Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Sunny Seas

We made it! Drifter folded us in her cosy embrace and took us all the way to Devon and back in a happy and sickness-free holiday fortnight.

Martin was off work on the Friday, so as soon as I had had my ears irrigated (they nearly refused, until I told them I would be away at sea for two weeks) and could finally hear the skipper, he ordered us aboard and we left Hythe for Keyhaven near Hurst Castle, where we anchored for our first night at sea.
Next morning we sailed off merrily westwards in gorgeous sunshine past the Needles, all the way around Swanage and past chalk cliffs to Mupe Bay, an idyllic spot near Lulworth Cove but without vehicular access so populated only by walkers and boaters.
We ate lunch and blew up the dinghy so that we could row ashore, climbing up the steep hillside to enjoy Mediterranean views over the sea as Drifter bobbed peacefully on the waves. By the time we were back aboard we were so hot that even I managed a swim in the blue waters.
Lulled into a sense of security we agreed to take the bull by the horns and make a long passage overnight to put us in a sensible place for the rest of the holiday. So we set off late in the afternoon around Portland Bill and due East into the orange sunset, heading straight across a huge bay to reach Brixham by about 5am.
We were already catching mackerel over the back of the boat, so once we were feeling hungry Martin went below and came back with perfectly-cooked mackerel on toast with a cuppa. Divine! The freshest possible way to eat them, though somewhat un-nerving to see the beheaded, gutted tail slapping away testily on the plate as it awaited its fate.

Martin kindly did the entire night shift, though I managed to stay awake with him for all but a couple of hours through very calm seas and little wind. The skies were beautifully clear until the early hours, and we saw shooting stars aplenty in the darkness, though we were never out of sight of reassuring shore lights. A nice man guided us onto our berth and urged us to get our heads down, leaving payment to be arranged in the morning, along with refreshing, powerful showers.

Brixham is a small fishing port, formerly the home of the Brixham Trawlers with their distinctive red sails protected with local ochre. We walked around the harbour in light drizzle, with holidaying families at every step casting lines for crabs. The RNLI were holding a fundraising day, popping kids into inflated balls in the water, and giving advice. We picked up some books at their secondhand  stall and were impressed by the  number of clever garden arrangements filling un-used spaces around the village.

By lunchtime you could hardly move for chattering Brits munching on takeaway fish n' chips. Having topped up on supplies, we took ourselves back to the boat for coffee and a lazy read of the Sunday papers. That evening we found a restaurant and enjoyed a (fish) meal accompanied by a delicious local white wine, then set off for coffee in a cafe overlooking the sea wall, where the RNLI put on an amazing firework display just for us.
We left Brixham next morning in drizzle but the skies soon cleared and we had a sunny sail, seeing pods of porpoises jumping as we rounded Start Point, and hooking another couple of mackerel and a herring. As the skies cleared we enjoyed plenty of wind and sailed merrily to Dartmouth, a huge, beautiful river mouth built up on one side with attractive shops and buildings, and more rural and green on the other. A visitors' berth provided the perfect place to park in the sunshine and dress Drifter in her bunting to celebrate Martin's birthday.
I had brought more bunting for the saloon and he opened his presents happily, particularly the action camera with which he then maintained a video diary.
Next morning we had motored in the dinghy across to civilisation and were surprised to find we were there before anyone was up! However we enjoyed meandering round the pretty streets, visited the local museum and picked up fresh supplies in M&S before finding a lovely coffee shop with wi-fi to catch up on life ashore. Martin bought a cheap set of solar-powered fairy lights which were the perfect touch for our evening dinners aboard, the local market supplied fresh tomatoes and sweet yellow courgettes, and a pot of fresh basil which then accompanied us in his custom-built swinger for the rest of the trip.
We motored in the sunshine upriver to pretty Dittisham, picking up a midstream buoy and reaching land just in time for a pub lunch (the riverside pubs were full but a steep walk found us rewarded).
Then it was off across the river (zigzagging as I perfected my driving) to moor up in a prohibited corner, buy ice creams and walk uphill to Agatha Christie's summer home Greenway occupying a beautiful and serene hill from where we caught glimpses of Drifter through the woods.
By the time we returned to the boat we were ready for our daily G&Ts, but were disturbed as a largish private fishing boat apologetically came alongside to share the buoy. Martin got chatting with them with the result that they gave us a large side of cod, freshly fished and prepared so all we had to do was lightly cook it for supper. SO delicious, and a glorious sunset crowned a perfect day.
 10 August Birthday Treat
Martin had been keeping a good eye on the weather and suggested that since it was likely to rain shortly we ought to press on to Plymouth where we could stay at a proper marina with showers and facilities. So it was off and away and we were soon tucked up in Queen Anne's Battery, an MDL marina (so we could use our free nights) with super showers and a bar where we toasted our arrival with beer and nibbles in more sunshine.
 The timing was perfect in fact as we were able to make use of the launderette to get our clothes and towels etc washed and dried, and Plymouth had plenty to offer in the way of touristy places and shops. We treated ourselves to breakfast in a seaside cafe, bought gin glasses to take home, and enjoyed an alcoholic tour of the Plymouth Gin distillery (a very mellow and fruity gin, since you ask). Our walk back to the boat took us past some gorgeously swollen blackberries adding further to our healthy fresh-food diet.
Martin had no sailing trousers so we also wandered the mall shops and found some perfect trousers in an outdoors-shop sale, a replacement memory card for the action camera, stocked up with food and bought a new ipad for me. Stopping at the marina chandlers Martin also found some good sunglasses so one way and another we had a very indulgent day, topped off with a delicious meal on board.

