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Sunday, August 31, 2008


Plymouth is, according to the various guides, a 'must do' stop in New England. The cradle of the nation, the place where the famed pilgrims built their settlement and joined with the Indians in the first Thanksgiving. Little remains of the early town, the oldest elements are probably at least a hundred years after that original, 1620, landing.

That, however, has not stopped the entrepreneurial inhabitants from making the most of their history. This is 'pilgrim-ville' in all respects from the moderately tacky to the truly inspirational.

The tacky end of things is the usual cafes, t-shirt shops and so forth but, kept fairly low key, the town manages to rise above this. Somewhat more conspiratorial is the approach to the 'Plymouth Rock'. We read about the rock where the pilgrims first stepped ashore, now enclosed in a grand granite portico as a symbol of the foundation of a nation. We arrive to find a large granite portico, for sure, all columns and mock-greek solidity, but surrounded by scaffold and fencing - it's being repaired. Fear not, for in the plywood walls surrounding the construction there is a perspex window through which you can see the famous rock. When we first walked by, there was a queue - to look at a rock - so we went to read the information sign.

Where we discover that this rock might be, but probably isn't, the place where the Pilgrims stepped ashore. It wasn't claimed as such until a hundred and forty years after the event, when the town wanted to build a dock or something there and someone said 'no, you can't, that rock is where the forefathers landed on our fair soil'. Sounds like a bit of nimby response to a local planning proposal if you ask me. But it worked (even though they first landed thirty miles away at Provincetown) and the rock is now revered.

Eventually we see it. We glance, can't remember if we even took a photo. 'It's just a rock' says Issie, disappointed. Yep.

The pilgrims, you may remember, came over on a ship called the Mayflower. In the 1950's, some crazy British chap had the idea of building a 'replica' and sailing her over as a gift to the nation. Despite some fairly negative responses in the press (my favourite was "sail the Atlantic in a wooden ship without engines - you'll never make it!") it actually got done and the Mayflower II is docked in Plymouth and still sails sometimes. Since few details survive about the original ship she's more inspired guesswork than replica but still very interesting. We enjoyed touring the ship, where they had knowledgeable guides and some people role-playing the captain and sailors. This is a more true to life representation of the story, where we begin to find out that only about half of the passengers were the religious 'pilgrims', others were along for the adventure and opportunity.

Landing in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod as the snow begins to fall, it must have been tempting to stay put and it seems many argued to do just that but luckily for them some tougher souls insisted on exploring further and found the site for Plymouth with running streams and higher ground which gave the colony a fighting chance of survival. It's hard to imagine the debate, argument and bickering that must have characterised their first weeks in this place, although spending a few days with our kids recreates it fairly well.

The day after, we took the bus a couple of miles out of town to visit 'Plimoth Plantation', I'll write another entry about that.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

South to the Cape Cod Canal

Things are going to be a little out of sequence, because on the other computer I've got text and pictures ready to post about Plymouth but that needs wifi. Meanwhile, let's tell you a little about our travels since then.

Right now were are in a gorgeous little harbour called Barnstaple. We're anchored in the outer reaches of the river, surrounded by sand spits, empty beaches and a large expanse of water that will undoubtably turn into mud and sand flats as the tide ebbs away. It's very reminiscent of parts of the British east coast, but then I guess there's a reason why it's called New England. The sunset tonight was stunning.

We motorsailed down from Provincetown, about twenty miles away on the tip of the Cape, where we spent the last two and a half days. Provincetown is a very interesting place, long a refuge from the restraints of more 'civilised' society, stuck on the far reaches of the far reaches of Massachusetts. From the early days of the 'pilgrims', through a long established portugese fishing community, wayward artists and writers and on to become the most liberal of towns in this liberal state, Provincetown is famed for it's acceptance of just about any lifestyle you can imagine and has a lively and outspoken gay community who make the place their year round or summer home. There is plenty of flamboyance and openness which makes for a very interesting place.

It also makes for a tourist mecca. The town's main drag, if that's not too bad a pun, is a mile long honey trap of galleries, boutiques, coffee shops and all manner of colourful stores. It's a circus and just too busy for comfort, save for the quiet Sunday morning we got ashore early and had a nice coffee and bagel overlooking the water. It was also a good place to get some provisions and fill up with water, and we met a lovely British couple who have been living on board their boat for six years, cruising the USA for the summer but this is as far north as they have got, taking their time a bit more than we do. We have mutual friends from the Caribbean cruising boats, and will probably meet up again this summer. They had stopped here in Barnstaple on the way to Provincetown so were able to give us the run down on where to anchor - very useful in such a shoal harbour.

