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!




Beach Interlude

For a week we sat at anchor at the Ensenada de San Francisco, around the peninsula from the town of Muros. We had been there for two nights before going to the marina at Muros, and we were so enamoured by the place that we couldn’t wait to get back for a more extended stay.

The sharp rugged peaks on the western side of the bay stood out against the deep blue sky, and the golden beaches glittered in the sun. Each morning we took our time aboard Carina, enjoying leisurely breakfasts, reading, writing and doing maths with the girls, and attending to chores. Julian repaired the genoa furler and made sewing repairs to the sail itself. We thoroughly cleaned the boat, and over the course of the week I caught up on laundry. I hand-washed on deck and the clothes dried in a matter of hours in the scorching sun. I wrote at my leisure and the girls enjoyed some craft activities. Lily sewed a cushion from a kit she had been given as a birthday present and then sewed a handbag from some knitted scraps I had lying around; and together the girls made and wrote birthday cards for Grandad and his twin sister, Aunty Alison.

Busy sewing above....

Busy sewing above….

...and below deck.

…and below deck.

After lunches of salad, chorizo and crusty bread in the cool of the saloon, we headed to shore. On a few of the days, Julian rowed the girls to shore, and I chose to swim. After the heat of the boat the sea was too inviting to resist, so I slipped into the cooling water and swam the 300 or 400 metres to shore.

After mornings in the close confines of the boat, afternoons and evenings on the beach at Louro were sheer joy. The girls and I didn’t venture far from the dinghy – there was no reason to – while Julian went off on long exploratory walks.

From our dinghy base on the soft golden sand we swam in the warm azure water, built sandcastles and played on the rocks. It was such a safe and quiet beach that I was happy to let the girls play in the gently lapping water while I sat close by and read my book, or alternatively, for them to play on the sand or amongst the rocks while I swam lengths parallel to shore where I could keep an eye on them.

Not far from home!

Not far from home!

We met the same people on the beach every day – Spanish holiday-makers of all ages – who were friendly and kind. On our last day the girls befriended a family of three children. The nine year old, Sophia, spoke excellent English from attending an English academy two evenings a week, and the five children played together for hours.

We left the beach around 8.30 each evening and walked along the street to the supermarket to buy the next day’s provisions and to have cold beer (for the adults) and orange (for the kids). By 9.30 we were back on the boat, cooking a quick late supper and in bed by midnight.

Each new day was much the same as the one before. It was a lovely pleasant relaxing interlude amidst our generally shorter visits to places. I could have stayed another week, but the weather changed and we had other places we wanted to be.

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.

Ria Viveiro

Could anything be more idyllic than anchoring in a quiet bay, 200 metres from a golden sandy beach that stretches in a semi-circle around the bay, and between the beach and lush green mountains that rise behind, a pretty Spanish town? We are in Galicia, north western Spain, in Ria de Viveiro. This whole coastline is dotted with rias, old drowned rivers with spectacular hills and mountains rising all around. We hope to explore a few of these rias in the coming weeks and months.

View of Covas from Carina

View of Covas from Carina

A lone common dolphin makes the bay his home, swimming lazily around the four or five boats at anchor, swimming close to the dinghies as they make their way to shore, curiously investigating swimmers in the water. The girls and I saw what Julian didn’t while he was in the water the other day cleaning the hull. The dolphin silently came close to Julian who, when I told him, swam to the dinghy like he was Ian Thorpe! Silly man!

Julian cleaning the hull at anchor

Julian cleaning the hull at anchor

A short dinghy ride to shore and we are on a spectacular beach of soft golden sand. There are no waves, just calm warm waters – perfect for the girls to practice their swimming, and for Julian and me to take turns enjoying longer leisurely lone swims. As soon as we reach shore the girls insist on stripping off and running around naked, splashing in the water and playing in the sand, so full of joy and freedom. Lily’s swimming is improving, although she gets frustrated. Katie still refuses to kick her legs!

The beach is littered with tiny pink and purple shells and bleached oyster shells, which the girls have been gathering – some to bring home, some to make shell gardens or other beach decorations.

