Seven years ago…

Today seems like an appropriate day to write this post. On this day seven years ago, Carina became ours. We had spent the summer searching for a suitable boat and had given up hope of finding our new home that year. In mid-September, we moved from Cambridge to Devon and, the night before we made the move, I found Carina online. Not only did she look great but, miraculously, she was only an hour from the Devon town we were moving to the next day. We made an appointment to see her that weekend and immediately fell in love with her. Things moved swiftly and, on that chilly morning of November the 2nd, we transferred the money from our bank account, drove down to Plymouth to sign the papers and Carina was ours.

What an amazing seven years it’s been. She’s been our mode of transportation to amazing places, our school, our office. But more than anything, she’s been our home. The posts in this blog tell the story of the places we’ve been, the things we’ve seen and the adventures we’ve had. Katie was a plump little one-and-a-half-year-old when we first moved aboard Carina, and now she’s a lanky eight-year-old who, as I write, is making me pancakes for breakfast. Carina is the only home that Katie can remember.

Three and a half years ago we found ourselves in the Rio Guadiana. We liked the place and thought we’d stay for a week or ten days. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know it didn’t quite turn out like that. We fell in love with the place and three and half years later we are still here and our love for the place has matured and deepened.

And so, this summer, we made a decision that has been brewing for some time. We decided to move ashore. A few reasons underlie our decision. The main reason is that Carina is now too small for us. Julian has felt uncomfortable aboard for some time. Given that he’s 6’2”, big and broad, there are no comfortable spaces for him as he squeezes around the saloon table, crouches down to get to our bed in the aft cabin, and sits on saloon sofas that are too small for him. The girls are growing too, and taking after their dad when it comes to height. Before long I’ll be looking up at all three of them.

As I’ve written in posts before, like many live aboard families, our financial situation is such that we’ve had to work our way to this lifestyle. For the first few years, I worked winters and we cruised summers. After a few months of living on the Rio Guadiana, when Lily and Katie had already been in school in Sanlúcar for four months, we had our first winter where we didn’t earn any money. So, when spring rolled around, we knew that if we wanted to stay longer we needed to make some money.

What started out as occasional work teaching English and doing academic editing, has grown and grown until it is now full-time work for me and almost half-time work for Julian. I now have three very satisfying jobs – as an English teacher, an academic editor and a researcher and marketer for an online company. The diversity of the jobs keeps me on my toes and, currently, there’s no risk I’ll get bored any time soon. Julian’s English teaching hours are also growing and he works now and again for an old local man who needs someone younger, more agile and with better eyesight to help him refurbish his boat.

My online work means that I need my own space to work – an office where I can work undisturbed and the space around to spread out my work materials – my notebooks, my calendars, my lists. My online and editing work often requires me to work early in the morning or late at night, so my live aboard options – taking myself ashore to the library or a bar – were becoming increasingly untenable, not to mention frustrating on those days when I arrived in Alcoutim to discover there was a public holiday and the library was closed, or when I sat in my favourite bar in Sanlúcar and spend the morning talking to all the people who dropped by my table to say hello. I’m pathologically social, so finding a way to separate work time from socialising time became critical.

House-sitting for our friends over the summer opened my eyes to something else, which was the thing that finally convinced me to move ashore. It wasn’t the space of living in a house that seduced me. It was the time. The speed at which I could do things in a house suddenly made me realise how much time living aboard Carina was taking. It wasn’t just the time taken to bring the girls to and from school by dinghy. That was lovely, the early morning river, the time to chat as we rowed home from school. There was all the other motoring or rowing up and down the river – to get to English lessons, to get to a place where I could do my online work, to get to the youth hostel to do laundry, to go shopping. Each trip ashore took time and planning, Julian and I coordinating laundry trips with collecting the girls from school; coordinating English teaching with the girls’ after school activities. But apart from the dinghy rides to and from the villages multiple times a day there was the time it took to do everything onboard Carina. Cooking, washing dishes, boiling the kettle, showering, getting dressed, tidying up. Everything takes so much more time aboard a small boat than in a house.

None of that mattered when we were cruising and had time on our hands. In fact, there was a great joy and freedom in that slowing down, which I now miss. But now we have children with busy social lives – after school activities and friends with whom they want to run around the village – and we are busy parents with a lot of working hours, each one of those minutes is precious. Living in a house during the summer I was shocked to discover how quickly I could do laundry, take a shower, get dressed, and how much time that opened up in my day. What a revelation. I realised I had lost the time to enjoy the boat, to sit out on deck reading a book, to take in the sunset while sipping a glass of wine. Life had become rush rush rush.

