Calling all hoarders

All going well, at this time a couple of days from now we will be back aboard Carina. The past five or six days have been a marathon of sorting and packing in preparation for our Tuesday morning flight. Five days ago, the bedroom we sleep in at my father-in-law’s house looked like a cyclone had blown through, with all our belongings strewn everywhere as I began the task of choosing what to pack.

One day last week Julian and I took four bags of unwanted clothing, books and miscellaneous other stuff to a charity shop, and I have now filled two more bags to donate to charity shops tomorrow. Our two pieces of hold luggage have been packed, unpacked, repacked, at least five times each, as I assess how much they weigh and what’s left over and what still needs to be packed. With each unpacking and repacking, stuff gets jettisoned in favour of other stuff. Clothing, books and toiletries that I thought would definitely be coming with us have been discarded in favour of other things. I have decisions to make about what I want aboard and what we need aboard.

When we flew to the UK in May the girls and I had two pieces of carry-on luggage. When Julian joined us three weeks later he had one piece of hold luggage and one carry-on. We’re going back with two hold (packed right up to the 20kg weight limit) and four carry-ons. Why are we going back with so much more stuff than we brought over?

All of this has got me thinking more generally about our accumulation of stuff; about how, once we have something, we find it hard to let it go; about our commodity addiction. We find we suddenly don’t want to live without stuff we never even knew we wanted before it was given to us. We burden ourselves with material possessions, physically and emotionally weighing ourselves down. As I jettison unnecessary stuff this week I’ve been thinking about what we really do need.

Why was I even considering a dolphin-shaped eraser that Lily got free with a magazine and that she’s never even taken out of its plastic wrapper? Why was I feeling guilty about leaving behind a book Katie was given over the summer in which she is not even remotely interested? The girls and I came over with four pairs of knickers each; four pairs of socks each; four changes of clothes each. Why am I now stressing about the excess clothing we’ve all acquired over the summer? Do I really need ten pairs of knickers and eleven pairs of socks (in addition to the five or more pairs already aboard Carina)? Does anyone need that much?

The answer, of course, is that I shouldn’t be getting my knickers in a twist about any of these things. As we get closer to our return date more and more stuff is jettisoned, mostly out of necessity, to get our luggage below the airline weight allowance, but also out of my growing realisation that we don’t need all this stuff.

Why are so many of us hoarders? Even as I embrace a lifestyle of uncluttered simplicity I find it difficult to get rid of stuff once I have it. Once something is in my possession I have this gnawing angst over getting rid of it, even if it is of completely no use or value and takes up valuable space. I can understand when it’s something I’ve paid money for, but why am I so indecisive when it comes to things given to me either by someone else or acquired free with some other purchase – things I never asked for or wanted in the first place? I’m more ruthless than a lot of people, but I still find discarding unwanted stuff tough. What is it about our material possessions that makes us want to hoard them to us, keep things that have no value, that are neither utilitarian nor bring us joy? Why do we stuff our stuff into cupboards, store it on shelves, bury it under more and more stuff?

I’m not talking here about the things we have in our homes that are without utility or monetary value but that give us joy and pleasure simply to have around. We all have things that are precious to us, that give us joy to look at or touch, that remind us of who we were or are or who we want to be. I’m talking instead about all that stuff that is hidden away, that takes up space, that is worthless to us in every sense.

I have tried very hard not to accumulate anything over the past five months. Yet accumulate stuff I have. The past week has been a tiring and often emotional de-cluttering of unwanted and unnecessary excess. I still think we’re bringing too much back to the boat. Admittedly, we’ve stocked up on teabags and factor 50 sun screen (which is more expensive in southern Europe), the rapidly-growing Lily and Katie have new clothing and foul-weather gear to replace the now too small ones aboard Carina, we’ve got some Spanish-language resources to help us with our studies, and books to keep us all going for another few months.

But here’s the thing. I bet I could halve the amount of stuff we’re bringing back to Carina and we wouldn’t miss what I’d left behind. Maybe I’ll have to jettison more in the next twenty-four hours. Maybe I’ll do it because I want to. In the past week I’ve filled six grocery-bags worth of stuff we no longer need (or never needed in the first place) to take to the charity shop, and I have recycled at least three other bags worth.

