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.

All a little pear shaped

Sometimes it all goes pear-shaped. Like this past week. We were minutes away from anchoring at the end of our trip back upriver from Ayamonte when one of the engine alarms went off. At first it was a low whistle and I wasn’t quite sure if it was coming from Carina or from one of the other boats anchored nearby in the river. Julian was on the foredeck, getting ready to drop anchor. I put my ear to the ignition panel in the cockpit and sure enough, the alarm sound was emanating from there. Cupping my hand to block out the light shining on the bank of alarm lights confirmed it was the temperature alarm. The engine was overheating. The sound wasn’t too bad. Not the ear-piercing, heart stopping shrieking of the engine alarm that we had back in August 2013 when we limped into the marina in Brest, in Brittany, and were holed up for four days while Julian semi-solved the problem. I keep my ear to the alarm while Julian lays out the anchor chain.

We have a party to go to and then the Three Kings procession and then another party after that, so now is not the time to try to figure out what’s wrong with the engine. Then we sit at anchor for four nights and there are so many other things to do, the engine takes a back seat.

Friday is the first day of the new school term. Julian takes the girls to and from school in the dinghy. He goes to collect them at the end of the school day and I stay on board to get lunch ready. When I hear the dinghy coming back downriver I go to the stern to help them aboard. They don’t need my help to get aboard, but after a five hour separation I’m too impatient to see them to wait until they come those extra four metres into the saloon!

‘Where are your schoolbags?’ I ask, as Lily climbs aboard. In the excitement of meeting their long lost friends, they have left their schoolbags behind on the pontoon. Julian turns around and zips back upriver to get the bags. We’ve been doing a lot of zooming up and down river these past few days, what with all those parties. And we haven’t put petrol in the outboard for a few days. This latest, unplanned, trip back to Sanlúcar to collect the schoolbags takes more petrol than is currently in the fuel tank and Julian just makes it back to Carina on fumes. (This is no big deal as far as safety goes. He has oars and arms and is on an ebb tide on a calm day so rowing would be no problem). He climbs aboard for lunch and we think no more of the outboard.

We’re only a couple of days off spring tides now and with each ebb Carina is in shallower and shallower water. On Saturday morning we move her a few metres farther into the middle of the river. This manoeuvre takes only a few minutes, but Julian tells me to leave the engine running so he can begin to figure out what caused the alarm to sound when the engine was last running. He does some checks, and after twenty minutes the alarm sounds again.

Later Saturday morning Julian puts new petrol in the outboard so we can all go ashore for a walk and a picnic with some friends. The outboard sputters and splutters, judders and jiggles, and gets us to shore, but only just, with Julian playing around with the throttle and the choke likes he’s Quincy Jones at a music desk. Many hours later, when we return from our picnic, the outboard won’t start at all and I row the four of us home, greatly assisted by the ebb tide.

We’re only aboard five minutes and thinking about what we might have for supper when we hear the sound of a dinghy coming our way. It’s Phil from Naisso. Irlem has made feijoada, the national dish of his native Brazil and he’s been saying for weeks that the next time he makes it he’ll have us around for supper.

Erm, we’d love to come around, I tell Phil, but the outboard’s not working. The four of us will never get the 300 metres upriver to Naisso rowing against a spring tide in full ebb. I put a solution to Phil and he agrees to give it a try, but isn’t sure if his little outboard will be up to it. If the girls and I go with Phil in his dinghy, we can tow Julian behind in our dinghy, with Julian rowing to give what assistance he can to the labours of Phil’s outboard. We’ll still be on an ebb tide by the time we finish dinner and we can float back downriver to Carina.

The girls and I climb in with Phil and I hold the painter of our dinghy. We slowly make our way upriver against the ebb, Phil’s little outboard giving it all she’s got, Julian rowing behind. Our friends on other boats are much amused as they watch our progress. It all goes well, and we reach our destination, but I narrowly avoid falling in the river as I climb aboard Naisso. We have a thoroughly wonderful evening and a dinner so delicious that words fail me. And at 10pm, we drift downriver, Julian dipping an oar in now and again to correct our course towards Carina.

Sunday is to be our ‘day of rest’, when we don’t leave the boat. Julian plans to devote the day to investigating and hopefully solving the problems of both the outboard and inboard engines. He spends the morning working on the outboard, taking it apart, cleaning the filters and carburettor. His first test run with it fails and he has to strip it apart again, but by lunchtime the outboard is working like a dream. At least he won’t have to row against the ebb to get the girls to school in the morning. (If you think we’ve got an extraordinary amount of ebb tide, it’s because we do. Because of the fast flowing river, flood tides here are a little less than five hours in duration and ebbs a little more than seven).

