We've been very silent this summer. Mostly, that's because we're not cruising, and this blog is about our travels. Sometimes the exigencies of earning a living overtake sailors for a while, and that happened to us in 2011.
A regular question to liveaboards is how you acquire the money. There are roughly three modes. Lots of people have a pension - essentially income they don't need to earn any more. A subset of this group are living off property they've acquired, a method which allows a few people to leave sooner. A few people have the skills and savvy to earn a living as they go. Writers (who get paid for it), dentists, carpenters. This can work well, but we know several boats who've come to a stop in a congenial and profitable harbour and find it very difficult to leave. Much like home really, but with better weather.
Then there's the people, who return to a specific base (without the boat) for a period to top up the coffers. This has worked very well for us for eight years. Last Autumn, in the UK, was particularly hard. It felt as if the whole country had stopped spending money. Our clients are predominantly public sector, but everyone we talk to, from divorce lawyers to gardeners, has said the same.
We've had plenty of work since Xmas. Plenty! Self employment is, in the clichÃ©, feast or famine, and after a period of enhanced belt tightening, the marketing effort has kept us hard at work. The key contract Sarah has worked on in London was up for a short extension, but one that would make it impossible to sail this summer. After a lot of heart-searching, we decided to get ahead of the game financially, and leave Roaring Girl to drowse in the fierce Malta sun till next spring.
Some sailing has come our way. Thanks to Vandal and Nethunuus we've explored the upper reaches of the Colne, and the corners of St Just. Sarah helped Fiona move Nethunuus to Cornwall, and once again braved the inside passage at Portland Bill. (It was very calm. We saw gannets.) We had a frenzy of boat hunting, wanting a small craft to creek-crawl here in Suffolk over the winter, but pulled back from the brink. Pip has spent a month in New Zealand looking after her mum, and a week in Malta, looking after Roaring Girl.
As we write this, we're heading for France to stay with friends in the Lot. It'll be a week of eating, sleeping, writing (Sarah) and walking dogs (Pip), and very good for both of us.
So, unless something changes (and things do) we expect to resume sailblogging for real next spring. In the meantime, Sarah is keeping another blog here and Pip is working on her jewellery. We're also both on Facebook, so it's very easy to contact us.
The picture is Roaring Girl, and it was taken by our friends Pete and Ruth of Mudskipper. G'day guys. Hope life's beaut there in Sydney. It may look somewhere exotic, but we were off Brightlingsea, in Essex, in October 2005.
Yes, this is a book - we even have it on board. Judging from the disgusting proliferation of used toilet paper beside the track out of Girolata (and in the Desert, and even in Elba) a few people could do with the lesson.
It's not even high season yet. If it's like this now, by mid-August these tracks will be white with used bog-paper. So, listen up, hikers!
Take with you a bit of loo paper and couple of bags. The sort you use to clear up after your dog, or to put your loo paper in on board. The ones your veggies came in will do! If you have one, a small fibreglass trowel or even a spoon (not for reuse.) Put these small things into their own 'facilities bag,' which might be a dry bag.
When nature calls, step off the path. Well off the path! It's not that hard. Make a small hole. If you can't, find a couple of good stones or branches (very easy in the maquis.) Do your business. Wipe your bottom and put the used loo paper in the small bag. Tie the bag up tightly. Pop it into your facilities bag.
Cover the mess you've made - either by shovelling earth over it, or using the stones. All of this applies even if all you are doing is having a pee, but still using the toilet paper. Take it with you!
Return to the path and continue your walk, fortified by the knowledge that you have not littered the environment nor left traces of your bodily needs for other people to enjoy.
When you find a litter bin, put the small bags of paper into the bin.
There - that wasn't difficult. Just do it.
A striking feature of the Cap is the fortifications. The island, of course, sits strategically across the seaways of the northern half of the western Mediterranean. It has been inhabited for at least 3000 years; in the first 2000 it changed hands a few times - Toreens, Greeks, Romans and so on. But after the fall of the Western Empire, life got very warlike. Vandals, Byzantines, Lombards, Saracens, Pisans all took a turn, until the Genoese finally established control in 1284.