So, here’s a challenge to you. Can you find one thing in your home that you no longer want or need? Can you find ten things? Twenty? More? What can you do with that unwanted stuff? It might go straight in the bin (landfill or recycling?). But I bet the chances are you can give it away (to a friend, a charity shop, Freecycle), or you can sell it and make yourself some money (eBay, Gumtree). One person’s unwanted junk can be someone else’s treasure. Does it make you feel good to make a little space, empty a shelf, clear a little clutter? Let me know how you get on!

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House or boat?

What do you miss about living in a house?
What’s it like living on a boat?
What’s the most surprising thing about living on a boat?
In the past couple of months I’ve been asked these and similar questions by newfound friends, by acquaintances, by people who’ve contacted me via this blog, and even by someone who interviewed me for a magazine article.

To my ears, these questions are all of a similar theme, and there are two distinct lines I follow when attempting to answer them. The easier approach is to think about the material realities of living on a boat; the more difficult is to think about the affect our lifestyle has on emotional and relational aspects of life. The two, of course, are bound together, but it’s easier to tease them apart and explore them separately. Today I want to write about the material realities of living on a boat and save the more difficult question of the emotional side of things for another day.

Although it’s only a little over three years since we first moved aboard Carina, and despite currently working on a memoir about our life aboard, I genuinely find it difficult to remember what I imagined life aboard would be like as we prepared for the transition. I remember thinking a lot about sailing – inclement weather, running repairs, capsizing, pirates; and I thought a lot about idyllic anchorages, warm turquoise seas, spectacular sunsets. I thought far less about mundane day-to-day life on a 36 foot boat with three other people. The reality is, however, that we sail very little relative to the amount of time we spend in situ, engaged in mundane day-to-day life. The few times I had sailed prior to buying Carina I had enjoyed the caravan-type living arrangements but I hadn’t given much consideration to living like that for months and years on end.

Lily, in princess garb, and Julian preparing lunch.

Lily, in princess garb, and Julian preparing lunch.

But reflecting on our life aboard now and having been living in a very comfortable house for the past five months I can honestly say there are very few things I miss about living in a house. The one thing I really do miss is a bath! I like nothing more than a long hot soak in a bath on a cold winter’s night, a strong cup of tea resting on the edge of the bath and a good novel in my hand (careful not to let it fall in!). So I’m enjoying the occasional soak now that I’m back in a house, knowing that once we’re back aboard Carina next week it could well be a long time before I have a bath again!

So here’s perhaps the most surprising thing about life on a boat. I don’t miss any of the things I might be expected to miss – all those mod cons that are supposed to make life easier. I don’t miss a fridge or a washing machine or a shower. I don’t miss unlimited water and energy at the touch of a button or turn of a switch. I certainly don’t miss owning a car or a television, a vacuum cleaner or an iron. And there are things I have never owned, so can’t possibly miss – microwave, dishwasher, freezer.

Julian in our tiny (and not very lofty) galley

Julian washing dishes in our tiny (and not very lofty) galley

We have a fridge aboard which we use when we are on a pontoon, plugged into mains electricity. The rest of the time, when we’re at anchor or mooring, we live fridge free, because it requires more power to run than our 80 watt solar panel can provide. When we had a car and a continuously working fridge, we would shop for fresh food once a week, stocking our fridge to bursting with a week’s worth of dairy and vegetables. I’ve recently realised how much not having a fridge has become normal for Julian and me by the way we both react to the similarly packed-to-bursting fridges and freezers of my parents-in-law. ‘Surely you didn’t need that much stuff’, we gasp in disbelief, used as we are now to buying fresh food little and often and forgetting that, until recently, we used to shop in the same way.