He takes a break for lunch and then plans to launch into the bigger job, Carina’s engine. But when I open the cupboard under the sink where the pots and pans are stored, I discover the bottom of the cupboard is wet. This has happened before, and it’s always simply a loose water pipe to the galley taps. It just requires a little tightening and drying out of the cupboard. I remove all the pots and pans and Julian gets down on his hands and knees in the tight space between the galley and the companionway steps, to fix the problem.

But this time the problem isn’t the pipe. The pipe is as dry as a bone. There must be a leak somewhere else in the system. He removes the floor in front of the sink and cooker to reveal about 20 litres of water sloshing about. He sets about removing the water, a jug full at a time and then tries to figure out where all this water has come from. From its location and the dryness of our deep bilges we know that this water isn’t coming in from outside. We have an internal leak.

His exploration reveals the foot pump to be the source of the leak. You see, we get water into our taps by means of an electrical pump powered by our bank of domestic batteries or by means of a foot pump located near the floor under the cooker. When we are at anchor we use the foot pump, to reduce the energy drain on our batteries, and we only use the electric pump when we are on a pontoon and have mains electricity.

Cutting off the water supply to the foot pump requires some speedy movements to insert a wooden bung before the water spills everywhere. While Julian, like the Dutch boy and the dyke, keeps his finger in the pipe, I rummage around in a cupboard for an appropriately-sized bung. For some reason we are both in a good mood and we find it all pretty comical. Another day we might not have been so light hearted about it all!

With the pipe blocked, Julian takes the foot pump out and painstakingly takes it apart, inspects all the constituent bits, cleans them up and puts it all back together again. Most of the fiddly screws are back in place before he realises he has forgotten to reinsert the spring at the centre of the mechanism. So he has to undo the whole blooming thing and start all over again. He suspects that nothing he has done will have solved the problem and when he puts the pump back in place he is proven right. The pump is broken, perhaps not beyond repair, but to repair it will require the purchase of spare parts online. And the afternoon he has planned to devote to the engine has now been spent on the foot pump.

He spends Monday morning trying to solve the problem of the engine. He gets so far as figuring out that it’s got something to do with the flow of external water through the cooling system. But the exact nature of the problem or how to solve it remains a mystery. He then spends the afternoon online, ordering spare parts for the pump and trying to learn more about the engine cooling system.

At least the laptop is working now, allowing him to do this. A few days after Christmas the laptop died and it took a couple of hours of painstaking work on Julian’s part, taking it apart, cleaning all the bits, putting it back together, rebooting it, before eventually bringing it back to life again.

On Tuesday morning he returns to the engine again. He reads the owner’s manual cover to cover and thinks he may have found a solution to the problem. As I write he is on the bus going to Vila Real to purchase the necessary fluids and parts from the chandlery. We still have a leaking foot pump that can’t be used until the faulty parts arrive by post and are replaced, an engine cooling system that needs to be fixed, and one very frustrated skipper. It never rains but it pours.

House or boat?

What do you miss about living in a house?
What’s it like living on a boat?
What’s the most surprising thing about living on a boat?
In the past couple of months I’ve been asked these and similar questions by newfound friends, by acquaintances, by people who’ve contacted me via this blog, and even by someone who interviewed me for a magazine article.

To my ears, these questions are all of a similar theme, and there are two distinct lines I follow when attempting to answer them. The easier approach is to think about the material realities of living on a boat; the more difficult is to think about the affect our lifestyle has on emotional and relational aspects of life. The two, of course, are bound together, but it’s easier to tease them apart and explore them separately. Today I want to write about the material realities of living on a boat and save the more difficult question of the emotional side of things for another day.

Although it’s only a little over three years since we first moved aboard Carina, and despite currently working on a memoir about our life aboard, I genuinely find it difficult to remember what I imagined life aboard would be like as we prepared for the transition. I remember thinking a lot about sailing – inclement weather, running repairs, capsizing, pirates; and I thought a lot about idyllic anchorages, warm turquoise seas, spectacular sunsets. I thought far less about mundane day-to-day life on a 36 foot boat with three other people. The reality is, however, that we sail very little relative to the amount of time we spend in situ, engaged in mundane day-to-day life. The few times I had sailed prior to buying Carina I had enjoyed the caravan-type living arrangements but I hadn’t given much consideration to living like that for months and years on end.

Lily, in princess garb, and Julian preparing lunch.

Lily, in princess garb, and Julian preparing lunch.

