Thursday, 18 March 2021

Big moon, big tides

Lake with boats lying on mud and small stream through centre. Blue cloudy sky.
Tide's out

I've written about tides several times before because they are such an important part of our lives and I find them fascinating. In South Devon the tidal range is around 1.42m and 3.64m (4.6-11.9 feet). Further up the English coast my home town on the Bristol Channel experiences the second highest tidal range in the world between 6.5-and a whopping 13 metres (21.3-32.7ft).

Many of you will know that the tide goes in a roughly two week cycle getting a bigger difference between high and low tide each day then works it’s way back down before starting all over again*. We refer to those tides with greater difference as Spring tides and the ones with a smaller difference as Neaps.

Double shot of same harbour with tide in and out
In and out, almost the same spot whilst keeping my feet dry

The bit that I find really mind blowing is that the gravitational pull of the moon and sun cause bulges in the water on either side of the Earth that we pass through. As the planet revolves every 24 hours we move through deeper and shallower bits creating the effect of water coming in and going out.  As they line up directly twice a month that increases the pull (tidal force) causing the bigger bulge and therefore the bigger Spring tides. The cosmic alignment of three or more objects has a great name - syzygy. If ever a word was ready made for scrabble or hangman this is it!


Side by side pictures of a small boat pontoon on tidal river with tide in and out showing the difference
In and out, see how the pontoon has risen up the pylon


There is much more to tides than just water 'coming in' and 'going out'. There are many currents and eddies as the water is forced over and around obstacles such as headlands and competing streams.

The funnel shape of the estuary is the main reason for the Bristol Channel having such a large tidal range as the water is forced into an ever narrowing channel. In other places such as the Mediterranean and the Caribbean there is very little tidal range. Because of this variation there are many nautical almanacs, guides and pilot books that detail the predictable currents and streams at each stage of the tide. Following the information in these guides can make the difference between making land fall at the point you are aiming for or ending up 15 miles down the coast. 


Pile of tidal resources for navigation
Almanac and tide charts


Knowing the strength of the tidal streams caused by the 'whooshing' of water around obstacles or through narrow spaces such as between two bodies of land is also important. The speed of the boat over ground is affected by the stream of water (or current) either carrying the boat along giving faster speeds or pushing against the boat slowing or even stopping forward progress. 

Whilst the times of high and low tides are very predictable they vary along the coast. There are also some strange local anomalies in places such as double tides caused by the local geography. That is just one reason why local tide tables are vital to stay safe beside the coast. They are usually readily available in local shops, tourist information, chandlers, marina/harbour offices and also on-line. It can be all too easy to get cut off by the tide along a rocky shore with many coves making a knowledge of time and tide vital for safety.


Local tide time table


This is a very brief blog about tides and how they relate to boat life. There is a lot of information on line if you are really interested. There is a very good video on You Tube by Neil deGrasse Tyson, BBC Bitesize have an interesting KS3 page on tides, Wikipedia has some interesting stuff and The National Geographic explain many aspects of Oceanography. Of course there are many other resources out there too. Feel free to comment below if you know of one we might enjoy!

Small abandoned rusty ship high and dry on mud, tied to harbourside
Sitting at the dock of the bay


The constantly changing weather, tide, light and seasons mean that there is always something different in the same seascape giving us an ever changing view on the world outside our window.  

 * Blogging with integrity: A sentence in this blog has been copied and pasted from an earlier blog of ours Our 'beach holiday'. I didn't want to change the words because they said what I wanted them to.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Shanties - stories from the sea

white sailt boat in full sail with green cliff in distance
Sails in the distance, French coast

You may have noticed that the old working songs of the age of sail are enjoying a bit of a revival at the moment thanks to Tik Tok. Groups performing shanties at festivals, in pubs and on the harbour side are not unusual or new but at the moment their popularity has rocketed as they have been in the spot light on social media.


brightly dressed group of musicians performing in front of a brasserie
A group performing at Cameret, France at the festival of the sea


Clippers and Packets of the 18th century relied on manual labour for all the heavy work. Groups of men would need to work together under the guidance of a leader or chanty man. 

