Sunday, 10 May 2020

Slowing down and learning from home

The world has changed and will never be the same again.

3 pictures of views along the coastal path - grass, trees and sea

Everyone's experience of this time will be different. I really have no intention of pretending this has been anything other than a hard time for so many and of tragic loss for far too many. I also don't mean to leave any impression that this is a holiday rather than an international emergency that we have to somehow get through. For us, some days are OK, some days are less so. Some days are productive and we manage to get things done, other days we don't. I like the memes about it not being a competition and those about there being no right way to feel. This is something new to all of us and although there may be experiences in many peoples lives that have given us tools to help us navigate, we are all in uncharted waters.

Field of daisies with empty bench in background

We are watching the world closer to home but more closely. Currently we can go outside for exercise once a day. From where we are at the moment we can walk from home along the coast path or along the shore line and meet very few people. A directive from the harbour master has stopped any kayaking, paddle boarding or other water activities so we are very glad we can still go walking. Along the coast path we have been watching the lambs growing and the woods and coast path move slowly from spring into summer. We've spotted centipedes, numerous butterflies, King Alfred cakes, forget-me-nots, gold finches, grass hoppers, ravens and many more. The water and shore around us has also given us plenty to watch with cormorants, ducks, mullet, oyster catchers and even a curlew.

School of mullet in the river eating algae on a submerged branch

We have found before that walking around places slowly you can find things that can be so easily missed when you are rushing. We often think of St Quay-Portrieux in Brittany which has a reputation as a dull and concrete place. We were there a for a while waiting for some engine bits and explored the area around the marina possibly more than some, especially because the sea dog needed walking. As we went beyond the confines of the marina we found amazing views from the coastal path, a couple of lovely towns and some quirky buildings. Sometimes we start looking at what is around us more when we don't have the option of going anywhere else. My Dad often quoted the lines from WH Davies poem Leisure:
'What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare'

Old building with view to sea, St Quay

School is a big concern for many people at the moment. Our boat schooling experiences have probably helped us but this 'doing school work at home' is not the same as home schooling. The schools I know of have been brilliant at communicating and providing suitable material for the children to continue to develop. They have also done welfare checks with the children on the phone. Having that responsibility for learning is hard though, at least when we were boat schooling we had the advantage of setting our own curriculum and projects.

Boy on deck with nautical charts in sunshine, making notes

Our three are all at secondary school now and over the last few weeks alongside the school work we have been watching lots of YouTube such as Minute Earth, Scishow, CGP Grey, NileRed, Tom Scott and Numberphile. We also found a great book a while ago that we were using for exam revision until they were cancelled and is now just a bit of fun and writing practice; The very short story starter by John Gillard has lots of prompts and ideas for writing with challenges ranging from 4 word stories to 500 words. If you want writing ideas just to have a bit of a change you could also try Chris Fielden's list of ideas. Full disclosure, Chris is a family friend and Mr Davis is my brother.

If you are worried about primary school children missing out you might be interested in what I wrote in a blog a while after we returned to England and the children had returned to formal schooling:
Possibly the question of most interest to those who are home educating is what do I have to teach? What are the important bits in hind sight? I would personally suggest that the best gifts to give any child are a love of reading and a love of learning. On a more practical note, if you intend re-entering formal education at any point then for any child the basic building blocks will make any further learning much simpler: correct letter shape formation, an understanding of phonics and knowledge of the times tables. With those firmly under your belt anything is possible.

3 boys round a table on deck doing school work

Missing family and friends is hard. We used Skype when we were travelling to spend time together. In some ways it feels a bit like that again but now there is no date in the diary for the next time and place we will be able to meet up. We always enjoyed being back together when we had visits and really appreciated the time we got to spend together, sharing our journey with our support team in interesting places. I know that there are many people over the world stuck in the 'wrong' country and how difficult that must be. We are really looking forward to when we can safely meet up with our family and friends again.

Nanny and 3 boys sat on a wall in Spain, beach and sea behind

We have managed to carry on with some work on the boat using the things we had ready for fitting or building. Lots of odd little jobs and some bigger things like wiring have been done or are being done. We're particularly glad that we have now got the new fridge wired in. The dog is loving having everyone home and also enjoying the new cockpit flooring which is foam, looks like teak planking and feels lovely underfoot.

