The wild city

More than a year of living aboard our boat and we’re predisposed to seek out the wild side of the city. I’m not talking about clubs and bars, but caterpillars and blackbirds. Julian’s and my curiosity about the world around us has rubbed off on Lily and Katie, and we all get very excited about the wildlife we encounter – everything from megafauna in the shape of orcas and dolphins to tiny ants marching away with our dropped crumbs. We’re just as excited about finding animal signs – the muddy footprints of an otter on the riverbank, the discarded shell of a growing crab, an abandoned bird’s nest.

Back in England for the summer, we find ourselves in Midlands suburbia where, despite the tarmac-ing and bricking over some gardens to create extra car parking space and to brighten up gardens with plants that are hostile or unwelcoming to British wildlife, there are signs aplenty of nature in the city.


People looking through their front windows must wonder at the sight of a woman and two little girls, pointing excitedly at a plant or a brick wall, or staring intently at a tree trunk. You see, we’re finding exciting, amazing wild life everywhere we go in the city and the little creatures we find are no less exciting than the dolphins and loggerhead turtles we’ve encountered farther afield.

Grandma’s small back garden is home to frogs, newts and ants. The ants, in turn, attract a vivid green woodpecker. A squirrel also visits the garden, scuttling along the wooden fence and jumping into the tree branches at the end of the garden. One day Lily spotted an unusual bird in Grandma’s garden and when she described it to Granddad he immediately identified it as an ouzel (and confirmed his guess by checking his bird book). From Grandma’s window we regularly see wood pigeons, magpies and blackbirds and Lily’s been using the binoculars to take a closer look.

Grand-dad’s garden hosts wood pigeons, collared doves and sparrows. A few days ago Lily and Katie excitedly called me out to see what they thought was a butterfly. It was a species none of us had ever seen before, vivid red with black edging. I suspected it was a moth rather than a butterfly and, later that day, while visiting Ryton Country Park, I spoke to a lepidopterist who confirmed it was a cinabar moth. This species is on the decline as people eradicate from their gardens the ragwort upon which the caterpillars feed. Grand-dad has plenty of ragwort in his garden!


Alone, with the girls or with my mother-in-law, I take long walks around suburban and urban Leamington Spa. If you pay attention, you see that life abounds. On three separate occasions we have found the egg shells of hatched wood pigeons. The girls are delighted with their finds, and treasure them like priceless diamonds (until they inevitably get smashed by being treasured a little too much!). There are robins and thrushes, bluebells and foxgloves, bumblebees and spiders carving out their own niches in this suburban landscape.

One day, as Lily and I walked into town, we began to notice a pattern to the activities of bumblebees. Certain gardens and patches of grass were abuzz with lively bees, while others were empty. The bees were attracted to clover covered lawns and to the flowers of certain plants. We don’t know much about the likes and loves of bumblebees, so it’s time to carry out some research and try to learn more.

We’ve been watching the behaviour of a pair of blackbirds on a piece of scrubland near a busy road in Coventry. We suspect they have a nest and each day we walk past we look around for fledglings. So far, we’ve only seen the busy parents.

We’ve been spending a lot of time in parks and gardens managed by local authorities, and these are wonderful places to get up close to ducks, geese, water hens and squirrels. But there is something even more special about encountering animals in gardens, hedgerows and on the sides of suburban streets. Even in places seemingly devoid of nature, life finds a way and carries on.


The world’s greatest swimming pool

We are anchored on the west side of the Ria de Arousa, just off the beach of the pretty town Pobra do Caramiñal. After a few days of intense, oppressive heat, the clouds came over, offering us a welcome respite and a chance, at last, to go walking in the hills. The woman at the tourist office recommended As Piscinas on the Rio Pedras and we figured the 6km round trip wouldn’t be too much for the girls to undertake.

