The next three months….

The next three months became ten, during which all the necessary ducks lined themselves up to transform our voyaging adventure back into the routine of work, school and living for the weekend.  Hence no posts!  We are doing all the things that working families do the world over, we just happen to live in a boat.  Our childcare, like all childcare, is as grueling as any challenge the sea could crash upon us. The last nine months have been a seemingly never ending parenting rollercoaster ride of feeding, cleaning, entertaining, teaching, painting, cleaning, guarding, cleaning, did I say cleaning? It takes everything from us (the adults).  There is little left at the end of the day.  Usually, we fall asleep with the girls bouncing around our heads, we prop one eye open as we mutter like drunkards to each other ‘can they get out, can they get out?’ Why did no one tell me? Parenting. Is. So. Hard.  Especially on a boat.  Especially this boat.  Especially, our kids.  Pirates.

Anyway, as to the facts; Ben found work in a large boatyard, managing the woodwork department. He has a company T-shirt, a team, a brand new workshop and lots of machines at his disposal. He seems in his element. There are boats a plenty and lots of rueful beard stroking advisories, despite his initial grumblings about not wanting to be a manager.

What of it…he gets paid! Which means the girls have been nicely installed in their pre-school / nursery – a fantastic Montessori set up.  They have loads of fun and they get to do lots of learning and art and craft and most importantly, make friends.  They have set a few heads turning with their independence and fearlessness. One messy play day was only supposed to involve some blue paint and the hands and feet of any game student. Alfi, one of the youngest pupils, set the pace by dipping her hands in blue paint and then proceeded to smear it all over her naked torso. Olive followed suit and whilst other children looked on telling themselves they must not get dirty, they must not get dirty,  Olive and Alfi insisted on getting as mucky as possible.  This is them at the end of the day, with Suzanne, their head teacher who now calls them her ‘Blue Devils’.

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So Ben at work, kids at school, and me?  Well I suppose it would be easy to assume there lies sand between my toes and a rum punch in my hand. Hear my shrieks ‘oh if only!’ Like all ‘stay at home’ mums (what a misleading phrase) will know, time is short and much has to be squished in to the school day. Supermarket runs, boat chores, cleaning, driving etc..then after school there is no let up…kids to be entertained / fed / kept awake and so on.  But of course there are gaps in the day which I have used to swim swim swim. I was training for a 2 mile swim across the bay.  An organised affair with free swim caps and medics and stewards and so on.  A whole new world for me being used to public pools, overcrowded and over-chlorinated lanes. It was wonderful, I loved it and was just very happy to have finished.

As for Dhanu, she was hauled out in December and plopped back in the water late January. Ben replanked her in parts and gave her bottom a good clean and re paint. It was great to get her back in the water after being on the hard, climbing ladders, lifting children and buckets and so on. Olive was thrilled to find her home was back afloat…

Since then we have been living in the boatyard.  This is an experience that warrants another post altogether.  Suffice to say, depsite the aqua aerobics we do to complete just about any domestic chore, we have just been like any other family.  Living for the weekend. I am thankful that these are filled with waterfall walks, wild empty beaches, swimming in water as clear as crystal, never far from a rum shack or from eating the fruits dripping from the trees. We are lucky though I do feel we have earned it well and are paying the price for these privileges.

The truth is that even with all this at my fingertips, I do admit that I have found life aboard of late, just a wee bit testing. Unfortunately this drives Ben bonkers – he who can withstand anything and never complain. Dhanu; man I love her, but she is what she is.  36ft housing a family of four, two of whom just keep growing.  At sea, she makes great sense.  She is small, sturdy and cosy. She can be sailed easily by one.  She makes a brilliant, not least very pretty, survival pod. However in port the encounter is different.  Space is the issue. As the kids get bigger, the boat does not. Routinely (usually when I bang my head for the millionth time), I found myself remembering my bathroom and washing machine and thinking, hmm…what are we doing again? My monthly audits have become ambiguous in their conclusions. Is this really easier, better, still worth it? Sometimes it is VERY CHALLENGING to live aboard as we do. Imagine camping for two years…that is sort of what we are doing…admittedly in a warm and beautiful place.  I know I could easily continue to forgo modern conveniences (running water, a loo, unlimited power, WIFI) all of them if only for just some more space. An extra cabin would do it…preferably at the other end of the boat to the kids’ cabin. And so as we continue to play Twister by day and  Human Tetras by night, Ben and I and probably the girls too, dream big dreams of a bigger boat…we live in squished hope!

So aside from the fact that we live on a boat you could just about swing a cat in, our life is much like yours, did I mention..minus the conveniences.  When it comes to the kids, we are all slaves to them one way or another.  We have Duracell Bunnies for children. They go on and on and on.  Adult time? Me time? His and my time? I don’t know what that is anymore. Even if we had some, it would be filled with slumber such are our exhaustion levels.  There is a lot to be said for mainstream living, TV, hot water, washing machines, grandma, cousins, friends, babysitters! Need I go on???