But reflecting on our life aboard now and having been living in a very comfortable house for the past five months I can honestly say there are very few things I miss about living in a house. The one thing I really do miss is a bath! I like nothing more than a long hot soak in a bath on a cold winter’s night, a strong cup of tea resting on the edge of the bath and a good novel in my hand (careful not to let it fall in!). So I’m enjoying the occasional soak now that I’m back in a house, knowing that once we’re back aboard Carina next week it could well be a long time before I have a bath again!

So here’s perhaps the most surprising thing about life on a boat. I don’t miss any of the things I might be expected to miss – all those mod cons that are supposed to make life easier. I don’t miss a fridge or a washing machine or a shower. I don’t miss unlimited water and energy at the touch of a button or turn of a switch. I certainly don’t miss owning a car or a television, a vacuum cleaner or an iron. And there are things I have never owned, so can’t possibly miss – microwave, dishwasher, freezer.

Julian in our tiny (and not very lofty) galley

Julian washing dishes in our tiny (and not very lofty) galley

We have a fridge aboard which we use when we are on a pontoon, plugged into mains electricity. The rest of the time, when we’re at anchor or mooring, we live fridge free, because it requires more power to run than our 80 watt solar panel can provide. When we had a car and a continuously working fridge, we would shop for fresh food once a week, stocking our fridge to bursting with a week’s worth of dairy and vegetables. I’ve recently realised how much not having a fridge has become normal for Julian and me by the way we both react to the similarly packed-to-bursting fridges and freezers of my parents-in-law. ‘Surely you didn’t need that much stuff’, we gasp in disbelief, used as we are now to buying fresh food little and often and forgetting that, until recently, we used to shop in the same way.

Life without a washing machine or tumble drier is no big deal. When we have access to a launderette we do one bag of laundry a week. When there is no launderette nearby, I hand-wash small amounts of washing two or three times a week. Aboard the boat we take a different approach to our clothing. We have a lot less of it for starters. We own fewer items of clothing and we don’t own anything that’s delicate or requires special treatment. And every item of clothing is put through a sight and smell test before it goes in the laundry bag. Just because a shirt or pair of trousers has been worn doesn’t mean it’s dirty. If it’s not stained or doesn’t smell then it gets worn again the next day. Just like we used to do years ago, prior to the advent of ultra-convenient washing machines and tumble driers.

We adjusted quickly to our limited supplies of water, energy and cooking fuel aboard. We have adapted everything from the way we wash our bodies and brush our teeth, to the way we cook pasta and rice, in order to maximise our water supply. Over the past couple of years energy has become less of an issue as Julian has replaced all the old bulbs with low-energy LED bulbs, our anchor light is now powered by its own mini-solar panel, and our laptop recharger is now far more energy efficient than the one we had before. Still, energy isn’t on tap and we have grown accustomed to acting in ways that are energy efficient – making the most of daylight hours to achieve tasks that require strong light, religiously switching off cabin lights, and making decisions about whether certain uses of energy are necessary.

We’ve gotten used to this way of life relatively easily, in part because when we decided to buy a boat one of our main motivations was to live a simpler, less consumption-led life. We were both driven by a certain environmental and social consciousness and so it feels good to live that simple frugal life that we wanted.

Alice in Wonderland has nothing on Julian emerging from our bedroom!

Alice in Wonderland has nothing on Julian emerging from our bedroom!

With mod-cons out of the way, the other glaringly obvious aspect of living on a boat is size. Let’s face it, Carina is not big. She’s 36 foot from bow to stern and 11 foot wide at her broadest. Headroom is slightly less than Julian’s six feet two inches. The girls are growing with alarming speed and before long I’m going to be the shortest person aboard. And, with the exception of those few boxes of stuff stored with Julian’s parents, everything we own is aboard the boat.

Sometimes the lack of space isn’t a problem; other times it drives me mad. When the boat is tidy, when the sun is shining, when everyone’s in a good mood, space is no issue. When the boat is messy, when all four of us are trying to do things in the saloon at the same time – one of us cooking, one repairing, kids dressing up and playing noisily (or worse – fighting) – it can get a bit wild and uncomfortable. But, for the past five months we’ve been living in a house that would engulf Carina’s living spaces ten times over and it’s just as annoying when the place is messy, the kids are running wild, two or three of us are trying to do things at the same time. So I think space is as much in the mind as in the physical space around us.

Who needs space to relax? Julian, under kids, with naked dolly; bra, shoes, pepper mill and who knows what else on the table in front. We are a messy bunch.

Who needs space to relax? Julian, under kids, with naked dolly; bra, shoes, pepper mill, mobile phone, play mobile people and who knows what else on the table in front. We are a messy bunch.

