And we’re off!

The wind made the decision for us in the end. A week on and we were still to-ing and fro-ing between sailing east and sailing west. The other sailors we spoke to in Aguadulce didn’t help. ‘Go west to the Rio Guadiana’ one neighbour would tell us. ‘Go east to Corfu’ another would say. Everyone had their favourite places east or west; everyone had good reasons for going one way and not going the other. All this advice, all the research we’d carried out, and we were still none the wiser about which direction we should take.

But the time had come to leave. Carina was ready. More than ready. The jobs to make her seaworthy and comfortable were complete and Julian was now taking on those maybe-some-day-if-I-have-time tasks. Each day we stayed I got a bit more writing done, which was wonderful. But if most of my writing is about our sailing life, then it’s time we did some sailing. The indecision was making us a little more unhinged every day.

The ‘where should we go’ question was getting to us. On Thursday night I asked Julian, ‘What’s the probability we’ll sail west tomorrow?’
‘65%’ he replied.
‘And the probability of sailing east?’
‘And the probability we’ll sail east the following day?’
‘5 to 7%’
Right. Really helpful. What about that other 28 to 30%? Such is life, married to a scientist.
After yet another look at the weather forecast, we went to bed on Thursday night no closer to a decision.

We still didn’t know which direction to go on Friday morning, but we decided to go anyway. The east wind strongly suggested that we would sail west, but we might be able to tack southeast, around the Cabo de Gata to San Jose. So we got ready. We said our goodbyes to our good friends – Eric across the pontoon who has been a wonderful neighbour; Jessica at the marina office who has been so helpful and generous for the past six months; we tried phoning Ray to say goodbye; and Fi brought us round a tub of her home-made fudge for the trip.

Shortly before one o’clock, after filling up with diesel and handing over our marina keys, we were off. We motored out and once clear of the marina wall we headed roughly south west, quickly hoisting the reefed mainsail to see where the wind wanted us to go. The force 4-5 east-southeast wind and the short waves suggested that we could sail west quite comfortably but, while east around the Cabo de Gata was possible with a mixture of sail and motor, it would not be a pleasant sail. So as Julian pulled out a little over half the genoa, I set a course of 215˚ and we were on our way west, the decision made at last.

The three hour sail to Almerimar was pleasant, perfect conditions for a first sail in over six months. Aguadulce quickly disappeared into the haze, the mountains of Las Alpujarras ghostly behind, and soon we were passing Roquetas de Mar – the town itself, then the holiday resort, and then the kilometres and kilometres of greenhouses, growing Europe’s fruit and vegetables. Before long, Almerimar appeared in the distance on the coastal plain, and we were changing tack and heading in. Having been here last year in late September, arrival procedure at the marina was familiar to us, and we were soon at our berth for the night – next to an Irish pub!

The girls and I quickly jumped onto dry land, not bothering to tidy up after our sail. I took the girls to a playground they enjoyed when we were here last September, and we wandered home via the supermarket, the girls excitedly pointing out places they remembered from when we were last here.

So, we’re on our way. We have no ultimate destination. We will go where the wind takes us, and see what new adventures we can have along the way.


3000 miles but not all plain sailing

by Julian

Over the last three years, we have sailed 3000 miles in Carina. Almost all of this has been just the four of us. It is the end of the year, so time for reflection and where better to start than with the things that went wrong.
JulianSailingWhen we set out, our open water sailing experience was about 1600 miles for me and 600 miles for Martina. But this is meaningless. Martina’s 600 miles were 50% as crew and 50% as a passenger. She had completed her RYA yachtmaster theory and her RYA dayskipper practical, but she wasn’t even close to sailing a boat independently. I had lots of experience sailing small boats inland, I had completed my RYA coastal skipper practical course but not attempted the exam, and I had skippered a yacht a couple of times but  always with someone more experienced on board. So we were bound to make some mistakes when we set out.