The origins of the word shanty (or chanty) are uncertain but some people believe that it comes from the French verb chanter, to sing. Others believe that the word was related to Gregorian chants. It was certainly recognised that a good chanty man could motivate his group to work together at the right speed and make the boat more efficient meaning better trading for the company it belonged to. They were however chosen for their seamanship abilities not their ability to sing.


A pontoon full of tall ships


There are three main types of shanty. 

1. The short-haul songs were simple and worked well when only a few pulls were needed to complete a job. 

2. Halyard shanties have a pull and relax rhythm and were used for hoisting the sails. Blow the man down and What shall we do with the Drunken sailor are good examples of this where all the group would pull on the same beat with the speed of the song varied by the shanty man to suit the task.

3. Capstan shanties were used for jobs such as hoisting the anchor where synchronised footsteps were needed to turn the capstan. A-roving and Farewell and Adieu to you, Ladies of Spain are both well suited to this repetitive rhythm.

Replica of the Matthew. Bristol, England


Most shanties were in the English language and relied on a call and response rhythm. No instruments were involved originally, it was purely acoustic as all hands would be using their hands to do the task that was, well, at hand (!).

The length of the shanty could be varied by improvising verses. They are loosely based on the sailors experiences and desires to form the narrative and therefore many are about heading home, love, exploring, whaling, fear and other things that were part of the sailors everyday life - or that they wished for. It was a form of story telling and involved lots of salty language and ribald tales.

boat in full sail
Sailing boat in full sail

Story telling is how we pass our lives on. Many stories come from the sea in song form such as the shanties but also in poetry and in novels. The challenges of being on the sea and the exploration of new lands inspires many to share their tales. In lock down the world over many people are looking for escape from the constantly doom laden news and its perhaps not surprising that rhythmical tales of daring-do, adventure and escaping to sea have found a spot in the sun for now.


statue of man with rope around neck and holding albatross bird in front of harbour
The ancient mariner. Watchet, England

All photos are recycled as we can't go anywhere to take new ones!

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Toys for small places printable/downloadable PDF

This is something I've been wanting to try for a while. I posted this originally as a blog back in October 2019. Using the magic of the internet I have converted it into a print friendly version and uploaded it as a PDF. This means it can also be downloaded onto an e-reader. It's a bit of trying it out and I hope to add other, hopefully helpful, downloadable PDFs over time.  

Toys for small places PDF


If you're interested the site I used for the conversion is Print friendly. A free site which aims to save people money and help the environment by reducing paper and ink wastage. As usual I have no affiliation with them and they don't know that I am saying how good and simple to use the site is.

selection of sea shells laid out flat in grid form
Small homes

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Educating the COVID generation

Sunday the 24th January is UNESCOs International day of education. This year the theme is based on recovering and revitalising education for the COVID-19 generation.


Learning stuff - books, pencils and calculator


Most of England's schoolchildren are doing remote school work at the moment. Importantly it is keeping everyone safer whilst the pandemic ravages the country but that does not make it easy for the teaching staff, the children or parents.Teachers and school staff are working so hard to teach and safeguard children and Universities are developing flexible ways to provide teaching. 

We must remember that everyone's experience is different and the variation from school to school, family to family is huge. Our deckhands describe their current education as 'school at home' and fiercely defend the difference between this and boat school. It certainly looks very different now. Several years on they are no longer primary school age exploring the world around them. Now two of them are doing specialised subjects at A level and making decisions that will directly impact the start of their working lives.

Back view of three young children kneeling on deck all painting a large piece of paper bright green
How it started

Teenage children sat at table with lap tops open in front of them
How it's going


We are in a fortunate position that we are able to support their learning at home. They have a roof over their heads, heating, lighting, access to IT equipment and internet and electricity. They have enough food to eat, parents that speak the language their lessons are taught in and they don't have to fear for their safety or that of their family. Too many children around the city, the country and the world do not have those advantages.

Their school has been very good and are doing live lessons following their normal time tables. There is a lot of contact between teaching staff and families. It feels like they really want the children to succeed despite everything.