IMG_20140801_134011We walked out of town on a gradual incline, soon getting away from the main road and onto a walking track through the woods. Since arriving in Galicia, we have been struck by the profusion of eucalyptus trees and were so confused by their presence (and not trusting ourselves that that’s what they were, despite all evidence they were) that we turned to the Internet for answers. We discovered eucalyptus trees were introduced to the region from Australia only 150 years ago, for pulp and charcoal production, but quickly became a problematic invasive species, rapidly spreading over the hills and blocking natural wildlife corridors. Yet, despite the harm they cause, it is impossible to not be impressed by their beauty and aroma. Their slender silver trunks, stripped of bark, and dusky leaves cast a grey-blue glow on the land. Their soft swooshing as they sway in the breeze, and their unmistakable eucalyptus aroma, makes walking through these woods a joy to the senses. I can’t help but wonder what these hills were like before they took over.

IMG_20140801_135516We walked up the beautiful river valley – at times along a path than ran beside the boulder strewn river, at other times alongside small fields of vines or maize, the tinkling sound of the river always in our ears.

Katie contemplating the vines

Katie contemplating the vines

Upwards we went until the sound of teenagers alerted us to the proximity of the first pool on the upper reaches of the river. We climbed down the bank to a pool in the river where a family with four teenagers swam and ate their lunch. We ate our picnic lunch sitting on the rocks with our feet dipped in the fast flowing river, but then decided to search for more pools farther upstream.

DSCI4212We walked for another fifteen minutes until we reached the last of the pools, one of the most magical places I have ever been. The bedrock was smooth underfoot as we stepped into the warm river water, shallow enough in places for Lily and Katie to stand up, but deep enough elsewhere for Julian and me to enjoy a swim. A little higher up, a waterfall fell into a smaller pool. Julian and I took turns sitting on a rock underneath the waterfall. It was a natural Jacuzzi and we sat there with the water foaming and bubbling around us, massaging our bodies and roaring in our ears.

DSCI4195A natural water slide led from our pool to the next one downriver, lined with slick moss, and Julian entertained himself for ages by repeatedly sliding down. I tried it once and laughed so hard my sides ached. That first day we failed to convince the girls to have a go, but when we returned the next day, Lily eagerly went down the slide sitting on Julian’s lap.

DSCI4206Katie found a little pool all to herself and, holding on to a ledge, splashed and kicked her legs and had a glorious time. When not in the water, the girls foraged for juicy blackberries in the brambles.

My own little bit of paradise

My own little bit of paradise

The most wonderful thing, however, was that we had the place all to ourselves. Our own private piece of paradise. All along the 3km walk back home the girls asked if we could go back again. So we did, two days later. This time we shared ‘our’ pool with some other families, and later moved down the river to another pool that we had all to ourselves. What a treat!



Food wonders

Percebes - goose barnacles

Percebes – goose barnacles

We’re in mollusc heaven or mollusc hell, depending on your perspective. Mussels, clams, razor clams, cockles, and others we have yet to identify, are all on the menu here in Galicia. Our Irish/English sensibilities are still coming to terms with the sheer profusion of rubbery be-shelled creatures so beloved by Galicians and, while we’ve embraced some (in a purely culinary sense), there are others for which we lack the courage to take even a single bite.

To the north of Fisterre it was percebes (goose barnacles). Corme even had a statue in honour of the critters in the town square, and in the museum at Muros we were delighted by the percebes-inspired surreal paintings and sculptures of a local artist. Collecting percebes is dangerous, as they live in hazardous locations where waves lash against craggy shores. Fishermen tie themselves to rocks to avoid being washed into the sea by the waves, and these days they wear wetsuits for some scanty protection.

We arrived in San Julian de Illa de Arousa in time for the Fiesta de Navajas – the razor clam festival. We were thrilled to discover that this town is so enamored of the razor clam that it has its very own festival, complete with Spongebob Squarepants fairground rides, and more razor clams to eat than frankly I care to think about!

