Rain

On Monday morning I did an overdue load of laundry at the launderette in Alcoutim. But with one thing and another I didn’t get home until 6pm. I hung it out on the guard rails and rigging anyway.

On Tuesday it rained. Heavily. All day. The laundry hung sodden around the rails and rigging. We came home from Sanlúcar with four sets of wet foul weather gear, four sets of wet rubber boots, four sets of wet clothes. We hung them where we could.

On Wednesday it rained. Lily had no dry socks or shoes. She wore a pair of Katie’s socks to school and a pair of shoes that are still a size too big. We donned half-dry foul weather gear and half-dry rubber boots to get ashore. When the sun came out in the evening the girls splashed in muddy puddles.

On Thursday the sun came out. I threw open the hatches over our beds. Julian and I went to Alcoutim. As we sat drinking coffee on a terrace overlooking the river we felt drops of rain. Julian downed his coffee and raced back home in the dinghy. Alas, too late. By the time he got to Carina our beds were soaked and the almost dry laundry was wet once again.

By Thursday evening all of Monday’s laundry was finally dry and our beds were mostly dry. We had clean clothes at last and our spirits were lifting.

Today the sun feels good.

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Downriver

On the morning of New Year’s Day, while the rest of the river slept off the festivities of the night before, we lifted the anchor and motored downriver on the ebb tide. For twenty-two miles we chugged along, the farthest Carina had gone since we came upriver in mid-April 2015. We past Laranjeiras where Carina was moored for five months while we were back in the UK, past Guerreros de Rio and Foz de Odeleite, all small hamlets on the Portuguese side of the river. On the Spanish side, there are no settlements of any size between Sanlúcar and Ayamonte, save for the occasional remote farmhouse and a huge ugly golf resort a couple of miles north of Ayamonte.

For some unfathomable reason I’d decided to do some laundry before we departed, so we motored down the river like a tribe of laundry pirates – a large white bed sheet, the girls’ Christmas jumpers, and Lily’s party dress hanging from the clothes lines strung from the rigging. But who was about to see us?

We were expecting unsettled weather and we got it. The sun that had burned away the early morning mist warmed us as we set out, but a few miles downriver I had to hastily bring in the laundry as a dark cloud rushing up the river to meet us dropped its load of rain upon us. That put an end to drying the laundry.

The farther downriver we went the stronger the wind grew. By the time we had left the hills behind and reached the broader stretches of river than run between mud flats and flood plains, Carina was bouncing over choppy short waves as the south westerly wind battled against the south flowing ebb tide.

It was close to low water when we passed under the suspension bridge linking Spain and Portugal and we began to look for a place to anchor. The wind was strong now and the west bank of the river offered the best shelter from the prevailing conditions. To give our anchoring skills a good workout, Mother Nature threw a nasty squall at us just as we decided on an anchorage. Tempers were frayed as lashing rain and howling wind prevented effective communication between Julian on the foredeck with the anchor chain and me in the cockpit on the helm. But as the storm passed overhead, so too did the little storm that had erupted in the boat. A nice cup of tea and we were back on speaking terms again!

High winds didn’t make for the most pleasant anchorage. We were anchored in mud, well out of the ferry and fishing boat channels, so Carina was unlikely to come to much harm if the anchor dragged. But noisy wind, uncomfortable rocking and rain that fell in sheets for hours on end wasn’t how any of us planned to spend our first night of 2016.

Somewhere in the early morning the wind died, the rain stopped and when we awoke the next morning all was calm and peaceful at the mouth of the Guadiana. At 9am we lifted the anchor and motored into the marina in Ayamonte. In the large, half empty Junta de Andalucia marina we found ourselves beside our friends Joss and Pascale aboard Snark and two pontoons away from Pete and Pia aboard Hannah Brown – Alcoutim/Sanlúcar live-aboards on tour!

How strange to be in a marina again, in a Spanish town. It reminded Lily of somewhere else she had been, but she couldn’t remember quite where. This was the first time we had been in a marina since April and it was like many of those we had been to before. It could have been Muros or Mazagon, Torremolinos or Vila Garcia de Arousa. Long walks along pontoons inhabited by seagulls; palm trees planted around the margins; electric gates; bureaucratic staff. My first job was to pay for a night’s berth and have a shower! Bliss!

Soon we were off the boat exploring. Next time I’m there I’ll be giving the little free zoo a miss, with its sad tiger, grizzly bears, lions and baboons. Only the ostriches seem relatively content with their lot in life. Ayamonte town centre was a busy little place, still in the throes of Christmas, preparing for Twelfth Night and the arrival of Los Tres Reyes with their gifts for all the children. An incongruous ice skating rink in the square left much to be desired, but the Christmas trees made by local school children and on display on the steps of the church were wonderful (I took note of some craft ideas for next year!).

