These days Katie gets very indignant when I say seemingly innocent things such as ‘Let’s go home’, or ‘You left your coat at home’.
‘It’s not my home’, she scowls at me, hands on her hips, making a face that is endearingly comical. ‘Carina is my home’.
And she’s right. Carina is her home. Unlike the other three of us, Katie has lived more of her life aboard Carina than anywhere else. And she misses home terribly. She misses the physical space that is her home. She misses her own bed, the toys she has left behind, her dressing up bag. She has great plans for all the things she plans as soon as she gets back home. She also misses the river where Carina is currently anchored and, at every opportunity, tells anyone who will listen how great the river is. We are on a countdown now to going home – not home to a geographical location, but home to the structure in which we live – our boat.

I’ve pondered the concept of home a lot over the years. What does home mean to me? And how have my conceptualisations of home changed over time?

An aerial photo of our house, taken (I think) in the 1950s.

An aerial photo of our house, taken (judging by the TV aerial) in the 1960s.

I grew up in the middle of Ireland in the house where generations of my family were born and died. My family has been living in our little cottage outside Edenderry since the 1880s. Growing up, half of our neighbours were Daddy’s cousins and the other half had also been in the area for generations. My home extended beyond the house to the fields, hedgerows, trees and woodlands in all directions. I knew it all intimately. I knew the names of the fields, the names of some individual trees, the names and stories of the people who had once lived in houses that were now mere piles of rubble overgrown with ivy and ash trees. My personal history extended back to long before I was born, as I played and walked with my dog and picnicked in places imbued with stories passed on to me by my Nana and other elderly relatives. My Nana was born in 1900 and my grandfather (who died in 1942) was born in 1875, so I am very conscious of being only two generations away from the Ireland I learned about in history lessons at school.

Me, aged 2-ish, with my aunt Cissie, Rowdy the dog, my wheelie dog and the Rockin' Donkey.

Me, aged 2-ish, with my aunt Cissie, Rowdy the dog, my wheelie dog and the Rockin’ Donkey.

I suspect I will never know any place as well as I know my first home. I dwelled in it so deeply, it seeped into my soul, like bog water darkening the bones of Seamus Heaney’s Bog Queen. I grew up and I went away, but always I returned home. I lived in Japan for three years and though I had a wonderful time there, it never felt like home. Perhaps because my closest friends were other expats, or because I lived alone, or because I lacked the language to effectively communicate, I always felt like an outsider. There were particular places I loved – a shrine, a mountain path – but I never got beyond their external beauty or peacefulness to know their history and their meaning to local people. Places lacked depth for me.

Nunavut was different. Arviat, on the west coast of Hudson Bay, became home when I lived there in the early 2000s. Unlike Japan, my closest friends were local people, long term residents, families, people of all ages. The people I lived with became my family. My research explored the relationship between the people of Arviat and the sea. I learned what the place meant to people. The landscape and seascape around Arviat became imbued with history and memory and each time I went on the land or to sea, places became more meaningful to me as my memories and experiences became entwined with the stories my companions and friends told me.

Daddy and Tom outside our house in the 1940s

Daddy and Tom outside our house in the 1940s

I left Ireland when I was 22 years old and have lived there on and off in the intervening twenty years. And in that time, my home has changed and I have changed. The physical landscape has changed – more infrastructure, more urban and rural development, and more people. I no longer know the places of my childhood as well as I once did. And where once I knew everyone I met on the road or on the streets of Edenderry, these days there are so many people I don’t know. I have also lost many close family members whose presence was implicit in my sense of home – Daddy, my uncle Tom, my aunt Lily, my uncle Gerry. Home resided in them. I still have a huge vast extended family back in Ireland, including my mother and sister. But these days, given what eager travellers they are, I’m as likely to hang out with Mammy and Antoinette in places other than Edenderry, and so my sense of family and my sense of home as place have become unglued from each other. We’re family no matter where we are.