We also go some quality beach time in Provincetown, finally able to easily get to good sandy beaches and even swim in the water, though a little more shivery than the Caribbean. We built forts, sandcastles, harbors for model boats and other such fun things, and have even bought a good kite which Issie is just learning to fly.

The kids have been a bit unsettled, to say the least, and we think it may be connected to the experience of the squall, having an effect on all of us in different ways. It's been hard to get them to behave, respect our rules and routines and settle in the evenings. We've had to deal with some seriously grumpy people all round at various times but have started to re-establish some regular routines and make some changes to give them some more responsibilities and ownership. Tonight we begin the updated bedtime routine - after dinner bedtime will be declared, at which point they have five minutes to get into pyjamas and brush teeth before joining a parent for stories. If they aren't there, they've missed stories. After stories, they no longer settle and sleep apart but are in their cabin for lights out. As long as the light stays out, that's it, they have to deal with their own disagreements or storytelling or whatever they choose. Let's see how this works out. We've been moving towards getting them to settle together for a while and now seems like the time is right, here's hoping. It's a good thing to do when you live in a house, in the small space of a boat it's even more important for Gesa and I to reclaim our space in the evenings and be able to do our stuff without a child at each end of the boat.

Right now, half an hour after lights out, they are still chatting but at least they haven't turned the light back on....

Tomorrow we get up early and head for the Cape Cod Canal, a seventeen mile cut through the cape that allows vessels small and large to avoid the hazards and distances involved in going outside the Cape. For us it's our route to Martha's Vineyard via Woods Hole and I'm looking forward to revisiting those places some sixteen years after I first came here.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Photos from our trip to Plymouth

Some photos from our arrival in Plymouth after the stormy trip.
- The bluefish we caught on the way
- The local tour boat that gave the kids some 'treasure'
- And them with the treasure
- Max's crab catch

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Pictures of us from Plymouth

Some recent family snaps....

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An eventful 24 hours

We've had a very interesting time recently. A Little too eventful in many ways.

Yesterday evening we left Boston Harbor and headed to the Harbor Islands. Seven miles out, these islands are a peaceful place to stay overnight and get a head start on our trip the next day. I plan to anchor behind the outermost islands. We go there, it's beautiful but the anchor won't hold. It just drags across the bottom, which is clearly flat rock with no meaningful cover of mud or stone. We bring up long strings of kelp. We try two places before falling back a couple of miles to a spot we know at an inner island, an hour's trip has turned into three hours but Gesa, and the kids, have been incredibly calm about the whole debacle. To make things easier we pick up a mooring instead of anchoring, pretending not to see the 'fee required' sign on the buoy since we are leaving early.

The kids are quickly in bed and it's a nice evening. I sit up top and fish, with a glass of red wine. Actually, I fish with bacon and drink the wine myself. We've had a huge lack of success fishing up here but after nearly three months my lightning quick mind has realised that perhaps the fish in the Caribbean can see my brightly coloured lures through the crystal clear water, whilst those up here need something smelly on the end of the hook to find their way through he gloom of the north atlantic. The bacon almost works, I get a strong bite but lose it after a fight. Hmm. Perhaps I'll tow some bacon on a hook tomorrow.

We go to bed with the alarm set for 6:30am. We're fast asleep at midnight when there is a birp-blip of a siren and a bright light shines on the boat. Gesa kicks me awake and says 'it's the police boat outside'. I blearily stagger on deck wondering what I've done wrong this time. Surely they can't be collecting fees now. In fact they are asking if we've seen anything, someone reported a red flare out this way. 'Is everything alright on board sir?'. 'Well, yes officer, I've finished the weapons drop and tested the rocket launcher so there won't be any more noise from us tonight'. Or maybe I say 'er, we were asleep, early start tomorrow'. I was still half asleep but whatever I said, he apologised for disturbing us and went on his way.

We wake to a beautiful morning and get on our way with a cup of coffee and breakfast on the move. It's a near perfect morning. The breeze builds a bit and we can sail very comfortably on the near flat sea. I rig the fishing line with a rasher of bacon. This is old, well past it's best bacon so handling it is not for the squeamish but out it goes, fifty yards behind us. It skips in the wake, happily failing to attract fish just like every other bait I've tried up here. But wait, after a couple of hours a glance back reveals more splashing than before. We haul in and there's a lovely fish on the end. Two feet long, it's a 'bluefish', probably about twelve pounds. Wow. The kids are impressed. My reputation as a fisherman is re-established, with my children at least.

Then we get our squall. You'll have read the other post, it was scary.

