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One Year In

Today has been a pretty similar day to that one year ago, when we left our home of 8 years to move aboard our sailboat- errands and boat jobs. Granted, this morning I was taken to and from shore in the dinghy by Dave and the boys in what they nicknamed the ‘Naked Taxi Service’ (the boys wore only life-jackets), rather than travelling by car, and today’s main and ultimately unsuccessful errand was to find somewhere to book Hector’s routine childhood vaccinations using my limited Spanish, rather than last year’s measuring up for storage baskets, but there are parallels. Arthur is feeling a bit under the weather, so, although excited about our ‘boat birthday’, he’s not been up to much other than relaxing aboard, reading, painting, and so on. We think we’ll make more of our ‘first sail’ anniversary in a few days as an alternative.

I wrote a blog post about the first few days after our move last year- checking and rechecking every item we’d packed; saying goodbye to the home we’d made, where we brought our first child to, delivered our second child, prepared for our wedding and held our wedding breakfast; Dave and I each driving a fully laden car to the boat in Grimsby; and those initial days full of excitement and frustration trying to stow our remaining possessions and plan our first few sails.

Would we go back and change anything? Of course!

Would we choose not to leave, knowing what we know now? Most definitely not!

I don’t miss the house. The memories we made aren’t limited to its presence in our lives. We have these memories, and photographs, and can keep our memories alive through conversation. It’s not always easy- a house did give us some freedoms that I do miss. I could open the doors and the boys were free to roam in safety for hours- no cars, travel, transport of any sort. On a boat, at least with children the age of ours, there is always some level of parental involvement necessary- in a marina, pontoon use must be more heavily supervised, and opportunities are more limited. And the boys miss having mud and grass on the doorstep (mostly mud, but they certainly made the most of it when we visited Rabat!). At anchor, the dinghy must be loaded, life-jackets donned, bags, etc. packed. Surprisingly for me, it can feel a bit less relaxed than a house, despite having nature on our ‘boat-step’ 24/7.

That apart, I’m glad that we embraced this opportunity. Some might say we haven’t travelled especially far. We often hear that we are ‘travelling the world’ or get asked ‘are you circumnavigating?’. The fact that, a year in, we have sailed as far as many British holiday makers fly for their annual holiday may be a surprise, or even a disappointment, for some. But it quickly became clear to us that racing between or skipping destinations to make progress didn’t suit us. The boys, especially Arthur, were becoming annoyed with leaving a place almost as soon as we arrived, and sea-sickness made longer journeys and those against the wind unpleasant. Just as when we travelled in Canada by RV a couple of years ago, we found that embracing a slower pace, not attempting to see everything and being flexible with our plans worked for us. The experience is far more valuable to us than clocking up nautical miles or increasing the distance from the UK we have travelled.

 

This approach has allowed us to see far more places than I expected we would, and by being prepared to progress slowly we have avoided disappointment with frequent stops, and had some nice surprises! An auto-pilot failure in the night when Dave was mostly single-handing meant we diverted to Figueira de Foz– an interesting flea market and Christmas fair with a great atmosphere were on the doorstep, which was brilliant when sailing had detached us a little from the Christmas build up we usually experience in the UK. Avoiding a long passage between Porto and Lisbon allowed us to visit São Martinho do Porto, a beautiful location with a great beach, friendly locals (see our post about the area), and the added first of frost on the decks when we woke! Hanging around the Ria de Formosa area longer than first planned gave us opportunities to explore its wonderful and unique islands and sand bars, and the boys loved beaching the boat. If we could have our time again I think we would all choose to stay longer and perhaps even arrange maternity care in Spain/Portugal to allow this. Rota was also a great ‘accidental’ find after diverting there when sailing to Rabat, rather than forcing ourselves to sail through sea-sickness.

On the subject of Rabat– this is probably one of our family favourites. So culturally different from the Europe we have seen, the boys were immediately fascinated by the call to prayer, which then became a normal part of our days there. The medinas, especially that in Sale, had a real community atmosphere, full of colour, conversation, scents and tradition. With the marina being well-situated, the staff friendly and the prices reasonable, there was plenty to recommend it. If ‘natural’ or less medicalised maternity care had been easier to find there, we probably wouldn’t have left until after Hector was born (incidentally we heard of a Doctor specialising in these areas, based in Sale, a few weeks ago).