Incidentally, I should perhaps mention that although I spent most of my time wrapped up in windproof and neck gaiters, the weather was largely lovely: I am just an eternally cold person. And on the odd occasion when I did get cold we found some exercise did the trick:

Once the rain had cleared through next morning we headed off homewards, sailing East for the first time to Salcombe, another pretty estuary but this one choc--a-block with RIBs: the harbourmaster explained that the holidaying families worked out it was cheaper to buy (and then pass on) their own boats to get to the beach than to take the water taxi all week. The town itself was pretty, lots of small lanes and sea-related shops as well as pubs by the jetty where we took ourselves for a drink when we arrived.

Martin bought a crab pot for use on Drifter and dropped this overboard whilst we were in Salcombe, though when he pulled it up the mackerel-trimmings-bait had been stripped clean and just one crab was left aboard.
He also had fun at various times trying to use his Dad's old sextant, though we never appeared to be at the right place at the right time to use it fruitfully. Oh, and he tried a variety of headwear...
From Salcombe we went to Teignmouth where we took a small visitors' pontoon just off a boring-looking seafront. It was great having the dinghy on davits making it easy to use, simply lowering it from the stern rather than having to store and manoeuvre it from the coach roof. We popped ashore to take rubbish and were delighted to find that there was far more to Teignmouth than met the eye.
A cheap shop in the town centre yielded a rubber mat to darken the fore-cabin hatch and serve double-duty as a protective mat elsewhere, black tin plates with a rim (perfect at sea) and a post office so we could finally post our cards. We treated ourselves to Sunday papers and coffee then set off to walk up the coast path a little way, eventually coming upon an area with apple trees and blackberries.