1. Don’t assume there isn’t a gas rig there

Our first major crossing to Ireland two years ago involved a black night with very thick fog. We were still many miles off the Irish coast when we started to hear a strange signal. What was it? I woke Martina and we both went up on deck. It wasn’t a ship. There was nothing marked on the paper chart and we were just about to check the electronic chart plotter when a voice came over the radio “This is the stand-off boat for the Head of Kinsale gas rig. Your present course will take you into a restricted area. Please alter course.” A quick zoom in on the chart plotter revealed that we were a mile away from the restricted area. We altered course and ten minutes later the thick fog lifted to reveal two giant gas rigs lit up like Christmas trees. In fact they reminded me of the flying saucer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

2. My ‘Open Water 2 : Adrift’ moment

We had just put the sails on Carina for the first time and were out for our first ever sail when we anchored in a cove near Torquay. We were sitting happily in the cockpit when Lily decided to throw the winch handle overboard. I am a strong swimmer and have some experience as a diver. We were in a sheltered cove, near a beach and the water was about 5 metres deep. I reckoned I stood a chance of retrieving the winch handle, so I jumped in. The water was too murky to find it. I then realised that, unlike the charter yachts I’d been on previously, I couldn’t get back on board Carina! Of course at that time I hadn’t yet made my rope ladder and the dinghy was deflated and stowed on deck. After several attempts and great difficulty I eventually managed to pull myself on board with the help of a rope chucked over the side, but I know I looked pretty stupid.

3. Headlands on a lee shore

It took me two years of sailing Carina and three similar situations, for me to learn a valuable lesson about rounding headlands. If you are sailing close hauled, never assume the tack you are on will get you around a headland. First, the wind is blowing you onto shore. Second, no matter how insignificant the headland, there will often be a change in wind direction, usually strengthening as well, along with worsening sea conditions. Effectively sailing single handed in 2012, with Martina taking care of the kids (one reason why I probably hadn’t attempted to change tack), I was thankfully able to react before things got out of hand. Heart in mouth I usually don’t bother to tell anyone, I’m sure I’d only worry them. Now I know why my dad was never happy sailing like that!

4. Slipping the anchor

Twice this year we have slipped the anchor. The first time was near Truro, Cornwall, England. For various reasons, I didn’t have enough chain out. The wind got up and steadily built to a fierce onshore near gale. The bay shallowed gently and we were about to go aground. Martina tried to turn the engine on and the throttle didn’t work. We went aground. I quickly got into the dinghy and motored out to throw in an extra anchor upwind of Carina. The extra anchor held us and as the rising tide re-floated us I had time to look at the engine. Somehow the throttle cable had popped out of the new control lever we had only just had fitted by Dicky B Marine in Plymouth. This was only the second day of using it since it was fitted. Luckily it didn’t cost us our boat or our lives.

The second time was in Ria de Arousa, Spain. This time a less dangerous but equally strong offshore breeze got up, and the next thing I knew we were bumping up to a large buoy of one of the mussel rafts (the raft itself was thankfully on the beach). A little epoxy filler was needed and I pulled up the greenest stretch of anchor chain I have ever seen.

5. We’re not where we thought we were!

We had already successfully sailed through the Chenal du Four in Brittany once, so maybe I was a bit too casual on the return trip north last year. I completely misidentified a mark. We don’t have a chart plotter in the cockpit so it is necessary to pop down to the chart table to see the electronic chart. Thankfully things looked wrong enough that I did just that. We were out at sea but had I not altered course things could have been messy as rocks were not far from the surface. On another occasion I entered the Ria de Arousa through the wrong channel. Not that this wasn’t possible, given the relatively good conditions of the day, it was just not what I had planned. I could see the marks and they looked fine but the rocks looked awfully close together. I popped down and had a look at the plotter. We were fine but I was sure my passage plan of the morning didn’t look quite like this. It wasn’t until after the sail I realised what had happened.

6. When the wind blows

In 2013, my friend John joined us for a trip to France. He had been on boats before but had never done any sea sailing. Heading from Fowey to Roscoff the forecast gave west-southwest to southwesterly winds which would give us at least 50 degrees sailing off the wind. Force 4 to 5, occasional showers (some thundery) didn’t sound too bad. At 12 tonnes, Carina is a heavy boat for her 36ft, and she doesn’t have a large sail area. Nevertheless, given the crew and the night crossing, I put a reef in the mainsail and reefed in some of the headsail, reducing their area, and we travelled along a little slower than we could have done. Then I spotted the thunderstorm. I thought it would miss us but it didn’t. I should have reacted in precaution but I didn’t and the storm hit us relatively quickly. The next 30 minutes were accompanied by force 7 to 8 winds, with two gusts just tipping over to force 9. This was made even more spectacular by the continual lightning flashing all around, the earsplitting thunder and the violent horizontal hailstorm making it nearly impossible to see anything. Somehow we got through it without anything breaking (apart from the toilet seat). What a ride for a first time sailor! I can only say John proved himself to be a pretty tough cookie. He didn’t abandon us the moment we got to France and he proved very useful on the helm for someone with so little experience.


