Life……what do we know

August 4, 2007

I feel so at home in Dublin, and so removed from it, at the same time.

I have been here now for almost two weeks and been so happy to chill out in my friend’s lovely house.

I was born here and lived here for the first 25 years of my life.  On some streets I know every crack in the pavement,  every stone in the wall.  I walked home from school, along the same pavement every day for four years.  I remember the overgrown garden where I was convinced I saw a bear standing at the gate.

I know the place; I feel at home and yet I feel so outside it all.

Yesterday my very good friend’s husband became very ill and was admitted to hospital.

I was horrified and so scared and felt so out of my depth.

Living on a boat, with an ever changing community, I am so protected from real life in some ways.

I am very aware that in some cases life can become as small as people’s boat. Life becomes 48 foot long.

And so contained ….   and become as important as a bilge pump, or a broken loo or engine.   You have to guard against these things feeling  all important.

When living in rural Co. Galway, it only took a visit to the local shop for your own small worries to be put sharply into perspective.  “Did you hear about Dan O’Reilly up at the crossroads?   Desperate; only 38 and he leaves a young family.”

And more and more and more stories of woe and heartbreak.  Part of me felt glad to be part of a community that genuinuly cared about these tragedies and was certainly not afraid to talk about them endlessly, but part of me felt mad at how often they dwelt on the sadness and sorrow of life.  If you weren’t careful you would take it all on and never leave the house.  Always a reason NOT to do something.

I’m home now for a month visit and I’m out of my depth.  Not all the time but quite a lot.

The huge supermarkets overwhelm me. The traffic, the cars, the motorways,

We left to live on a boat to have adventures with our kids and to simplify life.   To move right away from consumerism, social pressures and the rat race.

We have and it’s been wonderful and interesting and a huge learning curve.

But during this time some of my friends have had to learn to live with ill health.  

Very, very scary things.  They have young children.

 I salute them.  Today I had a wonderful day with a friend who has been living with cancer for three years and more.  I salute her.  She has the same wonderful laugh that livened up most school days.  I think I laughed today more with her than I have for a good while.  While, at the same time, being scared out of my mind for my friend undergoing surgery in hospital. 

Life..it’s so wonderful and so desperately scary.

The operation went well.  I am so grateful.

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Life in a house

August 1, 2007

Fortunately we all seem to have picked up the knack of enjoying the present in whatever we are doing at the time.

Fortunately, in that it changes a lot.

The kids and I are currently staying in a very kind friend’s house in Dublin.  My friend is away and has handed us the keys.  It’s bliss.  Sitting here at the kitchen table early in the morning, listening to the birds, and just enjoying the peaceful house before the kids get up.

It’s the ordinary things, that most people take for granted, that I am loving at the moment.  The cool fresh morning air scented with greenery.  Birdsong and garden scents don’t feature on a boat at anchor.  This uncertain summer weather suits me.  Firstly because rain is a huge novelty for us all.  We saw 3 hours of rain altogether in the last nine months before coming to Ireland.   I am also enjoying the unpredictability of the weather.  In Egypt and Turkey, sunshine was guaranteed,  all day, every day.  Here, the constant element of surprise.  Grey sky now, but who knows in half an hour – the sun could be splitting the stones.   It probably won’t, but it might. 

I am impatient to get back out to the garden.  I’ve started to crop down a huge and oppressive bush by the back door.  My friend gave me full permission to do what I liked in the garden.  Already my hacking means that a lot more light comes into her kitchen.  I better get out there and finish the job before it starts to rain.

Home Schooling – it gets a reaction

July 31, 2007

Yippee.   I’m in real time now and hoping to stay that way. 

Having no internet access on the boat meant that I couldn’t even set up my blog, never mind write it but now I’ve no excuse.  I’m up and running in some sort of way and it can only get easier.

I find it really interesting that Reluctant Memsahib wrote a really well thought out and heartfelt piece on home schooling today and it has provoked an enormous response.  It seems home schooling does that. 

I have home schooled our three children on our boat now for four years as we have sailed around the Mediterranean Sea and then onto Egypt.  We generally stop in a marina in the winter ( so far in Barcelona, Rome, Istanbul, Marmaris and Red Sea) and Tedd works and I do lots of school with the kids and then sail we for the summers.  Except for August when it’s just too hot in the Med.  Then the kids and I come home to visit family and friends in Ireland while Tedd finds more work.  The kids are now ages 13, 10 and 6.   I never expected that we would go on this long but we have and it’s working really well.

