Protect your eyes!

In May, Lily’s left eye and then her right eye appeared bloodshot. At first I put it down to the use of sunscreen. The strong summer sun means the girls and I were slapping on sun protection every time we go out walking, swimming or are doing outdoor chores. But when I thought about it, I realised that the redness in Lily’s eyes was not the same as that caused by sunscreen. For one, the sunscreen causes a general redness, like you get after swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool. Lily’s eyes had triangular redness starting at a point at her tear duct near her nose and fanning out to her iris. Lily, being at an age when she is conscious of her appearance, asked me frequently about this redness and when it would go away.

Her left eye gradually cleared of any redness, but then she developed it in her right eye. Then one day, seeing her in a different light, I noticed bumps on the edge of her iris, where the redness ended. There were two of these little bumps, and they looked liked blisters. She didn’t complain of any pain, but said her eyes often felt dry. I took her to the doctor the next day.

The doctor immediately diagnosed pterygium, also known as ‘surfer’s eye’.  The redness was the immediately recognisable first symptom of tissue growth on the surface of the eyeball. The bumps on the edge of the iris are lesions and the growth and lesions may continue to grow until they eventually cover the pupil, leading to blurred vision, astigmatism and corneal scarring. It can affect one or both eyes. Laser surgery and replacement of eye tissue with amniotic membrane are two treatments, although these treatments are only necessary if vision becomes affected.

The cause is simple – excessive exposure to sun, wind and sand. Well, living the lifestyle we do, on a boat, in countries at lower latitudes, spending lots of time on beaches, my children are prime candidates for such eye damage. The problem is most common among people who live closer to the equator and among men aged 20 to 40 (because they are the ones who spend more time out of doors).

Our mission now is to prevent Lily’s pterygium from getting worse. The doctor prescribed the use of artificial tears (eye drops) and the wearing of sunglasses and a sunhat when outside. After using the eye drops for a couple of days the redness had disappeared and the doctor advised using the eye drops whenever the redness recurs. Julian, down in Vila Real a couple of days later, bought both girls good quality polarising sunglasses that provide both UVA and UVB protection. Now we insist they both wear sunglasses and sunhats when out during the day. Although Lily was quite upset by it all at first, she has grown used to wearing her sunglasses now, especially because Dad bought her such cool ones!

I wanted to share this as a word of warning. No matter where you live, but particularly if you live in a part of the world that gets prolonged and strong sunlight, protect your eyes and the eyes of your loved ones. Lily’s eye damage is the latest in a line of northern Europeans living here on the river dealing with the consequences of sun damage. Pre-cancerous moles and melanomas seem to be on the rise these days amongst our friends.

Also, a word of warning about the type of sunglasses you buy. Dark lenses don’t necessarily mean sun protection. Make sure your glasses and your kids’ glasses provide UVA and UVB protection. Dark lenses dilate the pupil and allow more light in, and without ultraviolet protection this leads to even greater sun damage. And, if like me, you wear glasses for short sightedness, pay that extra £10 on your new prescription for the ultraviolet filter.

We will continue to enjoy living in such a sun-kissed part of the world, but from now on we will do so with greater care, not just for our skin, but for our eyes too.

 

Breathing treacle

I haven’t been blogging much lately. Not for lack of material, but for lack of time and energy. With Julian working eight to ten hours a day six days a week at a bar in Alcoutim and my English teaching and online editing jobs taking up fifteen to twenty hours a week, time has become a precious commodity. But I think I would still have time to blog after taking care of the children, doing the housework and shopping, if I wasn’t feeling so lethargic all the time. The reason for my sudden and uncharacteristic lethargy? It’s summer here in southern Iberia and the air is thick as treacle.

After a prolonged spring, summer has come with a bang. Temperatures are 35 to 40˚C every day, and I’m assured it can hit 45˚C in the village in July. All four of us sleep well apart these nights in an effort to keep cool, with all the hatches thrown wide open in an effort to cool Carina. Julian sleeps in the aft cabin, Katie in the fore cabin, and Lily and I sleep in the berths one either side of the saloon. The air cools slowly at night, making for a pleasant first couple of hours every morning. But after the less-than five minute walk to school with the girls just before 9am, I’m sporting an attractive sweaty upper lip and damp patches at my arm pits. Not to worry – all the other mums look the same!

