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

We have included some links in case they are useful to someone else, we don't have any connection to any company or get anything from affiliate links.

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

Friday, 8 March 2019

Book ideas for teens

Books are a uniquely portable magic - Stephen King

Image: Boat with 'book ideas for teens, world book day 2019'

Whilst every day is a book day, world book day is only once a year. This year it falls on the 7th March and many young children this week have been going to school dressed as their favourite book characters.

What about when they get older though? Finding books for teenagers can be hard whether they are devouring piles of books at home or whether you are stocking up for a long passage. They are at the stage where children's books are too young but a lot of adult books contain themes that may not be suitable.

Image: 3 teenagers scrambling over cliffs

YA or young adult fiction has helped a lot when it comes to finding books but recommendations are still often the way to find some of the best stuff. I asked our boys what I should include and their suggestions were: Mortal engines by Phillip Reeve (a dystopian novel set in the future), A series of unfortunate events, anything by Antony Horowitz or Michael Murpurgo (especially Kensukes kingdom for young sailors), War of the worlds and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

They also recommend Terry Pratchett. The Tiffany Aching series was written with young adults in mind but any of his novels are suitable. Nation is one of my favourites. As well as being entertaining they all carry some thoughtful themes and obscure references. Some may enjoy the long earth series too.

I would also add Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Harry Potter and Swallows and Amazons. They are also good ones for reading out loud if you want to share a book. For those who like a bit of intrigue, cosy crime (or cozy mysteries across in America) are who-dunnits but without the gore, terror and other themes that can be a bit strong for many teenagers. Agatha Christie is one of the masters of this genre, and still one of my favourite authors. She lived in Devon and based many of her books on the area including the bit of coast shown in the photo below. Also check out more recent books including independent ones like Ellen Jacobson's Murder at the marina.

Image: Looking down to sandy beach in Agatha Christie country

Reading is not confined to novels. How about a biography/autobiography - Ellen MacArthur, I am Malala, Robin Knox-Johnson, Dermot O'Leary, Clare Balding, One summers grace and many more. Don't forget graphic novels (an art form in itself) and non-fiction books too. Does anything eat wasps? and 101 other questions, Attention all shipping, Jambuster: The story of the Womens Institute in the Second World War just for starters. Or how about a flash fiction anthology for those who like variety - Adverbially challenged or Voyaging with pets maybe?

Image: Sea dog curled up on chair with paw on a pilot book

And finally, for rough passages, talking books are brilliant for a bit of distraction without having to move too much from wherever you have wedged yourself.

Whatever and wherever you read, enjoy the magic.

Image: close up of masts and sails

Blogging with integrity: For complete transparency, I was an advance reader for Murder at the marina and have stories in both Adverbially challenged and Voyaging with pets. I don't get any money from their sales.

If you liked this you can follow the link to our Other book day blogs here. Other years we have looked at books for younger children, books for travellers and dreamers and useful books for planners and fixers.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

10 years ago and now or How we ended up living on a boat

Langport, Somerset. 10 years ago

You may have seen the current 10 years ago and now pictures that are going around the internet. Ten years ago was when we moved from learning about sailing to actually doing it. Lots of people starting out ask about how long it takes to prepare to be live aboards or cruisers. There is no one answer but this is a quick snap shot of how we did it.  

We had a lot of on-water experience between us from dingies dinghies, canoes and kayaks but no real sailing experience. We started with on-line research and some very good books. Now, I would suggest that you add to that reading blogs and forums but I was much less internet aware back then! This first bit probably took us about 6 months.

Brown skin-on-frame kayak with 3 young children on river

Then Mark managed to win a competition. The prize was an RYA start sailing course being help held in January 2009. So we went on the weekend training course, driving down the motorway with snow lining the verges, wondering what we were letting ourselves in for. We started off in Falmouth, Cornwall spending the first night on a pontoon in the middle of Truro River and the second night on a mooring buoy on the Helford river. The instructor was really nice and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Even though there was hail flying horizontally through the air at times, the magic of the stillness, the exhilaration of the speed and the excitement of the wildlife completely sold us on sailing. At that point we looked at each other and said yes to changing our lives completely.

Sailing school yacht on floating pontoon, flat water

Skipper at the wheel

White bow with furled white sail, grey sea and sky

Me at wheel, grinning. Wearing winter hat and gloves

Beautiful peaceful creek, blue calm water, empty moorings

Wave foaming beside boat taken from cockpit

Once home again we started planning how we were going to do this. We found an off-line theory course and spent evenings learning about rules of the road, navigation and meteorology. The next phase was to get a small boat that we could start learning the practical side on. We ended up travelling the width of the country in order to look at and buy the boat that was to become ours. She was 17 foot and in a bit of a state with green stuff growing all over her. Buying a doer-upper meant that she was affordable. She taught us a lot about boat maintenance inside and out. There was months of tough work that needed to be done to the hull and the bolts and then there was fun stuff decorating the inside.

Small blue hulled boat on trailer behind car

Close up of green growth on portlight

Close up of moss growing on trailer

We found out the best toys to take on a small boat to make the time pass by when all else is somehow not exciting enough (Lego, it is Lego without the shadow of a doubt) and we took her out and we learnt about handling a boat. We put all our theoretical knowledge of weather, tides and sailing to the test. We found out about ourselves and how we could manage a boat. We learned to make sure you have the boat keys with you before you tow her for two hours to the sea, we learned that sleeping 2 adults, 3 children and a dog in a 17 foot boat is not comfortable and we learned that we all loved it. We felt that feeling when you turn off the engine and all you can hear is the creak of timber and the waves passing along the hull. That made any final doubts go away and we knew that this was what we wanted to do. This was probably about 18 months from planning to travel.

Blue sky, blue sea,

Three young children in cockpit of boat

Kate floating on a mooring at Weymouth

The next stage was to find a boat right for us to all live on and travel in and this but was more complicated and took a lot of internet searching. What is perfect is very personal and when compromises need to be made you need to be sure what you are prepared to compromise on and what is vital for you. We found a boat down in Cornwall which was quite a trek from Somerset but it could have been worse. I've heard of people travelling half way across the world to look at a boat they are interested in. After a couple of trips, lots of talking, some formal document signing and the dog being sick all over the galley (kitchen) carpet she was ours.

A familiar picture! Golden retriever smiling at the camera

At the point we moved on board we were probably about three years from starting to plan. The way we did it worked for us and the life we had. It also took into account the children's ages, school years, our careers and our wider families. These will differ for everyone so I have only included time as an 'in case you were interested' not as an instruction. The most important things we found were lots of planning and learning as much as possible.

Our pre-travelling learning:

2 day RYA Start Sailing course

RYA Day Skipper theory course (off line. Many, many evenings!)

1 day RYA Radio course

1 day RYA Family sea survival course

On the water experience

If you are planning your own adventure I hope this has been useful. We are happy to answer any other questions if we can help, just give us a shout.

* Blogging with Integrity. Edited 28/1/19 to correct spelling mistakes (errors crossed through). Note to self, don't post late at night!