Of course I am not complaining, well maybe just a little.  Keeping things in perspective, overall, life is very good. The kids are here, we cant avoid them or get a refund. Nope. Here they are to stay, along with their washing and feeding and entertaining needs. The constancy of their needs is impressive.  But of course they are great company and very funny.  They have a unique approach to life and an honesty that is blatant…’Hey mum’ shouted Olive down the yard – she is very loud – ‘come and look at the fat man!’ as she screamed laughing and pointing to an incredibly rotund cruiser who would have been a robin, had he been a bird. I stiffled my snorting laughter, whist throwing the robin some breadcrumbs dressed up as a parental apology.  Kids, you have to love their truth.

So all in all , the Great Pea Green Boat (& Parenting) Adventure carries on, just in a more obvious and land based way. We know we are giving our kids and ourselves a unique  parenting experience in a beautiful warm place, full of discovery, despite the fact that we get no time off.  And upon the advice of many other parents to older children, I suspect they are right when they say this toddler age is the best.  They are small and funny and affectionate. And we are right by their sides laughing mostly. One day, there will a door in the face), or a ‘whatev’ or worse…right now there is just knackering fun.

As for the girls – what do they think? Well as for their enjoyment of living aboard…from time to time they struggle too…

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At the beach, they never have any fun, tending to keep themselves to themselves…

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As for our adventure, well the adventuring is now all in the mind. Where once there were charts and provisioning lists, now I have questions that drive Ben crazy like ‘what is our Plan?’ and ‘what are we Doing?’ ‘How much would a fridge cost?’  ‘Can we afford a 50ft boat?’ Mostly, we have no answers other than to conclude that our life is pretty straightforward here. Until the UK calls us to heel and only once a Re-Entry Plan emerges, we have no reason to upset our hand to mouth, mango eating existence.

Tata for now…

 

 

 

 

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St Lucia, Bequia, Carriacou

We left Dominica feeling privileged to have anchored in such a wild and beautiful place.  We left bound for Martinque.  It was one of the few passages that actually went to plan, that is, pitstop for one night and move swiftly on in the morning.  That we did. Good job too as it did not look that pretty.  Although our passage there was as unremarkable as the destination, I will always remember it as we arrived there on our 353rd day at sea on which we entered 5004 miles into our log. Woohoo!

The next passage finally took us to St Lucia.  All went well.  We ended up in Marigot Bay.  The plan was for one night only as the onward forecast was good.  Marigot looked gorgeous in the guide. It is the white sandy beached idyll of any holiday brochure.  It is the repository of your hard earned cash.  You can plunge it here whilst slapping on the suncream and admiring a fit rasta as he offers you an over priced drink or joint.  However I’m afraid, I detested it.  It was my idea of hell. The atmosphere physical and otherwise was the end result of 25 years of mass tourism.  Fat pasty cellulite riddened tourists drinking juiced downed cocktails being chatted up by local muscle.  Where I hoped to find a supermarket or vegetable stall, there were only restaurants and bars. There were no tomatoes.  No vegetables. Even the WIFI was rubbish. That first night the big charter catamaran next to us was boarded by a thief and cash was stolen.  I detested it more.

Of course we did not know any of this until after we had dropped the hook. The chain ran off the deck like a stone down a well.  It rocketed down a depth of 40 foot in an instant. Never had we anchored anywhere so deep. Usually, we found ourselves in 20 foot or less. Whilst we were happy that the hook held, Ben was not so happy about having so much chain out. We were in 40 feet with no windlass to help get the chain up. Our muscles winced at the prospect. Then we discovered that the good forecast had changed to a windy forecast.  Small craft advisories suggested no boat go anywhere for several days.  Terrific I thought.  More wind AND trapped in a Disneyland nightmare with not even a fresh vegetable with which I could be happy about.

We woke the following morning to the thorny issue of the anchor.  There would be no getting away in a hurry if need be. The only solution was to re-anchor in shallower water. It was the sensible thing to do and I do have a very sensible captain.  He told me that it would require both of us to pull up the chain.  And so we did.  It was like something out of Hornblower. I am not kididng. Ben said ‘HEAVE’ and together we heaved as the girls screamed from their gated prison below whilst other ‘automated’ yachts wondered what was wrong with our windlass.  Ahemmm.  As it was we got the anchor up and congratulated ourselves whilst the lactic acid tore our muscles apart.  That it took a further hour to re-anchor due to a steep shelf beneath is another story.