On a practical note, the lack of space aboard is most obvious when we sit down to family meals, which we do three times a day. The table takes up the entire saloon when fully extended; and the four of us can barely fit around the wobbly unstable table in the cockpit. To get around these tables requires advanced contortionist skills and if the make-shift worktop in the saloon is in place (which it usually is) then you can expect to be stabbed in the back by its sharp outer corner as you try to squeeze between it and the edge of the saloon table. Thankfully both saloon and cockpit tables are collapsible so they’re not a burden most of the time.

Because of the lack of space, stored items aren’t always easy or convenient to reach. Over the years we’ve learned by trial and error and have moved food and other items around, depending on how regularly things are used. But if I run out of peppercorns half way through making dinner, gaining access to the spare tub is rarely easy, or if the weather suddenly changes and I need to get my cold weather gear, I have to strip my bed in the aft cabin, remove the mattress and burrow like a badger to reach those rarely worn clothes.

The longer we live aboard Carina the more used we grow to her idiosyncratic living space and the more tricks we develop to make life easier. But living aboard has never been a trial. I have never once regretted the decision to move from a substantial house with a huge garden in the countryside to a tiny self-contained boat. What our lives lack in mod-cons and living space is more than made up for in an abundance of time together as a family, opportunities to travel where and when we want, and opportunities to learn and grow each and every day.

Someone took my lemons

You know the saying ‘When God gives you lemons, make lemonade’? Or, in my case, lemon curd. But what happens when those lemons are taken away again before you have a chance to do anything productive with them?

We faced such a dilemma this past week when plans we had in place since early August changed suddenly and unexpectedly. Nearly five months earlier we had been asked to house and dog sit for a week at New Year so, despite our general lack of short- or medium-term planning, this week had been set in stone. We eliminated all other possibilities and honed in on making ourselves available to do this favour. And now that we had that week set in stone, we decided to plan accordingly. The girls and I would be off the boat for the whole week, leaving Julian free to get on with a huge number of jobs on his to-do list – sanding, varnishing, spring cleaning the lazarette, repairing the sails, etc. He would visit us in the apartment and spend some nights with us, but most of his week would be devoted to the boat.

Carina in a state of undress

Carina in a state of undress

I, meanwhile, planned to take advantage of being in Almeria to do lots of fun things, which are otherwise too expensive when we have to factor in the price of bus journeys from and to Aguadulce. And, of course, the girls were wildly excited about the prospect of taking care of a dog for a week, and that experience would have been amazing for them. In addition to all this fun, I planned to complete the first draft of my book before we moved back aboard Carina. With a TV in the apartment, I planned to let the girls watch one movie each evening, giving me one and a half hours of writing time, and to continue writing for two or three hours each night after the girls had gone to bed. That would surely put the first draft of the book to bed too.

Twenty-four hours before we were due to move into the apartment, unexpectedly and for reasons unrelated to us, the plans changed and we found ourselves adrift. What were we to do? The maintenance and repair jobs would now be much more difficult to accomplish with us under Julian’s feet. And, as I’ve written before, the simple tasks of cooking, cleaning, and day-to-day life take so much more time on a boat, so the time for fun activities and writing were now drastically curtailed.

First we got annoyed. And then we got practical. Rather than viewing the changes to this long-planned-for week as ruinous, we reassessed our priorities and we set about achieving what we could. Instead of thinking of it as a week, we saw in front of us eleven days until I had to return to work. Julian’s boat jobs needed daylight and my writing could be done after dark. The varnishing of weather boards and the oiling of the boat’s external teak needed to be done at a certain time of day – after the early morning dew had lifted, but early enough so they would dry before the evening dew descended.

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

I took over all the household chores that are usually shared or done by Julian – cooking, cleaning, laundry, food shopping. When Julian attempted to clean the heads one day I shooed him away – no point him wasting time doing jobs that I can do. I involved the girls in all those activities, taking their maths and English books to the launderette, so they could work while we waited. Many of the chores had us off the boat for considerable lengths of time.

The girls and I went for long walks on the beach. As well as taking our balls and bats and new origami set (I love it!), I took my pen and notebook and, while the girls played at playgrounds or played games with other kids, I squeezed in what handwriting I could, ready to transcribe to the laptop once the girls were in bed.

When we were at home, we stayed as much out of Julian’s way as possible. He sanded, varnished and oiled. He removed sails. He cleaned the decks and the cockpit. Sometimes the girls helped, but when helping turned to hindering, I took them away again.

And Julian took them away from me, late in the afternoons when the light was fading and he could no longer work effectively. Sure, I had dinner to make, but I also managed to write.

