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?’
‘5%’
‘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.

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East or west?

East or west? West or east? We’re almost ready to set sail from Aguadulce and we don’t know which way to go. If we wanted to, we could be ready to leave tomorrow. But where do we go? It’s a dilemma we’ve had since arriving in Aguadulce at the start of last October and in the six months we’ve been here we haven’t reached a conclusion. Indeed, for most of the six months we’ve avoided thinking about it, only occasionally having a conversation on the topic. We started to get serious in February. And each day we think about it, and talk about, and do a lot of research to try to come to a decision about where we should go next.

Either direction has its advantages and disadvantages. In the short term, either direction would be great – we’re sure to have a good time farther into the Mediterranean, or in Morocco and southern Portugal. But when considering the medium term, are we better off going east or west? The long term is something we rarely talk about!

A week ago it was west – along the Spanish coast, south to Morocco, out through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic, to Tangiers, up to southern Portugal. A few days later it was east, to the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica, to the southeast coast of France, west back to the Spanish border, and down to Valencia.

The former appeals because we have never been to Morocco before and there are some places we regretted missing in southern Portugal last year and other places we want to return to. The latter appeals because we feel as if we have only just tipped the proverbial iceberg of the Mediterranean (now there’s an oxymoron). It’s a big sea with a lot of places to explore. It would be a shame to turn back when we’ve got this far.

In the medium term we need to think about finding jobs next autumn and winter. There are lots of English teaching jobs all over Spain, so east could bring us to Valencia, west could bring us back up north to Galicia.

So what are the disadvantages?

There are potentially expenses from sailing east. Parts of Sardinia, Corsica and southern France are the playgrounds of the super rich in their super yachts, so we anticipate that the cost of living in these places will be restrictive.

We also have to consider the amount of time we spend in Spain. Staying more than 183 days in Spain in any one calendar year makes us liable for a 12% matriculation tax on the value of our boat. That could be a one-off tax of around 5000 euro – money we simply don’t have. While we’re nowhere near the 183 day limit, coming back into Spain later in the year could cause us problems.

Right now the wind is easterly, whispering to us ‘Go west, go west’. And what a time we would have. A month or more in Morocco and then the rest of the summer in Portugal, and then sailing either north to Galicia to return to one of the towns we enjoyed so much last summer, to find teaching jobs, or sailing back into the Mediterranean and finding work here again. But either way the matriculation is a concern.

Two days ago I emailed Mammy and Julian phoned his dad and we told them our definitie plan – we were going east. Yesterday morning we changed our minds and decided to go west! This morning we have no idea. It’s a privileged dilemma. Either way it’s going to be a memorable adventure and along the way we’ll figure out what to do next winter to earn some money.

The easterly wind is forecast to continue for the next ten days. We’ve decided that we’ll make a decision on Saturday morning and we’ll leave Aguadulce on Sunday morning. Or not. Who knows.

Preparing to move on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reliving the past

Last night I completed the first draft of my book. It’s a nice feeling, but I know that the hard work lies ahead, as I set about re-writing, editing, and filling all those ‘xxx’ gaps that litter the text with meaningful facts and figures. The book is about our journey so far. I dislike the misuse and abuse of the word ‘journey’. But in our case, it really is a journey. Not some figurative ‘journey’ to personal growth and wisdom, but a literal journey from Cambridgeshire to the Mediterranean, via Devon, Cornwall, Ireland, France, Spain Portugal and Gibraltar.

In the past couple of weeks of frenetic writing I’ve delved into my diaries and blog posts to help recall the quickly-fading images of the places we visited in Spain and Portugal in 2014. Reading those accounts has left me with an intense sense of natsukashii, that Japanese feeling of nostalgia and longing brought on by memories of the past.

DSCI4213How I long to revisit some of those wonderful places we had the privilege to explore last year. As I read my accounts of As Piscinas I could see the glistening water on the smooth rocks again, feel the warm fresh water on my body as I swam in the river’s pools, hear the wind rustling through the trees that lined the banks of the river. The thought that we had spent two days at in this small piece of paradise but may never go there again brought on a strong sense of natsukashii.

DSCI4425Our two days exploring Porto will remain with me for a long time, but reading my accounts written at the time have brought back minute details that I had forgotten and which have reignited in my mind images of gentrified apartments amongst the port warehouses, an old woman’s underwear hanging out to dry between two trendy restaurants on the north bank of the Douro, and the narrow streets, each with its own unique and delightful idiosyncrasies. Porto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited – it rates only slightly behind Rome in my estimation. And, unlike an obscure river up in the northwest of Spain, there’s a good likelihood I’ll visit Porto again some day.

