18 december

Finally. We plan to leave this island tomorrow. Heading to Lanzarote, a half day sail away. There we will provisoin, do some boat jobs and wait for the next window. It looks like there could be one opening on Christmas Eve…we will see. WOohoo! Movement! We will of course keep you posted.

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16 december

So. It is 1952 hours. We are tucked up on Dhanu. This is what I can see. Alfi chewing on the grater. Olive wearing a t-towel like a cloak looking at her reflection in the cooker announcing she is a princess. A solitary and deflated hello kitty armband on the floor. An assortment of figurines and toys scattered here and there. Now, Alfi is standing under the table fiddling with bottles of booze stored in the shelves known as ‘the booze cupboard’. Olive is now standing on the grab bag in an attempt to climb the mast. (The grab bag is a solid object which looks like a giant pill bottle. It contains all things necessary for survival, sat phone, flares, GPS, VHF radio, epirb etc). To the girls it is just a brilliant prop. Olive has descended the mast and is now playing cooking with Daddy with an array of items that have been converted into a kitchen. I think they are cooking green beans and gruffalo sauce for upsy daisy’s party.

The wind is blowing hard from the north. Persistently. There has been no respite in this wind. It howls. The boat is bobbing about on her lines as she is pulled and pushed by the wind. The sky is clear. Orion is up. The moon is gone.

All of the above is happening on La Graciosa, Canary Islands. It is a staggering fact that tonight is our eighth Tuesday night on this sandy spec of an isle. The first 4 weeks we chose to be here. As for the remaining, well our intention was to leave yet there has not been the opportunity as we have been beset with more lows, heavy wind and/or wind simply blowing in the wrong direction. It hasn’t really mattered as everyday there have been beach walks, treasure to find, snails to upend (in Olive’s case), sand to eat (in Alfi’s case) and more recently, volcanoes to climb in search of the Gruffalo. He has not yet been found but the search continues…meanwhile Olive has learnt that volcanoes spit fire. Alfi has learnt to crawl, cruise and pull herself up to standing and astounded us all by climbing the four companionway steps a few days ago. Unaided. Undeterred. Full of confidence and ramrod straight. She is not yet walking but climbing like a monkey…of course the fact that she can now of her own accord, exit the boat is terrifying! Time to disable the steps.

We have led a wonderfully relaxed and simple life here, but we are desperate to move on. If for no other reason than to get warm. It is chilly. The northerly wind brings a nip and tucks us in to the harbour. We are literally pinned here. Waiting. The sea beyond the breakwater has not been free of white caps for days now. We’ve had a consistent blow of 20+ knots. (force 5-6+) It is not wise to leave port in such conditions. Yet we are very keen to get back to sea. To be sailing, advancing and adventuring once again. To be discovering new places. We wait itching our feet.

What have we been doing? Not much and yet I seem to be busy all the time. It is true that we spend a good portion of our day getting chores done. And whilst I vowed never to blog about such mundane realities, the washing up, washing nappies, washing clothes – are tasks which absorb much of my time. Sadly these things don’t get done unless we do them. Where once there were machines, now there are our hands. I am no longer alienated from the dirt our life creates nor from the processes involved to get us clean! It requires physical effort! And thought as to9 how to best remove dirt. Which is not always rewarded…though I am finding bleach helps…but for how long I can cheat stains in this way before our clothes fall apart remains to be seen.

The facilities in which to do these chores are basic. There has been no hot water or electricity the whole time we have been here. There is water to the pontoon at least. It tastes disgusting and it is not advisable to drink the stuff so we cart home bottled water along with two kids and and whatever else. There are showers but they are too long a walk away to beat a hosepipe on the pontoon (at least when the weather was warmer). With winter upon us showering anywhere is cold cold cold! But I have got surprisingly used to it. The upside to daily chores is that they all occur on the pontoon amidst the spectacular view of Lanzarote’s 1000 foot cliffs. It could be worse. With chores done, our minds turn to food…do we need to go ashore to get any? If so, shall we row or walk? Such has been our life, laddened with these complex decisions…

It has also been a very social place. We have struck upon some wonderful people. These (and others) are not the retired doughy folk of Lagos. Oh no thankfully not. These are interesting, fun loving, young at heart, self sufficient folk. From some you see freedom oozing from their pores. They cross oceans like others take buses. We’ve been inside some great boats and one in particular that gave me a glimpse of a future life. Oh for a few more feet…one day…maybe. In meeting these inspiring individuals, I realise that if you are here, in the Canaries and actually, specifically, La Graciosa, you are as unique as the setting. There is no run of the mill here. There are no reluctant wives trying to avoid ocean going life. No passengers. This is the end of the line. The jump point. You have to have something about you, one way or another, to be here.

La Graciosa has provided us the perfect space to rest and reflect. My world has been reduced to this small corner of the planet. At times, I go no further than the pontoon. It is strange to think of all that water we sailed over to get here and now, we are stopped in this ‘last outpost of Europe’. Waiting. Talk has turned to the Atlantic. I am told repeatedly that we have done the hard bit and that the rest should be a breeze. Fingers crossed.

Whilst waiting, I am enjoying my kids. Well, mostly. They also drive me absolutely nuts and test my patience to the maximum. I guess two under three is a challenge wherever. But with absolutely no respite, no break, no nursery to fling them in, no grandparent or aunty to visit, it is at times very testing indeed. What we would give for just a day off! But this is the life we chose so we must make sure that the highs outweigh the lows. It sounds obvious but I am actually ensuring to play with my kids as opposed to simply enabling their day, their bodily functions, their appetites. It is all too easy to leave the fun to others (daddy) whilst sacrificing it on the alter of martyrdom whilst another nappy is scrubbed clean. Ridiculous. Though I have found it all too easy to get absorbed exclusively in the the enabling at the cost of nearly forgetting how to just be with them and have fun. ‘Before’ I could blame a lack of time or work or whatever but here I really have no excuses. So where possible, I stop and have a laugh with them and not care about the mess. Because I know as sure as eggs are eggs, Olive & Alfi will be 15 before I know it giving me ‘whatever’.

