Tuesday, 6 March 2018

World book day 2018

"You can hold off a child’s boredom and unease for half and hour with a new toy, or half a day with an outing but a new story will keep them going for weeks on end. Nothing kept the children happier or more satisfied than the exotic games and fantasies they developed out of the tales we found them."
Libby Purves from One summers Grace

I know it is late for world book day but the weather seems to have delayed everything else so lets blame that.

"Aha, Oho, tracks in the snow..." Julia Donaldson The Gruffalo

Instead of dressing up as characters and talking about books on Thursday most of the children in Britain ended up having a snow day. Its something we don’t get very often especially this far South and West. The Libby Purves quote above comes from her book about their families circumnavigation of  Britain by boat. Giving children the gift of stories through travel is great but we have to remember that adventures can be found everywhere in the small things of life. Building snowmen, throwing snow balls and generally being out in the white stuff will hopefully give them tales they can share for years to come.

The journalist from War of the worlds by HG Wells

Book day focuses a lot on favourite authors, sadly one of my favourite authors died this week. Penny Vincenzi wrote books that suck you in. With strong female leads, many characters and complex plots these are proper 'blockbusters'. I'm actually reading one of hers at the moment An absolute scandal and it is just as good as all her others I have read.

There seems to be a lot of very good charity anthologies around at the moment. The second edition of Stories for homes was launched at the end of last year including some incredible authors. Like the first book this one is raising funds for Shelter. Christopher Fielden has also released more of this charity anthologies recently. I enjoyed being part of the second Adverbially challenged. These have raised money for various charities and contain some great tales.

Maybe the accessibility of anthologies and the ease of dipping in and out of stories is what is driving their popularity at the moment. Or am I just more aware of them? Maybe the time is right for a festival of charity anthologies - unless such a thing already exists. Is there room for a sailing anthology - stories from the sea? from women sailors? families? boat children? Just thinking out loud, unless anyone else has a suggestion to make something like this happen.

Finally, Memories of  Haslar is an anthology which contains stories from over a hundred people who lived, worked or were nursed at a Naval hospital in Gosport, Hampshire. The hospital was opened in 1754 and served soldiers from the Crimean war, Napoleonic wars, the injured from both sides after D-Day and carried on serving service personnel and civilians until it's doors closed in 2009.

The memories range from VAD’s, through the artisans, choir boys, nurses, sick berth attendants and patients. My memories of eight years there are sat with those of children who grew up within the walls of the hospital and people who spent significant parts of their lives there. The way the book has been put together is very clever, ending on such positive note for the future of this most special of buildings.

As a bonus I'm told that book day will now happen in the youngest deckhands primary school this Thursday instead. I look forward to seeing all the outfits and hearing what books children - and adults - have fallen in love with.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Liebster award

A question and answer blog about living on a boat and cruising.

The Liebster award is all about bloggers recognizing other bloggers. Working together and finding out about others blogs and what they are writing is part of the enjoyment. This award was intended to promote the discovery of blogs you may not have come across, the blog itself is for anyone to enjoy.

It has been around for a while but the push for me writing this blog is that the collaborative sailors blog The monkeys fist is running the topic this month. These questions were set by Life afloat. Their boat looks amazing and their blog is very readable.

So, on to the questions.
  • What got you started on boats/sailing/cruising?

The decision to sell the house and do something with the money we were earning rather than plough it into a mortgage. We decided to look at our options and sailing offered the freedom to travel. We had spent a lot of time on and around the water before that point but had never properly sailed until we started preparing for moving on board. We started with a 17 foot trailer sailor which was a really good for learning about both sailing and looking after the boat.

  • What was your life like, pre-boat?  What did you do for recreation?

3 toddlers/very young children, full time job for the skipper, various part time jobs for me that worked around the children, semi-detached house and a nice life in Somerset. Not much time for going out but we did enjoy going walking and canoeing. We were happy, the children were growing but we felt that once we had thought about going travelling we would always wonder 'what if' if we didn't go. Leaving the town - and the neighbours! - was as sad as it was exciting.

  • What's the most unlikely thing you currently have aboard?

A 1907 hand cranked sewing machine. We actually have 2 Singer sewing machines which might be quite unusual - unless you know otherwise!

