London for my appointment with the consultant. On my return I was first annoyed because Martina filled up the water system, but I waited a couple of days then emptied it and took the pump apart. Sure enough I found a small hole in one of the diaphragms. I replaced them both, saving the good one as an emergency replacement. Now I just had the engine to sort out.

footpump

Behind the scenes on our Whale Gusher Galley Mk III footpump!!

The main engine of Carina was a little more confusing. The temperature alarm had gone off when on full pelt on our return from Ayamonte but now it was giving a faint alarm and a faint warning light after running the engine for 20 minutes or so. The system is cooled by a flow of raw water (sea or river) around an inner engine coolant water. Previously we had trouble with the flow of the raw water due to a seal not being good on the inlet filter but it was clear this was not the case, the filter itself was also clear. I remember going to sea with my cousin Martin and him replacing a degraded impellar (the rubber thing that pumps the raw water around the engine), that day the two of us sailed onto the mooring in the confined space between lines of boats and mud banks of Hayling island, near Chichester and we missed the tide that would get us to the pub. With this in mind I checked the impellar, it looked fine.

Various people came past and nodding sagely said “It will be the thermostat!” I ignored them and checked the raw water system some more, actually contacting the dealer to see what the flow should be, I then put a bucket by the exhaust and measured how much water came out in 20 second intervals, it appeared to be behaving fine. Finally I heeded the advice of my fellow sailors and took out the thermostat and put it in a pan of boiling water. It opened just fine, not that either then! I was getting pretty sure that it was just a faulty temperature sensor, but I didn’t have the confidence to risk the engine. However, the Germans had heard that I was looking for a thermometer and came on board with their engineering kit and took over for an hour or so. Rolf was an engineer and still does the odd professional job on boats at the coast. Along with Steffan, a keen amateur, they gave the engine a good testing. The verdict was that it isn’t overheating, I have a dodgy temperature sensor. I checked the price of a new one with the dealer, £49.95! Maybe I’ll take it out and blow on it before spending the money.

engine

Carina’s main inboard engine a Craftsman Marine 4.42. It is a 4 cylinder 42 hp diesel marinised engine based on a Mitsubishi engine.

A simple errand

‘Don’t forget the nappies’, Julian reminds me as I leave Carina to go shopping. Ah yes, the nappies. There was a time, a couple of years ago, after Katie had stopped wearing nappies, when we still had a supply on board. But we’re all out now and Julian needs some. Not for himself, you understand. For Carina. He’s been working on the engine and there’s oil in the bilge and nothing soaks up bilge oil quite like a few nappies. They are, after all, designed to soak up nasty stuff.

I set off up the hill, confident that I’ll pick up a pack of nappies from the shelf of one of the two little village shops. So confident, in fact, that I decide I’ll compare prices in the two shops before I make my purchase. Nappies aren’t something I’ve been in the habit of looking for in Sanlúcar, so I haven’t noticed that the shelves aren’t exactly heaving with them.

I go into the first shop to buy juice and check the price of nappies. There are none. Not to worry. Reme’s sure to have some. I carry on up over the hill and down to Sanlúcar’s other shop. There are no nappies on the shelves. But Reme often has things in stock which are not on display. Then it dawns on me that I’ve left home without checking the dictionary and with no idea how to say ‘nappy’ in Spanish.

Reme and her elderly mother are standing at the counter and when I put my other purchases on the counter I hesitantly attempt to ask for nappies. ‘Tienes…um…em…por bebé?’ I ask, simultaneously miming putting a nappy on myself. ‘Ah, pañales’, Reme and her mother say in unison. ‘Sí’, I say. But Reme’s not sure that’s what I want, because surely my girls, who she knows well, are too big for nappies. ‘Sí, sí, pañales’ I say. ‘No para las niñas. Para…um…em…el barco’. For the boat. How the hell do I say bilge? And is the word for edible oil ‘aceite’ the same as the word for motor oil? Or is it something else? I mime the bottom of the boat. ‘Ah sí, claro’, Reme says. ‘Por seco el fundo del barco’. Maybe that’s not exactly what she says, but those are the words I hear and understand. She tells me I’ll get them at the pharmacy.

I pay for my groceries and walk out the door, but have gone only a few steps when I realise I’ve forgotten the word for nappies. I go back in and mime putting a nappy on again and ask, in Spanish, ‘How do you say…?’ In unison, Reme and her mother say ‘pañales’.

I walk down the street saying the word over and over again, just in case there aren’t any nappies on display on the pharmacy shelf and I have to ask. I haven’t been in the pharmacy before and I’m unprepared for quite how small it is. There are three display shelves with only two products on display – sanitary towels and incontinence pads. Nothing else. None of the toiletries, over the counter medicines or baby products you expect to find on display on the shelves of a pharmacy.

I recognise the pharmacist as the dad of María and Cristobal, two kids in Lily’s class. While I stand there, waiting for him to finish scanning some items onto the cash register, I ponder the paucity of items on display. I wonder are the sanitary towels and incontinence pads on display merely to save him and his customers the embarrassment of having to ask for such intimate items. But if this is the reason, then why not also have condoms, haemorrhoid cream, thrush cream and other such nether-regions products on display too?