Life without a washing machine or tumble drier is no big deal. When we have access to a launderette we do one bag of laundry a week. When there is no launderette nearby, I hand-wash small amounts of washing two or three times a week. Aboard the boat we take a different approach to our clothing. We have a lot less of it for starters. We own fewer items of clothing and we don’t own anything that’s delicate or requires special treatment. And every item of clothing is put through a sight and smell test before it goes in the laundry bag. Just because a shirt or pair of trousers has been worn doesn’t mean it’s dirty. If it’s not stained or doesn’t smell then it gets worn again the next day. Just like we used to do years ago, prior to the advent of ultra-convenient washing machines and tumble driers.

We adjusted quickly to our limited supplies of water, energy and cooking fuel aboard. We have adapted everything from the way we wash our bodies and brush our teeth, to the way we cook pasta and rice, in order to maximise our water supply. Over the past couple of years energy has become less of an issue as Julian has replaced all the old bulbs with low-energy LED bulbs, our anchor light is now powered by its own mini-solar panel, and our laptop recharger is now far more energy efficient than the one we had before. Still, energy isn’t on tap and we have grown accustomed to acting in ways that are energy efficient – making the most of daylight hours to achieve tasks that require strong light, religiously switching off cabin lights, and making decisions about whether certain uses of energy are necessary.

We’ve gotten used to this way of life relatively easily, in part because when we decided to buy a boat one of our main motivations was to live a simpler, less consumption-led life. We were both driven by a certain environmental and social consciousness and so it feels good to live that simple frugal life that we wanted.

Alice in Wonderland has nothing on Julian emerging from our bedroom!

Alice in Wonderland has nothing on Julian emerging from our bedroom!

With mod-cons out of the way, the other glaringly obvious aspect of living on a boat is size. Let’s face it, Carina is not big. She’s 36 foot from bow to stern and 11 foot wide at her broadest. Headroom is slightly less than Julian’s six feet two inches. The girls are growing with alarming speed and before long I’m going to be the shortest person aboard. And, with the exception of those few boxes of stuff stored with Julian’s parents, everything we own is aboard the boat.

Sometimes the lack of space isn’t a problem; other times it drives me mad. When the boat is tidy, when the sun is shining, when everyone’s in a good mood, space is no issue. When the boat is messy, when all four of us are trying to do things in the saloon at the same time – one of us cooking, one repairing, kids dressing up and playing noisily (or worse – fighting) – it can get a bit wild and uncomfortable. But, for the past five months we’ve been living in a house that would engulf Carina’s living spaces ten times over and it’s just as annoying when the place is messy, the kids are running wild, two or three of us are trying to do things at the same time. So I think space is as much in the mind as in the physical space around us.

Who needs space to relax? Julian, under kids, with naked dolly; bra, shoes, pepper mill and who knows what else on the table in front. We are a messy bunch.

Who needs space to relax? Julian, under kids, with naked dolly; bra, shoes, pepper mill, mobile phone, play mobile people and who knows what else on the table in front. We are a messy bunch.

On a practical note, the lack of space aboard is most obvious when we sit down to family meals, which we do three times a day. The table takes up the entire saloon when fully extended; and the four of us can barely fit around the wobbly unstable table in the cockpit. To get around these tables requires advanced contortionist skills and if the make-shift worktop in the saloon is in place (which it usually is) then you can expect to be stabbed in the back by its sharp outer corner as you try to squeeze between it and the edge of the saloon table. Thankfully both saloon and cockpit tables are collapsible so they’re not a burden most of the time.

Because of the lack of space, stored items aren’t always easy or convenient to reach. Over the years we’ve learned by trial and error and have moved food and other items around, depending on how regularly things are used. But if I run out of peppercorns half way through making dinner, gaining access to the spare tub is rarely easy, or if the weather suddenly changes and I need to get my cold weather gear, I have to strip my bed in the aft cabin, remove the mattress and burrow like a badger to reach those rarely worn clothes.

The longer we live aboard Carina the more used we grow to her idiosyncratic living space and the more tricks we develop to make life easier. But living aboard has never been a trial. I have never once regretted the decision to move from a substantial house with a huge garden in the countryside to a tiny self-contained boat. What our lives lack in mod-cons and living space is more than made up for in an abundance of time together as a family, opportunities to travel where and when we want, and opportunities to learn and grow each and every day.

