Thursday, 30 October 2014

Red Kite

First and foremost, apologies to 'our fans'.  I don't imagine there are many of you out there, but I know for sure that poor old Chris W has been religiously checking for updates and has been continuously disappointed for months.  Apparently, he likes to drink a cup of tea and take ten minutes out of his busy day as a high flying lawyer to read the blog when a new post goes up.  Considering how much this downtime must cost his firm, I'm thinking of contacting his employer to see if they will pay me to assure my silence and thereby keep Chris running at full capacity each day.  If there are any other hot shots out there reading the blog while on the clock, let me know and I'll add your company to the list.

Exploring the Algarve coast
Last time, we left you wondering what our next boat would be.  This has provoked a fair amount of interest and even kind offers of help with the search.  Considering the long break after that blog post, I wonder if I would do well writing scripts for TV series.  After all, they always leave viewers with a good cliff hanger before breaking at the end of a series.

Kate, trying to save money on flights home
I can now tell you that we have found and purchased Firebird's replacement.  Unfortunately, I can't go into all the details or publish photos of that boat at this time.  She's a long keeled, steel ketch, slightly longer than Firebird.  She needs a moderate amount of work to the outside and a complete refit inside.  She's definitely not a 'doer upper', but she's not quite up to our standards and when the time's right, we're going to spend several months getting her up to scratch and will end up with the perfect home that we will be able to confidently take anywhere in the world.

Me in Portugal
Not wanting to leave readers disappointed by my vague announcement of the new boat, I shall instead divulge details of our new, new boat!

We left the Canary Islands after selling Firebird and went to Portugal before returning to the UK.  We had really enjoyed spending time in the Lagos area while waiting with Firebird to cross to the Canaries back in January, so we returned, this time for some warmer weather and plenty of piri piri chicken on the BBQ.

We are now back in England and the reason we returned, instead then immediately starting work on the new boat, was that we received an inordinate number of wedding invitations and didn't want to turn any down.  To be precise, six invitations rolled in for weddings spanning August to December.  We have so far attended four of these and each one has been an absolute treat.  We really do love a good wedding.  Who couldn't revel being surrounded by friends and family, a blow out meal, everyone dressed to impress, a disco and of course, watching a dewey eyed couple say "I will", being there to witness the very start of their journey through life together?

While in Portugal, an amazingly timed email from Kate's old scrum master (read 'manager' if you don't know what that is) hit her inbox, asking if there was any chance that she wanted some work.  We hadn't been planning to work, but it made perfect sense, seeing as we didn't have any other plans apart from the weddings.  Needing a roof to keep the British weather off out heads, we moved in with my sister in London, who had a spare room we could borrow.  Mr V, her cat, was initially unimpressed with our presence, but he soon warmed to us.  He's a very unusual cat and we had great fun getting to know him.  He's less 'cat', and more a cross between a puppy and a shy, grumpy old man.

Spending quality time with Mr V
I was starting to think I had landed squarely on my feet.  I was staying at home in the flat, chilling with Mr V while my sister and Kate went to work.  If I chose, I could lounge around in my boxers until at least 17:00 each day.  Before long, Kate started wondering if my time could be better spend also earning some money, to top up the coffers in preparation for the new boat's refit.  I'm not sure I completely agree, after all, the role of cat companion is an important one, but when it turned out that a neighbouring team was looking for a developer with my skills, I sent in my CV.

Mr V hiding in the bath
Well, I was unlucky enough to get the job and for me, too, it was once again time to roll my sleeves up, join the rat race and spend Monday to Friday pushed up against the grind stone.  Some say that life is like a grind stone: Depending what you're made of, it will either wear you down or make you shine.  I'm like to think that I'm a shiner and I'm certainly really enjoying getting stuck into software development again.  I'm meeting a load of friendly, technical people and learning several new technologies and methodologies.

This brings us back to the new, new boat that you may have been wondering about for the last few paragraphs.  Now that we were both working in West London, living at my sister's place in South East London was less than ideal.  The commute was 1.5 hours each way and by the time we had travelled in and out, worked, eaten, got ready for the following day, it was time to go to sleep.  We needed a better solution.