I try not to get too distracted by these thoughts and keep that word for nappies in my head. Finally, the pharmacist finishes what he’s doing and turns his attention to me. ‘Yes’ he says, in Spanish. ‘I want nappies’ I say, pleased that I’ve said it correctly. He says something, the gist of which I get to be that he doesn’t have any, but he can get me some and have them in this evening.

The door opens behind me and four people walk into the pharmacy. Four people! Where did they suddenly materialise from in this sleepy one-donkey village? Now I have an audience – the two guys who’ve been driving around the village all morning delivering bottled gas, the mother of another one of the kids in Lily’s class, and some old man I don’t recognise.
‘How old is the baby?’ the pharmacist asks.
‘No es para un bebé’ I stammer, acutely aware of the mass of people surrounding me in this little shop half the size of Carina’s saloon. Suddenly Reme’s words (or some version of them) come back to me. ‘Por seco el fundo del barco’.
‘Sí, claro’, the pharmacist says, seemingly understanding my pidgin Spanish. He writes ‘Weight: large’ on his piece of paper, and tells me he’ll have them in around six o’clock this evening.

I squeeze my way out the door past the other customers, apologising as my shopping bags bash everyone as I go past, wondering if any of them are purchasing intimate items not on the display shelves. Shortly after six, Julian walks to the pharmacy and picks up the nappies. Never before has the purchase of nappies been such an adventure.

All a little pear shaped

Sometimes it all goes pear-shaped. Like this past week. We were minutes away from anchoring at the end of our trip back upriver from Ayamonte when one of the engine alarms went off. At first it was a low whistle and I wasn’t quite sure if it was coming from Carina or from one of the other boats anchored nearby in the river. Julian was on the foredeck, getting ready to drop anchor. I put my ear to the ignition panel in the cockpit and sure enough, the alarm sound was emanating from there. Cupping my hand to block out the light shining on the bank of alarm lights confirmed it was the temperature alarm. The engine was overheating. The sound wasn’t too bad. Not the ear-piercing, heart stopping shrieking of the engine alarm that we had back in August 2013 when we limped into the marina in Brest, in Brittany, and were holed up for four days while Julian semi-solved the problem. I keep my ear to the alarm while Julian lays out the anchor chain.

We have a party to go to and then the Three Kings procession and then another party after that, so now is not the time to try to figure out what’s wrong with the engine. Then we sit at anchor for four nights and there are so many other things to do, the engine takes a back seat.

Friday is the first day of the new school term. Julian takes the girls to and from school in the dinghy. He goes to collect them at the end of the school day and I stay on board to get lunch ready. When I hear the dinghy coming back downriver I go to the stern to help them aboard. They don’t need my help to get aboard, but after a five hour separation I’m too impatient to see them to wait until they come those extra four metres into the saloon!

‘Where are your schoolbags?’ I ask, as Lily climbs aboard. In the excitement of meeting their long lost friends, they have left their schoolbags behind on the pontoon. Julian turns around and zips back upriver to get the bags. We’ve been doing a lot of zooming up and down river these past few days, what with all those parties. And we haven’t put petrol in the outboard for a few days. This latest, unplanned, trip back to Sanlúcar to collect the schoolbags takes more petrol than is currently in the fuel tank and Julian just makes it back to Carina on fumes. (This is no big deal as far as safety goes. He has oars and arms and is on an ebb tide on a calm day so rowing would be no problem). He climbs aboard for lunch and we think no more of the outboard.

We’re only a couple of days off spring tides now and with each ebb Carina is in shallower and shallower water. On Saturday morning we move her a few metres farther into the middle of the river. This manoeuvre takes only a few minutes, but Julian tells me to leave the engine running so he can begin to figure out what caused the alarm to sound when the engine was last running. He does some checks, and after twenty minutes the alarm sounds again.

Later Saturday morning Julian puts new petrol in the outboard so we can all go ashore for a walk and a picnic with some friends. The outboard sputters and splutters, judders and jiggles, and gets us to shore, but only just, with Julian playing around with the throttle and the choke likes he’s Quincy Jones at a music desk. Many hours later, when we return from our picnic, the outboard won’t start at all and I row the four of us home, greatly assisted by the ebb tide.

We’re only aboard five minutes and thinking about what we might have for supper when we hear the sound of a dinghy coming our way. It’s Phil from Naisso. Irlem has made feijoada, the national dish of his native Brazil and he’s been saying for weeks that the next time he makes it he’ll have us around for supper.

Erm, we’d love to come around, I tell Phil, but the outboard’s not working. The four of us will never get the 300 metres upriver to Naisso rowing against a spring tide in full ebb. I put a solution to Phil and he agrees to give it a try, but isn’t sure if his little outboard will be up to it. If the girls and I go with Phil in his dinghy, we can tow Julian behind in our dinghy, with Julian rowing to give what assistance he can to the labours of Phil’s outboard. We’ll still be on an ebb tide by the time we finish dinner and we can float back downriver to Carina.