Finding ourselves with nothing useful to collect berries in, we figured the best we could do was to use pages from the Sunday papers. A quick Google search revealed instructions on making paper boxes so we folded and re-folded and  before long had a lidded box into which we could place our harvest. Job done... and the blackberry pancakes made a delicious breakfast next morning.
Next we were off to Exmouth where we negotiated a fast-running tide in shallow water to pick up another visitors' buoy. It was too far to row ashore so next morning we hailed the water-taxi and took off to explore the town.
Perhaps we explored in the wrong direction, but though we found what appeared to be the main square (and enjoyed coffee and croissants but failing wifi)we were unimpressed. However we did spot a lovely bicycle shop selling large, warm-sounding cycle bells and leather-strap wine carriers (£150). It turned out the shop did rentals and we ended up borrowing a red lady-shopper with wicker basket and flowers for me, and a huge black model for Martin with broad handlebars which he had to ride like a Harley Davidson. Most entertaining!
The rentals turned out to be an inspired choice as the council have built a cycle path along the Exe estuary, making it a beautiful way to spend a couple of hours and visit Topsham without worrying about the available depth of water.
The sun shone and we enjoyed fresh fish n' chips by the waterside in Topsham before cycling back and eventually finding the huge seaside waterfront in Exmouth, complete with cycle paths right along the front and sand and ice creams galore. We barely returned the bikes in time to hop on the taxi back to Drifter, and set off within minutes to catch the tide  back out East.

Sunny sailing brought us soon to the steep-sided cove at Beer, where Martin was keen to have a swim for anecdotal purposes.
Keen to capture some decent crabs, he pootled off in the dinghy to explore the sheer white cliffs and drop his crab pot overnight.
Beer is a beautiful little place. The sea so blue, the beach a mass of well-rounded large pebbles, and a rapid ascent up the footpath brought us idyllic views.
Back in the pretty village we fielded phone calls from Vicki, who had been invaded at home by un-scheduled painters wanting window-locks opened, and walked uphill to find Jimmy Green Marine, where we invested in a brand new woven ensign for Drifter as a birthday present (having found out she was 'born' on our first wedding anniversary). By that time we were ready for more ice creams, wrote postcards, and bought a freshly-caught and cooked crab from the beach-side fisherman's hut.

We lunched under way, Martin preparing the crab with our newly-purchased lemon, salad and bread to make a delicious plateful washed down with beer chilled at Beer (though the milk and other items we had dangled in the water to chill managed to escape as we lifted the anchor, so we spent some time dancing around on the spot trying to retrieve them).
A long sail with the spinnaker up took us all the way across Lyme Bay and around Portland Bill (somewhat choppy!) to arrive early evening somewhat chilly and ready for rest. We plumped for the nearest marina, which was basically full but turned out to have the teensiest space for us.

Actually Martin managed to park in three berths consecutively: it was not clear where the first was so we took a punt and found ourselves alongside another boat whose owner told us people made the same mistake all the time, and showed us an unmarked berth at the head of the narrow pontoons. Between them the men shook heads and tutted over how difficult it would be to dock smoothly, then Martin made it all look ridiculously easy. We were just tidying up when the owners of a boat we had now boxed in returned, informing us they were leaving at 5am next morning, so we ended up swapping places with them in pouring rain. Suffice to say the hot showers went down well that evening!
I think we went from there to Poole the next day, with the aim of staying a day or so as wind and rain passed. The marina at Poole was enormous by comparison, with vast walkways, though the facilities were mainly across the road, next door to Tesco, making breakfast simple. It rained all day so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner ashore, finding a branch of Hotel du Vin where we toasted our wedding anniversary in champagne before a relaxed and filling meal.

It was raining lightly in the morning and we decided a trip to Brownsea Island was in order, Martin having passed it often but never been ashore. So we motored closer and dropped anchor where we could easily row ashore, then spent the morning roaming the woods where Baden-Powell set up his first experimental Scout Camp.
Back at the dinghy we saw one of the huge jellyfish washed up: these Barrel Jellyfish were in abundance as we sailed off Devon, huge bin-bag-sized still creatures drifting past a metre or so below the waves.
So now we were ready to re-enter our home waters. We sailed quietly off our anchorage early next morning, just about missed the chain ferry at the entrance to Poole Harbour, and headed all the way up past the Needles and into the Solent as the sun shone. We made such good time that we would be back Friday afternoon, and Martin was twitchy to go around the Isle of Wight instead.

