Sailing with Roy

‘Do you have any sailing plans for this summer?’ I asked my friend Roy in early June.

‘I don’t think so’, he replied. ‘I enjoy sailing more when I’ve got someone onboard to share the experience with’.

We’ve known Roy for a couple of years now, another Rio Guadiana live aboard, on Sea Warrior, his Great Barrier 48.

I walked away from Roy that day and a couple of hours later a thought struck me. Would Roy go sailing if I went along? With Julian working five days a week, Carina hasn’t been out of the river in over two years, and I’ve been itching to go sailing for ages. The next time I met Roy, I put it to him. He thought it was a great idea. In mid-July the girls would be in Ireland with their Granny and if I could rearrange some commitments I had in Alcoutím, I would be free to go sailing for a week or so. A few days later everything was sorted out, and Roy and I agreed to set sail a couple of days after I returned from Ireland on July 18th. Roy agreed to provision Sea Warrior, and I would pay for my share of the food and drink once I got aboard.

On Thursday afternoon, July 20th, I climbed aboard Sea Warrior at her anchorage upriver of Alcoutím. After a cup of tea and a walk through the boat, we were ready to set sail.


Rio The bridge linking Spain and Portugal across the Rio Guadiana

And sail we did. Before we had even reached Sanlúcar (which lies slightly upriver from its Portuguese neighbour Alcoutím) the mizzen was raised, the headsail unfurled, the engine cut and we enjoyed a delightful four-hour, 20-mile sail almost all the way to the mouth of the Guadiana. We were forced to motor only once, for the few minutes it took to round the S-bend upriver of Laranjeiras, when the wind came from the wrong direction and Sea Warrior was stopped in her tracks. Roy was keen to get sailing again before we passed Laranjeiras and Sea Warrior’s former owner, Scot. We achieved it, our shouts rousing Scot from his mid-afternoon siesta, as we sailed past and he none the wiser!

How different the river feels when sailed. With the engine running, the passage downriver is drowned in noise and one passes along rather than through the landscape. Without the engine roar we were immersed in a soundscape of birdsong, sheep bells, the wind in the sails and the sounds of the river itself. At times our attention was drawn to a fish leaping from the water; the first leap a mere flash of silver in the corner of the eye; the second a foot-long fish, moving at speed through the air, droplets of river water glistening in the sun. If we were lucky, we were treated to a third leap, but never a fourth, and had to wait patiently until another glint of silver caught the eye.

We pointed out egrets to each other, white cotton bolls on spindly legs patrolling the exposed muddy edge of the river.

For the first few miles we passed the boats, homesteads and fincas of friends and acquaintances and the farther we came downriver, the lower and sparser the hills until almost at the bridge that connects Spain and Portugal, where the riverbank gives way to a wide floodplain.


We anchored upriver of the bridge, near a small tributary on the Portuguese side, where a herd of brown and cream coloured cows (presumably, one type for producing milk chocolate and the other for white chocolate!) grazed at the river’s edge.

The next day, with a strong wind in the wrong direction, we motored under the bridge, filled up with diesel and petrol at the fuel pontoon at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and crossed the river to anchor south of Ayamonte. It was a lazy day. I did a couple of hours work (one of the joys of my editing job is that I can do it wherever and whenever so long as I bring my computer and my brain with me), and spent the rest of the day reading and chatting with Roy.

We set our alarm clocks for 5am the next morning, with a 5.30 start in mind. But by the time we’d had a cup of tea, stowed everything out of harm’s way and battened down the hatches, it was 6am when Roy weighed anchor. What luck! Within minutes we had once again thrown the sails out, turned off the engine, and were making our way out of the Rio Guadiana and sailing west towards Ilha da Culatra with a Force 7 abaft the beam. For three hours we made good ground, with wind and tide in our favour. It was exhilarating to be sailing on the ocean again, although Roy’s idea of sailing – to set the autohelm and go to sleep – is somewhat different to sailing Carina, where we don’t even have a properly functioning autohelm! I teased Roy about his ‘Ghost helmsman’ for the rest of the trip.


(I jest about Roy, of course! He’s very careful and I was on watch when I took this photo).

After three hours the wind died to nothing and there was nothing for it but to motor the rest of the way. Even so, we had a tremendously pleasant time. Not a cloud in the bright blue sky, the seawater almost peacock blue, and the white sandy Algarve beaches almost too bright to look at.


The sea really was this blue!

We rounded the mole at Culatra at 1pm and were anchored amongst the boats of friends in time for lunch. Since September 2014, when we spent nine days at Culatra aboard Carina, I have longed to come back. My only regret this time was that Lily and Katie weren’t with me. When I phoned to tell them all about what I was getting up to in Culatra neither of them could remember it, so I emailed them photos of themselves there three years ago, to try to jog their memories.