One way we could deal with that would be to give it all up. Take the girls out of school, give up the teaching, embrace the cruising life once more and set sail. But that wouldn’t solve the space problem and it would create a whole new problem. You see, some time over the past year or two, Sanlúcar became home. All too often in the past I have left places I love before I was ready to leave – Sue-machi in Japan and Arviat in Nunavut – and I don’t want to do the same to this place.

 

So, we made what was, for me and for the girls at least, the sad decision to leave our home and make a new home in the village. There have been tears. There was the day in late August when Lily, Katie and I went down to Carina for a couple of hours to do some packing, but completely failed. First Lily started to cry, and then all three of us were crying and hugging each other and the idea of packing up our home was too distressing. We just sat there feeling miserable and reminiscing about the good times we’d had on board. A couple of weeks later I cleared Carina out on my own, business-like and not allowing myself to get emotional.

 

We have moved into a lovely house, high up in the village, with a view over the roof of the church and the old windmills. We have two bedrooms, two (two!!) bathrooms, an office, a spacious living room, a kitchen with an open fire, and big back yard. We have lovely neighbours and Lily’s and Katie’s friends knock on the door every morning and they all walk to school together.

 

Meanwhile, Carina sits on a mooring a few hundred metres downriver. I haven’t been back to see her since we moved off. I want to visit her, but I’ve had back problems (brought on by the move) and have been unable to do so. As soon as my back improves I want to row down to visit her, maybe spend a night onboard, take time to appreciate her as she looked when we first bought her. Soon we will put her up for sale. Who knows, she might sell in days (as happened when we bought her) or she might take months or even years to sell. For as long as we have her here we can visit her, go for trips on her. But that’s not the same. We are no longer liveaboards. That phase of our lives is over and now we have moved on to something else. The girls have been confused by their mixed emotions – sadness at leaving Carina and excitement about moving into a house. I’ve tried to explain that that’s how things are, that mix of emotions is often how we experience change in our lives.

 

Maybe we’ll live aboard another boat someday but, for now, we have become landlubbers once again.

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One Hundred Days

Early morning St. Micheal's Mount

What would you do in one hundred days to change your life, to make you feel good about yourself, to make you happy? What could you do? I don’t mean cycling from Land’s End to Vladivostok, or rowing across the Atlantic. Things like that take planning, organisation and (I suspect) a team of supporters, runners, and a camera crew to document the experience for sale to ITV. What I’m talking about are things that you can do, starting right now, to change you life in one hundred days.

In one hundred days you could transform yourself from a couch potato to someone who can comfortably walk five miles a day; from a casual runner to a marathon runner; from someone who’s scared of the water to someone who can swim ten lengths of a pool. In one hundred days you could lose a stone in weight (that’s 14 pounds, North Americans) without too much effort. You could learn to drive a car, ride a bike, paint a still life. You could knit a jumper, learn to play a musical instrument, learn the basics of another language, read War and Peace (and you should – it’s worth the wrist ache). You could craft a love poem to your heart’s desire, or take a photograph a day to create a momento for a beloved family member. You could improve your posture, your flexibility, you cooking skills, your love life. At fifteen minutes a day, you could write 20,000 words of your memoir/novel/PhD/screenplay.

So what would you do?

From today, from this every moment, I have one hundred more days in formal employment. One hundred more days until I’m back to being a full time stay-at-home home-educating parent. One hundred days to the official start of this great sailing adventure we’ve been dreaming about and planning for years. What will I do in one hundred days? I’ll work. One hundred days of teaching, marking essays and exams, and a field trip to New York. During that time we’ll also move back on board Carina and try to make moving out of the house and onto the boat as stress-free as possible (we have it down to a fine art now).

In one hundred days I will also write and plan and set in motion our lifestyle that will begin on Day 101. I’m not naive. I realise I am unlikely to make a living from writing, and Julian and I will have to follow other avenues of employment. But that won’t stop me working hard on my fiction, non-fiction and academic writing, and investigating other writing-related money earners. In one hundred days I will further develop my portfolio, submit my work and ideas to publishers and keep plugging away, 15 minutes, half an hour, and hour a day.

In one hundred days I will cherish the friends I have made during my almost three years in Exeter; and I’ll also cherish Exeter. There are places I haven’t been to yet – the Bill Douglas cinema museum, the Quay (a wet December afternoon doesn’t count) – and places I want to savour again – the walk to and lunch at the Turf Hotel, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. I want to drink beer with my friends and walk on the hills up behind our house. I will not leave Exeter with regrets for the things I haven’t done. I will strive to, as Kipling wrote, ‘Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run’.

One hundred days…how will you have changed your life by May 31st?