Their sovereignty was heavily contested - by Pisa, Aragon, France, Florence, and most of all by the Corsicans themselves. The Genoese hung on (although at times only by the tips of their fingers within a few coastal towns) until the mid-eighteenth century. At that point, the Corsicans achieved a short-lived self-rule under their hero, Pasquale Paoli, but he was beaten by the French. After the Revolution, he regained control, until he fell out with the National Assembly. The British backed him, creating a short-lived independent kingdom which fell apart when the British abandoned the island to its fate after just two years. The French retook Corsica, but did not allow Corsicans citizenship till 1815 - and of course even today there is significant independent sentiment across the island.
All these battles leave their mark on the landscape, most of all the towers that parade along the coast. At the same time, high on the hills above, wind towers march, producing power from the free abundance of moving air. In today's Europe, energy security is at the heart of safety and prosperity, and here, again, Corsica is in a vital position.
The Cap also carries several lighthouses and the radar station. The danger of the sea hasn't changed, although our ability to mitigate and avoid the risks has improved a lot. Coming into Corsica we had had to alter course to avoid a fast moving cargo vessel. Diminishing fuel suggests that before long maybe such a vessel will use a parasail (see this article) to reduce costs.
It's not a long stretch of water, but it contains a lot to ponder, even on a calm and beautiful day.
Woo hoo! We have left South London after a long contract with LB Merton. Lots of lovely people, lots of interesting things to do, and many many thanks for a fab send-off. But right now, it's time to move on.
We've had two immediate adventures. yesterday Sarah had her gall bladder out. A large stone, which had put her in A&E at least twice was removed. We'd hoped this could wait till after the summer, but the lovely consultant told us not to go sailing off shore until it was done. Pip was very clear about not being left singlehanded off the coast of Corsica while I was airlifted to some Italian hospital So here I am (and making the most of the hospital's free wifi while I'm at it!)
Secondly, we have succumbed to the property market. To let out, rather than live in, we should add. The aim is to stay in the house till I'm fit to travel in a couple of weeks. Then come back in October and base ourselves in it and get it ready to let - and leave the country for a really long season next March. So we're in the strange land of buying stuff. Furniture! Carpets! Garden tools! A cooker! Oops - we've bought two of those in the last 6 years, remember?
The picture is of the lovely Morden Hall Park, one of the many fab open spaces in Merton - though not one of the Council's I must admit, as it belongs to the National Trust. I've cycled through these wetlands most mornings during winter and spring, with ice so solid it didn't crack under my wheels to blazing hot mornings bustling with birdsong and leaping fish.
We've had various smaller trips. Sailing with Fiona and Melanie on Nethunuus, and visiting their lovely cottage in Cornwall. We've been to Norfolk several times, and Pip has walked more chunks of the Thames Path.
We're heading back to Roaring Girl in a couple of weeks and will be keeping this up to date with our latest adventures.
20/09/2007, Stanstead airport
This is Sarah checking emails at the airport on our journey back, not happy to re-submit to discipline. We took a cab to Arles, the train to Montpelier, and flew to Stanstead. We had hoped to take the train all the way, but couldn't make the times work with Sarah's commitment in Cambridge. Carbon-offsetting here we come.
The commitment was a seminar on the professional practice course in the Architecture School. It was fun (at least for the presenters); it turned out the other speaker was not only filled with relevant experience for the students, but was a keen sailor with a philosophy degree. Seemed a waste to talk about buildings really!
The next day (after fine hospitality from Ben and Mike), we took the train to Penzance, a marathon. Why is simply sitting on a train so exhausting?
05/08/2007, Valencia Oceanographic
The beluga whale swims up and down. On each circuit he approaches the small square of sunlight at the back of the tank. It is a gap in the wall, gridded with bars against stupid humans, which lets in the hot, Mediterranean sun. He rolls sideways to look up at it, turns and swims on. The whale is about 5m long. His tank is about 30m long, 8m wide and maybe 15m deep. That's not very big for an animal used to wandering the Arctic.