Ria de Arousa is Spain’s mussel capital. Let me share some statistics that made my eyes pop: The Galician Rias produce 95% of all mussels grown in Spain, and Spain itself produces 60% of the world’s mussels! There are 3,500 licensed bateas – mussel rafts – in the Rias, half of which are in Ria de Arousa. Beneath each raft hang 20-metre ropes on which the mussels grow. The more mathematically minded Julian assured me that this works out at 28.something percent of the world’s mussels are probably produced in the Ria de Arousa alone.

Fleet of mussel boats in San Julian

Fleet of mussel boats in San Julian

We’ve met many a yachtsman who has bemoaned the presence of these bateas, taking up their precious tacking space. I like them. They seem to be the least invasive or environmentally damaging form of aquaculture that I’ve come across, and the towns in the region seem to be prospering, despite Spain’s recent economic hardships. Horray for the lowly mussel.

In every tourist office in every town we are presented with a local mussel recipe booklet, containing some bizarre combinations from people trying too hard to make the most of mussels. Garlic, white wine and a crusty loaf of bread is all I need to dress up my mejillones. We’ve gathered enough from the rocks for a few dinners, but it’ll be a while before I try them a la pineapple!

Besides the ubiquitous mussels, there are 1,143 other shellfish farms in the Rias, mostly growing clams (I’ve been doing my homework). Julian and the girls have taken to joining the locals here in Cabo Cruz, where we are currently anchored, in digging for clams at each low water. Last night I added them to a paella; I’ve yet to decide what to do this evening.

Old cans at the cannery in San Julian

Old cans at the cannery in San Julian

From churches when we first arrived in Galicia, our cultural explorations now revolve around old canneries. There is a profusion of them along this coast, turned into museums celebrating each town’s canning history!! Who woulda thunk it? Those canned mussels, clams, cockles, not to mention sardines and other fishy wonders have found their way to all corners to the planet.

The cannery museum at San Julian

The cannery museum at San Julian

I wouldn’t choose molluscs for my last meal, and likely not my second last meal either. But I’m thoroughly enjoying the high esteem in which they are held here in Galicia. They are impossible to avoid, and given that they have inspired art and poetry and celebration, we at least can give them their due respect and eat a few. One of these days I’ll build up the courage to try a razor clam!

La Coruña to Ria Corme y Lage

Julian likened our passage from La Coruña to Laxe to a cross between riding a rodeo bull and being on a roller coaster in a wind tunnel while having buckets of sea water thrown in your face at random intervals. Suffice to say, it was not a pleasant trip.

We made an early start from La Coruña, as gusts of 25 knots were forecast for the late evening and into the night. The wind would be in our faces for much of the day, but the 35 mile passage shouldn’t take too long and we imagined ourselves arriving in Laxe in Ria de Corme y Lage in mid afternoon.

The beautiful coast at the mouth of Ria Corme y Lage

The beautiful coast at the Cabo Roncudo

The first couple of hours were pleasant enough. We sailed along at 4 or 5 knots, knowing that once we rounded Isla Sisargas we would have the wind on our nose, and we’d motor the rest of the way. But a couple of miles from Sisargas the wind rose, the waves began to grow choppier, and we lost speed. We motored from then on. For the next six or so hours, we crawled along at sometimes only 2 knots, the wind whipping up to 35 knot gusts at times, sea water lashing us and the motion of the boat making us feel queasy. The strong winds had come much earlier and much stronger than forecast. Every time I looked at the chart plotter and at my watch we were three hours from our destination. Sisargas and a lighthouse beyond it took forever to pass – we seemed to be alongside that lighthouse forever.

We finally reached the sheltered harbour of Laxe just as the rain started to fall, and Julian and I got soaked as we manoeuvred to anchor. Lily, insisting she sit with us in the cockpit through it all, also got very wet. Smart Katie slept through the worst of it.