It’s not all plain sailing. However, incidents are getting fewer. I don’t sail close to lee shores unless I am coming into port and absolutely have to (generally the engine will be running even if still under sail). I check every inch of the passage on the most up to date detailed chart I possess and always work on the assumption that there is going to be something unexpected out there, I just don’t know about it yet. Starting out as relative amateurs we have sailed 3000 miles aboard Carina and, whilst neither of us are great sailors, we are getting a lot better. One thing for certain is that things do go wrong. We just have to work at reducing the risks and making sure we know how to deal with problems when they occur.

Racing to the Algarve

We slipped out of the marina at Doca de Alcântara in Lisbon, knowing that over the next few days we would cover a lot of ground, as we made our way to the Algarve. The coast between Lisbon and the south of Portugal is sparsely populated, with long stretches offering no harbour or protection to a passing vessel.

I made supper while Julian sailed us down the River Tagus, back to Cascais. We ‘spanked’ along (to unashamedly steal a phrase from Chris on Tallulah May) aided by the current, registering 10.1 knots at one point – I had no idea Carina could hit such speeds.

After a night at anchor in Cascais we turned south early in the morning while the girls still slept. Our 53-mile passage to Sines was uneventful. We motored for a few hours until we had enough wind to sail and then averaged 5 knots for the rest of the day. We weren’t sure what to expect of Sines. We knew it was a large cargo terminal with petro-chemical industries, and a woman I met in Lisbon referred to it as ‘the sad town’. Back in the early 1970s Sines had been a quiet fishing village, but was rapidly transformed by the building of the cargo terminal and industrial port. However, the pilot book assured us that once you got beyond the harbour wall, the heavy industry was out of sight.

Early morning Sines from the sea

Early morning Sines from the sea

We found both to be true. As we sailed into Sines we saw a line of cargo ships and oil tankers waiting to enter the port and we were hit by that smell of heavy industry recognisable to anyone who has ever visited Port Talbot in Wales. Stinky! Yet where we anchored was pleasant, with a pretty beach and a nice looking town. Passage making was our priority, so we didn’t leave Carina. We arrived in Sines at 7pm and departed at 7am on our next leg.

The next day began in the same uneventful way, motoring first until we had the wind to sail. I longed to see a whale and had even dreamed of one while I slept in Sines. But it wasn’t to be. Apart from a couple of dolphins and a sun fish between Cascais and Sines, we have seen precious little wildlife along the Portuguese coast.

Sines to the Enseada de Sagres, on the south coast, was 64 miles and we hoped to make it before dark. It was a hot day, but with a pleasant breeze. At 4pm, out of nowhere, a fog rolled in across the sea. It was a strange sensation. The sun still shone down hot and bright, but we had visibility of only about 50 metres when the fog was at its worst, and we still had a good wind to sail. Double watch, fog horn blowing, high alert! We would soon round the Cabo de Sao Vicente, the sharp south-western corner of Portugal.

We were blind, navigating by our chart plotter and making provision in case the chart plotter failed. Thankfully that didn’t happen. The pilot book told us we were more likely to hear Cabo de Sao Vicente before we saw it, as fog is such a common occurrence on this coast. We did indeed hear the fog horn long before we saw the cape. We were past the cape and had changed tack to the east when the fog lifted. And what a sight it was! The sheer cliffs of the south coast of Portugal, the Cabo de Sao Vicente a dramatic right angle marking the south-western corner of Europe.

Spectacular Cabo de Sao Vicente - Europe's southwest corner

Spectacular Cabo de Sao Vicente – Europe’s southwest corner

We were relieved when the fog lifted, but our relief was short-lived. Almost immediately the wind got up to Force 6, gusting to Force 8. We were also negotiating the sprinkling of lobster pot buoys and tunny nets and with some difficulty we pulled in the sails and motored the last mile around the impressive Ponta de Sagres into the Enseada de Sagres, our anchorage for the night. The little bay was surrounded by high red, flat-topped cliffs, and the beach looked inviting, but the wind was too strong and it was too late to go ashore. After the fog and the winds and our rounding of Portugal, we thought it was time to crack open the bottle of Rioja, a birthday present from my friend Stewart Barr back in April! It was worth the wait.