Luckily we knew Rosie would be home for a break, so we called her once we had coverage and she was keen to join us for a day's sailing, which turned out to be a great idea! She got the train and taxi to Ocean Village Marina on the River Hamble (another MDL marina more-or-less opposite Hythe)where we stopped for a quick shower and picked her up before turning back out for a beautiful sail in warm sunshine.
Sailing downwind Martin decided to pole out the genoa in addition to the cruising chute, and to our great amusement pulled out a yellow plastic bar labelled 'Professional Pole' from the locker. With a bit of rope and a fair amount of tugging and swearing, it did eventually rise to the occasion: here's a picture to prove that it indeed now qualifies as professional.
We had caught loads of fish during our holiday, and eaten them more ways than I could have imagined: on toast, grilled, butterflied, pickled and even as sushi!
Martin caught plenty once we had figured out the right combination of line and hook, and got to the point where he had them gutted within barely ten minutes of capture.
By the time we picked Rosie up we had a good bucket of fish waiting to be eaten
Well, we desisted from fishing for a while, all the way up to Beaulieu where we anchored in our usual spot for the night. Rosie had spotted something in the water as we stopped, so took the dinghy out and armed with a pair of goggles managed to peer over the side and detect a drowned fisherman's buoy. So when the Harbourmaster came for his £5.80 fee we told him about the hazard and he spent an entertaining quarter hour pulling it up onto his brand new boat.
Rosie also dropped the crab net, but next morning there was nothing in it but what appeared to be weed, though on closer inspection these were inch-high green crabs that looked for all the world like bunched seaweed.

Anyway, we enjoyed our G&Ts, ate fish, and spent a peaceful night.
Our last morning was glorious, sunny and windy, so we headed towards the Western tip of the Isle of Wight (though both Rosie and I had to insist on not rising before 7.30am in order to avoid the prospect of Martin whisking us off around the island). We headed through Hurst Narrows and anchored for lunch at Totland Bay, still in hot sunshine.
On our way back Rosie couldn't resist fishing, and caught another five mackerel in quick succession. Just as she was about to stop she wound in a long, spikey-looking fish which leapt from her grasp in the nick of she was determined to catch another. And, astonishingly, she did!
We were able to cook fresh (frozen) mackerel for Ron and Grace when they visited the next day, and the rest (including Rosie's pointy one) have gone up with her to the friend where she is temporarily staying so that she can cook them a personally-caught meal.

So our long holiday ended with so much sunshine that Rosie had a swollen red forehead the next day. Within moments of us tidying and leaving the boat it started to rain, and didn't stop for five days. We could hardly believe we had been so lucky with the weather.
As for Martin, he didn't stop smiling for the whole fortnight.

Crazy Week

What a bizarre week it has been.

We returned from our sailing holiday late Saturday afternoon, just as the rain started to splutter. From the time we rolled up the drive at home it just didn't stop.
Painters were due to repaint our exterior woodwork the first week in September, but had arrived early to take advantage of the good weather. Unfortunately they were obliged to halt for a good five days as it simply poured for most of the week after we returned.

The van remained on our drive for a couple of days since one of the painters was stung on the tongue by a wasp and rushed to emergency treatment at the hospital. And once the weather cleared a little there were polite chaps swarming everywhere trying to complete the job.

Unfortunately we are left with rotten fascia boards on a big section that will need ££ replacement, and a long section of missing guttering (again needing replacement) meaning that the current rain is dripping along the back of the house: not great if you want to come and go through the back door!

It was an interesting week juggling the painters' vans and cars with our own, since this week we ended up with all four children staying at various times. Rosie had to leave her house near the Oval and has a gap between rentals, so we did two trips up there to bring her and her wordly goods home in the interim.

Vicki finished her job as governess to Mary's boys and was here too so we managed to get everyone over to The Fleece in Bristol in time to hear Ben's band White Noise Radio play in the Underdog Finals. SO good, they lit up the stage and were very professional, a great opening sequence and good mix of pieces, and were the only ones to have used advertising at the venue and done a whole lot of promotional work in advance.
They were pipped at the post but won time at a recording studio and will have raised their profile no end. And the crowd loved them!