And so we wait. Not long I hope. As for Christmas; well I know it is Christmas technically speaking. But I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. I am not missing it one bit. This not bah humbug rather that I have only ever felt Christmas to be something that starts the second I enter my family home. To not only not be there, but to be surrounded by sandiness and lava rocks and swirling seas just makes Christmas a remote reality that I can’t sense. There is one set of municipal Christmas lights here…other than that you would hardly know it is happening. It is bliss! But what about the kids I hear you cry??? Pah! They are young enough to miss a Christmas and were it not for all the grandmas on the pontoon who keep bringing advent calenders and sweeties and good cheer for the little people, they would be none the wiser. I suspect, if we are lucky enough, we will be at sea on the day which will make it perhaps the most amazing Christmas ever. A very kind English lady today gave me a jar of home made (ie, on board her boat) mincemeat so perhaps we will try and make some mince pies to celebrate in our watery world. Wherever we are, we will think of you and carols and stuffing and quality street and rubbish tv and (if you are lucky), fabulous food and save all that up for our next landed Christmas. As for you – enjoy it hohoho and have a marvellously christmassy christmas.

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28 Nov

I know, it has been weeks since I have posted anything. Sorry about this. I blame a lack of power and wifi connectivity.  But also a need to sink into a quiet place and to recharge batteries.  La Graciosa has enabled this beautifully. Life has assumed a very slow and simple pace.

We are very well. Happy. Relaxed. Ready for the next step. Current plan; sail 800 miles south to the Cape Verdes Islands. This should take between 7-8 days. It will put us further away from these damn lows that still lurk bringing wind and rain and inclement conditions. It also breaks up a very long journey to the Caribbean so we consider it a good plan. We will literally go there to pit stop, re-fuel, let the girls feet touch land so they can run around a bit before cooping them up for the big crossing west. YES! It is on. It is happening. There is much I could say but for now, lets focus on the visual.

Meantime here are some pics of the last few weeks…

The walk back from town…

Went out for a sail with another boat whom we had befriended..this is SY Tarmin looking beautiful.

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The girls, curtain twitching…

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Olive woke up one morning and pointed at some scissors telling Daddy to take his beard away…this had been a long awaited family event…even Olive had a go…Ben was reluctant to remove all facefur. He retained a movember tache. However that glory has faded as the cheek fur has returned creating a patchy and slightly sorry site…I wonder if I will ever see my husband’s upper lip and cheekbones again?

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Boat kids…

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The daily treasure hunt…

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Catching up on zeds…snorkel obligatory…

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Alfi…I know there are four in our family, but Alfi deserves some revealing…she has come on leaps and bounds (literally) since arriving here. She crawls, climbs over anything in her way, has the grip of a boa constrictor and seems strong as an ox. Olive enjoys testing this – sitting on her is practically an hourly event…

Lastly, I have been able to post videos to 27th October post which give a flavour of our crossing from Portugal to Canaries – check them out!

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1 nov

We are here. We are well. We are safe. We are short of power and Internet so apologies no post. A whopper to follow. Watch this space.

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30th oct

This is our fourth day on La Graciosa. It has taken until now for us to rear our heads after passage. We have not done much other than rest, put the boat back together, hand wash a mountain of wee- washing, refill the water tanks etc etc…all whilst watching the girls embrace life tied up to land.

We are in a marina. Of sorts. We are surrounded by colourful,working fishing boats. There is no power supply to the pontoon so we are powered by the solar panel, which has its limitations. We have not been able to easily use and charge devices. We have at least water on the pontoon which helps. Upside; it is very cheap – 8 euros a night. This gives much needed relief to the coffers. We will stay here a while. To be still.

This island is a national park. It is beautiful and wild. The waters are crystal clear. It is quiet. There is not much here other than a few volcanic peaks. Some rugged coastline. Some stunning views. The port town is a collection of low rise white washed buildings set along sandy streets against a skyline of two volcanic peaks. It feels like we are in a legoland western. I just need a legoman cowboy to step out. There are no cars. On some days there has been no electricity to the island. We are far from the congested tacky tourism of Lanzarote (a short boat ride away), whose high volcanic peaks tower over us.

It is perfect for the girls. The local beaches are quiet and sandy with large pools of calm clear water. Both of them can roam around freely. Olive loves picking up ‘wocks’ and throwing them as far as she can. Or lying down in the rock pools searching for treasure. Alfi since arriving is very clearly crawling, pulling herself up to standing wherever she can, standing up for long periods, sitting ramrod straight. She can get up sit down get up again, all on her own without tumbling over. Hoorah! She is as solid as a rock. She is even attempting to climb the companionway steps (impossible given her size but the girl has ambition). Has a week at sea of being unable to move freely motivated her? She is also mouthing her first words…mama. With her hair growing into curls, she at times reminds us of a cross between a podgy cherub and a mini Roman empress. Olive has of her own accord started calling Alfi, Alf. We don’t know why as this is not a name we use. It is sweet…she says ‘there you go Alf’ whilst passing her a toy or her beaker or whatever. Meanwhile, Alfi looks up adoringly with an enormous grin. Their growing relationship is so achingly sweet to witness.

We feel quite disconnected. There is internet. In only one shop, a hamburger joint. To get there involves either a 25 minute walk through sandy streets which invariably conspire against the buggy’s easy passage. Or, quicker, dinghy ride to shore loaded with buggy, papousse etc. Either way it is more than a hop skip and a jump. Once there we eat very cheap greasy food along with the united nations of travellers all armed with laptops, each vying for the power point to recharge. Given all of this we have been delayed in charging our devices and updating the blog. Sadly the connection is not good enough to upload any video. I apologise to family and friends who may have been waiting for a more timely update.

Here are some pics to be going on with….

