Thursday, 4 January 2018

2017 in books

Which book changed your life?
It's a superfluity of books that counts. Don't just read that one book, everybody: read lots and that will keep changing your life.
Griff Rhys Jones, The Guardian weekend interview 30 Dec 2017

Goodreads review 2017

There were some great ones, some interesting ones and some really useful ones so here is a quick round up of the sea, adventure and boat related books:

Fastnet force 10 & Fatal Storm
These two are first person accounts of two well known tragedies at sea; the Fastnet race of 1979 and the Sydney-Hobart race of 1998. Both of them offer insights and lessons which could prove invaluable to sailors in preparing for sea. Not ones to be read on passage or by family waiting ashore!

One Summers Grace
Libby Purves remains one of my favourite writers and this story of her families travels around Britain in their boat is another great read. Dreamers and cruisers alike might enjoy her tales of travelling with a small family, battling with unfavorable weather, discovering interesting places and swooping along with the wind and currents.

Other books about places special to us that I have read this year include A song at twilight centering on Harrowbeer airfield on Dartmoor and based on historical facts. It had us taking a trip to the moor to find the fascinating remains of the airfield. Lost Plymouth, looks at the changes to the city over several generations and the many Plymothians who have left their mark around the world. More lives than one was another very evocative book which had me roaming the narrow alleys of Venice in my memory even though it is many years since we visited.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know is a good one for those who like to read about adventure. This biography covers a full and interesting life of an amazing man.

Happy new year everyone and here's looking forward to lots more books in 2018

Links below for 2016 book review and other blogs recommending boaty related reading matter

Goodreads review 2016

Learning to read for fun  (boat school)
What is a book (have you tried a Kindle?)
Boat repair reference books
Well loved books (for young children)
Resource books

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas on the hard

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass,
it's about learning to dance in the rain
 - Vivian Greene

So life doesn’t always go as planned. There have been many things which have caused delays and several things which rightly took priority over work on the boat over the last few weeks. It will get done, but sometimes you just have to do what needs doing and at least we are not going to sink now we’re out of the water.

Feeling festive on the hard

The skipper has been busy getting things ready. After several dodgy moments on the boarding steps and the dog accidentally throwing himself off the back of the boat (20 foot drop, rocks below, he stood up and shook it off!) we now have a much better ladder. It’s nice and stable and firmly attached to the side of the boat. He has also created a working area under the boat using sheeting and plywood to provide shelter meaning that even in wet and windy weather he can work with wood and epoxy which are both quite fussy about the weather. It is colder on the land than on the water because the wind whistles around the hulls cooling us off but we're nice and toasty with our new paraffin heaters (we are aware of the dangers, have carbon monoxide alarms and newer heaters are much safer than their predecessors).

There is major dredging work in the marina at the moment

Although we don’t really get snow down here on the South coast (there is some up on the moors) we’ve had some frosty mornings which make for a very slippery deck. We have a couple of old towels on standby to fling out and make the deck much safer. The dog is upset that he can’t just go and sit out on deck but loves the fact that we are now right next to his favourite beach and he gets to go there far more often. The movement is the strangest thing, we don’t rock with the water but we do shake horribly in strong winds which we've had a lot of in the last few weeks. 

Sea dog posing on the moors

The deckhands are very much ready for Christmas. They have sung and partied and are enjoying the season. It was lovely watching the school nativity and interesting to compare the spectacle created by a group of 90 children with the productions they created in boat school. They are part of a much bigger thing and sharing it in a church with so many more but on the other hand when we were away they planned and wrote it themselves and did lots of research around the story too. Swings and roundabouts, there really are advantages to both types of education. Maybe our boys are particularly fortunate to have experienced both.

Decorations waiting to be put up

Father Christmas will be coming again this year; he seems to manage to find his way onto boats despite us not having a chimney. People often ask me about hiding presents in a smaller space. We always tell the children that if they go looking they won’t have any surprises on Christmas day and so far they haven’t – as far as I know! We use a big airtight box to keep everything together and safe from damp which usually works well. When choosing Christmas presents we have to think about where they are going to go once they’ve been opened too and how practical gifts are for life on board. In the past they have had presents including compasses, binoculars, personal dinghy log books, Opinel knives (with rounded ends for safety), various books about sailing and large amounts of Lego - a great toy for young cruisers.