We drove home that evening and Rosie was back on the train to work next day, just missing Ben returning for a few days' break. Then on Saturday I took Vicki and all her belongings up to Oxford to her new rental house in Jericho, where I had a quick chat with lovely Lili and topped them up from Tesco before driving home through another sunset and evening rainbow.

Max had good news too whilst we were away, which he was able to share with his siblings: he has been promoted and received a pay rise, all great news after only five months in the job, and reassuring for him to know he is clearly doing well.

It's so rare for the children to see each other these days, and lovely that they get along so well and want to support each other. And wonderful for us to have the opportunity to see them and help them out when we can.

Family life. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Glass Half Full?

So here we are, a mere five days before DH and I depart for two whole weeks at sea, and I am still unsure whether I am looking forward to or dreading it.

  • I will have my DH to myself for 14 whole days;
  • We won't have to worry about what the children need, whether work beckons, or even what chaos reigns on social media;
  • There will be no pressure to cook fantastic meals as, let's face it, the galley and lockers can only produce so much magic;
  • If the sun shines we will be right out there soaking it up;
  • Scant Wi-fi means we can ignore the world at large for days on end;
  • With proper research I can target the very best marina showers for intensive therapy.
  • I will have DH to myself for 14 whole days;
  • If the children need any help, cars die, house leaks or any manner of other mayhem should occur we will be of no help at all;
  • there is a limit to the number of canned pies I (but not DH) can eat;
  • If the seas are rough, I will spend endless hours staring into a bucket;
  • Scant Wi-fi means no surreptitious updates from Facebook or newspapers;
  • I will be at the mercy of the tides, wind and boat, my pleas for running hot water scoring low on the barometer of needs.
Well, that's life in a nutshell I guess. Challenges to be faced, aspirations to be chased. Martin has long lusted after proper life on the ocean wave, so it has always fallen to me to be the practical one. What if? How do we? Don't forget...

Partly the issue is nuggets of memory. When we were at Durham, Martin was employed to deliver a boat along the coast of Spain, and I ended up spending my first ever fortnight on a boat, thrown into evergreen pallor and rollicking seas with barely a moment to work out which was the horizon. We sailed through the night in rolling mountains of inky blackness pierced with flotsam and muffled signals.

But of course the sun also shone. The stars twinkled and dawn was a vibrant delight, whilst I learned the utter bliss of a cup of tea brought to the bunk, and the still simplicity of a calm and gentle breeze.

Martin's Dad was also on that trip, meeting me for the first time at the airport, within hours of which I was throwing up fetchingly au naturel. To his credit he didn't rule me out peremptorily as a future carrier of his name, though I suspect he had his doubts. He did try in his best doctor-ly manner to pop me with Stugeron, which remains my emergency resource for sickiness of the sea-variety.

So the next two weeks will be interesting. Martin is all a-keen to go as far as the furthest Westerly farness as fast as possible, then glide back on the swelling tide. Me, all I really want is to sail peacefully on calm seas, admiring the coast as it drifts by and stopping in tranquil waters for G&Ts and sleepy sunsets.

Maybe a glass wholly full of G&T is the real answer.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Pineapple Book Club

By virtue of trying to do too many things this year, I missed out on virtually every Book Club meeting with the girls.

This week it was my turn to host so I made a big effort to ensure a good night was had by all. Despite the grey skies the garden room looked summery with pretty vintage embroidered tablecloths (which don't show up in the pic) and candles, becoming festive once everything was dark and glittering.
We had almost a full turnout, Mary being unable to come at the last minute (Governess Vicki is back there helping out today so will catch up on my behalf), and nine of us had a colourful meal including some beetroot, feta and herb patties, fishcakes, salads, bowls to make Eton mess and a strawberry and basil granita. Which all turned out rather well!
Max and Vicki returned just in time to eat leftovers and make us coffee, so happy faces all round. Actually they came to say hello whilst we were discussing the book, so Vicki took a quick pic to show it was right there amidst the food and chat.