Monday, 7 October 2019

Finally back on the water

It is so lovely to be back on the water after such a long time. It was 21 months from being lifted out for urgent repairs before we were back afloat. Although at the moment we are being rocked by the winds of Lorenzo it is a much better motion than the shaking of a boat on land.

Image: breaking waves beneath cliffs

Being on the hard is challenging. You are always 20 foot off the ground making it terrifying when children or dogs get too close to the edge and difficult when you want to get awkward or heavy things on or off the boat (shopping/washing/deliveries). Everything is dusty - all the time - there are so many little things that don't feel right when the boat is out of the water and everything is just that little bit, well, harder.

Image: people applying name sticker to boat

Having the bracing poles out from the internal doorways means that we can move around without having to keep squeezing through narrow spaces.  It's a testament to Mark's tenacity and determination that despite everything (and there have been many boat and life challenges over the last couple of years) that he got us to this point and saved our home.

Image: black dog looking off back of boat

We were overwhelmed by the friendship and kindness extended to us when we were on the hard. People went out of their way to come and visit us to see how it was going. The words of encouragement and congratulations as we neared the end of our epic refit boosted us more than those offering us such simple words could possibly know. It made the late nights up ladders painting, the lengthy to do lists, the terror of if she would float and everything else bearable. We had a specific deadline which ramped up the pressure of our relaunch because of other activities going on in the water around us. On the other hand this meant that our return to the water coincided with lots of fun things that felt like a real celebration of boat life.

Images: top left - fireworks over the marina. top right - racing boats. Bottom left - wooden boats at the Southampton boat show. Bottom right - Fastnet flags flying high on mass of racing boats

We got ourselves a couple of inflatable stand up paddle boards and spent lots of time on the water learning how to use them. Even watching the mullet splashing around the boat was fun. We have enjoyed spending time with friends and neighbours and we're back to talking about our favourite ports, quirky Basque harbours and other tales from the sea. Enjoying a beer and paella whilst putting the world to rights beats conversations about how the work is going. We also had the littlest deckhands birthday and once again shared boat life with other children. Seeing them playing on paddle boards, loving the ride in the dinghy and exploring things we take for granted like hatches reminds us why we wanted to live the life we do.

Image: blue sky and water out of galley hatch

Image: pink sunrise over marina

All the things that seemed so magical when we first moved on board are suddenly exciting again. Over the summer we appreciated the fry flashing in the water, watching a cormorant right next to the pontoons fighting with an eel, the feel of gentle rocking and the ripples of sunlight reflecting off the water onto the boat. It was like rediscovering all those special things about living on a boat all over again.

Image: paddle boards resting on finger pontoon

Although there is still a lot of work to be done we are water-tight and floating. Everything below the waterline is done and she looks good. We had to be towed into our temporary space as we don't have a mast and only one working engine at the moment so we won't be going anywhere far for a while but we are back on the water and we are feeling re-salted.

Image: White hull reflected in water

Friday, 23 August 2019

Drifting away - 10 books for summer days

Pile of books with blog title overlaid

Blogging with integrity: Just a quick note before we start. I received a free advanced reader copy of Ellen Jacobson's poisoned by the pier in return for a review (although the thoughts on it are my own opinion) and have flash fiction pieces in both Voyaging pets and Sensorially challenged. 

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin. Devon is a place full of  legends and extraordinary tales of adventure but this summer Plymouth is full of pachyderms to mark the anniversary of a different sort of story. The much loved Elmer books for children were written in the city by David McKee 50 years ago, as well as great stories they have important messages about tolerance, diversity and friendship. We loved them when the boys were little and had several of them that we would cuddle up and read together, especially enjoying making all the loud sound effects whenever Elmer surprised his friends.

Lots of multicoloured elephant statues

Sharing a tale through poetry, song or story is how we connect to others. For generations it is the way that people have passed on knowledge, shared tales of adventures and made sense of the world around us. Several of the elephants draw on the importance of story telling including the celestial stories (bottom left in the collage) and one covered in cave painting art.

Details from cave painting elephant

This summer as well as adding new chapters to our own family story, I am looking forward to spending some time curled up in a sunny spot with some interesting books. This is a pick of ten books that I have either read recently, am part way through or am looking forward to reading in the coming weeks:

1.     Nurses of Passchendale Passchendaele by Christine Hallett is a humbling, fascinating book that was a birthday present from my boys. It weaves the stories of many people into a coherent look at the ladies who volunteered to nurse in these atrocious and dangerous conditions. Looking at the personalities and their work it brings to life those who were willing to sacrifice everything to help strangers and their country in a bitter war many miles from home.

2.      Judy Astley is an old favourite of mine so when I saw Seven for a secret on the book swap shelf the other day I couldn't resist bringing it home with me to read again. Set around a very English village with all the undertones and complexity of human lives running through the story, these books are all about the characters and their everyday lives.

Image of book swap bookshelf

3.      Nelson Mandela's Long walk to freedom is not a light book but is certainly interesting. It flows well, draws beautiful images of his homeland and is a pleasure to read. I'm not very far in at the moment but as with all good biographies it opens a door into someone else's lived experience and shows a different way of looking at life.