Culatra is a remarkable sand barrier island. The small village is built on the sand, with concrete and wooden walkways as streets. There are no cars, and only a few tractors and golf buggies. Much of the Rio Guadiana live aboard community decamps to Culatra in the summer, where the temperatures are cooler than upriver. Roy and I got to catch up with many of our friends  – meeting them in the local bars, or visiting them on their boats.


Culatra fishermen waiting for their skipper and a night at sea

Sea Warrior sat at anchor off Culatra for five nights, and we went ashore each day for walks along the long sandy beach, to swim in the Atlantic and to drink beer with friends. We visited Ray and Pat one day aboard Tinto, walking across the sand to the catamaran, but having to be chauffeured back ashore when the tide came in and the beach was now 100 metres away!

Back on Sea Warrior I got away with doing only two hours computer work each day, the rest of my time was devoted to reading and gazing at the beautiful seascape. I distinctly remember the last time I did so little – the spring of 2005 when I went on a week-long holiday to Lanzarote with my mother and sister. Those five days in Culatra recharged my batteries, leaving me keen and eager to throw myself headlong into some summer projects.


…and, in a desperate bid to escape my incessant talking…..

At 8am Thursday morning we weighed anchored and motored away from our mill-pond still anchorage. Given the weather forecast, we fully expected to motor all the way back to the Guadiana, but about an hour in we decided to give sailing a go. After some adventure involving a stubborn halyard and a daredevil ascent of the main mast, Roy raised the mainsail and the mizzen and unfurled the headsail and upside down sail. Although there was no hope of us ever winning a race, we pleasantly made our way east at between 3.5 and 5 knots. The sea was flat with a surface like cellulite rather than glass! What bliss. Sea Warrior smoothly made her way through the water and about ten hours after leaving Culatra we were once again at the mouth of the Guadiana. How far would Sea Warrior’s sails take us, we wondered? Past Vila Real? Past Ayamonte? Under the bridge? In fact, she took us all the way to our anchorage, once again back by the tributary and the chocolate-flavoured cows.

We didn’t have the tide in our favour until the middle of the next afternoon, so after a lazy morning and leisurely lunch, we started out up the river. For three hours we pootled along under motor, the head sail giving us an extra half knot of speed. Before long, we were passing familiar stretches of riverbank, once again pointing out the boats and plots of land belonging to our friends. As we passed Casa Amarilla, Claire waved down to us from her balcony and, as we slowly motored past Sanlúcar seeking a space on the pontoon, I heard someone shouting ‘Hola Martina’. Though I couldn’t at first see where it was coming from, I recognised the unmistakable voice of Steve. By the time I spotted him on his balcony Lynne was out too, shouting her hellos at me. Though I was sorry to be at the end of our trip, I was happy to be coming home.


One of the many delicious vegetarian meals Roy cooked for me.

Despite the Ghost helmsman, Roy proved an excellent skipper and an even better friend. I learned some new recipes from him, he restored my confidence in my own sailing abilities, and he inspired me to attempt some boat maintenance tasks aboard Carina. Alas, he broke my heart. We weren’t an hour back in Sanlúcar, enjoying a cold beer with friends, as I awaited the arrival of my hardworking husband, when Roy started hatching a plan to sail to Culatra again next week with another woman!! These fickle sailors!


Wildlife bonanza

We set sail from Almerimar shortly before 9am on Sunday. We were forecast easterly winds, light at first but getting stronger through the day. The first half of the day was overcast and chilly, and the girls and I piled on the layers to keep warm.

Last year common dolphins were our regular companions as we sailed south from Plymouth to the Mediterranean. Common dolphins are small, dark grey on top, lighter grey underneath, with a distinctive curved dorsal fin. So I was thrilled on Sunday when some bottlenose dolphins came right up beside us and rode our bow wave. I gasped when I saw the first one, so much larger than their common dolphin cousins. Bottlenose dolphins can grow to 3.4 metres – a metre more than common dolphins. They are a lighter shade of grey and their dorsal fins are bigger and less curved at the back. The dolphins that swam close to us on Sunday had ragged dorsal fins, suggesting they’ve had come close encounters with boat propellers.

A couple of hours after the bottlenose dolphins had dropped by we were joined by a few common dolphins, who looked tiny and delicate in comparison.

We were just past Adra, Julian at the helm and the girls and I sitting in the cockpit with our heads stuck in our books.
‘Flamingos! Flamingos!’ Julian yelled excitedly. I looked up from my book, thinking he’d finally lost the plot. But there, between us and the shore, flying low to the water, was a flock of shockingly pink flamingos! We watched as they flew in the opposite direction to us, never more than a couple of metres above the surface of the water. Due to their bright plumage we kept track of them far into the distance.

About six miles out from Almuñecar, Julian drew our attention to something else in the water. Swimming so close to Carina that I could have touched it with a boat hook, was a reddish-brown sea turtle, about 30cm long. Later, after we had settled into Marina del Este, we did some online research and we’re pretty sure it was a juvenile loggerhead turtle. Loggerheads range in colour from green to reddish-brown, they are found throughout the Mediterranean, and they have nesting sites in the south and east of the Sea. I’ve seen sea turtles a couple of times when SCUBA diving, but this was the first time for all of us to see one while sailing. Many sailors write of sea turtles bumping up against their boats, and we were thrilled to see our very first turtle from Carina’s cockpit.

Our final visitor was a bumble bee that landed on our deck about four miles from shore. It rested for a while, exploring the deck, and then went on his way.

It was a memorable day, with so much incredible wildlife visiting us. It was also a reminder of the care we need to take of our fragile ecosystems. The BBC recently reported on new research that found that the Mediterranean is an accumulating zone of plastic debris. The research found 1000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the Mediterranean. Many animals ingest plastics, mistaking them for food, leading to slow and painful death through starvation. However, 80% of the plastic in the Mediterranean is micro-plastic, less than 5mm in length. These potentially release carcinogenic and other chemicals into the gut.

On Sunday we came close to so many spectacular animals. They were a reminder of the staggering diversity and beauty of the world around us. They were also a reminder that their continued existence hinges on us humans taking care of the world around us and not treating our seas and our atmosphere as dumping grounds for our endless waste.

And we’re off!

The wind made the decision for us in the end. A week on and we were still to-ing and fro-ing between sailing east and sailing west. The other sailors we spoke to in Aguadulce didn’t help. ‘Go west to the Rio Guadiana’ one neighbour would tell us. ‘Go east to Corfu’ another would say. Everyone had their favourite places east or west; everyone had good reasons for going one way and not going the other. All this advice, all the research we’d carried out, and we were still none the wiser about which direction we should take.

But the time had come to leave. Carina was ready. More than ready. The jobs to make her seaworthy and comfortable were complete and Julian was now taking on those maybe-some-day-if-I-have-time tasks. Each day we stayed I got a bit more writing done, which was wonderful. But if most of my writing is about our sailing life, then it’s time we did some sailing. The indecision was making us a little more unhinged every day.

The ‘where should we go’ question was getting to us. On Thursday night I asked Julian, ‘What’s the probability we’ll sail west tomorrow?’
‘65%’ he replied.
‘And the probability of sailing east?’
‘And the probability we’ll sail east the following day?’
‘5 to 7%’
Right. Really helpful. What about that other 28 to 30%? Such is life, married to a scientist.
After yet another look at the weather forecast, we went to bed on Thursday night no closer to a decision.

We still didn’t know which direction to go on Friday morning, but we decided to go anyway. The east wind strongly suggested that we would sail west, but we might be able to tack southeast, around the Cabo de Gata to San Jose. So we got ready. We said our goodbyes to our good friends – Eric across the pontoon who has been a wonderful neighbour; Jessica at the marina office who has been so helpful and generous for the past six months; we tried phoning Ray to say goodbye; and Fi brought us round a tub of her home-made fudge for the trip.

Shortly before one o’clock, after filling up with diesel and handing over our marina keys, we were off. We motored out and once clear of the marina wall we headed roughly south west, quickly hoisting the reefed mainsail to see where the wind wanted us to go. The force 4-5 east-southeast wind and the short waves suggested that we could sail west quite comfortably but, while east around the Cabo de Gata was possible with a mixture of sail and motor, it would not be a pleasant sail. So as Julian pulled out a little over half the genoa, I set a course of 215˚ and we were on our way west, the decision made at last.

The three hour sail to Almerimar was pleasant, perfect conditions for a first sail in over six months. Aguadulce quickly disappeared into the haze, the mountains of Las Alpujarras ghostly behind, and soon we were passing Roquetas de Mar – the town itself, then the holiday resort, and then the kilometres and kilometres of greenhouses, growing Europe’s fruit and vegetables. Before long, Almerimar appeared in the distance on the coastal plain, and we were changing tack and heading in. Having been here last year in late September, arrival procedure at the marina was familiar to us, and we were soon at our berth for the night – next to an Irish pub!

The girls and I quickly jumped onto dry land, not bothering to tidy up after our sail. I took the girls to a playground they enjoyed when we were here last September, and we wandered home via the supermarket, the girls excitedly pointing out places they remembered from when we were last here.

So, we’re on our way. We have no ultimate destination. We will go where the wind takes us, and see what new adventures we can have along the way.

East or west?

East or west? West or east? We’re almost ready to set sail from Aguadulce and we don’t know which way to go. If we wanted to, we could be ready to leave tomorrow. But where do we go? It’s a dilemma we’ve had since arriving in Aguadulce at the start of last October and in the six months we’ve been here we haven’t reached a conclusion. Indeed, for most of the six months we’ve avoided thinking about it, only occasionally having a conversation on the topic. We started to get serious in February. And each day we think about it, and talk about, and do a lot of research to try to come to a decision about where we should go next.

Either direction has its advantages and disadvantages. In the short term, either direction would be great – we’re sure to have a good time farther into the Mediterranean, or in Morocco and southern Portugal. But when considering the medium term, are we better off going east or west? The long term is something we rarely talk about!

A week ago it was west – along the Spanish coast, south to Morocco, out through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic, to Tangiers, up to southern Portugal. A few days later it was east, to the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica, to the southeast coast of France, west back to the Spanish border, and down to Valencia.

The former appeals because we have never been to Morocco before and there are some places we regretted missing in southern Portugal last year and other places we want to return to. The latter appeals because we feel as if we have only just tipped the proverbial iceberg of the Mediterranean (now there’s an oxymoron). It’s a big sea with a lot of places to explore. It would be a shame to turn back when we’ve got this far.

In the medium term we need to think about finding jobs next autumn and winter. There are lots of English teaching jobs all over Spain, so east could bring us to Valencia, west could bring us back up north to Galicia.

So what are the disadvantages?

There are potentially expenses from sailing east. Parts of Sardinia, Corsica and southern France are the playgrounds of the super rich in their super yachts, so we anticipate that the cost of living in these places will be restrictive.

We also have to consider the amount of time we spend in Spain. Staying more than 183 days in Spain in any one calendar year makes us liable for a 12% matriculation tax on the value of our boat. That could be a one-off tax of around 5000 euro – money we simply don’t have. While we’re nowhere near the 183 day limit, coming back into Spain later in the year could cause us problems.

Right now the wind is easterly, whispering to us ‘Go west, go west’. And what a time we would have. A month or more in Morocco and then the rest of the summer in Portugal, and then sailing either north to Galicia to return to one of the towns we enjoyed so much last summer, to find teaching jobs, or sailing back into the Mediterranean and finding work here again. But either way the matriculation is a concern.

Two days ago I emailed Mammy and Julian phoned his dad and we told them our definitie plan – we were going east. Yesterday morning we changed our minds and decided to go west! This morning we have no idea. It’s a privileged dilemma. Either way it’s going to be a memorable adventure and along the way we’ll figure out what to do next winter to earn some money.

The easterly wind is forecast to continue for the next ten days. We’ve decided that we’ll make a decision on Saturday morning and we’ll leave Aguadulce on Sunday morning. Or not. Who knows.

Batten down the hatches

We had been expecting high winds for a few days. On Thursday afternoon, one of the mariñeros told me to prepare for a windy night ahead. But the predicted high winds failed to materialise. By lunch-time Friday the wind had started to howl, rattling through the rigging of the boats in the marina, causing Carina to strain and jolt uncomfortably on her mooring lines. On the high cliff road from Aguadulce to Almería I looked out across the sea. There were white caps as far as the eye could see out across the Mediterranean, and the huge swell rolled in, crashing with spectacular white foam against the orange cliffs beneath the road. Three hours later, when I came home from work, I was battered by the wind as I made my way to the boat.

All night long the wind grew stronger, furiously shrieking through the masts and rigging of the boats all around, fenders squeaking and moaning as boats rubbed together in the swell and wind that moved them in and out of synchronicity. The noise carried below deck by a loose rope slapping against the mast led me gingerly out on deck to try to locate the offending rope and secure it away from the mast. Three times I thought I had found the right rope. Three times I was wrong.

I checked the stern fenders were secure and made sure the mooring lines were secured around the cleats fore and aft. All night long Carina jolted and lurched, throwing me wide awake with a feeling like airplane turbulence. Each time I drifted off only to be suddenly thrown awake again. At some point in the night I became aware that the sound of the wind had changed. It had become more high pitched, more pure, and it felt as though Carina had been lifted up and was falling down and down.

I woke after an uncomfortable night and discovered that the weather station 10km down the coast at Roquetas de Mar had recorded wind speeds of 72km/hour (39 knots, F8) and one gust of 119km/hour (64 knots, F12).