I'm not sure which of us came up with the idea, but all of a sudden, we were looking at second hand motorboats online.  Kate is amazing at finding a good deal and she didn't disappoint this time.  We're now the proud, albeit slightly embarrassed, owners of an Eastwood 24 cabin cruiser, called Findon Lady II.  Frankly, we think this name is rubbish and have unofficially renamed her Red Kite.  When we get a chance, we'll follow the traditional renaming ritual.  Hopefully not too many of our sailing friends will read this.  We haven't become one of "them", although I have to say that we do totally love this boat.  When you remove the design constraints put on a vessel that needs to be able to sail, you get a whole lot more living space, and stacks more storage!

Findon Lady II moored for the night in Cookham, with Kate and my sister on the journey from Reading to London
We moved Red Kite from Reading to London over a weekend and were again slightly abashed to admit that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Maybe it's "them" that have got it right after all.  We got up in the morning, turned the key, slipped the lines and were off.  The Thames offered flat water, picturesque scenery and a very relaxed boating experience.  We didn't need to manhandle sails out of bags and up masts, we didn't need to keep an eye on tell tales, trim the sails, battle against sea sickness, worry about bad weather hitting and best of all, you could put anything you liked down on the table and it would stay exactly where you left it!

Kate below decks making a cuppa
On the Sunday morning, when it became obvious that the fuel gauge wasn't working, due to the fact that it was still reading 100% and we had been motoring for a good eight hours, we found the nearest place to fill up.  Well, I never did 'fill up'.  Seeing as it was the first time I had refuelled this boat, I didn't know what to expect and I lost my nerve when the pump read £120, calling it a day before the tank was full.  I couldn't believe that we could legitimately be spending this much money on petrol.  I worried that maybe the filler pipe was disconnected and I was pumping brown gold directly into our bilges.  Upon inspection, this wasn't the case and I quickly remembered why we are sailors at heart!  We didn't spend that much on diesel sailing all the way from London to the Canaries in Firebird.

The only reason we need to stop us switching to motor boats for good!
So there you have it, we're back on a boat, moored closer to work and have got some free time in the evenings, which I can spend on things like blog writing!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Boat Hunting

I have just finished reading a book about WWI submarines.  Thankfully, we're not hunting boats in the way that they used to, although there have been similarities.  In those early submarines, which had no way of filtering their environment, the air used to become repugnant after a lengthy dive.  Following a curry night, I have been running re-enactments in the interests of historical appreciation.  It turns out that Kate doesn't appreciate history much.

We have been making viewings of potential replacements for Firebird.  The objective is to find a really strong boat that can take almost any amount of punishment.


First we looked at our options in fibreglass.    It seems that a small hull would have more strength than a larger one.

That being said, we decided that Kate would probably need slightly more space for her shoes and handbags, so we ruled out fibreglass.


We know the least about wood in terms of boat construction techniques, but we have heard that a well made wooden boat can tackle anything.  After all, Knox-Johnston's Suhaili sailed comfortably non-stop round the world and that was ages ago. 

With so little knowledge of wood, we had to trust the sellers to tell us about the condition of their boats.  The owner of this one said that she only had cosmetic damage and would be as good as new after a lick of paint.  He seemed like a nice guy and we had no reason to doubt him.

This seller told us that yes, there is a hole in the hull, but with wood, this doesn't represent a problem and in fact, we should think of the hole as a benefit by way of gaining a convenient way to fish.

We then remembered that although Knox-Johnston had made it round the world in Suhaili, he also had to dive into shark infested water in order to carry out a repair below the water line which was causing his boat to fill with water.  Maybe wood isn't for us after all.


Now we're talking.  Aluminium boat owners will probably tell you that you may as well save yourself a lot of time and effort and instead of buying a steel boat, just buy a rusty old barbecue in which to burn your money.  I don't know what they think the problem with corrosion is.  We found this boat which was really spacious and rust hardly seems to be a problem.

We have seen some fine vessels and the choice is going to be a hard one.  The search continues.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Firebird Flies the Nest

After 2 years, 2 months and 2 x 2 days, our custodianship over Firebird has come to an end and it's time for her to continue her journey without us.  We haven't thrown in the cruising towel, in fact, it's quite the opposite and we're looking forward to continuing our trip more than ever.  It just won't be with Firebird from now on.

Firebird, as we first found her at Noss Marina, Dartmouth
When we got metaphorically and physically shaken up in heavy weather between Portugal and the Canary Islands, we decided that we would never put ourselves in 'that' situation again.  What, however, was 'that' situation?  After a good long think, it boiled down to being scared that our boat was vulnerable to suffering serious, potentially critical damage by the conditions we were experiencing in open water.