Every year the marina we are currently in holds a competition for those who want to decorate the boat. With three young deckhands decorating is a popular activity! This year being on the hard means we can have a real tree for the first time in 6 years which has caused much excitement. The youngest doesn’t remember having one before and was thrilled to be able to pick one out. We decided to use the solid ground between the hulls and got the biggest one we could. It has been blown over a couple of times in the stormy weather but we love it! 

We can’t use the front deck at the moment for safety so it has become home to a small reindeer. We also have lights up on the pulpit and a couple of fenders have been decorated as giant baubles. Heading up the mast this year seemed less appealing as the top of the mast is now many, many feet above very solid ground. Inside we have our normal decorations and cards from friends and family which are always lovely to receive.  We have got our wooden advent calendar back this year as work on the saloon means that we have a bit more space for it. As our tree is usually only about 8 inches tall we string our hanging decorations inside the boat from hooks in the ceiling. They are an eclectic mix as we add a new one each year but all of them have a special meaning to us. Then of course there is the house flag which flies above the boat on Christmas Eve with it's important message 'Santa stop here'.

Every family has its own traditions and many, like us, will find that these traditions evolve slowly over the years as families and things change. 

Whatever your own traditions and plans for the Christmas/holiday period we all wish you much happiness and all the best

From the crew of Tarquilla 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

An update on repairs

What has been happening since our lift out.

Mark spent the next few days preparing and sorting the boat. The yard staff had carefully chocked us up making her secure on the hard. As the stormy weather blew through however we could feel the wind pushing on the boat and the noise was awful. At least we were not going to sink though.

The skipper removed canoes and dinghies to make room on the deck and the anchors were lowered over the front to reduce the weight being supported. He put netting up all round the guard rails to stop things falling overboard.

Dinghy dangling off the davits prior to being lowered

The boarding ladder was lowered and secured with an extra rope fixed beside it as a hand rail to enable us to get on and off. Underneath the boat the workbench needed to be set up and wood lowered down ready for using in the repairs. A secure spot for the dog to be tied to and somewhere for his bowl meant he could watch and stay slightly more out of trouble. Two ropes work for us to get things on and off. One with a quick release clip for bags and a bucket on a rope for loose things. This can easily be lowered over the side and is safer than climbing the ladder whilst carrying something. Again our experience on the beach proved valuable and saved us time as we had already been through the trail and error stage.

View from the deck

A bucket placed under the through hull (drain) for the kitchen sink collects all the grey water which can then be emptied easily. Once again our composting toilet has proved its value as we are able to use it on the hard which is much safer for young boys overnight than climbing ladders. It feels like the floors are sloping because of the shape of the hard and there are now bracing poles throughout the boat to duck around, especially in doorways.

The first night we were woken by the sound of waves underneath the boat which had us both sat bolt upright wondering what was going on. The big spring tides meant that the water was high up on the slipway which runs behind the boat and therefore almost underneath our bed.
Amongst all these preparations for starting the work, the Skipper was also preparing things for a long anticipated holiday with family (more of that in a later blog). Although the timing was far from ideal at least she was safe on the hard. Knowing that we would be leaving her for a week in stormy weather had influenced our decisions about hauling out.

We really appreciated all the kind comments and support from everyone, thank you. We are now back from our trip and the Skipper is ready to start work. There will be more photos and updates when we can.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

An unplanned lift out

We understand that there are many who have lost their lives, boats, homes and businesses in the storms so far this year and compared to them this is only a minor, if stressful, problem.

Yesterday the edge of storm Ophelia came to visit. It was quite noisy, the waves were spectacular crashing over the wave break and we were rolling a bit. We had prepared as usual, ropes checked, loose items secured and we were ready to sit her out. Part way through the evening one of the deckhands asked ‘Is this supposed to bulge?

As you can imagine this was not good news. The hull (wall) was flexing far more than it should be. Boats, particularly catamarans are built with some flex in them to allow for movement through the water and stop them just shattering or cracking. This was far more than that though. Having been battered in the terrific storms in Brest back in 2014 which caused us some damage, Mark had been working on strengthening this side of the boat. This was a related but slightly new problem.