Which I guess brings me to the most remarkable thing that happened to cause me to change my conception of home. I got married and had a family of my own. In the four and a half years Julian and I were together before Lily was born, we lived in four different places – Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Littleport, Cambridge. As we uprooted from place we became rooted to each other. And when the girls were still very young, we decided to buy a boat and set sail. And if you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that we don’t stay in any place for very long.

So, where is home now? I’ve had this discussion with Lily and Katie quite a lot, especially this summer, when we’ve become uprooted from our boat and have moved temporarily back to the UK. Home, for me, is wherever the four of us are together. It’s not a physical place. Our roots are in each other. I consider Carina to be our home, but she will likely not be our home forever. No matter where we live, or what type of accommodation we live in, home for me is the comfort and stability of being together as a family. And that’s why, when I hang out with my mum and sister on the boat, or in a hotel room, in New York or in Vienna, we’re home, because we’re with each other.

Over the years the symbols of home have become less important. I’m less concerned about being Irish or being from Kildare or Edenderry than I used to be. That kind of nationalism and tribalism has lost much of its meaning for me now. My memories of place – the home of my childhood – remain strong and inform the way I live my life today. I suspect no place will ever affect me as strongly and deeply as the place where I grew up. Home used to be people-rooted-in-place. But these days, home is far less about place and far more about people. These days home is that ever moving location where I live with my family.



After my surreal media week some semblance of normality returned to our holiday in Ireland. I had a few opportunities to spend time in the company of some of my oldest friends. A big-girl sleep-over with two friends I’ve known since we were all four years old involved a lot of good food and even more good conversation.

What a dessert!

What a dessert!

And in last Saturday’s glorious sunshine three of my old (‘less of the old’ I hear them yell) university friends descended on Mammy’s house with an assortment of their children. We caught up while our kids got to know each other. There were a few family get-togethers, filled with tea and cake and ham sandwiches, and visits to other relatives and neighbours.

We celebrated a rip-roaring St. Patrick’s Day, the girls dressed (as one of my friends pointed out) like the Clancy Brothers! We went to Mass in Edenderry to hear and see Granny singing in the choir, and were also treated to the spectacle of Irish dancers dancing up the aisle of St. Mary’s Church.

Begosh and Begorrah..looking none too pleased!

Begosh and Begorrah..looking none too pleased!

Later, we attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade along JKL Street. The parade is a new addition to the Edenderry social calendar. It started only three or four years ago at the height of the recession, in an attempt to lift spirits and boost the economy, when the town and a lot of the people in it were feeling pretty miserable. It was great fun, with many local clubs, societies and businesses with colourful floats. There were marching bands and I was only disappointed to not see any more Irish dancers. One of the local shops gave out free giant green, white and gold lollipops and it took me a few minutes to figure out why the green and yellow around Katie’s mouth was tinged with red. IMG_20150317_141002

The little gluttonous imp tried to stuff too much of the lollipop into her mouth at once, and split her mouth on both sides. If only she was so eager to eat her dinner!

I awoke on Friday morning filled with anticipation for the eclipse. The previous two days had been bright and sunny, so I was disappointed when I opened the curtains to a sky filled with heavy grey clouds. Still, I sat out on the patio, cup of tea warming my hands, awaiting…something. It grew noticeably darker, but that was it. Or so I thought. I went inside to warm up. Half an hour later I ventured outside to bring in turf for the fire and the clouds had thinned to reveal the sun still a little less than half eclipsed by the moon. I yelled for Lily and Katie to come out. They weren’t quite as awestruck as I was!

On Sunday, Lily had a pre-birthday party (five days early), with two little cousins, and a large gathering of my family – Mammy and some of her sisters, my sister, our Nana and, as often at gatherings of my family, the obligatory solitary man, this time in the form of my sister’s boyfriend.

Happy cousins

Happy cousins

The children played, while the adults talked and ate, ate and talked. Mammy put her considerable musical talents to use to play the mouth organ for ‘Pass the Parcel’. ‘Jingle Bells’ in March…what a treat!