In the background, a CD of white whale song is playing, the eerie whistles and booms echoing oddly in the enclosed tower that provides shade to the cold water tanks of the whales and the walruses. The beluga whale must be able to hear it. Is it like having someone whisper, a constant semi-audible mutter? In Serbo-Croat?
The Oceanographic is a zoo. It's not a serious conservation effort, it's not particularly architecturally distinguished. Its signage and interpretation are a disgrace. Maybe we should have been warned byt the 'dophinarium', with its promised shows; we avoided that completely, and didn't even go into the auditorium. We don't go to zoos, and we wish we hadn't gone to this one. Don't waste your ?'?22.50 (each!)
Two irresistible comparisons fuel our disappointment. One is Lisbon, again. The other is Cornwall's Eden Project.
The Lisbon Oceanarium is an amazing place. It has huge tanks with sharks and rays swimming all around, maybe 10m above your head. It has divided zones, with substantial amounts of real ice right out in the open air for the penguins, cool temperate areas, the heat of coral reefs. The 'visitor experience' is stunning; you go away moved, terrified, grinning madly at the sheer excitement of the animals and the amount you have learned.
There is a constant, explicit message about the state of the seas. You don't have to sit through the distressing and informative films about the impact of industrialised fishing over the last fifty years (though we did). It is in every label, every exhibit, in the air that you breathe as you walk around.
The Oceanarium also gives a strong impression of caring about the welfare of its animals, beyond the necessary requirements to keep them healthy and comply with the law. The tanks were not vastly crowded. Many of the birds had direct access to fresh air. Temperatures were appropriate (take an extra layer for the ice zones, even if it's 40º outside.) It's still got ethical problems; the sharks and rays in particular are huge animals to keep in any tank. And people still use flash cameras and aren't always stopped.
None of these things are true of Valencia's Oceanographic. OK, there are some fantastic aquaria. There are tunnels where the fish are directly overhead: count the teeth in that shark's grin! They have an extraordinary variety of species, both of birds and marine life. It's an enormous area with a wide range of habitats, lots of beautiful spots to sit under trees and watch the people, little cafeterias and even a very posh restaurant. Plus several gift shops in which you can buy a cuddly beluga whale, or a furry seal.
But the 'visitor experience' is of a very standard kind. Yeah, been there. Saw the sharks, and the dancing dolphins, bought the tee-shirt. What's next? Certainly, you do not go out grinning and humbled by the sheer enormity of the ecosystems.
And this lies in the way in which they have chosen not to make conservation central to what they are doing. It is a little sideways message, as if they have to mention it to please the funders. But hey, if the Japanese whaling industry cares to make a sizeable donation, we can change it all fairly easily. We found one picture that really shows pollution in the seas: it was of the rubbish washed up on the beach of one of the uninhabited islands of the South Atlantic. Disgusting. It was a small picture, easy to miss. There was a film about the loggerhead turtles that are brought here for care if they are found with fish-hooks or caught in nets. That showed a little bit of the impact of industrialised fishing, with its bottom trawling and its disregard for 'by-catch'. But there was no sound track, and the screens flanked a huge Red Sea Aquarium. We knew what we were watching because we'd been to Lisbon. Not from anything Valencia told us. And those blasted cutesy mermaids on the audio-guide? Well, yes, they tell us quite often how at risk certain species and environments are. From plastic, from creeping urbanisation or agriculture. But their sententious condescension is more likely to turn anyone into a shareholder in Burmese logging than a serious environmentalist.
We also felt that the animals were not particularly well looked after. We're not in any way qualified to judge the happiness of fish, though the tanks looked small and crowded. But what of that beluga whale patrolling his tiny space? The female teal who paddled to and fro, to and fro, her ruffled wing feathers rubbing against the lip of her pond. The brooding, silent pelicans on their fake rocks in the baking heat. The ever-moving, slow-swimming loggerhead turtle who could circle his entire tank in five minutes. The seals going round and round. The Humboldt's penguins in a small enclosure which had no ice in it at all, but grass growing at the top of the small 'cliff' above the water.