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Not a cloud in the deep blue sky this morning

Each day I have only a few brief hours to get everything done. If I don’t do laundry, boat cleaning and tidying, shopping and any other chores before 11am, then it’s just too hot to do them. On mornings when I have a 9am English class those chores don’t get done at all.

A friend recently gave Katie a hand-me-down bicycle. She was so excited, but there was a problem. The rear tire had a puncture. For days she begged me to repair the puncture, and for days I couldn’t do it, simply because it was too hot a task to undertake in the hot sun. Finally, on Sunday morning, I got out of bed at 8.30 and, before the day grew too hot, I made the repairs. Helping her to learn to ride the bike in the heat is now my challenge!

By the time I collect the girls from school at 2pm, we are all red faced and exhausted, dragging our feet along the street, seeking what tiny patches of shade we can find between school and boat. Once we are back onboard, it’s a quick lunch and then siesta time.

Until recently, I had to enforce siesta, begging and cajoling the girls to lie down and relax for another few minutes, just a few more minutes. These days, they barely touch their lunch, as they are so overheated, and ask to be excused so they can start siesta. While I usually sleep for half an hour to an hour, and then spend an hour reading, the girls rarely sleep. Instead, they read or listen to a story CD or, occasionally, watch a movie. I lie in bed, the air around me thick as tar. Turning on the fan has little effect. It merely turns my conventional oven bedroom into a fan oven.

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This year’s birthday present – a wind scoop

For my birthday, Mammy bought me a wind scoop*; a nifty piece of simple engineering. It’s a shaped piece of sail cloth placed over a hatch on deck to scoop air into and through the boat. Low tech air conditioning. Unfortunately, due to the layout of our deck, our scoop isn’t quite working to its full effect. A stay forward of the fore cabin hatch and the mizzen mast forward of the aft cabin hatch get in the way of setting the scoop in the most optimum position. Still, we’re getting some draft through the boat at some point most days.

At around 5pm every evening we start to get moving again. It’s still unpleasantly hot, so on evenings when I’m not teaching English, or helping to build the set for this Saturday’s medieval play (Lily is knight number five!), the girls and I don our swim suits and head to the Praia Fluvial (river beach) in Alcoutim. I drop my bag under the nearest available sunshade and wade into the water, wallowing like a hippopotamus for the next three hours! Even at 8.30 or 9pm, as we make our way back home, the air is hot.

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The gap-toothed girls have found a novel way to cool down before going to bed every night!

Some evenings, when teaching or set building prevents us going across the river, the girls play on the smaller beach on the Sanlúcar side of the river. Aram, the dad and uncle of three of Lily’s classmates, owns a water adventure business located on the beach, so the three boys are to be found most evenings playing on the beach and my girls join them. If I don’t feel like going to the beach, I can keep an eye on Lily and Katie from Carina’s cockpit.

I have a love-hate relationship with the extreme heat. I love hours of swimming in the river three or four evenings a week. I love that I can indulge in my current endless craving for crisps, as I need to replenish salts. I love the fun the girls have playing with water on the pontoon. I love sitting out on deck late at night and finally feeling cooler air around me. I love a couple of cold glasses of fizzy vino verde at the end of the day. And I love that I can hang sopping wet laundry out to dry, not even bothering to squeeze any excess water out of it, and in an hour it will all be bone dry.

I dislike that I have to stop jobs half way through because I am too hot to carry on. I dislike feeling so tired every afternoon. I dislike the heat-induced grouchiness that descends on all of us. And I dislike having to constantly think about our skin getting burned in these extreme temperatures.

While many of our fellow Rio Guadiana yachties have already sailed down to Ilha da Culatra for the summer, we remain because of school and work. The girls finish school next week, and on July 4th, the three of us are flying north, for six weeks visiting family and friends in England and Ireland and one week by the seaside in Wales. We’re leaving Julian on the river to suffer the worst of the summer heat while he carries on working in the bar. While others might complain if the UK or Irish summer turns out to be rainy and windy, I don’t think the girls and I will mind. We know that in late August we’ll be returning to the hot hot hot Rio Guadiana.