The girls with their shell garden on the beach

The girls with their shell garden on the beach

There are three separate towns in this ria all within short walking distance of each other and we have visited two. Covas has been celebrating the Fiesta de San Juan since we arrived five days ago, with loud canon fire at seemingly random times of the day, live music on a stage facing the water, a fun fair and street food. The fun fair is extremely pricy; at 3 euros per child per ride we would be out of pocket in half an hour. It’s difficult to explain this to two little girls whose eyes are popping out of their heads from the bright lights and beckoning rides. Thankfully, there are playgrounds aplenty and they soon forget the more costly distractions.

Sardines and potatoes cooked on an open fire, at the community feast in Covas de San Juan

Sardines and potatoes cooked on an open fire, at the community feast in Covas de San Juan

Away from the sea front, the roads quickly run up into the hills, with gardens displaying enviable plots of sweet corn, potatoes, and onions and trees bearing lemons, pears, apples and, occasionally, olives. In some gardens there are pigs, goats, sheep and chickens, and I’m reminded of Chris Stewart’s wonderfully comic memoir, Driving Over Lemons, about moving from the UK to a small-holding in Andalucia. The old houses bear the most amazing roof slates – large, randomly shaped slates that gradually decrease in size from the apex to the bottom of the roof. The architecture in general is delightful and exotic to our eyes. On our first evening in Covas we enjoyed a plate of fried whole baby squid. Lily devoured hers, but Katie refused to try. True to form, she stuck to the chips/fries.

Across the river is the ancient town of Viveiro, with streets so narrow that I imagine one could lean out a window and shake hands with one’s neighbour across the street. This beautiful town is dotted with 12th, 13th and 14th Century Catholic architecture – churches and convents still in use today. Iglesia de Santa Maria del Campo, Convento de las Concepcionistas and Iglesia de Santiago-San Francisco are decorated with the distinctive Spanish Catholic iconography of scarily life-like statues of Jesus suffering or crucified, Mary in black, crying and looking pained.

Iglesia de Santa Maria del Campo

Iglesia de Santa Maria del Campo

The churches are dark and beautiful and very creepy. Irish Catholicism looks lightweight compared to this! All of this imagery required a lot of explanation and the girls had endless questions that pushed Julian and I on our Christian doctrine, knowledge of saints, and on how to explain these things to young children. We have now established that ‘naughtly people killed Jesus’ which made ‘Mary sad’ and we’ve been talking more generally about the Romans. I showed them a confessional and Lily was wide-eyed as I explained Confession and told her that from when I was only a little older than she is now, I had to do that every few weeks.

Cloister of Iglesia de Santiago-San Fransisco

Cloister of Iglesia de Santiago-San Francisco

We will soon move on from here, west and then south, to explore more rias, visit the world’s oldest still functioning lighthouse near La Coruña (built by the Romans), and, hopefully, enjoy more wonders of this wonderful country.

Narrow streets of ancient Viveiro

Narrow streets of ancient Viveiro

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.

River Life

Life on the river moves at a different pace. We’re in the middle of the river, moored fore and aft, using our dinghy to get to shore. Our 60 gallon water tank can supply us with fresh water for three weeks if we are frugal. Our solar panel keeps the domestic batteries topped up to power our cabin lights, and recharge phones and laptop. We have enough cooking gas on board to last a couple of months. We’re self-contained for the time being. We don’t run the fridge when we are at anchor or mooring, as it requires too much energy. And so we adjust our lives so our demands on resources are less and we eat foods that require little or no refrigeration.

Rather than limiting our lives, these resource restrictions provide us with a greater appreciation of how little we actually need to get by each day. Every couple of days we buy fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products and combine these with our large stocks of rice, pasta, dried pulses and tinned foods. I bake bread every other day, and we forage for greens and shell fish on the sea shore. We eat very well. This evening I made an improvised risotto, from Japanese rice, fresh onions, garlic and green beans, fresh and dried mushrooms, and parmesan. I served it with foraged sea beet and rock samphire lightly cooked in butter, safflower and lime. It was delicious!

Lily and Julian searching for shellfish.