I’m going back to work tomorrow and I have to admit that neither of us has achieved what we had hoped. I’m still roughly 15,000 words from the end of the book. And Julian has accomplished only about 20% of what he would have expected to if he had had the boat to himself. This week we’ve also had to contend with having no electricity for two days due to a fault on the pontoon, and a blocked toilet that Julian’s had to take apart.

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But we could look at it another way. I’m 6,000 words closer to the end of the draft than I was before December 28th. Carina’s exterior woodwork is in better condition now than at any time since we have owned her. And we’ve had experiences that we wouldn’t have had if we had been in Almeria all week. Lily and Katie have met and played with lots of children at the local playgrounds all week. Katie and I spent a morning visiting Bill and Rosemary on a neighbouring boat. Jesus, on the boat across the pontoon from us, gave us a bucketful of freshly caught red sea bream. And yesterday morning, while out for my walk, I met Katie and Kalle, a young German couple living and travelling in a VW camper van, and they spent the afternoon aboard Carina with us.

Things don’t always work out the way you’ve planned. Unexpected changes can occur, leaving you feeling stranded. And we did feel stranded at first, when our five-months-in-the-making plan was turned on its head with no warning. But if there’s one thing that sailing teaches you, it’s that you can’t rely on plans. Weather systems and unexpected boat problems can alter the best laid plans. Friends we’ve made along the way this past year have had their sailing plans curtailed by, in one instance, a split wooden mast that needed to be replaced, and, in another, the need to install a new engine. But what can you do? Go with the flow, make the most of the opportunities you have and, if your lemons are taken away, you better have some recipes for a bucket-load of bream up your sleeve!

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.

WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG!

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.

Conclusion

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.

I’ve been Liebstered!!

I’m thrilled that Mary Grace Stich on Let It Be has nominated me for a Liebster Award. For those of you unfamiliar with the Liebster, it’s an award given by bloggers to other bloggers. Each blogger answers ten questions posed by the blogger who has nominated their blog, and then pays the Liebster forward to another blogger with ten new questions. Over the past few months I’ve read the Liebster answers given by some of the sailing bloggers I follow and I hoped someone would one day nominate me, so I’d have an opportunity to think about and respond to some interesting questions. Thank you Mary Grace!! Here are my answers to your questions.

1. What first attracted you to a cruiser lifestyle?
I’ve always shied away from conventionality. I fancy myself a bit of an outsider and have enjoyed life most when I’ve lived in small-town Japan or in the Canadian Arctic where I’ve been noticeably the odd one out. I’ve always been attracted to stories of people who decide to walk the road less travelled. In 2011, when we made the decision to buy a boat and become live aboard cruisers, we owned a house and a car, we had careers, and I was doing the rounds of mother-and-baby groups in my local area. The conventionality of it all scared the hell out of me!

From my first seaside holiday as a four-year old, I’ve loved, and found inspiration in, the sea. My PhD in anthropology was all about embodied marine knowledge. And this was before I’d ever set foot on a sailboat. The first time I went sailing, in September 2005, I was hooked. The idea of living on a boat and sailing to wherever I wanted was hugely appealing. I was attracted to the self-reliance, the chance to see new places and experience new cultures, and the opportunity to take a step away from mass consumerism. Julian and I used to fantasise about buying a boat when the kids had grown up and flown the nest. But in 2011 we decided not to wait and to bring them along on the adventure.

2. What was your biggest concern before moving on board?
I was concerned about a lot of things. I worried about night sailing (but that has proven to be one of my greatest sailing pleasures). I worried about pirates – but so far we haven’t ventured into any pirate-infested waters. I worried about how we would make ends meet – and I still worry about that. But if I didn’t have financial worries to keep me on my toes, I’d probably be restless about something else.

3. Now that you live aboard, what is your biggest concern or adjustment?
Again, there are lots of these. The more sailing experience I gain, the more I realise what can go wrong. I try not to bury my head in the sand, but rather confront these worries and try to figure out what we would do if we found ourselves in certain situations. I worry about what I would do if Julian fell overboard. We have discussed how we would deal with this, but there are two simple facts: (a) my boat handling skills are poor and I’d likely run him over in my attempt to rescue him, and (b) he is 6’2”, weighs about 17 stone (that’s about 240lbs to you North Americans), and getting him back out of the water if he was unconscious and unable to help himself would be nigh on impossible.

I also hate fog. Fog makes me feel physically sick. We don’t have radar, and when we occasionally find ourselves in fog I imagine a huge container ship bearing down on us. The more times I experience fog, the more I hate it. We avoid going out in it, but sometimes find ourselves in the middle of a passage, shrouded in fog. Double watch, fog horn, and keeping our wits about us is about all we can do.