Carina suffered a little too. Lily and Katie’s room – the fore cabin – was soaking wet from a combination of excessive waves breaking over the starboard port hole and also into the anchor locker. Our first day in Laxe was spent drying the fore cabin out, taking advantage of the hot and windy spells that were annoyingly interspersed with rain.

Lily in the wild!

Lily in the wild!

We stayed in Laxe for two nights. Julian and Lily explored the town and walked to the lighthouse, but Katie and I only ventured as far as the beach. On the second night the wind shifted round to the north and we moved across the ria to Corme for shelter. We’ve been here now for a couple of nights, catching up on chores and having fun on the beach.

Katie found a lighthouse!

Katie found a lighthouse!

Corme is not the prettiest town we’ve visited. It’s quite run down, but it has lovely beaches, clear turquoise water, and quiet walks through wild countryside that remind me of the west of Ireland.

We’ll stay here for a couple more days before heading a little bit more south.

Crossing Biscay

We weighed up our options. We could spend the summer cruising around Brittany, and possibly even spend the winter far up a Breton river. Or we could cross the Bay of Biscay to northern Spain. For days we had north easterly winds, and the forecast was for more of the same, with fair weather and slight to moderate seas. We might not get sailing conditions like these again all summer.

biscayOn Tuesday we made the decision to cross Biscay. I shopped and prepared food for the journey, and Julian prepared the boat. At 11.30am on Wednesday morning we slipped from the pontoon at La Palue in Aber Wrac’h, northwest Brittany, for the long journey ahead. Ten minutes out from the port and we had all three sails out, following a course for 29 miles to Isle Ouessant, and then a south-western course which we stuck to for the next 300 miles.

For three days we sailed, the winds blowing us along at between five and six knots for much of the time. The hot sun shone down on us, but we were cooled by the north easterlies behind. On the evening of the first day we began our watch schedule. We planned four hour watches, but it didn’t work out that way. On the first night, I went to bed around 8pm, while Julian took the first watch at the helm. I slept poorly, and took over before my four hours were up. Julian slept equally badly, Carina’s rolling on the waves feeling much worse when lying down than when at the helm. He too took over before his four hours had passed and I was glad, as I was struggling to stay awake by that stage. We only managed three to four hours sleep per day, often catching our best sleep in the middle of the day. By the third day we were getting into a routine and sleeping much better.

On the first day out the girls were slightly queasy, but by the second day they were oblivious to the rolling motion, and happily played below deck, reading and drawing and doing things that Julian and I would have found impossible to do in those conditions. I had told them they needed to be self-sufficient, as Mummy and Daddy either needed to be at the helm or asleep for a lot of the time. We don’t have a wind vane, and given the wave and wind conditions, the helmsman had his/her hands on the wheel pretty much all the time. I had prepared a tin of snacks (healthy and otherwise) and a bag of fruit and told the girls that if they were hungry they should help themselves to food from that, rather than ask us. I feared they would gorge on the snacks in one go, but when we reached Spain there were still some left. They were left pretty much to their own devises for the trip, and they stood up to the challenge remarkably well – going to bed without help, playing well together (most of the time), and helping the helmsman out by fetching things or occasionally taking the wheel.

We ate well. I had made a large saucepan of basic tomato sauce which I divided into meal-sized portions. I had also soaked and cooked two varieties of beans. On the first evening, I added some beans to the sauce, flavoured it with chilli and we ate it with rice. On the second evening, I added chorizo to the sauce and we ate it with couscous. The third evening was a mix of sauce, beans and chorizo, with left-over couscous. Those evening meals were all warm and filling. We had three baguettes for the journey – one for each lunchtime, with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Emmenthal and Camambert cheeses, cured sausages, eggs I had hard boiled in advance. Breakfast was the only tricky meal. As Julian and I were either catching up on sleep or at the helm when the girls wanted breakfast, I had to devise a way to feed them. In advance of them getting up I placed cereal and spoons in two mugs, and put two pain au chocolat beside them. The helmsman’s only job was to add milk to the cereal, and the girls had their breakfast ready in seconds.