In the end we escaped Marigot and ended up 10 miles south, in Soufriere tucked up under the Pitons.  We got ‘stuck’ for 10 days more during which we celebreated a year at sea and rain like never before!  (See Dec 3 post).  Soufriere was entirely different.  There we rubbed shoulders with real (local) people living their everyday lives.  We were free of the madness of Marigot, though not the impact of mass tourism as we were assumed to be wealthy.  There was definitely an edge there.  Initially we were concerned about security.  Even some of the locals referred to robbers and thefts from boats on the other side of the bay but that if we stayed on their side, on their mooring ball, we would be ok.  It was hard to know what to believe and who to believe.  We felt white and rich. (Of course we are! Though the latter fact I struggled to come to terms with as I nestled into my bucket). We were plagued by local kids who paddled out to the boat and hung on to ours asking for biscuits and coca-cola.  Dread locked men with intimidating physiques drove at high speed in their brightly painted wooden boats marking their patch. Yes,  white and puny and a little bit vulnerable were we. The town looked like a western film set. The rum bars had flagstone flooring and 200 year old timbers. Crack addicts asked for money.  Before we could diplomatically say ‘no go away’, local voices quickly and very vocally, swatted them away.  It was an edgy place but inspite of it all, we loved it. I wish I had taken more photos but it just felt wrong.

Our departure from Soufriere, St Lucia was also a night to remember.  We were due to leave on a Saturday.  By Friday afternoon our two day window vanished. Another depression appeared which spelt another week in Soufriere.  As much as we liked it it was time to get going.  Hurricane season was only maturing and we had to get south.  Either we went in the next 12 hours to dodge another tropical wave or we waited another week.  I suggested (not too calmly I might add) that we go right now.  I knew it was reckless and I knew Ben was right to say, no but I was desperate to leave. Unfortunately this ensured my bad mood and Ben’s frustration.  I grumbled my way through the day and tried to find some zen calm but none was to be found.  I went to bed to be woken by Ben in the middle of the night.  He said ruefully that he had been watching the clouds and the sky and that he thought the conditions smelt right.  As he leant into the foc’s’le his bristles tickling my ears, he whispered ‘we can go but we have to go right now.’.  It was 2am, the girls were asleep, the moon was full.  It was perfect.  We untied ourselves from the mooring ball and slipped away like secret mariners curled up like cats in the cockpit staring at the sky.  The moon was full and bright which made the Pitons better than 3D. We sailed away bound for Bequia and bypassing St Vincent.  It was a stunning sail and one that made everything ALRIGHT.  The first decent and forgiving sail we had had since arriving in Antigua all those months ago.

And so we arrived in Bequia where we spent a few days.  Then we pushed South to Carriacou a  deserted quite idyll which we fell in love with. (Grenada and Carriacou are one nation across two islands.  Carriacou lies to the north of Grenada.)  In C arriacou, we dreamed big dreams, Ben could build a boat on the beach whilst I could work in a sail loft on the beach (both possibilities very real and very doable!).  The only problem was the kids and their need for more.

Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

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We could have spent the rest of our lives on Carriacou, but the need to work, earn money and find some kids for the girls took priority (boohoo!).  We also were fatigued after so much time in transit and just had to push on the last 30 odd miles to Grenada.  That we did.

 

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Dominica

Of all the places that stole my heart, Dominica has to be she.

For sure, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  A pristine, clean, undeveloped paradise. Stuffed full of dense ancient rainforest which (bar a bit of small scale subsistence farming) seemed untouched.  She was also easy to access.  We just hired a car and followed the wiggly roads up and down incredibly steep inclines. We stopped where the faces welcome us and let the island steal our breath.

The locals were awesome too.  They did not roll over for us. Quite often we were the show as Olive walked up the street with her dress above her head and Alfi rummaged around in the dirt looking for treasure.  There was an edge.  We were being observed.  But our broad grins and look-em-dead in the eye attitude brought immediate smiles which opened their faces whilst they asked which part of London we were from.  Everyone had an uncle or a cousin there.  We were welcomed.  They said please tell the people about us and come back. They asked why do all the tourists want white sandy beaches? (Unlike most other places in the Caribbean, they don’t have these.) How could I answer that?  If you are into to hiking, trekking, walked all day and finding forest lodgings and then carrying on in the morning…GO TO DOMINICA!

That I frequently found myself gawping at someone whom I convinced myself had to be Idris Elba’s brother or cousin or uncle walking around was also pleasant. They make ’em ‘real bootiful’ there. Including the vegetation! Giant, old,  jaw dropping. We were flabbergasted by the fact that the rainforest is really is untouched. The trees are ladened with fruit which they practically give away. It is a heaven on earth and so saddened were we to hear that within a month of being there and soon after we arrived in Grenada, Hurricane Erica whooshed in and put the country back decades whilst killing twenty people…did you hear about it?  I suspect not…

Portsmouth, Dominica – or ‘Rainbow Island’ if you are Olive…

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Hanging out in town…

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But the real prize; Giant Thick Rainforest (look at puny man)

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The Witches House – Indian River (…a set for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films….)

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Ancient trees…

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Meeting new crawlies on the Indian River

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Recycling at its best!

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This is the free million dollar view…just out of shot was a beaten up much used old sofa facing the sea.