It was a windy night, the boat rocking and jolting and coming between me and my night’s sleep. But we only had a short distance to travel on the last day of our marathon passage from Lisbon. It was windy – Force 6 gusting to 7 – but we only put out the mizzen sail and a little genoa. After half an hour the wind died somewhat, giving us a delightful sail along the red Martian cliffs. The coast was desolate at first, but then the tourist resorts began to appear. After 15 miles we passed Lagos, the biggest tourist town along this coast and a couple of miles later we entered the beach-enclosed lagoon at Alvor. Four days, four anchorages, 150 miles, and here we are in an azure blue lagoon, surrounded by empty golden sandy beaches, and decent-sized towns a walk along the shore in either direction.

Horray, we’re in the Algarve, and here we plan to stay for the next five weeks!

Julian and I go on a date

My friend Katie kindly offered to look after the girls one evening so Julian and I could go out. I imagined a little moonlit table in a plaza, tapas, a bottle of chilled local wine. We’d relax, make plans, enjoy each other’s company. I put on a light summer dress and Julian his best shirt. We walked hand-in-hand up the pontoon, looking forward to the evening ahead. As we walked through the marina gate, we met the middle-aged English couple from the neighbouring pontoon coming in.

They had been less than friendly towards us earlier, so I was surprised when they now decided to engage us in conversation. Earlier in the day, as I’d been hanging towels to dry on the guard rails, I overheard a conversation between them and the local Garda Civil that could have been mistaken for a Little Britain comedy sketch. The two policemen were visiting each yacht to check passports and boats’ papers.

At our neighbour’s boat, I heard one policeman, speaking Spanish-accented English, ask, ‘Your boat insurance papers, please’. The skipper, sitting on his deck replied, in heavily-English-accented Spanish, ‘No hablo Español’. The policeman repeated the question, the skipper repeated the answer. Then he called to his wife. ‘Your boat insurance papers, please’, the policeman said, once again in English, to Her Below Decks when she appeared in the cockpit. ‘He wants the boat insurance papers’, she told her husband. ‘Oh, the insurance papers’, said the skipper and he sent her back below to fetch them. I almost fell down the companionway in my eagerness to recount the incident to Julian and our guest, Katie.

And now, on our first evening out alone in months, this same couple had stopped us for a chat. Well, at least the skipper wanted to chat. Her Below Decks said next to nothing. He enquired as to our sailing plans…and then informed us that our choices were all wrong. We were choosing the wrong places at the wrong times. He informed us of the right places. He told us that they were sorely disappointed with this town. There was nothing going on, it had nothing of interest. I found this odd, considering they had arrived on the day of the town’s biggest festival, and we ourselves had enjoyed days of wonderful cafes, wonderful walks through the ancient town centre, a wonderful museum, wonderful beaches. Our only complaint was that it was too hot to go exploring the surrounding hills. And in every guide book we read, the town was noted as perhaps the most beautiful in the Rias. But we were WRONG. And the skipper told us why.

Still giving this couple the benefit of the doubt, we gave ourselves more rope to hang by when we informed them of our long-term dream of crossing the Atlantic and one day passing through the Panama Canal. Julian told them that we currently lack the finances to equip the boat with an autopilot or wind-vane steering system. The skipper was incredulous. How could we live in such primitive conditions? ‘You’ll pick up an auto steering system for less than £1000. If you don’t get it you’ll soon stop sailing altogether’. He went on to expertly inform us that our Wifi capabilities are rubbish (we know) and that we could get a decent system for ‘less than £1000’. ‘And you’re sailing with the sheets forward of the cockpit?’ he asked with a smirk. ‘You need to bring them back to the cockpit’, and then informed us how we should rig our sails for easier sailing. This was helpful advice, but given in such a condescending way that I wanted to punch him.

He then enquired about our fridge, and we made the fatal error of telling him that we live fridgeless when at anchor. He was beside himself with joy at the chance to tell us again what we were doing wrong. ‘You need a better array of solar panels. You’d get sorted for (you’ve guessed it) less than £1000. You need to change over to LED lighting’. He informed us that their saloon is lit by 19 LED lights. I imagined something akin to Las Vegas in there.

We have had nothing but positive experiences with Spanish officials – Garda Civil and customs officers – but the skipper told us we should be careful, he didn’t trust them. When we told him we’d cruised in Ireland a couple of years ago, he made some equally disparaging comments that started with ‘Well, knowing the Irish…’ That enamored me to him no end, I can tell you!