Lily and Julian searching for shellfish.

Each day, we’ve been eating breakfast and dinner on board, under the warm sun at our table in the cockpit, and taking a picnic lunch on our explorations during the day. We can’t afford to enjoy the fine foods and wines at the local restaurants and bistros that dot every town and village. Instead, we buy fresh local produce from boulangeries, charcouteries, and supermarkets, as well as the occasional bottle of cheap but tasty French wine.

For us, life on the river is about long walks, watching the herons on the riverbank, taking the dinghy to a beach at the river mouth, or to a nearby town to explore the town square and practice our French while we buy food and try to learn about the locality.

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

We are out of doors almost from the moment we wake up to when we go to bed. We are bathed in fresh air and sunshine, and we bathe in the river and the sea. Our needs are few, and we are more than satisfied with what we have.

In love with the night

There was a time when I feared night sailing. That was before I had done it on my own. I had had a couple of short experiences of sailing in the dark, both times in the company of other, far more experienced, sailors. On my first Channel crossing, in 2005, with Julian, his dad and uncle, I remember reaching Cherbourg after dark, the lights on the harbour wall impossible to pick out from the street and traffic lights in the town behind, at least to my untrained eye.

When we bought Carina and dreamt of sailing long distances, always at the back of my mind was a nagging worry about the probability of having to helm on my own in the dark, while Julian slept. What did I fear? The dark itself, for the most part. That which I couldn’t see. The supernatural, alien lights in the sky…in other words, my own wild imagination.

But those worries never came to fruitition. The first time I helmed alone, in summer 2012, as we sailed from the Isles of Scilly to Ireland, I discovered I loved the dark, the solitude, the vastness of the starry sky. There at the helm, my family sleeping peacefully below, I at first tried to fill the dark with song. I sang song after song, not wanting to hear the silence, until Lily shouted up from the starboard saloon berth where she slept that night, telling me ‘Be quiet Mummy’. So I stopped and relaxed into the sounds of the night – the wind, the waves against Carina’s hull, the sails.

The things that frightened me were very much of this world. I lacked confidence in my ability to gauge the distances or courses of other vessels. The first few times we sailed at night, I called Julian from his slumber with annoying regularity, not trusting myself to make a decision to stay on course, or change course to avoid a collision.

This summer, something clicked. I don’t quite know what, but suddenly I found myself able to read the movement of other vessels by their lights and their movement relative to Carina. I’ve known how to do this in theory for years, but only this summer did I find the confidence to read these lights. And as a result, I experienced one of the most wonderful sails of my entire short sailing career, when we crossed from L’Aber W’rach to Falmouth in late August this year. Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal:

At 1am I took the helm and Julian went to sleep. I spent the next five hours alone on one of the most enjoyable sails of my life.

We were headed due north and at 1am the moon was due south, dead astern. At first it was behind a cloud, but when it came out, huge and bright and luminescent, it lit up the boat like a spot light. I turned suddenly, sure that a large commercial vessel had somehow managed to sneak up on me, so bright was the light. I could even read the unlit electronics display by its light. All night long, as the moon edged across the sky behind me, from south to south-west, it moved in and out of clouds, the occasional darkness of cloud cover giving way to sudden and brilliant light.

A meteor caught my eye, in the sky to the north-east. It streaked across the sky, falling down and down, and then exploded in a flash of white light, brighter and bigger and more magnificent than any shooting star I have ever seen.

There were other vessels, plenty of them. Lights white and red and green, moving along on either side of me and in front of me. West to east first, making passages into the English Channel, and later east to west.  It felt like a game, as I watched for the movement of lights along Carina’s guardrails. I was immensely pleased that Julian could finally sleep through my watch, undisturbed by my worried queries.

Carina raced along at 6.5 to 7.5 knots, barely leaning. At 4.30am, Julian popped his head up the companionway and asked how I was doing. I told him I was doing wonderfully and wanted to keep going until I saw the dawn. He went back to bed and still I enjoyed this magnificent sail, waiting for the first light to appear in the sky.