When you stand out and do something a bit different to the norm it can bring out strong and unexpected reactions in people.   A few times I have felt as though the rug has been pulled out from under me.  Typically though, the negative  remarks, and there have not been many, have more impact than the mostly positive ones.  In the short term. 

Overall people are usually very complimentary about our kids.   And very relieved to see how normal they are.  I think we have gone from being an interesting curiousity to a social experiment in the last four years.  “How will they turn out?”

Collecting the school work in Greece

July 31, 2007

20 July    

4.30am

No moon, just lots of stars and the lights of Gocek, a Turkish village in Fethiye Bay, Southern TurkeyThe kids are all soundly sleeping in their bunks.  Tedd hauls up the anchor and I slowly steer Kari, through the other anchored boats out towards the white flashing light signaling the entrance to the bay.

Gocek is snuggled below layers of black mountains.  As Kari slips through the water the cry of the Call to Prayer reaches out across the bay. It’s a magical moment and feels like a warm send off.We’re off to Greece to collect the school work. 

We have boxes of school work posted to us twice a year from Australia. It takes some creative thinking on our part to know what address to give to the school. Last year we were based in Egypt where customs makes life impossible so we had the school work posted to Israel…that’s another story…will fill you in in another post.

Turkey can also be a complicated place to receive mail and we have discovered a wonderful lady, Maria, in a yachting office in Rhodos, Greece who very kindly lets us use their address and takes a personal interest in our boxes. 

Rhodos is only five hours sailing from Turkey so it works really well. We stock up on sausages and bacon there too, a big treat, having been in Muslim countries for 9 months where there are no piggy products. The nine hour trip to Greece was hot. Very sticky weather, and a bit of a swell. The wind came round on the nose, earlier than it was supposed to, and a wave plopped through the hatch into the saloon, on Soracha’s lovely hand drawn My Little Pony pictures. Grrrrrr.Fortunately she slept through it all.

I did my bit of puking while on watch until I saw a fishing boat to the right of Kari and 2 coastal tankers and a container ship coming over the horizon on the left. That focused the mind and the stomach very quickly.

Bit tricky to decide where to go, as we were in the path of a shipping lane on one side with a fishing boat hauling in long nets on the other side. I turned around and backtracked for a while and the ships passed well ahead of us and steamed away. They probably didn’t even know we were there.  

We anchored in a lovely bay in Rhodes just over the wall from a colossal cruise liner. It was the size of a large block of flats. The kids were mightily impressed to see it even had a huge spiral water slide on the back deck.

We launched our little dinghy from our tiny back deck and Tedd, Ush and Poppy the dog went ashore to collect the post. Maria had given special instructions to be called out of her meeting when we arrived to personally hand over the boxes. What a woman! Her kindness and support is one of the many links in the chain that makes what we do possible. 

 Tedd had to carefully wedge the three big cardboard boxes into the dinghy so they wouldn’t soak up the ever constant layer of salt water on the floor or get soaked by a wave. He covered them with plastic sheeting. Poppy the dog and Tedd provided a barrier between the boxes and the waves as Ush drove the dinghy back to our boat Kari.  

Back on Kari, Cian, Soracha and I could hear the dinghy engine approaching. We ran out to grab the rope. Poppy’s springer spaniel ears splayed out in the wind as the dinghy got closer. Brrrm, Ush brought in the dinghy in a cool sweep, to stop by the ladder.  The boxes were hoisted/hauled/heaved into the cockpit and ripped open. Cian was happy to find books teaching science experiments with magnifying glasses and test tubes included. Soracha pulled out all her reading books and checked out the pictures. The boys read her books too. 

 Mission accomplished…we’ve collected the school work. 

Now for the even greater challenge….finding somewhere to put it. 

Leaving Gaza

July 31, 2007

14th June

Ush  has had a field day watching all sorts of military helicoptors and aircraft flying overhead.   He was naming them all,  I can’t remember the names;  most of them were just a list of numbers and letters.

I looked up the BBC on the Web and was shocked to see how sad the situation was in Gaza.
I was telling Tedd how even the kids doing final exams had been kept home and not allowed to go to school in Gaza…Does that mean we have no school either? said Cian hopefully.