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Dec 3 – Getting here

Aeeeyyyayae. This post is long overdue. I know. Apologies for any frayed nerves from this un-intended radio silence. Many reasons explain it not least the 52 days it took to arrive here (Grenada) from Antigua. Then technical failures – a corrupted hard drive that started deleting our photos and videos; laptop chargers that stopped charging rendering devices useless; mysterious boat battery problems (from little feet stamping on the solar panel? We wonder…) Then of course the perennial quest for easily accessible close-to-the-boat wifi followed by finding child free moments to actually write and so forth. Anyway, enough of these excuses. Here we are, many months on since we last set to sea…..I guess you may be wondering what we have been doing?

Well it is a story of two halves. The first is about just getting here to Grenada. The headlines read something like this…. Novice sailing mum made mad by her debut sailing to windward. Her seasoned sea puppies get sea sick too. Record setting wind stops sailing family in their tracks. Sailing Yacht Dhanu proves again she can endure gale force wind whilst at anchor (just!). Water water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink? Grotty yachties get squeaky clean after rainforests walks, waterfall sploshes and bathing in fresh water pools. Mummy bakes bread whilst daddy looks for hurricane hideouts. Alfi falls in the drink whilst Olive says bonjour, je m’appelle Olive’. All of this really is true.

We left Antigua on June 20th. The journey south took a staggering 52 days on account of rogue winds and lumpy seas. We were not sailing all the time of course, but we were in transit trying to get South. We had thought this would be relatively straight forward. We pencilled in arriving within 30 days allowing us to have a nice easy family amble down island stopping where we liked but wanting to be tucked up out of hurricane alley asap. However every time we left a port bound for as far south as possible, we never made it beyond the next island. Antigua, Guadaloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Bequia, Carriacou, Grenada. 8 islands and 10 ports. We have seen them all! Some ports we were stuck for weeks waiting for calmer seas. 3 weeks in Deshaies, Guadaloupe. 10 days in St Lucia. As tough as all this may not sound, it was, at times, frustrating. We had to arrive in Grenada to be safely beyond the normal reach of any hurricanes. Not all of the islands we pulled in to offered a hurricane hole should one roll through. So it felt a bit like we were playing a marine version of chicken. The common conversation between Ben and I in between peppa pig role play and picking up duplo, involved identifying where was the nearest hurricane hole? How many miles away and in which direction? Ironic that Antigua offered a brilliant one (good enough for Nelson, good enough for us) which only got further away as each mile south was slowly won. All of which added another pressure to the domestic routine of children, washing, cooking etc. Added to that, the longer we were in transit, the more funds depleted. So, hurricane or not, we simply needed to arrive in Grenada to find work and kids for the girls to hang out with. We had to get south and every day we stood still felt like pressure despite the idyllic setting. To cap it all, when we did eventually get sailing, often, it was in difficult unexpected and unforecast conditions. Not least to windward which was the first time for me and the girls in about 5000+ miles. I know now what sailing to windward is about and I can tell you, it is not my favourite activity!

And so what of the sailing? Well the distances involved were totally puny compared to the many miles sailed from the UK. One would be forgiven in thinking that there was no more adventure to be had’post-Atlantic’. That we were living the dream sailing upon calm seas under blue skies in the Caribbean sunshine. Hmm, yes that is what I thought anyway. Wrong.

The inter-island sailing was a completely different kettle of fish. This was day sailing, never logging more than 45 miles. There was always an island dead ahead, or behind or we were in the lee of one. Land was in sight at all times. A blessing in the end given we were finally sailing to windward, or some-where close. Added to this were the weird inter-island gusts and blows which bashed us about. All of which made the Atlantic feel at times, preferable. I am really not joking. Until we were south of Bequia, we did not have balmy Caribbean sailing. It was at times horrid. Wong forecasts and freak weather patterns dumped us in 30 knots and very lumpy seas. Bringing to my chest that crazed flush of fury which demanded to know yet again, why oh why were we doing this ridiculous activity. To cap it all, as the wind and wave ramming increased so vanished the girls rosy cheeked contentment that stood them well for thousands of miles. Their ashen faces and silent mouths foretold of the seasickness that was to follow. As the parental guilt-o-meter soared they both brought it back down by bouncing back very quickly. In fact so fast, I was still cleaning up the mess dripping off me and the good ship Dhanu. Around these moments, Ben and I made decisions swiftly and unanimously…to port, NOW. Even though we knew there we would probably get stuck again, but anything was better than staying out in such conditions in a boat that was wet inside and with children puking. No brainer.
But it was not all bad. Of course not. Once in the lee of an island conditions were calmer and once south of Bequia, we had lovely Caribbean sailing. Which included a night sail as we stole away in the dead of night under a big moon, from Soufriere, St Lucia. That was dreamy. (aside anything else to be alone with Ben, kids snoring…it was awesome).  And of course, we got to see a lot of the Caribbean. We experienced mountains and mangroves. Rainforests that blew us away by their scale and raw untouched beauty. We were dwarfed by vegetation in Land of the Giants proportions. Of ancient trees and crystal clear rivers. Of waterfalls and their surrounding forest which had grown taller than tall forming natural vaulted cathedral like ceilings. Giant ferns. Gigantic bamboo. All around, green life determined to live high and mighty. XXL! Greenness even sprouted out of rocks. Life dripped off the trees. We saw and heard avocados literally thumping to the ground. We gorged on mangoes which were two a penny. The girls had the best diet ever. Bananas, mangoes, starfruit, advocadoes, fresh fish…as fresh as it gets! Zero for a carbon footprint. We even ate almonds off the tree…they grow on trees!