From familiar to strange

Around this time twenty-five years ago, in October 1990, I attended my first anthropology lecture at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. A fresh-faced 17-year old, I was immediately hooked on this new subject I had chosen to study at university. In that first lecture, Professor Eileen Kane, the glamorous Irish-American head of department, told us that by studying anthropology the strange would become familiar and the familiar strange. We would soon see the cultural logic and appropriateness of far flung habits and customs that might on the surface seem weird and bizarre to our Irish sensibilities – polyandry, witchcraft, the Kula Ring – and we would start to see the weirdness in cultural practices we took for granted – Christmas, school, organised sports.

It was a memorable first lesson in anthropology and I’ve thought about that phrase – making the strange familiar and the familiar strange – quite a lot over the years, especially when I’ve found myself returning home having lived abroad and experiencing what might be termed reverse culture shock. Japan, Nunavut and the UK became normal and ordinary to me and, when I returned to Ireland, life, customs and habits felt strange and unfamiliar.

I’ve been feeling the same way this summer, having returned to the UK, the country that has been my home for a decade. The feeling of strangeness and unfamiliarity comes partly from living in a house in suburbia for the past few months and partly because as I revise the book I’m currently writing I reflect on how moving onto and living on a boat at one time seemed such a strange and exotic thing to do. But now the boat is our familiar life and life on land, in a house, has become strange.

Perhaps the thing that most encapsulates that strangeness is my altered perceptions of space, and in particular how much space an individual or family require and how that space is utilised.

By anyone’s standards, our home is tiny. Carina is 36 feet (11 metres) long and at her widest 11 feet (3 metres) wide. Four of us live in that space, including one who is 6’2” and built like the proverbial brick s**t house. But it no longer feels like such a tiny space to us. We have adapted to it and transformed it into a home. We have space to stow our belongings and space to eat, sleep, play, work, relax and even entertain. We have adapted to the space and made it work for us.

So I’ve felt like a visitor from another planet at times this summer when people have, with reference to what seem to me to be incredibly spacious homes, made comments such as ‘It’s not big enough’, ‘We need a bigger house’, ‘It’s not much’. I look around at these spaces that are huge in comparison to Carina and wonder what exactly people need more space for.

I’ve also been hyper-aware of the utilisation of space. Or, to be more correct, the under-utilisation of space. Given her size and our number, each space on Carina has a purpose or multiple purposes. Most people here in suburbia own sizable gardens. But few home owners make productive use of those gardens. One of my few regrets about living aboard a regularly moving home is that we don’t grow any food. I’ve always enjoyed growing food (with varied success) and this summer I find myself looking longingly at ample suburban gardens, transforming them in my mind into attractively productive food plots.

Other things feel alien too – the length of time and distance people commute to work; how success is measured; how often people feel the need to shower (you think I’m kidding!); how complicated and full of time-consuming activities many peoples’ lives seem to be. But the thing that has bothered me more than anything else this summer (I need to stop saying ‘summer’. I realise we are now firmly in autumn) is waste.

Sure, we produce waste aboard Carina – plastic packaging, tin cans, paper – but the quantities of waste we produce are far less than what we are currently producing in a house in suburbia. Aboard Carina we buy little and often. I realise that our consumer choices are partly dictated by geography. Living in southern Europe probably has as much to do with the amount of waste we produce as living on a boat. We buy fresh bread from the baker (unpackaged), fresh fruit and vegetables from the greengrocer (unpackaged), meat and cheese and dairy products from the general store (packaged). And in certain places on our travels we’ve been lucky enough to forage fruit, vegetables, herbs and shellfish and we’ve fished or been given fish by friends and other boat owners.

With our small living space and frugal environmentally-orientated lifestyle, we are conscious of the waste we produce. In suburbia, certainly in this particular suburbia, waste is pernicious. Food in supermarkets is far more heavily packaged than in the greengrocers, butchers and bakers. And, where we are currently living, without a car it is difficult to shop at places other than supermarkets or chain stores.