The planes, helicopters and muffled booms kept going all night.
The word, previously, was that it’s all in -fighting and perfectly safe for us to be so near, but it’s all so sad. To think that was going on just 5 miles, a long beach away. It’s so tragic.

This morning I urged Tedd to leave. For us to sail to the marina near Tel Aviv, 40 miles up the coast. We both felt like cheap good time Charlies…moving on from the lovely, incredibly  helpful marina management people who run this fabulous marina in Askelon. It cost 25 million US to build and is the best marina we have been in on this rally, apart from the totally up market Marina and Sports Club outside Beirut.  I went up to the office to pay and was warmly greeted by Michela and Hillel as always; but under their warmth was such a sense of despair and resignation. I thanked them for their help, and assured them that we would tell our friends about their stunning marina, but the words felt so empty. There were about 30 boats left in a marina that caters for hundreds.

We sailed up the beautiful coast, miles of golden sand followed by miles of sky scrapers to Hertzliya, just a short distance from Tel Aviv. We are now tucked into a posh marina,  where the boats provide window dressing for the huge shopping malls, and to Soracha’s delight….McDonalds.  That was our first stop this afternoon, getting acquainted with a Meccabab – (did I hear that name right?  I can’t read a thing in Hebrew).  Makes a change from her favourite McArabia in Egypt’s McDonalds.     If you want kosher McDonald’s here in Israel you go to the section next door called McDavids.  

I asked an Israeli yachtie here today if it’s safe to go to Jerusalem and got an angry response….Of course it is, she said impatiently.

So that’s where we will go on Sunday and Monday,  all being well.

Fast Forward to the Middle East

July 30, 2007

I live on a boat.  When we are on the move I have no way at all of getting an internet connection.  I decided to start a blog ages ago and because we were on the move I just wrote it in Word on my laptop as I went.  

Three days and three nights later after our stop in Ismalia on the Suez Canal we arrived in Kemer in Southern Turkey.

I was quite ill in Turkey for a few days with a bad reaction to an antibiotic…and then forgot about the whole thing.  Or pretented to forget. 

13th June

 We went straight into a very busy, and great fun Yacht Rally  and sailed to the most eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea in Iskenderum in Turkey. 

Next stop Syria, wonderful.
What a welcome from all.
We had a bet to see if there was ANYWHERE in the towns or cities where you could NOT see a poster, statue, banner, or wall painting of their President Assad. We lost..his image is everywhere.  We trained it to
Aleppo and spent hours lost in the Souk..wandering through the 15 kms of little shops and stalls. Then an overnight train to Damascus…the highlight of the trip for us all.  Again wandering through the Old City was like an enchanted land for us. 

Lots of craftsmen with little workshops warmly invited us in for a look. They took such pride in their work and finished products and they proudly  took the time to show us the whole process. They didn’t seem at all put out when we bought very little but continued to offer us tea and hospitality. We watched sign makers, inlaid wood workers, silk screen printers, silver smiths and a host of others.

Sad to leave Syria, we hope to return, we sailed south to Lebanon and got a great welcome from the Lebanese people, who spoke so sadly of the ‘situation’ at the moment in Lebanon. We felt very safe the one afternoon we spent in Beirut, but there were very few local people about…well, very few Lebanese adults. Lots of Lebanese kids with their Somalian and Philippine nannies.

 We were based in a very posh sports club and marina near Beirut, and the car park was like a very posh car sales showroom.  Porsches, Range Rovers galore…

We visited a crusader castle on the coast and some stunning caves and loved it. So sad how their country is having such a hard time at the moment. Very interesting talking to the local people and again their welcome was so genuine. Then onto Israel..real cloak and dagger stuff…had to pretend we were going to Cyprus but everyone knew..Now we are in Israel, lots more stories to tell about the Israeli navy and entering Israeli waters.There are lots of kids on the Rally which made it for us. The rally has gone to Egypt now but we will meet up with them again when they return to Israel next week.


Lots of explosion noises in the background here. I hope there is a quarry nearby but have a terrible feeling that the Gaza Strip which is only 5 miles away is having a terrible time. 
 


 

Distance Learning School – Parent’s Day, Ismalia, Egypt

July 30, 2007

6th May 

Ismalia,  Suez Canal,  Egypt.