It was a spectacular voyage. We had constant companions. On the first day, shortly after we passed Isle Ouessant, a pair of bottlenose dolphins came past. Not long after we saw the dorsal fins of what looked like two minke whales. And then the common dolphins joined us. Day and night they came, every hour or so, playing around the boat, riding our bow wave, leaping from the water, being magnificent. If Carina was moving fast through the water, the dolphins showed off their aerial acrobatics; if Carina moved slowly, the dolphins slowly swam along beside us, breathing slowly and loudly beside us. Below deck we could hear their constant squeaking, and I laughed out loud one evening as I stood in the galley preparing supper while looking out the window at the dolphins playing outside. Not a sight one often sees from one’s kitchen window! They were especially numerous at sunrise and sunset each day, and I recall one evening, as I stood alone at the helm, the other three asleep, the sun setting in the west, casting an orange glow over the boat, and dolphins leaping in the setting sun. It looked almost too perfect to be real.

On we went through Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. On Friday afternoon the weather changed, a front moved in, and the wind died. We were now making only two to three knots, but we didn’t mind. At this speed, we would reach our destination after dawn, rather than the less desirable middle of the night. As evening wore on, the girls and I were rained upon as we cheered on the dolphins. We listened to loud claps of thunder away to the east and were treated to a magnificent display of lightening. After the girls went to bed the electrical storm grew closer and when Julian appeared around midnight for his watch, we decided to turn on the engine. We were thirty miles from our destination, it was dark and we were tired, and we didn’t relish the prospect of having to reset sails if thundery squalls passed over us.

I slept then for two hours and when I awoke it was 2am. The electrical storm had passed over while I slept and now it was the darkest night I have ever seen. There was no wind, no stars in the sky, and I could see nothing beyond the end of the boat. I was relieved when, after twenty or so minutes at the helm, I saw the lights of a ship, as these gave me a sense of depth into the night. Four sets of lights in two hours (more vessels than we had seen during the rest of the journey) kept my mind focused and were a blessing in that blackness.

I was looking out for the light from two lighthouses, marking the entrance to Ria de Viveiro on the north west Spanish coast, and when they finally shone weakly through the cloudy night, I was thrilled. The end was in sight.

Except it wasn’t in sight for long. When the light to starboard disappeared I realised we were in fog. I called Julian. It was now 4.30am and we hoped that the first light would be in the sky at 5am. I stayed on helm and we both kept watch through the fog. I was dismayed when the light to port and then the moon also became shrouded in fog. We had no way of telling in the dark how dense the fog was, but it didn’t feel wet on our faces.

When the lights of the towns in Ria de Viveiro came into view we were ecstatic. The first grey light was appearing on the eastern horizon, and we could finally see that the fog wasn’t as bad as we’d thought. We slowly motored into the Ria, slowing down even more, to give the sky more time to grow light.

We reached the end of the Ria, and the end of our journey, at 6.50am on Saturday morning, when we dropped anchor 200 yards from a golden sandy Spanish beach. We were tired but exhilarated. At 7am Julian and I sat in the cockpit, sharing a bottle of wine, grinning at each other, delirious with tiredness but thrilled with what we had achieved.

Aber Wrac’h

Brittany is familiar and strange. Bilingual signposts, as well as place names, house names, and words in Breton remind me of home and of Scotland. I recognise certain words – ty, aber, and so on. Though spelled differently, I know their Gaelic counterparts. And only a short hop across the Channel from Cornwall, the landscape, the trees, and the rocks are reminiscent of the West Country. Culturally and geographically, we haven’t travelled far.

And yet we are, without doubt, in a different country. My schoolgirl French doesn’t get me far, but I’m picking up words and phrases every day – remembering those long forgotten, and learning new ones with the help of my trusty dictionary, and having to answer Lily’s constant question of ‘How do you say such-and-such in French?’.