5 mugs in a circle on a table with different hot drinks
Powering learning with snacks and drinks


Education is considered by UNESCO as a human right and a public responsibility. It gives us possibilities for the future, breaking cycles of poverty. We can improve not just individuals but society through education. Maybe it is because I have worked in the lifelong learning sector and now see many mature students undertaking higher and vocational education but we mustn't think of this time as their only chance. We must not let them believe that anything not learnt now will be left unknown for ever. The thirst for learning is the important part, creating a generation of thinkers that want to explore topics for themselves outside of the rigid structure of schooling. Who knows what the COVID generation will achieve in the future. Certainly the importance of science and an appreciation of the escape provided by the arts will hopefully be embedded into many children from this period of our history.

So many people are trying hard now to provide education opportunities and resources to support learning. Many schools are providing plenty for the children, others less so. We need to remember that children learn differently and hard though it can be, not compare one to another. It can be especially harmful to compare what is in front of you to a rose tinted image presented by someone else on social media.


Here are some of our favourite links for learning sites and educational stuff for anyone who wants to learn more or differently or is doing traditional home educating. They are mostly aimed at secondary school/adults because that is the stage ours are at but several are suitable for younger children too. 

A red book with a white triangle of paper on it (!)


Web Sites:

BBC Bitesize

National marine aquarium Plymouth - home learning sessions

Paignton Zoo - school from the zoo sessions 

Memrise - for languages 

Kodu - 3D game programming for children


You Tube Channels:

Tom Scott

Map Men

The Tim Traveller



Real Engineering

Minute science

Minute Physics

Minute Earth

CGP Grey

Linus Tech Tips

V sauce

Physics Girl

Nile Red

Simone Giertz

It's OK to be smart

Stand up maths


Periodic videos

Let us know if there are any channels or websites you enjoy that you think we would too or just want to share with others. 


Best wishes to all of you learning or supporting learning, you will change the world. 

Blue sky, green cliffs down to blue water. Rocky coastline and city in distance 
View from our favourite lockdown walk

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Refit 11 - What happened in 2020

white boat in marina with calm reflective water
Looking good from the rub rail down, autumn reflections

It's probably time that I stop calling it a refit and start calling it a rebuild. We are now several years in to major work and there is still plenty to do.

2020 has been an odd year for everyone and there have been several times when work has had to stop for one reason or another and other times when we have been able to make quite a bit of progress. This blog is a round up of some of the things that have been achieved on the boat over the year. 

View out of hatch with blue sky and marina
View from the galley on a summer day


We've laid new flooring on the cockpit floor and along the starboard hull. The galley floor is next for the treatment. We found some EVA fake teak foam flooring from Ebay which is soft to walk on, brushes and wipes easily and looks nice too. It seems to be quite hard wearing so far despite heavy traffic (including claws) in the cockpit.

We have finished renaming her (same name, new decals) with new letters on the back/sugar scoop. We got these made by Funky Monkey at the same time as the ones on her hull and were pleased with the freedom to choose colour, size and font. They also resolved an issue with the first delivery really quickly. It's good to have clear lettering that can be seen from a distance as a safety thing. These ones applied easily and have lasted well so far. 

 man on sugar scoop applying letteringSugar scoop with Tarquilla RAFSA Falmouth in vinyl letters

Out on deck, large areas have been sanded right back, refilled, sanded again and painted. There are still some areas to go before a final pretty coat of paint can be applied.  There has also been work around the back including a new flag staff, navigation lights and other finishing bits on the davits.    

  Teenager working on sanding on deck

Heating is a project that has been a long time in the planning and needed a lot of preparation to get to the fitting stage. We have two Chinese diesel heaters with ducts running through the boat sending warm air through both hulls. The dog has discovered very quickly where the vents come out and has some new favourite sleeping spots.

There has been a lot of electrical work through the year. Replacement lights throughout, chasing down ghost wires and building a new 12 volt distribution panel.


man with power tools working on panel
Working on the panel

The masts, including the spreaders have been prepared and painted. We got some folding saw horses from Tool Station and they've been used quite a bit since then. They are light and fold down really quickly for storage but are strong enough when up properly to be really useful.