We motor into Plymouth, scarred by our experience and radio the harbormaster. We know there is a good anchoring spot but I ask about moorings, as a cheap mooring would be an easy option to recover from the squall. They are not cheap, a dollar a foot is a lot for us, so I confirm the anchoring space. No problem, he says, but we do ask that if you are anchored there is always someone on board in case the boat breaks loose. What??? That's why I have an oversized anchor, chain and insurance, surely it's my risk? I'll discuss that tomorrow. Sounds like a ruse to get us to use the overpriced moorings, I feel. We anchor and dig in firmly, we have no problem getting the hook to set and this is as secure as we have been all summer. But now Gesa is paranoid about us dragging and I sense a less than restful night ahead.

At anchor, Max wants to try his crab trap and lobster buoy, so out comes the trusty and smelly bacon and the trap is launched over the side. Meanwhile a tourist tour boat picks up a mooring close by and hauls up a lobster pot to show the tourists how it's done. They catch some crabs and 'race' them along the decks, with much laughter and squawking as people avoid being nipped by the unpredictable little critters. Whilst they are there, the water bubbles and flashes with a school of baitfish, being hunted from below and picked off by seagulls from above. Issie asks for the fishing rod and tries a few casts though to no effect. Or maybe not quite to no effect. As they drop the mooring, the tourist boat comes round and passes us a few feet away. He clearly wants to say something, maybe we're a little too close to his mooring? Nope, he leans out the window and shouts 'we do pirate cruises too, here's some leftover gold' and throws a bag of plastic 'gold' coins and jewelry for the kids. Much waving, cheering and exchanging of thank yous. The kids are initially disappointed it's not chocolate coins but then a happy hour of pirate play ensues.

We haul Max's lobster buoy and crab trap and sure enough, we too have three spiny, snappy crabs. Much interest from the kids and repeated drops of the trap bring up more of them. Max even ends up holding one once I have shown him how to grip it from the back between your thumb and forefinger. This crab has a body about three inches across, and legs twice that, so I reckon he'll drop it pretty quick once it scrabbles but no, he poses for photos and then calmly returns it to the sea.

A calmer afternoon follows and no the wind is easing further as night falls. We hope to have a more boring day tomorrow.

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One of the most frequent questions we are asked is 'have you had any storms? Scary times?' And thus far, we've been lucky enough to be able to say no, eight thousand miles and not even gale force winds.

Well, today the weather gods decided to play a few games with us.

We'd been sailing south in a moderate breeze from the north when a thunderstorm approached. It wasn't a very black cloud and we didn't reef. It passed with a few knots more wind and a lot of rain. We were ready for the rain. We washed down the decks and felt good about a clean boat.

Half an hour later and we are nearing Plymouth, our destination. Another thundercloud is approaching from behind us and looking more menacing than before. Do you think we should take in sail, Gesa asks me. Yep, this one looks a bit black and we're almost at the harbour entrance anyway. We turn the engine on.

A few spots of rain appear as we begin to reef the jib by rolling it up. We are about half way through this when all hell breaks loose.

The wind goes from maybe ten miles an hour to over fifty in an instant. The boat is thrown on her side, the main boom drags in the water and the sea cascades along the deck as the leeward rail dips under the water. It's at times like this we are glad we have a well designed and seaworthy boat. Water isn't going below and she's not going to capsize. The half reefed jib flogs and the full main tries to shake itself to bits. If we were in open ocean, prepared for this, we'd have perhaps a fifth of this sail area, if that. The jib gets stuck and I can't reduce it further, a line has got caught in the roll of the sail. The noise and shaking is horrendous and Gesa looks at me and asks what we can do. Not much. I need to get this jib safely away and then deal with the main.

Gesa dashes below to sort out the kids and grab safety lines. We are already, as always, wearing our lifejackets and harnesses. Issie was on the toilet when the squall hit and was thrown - no, Daddy, I slid - off the loo. Max was on a bunk and ended up on the floor. The books above the chart-table have left the shelves and catapulted themselves into the galley, where they are wedged underneath the stove.

Gesa tells the kids to get their lifejackets on and get under the table, where she places a bunk cushion to protect them from any more flying books or worse. Everyone is a bit scared. When she asks Max to put his lifejacket on he looks at her and says 'why, are we sinking?' She's not quite ready to give him a definitive answer. I'm watching the rigging jerk and shake violently and worrying about whether we can keep the mast in the boat as I work on the jib.