The cycle of plastic waste is disturbing – in the front door, through the house, out the back door and into the recycling bin. I think I am less disturbed by the amount of waste than by the fact that it’s taken for granted. Recycling has become normalised, but reducing is more difficult. Having lived around other frugally-minded sailors for the past year or more, I have grown used to minimal waste. The disposal of waste from the boat is annoyingly cumbersome. Certainly on smaller boats there is no room to store separated plastic, glass, metal and organic waste, and carrying it ashore by dinghy in search of bins in which to dump it is a royal pain in the ass. It’s far easier not to produce the waste in the first place. So we opt for unpackaged or minimally packaged produce. It’s easier on us and easier on the environment.

We have now set a date for returning to Carina. When we step aboard the girls and I will have been away for five and a half months. I’m sure UK suburban living will have seeped into my bones and I will find life afloat strange all over again and it will take some time to readjust. In the meantime I will continue to seek out strangeness in the once familiar and familiarity in the once strange.

Daddy’s summer job

In May, when I decided to come back to the UK for a few months to deal with my gynaecological issues, our biggest concern was how much this sudden and unexpected change of plan was going to cost. We live frugally, on a tight budget, and don’t really have any provision for a rainy day.

Summer flights booked at short notice are expensive and we had to figure out how to keep Carina safe and secure while we were away. In addition, life in the UK is far more expensive than life at anchor on the Rio Guadiana. So we worried about how eating into our meagre savings would jeopardise our medium-term plans.

We planned for the girls and me to come to the UK first, and for Julian to remain aboard Carina. Then, once I’d had some initial tests and discussions with my GP, and I knew how long I’d be detained in the UK, Julian would make a decision about whether to join us. If we were going to be in the UK for a few months, and Julian joined us, then we decided that he should look for a job. All we wanted out of a job was to break even on our summer expenses – the cost of our flights, the cost of putting Carina into storage, and the excess costs of living in the UK.

I quickly realised that I was going to be back in the UK at least until mid-August, so Julian booked a flight from Portugal to England in early June. He tied Carina to a mooring buoy on the river and paid a month’s mooring fees in advance with a promise to pay for additional months as necessary. To our great relief, the cost of mooring was far less than we had anticipated, so that was one financial weight lifted from our shoulders.

On his first day back in the UK Julian began job hunting. He updated his CV, went to a recruitment agency, and began searching online for jobs in the area. Neither of us has ever had difficulties finding work when we want it, so we were confident there was a job out there. Within two weeks Julian had found a temporary full-time job, earning exactly what we need to cancel out our summer costs.

The girls are thrilled with Daddy’s new job. You see, he’s working at Warwick Castle, surrounded by knights and princesses and birds of prey and sword fights and towers and dungeons.

Julian’s pretty thrilled with his job too. He works as part of the grounds crew, picking litter, driving a ‘gator’, keeping the place tidy, answering questions, helping people out. In the corporate-speak that fills his training booklets, his is a ‘guest-facing’ role. He wears a uniform that makes him look a bit like a park ranger. He works five days a week, with two days off mid-week. He’s outside all day long, keeping the grounds spick and span around the birds of prey display, the Horrible Histories theatre, the sword fights, and all the other activities. If he finds a missing child, he has to seek out a princess and hand the child over! He walks miles every day, up and down the mounds and battlements, all over the grounds. As an experiment, he wore a pedometer to work one day earlier this week and clocked nearly 23,000 steps!

Slowly, my health issues are getting sorted and we’re hoping soon we’ll be ready to fly home to Carina. But in the meantime, we have all fallen into a routine that revolves around Julian’s work day and the round of sporting, art and cultural activities the girls and I attend every week. It’s nice to know that our financial resources aren’t diminishing. And it’s nice to know that Julian has such a fun, out-of-doors, active and entertaining summer job.

Green living

by Julian

Modern consumerism and its effects on the world’s oceans has been mentioned in recent blog posts by Martina (Leviathan and Behemoth and Picking through the plastic). A lot of energy is required to power our convenience filled lifestyles – energy mostly supplied by the increasingly more complicated and risky extraction of fossil fuels. The ever growing quantity of carbon in our atmosphere has been demonstrated, by scientific methods which show a characteristic isotope fingerprint, to be partly a result of the burning of fossil fuels. The related warming of the planet produces even more atmospheric carbon. It looks like we have tipped the balance and are warming the planet at a faster rate over the last half century than at any time in the past few millennia (this is shown by methods such as Arctic and Antarctic ice core studies). As a former geophysicist and glaciologist, who has worked with climate and ice core scientists, and published academic papers on the topic, I have some insight into this and am not glibly stating stuff presented in the mass media.

