Escape Under Sail: Pursue Your Liveaboard Dream

It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here!…. Well, it’s almost here at any rate. We’ve been keeping a low profile for a while, working away in the background (running silent so-to-speak) with the good folks at Bloomsbury’s Adlard Coles imprint. The result of almost 2 years of toil is Escape Under Sail: Pursue Your Liveaboard Dreeuscovam:

“This book delves to the very heart of what it takes and shows you exactly how you can go from casual cruiser to long-term liveaboard. Escape Under Sail covers all of the crucial topics, including budget and costs, how to choose a boat, making sure crew are equipped and trained, letting go both practically and psychologically, preparation and provisioning, education and, most importantly, the challenges and rewards of living at sea.”

Available on pre-order now from all major online retailers, in advance of its 2019 launch (book launch, not boat launch!)


It’s Winter, where ever we are.

To quote Dr. Evil from Austen Powers, “It’s freakin’ freezing Mr. Bigglesworth!” Yes, we are in the depths of winter, but as I write, these depths are 100% Irish. We have returned to Ireland for spell over Christmas as Mary’s mum is unwell, and tending to an ailing parent is not something that is easily achieved from another country.

Having lived aboard now for almost a year and a half, we have adapted to schedule that suits us very well. Our days have become organic, rising in the morning when we’ve slept enough, getting out for a walk and enjoying more leisurely meals and then going to bed when we feel ready for sleep. It’s remarkable how organised our internal clock had become. On land I would never have thought about going to bed before midnight, whereas on the boat I start to feel sleepy come 10pm. This of course leads to my feeling fresher earlier in the morning, laying a foundation for what have become very productive days.

The transition back to land, albeit for a short visit, has been more of a struggle than moving to the boat in the first place (speaking for myself). In the rush of the everyday on land, I seem to get through a fraction of the work that I usually do aboard Faoin Spéir. And so, even after finding my natural pace on the boat, I have to fight very hard against being drawn back to that place where I spend the day rushing about, getting very little done.

Meanwhile, Faoin Spéir is in the care of some wonderful friends in France, in the marginally warmer and infinitely dryer climate, awaiting our return to take us further south in the new year.


On the move again

Even though we set out from Ireland in October last year, this week felt like it was the re-beginning of the adventure. I’d like to say that we left late in the season, but really the season was well and truly over by the time we left. This induced something of a race to find a comfortable winter port for Faoin Spéir and her crew. We found this in the form of the excellent Gillingham marina. It genuinely had every conceivable facility that a boat owner could want and was just 45mins by train from the centre of London. Oh! The luxury!

So much happened over the winter and spring, too much to go into here. Things like overhauling the rudder after quick lift for inspection and Mary’s week in the hospital in Ireland with a dose of cellulitis. But, here we are, anchored in Stangate Creek in 22°C of sunshine, just 8 miles from the marina, and it feels like we’re a world away.

We selected Stangate Creek on the Medway river as our first stop as it is renowned as a safe and easy anchorage. Although we have a thousand miles under our keel, this is our first time anchoring and as with all things ‘Faoin Spéir’, there was some learning to be had.

Stangate sunset

We arrived on a good tide in the late afternoon on Monday, found the spot that I had marked on the charts, right up at the end of the creek. With Mary at the helm, we drifted into the wind and as our momentum dropped to nothing, I released the anchor. Mary reversed and I paid out the chain. At the 30m mark, I locked it off and expected the boat come to a stop as the anchor dug in. 40m, 50m, 100m, still no sign of the anchor digging in. With a sand bank drawing ever closer behind us, Mary popped the boat into forward, and I hauled back in the anchor.

Motoring back to our intended spot, I had a look at the anchor to find a barnacle encrusted inner tube hanging from one of the flukes of the bruce anchor. Repeating the whole cycle again, this time without the offending inner tube resulted in a secure and steady boat for the week. This did not stop me from getting up every couple of hours to check the position of the boat, something that I have heard many other boat owners talk about on their first night at anchor.

Yesterday included a trip to the store. This involved paddling a kayak for a mile and a half to Lower Halstowe, followed by a mile and a half walk to a village called Upchurch. Then back to the boat with a bag of shopping on my back. The paddle back involved a little wind over tide causing standing waves and a soggy shopper 🙂

The weather is set fair for the coming week, and so we expect to be in France this time next week…watch this space….