After transportation by road to Shepperton Marina.  A beautiful place 20 miles up the Thames from London

This gave us three options:
  1. Stop our sailing adventure in the Canary Islands and become landlubbers again
  2. Make one more offshore passage, or hire a skipper and crew to do so for us, and dive into the Med, to only ever make day sails with fair conditions forecast
  3. Change boats
The Dark Ages.  Until I installed new lighting,
we could barely see below decks after dark

Following a pep talk from our dear and trusted friends Warren and Faye, aboard Moonshine, it became immediately clear that options 1 and 2 were out of the question.  We enjoy living on a boat and the cruising lifestyle too much.  We wouldn't be happy being restricted to day sailing as we do actually enjoy the longer ones and the freedom of being able to go wherever we like in the world.  They even tried to convince us that option 3 wasn't necessary, but for us, it was.

Firebird is very well made.  We knew this and Warren, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of boat design and construction, confirmed it.  As engineers have come to better understand GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic, or fibreglass), manufacturing methods have improved, profit margins have become ever more important, buyers demand higher and higher performance, so hull thickness has decreased.  Firebird doesn't have this problem.  Built in 1985, she is old enough that her hull was over-engineered.

Even though Firebird is well made and can stand up to a great deal of punishment, we could never sleep soundly when cruising offshore, even when we weren't getting battered by a storm.  This wasn't her fault, it's just modern yacht design coupled with our cautiousness and active imaginations.  On the whole, design considerations seem to have leant more towards performance than safety these days.  This obviously doesn't mean that modern boats aren't safe.  Of the potential catastrophes that would be running through my mind while I was off watch, trying to sleep, most of the thousands of modern fibreglass yachts that sail across oceans each year don't experience any.  On the other hand, sometimes they do, with tragic consequences.  Maybe we were about to be the one boat per decade that runs over a floating whale carcass that forces the keel up through the hull.

Stepping the mast at South Dock Marina, London
Some people think we're crazy for worrying about Firebird letting us down, but it just turns out that sailing offshore with a spade rudder, fin keel, saildrive and no redundancy in the rig isn't for us.  I imagine that the biggest causing factor of loss of yachts has nothing to do with their design and is more likely due to poor seamanship and navigation.  Although we can try to rationalise the risks as much as we like, what ultimately matters is whether we drop off to sleep when our head hits the pillow while under way.  So we decided that poor Firebird, who has served us so well over the last couple of years, had to go.

Our first trip in Trinity, our tender.  Trusty Yammy (the outboard) powers us along Limehouse Cut, London, to a breakfast stop
Actually selling her was an unbelievably painless process.  We were imagining that, especially in the current second hand boat market, it would take a long time and we would almost have to give her away.

Something tells me Firebird was over loaded!  This is the
new waterline after we had removed our belongings
Kate put an advert on Milanuncios, the Spanish Gumtree equivalent (if you don't know what that is either, Mum, it's essentially an online classifieds section).  She did this a day or two before we set sail from Fuerteventura to Tenerife.  The advert ambiguously said that Firebird was "in the Canary Islands".  Unbeknownst to us, while we were sailing  to Tenerife, we received an email from someone called Saul, replying to our advert.  He wanted to know where Firebird was, for a viewing.  Guess where Saul lived?  Tenerife!

Saul even wanted to keep Firebird in the marina that we were currently in.  He had been looking for a replacement yacht since he sold his previous one three years earlier and hadn't found anything that he liked.  It was meant to be!

Saul doing a thorough job of cleaning and repainting
To cut a short story shorter, Saul bought Firebird and we signed her away a few days after David and Pauline had flown home.  We couldn't very well sell our home from under ourselves while we were supposed to be receiving visitors!

I think that both parties were happy with the final price we agreed on and Kate and I were really glad that Firebird will have a great new life in Tenerife.  Saul is a really nice guy and a very competent sailor as well as being handy when it comes to the maintenance side of things.  He has been keeping us updated with the work he has been doing to keep Firebird looking her best.  He doesn't currently have any plans for sailing further afield than the Canaries, but you never know what the future holds and in any case, we're sure that Firebird will be more than happy to live in the sunny Canary Islands where there will always be plenty of wind to fill her sails.  We wish Saul and Firebird many happy years together and, of course, fair winds.

The last time we saw Firebird.  Kate with Saul at Marina San Miguel

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Bongo Turtles

Where can you buy coral for two fivers?  Tenerife (tenner reef, geddit?).  Comedy gold like this doesn't come easily.  This particular corker was the result of my night watches on our journey from Gran Tarajal, Fuerteventura to Marina San Miguel, Tenerife.