4&5. Ellen Jacobson's cosy crime series are fun and draw wonderfully on a liveaboard lifestyle to guide the main characters through the story. They are a lovely, light-hearted series full of interesting characters and humour. Bodies in the boatyard is the second in the series and sees Mollie and Scooter on the hard and finding more murder victims whilst Poisoned by the pier sees intrigue and mystery at the cake show. Cats, chocolate and a mystery, what more could you want. They are part of a series but can also be read alone. A great read to curl up with and enjoy.

Poisoned by the pier front cover: title of book and sail boat

6.      Mad girl. A happy girl with a mixed up mind by Bryony Gordon is a look at how mental illness has affected her life. Honest and open it is a book from a very successful woman and adds to the conversation that needs to be held about mental health, dragging it out from the shadows and allowing people to be as open about their mental health as they are about physical illness.

7.      To show and to tell: The craft of literary non fiction. I'm looking forward to this one. The reviews I have read are good and I've been after it for a while. I've flicked through it and it looks like an interesting read with lots of practical advice, one to pack in the suitcase for some slow reading.

8.  I've been a fan of independent anthologies for a while now. They give you a chance to explore new and different writers and often raise money for charity.  Voyaging pets was released by Sistership publishing a few months ago. We were chuffed to bits that our old sea dog Susie was included. It's full of stories entered into a competition and includes dogs, cats and other more obscure creatures that inhabit sailing boats all over the globe. A delight for animal lovers and sailors alike.

Crop image of Voyaging pets: page of writing, page of dog pictures

9.  Sensorially challenged volume 2 is another anthology and is one of the latest books of the rule breaking flash fiction challenges by Christopher Fielden. Officially launched at Talking Tales in Bristol this month it is raising money for the National literacy trust. Some of the stories give you a glimpse into a wonderful quirk of imagination, lateral thinking or even a different life and are a little bit of fun writing anarchy.

Front covers Sensorially challenged red&orange, Voyaging pets blue

10.       The red and green life machine by the much admired Rick Jolly is the story of the medics of a field hospital during the Falklands war. This was a time when horrifying injuries and burns were treated and dealt with, human life was held by the fingertips and massive steps forward were made in field medicine. The importance of this work is still felt in emergency departments now. Rick Jolly himself was a complete legend to all who met him, worked alongside him or played rugby with him and his name will live on in stories for many years.

I hope that one or two of those books will appeal to you, let me know about any books that you think should be on my list to read in the future.

The end 

Midnight blue elephant statue; 'looking at the moon'

Saturday, 8 June 2019

We're still working on the boat on the hard

A blog with extra technical contributions from the skipper.

Mark has spent months planning, building, learning new skills, problem solving and working on the boat. He's been out there through the winter and sweltering in the sun. The progress on the boat is amazing but most of the structural work he's done can't be seen from outside. We've now reached the stage where we can start putting paint on, to make her look prettier and to protect her from the sea.

Wildflowers and boatyard

As I stand outside, roller in hand painting the sides, people keep telling me what a good job I'm doing and how she's really coming along now - hardly seems fair does it that after all Marks work that suddenly I'm getting  the credit!

Sat on work bench painting hull

This refit blog is one where progress is best shown in pictures so with my apologies to anyone trying to see this with rubbish internet either floating on the oggin or deep in the countryside, this is what we've been up to:

Work in progress

The back deck had disintegrated in a couple of places making walking over it quite challenging, it was also letting water in whenever there was rain. This meant the next set of hull repairs would be subject to damp immediately making replacing the deck essential at this point. The whole deck has been removed and rebuilt with new lockers and a better area for us to use.

Fresh wood deck laid

Man working on deck

Bare wood on deck

Grey primer layers

Completed back deck and new davits

Chain plates had been an area where water was able to get in and then rot the wood. This caused a large soft area on the starboard side.

Man epoxying hull

Primer and filler on hull

And an even bigger big patch of rotted wood on the port side. This is where most of the water was coming in from through the deck. This water then damaged the wood aided by a combination of  a large barrel used as an auxiliary fuel tank (long gone now) which prevented air circulation and an old repair which was just a large area of thickened epoxy (this does not flex with the original wood, first allowing water in then trapping it there). This is hopefully the last major area of hull to be repaired.

Hull with rotten section cut out

With the hull rebuilt, sanding, filling and priming have been going on. The deckhands have been earning their keep helping out with sanding and painting. The grey is just the primer, she will have more top layers put on to make her look less like a battle catamaran.

Sanding, filling and priming

Some may remember the 'crack from L'Aber Wrach' (yes, that does rhyme). Although the skipper did an amazing job of fixing a large hole on a beach with mainly hand tools it was never pretty. Having now been sanded, filled and reshaped it looks much better. 'Proper job' as one neighbour said.

Prepared bow

Sail drives, seacocks and anodes are also on the to do list.

Sail drives and anodes

We've still got a lot to do before we can get back in the water and can finally get off the hard. I'm looking forward to the moment I can write about being back in the water.

Grey primer on hulls

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

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