Yesterday we travelled half way up the canal with our very amenable ships pilot, Ahmed.

He has three children of his own and enjoyed watching ours playing and generally mucking about.

Ush, as always, steered us to the anchorage in Ismalia, and at first Ahmed was nervous watching him, but  ended up calling him Mr Captain.

Today we organised our first ever parent’s meeting for our school. Three families attended which wasn’t bad considering the school is in Australia and this meeting was held in Egypt.

We have been in email contact with a girl called Rosie, who is in Ush’s class in his Australian correspondence school.  She lives about 100kms away from Ismalia with her family and sister who is also enrolled in the school.

I emailed them to say that we would be nearby today and was really pleased when they were so enthuastic about coming to meet us.  We set up a lovely breakfast on the dock in the marina and went out to meet them at the security gate.  Half an hour of good natured wangling followed as the guards went through the usual endless checking of papers and passports, and seemingly pointless waiting for some mystery phone call to allow them through.  They have lived in Egypt for a couple of years so took all this completely in their stride and just laughed it off.  I know we had nothing more important than a delicious breakfast waiting,  if you need something in a hurry it can drive you mad, but it was fun to just enjoy the wait together, just knowing that this is the way it is. No one getting impatient or muttering rude things. 

The lovely red haired Sydney family joined us too.  The 8 home schooler kids sat on a huge swing for ages and swung and chatted….about everything but school….kids don’t talk about school, Mum, that’s so boring.   Then they rowed  out to our boat, Kari, at anchor and played Cluedo.

The parents sat in the shade, chatting about school and myriad other things.  Very liberating to let off steam with a group of parents who home school. We all face the same difficulties with the postal system ,  and the huge amount of work that is given to us for each child.  

The day got hotter.  We swopped books, had lunch and took to the wine.   The kids ran around, chasing and playing a mad catching game.   A very successful Parent’s assoc meeting!

Suez Canal- waiting for USA warships to pass

July 28, 2007

   Friday 5th May         

  My heart sinks just a little each time I switch on my laptop and the small computer symbols at the bottom show no wireless connection network available.    How could there be…we are at anchor off Suez, where the Red Sea meets the southern end of the Suez Canal?    Ah well, dream on! 

              We got here in Suez at 4pm on Thursday evening.    We had completely forgotten that the offices would all be closed for the next two days being Friday and Saturday.    We’ve only been in Egypt for 6 months!

There are 14 yachts here, all waiting to go through.     There’s a bottle neck because many US Navy ships are transiting and no yachts are allowed to travel when they do.               Ush set his alarm clock for 6am when a US aircraft carrier went  through the canal, passing about 200 metres from Kari.    A submarine is scheduled to pass through soon but Ush might need his scuba gear for that. 

                We met up with a lovely English/Australian family with 3 kids who left Darwin on the boat last July.   Wow! Inspirational or what!    They are really relaxed and easy going and their kids have wonderful red hair and freckles.    Our kids all played on the beach yesterday and sailing the oppie.    Great to see them all just having such fun.     I watched from the boat where I had a few hours to myself..heaven!   

                 The evening we got here, I went off into the town of Suez on my own to find an internet café and just explore in general.    Last time I was here, I was really quick apprehensive about going off on my own and got Kalkan and Ush to escort me. This time after a few months in Egypt I am just excited about exploring.    I feel like a different woman to the one who came here six months ago…and I want to hang onto that feeling!                            Suez is a lovely relaxed type town.   Have been out and about again today and zero hassle.   No one even asks where you come from!    Lovely to walk around feeling anonymous which of course you are not.    But you feel you merge more when no one pays you any hassly attention. 

Early morning on the Red Sea

July 28, 2007

Friday 4th may 

 06:15am.

 We are sixty miles south of our first destination – Suez – the southern entry point for the Suez Canal.  Cian and Soracha are up and so is the sun. They are running round the saloon bashing each other with tea towels.   I roar.   And take away the tea towels.    They run around the saloon bashing each other with a water bottle and a piece of fabric.    I roar.    They go on deck and run around bashing each other.    Through the windows as I sit down low in the saloon I see bare legs running by and knickers.

“There’s another ship,” they call.    I run up on deck.    I just checked a few minutes ago.     There is a small dark mark on the horizon.    I am so impressed that my kids know the importance of seeing a new ship on the horizon and take the time to notice even when they are playing a mad game.