*When I say ‘Mammy bought me a wind scoop’ what I really mean is that, like most birthdays and Christmases, she gave me the money to buy some (to her) bizarre sailing related item!

9 + 9 + 9 = 36

In July 2013, when I spent a week in Ireland, I visited my friend Bernard in Navan. Bernard and his wife Moya have twin girls who are a year older than Lily. They were five at the time of my visit and I remember being mesmerized by what they could do. Their manual dexterity and language abilities were so much more advanced than Lily’s or Katie’s. They could skip with skipping ropes, put slides in their own and each others hair, and have conversations with me and their parents that seemed, at the time, terribly mature. But, you know, they’re Bernard’s kids, so I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

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A year and a half on, and Lily is now five and three quarters and Katie is four and a quarter. When I reflect on what they could not do last year, but can now do with ease, I am astounded by the ability of children to learn so much so fast. Over the years, a great deal of my anthropology practice has focused on how and what we learn about the world around us and how we put our embodied knowledge into practice. So it should come as no surprise that seeing my own children go through this process of engaging with and learning about the world around them is fascinating to me – as I’m sure it is to most parents.

I’m not bragging about how great my kids are. I’m gushing about how great ALL kids are. The ability of children to learn so much so quickly, and to make sense of a very complex world, astounds me. Some people compare kids to sponges soaking up information. But this analogy doesn’t capture the exciting, complicated and innovative ways that children re-organise all the information they receive in order to make sense of it and of the world. All children are learning all the time. They are all learning different things, each one at his or her own unique pace and with his or her unique style. Here are just some of the things my children have learned since last year:

Lily has learned to swim and Katie is nearly there too and both of them love to fully submerge in the water, their little heads disappearing below the waves. They can now both dress themselves, and brush their own hair and teeth. Some mornings, Lily makes breakfast for both of them (Katie’s still too short to reach into our top-opening fridge or to reach the cereal bowls). They can both use knives and forks, although Katie protests loudly at the indignity of having to cut up her own food and prefers her minions to do it for her.

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This time last year, Lily could read simple picture books (we thought them very advanced at the time). When I went to New York I bought her some Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willems, to add to those she was already had at home. However, within a week of returning from New York, her reading ability had advanced beyond Elephant and Piggy. These days, she can read anything. I mean, anything! She doesn’t always understand the words (‘Mummy, what does superficial mean?’, ‘Dad what’s oesophagus?’) but she can pronounce pretty much every word she reads. I’ve heard a rumour that Santa is bringing a dictionary!

Because she is such an avid reader, her spelling is fantastic. Until a couple of months ago she was a cautious speller, and always sought reassurance that she was right. Not any more. Sure, she gets some things wrong, such as ending a word with ‘y’ when it should be ‘ie’. On the other hand, she knows that a word such as ‘pick’ is spelled with a ‘ck’ instead of a mere ‘k’. I can only imagine she knows these things because she reads so much and so she knows what words are supposed to look like. We certainly haven’t taught her. She has never ‘learned’ spellings off by heart the way I had to do for homework when I was a child.

She now has her own email account, and regularly emails Granny and any other family members who take the time to email her.

We have taken a very different approach to Katie’s reading and writing. You might say no approach at all, as our philosophy of unschooling has evolved. With very little input from us, Katie can now read most of her letters, knows what sounds they make and can write many of them. It is now her turn to get to grips with Elephant and Piggy.

Two months ago I wouldn’t have believed it if I was told that Lily would soon be able to add together three numbers in the hundreds. But she does it with ease. Even her mistakes show she’s learning. The other day she added 9 + 9 + 9. Her answer was 36. I told her she needed to try again. Her brow furrowed for a minute and then she said ‘Silly me. That’s four nines. I should have just done three nines’.