DSCI3693It’s the little things that put a smile on my face. The commonplace architecture of houses and shops, the lilt of French women saying ‘Bonjour’ (I fear my ‘bonjour’ sounds gruff and masculine in comparison), the remarkable taste of coffee, the middle of the day closure of shops and businesses, an oyster shell midden outside a farmhouse.

DSCI3691We are moored up the Aber Wrac’h at the little port of Paluden. To call it a port is a generosity. A collection of mooring buoys – some for visitors (of which we appear to be the only ones) and others for local fishermen – lead to the small slipway and jetty. These bring the visitor onto a quiet country road, that leads to a somewhat larger road, that leads to the town of Lannilis.

I sat in the square in Lannilis late last week, drinking coffee and feeling incongruous in my shorts, t-shirt, trainers and baseball cap, amidst the elegant French women lunching at the tables around me. Still, the waitress was friendly and patient with my first hesitant attempts to speak her language.

Later, I sat in the cool of the church and was carried back to my first ever visit to France, twenty-four years ago when, as a sixteen-year old, I spent a few weeks working as an au pair for a family near Perigeaux. Being a good Catholic girl back then I insisted, much to the family’s amusement, on being driven to Mass in the nearest town every Sunday. The wicker-seated chairs in the church in Lannilis brought me back to that time, and I had to smile when I thought about that holier-than-thou sixteen-year old and wondered how appalled she’d be by her older self!

The colours are breath-taking. The blue of the sky, the green of the tree-lined river banks, the white-gold beaches and the azure sea. There is no half-heartedness in the colours of nature here. Everything demands to be looked at and held in awe. And the birds fill the summer air with their song. There are songs I recognise and others that stop me in my tracks for their strangeness to my ears.

The girls and I have been swimming in the deliciously warm waters at the beaches at La Palue. Swimming in the sea is one of my greatest summer pleasures, but it is a delightful change to slip into the water without a moment’s hesitation or a psychological preparation for the cold. A dip in the sea off the Irish or English coast requires mental resolve; here in Brittany the early summer sea is like a warm bath.

And after the swim? Well, there’s wine to drink, baguettes and cheese to eat, as we plan our next move. At the end of each day, suntanned and heady on fresh air, we find it hard to stay awake past sunset.

Suburban Interlude

For the past week, while Julian and I have looped between Exeter, Plymouth and the midlands, Lily and Katie have been staying with their Grandad in Coventry. Barry lives in a 1950s terrace house in suburbia. The small fenced garden behind his house is a place of wonder and discovery for the girls. Bluebells grow along the borders, ants and spiders scuttle across the patio slabs, ladybirds and butterflies alight on the plants (and occasionally on us), and we are party to the comings and goings of sparrows, starlings, collared doves, pigeons and a carrion crow.

The girls are enthralled by these fellow inhabitants of Grandad’s garden and excitedly demand our attention when a new creature is sighted or when an old friend returns. They tiptoe up to plants, so as not to disturb a little ladybird, and gaze at it in wonder. They ask permission to scatter seeds, so more birds will come. In the moment, they are obsessive little naturalists, but just as quickly forget about the animals when something else grabs their attention¹.

I came downstairs on Sunday morning to make myself a cup of tea. Lily was already up, sitting at the dining table with Grandad’s very old Birds of Europe and North America reference book open in front of her. When I had made my tea, I sat with her. I explained how the number beside each bird picture corresponded to the number next to the name and description of each bird on the opposite page. I explained the symbols for male and female, explained that ‘juv’ was short for juvenile – a young bird, and a ‘w’ referred to a bird’s winter plummage. Once she’d got the hang of all that, she was hooked, reading the names, admiring the colours, and before too long noticing that daddy birds are often more colourful than mummy birds.