All too soon our three weeks in Ireland came to an end and it was time for us to return to Spain – to Julian and to Carina. Since Daddy died and, therefore, since the girls were born, I haven’t spent more than ten days in the house where I grew up. And usually our visits home are around Christmas or for funerals. Three weeks in the middle of March was a very different experience. Everyone else was going about their usual daily business each day and the visit home was devoid of the mania and expectation always attendant on Christmas. It was a much more laid back sort of visit.

Katie and Molly have become great friends

Katie and Molly have become great friends

Three weeks gave Lily and Katie opportunities to become comfortable in the house and the garden, and to spend more time with their great grandmother, Nana Kitty, and various other family members.

It was springtime, so the weather was good, the daffodils were in bloom, there were lambs in the fields – a very different place to the one we so often visit in the darkest days of winter. I have returned to Carina feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, my connections to home rekindled, and Mammy’s bookcase raided for reading material to keep me going for the next few months!

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.


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.


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

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

2. My ‘Open Water 2 : Adrift’ moment

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

3. Headlands on a lee shore

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

4. Slipping the anchor

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

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

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

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

6. When the wind blows

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


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

Irish Abroad

Early on Monday morning, with the girls still sleeping, we motored down the river to La Palue to take on fuel and water, and to prepare for a longer passage, although we as yet hadn’t decided where. There was laundry to be done and showers to be had so, as soon as breakfast was over, I stepped onto the pontoon to go make use of the marina facilities. I immediately saw a boat arriving, flying an Irish flag.
‘Do ye want a hand with the ropes?’ I shouted, as I dropped the laundry and washing bags. It was then I realised I was being filmed by a cameraman standing in the bow, slightly in front of the man holding the bow line. I tied them on to a shout of ‘Good girl’, and off I went to have my shower.

IMG_20140617_144306Twenty minutes later as I returned to the boat, I looked out over the sea and, to my surprise, saw four men rowing a curragh into port, it too bearing an Irish flag. A curragh is a traditional Irish four-man row boat, made of wood covered in tarred canvas, and rowed using flat blade oars. The men from the Irish yacht were all standing on the pontoon, shouting directions to the rowers as to where best to land the curragh along the pontoon, while the cameraman and sound man recorded proceedings for RTE, the national Irish broadcaster.

For the next two days we got to know these men a little bit, and they got to know us. They had departed St. James Gate in Dublin in May, and were following the Camino de Santiago by curragh! Dublin, Ireland to Santiago de Compostella, Spain in the Naomh Gobnait. The voyage may take up to three summers to complete, but already this summer they have advanced farther than expected. An Seachrán is their support vessel, and everywhere they go the crew of both vessels bring traditional Irish music with them, and the hostelries of La Palue were treated to music and song as the crew waited for some fair weather and light winds to complete the next leg of their journey.

It was a real treat for us to meet them, and it reminded me of some other crazy places where I’ve met fellow Irish people. I’ve met the niece of my Nana’s parish priest in Japan, bumped into an old university friend in a pub on the Isle of Skye, hung out with an interesting Cork woman in Bangkok. The oddest such meeting was in 2003 in Arviat in the Canadian Arctic. One day someone told me that a couple of Irish men were staying at the B&B. So I wandered over to The Bayside and discovered that not only were they Irish, but they were from the same county as me – Kildare – and one of them was a postman who delivered the post to Mammy at her place of work. The two were brothers, and had travelled to Arviat to see the northern lights.

I knew at least one person in common with the crew of An Seachrán. I hail from a small island with a relatively small population, some of whom are crazy dreamers who do things like rowing to Spain, just because they can. It’s always fun to meet people from home. Who knows where we’ll next meet the Irish abroad!

Great Friday

The interior of Carina has been cleaned from top to bottom, clothes and food have been put away, there’s banana bread baking in the oven, and I’m waiting for a phone call from two of my oldest friends to tell me they’re on the train to Plymouth. It’s not a good Friday, it’s a great Friday!

8am this morning...the view from the cockpit.

8am this morning…the view from the cockpit.