My biggest adjustment to the cruising life is my daily routine. Before moving onboard I worked full-time. Now that I no longer work full-time I’m trying to find time to write while at the same time home educating my daughters and, this winter, working part-time teaching English. My problem is that I like routine and I imagine that I can do more in the day than is realistic. I make to-do lists and I like to stick to them. I like getting up at the same time every day, going to work for a set period of time, ticking tasks off my to-do list. Living in the close confines of the boat with my husband and kids throws my routines out the window. I am no longer my own boss, but must work around the routines (or complete lack thereof) of the three other people I live with. I’m adjusting gradually, and Julian and the girls are meeting me somewhere in the middle.

4. What did you do for recreation/hobby before you became a cruiser and what do you do now?
I have young children, so I don’t understand these words ‘recreation’ and ‘hobby’!! In the years after meeting Julian and before the kids were born, he and I went SCUBA diving, hill walking, camping and on insane driving holidays at every opportunity. It was during that time too that I developed my love for sailing, and we chartered yachts, and did various RYA sailing courses. Then the kids came along and put an end to our exploits.

Cooking has been a competitive sport for Julian and I since the start of our relationship. Moving on board hasn’t changed that. We still try to out-do each other with our creations, and having to cook in a confined space with limited cooking facilities only enhances the challenge. I’m still sulking due to my Szechuan spare ribs getting the cold shoulder last weekend (they were too sweet, seemingly).

I’m a fanatical reader, and that hasn’t changed between land and sea. If I didn’t acquire any more books I reckon I currently have enough unread books on board to last me a year. But I’m always finding new reading material at marina book swaps, and family and friends share their books with me. I read on long passages, when I’m on buses and trains, before I go to bed, when I wake up – I’m almost never to be found without a book by my side. The wonderful thing is that Lily is now a fully fledged independent reader and, with any luck, Katie will soon follow suit, thus freeing up more time for me to read the books I like rather than the books they like!!

5. Has your initial estimate of how long you would cruise changed from your original plan?
When people ask how long we plan to do this, my glib answer is ‘Anywhere from six months to sixty years’. But, perhaps it’s not so glib. We don’t have any master plan. We have met other cruisers who plan to circumnavigate the globe in four years, or who are taking a year out to cross the Atlantic and back. But our plans are looser. One day we would like to cross the Atlantic, and one day we would like to circumnavigate the globe. But we may never do either. I guess the answer is that we will continue to sail for as long as we all enjoy it, and for as long as we can afford to do it. Right now, we’re looking forward to more cruising in the Mediterranean in spring 2015. But we’re not thinking much farther ahead than that. If a very different opportunity presented itself, then we might well turn our backs on sailing. I would love to live in Arviat again, in the Canadian Arctic, and one day I hope we can do that. Equally, if we sailed into someplace irresistible, we might well stay put and put down roots.

6. What is one unusual or surprising thing you have on board?
This is a really difficult question to answer. What seems normal to me might seem whacky to someone else. If someone else came on board and went through my stuff the thing that might most make them scratch their head is a big backpack, stored in the aft heads, full of newspaper clippings and academic papers about polar bears. It’s some of the material for a writing project I started about nine months ago, but which has been lying dormant for six months. The other surprising items are a little black dress and a pair of black stilettos. I’m just waiting for someone to invite me to a party – preferably NOT on a boat, so my stilettos won’t be frowned upon!

7. What is the most surprising/rude/absurd or annoying question you have been asked?
It’s not really a question, but what annoys me most is that other sailors often have opinions about how we should raise and educate our kids. Quite often those opinions are given by people who haven’t taken even a minute to say hello to the girls. They see two children and immediately assume that they know a better way (even though they haven’t bothered to ask about our way). The rude opinions usually come from people who haven’t cruised with their own children. Those who currently cruise with children, or who have done so in the past, are generally very supportive, I guess because they too have had to deal with the annoying opinions. Cruisers who raised their children onboard years ago usually have very insightful and helpful suggestions, and they’re usually very kind and accepting of young children at anchor or on a pontoon next to them.

8. Name something that is better about living aboard than living on land and does it surprise you?
Can I give an x-rated answer? Hahaha!

9. If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your boat right now?
I hate making the beds. Tucking in bottom sheets requires bodily contortions that in summer cause me to break out in a sweat and the rest of the time are just plain awkward and annoying. If I had a magic wand I would make the fore and aft cabins wider, so that they had proper beds that I could walk around, which would save me having to simultaneously kneel on top of mattresses while picking up the edges to tuck in the sheet.
Alternatively, I might close my eyes, wave the magic wand, and open my eyes to find Carina in Tuvalu in the South Pacific – somewhere I’ve dreamed of for years. (Hello, Alice Baker!)