I’m not a sailor, get me outta here!

People who know me and our followers on Youtube will know I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I hate the inappropriate disclosure it encourages, sharing stuff that belongs in the intimacy of relationship or family with abandon. I love that it provides a medium for communicating what is happening in an instance with a huge audience of people. I resisted using social media for a long time in relation to us moving on to Faoin Spéir, my biggest fear was of nasty feedback, not so much for me and Leonard but for Ella and Luke. To be fair that fear has proven to be unfounded and all we have received are good wishes and warm supportive comments.

The other thing I hate about social media is the tendency for it all to be shiny and happy and completely unrealistic. In light of that belief, I was going to make light of our experience on Saturday and carry on with little reference to it at all. Then I caught myself falling into the “shiny happy people syndrome” and I thought people deserve to know what happened and how is impacting on us. There was a lot of distress, fear, disappointment, vomit and relief and more vomit and tears and appreciation for getting into harbour safely.

We set out on Saturday October 1st with a lot of excitement and hope, delighted to be finally setting out on our first offshore excursion. We had some anxiety, being well aware that even with in-depth preparation there are variables outside of our control which could make life difficult for us. We left Crosshaven at 5.30a.m. long before sunrise. Leaving the pontoon under sail in a gentle and quiet movement in what has come to be Leonard’s signature manoeuvre! We negotiated the exit from Crosshaven in the dark by following the markers and buoys and all was fine. Leaving the port of Cork, we encountered force 5 winds on the stern and an Atlantic swell of 3metres, but Faoin Spéir is a sturdy boat not afraid of a small Atlantic swell and Leonard and Ian had her surfing those waves with ease and all three were having a ball. As the sun rose we were anticipating a day of superb sailing and all was well.

Without warning there was a loss of steering. Leonard was at the helm while Ian was down below adjusting the computer which we use for navigating in addition to our paper charts. Ian took the helm and Leonard went below to check what was going on, at this stage Faoin Spéir was beginning to toss about, flailing and floundering at the mercy of the sea. Ian tried to help her along by tweaking the ropes that hold the sails in place with limited success. When Leonard established we had lost helm and we needed to use the emergency tiller, he first went forward and took down the headsail and the mainsail, using a harness and clipped onto the jackstays. Even the thought of this action makes me want to weep with fear. But it had to be done to stabilise the boat otherwise she would have been at the mercy of the wind as well as the sea and the danger to us would be so much greater.

So Leonard fitted the emergency tiller with a struggle, and tried to turn us around for the Port of Cork. We were approximately 15 miles out to sea, that journey was made out in under three hours, but it took roughly 7 hours to get back in. It was rough, we were bounced around, everybody felt sick, it was hard to focus and keep calm. We considered making a May-day call and agreed we would wait five minutes, by then the rudder was working and we started to make way, albeit slowly in the right direction. This time we were working against the tides and heading into the wind, it was horrendous and the vomiting started. There was however, a good side for me which was that Luke and Ella slept through all this and I was very happy that this was the case. Leonard was now steering the boat using the tiller, sitting down below in the back bedroom or aft cabin for sailing folk, unable to see out and Ian was directing him using hand signals because with the engine running nothing could be heard. The pitching and rolling was immense and the vomiting continued. But we did not have the luxury of giving in to the sickness we had to work to get back to harbour. There was an almighty crash down below as one of the cupboard emptied its contents, and when this woke Ella, she emerged from her cabin terrified looking for reassurance. She received some but not as much as we would have liked to give her. She tucked in beside me on the floor of the cockpit and she joined the group vomit. Vomit begets more vomiting. But gradually we were moving towards Cork, bit by bit. As we got into the shelter of land, the swell reduced and the vomiting reduced and the sun became warmer and we began to hope that all would be well for us. And still poor Leonard feeling utterly miserable steered us blindly, occasionally he would stick his head up and steer with his foot to get a breath of air. The extender pole for the rudder did not make it into our possession. Luke joined us in the cockpit having completed his vomit in the toilet and moaned about the fact that he should have risen sooner!