  07:29am.

Cian, age 9, is on watch for the first time.   He’s very responsible and enjoying the responsibility.   He’s carefully watching the movements of the ships in the distance and making sure they don’t come any closer.    He’s keeping a close eye on the ship that is behind us.    He’s sitting facing the back of the boat watching it.    Don’t forget to watch for ships in front too, I remind him.

We both laugh.    We know the danger of ships creeping up on you from behind.     But imagine if you were so busy watching the one behind that you missed a new one in front?     It could happen.  

9am

Trying to take more photos for the magazine – Cian filling in the boat  log book. Would be a great shot if I positioned the log book carefully to cover his boxer shorts. Anyhow I can’t find the camera.  

Night watch travelling up the Red Sea

July 26, 2007

Thursday 3rd May 2007   3am

The computer screen shines  brightly in the darkness. My eyes will never get their night vision back. It’s 3am and Tedd has just woken me from really deep sleep. I was asleep in the cockpit and I hadn’t a clue where I was when I woke.

 Ush, age 12, did his first really responsible night watch last night.  From 7pm till 11pm.   He was fantastic.    It was quite scary because we are travelling along in a ship traffic separation zone, we are just to the east of the north bound ships lane and there were enormous metal structures lining the middle of the 14 mile wide passage of water…really hard to see in the night and they loom up from the darkness, looking like something out of Star Wars.        Cian  and I sat out the front of the boat wrapped in blankets doing lookout for Ush.   It was a really black night, with a fine mist up ahead. Cian and I started by playing guessing games but I was too tired and lay down, snoozing in a muddle of blankets.   Cian asked me every so often to “just check Mum, I’m sure there’s nothing out there, but just check.”   Nothing.   Cian did a brilliant job too. 

         Now Tedd has done his 4 hours and it’s my turn.

I’m totally awake now having had to use our new toilet as soon as I woke. The loo on the boat is blocked so we’ve having to use our blue bucket. Next time I buy a bucket I’ll check to make sure the rim is smooth and there are no sharp bits where the handles attach to the rim.   I realize now I hadn’t a clue what were the most important features in a bucket when I bought this one in a Turkish market last summer.   I looked for strong and sturdy and one with the handle strongly attached. It is….ouch.   

I tied a rope to the handle, dropped the bucket into the water and scooped up a bucket full of the Red Sea to rinse it out. Pulling the bucket up… it’s so heavy, I glanced around me. Yes, so unexpected. This joins my list of the world’s top ten places called Toilets with the Best View.

Beautiful full moon, strips of lights along the Egyptian coast,  well lit oil rigs like huge dragons roaring flames, and the sound of our boat Kari surging through the water. Most sane people are asleep at 3 am but I feel so happy to be awake, alive and here. 

  And at having to pee in a bucket. If I had a proper land based flushing toilet, I wouldn’t be here.

4:20am

Now I understand why there are so few bloggers on boats.   Actually the truth is I haven’t a clue how many bloggers there are on boats but using the computer at night,  the only time when there is total peace, totally ruins your night vision.    When I come into the saloon from having a good look around in the darkness outside to check for ships etc, looking at the computer screen is like looking directly into the Egyptian sun.   Then I have to switch on a light to see the keyboard.    Then the danger is I get so involved with the screen that I forget to look outside.   Your honour, (in a maritime court) I was doing my blog at the time and didn’t see the huge ship…..sounds a bit weak.    Mind you, I wouldn’t be in a court saying anything at all if there was a huge ship…it would be the end.     Ok   That’s it.   I’m going outside to check for ships.

 5am

I love doing night watch.   Well, there are things I love about doing night watch.   Sometimes I am so tired I have to literally drag my body through the few hours and I just dream about getting back to bed.    But there are always things I love about it.    Sitting in the saloon it’s like the end of the day at home when everyone is in bed and there is calm and peace in the house. The place is mine.    All the happy clutter of the family but no one there cluttering your mind.    And then I go outside to check for ships.    I hear the rhythmic swish of the water as the waves fold back from Kari’s hull, see the hazy full moon and lights along the Egyptian and Sinai coasts and have a warm cozy feeling that all those I love most in the world are curled up down below and I am responsible for safely navigating them through their dreams in the night. And only I know where the chocolate is hidden.