The hoist area

As part of the refit, we had been planning to lift out (or haul out if you prefer) sometime in the near future and were slowly creating a list of jobs which would be best tackled off the water. This movement though and the knowledge that there were more winds due in a few days time meant that we had to come up with a plan very quickly. Initially we felt that just changing the side lying to the pontoon would be a good start until we could get her lifted out. The dory came round to help but looking at the space available in our cul-de-sac it was obvious that turning or moving into the clear space across the way were not viable options. Several quick phone calls and a lift for later in the day was organised, they would let us know what time.

We waved them off and put the kettle on, feeling the need for strong coffee, whilst frantically Googling pre-lift checklists and trying to work out what was most urgent. Bucket for the drain, move the glasses and ornaments, fenders all round - we could do all that. We’d been stuck for a couple of weeks on a beach in Brittany whilst Mark was doing repairs and we managed then, we’d be fine. We hoped.

Walking the boat round

Mark went off to give the dog a quick walk before we started but had barely left the boat before we had another message that they were on their way to us ready to lift. We were not ready. The skipper wasn’t even on the boat and I had frantically phoned him to come back. The berthing masters attached the dory (marina work boat) to the side of Tarquilla and discussed tactics. I waited for Mark to run back along the pontoon to us (picture Sonic the hedgehog tapping his foot) having left the dog in the car safely out of the way.

The marina staff asked if the deckhands were around to help with fenders unfortunately they were at school, never mind, we’d manage. There is plenty of room down each fairway (think road for boats through the marina) but it doesn’t look like it when you’re moving and every correction in one direction moves you closer to the boats on the other side. There are also some really expensive boats around. The dory was our engine power (the starboard prop is on the list of things needing repair) whilst we remained in tick over just in case. The dory fended on one side, roaming fenders on ropes held by an increasingly nervous crew (yup, me) and the Skipper on the other. At times we were within a couple of meters of other boats and holding our breath. Mark was actually working between fendering the back, shouting out distances and manning the wheel – go multi-tasking! Safely into the main basin, the plan was originally to go straight into the hoist but we could see it up on the dockside with a boat swinging so it was alongside the fuel pontoon for a brief stop.

Squeezing into the hoist area   

Waving off the berthing masters we were now in the care of the yard staff. They were brilliant. There was a long discussion about where the keel, props, and other important points were then the boat was marked up to ensure that the hoist straps would be in the right place. If you are planning a lift out yourself make sure you know your strong points, bits to be avoided, weight, length and breadth, they really need as much information as possible. Fortunately because we had been talking about lifting out at some point, Mark had already got that information ready.

She was walked into the hoist (pulled through the water using ropes) and the lift commenced. Horrible noises and a slow tilt made everyone stop quickly and she was lowered back onto the water. At this point I was stood at the top (only one crew member stays on board when they are lifting) and could taste the salt from the ropes as I bit my nails. This is not just a boat, this is our home. The hoist was removed and the slings changed before a further attempt at lifting was made. This time it went much better and slowly she was raised up into the air.

Finally we could relax a bit, the keels had taken the weight, she hadn’t snapped in the middle and she was sitting nicely in the slings. That was when we saw just how bad the sea life under the keel was. When we moved a couple of months ago for the Fastnet race a lot of scraping had removed large amounts of the creatures that were using us as a hotel. It was obvious though that below the full reach of a-hoe-on-an-arm there was far more growing. The yard crew set to with shovels releasing a flapping prawn, a crab that tried to run away in the wrong direction and even a small fish amongst many barnacles and mussels. Not something we’re particularly proud of and the reason we wanted to scrape off as soon as the structural work had been finished but well, the weather had other ideas and they are gone now.

After a power spray, she was moved across to the boat yard like a giant Newtons cradle and lowered gently onto blocks. Poles were wedged into the sides for extra support and finally the hoist slings were removed. Just in time for us to try out the take away bacon sandwiches from the new café at the marina before the school pick up.

So now we are sat on the hard (boat yard). The galley (kitchen) sink is draining into a bucket outside, our cabin (bedroom) floor feels like it is sloping even though it isn’t and we are using the boarding ladder off the back to get on and off. I suspect I’ll be writing more about this soon.   

In the hoist

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Butterflies, blackberries & beaches - Rame, Cornwall

Over the summer we spent some time at Cawsand on the Rame peninsular in South Cornwall.