The girls and I climb in with Phil and I hold the painter of our dinghy. We slowly make our way upriver against the ebb, Phil’s little outboard giving it all she’s got, Julian rowing behind. Our friends on other boats are much amused as they watch our progress. It all goes well, and we reach our destination, but I narrowly avoid falling in the river as I climb aboard Naisso. We have a thoroughly wonderful evening and a dinner so delicious that words fail me. And at 10pm, we drift downriver, Julian dipping an oar in now and again to correct our course towards Carina.

Sunday is to be our ‘day of rest’, when we don’t leave the boat. Julian plans to devote the day to investigating and hopefully solving the problems of both the outboard and inboard engines. He spends the morning working on the outboard, taking it apart, cleaning the filters and carburettor. His first test run with it fails and he has to strip it apart again, but by lunchtime the outboard is working like a dream. At least he won’t have to row against the ebb to get the girls to school in the morning. (If you think we’ve got an extraordinary amount of ebb tide, it’s because we do. Because of the fast flowing river, flood tides here are a little less than five hours in duration and ebbs a little more than seven).

He takes a break for lunch and then plans to launch into the bigger job, Carina’s engine. But when I open the cupboard under the sink where the pots and pans are stored, I discover the bottom of the cupboard is wet. This has happened before, and it’s always simply a loose water pipe to the galley taps. It just requires a little tightening and drying out of the cupboard. I remove all the pots and pans and Julian gets down on his hands and knees in the tight space between the galley and the companionway steps, to fix the problem.

But this time the problem isn’t the pipe. The pipe is as dry as a bone. There must be a leak somewhere else in the system. He removes the floor in front of the sink and cooker to reveal about 20 litres of water sloshing about. He sets about removing the water, a jug full at a time and then tries to figure out where all this water has come from. From its location and the dryness of our deep bilges we know that this water isn’t coming in from outside. We have an internal leak.

His exploration reveals the foot pump to be the source of the leak. You see, we get water into our taps by means of an electrical pump powered by our bank of domestic batteries or by means of a foot pump located near the floor under the cooker. When we are at anchor we use the foot pump, to reduce the energy drain on our batteries, and we only use the electric pump when we are on a pontoon and have mains electricity.

Cutting off the water supply to the foot pump requires some speedy movements to insert a wooden bung before the water spills everywhere. While Julian, like the Dutch boy and the dyke, keeps his finger in the pipe, I rummage around in a cupboard for an appropriately-sized bung. For some reason we are both in a good mood and we find it all pretty comical. Another day we might not have been so light hearted about it all!

With the pipe blocked, Julian takes the foot pump out and painstakingly takes it apart, inspects all the constituent bits, cleans them up and puts it all back together again. Most of the fiddly screws are back in place before he realises he has forgotten to reinsert the spring at the centre of the mechanism. So he has to undo the whole blooming thing and start all over again. He suspects that nothing he has done will have solved the problem and when he puts the pump back in place he is proven right. The pump is broken, perhaps not beyond repair, but to repair it will require the purchase of spare parts online. And the afternoon he has planned to devote to the engine has now been spent on the foot pump.

He spends Monday morning trying to solve the problem of the engine. He gets so far as figuring out that it’s got something to do with the flow of external water through the cooling system. But the exact nature of the problem or how to solve it remains a mystery. He then spends the afternoon online, ordering spare parts for the pump and trying to learn more about the engine cooling system.

At least the laptop is working now, allowing him to do this. A few days after Christmas the laptop died and it took a couple of hours of painstaking work on Julian’s part, taking it apart, cleaning all the bits, putting it back together, rebooting it, before eventually bringing it back to life again.

On Tuesday morning he returns to the engine again. He reads the owner’s manual cover to cover and thinks he may have found a solution to the problem. As I write he is on the bus going to Vila Real to purchase the necessary fluids and parts from the chandlery. We still have a leaking foot pump that can’t be used until the faulty parts arrive by post and are replaced, an engine cooling system that needs to be fixed, and one very frustrated skipper. It never rains but it pours.

USS Willow

In 1924 the US Lighthouse Service commissioned the construction of a Mississippi steam boat. Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works won the contract and began construction at a cost of $372,000. The boat was built in a shipyard downriver from St. Louis. She was 200 feet long and 64 feet wide, and drew 9 feet of water. When complete, she underwent trials on Lake Keokuk, Iowa. From there she proceeded to New Orleans. The boat was named the Willow and she joined the Lighthouse Service on 4 October 1927.

The Willow was assigned to the 15th Lighthouse District in Memphis and she aided navigation along the Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Louis, spending her winter months in New Orleans.

With her 9 foot draught, there are many places along the river where the Willow simply could not go. The US Army Corps of Engineers tried to maintain a 9 foot channel in the Mississippi, but the Willow’s movements were restricted, and she was accompanied by a 38 foot support vessel that could get to the places Willow could not. Despite this, she was widely referred to as ‘the pride of the Lighthouse Service’. She was such a beautiful boat that some mistakenly took her to be a private yacht, rather than a working government boat.