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The list of things the girls can do aged four and five that they could not do aged three and four seems almost endless. Their drawing, painting, inventing, role playing and much more besides have all become more complex, detailed and advanced. And they are such great company. They have a much greater awareness now of the impact of what they do and say, and they use that awareness to great advantage, teasing their Dad and me, making us laugh, playing tricks on us. They are avid communicators, talking the hind legs off a donkey at every opportunity, and making friends with people of all ages.

One of the things that I find fascinating is that I always notice a leap in their abilities when they have had new social experiences. After we’ve had visitors, or have spent an out-of-the-ordinary day with family or friends, both girls show an improvement in their aptitude for everything from drawing to mathematics to making conversation. I don’t know what the reasons are for this, but I can almost see the synapses in their brains going into overdrive and ensuring that they respond to these new stimuli and learn quick and fast.

This Christmas, take pleasure in what amazing creatures your children and grandchildren are. Revel in their curiosity and hunger for knowledge. Enjoy their creativity and humour and inventiveness. Answer their questions and laugh at their (awful) jokes. Make the time to listen to what they have to say. Take them seriously. Read to them. Sing to them. Allow them to read to you and sing to you. And accept that they’re smarter than any of us will ever be! Happy Christmas xx

Celtic skin, GAA and kite surfing

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

‘Mum, they’re speaking English’. I hear this from Lily five or six times an hour every time we step off Carina. We are in the Algarve and, for the first time since leaving the UK, we are not the lone British-Irish family amongst the majority local Spanish and Portuguese. Even in Nazaré, the first tourist town we came to on the Portuguese coast, most of the tourists were Portuguese. But here on the Algarve we are surrounded by Irish and, to a lesser extent, British holiday-makers. Everything is geared towards tourism here – waiters, shop assistants and tour operators all speak English (indeed many are English or Irish); menus and signs are written in English; and the shops sell a jaw dropping array of tourist tat. In Alvor, on Saturday evening, I was drawn trance-like into an Irish pub, by the sounds of Gaelic football on the television, and watched ten minutes of the Mayo-Kerry replay before I had to leave. Football, especially at this time of year, chokes me up.

And because we are in a tourist region, prices for everyday food items are staggeringly high. Julian came home earlier today with a few bags of basics, with his wallet 45 euro lighter! If it weren’t for his foraging we would all have to go on crash diets! Earlier this week he found a roadside tree laden with ripe figs – my hero!!

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Each day we meet other families who assume that we too are holiday-makers and we find ourselves living in a strange liminal zone of not being holiday-makers but not quite being not tourists either. To Portuguese we are indistinguishable from the hordes of other short-term visitors, and gone are the pleasant conversations with locals, and the special treatment shown to Lily and Katie. We meet Irish families who have just arrived, skin white as sheets, and those about to depart, skin red as lobsters. I hadn’t realised how tanned I had become until I compared myself to my compatriots!

In Alvor, just along the coast from the large resort town of Lagos, we anchored amidst kite surfers, dreaded jet-skiers (grrrrr), and boat loads of tourists on hour-long trips along the coastline. As we came into the marina at Albufeira, we ran the gauntlet of RIBs packed to capacity with holiday-makings, speeding in and out of the harbour at a rate of one every thirty seconds.

Today, I discovered the greatest thing about Albufeira – between the marina and the town is Rua de Sir Cliff Richard!!! Seemingly, he lives here, though whether he lives on the street bearing his name, I don’t know.

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles....

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles….

...and miles

…and miles

The Algarve is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular with holiday-makers. The yellow cliffs with their profusion of sea stacks and caves, the seemingly endless golden sandy beaches, the warm sea water, and the great weather – who wouldn’t want to come here. But I miss the quiet remote beaches of Galicia. Like I said before, crowds of people overwhelm me, and the noise of these overly-busy town centres quickly make me want to retreat to the quiet of Carina. Bars blaring pop music from MTV (or whatever it is people watch these days), vendors selling noisy battery operated children’s toys on the streets, drunk young tourists. I’m not turning into an old curmudgeon – I always abhorred this stuff.

Thankfully, winter is on its way and the tourists will be in decline for a few months. Maybe I should just stay home with a good book until then!