This is where we are

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Dhanu; finally at rest

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Beach – 100 yards from the boat

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Olive; taken soon after we had landed – after 6 days at sea, she was determined to roam.

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Alfi – also finally free to crawlroam too…

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Beach life…this is exactly as we found it….of course Olive had to touch the eye…she does this every time she sees a fish, dead or alive…no idea why…

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27 oct

We have arrived in the Canary Islands and I can’t quite believe it. We have travelled 1670 miles from little old Topsham, Devon and we are today tied up on the beautiful island of La Graciosa. Mind; blown.

We left Lagos, Portugal on Wednesday 22nd October. The forecast for the following 5 days was as good as it could be bearing in mind the tremendous low that had halted us in our tracks for the previous 3 weeks. We knew swell would lurk but accepted the forecast that it would be ever decreasing.

The first day was perfect. The conditions were mild. In fact there was hardly any wind but at least there was little to no swell. Also, the electric self steering worked and worked well. At last! The third crew member had arrived and we were both free to play with the kids and share the chores plus relax and have fun. Olive surprised and entertained us with some new choice expressions. Entirely unprompted she suddenly asked me ‘what’s our speed mummy?’ A question the helmsman is often asking of those down below from where the GPS can be seen. Later she decreed ‘engine on’, another command shouted down to whoever is near the ignition. Funny little sailor girl. The self steering also allowed us to begin once more, a watch system which saw me back in the cockpit stargazing and feeling like Boadicea.

However by 12 noon on the second day the wind got up to at least a force 5 and with it came a 2 metre plus swell. Conditions the self steering could not handle. This meant from 12 noon til 4am the following day, Ben had to hand steer us through whilst I again solo’d down below. The rolling was as bad as it had ever been, if not worse. During those hours, we always retained control but that is not to say it was free from tension. The conditions did not pose an immediate danger but they create an atmosphere in which the propensity for something to break, or someone to slip, or some other unforeseen event increases. It is no understatement to say that those 16 hours were some of the hardest of my life. Physically and mentally, very demanding. The worry at such times is less what is actually happening and more, what might happen. That creates tenterhooks.

The conditions reminded me of our approach to Coruna (see 19 Aug) only worse. Interestingly, I did not have the fear of then which tells me I am toughening up as a sailor. I had faith in my Captain and faith in Dhanu. My ever expanding experience told me that at some point the conditions would cease. It was just a matter of when and to hold out until that time came. At least Coruna had taught me to lash down as much as possible. To stuff cushions in any space on any shelf or locker to deaden noisy crashing movement and disable potential missiles. But even with that knowledge and the benefits it brought, the cabin was still a crazy hell on earth which challenged me in every way, leaving my body saying ouch. There was no relaxing. No down time. We were on high alert for the duration. Whilst I had no fear, there was fury and disbelief and maddening scream inducing frustration. What the hell were we doing? Why were we in this situation again? The forecast had been good? Where was the crazy wind coming from? The low was 700 miles away! Of course all of this was directed at Ben – who else – was this not his fault? Haha…What made it worse was that the conditions hit during daylight hours. So the girls were awake for a good portion of the time. They handled it as well as any of us. Whilst they were fine, they were as pissed off as I. Olive was bored and playing up. She was frustrated that she could not move through the cabin independently. There was a lot of strong arming her to safe comfort. Of course these are not conditions anyone enjoys, but these children did not choose to be here. So my fury and frustration was tinged with sadness and regret. That is not even to mention the challenges posed by daily parenting chores.

Take nappy changing. This takes place in the foc’s’le as it is a soft space, wide enough to accommodate a rolling child so as to avoid a bumping child. But imagine, rolling boat, rolling child, child wriggling and resisting the nappy change…suffice to say child never stays on nappy mat. What lies beneath is our bed. I end up wrestling with whichever child to keep them flat, to keep them safe and to get the job done. It’s a battle of wills taking place in a giant washing machine. I think the point at which I decided I had had enough of this voyaging life was not for life and death reasons, but when Alfi rolled off the mat mid change and wee’d all over the bed. Immediately followed by Olive’s poorly placed nappy (on account of earlier impossible conditions which caused the poorly placed nappy), leaking all over the bed. A double wee shower. F***ing terrific I thought. So, new clothes to be found and put on, a bed to change and a bed mattress soaked with wee which could not be cleaned until we reached port no less than 4 days away! All of this in a moving vessel rolling from side to side unpredictably and relentlessly, involving children also rolling around of their own will. ARGHH!!!!

This was to be sharply followed by Ben calling me to helm as we needed to reef (make smaller the mainsail) to reduce the boat’s power in the strong conditions. I needed every ounce of patience to silence the screams gurgling up my windpipe. Despite the urge for a major tantrum, I knew losing it now would of course not be very unhelpful. So I secured the children in islands of cushions, bumpering them from every angle. Dropping in to their laps the ipad, puzzles, books, toys, a big smile and a fistful of hope. Meanwhile in my head I machine gunned into oblivion the Atlantic plan. No way were we crossing that ocean if there was any chance of this ridiculous maddening rolling. I then took the helm so we could reef Whilst firing off reasons in my head as to why we should not continue with this absurd life, I realised that the last time I took the helm in such conditions I was crapping my pants. This time, whilst furious, I was not scared at all. Hmm. I knew what to do. I used the stars to keep me into the wind and kept checking that Ben’s silhouette was behaving as it should. And so it did. By the time he was back in the cockpit, despite my sense of growth as a sailor, my suppressed screams had percolated into an angry and accusatory assault on Ben in which I declared that there was no way on this earth we were taking the children across the Atlantic if there was to be anything like these conditions! NO NO NO!!! This was said as the sea hissed and foamed and bubbled all around us as if to dare us to beat it. Like a rabid old witch whose spell saw the phosphorescence shoot like sparks around and ricochet off Dhanu’s hull. Despite the furious power of the sea and the tenterhooks it created, it did make for a majestic spectacle of nature that was in a strange kind of a way, a privilege to witness. Ben as usual remained calm and sympathetic. He agreed that this was not fun giving little more away.