I have always been conscious of the need to save energy and resources but I have rarely acted on this with any serious effort. However, I have started thinking about how our current lifestyle onboard Carina has caused us to adapt in ways that seriously curtail our use of non-renewable energy and resources. Being at anchor and living on a tight budget forces us to do this.

Here are some of the ways we have minimised our non-renewable resource use:

We have an 80W solar panel. Summer in southern Europe provides plenty of sunlight, but our panel is not sufficient to run our fridge, charge our computer and run the domestic and navigation lighting. We have to be selective about our electricity use. The fridge was the first thing to go. We don’t need it. Instead, we buy small quantities of fresh food every day and use the fridge as a storage space.

As our light bulbs and fittings failed I started to replace them with LEDs. Now all our main domestic lighting uses LEDs and this has cut electricity for lighting to less than 20% of previous use without cutting down on light. In fact, in some cabins we now have better light than before. The latest technology in LEDs has fast created a whole array of options from harsh white light to softer light and bulbs are produced for all sorts of DC light fittings.

Last year Martina and I decided to trade in our four-stroke Yamaha outboard motor for a small two-stroke Mariner, partly because the Yamaha was becoming unreliable and partly because Martina could barely lift it, so getting it from Carina into the dinghy was a nightmare. An advantage of the trade in that I hadn’t considered is how little fuel a 2-stroke engine uses. Motoring twice or even three times a day between Carina and the shore, often against a strong current, and with four people aboard the dinghy, a 5-litre can of petrol lasts two weeks.

Next comes water use. At anchor we have to conserve water and we switch from electric water pump to foot pump, which minimises our consumption. It’s amazing how little water you actually need to brush your teeth, cook food or wash the dishes. Another revelation this year has been digging out the old solar shower. We can enjoy a good hot shower in the cockpit using very little water, heated directly from the sun. Sometimes the water gets too hot so we have to be careful! We also handwash our laundry, which is not too onerous if doing a little every couple of days and the clothes dry well in the spring/summer heat.

I have started to forage again. Unfortunately, we arrived on the river too late for the spinach and asparagus seasons, but I just caught the wild fennel and there is a lot of mint and rosemary planted around the towns. The grass near the beach at Sanlucar is overrun by mint and Martina says it makes great tea. I have collected oranges and lemons from the odd stray tree, neglected and not on anybody’s land. (A lot of land around the river is fenced off – people seem to like their oranges to rot on the ground rather than people being able to collect them). I am looking forward to the profusion of figs and plums ripening, and I hope the olives, almonds and grapes will follow.

Needless to say this is a mere drop in the ocean of the sort of  reduction in consumption that we all need to do. Even environmentally conscious people such as ourselves have only taken these steps because of our circumstances rather than out of a conscious drive.

But I am pleased by our efforts that benefit both the planet and our bank balance. Sailing (rather than motoring) nearly all the way here from the Mediteranean, even passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, against the normally prevailing current, pleased me a lot. I certainly felt good about not having an expensive fill up with diesel when we got here.

The important thing is that we don’t miss the conveniences, really we don’t! Life is simple and enjoyable. Life can be pretty good without a fridge, even in the summer heat. There’s a great river to swim in, great walks along the river bank, food for free, and healthy fresh air to breathe. I’d give up my fridge for that any day.

River anchorage

I’ve written about life at anchor before but each time the experience is different because each anchorage is different. We’ve anchored in calm bays and behind islands, in deserted seas alongside empty golden beaches and amidst crowded moorings. This time we’re in the middle of a fast flowing river, with river banks on either side only 75 metres or less away. Even 22 miles from the sea, the Rio Guadiana is esturine and all day every day the river flows fast downstream on the ebb tide and fast upstream on the flood tide. Carina swings on her chain facing downriver or upriver, in line with the current.