I didn’t leave Carina all Saturday morning. The wind continued unabated and I stumbled around like a drunk as I tried to make breakfast and get dressed. On deck I checked for damage, but there was none, only a thick layer of brown grit covering every surface. By early afternoon the wind had died down and I ventured ashore – to take a shower, do the laundry and do some grocery shopping. I went for a walk along the seafront and surveyed the damage. Palm fronds littered the beach front and, in some cases, the entire tops of palms trees had fallen down. The sea was calmer than the previous evening, but still the big swell rolled in, and waves bigger than I’d seen before at Aguadulce crashed farther up the beach than I’d seen them come before.

After dark the wind rose again and, for a second night I listened to it howl and shriek around Carina, lifting and dropping her, pushing her this way and pulling her that. Another sleepless night for me as I worried about unidentified noises and listened to the ropes straining against the force of the wind on the boat, and the fenders rubbing against the boat to port.

By early Sunday morning all was calm and there was nothing for me to do but hose down the deck and the rigging and watch streams of brown grit pour down the sides of the boat into the sea.

Home alone

I’ve been all alone aboard Carina for the past ten days. On Monday of last week, Julian, Lily and Katie flew back to the UK to visit family, leaving me to get on with a major spring clean, a lot of writing, and my own and Julian’s teaching. I’m generally getting on with all the tasks I’ve set myself. The spring cleaning is underway and the writing is slow and painful.

I’ve sorted through all the food stores – cleaning, reorganising and throwing stuff away. There hasn’t been much to throw away, as we generally make sure that everything is eaten before its use-by date. But the pine nuts covered in green fur and the rusty old tin of treacle had to go in the bin. With everyone else away I’ve been using up foods close to their use-by date, or foods that exist in such small quantities that they can only provide a meal for one, such as tiny quantities of Japanese rice, okonomiyaki flour and maize flour.

Because the troops are returning by car (with Granddad), Julian’s taken a shopping list back to the UK. It’s a rare opportunity to buy some of our favourite non-perishables that either can’t be purchased in Spain or are far more expensive here, so we thought we should treat ourselves. I’m looking forward to having the ingredients to make Thai green curry, to have mango chutney and lime pickle to accompany our dahls and other curries, and to have an ample supply of Golden Syrup for baking.

The aft heads, which we use as a storage space, was in dire need of cleaning, so I tackled that last Saturday, removing all the folded sails, reorganising the medical cupboard, and cleaning the mould from all the surfaces. The fore cabin – Lily and Katie’s bedroom – had turned into a black hole recently. Every toy, piece of paper and shell got sucked in there, and I couldn’t wait to have the boat all to myself to get rid of all that stuff without being told ‘Don’t throw that out. I need it’. After two hours in the fore cabin, and two days of airing the mattresses, I had amassed two large bags of clothes and shoes for recycling and one bag of things that will not be missed!! I sorted through the jigsaw puzzles and removed those they no longer play with – replacing 24-piece jigsaws with the 50- and 100- piece jigsaws they play with now.

This weekend I will tackle the aft cabin – Julian’s and my bedroom. I know I have clothes and shoes in there that I no longer wear and there are books to be recycled or sent back in the car with my father-in-law. So I’m sure another couple of bags will emerge from there. The floors throughout the boat need to be washed and the galley and forward heads given a more thorough cleaning than they get on a week-to-week basis.

I was feeling a bit down about my writing, thinking that I hadn’t achieved as much as I had hoped. But then I thought more about it. I completed the first draft of my book. I’ve now given it a thorough read-through, taken notes, and I am now in the process of re-drafting. I’ve got an article almost ready to submit to a sailing magazine and another one in my head ready to be committed to the page. And I’ve blogged regularly.

So I can’t complain about what I have achieved in the past ten days. Having the boat all to myself has meant having more time to catch up with people far away. I’ve finally had the time to email friends in Japan, Canada, the US and the UK and I had a one-and-a-half hour Skype conversation with a friend in the UK the other night. I’ve watched a couple of movies (making up for lost time with Michael Fassbender!), I’m listening regularly to my favourite radio programmes – Woman’s Hour, Desert Island Discs and the Mayo and Kermode Film Review, and I’ve finally caught up on all my favourite blogs that have been lying unread in my inbox for months.

But boy oh boy do I miss my family. Perhaps I don’t miss Julian so much, because we have been having telephone and Skype conversations, and we’ve been emailing each other every day. So, although we are far apart, we can still be there for each other to some extent. But, with a 4-year old and a 5-year old, things are very different. Our phone and Skype conversations are short, and the girls quickly get distracted by other things. I’ve come to realise how important their physical presence is – their hugs and kisses and their need for assistance with getting dressed or washing their hair – I miss that physical closeness to them.