The masts are now waiting for the chain plates to be fabricated and the roof over the aft (back) cabins to be finished then the running rigging can be redone ready for them to be stepped. Roof strengthening has been finished over the main cabin. New laminated cross beams have been epoxied into place with a noticeable difference when walking 0over the roof.

Man and child in hangar working on masts
Working on the masts in a WW2 flying boat hangar


In the cabins all the beds now have slatted IKEA bed bases to help with air flow. We've replaced a couple of the older mattresses too with some new, very comfortable ones, which are also from IKEA. There have been lots of other odd bits done too, some new stuff, some repairs of old stuff. Some things are part way through like our new doors that are taking shape nicely.

top half of man with paint and brush working on side of boat taken from deck of boat
Touching up the hulls from fender wear

Last but definitely not least we have decorated for Christmas. The tree is up and our string of hanging decorations as well as lights inside and out. We even got a small poinsetta this year which is a family tradition.

Hanging Christmas decorations of various shapes

Thank you for reading these blogs and sharing in what we are up to.

Wishing everyone as nice a Christmas as possible, thinking of those on their own this year and hoping for a safe and more peaceful 2021.

scallop shell at waters edge with merry Christmas written on it


As usual any links are for anyone interested, we have not been sponsored or paid in any way. 

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Looking out - Mayflower and remembrance

Once again in England we are in lock down and looking out at the world. In Tor bay giant cruise ships bob on the waves redundant and anchored. At the moment it seems hard to imagine a time when they will be able to travel with passengers away over the horizon. Instead they draw crowds who come to see the sight of the behemoths on the skyline. 

There is something about being on a peninsula that invites people to look out at places beyond the horizon. Places at the end of countries (Lands End, Finisterre in Spain and Finistere in France for starters) have been the birth place of many an expedition. Devon is a seafaring county on the South West peninsula (the foot bit that sticks out) with a legacy of explorers, privateers, fishing fleets and war ships. The sea and the pull of the unknown has driven this county and it's place in the world for generations.


red sand foreground, blue water and blue sky. 2 large ships and a small sailing boat
Cruise ships in Tor Bay

This month should have seen the culmination of a year of commemorative events in Plymouth. There were big plans for marking the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from the city but like so many things in 2020 most things had to be cancelled. The pilgrims had a very convoluted journey as they hunted for somewhere to settle where they would be accepted. Hounded from Britain to the Netherlands they then sailed back to England to prepare to cross the Atlantic, setting out originally from Southampton to find a new life. Problems with the ships led to a stop at Dartmouth for repairs. The next attempt to set sail led to a near sinking off Land End and forced the boats to turn back and put in to Plymouth. The second ship, Speedwell, was not seaworthy and was abandoned leaving just the Mayflower to go alone across the ocean. 

In one of the Devon villages that edge the Sound there was an amazing display of banners created by locals to mark the quaternary. Demonstrating the changes in the world over the last 400 years and celebrating the historic ship building village itself they were hung from the lampposts. most of them were paired showing things from then and now including two with all the names and jobs of the villagers.Others included food grown in the village and eaten on board, ships sailing from Plymouth port then and now and maps of Plymouth Sound, England and Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts.



The story of the Speedwell inspired another artwork which has been able to go ahead on the Mount Batten breakwater in Plymouth Sound. A big scaffolding frame supports a light show that spells out NO NEW WORLDS. The words cycle through making a variety of sentences such as NO WORLD, NEW WORLD, NO, NO NEW WORLD and NO NEW WORLDS. Facing onto Plymouth itself when it is looked at from the Hoe people are then facing out to the rest of the world and the route explorers of the past took. The piece has a double meaning, encouraging people to think about both the impact of colonisation and the environmental damage we are causing our world. 