DSCI4573Nine days anchored off Ilha da Culatra on the Algarve was not enough, which is why we are toying with the possibility of going back there again this summer. It reminded me of my other home, Arviat, on the west coast of Hudson Bay. The island is a sand bar, populated by a couple of hundred people. There are no roads, no vehicles apart from a couple of tractors and a few golf buggies. Reading my diaries led me to reminisce about the clam picking old women, the communal outdoor shower where we got to know other live-aboards while waiting our turn to wash or refill water bottles, the octopus hanging up to dry on a clothesline, and the friendships Lily and Katie made with local and sailing children.

It’s less than six months since we had these wonderful experiences, but already my memories are dimming. The intense sensual pleasures of these places – the swimming, the sun on our bodies, the foods we ate, the birdsong, the trees and the wind and the ocean – are fading. Reading my diaries and blog posts have brought them rushing back into my life again. I’m reading about things we did that I had completely forgotten about. Julian has a better memory for these things than I do. Maybe that’s why I need to write it all down.

This is not the first time that reading diaries or blog posts or research field notes have swept me away to another time or place. It is one of the great joys of writing that any time you desire, your senses can be reawakened, places, people and experiences can be brought back to life, and that bittersweet sense of natsukashii can envelop you.

Marina life

Puerto Deportivo Aguadulce is the third marina we’ve spent long enough at to say we have ‘lived’ here. It is our winter base this year. In early summer 2012 we lived for two months at Torquay Marina and between 2013 and 2014 we lived at Plymouth Yacht Haven for a total of five months. We’ve now been in Aguadulce for almost four months and will remain here for a little while longer.

2014-10-30 04.21.42As far as we are aware, we were the only live aboards at Torquay, and we stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the gleaming pleasure boats that never left the secure waters of the marina. These other boats were invariably only visited at weekends (if at all), when wine and champagne were quaffed for an afternoon, and then the boats were locked up again for another weekend. We felt incongruous with our laundry hanging out to dry, our bags of groceries lugged down the pontoon with complaining tired children in tow, and our frequent trips to the shower block. Though we think she is beautiful, many might not consider Carina the prettiest boat. She could have been the grandmother of the speedy sleek young boats that she berthed alongside and her scratched gel coating and weathered teak made her stand out in a not exactly positive way. We kept our heads down for those two months and tried to be as invisible as possible.

However, in Plymouth Yacht Haven and now Aguadulce, we have found marinas that are welcoming to and accommodating of live aboards and, therefore, there are live aboads aplenty. Like Plymouth, Aguadulce is home to a mix of people living this life. At my most recent count there are sixteen permanently occupied boats, although I’m sure there are more live aboards I haven’t yet met. Only the other day, at the shower block, I met a woman I had never seen before, and when I returned to Carina yesterday I found Julian chatting to a man on a bicycle that neither of us had met before. Both these people have been living in the marina this winter for as long as we have.

DSCI4756There are people living alone; there are many retired couples, ranging from their early 50s to their mid-70s; there’s one couple with their live aboard pooch; and there’s us. In addition, there are many more people who divide their time between the marina and their home country, and we’ve gotten to know some of those in their comings and goings. The live aboards here in Aguadulce are predominantly from the UK and Ireland, but there are others from Australia, France, Germany, Ghana, Holland and elsewhere. The crew of each boat has its own reasons for being here. There are some, like us, who are overwintering and preparing to voyage elsewhere when spring arrives. For those people, winter in a marina is a time for repair and maintenance, and for converting dreams into plans. Others live permanently in the marina, their cruising days behind them, and they treat their boats as floating apartments rather than sailing vessels.

There are many delightful aspects to marina life, the nicest being the sense of community that quickly develops. Live aboards look out for each other and for each others’ boats. We share advice, information, food, sailing books, novels, tools and equipment. Julian and the girls are going away soon, but I know that help is at hand if I need it from our kind and thoughtful neighbours. Though we all live on different size vessels and though our financial resources vary, we all live frugally and independently, and respect that frugality and independence in others.

In both Plymouth and Aguadulce we’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know the non-live aboard owners of other vessels in the marina (Hello Dee and Rex and Heather and Chris!!). Ray, an English man who has lived in a village in Las Alpujarras for nearly two decades is a frequent visitor to the pontoon, as he makes repairs to his boat. His generosity is limitless and every time he drives down from the mountains he brings us sailing books, Spanish language study books and, most recently, the re-mastered Pinocchio DVD. And, as I mentioned in a previous blog, Jesus, who berths his boat directly across the pontoon from ours, last week treated us to a bucketful of sea bream.