We found ourselves living very elementally. The magic that enabled all that life, the rain. At time, torrential with a capital T. It brought rainbows a plenty and stunning vistas. It topped up the rivers and the waterfalls and the pools in which we bathed. When the heavens opened, we rushed to collect the celestial freebies, gallons and gallons of pure sweet rainwater. Olive now asks before supping from her beaker “mummy, is this rainwater or tank water?’ When the reply is ‘rainwater’, she gulps it back sighing on completion, ‘ahhhh sweeeeeet rainwater’. She is of course, right. It is sweet. In Guadaloupe we found a freshwater pool that was the best bathroom we ever had. Good job as there was not much else to do there other than eat Camembert (it being france) and make the daily hike up river to splash about and get us and our clothes clean.

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In Soufriere, St Lucia as we celebrated one year living aboard and being at sea, 77 mm fell in one day. An entire months rainfall. That our bed was soaked did not matter (wooden boats leak). The deck scud washed away, the tank filled up and our buckets overflowed. The girls went mad slipping and sliding around the deck slapping their tummies like landed seals. They must be British…they seem to love the rain!

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And then there was the wind. At times it howled all around. Rigging humming like a distant drone bomber. In Deshaies, Guadaloupe, where we lay at anchor, the wind got up the day after arriving. We had 6 nervous and tense hours whilst it belted through. We prayed and hoped our anchor would not drag. Dhanu bucked and strained and somehow held whilst 45+ knots of wind beat against her. Ben and I silently waited for a lull so we could move to a mooring ball. Thankfully the lull eventually came but not before the boat next to us, dragged its anchor. We watched, wincing as the skipper used engine and nerve to keep his boat in one place. Whilst I hoped and prayed he wold not hit us! The lull eventually came. We pulled up the hook to find the shackle pin securing chain to anchor was starting to unravel. Unbelievable physical forces at play. Another sailing drama narrowly avoided. But oh what wind. Things flying away. Dinghy flipping, outboard engine dunkings. Flip flops blowing off like dust along with towels or whatever else was not tied down. Even once an entire sail in its bag! Airbourne and off the deck in seconds, destination Panama. (Yes, we know, we know…it should have been tied down. We untied it only to give the girls a crash landing pad for their airbourne deck antics. At the time we thought avoiding a head injury preferable. We didn’t give a second thought to wind so strong it could lift several kilos of heavy folded sail…stupid us).

In amongst all this, was the day to day business of parenting. What to feed the kids? What to do with the kids? How to exhaust them so they slept! How to keep them safe and sound. In Dominica, we had our first man over board experience. Alfi’s indefatigable curiosity at what lurked beneath the dinghy, saw her plop in. Head first. Thankfully we were tied up to a dock and she had her life jacket on. I was surprised at how relatively cool she seemed as her little wet face burst through the surface of the water looking, admittedly, outraged and a bit shocked. We consoled ourselves that at least we know knew we could rely on her life jacket! It was amazing at how quickly it spun her head around and pushed it toward the surface. Thank goodness.

Alfi is proving herself to be physically fearless and in fact, a complete and utter thrill seeker. She will swing off anything, she hangs like a gymnast of our bimini frame as if it were a parallel bar. I had hoped the Dominica dunking may have instilled some fear in her. Not at all. There was another near Alfi overboard antics in St Lucia, but I will save that for another day.

I have written vast amounts about the detail of all the places we visited. But who needs words…

Making it south…bit by bit…

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Approaching Portsmouth, Dominica – it was love at first sight for me.

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Milton Falls, Dominica..quite a hike with a 3 year old stuck to me

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Giant forest – Dominica

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Marigot, St Lucia – not love at first, second or fourth sight

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Soufriere and The Pitons, St Lucia on the other hand…

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Not a happy mummy (apologies for the profanity)…

But it was not all bad…all of the above unhappiness was wiped out in an instant….when it was as it is in the shots below, we felt like the luckiest little boat family alive…living without regrets.