I manage to free the jib. Against all instinct, but making perfect sense, I let out more of the sail until the rope that is caught is freed, then it rolls up easily. I look for the wind direction, but our wind instruments read zero, they have stopped working. No problem, I can feel it and put the engine in gear and give it a lot of revs to push our nose into the wind. You can do this for a few seconds but over-revving the engine is stressful and makes it spit oil everywhere. I back off but the engine doesn't. The throttle cable has stuck full open. Now I'm worried about the engine but just as Gesa says 'what is that burning smell?' a jerk on the cable has it back under control.

Gesa hands me my harness line that she has dug out of the locker and she joins me on deck. Both clipped on, I can go forward and drop the mainsail whilst she keeps an eye on me. We can't see further than a few feet from the boat, there is lashing rain and wind blown spray everywhere. Going to the mast, I let the main halyard go and the sail just slides down to me, perfectly. Thank goodness for that, and I secure it and tidy up a few loose lines to make sure we don't risk a rope around the prop.

With the sails down, it is suddenly calm, relatively. The wind and spray are still howling around but the boat is comfortable and no longer shaking herself to bits. We take a deep breath, put the engine in gear and motor forward gently waiting for the squall to pass. The radio is full of boats calling the coastguard. Through the driving rain we can see a local ferry, about 80 feet long, sitting head to wind, riding it out.

Thankfully we had plenty of sea room, I knew we were a good half mile from any dangers and we are well under control before we used up that space - in fact we'd gone further away from shore anyway.

It all lasts perhaps twenty minutes, with the really strong winds for ten, maybe fifteen of that. As the wind dies away and the rain goes with it, we have a quick hug then go assess the damage. It is surprisingly little. Both sails are fine, although our jib pole has got a little dented. The stitching on one of our sun covers has torn, we knew that was a bit weak and it's easy to fix. The worst is the wind instruments - the vane at the top of the mast has twisted through ninety degrees so the little spinning cups are not horizontal but vertical. It explains the lack of data and needs a trip up the mast tomorrow. Hopefully it's just a case of turning it back and re-connecting some wires. The engine, although it's spat out some oil, seems OK.

Best of all, the rig is still taut and all the important bits worked well. It's hard to put more stress on the boat and rig than being caught out like this with full sail in so much wind. Whilst we're pleased how the boat coped, and that few things got loose down below, we are cross with ourselves for not taking in sail sooner. Hopefully we'll learn from this one.

The wind instruments record their maximium speed. Before they stopped working, it was fifty three knots, that's over sixty miles per hour. We think it kept rising after that. Not quite hurricane strength but at least storm force ten for a few minutes. That's enough for me.

All's well. N.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Being the odd family we are, our idea of afternoon entertainment today was to take the kids to Logan Airport where there is a play-place, viewing area and coffee.

Issie sits in the make believe plane and they 'fly' it around. The cockpit has labels.

"Max, we can land because there's 'landing gear' but there's no 'take off gear' so we can't take off again."

How logical....


You'll have read about Max towing his boat. To make it tow properly, we add a weight at the back in the form of a rock we picked up from the shoreline.

You also need to know that the kids have asked us when they can scuba dive, and we've told them not until they are ten years old.

We get in the dinghy to go ashore and tow Max's boat. Issie picks it up from the water but the rock drops out the back. PLOP. WAAAH. Max is furious and screaming at Issie. I try to defuse the situation.

"Well, OK Max, we've lost the rock that we got from the shore yesterday. What do you think we can do about that?"

"We can wait RIGHT HERE until we are older then dive down and get it."
"Hmmm, don't you see a problem with that plan?"
"Well, yes, when we get down there we might not know which rock is our rock"

Issie chimes in "We could go to the shore and get another one......" Good girl.

Photos from Cape Porpoise

Some photos to go with the blog entry about coming South from Portland, being:
- Beautiful waterfront in Cape Porpoise
- Outside the library in Cape Porpoise
- Max helps Daddy fill up the water canisters
- Max tows his boat

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Back in Boston

We've had a fun couple of days in Rockport, some thirty miles north of Boston, and today we came down the final stretch to close the loop on our Maine adventure since June. At last, the wind blew and we were able to sail for the whole four hour trip. The seas were short and lumpy, so Gesa was quickly curled up on her bunk but the sailing was fast and we are now bobbing fairly gently behind an island in Boston Harbor.

Tomorrow we will move into the main harbor, hopefully back to the space we first used back in June and then spend the next five days in and around the city, meeting old friends and seeing some more of the sights. Then we'll stock up and be ready for the next phase, new ground and the trip to Cape Cod and onwards.

The weather remains decidedly British in nature, only yesterday was warm and sunny which allowed for some much longed for time on a beach before the rain and greyness reasserted itself over New England today. It's not forecast to improve until next week but the sunshine can't come soon enough. It isn't cold but oh what a difference the sun makes. At least for now we are in and around the city where the weather is less of a feature.