I have read a fair few books and blogs that others have written about their sailing journeys and the night watches that I read about sound much more romantic than mine ever are.  These other lucky sailors are usually wallowing in their cockpits wearing t-shirt and shorts.  They will mention that they threw their jumpers away months before and haven't needed them since.  Now, they enjoy balmy nights with cooling breezes blowing gently through their silky, tangle-free, moisturised hair.  Whilst they sprawl out in their cosy cockpits, slipping cool grapes fresh from the refrigerator into their mouths, they look up at cloudless skies, full to bursting point with millions upon millions of stars and contemplate profound topics such as the meaning of life, or whether there's someone out there, orbiting one of those countless other stars, staring  back at them.  No doubt, if there is, it will be a little green man kicking back in the comfortable cockpit of his levitating yacht, feeling equally smug about his situation.

Smiles as we approach Tenerife
My night watches, however, don't bear any resemblance to this idyllic bliss.  I'm usually tired, cold, huddled uncomfortably right up into the only corner of the cockpit that is marginally safe from the onslaught of chilling, salty spray blowing back over our deck and I don't have any time for cool grapes because I'm busy dodging shipping lanes, adjusting our course and pulling on soggy sheets to trim our sails.  Cowering under an overcast, ominous-looking sky, hoping that we're not about to make the acquaintance of an ugly, unforecast storm, I don't get to turn my mind to philosophically challenging subjects.  The best I can do is come up with bad jokes that barely make sense.

It's not really as unpleasant as I make out, I have simply misplaced my rose-tinted glasses so am making do with some grey-tinted ones I had lying around.  We are both actually enjoying the sailing.  We haven't felt badly seasick for quite some time, we have renewed confidence in Firebird and ourselves, now that we have mentally recovered from the rough passage we had on our way from Portugal, and it felt great to be on the move again.

The trip from Fuerteventura to Tenerife took us a couple of days.  The first day, making our way south-west along the coast of Fuerteventura, was particularly tiring because we had to deal with tricky conditions caused by the wind acceleration zones along that coast.  These are areas where the wind gets funnelled through valleys, or between islands, resulting in much higher localised wind speeds.  Outside of these zones, the wind was light, usually too much so, and quite confused, so we were constantly altering our point of sail and changing the foresail.  It's amazing watching an acceleration zone approach.  You can see exactly where it is, as though a line has been drawn in the water.  On one side of the line is calm water, on the other, white horses are getting whipped up by the strong wind.  As we crossed the line, the wind speed would increase by about 25 knots.  The opposite would happen at the other side of the zone - we would be heeled hard over, tearing along towards a flat sea and as soon as we crossed the line, Firebird would sit up straight, the noise of the wind disappeared and we would slowly drift away from the white horses.

Out for a sail with David and Pauline
Although the wind was blowing hard inside the acceleration zones, because the zones are quite small, resulting in a short fetch, the sea state doesn't get as rough as it would if those wind speeds were encountered in open water.  The combination of high wind speed and relatively small waves would make for an exciting ride, where much progress could be made in relative comfort, but because Firebird's mainsail can't be reefed as deeply as we would like (a high-priority item on the to-do list), we are over-canvased when the wind reaches speeds above 30 knots, so picking our way through the acceleration zones was too 'exciting' and quite tiring.

All this meant that by the end of the day, we had had enough and didn't fancy continuing through the night.  We found a spot to drop anchor at the very south-west tip of Fuerteventura.  We both needed a rest and it was great fun to spend a night at anchor in Firebird as we haven't done so since the beginning of January.  We enjoy the isolation and the feeling of self-sufficiency when away from marinas and it feels extra cosy to be tucked up in our little boat when just outside the hull is 'the sea', rather than pontoons.

After weighing anchor the following morning, we were almost immediately clear of Fuerteventura, heading out into the ocean towards Tenerife.  Unfortunately, Gran Canaria lay directly in our path, so we headed to the north of that island, to avoid the acceleration zones to its south.

Underwater selfie
I was staring idly at the water passing by us when all of a sudden I was looking at a turtle.  He was just cruising along on the surface and as we overtook him, he raised his flipper out of the water as though he was giving us a friendly wave.  A few minutes later we passed another one and I started hoping that we would sail through a big group of them.  My thinking was that it might sound like someone playing a tune on bongo drums as they bumped their shells against our hull.  Unfortunately, those were the last turtles we saw and I never found out if running over turtles sounds like bongos.