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As for the kids…well all parents know how hard they are.  Especially so young.  Much of my stress comes not from the dare devil stuff, or from living aboard a boat with less convenience than a house.  No the stresses come from the kids. The lack of extended networks (grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, daycare) and the constant unrelenting demands they place upon one! My kids have better batteries than the duracell bunny and they simply go on and on and on and on…when it gets tough this is what becomes of them…they do get early release for good behaviour but thereafter, they are permanently on licence…

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But joking aside, it is not all about detention…they kept us laughing…There was quite a lot of this of an evening…

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And this during the day…

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And I only wish I could remember what prompted this one…

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Tata for now…

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Our Atlantic Crossing – The Movie

You read the epic post – now here is the movie!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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20th May

Newsflash! We are living in a house! Complete with coast views, dogs, cats and wild horses that wander casually in to the garden. It does feel a little bit like cheating but the prospect of a 6 week house sit with a running water supply, a bathroom, WIFI, washing machine, two separate bedrooms (WITH DOORS!) and a car was too great and convenient to ignore. So here we are high up on a hill in a house through which the wind blows. It is brilliant to have space and height and all mod cons…

We are so high up. The road up here could be mistaken for solidified dribble left by an earthquake. Thankfully (and necessarily), a couple of 4 wheel drives were thrown in.  So dinghy swapped for Rav4, life jackets for seat belts. The perilous hill is teaching us how to 4 wheel drive. When in doubt Olive is on standby to sing out where the tricky bits are…literally ‘here comes the tricky bit mummy.’ But the way is worth the elevated living, awesome views and space to breath and just think. Once the girls are tucked up, Ben and I sit on the verandah drinking beer talking about how we want to live the rest of our lives…we are formulating A Plan.

The girls are loving it. Pick up trucks; the perfect playpen.

And then there is the space, doors to bang, animals to make friends with. Olive loves calling the cats for lunch whilst Alfi steals handfuls of their food which she really enjoys stuffing fistfuls of it in her gob.  Both girls are obsessed with the fridge.  If they aren’t trying to open it or climb into it, they simply stare up at it like a White God. I do too whilst trying not to think about how they will possibly go back to life aboard.  No fridge.  No bathroom. No cold anything.  At least the verandah is teaching Alfi of a space greater than 36 foot which I am convinced will see her walking by the time we move out.  I feel like Meryl Streep’s character in Out of Africa as I gaze down over scrub and palm trees. All in all we are living Jolly Well.

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Alfi’s breakfast view

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Pooh with a view (sorry, snigger snigger…)

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Our neighbour is a rastaman who we see on horseback, leading foals around on bits of rope. All bouncing locks and muscles…man and beast. Then we see his army of rasta kids who run around the area all bouncing locks and bare chests too. Wild horses saunter into the garden with an air of entitlement and absolutely no fear of us or anyone else.

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Also it is pretty cool how the house is nearly self sufficient.  It relies on the rain for water and solar power for electricity.  The mosquitoes however are very uncool.  In the first week nothing we did seem to defend us from repeated grievous assaults metered out indiscriminately.  A shock as the little critters are so absent from the boat. We seem to be winning the battle now, armed with bazookas of chemical sprays, coils and the good old net, but the first week saw major chemical warfare and left the girls looking like pox survivors and us sleepless and a bit haggered.

Nonetheless the girls continue to have an awesome existence, if only they knew, running around the ‘estate’, playing with the animals, going to new beaches and hanging out in cars.

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But it is not all play play play.  No. We are getting stuff done.  Making use of the WIFI and the washing machine, the power supply and the space.  We are currently making a deck awning for the boat with a sail given to us by the local sail loft. At last we will have a cooler boat! Ben did all the cutting and measuring and I pieced it all together and stitched it up. It is a far cry from taking up hems but I am loving it.

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So here we sit, playing house for a few more weeks whilst making and hopefully saving some coin. Then south south south we head. I am so excited at the prospect of voyaging again. Guadaloupe, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, then Grenada to sit out the hurricane season. Can’t wait, can’t wait. Until then, then…

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10th May – Racing and cricket

This is what has been happening in the last month. A week after arriving, Ben started work at Woodstock Boatbuilders. A company set up by his boss, an Englishman who arrived 25 years ago aged 17 with a bag of tools. Ben is working on restoring a 44 foot racing sloop built in New York in 1945. I think he is pretty much in his element. We are making cash which we then spend. It’s a great easy existence. The girls started nursery. Then a few weeks later, Classics Race Week and the cricket began. Somehow the race committee decided to very generously admit Dhanu into Antigua Race week. So we took a few days off work and chores. As all participants were allowed free dockage in the marina, we pulled up the hook and went and docked alongside the great and the grand (not to mention, unspeakably wealthy) boats. Race week ran from Wednesday to Sunday with racing everyday from Thursday.

I’ve never raced. Anything really. Not least a yacht. So to have been able to participate was a real buzz. The experience being as welcome as it was bizarre. As we left the registration process at the yacht club, arms full of ‘free stuff’, t shirts, caps, a vintage bottle of rum, I did scratch my head and wonder how this grubby family of four from Devon had ended up in such a rarefied atmosphere. A thought brought squarely to the fore in the moment that Olive decided to do some rebel weeing on the floor of the yacht club during registration.