Carina in the middle of the river

Carina in the middle of the river

Our days have some semblance of routine. I get up at 6.20 or 7.20 (I aim for the former, but often the reality is the latter) and write until the girls wake up. Or I leave at 8.30, take the dinghy to Alcoutim to spend a few hours writing and carrying out online research at the library. Some mornings Julian or I go ashore for an early morning walk, some mornings we all go ashore, for a picnic, to run errands or to play.

At some point most mornings either Julian or I do an hour of lessons with the girls – right now Lily’s working on addition with carrying, subtraction and multiplication and on report writing and Katie’s working on reading, recognising numbers in the teens and simple addition. Apart from that all other learning happens organically, in fits and starts, when inspiration knocks on the door. Many of our trips ashore focus on the world around us. Yesterday, for example, we talked about the life cycles of ants, bees and butterflies, we examined the capillary networks of a dead cactus, we examined the roots of a pine tree and talked about the differences between coniferous and deciduous trees.

Any laborious work needs to be accomplished before the day gets too hot. I do small amounts of laundry every three or four days – two small bucketsful of hand washing, and anything that doesn’t fit into those two buckets goes back into the laundry bag for the next laundry day. I use water from a large jerry can refilled whenever we go ashore. I wash and rinse, sitting on the foredeck, the buckets at my feet. In this hot weather, clothes dry on the guard rails in less than two hours and have to be brought in before they dry to boards or bleach in the sun.

This year, for the first time, we have started to use the solar shower that was on board when we bought Carina. This ingenious devise has transformed our lives at anchor. It is simple and highly effective. It is a rubber bag, black on one side, transparent on the other. It holds about 8 litres of water, and has a plastic tap and hose at one end, so when it is hung up on the boom, it works like a shower. We lay it on the foredeck, the black surface facing the sun, and after three hours we have piping hot water. We use this to wash dishes, to shower the girls in the cockpit twice a week (they LOVE their solar shower), and with all modesty and decorum long gone and not caring who might be strolling on deserted rural paths above the river banks, I too shower in the cockpit a couple of times a week. It’s bliss.

We spend most afternoons onboard, shaded from the scorching sun. We try to get the girls to relax, but it’s tough. We encourage them to play quietly with Lego or Play Mobile or jigsaws, or, at the moment, we’ve got a couple of sewing projects on the go – dresses for their dolls and a handbag. We all need to conserve our energy during the hottest part of the day. By 4.30 or 5 we are ready to go out again, and we board the dinghy for Alcoutim bound for the river beach. In mid-May Katie finally got the hang of swimming, and Lily has progressed in a few short weeks from the doggy paddling of last year to proper swimming, swimming on her back, underwater swimming, and diving down to touch the river bed. Julian and I are agog at how suddenly and quickly their swimming skills have developed with no input from us! (I noticed Lily’s improvements came from observing older boys in the water, and she copied them). After a couple of hours on the beach we might join other live aboards for a cold drink at the bar by the beach, returning home around 7.30 to make dinner.

At night, after we’ve eaten dinner in the cockpit, we watch the stars come out one by one, Lily and Katie each eager to spot the first star. By the time we are all ready for bed the sky is awash with stars, the sky clear and bright and unpolluted by artificial light. We’re all in bed by 11pm.

We live at anchor without a fridge, as we rely on one 80 watt solar panel for all our energy requirements. Life without a fridge is no burden. We simply shop for small amounts of fresh food more often at the small shops in Sanlúcar and Alcoutim (for Edenderry readers, think Tommy Lowry’s back in the 1970s!). We use UHT milk which, when once opened, even in the heat of summer, will last a day and a half. Butter melts quickly and we’ll probably soon give up on it and resort to olive oil to moisten our bread.