All those ‘less than one thousand pounds’ he was so eager for us to spend add up, and when, an hour later, Julian and I eventually escaped this know-it-all, we reflected on what we would do if we had £1000 to spare. A new dinghy maybe, so our feet don’t get wet every time we go the short distance to shore – a dinghy that’s more dinghy and less patches. New anchor chain maybe, to replace the rusty anchor chain we’ve currently got out. LED lights, refrigeration and high-tech communication system are way down our list of priorities.

Almost every day we meet sailors with years and years of experience who are generous with their advice, interesting to talk to, and who help us to develop our sailing skills and improve the way we do things. They give us advice about great places to visit and places to avoid. They are encouraging and inspiring. But this guy got our backs up so much with his know-it-all condescending attitude.

But when he told us he’d been cruising in Spain for the past fifteen years, I wondered how he’d managed to avoid learning enough Spanish even to understand a Spaniard speaking English! We eventually did find that little table in the moonlit plaza, with its tapas and chilled local wine. But I’m sure we did our date all wrong!

Beach Interlude

For a week we sat at anchor at the Ensenada de San Francisco, around the peninsula from the town of Muros. We had been there for two nights before going to the marina at Muros, and we were so enamoured by the place that we couldn’t wait to get back for a more extended stay.

The sharp rugged peaks on the western side of the bay stood out against the deep blue sky, and the golden beaches glittered in the sun. Each morning we took our time aboard Carina, enjoying leisurely breakfasts, reading, writing and doing maths with the girls, and attending to chores. Julian repaired the genoa furler and made sewing repairs to the sail itself. We thoroughly cleaned the boat, and over the course of the week I caught up on laundry. I hand-washed on deck and the clothes dried in a matter of hours in the scorching sun. I wrote at my leisure and the girls enjoyed some craft activities. Lily sewed a cushion from a kit she had been given as a birthday present and then sewed a handbag from some knitted scraps I had lying around; and together the girls made and wrote birthday cards for Grandad and his twin sister, Aunty Alison.

Busy sewing above....

Busy sewing above….

...and below deck.

…and below deck.

After lunches of salad, chorizo and crusty bread in the cool of the saloon, we headed to shore. On a few of the days, Julian rowed the girls to shore, and I chose to swim. After the heat of the boat the sea was too inviting to resist, so I slipped into the cooling water and swam the 300 or 400 metres to shore.

After mornings in the close confines of the boat, afternoons and evenings on the beach at Louro were sheer joy. The girls and I didn’t venture far from the dinghy – there was no reason to – while Julian went off on long exploratory walks.

From our dinghy base on the soft golden sand we swam in the warm azure water, built sandcastles and played on the rocks. It was such a safe and quiet beach that I was happy to let the girls play in the gently lapping water while I sat close by and read my book, or alternatively, for them to play on the sand or amongst the rocks while I swam lengths parallel to shore where I could keep an eye on them.

Not far from home!

Not far from home!

We met the same people on the beach every day – Spanish holiday-makers of all ages – who were friendly and kind. On our last day the girls befriended a family of three children. The nine year old, Sophia, spoke excellent English from attending an English academy two evenings a week, and the five children played together for hours.

We left the beach around 8.30 each evening and walked along the street to the supermarket to buy the next day’s provisions and to have cold beer (for the adults) and orange (for the kids). By 9.30 we were back on the boat, cooking a quick late supper and in bed by midnight.

Each new day was much the same as the one before. It was a lovely pleasant relaxing interlude amidst our generally shorter visits to places. I could have stayed another week, but the weather changed and we had other places we wanted to be.

Gallic heroism

We had been at anchor in the ria for a few days and the weather was mixed. On one side were the moored local fishing boats and beyond us three other yachts – a French family, a Dutch couple and two German men. As evening wore on the wind grew stronger and a steady rain fell. It was about 9pm and I was serving supper on the table in the saloon when something caught my eye through the port light. It was the mast of another yacht, weaving about precariously between us and the Dutch boat.

Nosiness getting the better of me, I stepped up into the cockpit and watched as the crew of this new boat dropped anchor under sail. This was no evening for sailing in the confined space of the back end of a ria, and I assumed their engine was not working. The next thing the yacht – flying a French flag and with five adults on board – drifted dangerously close to the Dutch boat, much to the surprise and consternation of the Dutch couple!