By nightfall we had made it to the northern edge of Gran Canaria, which turned out to be a very busy shipping area.  We had to keep a keen eye out for traffic heading into the large port of Las Palmas.  You wouldn't think it, but those huge container ships can really creep up on you if you're not constantly on the lookout, due to the high speeds they move at.  Although they should avoid us when we're under sail, and generally do so very well, it's best not to rely on them altering course on our account because I haven't heard many successful outcomes of the David and Goliath story when transposed onto a maritime context.

I was on watch as night turned to day again and I enjoyed taking in the sunrise.  The light first struck the tip of El Teide, the highest peak in Spain and the third highest volcano on a volcanic ocean island in the world.  Gradually the orange glow dripped down the snow-capped mountain, looking almost like the volcano was oozing lava, until the whole of Tenerife was basking in its glow.  Eventually, the sea's patiently awaited turn was up and as the waves started to sparkle, I could feel the warmth soaking into me and driving away the night time chill.

Sunrise lights up El Teide as we approach Tenerife
We were both excited to get to Tenerife because our reason for going there was to meet friends and family who were flying out to say hello.  First to arrive were the Westwoods.  Chris and Chrissie's wedding was the reason we made the trip to America back in 2011, where I ended up proposing to Kate.  On their journey to Tenerife they had the fun of flying with their daughter for the first time and, tantrums involving bleeding bite wounds aside, didn't find the experience too bad.  Aside: Chris later apologised for his outburst and promised to avoid the small cans of Stella on future flights.

It was great fun to spend time with Chris and Chrissie and their incredibly well behaved toddler.  As chance would have it, Chris' parents were also out visiting the island with an overlap in dates, so we got to see them as well.  I promised that I would tell everyone that Chris' hotel was wholly superior to anyone else's, having three pools, one of which was on the roof and another of which could be seen through its glass bottom from the reception area below.  Peeping Toms need not get too excited - the most frequent sight that could be glimpsed in this fashion was highly unflattering and unattractive.

Chrissie demonstrates the emergency actions to perform if your toddler fills her nappy while swimming
It turned out that Chris had been disappointed not to receive a mention in the blog after we had breakfast with them when we were back in the UK over Christmas.  To make amends, we can truly say, with no joke of a lie, that Chrissie cooked us the best full English that we could remember having for a very long time.  We often find it hard to know how much to write about other people; some are happy to feature in our updates, some, understandably, value their privacy and don't want their photos and movements made publicly available.

Strange rock formations and a view of El Teide's peak
Our next visitors were my uncle and aunt, David and Pauline.  They happened to be on holiday in Spain last year when they saw an update on the blog saying that we were also in Spain on Firebird.  Unfortunately, on that occasion we were too far apart to meet up, but this prompted them to think, and we agreed, that it would be fun if they planned a holiday to coincide with us arriving somewhere on Firebird.  Although we don't now see as much of our friends and family since leaving London last year, when we do see them, we get to spend much more quality time together and can really enjoy a week of each others' company, rather than the odd meal together, squeezed in between our other commitments, which is what would happen back when we were part of the rat race.

Home made 'banofio' cake at the El Teide base station
David and Pauline are no strangers to Tenerife and they were fantastic tour guides, showing us round the island in their rented car.  This was a luxury that we don't usually have as, most of the time, we only explore as far as our legs, or the odd bus, can take us from Firebird.  We couldn't believe how different the centre of Tenerife is from the areas by the coast.  As we drove up winding roads and reached the tree line, it felt like we had been teleported to a different place altogether.  I was reminded of summer trips to the Alps, full of pine forests and rich wildlife that has been completely missing from the other islands that we have visited.  Although the cable car running to the top of El Teide was closed due to high winds when we visited, the view from the base station alone was stunning and well worth the visit.

All in all, we had a fantastic couple of weeks on Tenerife and consider ourselves very lucky that our friends and family find the time to come out and visit us, because having them drop in along the way is like a sprinkling of spice over our journey.

An actual forest! We have barely seen any greenery since arriving at the Canaries so this was a welcome change
Even though we were already well on our way down from visiting El Teide, we're still way above the clouds

Monday, 26 May 2014

How Big Is Your Mountain?