More later. N.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

South from Portland

Gesa's been writing good long emails again, so I thought I'd borrow one to describe, in her words, our recent few days as we start heading back towards Boston from Portland. The weather has been uncooperative, as you will read, in fact this first week in August is proving to be something of an 'English' summer with plenty of rain and grey skies.

We've got photos to go with this entry but no wifi right now so in the interests of staying up to date, photos will follow. Gesa writes.....

Canada was great, but full on and with little sleep. It is good to get back to some sort of routine and reasonable bedtime. In fact the last couple of nights have been spot on with kids bedtimes, between 7 and 8pm.

Yesterday we were all in bed by 8pm, as our anchorage was so rocky, lumpy and bumpy, I spent most of the time lying down anyway, so I would not get sick, and it only made sense to go to bed. Unfortunately, the swell did not calm much until morning. We had left Portland early Wednesday morning with breakfast en route under grey skies. It didn't take long before the rain started and once we were in the more open water, out of the shelter of Casco Bay, the sea became rather choppy and uncomfortable. No sense in two of us getting wet, so while the kids watched a movie quite happily I lay on the couch, in full gear, ready to jump into action when needed. Every now and then I would open an eye (as I do not really sleep) to make sure I could see Nick and generally know all was well.

I feel reassured that he is wearing a man overboard tag and lifejacket. The tag beeps VERY loudly should he fall overboard, and of course the lifejacket inflates the moment he hits the water. Of course we hope never to test this, as it would then leave me in charge of the boat and trying to recover him. So, we always err on the side of caution. I would please ask you, if you sail, that the moment you lift anchor or leave the dock be wearing your lifejacket, no matter what the sea state is. The water here and the UK is COLD. It will put you into shock and you risk drowning before help can reach you. A lifejacket will at least keep you afloat until help gets to you. I write this with passion at the moment, as I have insisted that if we make the kids wear lifejackets, we do too, under all conditions. Nick, lying on the couch, just read an article to me about a 65 year old sailor who fell overboard in Rhode Island after being hit by the boom. His wife reported it at 430pm and his body was found three days later. He was NOT wearing a lifejacket! OK, the knock to the head might have killed him anyway, but if it hadn't he would have had a chance had he been wearing one. So, I hope you see my point. OK enough with the lecture.

We had planned to sail to Cape Porpoise, but things were so awful and the rain quite heavy that we cut our trip short by an hour and a half and sheltered at Wood Island. We stopped here before with Nick's parents. Not particularly exciting, and rather stressful getting in as it is quite shallow. I would love to say it was very sheltered because of this, but because quite a swell had built up with all the wind we had recently, and now the rain, it was particularly unpleasant, especially at high tide when the rocks no longer provided some sort of barrier. We found one boat anchored, and used her as a mark to anchor our boat, in keeping a good distance from the mooring balls (empty at the time). We did end up in the middle of the channel, but figured there was still enough room for boats to maneuver either side of us and sod it, it was pouring rain and we were dug in hard. Unless someone told us to move we were staying put. Well, over the course of the afternoon boat after boat arrived in the anchorage seeking shelter, just like us. The mooring balls were taken up and the rest anchored anywhere there was a space. Blocking the channel was no longer an issue.

Nick managed some school with the kids, while I basically supervised with a hot water bottle from the couch, until Nick was clearly getting frustrated and I stepped in to help finish the lesson. All of us were rather grumpy and on edge from all the rocking, so Issie in particular was being very resistant to school. Thankfully, the promise of hot chocolate and marshmallows encouraged her to complete her work and we had a far more pleasant end to the afternoon. I wish I could say I had a great night's sleep, but in fact got very little as the boat got into a rhythmic rocking from nothing, to a little to more to a big wham, then stop and start the cycle again. Read back to Nick's blog on his crossing from the UK to the Canaries to see what I mean.

So, we took advantage of being up reasonably early this morning to set off before breakfast. We managed a coffee, however my mocha was probably a mistake as any sailing into rough sea, I should know by now, should not have coffee preceeding it. It makes me feel worse. This time better prepared with rain kit etc., but we could not be prepared for the continued rocky seas. Ug, it was awful and not what I signed up for. We also had not eaten, which did not help, and it was far too rough for me to prepare anything. I eventually managed to stumble to the cupboard to get some tortilla chips (salt always helps), but in all the rocking, things shifted in the cupboard and out dropped the grapefruit juice, breaking the lid and gushing juice all over the galley. Now of course the last thing I wanted to do is bend over and clear it up, but it was the lesser of two evils, the other being on deck and being on watch. 45 minutes into our 5-6 hour trip to the Isle of Shoals, thankfully Nick had a change of plan, agreed things were miserable, and said we could aim for Cape Porpoise, yesterday's planned destination.