5 mugs of various hot drinks in a circle on a table

Wherever you are and whoever you are with during this time, stay safe.

Sunset over the river just after 8pm on a Thursday evening

Thursday, 5 March 2020

World book day 2020

It's world book day today. A day to celebrate and promote reading.

It's not just about celebrating stories and supporting those who struggle to read but also helping those who struggle to access books. I love that children are given book tokens and specially priced books as part of the work done by the charity behind the day.

Image: Wonky stack of books topped by Kindle

Not all books need to be ordered from multi-national companies and delivered through the post. Although there are times when this is the best option, there are greener and cheaper ways to find books. Libraries in Britain are free to use and you can even register as a temporary resident (we did this in both Topsham, Devon and Gosport, Hampshire). Book swaps are starting to appear all over the place including in old telephone boxes and have been a big part of cruising for many years.

Image: Overfull wooden book shelf with rows of books

One of our favourite local shops is a small one run by the local hospice selling pre-loved books at very reasonable prices. It is packed with everything from old classics through local history and children's books to celebrity memoirs. Definitely our favorite type of recycling.

Another way of reading books with lower financial and environmental costs is ebook readers. There are lots of books available cheaply and resources such as Project Gutenburg have a large number of books downloadable for free.

Image: Black & white bookshelf with neat books

Books can also help us connect to our environment and learn more about the world around us. We recently got Rock pool. Extraordinary encounters between the tides by Heather Buttivant. We also have a couple of the Wild Guides and still love our now very battered Animals & plants of Britain and Europe.

I hope this has given you some ideas. Happy reading.

Last year I wrote about book ideas for teenagers. There are lots of other blogs under the label 'books'. This is one of the oldest ones when the deckhands were very little

I've recycled these pictures from old blogs - the top one is just a pile of random books, the bottom ones are marina book swap shelves. 

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Storms, electricity, epoxy and solar panels

We're into the winter storms here in the UK at the moment. There seems to have been nonstop wind and rain for weeks now. There are many people around the country who have suffered so much loss and damage from flooding and some amazing stories of compassion and rescue.

On a boat, weather determines so much about our lives that we become attuned to the moods of the sea and our lives are affected by it all the time. We have weather apps on shortcuts (Met office is our go-to on land, windguru and windfinder when we're on the water) watch the clouds carefully and frequently have conversations with neighbours about upcoming or passing storms or nice spells. Generally we know when another weather front is heading our way. But not always.

Image: Rain pouring down the windows

Boxing day morning took everyone by surprise including the meteorologists and I was slightly late for work when the cross pontoon was moving too much to be safe to cross. There had been no predictions of winds and it came suddenly. Usually a drop in pressure will precede bad/unsettled weather and forecasting is now so good that the met office normally gives good warnings.  I had been outside 20 minutes before and everything had been calm. This happened to us once before on our way from Carteret, Normandy to St Malo when the radio suddenly started giving out repeated méteo warnings. Even the announcer sounded worried as they gave out details of an unexpected increase in wind due to happen imminently and bringing 'agité' (rough) conditions. We were very relieved once we were safely locked in to the harbour basin.

Image: Wind charts from Boxing day showing sharp increase in wind speed

It is not just the strength of the wind that is important in stormy conditions but also the direction. Winds are described by the direction that they come from. In South West Britain the prevailing (most common) direction for winds is south west to westerly which can give them a big run over the Atlantic before reaching us without land masses to slow them down. Once they reach us from that direction though, we are tucked behind a headland which protects us. The direction of the wind compared to the boat affects whether we are blown off (away from) the pontoon, constantly bounced into the pontoon or if the wind travels over the front or back of us. Being slammed into the solid pontoons is the one I find by far the most unpleasant and frightening. When we were at Topsham we would dry out each low tide on the mud. The wind would come up the river straight on the nose and when it was really bad it would feel like the boat would just flip end to end which at 12.5 tonnes would be quite a feat but was a terrifying thought. The other wind people tend to be aware of is Northerly's which can bring bitterly cold temperatures with them.