In 1939 the Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard and Willow was designated a Coast Guard cutter, carrying on the same role along the Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Louis throughout World War Two.

On 15 December 1944 Willow collided with USS LST-841 and both ships were badly damaged. The cost of repairs and continued maintenance were considered to be too high, so the Willow was decommissioned on 1 March 1945.

DSCI0133The first view we got of the USS Willow was over the protective sea wall was we motored west towards the entrance to the marina at Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol. After taking on fuel and paying our marina fees we slowly motored through the marina to our allocated berth, passing the Willow berthed on the outer edge of the marina. We were immediately struck by her New Orleans grandeur, her column-supported wooden decks reminding us of Showboat and Huckleberry Finn.

Benalmádena is a gaudy, high-rise blighted tourist resort with lurid statues of Neptune and sea nymphs adorning the marina complex and larger-than-life fibreglass polar bears and Yeti advertising bars and restaurants offering the usual holiday resort fare of burgers, pizzas and beer.

During our few days in Benalmádena, we walked around to the outer harbour to get a closer look at the Willow and we did a little online research to learn more about her. So how did this beautiful elegant steamboat end up here, in package-holiday central, with razor wire around her decks and looking sadly neglected?

DSCI0140After her decommissioning in 1945 her machinery was removed and she was turned overto the US Army Corps of Engineers who used her as a Quarters Boat. She served as a mess and berth for Corps of Engineers labourers, including German prisoners of war.

In 1962 she was sold to a Paducah, Kentucky businessman who planned to transform her into a floating restaurant and hotel, but this plan did not materialise. She remained unused and tied up at Paducah until 1965, when she was sold to the WS Young Construction Company and towed to New Orleans.

In September 1965, while berthed at LaPlace, Louisiana, Hurricane Betsy beached Willow high on the levee. There she was abandoned to the hands of vandals until she was rescued by the US Marshall in New Orleans. She was sold at auction to a relative of the owners of Young Construction who then sold her, yet again, in 1970, to Belezian Industries. They bought her as an investment and moved her to Florida, hoping to repair her and quickly sell her on. One prospective buyer planned to operate her as a lobster factory in British Honduras. After $18,000 worth of work repairing 45 feet of her bow, this deal fell through.

In 1972 she was sold to a British company, Themes International.

DSCI0122We have been unable to find out what happened to her for the seventeen years after 1972. But we pick up the story again in 1989.

In 1989 she was transported across the Atlantic on a semi-submersible to Southampton on the south coast of England. From there she was taken to Antwerp, Belgium, for refurbishment. While she was in Antwerp, Themes International went out of business, and she remained in Antwerp until 1995, when she was bought once again and transported back to Birkenhead in the UK.

DSCI0120From there, in 1996, she made the journey to her final – or latest – destination, Benalmádena in Mediterranean Spain. For two years she operated as a floating bar and restaurant under the name Mississippi Willow. Afternoon cruises were offered and she opened up as a restaurant each evening. It appears that she closed for business sometime around 1998 as the owners could not afford the rather considerable mooring costs of such a large vessel. Her lower decks are now surrounded by metal and razor wire, and she lies empty and abandoned on the outer wall of Benalmádena.

We were sad to see a vessel once in the service of safe navigation along one of the world’s great waterways now reduced to a has-been tourist attraction on the other side of the world. But perhaps her fate could have been worse. Her collision in 1944 could have sunk her. Had she not been auctioned on from the levee at LaPlace she could have finally succumbed to the ravages of nature and vandals. All along the way she has been abandoned due to poor management, bad investment, and owners going out of business. But yet she carries on. She’s still afloat. The razor wire protects her from vandals. Maybe someday someone will see the Willow‘s potential and help restore her to her former glory.

PS. In October 2015 I received the following email from a Bill Huthmacher in the United States:

Saw your post about the sidewheeler Willow.  My great 
uncle, Harry Hines, was one of her Captains and piloted her on the 
Mississippi for the Corps of Engineers, as a lighthouse tender.  Off and
 on, I have been putting together a history of her for years.  It looks 
like the time you are missing may be when she was in the UK on the river
 Thames as a restaurant. I found she was in Benalmadena several years 
ago, but figured she would have been scrapped by now.  I think it is 
humorous that she was advertised as a former showboat.  Thanks for the 
update!

 

Fixing up Carina

by Julian

Whilst Martina and the girls were appearing on TV in Ireland, Carina came out of the water for a clean and antifoul.

dirtycarina

Carina with a weedy hull, ready for cleaning

I’ve been catching up on all of the necessary maintenance jobs that I have been unable to do while looking after the children on a boat all winter. I still have some way to go but things are going well. Martina often asks me to list what I have yet to do. I have come to dislike making lists. I just like to say “lots of stuff” because I always forget to mention things. I think it must seem as though I am procrastinating over one or two small tasks. Also the thought of putting the whole ‘to-do’ list down in all its enormity scares me. I like to consider one or two priority items at a time. This way I don’t have a nervous breakdown at the shear scale of what I face, including the sailing plans for the year. It is much easier for me to list here some of the things I have already done in the last three weeks and to mention one or two jobs that I will have to do soon. Deep breath – Here it goes.

What I have done in the last few weeks
1. Replaced the 30 m of old rusty chain (plus extra rope) with 50 m of new.
2. Varnished the top of the cockpit table. Three coats.
3. Removed the saloon ceiling to investigate and repair leaks (this repair took two goes because the first one failed).

sloonroof

Saloon ceiling removed to fix leaks

4. Bought new lights, replaced broken galley strip light with a new 30 LED energy efficient light. I have also recently replaced the main saloon light bulb and our berth (bedroom) bulb with LEDs and replaced the broken heads (bathroom) light and quarter berth lights with new light fittings.
5. Took the toilet pump to pieces for a major service, replacing one of the fittings. I hate this job, not because of the dirt but because it is so awkward. What should be relatively simple generally takes the best part of two days and an awful lot of sweat and frustration. That is why I didn’t do it properly last year, and the toilet was becoming increasingly difficult to operate.
6. Checked engine functioning, filters etc. then drove Carina round to be lifted out of the water, where she was pressure washed down and the prop treated to clean it up. Carina was then placed on props for a week so I could do the next jobs on the hull.

cleancarina

Carina washed down

7. Scraped and sanded back loose antifoul, removing any remaining weed and barnacles on the hull.
8. Replaced the hull anode, buying new fittings (from three different shops!!) and checked the electrical connection to the prop.
9. Stripped back wet rudder base, dried and filled with epoxy filler.
10. Painted primer on any bare patches.
11. Painted two new coats of antifoul on the hull. Each took around 4 hours work for me (maybe I’m a bit slow).
12. Put epoxy filler on some small damages to the hull above the water line (most of these were in old repairs, from before we owned the boat, but they make it look like we keep hitting pontoons).
13. Serviced five of our ten seacocks (these are taps from the inside to the outside of the boat): took them apart, ground down to good brass, with grinding paste when necessary, cleaned them, lightly greased them and reassembled. Checked the other five.
14. Emptied the deep cockpit locker to check water heater/pump, recently unblocked cockpit drain pipe, engine compartment, gas locker and gas pipes for leaks.
15. Resealed around the base of the gas locker.

gaslocker

Gas locker with new sealant

16. Serviced one of the larger winches (It was very stiff)

winchdirty

Dirty winch

winchserviced

Clean winch

17. Made up a line and hook to stop snubbing of the anchor chain.
18. Put up the mizzen boom and recently repaired mizzen sail, the mainsail with bag and lazyjacks, sprayhood etc. and got the running rigging sorted ready to sail.

What I have yet to do
1. Service another four winches
2. Service the dinghy (I am half way through this already)
3. Fit new taste filter to kitchen cold tap
4. Work out what the hell we are going to do next

So there you have it. From my early experience of owning Carina, genuine ‘to-do’ lists stretched to around 100 items. I would tick things off and I actually did all of the things the surveyor deamed necessary, or important, in less than a year. However, the to-do list still stubbornly remained at around 100 items as new things were added as quickly as jobs were done. I dread to think what it would be at now but I have decided to stop making lists. I can usually do a few of the things in the time it would take to make the list anyway. I probably could have ticked one or two things off in the time it has taken to write this blog!

Preparing to move on

With only six weeks until our planned departure from Aguadulce and the start of our 2015 cruising season, we have been taking advantage of my father-in-law’s car to get some much needed jobs underway.

Last week Julian took the sails and the spray hood to a sail maker in Almería for repairs. The sails have some small tears and rips – on the canvas and along the seams – that will turn into big rips if not dealt with soon. The spray hood shelters the cockpit from head wind and spray. I have never been able to sail with it in position, as the plastic windows are so weather beaten they have lost all transparency. Julian is tall enough to see over the top of the spray hood when at the helm but, being a short-ass, I have to helm with the elements in my face! When we removed the spray hood for storage before Christmas, one of the window panels cracked from old age. New transparent plastic should make for more pleasant motoring and sailing for all from now on.

Another day last week Julian drove to the chandler in Almerimar to stock up on items he will need when the boat comes out of the water in March. During that week he will thoroughly clean all those parts of Carina that sit below the water line – hull, keel, propeller and rudder. He bought five litres of anti-foul – enough for two coats of paint that will protect the underwater parts from sea-critters. He will also replace the old sacrificial anode with the new 2.5kg one he bought. Gradually, the anode dissolves away into the water, thus protecting the metal parts of the propeller and the engine from corrosion.

The next big purchase – both in terms of size and cost – is new anchor chain. We currently use half chain-half warp, and the chain is old and rusting. We want to move to 100% anchor chain and this week Julian plans to look at some chain for sale in Roquetas de Mar.

All of these jobs would be much more difficult and more expensive to carry out without having access to a car. Although we find living without a car in general very easy – we don’t even think about it – there are times such as now when having a car comes in handy! So, thank you to my father-in-law for letting us use his while he’s visiting.

And where do we plan to sail in six weeks’ time? Well, we’ve narrowed it down to east, west or south!!