By 5.45am I had grown tired, and I had already seen the first light in the sky to the north-east. I called Julian and asked him to ready himself to take the helm at 6am. I crawled into bed beside Katie, and slept soundly until 8.30am. Not a long sleep, but a deep and satisfied one.

Missing Carina

Winter has descended. Rainy days and the River Exe racing to the sea, staying within its grassy banks…for now. Dry days, like today, the air crisp and chilling. I spent Friday on the beach in Lyme Regis with my first year Geography undergrads, encouraging them to think about how people live with the sea, about the meaning of value and the meaning of cost, about conviviality and rising sea levels. Some of them looked at me strangely!

I find myself, at this time of year, looking back and looking forward. Because of my teaching commitments at Exeter we have moved off Carina for the winter and into a house on a hill. Carina, our beautiful Westerly, draws too much water for the shallow harbours and estuaries in south Devon, so we have left her in Plymouth for the winter. Almost daily Katie moans ‘I miss Carina’ and ‘When can we go to Carina?’ for which I am grateful, because if she didn’t miss Carina I would be sad. I miss Carina too. I miss the practicality of her, I miss how quiet she is.

Katie - master of all she surveys (including the dirty dish cloths!)

Katie – master of all she surveys (including the dirty dish cloths!)

We’re living in a rented new-build house. It’s a small house, and we don’t own many possessions. But having grown accustomed to Carina’s nooks and crannies and ingenious storage spaces, I struggle to know what to do with our stuff. On Carina, we can tidy everything away, ship shape, but in the house, there are no built in cupboards or hidden storage spaces. The rooms are echoey boxes devoid of character. In Carina, wood panelling and confined spaces mute our sounds, and Carina rocks gently in the dimness of evening, as we read by lamplight or hatch plans after the girls have gone to bed.

Our house is harshly lit and we are coccooned from the elements. A few weekends ago, when Julian was on board Carina, and the girls and I were alone in the house, a knock came to the door. It was 11pm and the girls were asleep. I tentatively opened the door to find a policewoman standing on my doorstep. A car had crashed into our garage, but the house is so sound-proofed I never heard the crash. And the weekend before last, southern Britain experienced what was reported to be ‘the worst storm in 26 years’. I never heard a thing on Sunday night, and as I walked to work on Monday morning was surprised to see leaves and branches on the streets, and to hear the stories of destruction.

Lily at the helm on a passage from Mevagissey to Plymouth

Lily at the helm on a passage from Mevagissey to Plymouth

We are not meant to live so sheltered and coccooned and separate from the Earth. On Carina the sky is our ceiling, and our rhythms follow the movement of the sun across the sky. We wake early and retire early, sunlight dictating what we can do and when we can do it. We dress for the weather. We get sun burned and rained upon, we are comfortably warm, or hot or cold. Sometimes we are scared – a sudden storm, a torn sail, a broken engine. Then we only have each other and Carina to rely on, and we have to get on with the job of fixing, or persevering, or improvising. The rest of the time, whether we are far out to sea, out of sight of land, or tucked up in a busy marina, we get on with the pleasant job of living – playing with and teaching our children, cooking, cleaning, learning, exploring, reading, writing. We breathe in the fresh air and become so accustomed to the constant rocking of Carina that we are disorientated and dizzy when we step back on land.

I really do miss Carina. But spring will inevitably return, and we will once again move home. And, all going to plan, this time it will be for good. But for now, we have to resign ourselves to occasional weekend visits and sleepovers, to reassure her that she hasn’t been abandoned.

Slowing down

Moving day mess

Moving day mess

It’s nice to be back on board. The rhythms of life are slower. The mundane and the ordinary take time. There is no fast food, fast laundry, fast running up and down the stairs. The days are longer and much of our life is lived outdoors – on the beach, on coastal paths, in the cockpit, on the deck. We take our time, and are surprised when we look at the clock and realise another day has gone by. It helps that the sun is smiling down on us.