Every once in a while, we cross paths with someone who changes our outlook on life. The change can be subtle or monumental, and often the person responsible has no idea of their influence. For Alex and I, such an occurrence took place whilst visiting our new favourite Canary island, Fuerteventura.

Gran Tarajal marina is small, but well protected and full of friendly locals

Our arrival in Gran Tarajal went very smoothly. We entered the small marina and were directed to a berth by a security guard, whereby we were immediately surrounded by friendly locals ready to take our lines. As the light was beginning to fade, we secured Firebird and then took our documents to the office, before retiring to bed for some much needed rest. The following day, we were pleasantly surprised by the temperature, which felt a good deal warmer than Lanzarote. Perhaps it was the absence of the persistent wind that we had become so accustomed to in Arrecife. It made the task of cleaning Firebird far more enjoyable than usual, which resulted in her looking better than ever!

Firebird glistens after a good clean, in her Gran Tarajal berth

It's funny how warmth and sunshine can make life seem so much better. Alex and I felt revived by our new environment, and headed for a much deserved shower. The shower blocks at the marina are very clean and well appointed but, sadly, have no hot water. That being said, having a cubicle with a roof makes a huge difference to comfort levels and I can honestly say that this was the nicest cold shower I have experienced yet.
Alex is down with the kids, wearing his baseball cap backwards

We had just over a week in Gran Tarajal before needing to make our way to Tenerife, and during this time we really fell for the place. The town is not too large but has everything you might need, with many shops including a chandlery, a "Casa de Cultura" that has desks and free WiFi, a fruit and veg market on a Friday morning and a wide selection of cafes and restaurants to choose from. Aside from the practical elements, Gran Tarajal is fronted by a sheltered bay with gorgeous clear blue water and long sandy beach, which serves as a focal point as well as a playground for locals and tourists alike.

Stocking up at the local fruit and veg market

On days when the waves roll in, the promenade is filled with tanned teenage boys putting on wetsuits and heading for the water with their boards, whilst their female counterparts lap up the sun around them. On calmer days, the beach becomes the main attraction, transforming into a sandy playing field. From football and volleyball to gymnastics and tumbling, as well as the next generation of young architects building structures from sand before undermining their foundations with buckets of seawater. It is a joy to watch youths of all ages spending time outside, enjoying their surroundings and the company of their friends and family. On one occasion, we walked along the seafront and wondered why there was nobody in the water, given the surf looked rather good. We then noticed signs placed along the beach warning of "medusas" in the water. Now that is a Spanish word I won't forget, as what a wonderfully descriptive translation it is for jellyfish!

The bay attracts a couple of anchored yachts and surfers

Even the town itself is pretty, with colourful buildings and well maintained parks and squares. Benches strategically placed under luscious palm trees provide a perfect, shady place to watch the world go by. A unique feature of Gran Tarajal is the dozens of painted murals that can be spotted around the place. Many of them are nautically themed, and they are all very well drawn and interesting to look at. A particular favourite of Alex's is one depicting Rapido, who is a little fishing vessel that is berthed near us in the marina. Both Rapido and his portrait are sporting a shining red livery and appear to emanate a contented, warm glow.

Rapido, on the beach and in the harbour

Whilst in the marina, we got to know a Belgian gentleman called Bernard, who has a long history with boats and is incredibly interesting to spend time with. We spent a lot of time socialising aboard his boat, as well as inviting him over to dine with us on Firebird, and got to know him very well. We were intrigued to hear about his travels, which have taken him all over the world, as well as learning about the modern social and political issues that exist within his Flemish homeland. As with many of the sailors we meet, Bernard was of the opinion that most people in this day and age do not actually have time to enjoy their lives, so busy are they working to earn, to spend, to save, to repay; working hard to afford luxuries that they have less and less time to enjoy. Some of his thoughts and opinions came across as quite conspirational, but we found them very interesting and it gave us something to think about, that's for sure.

A Punch and Judy show entertains adults and children alike in the town square

However, it was a single concept about consumerism that struck a chord with us; one that was expressed so articulately and really made us question how our existence will impact the world we live in, at the most basic level. Bernard was talking about his friends and family who reside in Belgium, holding down very respectable jobs, with their company phones, company cars and healthy salaries. He spoke of the way so many people upgrade to a new car, new phone, new gadgets, long before the existing one really needs replacing. Of course, we are all guilty of it - companies promote us to do so at every opportunity, and the build quality of products these days can often encourage us to upgrade, as niggly problems emerge and signs of wear and tear appear. It's considered so normal, that I had never really thought much about it before now. That was until Bernard introduced us to the concept of our mountain.