Then something strange happened. A switch flicked. I decided that there was no point in being furious and impatient. An utterly pointless waste of energy. If the going was to be tough, we just had to be tougher. It would end at some point. What’s more we were all going to be as comfortable as possible and as well fed as possible. Hot food was in order. I told Ben I was going to cook. He tried to dissuade me saying we would eat biscuits or beans or bread and jam, whatever was simple. No I insisted. We were to have a steaming hot meal as it would be good for our energy not to mention morale! I actually said out loud ‘it will be good for morale’ whilst pulling out the chopping board. I then immediately laughed at myself and the situation thinking blimey what is this, the 21st century blitz?

And so to cooking. No easy task on a moving boat. Just to give you an idea of how much we were rolling; it is not often that Ben has ever seen Dhanu’s rigging screws go beneath the water when sailing downwind. These are located just above deck level at the bottom of the shrouds. (The shrouds are the wires that hold the mast up and they are attached to the hull at deck level). But this day and night they did. So think about that movement and its impact on the galley beneath. Yes we could eat biscuits and cuppa soups but I don’t want to sail like that. We compromise enough. Not to mention the fact we have young kids who need nutrition! Even if this means a lot of effort and at times, painful hard work. Cooking on a moving boat cannot compare to cooking on land. To make any kind of fair comparison, you must imagine your kitchen tilting up and down through 90 degrees, the contents of your sideboards and cupboards rolling around whilst you try to remain upright and physically able to do all that is required. Cooking on a boat is an experience that employs your whole body. It is an act that is less about food and more about the physicality required to prepare it.What ingredients will you need? Where are they stored? How will you reach for the garam masala at the back of the cupboard leaning over a gimbaled stove whilst rocking backwards and forwards? How will you peel an onion whilst swaying around knife in hand trying to stop peelings and onion chunks from flying everywhere? How will you boil the kettle to make the stock needed which involves finding it in the cupboard, getting a jug, pouring water etc etc…all whilst trying to remain upright when the sea has other ideas. What to do with the prepared items which await potting – how to ensure they won’t slip slide away? Will you be able to commit one hand to holding the pot on the stove so that it doesn’t slide off and empty itself somewhere else? (Yes, we do have a gimbaled stove which usually is fine at keeping pans level but in those conditions, gravity will always win.) In my wee opinion, the act of successful cooking is a complicated task that demands the calculation and forethought of a chess master. Foolish is the cook who pulls out the chopping board and starts chopping away hoping it will all come together by the time the onion and garlic is sautéed. I know that cook as I was she when on land. Sadly this type of ad lib cooking is destined for frustrated, not to mention, hungry,disappointment in a rolling boat. Cooking is (for me at least), an exercise in precision planning. And despite best laid plans, you will not avoid the likelihood of being ejected from the galley without notice nor explanation, by forces greater than you, that will not apologise, acknowledge your brusies, your missing onion chunks or promise never to do it again. Such lurches will invariably happen when you are pouring hot water into a jug or cutting something with a sharp knife only to find yourself mid air with your senses in slow motion as you hope upon hope that the water stays in the jug or that the knife stays in your hand. I have learnt that if you are wedged in somewhere or leant in tightly to the boat, in an effort to become part of the boat, you have a chance. Boat bounces, you bounce with it. It jars suddenly,  so do you, but at least in the same direction; you synchronise. But even then, there are no guarantees as the brusies on my body confirm. So with all this in mind, if you end up producing a meal in your topsy turvy kitchen, then well done you. Of course I was thrilled with the vegetable-curry-spuds-on-the-side a la studentville which emerged out of the marathon that was cooking on that second day. It tasted wonderful! It tasted of success! How could it not? Just a shame Ben could not eat the damn thing as this required the two hands he had glued to the tiller…hmm…had I known, I’d have put a bib on him and fed him too just as I did the girls. What difference would one more feed make? And so at least the girls were fed, bathed, milked, changed and tucked up in their bunks where they did eventually conk out as the conditions slowly but surely eased to our great relief.

By 4am the following day (day 3), after some kind of sleep, Ben woke me to ask me to take the helm. After 16 hours of helming the conditions had lessened and it was time for him to sleep. I would not say that I jumped to it, far from it, I did not want to helm especially as he said I would have to hand steer. I was exhausted, highly irritable and wanted only to get back to sleep. But I had to do my bit, he had more than done his. Why can’t we use the autohelm (recently purchased electric self steering system), I asked grumpily whilst brewing some coffee? In his tired state he said OK we will try it though he did not think it would work. Thankfully and to our surprise, it did. What followed was an amazing caffeine fuelled few hours. What a difference! Were we in the same sea? Oh fickle universe…the wind had dropped to a force 3-4 as had the swell. We were on a broad reach (sails 135 degrees to the boat as measured from the bow). Dhanu was sailing beautifully through phosphorescent seas which seemed to mirror the sky above, full of stars. I lost count of those that shot across the night sky to disintegrate into dust. I started recognising the constellations and planets; Orion, Jupiter, Polaris, Usar Major…beautiful awesome signposts. I found myself exhaling optimism, pride and relief. We had again successful endured another challenge. OK we never sought to prove ourselves in this way. Nor did we need to. Of course we would never have willingly chosen to sail in those conditions. But in an adventure like this which is so dependent on the natural world, we must accept that it will throw us curve balls in the form of wind and swell and waves. We are in a strong boat. Captained by an experienced sailor. Yes at times it is impossibly hard but then we are rewarded with wonderful family time in new ports, which bring to us all individually and as a family, new experiences, new people, new understanding of what we can and can’t, should and should not do and how we want to live.