Moving day – we’ve grown used to moving now. We have it down to a fine art. Julian on hire-van duty, Martina on unpacking duty. The girls and I were alone on the boat for the first three days and nights, while Julian moved our furniture into storage in the midlands and cleaned the Exeter house. We played, we re-acquainted ourselves with our home, the girls showing their teddy bears around and shouting hello to everyone who walked down the pontoon (I suspect we are not the most popular people in the marina!). In between trips to the beach I gradually found space for our clothes and books, toys and food, and got down to the business of settling in.

A cloudy afternoon on the beach

A cloudy afternoon on the beach

Exploring – Since moving back on board we’ve been exploring the coastline around Plymouth. We walked the coastal path to Bovisand one day and from Mountbatten round to the Barbican another. Lily is a tremendous walker on her little four year old legs – she can cover five miles in an afternoon without a grumble. Katie walks until she gets tired and then Julian puts her in the back carrier.

We’ve discovered the green meadows at Jennycliff and the great beach at the bottom of the cliff, where the girls explore the rocks like little mountain goats.

Laundry day

Laundry day

Day to day – The little things in life take time – doing the laundry, cooking, baking bread, taking a shower. Things that are speedy in a house – making the bed, flushing the toilet – take longer on board a boat. But we move to those slower rhythms and life is all the better for it. The girls help with the laundry and the baking, and when they’re tucked up in bed at night, it’s finally time for Julian and I to hatch plans, make decisions, or sit quietly and read our books.

On board play time

On board play time

Play time – Imaginations run wild – they are doctors and nurses tending their teddies; Katie is trapped in the jaws of a whale shark, in need of rescue; they are mummies and daddies; they are shop-keepers, restauranteurs, pirates, fishermen. They sing endlessly – songs I don’t know, and don’t know how they know. Somehow, they even manage to play hide and seek in our little boat.

Ship's boy Katie at work

Ship’s boy Katie at work

Rowing away with Daddy in the dinghy is a joy for them both, the little yellow paddle, assisting him whether he needs assistance or not. Searching for the thick-lipped mullet – those fat silver-bellied fish that swim in such numbers around the marina.

Life is good. We’ll be here in Plymouth for a little while longer, with work to be done and money to be earned. But we continue to hatch those plans. And in the meantime, we learn about life, and we figure out how to live it the best way we can.

Moving on board again

The removal van is booked. Boxes are being packed. Clothes, books, cooking utensils are being sorted according to whether they will go on the boat or go into storage. Carina has been cleaned inside and out, and she’s waiting for us to move back home.

We spent last weekend on board. It was the first time the girls had been aboard since our return to land in early October. They have both grown up so much in the past six months. Lily is now four and Katie is two and a half.

The girls with their grandad in February

The girls with their grandad in February











Our six months back on land had had an interesting effect on the girls. They vaguely remembered Carina, but they were very unsure of themselves at first. They didn’t know how to move about – they were cautious and nervous going up and down the companionway, and kept asking me where they could go and what they could do. But they were also terribly excited about sleeping on board and, although we arrived at the marina in mid-afternoon, they wanted to go to bed straight away! With our duvets still in the house, we were sleeping in sleeping bags that night, and that first afternoon the girls set up their bags on the floor and decided to take a rest there!!

The day was spent exploring the boat and getting to know her once again. Since we were last on board Katie has been potty trained and the novelty of using the heads was quite something. She found the differently-shaped toilet bowl most intriguing! They scrambled and gamboled around the boat for the afternoon, growing in confidence as the hours passed. We left the marina and crossed the road over to the beach, where we lay on the warm sand and dabbled in a bit of rock pooling. Back on board, Katie made some profound statement about the moon, and Lily marveled at the silver-bellied mullet swimming under our hull.

I’d like to have given the girls more opportunities to be on board before we move on properly but, alas, there hasn’t been the time. So this weekend, despite it being my 40th birthday (yikes!), we will dedicate ourselves to packing up the house, and a week from tomorrow we’ll move back home to Carina. I can’t wait. Being on board twice in the past few weeks has been so lovely, so enticing, that I’m almost counting the minutes.

Julian and I are daily hatching short, medium and long-term plans. There’s a lot of work to be done – new rigging, new sails, and anti-fouling. But our plans are moving in the right direction. Now, if we can just convince the sun to keep shining….