The world’s greatest swimming pool

We are anchored on the west side of the Ria de Arousa, just off the beach of the pretty town Pobra do Caramiñal. After a few days of intense, oppressive heat, the clouds came over, offering us a welcome respite and a chance, at last, to go walking in the hills. The woman at the tourist office recommended As Piscinas on the Rio Pedras and we figured the 6km round trip wouldn’t be too much for the girls to undertake.

IMG_20140801_134011We walked out of town on a gradual incline, soon getting away from the main road and onto a walking track through the woods. Since arriving in Galicia, we have been struck by the profusion of eucalyptus trees and were so confused by their presence (and not trusting ourselves that that’s what they were, despite all evidence they were) that we turned to the Internet for answers. We discovered eucalyptus trees were introduced to the region from Australia only 150 years ago, for pulp and charcoal production, but quickly became a problematic invasive species, rapidly spreading over the hills and blocking natural wildlife corridors. Yet, despite the harm they cause, it is impossible to not be impressed by their beauty and aroma. Their slender silver trunks, stripped of bark, and dusky leaves cast a grey-blue glow on the land. Their soft swooshing as they sway in the breeze, and their unmistakable eucalyptus aroma, makes walking through these woods a joy to the senses. I can’t help but wonder what these hills were like before they took over.

IMG_20140801_135516We walked up the beautiful river valley – at times along a path than ran beside the boulder strewn river, at other times alongside small fields of vines or maize, the tinkling sound of the river always in our ears.

Katie contemplating the vines

Katie contemplating the vines

Upwards we went until the sound of teenagers alerted us to the proximity of the first pool on the upper reaches of the river. We climbed down the bank to a pool in the river where a family with four teenagers swam and ate their lunch. We ate our picnic lunch sitting on the rocks with our feet dipped in the fast flowing river, but then decided to search for more pools farther upstream.

DSCI4212We walked for another fifteen minutes until we reached the last of the pools, one of the most magical places I have ever been. The bedrock was smooth underfoot as we stepped into the warm river water, shallow enough in places for Lily and Katie to stand up, but deep enough elsewhere for Julian and me to enjoy a swim. A little higher up, a waterfall fell into a smaller pool. Julian and I took turns sitting on a rock underneath the waterfall. It was a natural Jacuzzi and we sat there with the water foaming and bubbling around us, massaging our bodies and roaring in our ears.

DSCI4195A natural water slide led from our pool to the next one downriver, lined with slick moss, and Julian entertained himself for ages by repeatedly sliding down. I tried it once and laughed so hard my sides ached. That first day we failed to convince the girls to have a go, but when we returned the next day, Lily eagerly went down the slide sitting on Julian’s lap.

DSCI4206Katie found a little pool all to herself and, holding on to a ledge, splashed and kicked her legs and had a glorious time. When not in the water, the girls foraged for juicy blackberries in the brambles.

My own little bit of paradise

My own little bit of paradise

The most wonderful thing, however, was that we had the place all to ourselves. Our own private piece of paradise. All along the 3km walk back home the girls asked if we could go back again. So we did, two days later. This time we shared ‘our’ pool with some other families, and later moved down the river to another pool that we had all to ourselves. What a treat!

 

 

The skipper speaks

DSCI4137My tea has nearly been knocked over by a fairy princess ballerina waving a polar bear. Martina is sunbathing on the deck reading her book. She finished one book and has immediately started another. We ate dinner extremely early this evening, 7 o’clock! A meal of stir-fried whatever was left in the fridge, overcooked in the pressure cooker. Really tasty though*. Katie’s dinner has just been finished off by Martina, Katie having left anything that cannot be listed under the heading ‘carbohydrate’.

Today has been hot and sticky. We have been on anchor for 5 days and we have not left the boat today for the first time since I cannot remember when. Rianxo looks lovely, what we can see of it from the south, all tall trees and beautiful buildings. The beach is crowded with colourful parasols; power boats of all kinds race about, usually with a man standing up precariously at the wheel and a slim woman lounging in a bikini. If only our fridge wasn’t the hottest place on the boat, due to power considerations, I could be relaxing with a cold glass of G&T. Well I could if the only alcohol on the boat wasn’t my uncle Ian’s marrow wine.