Image: Houses along river edge at Topsham towards Exmouth

Despite the weather work is still progressing on the boat. We have been really pleased with the new settee cushions we had made for the saloon last year by a local company. The fabric is made for commercial premises like clubs and pubs which gives it a durability which has so far proved up to the job of family life on a boat. Rebuilding a supporting internal wall in one of the back cabins has created a space shaped specifically for a proper fridge, storage boxes and even a space for the ironing board complete with a block to stop it falling out when the boat moves.

Image: Cold beer and milk bottles in fridge door

(the next section has been read, added to, edited and corrected for technical stuff by Mark)

Electricity has been a big thing with lots of planning and preparation reaching a point of visible progress. Mark has rebuilt an underfloor cockpit locker to hold the relocated battery bank, which was previously split between the two aft lockers. After much thought I (Mark) decided to upgrade the batteries to lithium, we now have half the nominal capacity (200Ah as opposed to 450Ah) but much more of that capacity is usable. We have solar panels and wind turbines in addition to shore power and Mark is fitting a shore charger/inverter and a MPPT solar controller so we have a more reliable on and off grid supply. With a new rotatory switch to enable us to turn the electricity supply off more easily this will make our lives easier in many ways and is a step towards improving the lighting and upgrading the heating. We've got a new solar panel which is connected by magic (or maybe just cable and the aforementioned controller - Mark) to the new batteries. As well as having lights running off the mains again rather than the small plug in lights we have been relying on this winter we are also able to have our better radio back. The bilge pumps which trigger automatically to remove water that collects in the bilge (under the floor boards) have also been out of action whilst the electrics were being sorted. With the amount of rain we have had, water was collecting and needed to be removed manually. We got a Draper water pump as a temporary measure to empty the bilges and will keep it as an addition to our manual emergency pump that helped save us several years ago.

Image: Flat lay - old switch panel and bus bar on template sheet

Image: Open cupboard with control panels

The cockpit is changing gradually with plans for replacing the doors, reshaping of the area above the gas locker to allow for the electrical controllers and a locker being built in a corner which will double as a table/shelf when we are able to sit out in the cockpit again. Some of you will know that it has been used as a tool storage area for a very long time now.

Next job is to batten down the hatches (not literally) for storm George that is coming our way from Spain and to remove the limpet that has taken up squatters rights in the small blue dinghy. The dinghy was rescued by us originally after it wedged itself between us and a pontoon in Hendaye and was never claimed (it was green and had obviously been underwater quite a long time). It was sunk again in the last storm and scraped several bits of sea life off of the pontoon. Every time we check, the limpet has moved - presumably looking for it's niche. There are complicated teenage plans afoot to try and get it back to it's old home at the weekend, could be interesting!

Image: Bow of small dinghy with water inside

Stay safe in the storms.

Image: Cliffs, waves, blue sky & rainbow at Tintagel

Monday, 23 December 2019

Christmas on a boat

Wreath with rope work and shells, made by Mark

We are often asked about Christmas decorations so I thought I'd share a few pictures of how we decorate the boat.

Some of you will have seen our wreath before, either in real life or in pictures. Mark made it a few years ago with shells and a shiny fishing lure. It has been outside in various places, this year it is on the step beside the boat. It's been difficult to get a picture of it because it feels like it has been raining and/or so windy the pontoons are swinging around nearly every day in the last couple of weeks.

Table top tree with mini nativity scene

A Christmas tree is a very traditional decoration in Britain (well, since the 1800's). Ours is about 25 years old and was a gift from my parents when I was a student. It has been in many places since then and is still going strong. It fits nicely on our coffee table in the saloon and is currently topped by a star made by the youngest deck hand a few years ago. It spends the rest of the year folded down into an old whisky tin!

Decorations hanging from string of tinsel

As the tree is too small for many of our bigger decorations we hang them across the cockpit. We add to them each year. This year we got an icicle from the local glass blowers, a place we love visiting. We also have some other special ornaments like this fireplace that I found in Somerset one year that is on a ledge in the cockpit.

Small resin fireplace ornament, shells, sea glass and an oil lamp

I like getting cards and messages from friends and family at any time of the year. We do send a lot of e-cards to reduce our footprint but love getting those special cards and hang them in the saloon.