I went back down to the saloon to eat dinner. Lily, dinner quickly eaten, went into the cockpit. ‘There’s someone in the water’, she called down. We assumed she was playing a trick on us and we’d go up to take a look and Lily would say ‘haha, only joking’! But not this time. There really was someone in the water. The French boat had by now drifted past the Dutch boat, past the other boats, and towards the rocky shore, with two anchor chains hanging from the bow and one of the crew in the water. Like the crew of the other three yachts at anchor, we watched the action from our cockpit.

The crewman in the water bobbed up and down on the choppy sea. When one of the others handed him down a knife, he clenched it between his teeth and disappeared under the water! Fouled prop, we thought. Poor guy has no choice but to dive into the chilly choppy sea.

Moments later he was back on the boat, in black swimming shorts and a towel draped around his shoulders. Now that I could see more than just his bobbing head on the surface of the water I realised he looked remarkably like one of my senior colleagues at Exeter University and imagining my colleague engaged in such heroics made me laugh hard! By and by, water and black exhaust fumes began to pump from the exhaust pipe, and we knew the engine was working again.

The yacht, however, was still drifting dangerously close to the rocky shore and our swimming hero appeared to be the only one eager to do anything about it, while the rest of the crew stood around looking dazed. For the boat to get away from the rocks, the two anchors needed to be hauled in, but it appeared that the anchor windlass was not working and our hero could not pull them in by hand. Next thing we knew, our hero had dived off the bow and disappeared down the anchor chain. Whether his actions saved the day or not, we don’t know, but a few minutes later he was swimming alongside and once again climbing aboard astern.

One anchor was hauled in and that freed the boat enough to get forward momentum away from the rocks. It was only a matter of minutes before the yacht had anchored successfully and the crew had all disappeared below decks.

The next morning, as we prepared to depart, we saw the skipper in the dinghy, repeatedly failing to start the outboard motor. After ten or fifteen minutes, he called up to the crew and someone brought him a jerry can of petrol. Oops! But, despite putting fuel in the tank, the outboard still wouldn’t start, and Julian and I imagined our hero once again diving into the sea, clenching the dinghy painter between his teeth, and swimming to shore, hauling the dinghy behind him. And we imagined his heroic return with a dinghy full of coffee and croissants for his famished crewmates. Alas, our fantasies were not to be fulfilled. With the useless outboard still attached, the five climbed into the little dinghy and our hero paddled them, canoe-style, to shore, like a latter day Merriweather Lewis!

You see, this is why I hate looking like a fool when undertaking boat manoeuvres. There are always people like me around, smugly sitting in their cockpits, glasses of gin and tonic in hand, guffawing at my poor seamanship.

Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven

It feels like a long time has passed since I last wrote about our travels. We’ve been to quite a few places in a short space of time, but have been without Internet access in most of them.

In Corme we enjoyed a long walk through a rural landscape very different to any we’ve walked in since our journey began. Just a short distance inland the air grew heavy and oppressive, and the plants, birds and insects were new to us. As the children played at a woodland playground behind a stretch of protected sand dunes we encountered our first lizard – a little lime green fellow basking in the sun on a kerb.

Katie on the beach at Corme

Katie on the beach at Corme

We had fun on the beach at Corme, swimming in the crystal clear water, and one evening we had a barbecue on a huge beach that we had all to ourselves. But we were constantly looking to the sky during our stay at Corme, willing the dark clouds to stay away. Alas, they never complied, and all those wet sandy clothes from days on the beach caused me no small amount of annoyance.

Most of our last twenty-four hours in Corme were bumpy and misty, until the wind changed suddenly, shortly before dawn, and all was calm and clear again.

We had a delightful sail from Corme to Ria de Camariñas, 20 miles farther along the Costa del Morte – the Coast of Death(!) – and spent the night in the Club Nautico de Camariñas – the most inexpensive marina we’ve been to…ever! Arriving into Camariñas the genoa (the large sail at the front of the boat) refused to furl and Julian had to drop it and quickly stow it in the fore cabin (Lily and Katie’s bedroom). A pin had come out of the roller furler, causing the furling mechanism to jam. Our genoa at present is folded and stuffed into the aft heads.

The Club Nautico had that same international feel as Falmouth. It was small and intimate, with yachts from the US, Australia, the UK and, of course, the Dutch and French yachts that are ubiquitous along this coast. With the genoa out of action, we considered staying in Camariñas for a few days. It was cheap, with access to fresh water, electricity, and free Wifi, and the club’s cafe/bar was only 20 metres from our boat! But the forecast suggested that if we didn’t leave the next day then we would be in for an uncomfortable few days with the wind hitting us on the pontoon or at anchor. So, despite the advantages offered by Camariñas, we spent less than 18 hours there, and were once again out on the water.