Tomorrow morning we plan to go into the harbour here. I am quietly bricking myself because none of my sources of information seem to agree with each other. The 2000 Atlantic Spain and Portugal pilot book, the 2007 Galician pilot book, the 2014 Almanac, the paper chart, the electronic chart, the tourist leaflet from Boiro, the bloke in the chandlery in Vilagarcia and, last but not least, the tall blonde Finnish lady in a bikini shouting from her position draped across the front of a yacht as we left our last anchorage. If only I had been bothered to run the gauntlet of speedboats and parasols to recce the harbour by land I would lie easier tonight. Goodness this is a hard life!!

*Editor’s note: I didn’t force him to say it was tasty!

Learning something new every day

I’m writing an article for a home education magazine at the moment and as I was pondering it the other day, I started to think about the day-to-day education of the girls. So I thought back over the previous twenty-four hours and I realised two things. First, it was a pretty typical twenty-four hour period. Second, all four of us had learned new things during that time, without really trying to.

So here’s what we did in those twenty-four hours:

We dropped the anchor in quiet Cabo Cruz in Ria de Arousa just as the sun was setting. And as we did, we were delighted by the presence of five dolphins fishing in the shallow waters around the boat. I told the girls what I knew about dolphin fishing techniques and we watched them leap and splash to confuse the fish, corralling their prey into the shallows by the beach. Both girls already knew about how dolphins breathe and they shared that knowledge with me and Julian.

When the girls went to bed I read them a chapter of Mary Poppins. After I’d finished, Katie fell asleep, but Lily started to read a book about Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette. She had lots of questions, but I was too tired, so I suggested we read the book together at breakfast.

The next morning, while I made breakfast, Lily practiced mental maths with Julian. After breakfast, I read the Emmeline Pankhurst book aloud. As I read, Lily, Katie and I talked about fairness, justice, equality and feminism; and I explained about voting and government.

After Emmeline, the girls decided to have a ‘disco’. In their cabin they practiced their songs (a medley from The Sound of Music), then, using felt tips and paper, made tickets with the names of each dolly, teddy and parent invited to the disco. By then they had forgotten about the actual disco and moved on to other things.

Julian got our ‘Spanish for Beginners’ book out to learn about shopping grammar and vocabulary, and we all ended up practicing the new words and phrases, and tried to figure out some useful grammar together.

Lily helped me with the laundry – hand-washing in buckets on deck and hanging the wet laundry on the guard rails all around the boat. Katie set the table for lunch.

After lunch we rowed to shore in our dinghy and, like many of our afternoons in Galicia, played on a golden sandy beach. We all swam to our own abilities and then each did our own thing. Julian went for a walk to explore, as this was our first time in Cabo Cruz. I read my book about environmental governance. The girls found broken bricks, stones and driftwood and built a tower, learning that some structures work better than others. All three of us then played at being princesses in the sea, telling each other a fantastical and evolving story as we paddled in the shallows.

Later, Lily sat beside me on the sand because she wanted to write. In her little notebook she wrote about a movie we had recently watched on DVD, asking for help to spell the occasional word.

When Julian returned, he and the girls foraged for clams in the sea, and filled a small bucket with enough for supper. Katie went foraging along the beach on her own and found wild carrot. Both girls were very proud of their foraging prowess and knowledge of wild food.

We went for cold drinks to a bar that had Spanish news on. We rarely see TV, and there were some shocking images from Gaza and Ukraine, which led to a conversation about war and violence, which led back to The Sound of Music and the von Trapp family escaping over the mountains.

Back on the boat once more, as I made supper, the girls each coloured a page of their shared colouring book. And in the process, Katie learned (under instruction from Lily) how to write ‘W’ and ‘I’, to add to the ‘M’ and ‘L’ she learned a few days ago. In bed, Katie fell asleep while I read another chapter of ‘Mary Poppins’. Lily eventually fell asleep reading about the life and achievements of that great inventor of the Industrial Revolution, James Watt.

What an eclectic day of learning for all!

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.

Muros

Muros

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!!