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

Friday, 31 July 2020

A wishing tree, some barnacles and slate reefs

When I submit pictures to Shutterstock I often do bits of research to make sure that the key words are suitable and there is a good variety. These means that I can end up finding out all sorts of things about something that I took a picture of just because I liked the look of it.

Last year we had a week away in Exmoor, Somerset which was lovely. Whilst there we visited Glen Lyn Gorge, Lynmouth (just over the border in Devon). It’s a fascinating place and we enjoyed playing with the water sprayers and studying their very interesting displays. Up in the woods, we found some trees with lots of coins hammered into them that looked like they had been there a very long time. I took some pictures of them and it has taken me until this week to edit and upload them. I did the usual searches and digging around and it turns out that this is an ancient custom in Britain of hammering coins into certain trees, often using local stone to force the coin into the wood, to bring good luck. They are known as wishing trees and it turns out there are similar things in many cultures. Some of the coins in this trunk had completely delaminated presumably because they had been there such a long time.


Close up of trunk with coins

Some searches I end up doing have a more technical focus, especially when I want to know something like the classes and phylum a barnacle belongs to (!). Another sciency thing I end up looking up fairly frequently is geological terminology as we have lots of interesting rock formations around here along the coastline. I end up with keywords like recumbent, igneous and strata to describe the fascinating folds and ridges created by hundreds of thousands of years of Earth's activity.

Barnacles on a rock

The South Devon coast is rocky and deeply folded. There are lots of little coves - meaning social distancing is very easy with a bit of local knowledge - and there are lots of rock pools. The coastlines slate reefs stretch out into the sea and are home to some extraordinary creatures. This week is national marine week, run by the Wildlife Trusts to celebrate everything marine. 

Amongst the online activities organised is a citizen science project to identify sealife including non native species such as Pacific oyster, Chinese mitten crab, wireweed and slipper limpets. The RYA also do a lot of work through their Green Blue project encouraging people to take steps to reduce the introduction and spread of non native species in order to protect the delicate balance of our oceans.

Rock pool

This time of year we see lots of jellyfish drifting on the currents. We have seen Compass and Moon jellies and I find them fascinating. They look so delicate but have been around since before the dinosaurs and can be found all over the globe so they must be far more robust than they look. We also get lots of cuttlefish, bass, mullets, octopus, egrets and importantly eel grass which is rapidly declining around Britain's coast.

Plymouth Sound in Devon is a natural harbour used as a port since at least the bronze age. It is a large body of water and has recently been announced as one of the first national marine parks and there are many exciting plans and ideas to support and protect the hundreds of species of marine life supported there. Hopefully many of these will be successful and lead to a greater engagement with and the protection of our seas.

looking across water at slate cliffs lying in different directions with red and white day marker in front
Rocky coastline


Tuesday, 14 July 2020



Dinghy: A smaller boat used as a tender or life boat to a larger boat.

T/T: Recognised by many around the world as shorthand for 'tender to'.


A tender is important on a boat and has many roles. Whether it is loaded with dirty washing to take to the nearest laundry or a picnic to take to the beach it is part of boat life.

In the tender to Tarquilla, we've hung over the sides looking at a sea bed littered with star fish in Cameret, we've used it to do the shopping. We've collected visitors and brought them to the boat and we've nudged onto beaches to explore new places. We’ve had birthday parties in Devon where we’ve loaded up the dinghy with bar-b-q food and children. We've used it to get around, as a safety boat for children on kayaks and to just mess around with friends.

Finding a remote and empty beach in Devon, only accessible from the water

3 children in a red dinghy on water with boats in back ground
Bobbing around in the old Avon dinghy (Gijon, Asturias)

The tender is a work horse too. A means of getting to land if you are drying out, moored or anchored. This makes something reliable and stable essential to avoid being trapped on the boat in poor weather.

Catamaran on mooring bouy
Marooned if you don't have a tender (Camaret, France)

One of my favourite things is coming into land in a dinghy. I still get excited as the boat nudges the shore, even if it is somewhere I am familiar with.

3 children in small wooden boat approaching land
Land Ahoy!

Our old Avon has travelled any miles and been patched up many times. It was grey when we first had it then we painted it red as part of a general overhaul when we were in Brest. It has a really solid wood transom to attach the outboard to which is great but makes the whole thing really heavy and awkward to move. It also couldn't be stored in the davits because it sagged in the middle and didn't have any hanging points.

grey dinghy with row of 3 children on pontoon dangling feet into boat
The old Avon in original grey

We decided this year that it was a good time to change our dinghy. After some internet research and once the chandlers reopened, we headed into town to pick up our new tender.

Small dinghy racing across body of water with city in background
Sea trails of the new dinghy (River Plym, Devon)

Waiting to be swung in the davits

The new dinghy is a Highfield 340. It has an aluminium hull and inflatable tube sides. It is lighter to move around on land and hangs nicely in the davits. It's plenty big enough for what is now effectively 5 adult-size crew and a dog plus whatever else we want to take with us. A padded seat and more storage are very nice.

3 boys and a dog in a dinghy, green land and cliffs behind
Out on the water

It handles swell and waves well and feels really stable on the water. It rows well and is comfortable to travel in. We're very pleased with it and have enjoyed several trips in it already. Hopefully we will get many years use out of this new tender.

Out on the water

At one point we had a pretty wooden dinghy with a mast that the crew built. It looked nice and was fun but didn’t sail well. It was pretty bulky, taking up a lot of space and was difficult to get onto the davits because of its weight. It would also then fill up with rain water making it even heavier. There are many things to consider when looking at what is a practical dinghy for your needs.

Scarlett, wooden dinghy

The size of tender a boat needs is down to the size of the crew as much as anything. Once you have loaded people and things in, an inflatable dinghy can very quickly become overburdened.

A couple of other important things to consider:

1. Cover your baguettes else they will get spray on them and get wet.

Shopping run (Lezardrieux, France)

2. If you are drying out keep an eye on where the dinghy is as the tide comes in. If it has drifted under the hull it can get trapped (luckily she escaped from this with just some barnacle scrapes).

Dinghy half trapped under catamaran on water
Oh dear (Aber Wrac'h, France)

3. Always have a spare means of motion such as oars in case of engine problems, thick weed or shallow water. We have used ours many times.

Note the oars fastened to the side ready for use

4. Always carry a means of calling for help whether it is a radio or mobile.

black dog in lifejacket hanging over edge of dinghy moving through water
Sea dog enjoying the ride

We're looking forward to lots of summer fun in the new tender and some interesting exploring. I expect we'll be posting pictures of some more pretty scenes.

3 children sillhouetted in small boat on water
Homeward bound

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