As we got closer to Crosshaven there was palpable relief for everybody, we were getting closer. But we still had some work to do. Crosshaven on a sunny Saturday afternoon brings the world and her mother out to sail and it would appear we met them all in the narrow channel on the way in. Can you imagine driving your car and the steering wheel falls off and somebody sits in beside you and gives you a long stick to steer with, then blindfolds you and tells you they will instruct you where to go and how to get there and now imagine doing that on the motorway on the last Sunday before Christmas and you may have some idea of the stress of the situation faced by Leonard and Ian to get us into harbour safely.

It was all hands on deck, eyes peeled, and clear guidance to get through the channel and onto the pontoon. By the time we came alongside, truly there was not a whole nerve intact between the five if us. When we tied up, the relief was enormous. We were all safe and Faoin Spéir was safe! It felt like we had all survived a long and drawn out car crash.

As I got off the boat, I miscalculated the drop and slipped and fell, my feet ended up in the sea but luckily I had not let go of the stantions, I was grabbed by Ian and Leonard and so saved from total immersion in the sea. However, my mobile phone slipped out of my pocket and now rests silently at the bottom of the deep blue sea. This was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back, I think the terror, the physical hurt and the humiliation of the fall just broke me and I dissolved into tears. Poor Luke and Ella were getting distressed so I left to get myself together. Ian took the kids for food and Leonard and I chatted for a while. I took some time alone too and gathered myself together. We all did in our own way!

We had a scare, it has left us shaken somewhat, and has raised some issues. We are disappointed not to be in the Scilly Isles and en route to France. We have worked so hard for four years in the pursuit of this dream and now it feels like we are stuck. It also feels wrong to whine, we are all safe and well and Faoin Spéir is in tip top form. We managed a very tough situation and kept calm finding the answer and working patiently despite our fear and sickness and I am proud of us. A bit of me wants to give up and go home, a bit of me wants to continue on our journey but mostly I am just tired and I want to sleep. We have since discovered that the cable in the helm snapped, probably fatigue after 42 years of extensive sailing, we are trying to replace it as I speak. And then, we will get back on the horse and try again.

Here at last, here at last, thank God Almighty we’re here at last!

So I just spent my first night on board Faoin Spéir as a liveaboard. Now this is ‘going home’ and not just ‘going to the boat’. I have packed up the earthly belongings of me and my family and moved them aboard, well at least the earthly belongings that will be accompanying life on board. On that point and I will come back to this in our book, there is a difference in going through the process of emptying your house when you are moving onto a boat, from emptying your house when you move to a new house, there is just some stuff you cannot put into a box and send in moving trucks to your new address when your new address is “The High Seas”. This does evoke a sense of loss and in the last few weeks we have said goodbye to a lot of beloved items which have seen us through life on land like our toaster and our iron and our Foreman grill and our orange squeezer and our washing machine and our fridge. I think the sadness I felt at the loss of this stuff is not just the, ”how am I going to survive without them” but that part of my life has ended now and endings are always sad.

I think the bit that surprises me about the sadness evoked by losing stuff is just that, the sadness I feel about losing that stuff. I always thought I wasn’t materialistic and I do not think I am. So why the sadness to losing my stuff and moving home? It is of course the loss of giving up the space and things which were truly mine. I bought the house in the 90s it was my first home owned solely by me, I have reared my children there, that’s where their tree-house is, where our friends live and its where I lived when I met Leonard. I expected to feel sad at saying goodbye to friends and family but not the house and our stuff. That surprised me a little.

And in truth I really have no idea what lies ahead for us and this is very exciting for me, Faoin Spéir is the first home Leonard and I have bought together and it has been lovingly restored to become home, our home. I love this and I am so looking forward to sailing the world and reducing our need for toasters and fridges and all the other stuff too.

So after weeks of packing and dumping and burning and driving back and forth from charity shops and delivering to friends and deciding if something is useful in our new life or not we have arrived and I can breathe and relax! Are you kidding me? Now the real fun begins, squishing all the stuff I thought we needed into Faoin Spéir. But first I am going to take my tea up on deck and enjoy the morning sun on my face and the gentle lapping of the sea at the side of the boat and the dolphins might come to visit too. Here at last, here at last, thank God almighty we`re here at last!