We know the mariñeros who work at the marina, patrolling on their scooters and ensuring the whole place runs smoothly. And we have gotten to know some of the staff of the cafes and bars around the edges of the marina. All of these different groups make up an altogether pleasant community.

We live much of our lives in the open, in public view. Breakfasts and lunches are sometimes eaten at the cockpit table in full view of anyone walking past mere metres away. All of Julian’s current deck maintenance is taking place on the pontoon in front of families out for a weekend stroll, the owners of neighbouring boats, and the marina staff. A couple of months ago, a woman stopped to take photographs of all the teddy bears hanging from the rigging. We can feel a bit like a zoo exhibit at times (homo sapiens maritimus), but we can’t complain. People are generally intrigued by the sight of two winged pink ballerinas gamboling about on the foredeck or hanging upside down in the rigging, and they smile, say hello and, occasionally, stop to chat. Lily and Katie have made friends with our neighbours, and chat to them with ease, rushing to tell them about a loose tooth (Lily) or a grazed elbow (Katie).

In a few months we will move on and, in all likelihood, we will never see any of these people again. Such is the cruising life. Friendships are made that respect the fierce privacy and independent spirit of cruisers. People help each other out, look out for each other and enjoy each others company, but respect the need for privacy when living in such a public and open-air way.

We all know that we will eventually move on and will meet other like-minded sailors at other marinas or anchorages farther down the line. We will develop new short-lived friendships that will endure in our memories of each place we have visited.

Someone took my lemons

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

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

Carina in a state of undress

Carina in a state of undress

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

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

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

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

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

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

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

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

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

DSCI0035

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

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

Vom Bomb

If you’re of a nervous disposition or are, at present, eating breakfast, I suggest you look away now. A vomiting child is never pleasant. A vomiting child on a boat is really no fun at all.

With Christmas behind us we’re back on board Carina and yesterday was laundry day. Not any old laundry day, because this week I want to wash all the bedding. So I loaded up the large blue IKEA bag (did IKEA ever envision that half the world would now use its shopping bags for laundry?) with all our dirty clothes and the sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers from Lily’s and Katie’s bed. Off I marched with the girls to the launderette, returning home an hour and a half later. I put away the clothes and remade the bed with clean fresh-smelling bedding.

In the middle of the afternoon Lily complained of a tummy ache and took herself off to the aft cabin to lie down. She slept for a while and just before 6pm came stumbling out and vomited spectacularly at my feet on the saloon floor. I cleaned her and the floor up as best I could, stripped her and dressed her in clean clothes and put her lying down on the starboard saloon sofa. I then went into the aft cabin to see if there was any collateral damage to my bed.

Oh dear. She’d been sleeping on Julian’s side of the bed, so that got the brunt of it, but my side saw some action too. Because our bed is so big, we’ve got two single-bed fitted sheets – one on each of the mattresses. She’d managed to vomit on both sheets. And on Julian’s pillow. And on our duvet. So I stripped the bed, throwing everything, including duvet and pillow into the cockpit. The mattresses stank too so I set about cleaning them.

An hour later she vomited again, but this time I was ready with the basin. After that she was feeling somewhat better and perked up a bit, but at 8pm asked if she could go to bed. We put her and Katie to bed, I read them a story and then I came out to the saloon. We’d been sitting in the saloon about an hour when I heard the unmistakable sound of vomiting coming from the fore cabin. I went in and turned on the light to find Lily kneeling up in bed, her hair and clothes covered in vomit, as well as her bottom sheet, her pillow and her duvet. Yep, those same ones I had laundered earlier in the day.

Julian saw to Lily, cleaning her up and changing her clothes, while I delicately removed the bottom sheet from under Katie (so as not to wake her in the process), stripped Lily’s side of the bed, and threw everything out into the cockpit.

We don’t have much in the way of spare bedding aboard Carina, and Lily’s mattress was covered in vomit. I washed it as best I could and, because it was now wet, put Lily in our bed in the aft cabin, under our one spare single summer duvet. (I put her on Julian’s side of course!). I put a basin beside her and hoped for the best.

Last night Julian slept in the saloon in a sleeping bag, and I slept in the aft cabin in a sleeping bag with Lily beside me under a thin duvet. Only Katie got an undisturbed night’s sleep. Despite the leopard print hot water bottle I was given as a Christmas present, I was cold for much of what was our coldest night so far this winter.

I’m sitting in bed writing this. If the running around, giggling and serious discussion about Frozen is anything to go by, our patient is fully recovered. At some point I’m going to have to get up and face the small mountain of vomit covered bedding up in the cockpit. It looks like there will be not one, but two, trips to the launderette this morning. And in the glaring morning sunlight I’ll see what I missed when trying to clean up the mess in the dim half-light in our cabins last night. Maybe I should just refill the hot water bottle and get back into the sleeping bag!!