The coast is what shapes the land on this peninsular and smuggling activity in the past has shaped the villages. The views are wonderful along the coast and out to sea. 8 miles off shore you can easily see the Eddystone lighthouse on a good day. The south west coast path winds its way around the coast and can be followed right the way around Rame head. It stretches from Minehead in Somerset and meanders all the way around the Southwest peninsular via Lands End and the Lizard before finishing in Poole, Dorset. We walked a section of it through fields being harvested and high above the beaches. Sprawling brambles live very happily in the sunshine and salt filled winds of the coast. It was a bit early for the blackberries but there were still plenty that were sweet enough to cover the children with purple staining.

On the headland of the peninsular is a small building which has served for many years as a lighthouse, warning sailors from its rocks. Although the beacon is no longer lit, Rame head still plays its part in keeping the ocean going traffic safe with a national coast watch station. These volunteers’ keep track of all vessels passing to and from and are able to quickly inform the coastguard of any issues, deal with problems and carry out radio checks. The station is open to visitors to see their work and there is a car park and flat access into the building and amazing views all round. 

The microclimate in south Cornwall makes it a great place for many animals. We saw lots of butterflies’ everywhere we went and several caterpillars including one with a wicked looking spike that was quite grumpy, trying to attack us as we watched it.  There were also some impressive looking mushrooms growing in one field and several times we saw large groups of deer.

We visited the lost gardens of Heligan, somewhere I had wanted to visit for a while. It did not disappoint. The beautiful planting, quirky features and history of the place seeped into all of us. The effort that has gone into recreating parts of the garden such as the pineapple pit show the love and care that is being poured into the recreation of this gardening community. In addition to the formal gardens (which have good accessibility for wheelchairs/mobility scooters) there are some wilder parts of the estate which are fantastic for exploring. In addition to the animals and jungle there was a large area with really helpful staff put aside for a summer den building activity. The children loved building their structure, working together and camping out inside. The story of how the gardens were lost following the conscription of the outdoor staff is truly the story of the staff of the big house and the gardens are a fitting tribute to their memory.

Mount Edgcumbe makes for a nice day out too. The house is open for visiting and the grounds are huge stretching from the hills down to the water with lots of interesting things to explore like the fortifications and follies. The sheltered deep water anchorage here is known as Barn Pool and was used by the Vikings in 997. Looking out over the Sound there is a great view across to Devonport including the listed number 1 slip. This slipway was built in 1774-5 and was then covered in about 1814. It is now the oldest covered slipway in the world. Many ships were built, then launched, from this building including Nelsons flagship the Foudroyant. A wooden boat builder is now housed in the slip.

Although we were high up on farmland above the valley it was only a short walk across the fields to the village of Cawsand and its twin Kingsand. This was once the border between Devon and Cornwall until boundary changes shifted it east to the middle of the Tamar. The pub with outside seating in the square was a lovely place to walk the dog to in the evening; at night the warmth of the lights flow over the street. At high tide the waves break over the buildings and lap at the brightly coloured kayaks leaning against the walls. Outside many of the houses are piles of buckets and sandals marking the holiday homes which probably give the village a very different feel during the winter season. Cawsand is a very popular anchorage and there were several boats swaying in the bay making the most of the summer. A ferry service runs regularly between Cawsand and Plymouth, running up onto the beach.

We spent lots of time enjoying the beaches. Whitsands have been the escape for generations of Plymothians and can be easily reached by bus from the city. Rows of beach huts line the cliff sides reached by steep and narrow paths which are not for the unfit or fainthearted. The beaches are long, clean and sandy and dogs are welcome to enjoy them all year round too. It was a lovely start to the day to paddle along the waters edge on the morning walk. Poking out into the Atlantic this part of the coast gets pounded in heavy weather and has its share of wrecks, claimed by these snaggy cliffs. We spotted lots of wildlife on the beaches too; anemones, crabs, limpets, tellins, barnacles and jellyfish amongst others. We also found some mermaids purses (sharks eggs) belonging to rays. 

The area is wild and beautiful and only a short drive or ferry ride from Plymouth. I’d certainly recommend a trip there; by land or from the sea. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

It takes a village - sailing communities

 "It takes a village to raise a child"  - Traditional African proverb

We enjoyed fresh mackerel rolls last week. The skipper made a coriander, lime and chilli dressing, fried the fish and cooked chips in our new air fryer. It went very nicely with some cider shandies. This is not a food blog though. The fish had been caught by our neighbour and was a thank you for the loan of an outboard battery. We have been part of incredible communities in the past and I admit that when we left Somerset one of my (many!) worries was that we would lose that feeling of belonging but even whilst we were cruising it was noticeable. We met people and moved on but stayed in touch with many. The community here is fantastic and we are surrounded by interesting and lovely people.

