Friday, 3 May 2019

Bikes on boats

Bikes are on our mind this month as we have finally and reluctantly decided to let some of our old steeds rust gracefully in pieces. We have replaced the deckhands bikes with new-to-them ones that are the right size for boys that keep growing like weeds. They've been whizzing around on them at every opportunity, especially as we've had the Easter holidays, lighter evenings and now another bank holiday weekend.

We took our bikes with us when we set sail to cruise in Europe. They were not new bikes or special bikes but we knew that we wanted to at least try and take them with us. The question of bikes also comes up on sailing forums quite frequently.

Two children and an adult looking over a bridge

City centre bike rack with pile of our bikes, Northern Spain

Getting the bikes onto the boat proved tricky and involved a certain amount of dismantling in order to stow them. Taking the wheels off meant that they could be stored in a passageway, bungied to the wall to stop them moving. The fact that taking them apart and carefully arranging all the bits like a circular jenga meant that they were also not easy to get out which was a definite draw back. This meant that if we were stopping somewhere for a short while it was not worth the effort of getting them out but for longer stops - over wintering for example - we could and the children would ask us on most stops if this was one where the bikes could come out. Obviously folding bikes would make this easier and is an option many people go for.

Child sat on deck with bike in pieces

We had an Adventure AT2 bike trailer too. I started writing about it then realised that Marks advert when we sold it on is a far better description so...

Aluminium framed child trailer, carries one or two children securely with a five point harness. Pockets for a favourite cuddly toy next to the seat and a luggage area to the rear.

The aluminium frame is light weight and extends outside the wheels, giving them protection and support - it is a strong and practical design. The trailer folds flat and the wheels are on quick release spindles for easy storage.

This trailer has provided excellent service through three sons and has been pressed into use regularly carrying an astonishing amount of family shopping. The maximum load is 45kg, I may have exceeded this at times, I've never taken scales to the supermarket. There has never been any sign of instability or tipping with either a heavy or light load.

The trailer has seen use in four countries including northern Spain and as a result the black fabric sides have faded, but there are no signs of brittleness to the fabric and I would expect years of service yet from them.
I did a lot of research before buying this trailer new and while there are more expensive brands available they did not seem to offer twice the value. I have now effectively long term tested the trailer and am happy to say I made a good decision, and now I can pass it on to you.

3 very small children with bike trailer (Somerset, England)

We also had a trailgator (known in the family as the alligator) for the littlest deckhands bike. A mount on the smaller bike acts as a bracket for the pole that attaches onto the seat post of the bigger bike. It gives a fixed connection between the two bikes. The front wheel is lifted preventing steering but the back wheel remains on the ground. This piece of kit was used on all the bikes one after the other and helped keep them safe alongside roads and travel further distances. They could be 'released' and set free in some places where they could pedal to their hearts content before being reattached. For us this was an advantage over other tag alongs.

Adult bike with 'alligator' attached to small bike
Same small bike without the 'alligator'

We used the bikes right from the start when we were in Topsham, England where there were good cycle tracks along the river to Exeter. In other places the boys found areas where they could cycle round in circles and in Spain we were really impressed with the segregated cycle paths complete with their own traffic lights.

The bikes enabled us to reach places further away; a botanical garden, a bagpipe museum, a harbour further up river that we may not have seen otherwise.

Family, looking at zoo animals and pushing the bikes

Separated cycle lanes, clearly marked with signage (Asturias, Spain)

So is it worth it? They took up a lot of space and it was not easy getting them set up and packed away. Bikes rust badly in salt air and need a lot of looking after to keep them in working order. We enjoyed some good rides and were able to explore lots of interesting places. It also meant that the boys got to play around on bikes. We probably wouldn't have missed them though. As always the question is would we take them again? For the shopping, getting around and general pleasure of cycling, yes we would.

3 children with cycle helmets drinking from water fountain

We have included some links in case they are useful to someone else, we don't have any connection to any company or get anything from affiliate links.

Show us your photos of crazy bikes on boats storage! We've seen some good ones around.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Book ideas for teens

Books are a uniquely portable magic - Stephen King

Image: Boat with 'book ideas for teens, world book day 2019'

Whilst every day is a book day, world book day is only once a year. This year it falls on the 7th March and many young children this week have been going to school dressed as their favourite book characters.