And the endless camera flashes. These are 'prohibited' because they trigger the flight reflex of many fish. But everywhere in the aquaria, people were using their flash cameras. Occasionally, very occasionally, one of the few attendants would move to stop it. But they were as likely to tell you to put a coke bottle away, or not to rest your feet on the seat in front while resting in the auditorium. It was not a priority, the prohibition was not enforced, so the fish were constantly enduring the assault of the flashes on their already stressed environments.
The other comparator is Eden. If you haven't made it there yet, then go. We went before it was finished, and a second time afterwards, and were proud to be Friends of Eden in its first few years. Central to Eden is the science. Everywhere you look, both at the Project and in its print/film/digital outpourings, the work is about hard science. What works and what doesn't? If there is a traditional understanding about the uses and values of certain flora, that should be respected, explored, tested. And maybe exploited too, to find sustainable ways of addressing poverty. Further, Eden challenges conventional approaches to teaching about science, about the environment. Eden is actively engaged with children and schools, not only in Cornwall but in many countries around the world.
This scientific engagement and active participation in education are invisible in the Oceanographic. The most charitable interpretation is that they are not on display but are happening in the background. We would urge the zoo to put that work out in the public domain, to share the passion and pride that are so palpable at Eden.
Also, at Eden (and indeed the gardens at Heligan), no inch of the space is wasted as potential habitat for flora and, to a much lesser extent, fauna. This is harder, certainly, for the Oceanographic, with many different species not all of which can share a space. But certainly there are missed opportunities. One 'area' is a large series of apparently interlinked ponds, with various piles of rock and a few sparse reeds. The water is uniformly a rather lurid green, rather shallow but opaque, so you can just discern the outlines of pumps and paraphernalia on the bottom.
What a waste. This whole area could have been made a living, outdoor experiment in sustaining the population of pelicans, flamingos and duck that are kept there. The ponds could be replanted to attract dragon-fly and other insects, which in turn would bring birds. The water should be circulated anyway, which would reduce the mosquito risks. Instead, it's just a stagnant, ugly site with morose and angry birds and the occasional hoverfly.
Did we get anything out of it? Very sore feet. Confirmation that the turtles we saw were loggerheads. Free turtles. Long may they stay out there.
So do all those visitors to the Cuidad come for the architecture, or the IMAX, the dolphins, the interactive science museum? Judging from our visit to the Oceanographic (see separate rant), they come because the theme park attractions are what they want. The buildings they sit in are largely irrelevant.
The entire 'urban complex', as the journals and the brochures call it, is profoundly unsatisfying. Each individual building is stunning. We found the (not quite finished) Palace of the Arts the most amazing, even more so than the widely pictured Science Museum. The Arts building, shown here, is enormously varied from different angles. Pip thinks that it looks like a bug. Sarah says that from some angles it looks like an Ancient Greek war helmet, from others like a space ship. Also very beautiful will be the arboured walk way, a long series of graceful arches over gardens (not all of which are open to the public). This parallels the Science Museum and gives splendid views across the city.
But the whole park does not cohere. The buildings do not inter-relate or share much similarity of form beyond elements of spikiness and all being glistening white. An interesting comparison is the science park in Lisbon. This has a big range of offices, institutes and businesses besides lot of monumental sculptures and the fantastic Oceanarium. Its biggest drawback is a lot of unshaded white space, which is hard to handle on hot days. But the park has an internal rhythm and unity which makes it a pleasure to wander in, with sight and desire lines that create easy strolls even around sharp right angles and along rigid avenues. This unity does not exist in the Cuidad. Instead it is as if a whole bunch of very interesting twenty-first century buildings happened up against each other in a random way which does not (or has not yet) developed any sense of organic connection.
Perhaps Calatrava saw Bugs' Life, or Close Encounters. Or even the Woody Allen film with the orgasmatron. There are hints of all of them in this stupendously stagey collection.