Some more examples of the pretty murals that can be found around Gran Tarajal

He spoke of a relative, who has had so many new cars, phones, televisions, etc. and said that "the mountain he is leaving behind will be enormous!" The way he explained it made so much sense - I could picture the size of the pile that would be created by this man, if every time he bought something new, he placed the old object in his garden. Before I had chance to be judgemental, I began thinking about my own mountain. How would that look? I have never bought a car from new, but I must have owned some 15 or so cars in my relatively short driving history - did I really need to replace them? Certainly, only a handful went to the scrapyard - I can only hope that most of the materials from them were recycled and didn't make it to landfill. Mobile phones and computers; now I have certainly had a fair amount of them from new. Did I replace them before getting the most amount of use from them? Almost certainly. The more I think about it, the larger my mountain grows.

Another mural, depicting a camel as an island

Of course, I could do what is quite natural to do in this situation - blame someone else for my mountain. I would have had no need to buy a new phone if Nokia had not released a new model with a camera built into it, making my old one seem inadequate. But as I thought about it more, I realised that I already had a camera - why on earth did I need my phone to take pictures too? Aha, perhaps it was a good move actually, to combine multiple devices into a single super device - that will surely help my mountain! But, really, will it? Will there ever be an end to the production line of new phones, new features, new devices, that we all excitedly upgrade to ever year or two? We can recycle our old phones, of course, which helps reduce our mountain a little... but how many mobile phones does the world need? And this is just one area of our mountain - what happens when we start to add our cars, clothes, toys, packaging, food waste; the list goes on and on.

No packaging on these oddly shaped carrots!

When we begin to consider it in earnest, it really is quite sobering. And, so you see, with this image in mind, Alex and I are now constantly reminding ourselves of the size of our mountain. A few less paper towels here, a reusable shopping bag there - we have been discussing whether buying clothes from a charity shop would offset against the new clothes we have previously purchased, or could actually make our mountain smaller. Imagine if we could eventually reduce our mountain to nothing, through reusing items that would have otherwise gone to waste! We are thinking about whether our purchases can be recycled, whether they will bio-degrade or rust to nothing, or whether they will just sit in our mountain for hundreds of thousands of years... a broken, plastic legacy of a life well lived.

A view of the seafront, with a striking swordfish mural

And, so you see, just one simple conversation can have a profound affect on our lives, whether we realise it or not at the time. I have no grand aspirations to leave this world having achieved any greatness in terms of inventing the wheel, curing cancer, winning wars - I have inherited my dad's desire to simply leave the world a little bit better than when I found it. With that in mind, I go forward with this new outlook, really questioning everything I consume and whether it is a necessary, worthwhile purchase. Will it really make my life that much better, or can I do without it? Is it worth spending a little bit more to get something that lasts, rather than replacing poor quality goods at a rate of knots? There are many considerations, for sure, but no matter where in the world we are or what we are doing, there are always ways that we can reduce the size of our mountain.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Longest Hour

Enjoying the Jardin de Cactus
Hot on the heels of Ben and Ash, my sister, Lucy, came out to visit us in Arrecife.  Lucy stayed aboard Firebird with us, which was the first time we have had a visitor for more than an overnight stay and it worked very well.  The forward cabin used to be a double berth, but we have converted it into a storage area for our clothes.  It was small anyway, and contains the heads, so was never a particularly great cabin.  Luckily, Firebird has a trick up her sleeve and the amazing table in the saloon can be lowered on its telescopic leg into a comfortable, generous double berth.  This is where Sis slept and the fun of having a sleepover every night outweighed any hassle of having to make the bed each day.  With three people below decks, you have to take it in turns to stand up, or else you spend all your time shuffling past each other, getting nothing useful done while performing some sort of badly choreographed dance for zombies.  Once you get the 'one person standing' rule sorted, though, it's perfectly comfortable.  Sis even went so far as to say that Firebird is spacious "as long as everyone is lying down".  We appreciated the sentiment, although you could probably say the same for a coffin.

Tapas at Casa Firebird (on Lucy's bed!)