What about when they get older though? Finding books for teenagers can be hard whether they are devouring piles of books at home or whether you are stocking up for a long passage. They are at the stage where children's books are too young but a lot of adult books contain themes that may not be suitable.

Image: 3 teenagers scrambling over cliffs

YA or young adult fiction has helped a lot when it comes to finding books but recommendations are still often the way to find some of the best stuff. I asked our boys what I should include and their suggestions were: Mortal engines by Phillip Reeve (a dystopian novel set in the future), A series of unfortunate events, anything by Antony Horowitz or Michael Murpurgo (especially Kensukes kingdom for young sailors), War of the worlds and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

They also recommend Terry Pratchett. The Tiffany Aching series was written with young adults in mind but any of his novels are suitable. Nation is one of my favourites. As well as being entertaining they all carry some thoughtful themes and obscure references. Some may enjoy the long earth series too.

I would also add Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Harry Potter and Swallows and Amazons. They are also good ones for reading out loud if you want to share a book. For those who like a bit of intrigue, cosy crime (or cozy mysteries across in America) are who-dunnits but without the gore, terror and other themes that can be a bit strong for many teenagers. Agatha Christie is one of the masters of this genre, and still one of my favourite authors. She lived in Devon and based many of her books on the area including the bit of coast shown in the photo below. Also check out more recent books including independent ones like Ellen Jacobson's Murder at the marina.

Image: Looking down to sandy beach in Agatha Christie country

Reading is not confined to novels. How about a biography/autobiography - Ellen MacArthur, I am Malala, Robin Knox-Johnson, Dermot O'Leary, Clare Balding, One summers grace and many more. Don't forget graphic novels (an art form in itself) and non-fiction books too. Does anything eat wasps? and 101 other questions, Attention all shipping, Jambuster: The story of the Womens Institute in the Second World War just for starters. Or how about a flash fiction anthology for those who like variety - Adverbially challenged or Voyaging with pets maybe?

Image: Sea dog curled up on chair with paw on a pilot book

And finally, for rough passages, talking books are brilliant for a bit of distraction without having to move too much from wherever you have wedged yourself.

Whatever and wherever you read, enjoy the magic.

Image: close up of masts and sails

Blogging with integrity: For complete transparency, I was an advance reader for Murder at the marina and have stories in both Adverbially challenged and Voyaging with pets. I don't get any money from their sales.

If you liked this you can follow the link to our Other book day blogs here. Other years we have looked at books for younger children, books for travellers and dreamers and useful books for planners and fixers.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

10 years ago and now or How we ended up living on a boat

Langport, Somerset. 10 years ago

You may have seen the current 10 years ago and now pictures that are going around the internet. Ten years ago was when we moved from learning about sailing to actually doing it. Lots of people starting out ask about how long it takes to prepare to be live aboards or cruisers. There is no one answer but this is a quick snap shot of how we did it.  

We had a lot of on-water experience between us from dingies dinghies, canoes and kayaks but no real sailing experience. We started with on-line research and some very good books. Now, I would suggest that you add to that reading blogs and forums but I was much less internet aware back then! This first bit probably took us about 6 months.

Brown skin-on-frame kayak with 3 young children on river

Then Mark managed to win a competition. The prize was an RYA start sailing course being help held in January 2009. So we went on the weekend training course, driving down the motorway with snow lining the verges, wondering what we were letting ourselves in for. We started off in Falmouth, Cornwall spending the first night on a pontoon in the middle of Truro River and the second night on a mooring buoy on the Helford river. The instructor was really nice and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Even though there was hail flying horizontally through the air at times, the magic of the stillness, the exhilaration of the speed and the excitement of the wildlife completely sold us on sailing. At that point we looked at each other and said yes to changing our lives completely.