10. Can you name one thing that is a favorite part of your “normal” day?
There comes a time – not every day – late in the evening, when the girls are asleep in the fore cabin, and the boat is closed up for the night. The light is quite poor in the saloon, which makes the boat feel so cosy and ‘homely’. I sit on the port side settee, a light overhead shining down on the book I’m reading, a cup of tea or glass of wine on the table beside me. The boat rocks almost imperceptibly, accompanied by the gentle creaking noises of ropes and rigging. I should try to make that moment in the day a more regular occurrence than it currently is.

Another favourite part of the day that seems to be sadly fading is when the kids climb into bed with us. I’m not too keen on getting woken up at 7am, but if one of them comes into our cabin earlier than that, they usually fall back asleep. You can’t beat an early morning snuggle – with Katie especially, who is far less wriggly than Lily. This morning we had both of them in and later, after Lily and Julian got up, Katie stayed with me for a sleepy cuddle.

____________________________________________________________________

Well, that was fun! My Liebster Award nominees are Photo art by Anna and The Dancing Irishman, two very different blogs, and neither about anything even remotely related to the sea or sailing. They are written by two people I know personally, and who I admire because they have chosen the road less travelled in order to follow their passions. Photo art by Anna and The Dancing Irishman, here are your ten questions:

1. Did you have a ‘this is the life for me’ lightbulb moment?

2. What’s been the strangest reaction to your chosen lifestyle?

3. Why are you a blogger?

4. What is the most interesting or unexpected thing that has happened to you as a result of writing your blog?

5. What book would you recommend everyone read before they die?

6. When you eventually come sailing aboard Carina, where would you like to sail to?

7. Who is the one other person you would like to come along on that sailing trip? Why?

8. What are your other passions in life?

9. Who has most inspired you to do what you do?

10. Where do you see your passions taking you in the next ten years?

I hope you take up the challenge, answer the questions and pay the Liebster Award forward to bloggers you admire. xx Martina

Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven

It feels like a long time has passed since I last wrote about our travels. We’ve been to quite a few places in a short space of time, but have been without Internet access in most of them.

In Corme we enjoyed a long walk through a rural landscape very different to any we’ve walked in since our journey began. Just a short distance inland the air grew heavy and oppressive, and the plants, birds and insects were new to us. As the children played at a woodland playground behind a stretch of protected sand dunes we encountered our first lizard – a little lime green fellow basking in the sun on a kerb.

Katie on the beach at Corme

Katie on the beach at Corme

We had fun on the beach at Corme, swimming in the crystal clear water, and one evening we had a barbecue on a huge beach that we had all to ourselves. But we were constantly looking to the sky during our stay at Corme, willing the dark clouds to stay away. Alas, they never complied, and all those wet sandy clothes from days on the beach caused me no small amount of annoyance.

Most of our last twenty-four hours in Corme were bumpy and misty, until the wind changed suddenly, shortly before dawn, and all was calm and clear again.

We had a delightful sail from Corme to Ria de Camariñas, 20 miles farther along the Costa del Morte – the Coast of Death(!) – and spent the night in the Club Nautico de Camariñas – the most inexpensive marina we’ve been to…ever! Arriving into Camariñas the genoa (the large sail at the front of the boat) refused to furl and Julian had to drop it and quickly stow it in the fore cabin (Lily and Katie’s bedroom). A pin had come out of the roller furler, causing the furling mechanism to jam. Our genoa at present is folded and stuffed into the aft heads.

The Club Nautico had that same international feel as Falmouth. It was small and intimate, with yachts from the US, Australia, the UK and, of course, the Dutch and French yachts that are ubiquitous along this coast. With the genoa out of action, we considered staying in Camariñas for a few days. It was cheap, with access to fresh water, electricity, and free Wifi, and the club’s cafe/bar was only 20 metres from our boat! But the forecast suggested that if we didn’t leave the next day then we would be in for an uncomfortable few days with the wind hitting us on the pontoon or at anchor. So, despite the advantages offered by Camariñas, we spent less than 18 hours there, and were once again out on the water.

The last town on the Coast of Death!

The last town on the Coast of Death!

There was no wind anyway on the next leg of our journey, so genoa or no genoa, there was no sailing to be had. We motored for six hours in dead calm, past Fisterra – the most westerly point of mainland Europe – and were, for the first time since departing Plymouth, not on a south westerly course. We were past the Costa del Morte and into the Ria de Muros.