We were berthed in a very public spot. Right in the middle of the marina. Outside the marina office in fact. There for all to see. It was not always nice being so on display after the relative privacy of the anchorage. Where oh where could I hang nappies and knickers to dry discreetly? We did try and clear up the deck, but the clutter of children is not easy to hide on a 36 foot boat, outside or in. In the end, I accepted our role and jested with onlookers that we were the working family boat, not a show boat. (As if these things were not very obvious, given our lack of sheeny shine, varnish, gleaming chrome or crew). Nonetheless Dhanu’s pretty appeal must have spoken as loud as her snazzy sisters next door, as she still seemed to attract attention. Although I suspect it was the little sweaty kids swinging off the rigging that got them staring.

Anyway that aside, the aesthetic wonder of the regatta was obvious. Drop dead gorgeous beautiful boats. Mostly made of wood, but if not then constructed in the spirit of traditional boats. Some small, many big (100ft+). Some stunningly vast. Some privately maintained, others by way of paid professional crew. Crew identified by T-shirts bearing the name and diagram of the boat. Imagine terribly posh and glamorous ‘its a knockout’. Dhanu had no crew t-shirts on account of having no crew…no other boat had less crew.

Every morning we woke to find a bag of complimentary croissants and orange juice on deck. As we munched our way through them wondering again how it had come to this, we could see and feel the buzz and hum of activity as other boats prepared to race. Pristine sails were unfolded and refolded. Decks cleared. Things polished to gleaming point. All the while we sprawled out in our cockpit in the searing airless heat sweating and wondering what we would do with our day. ‘Are you racing today?’ we were asked. ‘No, not today’ came our reply. The truth was we were only interested in one race. The Cannon. Which was a 20 mile race involving a beam reach up and down a 5 mile stretch with no sailing to windward. The course was a straight line, south and back and then repeated. We wanted to do that race if only to be able to easily see the glory of the other boats under sail. Also the wind was pretty strong throughout race week, 20 knots plus. Too much for this little family boat. The Cannon was not until Saturday. So until then we hung out, watched the boats go and return. Heard the stories of wind and speed. One day, the boat berthed near us came back with skipper and crew looking concerned and a bit stressed. They had t-boned another boat and brought down her mast! This is racing I was told..ouch. No one hurt other than the owner’s wallet of the dismasted boat. They had just bought her and were yet to set foot on her soon after race week. How annoyed would you be!

Every evening there were complimentary nibbles and drinks in the sponsors tent in the marina. Wonderful we thought as we pilfered as much as we could knowing that if we did,we did not need to cook for the kids that night. Ben and I would tag team to and from the tent trying to sneak out as many tiny plastic plates of food to bring back to the chirping mouths of our young…whilst looking the rich and able squarely in the eye. Well, they weren’t even eating the food so what was wrong with a little Robin Hooding…?

Anyway, of course we could not race as there was international cricket to go and see. West Indies v England. Day four, first test in Antigua. So we hopped in a cab and headed for the Sir Viv Richards Stadium. The girls wore their Indian War Feathers ready for action.

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We entered the stadium shortly before England declared and then we got to see the WI bat. We were sat in the north stand below the commentary box, mainly surrounded by West Indians supporters. The stands were not full. But the voices were loud and unapologetic and musical. The girls crawled around and made friends with local kids. They were getting up to mischief the moment we sat down. I hardly watched the cricket, too busy fielding kids and soaking up the spectators. Olive was removed several times by strong polite security women as she climbed up to see the pitch. I cant blame her clambering for a better view. You realise how spoilt you are with TV coverage. I saw more cricket on the screen than with my own eyes. The players just looked like tiny legomen running about a green bit. Not that it mattered, just being there was fun.

I loved the fact that the old fashioned score board was still in action beneath the giant screen, the emblem of technology. Whereas the scoreboard, replete with strong looking round women with number tiles in hand, reminded me there are some things technology will never be able to beat.

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This one is for VOD – mum, Sir Viv…

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Come Saturday and we were ready for the Cannon. The bilges had been cleaned. Stuff stored away. Deck cleared. Finally we were racing. Due to our age (1969) we were placed in a class with Whitehawk. Whitehawk, a wooden classic. 105 foot. Winner of everything including this year’s Classics (and I think many preceding years too). Terrific. There was no chance of us winning anything. Not that we cared, as my mum always said ‘It is not the winning it is the taking part’. There have been many times in my life when I questioned her logic, race week was not one of them.