Mackerel - before and after

Our neighbours include 20 foot fishing boats, 40 foot power boats, 60 foot sailing boats and everything in between. We meet people with hugely different backgrounds and experiences but the sea is a great leveller. It is a pleasure to spend time together; putting the world to rights on the pontoon or over a cup of coffee, sharing experiences and tips, skills and resources. Some neighbours we live with year round, others we only see in the summer or on odd days when they come down to enjoy their boats, others are people who are just passing through.

We were shocked by sad news from a couple who we originally met in Quiberon (France) several years ago and have spent time with since, here in England. Their boat is now for sale, a sign reminding us all to enjoy life when we can as you never know what is around the corner. Another couple have just returned from an 18 month cruise and it has been good to catch up again.

There are others that we have met on line rather than in person and have a different sort of fellowship with from America and other places. I know that I have mentioned Women Who Sail before but really it is the most supportive group you could ever wish for. We even recently had a small meet up in person in Plymouth. There are many groups around such as Kids4sail that are great for information and support.

Looking out at the Marina from land

This week there was awful news of a family boat being lost in French Polynesia. The outpouring of practical, emotional and even financial support given freely by the community was incredible. Many people do not realise that there are many families, couples, single handers and others living on boats. This can be an issue for people setting out on a new adventure and facing the concerns of family and friends. To many it seems an unusual and even strange life but to thousands it is our normal. We know that we are part of something much bigger and are certainly not alone in living this way.

What about the sock? Well, the laundry is somewhere that we often meet up with people and communal washing machines are the start of many a conversation. This sock came back with our washing the other day and was obviously far too small for any of our crew. It has been returned to the laundrette to hopefully be reunited with its other half but it was a small reminder of just how interlinked our lives are. How we are all just living our lives, doing washing, looking after the children and going to work; the same as any other community.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Getting a passport for the sea dog

The sea dog became just a little bit saltier last week when he picked up his first passport.

Some of you will be aware that Britain has very strict rules about the import of animals and of course we do not know yet what will happen in the future as anything everything to do with us and mainland Europe is currently ‘under discussion’ because of Brexit. Passports can be obtained for dogs, cats and ferrets; other animals have different guidance. Horses have a similar scheme but I’m yet to meet a cruiser with a pet horse on board.

Getting the passport done in Plymouth – an ocean city with a constantly changing population - was easier than last time having it done in a small Somerset village. It is important to check with your vet before booking the appointment as not every vet does passports. It may also have helped that this time we had more idea what was needed from experience rather than just internet research. Our vet is part of a group with practices dotted around the outlying towns and a main animal hospital in the city itself so we were sent there to make sure that it was a correctly certified vet who carried out the vaccinations. Apparently the dog was slightly reluctant to go in. Maybe he remembers the last time that he went there and left feeling rather sore in a delicate place after a minor op.

You really need to start planning as early as possible. The dog needs to be at least 15 weeks old and be microchipped. Rabies and tapeworm treatment are the two biggies that they are mostly worried about and the timings of the vaccination followed by the blood tests to check it has taken have to be right. You have to have the original document to show on demand but it’s a good idea to have a photocopy or scan just in case something happens to the original. Whilst the rules can be a pain I’d also rather not see rabies in this country which sort of makes it more reasonable jumping through the hoops. For tapeworm treatment it has to be done at least 24 hours and no more than 120 days before (re)entering the country. The tapeworm treatment has to be approved for the country you are coming from.

Having a passport for the dog means that we will be able to take him to mainland Europe without too much hassle. Coming back is slightly trickier. All animals have to be imported through an official channel such as an airport or ferry terminal. This means that we couldn’t just pop over to France for the weekend on the boat with the dog without him then having to go into quarantine when we got back. If travelling with someone else through an official entry point whilst you move the boat, they have to get to the country no more than 5 days before or after you and have your written permission.

We’re not shipshape enough for popping anywhere for weekends at the moment anyway but its nice to have another thing ticked off the list moving us towards throwing off the ropes for some more trips on the water.

I wrote before about travelling with our old dog, you can find that blog here

There is a pet travel scheme helpline 0370 241 1710 (available Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm UK time (closed Bank Holidays))

There is also loads of information on the Government website: