The cold never bothered me anyway

The other side of the river wasn’t there this morning. We wondered, as we walked up to school just before 9am, if Portugal had drifted away in the night, and if so, was it by accident or design. I opted for design and guessed it was merrily floating across the Atlantic, making its way to Brazil for the winter.

Turned out it was there all along. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It was just shrouded in cold dense fog. Man alive, it’s cold here right now. Not Arctic cold or even Ireland cold, but cold nonetheless. This time last year we were still swimming in the river at the Praia Fluvial in Alcoutim. We weren’t long back from our sojourn in the UK, and we basked in balmy November sunshine.

We’re getting the sunshine alright, but I defy anyone to strip down to their swimwear and plunge into the river (my mad husband accepted…but that’s a blog post for another day). It started gradually a couple of weeks ago. The nights grew colder and we all needed an extra blanket on our beds. Then the coats came out for the walk to school in the morning. By the end of the school day, at 2pm, it was t-shirt weather, so the girls frequently forgot to bring their coats home. For the past few days they’ve been wearing their coats to and from school.

The day came when I took the electric heater out of storage, at first to warm the boat up for twenty minutes when we got up in the morning. Now it’s running in the evenings too, both to warm up the boat and in a bid to stave off the dreaded condensation that comes from four people breathing inside a closed up boat.

Two nights ago the hot water bottles came out, the blankets were no longer enough to keep us cosy in bed. And this morning I swapped our bag of summer hats for our winter bag of gloves, woolly hats, neck warmers and scarves.

I met someone earlier who commented, ‘You must be cold’. Not a chance. In my woolly hat, and three warm layers underneath my jacket, I was snug as a bug walking through town. Maybe my nose was cold, but not much else.

There’s something nice about snuggling in for winter. Cold nights under blankets, brisk crisp days, hot tea and butter melting on toast, hearty soups made from winter vegetables, roasted chestnuts straight from the oven, hot brandy with cloves. I’ve known colder winters, that’s for sure, and I know this one will be brief. I can either fight it or embrace it. I say embrace it.

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Cold

Spring, the fiend, lulled us into the mistaken belief that the coldest days were behind us. After a week of the girls throwing their hot water bottles out of bed in the middle of the night followed by a few nights of not wanting them at all, I put them into storage, thinking I wouldn’t see them again for ten months. I kept mine out just in case, although I hadn’t used it in the last few weeks. I did, however, remove the wool blanket from my side of the bed and for a couple of weeks we woke most mornings to a dry boat, with no condensation dripping from the hatches and walls. It became easier to get out of bed, despite the dark. The mornings were warmer and I wasn’t huddling close to the kettle while it boiled the water for the day’s first cup of tea. Some days, by mid morning I was in sandals and short sleeves, gradually layering up again as the sun moved across the sky and the heat went out of the day. (When Carina’s on the east – Spanish – side of the river, as we are now, our mornings are colder, but our evenings warmer, as we get the benefit of the westward passage sun for longer).

Lambs and kid goats in the fields, blossoms on the almond trees, flowers in bloom, house martins returned from Africa busily feeding their chicks, bees a-buzzing. Ah spring, you tease. Suddenly, the north-westerly wind funnelled its way down the river valley, with blasts of cold air and gusts of 37 knots or more. Boats creaked and jolted and bounced on anchor chains and mooring lines. Hailstones fell and the girls ran into the cockpit to pick them up before they melted.

I got the hot water bottles and the blanket out again, the girls were back in fleecy pyjamas for bedtime, and we dressed in hats, scarves and gloves for the short dinghy trip to school. And then came the coldest morning of all, when we awoke and struggled to get out of bed, only to find Carina covered in a layer of frost, her spray hood and bimini hard and crisp, Julian’s trousers, left out overnight, frosted white and brittle to the touch. I dug out my merino wool thermal vest and longjohns, the girls went off to school dressed for an ascent of Everest. The north wind whipped down the river, laughing at how it fooled us.

In the afternoon a bee landed on my arm. It too had been fooled by the early spring. It was weak and tipsy and even the sugar solution I prepared failed to revive it. It staggered around and a gust of icy wind blew it away. It struggled and died and later I found one of its comrades on the foredeck, a victim of spring’s treachery.

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!