The scale of Whitehawk (see clip below) and others, Rainbow, Elena is unfathomable. Vast teak decks that surge forward like motorways. Jib sheets (sail ropes) the size of my arm, mooring lines the thickness of baguettes. Coach rooves that go on and on…multiple hatches to enter the boat. Millions of crew, all depersonalised in their identical crew t-shirts. One can only imagine the cabin and the size of things below. Whilst being awestruck by these stunning vessels, so too was I dumbfounded by the implicit wealth that bore them. A wealth that must be obscene and incredible and aloof. The privileged nature and elite exclusivity of it, I had to try to ignore. It represented not even a fraction of a fraction of most people’s reality. To think that private individuals owned these boats…if this was their boat what was their home like? And yet most of the people truly enjoying them seem to be the crew and others…anyway I will save all that slightly bitter, lopsided chippiness commentary about spoilt rich people for another day…and about my own wonky prejudices about them! Especially as there we were slap bang in the middle of it all. Trying not to squeal with excitement at the free croissant, or free drinks etc…hypocrite? Me? Anyway, here is a flavour of the quay…check out our competitor, Whitehawk.

So we headed out. The wind was fresh and the sea was bouncy and made confused by the wake of the boats ahead of us. Oh yes. Everyone was ahead of us. They came and passed us and went and then lapped us! It really did not matter. We were not in race mode. We sailed under number 3 jib and had two reefs in the main! This is like being on a formula one race course poottling along at 50mph whilst everyone else lets rip. We comforted ourselves that given the conditions, wee ones on board and a lack of crew, this did not matter. Despite our sail set up, downwind we were still doing 7 knots! Olive immediately retired to the foc’s’le in a grump. Alfi fell asleep in her carseat. She was on the windward side raised up high as the boat heeled over…she did not bat an eyelid.

Meanwhile, Ben and I gazed on in complete jaw dropping awe as the likes of Rainbow (130 foot J class) and Elena (130 foot Hereschoff) sped past. We didn’t even see Whitehawk so fast was she! Check out Rainbow followed by Elena. To watch them up close sent me a bit giddy…hence my gooey commentary…

This is Ben getting us into lightning form….we did try…

But as we were completing our first lap, Alfi seemed to have turned a pale grey. A minute after noticing this she puked a large amount. Odd we thought. 4500 miles of strong conditions largely downwind, no seasickness and one race on a choppy sea, and bam. Puke everywhere. As we cleared this up, we heard Whitehawk over the radio declaring they had finished the race (they had done 20 miles in the time it took us to do 10!). So whilst I wrung out Alfi pukewater from another shirt-become-rag we decided to call it a day. When your kids are puking, you can’t keep racing…anyway we were never going to win and had seen all the boats and had our needs met. We’d had a great day out. So we radio’d the committee boat to confirm our movements ‘sick child, heading in, our race over’. Once back we were declared a ‘DNF’ – did not finish. Haha I thought, was this the story of our lives…? But later on and around the social events and ‘food grab’ from the sponsor tent, people were kind and interested in us and kept asking ‘how is the little one? All better?’ Of course they would have heard our radio transmission. It was sweet to be the point of concern. We were the family boat after all. People sort of ahh’d and nodded and stroked the little children. In fact people were so positive towards us and them. I realise it was impossible for us not to have attracted attention and interest. People were bowled over when we answered their question ‘yes we really did sail all the way from the UK with the kids’…I joked, we could hardly leave them there…hoohoo.

At the awards ceremony at the end of the week, I heard our name over the PA system and saw a photo of Dhanu under sail, on a large screen. Woohoo! I whooped and jumped around and felt terribly proud only to be brought down to earth by Ben who grabbed my rum inspired bounciness and held it down firmly whilst mouthing loudly ‘WE CAME SIXTH OUT OF SIX.’ What did it matter – we were up there in lights! Afterwards I realised how ridiculous I looked but who cares. A kind young fit looking man whom I recognised as crew from another boat, congratulated us which I stupidly mistook for look-down-your-nose-from-your-big-deck-sarcasm which resulted in a vocal tirade from me about how what we were doing was really hard and that we had no crew and that whilst other boats were pulling in jib sheets, we were doing nappy changes and clearing up puke and that is why we had two reefs in the main. Poor boy. I thought I had been amusing in a wild forceful kind of way, but looking back I realise that was not the case. He ended the conversation by saying how impressed he was by what we were doing with our family. Oh dear. O’Donnell+rum=chippy roaring…note to self…don’t do that again. I did later apologise which he readily accepted in a very serious tone, I think just wanting me out of his hair. I don’t blame him. Oh rum rum rum…

So Classics came to an end and we sloped back to the cool and calm of the anchorage. Ben went back to work and life resumed some semblance of normality. Which in the off duty times was spent at Pigoen Beach, off which we were anchored.  The perfect beach.  Unspoilt.  No buildings.  Some shade.  Always a cook up on the weekend with local BBQ’s.  Always music on the weekend.  Always beautiful water…it took a minute to dinghy there from the boat. We spend a lot of time there…

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Olive with her first crush, Sammy.

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Hanging around on Pigeon beach…

Life is good…

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