Sailing school yacht on floating pontoon, flat water

Skipper at the wheel

White bow with furled white sail, grey sea and sky

Me at wheel, grinning. Wearing winter hat and gloves

Beautiful peaceful creek, blue calm water, empty moorings

Wave foaming beside boat taken from cockpit

Once home again we started planning how we were going to do this. We found an off-line theory course and spent evenings learning about rules of the road, navigation and meteorology. The next phase was to get a small boat that we could start learning the practical side on. We ended up travelling the width of the country in order to look at and buy the boat that was to become ours. She was 17 foot and in a bit of a state with green stuff growing all over her. Buying a doer-upper meant that she was affordable. She taught us a lot about boat maintenance inside and out. There was months of tough work that needed to be done to the hull and the bolts and then there was fun stuff decorating the inside.

Small blue hulled boat on trailer behind car

Close up of green growth on portlight

Close up of moss growing on trailer

We found out the best toys to take on a small boat to make the time pass by when all else is somehow not exciting enough (Lego, it is Lego without the shadow of a doubt) and we took her out and we learnt about handling a boat. We put all our theoretical knowledge of weather, tides and sailing to the test. We found out about ourselves and how we could manage a boat. We learned to make sure you have the boat keys with you before you tow her for two hours to the sea, we learned that sleeping 2 adults, 3 children and a dog in a 17 foot boat is not comfortable and we learned that we all loved it. We felt that feeling when you turn off the engine and all you can hear is the creak of timber and the waves passing along the hull. That made any final doubts go away and we knew that this was what we wanted to do. This was probably about 18 months from planning to travel.

Blue sky, blue sea,

Three young children in cockpit of boat

Kate floating on a mooring at Weymouth

The next stage was to find a boat right for us to all live on and travel in and this but was more complicated and took a lot of internet searching. What is perfect is very personal and when compromises need to be made you need to be sure what you are prepared to compromise on and what is vital for you. We found a boat down in Cornwall which was quite a trek from Somerset but it could have been worse. I've heard of people travelling half way across the world to look at a boat they are interested in. After a couple of trips, lots of talking, some formal document signing and the dog being sick all over the galley (kitchen) carpet she was ours.

A familiar picture! Golden retriever smiling at the camera

At the point we moved on board we were probably about three years from starting to plan. The way we did it worked for us and the life we had. It also took into account the children's ages, school years, our careers and our wider families. These will differ for everyone so I have only included time as an 'in case you were interested' not as an instruction. The most important things we found were lots of planning and learning as much as possible.

Our pre-travelling learning:

2 day RYA Start Sailing course

RYA Day Skipper theory course (off line. Many, many evenings!)

1 day RYA Radio course

1 day RYA Family sea survival course

On the water experience

If you are planning your own adventure I hope this has been useful. We are happy to answer any other questions if we can help, just give us a shout.

* Blogging with Integrity. Edited 28/1/19 to correct spelling mistakes (errors crossed through). Note to self, don't post late at night!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Mini adventures (or 15 ways to get outside)

This time of year there are loads of blogs out about improving your life, changing your life, 
making this your best year yet and all sorts of things like that. This one isn't. Maybe you are 
happy enough as you are. Maybe just a little more adventure in your life would be nice 
though. Or maybe you just fancy getting outside and doing something different.
image: children walking along lane in snow

How often you want to go off on an adventure is really personal. You might be the sort of 
person who likes to do things spur of the moment or you might be a planner. Some people 
might want to write themselves a list of one thing a month for every month or some people 
might pick out 12 or 24 ideas and put them in a jar to pick out at random.

Adventure is what we make it. This means that adventures can be really accessible. Leaves for 
example are great for kicking in but they can also be wheeled through, looked at, brushed 
over skin or crumbled in hands. Don't feel that it has to be strenuous or miles away or involve 
special kit. Not everyone has the opportunities to 'go off and do things', adventures don't have to 
mean travel or a big investment of time or money.

image: close up of different shaped brown leaves on ground

So if you're keen to get planning for your next adventure, here are some ideas to get you 

1. Follow a walk along a river, a footpath or one of the national trails around the country. You 
could use skate boards, scooters or anything else to make it more fun if anyone needs extra 

image: 3 children walking away, holding skateboards

2. How about fitting a walk into normal life. Once in a while walking home from school or work if you normally drive or going the scenic route back makes for a nice change.

image: 3 boys in school uniform on wooden bridge in woods

3. Go outside to do homework. How about visiting a castle or going to see 
tidal defences, it will stick in the mind so much more than just reading bout them. Little ones 
just learning to read love the buzz of realising they can actually read signposts or numbers on
doors. The very littlest will love you pointing out 'their' letter on signs, man hole covers 
and loads of other places when you're out and about.