Julian and I, of course, are used to being apart. He used to do four-month stretches of field work deep in Antarctica and I used to do two-month stretches of field work in the Canadian Arctic. We missed each other, but we were always so busy we didn’t have time to wallow and we could always keep in touch by email. Anthropological fieldwork is a very social activity, so I was always with people I knew and cared for, and my Geography field trips to New York in 2013 and 2014, when I was away from the family for 10 days, were such whirl-winds of activity that I didn’t have time to miss the girls or Julian. But writing and spring cleaning are solitary affairs, and so I have more time to miss everyone.

In the ten days that my family has been away I’ve had good news followed by bad news followed by good news followed by bad news followed by bad news. I know if I had my family here I would be so caught up in the mundane activities of everyday life – caring for the girls, keeping them fed and busy, etc – that I wouldn’t have time to get swept away by these highs and lows. The practicalities of family life would force me to maintain a more even keel. But here, on my own, the highs feel higher and the lows feel lower.

Eight more days to go and I will be reunited with my three favourite people. In the meantime, there’s a lot of spring cleaning and writing still to do, a novel or two to read, and maybe a few more movies to watch on the laptop. And now it’s time for Woman’s Hour, so I have to go!

Reliving the past

Last night I completed the first draft of my book. It’s a nice feeling, but I know that the hard work lies ahead, as I set about re-writing, editing, and filling all those ‘xxx’ gaps that litter the text with meaningful facts and figures. The book is about our journey so far. I dislike the misuse and abuse of the word ‘journey’. But in our case, it really is a journey. Not some figurative ‘journey’ to personal growth and wisdom, but a literal journey from Cambridgeshire to the Mediterranean, via Devon, Cornwall, Ireland, France, Spain Portugal and Gibraltar.

In the past couple of weeks of frenetic writing I’ve delved into my diaries and blog posts to help recall the quickly-fading images of the places we visited in Spain and Portugal in 2014. Reading those accounts has left me with an intense sense of natsukashii, that Japanese feeling of nostalgia and longing brought on by memories of the past.

DSCI4213How I long to revisit some of those wonderful places we had the privilege to explore last year. As I read my accounts of As Piscinas I could see the glistening water on the smooth rocks again, feel the warm fresh water on my body as I swam in the river’s pools, hear the wind rustling through the trees that lined the banks of the river. The thought that we had spent two days at in this small piece of paradise but may never go there again brought on a strong sense of natsukashii.

DSCI4425Our two days exploring Porto will remain with me for a long time, but reading my accounts written at the time have brought back minute details that I had forgotten and which have reignited in my mind images of gentrified apartments amongst the port warehouses, an old woman’s underwear hanging out to dry between two trendy restaurants on the north bank of the Douro, and the narrow streets, each with its own unique and delightful idiosyncrasies. Porto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited – it rates only slightly behind Rome in my estimation. And, unlike an obscure river up in the northwest of Spain, there’s a good likelihood I’ll visit Porto again some day.

DSCI4573Nine days anchored off Ilha da Culatra on the Algarve was not enough, which is why we are toying with the possibility of going back there again this summer. It reminded me of my other home, Arviat, on the west coast of Hudson Bay. The island is a sand bar, populated by a couple of hundred people. There are no roads, no vehicles apart from a couple of tractors and a few golf buggies. Reading my diaries led me to reminisce about the clam picking old women, the communal outdoor shower where we got to know other live-aboards while waiting our turn to wash or refill water bottles, the octopus hanging up to dry on a clothesline, and the friendships Lily and Katie made with local and sailing children.

It’s less than six months since we had these wonderful experiences, but already my memories are dimming. The intense sensual pleasures of these places – the swimming, the sun on our bodies, the foods we ate, the birdsong, the trees and the wind and the ocean – are fading. Reading my diaries and blog posts have brought them rushing back into my life again. I’m reading about things we did that I had completely forgotten about. Julian has a better memory for these things than I do. Maybe that’s why I need to write it all down.

This is not the first time that reading diaries or blog posts or research field notes have swept me away to another time or place. It is one of the great joys of writing that any time you desire, your senses can be reawakened, places, people and experiences can be brought back to life, and that bittersweet sense of natsukashii can envelop you.

New Year curmudgeon

Girl Power on New Year's Eve! Is Julian to be pitied or envied?

Girl Power on New Year’s Eve! Is Julian to be pitied or envied?

It’s New Year’s Eve. 10.15pm. I’m sitting in the saloon, wrapped in a blanket, my hot water bottle snug at my back. Julian’s snoring from the aft cabin is almost matched by Lily’s snoring from the fore cabin. Only Katie sleeps quietly. Now this is a New Year’s Eve of my dreams. The last time I ended the year with such little fanfare was in 1996 when I was on a McCafferty’s coach travelling overnight up the east coast of Australia. I can’t remember which leg of my solo trip from Sydney to Cairns fell on the night of New Year’s Eve, but I think it was somewhere in mid-Queensland. I remember waking up when the coach stopped at a road side service station. All the passengers had to alight. Bleary-eyed, I went in search of toilet facilities and then to get a bottle of water and a bag of M&Ms from the counter. Standing around in the night-time heat, waiting for the driver to let us back on the bus, a wave of relief washed over me when I realised it was 2am and, for the first December 31st in my adult life, I had avoided kissing or hugging anyone on the stroke of midnight.