50 things I did this year

It’s that time of year when every newspaper, TV programme and blog reviews the best of the year that was. Even we’re guilty of it here on Carina’s blog. Is it just me, or have these reviews started way too early this year? In mid-November, I was disappointed to find my weekend newspaper’s book, movie and food reviews already trawling through the best of 2014, and I’m now longing for January, when normal service resumes.

But this week I read a different sort of review of the year. I follow a great writer’s blog, Live to write – Write to live. Diane MacKinnon, one of the regular contributors, this week posted a blog encouraging readers to devise a list of 50 accomplishments in 2014. Diane’s reasons are clear – we set New Year’s resolutions that all too often slide into obscurity by mid-February. Many of us experience negative feelings about failing to live up to our personal expectations, and beat ourselves up about how little we achieve (I’m guilty of both of these). But we seldom reach the end of the year and review our accomplishments. While film and book and even wine reviewers celebrate the highlights of the past year, we seldom stop to think about our own highlights. I couldn’t resist taking up Diane’s challenge.

I must say I’ve found it a difficult task. I flew through the first 25, had to do some serious head-scratching, and then got to 50 and wanted to write more. My achievements – big and small – fall into various categories – writing, sailing, parenting, wellbeing, and others that I’m not sure how to categorise. The exercise has also reminded me of what I have not achieved. I failed to win a research grant that would have seen the girls and I spend this winter in Arviat. I’ve had more rejections than successes with my attempts to publish, and I have earned far less money from writing than I hoped I would. But while I can think of 50 accomplishments, I can’t think of 50 failures. With two weeks of 2014 still to go, here are my accomplishments for the year:

1. Published an academic article on polar bear conservation and CITES in the journal Global Environmental Change, the highest rated journal in its field.
2. Completed my 80,000-word anthropological monograph about Inuit and the sea, and submitted it to a publisher.
3. Stuck to my New Year’s resolution to publish 10 blog posts per month.
4. Maintained a daily writing practice (well almost!)
5. Got paid for writing for the first time ever.
6. Published four articles – in two magazines and a newspaper.
7. Began writing a sailing memoir, and am on course to complete the first draft before the end of 2014.
8. For three months published a regular blog for an online magazine (until the magazine went bust 😦 )
9. Since June, submitted at least two publication pitches per month.
10. Increased my blog readership by 3-4 times since the start of the year.
11. Improved my knowledge and skill with using WordPress!
12. In my head, ironed out some of the major flaws in my draft novel – now I need to commit them to paper.
13. Researched the history of exhibiting humans in museums and fairs.
14. Learned about Theodore Roosevelt’s contribution to wildlife conservation in the US.
15. Learned about the history of industrial whale hunting and whale conservation.
16. Learned more about Columbus’ voyages to the New World.
17. Visited New York and Princeton.
18. Fulfilled a life-long dream of seeing Lucy at the American Museum of Natural History.
19. Sailed from Plymouth to the Mediterranean.
20. Completed a three-day crossing of the Bay of Biscay.
21. Spent more nights at anchor than ever before.
22. Realised the dream of becoming a full-time live aboard cruiser.
23. Lived aboard Carina over winter for the first time (admittedly, in the Mediterranean).
24. Dramatically improved my confidence in solo night sailing.
25. Finally mastered bowlines, figures of eight, clove hitches and sheet bends.
26. Tied up to dumb-bell moorings.
27. Berthed fore-and-aft.
28. More frequently brought Carina on and off moorings and berths.
29. Learned to use the outboard on the dinghy (horray…we finally got a newer working lightweight outboard).
30. Learned to use a pressure cooker.
31. Perfected my on-board laundry technique.
32. Perfected my on-board bed-making technique.
33. Perfected my on-board bread making.
34. Made perfect pancakes.
35. Made lemon curd for the first time in my life (yesterday!).
36. Improved my university teaching skills.
37. Landed a part-time winter job.
38. Made a transition from teaching university Geography to teaching English as a second language to eight year olds!
39. Improved my English language teaching skills.
40. Won over my difficult English language classes.
41. Learned at least 150 Spanish words.
42. Achieved near pre-pregnancy flexibility and strength thanks to resuming yoga practice.
43. Committed to a sugar-free diet for long periods of the year.
44. Started un-schooling the girls.
45. Got Katie out of night-time nappies.
46. Taught Lily to read.
47. Helped both girls develop their maths and writing skills.
48. Took Lily and Katie on day-trips to A Coruña, Porto, Lisbon and Cadiz.
49. Helped Lily learn to swim unaided.
50. Met and befriended wonderful fellow cruisers.

