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

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Christmas markets

Many years ago we went to our first ‘proper’ Christmas market. It was in Bath, lots of sheds filled with twinkly things, smelly things and generally Christmassy things.

Image: Looking down over Brest market (2014)

The markets, to us in Britain, are always seen as German or European. The history of this type of market goes all the way back to the middle ages when street markets were set up during advent. Known as Christ Child or Baby Jesus markets, they were traditionally held in the town squares of many German cities. From there the tradition spread through Europe then further afield.

The little timber stalls provide a cosy nook for each trader to make their own. From rows of sheds all identical on the outside, the inside of each stall is completely different. For anyone needing inspiration for a gift for someone that you have no idea what to get, this is the place to be. I think that is half the fun, you don’t know if the next shed is going to be jewellery, chilli chocolate or beautiful glass pictures.

Image: Metal sundial fountain with market stalls and people in background, Plymouth

Food and drink are a main attraction of these markets and the smells of mulled wine and orange are pungent in the air. Exeter market, in the shadow of the cathedral, had stalls with fudge, cheese, traditional sweets, paella, bratwurst, burgers, venison and many other options. At this years Plymouth market we enjoyed pork, stuffing and apple sauce baps, steaming in the cold, damp air.

Image: Heavily decorated, pale towers of Exeter cathedral with winter bare trees in front

You can always find interesting things that you didn’t think you needed. This year amongst some great (we hope!) Christmas presents for our nearest and dearest, we also found a knitted prawn wearing a Santa hat. Yep, you did read that right. Every year we get ourselves a new decoration, this year we stood and debated the relative merits of knitted sea gulls, Brussels sprouts, jelly fish and prawns. ‘Prawny’ was chosen to come home with us and now hangs with memories of other years and other places strung across the saloon.

Image: A pink, knitted prawn wearing a Santa hat

Whatever you are up to this Christmas and wherever you are, I hope you enjoy some moments doing what you enjoy with the people that you care about.

Image: Smeatons red and white lighthouse with Plymouth Sound in the background with purple sunset sky and the words 'wishing you a happy Christmas from the crew of Tarquilla' across the top in black and gold

Saturday, 10 November 2018

A sailors protection

            O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren's shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;

From Eternal Father, strong to save by William Whiting 1860

Image: Blue sea and rocky outcrop 
 with breaking white waves

Bear with me on this one. I promise that there is a point to this story. The dog has a rubber pig. It used to be stuffed and it used to squeak. Having been very well loved by the dog it is now hollow but he still likes playing with it.

Recently he took it with him to the beach and ran around with it for a while. Until he lost it. No more pig. It didn’t help that it was the same colour as the seaweed or that he was well below the tide line. It was gone.

Until a few days later. 

Running along the beach the dog stopped, picked something up and started throwing it around. It was the pig. Having spent a a few days being pushed around the bay by the tides and currents it had been washed back up onto the same beach where he had then found it. When it was time to go home though it was nowhere to be seen. It was gone - again.

Until a few days later. When it turned up on the slipway by the beach.

Image: Pug puppy (in-laws, not our sea dog) lying down chewing the pig toy

Sailors are a superstitious bunch and tend to believe in all sorts of things. Pigs and chickens are unable to swim and sailors believed that God would look down on these helpless creatures in a shipwreck and see them safe to land. Therefore by having the pig or chicken tattoo you will be safe from the terrors of the sea as the tattoo itself keeps the talisman close.

Image: Brown chicken scratching ground (taken in Brittany, France)

There is a very good reason for sailors to hang on to anything they feel will give them protection and keep them safe from the ravages of the sea whether is is singing hymns, getting a tattoo or any other expression of belief. Even now the merchant seamen, naval seamen, fishermen, professional skippers and others face dangers at sea and have the second highest death rate of any worker group (second only to loggers).

Plymouth is a naval city, built around the historic docks of Devonport. The city has been affected time and again by actions the world over and has been scarred and shaped by its past and its affiliation to the armed forces. On the Hoe overlooking the sound are the grand memorials to those lost at sea. The naval memorial lists hundreds of men (and women), including my Great Uncle. Further down by the Barbican, a smaller plaque recalls fishermen from the town who gave their lives doing their jobs. Behind each of these names is a story, a family and a person.

Image: Towering Portland stone column with naval crest. Mottled grey sky behind and wave of ceramic poppies sweeping upwards in front (from Blood swept lands and seas of red)

November is a month when we look back at our histories and the people who have shaped our country and our lives. From the services of light marking All Souls day and through to Armistice day, it is a time of quiet reflections for many including our family. Remembrance Sunday this year falls on November 11th and marks 100 years since the end of the Great War that tore Europe apart for four long years. The area we now call home was an sea plane base at that point and echoes of the past remain around the area.
Image: Memorial statue, cast metal replica of Sunderland Short flying boat propeller on white round stand with "for those who served 1917-2012" written around the base

Remembrance is a very personal thing. Memorials take many forms, not all of them are large stone structures. A wise woman once told me, many of the best reminders of our loved ones are simple items that we use or look at everyday. The living memorial of the thunderbox room marked with a tin hat and Cornish shovel at the lost gardens of Heligan are poignant in their simplicity. The gardens fell into disrepair after the majority of the gardeners were conscripted in 1914. Few returned and the gardens became lost behind closed gates, neglected and overgrown. They were discovered and nurtured in memory of all those who gave their lives in world war one. 

         Image: Bronze plaque, Cornish shovel and tin soldiers hat hanging on side of small stone walled building 

The Imperial War museum is trying to map and catalogue all of the memorials throughout the country including ones for specific individuals, groups or incidents. They are asking for the nations help to send in information or photos to help with this massive undertaking. If you want to join in with this project more information can be found on their web site.

We've had a stark reminder recently of how few ex-forces personnel actually survive to collect their pension at national retirement age. Many people are affected by conflict, directly and indirectly and for some the battles never end. Although there does feel like there is a greater general awareness of both the mental health issues and physical problems experienced there are still horrifying statistics of suicide amongst veterans. The Royal British Legion has a ministry of care, helping serving and past members of the armed forces and their families and they need our support. The national act of remembrance is coordinated by the British Legion across the country and poppies are a way not only of showing our respect for those who have fallen but also to help provide ongoing support, and protection, for those who are falling.

Image: sprig of rosemary (for remembrance) and red enamel poppy brooch with 1918 2018 in gold letters and small green leaf, both on black background

We will remember them.