A week away, gotta keep moving!

The time is nigh, or so the saying goes. Anyone following our videos on YouTube will have seen just how tired we have been lately. Of course the going away party in Mary’s home town which meant not seeing the bed until 6am has done nothing to help alleviate the fatigue, but it was worth every sleepless minute.
I would love to ramble on here about how insanely busy we are for the past couple of months and how each minute that passes, we discover an hours more work to be done, however, something much more profound has taken priority (Ok, profound may be too grand a statement).
I am 42 years old, and from what I’ve read, it is unusual in Ireland for someone of my age to give up mainstream employment and indeed mainstream life in general. I have had many conversations with many people (most well-meaning), suggesting that rather than subject myself to a life of uncertainty, that I should work until I’m 65 and pursue a life at sea living off my pension.
Honestly, it simply would not happen. At 42, and in reasonable health, I am absolutely shattered with the workload involved in building a new life and wrapping up an old one. If I were 65, I would probably end up sailing for a few weeks of the year all the while wishing I had gone 27 years ago. Don’t get we wrong, there are many liveaboards in their 60’s, but I don’t know of any who made the transition at that stage. No doubt some have, and I applaud them, but I fear I will lack that super human energy at that time in my life.
If you are like me, and you feel like taking off in a little boat, caressed by the wind to who knows where, then do it now while you have the energy.

Oh My God! It’s only 7 weeks away…

So we are approximately 7 weeks from moving on board full time. Life is hectic to say the least. Our boat is getting there bit by bit, I am trying to prepare the house for rent, plan and organize the summer programme for our drama business, help Luke and Ella finish up in primary school and get ready to move on board and help them manage their emotional journey through changing from living on land to living on board our boat. And I struggle to find time to make sense of what is happening for me in this period of transition.

The transition for me is tumultuous. When I am at the boat it is all good, I forget about everything else and I relax into the moment and it’s about sailing and cooking and working and kayaking and chatting with other sailors and it’s all very reasonable and manageable. Here at home, it’s all a bit overwhelming. What can we take what do we leave what can we sell to make money? What about home schooling, how will we manage without a refrigerator, what medicine will we need on board? I could cry at the drop of a hat about the smallest little thing. My courage fails me.

Leonard is as cool as a breeze, he is taking everything in his stride, and nothing seems to faze him. To be fair, he has been preparing for quite a while now and has been thinking about living aboard long before we met. I have always wanted to live somewhere else with my kids and took the steps of investigating it but never had the courage to follow through. In truth I think I never would have done it without a life partner who shares my desire for travel and adventure.  My practical preparation has been less strenuous than his and perhaps this is why I have periods of being overcome by the vastness of what lies ahead. I know I will miss people and feel sad, I know that casting off will have its challenges and the next few weeks will be unparalleled in my life and nothing can prepare me for that.

The prospect of living a life like we do when we are on board Faoin Spéir, with someone who is as committed as I am to a simple way of life, and the chance to share that with my children while we all learn together, is exciting and makes for a worthwhile transition. So keep calm and sail on!

Don’t listen to Sailors :-)

The cost of sailing is one of those topics that pops up time and time again. It would seem that if you put the word ‘sailing’ or ‘marine’ next to anything, it instantly triples in price! Now, those of you who know me will have heard me say that sailing is for everyone, and I do believe it is. The key to budget sailing is to not listen to sailors. Ok, don’t leave just yet, although I count myself as one that you should not listen to, I’d be grateful if you read on while I explain myself.

Let me give you an example; most sailors love to nose about other boats, seeing how others arrange things, what layout they have etc., etc., and I am no different. Knowing this, I am happy to extend an invitation to a chatty passing sailor to view our ‘construction site on the water’. On one occasion recently, the visitor enquired as to where and what make of plotter we used. I replied that we had opted to use a laptop at the nav. station as our electronic solution, backed up by paper charts etc. (not uncommon for live aboards). I went on to explain our reasoning behind choosing this arrangement, to which he uttered the following, “Yes, but it’s not very nautical really, is it”.