What is obvious is that few of these have been accomplished by me alone. My sailing accomplishments have been in the company and under the guidance of Julian, and this whole adventure would not be possible without his partnership. My chosen path of educating the children would not be possible without Julian’s enthusiasm and at least equal contribution. My teaching skills have developed in the company of a community of fellow educators. My writing accomplishments have been facilitated by Julian giving me the time, space and encouragement to write, by the inspiration and encouragement of friends, and by a community of bloggers who keep me motivated.

With 2015 just around the corner, I’m now thinking about my New Year’s resolutions. There certainly won’t be 50 of them. A nice safe four or five will do. As for this blog? Normal blogging will resume in a couple of days!

My top destinations

by Julian

It is the end of the year and since we started out in 2012 we have covered 3000 miles in Carina. I have already reviewed when things go wrong, so for balance I thought I would highlight some of the best places we have been to. I have chosen one destination in each country we have visited, though there are many other fabulous places in all five countries.

Tresco – Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, England

TrescoCollageWe moored on either side of Tresco. In New Grimsby Sound on passage to Ireland and in Old Grimsby Sound on the way back. I’ve heard people be a bit sniffy about Tresco because the south end of the island is so well tended. But in fact this is one of the most stunning things about it. It is an island of two extremely different halves. Of course the views everywhere are incredible. When the sun is out the beaches have the feel of a south pacific island. The moorings are a bit pricey but it is possible to anchor. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. See the blog posts: Hungry sailors in Tresco and Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly.

Muros – Ria de Muros, Galicia, Spain

MurosCollageThe town is absolutely lovely with its old narrow streets overlooking a nice bay. The marina is pricey, but probably the best I have ever stayed in, with the office, lounge and laundry all set in an old converted cottage. It has a great family feel about it. If you love fish Muros is certainly a top destination too and we were there for the fabulous Virgin del Carmen fiesta with its waterborne parade. Despite the comments in the pilot guide about anchoring difficulties plenty of yachts anchored in the bay with no major issues. However, our best time was away from the town, when we anchored off a beach around the corner. I could walk into Muros and we could swim or row to the beach to play for the afternoon. We even collected delicious mussels at low water, whilst some locals were picking the razor clams. See the blog posts: Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven, Fiesta de Virgin del Carmen and Beach Interlude.

Culatra – Algarve, Portugal

CultraCollagePeople just anchor here and stay for the whole summer and I can see why. What a fantastic place. Away from the traffic children can run around in relative safety, they cannot go far because it is a small island. Many people just seem to hang around barbequing fish that have been collected by the fleet of small, often single person boats. There is also the community of catamarans in the lagoon, some of which are permanent inhabitants. Ferries to Olhao and Faro mean that you can get everything you might need, but it is fun to just stay on the island and meet the people, including sailors from all over Europe. See the blog posts: Have you heard the one about the Inuit family, Old cats and Arviat on the Algarve.

L’Aber Wrac’h – Brittany, France

LaberwracCollageI just love the many faces of L’Aber Wrac’h. You can moor upriver at Paluden, away from the bustling marina of La Palue, or hang out and meet the many interesting sailors (and rowers), from all over the world, passing through on their adventures. There are beautiful walks in the woods, the hills and along the beaches, with their cockle picking opportunities. Nice towns you can walk to (or catch the bus), and of course the chance to sample the delicious food of Brittany. But probably the most spectacular thing is the entrance itself with impressive granite rocks and a giant imposing lighthouse in the backdrop (Possibly the tallest in the world). It is a great staging post for an adventure. See the blog post: Brittany.

Derrynane – County Kerry, Ireland

filename-derrynane-harbourDerrynane has a tight entrance, only to be attempted in good weather, but once in you are safe at anchor, in a beautiful cove. If the weather turns bad you’ll have to stay there and wait it out though. The sort of place where you can swim from the boat to the beach, explore all around the fantastic dunes and rocks, finding a variety of interesting places to play and chill out. It has a great pub too. What more do you want? See the blog post: Dolphins divers and Derrynane.

Conclusion

Well that’s it for now, except to say that I would feel bad without at least a mention of some other places which could have made this list.

Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance, The Yealm and Mevagissey – England.

Horseshoe Harbour – Sherkin Island, Glandore, Crookhaven and Lawrence Cove – Bere Island – Ireland.

Camaret sur Mer – France.

Porto – Portugal.

Ria de Viveiro, La Coruña, Rianxo, Bayona (all of Galicia really) – Spain.

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.

WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG!

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.

Conclusion

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.