4. Go to a new town or city or village or interesting place. You could stop off on your way 
somewhere else, combine it with other things that need doing or make it into a road trip. 
Just wander round, enjoy a coffee and admire the views. The pictures are of Portreath 
Harbour in Cornwall and St James' priory, the oldest building in Bristol.

image: blue sea, breaking wave, shingle beach, cliffs behind

image: warm stone tower, blue sky behind

5. Find a corner or park or even a road of your own town or city that you have never visited 
before. Look out for interesting monuments that you walk past each day and have never 
really stopped to look at properly. Or actually sit down with an ice cream or coffee 
somewhere you think you are familiar with. You may be surprised. Picture of the Scott 
memorial in Plymouth.
image: grand monument with winged being

6. Visit a national park. Whether you fancy driving through a wilderness, parking and 
enjoying a picnic or going on an all day hike the National Parks in Britain will have something 
for you. Have you tried letterboxing on Dartmoor, bagging a Monroe or watching ponies in 
the new Forest? Photos are of Dartmoor and Snowdonia.

image: 3 boys with backpacks on pathway through moorland

image: green hills and blue water of mountainous landscape

7. Get out on the water. Any chance to explore in a kayak, dinghy, speed boat or ferry is 
always exciting. Looking at the coast from the other side gives you a different perspective. 
If you don't have your own vessel a little bit of research will easily find training, hire and 
other opportunities. How about a fishing trip with the chance to enjoy your catch for lunch 
or trying stand up paddle boarding? 

image: child adjusting sail in small dinghy

8. Have a meal on a beach. There are loads of different options from a sandwich (bought or 
home made), takeaway fish and chips, a barbecue with friends or try making a hot stew in a 
straw box.
image: small dinghy nosed on to rocky foreshore

9. Climb a mountain. This one does need preparation and some proper kit. You really need to do your research and make sure that you are fully prepared but the rewards are well worth the effort. There are lot of different routes of differing challenge depending on your ability and experience and Snowdon's summit can be reached by train. All the pictures are of Snowdon.

10. Rock pooling. Great for any time of year. Have you tried using small bits of ham as bait?

11. Beach clean. There are organised ones you can join (try searching on the internet) or you 
can just go to the beach and pick up what you find.

12. Coasteering. This one takes more planning and experience too, lots of places around the
coast do supervised sessions. Start carefully, make sure you know the tides, have the right kit and make sure you do your research.

image:man in water between two towering rocks

13. Look out for local events and get involved in something a bit different. Look on local facebook groups, adverts on notice boards or in the local paper. Small villages and big cities all do lots of different things throughout the year. The pictures below are from a pirate day in Plymouth and the annual charter day at Topsham, Devon with Town Criers competition.

image: 2 children dressed as pirates play fighting with swords

image: parade of people dressed as town criers

14. Charity trails. These are another good way of getting out somewhere you may not usually go. Many cities hold charity trails throughout the year. Bristol often does Aardman animation themed ones raising money for the cities children's hospital and Plymouth is hosting an Elmer trail this summer in aid of the local hospice.

image: sheep sculpture with suspension bridge in background

15. Make a boat. This photo is quite old now but this was a very successful project. The children designed and built boats using things that were waiting to be recycled. They then launched and raced them in the sea. Just make sure that you collect all the bits and dispose of them properly once you've done. In case you wondered; we weren't being overprotective with the buoyancy aid, we travelled to the beach by canoe and he still had it on in this picture.

image: small child holding plastic boat
These are just some ideas to get you thinking, make sure you plan and prepare properly for anything you do. Safety is important. Keeping track of your adventures is nice too. How about drawing a map, taking pictures, building a collection of postcards or a jar of shells.

image: clear jar with lid, filled with shells

Whatever adventures life has in store for you this year, we wish you 
beautiful sunrises and fair winds

image: children beside pond