Well, you would not believe it. After navigating the zillions of lobster buoys at the entrance, and reading the GPS closely, we found a perfect spot to anchor and guess what - it was perfectly calm. Heaven!!!! It was now only 1030am so we made up a sort of brunch, which included the poor imitation of 'Kraft Macaroni and Cheese'. Felt much better and keen to explore ashore. Well, what a treat that was. The sun came out and we had a very pleasant walk into town from the town dock passing many beautiful homes, a mix of year round and summer residences. The old hardware store has turned into the 'Cape Porpoise Kitchen'. Not only could we find a nice cup of coffee for us and home baked cookies for the kids but free Wifi as well. It was an interesting shop, clearly targeted at the more affluent summer residents. It had a deli with a great assortment of cooked goodies, to a fantastic cheese selection, a large range of wines (none of which we could afford!), and jars and jars of every sort of interesting and exotic mixture you can think of, like brown sugared peach pie filling jam, to pesto and artichoke dip. It of course had the typical seaside Maine selection of gifts and souvenirs (more tasteful than tacky), and a few tables on the side to enjoy your coffee or light lunch. We ended up staying a couple of hours while Nick wrote up some blog, and we made a couple of calls. In the meantime, the library across the road had opened its doors so after buying some milk and fruit at the market store we spent another 40 minutes just sitting and reading in the library. Even better, they had a whole bench full of free magazines so I stocked up. By the time we finished and got back to the boat it was well past 4pm. No wonder I was hungry. But how relaxed it all was, just what we all needed.

Max was keen to sail his toy boat so, on return, Nick loaded up the dinghy with water containers and they headed back to the dock to fill up while Max towed his boat behind. Issie and I relaxed on board. Me reading my magazines, Issie wrapping presents for the Fairy Ball. What a nice change after the nightmare 24 hours we just endured. I am indeed rather tired, and am rather behind in writing and sorting photos, but it will now have to wait for another day as it is time to head to bed. Tomorrow we will indeed be heading to the Isle of Shoals, but now only 22 miles, about 4 to 4 1/2 hours. The winds have completely died down, so hopefully the swell will too and we will have a better go of things in the morning. Maybe even giving us enough breeze to use some sail. Nick remains hopeful having already taken the sail cover off the main in preparation!!

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Mummyism - a step too far

"Max", says Gesa after dinner, "now go wash your hands and face"

"OK." says Max and he happily moves towards the heads - our term for bathroom.

"...and you might as well brush your teeth too." Uh oh.

Max stops in his tracks. "NO MUMMMY. Because then you'll say pyjamas, stories and bed and I want to PLAY"

It's all downhill from there, although he is now in bed and quiet at 7:35, which is pretty good.

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Max's favourite fluffy toy, a white Bunny, is the subject of a tragic washing accident. Washed with one of Dad's red shirts, Bunny is now a delightful shade of pink. Thankfully, Mummy was in charge of that wash.

Bunny is returned to Max without comment and he says nothing too.

Four days later, we are in the car. "Max," says Issie, "why is Bunny pink?"

"Bunny's PINK! WHY IS BUNNY PINK!!". Max is very cross about this.

He clearly has his father's observation skills.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

The North American life

I really do not miss owning and driving a car. We have just returned from a thousand mile trip through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario. And whilst the driving has been fairly troublefree, and the kids mainly quiet and well behaved in the car, it's still a lot more fun to go by boat. Somewhat slower though.

Personally, I've not been away from the boat for even a single night since the Canary Islands, November 10th 2007. How does that feel, to be sleeping in a bed that doesn't move, living back in the 'real world'? Well, somewhat sadly it's like riding a bicycle but less fun, you never forget and it is depressingly easy for the live-aboard life to slip away and the rest of the world to reassert itself. It's like taking off the comfortable, well worn casual sweater and changing into a suit or uniform, adapting to the expectations and behaviours of the mass market.

Suddenly we are in a rental car, the footwells full of candy wrappers, cardboard cups of weak coffee covered by tiresome plastic caps. We drive along wide, uncluttered highways passing through stunning countryside and there must be a million great walks, vistas, villages and other things to see along the way. Blink and you miss it, much to the children's frustration. we've stopped saying 'hey look there's a.....' because by the time heads are raised from books or video, the sight has passed and the accusations begin. 'I can't see didn't tell me quickly enough...can we go's all your fault dad...nick, why do you do that?....' and so on.