  • Tell us about your first night at anchor.

We were off the west coast of France and shattered from travelling. There had been no room at the previous couple of anchorages we had tried and were just grateful to be able to sink the hook and take it in turns to go to sleep.

It was a really long night nodding off and intermittently checking that we hadn't dragged the anchor. The Skipper forgot to tell me that I only had to check every 20 minutes so my watch consisted of me trying and failing to stay awake, coming to with a jump every now and then.

In the morning it was incredible. Calm water, a beautiful island and perfect peace. We enjoyed our breakfast, pulled up the anchor and set sail.

  • If money were no object, what addition/change would you make to your present boat?

She is undergoing a fairly full refit as it is. I don't know that we would spend any more than we plan to as we are being sensible about where to spend and where to save.

With a lottery win though we might possibly sell it and replace her with one of these: http://www.boreal-yachts.com/boreal-52-voilier-europeen-de-lannee-2015/?lang=en

  • Aside from finances (we all have that issue), how has boat life changed you?

It made us more relaxed, more of a team, more aware of the world around us. It gave us the chance to look at life more slowly and appreciate the little things. My Dad used to quote WH Davies
'What is this life, if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare...'
I think that changing our lives gave us that chance to look around us.
We also met people from other countries who we count as friends and learned about living in someone else's country which possibly/hopefully makes us more understanding of others.


  • Most bloggers have a story about someone they met through their blog, or an amusing connection or opportunity that happened because of their blogging ... what's yours?

We've met some interesting people, in real life and on line. I've recently found several local bloggers who have introduced me to other lives and viewpoints. It has been interesting and fun reading their blogs and introduced me to all sorts of new things.

  • Give us a link to your most popular blog post.

A fairly recent one about a not very fun day

  • And to one that you think deserves a wider audience.

I wrote this one not long after we returned to Britain about some of the foods we had missed whilst we were away. Funnily enough when we returned to France recently we realised how many French foods we missed and enjoyed many of our favourites.

Thanks to Life Afloat for setting these question. Now to passing the award on and if you are reading this, that is your invitation to join in. Plymouth Bloggers I'd particularly love to see the answers to your questions so I am making mine more general:

  • What was the final push that made you hit publish on your first blog
  • What blog you've written has your favourite picture(s) in it
  • Give me a link to your most popular blog post
  • Where is the strangest place you have written a blog post
  • Give me a link to a post you've written that is about the sea or a boat
  • What quote sums up your blogging
  • Tell me about someone you have met through blogging or about an opportunity it has given you

I look forward to reading your answers. Enjoy thinking about them and I'd love to see a link to your answers in the comments.

Edit 6/3/18: I was hoping to also give a virtual high five to and invite the following blogs to join in but somehow didn't! To The Pirates Payne, Selling up and sailing, Carina of Devon, Yafit Davis and Squidges scribbles, I'd love to see your answers or a link to an old Liebster if you have already done one.

Friday, 2 February 2018

The refit (part eight)

It’s lovely that so many people have taken the time to ask us how the repairs are going. I’m often asked if we’re back in the water yet or if the work is all done. No. No its really not and it’s going to take time. A lot more time.

edit after posting: I just noticed the mistake on this picture - oops!

The weather has been a problem and has thrown us quite a few challenges. There has been a lot of weather, with several named storms coming through which make the whole boat shake. It feels really horrible and unnatural and has given us several sleepless nights. I know that the rest of the world believes that it rains all the time in England but it doesn’t usually. This winter though it has felt like it. There have been many days which have felt like they contained all four seasons with sunshine, hail, rain and strong winds. The puddles in the boat yard are growing and the bilge pumps have occasionally had to work, even on land.

All those rain clouds do mean that it has not been as cold as some winters. That and being on the ‘English Riviera’ means that generally it has not been too bad. There have been some mornings though when the front door has been stuck shut with a touch of ice. Obviously an icy deck that far above the ground is not a great thing to have and we now have an old rug and an old towel that we can throw down between the door and the top of the steps to help us stay upright. The skipper has also put some gripper tape on the top of the ladder after we had some hairy moments balanced on one leg getting over the guard rail. It feels much safer now.