Perhaps not, but I had a laptop and the GPS antenna only cost me €27, add to this free navigation software and we have saved the best part of a grand. Do you have any idea what work I could do on the boat for a grand? Not much if you listen to sailors, but if you suit yourself, then it could cover most of the refit! It doesn’t stop there, you can look at most aspects of the boat and find ways of reducing the cost of getting on the water. Wind instruments for example, it costs nothing to stick your head out and feel the breeze, or even tie a short length of wool to the shrouds. Both techniques are far easier to maintain and much more reliable than the complex mast head systems found in most boats these days.

Of course, if you like these things, then no one should tell you not to get them, but not having them should not be a barrier to getting out on the water and enjoying the freedom of being pushed along by the wind…


Paperwork? But all I want to do is sail!

In our preparations over the past couple of years, one of the things that has slipped under the radar in all of the many lists that have been produced is the paperwork associated with living on a boat. In Ireland, there is no need to register a small recreational boat such as Faoin Spéir, and no need to obtain certification to say that you can sail it. Other optional extras include life raft certification and insurance. So, can you imagine preparing to take a trip across the globe, visiting countries that have some or all of these requirements!

The problem is that as Ireland doesn’t have these requirements, the whole process seems to run backwards, or at best at a standstill. As it stands, to obtain a piece of paper from the Irish government that states that Faoin Spéir exists and is in fact ours, we have to go through the same process as an oil tanker! There is no ‘small ships register’. Ok, fine I hear you say, let’s just get on with it. Having contacted the relevant department three times in writing, they ignored my request three times. I can’t say that I’m too upset because the costs involved are outside of the Faoin Spéir budget, (which anyone who knows us is about 20c).

We’ve had more success with the other bits, Mary obtained her radio operators license which in turn allowed us to apply for a ships radio license. This document looks all official and has the name of the boat and our names on it too, so if we fail in our efforts to register like all law abiding oil tankers do, then at least we have some sort of evidence of existence. As some of you may know, I got the ICC (International Certificate of Competency), issued by the Irish sailing association who should be giving lessons to the department of the marine as they had a 48hr turn around on my application! Thank’s ISA 🙂

All of these little pieces are needed for our application to navigate the waters of the national parks in Galicia, Spain, later this year on our way south. I guess the lesson learned here is that amongst the piles of wood, buckets of resin and miles of wire, make sure enough time as given in advance to tick the boxes of bureaucracy…

Work, work and more work!

Back on the main land after spending about 10 days on the boat. Over the past 2 weeks I’ve managed to get the deck painted! Something that I have been trying to do since last November. It has really been a winter of storms like no other that I can remember, but like so many hardships, it all fades into the past when the sun is out and the work is getting done. Although even while the sun was shining I found myself cursing a world that would make perfect sailing weather the same as perfect painting weather.

We had our share of rain too, but as always there was plenty of work to be done inside too. Oh the luxury, we have a cooker J no more swapping in and out those little gas canisters that cost more than the camping cookers themselves. We tracked down a gimballed cooker with a grill and oven for a song on Ebay. Toast, can you imagine, toast on a boat! Yes, I know this millionaire lifestyle is getting out of hand.

A start has been made on the heads (bathroom for Mary’s friends), but I’m struggling to find a fitting that will allow me to connect the sea-water in for flushing the toilet. It’s one of the drawbacks of old boats, imperial threads in a metric world. But, at least the bathtub is in place and supports my ample weight. I hear sailors everywhere gasping, “did he say bathtub?” Yes, yes I did, ok so it’s not exactly a 6 foot tub with whirlpool jets. It’s more like one of those sit up deals that you might find in a mobile home (actually it is one of those found in a mobile home). But as the heads does not have full standing room for the average hobbit, then showering while seated makes a lot of sense. This and the fact that it’s a great place to dump wet scuba gear.

The navigation station is coming together too, complete with a blue-tooth stereo (probably worth more than the Fiat that it came out of) and an AIS transponder. AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a very useful piece of kit for those of you who may want to follow our travels. Essentially, when we have it switched on, it transmits our location, speed, ID etc., to other boats and the internet. So, if we are out sailing, we can be tracked using  .

Of course, this is just some of the work going on at the moment, with only about 4 months before we move aboard full time, the jobs are piling up, but we’ll get through the all vital ones, most of the important ones and maybe even some of the comfort ones before we head south…