With these experiences comes challenge. We may not have travelled as far as the Caribbean, but as a family we have overcome some pretty tough tests. Living together in close-quarters for a year; living with fewer possessions; day-to-day chores and living without ‘essentials’ such as a washing machine and unlimited fresh water; sailing and being willing to sail again after severe sea-sickness (see our entry on the aborted passage from the Ria de Formosa to Rabat!); our first passage longer than 2 days, including being able to cook and eat ‘real’ food underway (see Rabat to La Graciosa). The boys are showing such resilience. They haven’t complained about sea-sickness- if you ask, they tell you if they feel sick or not, matter-of-factly, but they haven’t moaned, and they could! They sleep/rest/come on deck and need a bit of TLC. When we arrive after a sea-sicky passage, they eat, drink and are back to themselves, and perhaps say “this passage was a bit sicky, but I did a, b or c. Maybe next time we should sail when it’s flatter”. Problem solving too!

In an effort to keep this post from becoming too long, I’ll try to summarise some advice below for anyone planning something similar. And to give our best bits so far.

Things we have learnt:

  • Give yourself time to prepare the boat before you move aboard, especially if you boat needs work, new additions, etc. We thought we’d have our house ready for selling earlier, giving us time to work on the boat. The reality is we completed our house just before leaving, and those boat jobs are ongoing as we live aboard and travel. This eats up our time for other things and it is harder to find some materials, etc. away from the UK. If we sail for more than two years it’s not so much of an issue, but with a limited time-scale it almost seems silly to do some jobs!
  • Sailing against the wind is no fun. We spent most of UK sailing doing this, and some passages since. We all feel sick to some extent and it’s slow going, and generally not such exciting sailing. Plan routes and timings, where possible, to avoid this if you find it bothers you.
  • With this in mind- try not to rush, and don’t plan to meet friends/family in certain places at specific times. That’s something nearly every cruiser we have met has done, regretted, and refuses to do again. It forces you to sail when you otherwise wouldn’t, and places pressure/stress on you to meet deadlines- aren’t we trying to avoid that?! Suggestions include choosing a location but being vague about dates; or choosing dates but with two or three potential locations. Aim to be somewhere far in advance if the date and location are fixed so you have leeway for delays, boat problems, etc.
  • If you have kids, you will likely be slower sailing than you might expect or than you may have sailed in the past. We reef far before we need to on many occasions because we are often single-handing and don’t want to be caught out. Slow is better than stressed parents or potential danger.
  • Listen to your kids (difficult sometimes when you have weather and seasons, as well as family visits, to plan around). Know if they need a break from continual travel. Know if they don’t like somewhere or something you’re doing. Talk about their ‘old’ life and new life to gauge how they’re doing. Help them understand sailing doesn’t have to be forever if they really dislike it, or it could be longer term if you can find ways to make it happen.
  • Stop thinking about ‘the next place’. Appreciate where you are and don’t worry about where you are missing. Moving on could be great, but it might not be worth it. I was so keen to have a longer time in Rabat that we left Isla Cultara, Arosa, etc. etc.. We’re currently moving through the Canaries and there are many places we’d hope to see, but squeezing them in means we sometimes have to move on despite having found somewhere we all love.

Best bits. This is tough. Posts for locations and longer passages tell of the bigger things. But it is often the smaller things that make it special, make us laugh when we look back. Here’s a few:

  • Arthur loved Wells and Culatra. Wells particularly because it sells ‘English style fish and chips’! and Culatra because we beached the boat there. Living on a boat is more fun than a house, especially the trampolines, and internal sitting area. He also likes seeing the through deck fittings on the ceilings! Seeing dolphins and looking out for spurts of water that might be whales, and big flocks of seabirds/plummeting that might be a sign of shoals of fish.
  • Rabat generally- we’re looking forward to trying some other areas of Morocco in the next few months, either by sea or land.
  • Dolphins! Especially diving through 4-6m waves during our longest passage. Such an amazing spectacle that makes ‘Blue Planet’ seem all the more real! I saw a whale from a distance too! Being immersed in nature generally, and experiencing the power of the sea and wind, each day- sitting/pacing in the cockpit/on deck as the sun goes down with baby Hector is an especially precious time, so peaceful, giving you a real connection with the world around you.
  • The little things the boys do each day that amaze, amuse or frustrate- the ‘funny sounding Eberspcher’ song they made up about our heater to the tune of the ‘feller-buncher’ song from Truck Tunes (see You Tube for Truck Tunes); the stage Arthur went through assuming every child we met/saw also lived aboard a boat- “maybe that boy’s boat is a monohull and heels over”; the games they invent together and how these evolve; their interest in all things ‘boat’, especially Arthur’s pride whenever he helps Daddy with a job- ‘octopus’ cleaning of the engine, painting our birth; their bickering/fighting in confined spaces and ingenious negotiations or justifications for each incident; how they turned part of the deck into a slide onto the trampolines, and now take their own water to lubricate (our non-slip decks are currently rather slippy!).
  • Oh yeah – and welcoming Hector to the family 🙂

And so to the next year…maybe Morocco, The Gambia and Senegal? Who knows. It’ll be fun finding out.

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