The following day gave us time to reflect and talk about our plans. We agreed that we can never again endure sailing of day 2. We know that. We asked whether this voyage is really fair on the kids? In the round we think yes as the time in port, in new places is always amazing. The constraints on them caused by the difficult times at sea, are these any worse than those of a long haul flight or a long car journey? Do the physical risks compare? Who can say. At least in the boat they have their beds, their toys, their home. Plus this voyage sees them at our side all the time. Our children are thriving and this life enables us to be with them all the time. To be the ones who influence them, teach them, laugh with them and love them even more. We could not have a quarter of such opportunities were we at home in our normal lives. This would not be possible on land in our working lives, fighting to beat the clock to get through the day to squeeze in an hour or two before bedtime. Surely this makes it all worthwhile? One can only measure these things when considering the passage as a whole.

So what of the next few days? The following 3 days gave us beautiful awe inspiring family sailing. Aside from the steady warm breeze, the blue sky and shinning sun and the sparkling sea, we had for the entire time self steering that worked. Predominantly the electric autohelm did the job. But for the last day Ben’s wind vane self steering worked not perfectly, but pretty well. Giving us confidence that the adjustments made in Lagos, had put us on the right track to perfection…at last we could see it working which made the Atlantic prospect all the more possible. And indeed any future ocean going passages as a family. The self steering transformed life on board. Just as Ben said it would. Suddenly we were not fire fighting just to get through the day. Ben was not doing major chunks of hand steering and going without sleep. I was doing more than looking after the kids and cooking. We were all getting a much better experience. Together. We played together. The kids got both parents. The parents even got some time to themselves. A routine started to evolve on board that really gave me confidence about living and voyaging as a family on this boat. Suddenly, a world opened up that made me really believe that we could go on happily and safely. I withdrew the machine gunned Atlantic idea from the rubbish bin in my mind and started to reconsider it. Maybe, just maybe…

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We picked up a hitch hiker – a tiny little bird. God knows from where he came or to where he flew. But he arrived. We looked up and saw him gripped on to the guardrails near the bow. He clung on for hours. He was very tame. He did not mind us being close or the jib flapping or me dunking nappies in the bucket a metre away from him. He was a funny chap that made me wonder all about him and his life…how many miles had he flown? Where was he headed? Was it accident or design that he was here???

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We also started a proper watch system. 4 hours on, 4 hours off. This is a work in progress but another long passage and we will be close to finding an ideal system made possible by the self steering. Chores can be shared. As can childcare and importantly, family time – what we had from day 3 onward was special and amazing and idyllic and I have experienced nothing like it until that point. It finally felt like we were on a dream holiday. Olive climbing up the companionway steps demanding to see the stars. Alfi watching a sunset from Daddy’s lap, where she became physically overcome. She kicked and flapped and smiled as she saw the golden orb disappear below the horizon.

The last evening we were all in the cockpit, the sun setting on us when suddenly Olive screamed ‘Dolphins! Dolphins!’ Sure enough a pod of them had popped up right before her. She saw them before anyone else did. Olive started screaming with excitement such as I’ve never seen her. Ben and I were squealing watching her watching dolpins. Alfi was squealing watching Olive screaming and so the cycle of happiness and joy and oh-my-god-how-lucky-are-we, circulated. Happy times in the cockpit. Physical visible happiness, sunlight beaming off our faces. Times that were hard won and so deserved.

This passage also returned me to night sailing. Night time in the cockpit has given me some of the happiest most awe inspiring moments of my life. Apart from the sheer wonder of the physical universe writ very large in the night sky, 4 hour night watch gives me time to think. To contemplate. To create. Without distraction. Without any demands being made on me. All working parents will know what a gift this is. Yes of course every 15 minutes or so the binoculars must scan the horizon, but even this act is not a chore. I love scanning the dark horizon for the lights of other vessels. Being on night watch makes me feel responsible, strong, adventurous and privileged. I always feel full of optimism. It also gives me time to learn about the universe, the stars, the importance of our teeny tiny significance. For years, I have always looked at the night sky and waned to understand it. Yet all I ever saw were arrangements of stars which reminded me of saucepans. Then I came across a smartphone app – the night sky. Incredible app! I’ve had it for ages and never really used it but when on passage, I use it every night watch. Now I see that whilst the constellations still remind me of saucepans, at least I can recognise them as distinct from one another. Using this app against an open sky offering a 180 degree horizon to horizon view, free of light pollution makes stargazing an easy and utterly gobsmackingly all consuming exercise. You can forget the task in hand – eyes front of course…can’t crash the boat. Damn stars…too beautiful for words. I can now easily recognise Leo, Jupiter, Canis Major, Sirius, Orion, Taurus, Cassiopeia, Polaris, Usar Minor, Usar Major. And I am actually using these stars to judge our course to steer without having to refer to the compass. Again making me feel connected to every sailor that ever was. These are the ways by which for centuries sailors sailed. The sea, the stars, the wind; unchanging constants. I know all of this sounds too corny and wretch worthy for words, but is is all entirely true. And if that is not corny enough – listen to this; on our last night ,I had a total revelation. Orion is an archer. Orion sits next to Taurus. I am a Taurean. This boat is called Dhauu. Dhanu is the Hindu archer god. Oh my what circularity! This union I have with Ben, this boat and this voyage – is written in the stars. Cosmic validation. Ha!

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Lastly this passage proved to me that I am beginning to know how to sail. I have been changing headsails (sails at the front of the boat; either genoa or jibs) since we left the UK. But the mainsail, aside from hoisting it up a few times, I had not reefed it or jibed. During this passage I did reef in the main, under instruction of course. During a night watch, if something needs doing or if I don’t know what to do or how to judge a vessel behind or ahead, I wake Ben. That is the non-negotiable rule that enables him to sleep. He can’t sleep unless he knows and trusts that I will wake him if I am in any doubt of what needs to be done. I always do this despite not wanting to deny him sleep. However during this passage, I jibed once on my own, at night. Whilst this was not entirely successful as I still had to wake Ben after the event as the sail setting did not seem optimal, nonetheless it confirmed that my judgement was correct. Woohoo! I can now see when something needs to be done. I know when the sails are luffing, when the sail position needs to change, when we need to reef down. All obvious points to those of you who can sail, but remember I could not before setting out on this voyage. My first night passage was the English Channel and my second was Biscay. So to employ my brother’s phraseology; I have moved from the unconsciously incompetent state of being, to consciously incompetent and at times, unconsciously competent…again this gives me huge confidence for onward passages.