That first evening, January 2nd, there was a procession through town of the Compañeras de los Tres Reyes – a brass band playing lively Christmas music followed by three women dressed in ‘Oriental’ clothing, riding three of the most magnificent and well-kept mules I have ever seen. The girls and I ran through the pouring rain to catch up with the procession and later on, when it grew dark all four of us returned to the town centre again where a lively flamenco choir sang carols and we soaked up the atmosphere.

We intended to spend only one night in the marina, and a couple more on anchor. And we intended to divide our time between Ayamonte in Spain and Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal. But the wind and rain put paid to those plans and we spent three nights in Ayamonte marina. The marina proved a boon. The heavy rain had penetrated some of Carina’s leakier parts and the bedding on both fore and aft cabins got quite wet. So, while I ran loads of sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases through the marina’s inexpensive washing machine and tumble drier, we kept the electric fan heater running almost non-stop, drying out the cabins and making the boat comfortable again.

We also took advantage of our proximity to a supermarket to stock up on some food, but I have to say, having got used to shopping in Alcoutim’s and Sanlúcar’s tiny shops, I found the choice in a medium-sized supermarket rather daunting! Nice though to have soy sauce, noodles and a selection of crackers on board again.

On January 4th a text message from the parents of one of Lily’s friends asked if we would make it to their daughter’s birthday party the next day. We hoped the wind would die down enough for us to get back upriver on time for the party and for the Tres Reyes procession in Sanlúcar that night.

Low water the next morning was at 5.13am and we planned to leave at 8am to get upriver on the flood tide. There was little wind, but by 8am it was still pitch dark, so we waited twenty more minutes for some light to fill the sky, before we made our way out of the marina. Carina raced up the Guadiana, carried along on the tide. Somewhat annoyingly, the wind was now coming from the north, making for a cold few hours, despite the sun that gradually rose from behind the hills to warm our backs. By the time we reached Alcoutim I looked like a pirate of a different kind – woolly hat, neck warmer pulled up over my nose and only my eyes exposed as I stood at the helm. We made it to the party, and to the Twelfth Night festivities that night.

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!!

Fish, palm trees and…work

Rather unexpectedly, Julian and I have both found part-time jobs. Julian works a couple of mornings a week, and I work evenings. We had hoped we might find winter work, but never suspected it would happen so quickly or with so little effort on our part. It’s the sort of work we hoped to get, where our working hours are limited and our time with the girls isn’t compromised.

The new routine goes something like this: I spend my mornings with the girls. Reading, writing and maths practice for an hour after breakfast, followed by whatever educational opportunities crop up. For example, on Wednesday we took the washing to the Laundromat and went for juice/coffee and churros at a cafe around the corner while we waited. Lily asked if we could bring the drinking straws home so she could use them as flag poles. She wanted to make flags. So we had an impromptu geography and history lesson, as they made Irish and British flags and learned the symbolism of each flag’s colours and pattern. The evening before, the girls and Julian enjoyed an hour of looking at an atlas together, talking about where we had sailed from, the route we had taken, and much more besides.

Most days, either before or after lunch, the girls and I go to the beach for a quick swim. The water is crystal clear and, standing waist-deep (my waist) we are surrounded by multitudes of stripy and spotty fish. The girls and I are enthralled by these gorgeous creatures swimming so close to us and, one day, I took turns carrying Lily and Katie into water too deep for them to stand in, so they could observe the fish up close. Yesterday we found a dead sea cucumber, brown and spotty with rubbery appendages all over its body that looked like spikes. I scooped it up in a bucket for closer examination before Katie returned it to the sea.

Now I want two things – a Mediterranean fish recognition book and a book about palm trees and other trees that grow here. As with the beach, the marina is filled with a variety of beautiful fish. It’s like floating on top of an aquarium. I want to know the names of all those fish, and whether or how they are related to each other. The streets and beaches are lined with palm trees, about which I know nothing. I have quickly come to realise that there are as many different species as there are species of deciduous tree back home. Every day I look up at palm trees with different frond sizes and shapes, trees bearing all sorts of different shaped and coloured fruits, and trees with very different trunk patterns. Besides the palms, there are numerous evergreen trees, some with wispy delicate leaves, others with leaves bigger than my head. I want to know all about them. So, it’s time to get online and see if I can order some books.

On the mornings when Julian’s not working, he goes grocery shopping, or we all hang out together. Each day, in the late afternoon, I kiss everyone goodbye and head off to work for the evening, returning shortly after the girls have gone to bed. After a late dinner I try to get some writing done. I’m having to adjust to Spanish time – eating late and then working for a couple of hours before I go to bed. It’s taking some getting used to – I work best in the mornings and have never been very good at motivating myself after supper! But I’ll get used to it I’m sure.

Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven

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

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

Katie on the beach at Corme

Katie on the beach at Corme

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

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

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

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

The last town on the Coast of Death!

The last town on the Coast of Death!

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

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

The beach at Louro

The beach at Louro

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

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

Muros

Muros

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