Each time we go ashore we top up our water supply – in small bottles, the large jerry can, and the solar shower. The longer we can eke out the water supply in our tank, the longer we can stay away from the pontoon. Inevitably, though, after about two weeks (we could probably last a bit longer) we spend two days and one night on the pontoon at Alcoutim, to refill our water tank. We have mains electricity when we are on the pontoon, so it’s an opportunity for the girls to watch some of their favourite DVDs and, if we’re on a stretch of the pontoon with good Wifi access, I might watch some TV shows late at night. And then we’re back on the hook, finding a different spot on the river each time.

It’s a slow and mellow way of life, lived to the rhythms of the river. We come on and off anchor and on and off the pontoon at slack water; we watch for the best times to set out on the river in the dinghy; and we keep an eye on what the wind and tide are doing to us – watching Carina’s distance to other anchored boats and to the river bank, and making sure our anchor chain doesn’t become entangled in the tree trunks and big branches that regularly float along on the current.

It’s not a bad way to experience the world.

Never look a gift-horse in the mouth

We live frugally and on a limited budget. Anything else and we couldn’t afford this life of sailing a lot and working a little. But there are four mouths to feed aboard Carina and so Julian and I are always on the lookout for food bargains. And with a certain alignment of stars this week, we couldn’t pass up a great opportunity to restock the food stores.

One Spanish supermarket chain, El Árbol, was recently taken over by another, Dia. Because of this take-over, all the old El Árbol own-brand stock is on sale in the stores for a pittance. Julian went out yesterday to our nearest El Árbol and came home laden with multiple bags of pasta – spaghetti, fusilli, macaroni, etc. My eyes widened when he told me that each 500g bag had cost a mere 25 cent (reduced from 67 cent). He told me the 400g tinned tomatoes were also on sale for 25 cent (reduced from 47 cent). I was beside myself with excitement. Not only was there a huge reduction on items we use a lot in our cooking, in a shop not far from the boat; we also have the use of my father-in-law’s car, so we could buy as much as we pleased, rather than having to satisfy ourselves with what we could carry on our backs and in shopping bags, as would normally be the case.

Pasta anyone?

Pasta anyone?

Within minutes I was in the car with Barry, headed for El Árbol. I filled a shopping trolley with twenty 500g bags of pasta, 36 tins of tomatoes, as well as some other items that were greatly reduced – rubber gloves in my size, and shampoos and shower gels that will easily see us through the rest of 2015. Barry drove the car around to the front of the shop and I pushed the heavy trolley out to meet him, and we loaded the boot with our booty.

We eat pasta about twice a week, and a 500g bag gets used up approximately two and a half meals. So the pasta should last to the autumn at least. We use tinned tomatoes for bolognaise sauce, chilli, lentil dahl, tomato soup, and more dishes besides, probably using three tins per week. Although those 36 tins won’t stretch as far into the future as the pasta, as they are a key ingredient to much of our cooking, they’ll get us some way there.

But buying the tomatoes at almost half their normal price, and buying the pasta at almost a third of its normal price was such a godsend that my only thought as we drove back to the marina was ‘Where am I going to store all this stuff?’

Barry drove the car right to the back of the boat, and I off-loaded the tins and bags of pasta directly from the boot of the car and into the open hatch of the aft cabin – dropping everything down onto my bed. The spring clean of the food cupboards that I had carried out while Julian and the girls were away now paid dividends. For the next 45 minutes I stowed tins and pasta in every spare stowage space I could find – in the aft heads (used exclusively as a storage room), in the quarter berth food storage boxes, and in the rather depleted long-term storage space by the removable worktop in the galley. The shampoos and shower gels were stowed with the all the other spare toiletries in one of the aft heads cupboard. And it was with some satisfaction that I finally sat down to lunch and a much needed cup of tea.

Opportunities like these don’t come along too often, but when they do, we have to take them. Between us, Julian and I spent less than €25 yesterday, buying staple non-perishable foods and toiletries that, if bought over time and at their normal price, would cost us between double and treble what we paid. Like foraging for wild fruit, vegetables and shell-fish, and occasional attempts at fishing, being frugal and smart with our money means that what little we have stretches farther. We can eat well, cooking nutritious and tasty meals at home, and we can sail towards the horizon, without having to work too many hours to do so.

Alas, all this talk about food is making me hungry. Time to make lunch, I think!