Geography geek loving the volcanic rocks
We had a really fun week together and managed to squeeze in just the right amount of sightseeing without making the stay too hectic.  Thanks to Sis' fluent Spanish sweetening the lady in the tourist office, who didn't seem overly impressed with the usual calibre of tourist she deals with, we discovered that we could buy a ticket for entry to multiple attractions.  This made the already reasonable prices dangerously close to cheap.  I would recommend this approach to anyone doing a similar visit to Lanzarote.  The best part of having this combo ticket is that we essentially got free entrance into the Jardin de Cactus (Cactus Garden), which meant that we set that as our destination when we hired bicycles for the day.  We otherwise wouldn't have bothered going as it didn't sound that good on paper, but were very glad we got to see it.  The garden is really pretty, peaceful and interesting to look around.  It made the perfect place to recuperate in the shade with a coffee before turning homeward bound.

Surrounded by geology.  It doesn't get better than this

Exploring salt pans with Andrew and Juliet
An interesting twist to the week involved possibly meeting our first mitchyboyandgirl fans.  It turned out that Lucy's work colleagues, Andrew and Juliet, have an apartment on Lanzarote and were out here on holiday.  We met them one day for a picnic on the beach.  Once we had got the measure of each other in a well populated public place and could be fairly certain that neither party were crazed psychopaths, Andrew and Juliet invited us over for dinner, before which they took us on a tour of the surrounding area and showed us an interesting salt pan, which we weren't sure was still operational, but concluded that it probably was.

What happens when you put three teachers together in a room?  They do crosswords

Kate star gazing. She says she saw
Tinie Tempah and Bruce Willis
When I say that they are fans, don't imagine hysteric teenage girls fainting at Beetle concerts, instead, imaging someone casually saying in passing that they enjoyed reading the blog.  It's hard to say whether this was merely classic British politeness or not, but we're racking it up on the scoreboard anyway!  I don't like to assume that anyone other than our close friends and family is mildly interested in reading about our adventures, as that seems somewhat self-absorbed, but it certainly felt good to hear that the blog might be providing entertainment to a wider audience.  The hospitality that we were shown in Andrew and Juliet's lovely apartment was certainly fit for internationally renowned authors, even if we're not.

Kate and I spent a day more in Arrecife after Lucy flew home, which we used to prepare Firebird for setting to sea once more and on the morning of 24th April, we cast off and set sail for Gran Tarajal on Fuerteventura, some 60 NM south of Arrecife.  The forecast was for 20 kts NE, which we assumed meant slightly stronger, as it usually seems to be that way and it's safe to assume so in any case.  Once out there amongst it, we were in about 30 kts of wind and an uncomfortably close-spaced 2 to 3 meter swell from abaft.  Luckily we were heading with the wind and so the ride wasn't too bad.  With so much wind behind us, we certainly made good progress.  In fact, it was our fastest journey to date.  Kate said the technical term for the wind and sea state was "lively", which she said conveys the fact that it was a fast, slightly hairy passage, without admitting to any fear.  I'll go with that.

Kate in the Jardin de Cactus

Lunch cooked on our amazing BioLite (stick-burning stove)

One phenomenon we have come to rely on when sailing is that the final hour of the journey will be the longest hour of our lives and, amazingly, those sixty minutes actually last about four hours.  Whether it's the wind gods having a laugh, or an unamusing coincidence, what happens is that we will be doing, say, 6 kts with 6 NM to go, so one of us will say "Yay, only an hour to go".  Then, after some time has passed, we will get curious and check our speed and remaining distance again.  This time, whoever checks, will announce, with slightly less enthusiasm, that we are doing 5 kts, with 5 NM to go "Great, only an hour to go".  We both scratch our heads and wonder whether we imagined it already having been only an hour to go.  Next check, 4 kts, 4 NM, then 3 kts, 3 NM, by which point we're getting seriously fed up.  We should have been there three hours ago and yet, contrary to all the formulae we remember from A-Level mechanics, we're still an hour away from our destination.  On this journey, though, the last laugh was on the wind gods because as the now feeble blow died even further, the sails started to flap around pathetically and our speed dropped to 2 kts at 2 NM range, I pulled a shiny secret pendant from the lanyard about my neck.  Brandishing it towards the skies, letting rip a throaty, rumbling laugh of triumph, I inserted the magical pendant into its hallowed, snug-fitting receptacle, forged with unrivalled craftsmanship in the fires of Mordor, or possibly mass manufactured somewhere in China.  With the slightest twist of my wrist, the beast that sleeps beneath the floor was awoken and, miraculously, the never-ending final hour of the journey was reduced to a swift 20 minutes, courtesy of Rudolf Diesel.

Kate feeling lucky at Gran Tarajal