My dislike for New Year’s Eve is the inverse of my love for Christmas. Partly it’s because by the time December 31st rolls around I’ve simply had enough food and alcohol and dressing up. But a bigger reason is that I despise the forced jollity and camaraderie of it all. Christmas is all about family, about being surrounded by loved ones, people with whom I have a shared history. All too often, on New Year’s Eve, I’ve found myself in a crowded noisy pub or club, standing beside someone I barely know, or worse, someone who every other day of the year wouldn’t even speak to me, and because it’s midnight I’m grabbed and hugged and kissed and wished a Happy New Year. My eyes scan the room to find my friends in similar unwanted clinches.

Since the kids have come along I’ve had an excuse not to go out on New Year’s Eve and at least my past five December 31sts have been spent either at my mother-in-law’s or my mother’s house, often with extended family. But then there’s the hassle of staying up past midnight. And when your kids wake you up at 7am every morning, staying awake past 10pm requires stamina. Conversing, wearing uncomfortable party clothes and keeping a smile on your face until midnight is an endurance trial.

Here, right now, is the perfect way to see out the year. The three people I love most in the world are safe and snug and close-by. I got my kisses and hugs before they went to bed. And, despite the Moroccan music that is blasting around the marina right now, I have time to quietly reflect on the year that has passed and prepare for the year that is to come.

Unlike 2014, when we set our sights on sailing from Plymouth to the Mediterranean, we have no definite sailing goals for 2015. Now that we are in the Mediterranean, our intention is to hang around here for the next year or so, sailing for wherever the wind and our mood take us. We have no destination beyond some vague ideas about our first port of call when we depart Aguadulce. France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Morocco – who knows. We certainly don’t, but the possibilities fill us with great excitement.

I finished writing Book #1 in 2014 and submitted it to a publisher and, hopefully before I go back to work next week the first draft of Book #2 will be complete, and I plan to spend the first three months of 2015 revising that and getting it ready to submit to a publisher. Book #3 currently exists as a very flawed first draft that has been in cold storage for about a year and a half. I’m resolving to complete it by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, I carry on with smaller writing projects, and I am resolving to pitch a certain number of publication ideas to magazines and newspapers each month. I am thrilled with my new 2015 diary, an experimental move away from the same filofax I have used religiously for the past fifteen years. And I am thrilled with the new multi-coloured pens to which I have treated myself, in order to colour-code my to-do lists. (I am, folks, a woman of very simple pleasures!)

I resolve to be more patient, kind and empathetic; to eat less chocolate and get more exercise; to care less about the messiness of four people living in a tiny space; to read more; to make a greater effort to keep in touch with loved ones; to become a better sailor; and to once again fit into my favourite skirt!

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2015 filled with love and fun!

50 things I did this year

It’s that time of year when every newspaper, TV programme and blog reviews the best of the year that was. Even we’re guilty of it here on Carina’s blog. Is it just me, or have these reviews started way too early this year? In mid-November, I was disappointed to find my weekend newspaper’s book, movie and food reviews already trawling through the best of 2014, and I’m now longing for January, when normal service resumes.

But this week I read a different sort of review of the year. I follow a great writer’s blog, Live to write – Write to live. Diane MacKinnon, one of the regular contributors, this week posted a blog encouraging readers to devise a list of 50 accomplishments in 2014. Diane’s reasons are clear – we set New Year’s resolutions that all too often slide into obscurity by mid-February. Many of us experience negative feelings about failing to live up to our personal expectations, and beat ourselves up about how little we achieve (I’m guilty of both of these). But we seldom reach the end of the year and review our accomplishments. While film and book and even wine reviewers celebrate the highlights of the past year, we seldom stop to think about our own highlights. I couldn’t resist taking up Diane’s challenge.