The interstates and autoroutes give way to urban Montreal, a nightmare maze of crumbling 1960's concrete roads, bridges, intersections and construction populated by experienced, aggressive city drivers who know that to get from one road to the other requires a three lane slide in less than half a mile and any space more than half a car long is more than enough to let them in at sixty miles an hour.

I'm getting old, because whilst our accommodations were perfectly fine - an interesting farm B+B then the generous use of the basement flat in Gesa's sister's house - I no longer sleep particularly well during trips like this. The kids see their cousins so rarely that bedtime routines are a mere memory but playing till near midnight is not a recipe for quiet bedtimes and restful days.

We take advantage of Montreal's plentiful shopping malls. Both in Laval, where Gesa's parents live and across town in Lasalle near her sister's family, the expanse and range of stores never fails to shock me however often I see it and know it exists. When places like Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire have multiple megastores within a mile or two, it's not hard to see just how much the modern economy depends on massive consumption of cheap goods and never-ending shopping. Even with our constraints of space on board, we still succumb and walk out with more than we went in to buy. It is a lifestyle that increasingly depresses me and I resolve more strongly to break away from our retail weaknesses when we set up home in Canada.

So I'll write these resolutions down now, because telling our readers about it means that we're more likely to actually follow through, just like we did when planning this trip.

1) Buy less and buy quality. Quality is cheaper in the long run, and real quality is timeless. No more no-name ebay bargains.... (exception - temporary items allowed, e.g cheap furniture pending upgrade)

2) Ask 'do we really need this'. Items of desire allowed, but a rational explanation required.

3) One in, one out. What does this item replace? Strong reasoning needed if the answer is 'nothing'

4) Where does it live. Everything must have an accessible, sensible storage place. And that place isn't a bigger house...

Well, good intentions anyway so ask me how it's worked in ten years time.

Our trip to Canada

We've just returned from a hectic week of visiting north of the border. One of our family friends in Brockville, Ontario, had to have heart surgery and we felt it was time to visit, which was also a good change to stop at Montreal and see Gesa's parents and her sister and family. So we booked a mooring in Portland for Ty Dewi, arranged a rental car, packed an amazing amount of stuff for just a week, and headed off.

On the Monday morning, we got picked up by the nice people from Enterprise rental and were on the road by 10am. Brockvile was a long and tiring eight hour drive away but, reinforced by our portable DVD player and lots of story CD's, plus all manner of junky snack food, the kids and us made it OK.

We'd looked at nearby hotels then found a farm B+B. With happy memories of farm B+B's in the UK, we booked a couple of nights, and at a very reasonable rate. The farm has exotic breeds, including llamas and emus, and looked really interesting. It was, and in a number of different ways. Our rooms were nice and comfortable and the kids room had many farm toys and cars which delighted the kids - although returning a few hundred tiny plastic cows and sheep to the correct, standing position on the table at the end of the trip was, well, tedious in the extreme. Outside chickens, ducks, geese, dogs, goats, sheep and many more animals roamed freely around the farmyard making the full range of farmyard noises and aromas.

Overnight the animals got a little quieter around 1am before the first cockerel at about 4am. "Mummy," says Max, "don't the animals EVER sleep?". Come 6am Issie said to the cockerels "OK, OK we're awake already". Oh the joys of country life. Downstairs, breakfast was served and we got off to begin our day.

Just a few miles away live Oren and Marguerite, long-time friends of Gesa and honorary grandparents to Issie and Max. It was Oren who, having felt unusual pains in his chest, ended up two days later with a quadruple heart bypass. He's recovering really well and it was good to see him in such good form just weeks after major surgery. Marguerite has been looking after him and their house, and when we arrived she had managed to successfully clean the floor and gutters, safely coming down the ladder only to trip on their front step and badly cut her lip and face. Apart from making her slightly less photogenic, she seems to be fine now. We had a fun visit with them, including a nice lunch at an honest to goodness, and deservedly popular, American Diner.

Another evening at the farm was slightly more restful, and Max got the chance to help out with feeding the animals, including a newborn lamb that had arrived the previous evening. Issie displayed her irrational fear of dogs and combined it with her drama queen command performance so was soon led back inside to escape the friendly farm puppies.

The next day we were on the road again for a few hours into Montreal, arriving at Oma and Opa's (our German name for Nana and Grandpa) who welcomed us all with much love and a nice dinner. It's been a long time since we visited so it was lovely to get together again. After dinner we drove across Montreal to stay with Anke and Norman, our sister and brother-in-law and their three kids. Issie and Max haven't met their cousins for many years, so after introductions they were right into play and fun. So much so that we totally lost all control of bedtime and it was gone midnight for all of us.