The Ria de Muros is heavenly. The mountains are rugged, the beaches are long, golden and sandy, the water is aquamarine, and the sky is the bluest blue. Picturesque ancient towns and villages are nestled amongst the hills. These collections of white-walled, orange-roofed buildings look pretty from a distance, and once amongst them, they are warrens of narrow cobbled streets, with fountained plazas and ancient stone churches.

The beach at Louro

The beach at Louro

We spent our first two nights at anchor off the beach in Louro, the first very touristy town we have come to. On our first morning we rowed to shore. The girls and I spent the day on the beach, never going more than 20 metres from our dinghy, with its supplies of food, water and sunscreen. We built sandcastles and swam in the warm sea. Lily really got to grips with swimming without any buoyancy aids for the first time. The water was warm enough for her to want to stay in for a long time, and she swam her little heart out. Each time she’d say ‘Just one more try’, and I had to tell her she could keep at it for as long as she wanted. By the time Julian returned from a few hours of exploring the nearby town of Muros she was swimming a few metres (assisted by the incoming waves) and keen to show Dad her new-found skills.

We lifted anchor this morning and motored the couple of miles around the corner to Muros. The marina is lovely, with the office and facilities situated in an old house. I’m currently sitting in a large cool living room with lots of comfy sofas. The showers are beyond luxurious, there’s a shaded garden, and even a coffee machine in the kitchen. For live aboard cruisers – as many of the sailors around here are – this is luxury indeed.

Muros

Muros

Tomorrow we will explore the town some more, as I carry on with getting laundry done. My priority at this marina is getting all the bedding washed. We’re all in sleeping bags tonight, as our duvets, sheets and pillowcases are all in various stages of being washed and dried!!

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.

Sunset and moonrise; moonset and sunrise

When we looked at the weather forecast on Wednesday we decided to go for it. We’d been hanging around the river between Falmouth and Truro for a week and there was no sign of the southerly winds abating. We’d had a lovely time – multiple visits to the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, two wonderful days in Truro, and a day exploring the parkland at Trelissick House. But we hadn’t set sail from Plymouth to wile away our summer in mid-Cornwall, no matter how beautiful it is.

Throughout Wednesday we made our preparations and at 5.16pm we slipped our lines and were on our way. I made supper while Julian helmed us out of the river towards open water, and with a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise inside us we were properly on our way.

It was a delightful, pleasant and uneventful crossing. Being almost mid-summer, Julian and the girls were fast asleep long before sunset, while I took the first watch. The almost full moon rose bright to the south-east, as the sun set towards the north-west. With the moon so bright, only the two or three brightest stars shone in the sky, as it never got truly dark.

Moon set

Moon set

We sailed for a while, but when the wind died completely we found ourselves bobbing around going nowhere, and we were forced to motor. Even then, the apparent wind read only two or three knots. I cruised along, feasting on Pringles and Jaffa Cakes and was much relieved to see Julian’s face appear in the companionway shortly after midnight.

I got three hours sleep and was up again at 3.15am and Julian returned to bed. A big mug of strong tea, a toasted buttered cinnamon and raisin bagel, and I was geared up for the next few hours.

In the three hours I had been asleep, the moon had slowly passed over to the south-west and the first glimmer of pinky-purple light was beginning to appear on the horizon to the north-east. Over the next couple of hours, the sky gradually got lighter, the moon set to the west and the sun rose gloriously at 5.13am.

The eastern sky just before sunrise

The eastern sky just before sunrise

As soon as the sun rose the seagulls returned, swooping low and gliding over the sea. When Julian awoke at 6.15am, I was more than ready for sleep. I crawled into bed and slept deeply until Lily woke me at 9.40am to tell me she could see France!!

And there it was, the shimmering white sands of northwest Brittany shining under the bright blue sky. Within an hour we were at the leading line for L’Aber Wrac’h, and gently motored up the river, past La Palue and as far up the river as Carina could go, to Paluden. There we picked up a mooring buoy and I promptly fell asleep in the cockpit, the sun warming me and my sunhat over my face for protection.

We’ve stayed up the river for the past two nights, and like it so much, we might stay a little longer. It is quiet and peaceful, the riverbank lush with foliage, and oyster beds exposed at low water. We’ve been basking in the sunshine, finding it hard to believe that we can be comfortably warm in shorts and t-shirts at all times of the day. We’ve gone exploring in the dinghy. Yesterday, Julian and the girls walked along a woodland path to La Palue for crepes with Nutella, and I walked to Lannili to explore. Today, we’ve taken the dinghy to La Palue. Julian and the girls are on the beach right now, and I’m going to join then in a few minutes. Life is sweet!!

The girls making their Father's Day cards and present yesterday evening.

The girls making their Father’s Day cards and present yesterday evening.