I must say I’ve found it a difficult task. I flew through the first 25, had to do some serious head-scratching, and then got to 50 and wanted to write more. My achievements – big and small – fall into various categories – writing, sailing, parenting, wellbeing, and others that I’m not sure how to categorise. The exercise has also reminded me of what I have not achieved. I failed to win a research grant that would have seen the girls and I spend this winter in Arviat. I’ve had more rejections than successes with my attempts to publish, and I have earned far less money from writing than I hoped I would. But while I can think of 50 accomplishments, I can’t think of 50 failures. With two weeks of 2014 still to go, here are my accomplishments for the year:

1. Published an academic article on polar bear conservation and CITES in the journal Global Environmental Change, the highest rated journal in its field.
2. Completed my 80,000-word anthropological monograph about Inuit and the sea, and submitted it to a publisher.
3. Stuck to my New Year’s resolution to publish 10 blog posts per month.
4. Maintained a daily writing practice (well almost!)
5. Got paid for writing for the first time ever.
6. Published four articles – in two magazines and a newspaper.
7. Began writing a sailing memoir, and am on course to complete the first draft before the end of 2014.
8. For three months published a regular blog for an online magazine (until the magazine went bust 😦 )
9. Since June, submitted at least two publication pitches per month.
10. Increased my blog readership by 3-4 times since the start of the year.
11. Improved my knowledge and skill with using WordPress!
12. In my head, ironed out some of the major flaws in my draft novel – now I need to commit them to paper.
13. Researched the history of exhibiting humans in museums and fairs.
14. Learned about Theodore Roosevelt’s contribution to wildlife conservation in the US.
15. Learned about the history of industrial whale hunting and whale conservation.
16. Learned more about Columbus’ voyages to the New World.
17. Visited New York and Princeton.
18. Fulfilled a life-long dream of seeing Lucy at the American Museum of Natural History.
19. Sailed from Plymouth to the Mediterranean.
20. Completed a three-day crossing of the Bay of Biscay.
21. Spent more nights at anchor than ever before.
22. Realised the dream of becoming a full-time live aboard cruiser.
23. Lived aboard Carina over winter for the first time (admittedly, in the Mediterranean).
24. Dramatically improved my confidence in solo night sailing.
25. Finally mastered bowlines, figures of eight, clove hitches and sheet bends.
26. Tied up to dumb-bell moorings.
27. Berthed fore-and-aft.
28. More frequently brought Carina on and off moorings and berths.
29. Learned to use the outboard on the dinghy (horray…we finally got a newer working lightweight outboard).
30. Learned to use a pressure cooker.
31. Perfected my on-board laundry technique.
32. Perfected my on-board bed-making technique.
33. Perfected my on-board bread making.
34. Made perfect pancakes.
35. Made lemon curd for the first time in my life (yesterday!).
36. Improved my university teaching skills.
37. Landed a part-time winter job.
38. Made a transition from teaching university Geography to teaching English as a second language to eight year olds!
39. Improved my English language teaching skills.
40. Won over my difficult English language classes.
41. Learned at least 150 Spanish words.
42. Achieved near pre-pregnancy flexibility and strength thanks to resuming yoga practice.
43. Committed to a sugar-free diet for long periods of the year.
44. Started un-schooling the girls.
45. Got Katie out of night-time nappies.
46. Taught Lily to read.
47. Helped both girls develop their maths and writing skills.
48. Took Lily and Katie on day-trips to A Coruña, Porto, Lisbon and Cadiz.
49. Helped Lily learn to swim unaided.
50. Met and befriended wonderful fellow cruisers.

What is obvious is that few of these have been accomplished by me alone. My sailing accomplishments have been in the company and under the guidance of Julian, and this whole adventure would not be possible without his partnership. My chosen path of educating the children would not be possible without Julian’s enthusiasm and at least equal contribution. My teaching skills have developed in the company of a community of fellow educators. My writing accomplishments have been facilitated by Julian giving me the time, space and encouragement to write, by the inspiration and encouragement of friends, and by a community of bloggers who keep me motivated.

With 2015 just around the corner, I’m now thinking about my New Year’s resolutions. There certainly won’t be 50 of them. A nice safe four or five will do. As for this blog? Normal blogging will resume in a couple of days!

3000 miles but not all plain sailing

by Julian

Over the last three years, we have sailed 3000 miles in Carina. Almost all of this has been just the four of us. It is the end of the year, so time for reflection and where better to start than with the things that went wrong.
JulianSailingWhen we set out, our open water sailing experience was about 1600 miles for me and 600 miles for Martina. But this is meaningless. Martina’s 600 miles were 50% as crew and 50% as a passenger. She had completed her RYA yachtmaster theory and her RYA dayskipper practical, but she wasn’t even close to sailing a boat independently. I had lots of experience sailing small boats inland, I had completed my RYA coastal skipper practical course but not attempted the exam, and I had skippered a yacht a couple of times but  always with someone more experienced on board. So we were bound to make some mistakes when we set out.


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

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

2. My ‘Open Water 2 : Adrift’ moment

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

3. Headlands on a lee shore

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

4. Slipping the anchor

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

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

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

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

6. When the wind blows

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


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