Over the next couple of days we spent time at both places and the various mega-retail opportunities on the drive from one to another. Late nights and hectic socialising took their toll but we enjoyed ourselves.

We met up, for the first time, with Elisabeth and Hans, our e-connection to Oma and Opa. Whilst Gesa's parents don't have a computer, Elisabeth and Hans (both well into their eighties or beyond) do, and they download and print these blogs regularly so that Mama and Papa can read them. Thanks once again to both of you.

We went, with Oma and Opa, to the Montreal Biodome - a fabulous arrangement of four ecosystems built within the old Olympic Velodrome next to the 1976 Olympic Stadium. We walked through Tropical Rainforest, Canadian east coast woodland, Canadian maritime seashore and Arctic / Antarctic environments with their range of flora and fauna. A picnic afterwards and a ride home on the Montreal metro capped of our trip for Issie and Max.

On our last day we drove halfway home to meet up with some new friends in Hanover, New Hampshire. We'd met them in Bar Harbour, Maine, riding the same bus when Issie got chatting to a little girl the same age. One conversation leads to another and we took up their invite to drop in when we were passing. Hanover is a beautiful town, home to Ivy League Dartmouth College, and their home was a few blocks from Main Street on one side, and a few more blocks to the river and forest walks on the other, a lovely location.

We had to work hard to tear ourselves away from such hospitality and get back in the car for the final few hours to Portland but once back, Ty Dewi was still bobbing safely at her mooring and the nice guys from Portland Yacht Services ran us out to our home. It was very nice to open up the cabin doors to the familiar smells and sights of home, and to be back on the water in our own little space. Now all we have to do is find out where to stow all the stuff we've brought with us.....
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Sunday, August 03, 2008

A warm welcome in Pemaquid

Weren't we going to Damariscove, lovely lonely island, one of the earliest European settlements in the New World?
Well yes but the weather has a way of changing our plans and once again, wonderful, serendipitous things happen as a result.

The evening before departure, we listened to the weather forecast, as usual, to hear predictions of up to twenty-five knots from the south, gusts to thirty maybe. Whilst there's nothing dangerous in that, the harbour on Damariscove looks open to the south so we would have felt the waves and life could have been uncomfortable. The weather front would also bring cooler, wetter weather so the thought of being stuck on a lonely island, remaining on board because of the weather and being bounced by the swell did not really appeal.

A look at the chart and the pilot book suggested that Pemaquid might be a good choice. Another historic place, site of a fort that had been fought over and rebuilt many times by the English, French, native Indians and last of all the local settlers. A choice of harbours with more protection looked good so we plotted a course and headed on.

It was a lovely day and a good downwind sail through interesting island scenery, although the rolling got to Gesa eventually but as we rounded Pemaquid point the sea flattened out and we found the harbor easily. Unfortunately the more sheltered inner harbor was full of moorings and lobster pots with no space to anchor, so we came back to the outer harbour and found a spot with a gap in the lobster buoys.

Just as we were settling, a hobie cat sails by slowly and says hello, then offers us a mooring. Its a little further in, more sheltered and looks good if the wind is going to blow. So we took that and before we know it we are invited ashore for a drink.

Maybe it's the boat, her British flag, our accents, or something else, but we find everyone is interested in our story. When people also have kids of a similar age, things tend to just click and yet again we found ourselves adopted into the warmth and generosity of an American family.

Based in Connecticut, and spending two months in their house in Maine, this family were clearly enjoying their summer and taking advantage of a rare chance for Dad to spend the whole summer with his wife and kids, a blessing we understand only to well. With two boys almost the same age as our kids, and a baby daughter, a drink together turned into dinner, then an invitation to drive us out to the lighthouse the next day, and breakfast, and dinner again and, and, and is there no end to the generosity of people we meet on this coast.

There's a real contrast between here and our time in the Caribbean. There, we lived outdoors, in the water, on the beach, but we never really met or talked in depth with any local residents. Our social life was with other cruising sailors. There is a clear cultural and economic barrier between us - rich, white tourists and the mainly coloured and relatively poor local population.

Here in Maine, there is much less difference and common ground is found very quickly. There is also much more wealth here, so to offer and to accept hospitality is easier. We can usually only offer our story and company in return, and we personally undertake to 'pay it forward' and welcome travellers into our home once we settle in Canada. It's also another reminder of how fortunate we are to live and travel in a world of abundance where time and relationships matter more than money.
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