The last town on the Coast of Death!

The last town on the Coast of Death!

There was no wind anyway on the next leg of our journey, so genoa or no genoa, there was no sailing to be had. We motored for six hours in dead calm, past Fisterra – the most westerly point of mainland Europe – and were, for the first time since departing Plymouth, not on a south westerly course. We were past the Costa del Morte and into the Ria de Muros.

The Ria de Muros is heavenly. The mountains are rugged, the beaches are long, golden and sandy, the water is aquamarine, and the sky is the bluest blue. Picturesque ancient towns and villages are nestled amongst the hills. These collections of white-walled, orange-roofed buildings look pretty from a distance, and once amongst them, they are warrens of narrow cobbled streets, with fountained plazas and ancient stone churches.

The beach at Louro

The beach at Louro

We spent our first two nights at anchor off the beach in Louro, the first very touristy town we have come to. On our first morning we rowed to shore. The girls and I spent the day on the beach, never going more than 20 metres from our dinghy, with its supplies of food, water and sunscreen. We built sandcastles and swam in the warm sea. Lily really got to grips with swimming without any buoyancy aids for the first time. The water was warm enough for her to want to stay in for a long time, and she swam her little heart out. Each time she’d say ‘Just one more try’, and I had to tell her she could keep at it for as long as she wanted. By the time Julian returned from a few hours of exploring the nearby town of Muros she was swimming a few metres (assisted by the incoming waves) and keen to show Dad her new-found skills.

We lifted anchor this morning and motored the couple of miles around the corner to Muros. The marina is lovely, with the office and facilities situated in an old house. I’m currently sitting in a large cool living room with lots of comfy sofas. The showers are beyond luxurious, there’s a shaded garden, and even a coffee machine in the kitchen. For live aboard cruisers – as many of the sailors around here are – this is luxury indeed.



Tomorrow we will explore the town some more, as I carry on with getting laundry done. My priority at this marina is getting all the bedding washed. We’re all in sleeping bags tonight, as our duvets, sheets and pillowcases are all in various stages of being washed and dried!!

The Captain of Carina

It’s just three weeks shy of ten years since I walked into the Machar Bar in Old Aberdeen one Friday evening to meet my friend Alice Baker. When Alice arrived I asked her if she knew the hunk standing at the bar with her colleagues. He was the new guy in her department. ‘Introduce me to him’, I insisted. The hunk and I have been together ever since.

On our first date I discovered he was a sailor and a diver. I was a diver who dreamed of being a sailor, so it was meant to be. My first proper sailing experience (an afternoon in the Whitsundays in 1996 doesn’t count) came a year later when I sailed with him, his dad and uncle from The Hamble to Cherbourg. I was hooked on sailing the moment I stepped on board.

Oh Captain, my Captain

Oh Captain, my Captain

Since taking ownership of Carina in late 2011 he has kept our dream of this live-aboard life afloat. All that first winter he worked tirelessly through every cold miserable weekend, the boat cold and moldy, with no water in the tank and the heater broken. He went through the boat, bit by painstaking bit, fixing the things he knew how to fix, and teaching himself how to fix the rest. He was electrician, plumber, mechanic, painter and decorator, cleaner and general dog’s body all rolled into one. He would return home to our flat on Sunday evenings smelling of engine oil and fuel, with cuts to his hands, and bone weary from his exertions.

In six months of weekends, he had transformed Carina, and we were ready to move on board. Since then his efforts have continued, and thanks to him our boat is safe and seaworthy, and warm and comfortable to live in.

Despite the sailing courses I have taken over the years, I still consider myself a novice sailor. The captain, on the other hand, has been sailing dinghies since he was five and yachts since he was seventeen. He knows the subtle adjustments to sails or heading to get the most out of the boat, and he has a sound knowledge of lights and buoys and the rules of the road.

I’m in awe of the ease with which he navigates. Given time, silence and a calm sea, I can read a chart, plan a passage, work out tide heights and streams. But if I was to plan every trip, it would take a week of planning, double checking, and doubting myself before we embarked on a nervous half-day sail. The captain works it all out with ease, and retains all the numbers and navigation data in his head that I would have to return to and read every five seconds.