Together we looked at families of birds, and looked for similarities amongst members of the finch, tit, crow, goose families. We talked about why some birds change colour in winter, and thought about other animals that also change colour at different times of year. I helped her find the birds that visit Grandad’s garden, and we learned more about them, and in her notebook she carefully wrote about the sparrow.

We discovered some of the beautiful birds that live along the Mediterranean coast, and Lily said she hoped we’d see those one day soon.

The girls with Grandad last year.

The girls with Grandad last year.

It’s easy to overlook the great variety of creatures that live in the urban and suburban landscape. We fool ourselves inot thinking that a little patch of well tended lawn is ours, that the carefully planted flowers and shrubs are for our visual benefit alone. But they’re not really. In Grandad’s garden, a menagerie of creatures live out their mundane and epic lives. All it takes is a little childlike fascination for us to be open and alive to the amazing world around us.

¹Lily’s other obsession this week has been the World Snooker Championships. Grandad’s taught her the rules and she’s become an avid fan of Ronnie O’Sullivan!

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.

Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly

We departed Falmouth on the morning of July 21st, sailing west. Our destination was Newlyn, but as we were unable to contact the harbour master, we sailed to Penzance instead. Early on we were joined by two dolphins, and then three, and for about an hour they played close to us, sometimes leaving us and then returning again. As we got closer to Penzance the majestic monastery on St. Micheal’s Mount came into view.

St. Micheal’s Mount.

The tiny harbour at Penzance is only accessible at high water, after which time the harbour gate closes. We rafted against a lovely large wooden boat, which in turn was rafted to a large working boat. It was an adventure getting the girls across the boats to shore, but well worth it for a walk along the promenade to watch lots of swimmers racing in the crystal clear waters. The next morning the water was flat calm and the scene was enchanting.

Penzance Harbour early morning

Early morning

Because of the restricted opening of the harbour gate, we left at 8am, but merely went around the corner and picked up a mooring buoy, sitting in the morning sun enjoying a cooked breakfast under the watchful eye of St. Micheal’s Mount.

Early morning St. Micheal’s Mount

Following a hearty breakfast we set sail for the Isles of Scilly. It was one of our best days sailing yet. Good winds and a hot sun shining down on us. The coastline along this final stretch of mainland UK is beautiful, with quaint villages such as Mousehole and golden sandy beaches dotted all along. Just past Lands End we passed a basking shark – yet another wonderful animal to add to the girl’s wildlife spotting book.

After a great sail the Isles of Scilly came into view.

The Isles of Scilly from the deck of Carina

We moored in New Grimsby, between the islands of Tresco and Bryher. There were a few other boats around, and we enjoyed dinner in the cockpit, watching the sun set and a new moon rise.

Lily at sunset

The next day was spent in glorious sunshine. First we went to the beach and swam and played. And then went exploring the beautiful island of Tresco.

New Grimsby Sound from Tresco

Moored yachts in New Grimsby Sound

We went exploring along the coastline, Katie in the back carrier, and Lily being a wonderful explorer, battling her way through ferns that were taller than she was!

Carina moored under Cromwell’s Castle

We walked from Cromwell’s Castle to King Charles Castle, the highest point on the island. The scene was awe inspiring and the castle was the perfect playground for the girls.

View from Cromwell’s Castle

We departed the Isles of Scilly early next morning – destination Ireland. But that’s a story for my next post!











Photos of Fowey

Polruan from Fowey

We spent a delightful few days in Fowey. On Sunday we took the dinghy over to town and were rewarded with wonderful views of the river and the village of Polruan on the other side.

The rare sight of blue skies

After so much rain, the blue skies were welcome and we regretted not bringing our swimwear for a trip to the beach.

Views from the dinghy

A dinghy trip got us close up to places we couldn’t reach on Carina. I especially liked this lovely cottage cum boat house.

Close to the water

Being in the dinghy makes you feel very small and close to the water…especially when there’s a big ship bearing down on you!


Meanwhile, Carina enjoyed some quiet time at rest. She needs her space sometimes too!