Lily and Katie have gone to visit their Grandma for a few days, so Julian and I could pack up the house and get Carina ready for us to move aboard. We borrowed my mother-in-law’s car, loaded about half the stuff we want to bring aboard, and drove down to Plymouth on Wednesday morning. Julian drove back up to his mum’s yesterday, leaving me with a boat to clean and bags and boxes to unpack.

So here I am, 24 hours later, and I haven’t done too badly! After a winter uninhabited, mould was my biggest enemy on Carina. However, compared to the challenge I faced when we first move aboard back in 2012, this was easy. We put moisture traps in all the cabins over winter, and Julian replaced them regularly. They’ve really done the trick, and removing mould from the head-lining didn’t take too long. It simply involved contorting my body into nooks and crannies, reaching farther than I thought I could possibly reach, and trying to avoid banging my head every five minutes. Thank you to my wonderful yoga teacher at Exeter University this year, for bringing me back to my old bendiness again!!

In Larkin’s pub, at home in Edenderry over New Year, I suggested to my friends Iseult and Angela that they come stay on the boat sometime in April. I’ve known these two chicas since we were all four, when we all started school in September 1977. About a decade ago we started having annual weekends away, but it hasn’t happened for a few years. So I’m very excited to get three whole days with them, to introduce them to my new home, and show them some of the wonderful sights around Plymouth. Having visitors always provides the impetus to get my home clean and tidy, so Carina’s looking especially shiny this morning!

So now I’m just waiting for a phone call to say their plane from Ireland has arrived and they’re on the train to Plymouth. Then I’ll go meet them for a weekend of good food, good wine and, most importantly, good conversation.


2012 Highlights

We’ve almost reached the end of another year, and some of us may already be regretting giving ourselves over to mince pies and mulled wine so early in the Christmas season. It’s a time of year to reflect on what’s past and to look forward to the future. I’ve picked out ten of my highlights of the year – in vague chronological order:

1. Lily’s Birthday, Dawlish

March 27th on the beach at Dawlish

March 27th on the beach at Dawlish

Lily’s third birthday was celebrated on the beach at Dawlish. I took the day off work, packed a picnic lunch and our swimwear, and we spent the day playing, building sandcastles, splashing in the waves, and generally having big big fun. What could be better than a day on the beach with my two favourite people?

Strolling in Lanzarote

Strolling in Lanzarote

2. Easter in Lanzarote

We spent Easter in Lanzarote with Julian’s mum and my mum. What a week. Sun, sea, swimming pools. Two grandmothers to spoil the girls, leaving Julian and I free to go SCUBA diving for the first time in almost five years. What bliss to be under water again.

Moving Day

Moving Day

3. Moving Day

On the 9th of May we said goodbye to dry land and moved aboard Carina. Land-lubbers no more. Only thirteen months since that fateful Good Friday in 2011 when we decided to give it a shot, and here we were living on our own boat. I was filled with excitement, pride and joy on what we had achieved and what we hoped to achieve.

In lieu of a Falmouth photo I give you twenty toes

In lieu of a Falmouth photo I give you twenty toes

4. Cosmopolitan Falmouth

For five days we berthed at Falmouth Yacht Haven. The place was a United Nations of bohemian self-sufficient live-aboards in fantastically equipped home-made or altered sailing boats. Each day we met interesting neighbours from Germany, Italy, Canada, Ireland, the US, newly sailed in from Ireland, Bermuda, the Mediterranean. Lone sea-farers, couples with young children, boat-loads of friends. What a treat.

View from the highest point of Tresco

View from the highest point of Tresco

5. Tresco – twice

We visited the Isles of Scilly twice this year, mooring either side of the delightful island of Tresco. Azure seas, golden sandy beaches and bizarre rock formations formed our backdrop and our playground. We swam, we explored, we played, we ate good food, we met Dick Strawbridge! I can’t sing the praises of the Isles of Scilly highly enough.