The other thing wrong with the Cuidad is that all the buildings are essentially attractions. Entertainments. We wandered into the Hemispherico to find that you can't see it at all from below ground without buying a ticket. (All the tickets are pretty dear, especially if you are on a family outing. This is not entertainment for poor people.) Our feet wore out before we went into the Science Museum. So this comment is based on detailed knowledge only of the Oceanographic. But it does seem to be true that there are no businesses, no employers, no research bodies here. There must be research connected to the various centres of arts, science, oceanography and film - but the centres are not here in the Cuidad. The actual jobs are largely low-grade service work: security, catering, cleaning. Oh yes, and putting on a scuba tank to feed the sand-sharks.
The hype suggests all this is made up for by being a unique educational-cultural experience of depth and complexity. The claim is completely unsupported by our experience. The audio-guide commentary, for example, might have appealed to some cutesy pink-wearing girl of six. It is told as if by two tittering mermaids, and sounds more like Tinkerbell than a serious engagement with the conservation crisis facing the planet's oceans. Clap three times if you believe that eating cod is still an environmentally acceptable thing to do.
In our book, these failings make the Cuidad no more than a theme park. A stunning one to see, definitely a place to visit. But we wouldn't want to work there.
From the fifteenth century Lonja (commodities trading hall) through the Modernista market and the 1960's draining of the river to create a massive curving park, to the renowned Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencas; for all of these Valencia is justly famous.
The picture shows the market, a fantasia in steel and glass. It's a bustling place, doing great trade in a huge range of food: fish, meat, cheese, olives, vegetables, fruit, herbs, spices, cheese, eggs, bread and cakes. Nearly all the essentials of daily life are here. We didn't spot anyone selling whisky.
The famous new addition is of course Calatrava's enormous City of Arts and Sciences, as much engineering and sculptural triumphs as architectural. It draws 4m visitors a year (second only to the Prado, in Spain). And it's a separate post.
The site only shows the 3 latest postings on the front page, and also only allows 1 pic per blog. And of course, we can't make a posting every day. Our solution is to write lots of entries as we go along, assigning pix, and then post them all at once when we get an opportunity.
There are two ways to find out whether you've missed anything. At the bottom of this page there's a blue text saying 'older'. Click that for the next page. If we've made more than 3 new posts in a day, there will be ones you haven't seen before.
Alternatively, in the right hand section of the screen, there's a blue text saying [Contents]. Click this and it will list every entry. You'll be able to see from this if you've missed anything. We put the date covered by the entry in the heading (eg 190707), as quite often this is different from the date we actually manage to put it on line.
Hope this helps anyone following our wanderings.
There really aren't many dykes sailing around out here, and we always like to meet other sailing lesbians. So when Pip found that the Euro Gay Games will be held in Barcelona next July, and that it includes big boat racing for the first time ever... Well! Roaring Girl and her lesbian crew just has to go and strut her stuff.
We will investigate the best marinas for sailing lesbian women, when we pass through Sitges this August. The Spanish lesbian and gay sailing club is based in Port Olympic, and that'll probably be the regatta base. But it's very dear, so we might look around elsewhere. We've already asked various sailing lesbian friends to stay, so the boat will probably be full, but we hope to see others there too.
We also want this blog to come up when people surf for lesbian sailors, so we will start looking for links we like. Suggestions (of an appropriate kind) will be very welcome! We're only just getting the hang of this anyway.
The picture is our all-lesbian crew celebrating our safe arrival in La Coruna a year ago tomorrow.
15/07/2007, Written in Melilla
This is quite a hard question, and we've spent some time thinking about it. Of course, we have not even scratched the surface of a large and complex country. In all, we've spent about three weeks there, visited two major cities, two 'resorts' and one tiny fishing village. The short answer: we enjoyed it, we'd say it's good go there, but don't expect it to be comfortable.
One of the big barriers, and a reason why it's so hard to say much, is the difficulties of communicating with women. All the officials we have dealt with are men, and really only Khadija who ran our riad in Fes, spoke a language which we share (French). Many, many women here only speak Arabic and/or their local language. So, finding situations were there were women who wanted to talk with us and where that was possible, proved really difficult.