When he’s not sailing the boat, or maintaining and fixing her, he’s out foraging for wild food. These days he brings home wild spinach, ramsons, marsh samphire, alexanders, wild fennel and other lovely greens, which one or other of us cooks. This past year he’s taken to baking bread, making his own sourdough starter and uttering such immortal lines as ‘Sourdough is a really interesting topic’. His sourdoughs, pitta breads, naans, and wraps are insanely tasty.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s far from perfect. He’s curmudgeonly, stubborn, an insufferable show-off, he’s ALWAYS right, and he claims never to read my blog. But I’m very glad I spotted him at the Machar Bar ten years ago!

Offerings to the Weather Gods

Recently I’ve been playing the game of watching the weekend weather. Around Wednesday I’ll start checking the Plymouth forecast on the BBC website. If I don’t like that I’ll try And if that weather forecast doesn’t satisfy me, I’ll go to the weather app on my phone. The annoying thing is, they all tell me the same thing. I’m hoping the ‘rain and drizzle, heavier bursts at times, showers or longer spells of rain, locally heavy’ of one website will be contradicted by ‘endless sunshine, light breezes, prepare for get-out-there-and-sort-your-boat-out weather’ on another website.

Wednesday morning, no joy. Perhaps the updated afternoon forecast will be better. ‘Rain rain rain’. Ah well, it is only Wednesday. No point getting too wound up, it’s not going to be too accurate anyway. Thursday morning – ‘rain, rain and more of the same’, Thursday afternoon ditto. Need I go on? You get the picture.

Julian and Lily fishing in the rain last year

Julian and Lily fishing in the rain last year

Julian’s ‘infinite to-do list’ grows longer, as he sits in Exeter each weekend, longing to be down in Plymouth, tackling jobs on Carina. Right now there are jobs on deck that need to be dealt with. But he needs at least one dry day to complete them. It’s January, so he’s fighting a losing battle against limited daylight hours and typical south west of England winter weather (I wonder has he read my Humility post?). And because I’m working, the only time he’s free to go to Plymouth is at the weekend. So I can’t even enjoy my walk to work on those crisp fresh frosty mid-week mornings, because those are days when I want Julian to be at the boat, if I didn’t have to attend to the small matter of working and earning money! (I’m reminded again of Inuit hunters I’ve worked with, many of whom encounter one of two problems when planning to hunt – they have the time to hunt, but can’t afford to; or they can afford to, but don’t have enough time)

But despite that, work aboard progresses in fits and starts. At the end of the year the engineer was aboard to fix the heater. He installed the new heating system at the start of last summer, but it had only been trial tested. When Julian tried to use it in December, it failed to work. The engineer repaired a seal on the fuel line, and when Julian visited Carina in early January the heater worked a treat, keeping him warm and giving the boat a much needed drying out.

yacht 013On that January visit, Julian attended to all the usual jobs – keeping the sea cocks moving, checking the bilges (which were remarkably dry, considering the weather we’ve had), and emptying the moisture traps (also reasonably dry). Having removed one dead battery, we’re now running on two domestic batteries. We’ll either buy a second-hand battery to replace the dead one, or at some point we’ll replace all three with new ones.

He tells me Carina’s looking a bit green, so her decks are in need of a thorough scrubbing – something that doesn’t require dry weather, but if far more pleasant to tackle when it’s dry. The foresail and mainsail need to be taken off and cleaned, and the running rigging removed to be brought back to the house and washed in the washing machine.

In September, the electrical socket in the cockpit broke and, although Julian replaced it, he didn’t have time to install it neatly. The temporary set-up needs to be made permanent, and that is a job that requires dry weather. We have a broken stancheon amidships to port that needs replacing, a job made more difficult by the netting that prevents kids, adults, screwdrivers and winch handles from falling in the sea. And there’s the anchor windlass that needs servicing.

Will the weather gods smile on us this weekend? I’ve just checked the forecast. Tomorrow’s to be dry. So perhaps if he goes to Plymouth this evening, he will be ready to jump into action at first light, to make the most of those short hours of sunlight on a rare rain-free Saturday.


Missing Carina

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.

Katie - master of all she surveys (including the dirty dish cloths!)

Katie – master of all she surveys (including the dirty dish cloths!)

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.

Lily at the helm on a passage from Mevagissey to Plymouth

Lily at the helm on a passage from Mevagissey to Plymouth

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.