The Bull and the Heifer near the mouth of Bantry Bay

The Bull and the Heifer

6. The Cork and Kerry coastline

West Cork and South Kerry have been a part of me for as long as I remember. Holidays with family and friends bring back so many good memories. But I never saw them from this angle before. Wow. The cliffs and islands as one turns into Glandore/Union Hall, and again at Baltimore; majestic Mizen Head; delightful Crookhaven; The Cow and The Bull and The Heifer. This awesome coastline lifted my spirits and filled my heart with wonder.

bolt7. BOLT!!!!

On a warm summer’s evening in August, Julian and I went to the pub in Baltimore, leaving the girls aboard Carina with their granny. Shortly before 9.45pm, the revelers out on the street packed into the pub. About 200 people were squashed together, standing on tables and chairs, all eyes on the small television mounted on the wall near the bar. We screamed, we yelled, we clapped each other on the back. We hugged complete strangers. And for 9.63 seconds we all belonged to each other and a lanky cheeky Jamaican belonged to us all. I’m welling up just remembering it.

View of Sherkin Island from Lott's Wife

View of Sherkin Island from Lott’s Wife

8. Horseshoe Bay, Sherkin Island

On a warm September day, Julian rowed the girls and I from our anchorage in Horseshoe Bay to a small deserted stony beach. The only access to the beach was by boat and ours was the only boat in the bay. The girls played, I read a book, we collected rocks. In late afternoon, Julian re-joined us, and I left him with the girls while I rowed back to Carina, made dinner and transported it in pots and pans back to the beach. It was one of those perfect sunshiny days that stay with you forever.

Certainly no Royal Navy photos...anyone going shopping?

Certainly no Royal Navy photos…anyone going shopping?

9. Royal Navy

Let me first say I’m a pacifist, and no fan of the military. In early summer, as we were departing Plymouth, a Royal Navy frigate overtook us with all hands on deck standing to attention. It was a magnificent sight. But when they saw our little girls waving at them, the entire crew – I don’t know – 100 sailors – all waved back. I was touched. As we sailed back into Plymouth in late September, three Royal Navy high speed inflatables overtook us. All the sailors waved at us. But the crew of one inflatable diverted from their course, and sped in circles around Carina to the delight of both the girls and us. Simple, thoughtful gestures that made our children happy.

Lily and friend at Hallowe'en

Lily and friend at Hallowe’en

10. Hatton Country World

My final highlight of the year was a trip to Hatton Country World in Warwickshire with Lily, Katie and my father-in-law, Barry. What a great place. The very best soft play in the whole world – for adults and children; goats, sheep, pigs, guinea pigs, reindeer, a donkey all to feed and stroke, and more indoor and outdoor activities for children than your mind could comprehend. My only complaint – one day was not enough. We might have to go back again over Christmas.

Wishing you all a peaceful and merry Christmas, and best wishes for a 2013 filled with joy, love and – what else? – adventure xxx

Ashore once more

Our maritime adventure is over for this year. Last Thursday we packed our bags, locked up Carina and said goodbye to her until spring. Well…almost. She’s currently berthed on a pontoon at Teignmouth in south Devon, waiting for her winter mooring to become available, which could be any time in the next few days. She’ll get some much needed care and attention over the winter months to get her ready for next spring and, hopefully, our permanent move aboard. We, in the meantime, are staying with Julian’s mum in Leamington Spa, about as far as one can be from the sea in the UK. In fact, around the corner from my mother-in-law’s house there is an oak tree with a plaque proclaiming it to mark the exact middle of the country. We are in a state of limbo, awaiting the take-off of our winter plans. Hopefully, within the next few weeks we will have settled down to some job or other, and can then proceed with preparing Carina for warmer, bluer, deeper waters in 2013.