Get a job!

Recently, someone with our best interests at heart suggested that our lives would be easier if Julian and I had permanent jobs. These would provide us with financial security, give us something on which to focus our attention, and provide structure to our lives. We could still have a boat, save up our holidays and go sailing in the summer. This put me in a reflective mood and I asked this person for permission to use our conversation as a jumping off point for this blog post.

It’s true that in our current situation we lack financial security. But are we so different to many two-income families? My parents both worked, they were careful with money, and yet money was always a worry. Before we had children, Julian and I had a joint income of £64,000. But it never seemed to be enough. Back then, of course, we knew exactly how much money would appear in our bank account on a certain day each month. We knew the bills would get paid and we didn’t give much thought to how much money we spent on food and going out. These days we don’t know how much money (if any) we will earn in a given month. But I don’t think it has made our financial worries any greater. Rather, our financial worries are different. We no longer have the expense of running a car, paying rent or a mortgage, and paying electricity, telephone and water bills. We have other expenses, but they don’t even compare to our expenses when we lived on land.

These days we have to work hard to make our meagre financial resources stretch far. Some might think it burdensome to spend so much time comparing the prices on tins of tomatoes or weighing up the cost of a night spent at a marina versus the cost of motoring to an anchorage when there’s no wind by which to sail. But this is our work. These minute considerations allow us to live this incredible sailing life. If I wasn’t pondering tins of tomatoes I’d be giving essay-writing advice to a 19-year old undergrad. It’s just a different form of work.

Our way of life requires careful thought, planning and frugality and the replacement of time-saving devices and methods with manual and time-consuming labour. But without permanent full-time jobs, time is on our side and currently we undertake these boat maintenance and household chores in the warm January sun of the Costa del Sol, the beach a two-minute walk from Carina, a hulking orange mountain dominating the skyline behind us. We can leave when we wish and sail to wherever we choose, making anywhere our home. It feels like a pretty good life to me.

But having had this conversation about the benefits of permanent employment, I pondered the alternative to the life we currently live. Of course Julian and I could be in full-time permanent employment. There’s nothing to stop us. Academia is what I know and love and Julian has the research skills and experience to work in academia or in the private or public sectors. I certainly wouldn’t want a permanent job doing anything other than academic Human Geography/Anthropology. Why should I? It’s what I’m trained for. The academic life is a wonderful one, and I have to admit I miss all those intellectual conversations and debates that serve to fertilise the seeds of imagination. I miss my super-smart friends and colleagues, the opportunities for travel, the visits to the pub. I even miss my students some days!

But let’s imagine a scenario – based on my own experiences and on those of friends in academia. There is a side to academic life that makes the family life I desire almost impossible to achieve. Academic couples are frequently forced to live far from each other – in different cities, countries and even continents – as finding two jobs in the same university or city is often an unattainable dream. Julian and I lived apart when I lectured at Reading. In fact, all throughout my pregnancy with Lily, Julian lived in our home in Cambridge (where he worked) and I spent four nights a week in a flat in Reading (where I worked). My friends Tina and Ben have spent the past three years living apart in a foreign country and have only recently found university jobs in the same city in Tina’s native Canada. I have known couples who work in opposite ends of the UK, in different European countries and, in the most extreme example, a friend who worked in Fairbanks, Alaska, and lived there with her baby son, while her husband worked and lived in Vienna, Austria. Eventually, one of them had to give in and put their career on hold. In every university I have been associated with I have known couples who have been forced to live apart in order for both people to pursue their academic careers.

One of the reasons I quit my job at University of Reading after Lily was born was that we simply couldn’t figure out how to make it work. It’s a three and a half hour motorway journey between Cambridge and Reading. If we chose to live somewhere in between, Julian and I would both face up to four hours of commuting by car each day. House prices that close to London were way out of our reach and, if we factored in the cost of 12 hours of child care every day, one of our salaries would completely disappear in commuting and child care costs. Never mind how little time we would spend with each other or with our baby daughter. If you have ever been to Cambridge and Reading, you’ll understand why we chose Cambridge.

But let’s imagine that we were lucky enough to both find work in the same city. The academic workload is mindboggling. There are lectures to write and present, academic and pastoral tutorials, essays to grade, exams to mark, post-graduate students to supervise; departmental administrative duties; research grants to write and, if successful, to manage; journal articles, book chapters and books to write; editorial boards to sit on; external and internal examiner duties to fulfil; conferences to attend; research to plan and carry out; public or private sector consultation or collaboration; and much more besides. (I know as soon as I post this blog, I’ll think of ten more common tasks that I’ve forgotten to mention). I’ve rarely met an academic who doesn’t take their work on vacation. And, despite the misconceptions of non-academics, academics (in the UK) have only 30 days of paid leave a year, not the four months of freedom enjoyed by their students. Many academics don’t even take their 30 days. The long summer is a time to prepare for the next academic year, carry out research and write write write, because that old academic adage ‘publish or perish’ really holds true.

It is a privileged life, spending your days in a safe and comfortable environment, devoting your time to the research questions about which you are wildly passionate. And if I was single or had no children, I think I would throw myself heart and soul into it.