String of cards hanging over settee with new bookshelf behind

Wherever and whatever you are doing we wish you happiness, beautiful sunsets and fair winds.

From all the crew of Tarquilla 

Monday, 28 October 2019

There's no room! (Toys for small spaces)

When I was young we would visit my Nan in her flat. I remember them as happy visits and I also remember the box of wooden bricks that lived under the settee. She can't have had that much room to spare but she made sure she had something for us grandchildren to enjoy and play with.

Boats have limited storage which means that things really have to earn their space. When you have children on board they still need toys and games whether you are day sailing, summer holidaying or long term cruising. The same things apply to those in other small places like RVs, flats, tiny homes and those relatives looking for some toys to keep for when they have little visitors that won't take up too much space when they are stored (edit. I mean storing the toys, not the children!). There are lots of different options, its just a case of finding what works for you. This is a few of the things that we found worked well for our boys and  hopefully will give you some ideas.

Image: young boy lying down reading a comic

Image: Young child with sticker sheet

When we moved on board the boys were 4, 7 and 9. The all out favourite and most practical toy was Lego. We had a lot of Lego. It started off in a big sack, actually an old naval kit bag. Once it out grew that, Mark made a bigger bag out of sail material which also opened up into a play mat with edges that was the shape and size of the (covered) cockpit floor so they could spread it all out then you just pulled the bag back together again. We found that it was so universal that they were able to play with other children with it whether or not they shared the same language. It is now in a large deep shelf and still comes out quite frequently - definitely a laster but never allowed out all over the floor whilst underway in case anyone stands on a brick!

Image: dog lying on sail cloth surrounded by Lego

Playmobil takes up more room but does allow for all sorts of imaginative play; as do the smaller bits of wooden train tracks with the extra bonus of a small loop looking quite cute under the Christmas tree. We did have to sell off the bigger bridges/tunnels/stations before we moved onboard but it triggered a lot of creativity when the boys found other things they could use to replace them in their games. In the picture you can also see the car mat we used to have that was used a lot. It was kept rolled up when not being used. There is usually a box of cars around somewhere close to our boys too that they used with and without the mat. Many times I found little vehicles lined up around the cockpit when they were younger.

Image: 2 young boys with wooden rail track

Imagination is important and we found that the children spent time making up games and playing them together. A post office set was the basis of many games for a long time and packed up quite neatly into a reasonable size post box. A small dressing up box was popular too when they were younger and especially helpful for things like Carnival.

Image: small boy playing with post office set

Sometimes thinking outside the box and away from traditional toys gives some fun ideas. Magic stuff takes up very little room and often one pack of cards can be used in many different ways. There are loads of packs of magic around things can always be added to it. Visual magic is also another of those things that does not need a common language.

Image: young boy holding pack of cards and wand

Play dough was really good and also got used quite a bit for teaching. I know that some people get squeamish over the idea of the colours mixing but you can use it however you want. We made a solar system once and they did animated films using the camera so it was very flexible (pardon the pun). We went one step further one Christmas and got air drying clay to make figures for a nativity play.  

Image: play dough solar system - sun top left down to bottom right

We enjoyed board games such as Pictionary, chess and Upwords; these were good for learning too. We were given an Oca board in Spain and played that a lot. We take board games out of their original boxes and store them in plastic bags with the instructions cut out if they are printed on the box. This reduces the storage room a lot and keeps them safer from damp. That works well for jigsaw puzzles too if you cut the picture out.

Image: two young boys playing chess

As they got older we got into some very complicated dungeons and dragons games. Now they spend hours doing Warhammer. It's another one that needs to be spread out when they are using it but works well on board as it packs away easily. We use plastic boxes with clip shut lids and boxes for things like this, they stack well too. I have been impressed at the skill and detail they have achieved in the painting of the figures.

Image: Warhammer characters painted by the deckhands

Soft toys were used for many games as well as for cuddling and we even made sure that special ones were in one of the grab bags whenever we were underway - just in case.  

These are some of the things that are/have been popular with our deckhands. Maybe you have found other toys/games/things that worked well for you or found that yours like similar things - we'd love to know.

Image: young boy with large cuddly Bob the dog

Edited 29/10 to remove repetition of 'box'

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'