As for these beautiful islands, our approach here was another sight to behold. Ben woke me around 8am to say, he had sighted land. I stuck my head out the hatch to see a flat sea and almost purple volcanic peaks of the Canary Islands. Sitting fixed in the water. Dried lava sculptures. The closer we got the more dramatic they became. All I could think of was Planet of the Apes. And of course that I was sharing this view with every sailor that had ever passed this way. From the Phoenician traders of 2000 years ago though history to modern pleasure sailors like us. After days at sea, we all shared this moment of sighting these islands. Whether rich, poor or other, we all had this same view. Thoughts like that, makes your head explode, well, at least my head. Anyway, we finished giving the girls breakfast and tried to enthuse Olive about the lava lumps she was seeing. It did not work she just wanted to go back to bed. Meanwhile, we headed for La Graciosa, a small island north of Lanzarote. As we approached Ben shouted ‘Dorado!’ Ever since I have known him he has always talked of Dorado with a misty look in his eye. For me, all a Dorado represented was another fish on a menu whose meat needed to be explained to me. Now I understand what all the fuss is about. If you have ever seen a Dorado you will know the bizarre bright blue flash that they create. There beside the boat, swimming centimetres from the hull was a fish, about 5 foot in length, bright azure blue, sleek, sinewy. If aliens created a fish, this was it. It was swimming just below the surface, showing off it seemed. Taunting us that it would never be supper. This did not matter, especially as we did not even have a line out. It was just another reminder that we were getting further away from home and from all that we knew. Away from the dark waters of the north. Away from the rain and the cold and the nursery bills and the daily marathon endured by any working parent. As I looked up to see this crazy purple moonscape of dried lava I felt I wanted more. More different. More time with my family. More stars. More sea. More challenge. More more more. (Apart from Ben’s beard. That my friends, has to go).

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22 oct

Finally.  We are leaving Lagos.  We have been here 18 days. The longest we have been anywhere.  We are heading South.  Destination; Canaries.  Distance; about 500 miles plus due South.  If for whatever reason we need to pit stop, we will do so in Morocco.  Casablanca, Agadir, Essouira – whichever is closest.

Feelings? Excited to be leaving.  To be on the sea again. To be adventuring with my family once more, in this amazing boathome.  But I am also a bit nervous.  Biscay took us four days and four nights.  This passage if done non stop will take 5-6 days.  The longest passage to date, for me at least.  It is remarkable to think back to my first overnight passage, on the English channel, 80 something days ago.  Since then we have travelled 1090 miles.  We have tied up in 13 ports.  We have visited 4 different countries.  And all with the purpose of arriving here so that we can depart this, the most southern and western part of mainland Europe.  We are at a junction. Here, you are either head East to the med or South to Africa or South-West across the Atlantic.  This is the point where decisions are made. Commitments confirmed. Where boats press on or they stay still.  We will look back and say that leaving this port was the first true step of commitment to cross the Atlantic.  Sure, we are only heading to the Canaries and who knows what might happen there.  But once we are in the Canaries, our options become more limited.  The prevailing winds are northerlies.  To head back northwards against the wind, would be hard work.  No, from the Canaries are options are either South to the Cape Verdes Islands or West to the Caribbean. This voyage just got serious.

So what is in my head right now?  Questions? Many. The predominant one is to what extent will we have self steering?  Self steering is the key to happy cruising on this boat of man, woman and two kids under 3.  It is the key to my sanity! In truth it is the sanity to most ocean going boats.

So on self steering; (careful this is geeky techy stuff which may not be everyone’s cuppa – but it has been important for me to get my head around it, so here I go).

We now know what the problem has been with the wind vane self steering built by Ben.  Ben finally had a lightbulb moment which explained all our problems to date.  Last time he built the system for this boat, Dhanu had no engine.  This time, she has an engine.  The propeller is the difference.  The propeller sits forward of the rudder in a semi circular space cut out of the rudder.  The propeller, just by being there, creates turbulent water behind it which affects the ability of the trim tab to do its job.  What is the trim tab you may well ask? The trim tab is a small rudder attached to the big rudder. (It is part of the wind vane self steering system). It lies within the turbulent water created by the prop.  It requires a smooth flow of water to do its job effectively.  If the water is disturbed, it can’t perform in an optimal way.  The problems we have had, all make sense now.  Ben has extended the trim tab without us hauling the boat out.  This has involved him again diving under the boat, mask and snorkel on with screwdriver between his teeth.  Much to the confused bewilderment of Olive.  Has this adjustment been enough to put the trim tab out of the path of the turbulence? Today will tell.  However at least now we have a back up system.  At great expense (to us hard-up cruisers), we have bought an electric self steering system.  This is an arm that you attach either to the tiller or, to the trim tab.  We know this will perform, the question is to what extent in the conditions we may encounter.  How will it cope with lots of wind and/or swell?  The coming days will tell.  Good grief listen to me! I’m sounding like I know what I am talking about…haha. I suppose that is what you get for being married to Ben and having sailed 1090 miles with no self steering!

The next question; will we have wind?  The forecast says yes we will have nice wind.  North Easterlies – 10 knots.  Broad reach…great!

After that the burning question is will we have swell?  Swell has been on everyone’s lips after the past few weeks lot of incredible lows. Swell is always the problem.  Unless it is lined up with the wind, it is the pits.  No one wants swell. A little bit is ok.  More than that is rubbish.  Swell makes us roll.  Swell makes us bounce.  Swell makes me mad.  Swell makes me sad.  Swell gives me bruises. Swell makes me regret it all.  Swell sucks.  Where you have swell direction against the wind, pointy waves are made that cause the boat to crash and lurch.  Where you have swell with the wind, the ride is more comfortable.  The forecast for us is swell coming from the North West 1-2 metres in height.  So in theory it should be a bit uncomfortable.  However having spoken to two boats who have just come in, they said it was ok.  So.  We go and we will see.  If it is horrid, we will simply turn back.