This artwork has met with various reactions but has definitely generated conversation. At times there have been marshals available to talk to people about the installation and there have been metal tags for people to leave messages on then fix them to the fence around the lights. Although this is a lovely idea maybe something other than plastic cable ties to secure the messages might have been better given the environmental focus of the installation. Messages have varied from 'I love unicorns' through to some quite profound thoughts about how we are treating the world and the need for change. To underscore it's intent, the lights are due to be symbolically switched off on Thanksgiving/the National Day of Mourning.    


Metal tags with messages on metal fence
Letters in lights on scaffolding - Speedwell

November is also a month where in Britain we look back as a nation and remember those who have paved the way for us to live the lives we do. The poppy is the symbol used by the British legion inspired by the poem In Flanders fields written in 1915 by John McCrae. The normal memorial services were unable to go ahead this year but the on line services were beautifully done. As a Naval City Plymouth plays a big part in the national remembrance and hosted one of four spot lights that lit up the night sky around the country on the 11th. 


Many soldiers, sailors and air men have both arrived on and left these shores over the years. The legacy of the forces can be clearly seen around the coast here in memorials, the names of areas and roads and in relics such as gun emplacements. 1.7 million Commonwealth men and women died in the first and second world wars. Shine on is a project from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who recognised that people would not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder this year. Instead they encouraged everyone to look out at the stars and remember. 



Sunday, 11 October 2020

Saving the world

Living on the water we are directly affected by the tides, the winds and the weather. It isn't just about getting wet on the school run or deciding when to put the heating on, its about living with the weather and the river, literally moving with it's moods. We all feel and see the seasons changing. One of the striking things through lock down was watching the change from Spring to Summer. The seasons are vital to our world and its delicate ecosystem.

Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter

The other day we watched the David Attenborough programme A life on our planet. It was quite shocking and if you have not yet seen it I would definitely recommend it. Whilst it was an incredible programme with stunning images the message was very hard hitting. The change we have been talking about for years is happening now. The loss of seasons and changing weather patterns are steps towards a mass extinction event. That is a big wake up call. 

It can feel very much like there is little we can do in the face of such dramatic planetary change but if we all try and do just a little bit that will add up and it could make the difference. Greta Thunberg has become a divisive advocate but she is trying to do what she can. The same as David Attenborough and the same as so many others quietly going about making changes here and there doing their little bit. Between us all, we could drag the planet back from that tipping point and literally save the world.

Tree trunk carved and decorated into many small buildings and towers
Our world is finely balanced


Whether it's picking up rubbish from the beach, building a bug house or thinking about the food we eat there are things we can do and changes we can make. The point of this blog is to keep the conversation going and share what we have tried to hopefully encourage others to think about the difference they can make too. Words in themselves in a blog are not enough though. What are we as a crew actually planning to do?

Our galley/kitchen sink drains straight in to the sea. What goes down there can affect the environment around us which makes you think before anything goes down the plug. Using the water from the tanks and needing to refill them gives you a very real awareness of how much water is being used. Obviously our shower water is not included but we know roughly how long our tanks last and we are careful about the water we use. Some of our energy comes from solar panels and we previously had wind turbines providing a proportion of our usage. They will probably be refitted at some point but the gears needed work and the pole had become unsafe and needed to be removed. All our lights are now LED.


Bug hotel at Babbacombe model village


We have already tried to reduce the amount of throwaway stuff we use and recycle as much as possible. We have replaced disposable razors with reusable alternatives. We have experimented with soaps and hard deodorant instead of shower gels and other plastic bottle toiletries. We use refillable water bottles and we try to avoid over packaged items when we can. We're not suggesting for a minute that we are wonderful or eco-warriors. We do have a thing for crisps and make far too much plastic rubbish from individual crisp packets. Eating meat is somewhere else we could make a real difference. We have reduced the amount of meat we eat a few times in the past but then always seem to creep back up to eating a lot. So we are again making an effort to eat more vegetarian meals and we try not to buy anything with palm oil in.

There is nothing clever or special about the changes we have made. They are things anyone could do and we do all need to be thinking about - and talking about - what we can do. We have to listen to the stark evidence. We have to all do our bit because there really are no new worlds.



A light art installation: 'Speedwell' in Devon - No New Worlds