We have learned so much in the past six months. What a steep learning curve it has been, and we still have a long way to go. Perhaps the most important thing we have learned is that we love this lifestyle, we love living aboard our boat. And it has been a tough summer for that kind of love. The wettest summer on record in the UK and Ireland. When we planned this summer adventure along the south of England and across to Ireland, I had imagined endless days of sunshine, long lazy days on the beach, eating our meals in the cockpit under the warm summer sun. I worried about not having enough sun screen for the girls and for the state of my own fair skin. I need not have worried. I imagined doing most of my own laundry, handwashing our shorts and t-shirts and hanging them out to dry in Carina’s rigging. Alas, none of this was to be. We had the occasional warm (or even, dare I say it, hot) day, when we dashed to the nearest beach. But the rain fell far more often than the sun shone. The boat was constantly damp and mildewed, and I had to resort to almost always using expensive launderette facilities (and bringing Moby aboard in the course of one such trip). On those rare warm, dry days we raced to open all the hatches and lockers, and air the bedding, in a futile attempt to dry Carina out (she sounds like a bit of an alcoholic!). There were times when high wind and driving rain prevented us from leaving the boat for days on end, and we struggled to keep the children occupied and entertained. If it was winter, or if we had embarked on a long trans-oceanic passage, we would be prepared for such things, but we had not expected such endless wet, windy and cold weather during the British and Irish summer.

But despite all of this – or perhaps because of it – we have discovered that we love our life afloat; we love Carina; and we enjoy each other’s company in confined spaces for extended periods of time (I hesitate to use the word ‘love’ for this experience, but being together all day every day has certainly been no endurance trial!).

And so, it is with somewhat heavy hearts that we have moved back ashore for winter. But this was always our plan, and we are filled with excitement for what is to come. We have learned a lot, and can now begin to put it into practice. We have both compiled lists of things we need to procure – mine concern improved food storage and waste disposal and educational entertainment for the girls; Julian’s concern the engine and sails and renewable energy sources. We have learned lessons through our own trial and error, and also from talking to other people and learning how more experienced sailors and live-aboards do things more cannily than we do.

We have learned how to deal with Katie’s tendancy to sea sickness and over the summer months we have gradually reduced the number of times she has been ill. I don’t think her tolerance for pitching and rolling has increased, but rather our skills at preventing the sickness from happening and spotting the signs early on have improved. We’ve learned the best sleeping arrangements for the girls under various sailing conditions; we’ve learned how to cook and bake our favourite foods with just a few minor adjustments to take account of our lack of worktop and cooking space. And we’ve learned to sail. Perhaps not very well, but we are more confident of our abilities having covered 1000 nautical miles in all sorts of weather conditions, and having developed our skills at mooring, anchoring and berthing.

We have so much still to learn and discover, and are already hatching plans for next year and a much more extensive adventure. My blog will continue throughout the winter as I look forward and look back.

Night sailing to the Isles of Scilly

We departed Crosshaven last Wednesday afternoon on course for the Isles of Scilly. This time the wind and sea were favourable and we had a pleasant 25 hour sail to Old Grimsby Sound on the north side of the Isles. For the first few hours the wind blew us along at a pleasant 5 knots, and we grazed on the food I’d prepared in the afternoon sunshine. The girls fell asleep around 7pm. Unlike on the passage over to Ireland seven weeks earlier, I didn’t try to put them to bed, but rather let them drift off when they were ready. They slept, Lily port and Katie starboard, in the saloon, so we could keep an eye on them through the night. Julian quickly followed them, and went below deck for a rest (though no sleep) that lasted three hours. I then had the sea all to myself for sunset and the start of the night. The sunset was glorious over the two Kinsale gas rigs away to the northwest, and I watched as the sky gradually changed colour and stars began to rise.

When I was a teenager, my family (good Irish Catholics that we were) went to Mass every Saturday night. My two strongest memories (apart from my sister and I week after week trying to stifle our laughter in church) were of picking up burgers or fish and chips from Joanna’s Golden Fries in Edenderry on the way home from Mass and, on winter nights of jumping out of the car when we arrived home and going out into the back garden, as far away from the light of the house as I could get, to watch the stars in the sky. And in Nunavut, in my late 20s, I loved wrapping up on winter nights in my cold weather gear, a mug of hot chocolate in my hands, to sit on my back step overlooking the inlet that leads onto Hudson Bay, and watch the night sky – green aurora borealis dancing across the sky, the stars twinkling behind.