So, let’s take this scenario a little further. Julian and I have found incredible academic jobs in the same city and we are fully engrossed in what we do. In order to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and to progress up the promotional ladder, we would need to work long long hours, and so would need help with raising the kids. Pre-school, a large portion of our salaries would go on child care, and once the girls were in school (as early as possible, to reduce child care costs) they would still need after school care. We would see them briefly, morning and evening, all of us tired and frazzled.

Having the left-over financial resources to own a boat, keep it in good condition, and pay marina fees would be beyond us. Our dreams of a month or two at sea would remain just that and if we were lucky we might manage a week here or there.

But Julian and I chose other priorities. Home educating our children and exploring the world with them quickly became a priority for us. So for the past four years we have chosen a middle path. For three years I took temporary academic contracts that had set working hours. I worked professionally for those 35 hours every week, but I didn’t kill myself working every night and weekend as I used to do before. And this winter I’ve found a job teaching English 18 hours each week. It lacks the intellectual stimulation of university life, but it challenges me in other ways.

Despite not having full-time jobs, our lives have purpose and focus. Short, medium and long-term planning focus our thoughts, as we find innovative ways to make our finances stretch far, plan where we want to sail in a given week or month, and think about where we want to be in five or ten years time. We are focused on raising and educating the children – something that requires a lot of energy and innovation. And both Julian and I passionately pursue our own interests. While I have immediate and decade-long plans for my writing. Julian’s approach to planning is different, but this winter his obsession has been studying Spanish.

What we lack in financial security we more than make up for with the time and space to be innovative in our approach to living. And we have time to play, learn and grow together. No-one’s path through life runs smooth all the time, and each choice made means that other choices have to be cast aside. But at 40 and 41 years old, Julian and I have made our choices based on our past experiences, and based on what we know works for us as individuals and as a family.

Live an enthusiastic life, whatever path you choose.

Someone took my lemons

You know the saying ‘When God gives you lemons, make lemonade’? Or, in my case, lemon curd. But what happens when those lemons are taken away again before you have a chance to do anything productive with them?

We faced such a dilemma this past week when plans we had in place since early August changed suddenly and unexpectedly. Nearly five months earlier we had been asked to house and dog sit for a week at New Year so, despite our general lack of short- or medium-term planning, this week had been set in stone. We eliminated all other possibilities and honed in on making ourselves available to do this favour. And now that we had that week set in stone, we decided to plan accordingly. The girls and I would be off the boat for the whole week, leaving Julian free to get on with a huge number of jobs on his to-do list – sanding, varnishing, spring cleaning the lazarette, repairing the sails, etc. He would visit us in the apartment and spend some nights with us, but most of his week would be devoted to the boat.

Carina in a state of undress

Carina in a state of undress

I, meanwhile, planned to take advantage of being in Almeria to do lots of fun things, which are otherwise too expensive when we have to factor in the price of bus journeys from and to Aguadulce. And, of course, the girls were wildly excited about the prospect of taking care of a dog for a week, and that experience would have been amazing for them. In addition to all this fun, I planned to complete the first draft of my book before we moved back aboard Carina. With a TV in the apartment, I planned to let the girls watch one movie each evening, giving me one and a half hours of writing time, and to continue writing for two or three hours each night after the girls had gone to bed. That would surely put the first draft of the book to bed too.

Twenty-four hours before we were due to move into the apartment, unexpectedly and for reasons unrelated to us, the plans changed and we found ourselves adrift. What were we to do? The maintenance and repair jobs would now be much more difficult to accomplish with us under Julian’s feet. And, as I’ve written before, the simple tasks of cooking, cleaning, and day-to-day life take so much more time on a boat, so the time for fun activities and writing were now drastically curtailed.

First we got annoyed. And then we got practical. Rather than viewing the changes to this long-planned-for week as ruinous, we reassessed our priorities and we set about achieving what we could. Instead of thinking of it as a week, we saw in front of us eleven days until I had to return to work. Julian’s boat jobs needed daylight and my writing could be done after dark. The varnishing of weather boards and the oiling of the boat’s external teak needed to be done at a certain time of day – after the early morning dew had lifted, but early enough so they would dry before the evening dew descended.

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

I took over all the household chores that are usually shared or done by Julian – cooking, cleaning, laundry, food shopping. When Julian attempted to clean the heads one day I shooed him away – no point him wasting time doing jobs that I can do. I involved the girls in all those activities, taking their maths and English books to the launderette, so they could work while we waited. Many of the chores had us off the boat for considerable lengths of time.

The girls and I went for long walks on the beach. As well as taking our balls and bats and new origami set (I love it!), I took my pen and notebook and, while the girls played at playgrounds or played games with other kids, I squeezed in what handwriting I could, ready to transcribe to the laptop once the girls were in bed.

When we were at home, we stayed as much out of Julian’s way as possible. He sanded, varnished and oiled. He removed sails. He cleaned the decks and the cockpit. Sometimes the girls helped, but when helping turned to hindering, I took them away again.

