Bed hopping

The plan, when we first moved aboard Carina in May 2012, was for Julian and me to sleep in the aft cabin and Lily’s and Katie’s ‘bedroom’ would be the smaller fore cabin. That first summer Carina sagged under the weight of the unnecessary stuff I had brought aboard. There wasn’t room to stow it all, and much of it remained piled high in the fore cabin, where I had dumped it on the wet and windy night in early May when I moved our stuff from our flat in Dawlish to the marina in Torquay.

For the six months we lived aboard that year, the girls slept with me in the aft cabin and Julian slept on the port berth in the saloon. That arrangement had both advantages and disadvantages. Lily, at three years of age, still woke up multiple times each night. Now, for the first time, she slept soundly curled up beside me, giving me, for the first time in three years, nights of unbroken sleep. Julian slept well in the saloon, but we had to make up his bed every night and tidy it away every morning, which was cumbersome and time consuming. And, let’s face it, while it was nice to snuggle up at night between my two little girls, my man was a far too distant five metres away from me.

We spent the winter on land, in a house in Exeter, and moved aboard once again in May 2013. I had learned lessons from the first year, and moved far less stuff aboard. In advance of moving aboard I prepared the fore cabin for the girls, with pretty duvet covers, fun storage boxes for their books and toys, and they had decided which cuddly toys they wanted to have around. From our first night aboard Carina in 2013, the girls slept in the fore cabin. And that is how it was been ever since. Like all bedrooms of young children, theirs is frequently a mess and I do my share of nagging and cajoling and shouting at them to ‘Tidy your room’.

Their cabin is a small space and I have thought occasionally about different sleeping arrangements that would give them both more space. But I have not been in any hurry to separate them either. Each ‘You’re on my side of the bed’ and ‘She kicked me’ is balanced by sounds wafting through to the aft cabin of their quiet morning conversations, singing songs and playing together with their toys.

Such a small space, however, is no fun in the extreme heat of the southern Iberian summer. Last year, from mid-May onwards, I made up the starboard berth in the saloon each night and they took turns sleeping there – Lily in the fore cabin and Katie in the saloon one night, and the other way around the next night. But each hot night the bed had to be prepared and each hot morning it had to be tidied away, which was even less fun than when we had to do the same with Julian’s bed in 2012.

There was another option, and one Monday morning in mid-May this year, on a whim, I decided to go for it. It wasn’t going to be easy and in the end it took almost three days before everything was organised. But it has been worth it.

The quarter berth, a wide and spacious single berth along the passageway connecting the aft cabin with the saloon, has always been used as a storage space. It’s where I keep all the boxes of food, the laundry bag, fishing rods, computer bag and various bags of work tools. Everything else gets thrown there when I can’t be bothered to put it away properly. The passageway has less than 5’ of headroom, so Julian and I have to bend down to get to our cabin, and to get to any of the items stored along the quarter berth. What if I turned this into Lily’s room and reorganised the fore cabin so that part of it was for storage and the rest Katie’s room? It was worth a try.

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Quarterberth from this……

Removing everything from the quarter berth meant finding new stowage spaces elsewhere, so virtually the entire boat had to be reorganised. Moving all the food out into the galley and saloon challenged my organisational skills, but I figured it out. I now no longer have to bend down at back-ache inducing angles multiple times a day to get the ingredients I need for all our meals. Everything is now at arm’s reach, and I have made life so much easier for myself! (Imagine, it only took me five years to figure this out!!)

I found things in the quarter berth that hadn’t been used in years (and would never be used). I found new homes for all that stuff or put it in the recycling bins. I reorganised the stowage spaces underneath the quarter berth and the saloon port berth, creating more space to stow sailing equipment that we don’t need while our lives revolve around two villages far up a river! By lunchtime that day I had cleared and cleaned the quarter berth, and transformed it into a cute bedroom for Lily, with all her books, toys and piggy bank on the shelf, a space to stow her clothes at the end of the bed, and her fairy lights strung from the ceiling.

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…..to this!

Her little face lit up when she arrived home from school and she hugged me almost to death with gratitude! She spent the afternoon rearranging her shelves and toys and making the space even more her own.

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Foreward cabin from this…..

Alas, the fore cabin was still a mess and it took some persuading to convince a disappointed Katie that, by bedtime, she too would have a ‘room’ of her own. All afternoon I worked on the fore cabin, rearranging tools, toys, books and even the bed itself. Katie now sleeps across the boat, with her head to starboard and feet to port, boxes of books forming one side of her bed. She too has her toys, clothes and books in easy reach. And she loves her new ‘room’. For me, the great advantage of Katie’s new set-up is that I can lie down beside her at night so we can read together.

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…..to this!

Still the saloon was a mess, with all the left over stuff that needed to be stowed. That took two more days. And then it struck me. The girls could have their own ‘desk’. The navigation table is at the end of Lily’s berth. It’s the perfect place to do homework, art, projects and watch movies. So I rearranged the navigation table and have transformed it into a desk which, despite being at the bottom of Lily’s bed, she must share with her sister.

A change is as good as a holiday, they say. And this change seems to suit us all. The girls are cool during these hot nights, and each has her own space for afternoon siesta. After two weeks, they continue to be ‘house proud’ of their own rooms, keeping them neat and tidy. Lily can read her novels without being disturbed by Katie, who is still at the reading aloud stage. They curl up together to watch movies or to work at the chart table, leaving the saloon table free more often. My galley is organised more efficiently and everything is close to hand. The boat seems, overall, neater and better organised.

I still occasionally go to the quarter berth to grab a box of flour or bottle of cooking oil and it takes a second for me to figure out why they’re not longer there! I’m sure it won’t be long before we all forget that the quarter berth was ever anything other than Lily’s bedroom.

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!