These happy memories came flooding back to me as I helmed through the early night last Friday. At first I sang, every song I could think of, at the top of my voice. Everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Lady Gaga; Christy Moore to Tom Waites; Carly Simon to Eta James. I covered them all. That was, until Lily shouted up at me to be quiet. So then I watched in silence, as the stars rose and set across the sky. It was amazing. I’ve been out on clearer, brighter nights, but I’ve rarely been out for so long or been so concentrated on the night sky. The Milky Way ran across the sky overhead, and I picked out the constellations that I know and wondered at the ones I didn’t know. I saw lights appear on the horizon, thinking at first that they were ships, only to realise they were stars rising to the east or setting to the west. It was a beautiful sight.

Julian arrived up at 11pm, but before I could rest, Katie woke up. She had been restless since going to sleep and when I lay down beside her I realised that the sound of water against the hull was potentially terrifying, so I took her with me to the aft cabin and she slept somewhat better. Much like Julian, I couldn’t sleep when my watch was over. Julian told me his mind raced, thinking about me, the inexperienced one, at the helm. I couldn’t sleep, because I worried that he would fall asleep during his watch. So every hour I popped up to check that he was alright. Still, I got three hours of rest, and at 2pm I returned to the helm. The amazing spectacle continued, and I marvelled at how the stars had migrated across the sky in the three hours I had been away. Not that I should marvel…it is precisely such movements that Micronesian sailors used to navigate their canoes from one tiny Pacific island to another for millennia. I watched a green planet rise away to the south east (if someone can tell me what it was, I’d appreciate it), followed by another planet some time later. And then, oh delight of delights, a strange light on the horizon that I puzzled over for minutes before it revealed itself to be the thinnest sliver of a waning moon, a fingernail crescent hanging in the sky.

The sky clouded over after that, and by the time Julian came up to relieve me there was little to be seen in the sky. But by then the noises beside the boat had started. The occasional unmistakable sounds of a mammal breathing – a dolphin? a whale? I didn’t know. There were splashes too, which made me think it must be dolphins.

This time I slept…and slept…and slept. For four hours. Lily was up before me. The sounds I had heard proved to be dolphins, who knows how many, possibly 50, who accompanied Julian for hours, entertaining him with a spectacular display of jumping and spinning and synchronised dancing that went on for hours and hours. When Lily joined him early in the morning they thrilled her too, and they were still with us when Katie and I finally made our appearance after 8am.

The remainder of the journey was pleasant, and we reached Old Grimsby Sound in mid-afternoon, tired but very pleased with our sail. We had achieved our goal for the summer – to sail from the UK to Ireland and back again. We enjoyed a few wonderful warm days on the beach in the Isles of Scilly and had a brush with minor celebrity…of which more later.

Has autumn arrived?

There was a new chill in the air this morning, that feeling of the start of a new season. I put on a pair of jeans, something I haven’t worn in months. When I woke up I wanted to stay under the covers, but then, when I got out of bed there was that unmistakable change in the air, the feeling of a new season.

We hadn’t planned to still be in Ireland, but we are. We departed Sherkin Island a week ago and sailed to Union Hall, where we anchored with a plan to set sail for the Isles of Scilly as soon as we had favourable weather. We had a pleasant couple of days, spending time with my aunt and uncle in Roscarbery, and taking advantage of the ongoing good weather to go to the beach. On Thursday I heard of the death of the father of one of my oldest and dearest friends, and so on Friday I took a bus from west Cork to Waterford for the funeral. I arrived back in Roscarbery late on Friday night, stayed with my aunt and uncle, and didn’t get back to the boat until the middle of Saturday morning. On Sunday we sailed east to Kinsale with the intention of sailing for the Isles of Scilly on Monday morning.

Departing Kinsale on Monday morning, we set a course for the UK. The wind was stronger than forecast and there were big seas. For two hours we battled uncomfortably and then decided to give up. Who knew how long before the wind would change to a more favourable direction, so we altered course for Crosshaven in Cork. So here we are, relaxing, planning what to do next. We’re thinking about sailing up into Cork city tomorrow, which would be a novel experience! And perhaps we’ll try to reach the UK again in a few days time.