Sunday, 15 April 2012

Our beach holiday'

Coming in to the marina at the end of a long day, the combination of wind and current resulted in us hitting the pontoon, normally you would expect a dent or scratch from this but the discovery of damp, rotten wood inside showed how we managed to bite a chunk out of the bow. This could have been the end of the boat and the end of our adventure. With a hole in the front of the boat needing repair and no idea of the extent of the rot or therefore the enormity of the task, drastic action was required. The kindness of the people of Aber Wrac’h was amazing, people really went out of their way to help us and support us in so many ways. We were told about a beach around the corner from the marina further enquiries sorted it all out and with help from a berthing master in his work boat - who amongst other things convinced the canoe instructor move his group of children to a different pontoon out of the way of our turning boat – within a couple of days we moved around the corner and gently grounded on the beach, effectively turning ourselves into a very large beach hut until Mark could assess and hopefully repair our home.

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. This meant that for the first 10 days we were effectively marooned on the beach knowing that even if the repairs went unbelievably quickly we would not be able to refloat until the tides rose again. After a while we began to look forward to refloating to reduce the strain on the boat. The day came, repairs would still take another few days, no problem we thought, we would just remain anchored off and Mark could carry on working between tides. As the bigger tides came, so did the wind. We spent a few sleepless nights, tweaking ropes and anchor chains, watching the slipway to one side of us and the wall in front hoping that we would not end up being put back down on a rock or so far up the beach we could be stuck for over a year!

Of course if you are under the age of 10 then it’s just all part of the adventure. Finding crabs and eels outside your front door, using the dingy, playing in the canoe. The treasure egg hunt on Easter day had an added dimension of digging on the beach, the boys were thrilled to find buried gold (chocolate) coins along with the next clue. Even the sloping floor was great for car games and they learned to put pencils and crayons sideways on the table and there were always lots of volunteers to lift or lower things in the bucket on a rope to Daddy whether it was tools or a cup of tea.

Living on the beach meant a few minor adjustments. We have large water tanks which give us cold running water through a pump tap in the kitchen but before we ran onto the beach we had to make sure that the tanks were nearly empty to reduce the weight at the front of the boat. After a few days that water – as predicted – ran out leaving us using our old camping water barrel which can be wheeled to the nearest tap every few days and decanting a bit at a time into a smaller jug for use, a bit of a palaver and it occasionally involved waiting for the rain to stop before anyone went out on deck to fill the kettle up, but at least we had access to water.

Thanks to the kindness of the marina, we were able to still use their showers, toilets and washing machine but as it was a fair distance, and at high tide a short dingy ride, it was obviously not practical to rely on the toilets. Mark took out the sea toilet as one of the priority jobs when we moved on board (it turned out that our suspicions were correct and a slightly leaking sea cock let sea water into the bilge each time the flush was worked!) having an enclosed system where all liquid waste/black water is collected and can then be emptied at our convenience has proved to be one of the best decisions we made. Marinas understandably do not allow the use of toilets which flush directly into the water to be used and sitting on a beach out of the water it would be out of the question! Maybe with an adult crew and nearby facilities it would not be an issue but for us with three young children it has made an enormous difference to our comfort on board to have a toilet which can be used whenever it is needed.

We have enough power for basic needs from our solar panels and wind turbine. This means that we can run lights, a small fan in the toilet and have enough power left to run the DVD player – obviously an essential, especially on rainy days! We also have a gas cooker and hob for cooking. The main thing missing is a heater which can be safely used with three children and a dog wandering around inside a wooden boat. We do have a small gas heater which is OK at meal times when everyone is sat down or in the evenings once they have all gone to bed, however the weather was smiling at us most of the time and the days were beautifully sunny, even if the mornings and evenings have been a little chilly, the electric fan heater was definitely one of the things I missed the most.

At low tide we could get on and off the boat easily using the boarding ladder on the back, the dog is very patient at being slung over a shoulder and carried up and down ladders, many times we have been grateful she is quite dinky. When the tide was in however life became more complicated, at certain states of the tide it was possible to wade in wellies (now known as the green tenders!) at other times it required the dingy. Both Mark and I got wet feet returning at times when errands took longer than planned and came back to find the water just slightly higher at the last bit than our wellies. The dog was completely baffled by this, one evening I found her stood looking over the back at the water as if to say – but I walked along there earlier… Each time someone got on the boat a bit more of the beach came with them covering the deck in muddy footprints and the cockpit rug in sand, we may have to declare that we are carrying some of France with us when we finally get to Spain.

As with all building work the whole house was affected. Our bedroom became an obstacle course as kitchen supplies took up residence to shift weight more centrally, the cockpit became a second workshop, large items such as deck chairs and the anchor chain normally stored in the locker which was part of the repair had to be temporarily re-homed and sheets of plywood had to be stored inside somewhere. Combined with the sloping floor caused by being on stilts rather than floating on water, getting around proved interesting at times, the dog kept getting stuck in the kitchen and cooking was certainly a new experience, once again Greg Wallaces’ assertion that ‘cooking doesn’t come tougher than this’ was called into question. 

There were positive days when the repair went well, less optimistic days when weather stopped work or it just didn’t go right but it’s now repaired, it looks fine and is certainly stronger than it was. We were lucky with where we found the rot – we were safe in a marina not going round Portland Race or anywhere like that, there was somewhere to do the work and we had wonderful support from everyone here and at home. So now it’s onwards, see where we end up and what adventure is waiting for us next.

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