The two hulls give quite a lot of protection under the boat to make working in all weathers easier. They also work as a tunnel though meaning that any wind coming off the water blows straight under the boat and makes working there hard at times. To counteract this, the Skipper has constructed walls at either end. Using a simple wooden frame and plastic tarpaulin this has given protection against the worst of the weather and means that he can work even in pouring rain.

Front entrance to the workshop/shed under the boat

Fortunately we still have shore power. This means that power tools can be used. One of the biggest problems when repairing on the beach at L’Aber Wrac’h was not having electricity and relying on hand tools. It made work very slow. Angle grinders, chop saws, drills and sanders have all been used at points in the work so far. We’ve also just inherited some new tools including enough planes to require their own hangar.

wooden frame and supports

We have very easy access to chandlers here. Although some of the older guidebooks say that 'Plymouth is not for the yachtsman' things have changed a lot over the last 20 years or so with a boom in marinas and the support needed for boats. In the marina we have the Boathouse with very friendly staff and lots of useful bits. For a good browse and a chance to find all sorts of random items the Marine Bazaar over the water cannot be beaten. The teenage deckhands like going over there to admire the kayaks and dinghies for sale too. 

These are not always the best place to shop though as often a similar or even identical thing can be found in a normal DIY store (or Lidl!) for half the price but for some things they are brilliant. Paint is certainly something that needs to be correct and using ‘normal’ paint for many jobs can be a false economy. We gave kitchen and bathroom paint a go on our galley walls when they were last painted and it has not taken properly, peeling off in places. This time we’re using proper yacht bright gloss. One of the best things we have found recently from Toolstation has been the Black Mamba heavy duty gloves. These are thick enough that as long as you take them off carefully the same pair can be used all day and washed off at times for the messiest jobs – and we’ve had some really messy jobs this week as we mopped out bilges and hard to reach parts of the boat.

Black Mamba industrial strength nitrile gloves

Our engines need work and have been causing us problems meaning that we have needed help from the marina dory to move. The propellers have been removed and the Skipper has been using a polishing kit to remove the old anti foul. From a dull red they are now a gorgeous bright brassy colour. The teeth on the starboard one were worn and it will need replacing. As we have two engines it would be helpful (but not essential) to have matching propellers as these are the bits that provide the push to control direction as well as speed and give us control when manoeuvering in tight spaces for example in a marina. The engines need a thorough service and the very expensive seal between the sail drive leg and the hull needs replacing to stop water coming in.


The storms pushed our wind vane up the to-do list. Looking at a very wonky pole with a potentially lethal weapon dangling from its top was enough to have the Skipper hanging from the climbing harness over a terrifying drop to remove it. Replacing and re-seating the pole should solve the problem and mean that we can carry on topping up our battery bank from the turbine. He has been looking at different options and set ups.

Rusty remains of the turbine pole

Building up the strength of the boat from the inside is an important part of the repair work and we have identified the area on the hull where we have the greatest weakness, caused initially by the force of movement against pontoons in stormy weather. The inside of the walls have been uncovered (involving moving lots of stuff around) and the area cleared. I have said before that Tarquilla is made of three layers of plywood cold-moulded to create the strength and shape of the boat. This means that the affected area will be removed  layer at a time from the inside first then the outside. To help improve the integrity of the hull the Skipper is also replacing our inner doors. Arching the door ways to create an oval shaped hole increases the strength over square/rectangular doorways.

There is always lots going on in the yard and it’s not a bad place to be but we are separated from our neighbours and we miss them. It is lovely when we do see them around the marina and are able to stop for a chat. We’re not sure how much longer we will need to be out of the water for but we need to make sure that everything that needs doing below the water line is completed before going back in.

If you've got this far I must just apologise that this has turned into such a long blog post!

A beautiful Bristol Channel Pilot cutter squeezes between the boats lined up on the hard

At the moment it feels very much one step forward, two steps back. There is still a lot of work to go and at the moment any light in the tunnel appears to be a bulb part way along rather than the end but the Skipper is working on it. More updates to follow...

No stores/websites of anything else mentioned in this post sponsors us or is even aware that we are writing about them. We do not have affiliate links with any stores.

Other posts about the work can be found under 'refit' in the word cloud on the right hand column

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