And Julian took them away from me, late in the afternoons when the light was fading and he could no longer work effectively. Sure, I had dinner to make, but I also managed to write.

I’m going back to work tomorrow and I have to admit that neither of us has achieved what we had hoped. I’m still roughly 15,000 words from the end of the book. And Julian has accomplished only about 20% of what he would have expected to if he had had the boat to himself. This week we’ve also had to contend with having no electricity for two days due to a fault on the pontoon, and a blocked toilet that Julian’s had to take apart.

DSCI0035

But we could look at it another way. I’m 6,000 words closer to the end of the draft than I was before December 28th. Carina’s exterior woodwork is in better condition now than at any time since we have owned her. And we’ve had experiences that we wouldn’t have had if we had been in Almeria all week. Lily and Katie have met and played with lots of children at the local playgrounds all week. Katie and I spent a morning visiting Bill and Rosemary on a neighbouring boat. Jesus, on the boat across the pontoon from us, gave us a bucketful of freshly caught red sea bream. And yesterday morning, while out for my walk, I met Katie and Kalle, a young German couple living and travelling in a VW camper van, and they spent the afternoon aboard Carina with us.

Things don’t always work out the way you’ve planned. Unexpected changes can occur, leaving you feeling stranded. And we did feel stranded at first, when our five-months-in-the-making plan was turned on its head with no warning. But if there’s one thing that sailing teaches you, it’s that you can’t rely on plans. Weather systems and unexpected boat problems can alter the best laid plans. Friends we’ve made along the way this past year have had their sailing plans curtailed by, in one instance, a split wooden mast that needed to be replaced, and, in another, the need to install a new engine. But what can you do? Go with the flow, make the most of the opportunities you have and, if your lemons are taken away, you better have some recipes for a bucket-load of bream up your sleeve!

The live-aboard’s greatest enemy

On Saturday I was in the middle of a sweaty uncomfortable boat chore and needed a break. I made myself a coffee and sat down with the laptop to check emails and catch up on the few blogs I follow. I laughed out loud when I read artofhookie, for it appeared that Alan, aboard Sookie, far away in the Pacific Northwest, was doing exactly the same as me! No matter if you live on your boat in the rainy northwest coast of North America or the arid northern Mediterranean coast of Spain, damp is your enemy.

Contorted into a tight corner to attack the mildew!

Contorted into a tight corner to attack the mildew!

Two years ago, when we sailed in Ireland in the wettest summer on record, we fought an ongoing battle with mould. Freshly laundered clothes turned stinky and mouldy within days of being put away. Since first moving aboard, we have kept t-shirts, shirts and other ‘foldables’ in damp-proof zip bags, with condensation attracting cedar balls inside. That system seems to work. But we can’t fit all of our clothes in those bags. So we hang dresses, trousers, jumpers and cardigans in our hanging lockers. It was those, along with our shoes, that suffered most in Ireland that summer. Since then I’ve become better at dealing with the mould issues, but there are still occasional surprises when one of us pulls out a piece of clothing that hasn’t been worn for a while, as Julian did this week with a pair of jeans.

It goes without saying that we live in a salty environment, and saltiness attracts moisture. Carina’s nooks and crannies turn black and mildewed, and it is a constant battle to keep them clean. Our ceilings and upper parts of the walls in our bedrooms and heads are covered in cream-coloured vinyl,  which takes on a black hue as the weeks go by. Our hanging lockers are painted fibreglass, and they too take on the swirls and blotches of mildew.

We take steps to avoid damp and the build up of condensation by regularly opening and airing lockers and, on these autumn evenings, closing the hatches before night falls so the evening dew stays out.

In late June I thoroughly cleaned the forecabin (Lily and Katie’s bedroom), so I was surprised when I tackled it again on Saturday to discover how mouldy it had become. After all, with the exception of Ilha de Culatra, the air has felt dry all summer, and Carina’s seating and bedding hasn’t felt damp, as it has done in previous years. The nine days we spent in Culatra were damp, damp, damp and, despite the excessive heat, clothing hung out to dry never fully dried. Once we left Culatra the boat dried out pretty quickly, but the mould continued to grow.

Carina gets mouldy despite these blue skies every day.

Carina gets mouldy despite these deep blue skies every day at her winter home.

So, on Saturday morning I tackled the girl’s bedroom. Rubber gloves, old toothbrush, warm sudsy water, disinfectant, and wet and dry cloths. It was a hot day and in the cramped confines of the fore cabin I was soon sweating profusely (or ‘glowing’…isn’t that what we ‘ladies’ do?). Everything had to be moved out of the cabin or over to one side, then scrub scrub scrub with the toothbrush. When the port side was dry, I replaced everything, and then started on starboard. I hate most household chores, but this was particularly draining.

Still, I got it done. The cabin looks clean and I’m happy the girls are sleeping in a mould-free bedroom again. A few days ago, Julian de-moulded the saloon and galley. That just leaves the aft cabin, quarter berth, both heads and all the hanging lockers. Roll on next Saturday when I can get the rubber gloves and toothbrush out again!