The next question is however it is, how will the kids be?  They are a little bit older.  More used to sailing than most.  But they have had nearly 3 weeks in port.  During which Alfi has started crawling, in a manner of speaking.  But this has been on a boat tied up in port.  How will she fare being strapped back in the car seat (which seems tiny now compared to her enormous frame!) As for Olive, we know she will retire to her bed like a pensive teenager. But for 6 days? Hmm…I pray the watery universe gives us dolphins…that will keep her going.  If not there is the Ipad…but the battery wont last 6 days that is for sure…what happens then? Perhaps that will be the time to shave Daddy’e beard off?  It has reached animal proportions.  It has to go.  Even he agrees…or so he says. A few days ago he asked (rather jokingly) for a beard trimmer for Christmas. I said he would not need it as there would be no beard to trim. He replied ‘go on please, we could share it.’ Ha bloody ha…truth aint so far away sadly…oh how I curse my Mediterranean blood…yes, I have seen a lot of my Aunties walking around these streets.

After these questions, comes more mundane domestically minded ones. Will the veg last. Will the new storage baskets do their job. Will we use water well. Will we be able to wash the nappies ok…carting around a load of dirty disposable is not ideal.

So this is me. This is us. This is where we are at. Wish us well. Think of us. Next time you see us…? Canaries? Morocco? To be continued…

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17 oct

Two weeks now in this marina. Oh how the time has flown. What have we done? What do we do all day? Good questions. Essentially, the day boils down to getting stuff done. If we are organised enough, there is also time for play. But usually we are not and spend the whole day doing daily chores. Cooking, washing up; trying to get the girls sleep; showering; washing nappies; the supermarket shop; tidying up; finding the hardware shop; seeking internet translations for ‘cup hooks’ or ‘ electric cable’ or whatever hardware is needed….then whilst the translation is understood, the items are sold out, or laughably expensive, or just not on the menu. None of these chores go away just because we are on the voyage of a lifetime…sadly not.

It is not all bad – far from it. But being organised is essential. When we are (like today), we get stuff done AND get to play. Today went like this; wake up – check weather, breakfast; Ben to supermarket whilst I watch kids, wash and tidy up; Ben returns; morning coffee on German boat next to us (sweet folk in their late 60’s – loving Olive); then prepare lunch for the girls whilst Ben fits autohelm; then prepare supper whilst watching and playing with kids; then French friends aboard for coffee; then swimming pool with Dutch friends.  This is Olive returning from the pool.

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Olive has made a new friend, Dylano a lovely 3 year old dutch boy who is warm and open and doesn’t mind a cuddle. Just see how cute and expressive they are. I love this shot – such interaction – what mini grown ups!

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Then back to boat, Ben makes netting for Alfi’s cot to replace the emergency measure wooden board currently in use to stop her falling out! I tidy up, wash up, do nappies…BLABLABLABLA…then play with kids…feed them….watch Alfi pull herself up to standing in the zoo – this is a new life skill she has developped! Go Alfi!

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…read Olive her bedtime story only to have her entertain us by identifying everything she sees (her bird knowledge is extraordinary). Then we officially put kids to bed whilst Olive unofficially revolts pulling every trick she knows to be released from the zoo….whilst we eat supper we try to resist the coup that she attempts…it’s a battle of wills…we win (but only just).

Then it is adult time….which means checking emails and more importantly, the weather, again. The weather has become my news. I am addicted. Especially as the desire to leave is strong. Although the rain has stopped, the low hanging over the North Atlantic has cast its spell over us all. Look a at the size of it! For those that don’t know, anything more orange / red than blue is what we don’t want to see. Colour chart shows wind speed in knots.

This is current wave forecast…madness! Colour chart shows wave height in metres…DO NOT WORRY WE ARE NOT GOING OUT UNTIL IT IS LESS THAN 2!!!

Anyway, as you may be able to see, the problem is less wind, more the wave height / swell…3-4 metre waves. I now know what this means . I now know how this will feel. I can tell you it is not a recipe for roll free happy sailing. Thankfully, it looks like the wave height is dropping a bit. It is still enough to make you think twice but no longer enough to stop us in our tracks,. So Monday? Tuesday? Back to sea. For the longest passage yet and the longest I have ever done…destination; Canaries with a possible pit stop in Morocco.

So to prepare…what needs doing? Provisioning. Dry stocks but mainly, vegetables. I am always on the quest for fresh as possible vegetables. That have not been refrigerated. These keep the longest. The best are those still with earth on them…with careful storage, it is amazing how long they can keep. Alas such veg are harder to find than you might think. Yes the supermarket has loads of veg, but many in the fridge or at some point along the distribution chain, they could have been in the fridge. You can never tell. So to the market I will go. Translated phrases in my sweaty palm. Euros in the other. Yes I should bargain, however I’ll be so grateful for finding those veg that are best for sailing distance/ storage without a fridge that I’ll roll over and pay whatever is asked. (Still, less than home and nicer veg so really cannot complain). After that, the supermarket. Then somehow carry it all back. Unload. Pack away. These trips as a family have been slow, tedious and rimmed with a tantrum here or there. A buggy, a papoussse, limited carrying capacity, fractious children and all the while on foot. No. We now see the value in one getting out there as packhorse and the other staying on the boat with the kids. Such is the task that we are both quick to volunteer to do the shop if only to get off the boat and away from childcare! We love our kids of course we do, but caring for two under 3 on a boat is always the tougher job.