Not that talking with (some of) the men wasn't useful and informative. Of course it was. But it was largely on official matters - our ship's papers, our next destination and so on. Most of the men we met fell into three categories. Either they were official (generally police), or they wanted to sell us something. A few, a very few wanted to hassle us for sex, but in fact that was not a problem. (Age and gravity, maybe, but we think probably the genuine politeness of Moroccan men in sexual matters.) By far the most irritating of course were those men trying to sell us stuff (goods or services).
The second barrier is that in Morocco, outside Tanger, we found that women simply don't go into cafes. They are full of men watching the world go by over a thé menthé (delicious by the way), but women don't do that. You do see women, great flocks of them, outside during the evening paseo, but they are sitting on coamings, leaning on walls, ambling very slowly. They are out to get the air and see a bit of their locality, but they are, by custom, prohibited from sitting in a café to have their chat.
And of course, in visiting places, sitting in a café to people-watch and sample local delicacies is a big part of the fun.
So - those are the major downsides, and limitations on anything we might say we 'know' about Morocco. The upsides? It's a beautiful, fascinating and very friendly place. The scenery of the Rif mountains, the souks and palaces of Fes, the smiles as people say Bienvenue à Maroc, the taste of tagine or pastilla, the wonderful cleanliness after a visit to the hammam.
Morocco has a long history. It's everywhere around you. The one word Pip would choose to sum the country up is 'old'. It's also a very young country; some enormous percentage of the people are under 15. It is working hard to be more prosperous, and the king is committed to various liberalisations. They want closer ties with Europe (so they don't pursue their claims to Spanish enclaves very hard). But there is a lot of poverty, and intense rural isolation, even in the wealthier northern areas. And there's a long way to go before two women find it an easy place to travel alone.
We couldn't say Morocco was comfortable. It is probably easier as a teenage backpacker, when you are a phone-call away from the comforts of home, have less to lose, and are generally more tolerant of the problems. We felt most relaxed in Fes, where we had the lovely riad to go back to, and Khadija to advise on local mores.
Anywhere in Morocco, two women, white women, attract a lot of attention. This is particularly true for Pip given both her size and her auburn hair. And physically, life isn't always simple; squat toilets are a pain (especially if you are Pip's shape), it is very hot and so on. Mind you, we only encountered one squat toilet the whole time. If you travel with guides in a planned, westernised trip, of course it can be the height of opulence.
We are glad we went, glad to have explored a tiny bit of this fascinating country and culture. It was interesting and important to debunk some of the myths. Women are very safe travelling here. The images of everyone stopping for prayer are misleading; in this moderate country, when the muezzin calls, few people respond. Even in Fez, on a Friday, people retire to the mosques for prayer. The food and the architecture are stunning, as the picture of one room in a Fes palace shows. We would say to other travellers, other cruisers, do go and enjoy it.
Some of you will remember Oscar, one of the two beloved moggies who moved on board with us in 2003. Oscar was the demanding brown one, Tigger the bossy tabby with large white patches.
Generally both of them quite liked being on board so long as we didn't go anywhere, and preferably never turned the engine on. Even then, Oscar would be comforted by large quantities of valium (prescribed by the vet), which made him all loved-up. Then he couldn't leave whoever was on the helm alone, climbing all over them with adoration. Very distracting, as Paul found. (Looking for that picture showed up pix of us in full oilies on the East coast of England two years ago. Brrr!)
Oscar had many demanding requirements. Free-flowing water was often sought (bathtubs, kitchen sink, ponds, gutters ...) He liked readily available, freshly prepared food at the right height. He liked to be waited on hand and foot. He was fussy about his ablutions and very regular in his habits. It struck us today that this is not a bad description of Paradise, particularly according to the Koran. If chunks of coley poached in milk grew on trees, it would have suited Oscar perfectly.
Maybe that's where he is now. Tigger's heaven, meanwhile, probably consists mainly of the absence of Oscar.