Anyway weather and provisioning aside, we need to get out of here…Lagos has given us real insight in to the world of the retired-well-meaning-ever-so-nice-do-anything-for-you-mob. We met their leader the other day, who should remain nameless. We had been referred to him when we were asking around about where to buy plywood. So there we found him, in his ‘office’, a broom cupboard at the back of the marina between the bogs and the bins. A little airless corner that smelt of both bogs and bins. Poor chap. Is this what it had all come to? As it was a day or two later we ended up in his apartment as he had helpfully offered Ben the contents of his shed on account of him packing up and moving back to Blighty after a decade and a half of Lagos. I understood that he came here on a 50 foot boat but got no further as his wife refused to do any more ocean sailing (seems this is a common tale). She decided this not long after leaving UK shores, somewhere amidst Biscay. So the 50 footer was downgraded to an apartment and a small boat. Anyway, he was very sweet and kind and helpful man. He even had a weekly broadcast over the VHF radio. He said he was sad to say goodbye to ‘his people’. We tuned in. Imagine Hi-de-Hi meets the classifieds swirling as a big fish in a small pond. Get the picture? It announced of local events; wine tastings, the position for dog sitter no longer vacant; where to leave rubbish, please not on the promenade; burger and bridge night from 7pm….I could go on. But what struck us most was towards the end of the broadcast, there was an invitation for ‘any contributions’. It being a VHF radio, anyone at anytime could pick up their radio and say what they wanted. Sadly, the invitation was not accepted and the pause that crackled over the radio was a painfully long and ever so silent. Were we the only saddos listening in? And even then we only tuned in for a laugh. Which we got…oh dear. On his last broadcast. No. One thing is for certain. We need to get away. Else we may end up participating in the dinghy races that we saw a week ago. These were not dinghy races on open water. Rather in between the pontoons in the marina. There were many little dinghies filled with tubby leathery skinned retired folk wearing bumbags and t-shirts swollen with beer bellies over chino shorts. All vying for victory. No more Butlins for retired sailors for us…no no no. Sorry guys we mean no offence but this is not our scene. We need to get out. What with Ben’s beard reaching physics teacher proportions…we are in danger. What next? Elbow patches and his own broadcast on VHF radio channel 9? Can you imagine??? (Sorry physics teachers – I’m in awe of you really). No, it is certain….we must get out we must get out. WE MUST. GET. OUT.

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11 oct

No posts for a while.  Some sad family news has preoccupied me and the rest of us. Here is not the place to talk about it other than to wish those concerned all our love and luck and pray that the universe is kind despite its indiscriminate assault on my finest and best people.

So please, to continue writing this blog is not to ignore their (and our) horrible truth. Far from it.  I think of them almost every second whilst questioning our commitment to this epic voyage and moreover, whether I should be indulging in this blog which feels frivolous when others are fighting for good health.  However, I think we should carry on in the hope that the blog may lighten their load and at least keep them feeling close to us when we are far away whilst providing some distraction.

So with this in mind, today’s headlines read as follows;

– Coordinates; 37 06 N / 08 40 W otherwise known as Lagos, Portugal. More or less, the Algarve.

– Weather; stormy, clapping thunder and electric lightning, rain pouring down, chilly. Again.

-Boat; leaking in the usual places. Floor covered in toys.  ‘Fat bunny’s’ birthday party in progress. Alfi eating pilot book.

– Surrounds; in marina. Very very touristy. Many British yachts.  The most we have come across so far.  No French – where did they go? The Brits we are meeting are all retired, pasty, bit doughy around the middle.  Many from the south-east coast of England.  We have met numerous Les’ and Marg’s (I’m not joking).  They love it here.  They came for a winter and stayed a lifetime.  They can tell you all about Lagos, where to go, what to see, where to get the best full english breakfast. Their yachts reflect their years, a bit dated yet they gleam with polish and elbow grease. As too do their persil whites, hanging on their lines.  Neatly pegged in good symmetrical order.  Then we arrived to mess it all up. In all our wooden charm.  No persil whites on our lines, oh no. More a nicotine yellow.  Nappies hanging aloft.   Toys scattered about.  Coach roof graffiti’d by Olive. Courtesy flag flopping off its line. We are indeed a slick operation.

And so it is here that we have become stuck. Again. A few days ago it was looking perfect for a bolt south to Morocco and onward to the Canaries. In a matter of two days this has all changed. It is raining and a bit chilly.  When the lightning stops, it is grey.  The wind has almost died and what has not, has turned southerly again.  This must be the worst summer on record. Typical that it is the one in which we leave; a freak summer that sees low after low and the prevailing northerly winds turn south.

And so we wait.  In port.  This seems to be the lot of this sailing family. Getting stuck and waiting. Watching rain pound the cockpit whilst we soak up the leaks. Or is this just how sailing is? I sound patient and relaxed? I am not. I am frustrated. Whilst I expected some hard work and inconvenience, this was to be traded for sun, warmth and seaside fun. All this rain and waiting and damp was not part of the deal. I want to be south. I want to be in the Canaries. I want to be warm. I want my children to be frolicking on the beach, not on the cabin floor. Even if the beach will involve them eating sand and bringing it back to the boat to drive me nuts on another day. I want not to be in my fleece. I want not to be hunting the one pair of socks that I own only to discover that one sock is all I have, the other being lost to one of the numerous laundry experiences that this voyage has seen.

Anyway, of what is there to complain? We are healthy. We are fed. We are (mostly) dry. We are safe. The kids are happy.  Alfi continues to eat paper usually fed to her by Olive.  Whilst Olive continues to use Alfi as the meat in her human sandwich.  All to Alfi’s giggling delight.  No matter what Olive does to Alfi, Alfi just laughs such is her adoration of her older sibling.  It could be worse. The girls could be at nursery making their carers laugh all day long, whilst we slave away to pay for their joy. And it would most certainly be raining…so all in all, life is good. We are hopeful for sunnier days, for us and especially for them and most importantly for my lovely mum.

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2 october

bye bye cascais – it has been amazing and full of chilled out family time…

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Olive getting her first taste of modern art in Belem, Lisbon followed by Alfi getting some stable) crawling practice…

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